The Endless

To a movie lover, like myself, it’s always a joy to discover something new, something fresh and unexpected, and that is what I recently found in The Endless. The movie involves two brothers, Justin and Aaron, who had escaped from a “UFO Death Cult” when they were young and are now eking out a meager existence. Justin accepts this, as he feels that they escaped an inevitable mass suicide, but Aaron just remembers being loved and cared for, not to mention being well fed, and hates the life they are currently living. So when they receive a video cassette tape from said “cult”, involving a mysterious message, Aaron convinces Justin to return for a short visit. They are warmly welcomed back and everything seems just as they has left it, but, little by little, odd things keep happening until the truth of their community is revealed.

The movie is good, the mystery captivating and pulling the viewer deeper and deeper, but I am more amazed at the film makers, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, and what they were able to create on a (relative to Hollywood) shoestring budget. I haven’t been able to track down the actual budget for this film, but, for reference, their first film, Resolution, was made for $20,000. I’m willing to bet that most blockbuster movies spend more than that on food for the crew. How do they do it? By wearing a whole shit ton of hats. In addition to the both of them co-directing, editing and handling the special effects, Moorhead does the camerawork and Benson writes the script. In the movie The Endless, they both co-star in the movie, as well. They get amazing mileage out of the simplest of special effect and editing tricks.

Many movies have been called genre-less, but The Endless spans so many styles that the term is especially apt. I’ve already called it a mystery and that is truly what is at the heart of the film. It’s also a horror, the brothers often stalked by otherworldly creatures that drive other characters to madness and suicide. The creatures’ effect on time push the film into the realm of sci-fi and the interactions of the two brothers, between themselves and as prodigal sons to the “cult”, makes for excellent drama. After seeing The Endless, I was inspired to track down their other works, but, so far, the only other movie of theirs I’ve seen is Spring.

Their first movie, Resolutions, 2012, is about a man trying to get his methed out tweaker friend clean. Tracking him down to a backwoods cabin he’s in, the man handcuffs him to a pipe, forcing him to kick cold turkey. Then, weird things start to happen. Benson and Moorhead followed this up with the short film, Bonestorm, 2014, featured in the movie, V/H/S: Viral. They put Spring out in the same year, the most romantic monster movie I’ve ever seen. The Endless came out in 2017 and I just discovered, while researching for this blog post, that they’ve got a new movie coming out called Synchronic. The movie is about two New Orleans paramedics who arrive at an overdose victim and stumble upon the drug, Synchonic, that allows its user to be able to see all time at once. I cannot frickin’ wait to see this!

Some articles have also listed After Midnight to their credit, but they didn’t have the near total involvement that they did in those other films. While The Endless isn’t the only great film that was produced on pocket change, think Primer and The Man from Earth, but there’s so regrettably few of them that it definitely stands out. It’s probably what made the biggest impression on me. In the current atmosphere of blockbuster movies that have more money than some small countries and are absolute crap, seeing a movie made by someone who is really passionate about their craft is a reminder of what good filmmaking can do. After all, attention to details is what makes any art, be it culinary, graphic or orchestral, is what makes a piece great. With the duo of Benson and Moorhead, their love of the craft shines through and makes their movies something that sticks with you, long after the credits have rolled.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Part 2

Even with another blog post to work with, there’s so much I want to say about this show, it feels almost overwhelming. I could hem and haw about how this is going to go, but I’m just going to start writing and see where it goes. As I said in my last post, I didn’t start watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) until the third season. Which is good, because the first two kinda suck. I mean that in the most loving way possible. I went back and watched them after the series had ended and all I can say is that it was only the deep love I had developed for the show that made them watchable. I’m going to give a spoiler alert right here. I know, I know, the show’s been over for more than a decade, with countless reruns and pop culture references floating around the internet since then, but I exist in a culture that is hyper opposed to anything even resembling a spoiler and the last thing I want to do is ruin the show for some noob seeing Ms. Summers in all her glory for the first time. So, consider yourself warned. The rest of this post will have information about specific plot lines and episodes.

The first two seasons are important mostly to establish two long time cast members that I haven’t mentioned yet. From the very beginning, we are introduced to the vampires, Angelus or Angel and Spike. Sure, there are other characters who come back from time to time, but, really, Angel and Spike are central to the show. Hell, Angel got his own show, which I will discuss in glorious detail (or endless tedium, depending on your view point) at another time. Spike (James Marsters of Smallville and Hawaii 5-O) is easy to describe; he’s the Jonny Rotten of vampires, played as a punk Brit to his core, with very little character development beyond that, until much later in the show. Angel (David Boreanaz of Bones and SEAL Team)is a bit more complex, in that he has a duel personality. He’s the vampire with a soul. What that means is that he was originally like every other vampire on the show; cruel, violent and with an undying hunger for blood. Then, at some point, he gets cursed with a soul, and magically becomes kind and remorseful. Throughout BtVS, this device is used like an on/off switch so sometimes he’s is Buffy’s worst enemy and other times, he is her true love. Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention they’re in love? They play the starcrossed lovers trope to the hilt, which would have probably gotten real old, so I’m thankful Angel left when he got his own show.

Season 3 introduces Faith (Eliza Dushku of True Lies and Dollhouse), another vampire slayer, and Wesley (Alexis Denisof of Angel and How I Met Your Mother), her Watcher. Wesley is pretty much a one note character in BtVS, but he undergoes crazy development in the spin off Angel, to, ultimately, become one of my favorite television characters of all time. Seriously, you kinda have to watch all the other seasons of Angel to get the story, but season 5 of Angel is a fucking masterpiece in my opinion. But back to Buffy’s show. Faith is the bad girl slayer. Sexy, tough, rough around the edges; she wreaks havoc on the show in season 3. Wait, had I mentioned earlier that there could be only one slayer at a time? Yeah, the break that “rule” constantly during this show. Faith eventually does jail time on the show, resulting in Dushku getting mountains of creepy fan mail from prison inmates.

Season 4 is kind of flat. There are definitely high points, like Hush, but, on the whole, the season feels like a jumbled mix of ideas and storylines. It’s still good, it doesn’t backslide to season 1 levels, but the arc it follows seems less cohesive than season 3. There is a lot of transition in the season and most of it feels like it’s setting up season 5. Spike starts becoming one of the good guys, Willow starts becoming a gay witch, Buffy gets a new bae, as well as a sister. No, her mom doesn’t have another baby, Buffy’s teenage sister, Dawn, appears. I don’t know why, but I never got to like Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg of Eurotrip and Gossip Girl), but I never did. Maybe it was because of her abrupt introduction, with little explanation. Maybe it was because they wrote her as the bratty, younger sister. I couldn’t tell you, but, to me, her character never really seemed to work well.

Season 5 really outdoes itself. The Slayer ups her game by facing off against an evil, gender-shifting goddess. She kicks Dracula’s ass. We are introduced to the Nerd Trio (if there’s an actual nickname for these guys, I don’t know about it) and the Buffy Bot. And we get episodes like The Body. In the episode before The Body, I Was Made to Love You, the show ends with Buffy walking into her house to find her mother, dead, on the couch. The camera freezes on the scene and the episode ends. The Body picks up at that exact same shot. There is no intro, no theme music, it just starts with Joyce Summers, the maternal unit that we’ve grown accustomed to on the show, now a motionless corpse. I had mentioned the emotional swings on this show and there has been death and loss in other episodes, but this one is like a punch to the gut. It is stark and tedious and sad. I believe there’s actually one vampire fight, but, for the most part, this episode is an exercise in grief. I never thought that the cast, as much as I love them, were great actors, but they do a stellar job in this episode.

Season 6 builds on the grief of season 5 and then ramps it up to 11 and breaks the knob off. The season starts off with Buffy dead and the Scoobies bring her back to life. Unfortunately, she had happened to be in heaven, so now, every day, normal life is hell to her and she spends most of the season in a self-destructive depression. Talk about giving the audience something relatable! This season is pretty rapey, too. Spike tries to rape Buffy, which was a brutal and unsettling episode. The Trio loom large this season and whether they’re making devices to mind-control women or sex-bots that look like Buffy, these guys turn the creep factor WAY up. Willow gets addicted to magic, like junkie on the streets addicted. The writers build up the romance between her and Tara, just to have Tara murdered right before her eyes. She goes off the deep end and becomes the Big Bad for the season finale. Evil Willow is pretty awesome, particularly when she rips some guy’s skin off and sends him to hell. Good times.

I consider season 7 to be the last season of Buffy, even though this isn’t exactly true. Technically, seasons 8, 9 and 10 were put out in comic book form and while these were pretty good, they’re just not the same. 7 isn’t a bad season, but it takes a little while to get going. Buff and the Scoobs gets their asses handed to them for most of it. Xander gets his eye gouged out by the always great, Nathan Fillion, playing an evil, supernaturally strong priest, Caleb. I know a writer needs to bring the protagonist down before the inevitable turning of the proverbial tables, but for a good chunk of season 7 it’s just one loss after another and that gets a little old after a while. The turn around is pretty good though, and I felt like it was a worthy ending for the show.

Speaking of writers, I’ve always put forth BtVS being a Joss Whedon creation, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Marti Noxon and David Greenwalt. I’m sure there were a host of great writers for this show, but Noxon and Greenwalt are the one’s I remember. Noxon joined the BtVS writing staff during season 2 and wrote or co-wrote 22 episodes. She was promoted to co-producer in season 4. In addition to her work on Buffy, she has also worked on Angel, Grey’s Anatomy, Mad Men, Glee and Sharp Objects. Greenwalt, in addition to his work on Buffy, wrote for Angel and Grimm, which is near and dear to my heart because it’s set in Portland, OR. I think I’ve dedicated enough ink to BtVS, but I’m glad I got to write about something I loved. And, maybe, just enough time has passed to rewatch the show and fall in love all over again. Happy viewing!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Part 1

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I’m reluctant to even write this post. Buffy looms so large in the history of television, particularly for the sci-fi, fantasy nerd set which is me, that I feel inadequate to do it justice. Even so, it’s been such a love of mine, and the metric by which I judge so many other shows, that I feel compelled to try and pray my humble words are worthy. If you’ve been living under a rock, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) is a Joss Whedon creation, based on the movie of the same name, and claimed by some to be the greatest television show ever. The movie was so abysmally disappointing that I didn’t even watch the television show until season three, and even then, grudgingly. Soon after, Tuesday nights became Buffy nights and few things would keep me away from my TV at the appointed hour. I don’t usually get emotionally attached to television shows, or, hell, most people for that matter, but I’m unashamed to say that I did with this one. It had a worthy ending, but I was sad to see it go and miss it to this very day.

The show was so fresh and stood out in a sea of TV banality. It was the origin of so many terms that I use, such as “Big Bad” and “Scoobies” and, as I will talk about ad nauseum, gave birth to many, many imitators. Like many works of art, I can’t quite pinpoint what, exactly, made the show so amazing. I can only guess that the combination of Whedon’s vision and the cast’s chemistry and the crazy number of talented people that worked with them created some magic television alchemy that countless others have tried to repeat.

I probably don’t need to tell anyone what BtVS is about, but for completeness sake, and to stay with the form of the blog, here it goes. The show follows the titular character, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller of Ringer and Scooby-Doo), who happens to be imbued with special powers to fight evil, also known as a Vampire Slayer. They have existed since prehistoric times, are always women and only one exists at a time, another being chosen when one dies. The Slayer has heightened strength and agility and instinctive fighting skills. The Slayer is assisted in her duties by a group of individuals known as Watchers, who act as repositories of knowledge of the creatures she finds herself fighting against. They also serve as the straight man to the flippant, high school girl that is Buffy. In this case, that man is Rupert Giles ( Anthony Stewart Head of Merlin, Dominion and The Stranger), who is specifically responsible for the support and training of Buffy. Also helping her fight against evil are her friends, or scoobies, as they came to be called, Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan of How I Met Your Mother and American Pie), Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon of Criminal Minds and Coherence), Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter of Angel and Charmed) and Daniel “Oz” Osbourne (Seth Green of Austin Powers and That 70’s Show). They all exist in the fictional, idyllic, California town of Sunnydale.

The show followed the Monster of the Week format, with larger story arcs layered over that, some spanning multiple seasons. True to her name, vampires were Buffy’s primary enemies, but over 7 seasons, she fought mummies, demons, cyborgs and even a god or two. The tone of the show skillfully mixed a gothy angst feeling with humor and witty banter. It is this back and forth play of emotions that sinks those barbs of pathos deep into your heart strings and gets you right in the feels. The victories make you want to cheer, but they are companions to devastating losses. Relationships loom large in BtVS and you can be sure that any happy couples are going to, at some point, become painfully heartbroken. It’s not uncommon for an episode to have you laughing in one scene and have you close to tears in another.

Even with this this level of emotionality injected into a well written, supernatural action drama, the show trailblazed in so many other ways. In season 4, the episode, Hush, gained recognition for having only 17 minutes of dialog in its entire 44 minute run time. Whedon had heard a claim that the only reason the show was as sucessful as it was was because of the back and forth banter between the characters. He took this as a challenge and wrote an episode in which the Big Bad were a group of creatures known as The Gentlemen that steal everyone’s voices. In season 6, Whedon wrote a musical episode called, Once More With Feeling. In this episode, a demon arrives in Sunnydale and compels everyone to break into song at random moments. With a run time of 50 minutes, roughly 8 minutes more than a standard episode, the cast sings a variety of song that were collected into a soundtrack with over 20 separate tracks. Called the “greatest television soundtrack of all time” it rose to 49 in the US Billboard 200. Once More with Feeling is still considered one of the most popular episodes of the entire series and has been shown in theaters to sing-a-long audiences.

There’s a lot to talk about, when talking about this show. In addition to the soundtrack I mentioned above, there have been several books, a role-playing game, video games, a collectible card game and a few podcasts dedicated to BtVS. After the television show ended, Buffy’s stories lived on as a comic book, writers churning out three more seasons. There’s been one spin-off, Angel, two others proposed, but never developed (Buffy: The Animated Series and Ripper), and a potential re-boot (but don’t call it a re-boot) currently in the works. Even this might not be surprising for a popular television show, but if we want to fully comprehend the cultural significance of BtVS, we need only to look at academia. Since 2001, there has been a quarterly publication called Slayage: The Online Journal of Buffy Studies. There are multiple colleges that offer classes based off of BtVS, touching on topics from media to gender studies. Meet-Up groups, Buffy focused conventions and other references to the show continue to this day. Buffy remains a force to be reckoned with and there is more to be said, but I’m going to wait for another day. I knew this subject would be too much for one post, so I’ll continue this next week. Until then, stay 5 by 5.