Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year, New Home

Though it has been a while since I last posted, I figured the start of a new year is as good a time as any to announce that I will now be blogging (hopefully, with more frequency, particularly given that we are entering award season in movieland) via Wordpress. This site will remain active and I have exported all of my Blogspot posts to my new Wordpress account:

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Buffy Retrospective: "Nightmares" & "Out of Mind, Out of Sight"

These two episodes have something in common that makes them somewhat unique in relation to the structure of other storylines. They both feature a real-life problem (child abuse/being ignored) that results in a supernatural occurrance (nightmares becoming reality/invisibility).

There was a tendency in Season One for the writers to hit us over the head with the real world message they were trying to convey. Their technique, thankfully, grew more subtle as time went on, but these particular episodes differ from most others because they goes beyond mere metaphor. "Nightmares" is particularly after school special-esque and I must report that it is one of my least favourite episodes of the series. However, I am a fan of "Out of Mind, Out of Sight".

I'm left wondering, "Why does "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" work for me while "Nightmares" does not?"

"Out of Mind" does get off to a bit of a lead given that Clea Duvall easily wins the award for "Best Guest Star" of the season, but there are other factors at play.

It's a nightmare come true

Putting something as intangible as a dreamscape on film is a challenge. It's something the folks at Buffy did a lot, particularly in earlier seasons when Buffy's semi-prophetic dreams were more frequently used as a plot device. Sometimes the dreams were quite vivid (see "Surprise" and "Graduation Day") while in earlier episodes they were more of a collection of images (see "Welcome to the Hellmouth"). It would be easy to say "Nightmares" doesn't work because it welcomes comparisons to "Restless", which is one of the best episodes of the entire series (if not one of the best episodes of television generally), but even without considering how amazing "Restless" is, the dreamscape in "Nightmares" is just poorly conveyed. What always stands out for me is the way in which the high school was decorated when Xander follows the chocolate bar trail and is attacked by the clown. To me it just looks like they hung up a bunch of white shower curtains (and perhaps they did), but for a show that was always used the resources they had to produce something of a certain standard, I found this and other aspects of "Nightmares" to come off as low-budget and rushed. In the same vein, I was never pleased with the Ugly Man's make-up or the special effects in the episode, particularly the vortex-like effect when the cemetery appears in the parking lot at the high school.

A lack of exposition

In most supernatural/sci-fi stories there is inevitably a scene in which somebody (in Buffy's case, usually Giles) explains what is going on and how they're going to fix it. The explanation of how Billy's coma results in everyone else's nightmares becoming real is incredibly vague while the explanation for Marcie turning invisible seems more feasible somehow. The appearance of the astral body of somebody who is in a coma is not a new concept, so I can accept that aspect of it, but that only explains why Buffy can see Billy around Sunnydale High when his earthly body is in the hospital. We are not provided with a satisfactory explanation as to why or how Billy was able to bring everyone's nightmares to the waking world.

In conclusion

The endsings of these two episodes provide an interesting contrast. "Out of Mind" features another cheesy supernatural ending (see "Witch" and "I Robot, You Jane"). I'm not a fan of this sort of ending to Buffy episodes. What I do appreciate is that this is the first suggestion of the U.S. government's awareness of paranormal activity and using it to their advantage. Season 4 and now Season 8 have extended this aspect of the Buffyverse.

Meanwhile, "Nightmares" has an after school special ending to go along with the rest of the episode (at least it's internally consistent). "Remember kids, if somebody is hurting you, tell your parent or a Vampire Slayer you trust."

Sunnydale High Faculty Death Count: 2 [1 attempted (Ms. Miller)]

Sunday, May 31, 2009

This was supposed to be good news

Zach Oat at Television Without Pity put it best: "For all of you Buffy fans out there, your wildest dreams are about to come true... and it's your worst nightmare." If, like me, you putter around entertainment news sites, you've probably heard the news that Fran Rubel Kuzui and Kaz Kuzui announced plans to "relaunch" the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise in the form of an "event-sized" feature film minus creator Joss Whedon and minus any of the TV series characters.

The initial reaction among fans has been a fairly collective, "Do not want!" (There's already a #buffyboycott hashtag on Twitter.) Keep in mind, though, it has been a matter of days since the announcement, and there are almost no details about the project. The announcement that J.J. Abrams would be directing the eleventh Star Trek feature and that it would be a prequel to the original series was met with skepticism from many Trekkies (perhaps primarily because Abrams was an outsider who admitted he had little knowledge of Trek lore), and look how that turned out.

In spite of this, I do find myself with the "Do not want" crowd. There are three main factors I've identified that have resulted in this negative reaction to something Buffy fans would normally be ecstatic about: (a) the Kuzuis and the original film, (b) the questionable timing and optics of a "reboot", and (c) Joss Whedon's non-involvement with the project. I will examine each of these in turn.

Shove your copyright up your Kuzui

Here's the problem: the part of the Buffy franchise with which the Kuzui team were most heavily involved was the 1992 film and they blew it. Fran Rubel Kuzui directed the film after "discovering" Whedon's original script. She and producer/husband Kaz took the story in their own direction and the result was an overly campy flick with mere traces of what would become the Buffyverse. They retain the rights to the original film and remained as executive producers on the TV series, but from what I've read, their involvement was nil to the point of having never been on the set.

I've read a lot online over the years from Buffy fans and nobody I know of has a soft spot for the Kuzuis. They're not going to win anyone over by going forward without Joss. Fans very much have the sense that the film was swept out from under Joss. It was he who went on to develop the TV series. It's highly unlikely the film was ever used as a selling point when looking for a network to air the TV series. If anything, the pitch would have been, "Remember that Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie from a few years ago? You do? Ok, so, forget about that movie..."

The Kuzuis are now saying they want to take the franchise in a direction that is darker than the TV series and have brought in producer Roy Lee, whose specialty is remaking (mostly) Asian films for American audiences (The Ring, The Grudge, The Eye, The Departed, The Strangers). What I glean from this is that (a) the film will likely be devoid of Buffy's characteristic wit and (b) the Kuzuis may have never watched an episode of the series if they believe the show was not dark (if it wasn't in Season 1, it certainly was from Season 2 onward.)

A question of timing

Closely tied to the Kuzui dislike factor is the questionable timing of this announcement, which may have a lot to do with optics, but raises valid doubts if one considers when a "reboot" is necessary.

Let me explain what I mean by the problem of optics. Fran Rubel Kuzui, the not-so-acclaimed director of the 1992 Buffy movie, believes that now is the time for a new Buffy feature. However, regardless of her actual motives, many see this as a case of a money-grubbing exec producer with zero creative vision trying to cash in on the recent success of vampire stories (Twilight; True Blood) and reboots (Star Trek; Wolverine).

Where the line is drawn between remakes, reboots, relaunches, and re-imaginings, I don't know. What I do know is that I am always skeptical of remakes and their ilk. I don't reject them en masse on principle, but I don't like the way in which Hollywood film has been increasingly devolving into the land of adaptation devoid of original content. Much of what gets produced these days are remakes, book-to-film adaptations, and "based on a true story" films and the original stories tend to be fluff (taken to the not so extreme, even crap like Observe and Report could be considered a "re-imagining" of Taxi Driver). Graeme McMillan at io9 points out that "our culture has become endlessly recyclable" and he's right.

My second problem in this vein is the timing in terms of need for a reboot. Is this really, as the Kuzuis believe, the right time for a reboot? Consider when you reboot your computer - it's frozen or slowed to a crawl. The same should go for an entertainment franchise. Generally, a film/TV franchise gets rebooted when significant time has passed and its formula has gone stale to the point where even die-hard fans are looking for a change (or they're too old for producers to care what they think.) Admittedly, Star Trek needed a reboot, and for the most part J.J. Abrams delivered. Old fans aren't up in arms and mainstream audiences are becoming one with their inner Trekkie.

Making a Buffy movie in the next couple of years is poor timing in at least two ways: (a) insufficient time has passed since the "conclusion" of the most recent large-scale (non-comic book) incarnation of the franchise (the TV series ended in 2005), and (b) the TV series is too fresh in the minds of the public to attract people who don't already like Buffy. With the Scooby Gang having graduated from high school just ten years ago, Buffy's original core audience is still within or just beyond the target audience of movie bosses.

In contrast, the original Star Trek TV series aired in the 1960s with the cast appearing in films through to Star Trek: Generations in 1994. The success of the film franchise was dwindling, but die hard fans can only go a few years before they demand something on the big screen. The solution was Abrams' reboot in the form of an original series prequel film. The original Star Trek audience is not in the 16-25 demographic any longer, so a great shift in direction was able to draw a new audience to the franchise.

What I'm trying to say is that when Sarah Michelle Gellar is as old as William Shatner, then you can go and look for a shiny new Buffy.

Does Not Compute: Buffy - Joss = Grrr...Argh!

Finally, Whedon's non-involvement with the development of the film has been, perhaps, the most influential factor leading to the overwhelmingly negative reaction from the fan base. Cast members from the series are now starting to weigh in on the matter. In an interview with Lorrie Lynch at USA Weekend, Anthony Stewart Head (Giles) said:
The Kuzuis didn’t do a great job on the movie the first time around. It was Joss’ script at the age of 19, but they changed a lot of it. They said, ‘Look, we know best and we know how to make this movie,’ and it became quite schlocky and high camp. [...] The bottom line is if a movie was ever to be made, it should be made with Joss Whedon, whether it’s a retrospective or not. But it would be madness to do it without him. [The Kuzuis] have the rights to because they have the rights to the original movie, but it should be interesting to see. It may be a bit like watching a car wreck.
Given the circumstances outlined above, I'm inclined to agree with Head. However, McMillan argues, "Just because Joss created Buffy and did the franchise proud for more than a decade doesn't mean that someone else can't come up with something equally as interesting, and almost as enjoyable." I'm willing to accept that people other than Joss are capable of taking care of Buffy and telling great stories. Obviously, Joss did not write and direct every episode of the show, or write all the novels and comics. Heck, there are people out there who who write some pretty decent fanfic.

As is the case with the Star Trek franchise absent Gene Roddenberry, there is a group of people involved with Buffy who care about the franchise and about the fans (I'm looking at you Fury, Noxon, Espenson et al.) They care more than the Kuzuis and the fanbase trusts them as much as they trust Joss. If the franchise is to move forward without Joss at the helm, it should be them, not a pair of uninvolved executive producers who take the wheel.

Read More:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

See me bloggin'

The Gazette posted an article between issues about the Studley Debate during the DSU Elections. In the accompanying photo, you see my fellow pundits, Jen Bond and John Hillman, and myself hard at work. (I am in the front with the stripey shirt; Jen is the ginger behind me with Hillman to her left). Notice how everyone else looks intently at Rob LeForte while the three of us type maniacally on various electronic devices. I must say, I'm glad I gave my clipboard a rest this year. Although typing with one's thumbs is a bit tedious, it really speeds up the debate recap process.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DSU Elections 2009

It's that time of year again - DSU Elections! For a DSU-lifer, such as myself, this is pretty much the highlight of the year.

For the past number of years, has been the online hub of election-related commentary. Mike wrote the blog based on his own observations and on tips from other observers.

This year, comprehensive and snide commentary of the DSU Election has a new home: Mike has compiled a panel of DSU hacks, including your truly, to offer our thoughts during the campaign.

Check it out!

Yearly referenda would jeopardize much-needed funding

This article appears in the March 5-11 edition of The Gazette. It is my first time appearing as an Opinions Contributor. You can read my friend John Hillman's counterpoint, as well. He makes some very valid points.

Yearly referenda would jeopardize much-needed funding
Lisa Buchanan
Opinions Contributor

A handful of Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) student societies, including The Gazette, DalOUT, and Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG), receive funding by way of a levy from all students. These levies were each approved by students through a referendum and are part of the fee each Dal student pays to the DSU. To ensure the societies are using their funding in the way students intended, each society should maintain the mandate it had when its referendum passed. But because, in some cases, years have passed since the referendum, the societies receiving money from the students aren’t always faithful to their original mandates. For example, this year a student union committee was created with the sole purpose of resolving inconsistencies as between a “Dal-PIRG” referendum question and the NSPIRG constitution. A mechanism must exist to keep these societies accountable and to ensure they are entitled to the money they receive.

To accomplish this, the student union’s ad-hoc referendum review committee is proposing all referendum-mandated societies be sent back to the polls at least every four years.

Unfortunately, this recommendation goes far beyond addressing the problem at hand.

Societies that do not remain loyal to their mandates as endorsed by students are the problem. This would not be a problem if there were an effective way of assessing society mandates from year to year to ensure compliance. There is currently no incentive for societies to keep their original mandates. The DSU’s vice-president (finance and operations) and board of operations are meant to review levies annually; this has not happened in the board’s first two years in operation. Alternately, any student can call for a referendum question targeting a specific levy; this should not change.

The problem can be addressed by only sending to referendum those societies that break their mandate and refuse to go back to it, rather than voting on all societies that are in compliance with their referendum-approved mandates.

Some argue that because of the four-year rotation of undergraduates, a re-occurring referendum will allow all students to vote on all levies during their time at Dal.

But there are other ways for students to reject particular levies. If students feel a levy has become unnecessary or irrelevant, they can start a referendum process to eliminate the levy in question.

With re-occurring, referenda, students could end up voting on the same levy more than once in their time at Dal. If a referendum fails and a society loses its funding, you will likely see that question back on the ballot in the next election, as the society attempts to re-establish its funding. If this happens, we will be faced with perpetual referenda, since levy questions are less likely to succeed when there are other money-related questions on the ballot.

Societies can be held accountable without having to run a referendum campaign every four years. All referendum-mandated societies must make an annual presentation to DSU council about their activities of the previous year. This could be a way to assess each society’s compliance with their mandate. If council finds a society has strayed from its original intentions, it can opt to send the levy to a referendum.

I know from experience that it takes a lot of time, energy and people to run a successful referendum campaign. Societies involved in a referendum rely on their membership to get the word out about their campaign. I have seen firsthand the peaks and troughs of society attendance and involvement. If the referendum review committee’s proposals are made reality, a society that has been meeting its mandate could lose its levy simply because not many of its members are attending regularly or because the executive members, who might be great at running their society, are not adept at running an effective publicity campaign.

To meet the timeline for changes to the DSU constitution, the committee met only once to discuss this portion of its mandate. If these proposals do not pass, further discussions should take place at the committee level. Consideration should be given to what other student unions do to hold their societies accountable. If and when this happens, referendum-mandated societies, most of whom do not have a representative on council, should be consulted.

Friday, March 06, 2009

"They just made it up."

"We now have the research showing that openly gay service just doesn't have any negative impact on the military. In fact, the ['don't ask, don't tell'] policy itself is what's causing us to lose soldiers and to force service members to lie to one another, and that's bad for unit cohesion." -Nathaniel Frank

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" back on the chopping block!

On Monday, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) introduced Bill H.R.1283, which would replace the U.S. military's so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy with a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

"Don't ask, don't tell" was instituted in 1993. While it ended the military's practice of asking potential service members if they are gay, it requires the dismissal of openly gay service members (and people who are already out, presumably, wouldn't be allowed to enlist). That's right, folks, we'll fire if you tell us or we find out that you're gay, but we're cool if you stay in the closet and live in fear that your homophobic co-worker will find out you have a subscription to The Advocate.

To hear the great Maddow speak on the subject, jump to 2:55 below:

Scary things I didn't know about "don't ask, don't tell" until Maddow told me:
- 12,000 people(!!!) have lost their jobs under the policy in the past 15 years
- 2 people get kicked out under the policy every day!!!

The full text of the current bill isn't available online yet, but you can read the previous bill Maddow references, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2007. I expect they are substantially similar.

With any luck, this bill will pass through Congress quickly and President Obama will be able to follow through on his commitment to rid the military of this ridiculous policy.

In related news, this week both Argentina and the Philippines both lifted their bans on gays serving in the military. I'd say it's about time the U.S. caught up with the rest of the world.

More coverage:
- Associated Press
- Telegraph
- Pink News
- 365Gay
- Silicon Valley Mercury News
- The Capital Times (Madison, WI)