Tuesday, 31 January 2012

"Too Important To Let A Loose Cannon Rock The Boat"

So says Mayor Richard Wilkins III in Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Lovers Walk of 1998. The full quote is "This year is too important to let a loose cannon rock the boat…Loose cannon. Rock the boat. Now is that a mixed metaphor?…Boats did have cannons. And a loose one would cause it to rock…" (and to be perfectly honest he's really talking about the academic year 1998/1999, but I decided the quote was too good not to use it).

1998 was the year in which the Good Friday Agreement was negotiated in Belfast, both India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests, General Pinochet was placed under house arrest while visiting the UK, the first segment of the International Space Station was launched into orbit and nineteen countries outlawed human cloning.

This was the year in which my school neglected to stage a play, which was probably a good thing since it was also the year that I took my GCSEs and started at sixth form.

These are a few of my favourite things from 1998:

Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams and Bill Murray are wonderful in this tale of a student who excels only in extra curricular activities. This is where many of the hallmarks of Wes Anderson's later films begin. Here's the trailer.

Not a film about happiness, but its absence. Todd Solondz's cast of characters are all searching individually for an elusive something to make them happy. Those that get what they want are still just as unhappy. Here's the trailer.

Full of characters that contradict themselves in the same breath with the role traditionally played by Woody Allen divided between Kenneth Branagh and Judy Davis as a husband and wife with mostly neuroses in common, caught up in a quest for fame and an assumption that the grass is always greener.

The Big Lebowski
Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buschemi, David Huddleston, Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman are fantastic in this brilliant slacker comedy with a witty and intelligent script full of twist and turns, a great soundtrack, a hilarious dream sequence and wonderful characters. Here's the trailer.

Successfully incorporating great visual gags, Marxist theory and all the hallmarks of a Woody Allen film, this is a very funny animated film. Here's the trailer.

Darren Aronofsky's directorial debut is a brilliant psychological thriller. The all-consuming search for a mathematical pattern within the Kabbalah and the effect it has on Max are surprisingly compelling as conspiracy theories give way to body horror and desperation. Sean Gullette and Mark Margolis are fantastic. Here's the trailer.

Run Lola Run
Franke Potente is fantastic in this quirky and stylish German film. Here's the trailer.

Velvet Goldmine
Ewan McGregor, Christian Bale and Toni Collette are great in this sprawling ode to glam rock. The film takes the form of a biopic of a Ziggy Stardust-style figure told with the structure of Citizen Kane and a phenomenal (if Bowieless) soundtrack (including peerless track The Whole Shebang by Grant Lee Buffalo). Here's the trailer.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Bad Eggs; Surprise & Innocence; Phases; Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered; Passion; Killed By Death; I Only Have Eyes For You; Go Fish; Becoming; Anne; Dead Man's Party; Faith, Hope & Trick; Beauty And The Beasts; Homecoming; Band Candy; Revelations; Lovers Walk; The Wish; Amends
The second season continues with Bad Eggs which is easily dismissed as Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers with added egg jokes, but they're very good egg jokes and the conviction of everyone involved raises it above dismissal. As the series mythology develops, the use of horror as a metaphor becomes more intricate and as Buffy and Angel consummate their relationship in Surprise, the consequences become apparent in Innocence as Angel is released from his curse and becomes the Big Bad. These episodes shake just about every relationship on the show, from the tenderness of Willow and Oz, Willow feeling betrayed by Xander, Cordy's embarrassment of Xander, Giles' mistrust of Jenny and Spike's jealousy of Angel. The show just keeps getting better and better and in retrospect these two episodes are the foundation on which the rest of Buffy and Angel were built. Phases is fantastic and Seth Green is awesome in what looks like an audition for Oz to become a regular. Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered is another great Xander comedy episode, but also another example of Buffy taking an idea and doing it better than anybody else. Passion is a stunning piece of television from David Boreanaz's opening monologue that makes Angel's sadism real to Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan's excellent portrayals of grief. Killed By Death is a change of pace, but it's interesting to see Buffy weakened by something as universal as the flu and the episode uses Cordelia really well. Gellar and Boreanaz are fantastic in I Only Have Eyes For You which is possibly the best ghost story ever made. Go Fish is Buffy at its most monster-of-the-week, but the scenes of Willow interrogating Jonathan, Cordelia's promises to the fishman she believes is Xander and absolutely everything Snyder does are all hilarious. The two-part season finale Becoming is a game of two halves, the flashbacks of the first part make the story feel bigger in scope and the second part draws together the threads of the season and brings out the best in everyone and the ending is heartbreaking.
The third season begins by showing us where Buffy ran away to and her life as Anne in Los Angeles meanwhile the scenes of the now-Buffyless Scooby Gang slaying in her absence are great, the really long first-day-of-school tracking shot is very impressive, Joyce's speech about blaming Giles is terrific and Buffy's Gandhi impression is a nice little non sequitur. Dead Man's Party is a nice little zombie story and Oz drawing the distinctions between gatherings, shindigs or hootenannies, Nancy Lenahan, Giles threatening Snyder and Buffy and Willow insulting each other in the last scene are all great. Two out of three ain't bad as Eliza Dushku and K. Todd Freeman are great as Faith, Hope & Trick introduces Faith, Hope and Trick and it sets the scene for the rest of the season. Beauty And The Beasts looks like it'll be another Oz-centric episode but instead it is Buffy's Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde homage with the twist that Pete is an abusive boyfriend in both his forms, Green makes Oz's dilemma real, Phill Lewis is great as Mr Platt and Buffy's secret discovery that Angel is back is well handled. Contrasting Buffy and Cordelia's fight to be Homecoming queen with Mr Trick's SlayerFest '98 in a great episode, Harry Groener is fantastic and instantly likable as the Mayor, the Xander and Willow formal wear scene, the funniest use of a spatula ever on television and a great ending and so begins an unparalleled run of episodes. Head, Sutherland and Shimerman are all great as Band Candy-regressed teenage versions of their characters and this episode manages to be both a very funny standalone comedy episode and keeps the various storylines with the Mayor, Buffy keeping Angel secret and Xander and Willow's rekindling romance ticking along expertly. In Revelations, Buffy's secret is out and the gang's intervention scene is great, Xander and Willow's secret is and the driving of the wedge between Faith and the gang starts here. Spike is back with a bang in Lovers Walk and his scenes with Willow are shocking and with Joyce are hilarious, the funeral ending is fantastic, the closing montage is heartbreaking and brilliantly undercut Spike's way. 'What if' scenarios and parallel universes are commonplace in SF TV, but when Cordelia makes The Wish that the slayer never arrived in Sunnydale, Buffy proves that it even has a fresh perspective here: Mark Metcalf is fantastic as a Master whose Harvest was successful, vamped Xander and Willow are a shocking sight and an amazing final fight in an episode that moves from a Cordy comedy to operatic tragedy. Amends is Buffy's Christmas episode, the reconciliation of Willow and Oz is beautiful, The First Evil is a great concept and the Christmas miracle ending is as unashamedly sentimental as every other Christmas episode, but possibly unique because the right to be sentimental is so well earned.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Waltz; Who Mourns For Morn?; Far Beyond The Stars; One Little Ship; Honor Among Thieves; Change Of Heart; Wrongs Darker Than Death Or Night; Inquisition; In The Pale Moonlight; His Way; The Reckoning; The Sound Of Her Voice; Tears Of The Prophets; Image In The Sand & Shadows And Symbols; Afterimage; Take Me Out To The Holosuite; Chrysalis; Treachery, Faith, And The Great River; Once More Unto The Breach; The Siege Of AR-558; Covenant; It's Only A Paper Moon
The sixth season continues with a Waltz between Sisko and Dukat, Marc Alaimo is great as a man who has lost his sanity, but not his ego. It's a credit to DS9 that an episode focussed on a supporting artist with no dialogue can be as good as Who Mourns For Morn? The episode is a very enjoyable treasure hunt, Morn's memorial is very touching and his co-conspirators are all great. Far Beyond The Stars is one of the best episodes of any television series…ever, Avery Brooks is phenomenal, the fifties period detail is fantastic and the rest of the cast clearly relish playing their other roles. One Little Ship is ludicrous, but unashamedly so. O'Brien goes undercover and discovers Honor Among Thieves in the sort of murky episode that none of the other Star Treks could do justice to. Husband and wife team Worf and Jadzia go on a mission in Change Of Heart and Terry Farrell is fantastic. Wrongs Darker Than Death Or Night has both a great moral ambiguity to it and an emotional intensity, Nana Visitor is as wonderful as ever and Wayne Grace steals is scenes as the Cardassian Legate undermining Dukat. Bashir undergoes an Inquisition, William Sadler is fantastic as Sloan and the concept of Section 31, an organisation that betrays the principles of the Federation in order to protect it, is a brilliant one that would clearly have appalled Gene Roddenberry, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It's a theme that pervades the next episode as well, In The Pale Moonlight, as Sisko proves that every man has his price as he constructs a complex lie in order to bring a new ally into the war for the greater good, Brooks is phenomenal as the Captain struggles with his morality and the resulting episode is probably Star Trek at its darkest, but also at its best. Odo woos Kira His Way in a very touching fashion, James Darren's Vic Fontaine is great addition to the show and Visitor's performance of 'Fever' is astonishing. The battle between the Prophets and the Pah-Wraiths is fought in The Reckoning and mixes the epic and the personal to great effect. Lisa Cusak is great as a stranded Captain whom the Defiant's crew try to rescue, but know only by The Sound Of Her Voice in what is essentially a Star Trek radio drama and O'Brien's eulogy is wonderful. The season finale, Tears Of The Prophets, is epic: the space battle is fantastic, Dukat's Pah-Wraith possession, the darkened Orbs and wormhole's disappearance are suitably sinister and mysterious, the episode also proves that death is what happens when you are making other plans and once again the symbolism of Sisko's baseball is brilliant.
The seventh season begins in a quieter fashion than its predecessors with Image In The Sand, which sees the various factions involved in the war posturing while Sisko searches for a purpose. Ezri Dax is a perfect contrast to Jadzia and Nicole de Boer is fantastic. Shadows And Symbols sees Sisko's quest digging for buried treasure provoke the Pah Wraiths, but it's great to see Benny Russell back and the revelation about Sisko's parentage is intriguing and just the right side of Christlike. Afterimage concerns Ezri's struggle to settle back into life on DS9 and shows how her relationships with Jadzia's friends have altered and Andrew J. Robinson is as great as ever as Garak. I know absolutely nothing about baseball and still quite enjoyed Take Me Out To The Holosuite which has to be a good sign. Bashir helps Sarina emerge from her Chrysalis and oversteps the mark, but it's good to see the return of the genetically engineered savants. Jeffrey Combs is always fantastic as Weyoun, but outdoes himself as two distinct clones of the Vorta in Treachery, Faith, And The Great River and Aron Eisenberg is great as Nog navigates the twists and turns of the Great Material Continuum. It's Once More Unto The Breach for Kor and John Colicos' portrayal of his delusions is wonderful, and J.G. Hertzler puts in another great performance. The troops on AR-558 are under siege and under attack, each of the characters has a fascinating personal reaction to the warfare and Armin Shimerman's of Quark's "creature comforts" speech is perfect. The Siege Of AR-558 is Star Trek at its bleakest and this episode was vital in making the Dominion War matter. Covenant reasserts Dukat as both a villain and a believer, his spin on the parentage of Mika's baby and his speech blaming his followers as he is unmasked as a traitor are brilliant. Deep Space Nine's supporting cast has always been great, but the fact that It's Only A Paper Moon concentrates on Nog and Vic almost to the exclusion of everyone else is testament to the faith that the show put in Aron Eisenberg and James Darren. They do not disappoint.

Star Trek: Voyager: Message In A Bottle; Hunters; Prey; The Killing Game; Vis à Vis; The Omega Directive; Living Witness; One; Hope And Fear; Drone; Timeless; Infinite Regress; Thirty Days; Counterpoint
The highlights of the latter half of Star Trek: Voyager's fourth season include Message In A Bottle in which Robert Picardo and Andy Dick are a hilarious double act. The Hirogen Hunters make for a fascinating alien culture that arrives fully formed and are successfully very intimidating. The threat of the Hirogen is cemented as they track a member of Species 8472 as Prey to Voyager, the CGI of it walking on the ship's hull is incredible and Seven's conflict of interests is a great source of friction here. The two-parter The Killing Game uses the Holodeck and all the hallmarks of a World War II movie to give the Hirogen added depth and features great moments for each of the regular characters. Robert Duncan McNeill and Dan Butler are great in bodyswapping episode Vis à Vis. Janeway attempts to uphold The Omega Directive in a great conspiracy episode and finds herself in confrontation with Seven in some great scenes that take in lines that science shouldn't cross and concepts of religion. The Doctor finds himself in an inaccurate recreation of events that paints Voyager in a very bad light and asks the question of whether history is written by the victors or the victims, his reinterpretation asks questions of truth itself and has far reaching consequences for an entire society: Living Witness is phenomenal. Ryan portrays Seven's sense of isolation brilliantly in the eerie and claustrophobic One. Mulgrew, Ryan and Ray Wise give wonderful performances as the ramifications the events of the last season come back to haunt Janeway in the excellent season finale Hope And Fear which seems both more and less plausible than most of the 'short cut home' episodes and with good reason.
The fifth season's highlights include Drone, an interesting twist on a euthanasia allegory which features great performances from Ryan and J. Paul Boehmer. Timeless is flawless: the visual effects are wonderful and Garrett Wang's performance as the future Kim is wonderful. Once again Ryan is fantastic in Infinite Regress as Seven suffers from a version of multiple personality disorder. McNeill's great central performance, the flashback story structure and the environmental issue under discussion gives Thirty Days a real edge. Mulgrew is wonderful in Counterpoint's great tale of sleeping with the enemy.

Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends: UFOs, Porn, Survivalists, Weird Christmas
Louis looks into American subcultures one at a time. He meets members of a community following UFOs, but discovers far more variety in humanity, there are enthusiasts, academics, witnesses, self-appointed ambassadors, exploiters, tour guides and the inhabitants of Rachel, Nevada and their infighting. He attempts to make it in the Porn industry and the results are darker than usual as they range from heartbreaking to terrifying following new boy JJ Michaels' first steps, failed HIV tests and waiting for wood. The variety returns in his investigation of the movement of Survivalists in the American North West living in covenant communities, white separatists, a man living in straw bale house in freezing conditions, a very surprising fan of Are You Being Served? and the absolute star of the show is Mike who lives underground like a hobbit. Weird Christmas sees Louis spend the holidays with four of his former subjects and it's a joy to see Louis, JJ Michaels and Mike getting on so well.

Father Ted: Are You Right There Father Ted?; Chirpy Burpy Cheap Sheep; Speed 3; The Mainland; Escape From Victory; Kicking Bishop Brennan Up The Arse; Night Of The Nearly Dead; Going To America
The Craggy Islanders return for a third series with Are You Right There Father Ted? and it's firing on all cylinders, highlights include: Habit-Hat, the perfectly square bit of dirt on the window, Nazis, "I hear you're a racist now", Dougal's hamster, Mrs Doyle's cure, Ted's sideshow and Jack's agoraphobia. Ted's Columbo moment and the various descriptions of 'the beast' in Chirpy Burpy Cheap Sheep are brilliant. Speed 3 is quite simply the finest action movie set on a milk float and is better that both of its big screen predecessors put together. They brave a visit to The Mainland, Richard Wilson and Graham Norton are wonderful. Escape From Victory is nice football episode and Dougal's puppetry of Ted's fake hands is hilarious. Jim Norton is fantastic as the football forfeit leads to Ted Kicking Bishop Brennan Up The Arse. Zombie film and Daniel O'Donnell parody all rolled into one Night Of The Nearly Dead and Patrick McDonnell is very funny as Eoin McLove. In the final episode Ted believes he's Going To America and the point-of-view shots that prevent him from telling Dougal, Mrs Doyle and Jack the truth, while Tommy Tiernan is fantastic as depressed Father Kevin. Dermot Morgan, Ardal O'Hanlon, Frank Kelly and Pauline McLynn are fantastic throughout.

Pulp: This Is Hardcore
Those expecting the band's sixth album to be Different Class II may be surprised as anthems mostly give way to songs about getting everything you ever wanted and discovering it wasn't worth the effort. Opener 'The Fear' sets the tone spectacularly, the title track is a masterpiece and tracks like 'Dishes', 'Seductive Barry' and 'Glory Days' show that every one could have been a fantastic single. Lyrically and musically the album is an absolute triumph.
Stand Out Tracks: 'The Fear', 'Dishes', 'Help The Aged', 'This Is Hardcore', 'TV Movie', 'A Little Soul', 'I'm A Man', 'Seductive Barry', 'Sylvia', 'Glory Days', 'The Day After The Revolution'

Eels: Electro-Shock Blues
Inspired by the deaths of E's family and friends, the band's second album was more dificult than most. It is the sound of grief at its most tender. The lyrics are almost mostly about loss and tragedy, set to beautiful music. This album is spectacular.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Elizabeth On The Bathroom Floor', 'Going To Your Funeral, Part 1', 'Cancer For Your Cure', 'My Descent Into Madness', '3 Speed', 'Hospital Food', 'Electro-Shock Blues', 'Efil's God', 'Last Stop: This Town', 'Climbing To The Moon', 'Dead Of Winter', 'The Medication Is Wearing Off', 'P.S. You Rock My World'

Gomez: Bring It On
The debut album from Gomez is a fantastic slice of blues rock and sounds like it should have come straight out of the American deep south, not the UK's Southport.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Get Miles', ' Whippin' Piccadilly', '78 Stone Wobble', 'Tijuana Lady', 'Here Comes The Breeze', 'Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone', 'Get Myself Arrested', 'Bubble Gum Years'

The Supernaturals: A Tune A Day
The band's second album is fun and playful even when it's being morose.
Stand Out Tracks: 'You Take Yourself Too Seriously', 'Monday Morning', 'Submarine Song', 'I Wasn't Built To Get Up', 'Country Music', 'Motorcycle Parts', 'Sheffield Song', 'VW Song', 'Idiot', 'Magnet', 'Still Got That Feelin', 'It Doesn't Matter Any More', 'Everest'

The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett
The twenty-second Discworld novel sends Rincewind to EcksEcksEcksEcks, the Disc's allegory for Australia and the results are very, very funny. Crammed full of references to (and at jokes at the expense of) the likes of Antipodean culture, Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett
On one level the next Discworld novel is Lancre versus Überwald and Vampires versus witches, but its so much more as well. It's full of ethical dilemmas, common sense wisdom and pastiche of Vampires in literature and films. Carpe Jugulum means "Seize The Throat" in Ankh Morpork's dead language Latatian and the narrative does just that, but more importantly it does it with style.

Doctor Who: Tooth And Claw 4; The Final Chapter; Wormwood; Happy Deathday
The last part of Tooth And Claw sees an infected vampiric Doctor defeat the Cucurbite but apparently at the cost of his own life and Izzy and Fey return him to Gallifrey. Once there he is saved by Shayde and encounters The Final Chapter in a surreal dream within the matrix that references several elements of past strips that culminates in the boldest of cliffhangers as the Eighth Doctor regenerates into a Ninth (but not that Ninth). The new TARDIS crew visit Wormwood, in a strip that brings a complex story arc to a close with the Threshold running an old western town on the moon, outer space ceases to exist, Fey and Shayde becoming 'Feyde', Izzy with Ace's baseball bat and a Doctor that isn't a Doctor: the Eighth Doctor's return is glorious. The strip celebrates Doctor Who's thirty-fifth anniversary with Happy Deathday, Roger Langridge's caricatures of eight Doctors and hundreds of monsters are wonderful, while the dialogue between the pairs of Doctors is great.

Recommendations welcome.


S. L. Hennessy said...

Great movie choices. Also love the mentioned Buffy episodes...Giles in Band Candy is the best.

Dave said...


I've come to the conclusion that there are no bad Buffy episodes.

The Armchair Squid said...

Wow, a lot of good films from that year. "Run Lola Run" is a lot of fun. Good luck with the A-Z Challenge! I look forward to your posts.

Dave said...

Thanks, I'm looking forward to it.