Pilot Re-watch: Angel (1999)

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It was the year that good old Bill Clinton was acquitted of perjury, and also of the Columbine High School massacre. Jill Dando was shot dead, and Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released. It became the highest grossing film of the year, along with (among others) Toy Story 2, The Matrix and American Beauty.

In the United Kingdom Tony Blair was Prime Minister, Harold Shipman was charged with murder and Stephen Lawrence was killed. The minimum wage was introduced: It was £3.60 per hour! Gary Glitter was jailed for downloading child pornography and, most importantly, The Gruffalo was published.

The debut album of Britney Spears was released, Bruce Dickinson rejoined Iron Maiden and it was the year that we were introduced to the vocal talents of S Club 7.

On a personal level I turned twenty-three years old. I was single, had just arrived in Oldham (and have yet to leave), was the licensee at Yates’s Wine Lodge. I had more hair than I have now and sported a pair of John Lennon glasses that I thought were really cool. I lived above a hair dressers and was, generally, having a pretty damn fine time of it.

As hard as it is to believe that Angel first aired fourteen years ago now (although if that makes you feel old how about the fact that it’s twenty-four years since Quantum Leap debuted?) it has indeed been that long. Born of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel had left the show at the end of the third season. Despite the popularity of the central love story between Buffy and Angel, Joss Whedon obviously saw that stretching it out indefinitely was never going to be dramatically possible.

So, how does it hold up in the second decade of the 21st century? Pretty well, actually. The format would drastically change over the course of the five seasons, but the pilot establishes the show as a detective series with Angel in the lead as well as fellow Sunnydale alumni Cordelia Chase and new guy Doyle. Whilst the cast would eventually grow to Scooby Gang levels the pilot, “City of”, focuses on our new trio.

“Once upon a time, there was a vampire. And he was the meanest vampire in all the land. I mean, other vampires were afraid of him he was such a bastard. Then, one day, he’s cursed, by gypsies. They restore his human soul and suddenly he’s mad with guilt. You know “What have I done…” You know, he’s freaked.” – DOYLE

The writing’s as polished as you’d expect from the nimble fingers of Joss Whedon, even when it comes to things like the above exposition. Doyle isn’t a greatly defined character in the pilot, but he gets a fair few of the best lines. His job here is to move the story along: To direct Angel in the beginning of his quest for redemption. If you’re judging him on the pilot alone he’s pretty much redundant. His role would just as easily be fulfilled by a letter being pushed under Angel’s door. It’s the writing that makes him appealing, as well as actor Glenn Quinn (although after first seeing him in Roseanne I was amazed to find out that he’s actually using his own accent in Angel – A bit like hearing James Marsters talk in his native tongue for the first time) who does a bang up job of making Doyle seem like an actual character.

“I finally get invited to a nice place… with no mirrors, and… lots of curtains… Hey! You’re a vampire! (…)  I’m from Sunnydale — we had our own Hellmouth! I think I know a vampire when I… am… alone with him… in his fortress-like home. And, you know? I think I’m just feeling a little light-headed from hunger. I’m just wacky! And kidding!! Ha, ha!…” – CORDELIA

Okay, so Angel bumping into Cordelia is a bit of a stretch coincidence wise. You have to love it when two characters miraculously bump into each other in a city with a population of… quick Wikipedia query… 3.8 million. Charisma Carpenter is an attractive actress and certainly adds a bit of glamour to the show, but more than that; she’s a GOOD actress. Over on Buffy Cordelia began as a one dimensional character, but Carpenter quickly rounded her out and she became an integral part of the cast. Her evolution continues here. She’s no longer the spoiled rich girl, but a destitute wannabe actress that desperately needs help. Even though Doyle points Angel in the direction of Tina, it’s Cordelia that ends up being saved: Not just from the evil vampire (Russell) that tries to eat her, but from the pathetic existence that she is now living.

The real reason that the pilot succeeds isn’t because of the main stars, but Tina, the guest of the week. Played brilliantly by Tracey Middendorf, Tina is (allegedly) the person that The Powers That Be want Angel to save. In this case it’s from an ancient vampire that likes to prey on aspiring actresses. In order to set the tone of the series, and illustrate that Angel is a much different beast from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Whedon and co-writer David Greenwalt make the bold move of having Angel fail in his mission. The woman he has been sent to protect ends up dead on the floor of her apartment and all Angel can do is avenge her. It’s an audacious thing to do in any series, but to have it happen in the pilot is astonishing. It really sets the tone for the show in the fact that this is a much more mature series that its parent.

RUSSELL: We do things a certain way in LA. I keep my name out of the paper and I don’t make waves. And in return I can do anything I want.

[Angel puts his foot on Russell’s chair and whispers]

ANGEL: Can you fly?

[proceeds to kick Russell out the window. Russell becomes dust]

ANGEL: Guess not.

Apart from the 2 “Cordelia Coincidences” of the episode (randomly meeting Angel and then being the ONE person that Russell decides to have as his next meal, just when Angel is coming to kick his arse) there really aren’t any glaring negatives to say about the show. The action’s good and well staged, the denouement is satisfying, the writing and direction are layered with quality and the actors  seemingly enjoy themselves in the roles. Apart from the size of the mobile phones and Angel visiting a library to use their computer there’s very little to date this as a show from last century.

The pilot introduces many elements that continue throughout the series. Wolfram and Hart play a large part, including an unnamed lawyer, later to become Lindsey McDonald, that faces off with our hero. Lindsey is also the only character (apart from Angel himself) to appear in both the first and last episodes of the show. The Powers That Be are introduced and continue to direct Angel for the next 5 years. In essence, what the show is about isn’t winning, losing or keeping score. It’s about fighting the good fight because that’s what needs to be done.

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Evil Dead (2013) trailer

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I didn’t know what to think after hearing that they were remaking The Evil Dead. The original, and its sequels, are such classics that I couldn’t fathom why they’d remake them. After watching the trailer, however, I think it looks like it’s going to be outstanding.

It lacks the humour of the original, but that might just be the choice of the producers to focus on the horror aspect here. After Cabin in the Woods I expect great things from this: An old school horror movie with just balls to the wall scares. The kind of thing that I can show my 11 year old son if I want him to grow up slightly deranged.

A Good Day to Die Hard

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I was never aware as a child that Bruce Willis was known as a comedy actor. My mum used to watch Moonlighting but I don’t recall her ever allowing me to see it. My first exposure to Mr Willis was in the original Die Hard movie. This was back in the day when a 14 year old kid could walk into HMV and buy an 18 certificate video without anyone batting an eyelid.

Die Hard came out 25 years ago. Please excuse me for a moment whilst I go and sob in the corner of the room for my lost youth.

Right, on we go. Die Hard was followed in 1990 by Die Harder, which wasn’t very good but they still managed to make a third film in 1995: Die Hard with a Vengeance which, really was meant to be the end of it. It was also my favourite of the series. I LOVE the original, but I could watch the third movie over and over again. Samuel L Jackson and Mr Willis are an awesome team and the film is full of quotable lines. At this point McClane is no longer the ‘normal cop in extraordinary circumstances’ from the first two movies, but he’s also not the superhero of the fourth movie, Live Free or Die Hard, which came out in 2007. It’s a fun movie, but McClane is nothing short of unkillable in it.

Which brings us to the new movie; A Good Day to Die Hard. Every time I hear / read the title I can’t help but imagine Michael Dorn in Star Trek: First Contact: “Perhaps today IS a good day to die”, but that probably wasn’t the intention of the producers.

In this McClane is now retired (well, he is 57 and deserves a bit of a rest after the same shit happening to the same guy 5 times) and travels to Russia to save his son, Jack, who has been arrested for a assassination.

The trailer has some awful dialogue: “You know what I hate about Americans? Everything” BUT it has some good lines too; “You don’t look like a lawyer” and Jai Courtney appears to be a good choice to play McClane’s son with his deadpan “Don’t encourage him” echoing Mr Willis’ straight faced quipping over the last 2 1/2 decades.

Rather than the realism of the first 2 movies, where McClane always looked like he was two steps away from getting killed, this will, inevitably, take the insanity of the fourth film and ramp it up to extreme levels. We live in a world where the next film in an action series always has to be BIGGER with MORE EXPLOSIONS and EXTREME CAR CHASES, although how they’re going to top the semi-trailer versus the fighter jet from the last one is anyone’s guess.

But the Die Hard movies have evolved from what they once were, and the new movie looks like fun. Mr Willis is still one of my favourite actors and he obviously loves playing the character. With another film in the planning we haven’t seen the end of McClane yet and the trailer definitely makes me want to watch it.

RESURRECTION MAN: Volume 1 – “Dead Again”

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Resurrection Man Vol 1An amazing friend of mine that goes by the name of Troo (and who herself has 2 great blogs: Troo Adventure about her amazing adventures around the globe and Troo Grit about her healthy obsession with gaming) has been lovely enough to send me Amazon gift cards for my birthday and Christmas (despite me being an utter swine and not even getting her a card). When I’m buying graphic novels out of my own cash I tend to go for stuff that I know I am going to like. It’s a fair bet that when take a trip to the Waterstones or Forbidden Planet I’ll be buying a Superman collection or the latest volume of The Walking Dead.  When I was perusing Amazon for something to buy I was looking at the usual stuff; characters that I already knew and loved, authors that I respected and artists that I admired.

It was about the time that DC began releasing the collected editions of The New 52, and I was looking at the Justice League, Batman, Teen Titans, that sort of thing… the titles that take up most of my collection. However, the reason that I was able to buy these comics was because of a person that I greatly admire (and who, frankly, scares me a little bit on an intellectual level, although she could kick my arse physically as well) and is always up for new experiences and expanding her horizons. On some level I wanted to reflect that in my purchases, which sounds a bit daft when I write it down, but there you go.

The Resurrection Man in question is called Mitch Shelley and, as far as I can tell, has a unique super power. Whilst there are plenty of heroes that can fly or have super strength Mitch keeps returning from the dead with a new power each time. That sounded pretty cool to me.

The point in the New 52 was to get new readers on board for characters that have been around for a long time and writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (who also created the character back in the day) grab the opportunity with Mitch. Despite reading comics for the vast majority of my life I don’t think I’ve ever come across the chap before. My lovely new DC Comics Encyclopedia that I got for Christmas (who says and ex-wife can’t buy you a thoughtful gift?) tells me that he’s fought alongside the likes of the Justice League of America and Supergirl, so he’s probably been in at least something I’ve read but, y’know, if you need an encyclopedia to keep track of them all then you’re bound to forget a few of ’em.

As you’d expect the story starts with Mitch coming back to life. The New 52 wasn’t really about doing the origin stories again so Mitch has already been living this life for some time, but in the great tradition of fiction he has amnesia as well. He knows who he is, and he knows he has this power, but that’s about it. As a jumping on point for a new reader it’s not bad. It’s fairly basic storytelling but there’s a reason that it works – it allows the reader to learn at the same pace as the character. It creates suspense and empathy and, when it’s used well it’s a brilliant device (the film Memento is a great example of this). The question is: Does Resurrection Man  do it well?

The series lasted 13 issues before it was cancelled, but this isn’t indicative of quality (Firefly lasted 13 episodes and is regarded as one of the greatest genre shows of all time, after all) and, after reading the first volume, it’s a shame that it didn’t last longer but with 52 different comics all being pumped out at the same time it’s no surprise that some of them fell by the wayside. The popular ones were always going to be popular, but it’s ones like Resurrection Man that don’t get the readership they deserve.

It turns out Mitch is very popular, in a “being hunted by different people” kind of way. There’s an angel called Suriel trying to collect his soul and a couple of ladies called the Body Doubles trying to get their hands on him as well, while Mitch tries to figure out who he is and why he keeps returning from the dead. Heaven and Hell want his soul as his inability to die is causing ‘bookkeeping problems’, which is a tidy little idea with both sides warning that Mitch’s constant returns are beginning to cause a problem in the grand scheme of thing.

There are a couple of great little scenes that inject some nice humour into what is, essentially, a very dark story. The Body Doubles attempts to retrieve Mitch by repeatedly killing him (it makes their job a lot easier) raised a smile, as well as Suriel using a mobile phone to call Heaven and ask them to look out of the window to see if Mitch’s soul is heading up there.

In fact the only problem that I have with Dead Again is the Body Doubles themselves. They’re unkillable ‘retrieval experts’ as well as being in a lesbian relationship. Their dialogue is great and they’ve got the partners in crime quipping down to an artform. The issue that I have is their physical portrayal. Our introduction to the characters is of them lying in bed wearing lingerie and surrounded by guns. It’s pure fanboy wank fantasy and completely unnecessary to the story. This is the 21st century, for crying out loud. Bonnie spends the rest of the story wearing an evening gown that has a habit of getting ripped and Carmen… she wears a schoolgirl outfit where her tiny tartan miniskirt has a habit of flapping up to reveal her underwear. It’s exploitative and degrading. Don’t get me wrong – it looks great to see a sexy couple of chicks shooting and fighting, but there’s just no need for it in the story. As titillating as it might be it’s hard to read a mature comic like this and not see it as the basest exploitation.

Overall, despite this quibble, Resurrection Man is a decent read. Fernando Dagnino is as polished an artist as you’d expect from a DC Comics publication and he illustrates the pain that Mitch feels upon his returns very well. Whilst Mitch might die a little too often in order to progress the story (9 times in 7 issues? That’s a bit much) he gets some fun and varied powers to play around with. The downside is do you really want to spend £10.99 on a series that you already know got cancelled?

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