Archive for the ‘Brian E. Wilson’s movie reviews’ Category

Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  A Discussion by Steve Sposato and Brian E. Wilson

Warning:  This discussion includes major spoilers and assumes the reader has seen the entire series.  Proceed at your own risk.  And now let’s cue the amazing Nerf Herder theme for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.


Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer…

Brian:  I have written a few essays for Wonders in the Dark solo, but for this piece I invited my BFF (Buffy Friend Forever) Steve Sposato to join me in a Q and A about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  This groundbreaking series, set in Sunnydale, California, ran for seven seasons starting in 1997 and ending in 2003.  Based on a rather goofy 1992 cult film, the show (created by the movie’s screenwriter Joss Whedon) became one of the most acclaimed ever on TV with its surprisingly potent mix of supernatural horror, comedy, romance, and emotional drama.  Over seven seasons, viewers followed Buffy as she fought demons, vampires, monsters, other humans, and gods all the while trying to survive high school, then college, then life.  The series became quite existential as Buffy struggled with her role as the Slayer, her loneliness increasing with each new season.  Although she had a group of friends, affectionately called Scoobys by fans, attempting to help her, Buffy became angsty about being the one and only Slayer.  It became apparent from the start that this series was something special, trying new things, demanding a lot from its viewers, and rising above its jokey title.

Steve: People say we’re living in a golden age of TV, which is probably true, though I think current TV is sometimes self-servingly overhyped. To the extent that this is a golden age, however, I’ve always felt this VCR-era series has been underappreciated as a key show that paved the way. It departed from most TV of its time in ways that are now taken for granted: consistent quality, season-long story arcs (the season-is-equal-to-a-novel idea), and increasingly dark and edgy storytelling, violence and death exacting a toll on the characters. It’s not a show that re-sets at the end of every episode, although it easily could have been: Buffy saves the day, all’s back to normal again. How dull that would have been.

Also, it was aired on an outsider network (the WB for the first five seasons; UPN the last two) willing to support creative risks (though not always the budget for them) in pursuit of a niche audience, pretty much the standard model today. But Buffy wasn’t a male anti-hero, so she’s often left out of the Sopranos-based definition of the new golden era (which some have argued is over, anyway).

Brian:  Everything you say is true.  The creators of Buffy wanted to show that every action on the series had impact on its characters.  Things could not be undone. Everything accumulated, weighing down on Buffy’s shoulders by Season 7:  failed romances, fraught friendships, losing her mother, financial responsibility, moral responsibility, the constant being on call as the one and only chosen Slayer.  What I appreciate about the series is although we would sometimes get an angry and/or confused “I want to get away from this all” Buffy, the show ultimately didn’t make her an anti-hero.  She is the hero from start to finish, even though she makes mistakes and flips out in some key episodes.  When the burden is lifted from her shoulders in the series’ final episode, in the most beautiful way possible, I for one felt a sense of relief for her, that she deserved this happy resolution after 144 episodes. (more…)


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by Brian E. Wilson


I have seen Rebel Without a Cause several times with an audience and this famous line, yelled with great anger and frustration by James Dean’s misunderstood character Jim Stark at his elders, brings about a wide variety of reactions.  When I saw the movie in a college film studies class in the 1980s, my snarky peers chuckled and laughed at it, later calling Dean’s emotional line delivery campy and over-the-top.  Surprised that this guy presented as the epitome of cool on merchandise such as posters, postcards, and calendars (that still sell well today, along with Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe nostalgia) could be capable of losing his cool so dramatically, many in the class dismissed him.  Also, in the ’80s, I am sure many were also giddy with the fact that Jim Backus (known mostly as Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island) plays Jim’s meek father.  What they didn’t seem to notice is that Backus gives a effective performance in the role, and that Dean plays off him beautifully.

Yet at a packed screening in a revival house in the early ’00s, the “You’re Tearing Me Apart” moment led to a gasp and then stunned silence.  The rawness of the moment still startles.  People attending the screening obviously had the ability to transport themselves back to when this movie was initially released.  In 1955, Jim Stark’s explosion of confusion must have struck a nerve with a generation disillusioned with their parents.  I wrote an essay for this series on Stand by Me (#62) and I was alive when that film came out and could write from experience about what impact that film had at the time of its release.  For Rebel, I wasn’t, so over the years I have listened to and read anecdotes and comments of family members, friends, instructors, critics, and others who caught the film at the time of its release.  Many said it struck a chord and that Jim finally said with deep emotion what many teenagers wanted to say.

Also, at the time of its release (October 27, 1955), Dean’s fans were mourning his very recent death (September 30, 1955).  He died at the age of 24 in a car accident.  He lived to see only one of his films, 1955’s East of Eden with his brilliant Oscar nominated performance, play in theaters.  So watching Dean’s Jim Stark experience emotional turmoil in Rebel must have been painful for his many young fans. (more…)

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By Brian E. Wilson

Ah, nostalgia.

After offering to write this review of Rob Reiner’s nostalgic Stephen King adaptation, set in 1959, I felt a sudden wave of nostalgia myself.  Memories of catching this funny, profane, surprisingly moving gem in August 1986 came flooding back to me.  The movie, about four misfit 12-year-olds (all with distant and/or neglectful fathers) forming a temporary bond as they travel by foot to see their first real dead body (an older boy struck by a train), set itself apart that summer.  I ended up watching it several times at the theater over the next few months, but would not see it again until I recently revisited the movie.  Although I was heading into my senior year of college at the time of its release, Stand by Me still spoke to me as I struggled with the notion of wanting to be a writer (just like the film’s lead character Gordie, beautifully played by Wil Wheaton as a boy, and Richard Dreyfuss as a reminiscing adult called simply “The Writer”).

Taut, economically directed by Reiner (I forgot that the film is only 88 minutes long), the film works on so many levels:  as a rollicking yet tear-jerking vehicle for its young stars, as a sensitive if troubling coming of age story, and as a successful big screen treatment of a Stephen King novella called “The Body.”  The modestly budgeted film not only became one of my favorite movies of 1986, but a sizable hit, and one that helped Ben E. King’s gorgeous title song (co-written by the singer, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller) return to the Billboard Top Ten one more time.  (Do yourself a favor, and look at the wonderful video with an effervescent Ben E. King doing some classic dance moves with stars Wheaton and River Phoenix on YouTube.)  Side note:  the trivia hound in me must note that the movie is set in 1959, but the tune didn’t come out until 1961–but hey, why quibble, when a song is this good and so appropriate thematically?

Before I revisited the movie (for the first time in around 28 years), I asked myself “will this film hold up?”  I am happy to report that it does. (more…)

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