Veronica Mars and the Case of the Kickstarter Kerfluffle

So then. Veronica Mars. I just wrote about the virtues of that very show in my last blog, Small Screen Gems – and lo and behold, a short time later, it’s become the Show that Made History – that is, creator Rob Thomas gathered, on Kickstarter, as of March 16 at 3:12 PM Central Time, $3,517,129 toward making a Veronica Mars movie. With 27 days to go.  Sure, there are some big money donors in there, but for the most part, we’re looking at a lot of folks donating smaller amounts… last I heard, the average donation was $61.

There’s been some backlash. Let’s take off the table the idea that maybe this money could be better spent on more humanitarian causes, and stick to the subject of artistic projects, specifically.

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Plus – cute as a bug in a Snuggie.

The argument, from one section of the virtual roundtable, is that fans’ enthusiastic response to the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign sets a terrible precedent for the way movies are funded, the future of independent cinema, etc. I’m not going to get into that. For a good article on the subject, check out Sam Adams’ piece in Slate.

What I will get into is this: There are two sentiments I’ve heard repeated most often… 1) “What’s next.. a movie version of ____?” <–fill in your choice of marginal TV fare. Clever, albeit snarky folks are hating on the VM. I honestly believe that most of them have developed a perception of the show, and have never actually given it a fair chance. Because it’s decidedly not marginal fare.  And 2) “Why can’t people just let go? How about funding something NEW?”

Manimal

Hmm. It’s true. We geeks don’t like to let go. This is, essentially, why the film Serenity got made. And certainly, Hollywood is not the best purveyor of Things New – and this often goes very badly. Look at every movie version of a 70’s TV show designed to pander to Gen X viewers, every ill-begotten ‘re-imagining’ or sequel (Bruce Willis Dying Hard yet again), and the poster child for Not-Knowing-When-Enough-Is-Enough-Already, George Lucas. I’m often frustrated by these trends as well – and I love the rare book or film that is truly original, truly Something New.

Next up, Manimal the movie!   

Also, sometimes an author or auteur needs to understand that the story is, in fact, done, and trust the imagination of their readers and viewers. For instance, the final chapter of the Harry Potter books. I freaking adore that series, but I’m not a big fan of the way we’re handed a neat little package of an ending, a peek into the future of our favorite surviving characters – instead of being allowed to imagine all the possibilities. The crux (or horcrux, amirite?) of the story was complete one chapter earlier, after all.

But what about those artists and authors who can’t let go… of a world, a character, a story, and the result is something great? I defeat the haters’ argument with 3 examples: Evil Dead 2, Lord of the Rings (books), and The Jeffersons. BOOM! Not to mention Cape FearFrasier, Updike’s Rabbit books, Godfather 2, The Colbert Report, several terrific Jane Austen movies and miniseries, Legend of Korra, many mystery series, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Clueless, Moulin Rogue, Angel, Nosferatu, the occasional Batman show or movie, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and let us not forget Gremlins 2. And here’s the deal… sometimes we viewers are not ready to say goodbye to beloved characters or worlds, and we relish in the idea of closure, or a peek into their future.

Veronica Mars is such a show. Due to network manipulation, and some floundering on the part of the writers, season 3 wasn’t all it should have been, and we were left with a bit of a cliffhanger, not to mention a lot of question marks where characters’ lives were headed. It’s a show that deserves more, and Veronica is unquestionably someone whom I want to meet at age 28. Rob Thomas created an interesting world packed full of complex characters, some beloved, some nasty as hell, many deliciously in the middle- and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing them all again.

I plan on donating at the $25 amount, so I can get the t-shirt.

Cheers,

Q

PS. If you haven’t seen Kristen Bell’s sloth meltdown, you need to watch it. It might just make you want to fund her movie.

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You’re Welcome.

Small Screen Gems

Remember the days when movie stars would never soil themselves by downgrading to the little screen? It wasn’t all that long ago. Now they are all clambering to star in their own series. Likewise, for an actor to make a successful leap from the TV to the cinema used to be a singular event. I remember being surprised when Neve Campbell scored the lead in Scream. And when David Caruso so famously left television because he wanted a film career… well, we all know how that turned out.  Now it’s only natural for your favorite actors to flit back and forth between mediums. Look at your Kevin Baconses and your Dennis Quaidses and your Claire Daneses.

I attribute this A) to the desirability of consistent employment that television provides, and B) a noticeable increase in the quality of television over the past decade, decade-and-a-half. “Chickens and eggs,”  you could say. Did TV improve because of the quality of actors they started employing, or vice versa? I say the latter. The Sopranos just may have been the vanguard of the new, improved TV experience, and no one on that show was very famous when they were cast. Now TV shows are pulling in Bill Paxton, Kerry Washington, Alec Baldwin, Steve Buschemi and Sean Bean. Granted, we’re not talking Angelina Jolie or Will Smith here, but these are established movie actors with impressive resumes.

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Mmm… Sean Bean…

So, TV has improved, but also, there’s just a lot more of it. So, naturally, some worthy shows get less attention than they should. Here are a few you might want to check out – all of them have crossover stars. I’m skipping Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because I already harped on about it in a previous post, and no doubt will go on and on about it in the future.

Veronica Mars

If there’s one show you take away from this list, let it be this one. There are three seasons in total, and season one, I can say without hyperbole, is some of the most engaging TV I’ve ever seen. The second season is not as good as the first, but it’s still pretty great TV. The third season is the weakest of the three, but by that point you’ll be hooked, and you’ll watch it anyway. Veronica Mars lives in the town of Neptune, and she is the daughter of disgraced ex-sheriff Keith Mars (the absolutely wonderful, you’ll-want-him-to-be-your-dad Enrico Colantoni), who is now a private eye. Veronica occasionally does sleuthing work for him, and often investigates mysteries of her own. Don’t be fooled, she is no Harriet the Spy, no Nancy Drew. She is, if anything, the cold hand of justice – ruthless in tearing down those who do her, or the underdog, wrong. She’s so smart and capable, in fact, that she’s almost like a super hero – her cleverness is just a little bit beyond believable – thus, much like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, she’s a joy to watch in action.  Season one’s big mystery is the murder of Veronica’s best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried {Cosette, No!}). Veronica’s also investigating the whereabouts of her deadbeat, alcoholic mother, and her own rape, which happened at a party where she was dosed with Rohypnol. So, yeah. Definitely not Nancy Drew. All of these mysteries are introduced in the first episode. There are also shifting alliances, lots of romance, a nasty sheriff, a software billionaire, a movie star, and a biker gang. Plus, two Buffy alumni, and a cameo by Joss Whedon (a fan) himself.

Crossover Stars: Kristen Bell, Amanda Seyfried

Pair With: A cafe latte with a shot of cinnamon. 

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Supersleuth!

Firefly

And speaking of Joss Whedon. The cancelation of Firefly still causes the geeks of the world to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, drenched in cold sweat, hearts thumping. Hell, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory brings it up every chance he gets. The thing is this… it’s really, really good. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before – so I’m not going to get into details. In fact, let me try a fresh angle… the cast is crazy attractive. Seriously.

Crossover Stars: Nathan Fillion, Morena Baccarin

Pair With:  A shot of Moonshine Clear Corn Whiskey

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Hi! We’re in space and we’re good looking!

Pushing Daisies

Pushing Daisies is charming, storybook, bonbon of a show. About death. Lee Pace (The Hobbit, Lincoln) plays Ned, The Pie Maker, a man who can touch a dead thing and bring it back to life. Touch it again, and that thing dies again, forever. Fail to touch it a second time, and something of equal size (and intelligence, I think, although that’s never exactly clear) dies in its place. Whew! So what does Ned do? He pairs up with a private detective, Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), to bring murder victims back to life, ask them who killed them, and then touch them again, leaving them forever dead. (They never really get a straight answer from the victim, just a clue or two.) But then Ned comes across his childhood sweetheart, the love of his life, dead in a coffin. You can probably extrapolate what happens next. The candy-colored, unreal settings and the storybook narration give Pushing Daisies a fairy tale feel. At times, the relationship between Ned and Charlotte, his sweeetie, can get a bit twee, but that is nicely tempered by the cartoonishly grotesque talking dead people they encounter, the sharp and hilarious Kristin Chenoweth as Olive Snook, a waitress in Ned’s cafe, Swoozie Kurtz and Ellen Greene as Charlotte’s recluse aunts, and especially McBride, who is gut-bustingly funny as the droll Cod. Sketch comedians Key and Peele joke that every black best friend in a show has to utter the line “Oh helllll no!” – and McBride does just that, many times, but I swear he makes an art of it.

Crossover Star: Lee Pace

Pair With: Pie! (Duh) – If you can get your hands on it, the banana cream pie from Norske Nook in Osseo, WI.

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Key and Peele

And speaking of Key and Peele… This is a newish, cable sketch comedy show, starring comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. It’s not for everyone – it’s definitely R rated. What I love is the unique point of view that Key and Peele bring to the comedy stage. They are each children of one black and one white parent, and much of their comedy is about what it’s like to belong, and not belong in both worlds. That tack could’ve resulted in a very narrow viewpoint, but instead, their comedy speaks to anyone who has ever put on poses in order to fit in. Which is… pretty much everyone. Oh, and also? They’re just really funny.

Click here for a short, PG13-rated sketch from them.

Okay, no crossover stars… as of yet.

Pair With: Whatever Liam Neesons or Bruce Willeys would drink.

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Leverage

I admit: this is kind of a dorky show. When my friends Julie and Claire were trying to convince a bunch of us to watch it, the conversation went something like this:

J&C: Okay, so, Timothy Hutton plays this guy who used to have a job catching criminals, but then he was screwed over by the insurance company that he worked for, so he changed to the other side of the law.

The Rest of Us: That sounds kinda like The A-Team.

J&C: But wait. So he hires one guy who’s the muscle, one guy who’s a computer hacker, a woman who’s a catburglar (she’s kind of crazy), and a woman who’s a grifter, and they steal stuff and pull off cons…

The Rest of Us: That still sounds kinda like The A-Team.

J&C: But wait. Get this. They only do jobs for altruistic reasons. They take down the man!

The Rest of Us: That definitely sounds like The A-Team.

Well, it turns out, in the DVD extras, the creators and the stars say that everyone tries to compare them to Oceans 11, but what they really are like is… yes, The A-Team. The hacker character, in fact, played by Aldis Hodge (the real standout in the cast), owns a van with which he is obsessed, ala B.A. Baracus. Leverage is as light as air — a nice little floofy bit of fluff-tastickness. In fact, there are only two problems with this show. One: When they try to get too serious, which, fortunately isn’t very often, it doesn’t work. Two: There’s some terrible male hair going on. Terrible. But mostly, it succeeds, because it’s super fun. Watch it as a sorbet for Breaking Bad or Homeland, when you just can’t take the stress anymore.

Crossover Star: Timothy Hutton

Pair With: Irish Whisky, but stop long before Nathan does.

the-a-team Who doesn’t love it when a plan comes together?

Fringe

For many years, folks have been crowning this show and that show “The Next X-Files.” (Alias, Lost.) In my mind, Fringe is the true heir. It, like many shows before it, took to heart the most important lesson X-Files had to teach us, which was “Don’t let your mythology get out of control.” As groundbreaking as the X-Files was, it got incredible frustrating after a while. Not so Fringe. That is not to say that the show’s mythology is simplistic. It’s very complicated – but it’s also clever and consistent. Season one is eminently watchable, but it’s not until season two that Fringe really finds its footing. I don’t want to give anything away, sufficed to say that it’s great science fiction, and you’ll have a hard time not clicking on that next episode, and the one after that.

Crossover Stars: John Noble and Leonard Nimoy

Pair With:  Johnny Walker Black (Olivia’s drink of choice), with a shot of Cortexiphan.

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The Mentalist

I like detective shows that have a sense of humor. I like Castle, The Closer, and before it jumped the shark (which time, amiright?), Bones. I’ll pretty much watch any show of this ilk if it’s at all good – it doesn’t have to be singular or even great. All I ask for is some decent acting, interesting mysteries, a good, quirky main character, and the satisfaction of catching the bad guy at the end of the episode. The Mentalist is all those things in seasons one and two – but in season three, I’m not even sure why, exactly, I got seriously hooked. I think it has something to do with the fact that Simon Baker is so stellar as the enormously clever and severely damaged Patrick Jane – and in season three we started to get more and more flashes of his dark underbelly. I like his back story.  I like that he’s unpredictable. I like that he’s always smiling and it’s almost never genuine. Plus – easy on the eyes. Oh! And Cho. You’ve gotta love Agent Cho. (He’s totally the real-life Cornfed from Duckman.)

Crossover Stars: Simon Baker, Robin Tunney (The Craft!)

Pair With: Lapsang Souchong tea, preferable pilfered from someone else’s cupboard.

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Handsome McVesty

Avatar, the Last Airbender/ The Legend of Korra 

The first of the two series, Avatar, the Last Airbender, very, very unfortunately did cross over onto the big screen. It was put in the dubious hands of M. Knight Shamalan (a sort of anti-Midas. Everything he touches turns to ca-ca), a move guaranteed to ensure that anyone who hadn’t yet seen the animated original would never, ever seek it out. Which is too bad, because it’s great fun. Forget the horror show that is the movie. Pretend it never happened, and go stream Avatar, and then Korra after.

In a fantasy world akin to mid-19th century Asia, there are four nations, one for each element. There are special folks called ‘Benders,’ who can manipulate either air, water, earth or fire. Into every generation is born The Avatar, the one person who can control all four elements. The Avatar is entrusted to bring/maintain peace between the nations. Ang is our Avatar, and he is woefully underprepared to take on the despotic Fire Nation. With the help of a couple of Water Nation siblings, Ang travels throughout the land to gain the knowledge and skill he needs to lead. There are many obstacles in his way, of course – and he encounters a great number of enemies and allies. There’s terrific humor, adventure and surprising complexity in the story.

Even better, in my opinion, is The Legend of Korra – the titular Korra is the next Avatar after Ang – and, since it’s 70 years later, now we’re in a world more akin to the roaring 20s. The animation is superior to the original, and the action is nail-biting. Very pretty to look at, very fun to watch. Plus, Pabu, the fire ferret. FIRE FERRET. I want a fire ferret. A second season is in the works.

Crossover Stars: J.K. Simmons, Mako  Iwamatsu.

Pair With: Japanese tofu noodle bowl, and a perfectly brewed cup of genmaicha tea. 

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Want. One.

Cheers!

Q

Finding the Yummy is Contagious

Hey all – in addition to this blog, which is all my very own, I contribute to The Scribblerati – my writing group’s blog about, what else, writing!!

There are five of us. We all write in the science fiction, horror, or fantasy genres (nevertheless, our styles couldn’t be more diverse).

Check us out! Lisa recently blogged about a fantastical meal she had. It is a tasty, tasty piece of writing. Read it here!

Cheers!

Q

Scribblerati badge final - cropped This is our sigil, which I designed. (Yes, we call it a sigil. We’re sci fi/fantasy geeks…duh)

A Delicious Mix

Music is not my forte.

Movies, cocktails, television, the English language, throwing parties – I’m pretty good at these things. Not so much with the music. That said: I am surrounded by music. This is mostly why I’m appropriately humble about my knowledge, talent and musical aptitude. Here’s my husband, Tony, on clarinet: (“Burgundy Street Blues”). And here’s one of my best friends, Karen, performing a song she wrote: (“I Do”). And that’s just the tip of the drumstick. I have professional musicians crawling out of my earholes (err…so to speak). The above examples are the sort of thing I hear on a daily basis in my living room, live. I’m very lucky – and because of who I married, I probably know more about traditional jazz than 97.2 percent of the population. (This really isn’t saying a whole lot.)

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Yummy Gotye

But, modern music? I started falling behind in about, say, 1995. Look at some of my friends – (I can go by the Facebook postings alone of Greg, Brent, Ela, Nick, Stacia, Sam – Keen music mavens all.) These are the sorts folks that have external hard drives attached to their computers just to hold one GENRE of music. Thanks to them, and other friends like them, and The Current radio station, occasionally a song written post-1965 sneaks past my antediluvian shields and worms its way into my noggin.

There are certain modern artists from whom I will purchase any new release – but these tend to be folks who have been around for a while: Tom Waits, Rufus Wainwright, Fiona Apple, Dan Wilson, Tori Amos – you get the idea. Baroque pop. But just as often, you’ll find me listening to 1960’s R&B or Louis Armstrong.

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Delectable Sam Cooke

I’m a shuffle girl. I like listening to a wide variety of music at one time. I love mixes: tapes, CDs, and now playlists. It’s not that I have these hugely eclectic tastes, it’s just – well, I like shuffles for the same reason I like sushi: I enjoy sampling a little exquisite bit of this, a little tasty nibble of that. The thing is, once you’ve played a particular list ad infinitum, you tend to grow weary of the songs. However, there are always a few exceptions – and one day I will compile a mix featuring all the modern-era songs of which I never grow tired. So far I have Rufus Wainwright’s cover of “Hallelujah,”  Tom Waits’ “Hold On,” and something off of Crowded House’s album Woodface.  I’ll let you know if I ever finish.

Meanwhile, I managed to create a mix many months ago that I still can’t stop listening to all the time. I made it for my friend Mary Ellen, so it is appropriately titled “From Q to M.E.”

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Scrumptious Pink

Here’s the list of songs – and a drink or culinary delight to accompany each one. Choose one drink each time you listen to the whole mix! Or listen with friends, and choose a drink for each person! (Don’t drink them all by yourself in one sitting. You will die.) Now that the single is back in fashion, you too can recreate this compilation. (Links are provided for all of the songs, and those drinks that are not self-explanatory.)

From Q to M.E.

1. Helplessness Blues / Fleet Foxes

Pair With: A Seasonal Old Fashioned (Use whatever fruit or herb is in season – Door County cherries and Honeycrisp apples, fennel and clementine, etc.  muddle with 1 tsp sugar, add 2 oz Maker’s Mark, ice, Angostura bitters, a splash of soda water –  VOILE!)

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2. Extraordinary Machine / Fiona Apple

Pair With: Pavao Vinho Verde white wine

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3. Someday / The Strokes

Pair With: Mayan Cocktail

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4. Falling Slowly / Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova (From the beautiful musical film, “Once.”)

Pair With: A Guinness, poured slowly.

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5. Winter Blue / The Twilight Hours

Pair With: Snow Glacier Cocktail

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6. The Cave / Mumford & Sons

Pair With: Cave-aged Gruyère

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7. You Took Advantage of Me / Rosemary Clooney

Pair With: A Pimms Appletini

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8. Pump It / The Black Eyed Peas

Pair With: A Fergulicious: Fill a highball with ice, add 2 oz French cantaloupe liqueur – (Edmond Briottet Liqueur de Melon, if you can get it, Midori, if you can’t), top with 1/2 sprite, 1/2 soda water, garnish with a lime.

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9. My Moon My Man / Feist

Pair With: Moon River Cocktail

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10. The Happiest Lamb / Audra Mae

Pair With: The Sheep Cocktail

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11. Glitter in the Air / P!nk <–BEST GRAMMY PERFORMANCE EVER.

Pair With: Pink Sugar Glitter Cocktail

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12. Waiting for the Great Leap Forward / Billy Bragg

Pair With: A Newcastle Brown Ale

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13. Somebody That I Used to Know (feat. Kimba) / Gotye

Pair With: Root of All Evil cocktail (deliciously bitter).

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14. Paris 1919 / John Cale

Pair With: Ghost Cocktail

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15. Be My Only Love / Maureen McElheron

Pair With: Salt and Smoke caramel chocolate

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16. That’s It, I Quit, I’m Movin’ On / Sam Cooke

Pair With: A New Start cocktail – Rim a chilled martini glass with orange-cinnamon infused sugar (or make your own cardamom-sugar mix) Shake 2 oz Reyka vodka and the juice of 1/2 lime with ice. Pour into prepared glass. Top with Italian blood orange soda.

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17. Chemistry / Dan and Matt Wilson (live)

Pair With: Flaming Volcano Cocktail

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18. His Eye is on the Sparrow / Southside Aces

Pair With: A Sazerac

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What are the songs you can listen to over and over again?

Cheers, and happy mixing!

Q

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Best Episodes

So, this blog is all about, as the title would suggest, finding, and appreciating all things exquisitely savory in this world. This is not by any means limited to food and drink – there is also music, film, language, art – and of course, television. What greater joy than discovering a truly well-written series to sink one’s teeth into. Hours – years of entertainment, even.

Speaking of language – I was musing over the structure of the word ‘yummy.’ LETTER-U-DOUBLE CONSONANT-Y. So many yummy things fit this pattern – Curry! Sunny! Puppy! Funny! Of course, there’s also fussy, muggy and bully… but never mind that. The word I’m pondering at the moment, you guessed it (probably less so because you have psychic powers, and more because you read the title of this post) – is Buffy.

Ah, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you haven’t watched the show, it’s probably for one of the following reasons: A) You’re not into the fantasy/horror genre. B) You believe it’s a cheesy schlockfest made for kids (although, admittedly, a couple of early episodes may have solidified that idea in your mind), or C) You are sick to death of every single geek in the universe, or at least on the interwebs, going on and on and on about how friggin’ great Buffy is. Enough already. You’re not going to watch it out of principle. I really did know 4 people who fit into category C – although 3 of them have since caved, and are now fervent Buffy acolytes. (One of them, side note, was the owner of the video store where I used to work. He used to make fun of my fellow employee, Jon and me for loving Buffy so much. When he finally sat down and watched the series – devoured, I should say, he promptly moved it from the ‘Television’ section of the store to ‘Classics.’)

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Well, if you haven’t seen it, you’re only hurting yourself, I say. Heh, but I jest. I’m really not going to tell anyone that they have to watch anything. Not even… what’s a good broccoli* film? Shoah, say. I’m not going to tell you you have to watch Shoah. If you think Buffy (or Shoah) is not for you, it’s not for you. My friend Ann – as big a sci-fi/fantasy afficianado as anyone I know, was fairly ‘meh’ about Buffy – but she loved the spinoff, Angel, so we still talk and stuff.

So then, if you haven’t yet seen the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I suggest you go out and rent it (or stream it, or whatever you kids are doing these days), and come back to this post after you’ve finished season 7 – because SPOILER ALERT! applies to everything after this paragraph.

Okay…here goes, The Best Episodes of Buffy, one per season. (I’m excluding season finales, as they are almost always the best episodes.)

Season 1

“Puppet Show”

Season 1 is a half-season, and unquestionably the weakest of the 7 – but there is still some great fun to be had. I’m torn between  “Angel,” and “Puppet Show” for best episode. “Nightmares” is also a contender, but logic of the premise starts to fray at the edges if you think about it too hard. “Angel” is pivotal, but I’m going to go with “Puppet Show.” What? Okay, hear me out. Joss Whedon pulls off something extraordinary here, and it sets the stage for many of his future endeavors. Mr. Whedon thinks big. He comes up with  plot twists and set pieces that should never work, ideas that other auteurs would dismiss out of hand, and he pulls them off. His ability to take something absurd and hilarious and ground it with emotional truth, and some genuinely scary moments, is unparalleled. So, in “Puppet Show,” you not only have a sentient ventriloquist dummy – Buffy’s right – it’s super creepy (anyone who’s seen Magic can attest to that) – but he turns out to be a good guy. Plus, there’s that moment when Giles almost gets his brain sliced open, which makes me squeak every time.

Pair With: A glass of water, gargled. 

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Season 2

“Surprise/Innocence”

Okay, one season in, and this just got really hard. This is where the show officially stepped up, and became what it was meant to be – horror as analogy for teenage life – with great characters, and more than a little dash of humor. It starts out with a bang -with quite possibly the best Buffy premiere episode of any season (“When She Was Bad”), and just gets better from there. The introduction of Spike and Drusilla – vast improvements over the previous season’s villain, Willow stepping out of her Xander-obsessed shell into Oz’s waiting arms, Cordelia becoming a little more human and falling for Xander, and, of course, the relationship between Angel and Buffy, getting steamier and steamier. Really, did any of us see where that was going? Suprise/Innocence” (I’m cheating – but I consider them a 2-part episode) – the best of the season, left me almost as devastated as Buffy when Angel lost his soul. And oh, what a villain he became. He easily terrorized Buffy more than any other enemy on the show, at any point. Heartbreaking. Epic.

Pair With: Birthday cake (but don’t blow out the candles).

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Season 3

“Doppelgangland”

It’s tempting, again, to pick the mid-season, two part, deal-changing episodes as the best of the season. Faith goes over to the dark side! – Well-done, shocking. Similarly, we only get one taste of Spike this whole season, in “Lover’s Walk,” and it sure is good to see him again. Plus, that’s the episode that exposes Willow and Xander’s affair, and leaves Cordelia wounded in more ways than one. But I’m going with “Doppelgangland,”  because sometimes Buffy’s at its best when it’s just a blast. The setup for this episode happens in “The Wish,” in which an alternate universe is created, one where Xander and Willow are vampires. That episode is uber-dark, and savvy Mr. Whedon sensed that we all wanted to see more of Vamp Willow, in a less dire setting. So she comes to our universe (well, Buffy’s), and confusion, terror, and quite a lot of humor ensues. Buffy was unique at the time, as a show that actually harkened back to things said and done in seasons past, and foreshadowed things to come – seasons in advance. I know that seems like common sense these days, but really, it was a rarity at the time. So our Willow observes about Vamp Willow:

Willow: It’s horrible! That’s me as a vampire? I’m so evil and… skanky. And I think I’m kinda gay.
Buffy: Willow, just remember, a vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the person it was.
Angel: Well, actually…

Boy did they follow up on that one.

Pair With: A banana and/or a glass of Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre (depending on which Willow you’re toasting).

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Season 4

“Hush”

There are almost no clunkers in this season – so again, it seemed like a difficult choice, but in the end it was a no-brainer. Here’s Whedon and company thinking outside of the box once more – an episode where no one can speak? Gutsy. This works so well for two reasons. Wait. Three. A) The terrific music.  B) The episode is, on a deeper level, about the way we communicate, or the way we don’t. Friends talking over one another, potential lovers not knowing what to say, etc. and C) The villains are really, really scary. The fantastic mime and character actor Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy), plays the leader of the ‘Gentlemen’ – creatures from the most nightmarish fairy tale imaginable, who cut out the hearts of their victims with a tiny little scalpel and grinning aplomb. Contenders for the creepiest Buffy baddies ever.

Pair With: A scotch, in solidarity with terrified Olivia.

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Season 5

“The Body”

For some folks, Season 5 is where Buffy starts to get great. For me (and for a majority of fans, I think), it marks the end of an era. Sure, it still was better than most TV… But seasons 2, 3 and 4 were so strong – and I look at 5, and am not at all conflicted about which episode is the best. It’s got to be “The Body.” Ugh. I know, right? Easily the saddest episode of any season. Also the only episode that is straight drama, with nothing supernatural in it until the very end. Buffy and her friends are dealing with Joyce’s unexpected death – and the fact that she’s killed by an aneurism, and not a vampire or demon, make it somehow worse. This episode is a punch to the gut – and also a beautifully-shot, very honest portrayal of what it’s like to lose someone. Oh, those heart-wrenching silences.

Pair With: A soothing cup of tea and a lot of Kleenex.

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Season 6

“Once More With Feeling”

I know, I know… predictable. But it is really one of my all time favorite episodes, period. In a season with so much darkness, the musical, and the ensuing episode, “Tabula Rasa,” give us a little respite from all the angst. Buffy wasn’t the first TV show to do a musical episode, but I still think it stands as the best of its kind. The songs are clever, a prelude to Whedon’s crazy-popular “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” but the surprise here is how pivotal the plot is… and all the major emotional revelations that occur within the lines of the songs. We get a hint that Xander and Anya just might not be meant for one another, in the number “I’ll Never Tell.” Tara discovers that Willow is messing with her memory, and Willow’s inability to see just how wrong that is warns us of much darker times to come. And, of course, Buffy reveals the ultimate truth, the one she never would have disclosed had it not been for a powerful spell – that in bringing her back to life, her friends had not saved her from untold torment, but instead had rent her from heaven. Oh. And that kiss. That kiss was a long time coming.

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Pair With: (So many choices!) A cruller, couscous, waffles, stinky cheeses, hossenfeffer, and lots and lots of mustard.

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Season 7

“Selfless”

Despite the mostly annoying Potentials mucking up the works, there are some strong episodes this season. “Lies My Parents Told to Me” is terrific, but I didn’t choose it, because Giles’s betrayal of Buffy (along with Willow’s and Xander’s later in the season) really grates my cheese. (I’ll no doubt get into that in some future blog.) I also really love “Help,” and the actress playing Cassie is pretty phenomenal. (Although can we call for moratorium on precognitive characters being named ‘Cassandra?’)  I can’t imagine many actors pulling off that combination of sadness, resignation, wry humor, and forgiveness.  It’s difficult to choose between “Storyteller,” Andrew’s video log episode, and “Selfless.” But, call it a coin flip, I’m going with “Selfless.”  It’s really strong – a tough episode, and Emma Caulfield as Anya does some of her best dramatic work of the series. The only sour note is the song.  I love the idea of flashing back to the day the dancing demon came to town, and showing us another musical number, but this one isn’t all that good, frankly. However, we get to see Anya’s history (including a cheeky, Bergman-esque medieval sequence, featuring the always fun Abraham Benrubi), and the conversation Buffy, Willow and Xander have about having to kill Anya is pretty incredible. Buffy gets the final word with ” I killed Angel. Do you even remember that? I would’ve given up everything I had to be with him – I loved him more than I will ever love anything in this life and I put a sword through his heart because I had to.” Ohhhhhh…SNAP.

Pair With: MEAD!

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What are your favorite episodes, one per season, of Buffy (excluding finales)?  Do share!

Cheers!

Q

* Not to be confused with a Broccoli film, e.g. From Russia With Love.

Have You Seen This? 13 Great, Often-Overlooked Films

Part of Finding the Yummy is picking out that perfect film for that particular crowd, for that precise night. Here are some of my favorites from the 1990s that you may have missed… or may want to watch again. Why the 90s? Call it the 20 Year Rule: now that we’re in the 20-teens, the 90s are finally starting to come into focus. As a bonus, I’ve included the perfect drink to pair with each film.

Big Night, 1996, Directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci

I really love this movie. You’ve got a pre-Monk Tony Shalhub, (back when we only knew him as ‘that funny guy from Wings’)giving us an early glimpse of his prodigious drama chops as Primo, a temperamental Italian chef who co-owns a restaurant with his brother, Secondo.  Secondo, played to perfection by Tucci, is a slick character who seduces everyone he meets (especially women) – but really, it’s he who’s being seduced, and ultimately duped, by the American Dream.  Add to that mix an at-her-best Minnie Driver, Allison Janney, Isabella Rossellini, Ian Holm (in a scenery chewing role as a rival restaurateur), and Campbell Scott, and you can hardly go wrong. Then set it all in a glossy, gauzy, 1950s, add a killer jazz soundtrack, some truly funny bits, and a feast scene to rival even Babette’s. Warning – don’t watch on an empty stomach. Delicious.

“To eat good food is to be close to God.”

Pair With: Tomassi Amarone (if you’re feeling munificent), or a Valpolicella – terrific at almost any price. (You might want to have a substantial antipasto plate handy too.)

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Cold Comfort Farm, 1995, Directed by John Schlesinger

There was time, back in the 1990s it was, when the world was a kinder place, and a young actress named Kate Beckinsale was known more for her wit and talent than for the way her leather pants stretched across her patookis as she crouched atop a flying buttress, surveying her nighttime domain. Giving crappy vampire franchises their due, I still think playing Flora Poste in Cold Comfort Farm is Beckinsale’s finest hour. Flora is akin to Jane Austen’s Emma (in fact, Beckinsale went on to play Emma only a few years later), a buttinsky and a matchmaker who gets away with her interfering nature because she’s just that charming.  The main difference is that, unlike Emma’s schemes, Flora’s tend to be successful. It’s the 1920s: Flora’s parents have just passed away, and she chooses to go live with her gothickly rural relatives at the titular farm. They are a miserable, hilarious lot – including a fire-and-brimstone preacher patriarch (Ian McKellen), his wretched wife (Eileen Atkins), and their oversexed, hunky son (Rufus Sewell). Flora sweeps into their lives and refuses to allow them to wallow in their desolation. Also with AbFab’s Joanna Lumley, and one of my favorite people on the planet – Mr. Stephen Fry.

“I saw something nasty in the woodshed.”

Pair With: A Brandy Sidecar – a jazz era favorite!

Deja Vu, 1997, Directed by Henry Jaglom

Not to be confused with the Denzel Washington film of the same name (don’t worry, I’ll get to Denzel in a minute), this is a talky little art house film that managed to capture me despite some flaws. Okay, one particular flaw, in my mind. Like David Mamet, Jaglom will insist upon casting his wife (in Mamet’s case, the occasionally good, but often flat Rebecca Pidgeon, and in Jaglom’s case, Victoria Foyt). Foyt co-wrote the script, so in a way, I understand. It’s not that she’s a crappy actress, and I really like her strong, beautiful features (but what’s with that haircut from 1984?). It’s just that…well, she’s sometimes annoying. When her character, Dana, is upset, Foyt lapses into a whiny voice that I find altogether irritating. So why is this film on my list, you may well ask? Number one: Stephen Dillane. You might know him now as stern Stannis Baratheon on Game of Thrones, but here he is utterly swoon-worthy. If you like the male variety of the species, you might just fall in love with his character, Sean. The other reasons to watch Deja Vu? The writing, and the rest of the cast, including Vanessa Redgrave as a gorgeous, winning, adventurous creature, who is also shockingly self-centered. There is moral ambiguity in this film – who’s the better, more complete human, the person who follows their bliss, or the one who sticks with their commitments, no matter what happiness they may end up denying themselves? (Hint: there’s no right answer. Warning: if you believe that infidelity is universally reprehensible, you probably will not like this movie.) Mostly, I come back to the film because it gives me chills. The good kind of chills. Jaglom plants us firmly in the real world with his naturalistic dialog and documentary-style camera work  – and then suddenly, he hits us with fate-laden, wondrous, magical moments.

“To cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception, it is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, neither in time or eternity.”

Pair With: A Kir Royale, or some hot chocolate.

Devil in a Blue Dress, 1995, Directed by Carl Franklin 

This movie stars Denzel Washington, so you’d think that pretty much the entire world would have seen it by now – yet, when I worked at a video store (Nicollet Village Video in Minneapolis, now Filmzilla – an actual, surviving brick-and-mortar video rental shop – What?!), I often discovered customers who had never even heard of it, let alone seen it. It’s simply a great period noir, from the book by Walter Mosley. Jennifer “The Bride” Beals is the requisite treacherous woman (guess what color her dress is?) – and though I tease with “The Bride” stuff, she is very well cast, as it turns out. Washington, at the height of his early stardom, smolders as Easy Rawlins, an amateur sleuth in way over his head. The real standout here, however, is Don Cheadle, before many of us knew who the hell Don Cheadle was, as the terrifying psychopath Mouse Alexander. Surprisingly, rather than having Mouse work for the bad guys, Mosley casts him as Easy’s tenuous friend – he’s like a rabid dog on a short leash – and Easy has to decide how much slack to give him, never knowing when he might break free on his own.

“…if you ain’t want him dead, why you leave him with me?”

Pair With: Bulleit Bourbon, neat.

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Funny Bones, 1995, Directed by Peter Chelsom

I remember the first time I saw this film, on video, with friends – and as the credits rolled, we just sat there in stupefied silence, unable to speak until the end of the reel. The opening sequence has a similar impact… a sort of “What the…Did that just happen?” vibe. Oliver Platt plays Tommy Fawkes, a comedian living in the shadow of his much more famous father (played by Jerry Lewis, pretty much as himself). After Tommy bombs at what was supposed to be his big break (a really painful scene, but I promise, it’s the only one in the movie), he travels to Blackpool, England, an old family vacation spot, to search for the next great act. What he finds are family secrets, the fine line between comedy and violence, and quite possibly, the funniest man alive… a sort of humor savant named Jack (Lee Evans). A truly unusual and very funny film.

Nicky: “Have you lived in Blackpool all your life?” 
Jack: “Not yet.” 

Pair With: A Beefeater Gin and Tonic.

The Ice Storm, 1997, Directed by Ang Lee

This is a dark one, so be prepared. It takes place in the 1970s; Allison Janney again (let’s face it, everything’s a better with a little A.J.) hosting a “key party,” Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline cheating on their spouses, Christina Ricci seducing her boyfriend’s younger brother, and both Spiderman (Tobey Maguire)  and Frodo (Elijah Wood) running around trying to figure out life while courting sex and death — all against the setting of a spectacular ice storm. If the cast isn’t enough to recommend this film, then let Ang Lee draw you in. He might just be the most diverse director working today – he has an eye for delicate detail, and the ability to sweep us away in any genre. After all, the man directed both Sense and Sensibility and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

“Ben, you’re boring me. I have a husband. I don’t have a need for another one.”

Pair With: A Bloody Mary, preferably before noon. 

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The Impostors, 1998, Directed by Stanley Tucci

The first of three films on this list that include Hope Davis in the cast, and the second directed and written by Tucci. Every person I have shown this movie to has loved it, and yet, on IMDb, it only garners a slightly above average rating. Granted, I count among my friends many actors and jazz musicians, and the film appeals greatly to these two demographics. Do you like Laurel and Hardy? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead? Farce? 1930’s jazz? Then run, don’t walk to rent this film. It makes me laugh until I tear up every time I see it. Oh, and did I mention? Oliver Platt (again), Tony Shalhoub (again), Allison Janney (again), Campbell Scott (again), IsabellaRossellini (again), Richard Jenkins, Alfred Molina, Lily Taylor, Steve Buscemi, Billy Connolly, and Woody Allen. Whew!

Perhaps we should wrestle sometime. Do you like the taut roundness that exercise brings to the buttocks?”

Pair With: A Gin Martini with Olives. (Although perhaps not as large as the one Arthur orders in the movie.)
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Joe vs. the Volcano, 1990, Directed by John Patrick Shanley

This, perhaps more so than any other film on this list, has become a cult favorite. It was seriously panned when it came out, the one time the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan formula didn’t seem to work. The writer/director is a playwright, which might explain why it didn’t go down well with everyone. Don’t get me wrong: at times, it’s goofy. It’s not grounded in reality. Meg Ryan turns up as three different characters. Abe Vigoda plays the chief of an island tribe, and one of the tribesmen is Nathan Lane. Let me say that again. One of the island tribesmen is Nathan Lane.  And all of this makes complete sense when you accept the fact that Joe Vs. The Volcano is a fairy tale.  (It even starts with the words “Once Upon A Time…”) Drenched with symbolism, really funny, incredibly sweet and highly quotable – hitch yourself onto Joe Banks’ raft made of luggage, and I promise you a fun journey.

“Very exciting….as a luggage problem.”

Pair With: A Mai Tai, served in a coconut, with plenty of fruity garnishes. 

Lone Star, 1996, Directed by John Sayles

This is the movie that made Matthew McConaughey a star, so upon re-watching it the other night, I was surprised at how little screen time he has. Now that his looks and manner are so familiar, his absence is noticeable, but back then his brand of charisma was a novelty, and his character, a sheriff’s deputy in the 1950s, so loomed over the story, that I remember him as being in at least half the film. Chris Cooper plays McConaughey’s son in the present day… and really, the whole movie is about fathers and sons (it follows multiple families) – do you accept your parents’ legacy, or write your own story? It’s also about race and power. But mostly, it’s  about a 40-year-old murder mystery that Sheriff Sam Deeds (Cooper) is trying to solve. The victim was a monster of a man, played with great menace by Kris Kristofferson  – and it’s soon clear that the world is better off without him.  Deeds’ main suspect? His deceased father, and local legend, Buddy. Add to this Sayles’ always dry, clever dialogue, and a very sexy Elizabeth Pena, and you have Texas gold.

Sheriff Sam Deeds: “Mrs. Bledsoe?”
Minnie Bledsoe: “That’s me.”
Sheriff Sam Deeds: “I’m Sheriff Deeds.”
Minnie Bledsoe: “Sheriff Deeds is dead, honey. You just Sheriff Junior.”
Sheriff Sam Deeds: “Yeah, that’s the story of my life.”

Pair With: (Need I even say it?) A Lone Star Beer, ice cold.

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Miller’s Crossing, 1990, Directed by the Coen Brothers

Okay, this one isn’t that obscure, but it, like another one of my favorite films, The Royal Tenenbaums, bears a second (or twelfth) viewing. Yes, it is extremely violent – it is a mob movie after all. And yes, like many of the films on my list it is a period piece (1930s). Gabriel Byrne is Tom, the right-hand-man of Albert Finney’s Irish mob boss, Leo. Due to, what else, a dame (or, in the parlance of the film, a ‘twist’), Tom shifts his loyalties over to the Italian side of the underworld…or does he? Is he playing the most brilliant long game ever, or is he, like he claims, just making it up as he goes along? Marcia Gay Harden is mesmerizing as the dame, and who can forget John Turturro as her weasly brother Bernie… one of his greatest performances, and that’s saying something. And as the final cherry on this scrumptious concoction, Miller’s Crossing has some of the best noir dialogue ever to grace the silver screen.

“You ain’t got a license to kill bookies and today I ain’t sellin’ any. So take your flunky and dangle.”

Pair With:  Bushmills Black Irish Whisky or a Negroni, depending where you are in the film.

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Mumford, 1999, Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

This stars Hope Davis again, and Loren Dean (why don’t we see more of him?) as the title character. Mumford is a psychologist in a town that shares his name. He’s appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and now is making great strides in helping the quirky townsters solve their problems, including a weight-obsessed teen (a young Zooey Deschanel), a shopaholic mom (the always great Mary McDonnell) with a boor of a husband (Ted Danson), a lonely software billionaire (Jason Lee), and a sickly, oppressed and beautiful woman (Davis). But who is Mumford, really? A couple of rival shrinks want to know. His story, when revealed, elevates this romantic comedy from a meet-cute with a cast of loveable oddballs, to something a little darker, a little richer.

“When I was in high school the thing I wanted most when I was stuck in class, the thing that I was desperately in pursuit of, was a hall pass. That’s all I ever wanted. I loved moving freely around the school while everybody else was trapped in there. That’s how I feel right now. Like I have some giant – all day – hall pass.”

Pair With:  A virgin Cuba Libra (Coke and lime).

Next Stop Wonderland, 1998, Directed by Brad Anderson

Another Hope Davis romantic comedy. What can I say? She brings a certain sadness to her characters that makes her more interesting that your average big-toothed, sparkly-eyed romantic lead. Her character, Erin, is indeed sad – a state of being which is nicely echoed by the film’s glorious, melancholy, bossa nova soundtrack. Erin hasn’t recovered from the death of her poet father – add to this the ignominy of being dumped by her blowhard poser hippy boyfriend (Philip Seymour Hoffman – pre-greatness, but already great), and having a mother who is way more glamorous than she is (Holland Taylor – completely unaged since Bosom Buddies). Erin prefers the gentle nudgings of fate to guide her path – her mother, a much more proactive person, takes out a personal ad for Erin without her consent. She passively agrees to these dates – and humor ensues. All the while, however – as in Sleepless in Seattle, or Serendipity, we know who she’s supposed to be with – a man named Alan (Alan Gelfant – who, in an era of sensitive leading boy-men, was a masculine breath of fresh air), whom she hasn’t yet met. We’re following his story as well – and we can’t wait for that moment that fate finally decides to bring them together. Sure, there’s a goofy bit about the mob and a stolen blowfish (no, really) – and some two-dimensional characters, but all in all, a terrific romantic comedy (and those are hard to come by).

Cricket: “Don’t you just hate men?”
Erin: “Oh God, I wish I did. That would make my life so much easier.”

Pair With: A Caipirinha – the national drink of Brazil.

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Zero Effect, 1998, Directed by Jake Kasdan

My friends and I were some of the only people in the Uptown Theater the night we saw Zero Effect. You guys. It’s so, so good – more people need to see this film. I’ve always liked Bill Pullman (Especially in While You Were Sleeping), but even I admit he can be shaky at times. As Daryl Zero, a modern-day Sherlock Holmes (although not a Sherlock derivative), Pullman is at his very best. Casting him seems like it was a bold move on Kasdan’s part, as was the casting of Ben Stiller (not yet a box office draw) as Daryl’s put-upon guy Friday. Daryl Zero is a nearly autistic, recluse private detective, who can only function in the world when he’s on the job, pretending to be someone else. He’s investigating a blackmailing on behalf of a millionaire (Ryan O’Neal), who’s clearly not telling the whole truth. The story is extremely well written, the clues all fall into place beautifully, and watching Daryl work as he illuminates his methods, we really believe that we are watching a genius – the best detective in the world. Pullman manages to capture the character’s brilliance, dysfunction, and infuriating capriciousness, all with humor and depth. Kim Dickens, intense, and yet somehow still very at ease, is great as Daryl’s only equal. 

“A few words here about following people. People know they’re being followed when they turn around and see someone following them. They can’t tell they’re being followed if you get there first.”

Pair With:  A Tab soda and tuna fish out of the can.