29 December 2009

The Vampire Diaries--A New Chapter

I'm the first to admit that The Vampire Diaries isn't my favourite vampire show, but darn if I haven't been missing it. Luckily it's back on 21 January, along with two new cast members. I was excited when I found out that Jasmine Guy (Dead Like Me) would be joining the show, but that excitement was nothing compared to my glee at finding out Gina Torres (Firefly/Serenity, Angel) is coming on board! Not to go off topic, but if you haven't seen Joss's masterpiece, Firefly (yes, it is better than Buffy), go find out what you've been missing (and start cursing Fox along with the rest of us--they destroyed an amazing show). Gina will be playing another witch. Also joining the cast is Toronto native (represent!) Mia Kirshner (Exotica, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days) as Alaric Saltzman's wife. Should be fangtastic (I know, I know...I couldn't help myself).

Gina Torres as Zoe Washburne, Firefly

20 December 2009

Holiday with a Vampire by Maureen Child and Caridad Piñeiro

I've had this book for a while but I've been reluctant to actually crack it open. Holiday stories (particularly Christmas stories) tend to be sappy, and if there's one thing that doesn't mix well with blood it's sap. But I figured it was the right time to review it, and at the very least I'd get a fun, lighthearted read out of it. Who could have known I'd be so wrong?

The book is divided into two stories. The first story, "Christmas Cravings" by Maureen Child is, by far, the better of the two--and it's only mediocre. It explores what happens when tormented loner vampire Grayson Stone meets up with vulnerable-yet-spunky human Tessa Franklin. The story actually starts off pretty decently. The characters are interesting, the story makes me want to keep reading, and the writing ain't half bad. Tessa in particular engenders a lot of empathy and drives home the point that it's not just vampires who are capable of evil acts. Too bad it turns on the cheese about halfway through. It's almost as though a different writer took over: one with a thesaurus of cringe-worthy sexual euphemisms and a pen loaded with purple ink. The story concludes with a Christmas "miracle," which I hated, but those who are fans of the de-fanged breed of vampires will no doubt enjoy it.

Fang Files

Appearance: Human until they choose to reveal themselves. Black eyes, fangs descend at will. Dead vampires turn to dust.

Strengths: Can sense the coming of dusk and dawn. Heightened and enhanced senses. Fast healing. Super strength and speed. Power of hypnotism. Connection to "everything that move[s] in the night."

Weaknesses: Sunlight, fire, stakes. Can't hypnotize/control sociopaths--need human emotion to work with.

Mythology: Vampires need an invitation to enter a private home. Most vampires are just killers, interested only in feeding and destruction. Vampires are organized and elect a King; the current King is being disputed and the vampire factions are at war.

Text Bites

Not Bad: "Her deep blue eyes were worried. Almost haunted. He knew what that felt like and in spite of the situation, he almost felt sorry for her. Almost."

WTF?: "Tessa felt the power of her gender and knew the secrets that had been handed down from Eve to all those who had come after her."

As for the second story, "Fate Calls" by Caridad Piñeiro: I have nothing good to say about it. Although I now understand why people think Edward and Bella have a healthy relationship if they think storylines like this one are reasonable. If you find kidnapping, forcible confinement, assault, and abuse (mental, emotional, and physical) by a self-pitying sociopathic fiend sexy and romantic, then this story is for you! Personally I think everyone who had anything to do with getting this crap into print should be wallowing in a deep pit of shame. I also think anyone in a relationship like the one portrayed in this story should get themselves help, whether from family, friends, the police, a therapist, or a shelter (or all of the above if that's what it takes). There's a reason why vampires are first and foremost monsters.

Fang Files

Appearance: Human until the "demon" emerges, then glowing neon blue-green eyes and fangs that extend over the bottom lip and halfway down the chin (like a pointy-toothed beaver). Cold to the touch.

Strengths: Power of hypnotism ("thrall") over humans and other vampires. Super speed and strength. Ultimate power of seduction (using their vampire "pheremones"). Can sense the coming of dawn and dusk. Fast healing. The ability to feel hard-done-by even as he's abusing an innocent woman.

Weaknesses: Sun, fire, Roman religious zealots.

Mythology: Vampires have "keepers" to help them with their day to day needs and the things the vamp can't do on their own. Older vampires ("Elders") are more powerful. Their bite causes initial pain followed by intense pleasure. Can subsist on animal blood.

Text Bite

[Bearing in mind she's his prisoner]
Hadrian: I suspect you haven't had many men in your life. But I won't be put off if you try to prove me wrong.
Connie: Excuse me? Prove you wrong?

Hadrian: Yes, prove me wrong. Seduce me.

[And she does...because he's just that irresistible.]

Holiday with a Vampire by Maureen Child and Caridad Piñeiro. From Harlequin (Silhouette Nocturne and Mills & Boon).

15 December 2009

Daybreakers Trailer

Creepy goodness (and I'm not just talking Willem Dafoe)!

In theatres 8 January 2010.

11 December 2009

True Blood, S1 E10 "I Don't Wanna Know"

Spoilers Ahead

Every time I watch an episode of True Blood, it's like returning to the embrace of a group of kindred--but twisted--spirits. I mean that in the best possible way, of course. Even if some of the kindred spirits are dumbasses.

"I Don't Wanna Know" starts where "Plaisir D'Amour" left off--with Sookie coming to the realization that Sam is in bed with her, minus his clothing. A moment later she proves herself to be dumbass number one. Despite having fallen asleep with the dog at her feet--the dog that seems strangely protective of her and which also seems to understand everything she says--and waking up with Sam in the exact same spot as the dog was, Sookie doesn't even remotely clue in that they're the same being. Instead she believes he's the killer (never mind that on top of everything else, she spent the night with him and yet wakes up in one piece). She runs into the bathroom, prepared to defend herself with a loofah, and only understands what's really going on when the dog comes in and turns into Sam as she watches.

Sookie doesn't redeem herself when, after Sam tells her about being a shapeshifter (flashing back to being abandoned by his adoptive family after they found out), she gets angry at Sam for never having told her any of this before. Ostensibly she's upset that he's hiding who he really is, but she seems more disgusted by the fact that they made out and that Sam would have taken it further without telling her his secret (and has taken it further with Tara). You'd think a telepath with a vampire boyfriend would be more understanding, but apparently Sookie isn't above being judgmental and narrow minded.

Speaking of Tara, she's our next dumbass. She starts off undergoing the exorcism with Miss Jeanette, although that's not what qualifies her for dumbass status. The exorcism, like the one her mom underwent, is actually completely convincing and fairly frightening. It culminates with Tara stabbing and killing the "demon," which has taken the form of herself as a child (only with all-black eyes and a tendency to flicker and buzz). Although the vision disappears when she stabs it, the knife she uses comes away dripping with blood. Freaky.

The exorcism leads the next morning to a joyous celebration between mother and daughter, followed by Lettie Mae overindulging in a celebratory breakfast of "mudbugs" (crawfish). When Tara stops in at a drugstore to pick up some Pepto, she discovers the clerk is actually Miss Jeanette--the same Miss Jeanette who claims to live in seclusion in the middle of nowhere, and who seems to have lost her prominent limp, although she's gained glasses and hair. It turns out the exorcist is a huge fraud just trying to support her family. Tara's experiences the night before were induced by ipecac and a touch of peyote. Tara is disgusted and infuriated, despite Miss Jeanette's assertions that just because the exorcisms aren't real doesn't mean they don't work. So how does the daughter of an alcoholic deal with her anger and disappointment? By getting drunk, alienating Sookie, ruining her relationship with Sam, and driving in tears at high speed before crashing into a field (the last part wasn't strictly her fault--she was distracted by the naked woman and accompanying pig in the middle of the road).

Next dumbass: Jason. The so-called love of his life, Amy, consistently proves herself to be self-righteous, cruel, and condescending. Although she does a decent job of hiding that side of herself from him, he chooses to repeatedly ignore kidnapped vampire Eddie's warnings that Amy is not who she seems. He also chooses not to believe Eddie when he says Amy will eventually kill him. Jason even buys Amy's plan (hatched after she finds out Jason has been feeding Eddie) to make Eddie love them (with a little help from Stockholm Syndrome) and keep him as a pet. You just want to smack him until he smartens up. And Lafayette pretty much does. Realizing that Jason had something to do with Eddie's disappearance, Lafayette confronts Jason, telling him he's not going to be the next dead body piled up around him. This seems to get through to Jason and he rushes home to free Eddie. Amy argues with him and begs him not to do it but when Jason doesn't listen to her, she stakes Eddie. Jason is the only one surprised.

Bill is absent for most of the episode, although we do get to see him at the vampire tribunal. We get a sense of vampire justice when we watch one having his fangs ripped out by the root for feeding on another vampire's human. Three months of starvation until they grow back is his punishment (I guess being stuck drinking only Tru Blood is tantamount to starvation). Once again we are reminded of how different Bill is from other vampires. The ones at the tribunal are cold, animalistic, and not exactly sympathetic to humans. In other words, true monsters. And Bill is going to be judged by them. The sentence for killing a vampire involves being locked in a coffin bound by silver for five years (the vampire emerges leathery, starved, and usually insane), but because Long Shadow was stealing from Eric (Sheriff of Area 5) and because Bill didn't bore the Magister, he gets a more creative sentence: he has to turn an unwilling teenage girl (played by Deborah Ann Woll) into a vampire. Bill is a dumbass for having got himself into this position in the first place (I mean, was killing Long Shadow really his only option?) Not even allowed to glamour the panicking girl, Bill is given no other choice. He bites her, and from his reaction doesn't seem to hate it all that much (the girl, meanwhile, calls out for her mommy).

Sookie and Sam do end up putting aside their differences when Sookie is trapped and attacked by the killer in the empty bar (everyone is outside at Arlene and Rene's engagement party). As she tries to get away she keeps getting flashes of his thoughts, mostly of an unknown girl he strangles and kills). When Sam comes in the killer takes off; Sookie won't let Sam go after him because she doesn't want to be alone (another dumbass move, but understandable this time). As the season winds down, there's still a hell of a lot going on. You'll never get bored with True Blood.

Other notes of interest:

When Sam is telling Sookie about being a shapeshifter, he mentions that he needs to see an animal first in order to shift into that form (so there is a real dog, which is why we've seen Sam and the dog at the same time). He also claims he can't control the shift during the full moon, but when Sookie suggests he's like a werewolf, he snaps that werewolves are dangerous, nasty creatures. He also claims there are all sorts of other creatures out in the world--some that Sookie's never even imagined. Can't wait to see where that goes!

Way back in Episode 5 "Sparks Fly Out" Bill reacted to hearing that Andy's last name was Bellefleur. Nothing else was ever made of that, although I now have a theory about it. In "I Don't Wanna Know" Terry Bellefleur mentions that the Bellefleur women have been debutantes since before the Civil War. My theory is that Bill's wife was a Bellefleur. We'll see, but I'm hoping to find out for sure.

Fang Files

Appearance: Pale humans with snake-like fangs that descend at will. Staked vampires briefly have prominent dark veins before collapsing into a pool of viscous blood.

Strengths: Glamouring (hypnotizing), healing.

Weaknesses: Silver, stakes. A starving vampire wastes away and often goes insane.

Mythology: Vampires have a well-ordered, hierarchical society with a (scary) justice system of their own. Most vampires think humans only exist to serve them and have no innate value; they view Bill the way Texas cattle ranchers view members of PeTA.

Sound Bites

Sam: I'm not the killer. I'm a shapeshifter.
Sookie: Shut the fuck up.

Amy: (furiously responding to Eddie implying that she's not a good person) I am an organic vegan and my carbon footprint is minuscule!

Eddie: If I die here Jason will never forgive you, even if he wanted to. He's not as evolved as you are.
Amy: I know.

Magister: (to Bill) You murdered a higher life form for the sake of your pet.

True Blood, Season1 Episode 10 "I Don't Wanna Know." Written by Chris Offult and Charlaine Harris. Directed by Scott Winant. From HBO.

08 December 2009

Angel vs Frankenstein

Spoilers Ahead

Let me start off by saying I'm not a fan of the concept of this issue. Do fictional characters really need to meet up with every other character from the same genre? Okay, I liked Dracula in the Buffyverse, but that made sense and fit with the overall mythology. I could even see another Frankenstein-like monster (à la Daryl Epps in Some Assembly Required) but the Frankenstein? This isn't Scooby Doo, people. But apparently someone felt the need to pit one prominent brow against the other, leaving the rest of us to ponder the mashup that is Angel[us] vs. Frankenstein.

That being said, the story is actually pretty good. Well-written (aside from a definite overuse of exclamation marks) and compelling, it left me wishing it wasn't just a one-shot. Angelus has a penchant for screwing over everyone he encounters, a "courtesy" he extends to Frankenstein's unnamed monster. Vowing vengeance against the vampire, the monster's best-laid plans go awry when Angelus proves to be more of a challenge than expected. The conclusion is satisfyingly punctuated with a question mark.

The artwork is also really well done, particularly the monster. Deviating from the classic green-skinned, bolted neck look, the monster is much more zombie-like in appearance--which is pretty much how you'd expect a reanimated corpse to look. It works. And unlike the average zombie, he also elicits a lot of empathy; I could easily read a comic devoted solely to this character. As someone not that into Frankenstein in any form, that's saying something.

Back to the artwork, the colouring is good, managing a lot of depth and mood with a limited palette. It's perfect for a Victorian monster tale. I also like the paper the comic is printed on: heavy and matte, it makes the comic feel more substantial. IDW has used this paper for a few other issues of Angel; they can feel free to use it more often.

Okay, so did Angel really need to share space with Frankenstein? Probably not, but I'm kind of glad he did. After so many recent disappointments with other comics/books/movies/TV shows, this one turned out to be an exceptionally pleasant surprise. Well done.

Fang Files

Appearance: Pale human until the vampire chooses to show their "true" face: bumpy, animalistic features; yellow eyes; prominent fangs. Staked vampires turn to dust.

Strengths: Super strength, super speed, no need to breathe, enhanced sense of smell, awesome martial arts skills.

Weaknesses: Sunlight, stakes.

Mythology: Need to be invited into a private home (but not public spaces like inns).

Text Bites

The Monster: (after Angelus pulls them both into the river) You fool! The current is carrying us toward the villagers!
Angelus: That frets me not at all! I don't have to breathe!

Angel vs Frankenstein
one-shot. Art and story by John Byrne. From IDW.

02 December 2009

Buffy Season 8, Issue #30

Spoilers Ahead

Once upon a time there was a fantastic show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer that was continued in its eighth season in comic book form. The show was marked by brilliant writing, great dialogue, and compelling storylines--and at first, so was the comic. One loyal fan, at least, couldn't wait for each issue to come out; the opportunity to revel in the Buffyverse just a little while longer was cause for endless excitement. It was true love.

I'm not sure exactly when I fell out of love with Season 8. The issues just gradually seemed less interesting, less compelling, less Buffy. If you read my last review (and maybe a couple before that) you'll get a sense of a few of the problems I'm having with the series. I think maybe they're just trying to do too much, and definitely too much that's just plain wrong. I also think a lot of the writers have forgotten (or never understood) what made Buffy so great. Let's call it Lucas syndrome.

It's easier to pinpoint the specific aspects I dislike in recent issues. For example, I despise characters who are selectively stupid. You know the ones: otherwise intelligent, they suddenly take it upon themselves to pursue obviously idiotic courses of action and then act surprised when the inevitable disaster strikes. This makes for a lot of pointless melodrama that writers and producers seem to think audiences like (who knows--maybe everyone else actually does). There's a lot of selective stupidity going around lately, not only with the big "revelation" that it wasn't a good idea for the Slayers and Willow to give up all their power (well, duh), but also with the big oopsie moment in Issue #30 when the good guys realize the invoked goddesses aren't actually on their side. Even if Buffy had never tangled with a god before, the latest three deities are wrath goddesses--did anyone really expect them to be helpful? It would probably bother me more if I could bring myself to care.

And speaking of melodrama--my hatred for the Dawn-Xander-Buffy love triangle continues to grow. Worst idea ever. And when did Dawn suddenly become a military leader? Was that one of her thricewise-induced forms we didn't get to see? Dawn was kind of a pointless character once her status as Key was revoked. I guess the writers are trying--desperately--to give her a reason to be there.

Also falling into the category of irrelevant are Amy and Warren. Not really sure anymore why Twilight or the US Army needed them in the first place. See above re: too much going on. Even their bickering is pointless--mildly amusing but mostly annoying. Skinless Warren should be more menacing and less whiny, methinks. Or maybe just gone altogether.

Issue #30 wasn't all bad, though. It wasn't exactly good, but there were a couple of intriguing moments. The brightest spot for me is the revelation that Riley's been working for Buffy all along. He's a character I wasn't initially that fond of on the show (he's so Teutonic), but he's definitely grown on me. Glad to see he's still on the Slayer's side (gladder that his irritating wife is nowhere to be seen).

The end of the issue isn't great, but it has potential. As the Slayer army is being marched off by the US Army (we don't get to see how they managed that or why the rampaging goddesses suddenly decided to move on and leave so many survivors) Buffy apparently comes back from the dead (again)--and with newfound powers of levitation. It's unclear if she really is dead or what the deal is with her. I am actually curious to find out what that's all about; maybe the resurrection spell Willow performed back in season 6 had the unexpected and unintended effect of making Buffy immortal. Depending on where they go with this, it could get Buffy back on track. It could also ruin it beyond redemption. Despite my recent negative reviews, I'm really hoping it's the former. I miss the Buffy I once loved.

Text Bites

Buffy: Hang on.
Riley: People always say that when someone's hurt really badly, but I don't think it helps.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, Issue #30; art by Georges Jeanty and written by Jane Espenson. From Dark Horse Comics.

30 November 2009

Buffy Season 8, Issue #29

Spoilers Ahead

I'm starting to wish Jane Espenson would just go away already. She seems to have lost the plot when it comes to Buffy, and the thought of incorporating her weak Season 8 storyline into official Buffy canon is just...depressing.

Issue #29 starts off with the Slayer army preparing for war. And since they were so keen last issue to rid themselves of all their magics, this isn't exactly going to be an easy fight (not for their side, anyway). As this realization dawns it doesn't take long for the regrets (and panic) to start surfacing. Apparently an entire group of Slayers--not to mention Giles, Andrew, Willow, Xander, and Dawn--couldn't foresee the consequences of their actions. Gee, depriving ourselves of our power will make us weak? How could we have possibly known? Insert drama and hand-wringing.


Much worse than this, Xander and Dawn--the apparent new leaders of the de-magicked Slayers--teach the girls how to use guns and various other weapons. What? At least Buffy remembers that "A Slayer doesn't need a gun." How is it remotely more natural or acceptable--or "normal"--or whatever the hell the argument is that they're trying to justify to have the Slayers use weapons rather than magic? If I wanted to read/watch about a bunch of chicks shooting guns, well, I wouldn't be reading/watching Buffy, would I? Tell me again why I should care what happens next in the Buffyverse?

Like I said, depressing.

And even though the Slayers et al have decided that magic is really really naughty, they're apparently not above accepting the help of other magical creatures (werewolves and a trio of wrath goddesses). In fact, never mind merely accepting--they're desperately seeking out the assistance of the latter.

Which brings me to my next problem with Season 8: the goddesses, and all the other fantastical "effects" they never could have shown on TV. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Just because Buffy can now show all these crazy things (e.g., giant Dawn, submarine appearing out of thin air on land, oversized mecha rampaging through Tokyo...) doesn't mean they have to pack the season with it. A couple of things that fit with the overall story? Fine. But it seems like every other issue features something that couldn't have been done in the TV series. Doing it now is like having characters swear in the movie sequel of a TV show. It changes the essence of the established mythology and destroys continuity. If they wanted to do that they should have rebooted Buffy rather than calling it Season 8 (oh wait, that's being done too, albeit not by Joss).

Other problems with Issue #29: mediocre artwork; cartoony colouring; annoying love triangle subplot between Dawn, Xander, and Buffy; and writing without a hint of the spark that made the series so great.

I think Buffy Season 8 could use a few more vampires and a few less silly/pointless contrivances. Oh, and maybe a writer or two who actually has some passion left for the series. It's getting really difficult to keep the faith, Joss. Help a devoted fan out here...

Text Bites

Giles: We can't take on an army. Not like this.
Buffy: We need the magic. But we got rid of it.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, Issue #29; art by Georges Jeanty and written by Jane Espenson. From Dark Horse Comics.

20 November 2009

The Vampire Diaries S1 E10 "The Turning Point"

Spoilers Ahead

Considering what I said about the last episode of The Vampire Diaries, this confession is verging on shocking: I actually enjoyed "The Turning Point." Yeah, I have no clue how that happened. I still think "History Repeating" should have been the season finale, with all events leading up to it being developed more fully (come on--the Vicki-as-vampire storyline could and should have lasted way more than one paltry episode), and Logan's sudden reappearance nicely filling the role of cliffhanger. Alas, the producers never asked my opinion on the matter, so no use crying over rushed storylines. Besides the pacing issues, "The Turning Point" also made up for lack of originality with high levels of predictability. And yet somehow it sucked me in. Guess they're doing something right (then again, I have the feeling if I watch it again a few months from now I'll wonder what the hell I was thinking. I suspect The Vampire Diaries has about as long a shelf life as plasma...)

Picking up where "History Repeating" left off, Logan--newly returned from the dead--all but begs Aunt Jenna to invite him in. Exhibiting backbone she didn't seem capable of, she refuses. He takes out his resulting frustration on a passing jogger. Sloppy corpse disposal ends up tipping the Sheriff off that the town's vampire problem isn't quite solved yet.

Meanwhile, born-again keener Jeremy is keeping busy reading the journal of his ancestor Johnathon Gilbert, whose writings about vampires and demons were thought by most to be purely fictional. Coming across a rudimentary sketch of a vampire in the journal prompts Jeremy to start drawing "again." Later, at Career Day, after seeing a similar sketch done by his recent rival Ty, Jeremy somehow gets the idea that the two of them should bond. Seeing as how they hated each other until about ten seconds before Jeremy saw Ty's drawing, this comes somewhat out of left field. Apparently Ty agrees, deciding he'd rather make derogatory comments about Vicki than make nice with Jeremy. This leads to a scuffle, followed by the Mayor (Ty's father) taking both boys outside, where he then gets weirdly aggressive and tries to push the boys into settling their problem like "men" (i.e., beating the crap out of each other). Neither Jeremy nor Ty are willing, which only angers dad further. Luckily the new teacher, Alaric Salzman, shows up to put an end to the would-be Thunderdome. The Mayor's not too impressed but he backs down quickly when Salzman points out that the two of them can always settle things like men. When Jeremy tries once more to bond with Ty, this time by sympathizing with him over his father's bizarre behaviour, Ty's anger flares out of nowhere and he punches Jeremy. When Jeremy asks what his problem is, Ty repeatedly says that he doesn't know. Meanwhile the camera closes in on the full moon behind them. Hmm... suddenly Salzman's comment about the mayor being an "alpha male douchebag" takes on a whole new meaning. Looks like lycanthropy runs in the family, and Ty is about to realize his legacy.

By the way, Jeremy's dialogue in these scenes leaves me feeling the need to comment on an ongoing pet peeve shared by me and my SO. We've reached the point where we cringe every time we hear a character exclaim that they "get it." It seems to be the hallmark of every teen show nowadays to include this phrase at least once (usually more) per episode. I first really noticed it in the later seasons of Buffy (I think we hear "I get it" seven times in one noteworthy episode), and it is incredibly annoying. Right up there with "gift" being used as a verb. As much fun as it is coming up with snarky suggestions of what I think it is they get exactly, the evidence of poor writing/editing is just too distracting. Unfortunately, I don't think this is going to change anytime soon. That being the case, I humbly suggest beleaguered viewers amuse themselves with a drinking game. You get a shot every time a character "gets it." Seems fair. At least until TV writers learn what that little thesaurus icon at the top of their screens is for.

Back to "The Turning Point," Stefan and Damon spend a cursory amount of time talking about leaving town but, as expected, end up going nowhere. The Sheriff shows up to tell Damon about the newly discovered victim and to ask his opinion about what to do next, since he's the only one in town who's ever killed a vampire. Nice. So much for the vampire hunters' cabal. Of course both Stefan and Damon stick around--they can't just let some new vampire run around killing people (Damon's apparently decided keeping a low profile is the way to go).

Damon tracks the vampire (getting Caroline to use the Gilbert watch/vampire-tracking compass for him, since his presence interferes with it) to an old warehouse (there's always an old warehouse). Inside he's shot multiple times with wooden bullets, leaving him temporarily paralyzed. It seems Logan is getting his revenge on, particularly since he knows Damon killed him and thinks he turned him, as well (all he claims to remember is passing out and then waking up in a shallow grave). Damon, however, didn't turn him, and demands to know who did. Logan rebuts by demanding to be told how Damon and Stefan can walk around in the daylight. Neither is forthcoming with answers. Hello, impasse. Logan ends up shooting Damon again before heading over to Career Day at the school.

I came to the realization as I was watching this episode that characters who annoyed the hell out of me as humans suddenly seem far more palatable once they're turned. Not sure if that says something about me or about the writing (the villains always get the best lines, after all), but I'm starting to hope Caroline gets turned. Since it doesn't look as though she's going anywhere, at least she could be made bearable. Maybe. At the very least I can live in hopes of seeing her staked.

While Damon is busy with Logan, Stefan goes to Elayna at school to warn her about the situation. Soon enough Logan shows up and Stefan sends Elayna and Jenna away so he can try to deal with him. Logan confronts Stefan, again demanding to know how he and Damon can walk outside during the day. Stefan hedges, but when Logan threatens him if he doesn't tell, Stefan warns him never to threaten him again. Stefan's brooding is really minimal in this episode and it suits him (not to mention that it's way more fun to watch). Stefan then lets Damon know that Logan's at the school. I'm not sure why Stefan needs Damon's help with Logan, though; is he that weak from animal blood that he can't even take on a neonate? Not really making the case for the ethical vampire lifestyle.

I'm also not sure where Damon's super speed has gone to. Logan has enough time to threaten the Sheriff (he's not happy with his post-mortem treatment by the cabal), lure Caroline with an offer of a ride, render her unconscious (by smashing her head into the window--nicely done), drive away with her, and call the Sheriff to gloat over what he's going to do with her precious daughter, before Stefan and Damon finally show up to save the day. After indulging in a little turnabout (Damon shoots Logan this time), Stefan gets Caroline home while Damon reassures the Sheriff who's still on the phone. He then demands again to know who turned Logan. It's not until Logan is about to be beheaded by a tire iron that he admits he does know who turned him. He claims there are other vampires who want to break open the tomb encasing Katherine et al, that these other vamps know a way to achieve this, and that they want to help Damon. Ever the opportunist, Damon agrees to meet with Logan at the church, first getting Logan to "attack" him as the Sheriff pulls up, in order to hide the fact that Damon is letting him go.

Unfortunately, Damon never does find out the identity of these mystery vampires (why they don't just approach him directly is another mystery). When Logan returns to the warehouse he's confronted by Salzman, playing the role of macho defender of the womenfolk (aka Jenna). Giving in to overconfidence, Logan vamps out only to end up staked. Just as I suspected, Salzman is a hunter. And yet, I'm not convinced he isn't also a vampire. This could be interesting. Anyway, while Damon's waiting at the church for Logan to show up, he gets a call from the Sheriff thanking him for killing the bad vampire, and letting him know that she and the town owe him "so much." Guess Damon's got a reason to stick around, after all. Like there was ever any doubt.

After getting Caroline to safety (never mind the head trauma--she'll certainly be fine at home all by herself), Stefan returns to Elayna to let her know that everything's okay. She offers him a ride to his place, which is then followed by a lecture on how he's leaving (which he still insists he'll be doing) for his own reasons, not because it's what's best for her--and anyway, that's her decision to make, not his. While the endless speeches/whining are annoying, Elayna at least deserves credit for standing up for herself. She ends by telling Stefan she loves him, which is apparently good enough for him. They kiss, they go upstairs (she's leading the way), they have sex. The scene is overly sentimental in my book, but I'm sure less jaded viewers will enjoy it.

Afterwards, as Stefan and Elayna cuddle there's some ham-fisted dialogue about how she's never been in his room before and how it's the repository of all his memories and everything important to him. Did everyone catch that? Was there anyone watching who didn't instantly figure out that Elayna would soon find Katherine's photo? Anyone? The second Stefan leaves the room, Elayna decides to go exploring. Before you can say "doppelganger," she's staring in horror at Katherine's picture. By the time Stefan returns, Elayna's gone, having left behind the photo, a note, and--stupid, stupid girl--the vervain-containing necklace he gave her. That'll learn him to leave pictures of old girlfriends lying around.

Upset as only a TV girlfriend can be, Elayna speeds through the night, not paying as much attention to the road as she should. She hits a dark figure standing there and flips her car. Dazed and hurt, she watches as the broken figure on the ground heals and gets up. Her panic rises as whoever/whatever is out there walks toward her. The last thing we see is a pair of legs standing next to her.

Not a bad ending there; I know I'm succumbing to major curiosity about what's going to happen next. It seems all sorts of sins can be forgiven in the face of an intriguing plot twist. Let's hope this time they don't show all their cards too soon...

Fang Files

Physical Appearance: dark, red-rimmed eyes; dark facial veins. Dead vampires look like dead humans, only with extremely prominent veins.

Strengths: Super hearing. Ability to compel (hypnotize) humans. Super speed. Quick healing.

Weaknesses: Wooden bullets (paralyzing), stakes (fatal). Vervain.

Mythology: Vampires need to be invited into a private residence by someone who lives there. New vampires suffer magnified emotions mixed together with--and complicated by--blood lust; they often want to return to people they cared about, as much to be with them as to bite them. Only Damon and Stefan--as far as they know--have rings that allow them to walk in the sun unharmed.

Sound Bites

Damon: (trying to convince Stefan they should stick together after leaving Mystic Falls) We could try out for The Amazing Race.

Damon: (after Logan complains that he can't get inside his own house) You have to be invited in.
Logan: I know. I live alone.

Mayor: Do I look like a student?
Alaric Salzman: No, you look like a full-grown alpha male douchebag.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 10 "The Turning Point." Written by Kevin Williamson, Julie Plec, and Barbie Kligman. Directed by J. Miller Tobin. From The CW.

18 November 2009

Juliet Landau in Toronto

Drusilla fans, now's your chance to meet the lady herself: Juliet Landau will be signing comics at Silver Snail (Toronto) on 21 November, from 7 to 9 pm. Autographs are $25 for one, or $40 for two.

Read my review of Angel #24, written by Landau.

Silver Snail Comics, 367 Queen St., W., Toronto, ON, M5V 2A4
416-593-0889 info@silversnail.com

17 November 2009

The Sexy Men of True Blood

Originally sent to me as a birthday card (my friends know me too well). Enjoy!

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

13 November 2009

The Vampire Diaries S1 E9 "History Repeating"

Spoilers Ahead

We were so close. We could almost reach out and just grab it: a decently watchable show. But then it slipped away, along with the notion that the producers of The Vampire Diaries remotely know what they're doing.

I've mentioned before that the show doesn't know whether it's about teen drama or the paranormal. It does finally seem to be slipping the paranormal mantle on more securely. This is a good thing. The real problem now is that the pacing on The Vampire Diaries sucks. Allow me to illustrate: within the span of nine short episodes...
  • several characters have been killed off (or nearly killed)
  • relationships have already started and stopped (in some cases numerous times), while others have changed dramatically
  • the basic premise of the show (the diaries) has been dropped
  • a diabolical plan has been devised, hinted at, revealed, and resolved
  • a mystery is solved almost before it started
  • the main villain has been neutralized and a new villain has already been introduced
If you haven't already figured it out--that's a hell of a lot to happen. They could have easily cut half of that out and expanded the rest of it into a perfectly compelling (no pun intended) season. Yet here we are, not even halfway through, dreading the ever more ludicrous lengths we know the writers will now have to go to in order to achieve "new and exciting" storylines. Sigh. It's not porn, people--you don't have to get the plot out of the way in the first three minutes. It seems almost silly at this point to spend any time describing what happened in "History Repeating." Apparently none of it is all that significant.

Here's the Cliffs Notes anyway. Damon made a deal with Bonnie's ancestor Emily Bennett to use her witchy powers to save Katherine and the 27 other vampires in the burning church (oh yeah--turns out those supposed Union sympathizers were actually vampires) in exchange for Damon protecting her bloodline (presumably by not eating her descendants). Katherine et al have been buried alive in a tomb under the church all along. Damon just needs the Very Important Crystal to unlock them, not only to be reunited with his love, Katherine, but to get back at all the jerks of yesteryear by unleashing a bunch of vampires on the town 150 years later. Too bad dead Emily has other ideas. Undergoing a moral epiphany from beyond the grave, she visits Bonnie in her dreams before ultimately possessing her. She then performs a little of the magicks (look--a burning pentagram!) and destroys the crystal before departing again. And somehow it doesn't occur to either her or Stefan that breaking her end of the bargain frees Damon to have his way with hapless Bonnie. Of course he botches it again (worst vampire ever) and Stefan heals Bonnie with his own blood. Damon is a broken man now that his diabolical plan has been foiled, telling Stefan he'll finally leave town. Sure thing--any minute now.

In other Mystic Falls news, Caroline and Matt bond over their cuddle session of the previous episode, not to mention their mutual loneliness. Jeremy is taking school seriously again (thanks to Damon's compelling skillz) and while researching a paper comes across one of his ancestor's journals (a new diary? May it be more interesting than the last ones). A new history teacher (Alaric Salzman, played by Matt Davis) arrives wearing a tacky ring and showing signs of having a blood habit (I believe hints that he's a vampire are just misdirection. Either that or the writers are as skilled at subtlety as they are at pacing. But my money's on him being a hunter, what with the unsolved murder of his wife he finds the time to mention). Oh yeah, and Jenna's ex, Logan, is still alive (or, I should say, he's not dead). He's back and paler than ever! Fantastic.

And for anyone wondering where Elayna and Stefan's relationship stands this week: she's into it and he's not. Expect that to change minute by minute.

I'm not sure what wackiness will transpire next episode, but you can be sure there'll be a lot of it. Just don't count on it being interesting (at least, not for long). Anyone else really missing Buffy right about now?

Fang Files

Strengths: Super speed, strength. Ability to compel (hypnotize). Insensitivity to pain (in some cases, just plain insensitivity).

Weaknesses: Vampires who feed exclusively on animal blood are weaker, more vulnerable to pain. A strong vampire is weaker than a strong witch.

Mythology: In order to be turned, a human has to die with vampire blood still in their system. Once the blood has cleared their system/worn off, there's no chance of the human being turned.

Sound Bites

Emily Bennett: This is where it started. And this is where it has to end.

Bonnie: I'm a witch.
Caroline: And don't we all know it.

Damon: (after Stefan reveals that he was actually the last one to spend time with Katherine--wink wink, nudge nudge) I can rip your heart out and not think twice about it.
Stefan: Yeah, I've heard that before.

Damon: Katherine never compelled me. I knew everything, every step of the way.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 9 "History Repeating." Written by Bryan M. Holdman and Brian Young. Directed by Marcos Siega. From The CW.

11 November 2009

True Blood, S1 E9 "Plaisir D'Amour"

Spoilers Ahead

There's a maxim in TV land that as soon as things start going well for the hero and heroine, something bad has to happen. It adds to tension, keeps the story interesting , helps with character development, so on and so forth. It's a rare show that doesn't mess with its characters this way. So am I wrong in wishing that True Blood had tried something different?

Just when things were going so well for Bill and Sookie, Eric shows up with his "reasonable request." Fine, that's what Eric is there for. But at the beginning of "Plaisir D'Amour" when Long Shadow attacks Sookie as the other vampires watch indifferently and the humans panic, Bill is forced to stake the older, stronger vampire. Beyond the ensuing carnage that looks like a scene cut from Carrie, this act marks the end of Bill and Sookie's happiness. Didn't last long.

Part of the problem is the twelve-episode season. The writers and directors try to cram in a fully developed storyline in half the number of episodes a show usually gets--things get cut, things get rushed. Relationships hit snags way before they should. What can you do? At least it's not as bad as The Tudors, where plague outbreaks that would have lasted months in reality begin and end within the span of half an episode. But if HBO found a way to grant an extra hour or two--or twelve--to True Blood, this fan would be most grateful.

Anyway, back to "Plaisir D'Amour," Eric takes advantage of the situation by trying to get Bill to exchange Sookie for his silence on Long Shadow's killing. Bill won't give her up. He tries to reason with Eric, asking what Eric would have done to Long Shadow (given that he was stealing from Fangtasia) had Bill not staked him. Eric smirks that whatever he would have done, he wouldn't have done in front of witnesses--especially vampire witnesses. Bill is screwed. But he doesn't let on to Sookie, trying to reassure her that everything will be okay. She's quick to believe him, probably because she's still in shock from all the recent murders of people she loves, including--as she discovers when she gets back from Fangtasia--her cat.

Okay, I have to go off topic here for a second. I kind of understand why the killer stalking Sookie would kill her cat. He's trying to terrorize the poor girl, to taunt her and make her suffer before he finally gets her. Or maybe he was simply enraged that she wasn't home when he came looking for her, and took it out on her cat. Either way--it doesn't really matter. At least there was some kind of point to it, and it was portrayed as a horrific and traumatizing act (as it would be). But am I the only one who's had more than enough of cats (and other animals, although it's usually cats) being "killed" for entertainment purposes? There used to be a time when pets were off limits in horror shows. Now you can watch any show--any show--and if you see a cat at some point you know it'll eventually end up dead. And not from old age. And if they can throw in a good yowl beforehand (such as cats emit when, say, their tails are accidentally trapped in a door) so much the better. I would just like to point out to all the writers/directors/producers out there that torturing and killing animals onscreen is not entertaining. At all. And those of you who include such things in your shows for laughs have serious, serious issues. If I wanted to see that sort of horror, I'd watch the news.

Sorry about all that, but it had to be said. And once again, back to the episode...

After Bill promises he'll take care of Sookie and will never leave her, he has to leave her. It's not his fault--blame Eric as he shows up to complicate things. This time he has to take Bill to a vampire tribunal where he'll be put on trial for killing Long Shadow. This is an interesting twist--vampires generally kill one another without consequences. They're all monsters--who cares, right? At worst they might end up earning the enmity of other vampires (like Spike does when he starts helping Buffy and the Scoobies). But an official judiciary process is unusual. And in this case, worrisome. People don't usually get away with murder--how will Bill? At least Eric lets him go to Merlotte's first to explain the situation to Sookie and ask Sam to watch over her. Bill and Sookie get one last passionate kiss before Eric snaps that they have to leave, and then Bill walks away. Maybe forever (okay, you know that's seriously unlikely, but still...) It's enough to make a girl cry. Although Sookie doesn't seem too broken up; she must be the queen of repressing. At least she and Tara finally make up after their fight (and that lasts until Sookie sees Tara and Sam undressing each other. Oops).

While Bill is tying up loose ends, Pam and Eric hand out passes to Fangtasia. Only the redneck who burned his arm torching the scary vampires doesn't get one. When he protests, Eric asks how he burned his arm. Eric then announces to the entire bar that vampires know when humans have wronged them (he looks right at Amy as he says it) and that there will be retaliation for those wrongs. This is just the right kind of creepy. Do they really know? And if so, how? Can't wait to see how they deal with the redneck (and Amy too, hopefully).

Speaking of Amy, things aren't going so well with her and Jason. He's angry with her about the situation with Eddie, upset when he realizes she's kidnapped vampires before, and is starting to notice her annoying hippie condescension. All promising until the lure of the V pulls Jason back in. They get high, have sex (so much for being a "respectable girl"), and commune with nature. Amy is not only grating, she keeps reminding us she's evil too (despite the sweet and helpful facade she puts on at Merlotte's). As she and Jason are getting high (and frisky) on V, Amy insists on pausing to thank the vampire (tied up a few feet away) for the gifts he's bestowed on them. Eddie is about as impressed with her as I am. And yet later she tells Jason that vampires are not people, shows no concern about the prospect of Eddie starving to death, and claims that she "deserves" everything to work out for her. Uh, yeah. Jason ends up talking and bonding with Eddie, although he gets angry to a degree that screams "protesting too much" when Eddie suggests that Amy is a psychopath. Despite his anger, he later buys Tru Blood for Eddie and feeds it to him, reminding me why I like Jason so much, and offering some hope that he'll eventually see Amy for what she is.

Tara, as usual, is going through her own issues. She struggles with her doubts even as she starts believing she needs an exorcism. As Sam points out, who knows what else is out there besides vampires--why shouldn't demons exist? She's also struggling with the price tag on Miss Jeanette's services: $799.95, more than double what Tara's mom paid for her exorcism. Apparently Tara's demon is stronger and more dangerous. (Don't you love the price? Miss Jeanette clearly has experience in retail.) Wanting something more with Tara than just sex--and also wanting the constant fights to end--Sam gives Tara the money she needs. She reluctantly, but gratefully, agrees to take it.

And Sam is finally outed! We don't actually see the transformation but when Andy Bellefleur confronts him about the false story he gave about growing up in a nudist colony, Sam runs back inside Merlotte's to "get something he forgot," and a moment later the dog comes running back out. The dog then shows up at Bill's, where Sookie is spending the night, seems to understand everything she says to him, and looks away while she's changing. When Sookie wakes up because the dog is lying on her feet, she finds naked Sam lying there instead (his reaction is priceless--as she screams in shock, so does he). Now the question is--what is he exactly (were-dog)?

Will the exorcism help Tara? Will Jason do the right thing, or will he let the V keep controlling him? Will Bill and Sookie ever see each other again? Will Eric ever exhibit an actual emotion? Tune in next review to find out the answers to these burning questions...and more...

Fang Files

Appearance: Vampires look like pale humans. Fangs (resembling snake fangs) unsheathe at will. Their appearance also doesn't change after they're turned (if they're out of shape beforehand, they'll be out of shape afterward).

Strengths: super speed, super strength, glamouring (hypnotizing), extreme powers of intimidation.

Weaknesses: Stakes, silver, hunger.

Mythology: A staked vampire projectile vomits blood before collapsing into a pool of liquid. Vampires are basically made up of blood held together by a little skin and hair. A vampire who doesn't feed for even a short while becomes badly weakened, lacking in energy and susceptible to extreme pain. Not all vampires have the same skills and abilities; according to Eddie, learning how to be a vampire doesn't happen overnight.

Sound Bites

Pam: (to Sookie) You've got vampire in your cleavage.

Amy: Jason, can you please try to live in the now with me?

Pam: (as Bill and Sookie kiss) If I had any feelings, I'd have the chills right about now.
Eric: Not me.

True Blood, Season 1 Episode 9 "Plaisir D'Amour." Written by Brian Buckner and Charlaine Harris. Directed by Anthony Hemingway. From HBO.

09 November 2009

Dracula: The Un-Dead Goes Platinum

Just when I was starting to think that my cynicism over Dracula: the Un-Dead was misplaced, and that Dacre Stoker (who claims he'd rather go fly fishing and read Tom Clancy than have anything to do with vampires) isn't really just cashing in on his family name to produce an unnecessary sequel (and revision) to his great-grand-uncle's classic--along comes this:

That's right, it's a Dracula: The Un-Dead Platinum Visa card. According to Stoker junior's sales pitch in the official Dracula: The Un-Dead newsletter:
If the Dracula bloodline is in your DNA like it's in mine, you’ll want to carry this exclusive, limited edition Visa Card.
This amazing--did I mention it's a limited edition?--card is yours for no annual fee and low, low interest. And I'll bet you can use it to stock up on all sorts of Dracula: The Un-Dead official merchandise. Oh yeah, and there's a book in there somewhere.


Cynicism: comfortably back in place.

I'm not sure about anyone else but I'm getting pretty tired of people who are neither writers nor vampire fans writing books about vampires. To paraphrase Jorge Luis Borges, don't write unless you can improve the silence.

06 November 2009

The Vampire Diaries S1 E8 "162 Candles"

Damon and Elayna ponder the unfairness of it all.

Spoilers Ahead

This episode of The Vampire Diaries serves mainly to remind us all that there is no justice in the world. The point is driven home with a sharp stake while the helpless viewer is left to wonder why a cool character gets killed off, and yet Caroline still lives. Oh, cruel whims of television writers! Why do you torment us so, accursed scribes?


Okay, so "162 Candles" starts off with Stefan getting a surprise birthday visit from his oldest friend, 350-year-old vampire Lexi (Arielle Kebbel, Gilmore Girls). She quickly proves herself to be fun, smart, and strong (as we witness when she makes her feelings about Damon--she does not like him--perfectly clear). She also has gorgeous hair. (It had to be said.) She even--gasp--manages to get Stefan to crack a smile! I was worried the character would be an unnecessary--and irritating--addition to the cast, but other than a momentary lapse into sappiness, I found Lexi to be entirely enjoyable.

So of course it couldn't last. But we'll get back to that.

Speaking of BFFs, Bonnie decides to cheer Elayna up by showing off her new witchy skills. She's supposed to be keeping her magical proclivities a secret but she can't keep a secret from her very best friend, can she? Big surprise that this then sends Elayna into another downward spiral of mopeyness. She can't deal with the fact that she can't share her big secrets with anyone but Stefan. Too bad she can't bring herself to actually talk to him (although when she goes to his place to try, we're treated to yet another rendition of "wacky relationship misunderstanding" when she's greeted by a towel-clad Lexi and then jumps to the obvious conclusion). The upshot is Elayna knows too much and can't talk to anyone about it so she just wants Stefan to stay away from her. It's a good thing she's consistent with her feelings from one day to the next.

The Sheriff (Caroline's mom) has a prominent role this episode, which is unfortunate as she's about as interesting as watching ice melt (possibly less so). She also has to be one of the dimmest--not to mention most incompetent--cops ever portrayed on TV (why bother with a proper investigation when you can rely on hearsay and opinion?) But her presence does help Damon as he first trades a box of vervain ("from Zack") for information about the Founders Council/vampire hunters' plans, and then manipulates her to his own ends. Ultimately, he not only finds a way to protect himself and Stefan (mostly himself), but he manages to get in good with the people who would kill them without hesitation. While Stefan goes moon-eyed over a high school girl, Damon is actually doing something. Not necessarily something good (in the sense of not being evil), but still...

An even more useless character than the Sheriff is Aunt Jenna. At this point I think she only shows up occasionally to reassure everyone that Elayna and Jeremy haven't been completely abandoned. This time she's around long enough to mention she got a brush-off email from Logan saying he was leaving town--thus reminding viewers of the ongoing cover-up of his untimely death-by-Damon. Okay, then.

Which brings us to the most useless character of all: Caroline. Damon compels her into forgetting she hates him and then convinces her to throw a huge party. He tells her it's because he wants her to get his Very Important Crystal back from Bonnie (he then tells Stefan it's secretly a birthday party for him). When Caroline ultimately can't get the crystal back (it burns her the same way it burned Damon), he tells her what he thinks of her (he and I are pretty much in complete agreement on this). She then gets drunk and weepy, whining to Matt that nobody loves her. If we're supposed to have sympathy for this character, the writers might want to look for another way to elicit it from viewers. Self-absorbed blubbering--not so effective. She also gives a little self-righteous speech to Bonnie about what a crappy friend she is for not giving the crystal back and for being so mean to her (never mind that Caroline [a] gave the crystal to her, and [b] wasn't exactly nice about getting it back). I was hoping this character would have less of a role as the series progressed. I also can't help wondering, since Damon pretty much kills everyone else in his general vicinity, why Caroline is still here.

Moving on... After her initial shock at the resemblance between Elayna and Katherine, Lexi tells Stefan he's got some serious explaining to do. Stefan defends himself, admitting that their resemblance is what drew him to Elayna but beyond that the two women are nothing alike. Our heroine is the bees knees, apparently, and he admits to Lexi that he loves Elayna. This softens Lexi's attitude (although she's convinced Katherine and Elayna are somehow related) and at the party she ends up helping Elayna sort through her conflicted feelings and patch things up with Stefan.

Damon's keeping busy at the party too. After finding out that Caroline couldn't get the crystal back (and that it seems to be burning everyone who tries), he takes out his foul mood on a pair of teenagers outside, killing the boy in a particularly vicious way. I'm actually pretty surprised that the producers are not holding back with this character. At least they do monstrous right.

Anyway, the surviving girl gets the attention of a passing cop, who then calls in the Sheriff. When the Sheriff finally arrives she and the cop take their time examining the corpse and discussing what should be done with it. Eventually the cop remembers the traumatized girl, who has been cowering and whimpering in the dark this entire time. See above re: incompetence. Seriously. But lucky for them the girl isn't too traumatized to identify the vampire who killed her boyfriend. After blocking the exits (first allowing Matt to leave with her drunk daughter), the Sheriff takes the witness inside to point out the culprit. Moments later Lexi is injected with vervain and dragged outside. I guess all vampires are bad vampires according to the law in Mystic Falls (hey--Lexi is a stranger in town. Highly suspect). Stefan and Elayna see what's happening (while Damon feigns ignorance) and sneak out the back to go help Lexi.

Lexi doesn't seem to need much help, though. The vervain wears off quickly and she kicks some uniformed ass. The Sheriff, who knows all about vervain and wooden bullets and stakes, decides to try shooting Lexi with normal bullets. Repeatedly. Even as she sees that they're having no effect whatsoever. And just as I was getting interested in seeing what Lexi would do to repay the Sheriff, out of nowhere comes a stake through the heart, and on the other end of it: Damon. Not cool. Deep down I always knew it would end this way.

Oh, Lexi--why couldn't you have run instead of trying to teach the silly woman a lesson? (I also won't ask what happened to her super speed--maybe the vervain hadn't quite worn off yet. Maybe.)

Meanwhile Stefan and Elayna hide in the shadows watching it all, including when the Sheriff thanks Damon ("This nightmare is finally over"--the stranger is gone from our midst!) Afterward, Stefan understandably flips out, raging that death and destruction follow wherever he goes because Damon follows him wherever he goes. Elayna tries to talk him out of it for his sake, but he says she was right to stay away from him. Then he takes off, leaving her looking confused.

Okay, this hot/cold, on-again/off-again thing with Stefan and Elayna is getting really old. It's not interesting. It doesn't add tension. At this point I don't even care if they ever end up together. I'm far more interested in the machinations of Damon, to be honest. Way to make romance less interesting than tête-à-têtes with the dull and dense Sheriff, Vampire Diaries writers and producers. Nice job.

Anyway, Stefan goes home and attacks Damon, somehow managing to overpower his much stronger brother. He stakes Damon but deliberately misses the heart, claiming that Damon saved his life and now he's spared his, so they're even. This... is lame. Not that I want Damon dead, but really? Stefan is nearly out of his mind with anger and hatred, he finally gets the upper hand (and probably won't get it again), and he decides to wimp out with a silly excuse? Maybe that's supposed to make him the better person or something. I think he might as well not have bothered.

The episode ends with Bonnie dreaming about running through the cemetery and seeing her great-great-etc., grandmother and uber witch, Emily Bennett (context here). After great-granny warns her "it's coming," she wakes up in the cemetery. Creepy. And intriguing. It looks like The Vampire Diaries has a plan.

Okay, so this wasn't a great episode. Some largish plot holes proved annoying, and too much time was wasted on irritating and/or pointless characters. But it wasn't the worst episode, either. Lexi's presence went a long way, a lot of the dialogue was good, and Damon is pretty much always worth watching. I'm still not blown away by The Vampire Diaries, but I'm still willing to give it another chance.

Oh, and there was another Tru Blood/True Blood commercial on CTV. This one featured a woman, her vampire lover, her husband, and the line "Oh, mon dieu" repeated throughout (with a different meaning each time). The slogan for this ad: Tru Blood, La sang de la passion! My verdict: très bon. If I had known CTV (and Space) had been running these commercials, I would have watched The Vampire Diaries on this channel from the beginning. Mon dieu, indeed.

Fang Files

Physical appearance: Dark, red-rimmed eyes. Veiny face. Prominent canines. Dead vampires get very veiny and stiff (almost as though they turn into a wax statue or stone).

Strengths: Super strength, speed, and hearing. The ability to compel (hypnotize) humans. World-rocking vampire sex (or so Lexi claims).

Weaknesses: Vervain, sunlight, wooden stakes.

Mythology: The older the vampire the stronger they are. Stefan and Damon are apparently the only vampires with rings that allow them out into the sunlight. Alcohol helps vampires curb their cravings for blood (but apparently results in a lot of vampire lushes).

Sound Bites

Caroline: (trying to convince Bonnie to give back the crystal) When you wear it, it makes you look fat.

Damon: Does it get tiring, being so righteous?
Elayna: It flares up in the presence of psychos.

Caroline: Am I shallow?
Matt: Is that a trick question?

Damon: Okay, I have a diabolical master plan.
Lexi: What is it?
Damon: Well if I told you it wouldn't be very diabolical, would it?

Lexi: (after Damon stakes her) Why?
Damon: It's all part of the plan.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 8 "162 Candles." Accursed scribe: Barbie Kligman. Directed by Rick Bota. From The CW.

04 November 2009

Vlad the Impaler: The Man Who Was Dracula

You wouldn't expect the people who brought you Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost to turn around and create a graphic novel about Vlad the Impaler, but if a 19th century Irish novelist can use him as his muse, why shouldn't Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón be equally inspired?

For those of you who aren't aware, Vlad Dracula (aka Vlad Tepes aka Vlad the Impaler) was a 15th century Wallachian (Romania) prince and all-around psycho. He was an equal opportunity torturer and murderer with a penchant for impalement (nothing better to keep the riffraff out than rotting corpses--or squirming bodies--on pikes). Legend also has it that he was nearly impossible to kill, surviving where other men would have succumbed, and giving rise to early vampire rumours. Bram Stoker took inspiration from Vlad Dracula's history and used the name for the vampire Count in his own tale. So you can see why I jumped at the opportunity when Penguin offered to send me a review copy of a graphic novel about him.

Vlad the Impaler: The Man Who Was Dracula purports to tell Vlad's life story in all its gory detail, although I'm not too sure how accurate it actually is (the parts with Countess Flora leap immediately to mind). We'll just chalk it up to creative license. The writing is also clunky in parts ("Prince Vlad himself fought like a Greek god on a mission"), often tending to verbosity. It would have been nice if the narration could have taken more of a backseat to the artwork, letting the drawings tell the story rather than merely illustrating it.

And there is some really nice artwork in Vlad the Impaler, particularly some of the two-page spreads and, surprisingly enough, many of the impalements. They're disturbingly well done. At other times the artwork seems to be lacking in potency; this graphic novel might have benefitted from a slightly larger or longer format (or maybe just fewer small panels ).

The colour work is also nice, although maybe a bit on the obvious side. Most of the "good" characters seem to be blonde or fair, while the schemers and evildoers are raven-haired. Vlad's brother Radu looks like a golden cherub while Vlad always manages to seem a little darker than those around him, especially as he ages and becomes more brutal--brilliant from a character development standpoint, but also a little confusing, visually (why is adult Vlad so drastically different from childhood Vlad?) But colour is put to good use to portray the starkness and horror of certain scenes, utilizing simple yet highly evocative palettes. As well, the brightness of the hues in the depictions of the Ottoman Empire contrast nicely with the melancholy shades surrounding the Christians within it (although at one point I was reminded a little too strongly of the scene in The Simpsons episode "Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily" when Maggie's viewpoint switches from the Flanders family--all rainbows, flowers, and blue sky--to drab and dismal Homer, Bart and Lisa accompanied by scary dead trees and angry frogs). Like I said--a bit on the obvious side.

Slight Spoiler Ahead

Vlad does finally meet his end (what--you didn't think he was still around, did you?) with the novel nicely depicting post-mortem fangs in his mouth. This is followed by an unexpected conclusion--and possible set-up for a sequel. I'm not sure how I feel about this final bit--to be honest, I don't think it entirely works. But I would be interested in seeing how a sequel plays out.

Vlad the Impaler doesn't give you Vlad Dracula's full story--you would need a series of graphic novels to do that. But it does give you a taste of an intriguing and disturbing history, and every vampire knows that sometimes a taste is enough.

Text Bites

Vlad: The Sultan has given me a huge force to help me regain Wallachia, Radu. Will you join me?
Radu: I cannot, Vlad. This is my home, these are my people, Allah is my god.
Vlad: And Mustafa is your lover! Our father would piss on you!

Vlad: (to his closest friend after slashing him with his sword and leaving him to die) And if I had time I would impale you. Goodbye, Stefan.

Vlad the Impaler: The Man Who Was Dracula. Written by Sid Jacobson. Art by Ernie Colón. From Hudson Street Press (Penguin).

30 October 2009

The Vampire Diaries S1 E7 "Haunted"

Well, well--it seems "Haunted" makes two decent episodes of The Vampire Diaries in a row. If this keeps up we might actually have a show worth watching.

Spoilers Ahead

Tomorrow is Halloween, so you'll have to forgive the brevity of this episode's review (I mean, we are talking about the high holy day for horror lovers...I've got to prepare). All right, so Vicky is adjusting to her new status as Undead American. Stefan tries to reign her in, help her through the difficult transition, which she--big surprise--finds interminably boring. Damon thinks she should be allowed to unleash a little. Of course she takes off. They eventually catch up with her at the school's Halloween shindig (dressed as--what else?--a vampire, which in this case apparently means goth with fangs). Things are going swimmingly until the blood lust gets out of hand. She bites Jeremy then attacks Elena with intent to kill, before being stopped by a stake to the chest, courtesy of Stefan.

I was not expecting Vicky to get killed so soon. Not sure how I feel about that, considering that I only just started liking the girl. But it's nice to see that Stefan can succeed where Damon has failed.

Speaking of Damon, he at least has sense enough to want to investigate what the vampire-hunters cabal (aka the Founders Council) is up to, and how they got hold of the vampire-detecting compass (aka the Gilbert watch). Between a little eavesdropping and some flirting with the mayor's drunk wife he finds out that Zack was in on it (and was getting ready to provide the cabal with fresh vervain), that they think there's only one vampire, and that they held the Founders' Ball a few weeks back to weed out suspects based on whether they arrived before or after dark (they clearly have no clue about Damon and Stefan's rings).

Damon also rediscovers his Very Important Crystal when he finds Bonnie wearing it as part of her costume (Caroline makes her dress up as a witch. I think it's supposed to be ironic). When he reaches out to take it back, he ends up getting burned. He's shocked and Bonnie is dismayed as she runs home to her grandma to ask what that was all about. Turns out the crystal is a family heirloom that used to belong to Bonnie's very great grandma, Emily Bennett, an extremely powerful witch and, oh yeah, Katherine's slave/servant/companion (she's never introduced, but it was the South in 1864).

Meanwhile, Stefan, Elayna, and especially Jeremy are dealing with the aftermath of Vicky's untimely demise. Jeremy is heartbroken in the way that only someone who keeps losing the people he loves can be. Elayna asks Stefan to compel (hypnotize) him so that he won't remember, but Stefan--being a weaker, animal-blood-drinking vampire--tells her he might not be able to do it successfully. Suddenly Damon appears and offers to do it "if that's what you [Elayna] want." She does, so he does; making Jeremy believe that Vicky left town, that she's okay, and that he knows it's for the best. Elayna muses to Stefan that she too wishes she could be made to forget, but then she can't because she doesn't want to lose the way she feels about him. Then she runs inside and shuts the door.

Damon is proving to be an increasingly interesting character. He takes all kinds of abuse from Elena (insults, blame, a slap to the face) and then he ends up showing her kindness instead of, oh, I don't know--tearing her head off. He doesn't even take advantage of the situation when she's bleeding from the neck (from Vicky's attack) and chooses that moment to tell him off and hit him. Why? It is just because she looks so much like Katherine or is there something else going on? He also shows remarkable restraint with Tyler at the beginning of the episode. Is it because Vicky begs him not to hurt him, or is Damon starting to consider the consequences of killing indiscriminately? Or maybe the writers just realized Damon's already more popular than Stefan (or soon will be) and are trying to find a way to humanize him. It's not like you can have a murderous fiend as the hero of the piece--there's got to be some kind of redemption (but there'd better not be any storylines involving behaviour-modifying chips or the return of his soul. Just saying). Whatever it is I'm starting to really like Damon. He's not exactly at the level of Spike or Bill (hell, he's not even at the level of Drusilla), but he's getting there. Slowly.

As for Elayna, her responses to everything happening were actually reasonable this episode, and whining was thankfully kept to a minimum. She also exhibits a remarkable level of bravery around Damon, considering she knows exactly what he's capable of--not to mention that he's twice made threatening comments about killing her. Is this character stupid or does she know something we don't? I guess that remains to be seen.

I was also glad to see that Caroline was barely in "Haunted." I think her absence contributed in a major way to the last two episodes being so much more watchable. Let's hope that she, like the titular diaries of the show, slowly fades away to non-existence. I was originally concerned that the loss of the diaries would deprive the show of its one distinguishing feature, but as The Vampire Diaries has progressed and the diaries have slowly disappeared (they weren't in the last episode at all), it's pretty obvious they didn't add anything worthwhile to the show. It's good to see that the producers at least know enough to erase the annoying elements. There's hope in TV land!

One last comment on "Haunted": everyone looks really good in this episode. Kudos to the makeup and wardrobe people; they're clearly doing something right.

And on an unrelated--but cool--note, viewers watching The Vampire Diaries on the Canadian channel CTV got treated to a nifty commercial for Tru Blood (actually for True Blood, soon to be airing on Space)! When a vampire crashes your redneck camp-out, hand him a bottle of Tru Blood and invite him to join you for a drink. Tru Blood: Suck it Up! Nice.

The Vampire Diaries started off so-so, degenerated quickly, and now seems to be on an upward trajectory. It's crazy, but I'm actually looking forward to seeing where they go next. Even if it heads back downhill, at least we got to see a couple of enjoyable episodes. That's more than can be said about a lot of other shows.

Fang Files

Physical Appearance: Dark, red-rimmed eyes. Dark veins on face. Dead vampires look like dead humans (no dust or pools of blood--just a body), although they retain the veins and fangs.

Strengths: Ability to "compel" (or hypnotize) humans. Super speed, super strength. Caffeine (see Mythology). Special rings allow them to go out during the day.

Weaknesses: Vervain, sunlight, stakes, witch-empowered crystals.

Mythology: A new vampire has to face overwhelming hunger (symptoms of which include head and stomach pain and a short temper); blood lust is a potentially serious side effect (and crowds just make control even more difficult to maintain). While a new vampire is transitioning, their body isn't quite aware yet that it's dead. Emotions are also one big jumble during the transition--the new vampire has a difficult time separating feelings. Animal blood isn't as potent as human blood; vampires who feed on animal blood are weaker. Caffeine circulates through a vampire's bloodstream, staving off the ever-present cold and making them feel warm to the touch. A vampire needs to be invited in to a private residence.

Sound Bites

Elayna: If you wanted me dead, I'd be dead.
Damon: Yes, you would.
Elayna: But I'm not.
Damon: Yet.

Grandma: (re: magic) It's not meant to be fun. It's real and it's serious, and you must understand it before you practise it.

Vicky: Why did you do this to me?
Damon: I was...bored.

Damon: (after he teaches Vicky about vampire speed and she then runs off) Uh...my bad.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 7 "Haunted." Written by Andrew Kreisberg. Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson. From The CW.

28 October 2009

True Blood, S1 E8 "The Fourth Man in the Fire"

Spoilers Ahead

The title of "The Fourth Man in the Fire" was taken from a Johnny Cash song. Nice job--it works perfectly (unlike certain other vampire shows that try to be clever with their episode titles, the operative word here being "try"). I only wish the song was featured more prominently in the episode, rather than seeming like a mere afterthought (listen for it near the end, as Lafayette returns to his car).

There's a lot going on in "The Fourth Man in the Fire"--so much that I couldn't keep up with my notes. I'll do my best to sort through it all, though.

The episode starts off at the burned shell of the house and the four coffins that have been removed from it. When the lid on one of the coffins is opened we see a bubbling pool of blood with flames bursting off the surface every so often. No dust in the True Blood universe--these vamps leave liquid remains. Believing Bill--or what's left of him--is in one of the coffins, Sookie runs off in horror.

At home again, she tries calling Bill and once again gets his voice mail. It turns out Sookie and I have something in common; it seems she also turns to cleaning to take her mind off things, although as she starts scrubbing the floor she can't help flashing back to washing her Gran's blood off the same floor not too long ago. It's been a rough week for Sookie.

Not so much for Tara. Well, not at first. After the exorcism she wakes to find her mother already up. Not only is Lettie Mae in bright spirits, but she's dumping all her remaining alcohol (the demon's gone so she doesn't need it anymore) and has made hoecakes for breakfast (she always knew how but the demon would never let her). Tara's in blissful disbelief. It's fairly short-lived, though. When she goes to Sookie's to tell her what's happened, Sookie is understandably an emotional mess. Tara, on the other hand, is on cloud nine (also understandably); the two states of mind are not exactly compatible. Sookie's anger at Tara for not asking how she's doing degenerates into a screaming argument when Tara goes off on Sookie for letting Bill bite her (Tara is unaware of everything that's transpired since Gran's funeral). After Tara goes home again, her mom and a friend show up in their Sunday best. It turns out Lettie Mae is going to church again and is all up in God's glory. Tara's not impressed, even less so when the women let her know that church would do her some much-needed good. At work later, the best "ten minutes" of her day (sex with Sam) is ruined after they get into yet another argument. By the end of the episode Tara has gone to see Miss Jeanette, the woman who performed the exorcism.

That night Sookie leaves a lit candle in the window for Bill and takes a bouquet of flowers to his grave. As she's leaving the cemetery, an arm reaches up from the ground and grabs her. She struggles to get away while a naked man pulls himself out of the ground. Of course, it's Bill. Shock turns to relief turns to need turns to sex. Savage, urgent sex complete with bodice ripping and biting (not on the neck this time; I guess Sookie's finally clued in that not everyone is cool with it). The scene is a good one, powerful and striking, with a great long shot of the two of them writhing on the ground. I hate criticizing such a brilliant moment in the show, but the question needs to be asked: why is Bill naked? The cemetery isn't far from his house, particularly with his vampire speed. If the sun was coming up and he didn't have time to get home, how did he have time to take his clothes off before burying himself? And if he did have time, why not just go home (the place was safe enough for Sookie to spend the night there)? Plot holes are like loose teeth; once you realize they're there you can't leave them alone, even though you really, really should. Sigh.

But Bill's alive! Yay!

Sookie's particularly thrilled about this turn of events. Bill is alive! And he's great. It turns out he got her messages so he left the other vampires and buried himself to stay safe. Vampires can do that! The fourth body in the coffin was some poor fang-banger (it turns out to be the coroner's assistant). Because some vampires like to keep humans around, you know, for blood... and sex. But Bill is great andeverything'sgreatandshe'ssohappy!!! Sookie's recent tendency to be hyper and a little too free with details seems to be continuing. Is it love, relief, blood loss? No one's saying but I still find it strange (and off-putting).

Speaking of which, I don't like that the three scary vampires were killed off so soon. For one thing, it seemed as though the show was building up to something with them. They were also a good contrast to Bill and provided a nice monster aspect to a show that, in theory anyway, is about monsters. It just seems like the writers decided they didn't want to deal with those characters anymore, so they wrote them out. A little abrupt for my liking.

Anyway, back to Merlotte's: Sam's week hasn't been much better than Sookie's. It's obvious he still cares for her, but she is all about the vampires these days. When he tries to offer her sympathy, and she excitedly tells him that Bill is alive and well, he seems crestfallen. It also doesn't help when he finds her suddenly taking B12 vitamins like a good little fang-banger. He copes by pouring the bar's supply of Tru Blood down the sink. Vampires aren't even the worst of his problems. Andy Bellefleur is not only questioning Sam about why he was running naked through the woods, but is checking up on his story as well, and finding out it's a lie. Sam might just be the number-one suspect in all the recent murders in Bon Temps. And when he tries to take some comfort with Tara ("You and I are the only ones who get it") they end up fighting, with Tara unfairly calling him a racist.

That scene with Sam and Tara is actually nicely juxtaposed against one with Sookie and Bill. As the latter couple are lying in bed, Sookie asks Bill if sex doesn't get predictable after a hundred years of it. Bills claims that Sookie is entirely different, that nothing is predictable with her (another reference to her being "more" than human). She then asks him to let her know if she does anything wrong. He very sweetly responds that who is he to say something is wrong that comes naturally to her. He also adds that even if he could, he wouldn't change a thing. Cut to Tara and Sam. They're having a similar conversation, only Sam is dumb enough to tell Tara that she does have one little quirk she could maybe work on (sometimes she grunts). Cue the argument.

Speaking of couples, Jason and Amy spend the episode getting to know each other better (maybe a little too well). She is rapidly proving herself to be an annoying character I want gone. Everything out of her mouth grates, whether she's making pseudo-intellectual pronouncements or getting all dreamy over V. At one point, after she and Jason spent the night having communal V orgasms with all of creation (but no sex), she tells him (without a trace of irony) that they should "hold off on the screwing; I'm a respectable girl." So she spends the night half-naked, getting high with some guy she only just met, but she draws the line at intercourse? Right. She's got an "interesting" sense of morality, which we see more of later on. For someone who drones on about how all life is connected and significant and blah blah blah, she apparently has no compunction about kidnapping Eddie (played by Stephen Root), a harmless vampire; torturing him with a sheet of silver chain mail over his face; and bullying Jason into being an accomplice just so she can have herself a convenient supply of V. I knew when she went to Merlotte's and started being so damn nice to everyone (waiting on tables without being asked because she saw that Sookie and Arlene were swamped, then handing over all the tips) she would turn out to be evil. And poor Jason's too smitten (not to mention dimwitted, and hooked on V) to do more than go along for the ride. Looks like the Rattrays have been replaced.

Sookie and Bill also spend some time babysitting Arlene's kids (she's not too happy about Bill being there, but Sookie and Rene convince her it's fine). Bill is particularly good with the kids, even donning some "bloody" fangs (made out of pizza) to entertain them. I have to say, I'm not a fan of Bill making nice with the villagers. There's definitely something plastic about it whenever he does, although it occurred to me that he has to hide his real self the same way Sookie does when they're around the general public. It's interesting too that while Sookie becomes more open about her telepathy--as well as being bolder about standing up for herself and her relationship--Bill doesn't get that option. Anti-vampire sentiment runs deep in Bon Temps (after all, the last time vampires acted like themselves in public, the public decided to have a little vamp barbecue).

Then again, Bill can't really act like himself around other vampires, either. The scary ones mocked his attempts at "mainstreaming," and Eric uses whatever he knows about Bill--in this case, Sookie's abilities--against him. Eric's waiting for Bill when he gets home (by the way, I've never seen a bathroom get so much onscreen time before, although it is a fantastic bathroom). He asks Bill if he really thought he could keep Sookie to himself. It turns out that not only is Eric exceedingly old, but he's also the Sheriff of the area, giving him control over all the vampires in his jurisdiction--including Bill. Since it would be stupid to anger the Sheriff by refusing him any reasonable request, Bill agrees to have Sookie help Eric with a problem he and his partners (Pam and Long Shadow) are having at Fangtasia. Of course, knowing all this doesn't make Sookie feel any better about it, nor does being told that Eric doesn't even need to ask her directly because she is Bill's and Bill already gave his permission. Despite her assertion to the contrary, apparently she can be checked out like a library book. She ultimately acquiesces, although it's clear the bargain she makes with Eric--that she'll help him "anytime" he wants as long as he turns the guilty party over to the police--will come back to bite her. Possibly literally.

As Sookie reads the thoughts of Fangtasia's human employees to try to determine who's been embezzling $60,000 from the club, the crackling blank mind of one employee points to her having been glamoured, making it apparent that the embezzler is one of the vampires. No sooner does Sookie say this than Long Shadow leaps from behind the bar, grabs her, and bares his fangs. Oops.

It'll be interesting to see how all this gets resolved, given that there are only four episodes left this season (damn you, HBO). Can't wait to find out...

Fang Files

Strengths: Glamouring (although it's not infallible). Lack of a need to breathe.

Weaknesses: Sunlight, fire.

Mythology and Vampire Culture: When vampires die they turn into a pool of blood. They can safely--if not comfortably--sleep underground. They don't consume anything but blood. Vampire society has a hierarchy; Sheriffs are figures of respect and power--you don't want to upset them. Human law does not acknowledge a vampire's right to marry.

Sound Bites

Sookie: (To Tara) Do you have any idea what I've been through today? A friend would ask!

Amy: (after seeing the stuffed animal heads at Merlotte's) Everyone has to eat, right? We're all links on the universal food chain. See, squirrel eats nuts, snake eats the squirrel, gator eats the snake. And we can eat pretty much anything we want. It's the circle of life.
Jason: Jesus Christ, I want to lick your mind.

Arlene: (re: Amy) Sam! Think we might have found a replacement for Dawn.
Sookie: (to Jason) Looks like you did too.

Eddie: (to Lafayette) I always look forward to Monday nights. First Heroes, then you.

Eric: (to Sookie, after she pretends she can't help him) Don't be coy. It's humbling enough to turn to a human for assistance. We know what you can do.

True Blood, Season 1 Episode 8 "The Fourth Man in the Fire." Written by Alexander Woo and Charlaine Harris. Directed by Michael Lehmann. From HBO.