Category Archives: Movies and TV

TV Review: Vampire Diaries Season 8

vampire diaries title card

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t watched any of the Season 8 (final season) episodes of The Vampire Diaries and don’t want spoilers, skip this post and come back once you’ve seen the whole season.

The CW supernatural drama The Vampire Diaries has wrapped up its eighth and final season, the second one not to prominently feature series mainstay Elena Gilbert (well, until the end anyway). This season’s “Big Bads” were essentially two Sirens and a “Devil” (even though the character of Cade/Arcadius is called the Devil several times and is said to be in charge of Hell, he was more like a glorified demon rather than having the full-on gravitas of The Devil).

Also, just when you thought that a certain villain had been dead and buried for good after multiple instances of mysteriously always finding a way to scurry back to life, it turned out they weren’t in what would turn out to be one of the most over-the-top and pointless character returns in recent memory. I’m not going to rant about this character, but let’s just say they should be on a list of “Top 100 villains who started out as compelling characters but quickly became repetitive and annoying with each subsequent return.”

This time in the “let’s spin the wheel and see which brother will be evil for the season” it was Damon Salvatore‘s turn–well, for the first half of the season, then it was Stefan‘s turn. I will say that even though this was one of the more annoying parts of the entire season, Stefan had some good dialogue and quips here and there.

The mystery from the final episode of Season 7 revolves around what happened to Damon and Enzo when they stepped into the creepy tunnel room in the Armory, AKA Alaric’s Indiana Jones-inspired playground. We find out that a woman called Sybil is controlling Damon and Enzo and getting them to be her errand boys by virtue of her psychic abilities and mind control. Because both of their humanity switches are off, they don’t really care about the implications of all the terrible things Sybil is forcing them to do.

Eventually, we find out that Sybil is a (wait for it) siren. A siren. Seriously. I mean, I’ll give the show some credit for introducing the ability of mind control through song and adding a sort of almost shade of a dimension we haven’t seen to sirens before, but where it gets murky for me is when Sybil just becomes increasingly annoying and irritating. This is a problem that villains on The Vampire Diaries have had since Seasons 3 and 4 pretty much. After the Original vampires headed for their own show, the writers have had a tougher time making other villains stick. I’m not even going to get started on Kai/Malakai. The show has given us some truly awful villains, but in my mind he’s one of the absolute worst (and not in a good way).

So once we find out that Sybil is a siren, we find out that the innocent-looking nanny to Alaric’s children, Selene, is anything but. She’s the siren sister to Sybil, but it is also soon revealed that the two have something of a sibling rivalry and do not see eye to eye. The reason she has been keeping such a close eye on Alaric’s twin girls is because it turns out that she and Sybil work for an even douchier villain, a guy named Cade, who was accused of being a witch and then burned at the stake. But as he burned, he cursed the townspeople, blah blah seen-it-a-thousand-times-before blah. Just as a refresher, Alaric’s twin girls are part of the Gemini Coven and are siphoners of magic though they have no idea they’re doing it most of the time. The sirens were kicked out of their villages years ago for, basically, cannibalistic behaviour. This is how Cade found them. He got them to be his soul collectors. But Selene has wanted out of the gig for some time. Her scheme is to try to offer up Alaric’s twin girls to Cade as a switch.

But, oh, I haven’t mentioned the ever-sanctimonious and permanently in competition to see who can be the whinier martyr brothers, Damon and Stefan yet. While Damon’s Evil switch is still on, Stefan offers Cade a counter-bargain: he’ll take the place of Selene and Sybil if Cade will leave Alaric’s twin girls alone. Cade accepts. Stefan turns off his humanity switch. *sigh*

This season, witchy character Bonnie Bennett spends much of her time trying to get the love of her life, Enzo, to turn off his Evil switch. He does, but the consequences are that Sybil hounds him constantly. While Season 7 gave me a harder sell in terms of getting interested in the episodes, Season 8 was a bit of an improvement in that respect: the stakes were clear, and the adrenaline was always coursing.

Eventually (and you knew this was coming), Damon’s Evil switch starts flickering on and off and the goal for much of the second half of the season is to get Stefan to turn off his Evil switch and to stop being such a Ripper. It’s sort of cute that The Vampire Diaries has consistently tried so, so hard to make their version of a “Ripper” seem scary or distressing.

Some things I liked about this season:

  • This time around, the rumours started to float early on about the fact that Season 8 would be the show’s last. Vampire Diaries fans received confirmation of this at some point and so the rampant discussion became whether Nina Dobrev would return to reprise her role as the central character, Elena Gilbert. Well, spoiler alert, we knew with some certainty that she would. Still, it grated on my nerves in a big way that Elena Gilbert is one of those characters who can be the central focus of an entire season with barely being in it.
  • Stefan’s dialogue when he had his Evil switch on was entertaining in some parts.
  • The mystical Bell that was made by the Maxwell family (which filtered down to become the Donovans, i.e. Matt) in a sirenly attempt to destroy Mystic Falls. I thought the historical connection to this relic and its abilities were interesting, and the tie-in to the dimension of Hell was also intriguing. I also thought it was cool to bring in more of the Bennett witches into play again–they were always one of the most interesting aspects of each season, and I would have liked to see even more of them during the show’s run.
  • Even though the constant back and forth between Stefan and Damon about who would be the biggest martyr of them all annoyed me to no end, the lengths both of them were willing to go to in the name of destroying Hell and saving Mystic Falls was noble, and after shedding that much blood and causing centuries of pain and misery to countless people around the world, they both atoned in the end.
  • That this was the final season. My interest in the show began to wane sometime around Season 4 or 5, and the show hasn’t had a compelling villain since the Original vampires took a hike (see above). I know I’m supposed to be focusing on things I liked, so I’ll say it was good to get a sense of resolution with this story.

Some things I wasn’t so crazy about this season:

  • Bonnie’s constant insistence that she has lost her magic only for her to *gasp* magically have it after all. Can you sense the sarcasm? Just checking 😉 Also, just the fact that the show continued to screw with Bonnie in general and the whole thing where she tried to die a bunch of times but it wasn’t her time yet. Sure, it’s okay for Elena to have her happy ending with sunshine and rainbows, but Bonnie has to settle for some creepy Ghost scenario with Enzo. *sigh*
  • The string of one annoying villain after another. The writers have relied far too much on flashbacks and backstory to try to convince viewers why their villains are supposedly so epic, but instead of building sympathy in the minds of viewers for the whole “wronged baddie” schtick, it ends up turning viewers off (this is the thing where the villain in this series always seems to be the same variation of “I used to be good but people were cruel to me so I turned bad”).
  • “I’m so eeeeeeevvviiiilll” Damon (and Stefan): Because the show has overused this plot point so many times over the course of the entire series, it lost its impact a long time (and a few seasons) ago. When his Evil switch eventually stopped flickering and stopped at “off,” his next battle became to see who could be bigger martyr for their crimes: him or Stefan. They both lost, incidentally 😉 Although I hoped the return of Evil Damon would lead to a more interesting character arc this season, it disappointed in that regard. Of course I knew he would eventually go into full-blown good guy mode, but again, this is something that lost the impact because it happened so often on the show prior to this season.
  • That villain at the very, very end: No. Just no. My first reaction when I figured out where they were going with it was…you’ve got to be kidding me. Again? I understand the reason, but it felt like the actor was just going through the motions and as a result, it had no impact. The introduction of this villain was brilliant but after the events at the end of Season 6, that’s where things should have wrapped up. Nuff said.
  • In my review of Season 7, I had mentioned that I got a distinct Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe from the entity in the Vault of the Armory. I had originally thought viewers would be treated to something similar to The First Evil. That, uh, well, that didn’t quite happen. And the funny thing is that also in that review, I’d lamented the recycling of the “Oh no, what are we doing to do? Stefan is evil!” plotline except for Damon and Enzo, but it turned out that they applied it to Stefan yet again. Suffice it to say, I did not find it interesting at all to see where they went with this because they had gone there so many times before.
  • There’s not really any way they could have ended the series except with a Happily Ever After, but most of it made me feel like I was watching the Hallmark channel and not the CW.

Throughout its history, The Vampire Diaries had a big habit of repeating itself and recycling its own plot devices and tropes. No show is perfect, but I think that at the end of the day, this is a show that was made by the same people who produced Dawson’s Creek (well, at least one of them anyway). The emphasis on the love triangle between the three characters, which then became the “will the two of them get their happy ending? and what about that other one?” continued into a narrative focused on wrapping everything up as neatly and as tidily as possible in the 16 episode span of the last season.

As their characters made the transition from high school to university, the show did its best to present efforts to more maturity and more serious plotlines. And in some ways, they did well, but by the end, the show became one increasingly ridiculous plot twist after another. The writers very much adopted the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. Part of that stems from the fact that this was the last season, so the creators wanted to end on a high note and try to tie up as many loose ends as they could.

I think that in a sea of so many vampire shows and films that have saturated the airwaves and theatres for the past 40 years, the show tried its best to offer something different or in some way unique, and I would say that from Seasons 1 to 3, that’s when things were at their most interesting for the most part–the peak of the show’s overall story arc.

Although some of the villains this show has introduced such as Katherine, Klaus, and Silas provided much entertainment and suspense when they were first introduced, it’s difficult to sustain that kind of momentum for any character and there were only so many times the show could achieve the shock factor with them. Still, they produced some addictive storylines that kept viewers coming back for more, and it was a fun ride while it lasted.

What about you, readers? Did you tune in to Season 8? What did you think? What were your thoughts on the series as a whole? Sound off below!

 

TV Review: Vampire Diaries Season 7

vampire diaries title card

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t watched any of the Season 7 episodes of The Vampire Diaries and don’t want spoilers, skip this post and come back once you’ve seen the whole season.

The CW supernatural drama The Vampire Diaries has wrapped up its seventh season, the first one not to feature series mainstay Elena Gilbert. This season saw more exploration into the Heretics (who are both vampires and witches), led by the mother of Stefan and Damon Salvatore, as Mystic Falls did its best to enforce the police-imposed ban on vampires.

We also saw the introduction of yet another villain who had potential at the outset but quickly showed wafer-thin character development. This season’s honor went to Rayna Cruz, a vampire hunter who has been alive for centuries thanks to a Shamanic spell. Her mission, due to the Hunter’s Curse she was afflicted with, was to find and kill all vampires she marked with her sword to put their souls into the Phoenix Stone (which puts vampire souls in a Hellish prison).

This season focused heavily on the witch character of Bonnie Bennett, particularly the latter half of the season. She figured prominently in the plans of The Armory, which is an evil guinea pig lab for supernaturals. While I liked seeing the renewed emphasis on Bonnie for a change, there were many elements of this season that didn’t interest me. I didn’t start feel any serious interest in this season until Episode 12 rolled around and things started to pick up.

Some things I liked about this season:

  • Some Vampire Diaries fans were very disappointed with the fact that Elena Gilbert wasn’t the focus of the show this season, and some fans welcomed the change. I was glad to get a break from the show making Elena the center of everything (even though that has been the point of the show since the beginning), and felt the show made a decent use of reminding viewers of her presence when necessary, but that doesn’t mean the show was better without her. Just different.
  • The alternating timelines between the present and the past of three years ago. Some people haven’t been so keen on this, but I thought that it added a bit of mystery to the mix and enhanced some of the plot elements.
  • Enzo. Okay, okay, so he’s had a bit of a Spike from Buffy schtick going on since Day 1, but after spending much of the first part of the season making me wonder why he was involved, he made things interesting when he got involved with the Rayna Cruz situation and I questioned his motivations. Did he get a bit mushy-gushy toward the latter half when it was revealed how he and Bonnie got together? Yes, but it felt nice to see this character choosing something other than paranoia, mistrust, and revenge as his goals.
  • Klaus‘s cameos–he added to the plot in the episodes where he was involved and it was fun to see him again.
  • The consequences and stakes (no pun intended): Vampire Diaries has trained its viewers to become skeptical of everything that happens on the show and to good effect. Every time the characters manage to fix one problem, another even worse problem crops up to take its place. Nothing is ever simple on this show, and while that can sometimes be a detriment, it keeps the fans interested in the storylines.

Some things I wasn’t so crazy about this season:

  • Mopey Damon: Need I say more? He spent much of the first half of the season mucking about and just being generally sullen. I understand that he went into a personal Hell as a result of the Phoenix Stone, but it felt a bit like “Here we go yet again” so I was glad to see him taking more action toward the latter half of the season. And after the direction he’s headed with the season finale, it will be fun to see where his character goes next season.
  • Stop trying to make “Yellow Crayon” happen: (Episode 21 and the hashtag #BonniesYellowCrayon) The “Yellow Crayon” moment is a reference to the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Xander helps Dark Willow become regular Willow after he shares an emotional childhood memory to remind her of who she really is. I’m not going to compare the two shows because it’s apples and oranges, and it’s not a fair comparison to make because Buffy set an impossibly high bar that few shows have managed to pull off. Vampire Diaries did a poignant and well-acted version, but for me, Buffy‘s Yellow Crayon moment will always resonate with me more.
  • Speaking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer…, I’m getting a distinct vibe that whatever entity is in The Vault of The Armory that can never be let out because it’s so dangerous is going to be something similar to The First Evil. Maybe not, but it’s kind of recycling the whole “Oh no, what are we doing to do? Stefan is evil!” plotline we saw many seasons ago except this time with Damon and Enzo. Still, it’ll be interesting to see where they go with this.

There’s a lot of speculation about whether Season 8 will be the show’s last, but for the moment, it’s all just rumors. Will you tune in when the new season rolls around? Did you enjoy Season 7? Sound off below!

Review of Crimson Peak (2015)

Crimson Peak 2015 movie poster

I finally got around to seeing Crimson Peak, a film deeply steeped in the Gothic literature tradition of its predecessors that stretch all the way back to The Castle of Otranto up to Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

Many people complained the film wasn’t scary and that it didn’t constitute a horror film, which is what it was marketed as. There’s an endless debate about Gothic literature and its place in the horror genre, which I’m not going to get into, but others viewed it as a Gothic romance with spooky undertones, which I would agree with.

I love much of Guillermo Del Toro’s work as a director. I’m a huge fan of the Hellboy films, loved Pan’s Labyrinth and generally dig his aesthetic and his approach to concepts and themes. One notable exception for me was his recent remake of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (DBAOTD), which was just…yeah.

Interestingly enough, DBAOTD is, like Crimson Peak, a haunted house story that follows most of the tropes of that ever-popular subgenre of horror fiction. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with Crimson Peak but went into it with an open mind. I’m also fond of several of the actors, including the leads Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska having enjoyed many of their previous films so I was curious.

Crimson Peak definitely follows most of the standard tropes of Gothic literature–it’s got a plucky young (and blonde) heroine, a brooding/dreamy/swoonworthy intriguing baronet to fill the role of the Byronic hero and a sprawling estate that is decaying more every day but has a sort of beauty in its decadent state.

Even those who didn’t like the film because they said it wasn’t scary enough or it wasn’t to their liking did agree that the visuals of the film were stunning. The imagery of crimson and blood everywhere was a bit too heavy-handed for me at times or kind of made me want to say “Okay, seriously, symbolism, we get it” more than a few times. In spite of that, I think the film presented some amazing architecture and the house itself had very unique features, including the large moths that could be found everywhere.

Although I could predict most things that were about to happen, or wasn’t surprised with any of the ‘big reveals’ of the film, I still found it to be a fun ride. I did feel like some of the characters did need a bit more fleshing out to make a more direct impact on the viewer, but I found the performance of the actors to be effective. Tom Hiddleston in particular did a masterful job of playing with the viewer’s emotions as we questioned his intentions and wanted to believe him and his seeming earnestness and vulnerability but weren’t so sure if we could trust him because of some of his more sinister actions.

Although I do think Jessica Chastain’s character, Lucille, had shades of being somewhat interesting, she came across as a touch one-dimensional and melodramatic for my tastes–although Gothic fiction is supposed to be hammy and melodramatic by nature, so there’s that.

I did like some of the role reversals in the story, particularly with Edith rebelling against some of the more standard tropes of what female protagonists usually do in these types of stories, but she followed the formula fairly closely, which functioned fine in the context of the film.

Overall, I would say if you’re a fan of Gothic literature and go into viewing this film with an open mind, you might be surprised at how much you like it. Rather than viewing it as a masterpiece, I would view it more as a nice confection or as a love letter to the Gothic genre so if you’re interested in seeing it, give it a go and you might be surprised at what you think.

Supernatural, Season 11 Episode 1: Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire

Supernatural Season 11
Supernatural Season 11 promotional poster. Source: Wikipedia.

SPOILERS AHEAD, so if you haven’t seen the first episode of Season 11 of Supernatural already or if you plan to watch it later, come back to this article after you’ve done so.

What I liked:

  • Crowley, although basically hitting the same note he has for the past few seasons, had an inventive return for a while
  • I like Castiel just as much as the next person, but it was nice to see that when he summoned his angel brothers, they weren’t the forgiving kind. Rowena cast a spell turning Castiel into a rabid killer in the season 10 finale, and he’s still a rabid killer, so it’ll be interesting to see if he ever manages to shake this spell.
  • Sam had to be infected with the Darkness because otherwise if it didn’t personally affect one of the brothers, it wouldn’t give the audience much of a reason to care.
  • Even Dean, with all the morally ambiguous things he’s done, would not willingly bring harm to a baby (even if it does have the Mark of Cain.) Speaking of which, that brings me to…

What I didn’t like:

  • I think it’s good to keep a balance between male and female villains so it was a good choice to personify The Darkness as a woman. So far she’s pretty underwhelming (as compared to Abbadon, who made far more of an impact) but the season is still young.
  • The name “The Darkness”–when your cast is poking fun at the name, you know you’ve got issues.
  • So basically, whoever the Darkness infects becomes a violent zombie. Yawn. Also, how is it that some of them seem to last a long time while others die so soon?
  • I’m glad Rowena was not in the season opener because she was one of the most irritating characters from last season, but she’s bound to return so I hope she’s more interesting this time around.
  • So far it seems like we’re in for a retread of the Supernatural season that I hated the most, the Leviathans.
  • Oh how cute, the baby who was rescued from the hospital has the Mark of Cain. Because that’s not gonna cause problems.

Overall, although I still like aspects of this show, I feel like the showrunners weren’t really sure what else to do after ten seasons, because they’ve already done so much and the show is starting to drag. They’ve repeated a lot of the same conflicts and the product is starting to get a bit stale.

It feels like they’re taking turns now where every season it alternates between Dean being the one to have the problem that must be solved (i.e. last season with the Mark of Cain) to this season where it’s Sam’s turn to have the big dilemma (infected with the Darkness).

Also, I’ve never been a fan of the split between the Big Bad of the season but then also Monster-of-the-Week mini conflicts that almost seem to minimize the impact of the Big Bad, but everyone has a different take and I know that many people are fans of the split, which is totally cool. To each his or her own.

For those who have watched the Season 11 opener, what did you think? Will you keep watching the rest of the season? Are you still riveted to find out what will happen to the Winchesters? Sound off below!