Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 6

Negan

Knowing the source material can give you an unfair advantage on an adaptation that works like a double edged sword. Sometimes it means that you won't be surprised by what happens, but thankfully, The Walking Dead fixed that early on by veering far enough away from the comic to make it fresh enough for us comic fans. The dynamics of the characters hasn't been the same as the comic for most of the series at this point. Different people have lived and died in each, so even when they do follow the events of the comic closely, the impact is going to be different enough to make it interesting. Daryl, as much as I think he's the most boring character on the show and has been since season 2, doesn't even exist in the comic, so right off that's a new element in the mix. These are good things. But, because we live in the age that we do, where people that have never read a comic book in their miserable lives can look up whatever they want online, the show has been toying with all of us this season with anticipated deaths and the coming of Negan. And not in good ways.

Don't get me wrong, I think the show is still doing a great job, overall, of giving us this unflinching, dread laden tale of humanity at it's best and worst. And that's what it's about: humanity. Not the zombies. The best episode of the season to me was probably The Same Boat, where Carol and Maggie are captured by some of the saviors and Carol proceeds to break down for reasons you wouldn't expect, before finally having to do the horrible things that were necessary to survive. This episode's reminder that actions, no matter how necessary, have consequences on the conscience of good people could have been cheesy, but instead it was harrowing beyond the violence and gore. You understand why Carol is not just tired, but completely spent on an existential level. And Maggie's moment at the end, after being all hardcore, when she just breaks down and says "I can't anymore" is what makes this show special. There's no glory in the horrors of having to survive this way.

carol and maggie

But before we got to that episode there was the whole "is Glenn dead or not?" crap from early on. It was set up as a cheap ploy from the get go with ambiguous editing and media hype immediately following.  Then they intentionally didn't get back to Glenn for a couple of episodes before revealing his fate. It just wasn't organic storytelling the way the show has mostly been until now. They clearly were depending on the Internet furor to build up the tension instead of letting the story do it.  All it did is spark the conversation about Glenn's interaction with Negan in the comic, which furthered the hype until the last episode of the season. Cheap and unnecessary. 

The final episode was actually amazingly well done. The sense of dread and inescapable danger just closing in was almost too much for me. I felt sick to my stomach throughout the episode, partly because I knew what was coming, but partly because I didn't. It was back to old school Walking Dead tension where anyone could die, but someone is going to and it's gonna be hard. By the time we get to Negan's intro, he's everything he should be and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is perfect. You're afraid and this guy may as well be the actual devil, but the fact that he's kinda charming doesn't take the edge off. I've heard people say you kinda like him, but I don't think that's it at all. I think it's the realization that certain other people might like him which means nobody is going to help you. The look on Rick's face is how you feel and hope it never comes to that feeling for any reason in real life. Shit's hit the fan and now the fan is going to hit back. With a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. And it will be messy as fuck, both physically and emotionally. But then, the show went with hokey gimmick again instead of emotional knockout. Instead of just going through with the scene in the way that the comic did, where when I read it, I felt like I'd just lived it, they basically stopped the show. Never mind the shitty POV of whoever is getting beat, but ending the finale before the scene plays out makes the entire season feel incomplete. That is not an ending. 


The best cliffhangers end on a big reveal, with what's next hanging in the balance. Locutus appears on the screen, Ryker says "fire" and cut to black (gets me every fucking time). We know what happened to Picard now and we know Ryker has made the hard but only decision. Next season will tell us what's next, and I will be anxious all summer, but there was an emotional arc that came to a close. But on The Walking Dead finale, not knowing who gets killed, even though we're watching the killing is sending the wrong message. It's almost telling us that it doesn't matter who gets killed. But it totally does matter and not just because we love some of these characters. On one level, it matters because one of the questions we are left with should be how will they react and that will depend on who gets killed. But on a higher level it matters because ending this way separates the show from that humanity I spoke about earlier. This scene, in the way it was shot, even though it doesn't actually show much of it,  makes it about spectacle and gore and violence. That's the focus of the anticipation we're left with. It's not about consequence at all. The POV especially makes it a video game. It also disconnects us from our heroes because they can't make the violence stop, but we get a break. We're no longer living it with them. It should be an unrelenting scene, but it relents. It relents until October, I guess.

And beyond that, as a cheap TV ploy, it gives the creators of the show a way to gauge who should or shouldn't be killed in terms of ratings, something I don't think they had done before. Let's not forget it's not really all just big main characters in play here. Aaron is in the group too and while he might be a good character, he's barely been there. We just aren't invested in him the way we are with any of the others. If we come back next season to learn he was the chosen one, then the show has officially jumped the shark. This death is supposed to mean a whole lot more to everybody than some guy they just met. I have my suspicions on who it might actually be and if so it's a bold and maybe even dumb move. But it's a move that would at least work to do what it needs to do from a narrative perspective. That's assuming they don't just go with the straight comic version.  Either way, I'm sure before the next season it will be spoiled by set pictures or whatever because that's what they've opened it up to. We'll see. . . 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Revisit The Walking Dead Issue 100

This was originally posted on my Tumblr back on July 13th, 2012. This will be important to read as context for my upcoming take on The Walking Dead season 6, which should be posted in the next day or so. Interestingly, I didn't read this again until after writing most of the show post. 


Comic of the Week - No Contest


I was always a big fan of Nirvana. One thing Kurt Cobain always talked about in interviews was the “loud quite loud” dynamic in his music which he attributed to the Pixies. Basically, the idea is that by having this dynamic in music, it makes each part stand out and have that much more impact, be it the loud part or the quiet part. The loud makes you listen more closely to the quiet. The quiet lends gravity to the loud. I believe Robert Kirkman has been brilliantly following this dynamic in The Walking Dead and issue 100 was about as loud as it gets.

Sometimes big milestones happen in comics and it turns out to be more hype than anything else. The Walking Dead hit 100 issues this week and it was one of the most tense, gut wrenching, harrowing issues I’ve read of anything in a long, long time (probably since some other issue of The Walking Dead, if I were to really think about it). By now, anyone reading the series knows that it’s not about the zombies or the gore. The horror, the fear, the nauseous feeling you get sometimes when reading this, comes from the humans. And more importantly, it’s as a result of emotional investment in the characters. Just like the events of issue 48 would have had less impact if they happened sooner, the events of issue 100 work because there are 99 issues of build up behind it. In the time this series has existed, people have often complained that nothing was happening for long stretches. But by now, you should be prepared for anything to happen after a long stretch like that. Yes, there’s a formula at play here, but Robert Kirkman uses that formula like a master.

Right off the bat (no pun intended) the issue opens with scenes that imply, somehow, that something horrible is about to go down. Sure, we know this is true because it’s been hyped, but even if we didn’t, and didn’t know that this was a big milestone 100th issue, there is something about the way the scenes are presented that just ooze tension. There’s a threat looming behind each group we see. They are, for the most part, saying they are optimistic about the future, but somehow, you know they’re really not. They feel it and you do, too. Charlie Adlard, through lines on a paper, in black and white, conveys a sense of doubt and apprehension behind the eyes and through posture that rival the best actors. The subtlety is amazing and yet the feeling is impossible to miss, so your stomach starts getting tied into knots as you turn each page. And yet, you’re never really prepared for what happens.

By the time we find out which group is in danger, the scene plays out slowly and horrifically. You know something is going to happen, but you aren’t sure what and once you do know what it is and even to who, you still aren’t sure how much you’re going to see or where it will end. But you see everything, in heartbreaking, agonized detail. And once it’s done, the threat of more stays hanging there. I for one felt just as powerless as the characters I’ve gotten to know for 100 issues. It was like I was right there with them, unable to stop what was happening, witnessing and getting very nauseous. Once I closed the book, I was not entirely sure what to do next. I eventually read the next book in my stack, Batman, and as good as it was, I still couldn’t shake The Walking Dead. I guess that, much like Macho Grande, I’ll never get over The Walking Dead.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Returned Season Two

les revenants

The thing about answers is that sometimes it's best to not have any at all. Especially if the story in question started off being about more than that. The first season of The Returned never made me feel like I absolutely needed to know all the intricate reasons and connections of why the dead were coming back. The second (final?) season gave us ambiguous answers at best, but maybe too many of them. Along the way, it still delivers on human level drama better than any American genre show that I can think of (except maybe The Walking Dead), but by the end of it, leaning on the mystical(?) puts it too close to Lost territory for the series as a whole to hold up to the brilliant first season.

As it turns out, many of the dead were connected, but not in obvious ways. I think the exploration of this deeper mythology held some promise. For example, the revelations about Serge and Toni's father, Milan and the effect that had on Serge could really be it's own show. That Milan is a key player in the larger mythology as well is almost irrelevant to the power of what their arc explores. And this repeats several times throughout many of the relationships. But I think they go too far in trying to explain the origin of it all by simply adding more layers of questions to who Victor/Louis is. Was he supposed to be death itself? An angel? A demon? God? Ultimately, who cares because this final layer was never something that was addressed early on. From the start, we were lead to believe he was just another returned. But it turns out he's not. He's more than that and by the final moments it's clear he has some extra powers that simply go too far. On the one hand, having him be the literal catalyst for the events of the series for the reasons shown are beautiful. On the other, it comes too late in the game and feels tacked on. It's like they suddenly decided to start telling a different story, one that might have been wonderful on it's own, but here just sort of clashes with everything we'd been watching. Again, too close to Lost for me to get on board with, because fuck Lost (and Lindelof).

the returned

By far, the best story is that of Camile, Lena, Claire and Jerome. A story that, interestingly enough, doesn't really have any connection to the larger mythology. In particular, I have to say my favorite actor of the entire thing is Frederic Pierrot as Jerome. He was good in season 1, but in the second season he brings the anguish of an unhinged and desperate father to life in a way that drips off the screen every time he inhabits it. He doesn't actually say many words, but his eyes are eyes I think any parent can recognize even if we've never been through anything similar, because how else would we look. His face is a Molotov cocktail of despair and determination that is ready to go off one way or the other. I sincerely hope this man is just a good actor and that he wasn't drawing on anything real because anything real behind this performance can't be something I'd wish on another human.

Anyway, The Returned is still worth a viewing, especially for the restrained feel of the first season and how it builds to a dramatic and near perfect end. I wouldn't say skip the second season, but maybe lower your expectations going in. I doubt there's going to be a third season. It was sort of a finale type of ending, but you never know.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Witch

the vvitch
Ever see a movie and feel like you were mislead by the marketing and that maybe you would have seen the movie and appreciated it better if not for the deception? Let's talk about The Witch, then. I've seen horror movies. I've seen slasher films, satanic themed movies, purely psychological horror, ghost stories, whatever. I'm not sure this movie is any of those. I think it has certain elements in common with horror movies, but I'm not sure I would call it that. And if I did, I certainly wouldn't use the terms that you see quoted all over the place to describe this. It didn't "scare the hell out of me," Pete Travers. And as I've pointed out before, I'm an easy mark. But before we go on, I want to point out that it's not a bad movie, at all. It just seems to me like one of those instances where people have a need to label things and when something comes along that doesn't seem to land in an easy to label box, they label it anyway and it's a disservice to all involved.

Spoilers Follow


What the movie does do, very fucking well, I might add, is create a setting and mood that makes danger palpable. Taking place in the early 1600s it opens with a family of recently arrived Puritans being banished from their settlement for "prideful conceit," which was either never made clear beyond that or I missed it. The reason almost doesn't matter, though. The point is that they are set off on their own to find suitable land, build their own home and live out their lives on their own. That alone is actually pretty horrifying when you consider the reality of it. In any case, soon after they have built a house and seem to be settled, their youngest son, maybe 6 months old, is taken. Now, from their perspective, the boy just disappeared under mysterious circumstances. They eventually chalk it up to a wolf, though doubt and suspicion lingers. But from our perspective we get an actually pretty disturbing scene where an old woman is seen taking the child to a cottage in the woods and proceed to sacrifice and bathe in the baby's blood before flying away on stick into the moonlit night. It's all done tastefully and effectively with close ups where you see less than you think you do and it's a great scene. But I take issue with it because I feel like it comes way too soon and preemptively undermines all the tension the film goes on to build after this.

anya taylor-joy

And the thing is, the film actually does a good job of building that tension, but it's not about whether or not the witch will come back. The witch is never the threat as far as they're concerned, but "a witch" might be. We see the family begin to fall apart because of lies and deceptions and scapegoating. But since we know there was an actual witch that took the child, to me, it defuses the conflict for all the wrong reasons. One major theme that plays out is how the oldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is scapegoated due in part to her budding sexuality. The entire theme of female oppression, particularly from the point of view of how religion treats women is beautifully handled. I think it's a big part of why the Satanic Temple has embraced this film, and rightfully so. But again, I have to wonder if it might not have been better served if we hadn't seen the actual witch at the beginning. I believe this would have given the final scene with it's disturbing implications more impact than it did. I don't know.

I will say this. I started to write this post several times, just after seeing the movie on Sunday, and I couldn't decide what I really thought. That is a good sign. Is it a horror movie? I don't know. Not in the traditional sense, that's for sure. But it does deserve to be seen. It's important either way. I just wish people weren't so obsessed with labels.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Mr. Robot: Season One

titles

I've always been a fan of first person narratives, particularly where you're in the mind of the protagonist. In movies and TV doing this sort of thing can be tricky and can lead to a lot of gimmicky stunts that aren't always as clever as the filmmakers think or can go down a path of unnecessary cliches. But when it works, it should put you in the mindset of the character. Now, to clarify, I'm not talking about first person perspective as seen in found footage movies. These stories likely feature some voice over narration and some degree of the narrator's reliability being skewed. Think Goodfellas, Fight Club, A Christmas Story, etc. And in this tradition we get USA Network's Mr. Robot, which also happens to have more style than a basic cable TV show has any right to have.

The show follows a hacker named Elliot Anderson (Rami Malek) who is probably the most awkward character I've ever seen portrayed in anything. He's a genius, but he's depressed, lonely, unable to express himself and addicted to morphine. Unhinged has never been done so well as Malek does here. Between what he does on screen and his voice over, he owns every excruciatingly awkward scene he's in. It's painfully awesome to behold someone as maladjusted and in so much social agony as he is. It's through him that this show, which goes into some crazy conspiracy shit about evil corporations that is surreal and yet seems way too real at times, remains grounded. The rest of the cast is excellent as well, but this kid is good. Damn good.

Rami Malek

The show's look deserves some words as well. It features a lot of odd angles and off kilter compositions that really help put you in Elliot's mind while seeming more like stylistic choices than gimmicks. There's also the way the cold opens work towards a frame with bold retro 80's era graphics, perhaps out of a video game. It all winds up making this look unlike any other show I can think of. On top of all that, to add to the stylish paranoid greatness, Christian Slater is there, playing a role that for a moment I thought would be revealed to be the grown up version of his character from on of my favorite movies of all time, Pump Up The Volume (man, I gotta see that again soon, been a very long time). But that wasn't the twist here, though there is one.

It was maybe 2 or 3 episodes in that I was pretty sure I was onto the big twist that would come near the end. But the way it was (officially) revealed was still not a let down at all. I didn't feel cheated because I had figured it out too soon. What this got right was that the twist was not just about the twist. Yes, once it's revealed we were probably way ahead of the game and had figured it out but it's directly addressed that this has happened, in a way that makes it about character development instead of clever plot contrivance. They took something that's been done and gave it a fresh spin that mostly hinges on being invested in the characters and you totally are. You just really care about Elliot. At least I do. Maybe he's familiar to me. This is a great show with a whole lot of potential to join the pantheon of my favorite shows of all time. I don't usually say this so early in the game, and it can certainly go to shit next season, so let's see.  Let's hope.

christian slater

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Veep: The Binge

julia louis-dreyfus

There's a moment in the third episode of season 2 of Veep that the series really revealed a whole other level to me. After a series of ridiculous incidents surrounding a hostage rescue operation, Vice President Selina Meyer played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus learns that one of the soldiers on the mission lost a leg. To see this hard-edged, sarcastic, narcissistic career politician take the news as hard as she does winds up elevating everything that came before and after without losing any of the comedic brilliance. Make no mistake, this is not a "very special episode" type of moment, but it does show a human depth to her character that might be easy to forget given some of the insanity of the rest of show. And it's not the last moment where this happens. It comes up in different ways as the series progresses which I think is why this show is ultimately so great.

Everyone is just fucking perfect on this show, but the balancing act that Dreyfus pulls by playing someone who is shallow and mean as fuck but also somehow likable is a feat unlike any I can think of. Plus the whole show is tightrope walk between smart and over the top slapstick that somehow works every time, perhaps because deep down it's grounded in relatable human characters. When you break down some of the most horrible fiascoes Meyer and her staff go through, it's almost like they fail because they are too honest, too idealistic, in spite of themselves. And also because, like most of us, they second guess themselves. The political machine chews them all up because they aren't ruthless enough, no matter how hard they try to be.

Near the end of season 4, there's another scene involving Meyer and her body man Gary played by the genius Tony Hale that is absolutely beautiful. I won't describe the scene because it really should just be seen in context with the appropriate seasons long build up, but once again it was unexpectedly touching. It might be my favorite scene of the whole show, and that's saying a lot. It took me a while to start this show, but I fucking inhaled the 4 seasons in like 3 weeks and now I'm ready for Season 5 on April 24th. Can't wait.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Making a Murderer, Serial, Justice

netflix

By now, a whole hell of a lot has been written about Netflix series Making a Murder. The documentary series follows events leading to the murder conviction of Steven Avery. It's a story filled with injustices, beginning with his release from prison in 2003 after serving 18 years for a rape he was exonerated for based on DNA evidence. That part of the story alone is bad enough, revealing what is either incredible incompetency in the Manitowoc County, Wisconsin police department or an elaborate conspiracy. Or both. And the journey to Avery being (mis)tried and convicted of murder in 2007 is one that will test your definition of justice at every turn. 

Make no mistake, what we see in the series is skewed to make you side with Avery. But there are parts of it that no amount of skewing would change. By the end of the series I don't know if I believe Avery is innocent, but I also don't think that's even the point. The fact is the police and DA most definitely pulled some shady shit. I'm not going to go off on a rant (maybe just a little) about prisons and the justice system and racism, but I do have to point out that it's interesting that everyone is so taken by the case of a white dude who was fucked over by the system, while black kids get shot by cops daily. End rant. Plus, I'm not sure Avery is completely innocent, either. I don't know. 

season 1
In related news, Serial has started posting daily updates from a new hearing in the case of Adnan Sayed that could result in an overturned conviction. If you never heard season 1 of Serial, you don't know what you're missing. Making a Murderer was good, but it was definitely no Serial. For starters the producers of the podcast are master storytellers where I think the makers of the Netflix series were more lucky than anything else because they happened to be there making a documentary about how Avery would acclimate back into society and then the murder case happened. It sort of just fell in their lap. Also, by skewing the way they did, I think they lose some of the impact a more ambivalent point of view would give them. Serial never chose a side and left you questioning everything. Like life. 

And I guess the larger question left is what if Avery and/or Sayed are guilty after all. Does that justify any shortcuts taken to lock them up? If I were a cop, DA or judge and I knew for a fact, that the accused was guilty, would I manipulate evidence or otherwise influence the outcomes? Honestly, I think I would. But that's why I'm none of those things. I'm just a guy watching a show or listening to a podcast. And I expect more from those that chose to be arbiters of justice. I think we all should.