Season One of The Walking Dead is just days away from concluding. The show has been a runaway hit for AMC. It’s ratings since the pilot premiered on Halloween night has tripled the numbers posted by AMC’s other critically-acclaimed hits like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. It’s showrunner in Frank Darabont with veteran Hollywood producer Gale Anne Hurd the show had the firepower to allow a basic cable network to take a chance on a tv series based on a long-running comic book series about survivors in a post-zombie apocalypse world.
With Season 2 already approved for a 13-episode pick-up the only question now is whether the show will be able to take the foundations laid by Darabont and his writers this first season and continue to improve on the product. This question may have just taken on a certain significance as Deadlinehas reported that Frank Darabont has fired all the writers of this first season and plans on writing the second season by himself with freelance writers being brought in to work on each episode’s scripts.
For a show that has garnered great reviews from critics and fans alike, not to mention ratings that it’s sister shows on the network could only wish for, this change in how the upcoming season would be written might just put the shadow of worry over it’s growing legion of fans.
For some, this news might seem like a panic move designed to placate the vocal minority of blog reviewers who have pointed out how the show’s writing didn’t pass muster after a powerful pilot episode. How the series’ first season seem to have a Jekyll and Hyde tone to it. One episode being great then the next just so-so. Could the negative criticism (some justified and others just criticism for criticism’s sake) have reached the heads of AMC and the show’s producers and a decision for a change was made off the cuff.
This report, if confirmed by Darabont and the network as true, does mean Darabont becomes the sole writer for the show with hired freelancers doctoring finished scripts then it could be a blessing for the show moving forward. There will now be a singular voice that will dictate how the show goes forward. Some will think this may just ruin the quality of the show not having a staff of established writers on-board like the first season had, but it’s those very same writers who the show’s detractors have been blaming for the show’s missed opportunity to create a brave new show on tv.
Also, it’s not such a rare thing to have a show written by one individual and for a series that’s really one long story with some very complicated subplots thrown. Having that one writer could keep things from getting too confusing. It could also solve the up and down nature of the episode quality.
AMC, hasn’t stated that the show will not have a staff of writers. There’s a chance that Darabont will hire both freelance and series writers to help smooth the transition from Season One to Season Two. The good thing is that the network and the producers pretty much have 11 months to decide on exactly how to proceed.
Don’t get me wrong, I love them both. James Franco was great in 127 Hours and Anne Hathaway starred in the story of my life, Rachel Getting Married. But what exactly about either one of them screams “Oscar host?”
To be honest, Oscar Host has always seemed like a thankless job. Jon Stewart did a pretty good job a few years ago (and it was really cool how he brought Marketa Irglova back out on stage so she could give her speech after winning the award for best original song) but otherwise, is it really a job that anyone wants?
(And, even if Stewart was a great Oscar host, he’s been getting progressively more and more smug, annoying, and self-important ever since.)
Remember when Hugh Jackman hosted and he sang that song that just went on and on and then we all realized that we didn’t really like Hugh Jackman that much in the first place?
And I guess last year it was Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin and … yeah, that was really memorable.
Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars and suddenly, she was a judge on American Idol and did that do anyone any good?
Actually, I think the ideal host would be someone like Jeff Probst, someone who would just smirk after the winner’s announced and ask the other nominees what it felt like to be losers.
Seriously, I’m worried for Franco and Hathaway. I think that perhaps in the future, the role of Oscar host should be reserved for people who are already generally acknowledged as being annoying. That way, at least, nobody will shed any tears when the Oscar Host Curse kicks in.
You probably haven’t heard of Michael Armstrong, but you might have heard of his musical project, Rockabye Baby. Armstrong (not to be confused with the Christian pop singer of the same name) has made his claim to fame by taking music by the likes of Radiohead, Tool, and Nirvana, and, through copius glockenspiel, converting their best hits into lullabies. But don’t roll your eyes at another Richard Cheese just yet. The Rockabye Baby albums are actually pleasant to listen to in their own right.
I suppose Christmas music was the logical next step.
It’s hard to give credit where credit is due concerning these; I’ve seen a number of different names associated with the Rockabye Baby series, but Armstrong’s definitely pops up the most. Individual credits for each album are difficult to come by. I’m pretty sure he is the composer of this holiday absurdity, but don’t quote me on it.
Let’s start things off on a positive, empowering note with the trailer for Superchick. This appears to be an only-in-the-70s type film. For one thing, the narrator says “stewardess” instead of “flight attendant.” What a pig. (Just kidding…I think stewardess has kind of a nice retro sound to it, to be honest…)
“Are you kidding? I’m no maiden. I’ve been a cheerleader for three years…” Would I find this trailer as amusing if my older sister hadn’t been a cheerleader at the same time that I was going through my whole goth ballerina phase? Probably. I haven’t seen the actual film but, for whatever reason, I suspect it doesn’t quite live up to the trailer.
This is not a trailer to watch if you’re in a paranoid state-of-mind. This is a pretty bad movie but it does feature one of the best “psycho” performances of all time from the late character actor, Nicholas Worth.
I have mixed feelings about including this one because it’s a TV spot as opposed to an actual theatrical trailer. But I’m including it anyway because it is the epitome of everything I love about 70s exploitation. The film is actually an English film that was entitled Scream and Die! which, in all honesty, sounds like a pretty good title to me. However, by the time it was released in the States, Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left was making a lot of money and every horror film was retitled with a House-themed title. Also, the “it’s only a movie…” chant is lifted directly from the advertising campaign for Last House On The Left.
Finally, let’s end with Ruby. This is yet another one where I haven’t seen the actual movie but from the trailer, it appears to be a proud part of the grindhouse tradition in that it not only rips off Carrie but The Exorcist as well.
Yes, I’m including a bonus trailer! Why? Because I love you, that’s why.
This is for Michael Almereyda’s haunting and odd vampire film, Nadja. Nadja was released in 1994 but it features Peter Fonda so it might as well be from the 70s.
And, since I have to end everything on an even number (it’s a long story), here’s another bonus trailer just so we end up with 8 trailers instead of 7. This is another unconventional, New York vampire tale — Vampire’s Kiss. This is also known as the movie where Nicolas Cage actually ate a live cockroach while being filmed. (Personally, I think of it as being the precursor to Mary Harron’s American Psycho.)
We’ve now come to the penultimate episode of The Walking Dead‘s first season. If there’s been one thing about this tv adaptation — of the Robert Kirkman comic book series which it’s based on — has proven it’s that the show is willing to go off the reservation when it comes to following the source material. The show has made some interesting storytelling and character choices right from the start. Scenes which occur later in the comic book have been moved up and combined with others. New characters, both recurring and disposable ones, have been introduced to the original numbers from the book.
Some of these changes have been welcomed by old fans of the book, but there’s a vocal minority who don’t see why there’s a need for such changes and additions. To new fans whose experience with this franchise has been just through the show the changes don’t mean a thing. They’re coming into this fresh and with open eyes. For long-time fans this need to watch this show with open eyes instead of clutching at the strict canonical material that are the books it would be a hard time going. I’m one of those who have been reading the books since the beginning and for the most part I’ve accepted these changes. Even the major departure introduced to end this episode I find quite interesting and with guarded optimism that it will lead to a surprising season finale and set-up season two properly.
We begin the show the very morning after the zombie attack on the camp which ended the previous episode. The survivors are cleaning up the bodies of both the “walkers” put down and those people they lost. The scenes showing how both Carol deals with her abusive husband’s corpse and how Andrea deals with her younger sister Amy were quite powerful in their own way. In one scene, we see an abused and beaten down wife taking out her anger and relief on the source of her problems with a pickaxe. In another, we see an older sister remembering past regrets of never being there for her much younger sister despite promises to do so. The scene with Andrea goes against much of what most zombie survival aficionados would do, but it brings to light just how much the Andrea loved her sister and even if it means seeing her come to a semblance of life just one more time to say her goodbyes she would do it. Knowing what she would need to do in the end just made her tearful final goodbye that more powerful.
The third farewell doesn’t happen until 3/4’s of the way into the episode (though we do see Morales and his family go their own way. Going to miss him going for the fences with that baseball bat) and involves Jim. An injury incurred from the fight during the night leaves him and the group with a problem that gets resolved in one of the more poignant scenes in this series, so far. As Morgan Jones from the pilot episode instructed Rick the “walkers” and their bites are a death sentence. The two competing leaders of the group in Rick and Shane want to solve their Jim problem using different methods. Rick wants to take the group to the one place he thinks could still help Jim and that’s the CDC near Atlanta. While Shane, with enthusiastic support from Daryl, wants to put Jim down before he becomes a dangerous liability.
In a scene reminiscent of a similar one from Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead, Jim makes the final and ultimate decision about his life. The goodbyes made by everyone to Jim after he’s made his decision to be left behind was very heartbreaking. Jim might have been a secondary support character but the last couple episodes have fleshed out his character enough that we care what happens to this man who has lost everything and thinks his predicament will reunite him with those he has lost.
The growing schism between best friends Rick and Shane gets a few more nails added to it as we see Shane gradually losing his command of the group. The group looks to be gravitating towards Rick as their leader now and even the wildcard in Daryl seem to look to Rick for the answers. The scene between the two as they patrol the woods near the camp definitely widens the gulf between the two even if Rick looks to be unaware of what’s really going on with Shane. The sudden appearance of ever stalwart and ever watchful Dale sure thinks something is amiss.
It’s the final ten minutes of the show where we finally know why the episode was titled “WildFire”. In another departure, one that would be called huge by fans of the comic books, we see the lone surviving researcher within the CDC sending video reports on what’s being called “Wildfire” and how research on the so-called “disease” has remained useless with no answer in sight.
The whole entire sequence reminds me of the early parts of Stephen King’s own apocalyptic epic novel, The Stand, as scientists desperately try to stem the tide of the approaching apocalypse to no avail. It’s little subtle references to other apocalyptic stories and tales like this which keeps some of the changes and departures from the source material bearable and, at times, even welcome.
It’s this major departure that will send some long-time fans of the comic book apoplectic. The vocal minority will definitely get even louder as to why Darabont and the writers are messing with the timeline and the stories in the original comic book. As one of those fans I should be screaming just as loudly, but the zombie and apocalyptic genre fan in me actually like how this show has gone off the beaten path of the original source material.
If they had stayed word-for-word and panel-for-panel true to the comic book then there’s no surprises to be experience. Knowing how everything unfolds right from the start could get boring even if it is about something read and re-read with love. There’s still no guarantee that the final pay-off of this particular major detour from the comic book will end in a good way, but the possibility of not knowing how this story-arc will end this first season is both exciting and tense-inducing. It could succeed in the best way, but also fail in an epic one. Either way the path now is not set in stone and everything moving forward will be undiscovered country.
* Quote of the night: “I think tomorrow I’m gonna blow my brains out, I haven’t decided. But tonight, I’m getting drunk!” – nameless CDC researcher.
* For once Glenn doesn’t have a witty quip or remark which just highlights the somber mood of this episode.
* There’s still no news on the whereabouts of one Merle Dixon though he gets name-dropped a couple times.
* A sneaking suspicion that Merle will not appear again this season, but may in the next or later ones.
* Bear McCreary’s score and choices of music for the episode the best in the series, so far to date. Especially, the use of John Murphy’s Adagio in D Minor from the sci-fi drama Sunshine which was recently used in Kick-Ass.
Earlier tonight, I read on twitter that veteran character actor and Prom Night co-star Leslie Nielsen had passed away. While people seem to know him best as a former “serious” actor turned deadpan comedian, it is forgotten that Nielsen was — during the 70s — an exploitation and grindhouse mainstay.
Along with playing Jamie Lee Curtis’s father (and no-nonsense high school principal) in Prom Night, Nielsen was also the star of the kung fu classic Project: Kill and the bad guy in Day of the Animals.
The clip below comes from Day of the Animals and it shows Nielsen at his exploitation best:
Here’s a little bit of the movie history trivia that I live for: In 1959, along with famously auditioning for a role in Ben-Hur, Nielsen also came close to being cast in another iconic film. He was among the finalists for the role of Sam Loomis (eventually played by John Gavin) in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
In what has become an unofficial ritual for myself whenever my birthday rolls around I always end up watching a film from 2002 that flew under the radar of most people. While it made modest box-office returns it wasn’t the head-turning blockbuster that some of its producers hoped it would turn out to be. It’s a romantic adventure piece by Kevin Reynolds and for readers of classic literature they’d recognize the title of the film, The Count of Monte Cristo. A film loosely based on the classic novel of adventure, revenge and redemption by French author Alexandre Dumas. The film ends up being a fun, thrilling throwback to films of an era which had marquee stars such as Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone.
The story is one known well enough. It’s a tale of a man, Edmond Dantès wrongly accussed of a capital crime and imprisoned in the Alcatraz-like prison Chateau d’If through the machinations of three individuals: his best friend Fernand Mondego, first mate Danglars and the ambitious deputy prosecutor Villefort. Dantès spends the next several years in Chateau d’If under the cruel and sadistic eyes of it’s warden, Armand Dorleac (played by Michael Wincott with his usual flair for sadism). It’s while Dantès has started to contemplate suicide after rejecting God for the pain and suffering he has had to endure that he has a fortuitious meeting with another guest of Chateau d’If. It’s this relationship between Dantès and Abbé Faria (Richard Harris in the mentor role he had begun to play in his later years) which take up the bulk of the first third of the film.
Dantès tells him of the circumstances which led to his imprison in Chateau d’If and the thoughts of vengeance on those responsible for his predicament. Faria tries to turn him from his dark path, but seeing how determined his young friend seems on journeying down its twisted path he agrees to teach him how to become adept at being a noble, finances and in swordcraft in exchange for help in digging themselves out of their prison. Taking several more years to complete the education Dantès needs to exact his revenge it ends at the death of Faria and his mentor’s final gift to his student. The location of a treasure so vast that Dantès could retire to a life of peace and contemplation or fund his plans of vengeance.
The middle section of the film shows Dantès finding the treasure and remaking himself through his newfound wealth as the Count of Monte Cristo to better insinuate himself amongst the wealthy and noble-born his targets mingle in. With the help of a bandit whose life spares after a duel in Jacopo (Luis Guzman) the plans Dantès has worked on for years begin to bear fruit as he manipulates and fools Fernand, Villefort and Danglars into his confidence to better see to their downfall. It’s during this time he meets his former fiancee Mercedes (played by the ridiculously beautiful Dagmara Dominczyk), now Countess Mondego after being told of Edmond’s execution earlier in the film, and Fernand’s son Albert. The circumstances of how his former love having had a child and married to one of the men who had conspired against him brings a new complication to Dantès plans.
The last third of the film shows the culmination of Dantès and his elaborate plans to bring about the downfall of all those who had wronged him. While the plans, at times, strain the bonds of disbelief at actually having fooled and worked against his enemies the way the film makes the audience root for Dantès to succeed helps. This is a Dantès who comes off as noble despite being of commoner origins who we stand behind and support in his plans of vengeance. With the amount of wealth at his disposal it’s not too difficult to put oneself in the same shoes and not think of vengeance as well to strike a balance.
It’s a testament to the direction of filmmaker Kevin Reynolds that the film and it’s story never bogs down despite a story with many elaborate plots and secondary characters introduced midway. The fact that the film only borrows some of its complexity from an even more labyrinthine novel shows how the filmmakers actually had to simplify the story as to not make it so complex that it loses the bulk of its audience.
The Count of Monte Cristo also benefit from a strong cast led by Jim Caviezel in the titular role with Guy Pearce playing his former friend and betrayer Fernand Mondego and James Frain as the prosecutor Villefort. Caviezel plays his role as Dantès and as the Count of Monte Cristo as two different people with distinct personalities. There’s Dantès the earnest sailor who just wanted to get back to his love, Mercedes and then there’s the sophisticated and ruthless Count whose machinations would lead to the destruction of lives and reputations. It’s a mystery why Caviezel hasn’t become the star he surely was in the making and this film showed that he had the talent to become one of the industry’s new leading men. I blame Mel Gibson in casting him as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ for having put a curse on Caviezel.
Guy Pierce in the role of Fernand plays the conniving and remoreless villain role to the hilt. With an overbearing and effete noble bearing to his performance it was a character written to inspire hatred not just in its main protagonist but in the audience as well. Pearce knows what his roles represent and has fun playing up the role as main heavy.
Richard Harris as the priest Faria did his usual great work as the elder mentor to a younger man. It was a role he began to be known for starting with Ridley Scott’s Gladiator right up to his final mentor role as the wizard Dumbledore in the Harry Potter film franchise. It’s hard to explain to people that Harris was not always this wise and mentoring father figure, but one who played roles where he’d play womanizers, charming cads and roguish rebel.
The Count of Monte Cristo ended up being more fun than it should be with enough complexities in its storytelling that the film doesn’t dumb down too much the story it was adapted from. To be honest the only way one could truly adapt Dumas’ novel of revenge and redemption is through a long-form tv series. It is just that complex with so many characters that a film adaptation would just be too long or just unnecessarily crowded with characters the audience would care to know. It’s a good thing that the film by Kevin Reynolds was still able to keep to the spirit of the original source while whiling away the story down to its basic core.
It’s a film that plays like a throwback to the swashbuckling films from Hollywood of the 30’s and 40’s and it wouldn’t be too difficult to see Caviezel in the roles Errol Flynn once inhabited. There’s very little special effects in the film which adds more to this sense with swordfight scenes as expertly choreographed as any of the past. The Count of Monte Cristo, for some reason still unknown to me, continues to be the one thing that keeps airing on my birthday and the fact that it’s such a fun and thrilling film that I continue to watch it everytime my day of days roll around. Can’t wait for next year.
Cigarette Burns was John Carpenter’s episodic contribution to the Showtime series, Masters of Horror. This 13-episode horror anthology thought up by Mick Garris (a fellow horror director best known for adapting Stephen King stories) which includes eleven other directors known for their work in the horror genre.
John Carpenter works off of a screenplay that posits an interesting premise about an infamous film that caused the audience it was shown to the first time to go homicidal. The story itself involves a man known in the film community as someone who can find and hunt down any copy of film no matter how rare. Norman Reedus (he of Blade II, The Boondock Saints) plays the cinephile who takes on the job to hunt down a copy of this infamous film titled Le Fin Absolue Du Monde. His client was played with relish by resident weirdo Udo Kier. Really, Kier could be given any role and he’ll add his brand of idiosyncracy and weirdness to the part. In Cigarette Burns he plays an obsessive fan of the rare film to the hilt. His contribution to the the climactic ending will bring a smile to gorehounds everywhere. Alas, it’s Kier’s performance that’s the highlight of the acting in Cigarette Burns. Reedus’ performance as Kirby Sweetman the cinephile leaves much to be desired. The screenplay itself was already average, but with genuine ideas that could be explored if the acting could raise it beyond its C-grade pedigree, but Reedus wasn’t up to it.
Carpenter’s directing really can’t be faulted for the major flaws in the screenplay and in his lead’s performance. It’s not early Carpenter, but his work in Cigarette Burns was much better than what he’s done in his last couple films. In fact, this tv show entry in Carpenter’s body of work resembles one of his more underrated films. I am talking about his ode to Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft with In the Mouth of Madness. Instead of a book influencing the sanity of the reader, its a film that does it instead. A film that may or may not have divine origins that doesn’t just turn its viewers homicidal but bend their sense of reality.
I think with a better cast and a screenplay that’s worked on a bit more by its writers, Cigarette Burns could’ve been a great episode in the Masters of Horror anthology or, better yet, become a full-fledged feature film. Instead, it’s just a very good work from Carpenter with great gore sequences (courtesy of KNB EFX), but brought low due to a very rough screenplay and a lead actor in Norman Reedus who seemed stoned, drunk or both throughout his entire performance. It’s not something great, but a good showing from Carpenter that said he’s not as washed-up as many seem to be calling him.
Now, I have to be honest. Of the four Billy Jack films, I’ve only seen the third, the 3-hour Trial of Billy Jack. It nearly put me to sleep but the character of Billy Jack continues to fascinate me. As a Native American, karate-kicking, Viet Nam vet, peace activist, Billy Jack appears to represent everything that was good and bad about the 70s.
So, with that in mind, here’s a chronological collection of Billy Jack trailers:
1) Born Losers (1967) — This was apparently Billy’s first appearance. On the one hand, it appears to be a pretty standard bikers flick. But, on the other hand, I want those white boots.
2) Billy Jack (1971) — Apparently, this was — for several years — the most succesful independent film ever. I’ve got it on DVD. The back cover reads, “Billy Jack’s just a man who loves children and other living beings.” Except, apparently, for old, fat, white guys.
3) The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) — Okay, so there’s some legal copyright issues that apparently makes it illegal for me or just about anyone else to post the trailer to this movie online. Well, it’s a pretty boring movie, to be honest. But there’s about two and a half minutes of karate action that’s kinda fun and here it is.
The final (completed and released) Billy Jack film finds Billy Jack appointed to the U.S. Senate in a remake of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. From rebel to establishment in just 11 years, that’s our Billy Jack.
Apparently, the actor who created and played Billy Jack — Tom Laughlin — has been attempting to get a new Billy Jack film off the ground since the late 80s. He also ran for President in 1992, 2004, and 2008. Apparently, he’s been dealing with some health issues over the past few years but he still occasionally updates his Billy Jack web site.
I wish him the best and I look forward to the return of Billy Jack.