Horror Review: The Walking Dead S3E02 “Sick”


“You think this is sick. You don’t want to know what’s outside.” — Daryl Dixon

[some spoilers]

There’s been an interesting pattern when it comes to The Walking Dead. The series has always had strong season opening (even mid-season returns) but the follow-up episode always seem to come up short. It happened with the second episodes of both first two season and even the episode which came after the mid-season return last season had some big stumbles throughout. It almost as if the writers (who at the time were still working under Frank Darabont’s directioneither as showrunner or the template he set up for the season) put everything they had into making the opening episode really strong and hoping the viewers would forgive them for not doing the follow-up episodes just as strong. Tonight’s season premiere follow-up looks to try and break that pattern. Time and reaction to tonight’s episode, titled “Sick”, will tell if it succeeded or not.

Tonight’s episode begins pretty much exactly where the season premiere left off with Rick and his group trying to save Hershel’s life who had gotten his leg bit during their attempt to clear out an adjoining cellblock. The premiere ended with Hershel minus his bit left ankle courtesy of Rick and his trusty axe and Daryl focusing the aim of his crossbow at the sudden appearance of a group of prisoners who happened to have survived almost a full year on their own in the prison cafeteria. It was this group’s reveal and how the two groups dealt with the knowledge that there were others who have survived just as long.

We learn much abouthow the time Rick and his group spent moving around the backwoods of Georgia between seasons. The episode doesn’t say what exactly happened during those months (a nice change for critics of the series who thought episodes after episodes during the first two season relied too much on exposition scenes to tell rather than show) but we see in the changes to the behavior and attitudes of the group members how those months were. It couldn’t have been a fun time for Rick and his group, but it looks to have made them much more harder and accepting of this new world’s harsh realities. Whether not letting her hopes up when it came to her father’s chances for survival after getting bit and having his bit leg chopped off to Carol becoming even more useful as a member of the group. In the season premiere we find out through a off-chance remark from Rick that she’s gotten quite good with the AK47 and tonight we find out that during their time in the Georgia backwoods Hershel had been teaching her how to perform first-aid and rudimentary battlefield medical work. The scene with Carol patching up Hershel actually gives some clues as to what Hershel’s backstory must be outside of being just a farmer.

Is there a chance that Hershesel could he have been in the military as a medic in his younger and wilder days or was he some sort of civilian emergency medical technician?

Tonight’s episode brought up such questions and without the characters sitting around explaining things that happened. This change in narrative style could be just temporary, but ever since Glen Mazzara took over as showrunner we get less and less exposition and more and more let the character’s actions convey the story. This less is more approach has made for a much more faster pace to the story even when there’s no killing of zombies. It also has made the actors much better in how they’re portraying their characters. Long scenes of quiet diaogue is always good, but in a show that tries to show that survival is a day-to-day or even an hour-to-hour task sometimes such long, extended scenes of just sitting around talking are luxuries that shouldn’t be used like they were a necessity.

There’s a chance that the show could slide back to what plagued the first two season, but for the time being Mazzara and his crew have done a great job with the first two episodes of season 3 to address some of the complaints fans and critics had with the show. We didn’t even have any scenes with Andrea and newcomer Michonne yet the writers avoided the temptation of trying to shoehorn scenes of them in tonight’s episodes which meant sacrificing some time in the prison. Tonight’s episode was all about Rick and Tomas butting heads to see who would end up being the alpha male of the two surviving groups.

We saw how the differences in how the two groups survived has affected them. Tomas and his group of inmate survivors did so almost by luck and having to depend on their prison-honed instincts to get them through. How they’ve managed to survive even with just the zombies in the prison and not knowing the full extent of the crisis would be seen by Rick as a miracle. Our main group on the other hand had to go through almost everything this new post-apocalyptic world could throw at them and they’ve survived. It’s this time out on the road, surviving day-to-day, supplies always on the verge of running out and not knowing if tomorrow might be their last day that has forged this group into hardened battlefield veterans. Make no mistake about it Rick and his group look and behave like war veterans still fighting to survive and having almost having learned an almost preternatural instinct to see danger lurking about.

This doesn’t mean that Rick and his group have come out of their time out in the wilderness surviving fully unscathed. Carl has become more useful and capable of taking care of himself, but at the cost of his innocence and childhood wonder at the world. Even T-Dog has become a very integral part of the group (thank you writers) and has become not just the “red-shirt” waiting to be knocked off for expediency’s sake. The biggest change has been to Rick who seem to have lost whatever optimism he might have had about finding peace and quiet in this new world. He’s now all about keeping his people alive and if that means killing other humans who might pose a danger to him fulfilling that mission statement then he’ll do whatever it takes. We see this change in Rick not through some exposition (something the character loved to do in the first two season) but in how he dealt with Tomas and other prisoners. It will be interesting how Mazzara and his team of writers will deal with Rick and the Governor who, if they’re following the basic outline of the comic book character, had to do almost the same exact things to keep his town of survivors alive through the crisis.

With the episode ending with Rick firmly in control of not just his group, the prison and the rest of the surviving prisoners (not to mention Hershel looking to have survived his encounter with the walker bite and Rick’s axe) it looks like next week’s episode will be focusing on the adventures of Andrea and Michonne and what looks like the introduction of this season’s main villain in David Morrissey’s own brand of despotic ruler in Philip Blake aka The Governor.

NOTES

  • Tonight’s episode was written by show newcomer Nichole Beattie and directed by show veteran Billy Gierhart.
  • Anyone who thought that Tomas and his group of prisoner will get through the episode unscathed can’t be blamed for that assumption. If this was season two there’s a chance they would’ve lasted intact for half the first half of the season. New regime looks to avoid that and keep the number of survivors from spiraling out of control to the show’s detriment.
  • Sarah Wayne Callies has done a very good job in a tough role that only seems to get tougher. I don’t think she’ll ever become a sympathetic character for the fans of the show, but then again not everyone on the show needs to be sympathetic.
  • Then she blows up at Carl for putting himself in danger even though what he did probably saved Hershel’s life for the  moment.
  • Kudos to all Glen Mazzara and his team of writers for actually making a follow-up episode to the season premiere not have such a huge drop in quality. Tonight’s episode was a strong one.
  • The change in how the two Greene sisters acted in tonight’s episode reversed the role Maggie and Beth had while at the Farm. Maggie Green has become hardered by the intervening months between Season 2 and 3 while Beth has become much more optimistic.
  • The prisoners were all very interesting but kudos for the writers for not lingering too much in exploring the group’s dynamic with Rick’s own group.
  • Love how Daryl’s completely in Rick’s corner now and even willing to do the dirty work for him if and when Rick gives him the signal. Show’s that for all his faults in the early goings with the group Daryl understands that it was with Rick and not Shane that the group had the best chance of surviving. Rick may be doing the very same things Shane was advocating in the first two seasons, but Rick does so with a clear head and focus that Shane never really had.
  • The show may never have the Tyrese character from the comic book, but having Daryl Dixon in Rick’s corner more than makes up for it.
  • Killing other survivors still doesn’t sit well with Rick, but he looks to have learned that outside the group itself everyone else is expendable. He may not like murdering other people but he will if it keeps his group alive. This may be an ongoing theme for this season.
  • With the show having deviated from the comic book’s narrative it’s interesting to see how the show’s writers are starting to mine particular scenes from issues and storylines that happens much later in the comics to use in the show.
  • The relationship between Rick and Lori looks to be even more broken in the show than it as in the comic book. The question now is whether the writers will find a balance in keeping their relationship from being too broken. I do like how Rick at the end doesn’t seem ready to break the iceberg between her and Lori or if he ever wants to.
  • It’s good to see Lori admitting it on-screen just how much of a bad wife she has been since Rick returned. Her character has always been the one who was in real denial of her situation especially when it came to Rick and Shane now with the months leading up to this season it looks like Rick’s arctic attitude towards her has finally settled in her mind as to who really put the conflict between Rick and Shane into it’s violent end.
  • The zombie effects tonight wasn’t as extensive as the season premiere but Greg Nicotero and his men at KNB EFX still did a great job as usual.
  • Zombie Kill Count for tonight’s episode: between 20-25.

James Bond Film Review: Casino Royale (dir by Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest, and Richard Talmadge)


As you probably already know, we here at the Shattered Lens have been counting down the days until the American release of Skyfall by reviewing every single film in the James Bond franchise.  Today, we take a look at the first non-EON Bond film, the epic, psychedelic 1967 spoof Casino Royale.

Where to begin?

When Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1953, veteran Hollywood producer Charles K. Feldman bought the film rights.  However, Feldman didn’t buy the rights to Fleming’s subsequent novels and was forced to sit by and watch as Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had unexpected success with Dr. No and the subsequent EON-produced Bond films.  Much as Kevin McClory did with Thunderball, Feldman first attempted to co-produce a serious adaptation of Casino Royale with Broccoli and Saltzman.  However, when Feldman, Broccoli, and Saltzman couldn’t come to an agreement on how each side would be compensated in the proposed production deal, Feldman decided to make Casino Royale on his own.  He also decided that, instead of trying to compete with EON by making a “straight” James Bond film, his version of Casino Royale would be a satirical extravaganza.

Feldman’s vision of James Bond is apparent from Casino Royale’s opening credits.  While the credits are definitely based on the iconic openings of the EON Bond films, they’re also designed to play up the fact that Casino Royale — in the grand tradition of the Hollywood studios at their most excessive — is meant to be a big budget, all-star extravaganza.

Casino Royale actually starts out with a pretty clever premise.  It seems that the name “James Bond,” is simply a code name that has been assigned to several British spies over the years.  As M (played by John Huston, who also directed the first third of the film), explains it, the name “James Bond” strikes such fear in the hearts of Britain’s enemies that the name must be kept alive.

(Speaking for myself, this is an idea that I kinda wish that the official James Bond series would adopt.  If nothing else, it would certainly explain how Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig could possibly be the same person.)

The original James Bond (played by David Niven) has long since retired to his stately country estate, where he spends his time playing the piano and complaining about how the agents who have inherited his name are sullying his reputation with excessive womanizing and violence.  It turns out the Sir James Bond is a man renowned for his “celibate image.”  At the start of the film, Bond is asked to come out of retirement by not only M but the heads of the CIA, KGB, and French secret service as well.  SMERSH, an organization of female assassins that’s led by the mysterious Dr. Noah, has been eliminating agents worldwide and only the original (and very chaste) Bond can defeat them.  Bond, however, refuses and M responds by ordering a mortar attack on Bond’s estate.  The estate is blown up but so is M and Bond soon finds himself returning to London as the new head of MI6.

Interestingly enough, David Niven was one of the actors who was considered for the role of James Bond in Dr. No.  Reportedly, Ian Fleming was quite enthusiastic for Niven to take the role but, by the time that Dr. No went into production, Niven was considered to be too old.  There’s a nice bit of irony here in seeing David Niven playing a retired James Bond who spends a good deal of the film complaining about the men who have subsequently assumed his name.

Once Niven takes over MI6, he orders that, in order to confuse SMERSH, all British agents (including female agents) will be known as James Bond.  The rest of the film is divided into episodes that feature these new James Bonds battling SMERSH and the mysterious Dr. Noah.

Among these agents, there’s the handsome Coop (played by Terrence Cooper) who has been trained to resist all sexual temptations.

There’s Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), the daughter of Sir James Bond and Mata Hari.

There’s Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) who is sent to seduce and recruit the expert gambler Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers) so that Tremble can beat SMERSH agent Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) at the Casino Royale.

Best of all, there’s Sir James Bond’s nephew, Jimmy Bond.  Jimmy Bond is played by Woody Allen and … well, let’s just take a look at Jimmy’s first scene in the film:

Casino Royale had a notoriously troubled production history and most of those troubles seemed to center on Peter Sellers.  While the film was designed to be a broad, slapstick comedy, Sellers reportedly insisted on trying to play his role straight and even rewrote his lines to make his scenes more dramatic.  Welles eventually grew so disgusted with Sellers that he refused to be in the same room with him.  This caused quite a bit of difficulty since Sellers was in almost every scene that featured Welles.  Eventually, Sellers walked off the film and the film had to be hastily (and awkwardly) rewritten to account for his sudden absence.

When one watches Casino Royale today, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Sellers was essentially correct.  While most of Casino Royale often feels disjointed and incoherent, the scenes featuring Sellers, Andress, and Welles are some of the strongest in the film.  Sellers’ dramatic approach doesn’t negate the film’s comedy.  If anything, it makes the comedy even stronger because Sellers actually seems to be invested in the reality his character, regardless of how ludicrous a situation that character may find himself in.

When I watched Casino Royale, I was struck by the stark contrast between the parts of the film that worked and the parts that didn’t.  This is a movie that truly swings from one extreme to another.  Either the film’s satire is working  brilliantly (mostly in the scenes featuring Woody Allen and Peter Sellers) or it’s falling completely flat (like in an extended sequence that features Deborah Kerr as a SMERSH assassin).

I found myself laughing more at the little scenes than the big set pieces.  For instance, I loved it when David Niven embraces Miss Moneypenny (Barbara Bouchet) just to be then told that she’s actually the daughter of the original Miss Moneypenny.  I don’t know much about the actor Terrence Cooper (though, according to Wikipedia, he was also a contender to take the role of James Bond in the official series) but I enjoyed the brief sequence where Moneypenny “tests” him to see if he can take on the Bond identity.  Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really have enough of these small, clever moments.

Ultimately, I found that Casino Royale works best when viewed as a time capsule.  Casino Royale was made at a time when the established major Hollywood studios (and veteran producers like Charles K. Feldman) were struggling to remain relevant.  Foreign films (including, it must be said, the James Bond films) were challenging the common assumptions of what could and what couldn’t be shown on-screen and the studio system reacted by trying to make films that would appeal to younger audiences while also reassuring older audiences that the movies hadn’t really changed that much.  The end result were films like Casino Royale that featured the occasional psychedelic sequence along with cameos from old (and safe) Hollywood stars like George Raft, William Holden, and Charles Boyer.  Casino Royale is the type of self-indulgent film that could only have been made in 1967 and, as such, it’s a valuable time capsule for all of us cinematic historians.

I also have to admit that, as excessive as Casino Royale may be, I happen to love excess.  Casino Royale might be overlong and occasionally incoherent but the costumes are simply to die for.  The film is a visual feast, if nothing else.

Casino Royale was released to scathing reviews and terrible box office but, in the years since, it has become something of a cult favorite.  Our own Trash Film Guru has identified Casino Royale as his favorite Bond film.  Myself, I found the film to be extremely flawed and yet oddly fascinating to watch.  Casino Royale is a total mess and that is both its greatest flaw and greatest strength.

Tomorrow, we’ll return to the official James Bond series by taking a look at You Only Live Twice.  

Horror Scenes I Love: Misery


Our next horror-themed “Scenes I Love” entry comes courtesy of Rob Reiner’s film adaptation of the Stephen King novel to celebrity stalkers everywhere.

Misery was one of those novels that was actually much better when adapted to the film screen. Maybe it was the performances of the small cast with Kathy Bates’ star-turning role as Annie Wilkes who happens to be Paul Sheldon’s (James Caan) Number 1 fan. I’m not a huge Rob Reiner fan, but he hits on all cylinders with this adaptation and the scene which cements this film as one of my favorite horror films is the one many have simply called “The Hobbling”.

The scene itself was actually much more graphic in the novel since Annie uses an axe instead of the sledgehammer in the film. Yet, the lack of blood and chopped flesh and bone didn’t keep the scene from being wince-inducing. In fact, the use of the sledgehammer and the wooden block and the slow build-up to the money shot made the entire sequence almost hard to stomach and bear. I think I’m not the only one who ended up having phantom pains as soon the Annie went to town on Paul’s legs.

October Music Series: Alkonost – Sun Shine Our Land


I first ran into Alkonost back in the days of Audiogalaxy, when I barely had a clue what metal beyond Metallica and Pantera consisted of. They are remarkably early for folk/pagan metal, forming in Naberezhnye Chelny, the second largest city of Tatarstan in Russia, in 1995. Their first demos were released in 1997, and “Sun Shine Our Land” appears on their 2000 debut full-length, Songs of the Eternal Oak.

I wasn’t really aware that anything describable as pagan or folk metal existed (and most of the standards by which the genres are judged had yet to be written), so for me it was something of an anomaly. I’d been listening to a lot of Nokturnal Mortum at the time, and I was beginning to develop this idea of “eastern” metal as something far more ah, I guess I’d say spiritual, than the western angst engines I’d been accustomed to. It stood apart, too, from the fantasy stuff I’d been getting into at the time. It was something quite different from Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, Rhapsody… it felt like fantasy (power) metal turned inside out, where the music wasn’t so much describing as becoming the myth. That’s a lot of what folk and pagan metal is, I suppose.

I find it a bit fascinating that, all inheritance from Bathory aside, the genre did emerge largely out of the former Soviet Union. It has a historical framework that goes beyond musical trends. These are bands that, in the new era of free speech that defined the 1990s, rejected the ideals of modernization and looked to idealize the past as a more authentic human experience than anything under pseudo-socialism. I don’t know how much Alkonost actually influenced the pagan and folk scenes that followed, but the fact that I’d heard of them as early as 2000 is a telling sign. “Sun Shine Our Land” was one of my favorite songs back then, and certainly still merits attention.