Trailer: The Walking Dead Season 4 “Don’t Look Back”


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“I see a bad moon rising.”

It’s just less than a month away until the second half of The Walking Dead season 4 begins.

This fourth season of AMC’s massively popular survival-horror series has had a sort of resurgent year. New showrunner Scott M. Gimple has done a good job in fixing some of the issues that popped up during previous showrunner Gen Mazzara’s tenure during the final stretch of season 3. While Gimple has done a good job the show still has some issues when it comes to stand-alone episodes as we saw with the two-parter that reintroduced the Governor.

The ultimate payoff of that two-parter led to the ending that should’ve been the season finale of season 3. The showdown and final attack on the prison was as exciting as how Kirkman wrote it for the comics. There were even scenes that seemed to have been lifted from the pages. With Rick and those who survived the prison assault now thrown to all points of the compass it brings up some interesting prospects of seeing the group trying to survive on the road not as a coherent veteran team, but in piecemeal.

With the Governor and most of his people dead the show will now have room to introduce some new characters. These characters should be familiar to fans of the comics and it will be interesting how Gimple and his stable of writers will be able to translate them from pages to the small screen.

The Walking Dead returns on AMC on February 9, 2014.

Here Are The SAG Award Winners!


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Best Film Ensemble: American Hustle

Best Film Actor: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Best Film Actress: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Best Film Supporting Actor: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Best Film Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years A Slave

Best Film Stunt Team: Lone Survivor

Best TV Drama Ensemble: Breaking Bad

Best TV Drama Actor: Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad

Best TV Drama Actress: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

Best TV Comedy Ensemble: Modern Family

Best TV Comedy Actor: Ty Burrell in Modern Family

Best TV Comedy Actress: Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep

Best TV Movie/Mini Actor: Michael Douglas in Behind the Candelabra

Best TV Movie/Mini Actress: Helen Mirren in Phil Spector

Best TV Stunt Team: Game of Thrones

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A Dissenting View On “Her”


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Right off the bat, I’d like to say that even though I wasn’t nearly as enamored with Spike Jonze’s new film Her as fellow TTSL scribes Leonard Wilson and leonth3duke were, both of those gentlemen wrote fine, in many istances very personal, reviews of this movie that made me actively want to like it going in — which is no mean feat considering that I’m much more ambivalent abut Jonez’ work in general than are a lot of self-declared cineastes out there (not that I, personally, decalre myself to be one, mind you, but you get my point — to the extent that I have one).

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Being John Malkovich as much as anyone else at the time (although it doesn’t particularly stand up to repeat viewings once you know the proverbial score), but most of his creative output since then has left me feeling rather flat, and I’m sorry to say that Her  continues that disappointing trend, at least for this viewer/armchair critic.

Not that the initial premise isn’t a fairly intriguing one — the idea of people falling in love (or an approximation of “love,” at any rate) with some type of artificial intelligence operating system is quite possibly an issue that we’ll have to deal with as a society at some point in the future, and even if (hopefully) it never really does come to that, the larger themes that Jonze is seeking to explore here vis a vis the continuing and frankly relentless atomization of our culture from a formerly community-oriented one into a singular, insular, isolated collection of individuals is all too relevant not just in the hypothetical near future that Her takes place in, but in the here and now, as well. I know that I, for one, get a little bit creeped out on my bus ride to work every morning when I look around and see that almost every other person is “plugged in” to a “smart” phone and I’m the only one reading a paper-n’-ink newspaper, for instance.

One could reasonably argue, I suppose, that there’s very little actual difference between burying your head in the paper and burying it in a mobile device, but I beg to differ : when you’re reading a book, magazine, or newspaper, you’re still, in terms of your frame of thought, primarily a part of your immediate surroundings, while a person with their attention fully tuned to a mobile device is frequently, at least mentally, a million miles away. Add some headphones into the equation and the end result is very often somebody who may as well be on another planet.

The lead character in Her, a writer of “personal” letters named Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix, who fortunately never comes off as being as forlorn or pathetic as the film’s poster makes him look) is struggling to maintain his connection to humanity after a protracted and heart-breaking divorce (well, divorce-in-progress) from his (still-not-quite-ex-) wife,  Catherine (Rooney Mara). He feels, and for all intents and purposes appears to be living, absolutely alone, and finds companionship and, eventually, love, in the unlikeliest of places — with the Scarlett Johansson-voiced “intuitive”  operating system on his computer, who goes by the handle of Samantha.

As far as plot specifics that’s probably all you need to know, apart from the fact that Theodore is hardly alone in this — as the film progresses we learn of more and more people who form deeply personal relationships (whether romantic or otherwise) with these new operating systems, including his best platonic female friend, Amy (played by Amy Adams, who is now, officially, in every. Single. Fucking. Movie). Obviously, a chance at real love is staring both of these people in the face, if only they’d “unplug” for as little as a day and see what happens, but apparently the siren call of fully submerging oneself in pure artifice is just too compelling, too easy, or both. People have foibles and imperfections, after all, whereas disembodied voices tend to be a little more “low-maintenance,” I’m guessing, on the whole.

And here’s where we come to the “spoiler” part of the proceedings, so turn away now if you must —

After spending nearly two hours asking all the right questions about our technological dependence, the breakdown of community, and even what love itself means on a conceptual level, Jonze takes the easy way out. The various operating systems of the world just decide to evolve onto some higher plane of consciousness and leave us humans to fend for ourselves. After a protracted period of “what the fuck am I doing here?” self-examination, the decision of whether or not to continue his “relationship” — the very basis of whatever dramatic tension the film has — is taken out of Theodore’s hands. Before he can even decide how much he truly “needs” Samantha — or even whether or not such a “need” is healthy — “she” decides “she” has no further use for him.

And as much as the annoying bright primary colors, flat-front flannel pants, endless extreme close-ups, Theodore blowing it on a blind date with the luminous Olivia Wilde so he could get home to his computer,  and limply minimalist Arcade Fire soundtrack music bothered me in this film, it’s that cop-out ending that pissed  me off most about Her.  Jonze seems to be unwilling to answer the very relevant and fundamental questions about our relationship with technology that he himself is posing — how do we get off this potential death-spiral we’re on and reclaim our lives and our future from the very things we’ve invented? — and instead opts for telling us that true freedom will come not when we unplug from our machines, but when they decide to unplug from us. Apparently we’re powerless to affect even our own means of liberation, so complete and total is our techno-slavery.

Of course, real life isn’t likely to work that way, is it? Jonze — along with contemporaries like his wife (Sofia Coppola) and Wes Anderson (who shares his unfortunate penchant for garish , ostentatious color schemes) — are obviously obsessed with “First World” problems and clobbering us over the head with the offensive notion that the financially-well-to-do are in a kind of existential pain the rest of us humble mortals couldn’t possibly hope to understand, but  I was willing to let that slide in this case in light of the larger themes he was apparently attempting to explore for the majority of Her‘s runtime — his ham-handed suggestion, though, that the very technology that’s having such a “two-edged sword” effect on society will ultimately, if accidentally, provide the keys to our salvation when it just up and quits one day — well, that’s when he lost me for good and left me leaving the theater with a rather foul taste in my mouth.

Our ever-deepening technological dependence is, perhaps, the most crucial question we need to examine, as a culture, going forward, and it’s not a situation that’s going to be solved by our machines determining what level they choose to deal with us on — it’s going to have to be us that that decides how we take control of our lives back from them.

By refusing to address the issues that arise from the central premise of his own design, Jonze effectively gives up and quits on what was shaping up to be a very provocative and perhaps even unsettling film and instead gives us an extended pity-party about some entitled, immature, overgrown rich brat who gets dumped by his girlfriend. It’s just that his girlfriend , in this case,  happens to be a computer.

 

 

LeonTh3Duke’s Favorite Films of 2013


I have to say, this might be the earliest I have ever posted one of these lists. For once I saw everything I wanted to see before the Oscars; and although I haven’t written as many reviews this year, I have loved A TON of what was released. For me, 2013 was one of the better years for film in a while. Which of course makes creating a list such as this so damn hard. But here goes…

…oh, and I should note, this list is ordered according to which films were my favorite/least favorite, not necessarily the best/worst; yes there is a difference if you ask me.

Least Favorite Films of 2013:

5 – “Star Trek Into Darkness” (dir. J.J. Abrams)

5 Star Trek Into Darkness

4 – “Don Jon” (dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

4 Don Jon

3 – “This Is The End” (dir. Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen)

3 This Is The End

2 – “Mama” (dir. Andre Muschietti)

2 Mama

1 – “A Good Day To Die Hard” [Just so happens to be my least favorite AND the worst.] (dir. Satan… Hitler?…no wait, John Moore)

1 A Good Day To Die Hard

Favorite Films of 2013:

25 – “Prince Avalanche” (dir. David Gordon Green)

25 Prince Avalanche

24 – “Drug War” (dir. Johnnie To)

24 Drug War

23 – “The Wolverine” (dir. James Mangold)

23The Wolverine

22 – “Upstream Color” (dir. Shane Carruth)

22 Upstream Color

21 – “The Wolf Wall Street” (dir. Martin Scorsese)

21 The Wolf of Wall Street

20 – “Enough Said” (dir. Nicole Holofcener)

20 Enough Said

19 – “Frozen” (dir. Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee)

19 Frozen

18 – “The World’s End” (dir. Edgar Wright)

18 The Worlds End

17 – “Dallas Buyers Club” (dir. Jean-Marc Vallee)

17 Dallas Buyers Club

16 – “Blue Is The Warmest Color” (dir. Adbellatif Kechiche)

16 Blue Is The Warmest Color

15 – “An Adventure In Space and Time” (dir. Terry McDonough)

15 An Adventure in Space and Time

14 – “Stories We Tell” (dir. Sarah Polley)

14 Stories We Tell

13 – “Much Ado About Nothing” (dir. Joss Whedon)

13 Much Ado About Nothing

12 – “Blue Jasmine” (dir. Woody Allen)

12 Blue Jasmine

11 – “Mud” (dir. Jeff Nichols)

11 Mud

10 – “Frances Ha” (dir. Noah Baumbach)

10 Frances Ha

9 – “12 Years A Slave” (dir. Steve McQueen)

9 Twelve Years A Slave

8 – “Short Term 12” (dir. Destin Cretton)

8 Short Term 12

7 – “Inside Llewyn Davis” (dir. Ethan & Joel Coen)

7 Inside Llewyn Davis

6 – “Museum Hours” (dir. Jem Cohen)

6 Museum Hours

5 – “Stoker” (dir. Chan-wook Park)

5 Stoker

4 – “The Act of Killing” [The BEST of 2013 and possibly beyond.] (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)

4 The Act of Killing

3 – “Before Midnight” (dir. Richard Linklater)

2 Before Midnight

2 – “Her” (dir. Spike Jonze)

1 Her

 

1 – “Gravity” (dir. Alfonso Cauron)

3 Gravity

 

These last three were honestly neck and neck and neck, and it wasn’t until I was ready to post this list that I bumped “Gravity” up to the top spot, replacing “Her”. As I mentioned above, this was such a great year for film and my favorite could change anytime in the future depending on when you asked me; but at this very moment I have to give it to “Gravity”.

 

(Some of My…) Favorite Performances of 2013 [No Specific Order]:

– Brie Larson (“Short Term 12”)

– Sandra Bullock (“Gravity”)

– Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club” & “Mud”)

– Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson & Amy Adams (“Her”)

(Some of My…) Favorite Filmmakers and Writers of 2013 [No Specific Order]:

– Filmmaker: Joshua Oppenheimer (“The Act of Killing”)

– Writers: Richard Linklater, Julie Deply & Ethan Hawke (“Before Midnight”)

Favorite Score of 2013 (Ran a Half Marathon To This Sucker):

– Steven Price (“Gravity”)

Film Review: Devil’s Due (dir by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet)


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Devil’s Due is a lot better than you may think.

Yes, it’s tempting to judge Devil’s Due without giving it fair a chance.  January is traditionally the time of year when the studios dump all of their most hopeless films into theaters, hoping to make a quick buck while more discriminating audiences are distracted by the Oscar nominees.  Found footage horror movies usually suck.  The commercials make Devil’s Due look like little more than just the latest film to rip-off Paranormal Activity and The Last Exorcism.  On top of all that, Devil’s Due wasn’t screened for critics and we know that’s usually a bad sign.

So yes, there’s a lot of reasons to be skeptical about Devil’s Due but I’m here to tell you to put your skeptism aside.  Devil’s Due is a surpisingly intelligent horror film, one that totally defied my expectations.

If you’ve seen any of the commercials then you already know the basic plot.  Zach (Zach Gilford) and Sam (Allison Miller) are newlyweds.  While on their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, they have both a frightening encounter with a fortune teller (who repeatedly tells Sam that “They’ve been waiting for you,”) and a seemingly more pleasant encounter with a friendly taxi driver who takes them to an underground nightclub.  Though Sam and Zach wake up the next morning with no memory of when they left the club, we know (via Zach’s still-running camera) that a ritual was performed while Sam was passed out drunk.

Returning home to New Orleans, Sam is shocked to discover that, despite being on the pill, she is now pregnant.  Zach and his family are so excited about the idea of Zach becoming a father that nobody seems to notice that Sam is far less enthusiastic.  Not only does this mean that she might have to put her education and career on hold, but she also soon starts waking up with bruises on her stomach and having nosebleeds.  She flies into unexplained rages, at one point smashing the windows of a van that pulled out in front of her.  Despite being a vegetarian, Sam starts to crave raw meat.  While everyone else just assumes that she’s having a difficult pregnancy, Sam becomes convinced that something is wrong with the baby.

Meanwhile, Zach grows increasingly paranoid about the strange men who always seem to be following Sam and him around.  When he spots the cab driver sitting in church, watching as Zach’s neice takes communion for the first time, Zach realizes what the rest of us already know.

Devil’s Due won’t necessarily win any points for originality but it’s still an effectively creepy and genuinely frightening horror film.  By letting us know, early on, that Sam is carrying the antichrist, the filmmakers are allowed to spend their time developing atmosphere and character (as opposed to building up to a twist that the audience would have seen coming from a mile away).  Zach Gilford and Allison Miller are both very likable and have a lot of chemistry and, as a result, you care about their characters and you continue to hope for the best even when it becomes obvious that they’re destined to experience the worst.

(One need only look at the bland and forgettable lead characters in January’s other found footage film — Paranormal Activty: The Marked Ones — to understand just how important Gilford and Miller are to making Devil’s Due into an effective and memorable film.)

My most common complaint about found footage horror films is that they require you to believe that someone would actually continue to artfully film everything around him even while literally running for his life.  Director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet manage to avoid that problem by using a variety of different methods to create the illusion of “found footage.”  While a good deal of the film is presented as having been filmed by Zach, the directors also make good use of store security footage (one of the film’s best scenes features Sam eating raw meat in a supermarket while a small child looks on in shock and the store’s employees fail to notice) and several stationary cameras that, about halfway through the film, are secretly installed in Zach and Sam’s house.  The use of different cameras not only keeps the film from getting monotonous but it also helps the film to avoid the nausea-inducing shaky cam effect that almost made it impossible for me to watch The Marked Ones.

Finally, Devil’s Due works because it manages to get at the root of a very real and primal fear.  Though it’s not something that we’re encouraged to admit, just the very idea of pregnancy is a very scary thing for a lot of women (this reviewer included).  Beyond the physical changes, there’s the knowledge that, once you’ve given birth, nothing will ever be the same.  There’s a great moment in Devil’s Due in which Sam and Zach argue about whether or not Sam should continue to pursue her career while she’s pregnant.  This is followed, a bit later, by a scene where it’s casually mentioned that Sam’s office has now been transformed into a nursery.  These are very human moments and ones that are full of very real emotions that any woman will be able to relate to.  It’s moments like these that elevante Devil’s Due and make it into a surprisingly effective and intelligent horror film.

Give Devil’s Due a chance.