Review: The Walking Dead S5E08 “Coda”


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“You’ve all been out here too long.” — Ofc. Bob Lamson

[spoilers]

We’ve finally reached the mid-season finale of the fifth season of The Walking Dead. It has been a strong first-half that showed some major improvements in terms of strong narrative structure and pacing. The first-half also saw growth in the Beth Greene character which we saw hints of in the second-half of season 4. We didn’t get much of the so-called ‘wheel-spinning” episodes which literally went nowhere. The long existential philosophizing monologues were kept to a minimum and when we did get them they were essential to the scene and the episode (example: Gareth’s final monologue before dying all the way back in Episode 3: “Four Walls and a Roof”).

Last week’s episode could be considered the weakest of the first-half episodes as it focused more on setting up the the many different groups. All the groups eventually leading up to reuniting in one way or another with tonight’s mid-season finale. A finale that we’ve been told would see the death of a major character.

The guessing games have had Carol as being the one to die in tonight’s episode. It’s not a bad guess considering how much the show’s writers have been foreshadowing her death as something akin to a hero’s tragic end. She was the character who literally came out of nowhere from being one of the useless and weakest in the bunch to one of it’s strengths. The show and it’s writers have been notorious for removing very popular characters from the playing field and it wouldn’t have been surprising if that was the case with Carol with tonight’s episode.

“Coda” follows through on the full-speed ahead style Gimple and his writers have adopted this season by using a cold opening that occurs literally right after last week’s cliffhanger. We see Agent Sitwe…I mean Officer Lamson still fleeing from the Rick group with his hands tied behind his back. In the past, Lamson would make it back to Grady Memorial and we would have a major stand-off between Rick and Dawn. Not this season and too bad for Lamson. Rick chases him down with scary efficiency that gives us more hints that he’s starting to travel deep down the dark path that the Governor, Gareth and Joe saw themselves go down and not make it back out.

Rick doesn’t brook second-chances when it comes to new people (which might just mean bad news for Father Gabriel who put Baby Judith in harm’s way trying to confirm Bob’s story about Gareth and his Hunters). Past seasons would see Rick agonize over killing another human being. Not season 5 Rick who has seen how indecision has cost him his wife and many friends since he awoke from his coma. He has learned to compartmentalize that part of him which still sees the good in people. He has become pragmatic about the new world he finds himself in and in doing so could be losing that very humanity which has made him a leader everyone seems to gravitate to.

While Rick hasn’t gone full-on Shane he definitely would understand some of the dark things that Shane was capable of doing and had done in order to survive. We see this with how calmly he shoots Lamson in the head. He could’ve done it to save Lamson the horror and pain of being devoured by the approaching zombies since Rick’s driving broke his back. Or he could’ve done it just to shut him up from continuing his talk about how Rick has been out in this world too long and how it has affected him. Just like fans and critics of the show itself, Rick seems to have gotten tired of everyone telling him that he’s losing his mind and/or his humanity. If Rick has lost it at least we know that he still has his people’s well-being and survival in mind. As for anyone new coming into the group that would be a question that would have to wait.

Yet, despite how Rick has become hardened to this new world he still finds himself affected by the death of someone close to him.

Beth’s death (not Carol’s as many have been guessing) wasn’t as surprising, but still a shock at how it happened so close to her finally being reunited with her sister Maggie. Her death marks a further erosion of that innocence and hope the show has been trying to keep a hold onto since season 1. Like her character or not, Beth Greene remained optimistic despite all that this new world threw at her. She had taken over her father’s role as the show’s moral center and just like in season’s past it’s a role that continues to spell doom on whoever takes on it.

Tonight’s episode wasn’t as strong as past mid-season finales. While it had the requisite shocking moment it was still too similar to last week’s episode where the episode juggled too many groups in too little time (AMC’s getting ridiculous with its commercial breaks). There’s an understanding that seeing the different groups reuniting in the end would make for a much more dramatic conclusion to the first-half, but too little time was spent on the rescue itself that the writers were almost hoping the audience would make the necessary leaps in storytelling to excuse why the end happened the way it did.

It’s not a bad episode or even an average one, it was a good enough entry in this first-half that we get a definite conclusion to the final hanging plot-thread from season 4. Beth has been found and just when they (and us as an audience) was finally getting a stronger and more confident young woman the show yanks that hope away and we find the show much darker.

Beth’s death should reverberate through the second-half of this season (or it would’ve been for naught) and should affect many of the characters left in Rick’s group. Rick might blame himself for her death. Maggie has now lost the last remaining family member she had despite having a new one with Rick and the others. Daryl lost that bright, hopeful link that has made him less a lone wolf and more of a well-rounded badass.

As a character Beth Greene started out as weak, one-note and barely there with season 2. She became a running joke as the bard of this merry band of zombie apocalypse survivors in season 3 with her penchant for singing. Something turned with season 4 as Scott M. Gimple took over as showrunner. She became a rough gem that the show’s writers were attempting to smooth out and find the true character underneath. This season finally revealed that character. A character that continued to be hopeful despite the despair all-around. A character that learned how not to be a victim and became stronger as she remained separated from the rest of the group.

Even in the end, as she and Dawn had their final exchange that showed how she and not Dawn was the true survivor, Beth did what she did in order to try and save a friend who she had faith would come back for her. Beth went out the only way she knew how and that’s helping others.

“Coda” was an appropriate title for tonight’s episode. A musical passage that brings an end to a musical piece. Beth was the music to Rick and his group of survivors and tonight was her coda.

Notes

  • “Coda” was written by Angela Kang and directed by Ernest Dickerson.
  • Just like in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Maximiliano Hernández’s character on The Walking Dead meets his demise after getting hit by a moving vehicle. Though in tonight’s episode it was a contributing factor.
  • This particular sequence is similar to a scene in the comic books which occurred earlier in the story and the character who gets run over is Martinez who was fleeing back to Woodbury to tell the Governor where the prison was located.
  • Probably only interesting to me, but the Atlanta PD at Grady Memorial Hospital using Smith & Wesson MP .40 which means the zombie apocalypse occurred before 2013 which was when the department began switching to the Glock 22 Gen 4.
  • Father Gabriel’s actions was very frustrating yet fitting in with the way the character has been adapted from the comics. This is a man who is just beginning to learn that not everyone who has survived out in the world will be as kind and forgiving as he expects them to be. It will be interesting to see whether the writers develop Gabriel’s psychological issues of survivor’s remorse further in the second-half of this season.
  • Noah’s character may end up being the key to Rick’s group heading up north and towards the Alexandria community which will lead into one of the longest-running story-arcs in the comics: War between Rick and his people against Negan and his.
  • Interesting how the Grady Memorial haven is now the second survivor group Rick and his people have come across since the show began. Will they survive the death of Dawn and now having five less police officers protecting them or will they end up like the Vatos and the nursing home group which we find out in a season 2 deleted scene that they were ultimately overrun.
  • The first-half of season 5 ends the way it began with the premiere and finale episodes featuring Morgan coming across the aftermath of Rick’s group passing through: lots of destroyed zombies. Will Morgan be a boon for Rick and his people if and when he finally catches up to them?
  • Tonight’s guests on the Talking Dead are Keegan Michael-Key (Key & Peele), series creator Robert Kirkman and, Beth Greene herself, Emily Kinney.

Season 5

Quick Review: ‘The Babadook’ (dir. Jennifer Kent)


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‘The Babadook’ is a truly effective horror film whose beautiful and twisted imagery – as well as complex and powerful explorations of grief and the bonds between a mother and her child – cut to the bone, managing to scare and move all at once. The film, which explores maternal affection, depression, grief – and a whole multitude of similar themes – is not just one of the best horror films of the past few years, but is also just simply one of the best films of the current year.

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The film stars Essie Davis as Amelia, a widow living alone with her hyperactive son Sam (Noah Wiseman). Amelia loves her boy, but his presence is a constant reminder of the death of her husband – who died in a crash while driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth. The grief of the accident constantly lingers over them both. This is made all the worse for Amelia as Sam has become more of a burden as of late. Sam is beginning to more strongly deal with the absence of his father and expresses this in some unusual ways – including making up scary monsters and weapons to fight them with. Their strained relationship takes a dark turn when a mysterious pop-up book appears – the character in which is a spooky creature that awakens in Amelia fears and dark thoughts about her son that have long been hidden under the surface. She doesn’t know where the book came from or who this nightmarish Babadook is – but she can’t seem to escape it. The situation and Amelia’s mental state is exasperated by sleep deprivation, social pressures and growing depression as the anniversary of her husband’s death approaches. She is soon forced to confront a demon – both physical and psychological – that threatens to destroy her and Sam.

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‘The Babadook’ very much reminded me of ‘Repulsion’ and ‘The Shining’ in its portrayal of a mental spiral into very dark places – as well as ‘The Orphanage’ in its handling of grief and loss. This is all packaged in a visually striking story – lots of blacks, greys and whites – with a creature that is sure to be an instant classic. What makes it all the better is the way in which it constantly subverts the expected in both genre tropes and what we are actually seeing on the screen. Is the Babadook real? Or is it simply a mental manifestation of the pain and grief that runs deeply through the story? Either way, the fears, doubts and terror it all elicits amount to more than just scares – it also moves with real and honest emotion. Take out the horror aspects and the film is still a moving portrait of a mother dealing with loss and the responsibility of mothering a troubled child. This is a shining example of the brilliance that the horror genre can achieve – how it can be emotionally affecting in ways no other genre can. Add to that a phenomenal performance by Essie Davis and the confident direction of Jennifer Kent and the result is a masterpiece of the genre – and easily one of the year’s best films.

*I discuss the ending in the comments. I say this to warn of spoilers below – as well as to continue my above analysis for those who have seen the film.*

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Twitter.

Sorry, Enterntainment Weekly, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever Is Not The Worst Christmas Movie Ever


If you go over to Entertainment Weekly right now, you can read an article entitled Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever Is The Worst Christmas Move Ever.  The author of the article, Samantha Highfill, claims that “Grumpy Cat would hate her movie.  Like hate-hate it.”

Well, of course, Grumpy Cat would have hated Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever.  That was kind of the point of the whole damn movie.  The reason why Grumpy Cat has become such a popular meme is because her permanently sour face confirms what many of us suspect but often try to deny — i.e., that our cats are, for the most part, disgusted with us.  However — and this is why people like me cherish our cats — they all have one or two people who they love enough to set aside their natural disgust and allow to be a part of their life.

Cats aren’t like dogs.  A dog will love anyone.  A cat picks someone to love and then they do it despite all of their better instincts.  And because of that, cats will occasionally do stuff that they normally should hate.

Like starring in a holiday-themed film, for instance.

Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, which premiered on Lifetime last night and was watched by me and a thousand other cat lovers on twitter, works because it not only realizes that it should not exist but it also has no problem admitting that it should not exist.  In Entertainment Weekly, Grumpy Cat’s sarcastic narration and continual breaking of the fourth wall is described as being “oddly meta.”

Personally, I call it being clever, cute, and funny.

But, let’s be honest.  The majority of critics were never going to give a fair review to a film called Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever.  (A fair review, by the way, would have been: “The story’s dumb, the film looks cheap, but the cat is cute and, seeing as that’s the only reason anyone’s watching, that’s all that matters.”)  Most critics probably had their review already written in their head before they even saw the movie.  Complain about the commercialization of Christmas.  Whine about how an internet meme now has her own movie while your coming-of-age screenplay remains unproduced.  Make a few snarky comments about Lifetime, in general.  Admit that Aubrey Plaza totally kicks ass as the voice of Grumpy Cat (because she so totally does).  End it by sadly predicting that Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever will lead to a sequel.

Bleh.  Forget the other critics.  Speaking as the only critics who really matters, here’s what I think you need to know about Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever:

If you own and like cats, you’ll find a lot to enjoy about Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever.  Yes, the story is dumb.  Yes, the movie was obviously cheaply made and, in case there was any doubt, Grumpy Cat herself pops up to point out how cheap the movie was.  But Aubrey Plaza was born to be the voice of Grumpy Cat.  And Grumpy Cat herself is adorable in her grumpy way!  Along the way, we get to see Grumpy Cat drive a car and shoot a paintgun.  We also get to meet Grumpy Cat’s British equivalent.

And it’s all really, really cute.

And really, that’s all that matters.

Grumpy-Cat-drives-a-car

The Birdemic of Action Movies: April Rain (dir by Luciano Saber)


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Warning: Occasionally, film art can be deceptive.

 

I realize that is a big claim to make.  Birdemic, after all, is known for not only being one of the worst but also for being one of the most inept films ever made.  It’s a film that regularly appears on lists of the worst films ever made and, unlike the always entertaining The Room, Birdemic actually deserves the honor.

So, when you compare a movie to Birdemic, it’s kind of a big deal.

However, having now sat through April Rain on multiple occasions, I can say that April Rain totally deserves the comparison.

Imagine if your local community theater decided to put on a low-budget, theatrical adaptation of 24, with the director’s son playing Jack Bauer and a retired accountant playing the main villain and you might have some idea of what it’s like to watch April Rain.

The film opens with endless overhead shots of Los Angeles while stirring “epic” music plays in the background.  The movie uses these overhead shots in much the same way that Tommy Wiseau used the Golden Gate Bridge in The Room.  Whenever the scene needs to change, we get an aimless overhead shot of Los Angeles that rarely seems to have much to do with either the scene we just viewed or the one that we’re about to watch.  At first, it amused me to notice how many buildings had helicopter landing pads but then I realized that I was just looking at the same buildings over and over again.

After we spend a while looking down on Los Angeles, we are immediately thrown into the middle of the action as six men have a fierce gun battle outside of a warehouse.  And by gun battle, I mean that each man stands about four feet away from the other, shoots a gun, and somehow manages to miss just as often as they hit.  It’s during this scene that we learn two important things about April Rain:

1) Nobody in this film dies without flailing around for a few minutes before hand.

2) Anyone firing a gun will be shown in slow motion.

As for why everyone is shooting at each other, it all comes down to weapons.  The group in the warehouse has a few crates full of weapons.  The people attacking the warehouse want the weapons so that they can sell them to a terrorist cell.

The people attacking the warehouse, incidentally, a members of the Russian mob.  I figured this out because they had names like Nikolai and Dimitri and not because any of them actually had a Russian accent or, in any other way, came across as being Russian.

Which is not to say that they don’t have accents.  Their boss, Kotov (Adrian L. Tutor), definitely has an accent.  Actually, he has several and they change from scene-to-scene.  Sometimes, he sounds like he’s from Italy and then other times he sounds like he’s from Scotland…

Anyway, when we first meet Kotov, he’s running around in circles in his suburban front yard while his two youngest daughters chase after him.  He’s wearing a dark blue apron that reads, in bright red letters, “World’s Greatest Dad.”

The face of the Russian Mafia

The face of the Russian Mafia

His oldest daughter, Katrina (Brittany Beery), would probably disagree with that.  She’s got a crush on the newest member of the mob, Alex (Ryan Guzman).  When Kotov drags Katrina to church, she gets out of it by saying, “I’m getting my period, dad!” and doing a massive eye roll.  (Interestingly enough, I used to do the exact same thing to get out of going to Mass.  Never underestimate the importance of the eye roll.)  What makes this scene especially memorable are the extras sitting on the pew directly behind Kotov and his family.  When Katrina explains why she has to leave church, they gasp and look like they’re about to faint from the shock.  They do this despite the fact that Katrina and Kotov are whispering and that their voices would undoubtedly have been drowned out by the church organ that is played throughout the entire scene.  Perhaps, at one point, the filmmakers were planning on including a subplot that hinged on super hearing…

ANYWAY — and watching April Rain is one of those films that will inspire you to say “anyway” quite a lot — it turns out that Alex has a secret of his own.  He’s not really a Russian mobster!  No, he’s a member of an elite division of the — well, to be honest, I’m not sure which agency he works for.  However, I do know that it’s top secret because it’s housed in a huge warehouse and everyone spends a lot of time talking about how it’s all top secret.

Along with Alex, the team includes:

1) Sikes (Luke Goss), who is I guess is supposed to be in charge.  He’s a taciturn but fair man who is first seen disciplining his teenage son.  (“I can do what I want!” his son shouts, “In your face, old man!”)  Sikes spends a lot of time shouting things like, “I WANT HIM ALIVE!” just before then shooting a bad guy in the head.  (Incidentally, in April Rain, getting shot in the head means that a small splotch of red paint appears on your forehead.)

2) Rita (Mirana Frigon), who I liked because she’s a redheaded administrative assistant, just like me!  At one point, Rita gets a phone call from someone outside of the agency.  Sikes tells her that he needs her to be 100%.  Rita agrees.  The phone call is never mentioned again.

3) Kenny (Doug Savant), who doesn’t really have much of a personality.

4) Thomas (Vincent Spano), who is Kenny’s best friend and who, as a part of his job, is currently sleeping with Hellen (Anne Leighton) who works for Kotov.  At one point, Thomas’s wife (Hillary Tuck) shows up and points a gun at him and screams at him for cheating on her.  An exasperated Thomas yells back, “I work my ass off and you show up here and make me look like an ass in front of Kenny!”  And the scene goes on and on from there…

And finally,

5) Hillary Miller (Ming-Na Wen!) is apparently Sikes’s superior.  Thomas refers to her as being the Wicked Witch of West Los Angeles.  “She flies around on her broomstick with a strap-on and a jar of vaseline,” he informs Alex.  Ming-Na gets top billing but she’s actually only in a few minutes of the film and she spends most of that time yelling and glaring.  It’s almost as if she’s daring you to ask her how she ended up in a movie like April Rain.

Ming-Na in April Rain

Ming-Na dares you to ask her what she’s doing in April Rain.

ANYWAY — Kotov has been supplying terrorist leader Tariq (Deniz Akdeniz) with guns and Vespa motor scooters and you better believe that we eventually do get a chase scene where the bad guy is fleeing on a Vespa.  (And you also better believe that almost the entire chase scene is filmed in slow motion.)  

Before launching his terrorist scheme, Tariq becomes an American citizen.  The oath of citizenship is delivered by a judge who actually shows up on a Sunday to do so.  “It’s the least I can do, after all the work you’ve done on my house,” the judge helpfully explains.  Of course, as Tariq and the Judge enter the courthouse, the camera lingers on security guard who views both of them with clear suspicion.

Upon returning to his apartment, Tariq and his family celebrate his new citizenship.  Then, his two neighbors arrives to congratulate him.  These two neighbors — well, they simply have to be seen and heard to be believed.  “Share the wealth!” one of them proclaims, “then maybe everyone won’t want to kill us…”  Another one drinks a toast to “education and the redistribution of wealth,” which I guess is the film’s way of letting us know that the only thing needed for the Tariqs of the world to succeed is for them to live next door to stereotypical California liberals.

What’s especially interesting about this film is that, for all the time devoted to the Judge, the security guard, and those two neighbors, none of them are all that important to the plot.  In fact, after their initial scenes, neither the judge nor the security guard are ever seen again.  As for the two neighbors, they’re kicked out of the apartment after Tariq is visited by Yusef, a jihadi who is also a pizza deliveryman…

(Just about every film has a few red herrings but few take it to the extreme of April Rain, a movie in which just about everyone in the cast is a red herring.)

Everyone's either a red herring or a redhead or both.

Everyone’s either a red herring or a redhead or both.

Much like Birdemic, The Room, and Troll 2, April Rain is such a uniquely bad film that it becomes oddly fascinating.  You watch and, with each moment, you can not help but wonder how much worse the film can get.  And, with each passing moment, you discover that it can get a lot worse.

You want a cast that alternates between catatonic underplaying and histrionic overacting?  April Rain has got you covered.  (In defense of the cast, it’s not that any of them are bad actors as much as the script doesn’t leave them much choice.  For instance, I thought Brittany Beery did the best that anyone possibly could with her role.  The same can be said of Ryan Guzman and Luke Goss.  As for Ming-Na — well, I imagine she probably just wanted to get her scenes over with.)

You want action scenes that essentially look like a bunch of kids making finger guns and going, “Bang!  Bang!” at each other?  April Rain is the film to see.

Do you want random scenes that come out of nowhere, make you go, “What the Hell?,” and are then promptly forgotten about in the movie’s grand narrative scheme?  April Rain will not disappoint.

Do you want pages and pages of dialogue that add up to nothing more than empty verbosity?  Might I suggest watching April Rain?

Do you want to see a movie that’s so bad that it’s good?  Well, I’d suggest watching The Room and then Troll 2 and then Birdemic.  But once you’ve got those three out of the way, definitely give April Rain a try!

April Rain

Bang! Bang!

Film Review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (dir by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)


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The Town That Dreaded Sundown is the latest classic horror remake.  In this case, it’s a remake of a 1976 docudrama about a real-life serial killer who, shortly after World War II, haunted the streets of my former hometown of Texarkana, Texas.  (You can read my review here.)  The original was a low-budget but effectively creepy little film that was shot on the streets of Texarkana and was full of authentic Texas atmosphere.  (It helped that it was directed by Charles B. Pierce, a Texarkana native, as opposed to some jerk from up north.)  What made the film all the more haunting was the fact that — in both the movie and in real life — the Phantom Killer was never captured.

So, how does the remake compare?

*Sigh*

(For the record, I’m not only signing but I’m also massively rolling my mismatched,  heterochromatic eyes.)

Listen, I will give this film credit for attempting to be something more than just your usual horror remake.  It actually does have a fairly clever premise.  Instead of retelling the original story, the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown begins with a bunch of people in present-day Texarkana sitting around and watching the original film.  There’s even an eccentric character named Charles B. Pierce, Jr. (Denis O’Hare) who we are told is the son of the original director.  It’s a clever idea, one that wisely acknowledges the effectiveness of the original film while also commenting on the continuing mystery surrounding both the identity and the fate of the Phantom Killer.

And, when someone dressed like the original Phantom Killer starts to murder young couples in Texarkana, we — just like the characters — are left to wonder whether it’s the spirit of the Phantom or if it’s someone imitating the murders from the original film or whether it’s something else altogether.

That’s certainly the question faced by Jami (Addison Timlin), who survives being attacked by this new Phantom but then grows obsessed with trying to discover who he is.  Addison Timlin gives a really good performance here.  She’s likable and sympathetic, the perfect “final girl.”

In fact, the entire film is well-cast.  Anthony Anderson is a lot of fun as a cocky Texas Ranger while Gary Cole and Joshua Leonard do good work as members of local law enforcement.  Denis O’Hare, who I will always think of as being Russell on True Blood, brings a certain dissipated nobility to his role.  The victims are all sympathetic and the killer is creepy.

But, with all that in mind, I was disappointed with the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown.  The reason the original film worked is because it was made by a member of the Texarkana community.  Charles B. Pierce knew the town and he understood why the Phantom Killer continued to haunt the citizens.  What his movie lacked in technical polish, it made up for in authenticity.

Though the remake features a narrator and duplicates the original’s obsession with letting us know whether each scene is taking place on the Texas-side or the Arkansas-side of the town, there’s still absolutely nothing authentic about it.  Whereas the original was filmed entirely on location, the remake was mostly filmed in Shreveport with only three days devoted to getting some location footage of downtown Texarkana.  As someone who has lived in both Shreveport and Texarkana, allow me to assure you that you can totally tell the difference.

The remake was produced by Ryan Murphy (of Glee and American Horror Story fame) and the film really does feel like a lesser season of American Horror Story.  It’s a film that has so little use for subtlety (just check out Edward Herrmann going totally overboard as a hypocritical preacher) that its creepy moments are totally smothered by all the heavy-handed cartoonishness that surrounds them.

Ultimately, the remake fails because it has no feel for or understanding for my homestate.  It was made by people who obviously know nothing about Texas or Arkansas beyond what they’ve seen in other movies produced, directed, and written by other northerners.

The 1976 Town That Dreaded Sundown worked because it was authentic.  Despite a few good ideas, the remake is just too generic to do justice to the original.

 

Film Review: Blood Ties (dir by Guillame Canet)


So, there’s this fucking movie called Blood Ties and it’s about a lot of fucking guys who live in fucking New York City in the fucking 70s and they’re all kind of a bunch of fuck-ups but they all know how to fucking use the word fuck as both an adjective and an adverb.  That’s the main impression that I took away from Blood Ties, a film that feels a lot like a mash-up of Place Beyond The Pines and every Martin Scorsese film ever made.

The year is 1974.  After serving several years on a murder conviction, 50 year-old Chris (Clive Owen) has been released from prison.  Chris’s transition back into society is a bumpy one.  For one thing, his ex-girlfriend (Marion Cotillard) is now a prostitute and refuses to let Chris see his children.  Though he gets a new girlfriend (Mila Kunis), he still finds himself struggling to hold down a job and he soon finds himself tempted to once again pursue a life of crime.

What might make that difficult for him is the fact that his younger brother, Frank (Billy Crudup), is now a cop with an old school porn star mustache.  Frank makes little secret of how much he resents his older brother and it isn’t long before the two of them are constantly fighting.  However, Frank has problems beyond Chris.  For one thing, he’s romantically pursuing Vanessa (Zoe Saldana), despite the fact that he earlier put her husband, Anthony (Matthias Schoenaerts), in prison.

In order to keep their dying father (James Caan) happy, Chris and Frank try to put aside their differences.  However, when Frank sees Chris fleeing from the scene of a robbery, it becomes harder and harder for him to ignore his brother’s activities.  Meanwhile, Chris has to decide whether or not to potentially sacrifice his freedom to keep his brother safe from a vengeful Anthony…

When Blood Ties was originally released at the beginning of the year, I considered seeing it but — for some reason — I ended up seeing The Legend of Hercules instead.  (Don’t you hate it when that happens!)  And I have to admit that I had forgotten about Blood Ties until I discovered that we were getting EPIX for free this holiday weekend.  Blood Ties is one of the films that’s currently showing on EPIX and, when I saw it was available, I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to see A Most Violent Year but until that opens up down here in Dallas, why not watch another violent New York period piece?”

And so I watched Blood Ties and … well, bleh.  Actually, bleh may be too harsh of a judgment.  The film is full of fun period details and Billy Crudup gives a really good performance as Frank.  There are some well done action scenes and I appreciated the fact that, for the most part, the film did not try to make violence look glamorous or fun.  The film has a great soundtrack though, for the most part, most of the songs here can also be heard in a countless number of superior Scorsese films.

But, ultimately, Blood Ties is never as good as you want it to be.  The film’s plot is about as predictable as can be and, far too often, scenes that start out interesting quickly degenerate to various characters standing around and yelling at each other.  And while that may often be what happens in real life, it still doesn’t make it particularly interesting to watch.  And then you’ve got poor Clive Owen, a good actor who is seriously miscast here.  Casting Clive Owen as a streetwise New York gangster is a bit like casting Ray Liotta as a member of the Queen’s Guard.  It just doesn’t work.

For those of us hoping for a great New York City crime epic — well, we’re just going to have to keep hoping that A Most Violent Year turns out to be just as good as everyone says it is…

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Official Teaser is out!


Greetings, Ladies and Gents. Hope everyone’s faring well after the Thanksgiving Holiday here in the States and a week that’s winding down. Disney, J.J. Abrams and the powers that be have not only made the teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens available in select theatre locations, but have also made it available online.

Like the trailer that premiered for The Phantom Menace, we’re seeing a lot of surprises here. New droid types, unconventional lightsaber designs and the Millenium Falcon in all it’s glory. It’s a small taste of what’s to come, but enough to pique the interests of anyone in love with the franchise. If nothing else, it serves as a good conversation starter.

Enjoy!