Review: Fear the Walking Dead S1E02 “So Close, Yet So Far”


FearTWDS1E02

“I’m about to step into a world of shit. You know that, right?” — Nick Clark

[some spoilers]

Is watching a zombie apocalypse unfold during it’s early days something that fans of the original series, The Walking Dead, want to actually watch happen? That was probably the least important question asked by AMC producers when they were brainstorming about how to take advantage of the pop-culture phenomena they had in their hands with The Walking Dead. This was a show that consistently beat every show it went up against and even manages to surpass some Sunday Night Football games in viewership.

The show enjoys viewership ratings of every type of metric one can think of that only the biggest network shows today can pull. Yet, the question remained of whether a second series exploring the world that Robert Kirkman created in his Image Comics title of the same name would have a similar reaction from fans. If the numbers brought in by the pilot episode of Fear the Walking Dead would be of any indication then the answer was a resounding yes.

The pilot episode of this new series introduced viewers to a cast of characters that wouldn’t look out of place from any family drama on network tv, cable or even the big-screen. It’s a world focused on the densely-packed Los Angeles area with all it’s different neighborhoods from glitzy and glamorous Hollywood and Beverly Hills to it’s surrounding middle-class areas like East L.A. and Venice Beach. One could substitute any major American city as location and we’ll still be able to relate to the opening narrative beats of an apocalypse descending on an unprepared populace.

Witnessing a zombie apocalypse in it’s early stages has it’s drawbacks and for some fans it’s the lack of the very zombie mayhem which made the original series so “must-see” that has become this companion series’ own weak point. Yet, there’s a logic and reason to the lack of zombies. It is the early days and the lack of zombies doesn’t mean the show lacks in tension and dread-building moments.

As Madison Clark’s drug-addict son succinctly says during the second episode, and could mean for the rest of the cast in the show, they’re all about to step into a world of shit.

“So Close, Yet So Far” jumps into literally right after both Madison Clark and Travis Manawa sees the truth in Nick’s words about what he witnessed in the drug den during the pilot episode. Their disbelief still governs some of their rash decisions (like splitting up to find other family members), but it also gives them a leg up on some of their neighbors and most everyone of the Greater Los Angeles area. Outside of Travis and Madison we’re given glimpses of others like Tobias (Madison’s paranoid but well-informed student), a next door neighbor looking to stock up and flee the city right up to a cop on-duty stocking up on water supplies. The city and the surrounding seem oblivious to the hell about to land on everyone, but that primordial part of everyone’s brain the says something is wrong seem to be working more efficiently for some.

The episode finds both Madison and Travis and their respective families split up when it looks like the zombie apocalypse is finally hitting it’s stride. Police actions turn into riots as civilian bystanders witness cops shooting (many, many times) and killing who look like innocent homeless people. As an audience we know better and it’s that knowing the rules of the game while those in the series are still so uneducated to the changes in this world of theirs which gives Fear the Walking Dead a fresher look at Robert Kirkman’s world.

This advance knowledge of this new world’s rules make for both a exhilarating and frustrating show. We wait for when the rest of the cast catch up in how to deal with the zombie apocalypse, but we also worry that some characters may not get the time spent during this shortened first season to survive. Rick Grimes was the lone babe in the woods in The Walking Dead. His family, best friend and the other survivors he has met with since he awoke from his coma already knew the basics on how to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. Madison, Travis, Nick, Alicia and the rest do not have the luxury of knowing what’s happening. They’ve seen examples of what’s coming, but they’re still dealing with it as if it’s your typical natural disaster. That everything will sort itself out in the end.

Tobias, our on-screen oracle, knows better and in just two episodes have become the audience’s proxy for a series cast full of babes in the woods. His very insular nature of spending way too much time on-line has given him an insight to this current calamity that everyone else around him seem oblivious and/or not extremely worried about. Whether Tobias survives the season has been left up in the air and with 4 episodes left in this inaugural season there’s not much time to dwell on who will live or who will die.

As we saw with Madison stopping Alicia from running out of the house to help a neighbor being attacked by another neighbor (the same one Travis saw earlier that day planning to get out of the city but already sick and infected) zombified, some have begun to worry about just protecting those closest to them and leaving the rest to fend for themselves.

Fear the Walking Dead has navigated a narrative that could get frustratingly old and stale with some great character work from it’s cast. Yes, even the annoying way the teenage children of the two leads have been written. The series has chosen to focus on the lives of your typical American family of the 21st century and that includes the annoyances and warts of parents and children.

Will fans continue to tune in without the zombies showing up more often? That will depend on whether show’s writers slows things down just as the apocalypse is hitting or just press the pedal to the floor and ride the zombie apocalypse wave and hope it lands with a bang instead of a whimper.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode was written by Marco Ramirez and directed by Adam Davidson.
  • The episode’s cold opening of the high school principal walking the grounds of an empty high school made for an eerie sequence.
  • While it seems like instances of zombie attacks have been concentrated in the more densely populated city area of LA, we still saw some signs of it hitting the outer areas like East LA. Alicia’s boyfriend Matt being one on the way to turning.
  • Interesting way for the writers to incorporate the current climate of distrust the public have with law enforcement into the series with civilians protesting then rioting over cops shooting what they think were innocent people. Audiences know better and we see how this civil disturbance look like it’s adding to the chaos that helps the zombie apocalypse take a foothold in the city.
  • Always nice to see Ruben Blades on-screen.

Season 1

Advertisements

George Romero’s Grand(?) Finale Begins In “Empire Of The Dead : Act Three” #4


8250-thumb-640x971

Do those title-page recaps that Marvel runs on the first page of all their books these days bug you? I have to admit that they usually work my nerves and that I see them as a less-than-clever way to shave a page off the actual story and art in any given issue while still enabling the publisher to cynically claim that their books offer “21 pages of editorial content.” In the case of George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead, however,  I’ll make an exception, for one simple reason : as we all know, Romero uses his zombie tales as  allegory for socio-political commentary here in the “real world” (think of Night Of The Living Dead‘s cautionary messages about racism and prejudice, Dawn Of The Dead‘s bleak examination of rampant consumerism, and Day Of The Dead‘s gleeful deconstruction of Cold War paranoia), and the intro page that’s currently running in Empire sums up the creator of the modern concept of the zombie’s primary political message for this series quite nicely indeed with the simple sentence “New York has become a fortress of isolation against the undead plague.”

Now, think about this : Donald Trump is proposing the absurd idea of building a wall along the entire length of the U.S./Mexican border,  and doubling down on the crazy by suggesting that he’ll force Mexico to pay for it, while just yesterday, one of his rivals for the GOP nomination, the risible Scott Walker, one-upped Trump by suggesting that we should do the same thing along the Canadian border, as well — because apparently poutine smuggling is becoming a huge problem or something. Now, while this “Fortress America” idea may sound appealing to the genuinely paranoid out there, I would humbly suggest that before we all stand up and cheer for this new emphasis on “national security,” we should take a moment and consider the fact that walling the rest of the world out also necessarily means that we would be walling ourselves in —and as Romero has shown us both in Land Of The Dead and here in the pages of Empire, that’s a recipe for disaster.

rPh5TVe-empire42

Don’t get me wrong — the American populace has good reason to be angry and afraid these days : our home values have plummeted, the stock market is being exposed as the high-risk casino it is, our meager retirement savings are slipping away, the cost of living is going through the roof, wages are stagnant at best for most of us, and we’re staring at a heap of debt that will take centuries, probably even generations,  to pay off. Obviously, those problems didn’t just create themselves — someone is to blame. But what Trump, Walker, and too many other demagogues looking to cash in on the wave of populist anger are looking to do is to misdirect that rage while keeping the party going for themselves and their billionaire buddies. Who’s fault is it that we’re in the mess we’re in? Are a few illegal immigrants the cause of our predicament, or is it the billionaire class?

Come on, you know the answer — the problem is that folks see the billionaire class as being untouchable, and don’t think that’s ever going to change. Those illegal immigrants, though — why, we see ’em just about every day. They’re scattered about here, there, and everywhere. They represent an easy target, while the rich are a tough one, and if there’s one thing Americans have become accustomed to, it’s taking on easy targets. Why, just look how well that worked out in Vietnam. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Now it seems we’re being prepped to bring the war home and take on the Mexicans who are doing the menial labor that our economy needs to keep going. And, I guess, the Canadians, too. I expect this new “war” to be just as successful as all those others.

FI5hODF-empire43

In Empire Of The Dead : Act Three #4, Romero’s vampire-run New York finally falls. The vampires, obviously, are a stand-in for the capitalist ruling class in this particular story, and while we don’t see a number of our key players (there’s no sign of Paul Barnum, Dr. Penny Jones, Mayor Chandrake, Xavier, or Detective Perez, for instance), it’s nevertheless a reasonably exciting issue in that we get to witness the Federal Reserve robbery go, as the Brits would charmingly put it, “tits-up,” the aerial war between the so-called “rebel” factions do the same, and everyone’s escape plans — most notably Dixie Peach and Runyon’s — come to a screeching halt. Once the shit hits the fan and the barbarians (or, in this case. zombies — who are, of course, Romero’s fictional equivalent for “the rabble,” i.e. those of us who aren’t part of the so-called “1%”) are inside the gates, all bets are off, and no amount of “security” can save you.

That being said, the decision to leave most of the principal cast out of the picture in this series’ penultimate issue is a curious one, to say the least, and I have to wonder how exactly Romero intends to wrap up all their various storylines in a scant 20 pages next month. My best guess is that we’ll probably be getting an extra-length issue with a $4.99 cover price.

Xp3JKZ4-empire44

Or will we? With sales on Empire hovering around the 8,000 mark (for an idea of just how bad that is, consider that my current favorite comic, Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence, is selling over twice that despite the fact that it’s being published by Avatar Press, pretty much the smallest publishing outfit going, it hasn’t been optioned for television, and it’s barely being promoted by Diamond — oh, and it may also be worth noting that Providence is eschewing all current sales trends by actually selling better every month so far, while Empire is the poster child for the years-long trend of books dropping in circulation every month), it’s hard to imagine Marvel editorial “green-lighting” a higher page count for the finale. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

In any case, it’s apparent that by the time Empire Of The Dead ends, there won’t be too many of us left paying attention, and that’s a shame. The third act has been a fun and exciting roller-coaster ride with unifrmly better scripting and characterization than the second, and the arrival of Andrea Mutti (aided by Roberto Poggi,who takes over as full inker on all pages with this issue) has really kicked the quality of the artwork up a notch. Throw in some fantastic covers from Francesco Mattina, and all in all this has been $3.99 (fairly) well-spent every month. I’m going to miss this book when it’s over — but I guess we’ve still got the TV series to look forward to, and hopefully if that’s a success people will pick the comics up in trade paperback format to see what they missed out on.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Charles Bronson Edition


I think it’s becoming a sort of unofficial tradition to celebrate a particular film legend’s birthday using the 4 Shots From 4 Films series as platform to showcase these individuals best and lesser-known films.

Today, we focus and celebrate what would’ve been the 93rd birthday of one Charles Dennis Buchinsky. That name may not resonate to the csual film fans, but I’m sure his chosen professional moniker will: Charles Bronson.

Charles Bronson was part of that group of actors during the 60’s and 70’s who epitomized the macho and badass personality on the big-screen. Bronson’s legacy has lived on through such classic films as The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen and Once Upon A Time In America right up to his more lesser-known films such as Hard Times, Telefon and Death Hunt.

4 shots from 4 films

The Magnificent Seven (dir. by John Sturges)

The Magnificent Seven (dir. by John Sturges)

TheDirtyDozen

The Dirty Dozen (dir. by Robert Aldrich)

Once Upon A Time In the West (dir. by Sergio Leone)

Once Upon A Time In the West (dir. by Sergio Leone)

Death Hunt (dir. by Peter R. Hunt)

Death Hunt (dir. by Peter R. Hunt)

What Lisa Watched Last Night #136: Fatal Flip (dir by Maureen Bharoocha)


Last night, I watched the latest Lifetime film, Fatal Flip!

fatal-flip

Why Was I Watching It?

With a name like Fatal Flip, I was thinking that this film might be another Lifetime cheerleader film.  And, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite Lifetime films of all time is Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal.  I figured I could watch the movie and then ask Dazzling Erin whether or not Fatal Flip was an accurate portrayal of the dangerous world of cheerleading.

What Was It About?

Well, it quickly became obvious that Fatal Flip had absolutely nothing to do with cheerleading.  Instead, it turned out that Fatal Flip was about the dark side of house flipping.

Alex (Dominique Swain) and her boyfriend Jeff (Michael Steger) max out their credit cards so that they can buy a colonial house that they plan to fix up and then sell for a profit.  At first, Alex and Jeff are convinced that they can fix up the entire house on their own but then it turns out that Jeff is kind of a whiny little wimp.

Fortunately, while at the hardware store, Jeff meets Nate (Mike Faiola).  Nate knows everything about home improvement.  He also wears a lot of plaid.  Anyway, Nate agrees to help Jeff and Alex fix up the house.  And, because this is a Lifetime movie, neither Jeff nor Alex have any problem with Nate moving in with them.

However, Nate has secrets of his own.  For instance, there’s the woman who he previously sealed up in a wall.  Plus, he has a beard which, in the world of Lifetime, is always a huge red flag.

And, of course, he wears a lot of plaid…

What Worked?

The whole film was about redecorating a house so I definitely enjoyed that.  One of the fun things about watching a movie on Lifetime is that a lot of attention is always paid to the interior of everyone’s house.  Fatal Flip took that tendency to its logical extreme.

What Did Not Work?

Obviously, a movie like this always requires a certain suspension of disbelief.  But seriously, Fatal Flip took it just a little too far.  Nate was so obviously unhinged that it was impossible to believe that anyone could be stupid enough to not realize it.

Add to that, a better title for the film would have been The Plaid Killer.  Because, seriously, when it came to Nate, it was nonstop plaid.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Much like Alex, I also enjoy making houses look nice and salable.  (Though I do have to say that I’m kind of surprised that she never changed the wallpaper in the living room.  Seriously, that was bothering me through the entire film.)

Lessons Learned

House flipping is not as glamorous as HGTV would have you believe.

Out of the Saddle: John Wayne in MCQ (Warner Bros, 1974)


mcq1

John Wayne didn’t get off his horse very often in the latter part of his career. The Duke hadn’t done a non-Western since 1969’s HELLFIGHTERS, but cop pictures were in style in the early 70s due to the success of movies like THE FRENCH CONNECTION and DIRTY HARRY. Wayne was actually offered the part of Dirty Harry Callahan and turned it down. But in 1974, Big John traded in his horse for a Pontiac Firebird in the action packed MCQ, directed by veteran John Sturges (GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GREAT ESCAPE).

mcq2

Wayne plays tough cop Lon McQ, who quits the force to investigate the murder of his former partner. He gets tangled up with drug dealers and corrupt officials, car chases and shootouts. Sound formulaic? It is, but the action scenes make up for a lame script. Duke basically plays the same character he did in most all his films, tough but tender, fair but firm. It’s kind of jarring to see Wayne in his (pretty bad) hairpiece instead of the usual cowboy hat, and tooling around the streets of Seattle in a muscle car rather than the dusty trail on his horse. He’s surrounded by a supporting cast full of familiar faces (Eddie Albert, Diana Muldaur, Colleen Dewhurst, Al Lettieri, David Huttleston, Clu Gulager), all of whom do their best with the clichéd script. MCQ plays like a TV movie of the week, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and fans of 70s action flicks will dig it.

John Wayne only made three more films after MCQ, including another cop movie, BRANNIGAN, and his swan song, 1976’s THE SHOOTIST, before succumbing to cancer in 1979. The Duke made much better movies then MCQ, but for a look at the star without his spurs and six-gun,  it’s definitely worth watching.

(This post originally appeared, in slightly altered form, on the 2015 TCM Summer of the Stars Blogathon, hosted by Journeys in Classic Film)