TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.10 “My New Best Friends” (dir by Jeffrey F. January)


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Oh my God!

Is it possible that we’ve actually had two good episodes of The Walking Dead in a row!?

Indeed it is.  In fact, I would say that tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead was the high point of the season so far.  I don’t know if the show’s production team has been listening to the complaints that many fans had during the first half of the season but, with both this episode and last week’s, it’s hard not to feel that the show is trying to correct some earlier mistakes.

For instance, there was no Negan in this episode.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Negan can be an intimidating bad guy.  But, like many great villains, Negan is at his most effective when he’s off screen.  The big mistake that the Walking Dead made during the first half of season 7 was going for an all-Negan, all-the-time format.  With each appearance, Negan became just a little bit more cartoonish and, as a result, he became less and less intimidating.

However, though this episode largely dealt with people trying to figure out what to do about the Saviors, Negan was still kept in the shadows.  As a result, Negan’s becoming a threat again.

Tonight’s episode followed two storylines, which is a definite improvement over the plodding pace of the first half of the season.  Both storylines were equally interesting, though I think everyone’s heart was invested in Daryl and Carol.

So, let’s get Rick out of the way.  Last week, I assumed that Rick had come across the Oceanside community but it turns out that I was wrong.  (And that’s not a bad thing because the Oceanside community kinda sucked.)  Instead, this is a community of people who live in a junkyard.  In many ways, they’re just as ritualized and borderline ludicrous as Ezekiel’s Kingdom.  The only question is whether or not the Junkyarders, like Ezekiel, realize how silly their little community is.  Are all of their rituals designed as an escape from grim reality or are they all just crazy?

The Junkyard is run by Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), who seems to have a permanent smirk and who speaks like an evil Queen in an Italian Hercules film.  But, and this is largely due to McIntosh’s performance and her chemistry with Andrew Lincoln, Jadis is still likable.  When she and Rick finally formed their alliance, I was happy because Jadis looks like she’s going to be a valuable ally in the inevitable battle with the Saviors.  Seriously, who doesn’t want to see Jadis kick Negan’s ass?

Of course, before Rick could talk to Jadis, he had to defeat an armor-covered walker that the Junkyard crew appeared to be using as a gladiator.  That was exciting and it’s nice to see that The Walking Dead is trying to think up new things to do with their undead.

But, ultimately, this show was all about Carol and Daryl.  Daryl has been hiding out at the Kingdom.  When Richard told Daryl that he had an idea for how they could convince Ezekiel to go to war with the Saviors, Daryl was all ears until he discovered that Richard’s plan involved leading the Saviors to Carol.  “She’s going to die anyway!”  Richard exclaimed.

Obviously, Richard doesn’t know Carol!

After giving Richard the beat down that he deserved for underestimating Carol, Daryl went to Carol’s cabin and seriously, their time together was everything.  For once, we got a moment of joy in this relentlessly grim series.

I always love the scenes between Carol and Daryl.  I love the way that both Daryl and Carol drop their guard when they’re together.  At its best, The Walking Dead has always centered around the question of how people can keep their humanity, even in the worst of circumstances.  Tonight, Carol and Daryl provided that humanity.

This was a good episode, one that reminded me why I watch this show in the first place.  Let’s hope that the rest of season 7 is just as good!

TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.9 “Rock in the Road” (dir by Greg Nicotero)


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Well, The Walking Dead is back and again, I am going to try to watch and review each episode for the Shattered Lens.  You may remember that I attempted to do this during the first half of season 7.  I reviewed the first five episodes of the new season and then…

Well, how to put this?

I got bored.

Seriously, I tried to make excuses for the glacial pace of season 7.  I kept telling myself that it was actually a brilliant narrative decision.  I defended the controversial first episode and I’ll continue to do so.  I enjoyed the second episode, largely because of the tiger.  But, after that, I started to get bored.  Each episode introduced us to a new community of boring people.  Each episode featured a lot of conversation but little action.  And what little action there was regularly interrupted by Negan popping up and screaming for half an hour.  As much as I like character development and conversation, this is a show about the end of the world.  There’s only so much time that I can spend watching Rick look depressed.

And so, after five episodes, I gave up on the first half of season 7.  It was just too slow and the show was spending so much time on what a badass Negan supposedly was that the zombies had become an afterthought.  Did season 7 really need a special 90 minute episode of Negan acting like a dick?  I still watched the show but mentally, I checked out.  And, judging by how the ratings cratered between the 1st episode (8.7 million viewers) and the 8th episode (5 million viewers), I was not alone in being dissatisfied.

But, in the break between the end of the first half of season 7 and tonight’s return, I’ve had time to recover.  Today, as I debated whether to actually watch the new episode of The Walking Dead, I considered that this show has hit rough spots in the past.  It’s never been a perfect show.  I wasn’t a huge fan of season 1 and, in later seasons,  I thought they spent way too much time at Herschel’s farm.  But, in the past, when The Walking Dead has needed to deliver, that’s exactly what it’s done.  In short, I decided to give The Walking Dead a second chance.

And, having just watched tonight’s episode, I’m glad that I did.  Rock in the Road was a good episode.  In fact, it may have been the best episode since The Well.  There were still flaws, of course.  As any true Walking Dead fan knows, this show has always been uneven.  The Walking Dead is a gloriously imperfect show but, at its best, it’s the type of show that can almost make those flaws seem admirable.  It’s easy to get frustrated with The Walking Dead‘s leisurely pace and rambling narrative.  But, ultimately, that leisurely pace has also led to some of The Walking Dead‘s most resonant moments.

Much like every other episode so far in season 7, Rock in the Road told its story slowly but, at the same time, it at least had a destination in mind.  Rick has finally snapped out of his self-pity and is now trying to build an alliance to fight Negan and the Saviors.  As this episode showed, it won’t necessarily be easy.  But, at least Rick is actually trying to do something!

There are several reasons why Rock in the Road was a noticeable improvement over the first half of the season.  Here’s a few:

  1. Action Rick is more fun than Shellshocked Rick.  As an actor, Andrew Lincoln is far more compelling when he’s standing up for himself than when he’s being grimly morose.  To be honest, I’ve never been sold on Rick as a leader.  When I watched him trying to build up his anti-Negan alliance, I found myself wondering if people were aware that Rick doesn’t exactly have a great track record as far as keeping people alive is concerned.  But, in the end, it didn’t matter.  Action Rick is fun, even if you know all of his plans are doomed to go terribly wrong.
  2. This episode actually had a few moments of humor.  The first half of season 7 was way too grim.  Just because the world is ending, that doesn’t mean people are going to stop being snarky.
  3. Ezekiel!  The first community that Rick and his group visited was the Kingdom so they got to meet King Ezekiel and Shiva.  Ezekiel and the Kingdom were the highlight of the first half of season 7 and it looks like that might be true for the second half as well.  I loved the entire sequence at the Kingdom, everything from Ezekiel’s promise to have an answer by “the morrow” to the wonderful moment when Jesus realized that he had forgotten everyone’s names.
  4. No Negan!  Well, that’s not quite true.  We heard Negan’s voice but, for the first time in a long time, we had an episode where the entire narrative didn’t have to stop just so Negan could launch another one of his insane gym coach monologues.  Like most great villains, Negan works best in small doses.
  5. That final scene!  I’m going to guess from the lack of men and children that those were Oceansiders who were surrounding Rick.  Rick’s smile provided a wonderful final shot for this episode.  When he flashed that smile, I realized that the old Rick was finally back.

I was really happy with Rock in the Road.  In fact, I’m happy enough to actually watch next week as well.  Hopefully, this episode will be the start of season 7’s redemption.

A Few Thoughts on The Walking Dead 7.4 “Service” (dir by David Boyd)


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I’m going to try to keep this short.

I like The Walking Dead.  Almost all of my friends like The Walking Dead, though there’s also a large number who have recently decided to abandon the show.  In general, we’re fans of The Walking Dead here at the Shattered Lens.

But tonight’s episode was a real chore to sit through.  After all the hype and all the promises that something big was going to happen during tonight’s special 90-minute program, Service turned out to be a big bunch of nothing.  Negan showed up at Alexandria.  Negan acted like an asshole.  Negan left.

THAT WAS THE ENTIRE FUCKING SHOW!

The thing is — we already know that Negan is an asshole.  We know that he’s a bully.  We know that he’s a sick and irredeemable bastard.  And I’m not sure that the show really needed to devote 90 minutes to reminding us about what we already know.  To be honest, the entire Negan terrorizes Alexandria thing could have been handled in 30 minutes.  That would have left the 2nd half of the episode for … well, something!  Something more than the same crap that we’ve been seeing since season 7 began!  I don’t have a problem with the show being disturbing, violent, or even depressing.  I do have a problem with the show being tedious and that’s the best way to describe tonight’s episode.

Quite frankly, I’ve had enough of neutered Rick.  During tonight’s episode, Rick had plenty of opportunities to do something to stop Negan.  When they were visiting the graveyard, he could have set up an ambush.  When Negan was standing right out in the open, he could have had a sniper open fire.  At one point, Negan even let Rick hold Lucille!

And Rick did nothing.

Where is the Rick who shot zombie Sophia without a hint of emotion?  That’s the Rick we need!  No more of this boring, teary-eyed, shellshocked Rick.  We need our old Rick back and we need him now!  If Rick can’t can’t lead his group, he needs to step aside for someone who can.

And Rick, for God’s sake, remember that there’s no crying in the zombie apocalypse!

There are only four episodes left before season 7 goes on hiatus.  I am sincerely hoping that those 4 episode will amount to something than just four hours of Negan taunting Rick.

At the very least, we need at least one more episode with King Ezekiel and Shiva…

 

 

A Few Thoughts On The Walking Dead 7.3 “The Cell” (dir by Alrick Riley)


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I’ve been on twitter, reading everyone’s reactions to the latest episode of The Walking Dead, and I’ve noticed a definite pattern.

People who read the comic along with watching the TV show seemed to be pretty excited by tonight’s episode.  They were happy that Dwight (played by Austin Amelio) and his wife, Sherry (Christine Evangelista), were prominently featured.  I mean, make no mistake.  This episode may have technically been a Daryl episode but, for the most part, it was pretty much set up to highlight Dwight and Sherry.

Of course, it was also set up to give us some insight into the way that Negan runs things.  We got to see the Sanctuary, the home base of the Saviors, and it’s not really that surprising that it turned out to be the testosterone-fueled Hellhole of everyone’s nightmares.  On the plus side, the Sanctuary has power.  It has music.  It has a TV, though there doesn’t appear to be any good programming.  Is a world where the only available entertainment features Tony Danza a world worth saving?

And Negan — well, Negan’s still an asshole.  He’s still strutting around with Lucille, bullying everyone that he comes in contact with.  Obviously, we were meant to compare Negan’s leadership style to King Ezekiel’s.  Ezekiel rules through fantasy.  Negan rules through fear.  No wonder Gordon tried to leave.

(Gordon’s execution would have been far more powerful if we had more of an idea of who Gordon was meant to be.  Then again, that scene was more about Dwight than Gordon.)

Negan is also trying to brainwash Daryl and it’s obvious that Dwight is more than a little jealous.  I liked the fact that Dwight didn’t seem to know if he wanted to kill Daryl or beg Daryl to be his best friend.  Watching Negan and Daryl, I couldn’t help but think about Merle and the Governor.  Of course, that didn’t end well as far as the Dixon family is concerned…

As I said, those who read the comic appeared to enjoy tonight’s episode.  On the other hand, viewers who weren’t familiar with the comic seemed to be a bit disappointed.  On twitter, they complained that tonight’s episode was too slow and anti-climatic.  Interestingly enough, a lot of them said the same thing about last week’s episode with King Ezekiel.

Myself, I have to say that The Cell didn’t do much for me.  Last week’s episode may have been slow but, after all the shit that went down in the premiere, I was kind of thankful for a slow episode that featured at least a little humor.  But with The Cell, The Walking Dead essentially followed one slow episode with another slow episode, the difference being that this one didn’t really accomplish much.

As I watched day-to-day life in the Sanctuary, I couldn’t help but think about Lost.  You remember when Jack, Sawyer, and Kate ended up spending a handful of episodes living with The Others?  The society of the Others was genuinely interesting.  You could actually imagine watching an alternate version of Lost where the Others would have been the main characters and the Oceanic passengers would have been the rarely seen villains.

You really can’t say the same of The Saviors and life at Sanctuary.  The Saviors may be scary and menacing and dangerous but they’re also more than a little boring.  I’ve praised Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance in the past but, with tonight’s episode, I started to wonder if there was anything more to Morgan’s Negan than what we’ve already seen.  Yes, Negan’s a bully.  Yes, he’s an asshole.  Yes, I’d love to see him devoured by a walker.  But I could say the same about a lot of the characters on The Walking Dead.  What is it about the television version of Negan that sets him apart from every other wannabe dictator on this show?

To a certain extent, it reminded me of when Colin Hanks showed up as a serial killer on Dexter.  I watched him and I thought, “Yeah, he’s pretty fucked up but who isn’t on this show?”  At this point, just being fucked up isn’t enough.

What the show needs is one episode — just one — where Negan isn’t bellowing and threatening everyone that he sees.  We need one episode where we can see who Negan was before the zombie apocalypse and who he is now when he’s not hiding behind Lucille.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a seriously talented actor and he’s capable of a lot more than just playing a one-dimensional villain.

I hope that The Walking Dead eventually gives him a chance to show everyone how true that is.

I do want to end this review on a positive note so I will say two things:

  1. This episode was directed by Alrick Riley, who previously directed several episodes of an intriguing British spy show called MI5 (a.k.a. Spooks).
  2. That scene with the walker falling out of the sky totally freaked me out!

 

 

Back to School Part II #56: Everybody Wants Some!! (dir by Richard Linklater)


(For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of today, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horrorthon!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)

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Well, here we are!  It’s taken nearly four weeks but we have reached the conclusion of Back to School Part II!  I started this series by taking a look at Teenage Devil Dolls.  Along the way, I’ve reviewed everything from Andy Warhol’s Vinyl, A Clockwork Orange, Animal House, and Can’t Hardly Wait to Hollywood High and Keith.  I’ve even found an excuse to review four different Degrassi films!  I’ve had a lot of fun but, with October approaching, I’m happy to be finishing up this series of reviews so that I can concentrate on the TSL’s annual horrorthon!

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!

Everbody Wants Some!! generated a small flurry of excitement when it was first released back in March.  Not only was it Linklater’s first narrative film since the critically acclaimed Boyhood but it was also advertised as being a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused.  Like Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! was a period piece that would follow an ensemble of Texas teenagers over the course of one long weekend, the big difference being that Everybody Wants Some!! would take place in 1980 (as opposed to 1976) and it would deal with college freshmen (instead of high school juniors).  There were even a few articles that pointed out that several of the actors in Everybody Wants Some!! physically resembled some of the actors in Dazed and Confused.

(Seriously, Glen Powell looks like he could be Matthew McConaughey’s younger brother.)

The film was well-reviewed by critics, even though few of the reviews were as rapturous as the reviews that greeted previous Linklater films like Boyhood and Before Midnight.  As for the audience reaction … well, Everybody Wants Some!! was not exactly embraced by audiences.  I saw it at the Alamo Drafthouse and the theater was nearly deserted.  (Considering that the Alamo’s audience prides itself on embracing independent film, a near-empty theater for a showing of a Linklater film is not a good sign.)  The few people in the theater seemed to feel that the film went on for too long and that it needed a stronger plot.  That’s a complaint that I’ve heard a lot of people make against Everybody Wants Some!!

It’s not a complaint that I agree with.  Those who complained that Everybody Wants Some!! was essentially plotless obviously haven’t seen many Richard Linklater films.  Though Linklater has made his share of commercial films, his more personal work — like Everybody Wants Some!! — is often plotless.  That’s actually one the keys to Linklater’s aesthetic.  He’s more interested in recreating a specific time and place and observing how different characters react to their environment than he is in telling conventional stories.  A film like Everybody Wants Some!! is less about telling a story with a definite beginning and end and more about capturing a very specific experience.

And, on that level, the film definitely succeeds.  Watching Everybody Wants Some!!, you literally do feel as if you’ve stepped into a time machine and you’ve been transported to the past.  Jake (Blake Jenner), a college freshman who is attending fictional Southeast Texas College on a scholarship, may be the main character but, ultimately, he’s not that important.  More important is seeing how people lived, interacted, and thought in 1980.  Everybody Wants Some!! is a time capsule film.

(Apparently, it’s a bit of an autobiographical film as well.  Cinema snobs like me tend to forget that, before he became a filmmaker, Linklater was a jock who, like Jake, attended college on a baseball scholarship.  As much as we may not want to admit it, not all artistic geniuses spent high school writing angsty poetry about eating disorders.  Some of them played sports.)

Everybody Wants Some!! follows Jake and his fellow baseball players over the course of the weekend before classes begin.  One night, they end up in a redneck bar.  Another night, they end up at a punk club.  They go to a drama department party.  They practice baseball.  They all drink.  Some of them smoke weed.  Some of them get laid.  And, at the end of the weekend, two of them sit down in their first class of the semester and promptly fall asleep.

One problem that I did have with Everybody Wants Some!! is that, as good as job as it does of creating a time and place, it didn’t necessarily convince me that it was a time in which I would want to live in.  As I stated earlier, Everybody Wants Some!! was promoted as being a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused.  However, Dazed and Confused featured a greater variety of characters.  Practically everyone of note in Everybody Wants Some!! is a member of the school’s baseball team.  True, some of them are smarter than others.  Some of them smoke weed.  Some of them are ultra religious.  But, ultimately, they’re all jocks and they’re all frat boys.  How much you enjoy hanging out with these characters will depend on how much tolerance you have for jocks, frat boys, and their hyper-masculine rituals.  Whenever I’ve seen Dazed and Confused, I’ve thought to myself that if I had been alive and in high school in 1976, I would have wanted to be friends with at least a few of the characters.  On the other hand, if I had been alive and in college in 1980, I would have gone out of my way to avoid that baseball team.

(And, as a result, I probably would have missed a chance to meet Richard Linklater!  There’s a lesson to be learned there.)

Ultimately, though, Everybody Wants Some!! succeeds because, even if the characters aren’t particularly likable, the film itself does capture the feeling and the excitement of having your entire future ahead of you.  Admittedly, there’s a hint of melancholy running through the film.  One character is revealed to be a 30-something imposter who regularly uses a false identity to enroll in different colleges because he loves to play baseball but he knows that he’ll never succeed in the major leagues.  Throughout the film, there are hints that none of these baseball players are ever going to be as successful as they are during that one particular weekend.  But, ultimately, the film tells us that the future doesn’t matter.  What matters is that, for that one weekend, they had their entire future ahead of them and it seemed like anything was possible.

Everybody Wants Some!! may not be Linklater’s best but it definitely deserves to be seen!

(And that concludes Back to School!  Thank you everyone for reading!  Love you!)