Film Review: Frances (dir by Graeme Clifford)


Frances Farmer is one of the more tragic figures to come out of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

A talented and beautiful actress, Frances Farmer came out to Hollywood in the 30s and quickly developed a reputation for being difficult.  She was politically outspoken at a time when stars were expected to either be apolitical or unquestioningly patriotic.  She criticized scripts.  She argued with directors and studio heads.  She had a well-publicized affair with communist playwright Clifford Odets and she also had numerous run-ins with the police.  Some say that she was alcoholic.  Some say that she was bipolar.  Some say that she had a mental collapse as the result of the pressure that her mother put on her to succeed.  Frances Farmer ended up in mental institution, where she was subjected to shock therapy.  After she was released, her film career was basically over, though she did end up hosting a local television program.  She died in 1970, reportedly alone and struggling to make ends meet.  In a posthumously published autobiography called Will There Ever Be A Morning?, she wrote that she was beaten, sexually abused, and eventually given a lobotomy while she was institutionalized.  Over the years, there’s been a lot of doubt about whether or not Farmer was actually lobotomized but there is no doubt that Farmer was a woman who was ultimately punished for being ahead of her time.  Frances Farmer refused to conform to the safe manufactured image that Hollywood prepared for her and, for that, she was nearly destroyed.

The 1983 film, Frances, is a biopic of Frances Farmer, starring Jessica Lange as Frances and Kim Stanley as her domineering mother.  It opens with Frances writing a school essay about why she’s an atheist and it ends with her smiling blankly at a television camera, her independent spirit broken by a lobotomy.  In between, we watch as Frances goes to Hollywood and has a self-destructive affair with Clifford Odets (played by Jeffrey DeMunn).  The infamous moment when Frances was dragged out of a courtroom while screaming at the judge is recreated and Frances’s time in the institution is depicted in Hellish detail.

We also learn about Frances’s relationship with a communist writer named Alvin York (Sam Shepard).  It seems like whenever Frances needs to be rescued or just needs someone to talk to, Alvin York pops up.  In fact, you could almost argue that York pops up too often.  Alvin York was a fictional character, one who was apparently created in order for audiences to have someone to relate to.  It’s unfortunate that the film felt that the audience would only be able to relate to Frances if it viewed her life through the eyes of a fictional character because York’s character is a bit of a distraction.  Sam Shepard does a good job of playing him and I certainly wasn’t shocked to learn that Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange were romantically involved during the filming of Frances (and for a long time afterwards) because Lange and Shepard do have a very real chemistry.  However, from a narrative point of view, Alvin York only works as a character if one accepts that he’s a figment of Frances’s imagination.  The film’s insistence that York is an actual person who just happens to show up at every important moment of Frances’s life just doesn’t work.

What does work is Jessica Lange’s performance.  Lange is amazing in the role of Frances, whether she’s playing Frances as a hopeful idealist, an out-of-control rebel, or, tragically, as a glass-eyed zombie who has been reduced to appearing on television and assuring audiences that her rebellious days are over.  Lange was nominated for Best Actress for Frances.  She lost to Meryl Streep for Sophie’s Choice.  I’ve seen Sophie’s Choice and Meryl was good but Jessica was better.

Frances was originally offered to David Lynch.  He turned the film down so he could work on Dune and instead, the film was directed by Graeme Clifford, who takes a far more straight-forward approach to the material than Lynch would have.  Still, Lynch’s interest in Frances Farmer would later lead to him working on stories that centered around a “woman in trouble.”  One of those stories became Twin Peaks.  Another would become Mulholland Drive.

18 Days of Paranoia #11: Betrayed (dir by Costa-Gavras)


The 1988 film, Betrayed, starts out on a strong note but then quickly becomes annoying as Hell.

It opens with shots of a radio talk show host, an outspoken liberal named Sam Kraus (Richard Libertini).  Kraus berates his callers.  Kraus ridicules anyone who is to the left of Bernie Sanders.  When a man with a rural-accent calls in and attacks Karus for being Jewish, Kraus calls the man an idiot.  After he gets off the air, Kraus walks through a parking garage and stops in front of his car.  Another car pulls up beside Kraus and suddenly, a masked man with a gun opens fire on Kraus, killing him.  The gunman gets out of the car and spray paints, “ZOG” on Kraus’s car before then fleeing the garage.

(ZOG stands for Zionist Occupational Government.  It’s a term used by the type of anti-Semitic dipshits who thinks that the Protocols of Elder Zion are real.)

From this shockingly brutal opening, we cut to panoramic shots of beautiful farmland and crops being harvested in the American midwest, the heartland.  Gary Simmons (Tom Berenger) owns a farm.  He’s a Vietnam vet who nearly received the medal of honor.  He lives with his mother and he has two children.  (He’s divorced and his ex-wife died as the result of a mysterious hit-and-run in California.)  Almost everyone in his small hometown seems to worship Gary.  They’re certainly curious about his new girlfriend, Katie Phillips (Debra Winger).

And really, they probably should be.  Katie Phillips isn’t Katie Phillips at all.  She’s actually an FBI agent named Cathy Weaver and she’s been sent undercover to investigate whether or not Gary was involved in the murder of Kraus.  Cathy, who comes from a broken family and who we’re told has always been seeking some sort of deeper meaning in her life, is charmed by both Gary and his family.  In fact, she falls in love with Gary.  She tells her superior, Mike Carnes (John Heard), that there’s no way Gary is dangerous.  Mike doesn’t believe her but, of course, Mike has a personal stake in this because he and Cathy used to be romantically involved.

(That’s right, everyone.  Betrayed is so narratively lazy that it resorts to making Mike a scorned lover, even though the film’s plot would have worked just as well if he wasn’t.)

As I said, the first part of the movie works.  Debra Wingers gives a strong performance and Tom Berenger is a charming roughneck.  For the first half-hour or so, the film does a good job of showing why men like Gary and his friends are susceptible to conspiracy theories and why they feel that the entire world is stacked against them.  You can understand why Cathy is so troubled by her assignment because Gary’s friends are hardly master criminals.  For the most part, they’re farmers who feel like their entire way of life has been taken away from them.

Unfortunately, almost immediately after Mike refuses to allow her to end her investigation, Cathy returns to the farm and sleeps with Gary.  Not only is this a plot development a disservice to everything that has previously been established about Cathy as a character but it also marks the point where the movie entirely falls apart.  Immediately after sleeping with Cathy, Gary suddenly goes from being a complex but troubled character to being a cartoonish super villain.  And listen — we’ve all been there.  You meet a guy.  He’s handsome.  He says all the right things.  He seems like he’s sensitive.  He makes you feel safe.  You let down your defenses for one night and the next morning, he’s yelling at you for wearing a short skirt in public.  It happens.  Of course, in Gary’s case, it means that he’s not only criticizing the way that Cathy dresses but he’s also taking her on a hunt where the prey is terrified person of color who Gary and his friends have kidnapped.  It also means that Gary drags Cathy along on a bank robbery and then expects her to join him when he wants to assassinate a presidential candidate.  Even after all that, Cathy remains conflicted about what to do with Gary.  The problem is that it’s not like Gary’s a guy who needs sensitivity training or who spends too much time watching ESPN.  Gary is a guy who is carting around weapons and talking about how he wants to kill “mud people.”  That Cathy still has mixed emotions after all of that goes against everything that the film previously asked us to believe about her.  Gary becomes too cartoonish to be plausible and, as a result, he drags down Cathy’s character as well.

Unfortunately, as the film’s narrative falls apart, so do the majority of the performances.  While Debra Winger struggles to make her character’s motivations plausible, Tom Berenger is reduced to doing a lot of glaring.  (Poor John Heard spends most of the movie shouting and bugging his eyes.)  About the only actor who comes out Betrayed unscathed is John Mahoney, who plays Shorty.  Shorty is one of Gary’s friends.  He’s a friendly and personable guy who seems to sincerely care about everyone and who has a charmingly gentle smile.  He’s also a total racist and the contrast between Shorty’s amiable nature and his hateful thoughts provide the latter half of Betrayed with its only powerful moments.  Mahoney gets one big scene, where he talks to Cathy about how much he hates violence but, at the same time, he feels that the world has left him no other choice.  Mahoney does a great job with his small role.  It’s unfortunate that the rest of Betrayed couldn’t live up to his performance.

Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet
  7. Cuban Rebel Girls
  8. The French Connection II
  9. Blunt: The Fourth Man 
  10. The Quiller Memorandum

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Marshall (dir by Reginald Hudlin)


So, here I am.  January is nearly over.  The Oscar nominations have already been announced.  2018 is well under way and yet, I still have 158 films on the DVR that I need to watch and a few 2017 releases that I still need to catch up on.  At this point, I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never truly be “caught up” when it comes to watching movies.  But, that’s okay.  I love movies too much to ever regret having an excuse to watch more.

On Wednesday night, I watched Marshall, which came out last October.  A film about the early life of civil rights activist and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, Marshall seemed like a movie that would perfectly capitalize on the current political atmosphere.  The film starred Josh Gad and Chadwick Boseman and a lot of people — including me — assumed that the excitement over Boseman as Black Panther would also translate into excitement over a chance to see him in this film.  (For that matter, Josh Gad has also recently been proving himself to be a far better actor than I originally believed him to be.  Never again will I refer to Gad as being the poor man’s Jonah Hill.)  The film’s reviews were respectable.  Quite a few sites, including this one, listed Marshall as being a potential Oscar nominee.

And yet, when the movie was released, it fell flat at the box office.  On the week of its release, it finished in 11th place.  I guess there’s a lot of reasons for that.  Personally, I think it would have done better if the film had been released in November or December.  In a month that is traditionally dominated by horror movies and the last gasps of a few summer blockbusters, Marshall seemed somewhat out-of-place.  Perhaps Marshall would have stood a better chance if it had been given a limited release in December, with a big awards push for Chadwick Boseman.  Who knows?  As it is, it ended up losing money and it only received one Oscar nomination, for best original song.

Having now watched Marshall, I can say it’s a good movie, though perhaps never quite as good as you want it to be.  It takes place in 1940.  After making a name for himself defending blacks in the South, attorney Thurgood Marshall travels to Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) who has been accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson).  It soon becomes obvious that Northern justice is just as corrupted by bigotry as Southern justice.  A racist judge (James Cromwell) rules that Marshall will not be allowed to even speak in court.  Marshall ends up advising the chauffeur’s attorney, an insurance lawyer named Sam Friedman (Josh Gad).  All of Sam’s friends expect him to just make a deal with the smug prosecutor (Dan Stevens) and move on.  However, Sam believe his client to be not guilty and, with Marshall’s help, is determined to win an acquittal.

Director Reginald Hudlin never seems to be quite what type of movie he’s trying to make.  Sometimes, the film feels like a reverent biopic.  Other time, it’s an old-fashioned courtroom drama, complete with different flashbacks depending on who is doing the testifying.  And then other times, Marshall is an extremely stylish film that almost turns Thurgood Marshall into a comic book super hero.  Fortunately, Chadwick Boseman is such a talented and charismatic actor that he holds all of the disparate elements of the film together.  Not only does Boseman bring intelligence and righteous anger to the role, he also brings a sense of fun.  As played by Boseman, Marshall isn’t just outsmarting a prejudiced system and putting racists in their place.  He’s also having a good time while he’s doing it.  Boseman is a lot of fun to watch and he gets good support from Josh Gad and Sterling K. Brown.

Marshall may not be a perfect film but Chadwick Boseman is always watchable.  The excitement over Black Panther has proven that Boseman is a star but Marshall shows that he’s a pretty good actor as well.

A Movie A Day #166: Warning Sign (1985, directed by Hal Barwood)


The world might end, again.

There is a laboratory in the middle of the desert.  While everyone thinks that the lab is developing pesticides, it is actually a secret government facility where the scientists have developed a chemical that will turn anyone exposed to it into a homicidal maniac.  While the scientists are celebrating the success of their project, Dr. Tom Schmidt (G.W. Bailey — yes, Captain Harris from the Police Academy movies) steps on a vial and releases the chemical.  The lab locks down and the army (led by Yaphet Kotto) arrives.  The government wants to let the scientists kill each other off but a pregnant security guard (Kathleen Quinlan) is also trapped in the lab and her husband, the county sheriff (Sam Waterston), is determined to get her out.

Warning Sign was blandly directed by Hal Barwood, a longtime associate of both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.  (Barwood wrote the script for Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express and designed the title sequence for Lucas’s THX 1138.)  Barwood tried to take a very Spielbergian approach to Warning Sign, a mistake because successfully imitating Spielberg is easier said than done.  Replace the shark with germs and the ocean with a lab on lock down and Warning Sign is  like Jaws, without any of the suspense or humor.  Sam Waterston’s germaphobic sheriff feels like a knock off of Roy Scheider’s aquaphobic police chief while Jeffrey DeMunn, as an alcoholic scientist, stands in for both Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw.    With the violence and the gore kept to a minimum, this is one of the most tasteful zombie films ever made.  Just compare it to George Romero’s The Crazies (or even the remake) to see how needlessly safe Warning Sign is.

Shattered Politics #52: Blaze (dir by Ron Shelton)


Blaze_imp

Oh those crazy Southern politicians!

As I’ve mentioned in a few other reviews, filmmakers have always loved to make movies about the crazy demagogues that we have historically tended to elect down here in the South.  Sometimes, those movies are serious and thought-provoking, like All The King’s Men.  And sometimes, like in Hold That Co-Ed, a film will attempt to play up the inherent humor in rabble rousing.  And then you’ve got films like Ada and Hurry Sundown, which are so melodramatic that those of us down South just have to shake our heads in amazement that people up North actually believe this stuff.

The 1989 film Blaze (which is currently making the rounds on cable) is a part of this cinematic tradition of films about flamboyant Southern politicians.  It’s part comedy and part melodrama and, perhaps not surprisingly, it takes place in 1950s Louisiana.

(Why isn’t that surprising? Listen, my family used to live in Louisiana.  I still visit Louisiana on a fairly regularly basis.  Louisiana is crazy.  That’s one reason why I love it.)

Blaze is based on the true story of Gov. Earl K. Long (played here by Paul Newman).  The younger brother of former Governor Huey P. Long (who himself served as the basis for the character of Willie Stark in All The King’s Men), Earl served as governor for three non-consecutive terms.  He was a flamboyant populist, in the style of his older brother, the type who campaigned as one of the “common” people and who was either extremely corrupt or extremely progressive, depending on which historian you happen to be reading.

In Blaze, Earl is nearing the end of his third term.  Because the state’s constitution does not allow a governor to succeed himself, Earl is currently campaigning for lieutenant governor, with the plan being that one of Earl’s allies will be elected governor and will then resign so that Earl can succeed him.  While this is traditionally the sort of thing that voters in Louisiana would love, Earl is struggling because some voters are angry over his support for the civil rights movement.

Earl is also struggling because he’s just met Blaze Starr (Lolita Davidovich), a much younger stripper from West Virginia.  For Earl, it’s love at first sight and soon, Blaze feels the same way.  Soon, she and Earl are going across the state together.  However, after Earl’s opponents arrange for him to be sent to a mental asylum, Blaze is forced to consider that she might be too big of a political liability to remain with the man she loves.

If that all sounds incredibly romanticized — well, it is.  After I watched Blaze, I did a little bit research on Earl and Blaze.  To say the film is fictionalized would be an understatement.  (Though, interestingly enough, Earl actually was sent to a mental asylum while serving as governor.)  But is that really a surprise?  Would audiences rather watch a movie about a corrupt, old racist who regularly cheated on his wife or would they rather watch a romanticized love story with hissable villains and moments of crowd-pleasing comedy?

As for the film itself, it’s okay.  It moves a bit too slowly for its own good and it’s never quite as enthralling as you might hope it would be, but both Paul Newman and Lolita Davidovich are well-cast and have a likable chemistry.  I related to the film’s version of Blaze Starr, mostly because we’re both redheads with big boobs who have a natural distrust of authority figures.  If you’re into Southern politics and you’re not obsessed with historical accuracy, you might enjoy Blaze.

 

Quickie Review: By Dawn’s Early Light (dir. by Jack Sholder)


bydawnsearlylight

1990’s By Dawn’s Early Light is a telefilm adaptation by HBO of William Prochnau’s novel Trinity’s Child. The movie when it first aired on HBO seemed dated since the Soviet Union was ultimately going through its death throes as the military build-up initiated during the Reagan Administration crippled the USSR economically as they too tried to match the build-up in conventional and nuclear forces. Yet, despite the ending of the Cold War recent events domestically and around the world has made this HBO film seem less dated and quite timely.

The film is simplicity in the way the plot unfolds. A failed coup by dissident Soviet military commanders fails, but it’s after-effects of creating a “hot war” between the US and the USSR succeeds as both US President and Soviet Premiere make mistakes in their decisions. Decisions heavily influenced by their military commanders who see only black and white in how their respective nations should respond militarily. By Dawn’s Early Light shares some similarities to the classic 60’s Cold War films like Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe. Both films deal with the human frailties and flaws helping influence events that could lead to nuclear armagaddon for the whole planet. By Dawn’s Early Light concentrates on several storylines to highlight the stress and difficulties individuals must face to either follow their orders to their inevitable conclusion or allow their conscience to help make their decisions in trying to stop the madness spiraling out of control. Though some people’s decisions are left wanting, the film ends with a glimmer of hope that may just bring the world from the brink of annihilation.

The acting by the cast of Rebecca DeMornay, Powers Boothe, James Earl Jones, Darrin McGavin, Martin Landau and Rip Torn are well done. Rebeccan DeMornay and Powers Boothe anchor one of the subplots as romantically involved B-52 crew pilots whose conflict comes from their own intimate closeness affecting command decisions and from the stress of families lost by the rest of the bomber crew. Darrin McGavin, Rip Torn and Martin Landau anchor the other subplot of competing Presidents. One a physically incapacitated US leader trying to avert escalating the conflict to the point of no return with another recently sworn in who fears of losing a nuclear war and thus wanting to strike back full and hard. In between these two leaders is the diabolical performance by Rip Torn as a warmongering Army colonel who sees only winning the war as the only objective. For a telefilm the acting is above-par and bordering on excellent. There’s not a weak link in this cast.

In the end, the film might look abit dated in its production design, but the story itself is very current and relevant.  What might have been a nice Cold War relic fairy tale when it first aired in 1990 on HBO has taken on more of a cautionary tale as more nations begin to acquire nuclear weapons with some of these nations not just enemies of the US and the world in general, but also led by men whose hold on sanity seem tenuous at best. By Dawn’s Early Light is a great piece political “what if” that hopefully remains just that and not a prediction of reality to come.

Review: The Walking Dead S2E10 “18 Miles Out”


“It’s time for you to come back.” — Rick Grimes

[some spoilers]

The Glen Mazzara era of The Walking Dead has done a very good job of speeding things along after an almost glacial pace that we got from the first half of the season. While the mid-season premiere with “Nebraska” continued some of the flaws which viewers and fans complained about in regards to the first half of the season it ended with a sequence which showed that Mazzara and his writers may have turned a corner from the more cinematic storytelling-style Darabont brought to the show. With last week’s episode, “Triggerfinger”, the show continues to make strides in adding a sense of desperation to the proceedings even when zombies are not involved.

Fans of the comic book and genre fans will always be thankful for Frank Darabont and his diligence in getting the comic book adapted to the tv screen, but with these last two episodes and then tonight’s “18 Miles Out” now in the bag we’ve begun to see that Frank’s style of drawing things out may have been hampering the show this season. Whether it was his vision for how the show was to unfold or just his style of storytelling, Frank’s first half of season 2 had lost that sense of danger that the show had built with a truncated first season. Tonight’s latest episode was a prime example of why it might have been the right call to let Darabont go and put a seasoned tv veteran on the helm.

We enter “18 Miles Out” in medias res just like episode 3 (one of the best episodes of this current season) and it’s a good sign of things to come for this episode. Before continuing I must say that anyone who still complains that the show was not showing enough zombie action need to sit down and just shut up or just stop watching a show that they’ve already decided to complain about no matter how good or bad each future episodes turn out.

With the past regime the issue with the character Randall recovering after his encounter with the spiked fence and Rick in the previous episode would’ve taken the rest of the season, but instead we’ve skipped a whole week in the show’s timeline as Rick and Shane drive 18 miles out of the farm to let the recovered kid go on his merry own way. This cold opening has Rick and Shane on the run from zombies with Randall still tied up and crawling his way towards a knife that could be his only salvation. For cold openings this one was actually pretty action-packed and full of tension that the episode will just continue to build on.

The episode switches back and forth between the adventures of Rick and Shane w/ Randall and the going’s on back on the farm with the youngest Greene daughter, Beth and her sudden crisis of of faith. Whenever scenes of the farm came on the screen in the past I’m sure there were much groaning and mumbling about how things were now about to slow down. For the first time in this season the farm without zombies was just as tense as the scenes with Rick and his group avoiding a group of zombies. The first season and some of the early parts of season 2 saw Andrea also go through the same crisis as Beth Greene goes through tonight. It’s a crisis born out of hopelessness about the situation they’re now in. Hershel has had to adjust to the revelation that what he thought about the zombies were all wrong and now his youngest must go through something same thing. Beth contemplates and even pleads with her older sister, Maggie, that there’s nothing left out in the world and just trying to persevere and move on was a wasted effort with the only guarantee was to be “gutted” by the very things they first thought were people who could be cured.

This situation back at the farm brings to a head what looks like the female version of the Rick and Shane power struggle. On one side we see Lori trying to raise Beth’s spirits and trying to bring what she calls a sense of “normalcy” in their chaotic new world. On the other side is Andrea whose has gone through what Beth is going through and doesn’t disagree with it. She sees it as an option that she was denied by Dale at the end of the last season and she won’t disagree and deny Beth the same choice. The confrontation between Lori and Andrea about this very subject matter brings to mind just how much Andrea has begun to see Shane as the leader of the group. While Lori still comes off across as somewhat of a shrew she does seem to be more in agreement with her husband’s way of thinking even in this zombie apocalypse.

This encounter between the group’s leading ladies just continues to highlight how much the show has moved to warp speed in abandoning the teasing of the first half of the season and just letting all the cards on the table in terms of each character’s motivations and agendas.

While the scenes at the farm were pretty good the highlight of the episode has to be the travails that Rick, Shane and Randall encounter 18 miles out. We see Rick finally have that “talk” with Shane about everything which has occurred while he was in a coma and since. There were several moments in this half of the episode’s story that showed not just Shane in a bad light but Rick as well as decisions have to be made to see who will survive the zombies. How things finally come to a head by episode’s end shows just how different Rick and Shane are and just how much Shane has been posturing trying to convince everyone that he’s the only one who could make the tough choices and decisions.

“18 Miles Out” goes to great lengths to make this second half of the show’s season 2 make up for the slow pacing of the first half and it succeeds. There’s still some little nitpicks and flaws here and there in terms of dialogue and how some of the characters come off, but it looks as if Mazzara and his writers have finally realized that subtlety might not be this show’s forte and, when handled accordingly, the show can succeed with being blunt. This show looks to be finally getting it’s focus down and we get one of the series’ best episodes since the pilot and I would say it’s best episode since.

Notes

  • Some great zombie make-up work by Nicotero and his gang over at KNB EFX for tonight’s episode. With the whole episode set in the daytime they don’t have the luxury of darkness and little light to hide imperfections in the make-up work. Every zombie chasing after Rick, Shane and Randall looked to have been given the “hero” treatment.
  • Some very good zombie kills tonight with the best one coming courtesy of Rick and using another zombie he’s already put down to help aim his third kill in a row.
  • Randall, played by Michael Zegen, comes off both as a scared kid who knows that his past associations may just be the death of him, but also as someone with a mean and sadistic streak in him as shown when he plays with the one zombie before he takes it out.
  • For may be the first time in this show’s short life, so far, the show doesn’t use the full cast in the episode. In the past we may have two or three cast members not making an appearance, but tonight we almost get a whole group. Not showing up tonight: Glenn, T-Dog, Carol, Daryl, Patricia, Jimmy, Dale. It made the episode feel so much more leaner.
  • We get some bit of fallout about Glenn freezing up because of what Maggie had told him before he went to town. I don’t know if Maggie should be going to Lori for advice but what she got was the right advice despite what people may think of Lori as a character.
  • While Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene has been the more vocal and active of the Greene girls this season it was nice to see Emily Kinney get more than just a couple lines. Her predicament and how she played the role of the little girl who has lost all hope was quite good. Her message about how things were hopeless and that there really was nothing left to live for came off better than when Andrea did the same last season and earlier this season.
  • Tonight we get to see someone come off even worse than Lori. Andrea as the show has portrayed the character was already not a fan favorite, but her channeling of her inner-Shane in regards to Beth’s situation won’t be making her any new fans. It’s ironic considering how she lectured Shane about how his presentation about the right decisions left much to be desired. Her own presentation about her viewpoints was very Shane-like.
  • It’s a small step, but Sarah Wayne Callies’ performance as Lori continues to improve. We get some reasoning why she’s acted the way she has since we met her back in the pilot, but she still retains some of the shrewness that has made her hated by fans. It’ll be interesting how Mazzara and his writers balance this two sides to Lori’s character.
  • Rick and Shane finally have it out and it was quite the throwdown. One would think that Shane would have the upper-hand in this dust-up between the two friends, but Rick showed different. He may not be as cold and calculating as Shane likes to show he is, but Rick definitely showed he could handle himself not just against Shane but zombies who get the drop on him.
  • For a moment the writers almost made it so that Rick was about to pull a Shane on Shane in the end, but we see why Rick is different than his erstwhile deputy by episode’s end.
  • Shane has been one-upped by the very person he has been hounding as weak and pathetic all season and the look of impotence on Jon Bernthal’s face when this epiphany finally hits him was a great moment for this series.
  • The show has finally shown some clues as to how quickly the zombie apocalypse turned the world upside down. Two or weeks if we’re to believe what Shane told Rick in the beginning of the episode. Also, noticing how the zombie guards they put down earlier had no bites on them which goes a long way in putting The Walking Dead into Romero-style zombies.
  • Rick telling Shane to deal with how things between everyone in the group are as of now or leave. Telling him in the end to come back shows how much Rick still sees Shane as a friend who has lost his way and to come back to them instead of continuing the darker path he has set on since everything went to hell and especially since Otis.
  • Last week’s episode didn’t have a song to end the episode but tonight we have Wye Oak’s “Civilian” which went well with Shane looking at the grassy field with it’s lone zombie walking towards nowhere in particular. It was a very strong scene.

 

Review: The Walking Dead S2E9 “Triggerfinger”


“So, let’s chalk this up for what it is…wrong place, wrong time.” — Rick Grimes

It looks like no matter what some viewers may complain about The Walking Dead moving as slow as the zombies that ended the world it still manages to surprise everyone with scenes of great tension and burst of quality that we all want the show to be. This was most evident with how the mid-season return episode “Nebraska” at first seemed like it was going nowhere once again, but actually moved the story along. The ending of the previous episode helped Rick as a character grow though it also manages to make his fairer half in Lori become even more hated by most everyone with her stupid decision to try and go into town by herself.

Tonight’s episode continues the two major storylines which ended the previous episode. We get a cold opening which is terrifying despite what people may think about Lori as a character. That scene of the zombie trying to pop it’s head through the crack in the car’s windshield while Lori remained out of it then just before we segue into Bear McCreary’s opening theme she wakes up to see the half-eaten face pushing through.

The title of this latest episode is “Triggerfinger” and for the first third of the night it’s quite a proper one at that. No sooner as Rick, Hershel and Glen gather the weapons of the downed Dave of Tony from the previous episode do the trio get penned in the bar by the very friends the “would be” raiders spoke of. The episode shows just how much a danger survivors continue to be toward other survivors as cooler heads rarely prevail. Soon enough both sides are trading fire like a scene out of Rio Bravo but this time with the added danger of zombies in the midst.

During this scene between two groups trying to just survive we see differing philosophies. Rick’s group tries to defuse the situation even once the bullets start flying and when casualties begin piling up we see Rick still trying to hold onto his humanity by trying to save one of the opposing numbers who have seriously hurt himself in an attempt to leave town. The other group was shown to be more willing to cut loose anyone too injured to save themselves thus leaving them behind to the mercy of the approaching zombies. Mercies that involve the very thing some fans have complained about and that’s not enough zombie carnage. For just the second time in this show’s short life we see someone still alive being set upon by a group of zombies and eaten while still alive and screaming.

The other continuing story from the previous episode has Lori trying to survive the night after crashing her car. No matter what people personally think about Lori as a character this sequence show’ that she can go into survival mode when circumstances needs for her to suck it up and survive. She doesn’t whine or appear helpless despite the precarious situation she put herself in. The fact that people back in the farm don’t even realize she’s been gone for hours must just add fuel to the fire fans have been fanning since the show first started. The series has a role for Lori and while it seems to be one of wet blanket for the most part the ending of tonight’s episode showed that she too will do anything to try and protect her family from dangers both zombie and human.

If the last couple episodes show’s anything it’s that Glen Mazzara’s turn as replacement showrunner has added much needed energy to the show. With last week’s episode and then tonight we’ve seen more action and character developlement than the first half of this second season. There now seems to be a feeling of desperation in how things have started to unfold. We still get some quieter moments between characters back on the Greene farm, but they’re not as prevalent as they’ve been in the past. Again I think this positive development has to be laid down at the feet of veteran tv show producer Glen Mazzara who understands that tv shows rely on keeping it’s audience’s attention focused on what’s going on the screen. So far, he and his writers have been doing a good job in moving the show with much forward momentum and keeping things that would slow it down to a minimum. As much as I love Frank Darabont for bringing this show to tv I think him being replaced was just what this show needed to succeed in the long run.

Notes

  • Now that is what I call a scary opening. I’m sure many people watching tonight’s episode were hoping the zombie got through the windshield and chowed down on Lori, but then we wouldn’t have seen how badass she can be when the chips are down. Her actions in this sequence and in the episode’s end was a nice bookend in helping grow this character beyond the harping shrew many have been calling her.
  • Her reaction to another Shane lie and then her own reveal to him about their relationship to Rick goes a long way in making her go beyond much-hated character to one that’s conflicted but set in trying to fix what she thinks was a mistake that should never have happened.
  • It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the group, especially for the Grimes clan, now that Shane looks to have been shot down once again by the woman he says he love and done so in a way that leaves him with no opening for redemption. The fact that Lori has repeated Dale’s own suspicions about Shane’s role in Otis’ death all the way back in episode 3 of this season show’s that Shane was losing the support of the very person he believes he’s protecting. With talk of actor Jon Bernthal being coveted by Frank Darabont to star in his police detective tv series it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Shane’s much-delayed demise will not have a clock counting down. Whether that clock strikes “zero” before or right at this season’s finale will be speculated on by fans for weeks to come.
  • I like how the show has made the little character details really stand out since Mazzara and crew took over from Darabont. I don’t know if anyone else picked up on it, but during the gunfight back in town we finally hear Hershel leave behind any notion of what he thought about the zombies as being people just sick when he began to call them walkers as he and Glenn tried to survive against the other group of survivors.
  • Tonight’s episode goes a long way in making Hershel the new right-hand man for Rick. While Hershel looks to still be upset by what Rick’s group did with the barn zombies he has at least begun to admit both in his language and mannerisms that Rick had been right all along and that he now needs to protect his own family and Rick’s group may be a key to their survival.
  • Love Hershel puts Shane in his place after Shane once again tries to kneecap Rick’s place as group leader. Tonight really was a coming out party for Scott Wilson and here’s to hoping his Hershel continues to back Rick.
  • On the Glenn and Maggie relationship front…we see Glenn becoming more gunshy and clumsy when it comes to taking care of business when away from the group. Seems Maggie’s professing of her love for him has muddled his brain. We see him make several mistakes tonight that’s damaged his confidence. It will be interesting how both he and Maggie deal with his crisis of confidence as the season moves along.
  • Daryl looks to be pulling himself back from the group emotionally and it’s good to see Carol trying to prevent that from happening. This subplot looks to be in it’s gestation period but if done right it could turn out to be a good sign in keeping Daryl from further isolating himself from the group and at least keeps Carol busy trying to be savior for the show’s resident badass.
  • T-Dog watch: one line of dialogue and not much else. Please, Mazzara and crew just kill him off and bring in Tyrese.
  • We see some great work from Greg Nicotero and his make-up FX wizards from KNB EFX with tonight’s zombie carnage. Whether it was the zombie peeling it’s face off in an attempt to get through the busted car windshield to get to Lori or the face ripping of the wounded shooter as they begin to eat him alive. I know shooting these scenes at night and in the dark helps in keeping the tricks if the trade from being more obvious, but I think even if the scenes were filmed in the daytime I believe the effects work would be even better and much more bloody.
  • Finally, the show ends with Lori channeling her inner Lady MacBeth as she tries to turn Rick into solving the Shane problem (by any means necessary) which looks to be a spark away from destroying everything the group has worked for since they left Atlanta.

Review: The Shawshank Redemption (dir. by Frank Darabont)


“Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” — Andy Dufresne

1994 was the year that men finally got their version of Fried Green Tomatoes and Beaches. We men we’re always perplexed why so many women liked those two films. Even when it was explained to us that the film was about the bond of sisterhood between female friends and how the march of time could never break it we were still scratching out heads. In comes Frank Darabont’s film adaptation of the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

Using a script written by Darabont himself, the film just takes the latter half of the novella’s title and focuses most of the film’s story on the relationship between the lead character of Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) who gets sent to Shawshank Penitentiary for the crime of killing his wife and her lover and that of another inmate played by Morgan Freeman. The film doesn’t try to prove that Andy is innocent even though we hear him tell it to the convicts he ends up hanging around that he is. The relationship between Andy and Red becomes a great example of the very same bond of sisterhood, but this time a brotherhood who are stuck in a situation where their freedom has been taken away and hope itself becomes a rare and dangerous commodity.

Darabont has always been a filmmaker known for his love of Stephen King stories and has adapted several more since The Shawshank Redemption, but it would be this film which has become his signature work. It’s a film that’s almost elegiac in its pacing yet with hints of hope threaded in-between scenes of men clinging to sanity and normalcy in a place that looks to break them down and make them less human. It’s nothing new to see prison guards abusive towards inmates in films set in prisons, but in this film these scenes of abuse have a banality to them that shows how even the hardened criminal lives and breathes upon the mercy and generosity provided by the very people who were suppose to rehabilitate them.

While the film’s pacing could be called slow by some it does allow for the characters in the film, from the leads played by Robbins and Freeman to the large supporting cast to become fully formed characters. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Clancy Brown playing the sadistic Capt. Byron Hadley to James Whitmore as Brooks Hatlen the inmate who has spent most of his life in Shawshank and whose sudden parole begins one of the most heartbreaking sequences in the film. The whole cast did a great job in whatever role they had been chosen to play. Freeman and Robbins as Red and Andy have a chemistry together on-screen that makes their fraternal love for each other very believable that the final scenes in the film doesn’t feel too melodramatic or overly sentimental.

The Shawshank Redemption was a film that lost out to Forrest Gump for Best Picture, but was a film that would’ve been very deserving if it had won the top prize at the Academy Awards. It was a film that spoke of hope even at the most degrading setting and how it’s the very concept of hope and brotherhood that allows for those not free to have a sense of freedom and camaraderie. Darabont’s first feature-length film remains his best work to date and one of the best Stephen King adaptations which is a rarity considering how many of his stories have been adapted. So, while the fairer sex may have their Fried Green Tomatoes, Beaches and the like, we men will have ours in the fine film we call The Shawshank Redemption.

Review: The Walking Dead S2E8 “Nebraska”


“Ain’t nobody’s hands are clean with what’s left of this world. We’re all the same.” — Dave

[some spoilers]

After almost three months in hiatus The Walking Dead returns with a brand new episode which brings us back to how we left the show after episode 7.

It’s a cold opening with us, the audience, looking up the barrel of Rick’s pistol with smoke still billowing out from him having to use it to put down Sophia. The awkward silence is only broken up by the sobbing by the youngest Greene daughter which soon turns into screams of horror and panic as not all of the walkers the group had massacred was fully and truly dead. But it’s a burst of adrenaline that doesn’t last long. We see the cracks opened up by Shane’s “live or die” outburst from the previous episode now out in the open as the revelation that Sophia was always in the barn and all the searching for her by the group has been for naught and has put many in the group in danger.

Whether Herschel and his family really knew that Sophia was already turned didn’t matter to some in the group who now look at the Greene’s with suspicious eyes. Some still cling to the hope that it was all a mistake and that the only person who knew Sophia was inside had died days before. We once again see that these two differing thoughts have come down between Rick and Shane. It’s a conflict that has been brewing since Rick’s return to the group all the way back in episode 3 of the first season. While its been quite a surprise and a treat to see the TV-version of Shane survive far longer than the one from the comic book source I do think that this conflict between the two alpha dogs will soon come to a head by season’s end. To continue having these two be at loggerheads beyond this season would be unnecessary and take away from any dramatic payoff this subplot has.

The center section of the episode is probably where some viewers will once again harp and complain about the show returning to it’s habit of being talky and spinning it wheels in place. I won’t say that I haven’t worried about this show when it came to it’s quieter and slower moments. There’s been times this season when the show has spun it’s wheels in place instead of moving forward, but as we saw with the Sophia reveal which ended the mid-season of season 2 there’s a crazy logic to what’s been going on even if we can’t see it when it first occurs.

This is not to say that the writers and new showrunner Glen Mazzara don’t have some work to do in improving the show’s pacing and quality. With the start of the second half of season 2 Mazzara and his crew have the opportunity to take what Kirkman and Darabont had laid down with the first 13 episodes of the series and create something that goes beyond the show just being a good show. While the middle section of the episode wasn’t a step in that direction I thought the final twenty minutes of the episode was something the show has been hit or miss with throughout this season. Maybe it’s the change of showrunners from Frank Darabont who’s experience has been mostly with film work while Mazzara has been a veteran of some very dialogue-heavy shows such as The Shield.

In the past episodes with Daradont in charge the scenes between Rick and Herschel in the town bar would’ve been a mixture of great writing but not something easily translated into spoken dialogue. This time around with Mazzara in charge the scene moved at a pace which didn’t equate to a scene being talky, but helped establish the changes in how two men used to a leadership role realizing that they’ve made mistakes which has led them to the growing tension back in the farm and within the two groups. Adding to this great scene was the arrival of two new characters which would ratchet up the tension in the bar from 1 to 11 with just a few lines of dialogue heavy with hidden meanings and agendas.

It’s this final scene with Tony and Dave of Philadelphia that gives me hope that the writers and Mazzara have seen some of the complaints from fans and realize that slowing down a scene with dialogue interactions between characters doesn’t have to be useless and an exercise in exposition dumps. Watching Andrew Lincoln (in his best performance to date) and Michael Raymond-James (Terriers, True Blood) interact with each other like it was some sort of verbal chess match was the highlight of the show. The tension created by the dialogue between the group of Rick, Glenn and Herschel with the two newcomers in Dave and Tony was so thick that it became palpable and like a powder keg just needing the merest of sparks to set off.

The final sequence with Rick finally making the hard decision to protect his group (now Herschel Greene and his brood included) over trusting the potential of other newcomers to either be a boon or a danger felt like the character making a turn from being a white hat of the show to one who now must travel this zombie apocalypse looking at things through shades of grey. Rick has always borne the brunt of fan criticism as being too noble and/or wishy-washy when it comes to making the tough choices. If this episode’s final moments was any indication Rick looks to be capable of making decisions without any hesitation if it comes to the safety of the group. He’s just not roided out in his execution of said decisions as his former deputy, Shane Walsh. Here’s to hoping this greying out of Rick is part of the new change in show leadership. If that is the case then the show may have finally found it’s stable footing for seasons to come.

Notes

  • I loved how quickly Shane tries to reassert himself as the “correct” leader for the group after he failed to put down Sophia and watches Rick make that tough choice. With each passing minute with this episode Shane comes off even more sociopathic, delusional and unpredictable
  • Another great scene is Rick pretty much telling Lori to shut up in no uncertain terms when she tries to argue that he should stay and not go off running to town to bring Herschel back. The look on her face as Rick tells her he’s doing this not just to save Herschel but their unborn baby was some good writing and acting.
  • For a moment during that scene one could almost see why Rick was so frustrated with Lori and their relationship before the zombie apocalypse interrupted the world’s routine.
  • Once again T-Dog has been relegated to being the one character on the show to say one or two lines and still not have any of it show any insight into his character. I still believe his days are numbered and won’t last this season into season 3.
  • The ‘ship growing between Glenn and Maggie continues with Glenn starting to show some doubts as to whether he should stay with Rick and the rest of the group. He seems to genuinely like Maggie, probably even loves her, though he still seems surprised that Maggie feels the same and actually mean it. In the comic book the relationship between the two seemed more like survivors clinging to something humane with love being an afterthought. This is why the tv version of this relationship has actually made these two characters even better than their comic boo counterparts.
  • I’m not sure if it was just me, but Glenn telling Rick in their drive into town about how the only people to say that they loved him was his mom and sisters made for a sad moment. Glenn has never mentioned anything about his life prior to the zombie apocalypse other than he was a pizza delivery guy. Knowing that he has no idea what has happened to his mother and sister or whether they’re still alive or turned into walkers was a very downbeat note in what was a quaint little scene.
  • Carol and Daryl look to be handling the revelation of Sophia from the previous episode in different ways. Carol trashing the Cherokee roses out in the field was very appropriate as was Daryl pulling back once again from the group as his hopes of Sophia being found alive has been dashed. It will be interesting to see whether the two will become assets to the group or more of a liability moving forward.
  • It was nice to see Michael Raymond-James from Terriers and True Blood appear on this episode. His verbal jousting with Rick at the bar was one of the best scenes of this series that didn’t include zombies or a roided out Shane. His performance in what turned out to be a cameo was so good that one couldn’t outright say that he was someone bad looking to waylay Rick and his group. He seemed like someone who was probably like Rick in the beginning of his own group’s travels, but has been weighed down by what he has seen and done to survive and protect his own that desperation has made him to do things that the regular world wouldn’t look well on.
  • All those who think Rick was a paper tiger of a leader and that Shane was the one who would best protect the group should think twice about that criticism. He showed backbone, initiative and some guile in trying to convince the two newcomers from Philadelphia that they need to look somewhere else for shelter. He definitely showed his inner-Raylan Givens with his final act of the episode.
  • I’m going to go all the way back to the beginning of Season 1, episode 5. Rick declared to everyone that they are not to kill the living. The fact that he has broken his own self-imposed rule on the group (already broken by Shane though unknown to most except a suspicious Dale) with what he did in the end of the episode should prove telling in how he behaves as he and his group of survivors continue to meet up with others on the road (hopefully) and with those within the group looking to supplant him as leader.
  • Finally, it’s been awhile since the show used a song to end an episode. It’s been a nice return to hear a particular song used this time and “Regulator” by The Clutch was an inspired choice to end “Nebraska” especially after such having such a down and dirty Old West showdown to end things: