Film Review: The Good Nurse (dir by Tobias Lindholm)

It’s suspected that Charles Cullen might be the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history.

He’s currently sitting in prison, serving 18 consecutive life sentences.  (For those keeping track, he’ll be eligible for parole in the 25th Century.)  In order to avoid getting the death penalty, Cullen confessed to killing 29 people in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  It is thought that, between the years 1988 and 2003, he actually killed over 400 people.  What made Cullen’s crimes especially horrifying is that he was a nurse and his victims were his patients.  When Cullen first confessed, he tried to portray himself as being a mercy killer, someone who only murdered those who would have no quality of life.  Cullen also claimed that he had been traumatized the first time that he saw a team of doctors fail to resuscitate a patient so he would specifically give overdoses to terminal patients so that they could die both with dignity and without leaving him traumatized.  It was subsequently discovered that few of Cullen’s victims had been terminally ill and that many of them were actually only a day or two away from being discharged from the hospital when Cullen killed them.  Cullen later said that many of his murders were impulsive acts and he wasn’t sure why he had committed them.  In the end, no one can be sure what drove Cullen to commit his murders.

Even before he was arrested, Cullen had developed a bad reputation as a nurse who lost a lot of patients.  He moved from hospital to hospital and he seemed to generate suspicion wherever he went.  Cullen would leave the hospitals whenever it became apparent that anyone was investigating any of the deaths in which he had been involved.  The hospitals were usually happy to be rid of him.  Despite all of the suspicions about him, no one ever tried to stop Cullen from getting another job.  Why risk getting sued for having had Cullen on staff when you could just dump him off on another hospital?

The Good Nurse, which just dropped on Netflix this week, stars Eddie Redmayne as Charles Cullen and Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren, the nurse who worked with Cullen at his final place of employment.  In the film, Amy is workaholic single mother who needs a heart transplant but who still finds time to show compassion to the patients in the ICU.  She is, as the title states, the good nurse.  When Charles Cullen shows up to work the night shift, she is happy for the help and she takes an immediate liking to the polite and seemingly hardworking Cullen.  Just like Amy, Cullen has two daughters and they bond over their struggles to be both good nurses and good parents.  Cullen tells Amy about how his former coworkers were always plotting against him.  Amy, somewhat naively, invites Cullen to come to her house to meet her daughters.  But when patients start to die, Amy soon suspects that Cullen is responsible.  When she ends up as a patient in the hospital and is faced with the horrifying prospect of Charles Cullen being her nurse, Amy goes to the police and offers to to help them build their case against her former friend.

The Good Nurse is a typical Netflix true crime movie, complete with the slightly washed-out look that almost all of these films seem to share.  The film does a good of capturing the isolation of an ICU ward at night.  With only a handful of nurses and patients on the floor, it’s easy to see how someone like Charles Cullen could have committed his crimes without being caught.  Indeed, some of the film’s most disturbing moments are when Cullen appears to literally emerge from the dark shadows of the ICU ward, like some sort of ghostly hunter seeking his prey.  At the same time, there’s a few moments where the movie feels more like an extra-long episode of Law & Order than a feature film.  Noah Emmerich and Nnamdi Asomugha play the two detectives who are assigned to investigate Cullen’s crimes and their scenes often feel as if they could have been lifted from a dozen other similar true crime films.

As Amy, Jessica Chastain is well-cast, though the role itself is somewhat underwritten.  The film is stolen by Eddie Redmayne, who plays Charles Cullen with an intensity that is frightening to behold at times.  As played by Redmayne, Cullen is creepy from the first time that we see him but, at the same time, Redmayne plays the role with just enough needy charm that the viewer can understand how he was able to fool so many people at so many hospitals.  Redmayne plays Cullen as man who is incapable of compassion but who has learned how to fake it.  It’s only towards the end of the film that Cullen allows his mask to slip and what we see underneath is terrifying.  Eddie Redmayne brings to life a truly evil man, someone who is all the more nightmarish because he really exists.

In the end, The Good Nurse suffers from the same problem as Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile.  It attempts to comprehend an evil that is beyond normal comprehension.  In the end, both films suggest that there’s no real way to understand what motivates a Ted Bundy or a Charles Cullen.  Instead, all one can do is remain vigilant and hope they’ll be stopped before they can cause any more pain. Cullen is in prison for life.  Bundy got the electric chair.  Both of them left behind many questions that will never be answered.

Here Are The Winners of the 24th Annual Critics Choice Awards!

TSL writer Patrick Smith has referred to The Critics Choice Awards as being his “fifth favorite awards show” and that seems like the perfect description of where they fall in awards season.  People do pay attention to them and, in the past, they’ve been a pretty good precursor as far as the Oscars are concerned.  At the same time, there always seem to be confusion as just who exactly votes for the Critics Choice Awards.

Well, the answer to that question is that the Critics’ Choice Awards are voted on by the Broadcast Film Critics Association and, tonight, they announced their picks on the CW.

It was interesting night — two ties and Christian Bale was named Best Actor twice, which of course meant we had to suffer through his “I’m just an ordinary working bloke!” routine two times too many.  By far, my favorite winner was Amy Adams for Sharp Objects.

(On another note: Taye Diggs was an interesting choice to host.  I thought he did okay but, with his talent, he really should be receiving the awards instead of talking about them.  Someone write a great role for Taye Diggs ASAP!)

Here are tonight’s winners!  (Check out the nominees here!)


Best Song — Shallow from A Star is Born

Best Young Actor or Actress — Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

Best Supporting Actor — Mahershala Ali, Green Book

Best Supporting Actress — Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Sci-Fi or Horror Movie — A Quiet Place

Best Acting Ensemble — The Favourite

Best Action Film — Mission Impossible: Fallout

Best Animated Film — Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse

Best Foreign Language Film — Roma

Best Original Screenplay — Paul Schrader, First Reformed

Best Adapted Screenplay — Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Actress In A Comedy — Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Best Actor In A Comedy — Christian Bale, Vice

Best Comedy — Crazy Rich Asians

Best Cinematography — Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Best Production Design — Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, Black Panther

Best Editing — Tom Cross, First Man

Best Costume Design — Ruth Carter, Black Panther

Best Hair and Makeup — Vice

Best Visual Effects — Black Panther

Best Original Score — Justin Hurwitz, First Man

Best Director — Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Best Actress (tie) — Glenn Close, The Wife and Lady Gaga, A Star is Born

Best Actor — Christian Bale, Vice

Best Motion Picture — Roma


Best Supporting Actor (Drama) — Noah Emmerich, The Americans

Best Supporting Actress (Drama) — Thandie Newton, Westworld

Best Supporting Actor (Comedy) — Henry Winkler, Barry

Best Supporting Actress (Comedy) — Alexis Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Supporting Actor (Limited Series or Made-For-TV Movie): Ben Whishaw, A Very English Scandal

Best Supporting Actress (Limited Series or Made-For-TV Movie): Patricia Clarkson, Sharp Objects

Best Movie Made For Television — Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert

Best Animated Series — BoJack Horseman

Best Actor (Limited Series or Movie Made-For-TV): Darren Criss, American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace

Best Actress (Limited Series or Movie Made-For-TV): (Tie) Amy Adams, Sharp Objects and Patricia Arquette, Escape at Dannemora

Best Actor (Comedy Series) — Bill Hader, Barry

Best Actress (Comedy Series) — Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Actor (Drama Series) — Matthew Rhys, The Americans

Best Actress (Drama Series) — Sandra Oh, Killing Eve

Best Limited Series — American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace

Best TV Drama Series — The Americans

Best TV Comedy Series — The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel


Stallone Acts: Cop Land (1997, directed by James Mangold)

Garrison, New Jersey is a middle class suburb that is known as Cop Land.  Under the direction of Lt. Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), several NYPD cops have made their home in Garrison, financing their homes with bribes that they received from mob boss Tony Torillo (Tony Sirico).  The corrupt cops of Garrison, New Jersey live, work, and play together, secure in the knowledge that they can do whatever they want because Donlan has handpicked the sheriff.

Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) always dreamed of being a New York cop but, as the result of diving into icy waters to save a drowning girl, Freddy is now deaf in one ear.  Even though he knows that they are all corrupt, Freddy still idolizes cops like Donlan, especially when Donlan dangles the possibility of pulling a few strings and getting Freddy an NYPD job in front of him.  The overweight and quiet Freddy spends most of his time at the local bar, where he’s the subject of constant ribbing from the “real” cops.  Among the cops, Freddy’s only real friend appears to be disgraced narcotics detective, Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta).

After Donlan’s nephew, Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport), kills two African-American teenagers and then fakes his own death to escape prosecution, Internal Affairs Lt. Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) approaches Freddy and asks for his help in investigating the corrupt cops of Garrison.  At first, Freddy refuses but he is soon forced to reconsider.

After he became a star, the idea that Sylvester Stallone was a bad actor because so universally accepted that people forgot that, before he played Rocky and Rambo, Stallone was a busy and respectable character actor.  Though his range may have been limited and Stallone went through a period where he seemed to always pick the worst scripts available, Stallone was never as terrible as the critics often claimed.  In the 90s, when it became clear that both the Rocky and the Rambo films had temporarily run their course, Stallone attempted to reinvent his image.  Demolition Man showed that Stallone could laugh at himself and Cop Land was meant to show that Stallone could act.

For the most part, Stallone succeeded.  Though there are a few scenes where the movie does seem to be trying too hard to remind us that Freddy is not a typical action hero, this is still one of Sylvester Stallone’s best performances.  Stallone plays Freddy as a tired and beaten-down man who knows that he’s getting one final chance to prove himself.  It helps that Stallone’s surrounded by some of the best tough guy actors of the 90s.  Freddy’s awkwardness around the “real” cops is mirrored by how strange it initially is to see Stallone acting opposite actors like Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, and Ray Liotta.  Cop Land becomes not only about Freddy proving himself as a cop but Stallone proving himself as an actor.

The film itself is sometimes overstuffed.  Along with the corruption investigation and the search for Murray Babitch, there’s also a subplot about Freddy’s unrequited love for Liz Randone (Annabella Sciorra) and her husband’s (Peter Berg) affair with Donlan’s wife (Cathy Moriarty).  There’s enough plot here for a Scorsese epic and it’s more than Cop Land‘s 108-minute run time can handle.  Cop Land is at its best when it concentrates on Freddy and his attempt to prove to himself that he’s something more than everyone else believes.  The most effective scenes are the ones where Freddy quietly drinks at the local tavern, listening to Gary shoot his mouth off and stoically dealing with the taunts of the people that he’s supposed to police.  By the time that Freddy finally stands up for himself, both you and he have had enough of everyone talking down to him.  The film’s climax, in which a deafened Freddy battles the corrupt cops of Garrison, is an action classic.

Though the story centers on Stallone, Cop Land has got a huge ensemble cast.  While it’s hard to buy Janeane Garofalo as a rookie deputy, Ray Liotta and Robert Patrick almost steal the film as two very different cops.  Interestingly, many members of the cast would go on to appear on The Sopranos.  Along with Sirico, Sciorra, Patrick, and Garofalo, keep an eye out for Frank Vincent, Arthur Nascarella, Frank Pelligrino, John Ventimiglia, Garry Pastore,  and Edie Falco in small roles.

Cop Land was considered to be a box office disappointment when it was released and Stallone has said that the film’s failure convinced people that he was just an over-the-hill action star and that, for eight years after it was released, he couldn’t get anyone to take his phone calls.  At the time, Cop Land‘s mixed critical and box office reception was due to the high expectations for both the film and Stallone’s performance.  In hindsight, it’s clear that Cop Land was a flawed but worthy film and that Stallone’s performance remains one of his best.


An Olympic Film Review: Miracle (dir by Gavin O’Connor)

(Back in 2011, Chris Mead — who wrote under the name Semtex Skittle — reviewed Miracle for this site.  At the that time, I had not seen the film.  Below are my thoughts but please, also be sure to read Chris’s review as well.)


Like all good people, I’m currently obsessed with the Winter Olympics.  Earlier this week I asked a couple of friends if they could recommend some good Winter Olympics movies.  A lot of movies were suggested but, without fail, everyone thought I should see Miracle.  (A lot of people also suggested Cool Runnings, which I’ll be watching next week.)  Having watched Miracle earlier today, I can see why everyone recommended it.

The year is 1980 and two hockey teams are about to face off at the Winter Olympics in upstate New York.  (The location, to be exact, is Lake Placid.  Fortunately, the giant alligators are nowhere to be seen.)

On one side you have the Russian team (or the Soviets as they were known back then).  They are widely considered to be one of the greatest hockey teams in history.  They are big, fierce, and determined.  Coming from a system that has declared individuality to be a crime against the state, the Soviet team plays like a machine.  The Soviets have won the gold in the last four Olympics.  As one American coach puts it, their greatest strength is that every other hockey team in the world is terrified of them.

On the other side, you have the American team.  However, this isn’t the type of American dream team that one would expect to see today.  In 1980, professional athletes were not allowed to compete on the U.S. Olympic team.  Instead, the 1980 hockey team is made up of amateurs and college players.  Unlike the Soviet teams, the American don’t have a government that grooms and supports them.  Instead, win or lose, they have to do it on their own.

Of course, it’s not just two hockey teams that are about to face off.  It’s also two super powers and two very different ways of life.  In 1980, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were the two most powerful rivals in the world.  The Soviets were trapped in an endless and unpopular war in Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., the economy was shaky, American citizens were being held hostage in Iran, and an ineffective President gave long-winded speeches about how unhappy everyone in the country appeared to be.  Both countries needed a victory but only one could win.

And it would take a miracle for that winning team to be American…

I don’t think it requires a spoiler alert to tell you that’s exactly what happens.  I mean, after all, I’m reviewing a film  called Miracle!  On top of that, it’s based on true events.  The U.S. hockey team — made up of college students and led by Coach Herb Brooks (played, in one of his best performance, by Kurt Russell) — not only managed to defeat the highly favored Soviet team but they went on to win the gold medal.

Even if you didn’t know that the Americans beat the Russians, you would never have any doubt about how Miracle is going to end.  Miracle is a film that utilizes almost every sports film cliché but it manages to do so with such sincerity and such style that you don’t mind the fact that the movie doesn’t exactly take you by surprise.  Is there any actor who is as good at project sincerity and human decency as Kurt Russell?  Whenever he says that he’s going to make his team into champions, you believe him.  When he says that he’s being hard on them because he wants them to be the best, you never doubt him or his techniques.  When he says that he’s proud of his team and his country, it brings tears to your eyes.  If there’s ever a movie that deserves a chant of “USA!  USA!  USA!,” it’s Miracle.

Film Review: Jane Got A Gun (dir by Gavin O’Connor)


Jane Got A Gun, which was released with little fanfare in January and is now available on Netflix, could just as easily have been called This Bishop Boys Are Coming And Who Gives A Fuck?

In fact, I like that title better than Jane Got A Gun.  As far as I’m concerned, I am no longer reviewing Jane Got A Gun.  Instead, I am going to tell you about a film called The Bishop Boys Are Coming And Who Gives A Fuck?

The film is a western, taking place shortly after the end of the Civil War.  (Isn’t it interesting how every western recently produced has taken place shortly after the Civil War?  Way to avoid awkward historical truths, Hollywood.)  Jane (Natalie Portman) lives on an isolated farm, with her daughter and her husband, Bill Hammond (Noah Emmerich, who is wasted both figuratively and literally).  Hammond used to be an outlaw but now, he’s a pretty good guy.  But the Bishop Boys are still after him!

Who are the Bishop Boys?

Well, John Bishop is Ewan McGregor.  He’s an evil businessman and a bounty hunter and he used to be in love with Jane but now it seems that he mostly just wants to collect the bounty that’s on Hammond’s head.  I love Ewan McGregor but, as we all should have learned from his performance in Haywire, he doesn’t make the most convincing villain.  McGregor is one of those actors who radiates an inner humanity.  No actor falls in love as convincingly as Ewan McGregor.  That’s what makes him a compelling actor but it also means that he’s totally miscast as a bounty hunting sociopath.

Anyway, the Bishop Boys end up putting five bullets in Hammond so he goes home to die.  “The Bishop Boys are coming,” he says and Jane has to prepare for the upcoming siege.  Fortunately, her surly neighbor, Dan (Joel Edgerton, who seems to be bored with the whole thing), just happens to be her former fiancée and he’s still in love with her, though he tries to hide his love behind bitterness and pithy one-liners.  It also turns out that Dan was a hero in the Civil War but he’s weary of violence.

Don’t worry, though!  Dan is still willing to kill.  After all, not much would happen in the movie if Dan wasn’t willing to shoot people…

Anyway, The Bishop Boys Are Coming And Who Gives A Fuck only lasts for 98 minutes but there’s a lot of hints that there was originally supposed to be a lot more to the movie than actually showed up on screen.  We get a few lengthy flashbacks, all of which hint at a story that actually explores what it means to be a woman in a patriarchal society and which, if properly handled, would have made The Bishop Boys Are Coming And Who Gives A Fuck the feminist western that it’s attempting to be.  Watching this movie, you get the feeling that a lot of the original storyline was either not filmed or left on the cutting room floor.

To be honest, I really wanted this to be a great movie or, at the very least, a decent showcase for Natalie Portman, who was one of my favorite actresses even before Black Swan.  However, I officially gave up on this film after 50 minutes.  That was around the time that Dan started to ramble about life, death, and doin’ the ratt thang.   It was all just so clichéd and the rest of the film wasn’t any better.

The Bishop Boys Are Coming And Who Gives A Fuck? did receive some attention because its screenplay was included in the Black List, which claims to be an annual survey of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.  The Black List is one of the greatest con jobs ever perpetrated by the film industry.  While it’s true that American Hustle and The King’s Speech appeared on the Black List, a typical Black List screenplay usually turns out to be something like The Beaver, Broken City, or Cedar Rapids.  You can add The Bishop Boys Are Coming And Who Gives A Fuck? to the long line of Black List scripts that became utterly forgettable movies.

Film Review: Blood Ties (dir by Guillame Canet)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Review: Super 8 (dir. by J.J. Abrams)

The 1980’s was a special time in my life. It was another phase in my development in loving film. That decade saw many films starring kids and teens in coming-of-age tales both comedic, thrilling, dramatic and poignant. While there were many filmmakers who delved into this genre it was Steve Spielberg who mined it to great effect culminating in his classic boy-meets-alien film, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. It’s been almost 30 years since the release of that film and now comes a filmmaker who seem to have grown up idolizing and loving Spielberg films of that era. The year is now 2011 and J.J. Abrams is that filmmaker who dared to pay homage to those very same coming-of-age Spielberg films of the 80’s with his very own simply titled Super 8.

From the very moment the film begins there’s a sense of wonderment as we, the audience, meet young kids who become the central characters of Super 8. The film takes place in the early days of 1979 in the town of Lillian, Ohio as Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) tries to cope with the death of his mother. His friends keep him busy and dwelling on this tragedy through the Super 8 film they’re making in their spare time after school. These early scenes we begin to see the dynamics of the group as Joe acts as the calming influence on the group’s filmmaker, Charles (Riley Griffiths), the neurotic actor in Martin (Gabriel Basso) and the group’s stuntman/special effects tech in Carey (Ryan Lee). They all meet up at an old train depot where they plan to shoot scenes for their Super 8 zombie film. Into this eclectic group of kids comes in Alice (Elle Fanning) to play the wife to Martin’s detective character in their film.

It’s the scenes between the kids which lifts Super 8 from just being a nostalgic film to one that’s charming and magical. These scenes captures the creativity and youthful energy kids have always had no matter the era and place. These kids don’t act like stereotypes of what Hollywood thinks kids in films should act. There’s still little of the cynical teen dialogue that films nowadays give kids to say to make them seem more mature and worldly. There’s a sense of innocence in how these kids interact with each other. Some have called these scenes as being too on-the-nose nostalgic of Spielberg films of the 80’s. What some might call nostalgic I prefer to call as timeless. I still remember myself behaving with my childhood friends the way these kids did in this film

If Super 8 had just been about these group of kids trying to finish their Super 8 zombie film I conjunction with the dysfunction in the two main leads in Joe and Alice’s home life then Abrams film would’ve been the instant classic some have dubbed it. There’s only one problem with this and that’s the last half hour of the film and the scenes leading up to that involving the train derailment and the arrival of the U.S. Air Force to clean things up. The film begins to take on a split personality as these new elements get introduce to what has been a great coming-of-age story.

It’s these new elements and the final half hour which shows Abrams trying to combine a sweet story of kids and their lives growing up in small-town with an otherworldy and conspiracy tale that seem to come out of left field. By the time the final act of Super 8 arrives it becomes a different film altogether and the transition doesn’t work as well as the filmmakers might have hoped it would. Sure, this final reel has the thrills, explosions and danger, but the tonal shift in the story became so jarring that I had wished that Abrams just made two films instead of one. One film being the coming-of-age story and the other a thrilling sci-fi film.

Despite this I still enjoyed the film and I definitely loved the first two-thirds. The performances by Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning as Joe and Alice became the focal point for the story’s emotional foundation. Elle Fanning’s performance as Alice was one of the best things about Super 8. She nails every scene where she has to show extreme ranges of emotions but at the same time not try to oversell them. There’s a scene in the middle of the film where she begins to recount a personal detail as Joe sits behind her listening. Emotions begin to overwhelm her, but as kids moving towards teenhood are wont to do she tries to hold back the tears just waiting to flow freely and the sobs wanting to escapes. I wouldn’t be surprised if this scene alone had more than a couple people in the audience remembering similar events in their lives and just sobbing along with Alice.

Super 8 has been advertised as this mysterious film that may or may not have aliens but does pay homage to Spielberg and kid films of the 80’s. Abrams’ film definitely delivers on the thrills in the end, but it could’ve been so much more if it just stayed on course with just being about the kids and their magical time together making an amateur Super 8 zombie film in 1979. That would’ve been a film that deserved labels of instant classic.

All in all, Super 8 comes across as one of the more entertaining and magical films of the summer of 2011 if not the entire year. Make sure to stick around as the end credits roll to see the fruits of the kids labor titled simply as “The Case”.

Super 8 (Super Bowl TV Spot)

I’ve always looked at all J.J. Abrams productions with some guarded optimism since so many people seem to hype his stuff. I liked his reboot of Star Trek, but was very so-so on his Mission Impossible 3. I will admit that he does have a good batting average when it comes to tv and now film. His latest film is Super 8.

This Super Bowl tv spot shows more than the teaser trailer with the train wreck and the steel door being pounded at. The film looks to be set sometime around the 1950’s if the set is to be believed. Some have reacted to info leaked about this film as Abrams’ homage on a certain family-friendly Spielberg alien film from the early 80’s.

Super 8 looks like the one film this summer that the less I know about it the better I’ll enjoy it when it finally comes out on June 10, 2011.

Review: The Walking Dead (EP06) – “TS-19”

[Some Spoilers Within]

So, we’ve finally reached the season finale of a very short inaugural season of Frank Darabont’s tv adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s critically-acclaimed and very popular comic book series, The Walking Dead. AMC ordered an initial 6-episode for this season which made setting up the world for the non-fans of the comic book a top priority. This could be seen in the first five episodes as each one explained the rules of this new post-apocalyptic world and how it has changed how people have now begun to behave.

The tv series has stayed mostly loyal to its comic book source, but some divergence from the source material has caused some grumblings amongst the comic book’s legions of fans. It doesn’t matter to them that the comic book’s creator has been ok with the changes and actually an active participant with said changes. These changes have been somewhat minor in the show’s five episodes but as episode five rolled to an end we got a major departure to the source material. Rick has taken his band of survivors back to Atlanta where the CDC (Center for Disease Control) is headquartered at. This never happened in the comic book and it’s inclusion to the story has driven many a fan of the source material batshit crazy.

They ask why make the changes, both minor and major, to a story that was already full of story-arcs, subplots aplenty and enough characters down the line that new ones weren’t needed. I can’t blame them for asking such questions for I, too, are a major fan of the comics right from the very beginning. But these changes is exactly why the story being told by this tv adaptation look and seem fresh to me. The end of the last episode was such a major departure that I can now honestly say that I have no idea what Darabont and Kirkman have in store for Season Two. It’s that element of the unknown and the surprise of not knowing what’s around the corner why I don’t rail against these changes. If I wanted a page-by-page, panel-by-panel adaptation then I’d rather just bring out the comics and re-read them for the umpteenth time.

Now we get to the season finale and whether the major change will actually improve or just ruin the series.

I must say that I was guarded in my optimism about this major departure and the inclusion of the CDC. What I’ve liked about some of the best zombie stories ever put on film or on paper is that the zombie apocalypse never truly gets a definite explanation as to how it began or what caused it in the first place. This season finale episode titled “TS-19” seemed like Darabont’s attempt to try and explain the cause of the zombies and who or what let it loose in the first place. Very bad zombie stories try to over-explain and end up tripping over themselves in the process and thus ruining the experience.

With “TS-19” we get Dr. Edmund Jenner (Noah Emmerich), last surviving researcher in the CDC, give a brief explanation as to the process of when a person goes from living to dead to reanimated corpse. While the fancy computer-enhanced imagery seemed to explain much it really doesn’t. It just scientifically showed what everyone already knew. They still don’t know if it’s a viral or bacterial disease or if it’s even a disease at all. Even Jenner doesn’t discount Jacqui (one of those new characters added in that fans of the comics railed against) mentioning that it could be the wrath of God. The sequence even answers viewers’ question about how long it takes for a recently dead to return back as a “walker”. The answer to that is that they don’t know.

This episode highlighted how ineffectual the very institutions people depended on for help, security and safety when the zombie apocalypse finally hit critical stage. We see this in the show’s cold start prologue as we go back in time to see the final moments at the King’s County Hospital where a comatose Rick Grimes was being kept at for observations. Shane, his partner and best friend, sees the brutal solution the military has for those either infected but alive and/or unwilling to vacate the hospital as it began to be overrun by the “walkers”.

This sequence answered questions about why the military was so inefficient. It’s also a damning condemnation about the rigidity of such a major governmental institution unable to adapt to an ever-changing situation where the enemy didn’t sleep, didn’t stop to rest or wasn’t afraid about being fired on. This was an enemy that was conducting the true meaning of “total war” on a people who were already on the ends of their last rope. The fact that their solution only swelled the ranks of those they fought just showed how doomed the world is when something this apocalyptic occurs without warning and without a means to fully understand and combat.

Even Jenner doesn’t know what made the zombie apocalypse begin and the source of what scientists thought was something they could find a cure for. This ambiguity needed to be shown to stop question from the audience about the “why’s” and “how’s” and instead get the series back onto the road where survival and holding onto their humanity remains their ultimate struggle.

This episode does get them back onto that lonely road with some deciding to stay as the facility began a countdown towards a final decontamination. We get also get a nice scene between Jeffrey DeMunn’s Dale and Laurie Holden’s Andrea that should make fans of the comics happy. The same goes for showing just how ineffectual Rick has been as their leader as every decision he has made has put the group in danger. It shows Rick’s intractable belief in doing the right things and holding on to the vestiges of civilized behavior could be just a front to give his wife and son hope that things will be better. This episode shows Rick that what’s better is to stay for that final decontamination instead of going back on the road where only death and suffering will await him and his group. Jenner’s comment that was heard was like a prophetic announcement that Rick will regret going back out.

So, we finally end Season One of The Walking Dead and have a very long wait (hopefully AMC make the decision to air Season Two not on October but at least a month sooner, if not a couple of months.) til the series picks up again with the convoy of survivors headed to parts unknown. Parts unknown not just for the characters in the series but for fans of the comic book as well. Here’s to hoping that while Darabont and Kirkman uses the comic book as the main path for the series moving forward that they also deviate from it from time to time if there’s a good story to tell on those small paths and tributaries.


* “Dude, you are such a buzzkill.” – Glenn finally gets back his witty ways as he reacts to Shane’s questioning of Jenner during a celebratory dinner.

* “Man, I’m going to get shitfaced drunk, AGAIN.” – Daryl’s reaction to Jenner’s news that there may be no one left anywhere.

* I found it quite ironic that of all the people to hold out the longest as the rest of the world gave up it would be the French.

* There was quite the Lost In Translation moment towards the end as Jenner whispers something into Rick’s ear before the group bolted to escape. Theories on what already has odds on Lori’s physical situation after the tests Jenner gave the group.

* As a military nut I smiled at the use of the acronym H.I.T. to literally mean a hit of a high-impulse thermobaric high explosive. That’s what I call a hit.

* Scene as Rick tries to plead with Jenner to let them go one can see Daryl still axing away at the blast doors.

* “The world runs on fossil fuel. How stupid is that!” – Jenner pointing out that places still doing research to find a solution failed because the power grids which run on fuel stopped due to lack of it.

* “This is what takes us down. This is our extinction event.” – Jenner finally voicing what everyone in the show has been avoiding and should give a clue as to the true meaning of the show’s title.

* The episode ends with a Bob Dylan song, Tomorrow Is a Long Time, that was very appropriate.

Review: The Walking Dead (EP05) – “Wildfire”

[Some Spoilers Within]

We’ve now come to the penultimate episode of The Walking Dead‘s first season. If there’s been one thing about this tv adaptation — of the Robert Kirkman comic book series which it’s based on — has proven it’s that the show is willing to go off the reservation when it comes to following the source material. The show has made some interesting storytelling and character choices right from the start. Scenes which occur later in the comic book have been moved up and combined with others. New characters, both recurring and disposable ones, have been introduced to the original numbers from the book.

Some of these changes have been welcomed by old fans of the book, but there’s a vocal minority who don’t see why there’s a need for such changes and additions. To new fans whose experience with this franchise has been just through the show the changes don’t mean a thing. They’re coming into this fresh and with open eyes. For long-time fans this need to watch this show with open eyes instead of clutching at the strict canonical material that are the books it would be a hard time going. I’m one of those who have been reading the books since the beginning and for the most part I’ve accepted these changes. Even the major departure introduced to end this episode I find quite interesting and with guarded optimism that it will lead to a surprising season finale and set-up season two properly.

We begin the show the very morning after the zombie attack on the camp which ended the previous episode. The survivors are cleaning up the bodies of both the “walkers” put down and those people they lost. The scenes showing how both Carol deals with her abusive husband’s corpse and how Andrea deals with her younger sister Amy were quite powerful in their own way. In one scene, we see an abused and beaten down wife taking out her anger and relief on the source of her problems with a pickaxe. In another, we see an older sister remembering past regrets of never being there for her much younger sister despite promises to do so. The scene with Andrea goes against much of what most zombie survival aficionados would do, but it brings to light just how much the Andrea loved her sister and even if it means seeing her come to a semblance of life just one more time to say her goodbyes she would do it. Knowing what she would need to do in the end just made her tearful final goodbye that more powerful.

The third farewell doesn’t happen until 3/4’s of the way into the episode (though we do see Morales and his family go their own way. Going to miss him going for the fences with that baseball bat) and involves Jim. An injury incurred from the fight during the night leaves him and the group with a problem that gets resolved in one of the more poignant scenes in this series, so far. As Morgan Jones from the pilot episode instructed Rick the “walkers” and their bites are a death sentence. The two competing leaders of the group in Rick and Shane want to solve their Jim problem using different methods. Rick wants to take the group to the one place he thinks could still help Jim and that’s the CDC near Atlanta. While Shane, with enthusiastic support from Daryl, wants to put Jim down before he becomes a dangerous liability.

In a scene reminiscent of a similar one from Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead, Jim makes the final and ultimate decision about his life. The goodbyes made by everyone to Jim after he’s made his decision to be left behind was very heartbreaking. Jim might have been a secondary support character but the last couple episodes have fleshed out his character enough that we care what happens to this man who has lost everything and thinks his predicament will reunite him with those he has lost.

The growing schism between best friends Rick and Shane gets a few more nails added to it as we see Shane gradually losing his command of the group. The group looks to be gravitating towards Rick as their leader now and even the wildcard in Daryl seem to look to Rick for the answers. The scene between the two as they patrol the woods near the camp definitely widens the gulf between the two even if Rick looks to be unaware of what’s really going on with Shane. The sudden appearance of ever stalwart and ever watchful Dale sure thinks something is amiss.

It’s the final ten minutes of the show where we finally know why the episode was titled “WildFire”. In another departure, one that would be called huge by fans of the comic books, we see the lone surviving researcher within the CDC sending video reports on what’s being called “Wildfire” and how research on the so-called “disease” has remained useless with no answer in sight.

The whole entire sequence reminds me of the early parts of Stephen King’s own apocalyptic epic novel, The Stand, as scientists desperately try to stem the tide of the approaching apocalypse to no avail. It’s little subtle references to other apocalyptic stories and tales like this which keeps some of the changes and departures from the source material bearable and, at times, even welcome.

It’s this major departure that will send some long-time fans of the comic book apoplectic. The vocal minority will definitely get even louder as to why Darabont and the writers are messing with the timeline and the stories in the original comic book. As one of those fans I should be screaming just as loudly, but the zombie and apocalyptic genre fan in me actually like how this show has gone off the beaten path of the original source material.

If they had stayed word-for-word and panel-for-panel true to the comic book then there’s no surprises to be experience. Knowing how everything unfolds right from the start could get boring even if it is about something read and re-read with love. There’s still no guarantee that the final pay-off of this particular major detour from the comic book will end in a good way, but the possibility of not knowing how this story-arc will end this first season is both exciting and tense-inducing. It could succeed in the best way, but also fail in an epic one. Either way the path now is not set in stone and everything moving forward will be undiscovered country.


* Quote of the night: “I think tomorrow I’m gonna blow my brains out, I haven’t decided. But tonight, I’m getting drunk!” – nameless CDC researcher.

* For once Glenn doesn’t have a witty quip or remark which just highlights the somber mood of this episode.

* There’s still no news on the whereabouts of one Merle Dixon though he gets name-dropped a couple times.

* A sneaking suspicion that Merle will not appear again this season, but may in the next or later ones.

* Bear McCreary’s score and choices of music for the episode the best in the series, so far to date. Especially, the use of John Murphy’s  Adagio in D Minor from the sci-fi drama Sunshine which was recently used in Kick-Ass.