The Walking Dead 3.09 “The Suicide King” Discussion

Yay, Walking Dead is back and season 3 continues to be the best yet. Good enough to inspire talking about it. Sure, some stuff is glossed over (never, ever, ask the next obvious question) in normal TV fashion but it’s fun, tense, and unpredictable.

So, Rick is freaking out. Sure, he seems fine in the when lives are on the line, but it gets quiet and he just can’t hang. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The stretched a lot in the last episode so they could get Merle and Daryl squared off in a fight “to the death” and it wasn’t really worth it beyond being a nice cliffhanger moment. The rescue shows up before anyone can make a significant decision–they all just react. The good guys get away, dragging Merle along. The bad guys lose a few red shirts and Andrea remains in Woodbury without getting the crucial “stay or go” decision point again.

Then we get to the good stuff. Rick says suck it now to Merle, and suck it shortly to Michonne (why?) Daryl chooses family over friends. I think it’ll be short lived decision, but who knows? They’ve kept Andrea away all season when I thought she’d come running back at the first opportunity. Michonne is finally outed by Merle as Andrea’s buddy, and Andrea is outed as being the Governor’s buddy. And Andrea learns her friends are the “terrorists” and some have even been held captive in Woodbury. So all the cards are on the table and now people have to make the real decisions–where do they belong?

And so help me I finally like these remaining characters enough that I want the status quo group back together.

But then Andrea rallies the townfolk like she has no intention of running far away from the now obviously nutjob Governor (back to the other nutjob leader Rick, but she doesn’t know he’s lost it like we do.)

And then there’s our new crew of zombie fodder, Tyreese and company. We’ve been informed a bit too quickly who will be eaten when the white dudes want to plot a coup over Carol and Carl, who, I bet would have handled them easily if we got that showdown. Tyreese and Sasha are cool though. They’re doing a better job of introducing sympathetic characters. Hershel’s group took a lot longer to grow on me.

And then we finally get to the big scene forshadowing where Rick zones out when seeing his baby. Is he looking at it thinking it’s Shane’s? I’m not sure what they’re trying to say with this scene beyond Rick ain’t looking at his baby like he should be. And then we quickly move on to Rick and Tyreese meeting and just when it looks like Hershal has talking him into grudgingly bringing them into the fold–Rick goes total loopypants talking to the ghost of Lori and waving his gun around. This is the leader Tyreese has been waiting to make peace with? Run away, Tyreese, run far away. They’ll likely gloss over this breakdown way too simplistically next week. But they’ll throw enough new twists our way that it won’t matter. Just like this week’s Merle/Daryl “deathmatch” that didn’t happen not mattering.

Good episode.

Underseen Gem: In Bruges

So a couple weeks ago I posted about The Brothers Bloom on the eve of seeing Rian Johnson’s new film Looper. It’s deja vu time, because this weekend I’m jonesing to see Seven Psychopaths because of Martin McDonagh’s fantastic and criminally underseen In Bruges. According to imdb.com, it only reached a couple hundred theatres at its peak, and earned less than 8 million at the box office back in 2008. Travesty, says I.

In Bruges is a darkly comedic story about a pair of hitmen (Colin Ferrell, Brendan Gleeson) sent to lay low in the touristy Bruges, Belgium by their boss (Ralph Fines) while he sorts out the disaster that was their last job in London. Ferrell gives the best performance I’ve ever seen out of him a guilt-ridden gangster bored to tears by the idyllic town. Gleeson is strong too, as his conflicted partner trying to make the best of the situation. And Fines is fun in a scenery-chewing role as their boss with anger management issues frustrated by these hitmen who can’t even lay low properly.

The film is full of memorable scenes, colorful supporting characters, and seesawing unpredictably between dark material and funny moments. You’ll find yourself really caring about what happens to these two hitmen in over their heads. It’s one of my favorites of 2008.

New Story in Return of the Dead Men (and Women) Walking

Whee… always fun to see something new in print. “Bring Me the Head of Pepe Cortez!” is now available as the lead story in the Return of the Dead Men (and Women) Walking anthology from Bards and Sages Publishing. They tease the story with:

An old gunslinger and a horse thief hunt down a rather peculiar prize that does more than haunt them in Bring Me The Head Of Pepe Cortez!

Sounds good to me.

It’s available in paper and ebook at Amazon as well as other retailers.

So, welcome to the big board just outside Casa de Tanner, Bards and Sages. Updating it isn’t easy, but I’ve managed to not fall off the ladder once again…

Underseen Gem: The Brothers Bloom

So Looper comes out this weekend and I can’t wait to get to the theater. And it ain’t that I’m big on time travel stories. The truth is I don’t like most of them–too many “if they can do that, why couldn’t they just have done this…” holes in the plot and internal consistency stuff tends to bug me, tends to mar otherwise fine movies for me. So no fondness for time travel.

What I’m excited about is a new movie regardless of subject matter from Rian Johnson, the guy who made The Brothers Bloom. I love this movie. I look over at IMDB and it just makes me sad that it only made 4 million at the box office. Nobody saw it in the theater. Unfortunately, me included. I caught it on DVD and am kicking myself for it. It’s a mistake I won’t repeat. So the movie… Mark Ruffalo and Andrian Brody are the titled brothers and con-men. Brody wants out–tired of living a life where he’s never himself, always a character in their current scheme. But Ruffalo convinces him to go along for one last con, taking a fortune from a lonely heiress played by Rachel Weisz. Of course, the con does not go as planned. The brother’s history comes back to haunt them as their former mentor and nemesis Diamond Dog shows up. You start wondering who is conning who in the best possible way.

Ruffalo and Brody are fine in their roles, but Weisz is absolutely charming. It’s her enthusiasm that pulls everything along. Rinko Kikuchi as the brothers silent associate Bang Bang also manages to steal a scene here and there without a word. The movie is quirky at times but never gets forced about being quirky for quirk’s sake (though you may disagree when the costuming makes you ponder briefly if it’s a period piece). Even the darkest moments manage to stay breezy. It’s a fun time at the movies and you might just find yourself getting conned along with most of the cast.

And since I started with Looper, I may as well bookend this with a quick nod to Johnson’s earlier film, Brick. I don’t like it as much as The Brother’s Bloom, but it’s still an interesting debut film even with its tiny budget. The premise is bizarre: a noir thriller with dialog right out of The Maltese Falcon and its ilk, but set in a contemporary high school with a teen protagonist. The contrast in tone is probably closest to Romeo + Juliet and at times it’s similarly jarring. But even here you can see the promise in the sharp writing.

Unlife of the Party Reviewed

Short Fiction Spotlight put up a nice review of Unlife of the Party yesterday.I’ve been reading the site for a while and Jason Varrone has a concise, pleasant review style (not to mention an exemplary first name) that leaves you with a clear sense of why he did or didn’t like a story. Even when the reviews get critical, they never get mean-spirited. If you like short stories like I do, I think you’ll enjoy the site.

Five Favorite Films for the First Half of 2012

After seeing The Dark Knight Rises recently, my friend and I started discussing our favorite films so far this year. And so with that conversation in mind, I’m breaking the year at the halfway mark and listing my five favorites released between January 1 and June 30 in kinda progressing toward the favorite order but not considered too deeply.

The Artist – I’ll start with the semi-cheat first (so you forget about it by the end) since this was technically released in 2011 in limited theatres. But it wasn’t in my local theatre until 2012 with the Oscar buzz so I saw it this year. There’s a reasonable argument that it only wins the Oscar due to a weakish field for the year, but the movie is plenty entertaining, inventive conceptually, and paced well. That the filmmakers pulled that off with a silent film is a real testament to their skill.

Ted – Seth Macfarlane’s high-concept film debut caught me by surprise. I’m not much of a fan of his TV shows, but I always liked him when he appeared on talk shows. So we gave this one a chance based on strong reviews and it did not disappoint. It’s truly funny. And beyond that, unexpectedly touching—to the point where you’re actively reminding yourself no, I’m not getting misty-eyed over a CGI teddy bear! So yeah, good stuff. Ted is basically a stand-in for every child star who grew up to diminishing celebrity and a train-wreck of a personal life but less depressing to watch in “adult” form.

21 Jump Street – Another comedy, and I’m now realizing everything on this list plays it for laughs to some extent. I’ve never seen the show 21 Jump Street though I’m old enough to remember it. It got unexpectedly good reviews so we gave it a chance. It exceeded expectations by a wide margin. Channing Tatum (or is it Tatum Channing?) is a real surprise. His timing is great, and you start to empathize with the jock finding out high school isn’t quite what he remembered which amplifies both the painfully funny and triumphantly funny moments. Jonah Hill gets to subvert his many abused nerd roles into apex nerd here and it works, though not quite as well as Tatum’s (or is it Channing’s?) character arc. But bottom line, the movie continues to deliver the funny throughout its running time from wherever it can find a joke. It also contains some fun supporting roles and throws in a few cameos for people who actually liked the original show.

Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson strikes again with a period piece about young love between runaway outcasts pursued by a slew of Hollywood A-listers that like working with Wes Anderson. Everyone in it is just about pitch perfect but in that quirky indie way. I can see the complaints that Anderson’s movies are too affected—I get it. They are and Moonrise Kingdom is no exception, but I still like the character work so much and the inability to guess where the movie will take those characters that I can forgive the dependence on Anderson’s house style. It works for me more often than not. I sometimes wonder what a Wes Anderson screenplay would look like directed by someone else though. I’m getting off track—Moonrise Kingdom is thoroughly great.

The Cabin in the Woods – I talked about it at length here already so I’ll pretty much leave it at that. In the intervening months nothing else I’ve seen has equaled it. Even now, I’m looking forward to seeing it a second time when it’s released on disc more than I’m looking forward to any of the theatrical releases for the remainder of 2012.

A brief honorable mentions list: I also enjoyed Chronicle, The Avengers, Brave and The Raid: Redemption.

The Cabin in the Woods is my Favorite Horror Movie in Years

The Cabin in the Woods is just plain great. And in a way that’s frustrating to talk about because much of the joy is in the discovery. The less you know, the better off you’ll be. And so there’s almost nothing I want to share for fear of revealing some element that you may not know that you could discover for yourself.

Heck, I didn’t even watch the trailer until after I’d seen it. Seeing it recently it shows more than I would have preferred. I read one review that, in retrospect, is startlingly like what I’m writing now. It talked in frustrating vagaries while giving a gushing recommendation and I’m happy it was written that way having seen the film basically from trusting that reviewer and trusting in Joss Whedon’s involvement.

But I’ll at least try to give some sense. First, you have to like and watch a lot of horror movies. The movie is ostensibly about a group of teenagers that encounter a nightmare scenario when they get away from their normal lives for a weekend at the eponymous cabin. But more than that, it’s about movies where teenagers encounter such nightmare scenarios in remote areas. The closest analogue would probably be Scream, where they deconstruct the rules of slasher movies in movie to both humorous and clever effect while still producing an actual slasher movie. Cabin is a similar love letter to a broader array of horror movies including supernatural themes that Scream never broached. And it’s hilarious, smart, and gory. The one thing it isn’t is particularly scary. It doesn’t try too hard for jump scares, or to unnerve the viewer like the recent spate of torture flicks or Japanese (and Japanese-influenced) moodies. You won’t walk out depressed about humanity, or unsettled by some concept or visual that will haunt you.

The film’s happier being a crowd-pleaser. I’m not kidding when I say people were talking in the theatre and it was a good thing. The crowd was engaged, and when someone shouted out “Oh my god!” or “Did that just happen?!” it was more cathartic than annoying.

Another thing worth mentioning is it’s not a “twist” movie per se. It’s not like Sixth Sense (feel free to insert your favorite offender) where once you know the twist there’s little incentive to revisit the film. It’s about discovery and building on the situation they set up in the very earliest frames, before the title even. I walked out intending to buy it the day it’s released for the home so I can watch it again, and share it with anyone willing to invest the time that I couldn’t convince to see it on the big screen. I hope you aren’t one of those people…