November 3, 2013 § Leave a comment
AMC’s The Walking Dead series evolves every season. Season one introduced the new world of the Walkers as the audience followed Rick’s awaking from the sleep of a coma into a living nightmare. Season one is base, pure, survival: learning how to cope with the undead.
Season two is what I have dubbed in previous articles as “the politics of the Apocalypse.” The group forms internal factions, reacts and is reacted to by Herschel’s family unit, eventually melding into a cohesive group after events forced a reckoning to “join or die.” This was all at the cost of Dale, the voice of reason’s death, as well as fights to the death between Rick and Shane for the leadership of the group, and its code of ethics, with father-ship of Laurie’s baby as a “prize.”
Season three I would classify as the war of the paranoid doppelgangers. Rick as a leader is mirrored by the Governor, both of which are struggling with loss that leads to questionable actions by both, with Rick being less murderous. Of special note is the redemption of Merle, who finds the “light,” aka human decency, as his brother had, via Merle’s own mirror in Micchone
Season four, a few episodes in, The Walking Dead’s world is what I’d dub “post-Walker” in that a semblance of normalcy is trying to take root. The prison has become a home for the Woodbury survivors along with many who have been brought in to the fold by Darryl. This is stark contrast to the previous season where Rick’s group had left a lone survivor to die on the road, only to take his bloodied belongings on the return trip..
The viewers are given a tableaux of this world in the first episode. The prison is a burgeoning civil community, with pluralistic rule, schooling of children (in a post-walker manner, thanks to Carol), everyone with a purpose, and a civil atmosphere that even has helped roll back some of the sociopathic pall that was engulfing Carl. Now in full blossom since his redemption of Merle, Darryl has become the new adulated hero, though not without Carol reminding him, “I liked you first,” despite Darryl and Merle’s obvious status as outlaws and racists, in the pre-walker world (Nazi SS icons on their motorcycles, for example), and their previous sin of plotting to rob the core group during the events of season one, as well.
Rick has relinquished his leadership duties to a council, along with carrying his signature .44 Magnum, which as one of the most powerful handguns displayed in the series, is a symbol of power and leadership. Rick has turned to the civil role of provider, tending garden, livestock, and collecting game from traps.
The story so far introduces post-walker problems. Like the real Dark Ages, the post-walker world does not benefit from modern amenities chief of which are modern medicine. The council informs Rick he must re-arm, in essence take larger responsibility again, and is immediately tested by having to sacrifice his pigs, symbols of his domestic civility, for security.
Next Rick, is called upon to utilize his police skills from the pre-walker world to investigate the murders of the flu victims. He succeeds, but is now faced with the consequences of how law and justice now should work in a post-Walker world.
With just a few episodes into the new season, The Walking Dead’s evolution continues to hold the interest of this viewer and I look forward to the next episode. The exploration of this world promises to be a tense reflection into how tough life is without the systems we take for granted everyday.
June 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
A year has past since Holder and Linden have spoken. It is unclear from the first episode if that was from when Linden walks away from Holder in the season two finale or not. Linden now is working minimum wage at a ferry, while Holder has exchanged his hoodie for a suit, tie and a new partner, Reddick, played by the ever excellent Gregg Henry.
Holder and Reddick catch a body of a young street hustler/prostitute in a locale very similar to Linden’s going away “body” (blow-up doll) in the first season. Reddick fearing their arrest record will be tarnished on a Jane Doe with no leads tries, successfully, to pawn the case off on another detective.
However, Holder is bothered by the similarity of the MO of this killing to a case that Linden closed prior to his working with her. (Ala the creepy child’s drawing used to represent Linden’s insecurities/sanity in the first two seasons.) Holden visits Linden, kids her about the youth of her boyfriend, and leaves the case file.
Despite Linden’s obvious aversion to the previous case she tries to forget and leaves the file where it lays. Meanwhile, Holder trolls the Jungle of Seattle, depicting it in such a way that I will still call “a rain drenched circle of hell.” The show’s creators have done the city no favors or pulled any punches.
Viewers learn more about the street youths glimpsed in the very beginning of the show, surprisingly (at least for me) that, Bullet, is in fact a very butch teen girl. Bullet is a really fresh, compelling, character for this genre and a oozes gritty realism that is a fact for many girls like her. Newcomer Bex Taylor-Klause hits it out of the park with this role.
In addition to the new case, the man convicted in Linden’s traumatic case, Seward, is introduced on his transfer to Death Row. He has mailed requests to both Linden and her former partner Skinner (played by Elias Koteas) that they attend his execution. Linden visits Skinner about the new case, if they got the wrong guy, and the request. After the visit, in a ominously dramatic moment, Skinner’s wife tells Linden she never wants to see her again.
The two-hour premier was jam packed with setup for a what seems like a terrific season.
Bullet’s friend goes missing and viewers are given the impression that the same killer has taken her. Linden tries to shake off the case, trying to clear her mind with a long jog, but she happens upon a bizarre scene of cattle skeletons and a lone suffering bovine. Returning home Linden is confronted by her boyfriend when he finds the crime scene photos. She doesn’t reply, simply gathering her gun and returns to the cow in order to put it out of its misery.
The episode wraps up in such a way that perhaps the show should be renamed “The Killings.” Linden, while visiting the adoptive home of the Seward’s son, obtains a new version of the creepy drawing. This rendition has some new features missing from the original. With recognizable landmarks in the back drop, Linden locates the area depicted, along with something dreadful, foreshadowed by what Linden discovered earlier on her jog.
If you missed the first two seasons, it should not preclude a fan of crime dramas from jumping in on season three. I am so glad AMC decided to bring Holder and Linden back.
August 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
A&E’s season finale of Longmire ended in a what I’d call an “uh, oh” rather than a cliff-hanger. However, this state of affairs does nothing to take away the ride this season has given its audience. The excellent “modern Western” series features incremental character development which culminated in cell-phone hating Walt Longmire’s long-eluded to secret becoming known during the season finale.
Along the way the familial and work-place feuding heats up. Vic confronts Walt’s would-be girlfriend, Lizzie, and instead of giving a warning, got some perspective on her own feelings. Branch’s sheriff’s campaign and workplace rivalry with Walt boils over into a brawl when Walt, rightly stops Branch from half-cocked police work. Most gut-wrenching is the Walt/Cady father-daughter turmoil spirals into a dark place with verbal kicks to each others’ guts. Above it all is the outstanding Lou Diamond Phillips’ Henry as the amazingly down-to-earth voice of reason and soul of the entire show.
“Unfinished Business” also had two notable guest-stars. Charles S. Dutton stars as a Denver Detective who has been trying to pin down Walt. Also, Q’Orianka Kilcher, best known for her turn as Pocahontas in Malick’s The New World, plays a mentally-challenged rape victim, Ayasha Roundstone. Both performances add to the already great acting ensemble on the show.
Will I be excited to see the next season? You bet!
August 4, 2012 § 1 Comment
Readers of this blog probably know we love The Walking Dead. So without further ado here is the video game adaptation review.
Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is a great example of what can happen if a developer revives one of video games’ long neglected genre: the adventure game. My own PC gaming history begins with Sierra Online’s catalog of adventure that included favorites such as King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Hero’s Quest, Phantasmagoria, and who can forget Leisure Suit Larry.
Different from what would become more traditional RPGs where the player creates the details of their avatar, adventure games set the back-story and characters that the player would guide through the story. Some may argue that it diminishes player experience, but it gives designers the ability to craft a more intimate story tied to the characters. To this end, there have even been some attempts to root a specific common back-story to “custom” player avatars in recent games such as Dragon Age and Fallout 3.
The Walking Dead has players taking the role of Lee Everett, a UGA professor convicted of murdering a politician that was sleeping with his wife. The murder may or may not have been in self-defense. In a twist of fate, Lee is given a second chance on life by the outbreak of Walkers.
Almost immediately the player meets the little girl Clementine, who by circumstances becomes Lee’s ward. She becomes the moral compass by which most of Lee’s actions are judged by the game’s systems. Along the way, Lee meets with Hershel and Glenn who are also featured in the excellent AMC storyline. (I have not read the graphic novels so won’t assume they are from there.)
There are some hard decisions the player will have to make for Lee and sometimes there are no “right” answers. The game’s aesthetic is similar to the comic book, yet animated, and comes off very well. The “zones” or as they used to be called “screens” in old-school adventure games, remind me very much of the classic adventure games. There are features to manipulate and examine, not all of which are immediately useful, or have any apparent use. I must have had Lee look a newspaper clipping six or seven times before I determined they were just for “flavor.” One other interesting feature of the game is the stat tracker telling you what percentage of players choose certain paths compared to your choices.
So far Telltale has released two episodes of the game and I burned through both very quickly, even for me, the game is THAT intriguing. I think it will appeal to those who may not necessarily be fans of the zombie genre or old-timer adventure games enthusiasts like me simply because it is a well-made game.
June 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
AMC’s The Killing wrapped up its second season and the Rosie Larsen murder case. There is some question as to whether there will be another case, but as how things wrapped up in the show and in the actors’ careers, which are on the up-tick, it remains to be seen. The finale has left that point open ended.
This season was mostly an exercise in pain as the lead characters continually were smacked around (sometimes literally) and tortured in their pursuit of Rosie Larsen’s murderer(s). Ominous and powerful forces arrayed to try and keep Linden and Holder from finally fingering the cabal behind the murder. The crime was solved, but only one arrest stuck with those just as culpable going free (and ultimately rewarded) or otherwise eluding arrest by other means. The only positive, if it can be called that, is that the Larsen’s get some measure of closure via a final message from Rosie, but she is still dead, so it is what it is.
While it is hotly being debated as whether or not that the case (or the show) ended well, I think it was extremely brave to end on a realistically Pyrrhic victory. Those who are guilty yet have power DO get away with things that the plebeian masses cannot. The sacrifices made by Linden and Holder ring hollow in the outcome. Despite knowing who killed Rosie, no real “bad guy” was actually going to get punished, even though the actual “doer” was arrested and will go to jail.
The finale ends with Linden getting out and walking away from Holder’s car when they are supposed to respond to a new murder. This tells me at least Linden, most likely, will not be in The Killing, season 3. That is, IF there is one, since the actor portraying Holder, Joel Kinnaman, is a rising star and is cast to be the titular character in the Robocop reboot. Overall, the final season was an inverted roller coaster, plunging the characters through hell, only to break even with the real world. However, the gritty realism and less than perfect protagonists, expertly acted, made the journey and final twist worthwhile.
June 19, 2012 § 3 Comments
I want to preface this review by stating that there is not many sci-fi franchises I like better than the Alien cycle. Aliens was the first film I ever recorded off TV (my uncle’s house had HBO) with a VCR. The “Alien Trilogy” was the first boxed set of VHS tapes I ever bought. I played all the “Aliens” arcade and home video games and the ones that would spawn the Alien vs. Predator films. I steeped myself in the background. As I write this review, the Aliens Colonial Marines Technical Manual sits on the shelf above me. I even had the privilege and delight to read the game design document that Icarus Studios pitched to 20th Century Fox (I assume, I never was clear on the client) for a three faction MMORPG.
I love Alien, which I saw after Aliens, and how it is profoundly Lovecraftian in its suspenseful build up and how it is three parts horror, one part Sci-Fi. Also, the story of Alien is more or less the retelling of Stoker’s description of Dracula’s journey on board the ship Demeter on his way to London. Alien is a combination of gothic (the ship Nostromo and the refinery it tows even looks like a castle) and Lovecraftian/monster horror. Better yet, it is well done and one can delve into many, many aspects of the film, which I have attempted when presenting academic papers on Sci-Fi monsters and robots to my peers at conferences.
Suffice it to say, I have given more than passing interest to these films. Ridley Scott, a frequent subject of my academic delvings, started his career in science fiction with Alien, and after his next film, Blade Runner, would not revisit the genre until Prometheus, thirty years later. (Ironically, a Blade Runner sequel may follow this film.) I was extremely interested in this film, and what it would add it to the greatest Sci-Fi cycle. It is as if Scott is returning to the old neighborhood home and, honestly, Prometheus is really almost more of a new coat of paint on Alien than a new film.
SPOILER WARNING (but hey the trailers show everything anyway)
The film takes more than a few pages and ideas from Von Daniken and the more recent “Ancient Aliens” TV show on cable. At the start of the film the audience is treated to a sequence with a robed entity, marooned/sacrificed on a primordial Earth and a large UFO saucer leaving him to, ostensibly, seed the ooze with DNA to create life on Earth. OK, so I wouldn’t have guessed that the Engineers/Pilots (the IP called them “Pilots” first) looked like hair-less, albino, NBA players.
After this reveal we pretty much do not have any of the suspense or horror of the previous films. This story has played out a few times over the course of the series. We know that a crew of humans will go out and a single person(or a few) will come out. We see some variations on the Xenomorph, and some things with tentacles which may be the Lovecraftian nod, if ham-fisted, but the grown up “child” of Elizabeth really looked like a scaled down version of the “alien” from Moore’s graphic novel The Watchmen. Even the latest Predator film, Predators, managed some interesting twists beyond the previous four films where these ultimate hunters appear. Even, Cameron’s “sequel” to his Aliens, Avatar, managed to be more interesting, and if you squint and notice the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” even that the film fits into the series better than Prometheus. If anything, Prometheus muddies the Alien IP and story chronologies further.
The only thing slighty positive I can say about the film is if you never saw any of the others it may stand up to scrutiny better. However, this was not the audience Scott should have been aiming for. He certainly is not taking out the dents and tarnish that have been appearing on his oeuvre. It really sort of makes me dread what he has cooked up for Blade Runner.
June 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
Set in fly-over-country Wyoming, Walt Longmire is a cell-phone hating, county sheriff and recent widower. It is hinted at that he has been derelict in his duties since the death of his wife, holding on to her ashes in a tea box in the kitchen. He has three deputies: Branch Connally, played ably by Bailey Chase who I really liked on TNT’s Saving Grace cop show, “Vic” Moretti, played by Starbuck, erm, Katee Sackhoff and portly “The Ferg,” who probably took the deputy job after not getting accepted to the University of Wyoming.
Branch wants to be sheriff, as a election billboard states, causing Longmire to crash his police SUV after being unable to return his eyes to the road. That conflict promises an awkward work environment.
Vic is 6 months into the job after duty as a Philadelphia homicide detective. She doesn’t seem to like the environment, and after using a blow dryer to melt 100 yards of snow, there has to be a back story as to what would bring her to Wyoming.
Not on the force, but nicely played by Lou Diamond Philips is Henry the barkeep at the local watering hole and closest thing to a best friend and informant to Longmire. Also, an apt teacher of “OITs,” Old Indian Tricks. This character promises some neat “pop.”
The show subtly clues in the viewers with hints to fill in the back story of the characters. The characters seem to be the driving force behind the show’s plot rather than the crime (sub)plots. Frankly, crimes are depicted the same over every crime drama, and it’s the characters that need to be interesting to hold me as a viewer. The Wyoming setting and its vast vistas deviod of other humans makes for a character unto itself and promises to be a friend AND foe. Despite being 2012, this is still an untamed frontier.
I will watch Longmire next week and if your TV viewing schedule has time, I recommend giving this show a shot.