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The Walking Dead - Season 2 Frank Darabont
The Walking Dead - Season 2 One thing I find annoying is when shows or movies waste good characters. Season two of The Walking Dead is guilty of this. The show’s voice of reason, Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), is marginalized in season two and killed off in a frustrating manner. It’s as if Rick (Andrew Lincoln) took over Dale’s role as both feuded with the increasingly unstable Shane (Jon Bernthal). Jeffrey DeMunn is a fine actor as well, so losing him hurts no matter the trajectory of his character.

Daryl (Norman Reedus) is not so much a wasted character by the writers as he is wasted as a member of the group by Rick and Shane. As the two, along with Hershel (Scott Wilson), vie for control of the group’s direction, Daryl - seemingly the member most adept at surviving - is left to his own devices. This is partially his fault. He is a loner and doesn’t make much of an effort to to engage the group. His social skills are unpolished to say the least. There is also some underlying resentment of his “respectable” colleagues who have been brought up in good families, have families and jobs, and dress nicely.

Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride) is quick to dissuade Daryl of the notion that he is any less worthy than the others. In this new world the heights someone has reached in pre-apocalyptic society are certainly meaningless. After Daryl’s extended commitment to finding Sophia (Madison Lintz) there is no way he could be considered less worthy - curt manners or not. Rick matches Daryl in the duration of his searching - with Shane all the while pointing out the obvious truth that Sophia would be assumed dead after two days before the zombie apocalypse - but no one matches his effort. In large part (though unsaid) he tirelessly tracks her through the forest because he was ignored and abandoned as a child. As we find out in the shocking mid-season finale, Shane was right. Sophia has been locked in Hershel’s bard the whole time. It was probably the now dead Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who put her and dozens of other walkers in there as Hershel held out hope for a cure.

As Rick steps forward to put a bullet in the head of what used to be Sophia, the show loses another character, Carol. Having found strength during her ordeal, she is destroyed after the discovery of Sophia. A kinship seems to develop with Daryl, so it’s possible she’ll rise again with another lifelong survivor, but for the second half of the season she faded away.

Finally, Merle (Michael Rooker) returned, but only as a hallucination in Daryl’s mind as he struggled to get back to the farm after falling off his horse. I’m assuming that the fact that his amputated hand returned that this meant he was dead (though reports outside the show seem to suggest otherwise). If that’s the case it would be a big waste of Michael Rooker, a great villain character actor.

Another aspect of the story that was wasted was the great state of Georgia. One of the great things about post-apocalyptic stories is that everyone is uprooted - from their homes, their jobs, and their communities. There is no center to life anymore, nor is their stability. The farm brings that back. That’s what the group was looking for in the CDC and hopefully in Fort Benning. Now that they’ve found it they don’t have to explore their environment. They don’t have to explore, scrounge, or think on their feet to avoid the walkers.

The main storyline is the schism between Rick and Shane over the direction of the group. Rick still believes in some sort of order, while Shane believes it’s now kill or be killed. The latter’s descent is, even in the zombie apocalypse, one of the more scary aspects of this season. Once the rules have been invalidated and the element of fear has been introduced, this man of the law, this loyal friend, becomes unstable. Some of it is understandable. Beyond the obvious “world is ending” issues, Shane is being emotionally jerked around. He thought his best friend and superior at work was dead, thereby promoting him to leader and head of Rick’s family. He begins a relationship with Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) whom he has clearly been in love with since before the zombie apocalypse. Now after all he’s done for Rick’s family - and he would do anything for Lori and Carl - his reward is to lose his new family. Shane is not blameless though. Dale tells him that this new world is where he belongs, and it is certainly true that Shane is, if not the most violent, the most erratic of the group. He’s the one who would best live on instinct. You can see this even more in his inability to handle a group dynamic. He can’t handle the dissent that comes with democracy or even a committee. He’s too impatient for process. Eventually his opposition to Rick ends the only way it can, with Shane making a play on Rick’s life, only to be outsmarted by his friend.

Shane’s binary vision - kill or be killed - makes him think of Rick as weak. But just because Rick indulges Carol in searching for Sophia and Hershel by herding walkers into the barn doesn’t make him weak. Sophia is important to the group. Losing her without a fight might be too much for morale. Hershel is their host, so it is prudent to play by his rules, unless the group is willing to take the farm by force. Only Shane seems willing to go that far. When it comes down to it though, Rick has shown more than enough ability to take action. He is the one who initially goes after Sophia. He wants to be the one to go get medical supplies for Karl’s surgery with Otis. He steps up and puts down the zombie Sophia. He kills the two men (Michael Raymond-James as Dave & Aaron Munoz as Tony) in the bar. He allows Shane to make a move on him to force a confrontation.

One more problem I have with the season - the show really - is the careless way the group acts. It annoys me to all hell how much noise they make. The show is inconsistent in how it handles noise. In season one a single gunshot brings dozens of walkers to Morgan (Lennie James) and Duane’s (Adrian Kali Turner) hideout. This season the group engages in target practice and it doesn’t bring walkers. It’s only the helicopter from season one that sets a walker hoard upon the farm. (They left us hanging in season one with that, so I appreciated it showing up again.) I want the group to develop some rules and best practices for survival. How is it that Carl disobeys his parents? How is it that the fear of this new world hasn’t scared him into listening and his parents into getting the point across? Rick starts to develop some rules with his suggestion that they don’t use guns when possible, but for the most part, despite being on a farm all season, they act like a band on the run.

The first half of the season drags, but part two rewards viewers for their patience. Part one is not without its highlights. There is the zombie hoard the group meets on the road, leading to the search for Sophia. Carl is accidentally shot, leading to Otis and Shane’s excursion for medical supplies. This leads to the shocking realization that Shane disabled Otis on purpose so the zombies would eat him and Shane could escape with the equipment (he would do anything for Carl). Lori reveals she is pregnant and who knows whose baby it is. Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) have sex during a supply run. Shane and Andrea (Laurie Holden) do the same on a search for Sophia. In both case there are zombies to escape as well. Daryl tests his survival skills in the woods. And Shane lets the walkers out of the barn. Really, as long as you give me some zombie headshots you can sustain me for a few bland episodes.

Part two is what we signed up for. Hershel goes to the bar after his post-apocalyptic worldview is destroyed. There, he, Rick, and Glenn have to fight off a party of survivors. They rescue one of the men, Randall (Michael Zegen), which sets up a conflict about whether to kill or release him. When they do try to release him, Shane nearly gets caught by a group of zombies at a school before a daring “maybe things will be OK with the group after this” rescue by Rick.

The finale is what the zombie apocalypse is all about. No one is safe. People - Jimmy (James Allen McCune) and Patricia (Jane McNeill) - are going to die. Your world is going to be overrun like Hershel’s farm and burn to the ground like his barn. Here comes the hoard and you can’t stop them. Defend your home until you realize it’s hopeless. Then run for your life like Andrea does in the woods. With a bag of guns. No food. No water. No rest. Too slow - of mind or foot - and you are zombie lunch. Andrea’s face as she looks back in horror at the relentless hoard - that is the zombie apocalypse.

The finale also gives us three major pieces of information for the next season. Rick finally reveals what Jenner (Noah Emmerich) whispered in the season one finale. Everyone is infected. This was hinted at with the two dead biteless police officers at the school. It was heavily suggested after Daryl and Glenn find and kill Randall, and after Shane’s reanimated body is put down by Carl. The next two revelations are major foreshadowing for season three. As the survivors camp out Daryl, Carol, T-Dog (almost got to the end of the recap without mentioneing IronE Singleton’s character, yet he survived anyway), Rick, Carl, Lori, Glenn, Maggie, Amy (Emma Bell), and Hershel - once again a band on the run, the final scene pans up to show a prison, where I assume they’ll stay and meet new characters in season three. The last revelation is a mysterious black shrouded woman who saves Andrea by slicing the head off a zombie with some sort of sword. When Andrea looks up the woman has two amputated zombies in tow. Can’t wait till next year.
 
60 minutes
This product was released around October 2011 by AMC
I consumed this around October 2011
More: The Walking Dead - Season 2
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 6/4/2012 9:45:31 PM
 
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The Mist Frank Darabont
The Mist There's something fun about the beginning of a horror film. It's the dramatic irony. It's peaceful, even if it's not. And you know it won’t last. It’s like the death row inmate’s last meal. You get to see people as they were before it all goes to hell. How will that personality react to conflict?

Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) is a god-fearing woman so she sees the mist that rolls into town killing people as a sign from an angry god. Brent Norton (played by one of my favorites, Andre Braugher) is a big shot lawyer from the city. He applies cold reason to the situation. In between blind faith and cynical reason resides the film's core group - David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son Billy (Nathan Gamble), older characters Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn) and Irene Reppler (Frances Sternhagen), supermarket employees Bud Brown (Robert Treveiler), Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones), Sally (Alexa Davalos), and Norm (Chris Owen), the younger Amanda Dumfries (Laurie Holden), mechanics Jim Grondin (William Sadler) and Myron LaFleur (David Jensen), a biker (Brian Libby), and three soldiers (the main character played by Samuel Witwer). They’re slightly more moderate, more intelligent, more cautious, more caring, and more scared. They not only must fight monsters but the extremes of human nature.

Carmody dooms them because she doesn’t believe in humanity, Norton because he doesn’t believe in the threat. They are the annoying, but sadly realistic, post-apocalyptic trope: people can survive the monsters but can they survive themselves? It is the group that works together that escapes the supermarket, while we assume the extremes get what’s due to them to the delight of the audience.

The film plays a little with roles - the hick mechanics are cowards, the weasley little supermarket employee (Ollie) is pretty bad ass as is the old school teacher (Irene), the three soldiers are worthless, the lone biker gives himself up for the group, the crazy guy running from the mist at the beginning (Dan Miller) is actually pretty levelheaded.

But David Drayton is clearly our stock strong male character. He’s the hero. Follow him for your best chance of survival. But The Mist plays with that a little too. What if our hero makes all the wrong decisions? He can’t save the bag boy (Norm). He gets violent trying to convince the logical Norton about the danger, ending any chance of him helping. He can’t rally the faithful or the enlightened. The lights he sets up in the store attract some bug monsters. His trip to the pharmacy only gets more people killed. Later we find out that (spoilers) if he left when the mist first arrived he might have survived like the woman played by Melissa Suzanne McBride (the third of the cast along with Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn to show up later in director Frank Darabont’s The Walking Dead). Also notice it’s not Drayton who holds the gun. And with his final decision The Mist does not let him - or the audience - off the hook for his miscalculations.

Early on I liked the tension the mist created. By the time Mrs. Carmody started gaining converts in the supermarket I was getting tired of the film. Where was the (apparently well intentioned) military to blast these things back to the 5th dimension? But the ending, like it or not, is worth the wait.
 
126 minutes
This product was released around November 2007
I consumed this around December 2011
More: The Mist
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 1/14/2012 5:39:01 PM
 
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The Walking Dead Frank Darabont
The Walking Dead Six one hour episodes is too short a season for a series as good as The Walking Dead. I have to admit that when I heard there was going to be a zombie show on AMC I was totally psyched. While this biased me it also heightened my expectations. Given the uncompromising pace of The Walking Dead - which was expected if you've seen other AMC shows like Mad Men - there wasn't much action in the first season. The meat of the show consists of the myriad of personal interactions and emotions that are a result of the zombie apocalypse. It's not gory, but it has just enough zombie kills. Sniper shots are the most fun. Handguns hitting zombie heads while their holders are on the run are less believable (especially when Rick is in the hospital after a gun fight where he and his cop buddies missed quite a few shots). Max Brooks (of The Zombie Survival Guide) would be proud of Daryl's (Norman Reedus) use of a compound bow. Axes make for great kills as well. The cinematography was great. A pity the finale was in a dark underground bunker rather than out in the amazing post-apocalyptic world the show created.

The series opens with a pre-apocalypse police chase. Injured in the subsequent gun fight, Officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) wakes up in an empty hospital. The scene, also seen in 28 Days Later, is kind of an obvious construct, but undeniably powerful. Grimes struggles through a disheveled hospital, past dead bodies, and an abandoned military outpost on his way home. By the time he crosses a legless zombie in the park he must believe he's in a dream - that is until he gets hit in the head with a shovel by a little boy (Adrian Kali Turner) and ultimately spared by his father (Lennie James). The blow hurts but the family of two saves his life by shooting an oncoming zombie and stashing him in the house they occupy on a sleepy street in King County.

Grimes is quick to believe the problems facing the world and makes a good choice to go get some guns at his station. His responsible nature is on display as he gives Morgan a stash of guns and a radio. But he makes a bad mistake listening to rumors of safety in Atlanta. His car breaks down on the way, setting up a striking and ominous scene. Grimes enters the city on horseback via a completely empty inbound highway. The outbound highway is choked with abandoned cars. At this point anyone should have known to turn back. He fails to turn back after wandering onto a desolate street occupied by a few zombies, then finds another street littered with the remains of military defenses. Finally, he really steps in it as he turns another corner into a hoard of zombies. Grimes loses his horse, his guns, and almost his life before he scuttles under and into a tank.

The Walking Dead adheres pretty closely to standard zombie lore. Though we never learn how the zombie virus (or is it a parasite, or a bacteria) broke out we know that it now gets transmitted if a zombie bites an uninfected person. The newly infected person becomes sick with a fever and general weakness in the muscles and bones. He or she dies and reanimates in less than 24 hours, hungry for flesh. They don't need human flesh, as we see zombies eat a horse and a deer. Standard "kill the brain" rules apply (Daryl chides fellow survivors when they only decapitate a stray zombie). Their brethren are distinguished from live humans by smell (as the survivors rightly surmise) and they follow sound to find prey. Gray and green faces are the norm, with body parts decomposing at different rates. Probably one of the reasons the first season was only six episodes is that AMC didn't want to pay for a full season of the great makeup work before it knew it had a hit. The "walkers" walk slowly but are able to break into a limping trot when they spot food. They flash traces of intelligence more so than the classic zombie. Morgan's reanimated wife keeps coming back to the house she died in. Some zombies try to break in to kill the survivors by picking up rocks and bashing in the front window of a department store. They're certainly mentally impaired but I think this is a tad more intelligence than usual.

What The Walking Dead is really about though - and what I expected from an AMC original - is the human psyche during a disaster. In a crisis, when people are thrown together to survive, do they fight or unite? The band of survivors that Grimes encounters in Atlanta were cooperating until his actions trap them in a department store. They have an Asian man (Steven Yeun as Glenn), a few African Americans (IronE Singleton as T-Dog and Jeryl Prescott as Jacqui), a Hispanic family (headed by Juan Gabriel Pareja as Morales), some rednecks (the aforementioned Daryl and his brother Merle, played by Michael Rooker), and Rick's family (Sarah Wayne Callies as his wife, Lori, and Chandler Riggs as his son, Carl) and friend (Jon Bernthalf as Shane Walsh). Merle, played by perfectly by Rooker, probably wasn't a treat to be around before, but his true racism bubbles up when it looks like they are doomed. The laid back Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) and Jim (Andrew Rothenberg) don't exactly trust the rest of the group, but care deeply about them. Dale thinks of Amy (Emma Bell) and Andrea (Laurie Holden) as daughters. Jim, after a breakdown, is deeply concerned with Carl. Shane and Rick, friends back on the police force, clash often at lower intensities back at the camp. A secret affair divides Shane and Lori completely after she finds out Shane "lied" about Rick's death. Shane starts to fall apart when he can't control his love for her. Despite all of that the group still works together through the worst of circumstances. There are only a few times when they turn on each other, and then strong leadership from Rick (with his mind) and Shane (with his body) quell the problem. A common theme in good post-apocalyptic stories is the danger survivors pose to themselves. Things don't look good in The Walking Dead but if Daryl or Merle had their way, or if Shane completely lost it, the group would crumble.

Loss is the strongest theme I saw in The Walking Dead. It is what tempts the characters to lose hope. Everyone has lost someone and everyone has lost the very foundation of their being as the world around them is gutted and left to rot. If Lori didn't have Carl or Shane, her loss of Rick probably would have been fatal. Jim almost succumbs to madness remembering his family being ripped from his arms by a hungry hoard. Andrea and Amy are able to cope with loss of their parents by reminiscing together about them. When Amy dies it sends Andrea into a spiral of depression that almost brings down Dale. Connections to others keep us going. The loss associated with the end of the world is ultimately too much for Jacqui and late character addition Dr. Jenner (Noah Emmerich). The ever tough Daryl shows emotion at the loss of his brother.

Even the material losses mean something. Andrea, Amy, Jacqui, and Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride) talk about their missing pleasures (texting, vibrators) while doing chores at the camp. Twice we see joyfully characters procure a long missed hot shower. Food, clothing, and transportation are all scarce in this new world. If the characters can survive the zombies, and the personal loss, and the lack of basic infrastructure, it is not that unlikely that the loss of the little things could push them over the edge.
 
60 minutes
This product was released around Fall 2010 by AMC
I consumed this around November 2010
More: The Walking Dead
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 12/14/2010 9:45:01 PM
 
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