Monday, 29 November 2010

The Walking Dead 105: Wildfire

Do not enter the city. It belongs to the dead now.
Rick Grimes

In 1986 Spike Lee made a film about a bed hopping single black female. She’s Gotta Have It was revolutionary at the time: a film with an African-American female lead, a film directed by a black man, a non-accusatory film about (black) female sexuality. Lee incurred the wrath of (white) America with his pertinent Do the Right Thing 1989. He awakened ghosts, frightened the living and had to battle Warner Bros1 with Malcolm X 1992. He is the pre-eminent African-American film director in the history of motion pictures. His films for the most part challenge, provoke, entertain, involve and engage. His films are cinema.

Ernest Dickerson2 made his name during the Spike Lee years (1986-1995) as his director of photography. Having served his apprenticeship he was rewarded with a studio released debut feature Juice 1992 starring Tupac Shakur. At this point Ernest Dickerson was the next big (black) thing3.

A career in the arts is a marathon and not everyone can be Alfred Hitchcock. Dickerson floundered at features. Others have too. Allan Moyle was a notable disappointment. Richard Kelly is a notable disappointment. Television is become a refugee camp for the once promising movie director. Television is what keeps Dickerson in the visual arts.
He used to be a contender.

The pre credit scene is a harbinger. Unlike the preceding three episodes there is a point to it; Andrea now knows how to use a gun – and accepts the leadership of the cops by consent and not coercion. The immediate question raised is the genre’s pièce de résistance: the transformation from dead to walking dead.

The very first sequence after the titles displays the difference of this episode. Morales and Daryl carry a corpse towards the bonfire. Glenn accosts them. He is strident.

Our people go in that row over there. We don’t burn them. We bury them. Understand? Our people go in that row over there.

He controls himself. He is insistent. Glenn is a boy. Morales and Daryl are men. They are not chastened but they do not argue. They bury their dead.

For the first time since this series began there is consequence. The characters are to dwell in the aftermath of the machinations of the plot. This is the blitz. On some occasions when Churchill and/or King George VI visited the bombed out districts the crowds would boo them4. They had survived that night. They would have to survive this one.

After catastrophe comes chaos. Daryl declares the massacre as punishment for the camp deserting his brother. Jim begs Jacqui not to out him. She does. Shane considers murder – a sight seen by Dale. Andrea kills her sister’s walker.

Dickerson’s skill as a director is to dwell on the actors. It is the reaction shot. The actors – all of them – raise their game accordingly. The survivor’s register shock, horror, dismay, revulsion and fear at the revelation of a bleeding bite wound on Jim’s stomach. Jim pleads for his life then has to sit and wait as a people’s tribunal decides his fate.

There are bouts of sentimentality – Gale’s soliloquy and Amy’s zombie death – but these are negated by her burial. They are negated by the tribunal arguing to a near point of violence about what direction to take. The camp is to separate. The farewell scene invokes images of Somali refugee camps in Kenya and the blind choices a man must make to save his family. No actor is wasted where they hitherto have been. This is the skill of Dickerson.

For the first time Sarah Wayne Callies as Lori gives a worthy performance. Rick approaches his wife for help. She can’t give it him. She won’t give it him. These are people falling apart. They are frantic, desperate and propelled by fear. The realisation is settling in; they are living in false hope. Rick, Shane and Daryl want to defeat the enemy while Lori and Glen insist on retaining their humanity. It takes all sorts of mechanisms to cope.

Shane is given more motivation. His family are dead. That’s more than enough to tip any man – much less a self believing cop – into the insanity of jealousy. Jacqui has her best scenes yet. Jim’s demise is a good (off screen) death. In a world of 6.5 billion people what’s one more zombie in the scheme of things?
The climax to this episode rivals 101. It doesn’t supersede it but it does come close. It is action and drama. It is cinematic. It is magnificent. Ernest Dickerson is the biggest mistake of this series because he has exposed the potential of The Walking Dead. He has shown what could have been. What it should be. He hasn’t lost his talent.
He is wasted in television.

Read more Thrill Fiction: The Walking Dead 104: Vatos
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Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Walking Dead 104: Vatos

Vato: The word Mexicans use for homeboy(sic).
The Urban Dictionary

Not to be confused with the Hispanic street gang Vatos Locos.

400 years ago Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. To celebrate his failure the British burn effigies atop bonfires every November 5th. The fires burn at public gatherings and in private backyards to a firework display finale. Bonfire night aside throughout the year people use fireworks to celebrate a myriad of occasions: sporting events, the openings of restaurants, nightclubs, birthdays. Other countries celebrate with fireworks too. The fact is human beings are mesmerised by flashing lights in the night sky. Just like the zombies in George A Romero’s Land of the Dead 2005.

The Walking Dead is a fireworks display: all smoke no mirrors.

Monsters 2010 is an apocalypse-set film in the tradition of Cloverfield 2008. Whereas the latter positions itself in the horror genre the former is set firmly in drama. Monsters tells the story of two Americans stranded in Mexico who attempt to walk their way through the ‘infected zone’ back into the United States. In this apocalyptic world the characters have nothing left but time – and a survivalist’s urgency. It is a time to re-examine themselves. It is time not afforded to us in our world of capitalism and consumerism. There comes a tipping point in that time where the characters realise that this is the end of the world and all hope is gone. At the end of time will people gravitate to each other out of lust or despair?

The Walking Dead attempts to position itself as drama yet after more than three hours of broadcast television it has failed to establish tone. There is not a sense of static time or hopelessness. Rick Grimes’ quest seems to be leading to a point but post Armageddon all points are futile. The show does not convey this. Civilization would have to start over but these characters act like they’re waiting for a rescue. The series balances itself between horror and drama – Atlanta and the campsite – with no equilibrium. The last two episodes have seen the drama fail at camp. This episode sees the horror fail in Atlanta.

The fail is the writing. Time and again the program makers waste the pre credit sequence. Rather than establish the episode they signpost the climax – with a bludgeon rather than a blade; the conversation between two blonde women about fishing tackle is at best inane at worst sentimental. These two characters then expose the series as fraud. Where did that boat come from? Did a refugee carry it on their back whilst fleeing escaping flesh eating zombies? How long have these people been in camp because they act like this is the first time the sisters have caught fish. Yet the girls are lifelong amateur fishermen. They catch a bounty bigger than the Cornwall fishing quota.

Jim wanders off and occupies his time digging holes in the ground. That causes consternation amongst the campers. Apparently he’s scaring Lori’s son and Carol’s daughter. Notably his digging is not scaring Juan’s children. I guess the only time a white man scares them is when he wants to deport them. Nevertheless we must protect the (white) children so Shane handcuffs Jim to a tree.

Do not be deceived. This episode does not deal with the inevitable nervous breakdowns following Armageddon or even the camp dynamics. Jim’s ‘sunstroke’ is a setup for the conclusion. A society can be judged by the way it treats its mentally ill. How would Shane or anyone else treat a liability who screams at night as a beacon for the walkers? Why hasn’t anyone challenged Shane his leadership position especially after Ed’s beating in 103 and now Jim? There should be murmurings and grumblings of a coup d’état most likely from Lori. Alas this show has no interest in human motivation and condition. This is soap opera and General Hospital has been running for 50 years.

In Atlanta the racist stereotyping continues. The only good Injun is a dead one but these Latinos are good guys. They may come across as gangbangers but they’re really just looking after their grandmothers – for shame. Atlanta is a majority African-American city but in the wonderful world of white fantasy where are all the black zombies?

They’re unemployed.

There is a token black zombie. T-Dog is given a gun. He gets to use it as well. He gets to shoot a zombie. Guess which one.

I’m your worst nightmare.
I’m a n— with a gun badge.
Eddie Murphy
Another 48 Hours

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Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Walking Dead 103: Tell It to the Frogs

A television serial is an extended form of storytelling. It bears similarity to the novel in that soon after the beginning there has to be a lull in order for the story to catch up to the plot. Tell it to the Frogs attempts to explain the series subplot: why is Rick Grimes’ wife shagging his best friend?

In professional wrestling the maxim is to hide a performer’s weaknesses whilst accentuating his strengths – that way a man like Hulk Hogan becomes an icon. 103 pulls Rick Grimes out of Atlanta (peril) and into the boondocks (the camp). Here the story weaknesses have no zombies to hide behind.

Mythology is open to adaptation so credit to the program makers for their version and expansion of zombie lore. It was established in Days Gone Bye (101) that the walkers are more active at night. Guts (102) stated they are attracted by “sight, sound and smell”. In this episode the camp lights at least two fires (at night). It defies narrative logic.

Alas the plot demands it. The campfire scene introduces new character Ed. It establishes tension between Ed and camp leader Shane. This takes place after Rick Grimes reunites with his family in what has to be the most signposted and underwhelming scene since Colleen forgave Wayne Rooney1.

The script tries to convince the viewer that Rick’s wife Lori is innocent of adultery ie Shane told her Rick was dead. This begs the question which is worse: a whore or a widow who can’t wait to sleep with her recently deceased husband’s best friend and partner? Lori’s actions do not a sympathetic character make yet she is being painted as one.

Lori is played by a Sarah Wayne Callies2. Her chemistry with lead Andrew Lincoln is remote so the blame is hers and her résumé on IMDb explains why. She is not an actor – she’s a line reader. Her career is TV fodder.

There are more new characters introduced in camp. Juan has a wife and two children with nary a line between them. His small children aren’t as worried about him as the adult Amy is about her sister Andrea. To be sure the people of colour serve as tokens and stereotypes. To be fair they’re not the only ones.

How big is this camp? None of the characters say or indicate how many of them there are. They cannot possibly cover all their parameters and Dale’s daytime standing atop the RV is a writer’s feeble attempt at sentry. Moreover what are they feeding on? It can’t be the land. Nor can it be squirrels and tins of baked beans with frog’s legs to look forward to. There is a reason why zombie films take place in cities. Fiction relies on the suspension of disbelief. Despite Shane’s water source this show has jumped the shark.

The token black female Jacqui has established herself as mammy. T-Dog – him with the gangsta name – insists on risking his own life to save the racist who beat him, spat on him and threatened to kill him. He’s a good slave. Ed is another type of TV stereotype. He’s a white man (but we know he’s a bad man because he’s sexist). He dares to hit her in front of witnesses – only on television – and gets a beatdown from Shane for it. Compare his beating with that of Merle’s in 102. Sexism is worse than racism – but only when directed at a white woman.
The dénouement of this episode was telegraphed in its prologue. Three episodes in The Walking Dead is TV writing at its worst. To be fair television is the worst medium of writing. This is not the only piece of shit to be a major hit. At one time everybody watched Baywatch.

Readers of the comics say the walking dead are the survivors not the zombies. I say they’re the people who watch this show and haven’t got the wherewithal to know they’re being laughed at.

Do you think those nitwits out there in zombieland remember anything? It’s junk food for the brain.
Robert Downey Jr (Wayne Gale)
Natural Born Killers 1994

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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Walking Dead 102: Guts

A friend of mine popped by Sunday night but I didn’t hear him knock. As I went into the kitchen for a drink of water I saw him walking off through the window so I gave him a shout.

I don’t believe in coincidence. I’m Pentecostal Christian (lapsed). I believe in divine providence. The secularists, like the Chinese, believe in chance; existence as coincidence. In fiction everything happens – is written – by design.

There is neither chance nor coincidence.
The pre credit scene is tense excitement – until the reveal. The series-makers drop their first blatant con: it’s a bait and switch and doesn’t add anything already established in 101. If the program format demands a four minute precursor the writers had best optimise the time not waste it. Alas this is television – the worst form of storytelling.

The creativity dips from there.

Lennie James guest starred the premiere. Michael Rooker guest stars this sophomore. In his first scene he utters the n-word in demonic glee for its intended audience. Rooker next bestows a beating to (black male) IronE Singleton. It is one sided and sustained. He then spits on him.

This scene sets the tone for episode 102 and brands the whole series. One upon a time someone recommended I watch The Shield. There was a similar scene in that except the white (cop) coup de grâce was to urinate on a black (civilian). The Shield was a “critically acclaimed” hit and ran for seven seasons. The Walking Dead 102: Guts serves as an assurance and reminder during these Obama years – the black man will learn his place or it will be beaten into him.

RIP Oscar Grant1.
We are the walking dead.

To Kill a Mockingbird
The theme is filmed and the writers scramble to deceive. They want to present themselves as good guys – like Nazis solving the Jewish problem. They present this episode as anti-racist so their target audience can couch potato back in the audio nectar of the repetitive use of the n-word. There is faux balance. Rooker calls a white woman “sugar tits”2. Once. He calls the latino a “taco bender”. Once.

(Balance would be to call the white woman the c-word. However why should the producers upset white females and be made to apologise when they can insult black people scot free?)

Lead character Rick Grimes fist flies in because the black character T-Dog can’t defend himself. Grimes chastises Rooker by calling him “white trash”. Once. Jeryl Prescott plays the token black female. Later she tells Grimes “next time let the cracker beat his (T-Dog) ass”.

For every white supremacist there’s a white hero on a white horse riding in to save the day because these poor coloured folk don’t have the ability or acuity to save themselves. Even so there are those who would rather not be saved. It is the white man’s burden.

Home Cinema
The bigger the television the better for the 21st century living room be it projection, plasma, liquid crystal or a 20th century tube. Production companies will have to bar raise their dramas to meet the new technology. The Walking Dead attempts to do this – and succeeds – in scope.

The set pieces are cinematic to a fault. The extended escape scenes lift from Dawn of the Dead 1978 and its 2004 remake. Regardless the sequence delivers what cinema does on its best day; exhilaration and payoff. However unlike best cinema this show is afraid to pull the trigger.

Having been beaten to a pulp and humiliated by the Michael Rooker character T-Dog now tries to save him (like a good eunuch). He fails to do so via the dramatic ploy of accident. He apologises for his bumbling inadequacy and leaves Rooker to his fate: death by zombie (or helicopter rescue).

In fiction there is neither coincidence nor accident.

The only growth in this episode is the introduction of Glen. He’s the best character to date. He’s played by Steven Yeun and brings much needed brevity in the form of incidental humour along with the daredevil of youth. He’s also the only non-white spared racist epithets. It’s not surprising. The Chinese rule the world and the Americans know this.

Ultraviolet3 is a British made television series from 1998. It starred Jack Davenport whose breakthrough was alongside Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes) in This Life. Ultraviolet is a masterpiece of television horror. The Walking Dead is self aware, self important and portentous. It is mutton dressed as lamb and racist propaganda.

Of course it’s going to be a hit.

Sometime I felt like we were being forced to carry out slavery in a tuxedo.
Demond Wilson4
(Sanford and Son)
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Friday, 5 November 2010

Rare Exports - trailer

The Americans call him Santa Claus. The British call him Father Christmas. Anglos be aware. That jolly fat old white man with matching beard is a Coca-Cola™ invention1. What is common knowledge to some is revelation to others.

This year American horror cinema is 100 years old (Frankenstein 1910). To celebrate the centenary Hollywood released A Nightmare on Elm Street and My Soul to Take amongst other bilge. That is not to say the genre is bankrupt – Hollywood storytelling maybe but not horror films. The aficionados have learnt to look elsewhere for their scares: Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain. There are other finding places – other countries and cultures each rich with legend and myth.

One of Hollywood’s great inventions is the zombie; an inspiration from Haiti. Hollywood should go to Africa the oldest and richest of cultures. In Nigeria there is the tale of the mermaid. A temptress, a seductress, a demon dressed in female skin to lure men to the depths to their deaths. The Europeans have mythology too. In Finland Santa Claus is derived from the pagan Yule Goat. Not that jolly.

Rare Exports is more fantasy than horror. As was The City of Lost Children 1995 and Pans Labyrinth 2006. If it’s as good as the latter two or as its trailer suggests then our rewards will be at Christmas.

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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Walking Dead 102 sneak peek

The cliffhanger from the weekend premiere was the message radioed into the tank. Who is this zombie (above) and why did the camera linger on him?

If he’s the one who sent the message then this opens dramatic parameters. The rules of the living dead are not set in blood. In this story can humans mimic the walkers thereby avoiding detection? The readers of the comics already know this. The rest of us shall see.

The preview for episode 102 is a thriller/horror sequence. It is well delivered – dramatically and thematically. This early in The Walking Dead has already established its action and thriller credentials. It is the soft spots – those scenes of human drama – which flailed in 101.

Whereas most of the internet is praising Caesar I say lend me your ears. The dramatic arc of this series seems to be the hero’s quest: to walk on broken glass to reunite with family. It is simplistic, condescending in a nation with a 40% divorce rate and trite.

Despite the disappointment of 101 I reserve judgment on 102 but I am not deceived. Like the trailer for the premiere this preview looks great.

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
William Shakespeare

Read more Thrill Fiction: The 20 Best Horror Films