The Walking Dead, Season 2

The second season of AMC’s The Walking Dead ended just a few days ago, and I figured I’d go ahead and put down my thoughts on the events we saw.

We start the season with the survivors heading to Fort Benning. They quickly come to a traffic jam, and while taking a break and trying to make their way through, a herd of zombies comes strolling by. Season 1 of the show deviated from the books in small ways, introducing a couple of new characters, of course the CDC (Robert Kirkman says he wasn’t aware the CDC was in Atlanta, or else he would have included it in his original story), and Shane didn’t die like he was supposed to. The zombie herd was a concept that didn’t get introduced in the comics for a long while, but given the nature of it, it makes sense to have it sooner. After the herd mostly passes, Sophia is spotted by one and runs off into the woods. Rick goes after her, tells her to hide while he takes care of the chasing zombies and when he comes back she’s gone. This sets in motion of the worst parts of the season: search for Sophia. For seven episodes the survivors will spin in circles searching the woods for the missing girls, and while there are a few bright moments (and by bright I mean exciting) it is an extremely dull series of events. But before we finish the first episode, we see people scouring the woods and Carl gets shot.

This gets us to Hershel’s farm. Lots of stupid happens here. For one, this farm is surrounded by flimsy wood and wire fences, totally unsafe, but most of our survivors sleep in tents with no protection. Hershel and his family have added no additional security to their house and basically live like nothing has changed, except that when they go to town for supplies now they don’t have to pay. (Interestingly enough, that’s actually a nice touch in that the town’s general store/drug store has a sign up about taking only what you need and it isn’t fully looted, presumably because any people like Hershel on nearby farms have been only taking a few items at a time rather than clearing the shelves.) People stand around and talk a lot. They talk about finding Sophia and yet only a couple of people ever really go out looking, the main one being Daryl.

Daryl was given to us in season 1, a character not from the books, he was essentially just the crossbow hunting brother of the racist guy who got left handcuffed to the roof. In season 2, Daryl is fully fleshed out. He tells a couple of stories of his youth. After an injury he hallucinates about his brother and we get to see some depth in him. His relentless search for Sophia and his kindness to Carol. Daryl quickly became a fan favorite, as well as a person favorite. (He’s so popular that Kirkman will be adding him to the comic.) Throughout the season, Daryl exhibits the kind of clear-headed decision-making and purpose that Rick lacks.

Shane turns into a complete asshole this season, which as a comic reader I expected. But it is just so drawn out and often poorly handled. It’s almost like they had a bunch of different writers with different ideas of how the story should play out, and they tried to do all of them. Every conversation between Shane and Lori becomes a reason to punch the screen. In turn, most of the stuff between Rick and Lori hurts too. The decision to let Shane survive season 1′s story (where he dies in the books) added a wrinkle that could have been good but played out terribly on the show. The love triangle just had no traction, and Lori’s pregnancy with both possible father’s still around made for melodrama that the show didn’t need. Everything about it made Lori unsympathetic and hated by many fans. Hopefully that can be fixed in season 3 before… well… yeah.

Anyway, the gang eventually finds Sophia. She’s been in the barn the whole time. She’s a zombie. Otis (who died a couple of episodes in getting supplies to help Carl) put her there and no one else knew. But the barn got opened and all the other zombies Hershel was keeping there to try to cure are killed. The mid-season break comes as Rick is forced to put Sophia down for good.

The latter half of the season had more action. There was a bar fight, of sorts, and having to deal with a prisoner whom they don’t want to keep and can’t just let go. But like with Sophia, it takes them about 5 episodes to deal with the prisoner, dragging the story out to the point of annoyance. Meanwhile, Carl is back on his feet and constantly getting into trouble. First he goes places he shouldn’t be and then he starts wandering off. He almost gets himself eaten by a zombie, but instead leads it back to the farm where it eats Dale instead. This’ll be an interesting twist because in the comics Dale survives for quite a while and even has a relationship with Andrea. As a reader, I’m happy they are changing things up as it gives me less fore-knowledge of events, at least the specifics.

So we get to the penultimate episode and finally people stop acting silly. They start gathering supplies, boarding up the house, preparing for the coming winter. But Shane finally goes off the deep end and concocts a plan to kill Rick so he can have Lori for himself. It doesn’t work out so well for him, and Rick kills Shane. Then Carl shows up and kills zombie-Shane. This shooting has attracted a passing herd of zombies.

The final episode of the season really delivered. Not just in zombie action, but in character defining moments. Sure, given the slowness of so many of the thirteen episodes of season 2, the onslaught of the zombie herd overrunning the farm was glorious. They broke fences and (slowly) stormed buildings, and they ate a couple of people. But for me the most excellent development was with the character of Andrea. Season 1 ended with her wanting to give up and die after the death of her sister, and throughout this season she has dealt with that, in part due to Dale’s coddling and pushing. She went from wanting to run off with Shane and leave the group, to leaping out of a truck where she was safe to go rescue Carol in this final episode. She gets left behind and resorts to escaping on foot, pursued by zombies. And when we see that all the other characters are safe, we return to Andrea who is several hours into gaining a lead, then turning to fell the lead zombies, which by the lack of zombies following her you can tell she’s been doing and succeeding all night long. Andrea, through the course of the season, went from defeated and weak to protecting others and fighting for her life with every ounce of her being.

As much as I love the comic and have mostly been enjoying the show, if next season with the full cast is going to be more of what we got a lot of this season (slow drama), I’d rather Andrea and Daryl run off together and we get a real zombie survival show. But the final scenes give me hope. Face it, even in the books Hershel’s farm was kind of dull. That’s why they didn’t stay there very long. But the prison on the other hand, that was good stuff, and what do we see not too far from our band of survivors? The prison. Plus we also got a scene with Michonne, and entertainment news has told us they cast “The Governor” which pretty much cements what next season will be. Hopefully they’ll do it well and not drop the ball.

Playing Games – Man vs Wife

I had an idea. What if I convinced my wife, who doesn’t generally like games, to play games with me, or rather against me, and I documented each one in a blog series? So I posed the idea to her, and she was lukewarm on it, but over time as I mentioned it now and then she began to like it more.

But what would we call it?

Man vs WifeOh, she didn’t like the name much. But it had actually been the jumping off point for the whole idea for me. I’d seen those shows, Man vs Food and Man vs Wild and the rest, and I thought to myself, “What happens when you take a man who loves gaming and he marries a woman could take it or leave it? Man vs Wife!” And it works for me, as both a play on those reality TV shows and as a play on the ends of wedding vows when the officiant pronounces the couple “man and wife”.

And so it begins. We’ve played one game already and I’m working on writing it up (we actually video tape the session so I don’t have to take notes), and we have a pile of board games and video games. Hopefully I’ll have the first one up within a week. After that I make no promise as to a schedule.

Anyway, that’s it. Just a minor announcement of future content.

Dead Heat

Dead Heat

You Can't Keep A Good Cop Dead

I knew Joe Piscopo from his time on Saturday Night Live. Sure, I was between the ages of six and ten during his tenure, but the weekend is for staying up late. I’d also seen Johnny Dangerously and Wise Guys. So, probably sometime in 1989, when I saw Dead Heat on the shelf of the local video store, it was Joe who made me say, “I need to see this!” These days I remember it as the first movie I recall Treat Williams being in.

I also remember it as being a funny action buddy cop zombie movie.

It’s the story of a couple of cops, Roger Mortis and Doug Bigelow, looking into a recent rash of crimes perpetrated by criminals thought to be dead. And when they track down the nutcase behind the reanimations, Roger gets himself killed… and reanimated. Now just as indestructible as the bad guys, and finding out his condition is irreversible and deteriorating, he’s got a time limit to finish the job before he dies for good.

This is just such a fun movie that manages to blend horror and comedy well, while leaning more toward comedy, and action. And much to my delight, as of this morning it became available on Netflix Instant. I can’t wait to see it again.

For Squirrels – Example

My music collection exceeds 15,000 songs. Nearly all of these are from CDs that I bought and ripped myself, though there is a chunk of stuff I ripped from other people’s CDs. *shrug* The music industry hates it, but sometimes it happens, and I don’t really care since it doesn’t much hurt the band, their cut being so small in most cases. Anyway, I’ve started taking advantage of Google Music, which allows you to put 20,000 songs “in the cloud” to stream to any computer or mobile device you want. For years I avoided buying MP3 players like the iPod (although I do own a 30GB Zune, but I didn’t buy it – I won it) because I didn’t like having to pre-select my music before going somewhere. I actually like selecting the entire collection (well, almost, I have to remove those radio shows) and hitting random play on the whole thing.

That’s what I was doing when a song off the album Example by For Squirrels started playing. Oddly enough it was the first track of the album, “8:02 PM”. I quickly stopped the player, found the album and played it. Never heard of For Squirrels? I’m not surprised. If you weren’t listening to Alternative radio at the tail end of 1995, like Atlanta’s 99X, you probably didn’t have a chance to hear them. The album, their only major label album, was released on October 3rd 1995, but by then the band was all but finished. On September 8th, a little less than a month earlier, the band was involved in a terrible car accident in their van, taking the lives of two of the band’s four members, and their tour manager. Vocalist Jack Vigliatura and bassist Bill White died, while guitarist Travis Tooke and drummer Jack Griego were both injured but survived. The two remaining members of the band would try to reform with new members, later changing the name of the band and releasing one album before disbanding for good in 2001.

For Squirrels - ExampleExample is, for me, a very interesting album. I’d call it good, but it isn’t remarkable or full of hit songs. The only single it produced was “Mighty K.C.” which was an elegy for Kurt Cobain. However, none of the songs are awful, and in fact show a promise never realized. Had the accident not happened, a second album could have seen the band grow into something more. Instead, we just have this. A song that went to #15 on the Modern Rock chart, and an album that just barely made the Billboard 200.

In 1996, I should have been graduating college, but a misstep or two and a decision to move out on my own, the combination of which resulted in me having to pay for school on my own (which further resulted in full time work and part time school), I missed being able to get out in four years. It was in these early months of 96 that I purchased Example. I’d heard their single a number of times, and I knew the story behind the band. And as I lay on the bed in my room contemplating my next move in life, the music washed over me.

In the past 15 years, I’ve returned to this album a number of times. Every time I hear one song from it, I have to hear the entire thing, from start to finish, every track. I know in part that is because of when the disc entered my life, that it is a permanent part of the soundtrack of my life, but I hope it’s also because there is something more to these songs that the emotion I’ve attached to them, that a song like the penultimate track “Disenchanted” speaks some universal truth that other people recognize too.

I’d recommend Example by For Squirrels to anyone, to listen through at least once, just to give a chance. It is an album of its time, a mid-90s Alternative Rock band. Don’t say I didn’t warn you if that winds up being your complaint.

American Horror Story

American Horror StoryIf you watch the show Glee you’ll know what I mean when I say that Glee includes everything from high school. Seriously, the creators and writers of that show have literally taken every story and stereotype that has ever come out of high school, every personality type and quirk, and found a place for it in the show. It is absurd, and I suppose that absurdist take on high school is what keeps people watching. That and the singing.

Taken from that angle, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that the creators of Glee also created and wrote Nip/Tuck, which was a show that took every story and stereotype that has ever come out of plastic surgery and mashed it into an absurd take on the profession.

Following in that tradition comes American Horror Story. It’s about a family that buys a house that is haunted. Within the framework of their story, they are taking every story and stereotype of the haunted house and ghost story traditions and mashing them into an absurd wild ride. Perhaps other people will find the show scary, and even I might admit to finding a creepy moment or two, or a scene that makes me jump now and then, but mostly this show is just insane.

We’ve got ghosts of murder victims and ghosts of their murderers, we’ve got previous owners who managed to survive still drawn to the house, we’ve got a family of current owners with secrets, we’ve got crazy neighbors who seem to know the house is haunted and they don’t seem to mind. We’ve got haunted places and haunted people and haunted items. We’ve got people with blood on their hands who know it, and people with blood on their hands who don’t know how it got there. We’ve got ghosts who appear only to some people and we’ve got ghosts who appear differently to different people. And all of it is happening all at once.

I hesitate to call this a great TV show, because I know it isn’t for everyone. But for someone who loves horror, I think I almost have to watch it. The first episode, to me, had some pacing issues -as I find much of TV and movies do these days since so many editors don’t seem to know how to cut transitions that evoke the passage of time- everything seems to happen all crammed together rather than over a period of days or weeks, but later episodes have resolved that a bit. Every actor here is also giving a top-notch performance, even Dylan McDermott whom I normally can’t stand.

All in all, I’m finding it worth watching. And it has already been picked up for a second season. Woohoo!

Death Valley

Years ago (or can it be measured in decades now?) when MTV pretty much stopped airing music videos, I pretty much stopped watching it. Occasionally I might drift back to it for the odd awards show, special event or boredom, but that came to a complete stop when I canceled my cable TV and no longer had easy access to it. Which is why I find it so odd that I’m now watching (by *ahem* other means) a show on MTV.

But how could I not watch Death Valley?

The show is set in a world where zombies, vampires and werewolves (and possibly other things) exist. Shot as a reality show like COPS, the camera crew follows members of the Undead Task Force (UTF) of the Los Angeles Police Department as they deal with the shambling undead, ones that are fresher and run faster, vampires involved in the “blood for sex” trade, werewolves who forget to lock themselves up for the full moon, and more.

Being that it’s on MTV, this show is far better than it has any right to be. While occasionally there is an effects shot that looks off, the majority of them are quite good, probably because CG work is becoming so cheap while quality keeps improving. The acting is also pretty good as well. Anyway, this totally gets a thumbs up from me and I recommend at least checking it out to see if it happens to be your cup of tea.  Check out the trailer below for a start.

Day by Day Armageddon

Day by Day ArmageddonI owned J.L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon for quite a while before I read it.  In addition to being a slow(ish) reader, I have a pile of books, a three shelf bookcase actually, of books waiting to be read, so sometimes books wait.  After plowing through DBDA in March of this year, I picked up the sequel, Beyond Exile, which I just finished last night.

Both of these books are excellent.  Written in the style of a personal journal, we follow the story of an unnamed Naval Officer as he notes his thoughts and experiences in a world quickly becoming overrun by zombies.  Personally, I thought the journal style worked very well, the only drawback being that since things are always written after the fact, you know that no matter what is being written about the author has to survive or else he wouldn’t have written it down.  This journal style, however, is also one of the complaints many people have about the books, so you have to know about it going in.  They claim things like “I just read a guy’s personal diary and I didn’t learn anything about them.”  I have to wonder if they’ve ever read anyone’s personal journals that weren’t fictionalized.  Most journals, especially those started by men later in life (not as kids) tend more toward facts and what happened, and are not full of emotions and internal dialog about how they feel.  Think of it less as a diary and more of an After Action Report by a military officer and it’ll probably work better for you.

Another common complaint on zombie stories is they seem to have a “right wing slant”.  And while these critics might have a point, when flesh eating zombies spring up, who is more likely to have a gun ready to shoot them in the head, an NRA member with a right leaning political view or a liberal gun control supporter?  Similarly, why are the survivors always military or people with training?  I think that’s a question that answers itself.  I mean, I go to Dragon*Con every year, and when I go to panels about apocalyptic themes I know every person in that room thinks they are going to be victorious if the zeds should ever start walking, but realistically most of them wouldn’t last a week, and probably not more than a day.

Anyway… back to the tales at hand.  I found both stories to be very entertaining and engaging.  I especially enjoyed the use of slower shambling zombies and opposed to having them all running and jumping and stuff.  I highly recommend both books, and I believe there will be a third next year.  The second book takes a turn at the end that I’m interested to see where J.L. Bourne goes with it.

Aaah! Zombies!!

In my quest to fill time on the odd occasion the wife has to work on the weekend, I browse Netflix in search of movies that I know she has no interest in watching.  This past weekend I stumbled on Aaah! Zombies!!  Take a look…

As you can see in the trailer, the movie takes a unique approach to the genre.  When the film is in color the main characters appear alive and everyone around them is infected by something that makes them act funny and move rapidly.  When the film goes black & white we see things as they really are with the characters being zombies that are moving slowly while everyone else moves at a normal pace.

Overall the movie isn’t great, but it was good enough.  I enjoyed the hour and a half I spent watching it.  It’s available on Netflix Instant, so if you have the time and the inclination, check it out.

Friday Night Lights

Back in 2006 when I took a look at the upcoming fall TV season, I said:

Friday Night Lights? Didn’t enjoy the movie, I’ll probably not enjoy the show.

At the time, that was accurate.  I’d seen the movie and while “didn’t enjoy” might have been a tad harsh, the movie was decent but it didn’t blow me away.  I certainly didn’t see why it would be turned into a TV show.  Later on, people would tell me how good of a show it was, but I still avoided watching it.  I didn’t want to watch a show about football.

Thanks to Netflix’s Instant streaming service and my Xbox 360, I’ve caught up on 4 seasons of the show and am now watching season 5.

Surprised is just too small a word to describe my reaction to Friday Night Lights.  I was naive to have dismissed the show as being “about football” when football is just the backdrop for this story about people living in a small town.  The drama depicted here is just so well done, so deftly written and played out, I’m kicking myself for having waited so long.

And it isn’t just the story or the writing, the performances by the actors here is amazing.  I suppose it helps that many of them are people I don’t recognize.  Outside of Kyle Chandler (who I know from various places including Early Edition) and Connie Britton (from Spin City), I don’t think I’d seen any of them before, and if I did it was clearly not enough for me to remember them.  But each of them clearly understands their characters and their scenes play out so naturally, so real.

The main reason I write about the show now though is that this season, the fifth, is going to be the last.  And it will be missed.  If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend watching Friday Night Lights.

Movie Round-Up: December 31st, 2010

The last Friday of the year is also the last day of the year, and as cool as I think it would be to open on the last day of the year, movie studios must not want the headache of splitting an opening weekend between two years of books so opted not to open anything new.

So, I recommend going out and seeing something old.  Like True Grit or Black Swan, or maybe like me you still haven’t seen the new Harry Potter, or Tron: Legacy or even Gulliver’s Travels… but go tomorrow, after breakfast, and the handover subsides just a bit.

Have a safe and happy night!  See you next year…

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