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Better Call Saul Season Three

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When rumours of a Breaking Bad spin-off series first surfaced it seemed an absurd concept. How could writer/director Vince Gilligan imbue occasional comic relief character, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) with the requisite gravitas to make an audience care and the potential for exciting narrative directions, particularly in the context of a show that is part prequel. The answer ended up being “really freaking well”.

Now in its third season, Better Call Saul continues its tradition of slow burn tension, human drama and occasional bouts of yelling at Chuck (Michael McKean), a character who inspires the kind of throbbing-veined hatred usually reserved for the baddies on Game of Thrones.

It’s difficult to discuss the new season without spoilers, but needless to say the respective fates of Jimmy/Saul (Bob Odenkirk), Mike (Jonathan Banks) and a certain eerily calm antagonist from Breaking Bad are are set to collide in ways that are both thrilling and unexpected.

The first two episodes “Mabel” and “Witness”, both directed by Vince Gilligan himself, sketch out a potentially dark and intriguing path for this season where kind-hearted Jimmy morphs into the glib, corrupt Saul.

One sequence in particular, where Mike attempts to find who has placed a tracking device on his car, is testament to Gilligan’s eye for visual storytelling and ratcheting up the tension. You’re basically watching Jonathan Banks dismantle a car, fiddle around with a petrol cap and then sit and wait by a window, yet it’s gripping in a way that’s hard to explain.

In fact the best way to experience the new season is with very little prior information. Better Call Saul remains one of the most unique and riveting programs on television so head over to Stan to catch up on any episodes you’ve missed and get ready for the black comedy, the pathos and yelling at Chuck.

Better Call Saul Season 3 starts streaming on Stan April 11 at 5pm.

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Five Came Back

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Hollywood and history collide in the sterling documentary series Five Came Back, based on the book of the same name by journalist Mark Harris. Across three parts, director Laurent Bouzereau follows the wartime exploits of five acclaimed filmmakers who put their studio careers on hold to make documentary and propaganda films for the US war department following the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into World War II.

Our subjects are John Ford (The Searchers), John Huston (The Maltese Falcon), Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life), William Wyler (Ben-Hur), and George Stevens (Shane) – great filmmakers by any yardstick. Appropriately, director Laurent Bouzereau has recruited five modern masters (your mileage may vary on one or two, but let’s go with it) to comment on the events depicted and put them in their historical context: Godfather maestro Francis Ford Coppola, Raiders of the Lost Ark screenwriter turned director Lawrence Kasdan, documentarian turned Bourne action master Paul Greengrass, Mexican fantasist Guillermo del Toro, and Steven Spielberg. The whole thing is narrated by Meryl Streep.

That’s a lot of star power. Let’s face it, Hollywood loves stories about the worthiness and magic of show business, and  the power of cinema, and this particular subject is potentially heavy with that kind of self-importance – a little cynicism on the part of the viewer is understandable. However, it soon fades, because in this case the power and the worthiness are real.

Five Came Back takes the time to put the events in their historical context, explaining the importance of newsreels in the days before television news (and the internet), before plunging us into the war, taking us from The Battle of Midway (which Ford recorded) through the North African campaign, the invasion of Italy, D-Day (Ford and Stevens were there, landing at Normandy with the troops) through to Berlin and, with tragic inevitability thanks to clarity of hindsight, Dachau and the other death camps.

Along the way we get plenty of anecdotes – the film benefits immensely from older clips of the loquacious Huston and the thoughtful Capra recalling their wartime adventures – plenty of heroism, such as Wyler flying on bombing missions to make his incredible film Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress; and more heartbreaking moments of sheer, impactful emotion than you could countenance.

What’s more, despite the “print the legend” hagiographic leanings that are almost impossible to avoid in this sort of thing, especially when Hollywood’s tendency to self-aggrandise gets combined with “Greatest Generation” mythologising, Five Came Back is remarkably clear-eyed, never failing to note that these directors were making propaganda to boost the war effort (comparisons with Goebbels and Riefenstahl are made), and also taking the time to comment on the racial issues prevalent during the period, including the internment of Japanese Americans and the disenfranchisement of African Americans – Capra produced the documentary The Negro Soldier in attempt to address the latter. The series is also honest about the times that the filmmakers restaged events to get better coverage than naked reality allowed; indeed, you have to admire Stevens’ moxie in demanding General de Gaulle redo the German surrender of Paris outside in better lighting!

Throughout it all, we get the footage that these men captured, most of it taken from the films they made, some only now seeing the light of day (much of Stevens’ D-Day footage was deemed too horrifying for public consumption, to say nothing of what he captured at Dachau, which was later used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials). It’s stunning stuff – seeing these events, captured with the sure hands of these masterful directors, will leave a mark. Netflix has also made available a selection of the films the five made, including The Memphis Belle, Prelude to War, San Pietro, and John Huston’s long suppressed Let There Be Light, a look at a group of soldiers trying to overcome PTSD and other psychological ailments in the aftermath of the war. Taken together as a whole, all these elements comprise a an incredibly comprehensive look at the role of cinema in WWII.

Five Came Back is nothing less than a masterpiece. Any student of cinema and/or history will already be champing at the bit to see this one, and rightly so. Everyone else is advised to make time as well.

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Shots Fired

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Shots Fired covers the investigation of a shooting of a young white man by a black cop, in a small southern US town. The state governor Patricia Eamons (Helen Hunt) is accommodating and welcomes the investigation, though local Sheriff Platt (Will Patton) and his Lt. Breeland (True Blood’s Stephen Moyer) are less than forthcoming, closing ranks. Department of Justice lawyer Preston Terry (Stephan James) and his investigator Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan) are soon asking questions of witnesses and the victim’s family but they become mired in a hotbed of local police politics and social activism as local Pastor, Janae James (Aisha Hinds) sees an opportunity to politicise the killing, using it as activist fodder within the community and inflaming tensions. As they dig deeper, Terry and Akino’s investigation is met with silence and a troubling undercurrent of fear amongst local black residents, impeding their case.

Created by Reggie Rock Bythewood and Gina Prince-Bythewood (who both got their start on Bill Cosby’s A Different World but have gone on to much more ‘respectable’ work such as the film Beyond the Lights), this crime ensemble drama has currency at the moment. The People vs OJ Simpson was a surprise hit and along with the set-and-forget reliability of the TV police procedural that refuses to die, it seems that cable TV has forced network TV to be a little smarter in how it delivers the cop drama staple.

The recent real-life spate of police killing black youths is the primary discussion here with the main story being an interesting inversion of that narrative. A mash-up of Law and Order and In The Heat of the Night that largely works, Shots Fired isn’t afraid to tackle some heavy social issues and do it with smarts and surprisingly, some nuance.

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The Walking Dead S7 E16: The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

Well here we are – the season seven finale of The Walking Dead and the shambling show’s ninety-ninth episode! Season seven has been an odd one. On the one hand we had bold, shocking episodes like the season opener “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” and enjoyably goofy adventures in splatter like “Rock in the Road”, not to mention Richonne-centric episode “Say Yes”. However those high points have often been floundering next to oddly-paced efforts like “Swear” and “The Other Side”.

What this season needed was a kick-arse, game-changing, jaw-dropping finale that will make the occasional stumbles feel worthwhile. So is “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” that episode? Partially, yes, but we’ll get back to that in a bit.

The episode opens with a creepy close-up of Sasha’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) sweaty face. She appears to be in a small dark room and is listening to music on an iPod. Is she dying, crying or passing out? We don’t know yet and we’ll be revisiting this strong image throughout the episode.

After the opening titles, and a quick visit to Sasha again, we head into a flashback where Sasha recalls her final day with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). The pair of them are still in the early period of their relationship and Sasha has had a nightmare about Abe’s death. It soon becomes clear they’re about to leave on the journey at the end of which Abraham gets his proud ginger bonce flattened. It’s a bittersweet memory that we’ll be returning to throughout the episode’s extended runtime.

Back at Alexandria, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is grilling Dwight (Austin Amelio) about why he wants to help them. Dwight claims he wants Negan dead, but Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Tara (Alanna Masterson) would quite happily kill the scarred defector on the spot. Cooler heads prevail and Dwight is allowed to initiate a plan to kill Negan. As Dwight drives off Daryl observes he’s “gonna kill that sum’bitch” when everything’s all over. For that “Easy Street” song alone, we’re with you, Dazza.

Meanwhile in Sasha’s cell, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is talking to Sasha about how peace can reign after “Lucille takes three”. Sasha is horrified by this revelation and cunningly talks Negs down to one. “Just one person has to die,” she says in a way that pretty much guarantees we won’t be seeing her in season eight.

At the Hilltop, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) pitches her plan to help Rick to Jesus (Tom Payne). Jesus agrees with her and offers that it’s good Maggie is the one giving the order as it seems Gregory (Xander Berkeley) has done a runner, possibly to dob on our heroes. Fuck’s sake, Gregory, Maggie saved you from two zombies last week! Have a word with yourself.

Elsewhere the Kingdom is on patrol. They come up against a line of shopping trolleys, a technique last seen in “Bury Me Here”. Morgan (Lennie James) emerges from the shadows and, just in case you hadn’t realised how crazy he was, we can see he’s sharpened his staff into a spear. Morgan is clad in Benjamin’s armour and doesn’t seem keen to join with the Kingdom until Ezekiel (Khary Payton) delivers a speech that declares, “No one will suffer under [The Savior’s] capricious malevolence again!” When a bloke with a tiger says stuff like that it’s hard not to fall in line, and Morgan walks next to Carol (Melissa McBride) as they march to war.

Back at Alexandria the Bin Chickens (aka Heapsters) arrive on pushbikes and garbage trucks. Yes, they drive actual garbage trucks. They’re thematically consistent, which you’ve gotta admire. Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh, who can do no wrong) looks Rick over and asks Michonne if she can: “Lay with him after. You care?” Clearly Michonne would care but Rick seems at least at a little tempted.

We move into a tension-building sequence where we cut back and forth between Alexandria preparing for war and Negan approaching, slowed down by Dwight’s felled tree trap. This is a beautifully scored sequence and really amps up the expectations for the violence to come.

The Saviors finally arrive but something seems off. For a start, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) is standing in for the big fella. When Rick asks where Negan is, Eugene answers: “I am Negan.” Rick’s had about enough of this bullshit and he gives Rosita the nod for her to spring her explosive trap. She presses the button and… nothing. What’s going on? Cue the episode’s best twist. The fucking BIN CHICKENS turn on our heroes, bamboozling the ENTIRE COMMUNITY OF ALEXANDRIA with the weapons they themselves fought so hard to get. What the hell, Pollyanna McIntosh, we literally said you could do no wrong two paragraphs ago!

Personal feelings aside this is a really excellent and surprising development. Alexandria is suddenly on the back foot and Negan enters, holding Lucille and grinning the smuggest of smug grins. Apparently Negan just made a better deal with the Bin Chickens (booo!) which, you know, Rick probably should have allowed for. Negan wants the following: all the guns, a victim for Lucille (of Rick’s choosing, no less), Daryl and a pool table – with cues and chalk. Rick, on the other hand, wants to see that Sasha is still alive. Negan presents a coffin which he begins to open…

We go into a recent flashback where Sasha claims she’ll ride in the coffin, and all she wants is a small bottle of water. This apparently gives Negan a major boner but he lets it happen. We finally understand what we’ve been flashing back to: Sasha riding in the coffin after swallowing Eugene’s suicide pill.

So when Negan opens the coffin, zombie Sasha lurches out, trying to take a big bite out of his tasty flesh! The bamboozler has become the bamboozled! Rick and a number of Alexandrians use the opportunity to fight back against the Bin Chickens and Saviors, and a messy gunfight ensues. Rosita (Christian Serratos) cops a bullet but is dragged to safety by Tara. Michonne has a nasty battle with a random Bin Chicken. Rick attempts to do some sexy bartering with Jadis but instead of joining in like usual she just shoots him in the thigh. So, you know, a little less sexy than usual.

The uprising is thwarted. Rick ends up on his knees next to Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Negan delivers a big old speech that we know will end with Carl getting his head turned into skull hommus. Someone falls off the sniper’s perch and Rick seems to believe it’s Michonne. Negan crows to Rick about the bad shit that’s about to happen but Rick reminds him that he, in fact, will kill Negan no matter what. Negan fury chuckles and hefts Lucille…

… when SHIVA THE FUCKING TIGER jumps into the fray and starts eating Saviors! The Kingdom has arrived! The Hilltop has arrived! And did we mention the motherflipping tiger? The tide has seriously turned and the the Bin Chickens and Saviors all bid a hasty retreat, taking heavy casualties along the way. Negan leaves Alexandria, defiantly offering a one-fingered salute as he goes. Rick finds Michonne badly beaten but alive.

Back at the Sanctuary, Negan is pissed off. He quizzes Eugene on how Sasha died. Eugene lies and claims she must have suffocated but Negan seems suspicious. Maybe Eugene isn’t quite as Negan as he claims? Regardless, the boss man addresses his troops, saying “we’re going to war!” Everyone cheers. These boys love a fight.

The episode ends with a bittersweet conversation between Rick and Maggie delivered in voice over. During the talk we see Jesus take down walker Sasha and Maggie pulling out her knife to finish her off. Carol and Morgan share a moment, bloodied from battle. Daryl discovers a message from Dwight that he “Didn’t Know”, but do we trust him? Alliances are affirmed and the battlelines drawn. It’s a surprisingly emotional sequence that leans heavily on the viewer’s nostalgia for the previous six seasons, but works nonetheless.

“The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” is not the all out war some viewers may have been hoping for. As we predicted in last week’s review, it’s more the first battle of many rather than the concluding chapter. Our heroes will be fighting Negan for some time yet to come, but if that’s the case at least they’re united with a common goal which will hopefully lead to more focus in the storytelling.

Greg Nicotero does a superb job as usual with everything except some of the gunplay in the episode’s second half, which felt oddly clumsy. However that’s easily forgiven when you consider the tiger attack, trio of big surprises and the solid character work with Sasha – we shall miss you, Sonequa Martin-Green.

Ultimately “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” is a solid, course-correcting conclusion to a shambolic, occasionally directionless season. It sets up a eighth season of proactive storytelling and, hopefully, will dig into some of Negan’s backstory… before he gets killed in a horrifically graphic fashion, that is.

So that’s FilmInk’s coverage of season seven done for the year. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you back for weekly coverage of both Fear the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones in the coming months.

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13 Reasons Why

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Not all Netflix series are made equal. For every Daredevil, there is an Iron Fist; every Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has its lesser, Fuller House counterpart. And in the wake of pulpy-teen murder mystery Riverdale, Netflix’s new teen mystery 13 Reasons Why is an emotionless, forgettable affair.

Based off the YA novel by Jay Asher and executive produced by Selena Gomez, 13 Reasons Why is the story of Hannah Baker (newcomer Katherine Langford), a high school girl who committed suicide a week before the first episode picks up. Without her present, we follow Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), the quiet teenage boy who was in love with her before she died, struggling with grief when a mysterious package arrives at his door one afternoon. It’s thirteen cassette tapes, each recorded sardonically by Hannah before her death, explaining the thirteen reasons why she killed herself.

Each episode chronicles Clay listening to a different tape, biking around town in an attempt to piece together Hannah’s story. From school jocks who took advantage of her and spread rumours to fickle friends who believed them, Hannah spills the beans on everyone who wronged her – and even when we finally reach Clay’s tape, the story is far from over. As Hannah’s plan to expose the horrible bullying and toxic masculinity of her high school comes to a head, the lines blur between victim and culprit.

13 Reasons Why is incredibly lifeless (sorry) and dull, moving like molasses as its “mystery” is slowly uncovered. Each of Hannah’s stories would be interesting and compelling if they weren’t stretched out over the course of full hour-long episodes; all thirteen episodes could be condensed into four, or even just a movie, with tighter storytelling and quicker reveals.

Instead, 13 Reasons Why pads out its gloomy world, introducing us to dozens of characters who receive such small, infrequent moments in the sun that it’s hard to distinguish one stereotypical jock from the next; Hannah’s selfish friends and disinterested teachers all blurring into one. This becomes a showcase for the show’s terrible soap-opera dialogue and the actors’ awkward chemistry. And as our emotional entry into this world, Clay should be so much more sympathetic than he is – after all, his is the epitome of unrequited love – but he lacks any kind of heart, or character at all, instead coming off as creepy and irrational, made worse by a dull performance by Minnette.

The only compelling character is Hannah: her tapes are full of sarcasm and attitude, but seeing her heartbroken eyes as we learn the tragic story shows us how much she truly has given up on living any longer, made more powerful by an impassioned performance from Langford. The show’s message about the toxic treatment of girls in high school is certainly fascinating and frustrating – from objectification and even sexual assault, this show is not afraid to go there – but its treatment of suicide is occasionally problematic, since, as one character laments, ‘leaving those tapes was a dick move’. Regardless, this serves to make Hannah just more complex and interesting, and her descent into depression is believable and melancholy, as each person turns their back on her until no one is left.

Despite its sympathetic main character, 13 Reasons Why fails to inject life (sorry, again) into a story that we’ve all experienced to a certain degree – coming of age stories should make us feel and remember, but this is just boring. Even for lovers of mystery, Thirteen Reasons Why fails to capture attention and create intrigue – but maybe that’s because this isn’t a whodunit, but a whydunit, and since the “why” isn’t a big surprise, it’s barely even that.

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The Walking Dead S7 E15: Something They Need

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

In the aftermath of last week’s disappointing “The Other Side” – with its heavy emphasis on Operation Dipshit – The Walking Dead really needed a strong, focused episode to get us back on track. So is “Something They Need” something we needed? Kinda, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

This episode begins with an excellent cold open. A John Carpenter-esque synth score plays as we hear Tara (Alanna Masterson) tell Rick (Andrew Lincoln) about the Oceansiders and their sweet, sweet cache of weapons. On screen we see Rick and crew preparing to take the weapons, by force it seems, and a horde of slimy, barnacled zombies disgorging from a large, partially sunken boat. This is the kind of efficient, visual storytelling The Walking Dead really needs more of and the beach of barnacled biters is a strong image on which to segue into the opening titles.

Meanwhile at The Sanctuary, Sasha (Sonequa Martin) has been imprisoned in the same cell that played a temporary home to both Daryl and Eugene. Apparently we’re not going to see how she managed to get caught, and frankly the less said about her profoundly stupid plan the better. David (Martinez) pays Sasha a visit and within about a minute decides he’s going to rape her. He gets down to the trouser-dropping stage when Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) pops in and plays an actual savior for once. Negan, you see, draws the line at rape. Beating unarmed people to death with a baseball bat? Fine. Sexual assault? Not on his watch. Negan demonstrates this point by knifing “Rapey Davey” through the neck. He leaves the cooling corpse and bloody knife with Sasha, offering her a number of options – kill herself, try to kill Negan, kill Rapey Davey before he becomes “dead alive Rapey Davey” or let herself become zombie food. Not a great list of options but Negan makes the offer sound tempting, as he purrs to Sasha about her “beachball-sized lady nuts”.

Later, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) pops in to preach the gospel of Negan to Sasha. He actually does a pretty convincing job of explaining his own motivations for joining the Saviors but Sasha doesn’t want a bar of it. Eugene leaves and Rapey Davey’s dead eyes open…

Back at the Hilltop Gregory (Xander Berkeley) pays a visit to Maggie (Lauren Cohan) who is doing a spot of gardening outside the walls. Olive branches are extended but as Maggie continues to garden, Gregory seems to toy with the idea of stabbing her. He decides not to and then a zombie arrives. Gregory laughs off the idea of a pregnant lady helping him dispatch the walker, but then can’t seal the deal and backs off. Maggie stabs the zombie quickly and efficiently and even saves Greggers from a second ambulatory corpse. A group of Hilltop residents arrive just in time to see Gregory puking as Maggie calmly sheaths her weapon, offering a fairly heavy-handed visual juxtaposition. It’s clear the balance of power is shifting at the Hilltop.

Back at Oceanside, Tara attempts to reason with Natania (Deborah May) to get the weapons off the ladies without any bloodshed. Apparently she isn’t given much time to accomplish this because within a few minutes explosions are ringing out and Tara gets grabbed by the grumpy alpha nan.

The explosions were just to distract the Oceansiders, and Rick rather apologetically informs everyone he totes needs those weapons to wipe out the Saviors. Interestingly his words (and heavy ordinance) seem to convince most of the group, except Natania who holds Tara at gunpoint. It looks like Natania is about to cop a shot to the bonce from a tree-sniping Michonne (Danai Gurira) but the waterlogged zombies from the cold open arrive and everyone must band together, albeit briefly.

The salty sea corpses are dispatched in a delightful scene of efficient carnage and impressive special makeup effects and by the end of it everyone supports Team Rick. Everyone that is except Natania who has been knocked out by Cyndie (Sydney Park). It’s a little weird that everyone is so quickly onboard with Rick’s plan to nab the weapons, especially the more potentially fatal elements of it, but it succeeded so… yay?

Back at the Sanctuary Sasha has killed Rapey Davey and Negan all but tells her she’ll be used in some way to hurt Rick. Eugene visits later and Sasha desperately begs for a gun or a knife or some way she can kill herself. It’s a ruse, of course, Sasha wants another crack at killing Negan but Eugene obliges: providing her with the poison he concocted way back in “Hostiles and Calamities”. This was not what Sasha was hoping for and she’s left alone in her cell, wondering just what the hell she was thinking joining Operation Dipshit in the first place.

Finally our conquering heroes, now armed to the teeth, arrive back at Alexandria. They are greeted by Rosita (Christian Serratos) who informs them they have a visitor cooling his heels in their cell. It’s Dwight (Austin Amelio) who tells the gang he wishes to defect and help kill Negan. Rick pulls out his shiny .357 Magnum (aka The Overcompensator) and tells Dwight to get on his knees.

The episode ends with our heroes ready to take on Negan, now with weapons and even perhaps a new ally. “Something They Need” is an enjoyable enough episode with some great-looking zombies and decent tension, but it doesn’t feel like the second last entry before Negan’s reign is ended. In fact I think us Walking Dead fans are just going to have to accept that the Rick vs Negan storyline will probably be dragged on for at least half a season too long. So basically Governor 2.0.

Of course I might be wrong. Perhaps next week’s finale will wrap everything up beautifully but it seems unlikely. Either way I’ll see you back here in seven days.


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The Walking Dead S714: The Other Side

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

 Well it had to happen eventually, didn’t it? After five solid episodes of The Walking Dead in a row we were probably overdue for a dud. That’s not to say “The Other Side” is without its moments, but it’s far too late in the day (and the season) for such a meandering, talky episode.

The cold open is played mostly without dialogue, which works very much in its favour. We see a montage featuring Maggie (Lauren Cohan) teaching classes in knife yoga (and blade chuckin’), we get a glimpse at the bun in her oven via an ultrasound. We see Sasha (Sonequa Martin) sketching a map of Negan’s HQ with help from Jesus (Tom Payne) and even a beat where Maggie gives some food to a brooding Daryl (Norman Reedus). The message of this latter beat is clear, Daryl may still blame himself for Glenn’s death but Maggie doesn’t. Then Rosita (Christian Serratos) arrives and joins up with Sasha and the talking begins, along with the eye-rolling. I’ve dubbed this idiotic pairing of Sasha and Rosita ‘The Spite Girls’ and their grand plan ‘Operation Dipshit’. Proceed accordingly. Cue opening titles.

After a brief bit of dialogue where Jesus reveals to Maggie that he’s gay (which middle America must just love!) Sasha spends a whole scene trying to rationalise Operation Dipshit to Jesus and Enid (Katelyn Nacon), but it falls flat. It’s hard to believe any character would think Rosita’s plan is a good one, much less Sasha who, while moody, has proven herself capable and intelligent before this.

Then the Saviors arrive, headed by Simon (Steven Ogg) and the Spite Girls exit through a previously unseen secret tunnel hidden under a woodpile that looks like something out of Get Smart. The Saviors want Daryl but he and Maggie hide in the basement.

Operation Dipshit gets off to a slow start because the Spite Girls can’t find a car that works. The problems are further compounded by the fact the pair don’t actually like one another very much, and after Rosita spies Sasha’s necklace from Abraham, she snipes: “Like it? I made it.” Later Sasha suggests that maybe this suicide mission would be better with less suicide, and Rosita harrumphs like a moody teenager who just had her Joy Division collection confiscated until she cleans her room.

Back with the Saviors, Simon menaces everyone while slimy Gregory (Xander Berkeley) brown noses to an embarrassing degree. Eventually it becomes clear that Simon needs to take Doc Carson (R. Keith Harris) who is the brother of the other Doc Carson (Tim Parati) that Negan turned into a woodfired pizza in “Hostiles and Calamities”. Gregory almost stands up to Simon but buckles like a belt when Steven Ogg turns on his “Trevor from GTA V” crazy eyes.

Daryl and Maggie have a slower, less elegant version of the scene in the cold open where Maggie affirms that she doesn’t blame Daryl for the death of Glenn. It’s an adequate moment but in an episode that struggles to find momentum it’s not exactly adding anything new.

The Spite Girls flog a car from some rowdy zombies and make it to The Sanctuary. Looking through the sniper scope they see Eugene (Josh McDermitt) supervising security near his metal-headed zombies. Rosita seems to think Eugene is “playing an angle” but Sasha doesn’t look as sure.

Then the Spite Girls remember they used to be pretty decent characters and bond over shared memories of Abraham, with Rosita filling in her backstory on why she’s so good at defusing explosives and flogging cars. Spoiler alert: it’s because she’s had a lot of shonky exes. The ladies attempt to take a shot at Negan but can’t get a clean one off. Looks like it’s time for Operation Dipshit to begin!

Moving in close, Rosita attempts to “rescue” Eugene who literally starts crying and runs away, apparently to tattle to Negan. Jesus, Eugene, that Stockholm Syndrome kicked in fast, eh mate? Sasha pretends like she’s breaking through the fence but is in fact trapping Rosita on the outside. Sasha has decided it’s not “Rosita’s time” and runs off, shooting a henchman on the way. Rosita looks like she’s ready to have a massive dummy spit when she turns and spies a figure with a crossbow nearby. Is it Daryl? Is it Dwight? We don’t know because flabbergastingly that’s where the episode ends.

“The Other Side” is an adequate 45 minutes of television but for the ante-penultimate episode of Season 7 it can’t help but feel like a bit of a fizzer. Hopefully this will mean the next two eps are thrill-filled crackers, because god knows we don’t want another season six finale cliffhanger situation. Don’t let us down, Walking Dead, or there will be strongly-worded tweets, by crikey!

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The relationship between the highly prolific showrunner Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson) and US cable network FX has been a largely fruitful one. When Murphy pitched the idea for his latest effort, Feud, a themed series that depicts famously combative relationships with the maiden series covering the filming of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and the bitter rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, FX head honcho John Landgraf immediately gave the thumbs up. It’s intended that each series will cover a different real-life feud, with the next series focusing on the tumultuous relationship between Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) trawls dozens of novels that feature strong female characters in order to find a project for herself, given the dearth of decent roles for women of her age and stature. She stumbles across Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? about two sisters and decides to offer the co-lead to her arch rival Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon). She ropes in Robert Aldrich (Kiss Me Deadly, Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen, played by Alfred Molina here) to direct. Aldrich ends up as the meat in the emotional sandwich as these two golden age goddesses hammer away at each other’s neurotic self-image and deep-seated sense of inferiority. Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) is adamant that Aldrich keep the two former screen sirens at each other’s throats because of the tremendous publicity that gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) is giving the production. As every day throws a new headline and a new volcanic meltdown on set, Aldrich does his best to play the two off against each other as the actresses both begin to fray at the edges. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kathy Bates plays actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Blondell respectively.

The show looks fantastic and it is clear Murphy and his team relish the production design and style of the era. As a slice of old Hollywood history, it’s nice to bask in the recreation of the period.



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The Walking Dead S7E13: Bury Me Here

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

 Morgan has in recent seasons become one of the more annoying characters on The Walking Dead. The blame for this rests not on the shoulders of actor Lennie James, who consistently delivers A-grade performances even when he’s working with shonky material, but rather in the maddeningly inconsistent writing for his character.

This is a character who has been with us since the beginning, has featured on one of the best episodes ever, “Clear” from season 3, and still provides solid thrills in his better moments. However his recent conversion to pacifism has gone from mildly interesting to frankly idiotic, but with “Bury me Here” it looks like Morgan’s ready to make war not peace.

The episode begins with a bunch of characters from the Kingdom glaring at a rockmelon. We’re not sure what the piece of fruit has done wrong, other than be the least interesting part of a fruit salad, and the credits begin before we can find out.

We move through dual action of Carol (Melissa McBride) heading into the Kingdom (dispatching zombies with a street sign, bless her heart) and Morgan teaching stick fighting to Benjamin’s younger brother. Carol grills Morgan about Daryl, wanting to know if her best bud was withholding information in his previous visit. Morgan replies that it’s not his secret to tell, leaving Carol frustrated. Benjamin (Logan Miller) tries to bond with Carol on the way out but she wants none of his nonsense and brushes him off. Then Ben gifts Morgan a thoughtful painting and those of us who have been watching The Walking Dead for a while know the little tacker’s days are numbered.

A number of Kingdom members, including Benjamin, Morgan and Richard (Karl Makinen) head off to the drop point to pay their tribute to the Saviors. They’re stopped by a barricade constructed of shopping trolleys and find an empty grave nearby with a sign saying “Bury me Here”. Creepy.

They arrive late at the drop and are one rockmelon short a tribute. The Saviors are none too pleased and it looks like they’re going to kill off one of our heroes. Richard steps forward to take one for the team but the arsehole Saviors shoot Benjamin in the leg instead. Ezekiel and Morgan attempt to save Benjamin at Carol’s place but it’s too late, Benjamin bleeds out and Morgan goes dark. Really dark.

Morgan soon puts the pieces together and realises the whole caper was set up by Richard, who wanted his own death to start the war with the Saviors. Morgan takes Richard’s explanation on the chin, but there’s something going on behind his eyes. Savior tribute round two and the gang deliver one rockmelon (so that explains it!) but before it goes on too long Morgan leaps on Richard and chokes him to a messy, gasping death in front of everyone.

Members of the Kingdom and Saviors alike are frankly horrified, even after Morgan explains the whole nasty business was Richard’s fault. Still the war is delayed for the moment and Morgan decides to obey the sign and buries Richard where the grave was dug. Then Morgan goes on a wild-eyed zombie bashing spree and it’s deliriously wonderful, but he’s clearly unravelling.

Morgan heads back to Carol’s place and finally tells her the truth about Glenn and Abraham. Carol tears up but manages to hold it together long enough to offer the now near-psychotic Morgan use of her halfway house. She won’t be needing it anymore.

Back at the Kingdom Carol arrives in time to plant new life in Ezekiel’s garden where the pair of them agree they will need to fight soon but “not today”. Carol also mentions that she’s moving into the Kingdom. She’s ready to be part of the community. To fight for it and to die for it.

“Bury me Here” is a solid bit of piece-moving that finally gives us back Morgan and Carol ready to fight. It’s a little rough around the edges, and Richard’s plans were deeply dubious, but it seems like the Kingdom’s finally ready to join the war – which is good news for everyone. Except, you know, Negan.

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Marvel’s Iron Fist

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Following in the footsteps of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage (and presaging team-up series, The Defenders), the latest Marvel/Netflix series has a lot to live up to – and a lot of now-apparent baggage to shed. Sadly, Iron Fist does neither.

Which is not to say it’s a terrible time, but Iron Fist exhibits a lack of ambition and an inability to effectively define its own identity. It feels by the numbers in a way its predecessors, even when they were working to formula, didn’t. If Daredevil is the opener of the way, and Jessica Jones filtered that narrative model through the lens of a woman’s experience, while Luke Cage steeped it in African American culture and history, then this series does… well, nothing too interesting.

Which may in fact be the best argument for re-imagining Danny Rand as an Asian character, instead of the comics-canonical white guy trained in the mystic East. There’s engaging work to be done in viewing the hoary tropes of the ’70s born martial arts movie through the eyes of, say, a savvy second- or third- generation Asian American.

Instead we get Finn Jones (Game of Thrones) as Rand, long thought dead after being lost in a plane crash along with his parents in the Himalayas, returning to New York City 15 years after the fact. Where’s he been in the interim? Why, learning martial arts in the magical mountain retreat of K’un L’un – hence why he’s now presenting as a shoeless hippie wanderer, a look that doesn’t endear him to the current executives of his father’s former company when he fronts up and informs them that he’d like his billions back, please.

Perhaps the weirdest choice made in Iron Fist is to spend so much time focusing on the machinations and maneuvering involved in Danny wresting back control of his company from his former childhood friends, Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy (Jessica Stroup) Meachum, who are acting as catspaws for their father, Harold (David Wenham, having fun), Rand Senior’s former business partner , who is currently pretending to be dead for nebulous reasons.  If nothing else, Batman Begins handled this entire plot much more quickly and adroitly.

Still we do get some martial arts action, largely from Danny’s reluctant ally, dojo-owner Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who gets involved in illegal cage fighting in order to pay the bills. And Danny gets some moments to shine, too – his skirmish against a squad of hatchet-wielding Chinese toughs ticks the boxes nicely. But it’s all a bit underwhelming, lacking the audacity and brutality of Daredevil‘s fight choreography, and the casual superhuman power of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. And, forgive us, but isn’t Iron Fist’s whole schtick supposed to be spectacular martial arts?

If anything is a dealbreaker, it’s the series’ failure to fulfill the inherent promise of its premise. We should be seeing some Yuen Woo-ping style wire-fu, some scenery shattering displays of mystic kung-fu power (which we do from time to time, to be fair, but it’s underwhelming), something that takes us above the street-level beat-ups we’ve seen so far and bridges the gap between Daredevil and, say, Doctor Strange. It’s all there in the premise.

But it’s not there in the show.

So far, at least. Netflix put out the first six episodes for review purposes, and it’s possible that Iron Fist picks up significantly in the back half, but it wants to ramp up to an extraordinary degree to make up for its plodding opening act. If there’s one thing Netflix needs to learn – and this goes beyond their Marvel properties to encompass pretty much all their original series – it’s that length is not its own virtue. We shouldn’t have to trudge through hours of makework storytelling to get to the climax. It is, at base, bad writing beholden to a pointless production mandate.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, Iron Fist is for completists only. It’s not a complete mess, but it’s a significant step down in quality.