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The Walking Dead: The Complete Seventh Season

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As the 100th episode of The Walking Dead looms for the Season 8 premiere, we have a look back at Season 7, the most critically divisive since the “are they ever going to leave this bloody farm?” shenanigans of Season 2.

After the eye-rolling finale of season 6, where the showrunners decided to hold off on the identity of who got clobbered by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) because it was “fun”, Season 7’s premiere episode “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” had an uphill climb. We needed a satisfying answer to the question “who carked it?” but also a meaningful letter of intent, to try and understand what the seventh season would be about.

While the show delivered big time on the first question – killing two beloved characters, one of whom had been with us since the beginning – the second query was mostly ignored, and fans noticed. Some five million (!) viewers left The Walking Dead in the first half of the season (7A) and reviews ranged from weary to scathing. Ironically the Greg Nicotero-directed first episode is a fantastic piece of shocking, intense horror – beautifully executed – however the half season that followed felt rather listless.

Watching Rick (Andrew Lincoln) react to tragedy can be effective in small doses, however eight whole episodes of it felt a tad indulgent. That’s not to say it was all lousy, “The Well” and “Sing Me a Song” were both solid, and “The Cell” was striking and unusual, and has permanently installed that bloody “Easy Street” song in my head.

The second half of the season, 7B, was a big improvement. From the get-go with “Rock in the Road” one could feel the transition to a more proactive stance, as our heroes decide it’s time to fight back. Of course as we found with the strong climax, “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” – the all out war scenario has been held over until Season 8, making 7B the march to war. Some may debate the wisdom of this, but it does mean the new season can hit the ground running.

In terms of rewatching, Season 7 is solid, albeit unspectacular. The premiere and finale are both thoroughly entertaining, and there’s solid character work all the way through, but the pace has definitely slowed and that needs to be addressed. In terms of blu-ray extras the usual bag of not terribly exciting deleted scenes (most of which were better left on the editing room floor), making of documentaries, featurettes and audio commentaries round out a solid package.

Sadly the audience-anticipated “F takes” with Negan in full sweary mode aren’t included on the blu-ray, which is a bummer for fans of the comic, who want to see the big man loose those “fuckity fucks” with his typical charming alacrity.

Ultimately The Walking Dead: The Complete Seventh Season is a solid blu-ray but not necessarily a must-have. It showcases this red-headed stepchild of a season with crisp quality and generous extras, but is unlikely to change your stance if you didn’t dig on the rather protracted action the first time around.

 
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All Eyez on Me

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Today, the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Eminem, and Kanye West have been elevated to the status of hip-hop legends and much of their fandom treats them as if they were religious deities. But before these men (and it is important to note that they are all men) held these positions, there was a fervour and fandom for one artist unlike any other, a man who is still the subject of debate and rumour over faking his own death: Tupac Amaru Shakur. One thing is for certain, however – his influence on the hip-hop industry can still be felt today, and with the recent success of the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, it was only a matter of time before we got a new Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me.

One problem when making films about figures who are as adored as Tupac Shakur is always the fear that the lead actor’s look, voice, and mannerisms will simply stray too far for the audience to focus on the narrative. But have no fear, for when you first set eyes upon Demetrius Shipp Jr. as the eponymous star, you may wonder if Tupac really did fake his death and has come back to star in his own film. Shipp nails the role in every way possible, capturing the bravado, the talent, and the poignant introspection of this tortured artist.

The film itself feels less confident. The story is framed through interviews Tupac undertook in 1996 whilst in prison, reflecting on the events that led to his incarceration, as the film flashes back and forth. Whether it was just an unseasoned editor or there was too much to fit into the first ten to twenty minutes, but the film jumps around in a very jarring way at first, ending scenes in what feels like mid-conversation. Eventually, All Eyez On Me finds its footing when Tupac finds his way within the rap industry. From there we see all the highs and lows of his career, those who influenced him – from his Black Panther member mother, fellow east-coast rapper Biggie Smalls, and the manager of Death Row Records, Suge Knight – until his death at the age of 25.

Nothing is missing from this in-depth biopic, but somehow, it doesn’t feel like it speaks to who Tupac was either. For such an opinionated, thought-provoking storyteller, the Tupac we see in the film does not express much in the way of thoughts on life, music, and his role as a voice for African-Americans, all of which he expressed prolifically in real life. In fact, one of the film’s best scenes highlights the rest of its inadequacy.

Before hitting it big, Tupac is signing with Interscope Records, so long as he drops the song ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’ from the album. The song revolves around a 12-year-old who falls pregnant to her cousin, has the baby, and then spirals into drug abuse and prostitution. When the executives tell him to drop the song, Tupac goes into a speech about how he is a voice for those who have none, how he is speaking of the true America, the one he’s grown up with. He would rather not get signed than give up on what he believes. If the film had shown us this side of Tupac more, it could have gone from good to great. Otherwise, it plays like a “best of” reel, but a very good one at that.

Lochley Shaddock is a novelist, essayist, film critic and screenwriter/director

 
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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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The Walking Dead S7E12: Say Yes

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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]

It’s almost always good news when Greg Nicotero directs an episode of The Walking Dead. Nicotero started out in the world of special makeup effects, learning under the tutelage of the maestro, Tom Savini, and honed his craft on the set of George Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985). What this means in practical terms is that Nicotero knows how to shoot zombie action and always delivers something fresh and memorable, which isn’t bad for a television series in its seventh season.

Nicotero’s latest, “Say Yes”, is also his nineteenth episode and the man shows no sign of running out of new ways to deliver fresh twists on ambulatory corpses, but more on that in a moment. First a quick recap.

The cold open has Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Dana Gurira) moseying around the countryside in what could quite honestly be its own spin-off show called Scavengin’ and Lovin’ with the tagline “they loot, shoot and occasionally root!” It’s a jaunty little sequence and really plays to the rarely-seen lighter side of both characters, although as Rick suggests they keep on pushing further out the ominous music clues us in to the fact this might be a terrible idea. Cue titles.

Back at Alexandria, Rosita (Christian Serratos) is being unnecessarily dickish to Tara (Alanna Masterson). There’s nothing wrong with Rosita being mad that her ex was clobbered into a fine patch of skull porridge but her petulant, adolescent reaction is winning her no friends. She pops off to find firearms (a recurring motif of “Say Yes”) and is almost eaten by a large mama zombie that looks like it washes itself with a rag on a stick. Rosita lives but scores nothing for her troubles except a kid’s toy gun. Damn you, American children and your realistic-looking toy weapons!

Back with the A plot, Rick and Michonne fall into some supplies. Literally. The roof of the building they’re on collapses and it’s food for all. Even better the nearby carnival is brimming with military zombies who are all packing some serious heat. The loved up duo enjoy each other’s company, and the freshly-found food, as they prepare to take down the zombies in the light of day. Michonne asks Rick “What happens after we win?” Rick claims he doesn’t want a continuation of the Ricktatorship, but would be happy to rule as partners with Michonne. This seems like a sensible course of action.

Meanwhile in the B plots, Rosita is unnecessarily dickish to Father Gabriel for a while and Tara wonders aloud to baby Judith (aka Lil’ Ass-Kicker) if she should tell Rick about the Oceanside community.

Back at the carnival of the damned, Rick and Michonne embark on a mission to clear out the fairground and claim their weapons. At first things run smoothly, with the dead going down nice and easy, however when a well-armed walker accidently pops off a few rounds things turn south and the pair have to improvise. This is the meat of “Say Yes” and it’s totally worth the wait. Seeing two of the show’s most capable characters dispatching zombies, changing weapons on the fly and just managing to escape from certain death is a thrill. Sadly, however, Rick falls off a ferris wheel and is devoured by zombies.

Oh, alright, that doesn’t actually happen – but for a few moments Michonne thinks it does and it sours the mood from dry levity to something darker. Later Michonne laments that she can’t lose Rick, but Rick disagrees. “You can lose me,” he says in a surprisingly nuanced argument for The Walking Dead, “It’s not about us anymore, it’s about a future.”

Then we’re back to Junktown where Rick does some more sexy bartering with Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), queen of the Scavengers (aka Heapsters) who agrees to fight but only after she receives yet more weapons. Tara has wrestled with her demons and approaches Rick, apparently to tell him about the Oceansiders. Things are moving forwards and the plan appears to be gathering steam.

The episode concludes with Rosita approaching Sasha (Sonequa Martin) but instead of being unnecessarily dickish, she proposes the pair of them join forces and take out Negan by themselves, alone, with a single sniper rifle. It’s a plan so bad that the term “face-palmingly fucking stupid” is woefully insufficient a descriptor and yet apparently rendered simple-minded by grief Sasha agrees as long as she can fire the killing shot. Odds are high that at least one of this pair won’t be back for season eight.

“Say Yes” is a solid, fast-paced and frequently funny episode that skillfully matches striking imagery – fairground zombies, a walker falling to pieces in Rick’s hands, a wandering deer amidst the carnage – with genuinely solid character work in the A plot. The notion that society could, and indeed has to, continue after our heroes are gone is a strong one and perhaps hints at a potential endgame for the series.