The Walking Recap: Crossed

Hello, everyone! Tonight is the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, and I’ll try my best to write the recap of that tomorrow night, since I’ll be on a business trip from Wednesday until Saturday, so no procrastinating allowed (because blogging in general will be very difficult and unlikely during that time!)

Last week’s episode deserves a 3 out of 5, I think (practicing being less of a rating-pushover)– it was clearly a build-up episode, which is a common, but logical, tendency the show has to devote an entire episode to building up to, and saving any payoff for, the episode(s) to come. Usually, this is the case preceding big showdown episodes, and tonight’s episode, which centers upon the rescue mission itself, is sure to provide that payoff we so desperately seek– even if it means killing someone off (will it be Beth? Carol? Tyrese? Those are the rumors I’ve been hearing, anyway)

So, let’s review in time for tonight’s episode: Carl offers to teach Father Gabriel how to fight and use weapons, and he chooses the machete but says he feels unwell and must lie down. When Michonne checks on him later, he responds a bit aggressively, asking what she wants from him since he already took the weapon. Michonne says she doesn’t want anything, but it seems like she should have been more forceful in checking in perhaps– a little more prodding may or may not have revealed that he was using the machete to dismantle the floorboards of his office, eventually fleeing the church. Early in the episode, the church had been fortified, which made this route of escape the only option for him, and his halfhearted attempt to kill a walker in the woods later was pitiful to watch (I want to say boohoo so what that she had a cross necklace, but it’s fine, I digress)

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Sasha, meanwhile, is still upset about Bob’s death, and has yet another heart-to-heart with her brother, Tyrese, who gets her to forgive and move forward finally. But this is probably the worst time for this enlightened level of coping to occur, since it causes her to be easily duped by one of Dawn’s cops; our group has taken him hostage, and he appeals to Sasha’s new-found humanity, tricking her into mercy-killing the walker who’d once been his partner. I kind of figured these cops’ cooperation would have been too simple. So, anyway, we leave Sasha knocked out and our runaway cop runs away to who-knows-where. And, who-knows-where is pretty much where the plan probably stands as a result. Hopefully Rick and Daryl can still figure out a way of making the swap work, with as few casualties as possible (although if it were up to Rick, the more casualties the merrier!)

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The series has some of its most successful moments, this season especially, when there are no walkers at all, just really well-executed quiet moments of character development and pondering morality, and I’ve said this before. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that some of them leave something to be desired for me personally, and that was the Glenn/Maggie group’s experiences in this episode. I liked that we got to know Rosita little bit more, but Abraham’s sulking in the sun and Maggie’s looking after both him and Eugene was just a little too redundant; the development to be had from their episode arc could have been reached with slightly less screen time, I think. Like, I’m happy that Tara found a yo-yo on their fishing expedition, but as far as “build-up” goes, this group didn’t need quite as much focus as it got.

I guess the episode felt a bit underwhelming because of the way it tried to weave all our survivors’ stories back together after briskly barreling through each story separately for a while now (something that in itself never worked that well for the show until this season, I’d argue). So maybe this one felt a little more choppy and less tense as a result. But, everything is in place for tonight’s episode and if that was the overall goal, then it succeeded.

No Particular Order: Pop Culture Things I’m Thankful For

Hello all and Happy Thanksgiving! Since I’m not doing a whole lot to celebrate the holiday, I’d like to put forth a few recent (or in some cases, not so recent, perhaps) film and television events and items that I’m very thankful for, as random as some of them may seem. Enjoy!

The Knick 

The Knick (which I’m one episode away from finishing season 1 of, so no spoilers in the comments and no making fun of me for being a very slow and lazy bingewatcher, either!) is one of my favorite new shows. I know it caused some derision, with many questioning whether Steven Soderbergh’s talents were well used or if the show was just an aesthetically pretentious repackaging of familiar tropes and character types. But, I think the show is gripping, disturbing, darkly and drearily beautiful, sophisticated, and fascinating as a look at barbaric, turn of the century medicine, in all its corrupt and cocaine addicted glory.

-go1_-_1080The camera’s movement, the tones and colors, and especially that eerie synth music that seems so ill-fitting and yet somehow works so well, all make the show a cinematic masterpiece of a serial drama, and even if Clive Owen’s Thackery seems to be a cookie cutter male antihero at times, he also plays the part extremely well.

3rd Rock from the Sun on Hulu

I watched this show a lot as a kid but a lot of its double entendres and brilliant observations about humanity’s stupidity were lost on me until now. I’m marathoning it on Hulu and the one thing that is really blowing me away (besides how truly hilarious the show was in general) is the gender critique in much of it– Sally, played by Kristen Johnston, was not a “women” on their home planet, and when she asks why she had to be the woman coming to earth, Dick (John Lithgow) says that she “lost.”

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This is among many keen, critical observations of the social constructs surrounding gender that, logically, don’t fully make sense to these aliens, particularly Sally. She is forced to do “girly” jobs, is ignored by mechanics, and is denied simple soap by a cosmetic seller. She’s trying to understand gender and the differences between women and men by being thrown headfirst into the ridiculous regimes and expectations that (often unnecessarily) come with womanhood.”Why is my body so much higher maintenance than yours?” “The economy relies on it.” Indeed, it does.

The Pitch Perfect 2 and Jurassic World Trailer Premieres

I know I used to do Preview Review posts to talk about trailers, but these two deserve a place in this post while they’re fresh in my mind. I loved both trailers and know these two films will be my most anticipated releases of next summer.

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Pitch Perfect 2‘s trailer made me giddy and ready for more catchy, catty fun– the Bellas are back and competing in the world championships, which means… a German rival team! (And my favorite YouTube star, Flula!) The aca-remix of Cups was a great way of easing into the rest of the trailer, which of course, get’s more epic and fun as it goes on. I really hope this sequel meets all the high expectations out there, because I’m not the only one who is aca-excited for this movie.

Watch here

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Likewise, I think everyone is highly anticipating Jurassic World. Chris Pratt will no doubt be amazing in it, and the special effects look top-notch as to be expected– the shot in this trailer of the dinosaur leaping for his bait– a dangling shark– is just plain awesome. I’m such a fan of these movies and cannot wait for this one.

Watch here

And This Classic Fake Trailer Courtesy of Eli Roth

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Ah, the Thanksgiving trailer from Grindhouse. I love this thing, and watch it every year on Thanksgiving– let’s face it, there are Christmas movies and Christmas HORROR movies. Heck, there are even slasher films that take place on Valentine’s Day and Prom Night. But no movies– not many of any kind– that are set around Thanksgiving. So logically, this hypothetical horror film is amazing. I don’t necessarily wish it were real, but I sure am thankful it exists.

Watch here

Well, thank you all for reading this random hodgepodge of pop culture stuff that I’m into right now and thus thankful for on a day like today! I am, above all else, thankful for you, dear readers and followers! Thanks as always for your patience and interest in my posts!

The Ten Most Iconic Female Movie Characters

A list of 10 iconic female movie characters has been made. That list will be assigned to another blogger who can then change it by removing one character (describing why they think she should not be on the list) and replacing it with another one (also with motivation) and hand over the baton to another blogger. Once assigned, that blogger will have to put his/her post up within a week. If this is not the case the blogger who assigned it has to reassign it to another blogger.

That little intro was all the info needed to understand this awesome blogathon, which was started by Dell on Movies, where you can follow the list’s path. I’m honored to have been nominated by Dev Nic Smith’s awesome blog, Movies n’ Stuff. ADDENDUM (11/27/14): As of when I wrote this a couple days ago, I hadn’t nominated anyone yet but I’m pleased to announce that I’ve nominated Natalie of Writer Loves Movies and she accepted! She’ll have hers up sometime in the second week of December. She’s a fantastic writer who I’m happy to work with over at Audiences Everywhere.

Anyway, the list stands as this:

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8

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First of all, I agree with Dev’s overall line of reasoning, right down to why she eliminated Elsa from Frozen. I love Uma Thurman’s Tarantino characters and, of course, I’m partial to the horror movie heroines and sci-fi supergirls found on this list, as well. I would, however, feel an immense amount of guilt if I took someone like Scarlett O’Hara off the list, merely as a matter of preference. I mean, she’s pretty important. But it was her or Elle Woods (who was Dev’s pick).

Ultimately, I had to eliminate Elle Woods. I think Witherspoon is a great comedienne in Legally Blonde (2001), and Elle is a pretty fantastic character when you think about it– embodying gender stereotypes while also balancing and maintaining her intellect and independence, thus defying those stereotypes and pointing out their limitations, just as Dev said. But, the film never made a huge impact on me personally and so I’ve got to make room for my favorite movie female: Clementine Kruczynski of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

I am biased only in that this is also my favorite movie of all time, but part of why it’s my favorite movie has always been the character of Clementine, played by Kate Winslet. Clem is, for me, simultaneously the most quirky, eccentric female character but she’s somehow also terribly relatable, both because of and despite those quirks. She is brutish at times– so, you’d think, “strong female character,” but the two are not necessarily synonymous; she is a strong female character in the sense that she is complex, and she’s allowed to be confident and obnoxious one moment and be completely emotionally wrecked in the next. She is moody, insecure, and impulsive– with her brightly colored hair and equally inconsistent personality, she actually fills up and fluctuates within the gray area between “strong” and “weak” female dichotomies.

Clem isn’t the best role model, per se, but she proves that a female character can come along every once in a while whose personality is as fluid as real women’s personalities can be– she has sexual agency and exercises her choice by, well, choosing perhaps too impulsively (as she does to erase Joel from her memory). I always related to Clementine on an emotional level, and maybe that’s embarrassing to admit– but all her brashness paired with her underlying uncertainty about her looks, love and life always struck me as unique as far as film history is concerned, and it always made me feel like complicated women do have a place on screen. And for that, I think Clementine is well deserving of a place on this list.

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Thanks again to Dev for the nomination and good luck to all the future participants! I will announce who I’ve nominated ASAP and will wish them luck in particular!

Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis
Rating: 5 out of 5 jellyfish. I may be a high rater, but I don’t give out perfect scores too often. Now, my biases for Iñárritu (Amores Perros, especially) and for Emma Stone aside, this is, to me, a perfect film. The editing (made to appear as though the film was shot in one take, no cuts) was daring and fascinating and never grew gimmicky but it was also, even more surprisingly, not the film’s only strength. Far from it, actually. The technical panache is met with and matched by amazing, raw performances from the entire, stellar cast, even as they deliver intentionally pretentious and philosophical stretches of dialogue– and this is all in service of achieving a surrealist satire about celebrity culture and the difference in value between art and entertainment. Ironic, considering this film is both art and entertainment in equal, glorious measure.

Birdman is a sometimes absurd, always engrossing tale about a show business has-been– Riggan Thomson (Keaton)– attempting to direct and star in a dramatic Broadway play of his own adaptation from a short story. The actor jargon is meant to be laughable, I think, at least when it’s coming from everyone else (in particular, Norton and Watts give great performances). But for Riggan– even with all his otherworldly abilities (which he uses mostly to throw temper tantrums and escape from his current self into delusions of his former self: the global superhero sensation, Birdman)– the struggle between artist and entertainer seems authentic, poignant almost. We may not love him every second of the film– we find out he was a pretty negligent father and a self-absorbed husband– but he is the only character who seems at least somewhat aware of what he used to be, and who he is trying to be, all with the existential dread of not really know what any of that makes him right now.

Emma Stone (again, bias aside but I couldn’t not mention this) gives a standout performance as his daughter, Sam, a recent rehab alum who’s now acting as his bitter assistant. She has one powerful, perfectly executed monologue all about how Riggan doesn’t matter anymore, how he is washed up and irrelevant, and it is one of the most gripping moments in the film. The movie seems to effortlessly, seamlessly ebb and flow between honesty and intensity, fantasy and dark humor, philosophy and spectacle. The film in itself is kind of striking a convincing balance then, a cohesive and complicated hybrid even, of the very modes it seems to argue are opposites– again, art and entertainment are assigned values that I think we’re meant to question and consider throughout the film’s content, while in the film’s form, they’re beautifully mangled together, both worthy of our attention. Everything from theater critics to Twitter and viral culture, from method acting and petty backstage power plays, is examined in equal measure; what lengths should these actors be going to to be taken seriously, and should being taken seriously be the end goal anyway? And if so, why should that be the end goal? And, as is brought up again and again throughout the film, how does any of this fit into our wired world?

The film is creative and calculated, cynical and cerebral, emotional and exciting. The jazz drumming adds to the absurdity of the film as well as to the artsy nature of it, of course, and it punctuates the film, tying together its disparate tones into one big, jazzy joke. The sound in general is extremely effective. The mixing of sound levels paired with the visual one-take effect give us the eerie feeling like the film is happening in a labyrinth around us, like we are inescapably and inexplicably immersed in this world. I loved the thrill of certain scenes, and embraced the guilt that came with feeling a thrill in those scenes– such as when Riggan is essentially in one of his old Birdman flicks again. With the snap of his fingers, there are explosions and special effects and he even flies… or does he? The messages are intentionally mixed until the film’s awe-inspiring conclusion; we’re left to wonder again and again where he’d feel most happy, most successful, most loved and admired– in his Birdman suit, making billions of dollars or on stage, making “art.” As my convoluted review probably indicates, this is a complex film that sometimes, in certain ways, masquerades as an extremely simple film– it looks like one take, but with every fluid and meaningful movement of the camera, a million questions are being raised, a million things are being considered and made fun of, and we, as media consumers, are complicit in all of it. In the end, I think the film is critiquing the conflict between art and entertainment, rather than necessarily choosing sides within that conflict. And this is what makes it so interesting to me in the first place; the film is an expertly choreographed debate, and a truly important, innovative and enjoyable film that will, above all else, remind you what the medium can do– as both art and as entertainment.

The Walking Recap: Consumed

Last night’s episode was quiet, moody, slow and introspective. Not one of my favorites, despite having it follow my favorite duo– Daryl and Carol. I’ll give it a 3.5 out of 5 like I gave last week’s, but this time, I’ll applaud its overall unpredictability that really punctuated the overall subdued tone. 3.5 out of 5 machetes, shall we say, after the only really awesome, gory zombie kill of the episode? Or perhaps the unit should be books about dealing with domestic abuse.

At any rate, this episode follows Daryl and Carol through the streets of Atlanta, giving us a feeling of both nostalgia and frustration– is this really how far we’ve come, that we can return to the beginning so easily and quickly? The city is looking pretty rough at this point, and our dynamic duo have a lot of serious conversations in which not much is really said, while camping out partly in what was once a shelter for wives and children living with abusive husbands/fathers. The fact that Carol had stayed here once with Sophia is another eerie revelation about how far our characters have come spiritually, emotionally, mentally, even if not physically getting too far outside Atlanta’s city limits. It was emotional for Carol to see a zombified mother and daughter, and heartwarming in a weird way for Daryl to tell her he’ll take care of it because she shouldn’t have to; the next morning, she wakes up to Daryl respectfully burning the bodies. One great line in the episode comes from Daryl where he says that they’re not ashes, as they talk about who they were and how they’re different. The whole thing seems really intent on examining Carol in particular and retracing her steps, outlining and highlighting the various lows and sacrifices and unspeakable acts she’s had to commit, and we’re definitely meant to see that they’re taking a toll on her at this point, that they’re really informing her survival skills and weighing against her humanity a little.

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One way the episode shows this that I did love was the way pretty much every return from commercial break was a flashback to some other moment in Carol’s timeline– when Rick makes her leave, or when she burns and buries bodies, etc.

The episode wasn’t devoid of action necessarily, and even if it were that would be okay with me normally. I think I was expecting something more from this episode, but I can’t quite articulate what, or why. Maybe it was a pacing issue especially given the fast pace of the season up until this point. But things certainly did get interesting when they’re stuck in a van that is teetering at the edge of an industrial bridge, with walkers swarming all around, forcing them to hold on for dear life and face the fall. Even more interesting, of course, was when they get their weapons stolen from none other than the escaped Noah. But, Daryl and Carol eventually catch up to him and switch places in terms of which one wants to kill versus spare him (at first, Carol is willing to wound him in order to save their weapons, but when Noah later actively endangers Carol’s safety, that’s when Daryl seems all too willing to let him die beneath a bookcase with a walker right over him). When they do ultimately save him though, they find out all about Beth and the hospital, so it’s a good thing– unless we’re not meant to trust him.

Carol, as usual, gets a little too trigger happy but this time, I mean that figuratively: she should have looked both ways before crossing the street, even during a zombie apocalypse– she gets hit by one of the hospital’s vehicles and subsequently saved and taken by that same vehicle (though I use the term “saved” loosely here). The episode ends with Daryl and Noah heading back to the church for reinforcements so they can save Daryl’s two ladies. So I’d presume that it’s Noah who’s in the woods with him after all but we’ll have to wait and see– all I know is, it looks like our group is gearing up for a classic rescue mission. I just hope it plays out in a refreshing and exciting way, because that is something that could very easily be trite and tired at this point. All in all though, this was a pretty good episode in a mostly amazing season so far.

The Walking Recap: Self Help

This is the most behind I’ve ever fallen on my Walking Recap series of posts and I feel so terrible about it but my life got extra topsy turvy this past week and I’m trying to get back on track and not letting my day-to-day affect my blogging too much; after all, this is still a passion and a hobby and not something I ever want to see as a chore. So anyway, I’m writing this before tonight’s episode, and it may be moot to do so, but still a principle and a commitment. I’ll keep it short:

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I’m giving last week’s episode a 3.5 out of 5 lies. It wasn’t the most engaging episode this season so far, and its twist was one I saw coming. In fact, this recap will inevitably short for another reason, and that is that not a whole lot happened that wasn’t repetitive or predictable.

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Essentially, last week’s episode gave us a glimpse into Abraham’s former life, the life he led just as the zombie apocalypse was starting. We may have some remaining questions about who he was with during these scenes, and how much his anger issues and need for purpose were instilled in him from before the outbreak and how many of those qualities directly resulted from the outbreak. But in the end, all I cared about was knowing that these flashbacks would reveal how Abraham and Eugene met, and how he came to devote his militaristic sense of discipline to protecting and transporting Eugene to Washington D.C. And, this moment was gratifying, especially because it comes soon after the present day revelation that Eugene has been lying all along– he isn’t a scientist, just a really good liar.

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The moment plays out shockingly, but the revelation in itself was not shocking at all (maybe that’s the pessimist in me… or maybe it’s due to the fact that Eugene has been secretly stalling their travels this whole time, and this becomes obvious at various points in this episode). He decides to reveal it because if he doesn’t, he knows someone will get hurt: he reveals it just as Abraham and everyone else are arguing about which way they should travel– take more time to backtrack and guarantee safety, or go through the shorter route which will no doubt be a zombie minefield.

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So, it’ll be interesting to see where this subgroup stands now, but if I’m being honest, I feel more invested in the other storylines that have been established this season, and there’s really not much of a point in having this one go on for much longer on its own merits, in my opinion.

Review: Interstellar

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Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 wormholes. This space epic could be considered Nolan’s most ambitious film yet, and like always, this film feels like it wants to be something greater, something completely different than simply a reinvention of the blockbuster wheel– the fact that it still does reinvent that wheel in some way as opposed to merely spinning it well, does deserve some credit, then. But for its grand scope and far reach, even this achievement feels like falling short.

Interstellar takes place in a future where earth is running out of food and thus everyone is forced to be a farmer, including Coop (McConaughey), who was once destined for something far greater, before the world was ravaged by dust storms and famine. But when his daughter, Murph, starts receiving messages in Morse code and binary in her bedroom, one thing leads to another and Coop finds himself with a group of mysterious scientists and explorers: NASA. With Coop as the pilot, this group sets off on a journey through space and time– a wormhole has been discovered, through which another galaxy exists, a galaxy whose planets have been tested for how well they’d be able to sustain human life when the earth no longer can.

The stakes are high and Nolan’s human touch is certainly improved here– he has a keen grasp on, and conveys powerfully what these characters are sacrificing by leaving their home planet (Coop’s relationship with his daughter remains a particularly important and poignant force in the narrative), especially because time is such an unknowable thing for them; an hour for them on one planet could be seven years or more at home, where things could be deteriorating even further with every passing minute. The idea is that Murph’s generation might be the last to survive on earth, but Coop may be doing all of this for her without ever even seeing her again, which proves a devastating possibility to him.

Of course, many people who have been anticipating this film eagerly were probably most excited for– and expecting to be blown away by– the visuals. And, again, they’re spectacular enough– impeccably executed and constructed intelligently. In fact, the whole film boasts an almost pretentious intellect, but as far as blockbusters go, I’d say that’s a commendable thing more often than it is a flaw. Despite all this, there was still something lacking about the film, as much as I enjoyed it. Even with all the questions of science and the human relationships driving the story, it still felt like the impressive visuals themselves were hollow, motivated by and operating on the thinnest possible pieces of those other components.

That is, there was a disconnect, for me personally, between its breathtaking technical elements and its more grounded, emotional elements. For instance, I thought the performances were wonderful, even if its script at times carried that same air of poetic, brainy pretension I mentioned earlier. And the film’s use of sound was deeply effective– the way the film would go from moments of extreme loudness to eerie, empty silence in a matter of one jarring edit was one of my favorite technical aspects of the film. And the trippy wormhole scene was clearly another exercise for Nolan in aesthetically manifesting meaningful, philosophical questions about our physical dimensions and their boundaries; it was predictable, but still beautiful nonetheless. This was all effective, yes, but only when considered separately, somehow, like an equation that just doesn’t quite work out in the end as perfectly as its parts seem to dictate that it should.

Interstellar is science-fiction at its most indulgent and, for better and for worse perhaps, it often takes a more introspective approach despite its outwardly intergalactic scope. It is a film that feels like it was meant for greater things, a film that has overachiever written all over it. It isn’t necessarily a disappointment, speaking as someone who went in with few expectations at all, and it certainly is not a bad film. It is awe-inducing, but it never induces quite as much awe as it boasts so self-assuredly that it can; a mission too big to accomplish fully, it comes close, which is admirable enough and certainly entertaining on some level, but for many more expectant fans, Interstellar may feel like a bit of a black hole.