31 October 2015

The Walking Dead S06E01–04 (AMC, 2015)

I'm a big fan of the comic: each month's issue is devoured with equal parts zombie blind-hunger and the gut-churning fear of a lone survivor. Creator Robert Kirkman's desire to explore a post-zombie-apocalypse world is producing a work that's as soulful, ruthless and savage as Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It's awesome serial story telling that I dread but look forward to each month.

Then there's the television show it inspired. The intelligent promise of Frank Darabont's first season was not delivered in the following two seasons. That was mostly because broadcast AMC dumped Darabont after S01, and S02–03 were other people trying to pick up the mantle and resorting to things I hate about zombie film and television (for example, the characters' terrible habit of not paying due attention to their continuously hostile environment). The seasons following Darabont's departure were also boring as, man. So I gave up after S03.

In the years since, I tried the odd ep, watching as much of a random ep or season opener as I could stand (because it was usually boring, stupid, or both). The comic is so good — I know they're very different beasts, the comic and the television show — but somehow I guess I thought that surely the show might reach some kind of parity in its quality of story telling.
Which brings me to S06. I've devoured the first four eps in short order, and it hasn't been boring. The main characters — those that've survived from S01 — have changed and grown so much and in such different ways as to be rivetting to watch. The show has captured the essence of What are you prepared to do to survive? and the cost that that entails.

I'll keep watching this season. Even if it deteriorates into standard zombie tropes and cliches and I don't finish the season, it'll be interesting to drop in on the show next year or the year after, to see who's still alive, and what they've become.

14 September 2015

Wayward Pines S01E01–07 (Fox, 2015)

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"Wayward Pines Intertitle" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

A Secret Service agent awakens in a Twin Peaks-vibe rural town where All Is Not What It Seems: people won't give him a straight answer, there's all sorts of strange and suspicious behaviour — you get the deal.

By the fifth ep, All Is Revealed, and our protagonist — for Very Good Reason — becomes that which he loathed and struggled mightily against at the beginning of the show. So far, so so, with intriguing themes of surveillance state, conformism, and the greater good underlying the action.

And then ham-fisted execution, sub-sub-sub-Hitchcockian left-hand-not-knowing-what-the-right-hand's-doing bullshit, stupid stupid stupid character u-turns, and — ah, fuck it.

Confidence was never high for this show.

16 August 2015

Terminator: Genisys (2015; Alan Taylor / Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier)

The trailer didn't really set me aflame.

Game of Thrones helmer Taylor and the original Terminator hisself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, were big enough drawcards to not overly worry about the casting of Jai Courtenay (from the execrable A Good Day to Die Hard), Emilia Clarke (replacing the irreplaceable Linda Hamilton), and Jason Clarke (who does great work in straight drama like Zero Dark Thirty but somehow manages to be awkward and unconvincing in genre pieces like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).

So. Genisys didn't suck as much ass as the slavishly PG-13 Rise of the Machines or the clusterfuck of Salvation, but Jesus H Fucking Christ did it feel like it was written by committee. The dialogue was flat with exposition. The plotting was tepid. The logic — oi vey — was non-existent. I actually began to feel sorry for all involved when I was watching this.

I'm glad the rights revert to Mr Cameron after this instalment. 

16 July 2015

The Americans (FX, 2013–)

The Americans is a period drama that takes its time to build characters and relationships, benefits from production design that silently and completely builds worlds, and is founded on writing that is just awesome in its understatement.

For a show that is set in the 1980s and begins with the almost risible situation of an FBI agent innocently moving his family into the same street where deep-cover Soviet agents are already well established, this is — according to an entry in my viewing diary — gut-churningly awesome.

Like any reasonably successful television show, it uses the ideas of family, relationships, and character to tell good stories. Where it differs from most others is — aside from its engine and setting — in how it uses those same ideas for its own ends: family —the Soviet agents' teen children are unaware they are part of their parents' cover; relationships —when the FBI agent turns a Russian embassy employee by having an affair with them, is he working an asset or is he being unfaithful to his wife? and character —how does each Soviet agent hold onto his or her core values after years of living in a democratic and capitalist environment?

Heavy stuff, I know — there's guns, sex, and spy stuff if you really only want that kind of stuff — but there's so much more to savour and enjoy.

The best drama really is on the box these days.

Essential viewing.

15 June 2015

Powers S01E05

It's the Game of Thrones season finale tonight but the Better Half is out and since my box-watching plate is a little light, I thought, “Was Powers really as shit as I thought?”

I could've tolerated its anaemic 37-minute running time, forgiven how it reused footage from the previous and current ep several times over in some kind of present-day-flashback-suspenseful-character-dynamic-building narrative device, and waited out a pace as slow as a well-meaning am-dram parlour piece. (I've been here before: I watched all 800 fucking hours of The Cult so I'm a goddamned TV watching badass.)

So when two female superheroines arrive to rescue our mere mortal protagonist, and the first one — having been expressly warned to never turn her back on the superpowered antagonist —turns her back not once but twice and is swept aside, and the second one has a glass jaw, I'm like, “Yeah, this is shit, alright.”

23 May 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015; Matthew Vaughan / Jane Goldman and Vaughan)

After watching Samuel L Motherfucking Jackson's villain defeated by Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Michael Caine as the eponymous Kingsmen I couldn't help thinking: If you're a gazillionaire with the resources and willingness to save the planet, and you happen to be a person of colour, a bunch of honkies with delusions of knights and chivalry will stop you and protect the status quo.

22 May 2015

Chappie (2015; Neill Blomkamp / Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell)

District 9 just fuckin' rocked, didn't it? Social commentary as sci-fi action film, it had awesome, eye-popping tech, smart, adaptable and resourceful villains, and a protagonist that was classic Joe Campbell.

The long-awaited Elysium had a jaw-dropping trailer and premise but the final product was really just District 9 on a bigger scale. I hoped it was just a sophomoric misstep.

Watching Chappie is like watching a very expensive assembly of the dumbest parts of Star Wars Episodes I–III, Return of the Jedi, and Robocop 2 and 3: a tedious asssult of infantile characterisation and insulting story-telling that no amount of action can save.