Wednesday, January 10, 2018

METROPOLISaversary

Ninety-one years ago today--10 Jan., 1927--Fritz Lang's magnificent sci-fi fantasy METROPOLIS first hit the screen in Germany. This is the kind of movie the phrase "visionary masterpiece" was coined to describe, a gloriously weird epic of the future as seen from the late Weimar era wherein the working class robotically toils away on machines beneath the earth while the well-off live in a shining, paradisiacal city above, rich kids develop social conscience while experiencing visions of devils and mad scientists create androids in the form of humans to beguile and confound men.

Like so many silent films, a lot of METROPOLIS was broken up and lost over the years. The film survived in often quite truncated prints--the first version I saw when but a lad was only about an hour long--and the tantalizing nature of what survived created a mystique about what was missing and what it all meant. A few decades ago, when film preservationists got serious about saving the disappearing early cinema, there began a series of efforts to find the missing pieces and restore the film. Many bits and pieces have turned up over time, leading to restorations both major and minor. The big breakthrough came in 2008 when a print of the film that had been in circulation through several owners since 1928, turned up in Buenos Aires and provided us with a near-complete print of the film.

METROPOLIS is a cinematic landmark. One of the most influential films ever made, there had never been anything like it and despite 91 years of imitation, homage, knock-offs and rip-offs, there's hasn't been anything like it since. But while true--and distinctly true in this case--that particular accolade is also a bit of a cliché. A dusty one. Monuments--things that often collect such dust--are things stored away in museums but movies, especially great ones, are things to be watched, to be experienced. By virtue of their being the product of an age so removed from out own, films of this vintage can often put contemporary viewers in a somewhat alien headspace. Many dislike this, may others simply find it too removed from their experience to appreciate it but for those able to immerse themselves in it, such films can be an euphoric trip. Movies are, among so many other things, dreams. Dreams are often--even usually--strange, and strange can be wonderful indeed. METROPOLIS was strange in its own time. All those years since have just made it better.

--j.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Happy Birthday, Lloyd Kaufman!

Born today, 30 Dec., in 1945, Lloyd Kaufman, producer, writer, director, the co-founder of Troma Entertainment and one of the magnificent bastards responsible for, among so many other off-the-wall classics, the Toxic Avenger movies, POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD, TERROR FIRMER, TROMA'S WAR and TROMEO & JULIET. Highbrow snobs may scoff at Lloyd's shoestring productions, with their abundance of bodily fluids, breasts, beasts and lowbrow humor, but for all these stiff-necked snoots' very tasteful tsk-tsk-ing, Lloyd is something they can't touch, something one doesn't often find in the picture business or, indeed, in life: a genuine original. In a milieu abundantly populated by painfully unimaginative knock-off artists, Lloyd makes movies that aren't like anything you've ever seen. He's borne the spirit of indie cinema trough a lot of years when it seemed in danger of being snuffed out entirely. One hopes he will continue to do so for many more to come.

--j.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, December 11, 2017

How It Always Is With THE WALKING DEAD

This season, THE WALKING DEAD has displayed a remarkable propensity for turning what should be exciting, fast-paced, suspenseful scenarios into dreary exercises in tedium and tonight's midseason finale, "How It's Gotta Be," has just become the standout example of this. What could have been a fairly taught hour-long tale is padded out to 90 minutes. The ep is full of slow-motion photography, long, meaningless montages of various characters' faces overlain with somber music, scenes that go on and on. Got to get those extra ads in there, if the show itself has to bust a gut to accomplish it.

Last week, Rick and the Garbage People returned to the Saviors' Sanctuary only to discover that the herd of zombies our heroes had previously led there was gone, along with the snipers who were supposed to repel any Savior effort to break free. A surprising cliffhanger on which to end but one tonight's ep does nothing to resolve, though the entire ep was premised on it. The issue is raised repeatedly; the only thing viewers are told is that Eugene came up with something and the herd was led away. As I've previously covered here, the sniper team has been made to appear and disappear at the writers' convenience and this continued tonight. Rick had found one of the snipers dead and being eaten by zombies. At one point, Jerry, who doesn't know this, speculates that the snipers must have taken their vehicles and escaped; Rick says he doesn't think they escaped.[1] Since none of the communities were warned that the Saviors had broken free--even with the known casualty, there were still enough snipers to warn every community--this would seem a reasonable assumption but later in the ep, Morgan, who was part of that sniper team, turns up at the Kingdom unharmed. And without explanation.

Tonight's ep begins where last week's ended. Upon discovering the zombies are gone, Rick, ever the idiot, moves in for a closer look on foot across open ground and is, of course, immediately fired upon by Saviors inside. The Garbage People retreat and aren't seen again! They just disappear from the ep. Rick is in a pickle, pinned down and with no hope of escape, but then, out of nowhere, Carol and Jerry suddenly drive up and save him. They'd gone to what was supposed to be a meeting outside the Sanctuary of the leadership of the various communities, Ezekiel having declined to go, but like Daryl and his garbage truck last week, they show up just in the nick of time and are able to magically sense Rick's predicament and affect a rescue.

The Saviors are somehow free, they're going to be out looking for revenge and if one concludes this should be a real barn-burner, well, one may have the instincts of a quality dramatist but one hasn't been watching TWD this season. The writers manage to make the Saviors' campaign against the residents of the three communities pretty damn boring. It makes sense that the Kingdom could be subdued with minimal effort--its fighting force has been wiped out--and, in fact, this happens off camera. But the Hilltop's forces are also taken without firing a shot. Maggie and some of her troops are driving to the Sanctuary meeting. Absent the use of magic, the Saviors have absolutely no way of knowing the Hilltoppers will be coming up that road but they've used this magic power before, in the season 6 finale, and with this supernatural knowledge, they just put a tree across the road to stop the convoy then move in and disarm the fighters. Though the Hilltop forces are armed and they appear to significantly outnumber the Saviors, they just give up their guns without a fight. Simon tells Maggie she can cooperate or meet a horrible end. She takes the deal, he shoots a Hilltop redshirt then he orders her to return home and continue growing food for the Saviors.

This contradicts everything we've been told would happen. Negan has made it very clear he intends to kill the three leaders of the uprising and display their remains at his headquarters. Viewers who may have forgotten that from before get multiple reminders in this ep--Gavin, the Savior leader at the Kingdom, says he's taking Ezekiel back to the Sanctuary and Negan himself says he's taking Rick there. Besides that, Simon's course of action with regard to Maggie is some really horrendous writing. Hilltop has just taken part in an armed uprising against the Saviors. It has lots of guns and it must be disarmed. The Saviors disarm everyone. For all the Saviors know, these communities have the bulk of their arsenal based at Hilltop. If Maggie is allowed to simply return home, those guns could either be stashed for later use or used to carry on the fight that has just been taking place. The only reason Simon, having captured Maggie, doesn't continue with her to Hilltop and disarm the community is because the writers just didn't want him to do it. When Maggie returns home, she's no more gotten through the gates than she has a new gun in her hand. She kills one of her Savior prisoners with it (to make up for the Hilltopper shot by Simon), orders her people to begin fortifying the community against the enemy.[2]

When the Saviors had been pinned down in the Sanctuary, they'd radioed another outpost to bring in a heavy machine-gun to clear the zombies. That outpost was destroyed and the machine-gun captured. Without it, they were considering increasingly desperate measures, such as sending dozens of workers into the zombie horde with melee weapons, sacrificing them on a suicide mission just to try to clear a path for someone who could lead the horde away.[3] The entire season to date has been premised on the notion that the villains didn't have the means or the manpower to fight so many but tonight, they not only have enough to simultaneously go after all three rebel communities, Negan has among his own force what appear to be a dozen or more men armed with grenade launchers, weapons that would have made very short work of all those zombies but were never employed to that end and appear only now, as if by magic, to reign fiery destruction down on the Safe Zone from outside its gates. Once inside, Negan tells his men to blow up every house! It feels like Negan should not have the strength to wage this sort of fight, a problem that goes beyond that magic grenade-launcher brigade.[3a] Our heroes just spent much of this season taking out Negan's outposts, killing or capturing everyone present in a series of lightning strikes. From the fact that they stopped hitting outposts and spoke of no others, one can safely assume there aren't any more.[4] So from whence comes this reserve?

And is there even a reserve? None of the Savior forces are shown to be particularly large. There are no Savior guards around the recently-liberated Sanctuary--until someone started shooting at Rick, it looked deserted. Both the Hilltoppers and the Alexandrians appear to outnumber the fighters thrown against them. The Alexandrians kill several Saviors in an ambush (I'll get to that in a moment). Though the Kingdom has few defenses left, we never see many Saviors there either. One assumes there could be more present in all of these places, lurking somewhere in the darkness in which most of this ep takes place, and that solves one problem but the more there are, the bigger the other--the source of these fighters--becomes.

With some sort-of assistance from turncoat Savior Dwight, the Alexandrians sort of escape Negan's siege--it's all handled in a very sloppy manner. Dwight puts a slim force around the rear of the Safe Zone to create a weak spot. The Alexandrians inside have absolutely no way of knowing he's out there and has done that but fortunately, they coincidentally pick the right place to break through their own walls and escape. Our heroes proceed up the road a short distance then stop to create an ambush for the pursuing Saviors; Dwight leads his own people right into it and they're killed. He takes out a few himself then, wounded, leaves with the Alexandrians. I say "leaves" but they don't actually go anywhere. Instead of getting the hell out of Dodge, they just return to the storm drain that runs under the walls of the Safe Zone, a place that is in no way hidden and that the Saviors could easily investigate (and would investigate if being written at all competently). They're still there at the end.

Rick returns home to find the Safe Zone ablaze and goes in to check it out. He goes to his own house and finds Negan waiting for him. The villain knocks Rick's gun from his hand and the two briefly fight it out. Negan is doing his usual Adam West Batman villain routine and Rick in response, goes meta: "Do you ever shut the hell up?" Pretty much what every viewer has been thinking about Negan's camp antics. It's the only bright spot in this ep. It made me chuckle, anyway. Rick recovers his gun, Negan, who has no gun, pushes him out the window and rather than simply going right back in and shooting Negan, Rick just runs away! If our heroes ever get their hands on the technology behind Negan's plot-armor, they'll be unbeatable.

Other items: Between and in addition to all of that, there's plenty that is only present to add to that running-time. Aaron and Enid have gotten it in their heads to attempt a rapprochement with the Oceanside community, so there's 6 or 7 minutes of that mission near the beginning of this ep that look as if they were cut in from the beginning of an entirely different one, then the focus shifts elsewhere and we're never shown anything else of it.[5] Eugene is again shown drinking and again feeling sorry for himself, then he facilitates the escape of Father Gabriel and the Hilltop's physician (who has been detained at the Sanctuary for some time now). When the Alexandrians are "escaping" down that storm-drain, Michonne stays behind, closing the man-hole and going back into the Safe Zone for no other purpose than to allow her to walk around a while then kill and mutilate a random Savior[6] (said mutilation occurring below the level of the camera, in line with the show's recent tone-down-the-violence directive).

Coral suddenly gets an inordinate amount of screentime, which is TWD's usual set-up for an impending death. He's Wesley Crusher, planning the Alexandrians' escape and even having a parley with Negan in which he offers to let the villain kill him if it will allow the Safe Zone to survive. He staggers around in slow motion while the Safe Zone is being hit with all those grenades. All of this leads where one expects, to the scene that, last week, was teased as being so shocking everyone would be talking about it. And even adjusting for the writers' laughable overestimation of the esteem they've engendered in their audience for this particular character, it may have been too, if the entire ep hadn't  been so heavy-handedly pointing to it from its opening moments. As usual.

--j.

---

[1] Rick, Carol and Jerry decide to take some vehicles, split up and go warn the various communities. Jerry suggests the snipers' vehicles probably won't be where they were previously parked because the riflemen would have taken them to get away from whatever happened, Rick says he doesn't think they got away. Viewers are never shown whether the sniper cars are still there but it's very unlikely that random cars that are just sitting around outside somewhere and that haven't been maintained for two years would still be in working order, yet Rick and Jerry do pretty quickly find cars to drive. When one considers the mystery of what happened at the Sanctuary, this is another hole.

[2] She also tells her people to dump the dead Savior so the others can find the corpse and posts a warning that she has others she can kill if they don't stay away, guaranteeing they'll be there soon.

[3] Last week, Eugene pitched Negan on an idea for getting rid of those zombies. Off-camera, of course. Negan was concerned that the plan, whatever it was, would require seriously depleting the Saviors' ammo supply and secured assurances that Eugene could replenish that stock if given the equipment. While Eugene's mystery plan was put into effect and worked, any such mass reloading operation would take months to carry out. The incident just underscores that Negan should not have the ability to do what he did tonight.

[3a] UPDATE (11 Dec., 2017) - Discussing this ep on Reddit, poster "Serialnoymb63" points out that those grenade launchers "could have been handy" when the three communities carried out that bizarre "attack" on the Sanctuary in the first ep of this season. Back then, I'd noted that Rick had charged into that situation to boldly take the low ground and that the Saviors in the building could have destroyed our heroes with fairly minimal effort. Those grenade launchers would have made this task a lot easier. And if they exist, they pretty much have to have been there at the Sanctuary all along; all of Negan's other facilities were wiped out.

[4] I've spent some time in my recent TWD reviews noting the serious dramatic problems that have arisen as a consequence of having the characters insist their campaign against the Saviors was part of some master Plan while refusing to share that plan with the viewers. It seems inconceivable there would be other outposts that just weren't hit but the writers have left a bit of a black hole here.

[5] While the ep dwells on such peripheral matters, Rick again disappears for much of the episode, present for only a few moments at the beginning then turning up at the end for that very brief dukearoo with Negan. Though the ostensible central hero of the show, Rick has been increasingly absent from it in recent seasons, often disappearing for weeks at a time. This season seems to be addressing fan complaints re:that development by including Rick in more eps but in what amount to glorified cameo appearances.

[6] At no point are we ever shown a large number of Saviors swarming over the Safe Zone after it's breached. Rick is able to enter it then leave unmolested. While wandering inside, Michonne only runs into that one Savior. I found myself wondering why the Alexandrians don't just go back and kill the Saviors who have entered their community, something they appear entirely capable of doing.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, December 4, 2017

No Time Like Time For After THE WALKING DEAD

THE WALKING DEAD continues to bog down in its own shortcomings. This evening's offering, "Time For After," was as full of holes as Clyde Barrow's stolen Ford and amounted to little more than a series of delaying actions aimed at getting events to the big 90-minute midseason finale next week.

The crack sniper team the Alexandrians left posted around Negan's big Sanctuary seem to appear and disappear at the writers' convenience. They're supposed to be camped out in high places around the zombie-besieged compound in the event that any Saviors appear. Last week, we learned that at least two Saviors had been able to drive up to the place, survey what had happened there then peacefully drive away unmolested. Two weeks ago, Negan himself had walked across the yard in the open, fighting and even shooting zombies, but no sniper ever tried to plug him. Tonight when Daryl, Tara, Michonne and Rosita turned up in a garbage truck, they were immediately spotted by the sharpshooters and identified as friendlies but a little later, Eugene was able to walk right out on to the roof of the main building and stand there for an extended period without drawing any fire. And he was working on a remote-controlled glider that would play music and lure away the zombies.

Last week, I wrote about how the writers have had the characters insist there is, behind everything they've done this season, some big master Plan to defeat the Saviors but have entirely failed to share even a vague outline of that plan with viewers. Thus rather than a storyline wherein the characters pursue clearly-defined goals while the writers manipulate events as a means of generating suspense, it's mostly just been a lot of random mayhem to no obvious end. This was further complicated by the fact that Rick went off alone to the Garbage People, threatened them and was immediately taken prisoner when they turned down his insistence they join the anti-Savior team--definitely not an outcome he Planned--while multiple other characters went off on non-Planned missions of their own and no one was doing anything in accordance with any Plan. The failure to explain the Plan continues to cause problems tonight. Daryl, way off-Plan, has brought that garbage truck with the idea of driving it into the side of the compound and letting the zombies flood into the place. This, he insists, will force the Saviors to "surrender" but one gets the idea he just wants to kill them all. Morgan, who has recently joined the sniper-team, likes that idea just fine, as does Tara, who has been after blood for a while now. The writers try to set up some drama by presenting Rosita and Michonne as conflicted about this but it's impossible to generate any real dramatic tension because while Daryl's idea makes perfect sense and seems really obvious, Rick's Plan remains entirely unknown, leaving viewers with no basis for comparison.While Daryl makes a strong case for his approach--the Kingdom's entire fighting force has been wiped out and if the Saviors reverse their fortunes and decide to fight, our heroes don't have the numbers to beat them[1]--no one points to any downside to it and the other side of the story is entirely absent.

The writers skip over all of that and initially just make it all about Rick but this doesn't make any sense as a point of demarcation either. Rosita refuses to go along with Daryl on the grounds that "I believe in Rick Grimes." This is the same Rosita who spent all of last season going off-script at every turn--impatient, wanting to kill the enemy, disregarding the communities' plans and even her own life. Now, she chides Michonne for being impatient and not realizing that sometimes, you just have to sit and wait--their assigned place, for the moment, in Rick's Plan. "I just wish it didn't take Sasha walking out of that coffin for me to realize it," she huffs as she walks away, which makes no sense at all. Last season, Rosita and Sasha had gone to the Sanctuary with the aim of assassinating Negan. This was acknowledged by both to be a suicide mission but Rosita was left behind when Sasha locked her out of a gate at the last moment before mounting the attack. Sasha failed and would later die in Savior custody (a suicide, though no one knows that) then come "walking out of that coffin" as a zombie. There's no lesson in any of that to inform Rosita's actions tonight; it's just invoking an emotional moment as a substitute for any argument. Worse is what the writers did with Michonne. Last season, Michonne was telling Rick that after the war with the Saviors was over, he should be the one to lead the various communities forward to the future. Tonight, she was ready to completely disregard Rick's Plan for Daryl's. She later backed out at the last minute but with no Rick Plan on the table could offer no rationale for doing so. As a substitute, the writers turned to some of their patented speechifying, producing an unintentionally hilarious swamp of nonsense:

"I came here because I wanted to see things for myself. I wanted to know that things were going to work. but y'know what? I don't get to know that. None of us do. What I do know is that things are working now, so maybe we just need to trust that things are going to keep working, because this, what we're about to do, it's not worth risking us."

"It is for me," Daryl grunts. "It just is."

"I hope it works--I really, really do--but I can't do it. I just can't."

"Then you shouldn't."

And she doesn't! But like Rosita, she doesn't try to talk Daryl out of it either. How could she? Exhorting Daryl to stick to Rick's Plan would require going through Rick's Plan. For that, Rick would have to have a Plan.

Daryl arrived at the compound at the end of the previous ep; the nonsense I've just outlined means this one is more than 2/3 over before he finally drives that truck through the wall.

Other items: The characters have always remembered or forgotten the old cover-yourself-in-zombie-grue trick at the writers' convenience. While it seems logical that one could get sick from using it, no one ever has. The writers have decided, rather late in the game after 8 years of seeing people use the trick, to address this; Gabriel may be on his death-bed after contracting some sort of infection in that manner.[2] He was sick at the end of last week's ep; he's still sick at the end of this one. Eugene is confronted by Dwight, who pointlessly confessed that he was helping Rick and co.[3] Eugene remains a coward who looks out for #1 and continues helping Negan even though his loyalties are somewhat divided--exactly where he was when the ep began and exactly where he's been since he switched sides. The Saviors fight the zombies that come flooding in after the truck crashes. They're nearly out of ammo and supplies. Eugene tells Negan he can make more bullets if he can acquire the machinery to do so but their situation seems pretty grim. Over in the landfill, the Garbage People seemed poised to feed Rick to a zombie when he breaks free, fights them, rips off the zombie's head (Z NATION!) and wrestles Jadis to the ground, finally securing her alliance with the other communities by threatening to let the zombie head eat her face. She wants him to pose for her to sculpt him as part of her fee for going along with this but he haggles her down. The outcome and the way it comes about makes it feel as if the entire business of refusing Rick and taking him prisoner was just thrown in to eat up screentime.

Rick and the Garbage People drive to the Sanctuary but only to see that the Saviors have been saved by that act of TWD's god known as the Inevitable Results of Defying Rick: the snipers are dead and the zombie horde that had surrounded the compound was gone.

The evening closed with a the midseason finale will feature a shocking scene about which everyone will be talking and I'm sure that's exactly what will happen.

--j.

---

[1] Though, it should be noted, this is a questionable conclusion. While the Kingdom's force was wiped out, the Saviors' manpower should have been pretty seriously depleted by what's happened so far this season.

[2] It doesn't make any sense to throw this in now. We've not only seen characters covering themselves in zombie grue for 8 years--Rick did it the first time when he had a gunshot wound in his side--we've also seen countless other occasions when characters have gotten zombie gore in their eyes and even their mouths and have been entirely unaffected.

[3] Eugene, who was recording himself just before this, may have a tape of the confession. Nothing was made of this, which means it's unlikely anything ever will be. Eugene was prepared to tell Negan about Dwight but backed out.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, November 27, 2017

THE WALKING DEAD Talks Too Much

Throughout this season of THE WALKING DEAD, the series' writers have made it clear that everything our heroes are doing in the war they've launched against the Saviors is being done in accordance with some master Plan. Though the characters are all aware of this Plan (and Rick drones on endlessly about it), the writers have so far declined to share it with the audience, which has presented a raft of dramatic problems that seriously boiled over during tonight's ep.

Up front, it should be acknowledged that in a better series, viewers would have been introduced to at least some broad outline of this plan from the beginning and the writers would have milked it for suspense. Can our heroes succeed at this goal, capture this-or-that objective, take out this critical target, etc.? Will the Saviors anticipate what's up and counter or will Rick prove to be a few steps ahead of them? What unexpected developments will monkey-wrench both sides along the way? The season could have played out like an awesome game of action-movie chess and, at times, poker, with goals, reversals, fake-outs as the two sides try to outdo one another. Instead, viewers have been left entirely in the dark, which has reduced most of what has happened so far to just a lot of random mayhem with no obvious point beyond generating a string of emotional scenes--yet another example of TWD's soap melodrama model completely ruining what should be a great show.

Tonight's ep, "The King, the Widow & Rick," opens with the leaders of the various communities sending one another letters, essentially progress updates. This doesn't make a lick of sense--whatever mailman is driving around the apocalypse delivering them could just as easily have acted as a messenger himself and simply told everyone what they needed to know. Instead, we're to believe everyone stopped in the middle of this rapidly-developing action and wrote letters. Not necessarily helpful ones either--much of what's quoted from Rick goes on about how many brave people have sacrificed their lives so that the Plan may succeed. All of these communities have suffered casualties. Do any of them really need to hear such sentiment? Is sitting and writing such things really the best use of Rick's time in such a situation? "The plan is working." Rick's text assures everyone. "We're doing this. We're winning." Something else Rick wrote immediately caught my attention. Regarding Negan's headquarters, he records, "the lookouts are all around the compound. They open a door, we fire." Last week, the Saviors had speculated that there may e snipers outside. Perhaps they'd even observed said snipers. The other thing that happened last week: Negan not only opened a door, he opened two and between them, he fought his way through a long stretch of zombies across open ground and no sniper even so much as took a shot at him, even after Gabriel, who was accompanying him, began shooting zombies. That isn't a case of shitty snipers asleep at their posts; it's shitty writers asleep at theirs.

Rick, in what amounted to another glorified cameo, tried and failed to negotiate a new treaty with the Garbage People. Demonstrating yet again what an imminently skilled leader he really is, Rick doesn't take an armed force along so he can negotiate under a white flag and then leave; he just turns up at their landfill alone--the camp of a faction aligned with the same enemy against which he just launched a war earlier that same day. And then he threatens them; if they don't join up, they'll be destroyed. Jadis promptly turns him down--takes her a matter of seconds--and locks him up, presumably to turn over to the Saviors. "Talks too much," she says of him as he's led away, which comes across as a funny meta-commentary. With Ezekiel depressed and unable to pull himself together, Rick's capture leaves only Maggie. In the first day of this war,[1] two of our heroes' three leaders have already been taken out. Not by the Saviors but by their own shortcomings.[2]

One rather suspects that wasn't part of Rick's Plan.

Much of tonight's action, however, was taken up by several of our heroes, in various combinations, deciding to go completely off-script from any Plan that may exist.

The writers apparently remembered Rosita and Michonne, who haven't appeared on the show in a month-and-a-half. Whatever part they were supposed to play in the Plan, they were supposed to be at the Safe Zone but they decide, instead, to team up, take a car and drive all the way over to the Saviors' zombie-surrounded compound because Michonne just wants to see it for herself. No kidding, that's why she wants to go. And Rosita goes with her because, well ,why not, right?[3] They're on the payroll--the writers need something for them to do.

Driving down the road, they hear some loud music coming from somewhere, stop and go to check it out. They find a pair of Saviors in a warehouse with a truck loaded with huge speakers, a contraption that would be perfect for luring zombies away from Negan's compound. These Saviors aren't driving it around on orders to do that though. They've been to the compound and describe the carnage at the scene, which means they're two more those crack snipers failed to nail, but they don't know who or what caused it. They apparently went to fetch this speaker-filled truck of their own initiative, then, on their way to this critical task, while Negan and the other Saviors could be fighting for their lives against zombies, decided to stop in and do a little scavenging. They're a coincidence. Michonne and Rosita are driving up the road by coincidence and hear the music by coincidence, all so the writers could stage a fight inside the warehouse.

Earlier in the ep, Michonne had advised Rosita not to come with her. "You're still healing," she insisted, "You were shot. I was just beat up." When the warehouse fight breaks out, Michonne finds that, because of her injuries, using her sword is difficult for her, which can't help but remind viewers that Rick was shot in the same ep in which Michonne took that beating and he's been going, going, going all season while suffering no ill effects from it.[4] Rosita suffered no ill effects from her own gunshot wound tonight either.

I've written quite a bit about how TWD has borrowed from Z NATION over the last few seasons and this particular fight has a Z NATION ending. As with so many of the other occasions in which TWD had aped ZN, these moments are by far the highlight of the ep. Rosita discovers a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in a box (!!!) and confronts one of the Saviors with it. She gives him a chance to surrender, he taunts her and she blasts him into atoms from a few feet away. Entirely impossible, of course, but HILARIOUS! The other Savior jumps in the speaker-filled truck and skedaddles but as Michonne and Rosita watch her disappearing down the road--and before one even recovers from the laughter that grenade-launcher scene just induced--we get the second very funny ZN moment, as a garbage truck suddenly appears out of nowhere, comes around the side of a building and completely crushes the vehicle. It turns out Daryl and Tara had also coincidentally decided to operate outside the Plan, had coincidentally been in the vicinity of this warehouse, which isn't on the main road,[5] coincidentally turned up just as that Savior was escaping and coincidentally slammed into the truck, though they couldn't have seen it until seconds before they hit it having no way of knowing who may be driving it! If anything makes TWD worth watching these days, it's these tone-purloined moments.

Daryl, Tara, Rosita and Michonne continue on to Negan's compound, Daryl talking about how they're going to "end this raht now," a call-back to his insistence in last week's ep that they could crack open the main building and let the dead stream in. Elsewhere in the ep, Carol herself sets out for some unknown, unPlanned personal mission to Negan's compound as well. She's interrupted and calls it off only because a kid from the Kingdom follows her--yes, they did that "don't follow me" scene yet again--and she has to take him back. Carl also went off on a non-Planned personal mission to find the fellow he'd seen in the opening ep. With war underway, he's looking to recruit this stranger into their community.

This season has been an incessant drone about the Plan, the Plan, the Plan, sticking to the Plan, but while this ep opened with more of that, nothing that happened in it had anything to do with the Plan. Whatever that Plan may be, our heroes have started a war and no one was doing anything that had anything to do with it. Why, one would almost think there is no Plan and the writers have just been faking it all along!

Anniversary Dept. - If one includes side pieces, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD reviews, etc., I've written more than a hundred articles on TWD over the years but I've always numbered my episode reviews and in that run, this one marks my 100th. So if you wanna' wear an Hawaiian shirt and jeans...

--j.

---

[1] This entire season has so far taken place over the course of a few hours' time; the first day ended with a night during the course of tonight's ep.

[2] Maggie, meanwhile, has been burdened by Jesus' decision to take a large number of Saviors prisoner. She builds a crude pen for them and Hilltop is now forced to once again feed them, the marauders who had terrorized the community, out of its own food. Immediately after Maggie says she won't tolerate any misbehavior by the prisoners, evil smirker Jared makes a dive for the pen's gate; rather than on-the-spot execution, all he gets is a slug to the face.

[3] This leads to a continuity error. When the two leave the Safe Zone, Michonne is driving--it's her trip--but when we cut back to them a few minutes later, Rosita is suddenly driving. Another such error occurs when Rick arrives at the Garbage People's landfill. When he knocks on the door, Jadis is sitting wearing nothing but some sort of smock (perhaps dreaming of an "after" with Rick?); he's escorted into her presence and she's suddenly fully dressed.

[4] The writers try to retcon that matter. Jadis shot Rick in the side but when Jadis mentions that she shot him, he says she only "grazed" him.

[5] When they'd gone to check out the noise, Michonne and Rosita had left their car in the middle of the road and Daryl and Tara could have come across it and been looking for them but this makes Daryl's swooping in and slamming into that truck even more inexplicable--for all he knew, Michonne or Rosita was driving it.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Friday, November 24, 2017

In Defense of Cult Films

"I beseech you, learn to see the 'bad' movies, they are sometimes sublime."
--Ado Kyrou, "Le Surrealisme au cinema"

James Franco's THE DISASTER ARTIST deals with the creation of Tommy Wiseau's 2003 movie THE ROOM, which has earned both a reputation as a profoundly awful film and a devout cult following of fans who celebrate it for its awfulness. Cassam Looch, "Film and TV Editor of Culture Trip," doesn't much care for THE ROOM or its following and he's written a sour article on the matter, "Why Is Hollywood Obsessed With Celebrating Failure?" He calls the Franco picture "the latest in a series of films preoccupied with a lack of success," but he cites as examples only it and ED WOOD, Tim Burton's loving biographical sketch of perhaps the most notoriously inept filmmaker in the history of the medium. The two films were made 23 years apart, which doesn't even suggest a trend, much less an obsession. Looch's real targets are cult films and he snottily dismisses THE ROOM, Paul Verhoeven's SHOWGIRLS and the films of Ed Wood.

I can't speak for THE ROOM, which certainly looks pricelessly inept, but I'm definitely a fan of the others and, more generally, of the kind of off-the-beaten-track cinema Looch is trying to dismiss. Looch describes cult films as simply worthless rubbish, failures that earn only scorn and belong in some forgotten corner of landfill. This is both ahistorical and appallingly blinkered. Movies regularly fail to find immediate financial success and critical praise for an infinity of reasons that have nothing to do with their quality. They can be misunderstood. They can be ahead of their time. They can just fall through the cracks of our immense entertainment landscape. They can be low-budget affairs, which are much closer to individual expressions of the hearts and minds of their creators than films deliberately engineered by sophisticated studio machines for mass appeal. A film attracts a cult for the same reason any film draws an audience, because it's possessed of some quality that connects with a certain segment of viewers. The very qualities that can alienate a mass audience from such films--their uniqueness, their individuality, their quirkiness, their entertaining of heretical ideas or flouting of social norms, even their unwillingness and/or inability to conform to the usual standards of technical proficiency--are those that can draw a cult. Many fans see such productions as a refreshing alternative to stifling mainstream pap. Rejecting films merely because they're transgressive of contemporary mass-audience tastes or because they challenge traditional notions of what's entertaining--what Looch has done--is reactionary. It may steer one away from a lot of genuine rubbish but it also closes one off from an entire world of delightful, unique and fascinating films. However obnoxious he may make himself, it's hard not to feel sorry for a film fan who who does that to himself.

At this late a date, it's a little strange to see SHOWGIRLS included in this particular snort. Verhoeven is a top-notch filmmaker and more than one of his movies was widely--and wildly--misunderstood in its own time then has, upon subsequent reevaluation, garnered much respect. The cult that formed around SHOWGIRLS was made up of the people who actually got it the first time around. The film is a gloriously smutty, over-the-top, cynical, darkly humorous--and sometimes just dark--rendition of a classic "Hollywood story" movie that uses Vegas as a metaphor for certain unflattering aspects of American culture.[1] We have a plucky, girl-power heroine trying to take on a man's world by getting naked for its entertainment, sexy Gina Gershon, catty as nip through a y'all-come drawl, as the wisened starlet looking to hold on to her hard-earned spotlight and it's impossible to greet the dual renditions of convulsive rutting by Kyle MacLachlan and excruciatingly gorgeous Elizabeth Berkley with anything but hysterical laughter--only a few of the film's significant repertoire of charms. SHOWGIRLS is a blast. Upon its initial release in 1995, it became a fad among critics to bash it and it proved a massive bomb at the box-office but in the years since, that tide has definitely turned. Looch's description of the film--"a blight against all involved that deserves to be dismissed as a foolish endeavour that never needs to be spoken about again... and certainly one that should not be watched by any right-minded film lover"--is decades out of date, and would have been the words of a fool even back then.

SHOWGIRLS is now celebrated because it's good, not, as Looch would have it, because it's regarded as "so bad it's good" but into the latter category would certainly fall the works of Ed Wood. A former Marine and World War II vet, Edward D. Wood Jr. was an angora-adoring transvestite unter-auteur who, joined by an evolving troupe of oddballs, turned out a string of ultra-low-budget pictures in the 1950s and '60s. By ridiculing his work, the Medved brothers' Golden Turkey books brought it a posthumous cult following in the late 1970s which has only grown in the decades since. Wood is regularly cited as the "worst filmmaker of all time"--he's become the pop answer when the question arises--but that appellation (appallation?) really isn't defensible. While it's undeniably true that Wood was usually an awful storyteller who had absolutely no serious talent for filmmaking, it's also the case that he was a genuine artist. A bad artist, to be sure, but when one sees his films--GLEN OR GLENDA, BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, etc.--one is seeing him, not some cynical drive-by conducted by a disinterested mercenary or committee of studio business suits only looking to make a quick buck.[2] Underneath his inexpert productions, there is sincerity. One is watching a guy struggling, usually rather hopelessly, to bring to the screen stories for which he has a great personal passion. This makes his work interesting and gives his films an endearing quality, while their extraordinary shortcomings are some of the marks of his unique cinematic vision. Obviously, the "worst filmmaker of all time" is an entirely subjective judgment but it seems to me that if we're going to slap that title on anyone, the cinema is simply too heavily littered with entirely worthless, unwatchable junk to bestow it on someone whose work is possessed of these traits. Wood's films are imminently watchable and even if much of their entertainment value is derived from their ineptness--and the ineptness of Wood's productions is a never-ending parade of hilarity--that still counts as entertainment value.

Looch doesn't think that counts. He asserts that it's a "problem" that Wood's films are regarded in some quarters "as somehow being worth watching."[3] Of THE ROOM, he writes, "fans quote along to the wooden acting and inexplicably bad dialogue as if it's entertainment, something Wiseau himself has said he fails to understand..." That bolding is mine and to Looch, I would say, if you wished to establish that you don't understand why people find such films entertaining, you could have saved all that writing by simply saying so. It would have taken a single line. A paragraph, if you wanted to get wordy. You call so-bad-they're-good films "an oxymoron of epic proportions, and one that doesn't really stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever," but you don't offer it any real scrutiny and your own absurd notion that these films aren't entertainment can't withstand the obvious reality that so many people do, in fact, find them entertaining; that's how they became cult films and of sufficient notoriety that you're writing about them. The project on which you embarked with your article is to wave an ugly, stifling notion of Good Taste as a fetish against things you see as so beneath your contempt that you don't feel the need to offer any substantive case for your own view or substantive critique of the films you dismiss with verbal bulldozers; you instead treat their complete lack of merit as a given and ask your readers, who may love them, to "drop the pretence that these are good films when they most certainly aren't." What you've written is presumptuous, pretentious and preposterous and I suspect film connoisseurs with a more diverse palate than your own will continue to imbibe and enjoy entertainments that fall well outside the coffin-shaped box you've here labeled "good" and that the only thing of which you've convinced them is that you're not a writer on these matters worth reading. Of one, I can say that for certain.

Do better.

--j.

---

[1] Twenty-two years old, the film is particularly timely this year, given the current rash of Hollywood sex-abuse scandals.

[2] Which shouldn't be read as a condemnation of such cash-in productions; they're often sublime as well.

[3] He also writes that "the B-Movies Wood is famous for are hated for good reason... they are abysmal." But one sees very little "hate" for Wood's movies. Four decades ago, the Medveds treated them with snickering contempt but they survive and are kept in constant circulation because people find them entertaining. Wood has been the subject of multiple documentaries over the years, a great book ("Nightmare of Ecstasy") and Tim Burton's film, which is also Burton's masterpiece. Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE has, among other things, been turned into a comic book, three different stage plays, a musical and has been remade for the screen. Speaking personally, when I owned a video store some years ago, PLAN 9 was a regular rental, so much so that each of the three times it was stolen, it had made enough to justify continuing to replace it--in my little video store, a remarkable achievement for a film of that vintage.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, November 20, 2017

THE WALKING DEAD's Big Unscary F U

The revamped BATTLESTAR GALACTICA from 2004 was, warts and all, one of the best tv series of its kind and from its first season to its last, its remarkably talented creative team always struggled to fit into a mere hour-long timeslot all the great material they'd cooked up. As great as a given episode would be, the deleted scenes would break your heart. "Damn," would begin my perpetual reaction upon seeing the cut material, "why couldn't they have gotten this into the show somehow?!" It was usually just cut for time. One wishes BSG had been allowed to exceed its allotted hour a lot more often than was the case. These days, THE WALKING DEAD is quite often given that liberty--eps routinely run five minutes, fifteen minutes, even half an hour beyond their regularly-designated allotment--but TWD is a show whose creators can barely even fill the regular hour they're contractually obligated to deliver. It has been one of the most filler-packed series television has ever seen and one of the real curiosities about its extended episodes is that virtually none of them[1] are jam-packed with lots of things happening that couldn't be cut without causing serious narrative harm. They tend, instead, to be the ones in which the least actually happens. That's the case with "The Big Scary U," tonight's installment, which pulls back from the more action-packed eps of the season to date to deliver what amounts to a glorified bottle episode that was nevertheless allowed to run for 75 minutes.

Tonight's a-plot takes place almost entirely at Negan's headquarters, now overrun by zombies. In a trailer outside the main compound, Negan and then Father Gabriel have taken shelter from the dead. That happened over a month ago and we haven't seen them since.[2] Back then, Gabriel dove into the trailer and Negan, who was already inside, announced his presence with his usual campy swagger. Gabriel was carrying a fully-automatic rifle, a pistol and a long knife but the force-field from the villain's plot-armor left him paralyzed and he did nothing, even as the villain threatened him. We rejoin the scene seconds later and Negan charges up to Gabriel, knocks him down and disarms him. The cold opening ends with a provocative notion; Gabriel suggests he's there to take Negan's confession. This set-up would have been an opportunity for the writers to try to humanize the awful cartoon they've made of this character. Unfortunately, they just take a pass. We learn merely that Negan once perhaps worked with children in some entirely unknown capacity and was married prior to the apocalypse. And we get to hear him do more of his usual posturing.

Rick and co. brought a small army to Negan's door at the beginning of this season. They had Negan and the entire Savior leadership in front of them at near point-blank range and with no cover and declined to simply kill the villains on sight. Gabriel didn't kill Negan when he dove into that trailer and had the opportunity. Later, when the writers have he and Negan remember the old cover-oneself-in-zombie-gore trick which will allow them to escape the trailer and walk unmolested among the dead,[3] Gabriel has a pistol he recovered from Negan. Again he doesn't shoot the guy. He even offers to give back the gun! And Negan allows him to keep it! Covered in grue, Gabriel could have plugged Negan and just walked home. Instead, he helps Negan get back into the main compound and becomes his prisoner.

A problem that has plagued TWD for most of its run--and that I've covered here over and over again--is how its writers make every progression of what passes for plot entirely dependent upon the characters being complete idiots with no sense of self-preservation. Even as the writers were giving Gabriel these further opportunities to take out Negan and having him decline to do so, they decided to further rub viewers' noses in the indefensible idiocy of this. Inside the main compound, there was much dissension among the Savior leaders; without Negan, they argue, jockey for position, challenge one another are are on the verge of completely falling apart and when the workers, kept in check by Negan's terror regime, begin to revolt, they're entirely incapable of dealing with the situation,[4] all of which just underscores how killing Negan would, to a large extent, solve the Savior problem.


The b-plot is really only a few brief moments, basically a cameo by Rick and Daryl in which they're going through what's left of the Savior truck they crashed in their cameo appearance last week. Daryl recovers some dynamite and decides they should use it to blast open Negan's compound, let the dead flood in and "they'll surrender. It'll be done. Hell, we could end this by sundown." He's probably right but Rick is worried about the workers. What if doing this turns the workers against us? "There's a plan, he says, "and everyone is stickin' to it." Viewers have, of course, never been let in on this plan, so instead of this season being a suspenseful chess-game between our heroes and the Saviors, it's mostly just been a lot of random mayhem with little hint about what this unspoken "plan" is supposed to accomplish or how or what part anything we're being shown plays in it. Viewers have no information with which to judge its merits vs. Daryl's idea but Daryl must be unimpressed with it because he decides to go with his own. Rick vetoes it and Daryl physically attacks him! It's not a minor altercation either--Daryl tries to pound him into the ground and throws him in a choke-hold. Daryl calls Rick "brother" and Rick has been more of a brother to him than his own ever was. The two have been established as best pals, thick as thieves, absolutely loyal to one another, each willing to do anything for the other, Daryl being especially attached to Rick. The writers have done absolutely nothing to establish any foundation for this sort of sudden, extreme clash; it's just Daryl going violently out-of-character for the sake of adding a little action. Rick grabs the bag of dynamite and throws it in the burning truck, ending this stupid conflict by blowing up what, in a war situation, is a priceless asset.

That's it, another one-line-item plot--"Negan makes it back to the main Savior compound"--with a brief diversion that doesn't go anywhere. As Rick is walking up the road near the end,[5] a helicopter flies over, which is definitely the most interesting thing that happens.

--j.

---

[1] None at all come immediately to mind.

[2] Though the show has, of late, featured a lot more action than usual, the pace is still wretched. At the end of 5 eps, the season has only covered perhaps a few hours of time. Story threads and characters still completely disappear for long stretches.

[3] Since this gimmick was introduced--a carryover from the comic--the characters remember or forget it at the writers' convenience. Carol couldn't remember how to do it just last week. It also seems to work or not at the writer's convenience; tonight, it suddenly failed while Negan and Gabriel were in the midst of the dead.

[4] In fact, if Negan had returned to the main compound only two minutes later than he did, the workers would have probably liquidated the Savior leadership.

[5] Yes, in a wartime situation where the enemy could turn up at any second, Rick is just walking right up the road in the open.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult