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