Monday, February 27, 2017

THE WALKING DEAD's Half-Dozen Calamities

Tonight's episode of the THE WALKING DEAD goes beyond Thunderdome but doesn't go anywhere interesting. "Hostilities & Calamities" is, instead, by-the-numbers TWD dreariness incarnate, like a greatest hits package of many of my past criticisms of the series.

1) Filler - Yep, this was yet another filler ep featuring yet another one-line plot in which nothing of any real consequence happened. Eugene is taken to the Saviors' compound and Negan, recognizing his skills, gives him a privileged position. This was the explicit reason Negan took him; if any further explanation had been necessary, a competently written series would have disposed of the matter in half a sentence in a later ep.[1]

2) Slam on the Brakes, Throw Out the Drag-Weights - After two eps in a row that had moved at a relatively reasonable clip,[2] this one brings all that momentum to a screeching halt for that static filler story, which ever-so-slowly deals with entirely irrelevant events that occurred prior to the stuff we've been watching for a few weeks now.

3) Repetition Is The Soul of TWD - TWD has a terrible habit of repeating exactly the same material over and over again and this entire ep was just a rehash of material previously covered this season in "The Cell" and "Sing Me A Song." Eugene take the place of Daryl and Coral from those eps, hanging around the Savior compound, learning how things--the same things--work, recovering Negan's marital arrangements and its discontents, watching Negan do his one-note '60s Batman villain act, going among the workers, learning the hierarchy, seeing the nicer apartments Negan's favored are granted (the apartment Eugene is given appears to be exactly the same apartment Negan used to try to tempt Daryl over to his side). It even replicates the scene from the Coral ep wherein Negan gathers his workers to dispose of someone whom he believes has crossed him. In this case, the fellow is killed rather than merely being burned nearly to death. The b-plot replicates the material from those early eps regarding Dwight, the melodrama with his wife and his rocky relationship with Negan, which is yet again challenged and to which he yet again decides to cling. We even get a brief reprise of the dreadful pop tune Dwight previously used to torture Daryl.[3]

4) Where In Hell Is ____ (Character)? - TWD's habit of breaking up the cast and focusing on filler eps that only involve one or a few characters at a time means that large numbers of characters and entire storylines disappear for extended periods. With the midseason break, it's been 2 1/2 months since we've last seen Eugene; viewers could be forgiven if they'd entirely forgotten about him. As this ep began, we see Dwight discovering Daryl's escape immediately after it happened--again, an event that, for viewers, happened 2 1/2 months ago. The Saviors have, in fact, already visited the Safe Zone looking for the fugitive. Two eps ago.

5) Arbitrary Characterization - Eugene has long been a character defined by his cowardice but last season, the writers put him through an evolution which saw him become confident, assertive, brave even to the point of being stupid brave. TWD is allergic to any real character development, so this season, the writers have reimposed Eugene's previous cowardly persona. This, to be fair, isn't a sin specific to this ep--it was done earlier in the season--but Eugene was the star of tonight's installment, so it rubs one's nose in it more than did his brief appearances in prior eps.

6) Stupid Characters Syndrome - At one point, Negan rightly mocks Rick for not making any real use of Eugene's skill-set but Negan himself later liquidates a doctor. A rare commodity in the zombie apocalypse but the way Negan chucks him in a furnace, one would think medical professionals grew on trees. As another stupid and inexplicable turn, the lesson big brain Eugene takes from this--and enunciates--is that Negan doesn't consider people with special skills like himself to be replaceable! Eugene tells Negan about the machine-shop he put together. This would seem a rather valuable resource as well; Negan shows no interest in it.

"Hostilities & Calamities" is a complete waste of space, aimed only at filling another ep in the season order instead of having to write one. Feels like I've written that one a time or two too.

--j.

---

[1] Despite having no real story to tell and being filled with needlessly long scenes and scenes repeated from earlier eps, tonght's installment was allowed to run 10 minutes beyond its usual timeslot. Gotta' get that ad revenue before this walking dead critter dries up for good.

[2] For TWD, at least--admittedly, a not-insignificant caveat.

[3] There's another Z NATION-style gag at one point, where one of the fearsome zombies Negan has fastened to a fence has rotted so much that it simply falls apart as if on cue. In a bit of idiocy, Eugene suggests covering the creatures in molten metal to preserve their bodily integrity and protect the brain but if applied to the head of a zombie as Eugene suggests, molten metal should, of course, fry the creatures brain instantly.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, February 20, 2017

THE WALKING DEAD Goes To Bartertown

Tonight, on THE WALKING DEAD, Rick and co. appeared to have dropped into the pocket universe wherein the Max Max flicks are set; where characters with weird names and inexpressive faces dressed in black and grey Max Max-like gear stand around and speak through a monotone in clipped, half-sentences as if they've grown up in the aftermath of the nuclear apocalypse and regular conversation is strange to them. Their home is a maze of piled-up car-wrecks and trash that stretches to the horizon--with the whole world at their disposal for residences, they're mindful enough of the series' desire for visuals to live there--and they interact with our heroes while in the distance, a rusty car-door blown by the eternal winds of the wastelands atmospherically squonks away. I never noticed a crow cawing at any point--perhaps an oversight. At one point, Rick is even made to prove himself by fighting against a Medievaled-up zombie in the Garbage Pail equivalent of Thunderdome.[1]

It is, of course, completely ridiculous that such a thing should exist in TWD, a world less than two years removed from the end of civilization, and it couldn't more boldly clash with the established tone of the series if it had been a colony of clowns on unicycles but the writers are at least trying to branch out a bit. Or at least watching Z NATION. Perhaps feeling somewhat emboldened by having introduced a similarly odd place in the Kingdom. That the series had only recently introduced the Kingdom may have discouraged some writers from throwing this at viewers so soon but hey, this is TWD! Bring on the clowns![2]

Rick is looking for warm bodies to throw against the Saviors and he's pleased to encounter these Maxian garbage-dwellers--his "New Best Friends" (the title of the ep). They know nothing of the Saviors--this seemingly-endless stretch of potential salvage populated by a virtual army right in the midst of Negan's territory has somehow escaped the villain's notice.[3] Fortunately, Rick is on hand to play Capt. Walker and explain the Pocky-Clips to the children. They're not interested in his war until he defeats their armored zombie. After, they're impressed enough to strike a bargain; if Rick, who doesn't even have sufficient guns for his own people, can bring them guns, they'll fight with him. Their leader Jadis--no, really, that's her name[4]--tells Rick they've been watching that boat full of supplies Rick raided for a long time but never tried to get at it through the zombie-trap surrounding it. We take; we don't bother." A warning about their potential abilities as combatants? Rick doesn't seem worried. Rick is just great. If you don't believe it, Gabriel offers him another monologue on the subject.

In tonight's b-plot, Richard, King Ezekiel's "knight," still wants a fight with the Saviors and gets it in his head to provoke one. At the meeting to hand over the Kingdom's regular tribute, he again gets into a scuffle with the same Savior thug he did in an earlier ep and it's pretty much a direct repeat of the earlier scene. The Savior boss says there will have to be a reckoning for this but then he and his men pack up and leave. Any reckoning, it seems, will have to come second to the need to stretch out the limited plot some more.

Richard inducts Daryl into his ridiculously roundabout plan to provoke a fight. He wants to wipe out a Savior patrol then leave a "trail" from the dead to a crazy woman who lives alone but who has been befriended by Ezekiel. If she's killed, Richard thinks that might convince Ezekiel to go to war.

Uh huh.

When Daryl learns the woman is Carol,[5] he is, of course, less than receptive and proceeds to whip the tar out of Richard in front of a trailer that, oddly enough, is a rusted-over replica of the Snowman's rig from SMOKEY & THE BANDIT!


Yeah, I didn't get that one either. And no one even checks to see if any cases of Coors were still in it.

Daryl tasks Morgan with convincing Ezekiel to fight. Last season, I spent a lot of time on the ridiculous pacifist persona the writers had arbitrarily grafted onto organ, assassinating the once-beloved character. At the end of the season, Morgan had what was presented as a major breakthrough; he realized such an outlook was incompatible with this zombified world and killed in order to protect Carol. If this hadn't been so clumsy and inorganic, one could almost call it character development! That's never going to fly on TWD; this season, Morgan is right back to looking sad-faced and shaking his head every time someone suggests a fight. But tonight, one of the Saviors took his stick! Perhaps, for the season finale, he can again have that same epiphany as last season.

--j.

---

[1] Yes, the writers chose the only bad Mad Max movie as the one to emulate.

[2] Which is not to say I disapprove of such a setting and group. It's handled pretty badly here, as things on TWD will tend to be, but I definitely approve of the Max Max-ian stuff. TWD could use a little madness. Ok, a lot. It will be interesting to see what its regular fans will say about it adopting the "crazy blender" approach of Z NATION.

[3] It escaped everyone else's notice as well, all of the communities so far established who have spent a couple years sending teams out into this same general area to scavenge for supplies.

[4] Another is "Tamiel."

[5] Daryl reunites with Carol for a time. She's afraid the Saviors have done something horrible; seeing how emotional she is, Daryl lies to her, concealing the murders of Glenn and Abraham. In context, this is a dramatically credible decision (or would be if Carol's current emotional state wasn't just an arbitrary imposition by the writers) but it's impossible not to view it through the lens of the usual business as just another delaying tactic, aimed at needlessly stretching out the storyline.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Coming End of the IMDb Message Boards (And Where To Go Next)

The Internet Movie Database has announced it will soon be shutting down its message board system. My IMDb profile tells me I've been active on those boards since 2004. For a lot of those years, it was my primary internet hang-out for talking movies. IMDb maintained boards on nearly every movie or television series; you could go there and write about nearly anything in the way of screen entertainment and find other interested people with whom to engage. Unlike so many places on the internet, it wasn't run by fanboys who acted as overbearing moderators, putting a stop to boisterous discussions or disallowing criticism or debate of things they, themselves, liked. It wasn't quite the Wild West either--if you cursed, the system would filter it into a *beep*[1] and there was a reporting system that allowed one to flag "inappropriate" content.[2] It didn't have any feature for sharing images, which could be seen as a shortcoming for a place concerned with an art built around images but this was arguably to its advantage; it was a place for discussion, and this limitation meant, among other things, it could never get buried in memes by trolls. Not that it lacked trolls--there are always trolls--but they were usually outnumbered and relatively harmless.[3] It was an open forum with a great interface that drew a big crowd of people with a passion for its subject. In many ways, the best the internet can be.


This blog has, from its birth, been intimately connected to the IMDb boards. When I launched it, it was partly to act as a repository for a pile of articles I'd been producing for various places, primarily those boards and particularly the Horror board, which was not only my IMDb home for many years but my primary internet home as well. The Horror board was, in my view, the gleaming jewel of the board system. Usually the heaviest trafficked of the mainboards, it developed a cadre of great regulars who, for those who spent much time there, became a network of friends, the ones who love all the black and bloody flicks that most people disdain and think you strange for watching. A disproportionate number of articles from the early years of this blog were written for the Horror board, developed from things I'd written on the Horror board or written in part with an intention to share them on the Horror board and spawn discussions there. I wrote for other boards (and other forums) in those years as well but Horror was the big one for me. In more recent years, I've been writing about THE WALKING DEAD, which I at first assumed would also be a Horror topic but it found more traction on the board devoted to that show (where I'd been lurking for a while before writing anything there) and that's where I've spent more time in more recent years, producing--heaven help me--over 80 articles here on TWD.

For those who have been there so many years, the end of the IMDb boards is like a favorite tavern closing. For years, it's been a place "where everybody knows your name," where you could go after work, get away from the drudgery of life for a bit and relax among friends and familiars. Lots of memories are tied up in the place. It seems odd to me, maybe because of my age, that a "virtual" place like that could elicit those feelings. This one does though. I'm very sad to see it go. I'll miss it and the people there.

In my view, the IMDb boards are irreplaceable. That doesn't, however, mean they can't be succeeded. Rather than resign themselves to being scattering to the winds, the communities developed there have taken various measures to stay together. I've tried to compile all of these efforts here, to make this article one-stop-shopping for those trying to reunite with their former colleagues and comrades beyond the demise of the IMDb boards.

An obvious stop is the Movie Database, a competing db that also has a message board system:
https://www.themoviedb.org/

There are several efforts to continue the IMDb main boards:
http://imdb2.freeforums.net/
http://thegotboard.com/
http://trashepics.com/tedb/
http://www.moviechat.org/
Alas, as these replicate the IMDb mainboard system and often even the look of IMDb itself, they seem destined to be short-lived--takedown notices from IMDb's lawyers on intellectual property grounds don't seem a matter of if but of when.

Further general movie discussion here:
http://www.icmforum.com/index/

There are several projects aimed at preserving that Horror board community. There's an IMDb Horror Board Facebook group (which has been great so far--lots of old friends):
https://www.facebook.com/groups/383080958735617/
And others message boards:
http://thehorrorboard.com/

I've created a Facebook group aimed at preserving the IMDb Walking Dead and Z Nation communities:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/426197277711671/

For a few years now, I've maintained Cinema Cult, a Facebook group devoted to movie talk:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/725443977565314/

There's a related site called Comic Cult, where we discuss comic books stuff, including comic-related movies and tv shows:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1540711039519394/

There's an effort to preserve the Film General board community at a new Reddit locale:
https://www.reddit.com/r/IMDbFilmGeneral/

"The Lost Cinephile"--an appropriate title--has been repurposed as "a hangout for IMDb message board castaways":
http://tylerandjacksmovieparadise.yuku.com/directory

If there are any I've missed, I'll add them as I find them; if readers know of more, send them my way. The IMDb ends its message boards on 20 February.

--j.

---

[1] But if we users really needed to insert a "shit" or give a "fuck," we found ways around the filter.

[2] Users who were fuckers--or, on the boards, "fvckers," would sometimes misuse that reporting system, which was automated, to have removed posts they didn't like. I ran into this problem a couple years ago when an obsessed stalker started doing that to my posts on the Walking Dead board. The other posters there--bless 'em--reacted to this by copying and reposting my posts themselves. That's the kind of place IMDb could be.

[3] Exceptions to this were particularly common on boards devoted to tv shows that were off the air or in repeats most of the year, which could leave fewer fans around to talk about them and allow the trolls to take over for a time. I take a milder view of IMDb trolls than do a lot of users. Fans of a given show often try to treat as a "troll" anyone who disliked that show; if I had a dollar for every time the accusation has been thrown at me (over THE WALKING DEAD, mostly), I'd have no trouble financing my first feature. I have no use for people who set about trying to render a given board dysfunctional but most troll activity is much less extreme and even if I don't see a point in some of it, it isn't really harmful.ctional but most troll activity is much less extreme and even if I don't see a point in some of it, it isn't really harmful.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, February 13, 2017

WALKING DEAD's Plot In The Road

A few days ago, the Internet Movie Database announced it would soon be ending its message board system; on 20 February, it's going away for good. I'm a longtime user of that system--IMDb tells me I've been there since 2004--and I'm going to have some thoughts on it here within the next few days. There have been various efforts by users of the board system to preserve the communities that have grown up there over the years. As my own part in this, I've launched a new Facebook group aimed at giving sanctuary to the refugees of the WALKING DEAD, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD and Z NATION communities.

My position as an arch-critic of TWD has left some TWD fans to express some skepticism about the project, so before I get to tonight's installment of the show, I thought I'd try to make clear my aim. The immediate purpose of the group is, of course, to preserve these communities, such as they are. The IMDb boards are, in my view, irreplaceable. Besides the mainboard system, parts of which are really great, it's one of the few places one can go and interact with other viewers of just about anything. Boards, pages or even most Facebook groups that are devoted to a particular movie or tv series tend to be run by hardcore fans and far too many of them have an unfortunate habit of disallowing any criticism of their subject or even any sort of boisterous, full-bodied discussion of it. On the other end, you have the I-hate-TWD pages and groups, which don't allow fans. I'm more of a feel-free-to-speak-your-mind kind of guy. If someone says something with which I disagree, I prefer to simply make the case to the contrary and let whoever cares decide who has the better argument. I haven't liked TWD for a long time, it's true, but I love plenty of other shows and I understand how hard it can be to find good places to discuss them with other viewers, places that aren't forced by some heavy-handed moderators to be merely uncritical love-fests or omni-critical hate-fests. I have little use for that particular species of fan group, no matter how much I may love the movie or the show to which they're devoted. I've been kicked out of plenty of them over the years, not only for being critical of their subjects but also in defending people who were critical and were unfairly punished for it--I've stood up for them even when I've disagreed with the criticism and I've gotten the ban-hammer dropped on me for it. So it goes.

The new Facebook group is meant to be the sort of discussion forum I would want for a show I love. And, in fact, Z NATION is a show I love. Jenn, my co-conspirator on the project, is a big TWD fangirl. At their best, the IMDb boards have been something really special but their open-door, everyone-is-welcome way of doing business seems to be fading from the internet, as everyone retreats into "safe" enclaves that don't talk to one another. This isn't just the case in entertainment fan communities but in everything else. I'd like to keep around that more open and diverse idea of a discussion forum. That's what I want the group to be.

If it takes off, this group may eventually expand to cover other shows--after all, TWD and ZN won't go on forever. Right now, the important thing is to draw in as many viewers/readers/fans/critics/mutants as possible before the IMDb boards end. You, dear reader, are invited. Everyone is invited. It's here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/426197277711671/

Hope you'll drop by.

The other business of the evening is, of course, TWD's midseason debut tonight, "Rock In the Road." This should have been the second ep of this season. Life under the permanent thumb of the Saviors was always a non-starter but it took 9 often-extended eps of needlessly drawn-out indignities absent much substance for Rick to finally decide they have to fight back. Tonight, our heroes are out looking for allies. Hilltop's spineless Gregory wants nothing to do with any fight and nothing more to do with the Safe Zone group at all. His people, however, seem to have a different view. They openly express their willingness to fight. If anyone is concerned about this sort of thing being openly discussed among an entire community that may have Savior spies or people willing to rat out this would-be resistance, it's never raised as an issue. Gregory himself has already shown himself willing to betray our heroes, yet they lay out the whole enterprise for him. It isn't really clear why Gregory is still being treated as if he's the leader of Hilltop. Maggie essentially wrested that position from him in the first half of the season. Viewers apparently aren't supposed to remember that. Gregory himself is like Father Gabriel in his first season, another of TWD's one-trick ponies. The only act the writers have ever given him grew old a few minutes after it was introduced. A real waste of a solid actor in Xander Berkeley.

Next, Jesus pulls a rabbit out of his hat, revealing to Rick the existence of the Kingdom. When Jesus was first introduced, he'd suggested that there were many survivor communities--"Your world's about to get a lot bigger," he'd told the Alexandrians--but then, this being TWD, nothing more was said about the matter. As incredible as that is on its own, it is, in light of the things that happened next, mindboggling. The fact that Jesus knew there are other communities under the thumb of the Saviors means that when Rick and co. were convinced the Saviors were just a small band and were plotting to wipe them out, he was withholding some rather critical information. Its not unreasonable that such communities would swear Jesus to secrecy about their existence--as, indeed, turned out to be the case with the Kingdom--but its ridiculous that, after Jesus had already suggested there were others, no one would even ask about them. Even if Jesus couldn't give out specific details, their mere existence suggests the Savior problem was much larger than Rick originally assumed. What else do those communities know about the Saviors, Jesus? Probably some stuff that would have been pretty important to learn as preface to attacking a Savior outpost. Viewers aren't supposed to contemplate such things. Or TWD doesn't want viewers who do. So tonight, Jesus' big reveal is like a magician's trick, not the last one in this ep.

Contemplating none of this, our heroes set off to try to get King Ezekiel on their team. The King turns them down as well, throwing the story into another TWD stall and promising the usual--further eps of fretting and no plot progression aimed at burning through more of the season's order before characters become convinced to do the obvious. Overall, "Rock in the Road" featured an extraordinary amount of plot for TWD but it appears the show will shortly be returning to formless form.

On the way home, the characters stop for a suspense set-piece, which becomes the highlight of the show. They come across a trap set by the Saviors and intended to blow up a zombie herd--a cable laden with explosives stretched across the freeway and anchored to a pair of automobiles on either side. As the zombies close in, Rick and co. unwrap and make off with the precious dynamite, an essential commodity for any war. Then, as a final touch, the creators deliver a Z NATION gag.[1] Rick and Michonne jump in the cars anchoring the cable, hot-wire them in record time--we're not supposed to be surprised by this or to notice the fact that these dust-covered cars, which have probably been sitting there unused for years, still have charged batteries--and drive, in tandem, up the road, using the cable between them to mow down a huge section of the zombie herd. It's an hilarious, gory, physics-defying bit of business, pure ZN material, but the editor of the ep was apparently never let in on the joke--he cuts it as a straight action scene, with the same ever-so-serious tone as everything else TWD. Which, of course, only makes it funnier. To make their getaway after this stunt, Rick and Michonne somehow fight their way through a huge crowd of zombies without getting bitten,[2] jump in the vehicle with everyone else and speed away! Rosita even gets a funny quip about some damaged dynamite she'd left behind and that blows up in their wake. It's a glorious sequence--not only the high-point of this ep but the high-point of the last 2 1/2 seasons.

In tonight's cold opening, Father Gabriel making off with all of the Safe Zone's weapons and food and headed to the boat Rick found a couple eps earlier. He was apparently the hidden figure watching Rick and Aaron on that particular adventure and not helping them, having stumbled upon them by some one-in-a-trillion coincidence.[3] His motives in hijacking supplies are unclear but by the end, Rick and co. are on his trail and, in the next magic trick of the evening, suddenly find themselves surrounded by what looks like about a hundred armed people. Rick, seeing soldiers rather than people who are probably looking to have him for dinner, smiles.

"Rock in the Road" ran 15 minutes over its usual timeslot and covered a lot of ground. That it seemed to be straining to contain all of its plot material can't help but remind one of how much time was simply wasted in the first half of the season, time that could have been spent better developing all of this, instead of just jamming it in like this in the back-end.

--j.

---

[1] The preview for next week's installment features a zombie with a Medieval-looking helmet that is remarkably reminiscent of something ZN did in its season 3 debut. We'll have to see where that goes. TWD has often borrowed from ZN, just as ZN has borrowed from TWD, but whereas TWD can learn a lot from ZN, it doesn't have much to teach ZN.

[2] There's absolutely no reason they couldn't have just continued through the zombies a little further until they'd cleared a trail then backed up to their getaway vehicle but Rick had earlier said they needed the herd on the road. Why? Who knows? But, of course, that begs the question of why he decide to kill so many in the first place. Here, TWD hasn't learned from ZN; the goofy gags on that show always have a purpose.

[3] Prior to the midseason break, Gabriel had been riding with Spencer, Spencer pissed him off with a negative review of Rick and he got out of the car and announced is intention to walk home. This was apparently on the same road Rick and Aaron had been traveling and though they were way back off that road and not visible from it, Gabriel somehow stumbled upon them. And didn't help them. Tonight, Rick found his footprints in the mud, which was dry as if it had been there more than a week, when, by the show's timeline, it was just the day before.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult