Saturday, February 21, 2015

Most Satisfying Deaths on The Walking Dead

Let's just get the giant SPOILER WARNING out of the way right now.  We'll be talking about The Walking Dead and the many major and minor characters who have assumed room temperature along the way.  Not all of them, mind you.  For one thing, that would take about twenty blogs and I don't have the time or the patience to write about them and I'm sure you don't have the time or the patience to read about them.  Let's just stick with what I consider the 10 most satisfying deaths on the show.  These are the characters for whom I cheered when they met their demise.  You won't find cool or even semi-cool characters like T-Dog and Tyrese on this list because I liked them as characters.  These are just the ones who deserved death for one reason or other and got what they deserved. Let's take a look:
10) Alicia--Season 4
She was only in maybe 3 episodes. I wouldn't even really include her on this list ahead of such deserving characters as Gareth or Martin from Terminus but for one thing.  In the attack on the prison she was actively gunning for Tyrese, possibly after shooting dead at least one of the prison population.  Also, after witnessing the Gov decapitate Hershel she continues with the attack. Tara was so freaked out by that she threw away her gun. Alicia didn't seem to have much trouble with that, nor with the idea that they would be displacing or possibly killing children in order to take the prison.  During the attack, when the man next to her gets plugged, she looks about and finds Lizzy and a couple other kids standing there looking at her. Alicia hesitates, but why? She knew there were kids inside the prison, and that she might have to kill them, but she still had the balls to look surprised at their presence.  Lizzy promptly shoots her in the head.  Good. I actually clapped when it happened. 
9) Ed Pelletier--Season 1
We knew Ed was a dick right off the bat, when he has a minor confrontation with Shane regarding the size of his campfire. Ed backs down that time, but he makes Carol remove the extra log from the fire instead of doing it himself. He beat his wife on a regular basis, and most likely molested their daughter, Sophia.  Ed also has bad timing, choosing to have a confrontation with both Carol and Andrea just after Shane has been told off by Lori.  Shane is in a very bad mood and he takes it out on Ed, beating him to within an inch of his life. Later on Ed is devoured by walkers in his tent. Before he is buried Carol destroys what's left of his head with a pic axe.  It couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.
8) Joe--Season 4

We know he's an asshole when he recruits Daryl into the group by telling him, "Why hurt yourself when you can hurt other people?"  Joe seems to have no trouble with, among other things, rape and murder. He orders the beating death of one of his group, and, later, the same for Daryl. He has a vendetta against Rick (it's actually kinda legitimate, I have to admit) and he's gonna make Rick watch Michonne and Carl beaten and raped before Rick himself dies.  Jeff Kober, who plays Joe, really sells the character's bloodthirsty streak very well in that scene, so kudos to him. Rick tears out Joe's throat with his teeth and that's the last we see of Joe. Rick then goes on to mutilate  the henchman who was threatening Carl. I'm down with that.

7) Lizzy--Season 4

Pure and simple, Lizzy is a psychopath. She doesn't see walkers as dangerous, just different. She kills baby rabbits and feeds live rats to walkers. She nearly smothers baby Judith. Then she murders her own little sister to prove she will come back the same as before. Lizzy might have been able to receive professional help in the old world but in the zombie apocalypse, there are no hospitals, doctors or drugs to turn to. In this world, the only option for Lizzy is the one Carol takes. She puts Lizzy out of her misery with a bullet to the back of her head. It's better than she deserved.
6) Mitch--Season 4

Like Alicia, Mitch was only in maybe 3 episodes. Still, how satisfying was it when Daryl blew up the tank and then shot Mitch with an arrow? Pretty damn satisfying, if you ask me. While not verifiable, it appears Daryl's aim was intentionally low, indicating he shot Mitch somewhere other than the head, insuring he'd come back as a walker.  Mitch follows the Governor, acting as his  lieutenant, even after the Gov admits he murdered Mitch's brother. That's pretty screwed up, even for this show. And after watching him blasting away at the prison and the people in it, I had no problem whatsoever with Daryl's decision that Mitch should join the walker herd.
5) Dawn--Season 5

The thing about Dawn is, she might act like a psycho, but she isn't. She's just a desperate woman in charge of a police force always on the verge of mutiny. She even seems like she might have been an okay person to hang with before the world went to shit.  When she's not beating Beth and/or sounding like a dictator, she comes across as intelligent and driven.  But she allows her officers to rape and beat the people under their protection, just to keep them happy. She even allows  Noah, her ward, to be beaten for something she knows he did not do. She constantly smacks Beth around, putting fresh cuts and bruises on the young girl. And let's not forget it's Dawn's own arrogance that causes her demise. The hostage swap is done and everybody is going to walk away with their lives. She decides at the last minute to change the deal, making an additional demand for Noah to remain. Watch her eyes and her body language. She's doing this for no other reason than to look tough in front of her own people. It was a needless display and she wound up paying for it. Beth intervenes and stabs her with a small pair of scissors. Dawn's gun goes off and she shoots Beth. It was clearly an accidental shooting. She never meant to kill Beth. Not that that mattered to Daryl. He put one in her forehead and that was the end of her.  She won't be missed, even by those who knew her.
4) Andrea--Season 1-3

I don't know what happened with this character. She remains very likeable in the comic book but on the show she was hated by many. Not without cause, either. The first time we see her she's holding a gun to Rick's face. She does it again after her sister is killed by walkers. She becomes very arrogant in season 2, telling off Lori, allowing Beth to nearly commit suicide, ignoring Dale and shooting at what she thinks is a walker but turns out to be Daryl. Season 3 Andrea is even worse. She chooses a warm bed over Michonne, the woman who kept her alive the past 8 months. She sleeps with the Governor even after she knows what he is. After Rick and the Governor have a sit-down, Andrea leaves with the Woodbury group. This was the final straw for most fans. The thing is, a deleted scene had her decide to leave with her old friends and go to the prison. Hershel talks her out of it, seeing the value of having a friendly among the population of Woodbury. In that context Andrea's decision to go back with the Governor paints her in a much better light. Without that scene, she looks like a traitor to Rick's group, not to mention the fans.

Also, her death sucks. While Milton slowly dies on the other side of the room she takes eternity to free herself from the chair she's tied to, giving Milton enough time to become a walker and attack her. Every time we cut back to Andrea, she's chatting with Milton and not doing anything to free herself, despite Milton's repeated urgings to do just that. While we can chalk up Dawn's death--and to a lesser extent, the Governor's--to arrogance, Andrea's seems to be caused by her own stupidity. To see how despised she became by the fans, look at her last line to Rick.  "I know how the safety works." This was certainly an attempt by the writers to make us feel nostalgic for how Andrea was in season 1. Except the last time she said that she was threatening to shoot Rick. If anything I'd say that line justified what happened to Andrea in the minds of the fans. She needed to go, pure and simple. Really, does anybody miss her?
3) The Governor--Seasons 3-4

The Gov's list of evil deeds is too long to go into now. Let's just look at the short list of some of the people he killed during his tenure: The national guard troops, Axel, Merle, the Woodbury army, Martinez, Pete, Milton, Andrea (somewhat indirectly) and Hershel. He planned to kill many more but his hatred of Rick got the better of him. And we haven't even mentioned the walker heads in the fish tanks or keeping his walker daughter "alive" and restrained in a locked cubby hole in his apartment so he can feed her fresh meat and brush her hair.

In the comic book, he was even worse and more depraved. He repeatedly beat and raped Michonne. He cut off Rick's hand. He beat Glenn. He didn't do any of that in the series, so I guess you could look at him here as a kinder, gentler version of the evil bastard he was in the comic book. This Governor was only about 98% evil.  It was a very satisfying moment when Michonne ran her sword through his chest and then Lily shot him in the head.  Might have been even better if he had been allowed to turn. Michonne could have used him as one of her camouflage walkers.

Given all the trouble The Governor caused you would think he'd be number 1 on this list. And he might be, maybe even should be, if not for two other characters.
2) Shane Walsh--Seasons 1-2

Rick's best friend since at least high school and his partner on the police force. Shane's story arc is similar to what it was in the comic book, although it takes longer to play out on the show. Let's look at the many reasons we cheered Shane's death. He sleeps with Lori and all but adopts Carl. Granted, he believes Rick is dead, but once Rick comes back, Shane is not pleased. When they're alone in the woods he gets Rick in his sights and nearly pulls the trigger. And that was in the 5th episode of the series! At the CDC a drunk Shane almost rapes Lori.  He constantly challenges and pushes Rick, at first in private but later on in full view of the group. He threatens Dale. He straight up murders Otis.  He busts open Hershel's barn and slaughters the walkers inside. Not really a bad thing, and it does finally put an end to the endless search for Sophia, but it does a number on the group's standing with Hershel. He nearly kills Rick when they drive Randall out to a secluded area far from the farm. Later he murders Randall and is about to murder Rick. Clearly he needed to go. Rick finally stabs him and then Carl shoots him when Shane comes back as a walker. Fans were totally cool with that. Lori, less so. (But we'll get to that in a minute.)
The irony is that now Rick has pretty much become Shane. Season 5 Rick wanted to kill the last of the Terminus people. He also wanted to rescue Beth and Carol by going into the hospital guns blazing. He ran down and then shot Officer Lampson. These are all things Shane would have done. It just took Rick a little longer to get there. Us, too.
1) Lori Grimes--Seasons 1-3

Was there any doubt? How useless was Lori Grimes? Too many reasons to list but we'll look at a couple of the big ones.  
1) She sleeps with Shane. Okay, she thought her husband was dead. I get that. But how much time had passed since Rick's supposed death and the first time she bangs Shane? Couldn't have been too long. We know Shane was at the hospital when it lost power and he thought Rick had died in front of him. So how long did Rick lay there in the hospital bed? Couldn't have been more than a few days. Without food and water he would have been dead after maybe 3, 4 days, tops. So that's how much time passed between Shane scooping up Lori and Carl and then Rick waking up in the deserted hospital. Rick spends at least one day with Morgan and Dwayne before hitting the road for Atlanta. We don't know how long it took him to get there but it couldn't have been more than a day or two. Lori has sex with Shane in the 2nd episode, while Rick is already in Atlanta, trapped inside the tank. Also, this did not seem like the first time they got busy. So it took her all of 5-7 days to start sleeping with Shane after she thought her husband was dead. That's quick even for a porno! (Not that I would know of such things.)
2) She seems utterly oblivious that the world has ended.  She treats the zombie apocalypse as if it's a minor inconvenience. She gives her son a haircut, doesn't seem to do much to help the group, doesn't cook or clean or protect the camp. She was actually pretty useless. Even in season 1, when Carol was a wallflower, she managed to have one great moment when she provided the means for the group to escape the CDC before it exploded. Lori drank wine and looked through the facility's selection of books. She forbids Carl from having a gun, sends him to the house every time danger threatens the group. She asks Glenn to get her a pregnancy test and then abortion pills. Even at the prison she sucks. Carl finds the infirmary and returns with medical supplies they'll need to keep Hershel alive. Lori berates him for going alone. That's the extent of her contribution to the group.
3) She shoves away her husband (literally) when he tells her what happened with Shane. I'm thinking maybe she was upset because Carl had to put him down. If so, Sarah Wayne Callies did a terrible job of conveying that. It looks an awful lot like she's upset that Shane is dead. It was like she was taking Shane's side against her own husband. I think that was the final straw as far as the fans were concerned.  
4) She crashes Hershel's car on an empty road.
5)  Even after she died she wouldn't leave us alone. She kept appearing to Rick as a ghost every time he was about to make a wrong decision. She talked to him on the phone. She's the reason he was in no man's land when the Governor first attacked the prison. Okay, okay, none of that was really her, I get that. But I also don't care. By that point everyone was so sick of Lori that having her hanging around like one of the ghosts at the Overlook Hotel just made her even more annoying. It was like the showrunners were getting in a few more shots at the fans before letting go of her. Very antagonistic. Thankfully, she hasn't shown up since so we may finally be free of her.  We can hope.
There are a few people on the show now who might earn their way onto this list. All indications are the big bad from the comic book will soon be making his first appearance. So clearly there are things to look forward to. Maybe I'll do another one of these a few years from now when more of our "heroes" have shuffled loose the mortal coil. Might be interesting.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Why Carol Rules

Just a few thoughts I had after watching last night's season 5 premiere of The Walking Dead.  Specifically, we're talking about Carol (Melissa McBride) and why she might be the biggest badass on the show.  Major SPOILER ALERT right here.
Of all the characters on the show, Carol has grown the most.  All the characters have shown growth in various ways but no one has had an arc like Carol.  In season 1 she was a mousy woman who would jump out of her shoes if someone nearby belched.  Most of her submissive behavior came from her fear of her husband, Ed.  Ed was a dick who beat her on a regular basis and (likely) molested their daughter, Sophia.  In fact, during most of season 1 Carol is relegated the laundry duty:

It's pretty obvious she would not have survived if not for her husband.  She simply doesn't display any of the skills one would expect of someone capable of surviving this long in a world populated by cannibalistic corpses.  Once Ed has assumed room temperature, Carol gets a little revenge.  She obliterates her husband's heads with a pic axe, ostensibly to assure he doesn't come back as a walker.  But there's way more to it than that.  We're seeing years of repressed rage spilling out of her.  This is a woman who has probably wanted to do something like this for a long time but never had the nerve.  Now that her husband is dead she can stand up to him.  Still not the kind of person you want watching your back in a crisis situation.
Later, when the group is trying to escape the CDC before the whole facility is blown sky high, Carol saves the day.  The doors are locked and the group can't get through the bulletproof glass. Carol begins rummaging around in her bag.  Shane tells her, "I don't think a nail file is gonna do it, Carol."  It's pretty clear what Shane thinks of her because we're thinking the same thing. Of all the heavy hitters present (Rick, Shane, T-Dog, Glenn, Daryl), the last person we're expecting to save the day is Carol.  We probably had more faith in Lori at that point!  Carol comes up with a grenade she had found while washing Rick's pants.  And the group is saved.
Season 2 Carol isn't much different from Season 1 Carol.  She spends the first half of the season worrying about her daughter who has become separated from the group.  Granted, it's a pretty serious situation and I can't fault her for that.  When she finds out her daughter is dead and has become a walker, Carol is devastated.  She spends the rest of season 2 in mourning. 
Season 3 Carol is where we see a different character emerging.  We learn she's become a good shot with a rifle.  She goads Daryl into either leaving with her or taking control of the group from Rick.  She cares for baby Judith.  She cuts open a dead walker to practice her C-section technique in case she has to deliver Lori's baby.  Season 1 Carol could never have done that. No way, no how. 
She even stands up to Merle, who seems genuinely surprised by her transformation.  She responds to the Governor's attack on the prison first by using Axel's dead body as a bullet shield and then grabbing a weapon and firing back at the attackers.  Season 1 Carol would have shit her pants and fainted.  She is no longer that person.  She even tells Andrea she needs to sleep with the Governor and then kill him in his sleep.  This Carol thinks ahead.
Season 4 Carol is a mover and a shaker who looks like she could survive all by her lonesome if needs be.  She kills Karen and David because they're sick and she's trying to stop the super virus from spreading.  She admits to Rick that she was the killer and he leaves her on the road with some supplies and a car.  Rick is confident she can survive on her own and so are we.
When the prison falls the characters are scattered.  Tyrese ends up with Lizzy the psycho and Mika and baby Judith.  We're worried.  Tyrese is a strong man but he doesn't seem to have the killer instinct.  He's too nice a guy to survive like this, much less to be in charge of small children.  As Tyrese leaves the girls to help a family under attack in the woods, walkers begin closing in.  Cut to Tyrese in full fighting mode as walkers tear that family apart.  When the fight is over we hear a female voice call to him.  He turns to see the girls standing there with Carol.  And everybody loved it.  The audience perception is very clear:  Everything will be okay now.  Their chances of survival have just quadrupled. 

Wait, when did we get that impression of Carol?  Up to this point we've relied on the usual characters like Rick and Glenn.  When did Carol join that group?  I think fans were surprised at their own reaction to her return.   That's good writing, and it's awesome acting on McBride's part.
Later on Carol is faced with the toughest choice of her life.  When little Lizzie turns total psycho and murders her own sister to prove she'll come back just the same as before, Carol has a decision to make.  It guts her. We can see it in every move she makes.  Lizzie's comfort ritual is to "look at the flowers."  Carol tells her to do just that and then shoots her in the back of the head.  It's a soul-crushing decision and there are very few characters on the show who could have made it.  Not Tyrese or Sasha or Maggie or Glenn.  Not Michonne or Daryl.  That McBride didn't get an Emmy nom for that episode is a crime. 
Which brings us to season 5.  Everyone but Carol, Tyrese and Judith are being held in Terminus and are about to be killed and cooked up by the cannibals who live there.  There's no way out.  Glenn, Daryl and Rick are first up and seconds away from being murdered.  Carol sees this and she goes into action.  She blows up a propane tank as a herd of walkers descends on Terminus.  Camouflaging herself in walker blood Carol strolls through the streets of Terminus with the walkers, picking off Termites when she can.  Terminus Mary gets the drop on her, but please.  Mary has no chance.  Carol shoots her in the leg, interrogates her, and then lets a bunch of walkers into the building to eat Mary alive.  The bitch had it coming. 
The group escapes Terminus thanks to Carol's actions.  They're reunited in the woods, much to Daryl and Rick's delight (and ours, too).  When Rick and Carl see baby Judith for the first time since the fall of the prison, they're overjoyed.  That's thanks largely to Carol and Rick knows it.  I think everyone else does, too. 
Sidenote:  In the comics, Carol never made it out of the prison.  After ostracizing herself from the group she simply gives up.  She intentionally walks into a zombie and lets it rip her throat out.  Suicide by walker.  I was a little nervous during season 4 that something similar might occur.  When Rick learns Carol is responsible for killing Karen and David, I thought she might take that way out.  But this Carol is much different (read: stronger) than the one in the comic.  And I couldn't be happier.  I'm sure I'm not alone in this.
So now we have kickass Carol, a character who has become one of the big guns of the group.  She's also the only female character from season 1 who is still alive.  Think about that for a minute.  We have varying degrees of faith in Rick, Daryl, Michonne and Glenn, and now I think Carol is on the same level in the eyes of the fans.  In season 4, Beth tells Daryl he'll be the last man standing.  That might be true.  But does anyone doubt Carol will be standing right next to him?  Don't bet against her.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Movies I Shouldn't Watch (But Do Anyway)

I love October.  It's all about Halloween, except at WalMart, where it's all about Christmas.  But I digress.  Most of the cable channels start up with the horror movies, most notably SyFy, Chiller, AMC and TCM.  During October, especially when the Yankees are not playing post-season baseball, I watch a steady diet of horror movies and shows, like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story, to name just two. 
But some of those movies I like to watch suck.  I know they suck.  I've seen them several times and I'm convinced of their suckiness.  For every Thing From Another World there are endless showings of Friday the 13th Part 7 and Saw 3.  This blog isn't about those.  Those movies are so terrible I can't bring myself to even turn them on.  But there are some movies that suck and I force myself to watch them, anyway.  I've seen them a dozen times, I know they're awful, but if they're on, I watch them.  Quite a few movies fall into this category, unfortunately.  I'll talk about a few of them.
The first is Event Horizon (1997).  It has a cool premise.  A ship with an experimental engine reappears after seven years and a rescue ship is sent to find out what happened.  The cast is awesome:  Lawrence Fishburne, Sean Pertwee, Sam Neill, Joely Richardson and Jason Isaacs, to name a few.  With a cast like that, it should have been awesome.  It isn't. 

The effects are pretty good, the Event Horizon itself looks great, the dialogue isn't even that bad.  But this is a definite case of the sum being less than its parts.  I'm not even completely sure why it sucks, but it does.  The plot is okay but the execution is dreadful.  Some of the characters seem to have less than realistic reactions to what is happening around them.  And the movie commits one cardinal sin that is all too common in "cheap-scare" movies:
Joely Richardson's character, first officer Starck, has a nightmare at movie's end.  In the nightmare she sees Sam Neill's character with his face all fucked up, as it is the last time we see him.  But she was not present in that scene.  She has never seen him (or anyone else) with those ridiculous facial scars.  But we have and so the moment is meant to scare us.  But it doesn't make any sense from a storytelling standpoint.  That kinda thing drives me nuts. 
I really wish Event Horizon had been a good movie.  I wanted it to be good, I expected it to be good and it sucked, instead.  And when it's on TV you can bet I'll be watching it.
Let's talk about another piece of shit that I should know better than to watch.  Deep Rising (1998).  A band of mercenaries hires another band of mercenaries with a boat to take them out into the middle of the ocean. The goal of the first group is to raid a new cruise ship, and then to sink it (with the owner's approval) for the insurance money after the passengers and crew have taken to the lifeboats.  But before they arrive a sea monster attacks the cruise ship and kills almost everyone aboard.  I wish I was making that up.
This is another shitty movie with a decent cast: The king of the scenery chewers, Treat Williams, plays the main character, Finnegan.  Famke Janssen, Wes Studi, Jason Flemying, Djimon Hounsou, and Cliff Curtis (so awesome in Sunshine) fill out the cast.  I admit they do a decent job with the lousy dialogue they're forced to recite, and a few of them manage to look serious during the scenes that call for them to act so, but, wow, does this movie suck.  When we finally see the sea monster behind it all, it looks like this:
It's ridiculous, of course.  Something that size that allegedly lives at very deep depths but has very sharp teeth (indicating it is a carnivore) would need to eat an awful lot of fishies to attain that size.  And if it does live that deep how does it survive the pressure at surface level? And how can it exist in an oxygen atmosphere, as it does inside the bow of the cruise liner?  Granted, these are serious questions for a movie that can't be taken seriously, but still, give the audience a little credit.  Awful, just awful.
Let's turn our attention to another less-than-stellar effort, The Mummy Returns (2001).  It's not as bad as the others we've discussed so far.  Most of my problems with this movie are how it relates to the its predecessor, The Mummy (1999).  I liked the first one. I tried not to.  It wasn't at all like the original from 1932.  This one was more like What if Indiana Jones fought the mummy?  But I did like it, in spite of myself. I liked it a lot.  Don't judge me!  But the sequel?  Meh.
Most of the cast from the first came back for the sequel.  They need better agents.  My problems with TMR started right off the bat.  The first 10 minutes managed about 20 thefts from the first movie, and they all fell flat.  I'm thinking the producers looked at what the audience liked from the first and simply brought them over for the sequel.  But TMR is a different kind of movie from the original and it shouldn't have been treated the same way.  And would it have killed them to have any original ideas for this one?
Yes, Imhotep is back (again). Yes, Anck-su-Namun is back (again).  We see the dead city of Hammunaptra (again), despite its utter destruction at the end of the first movie that resulted in it being buried under a billion tons of sand.  Someone opens the stupid chest and brings the curse of the mummy upon themselves (again).  Imhotep takes control of water (instead of sand) to swat a flying machine from the sky.  And we have the soldier mummies (again) who are used mostly for comic relief this time around.  WTF.
The one new aspect the creators tossed at us was the revelation that Evie (Rachel Weis) is the reincarnation of Neferteri, an Egyptian princess.  What???  Okay, even if we pretend that makes sense, it brings up some problems for the previous movie.  Since she knew Imhotep back in the day, why didn't he recognize her during the events of the first movie?  Shouldn't he have said something like, "Hey, Neferteri, how ya been all these years?"  And since we also learn that she and Anck-su-Namun were enemies back then, their struggle during the first movie's climax should have had her much more aggressive.  Here, look, they fought each other 5,000 years ago:

With Japanese sais, no less!  They seem to have to correct amount of hostility toward each other this time around, at least, but I think this should have been addressed in the prior movie.  Except no one had thought of this stupid plot twist at the time. 
Then we have The Rock.  He's the Scorpion King.  Whatever.  He sucks in this.  Plus, when he makes a dramatic return during the climax he's in really shitty CG that I don't feel like screencapping so look it up yourself or take my word.  Two years after The Matrix and The Phantom Menace, I would have expected better CG from a Universal flick.
Then there's the 2004 remake of Romero's brilliant Dawn of the Dead.  The original rocks in every sense of the word.  The remake sucks balls.  The premise is basically the same:  Zombie outbreak, civilization crumbling, survivors find relative safety in a mall.  Except these survivors are assholes who are just about impossible to root for.  And director Zack Snyder committed the ultimate sin: He gave us fast zombies.  I fucking hate fast zombies.  (The sole exception to this is 28 Days Later, since those weren't true zombies, just infected people, which I can buy into.)  As far as I'm concerned, Romero's zombie rules cannot be broken except by the man himself.  Snyder isn't even close to Romero.   
The cast was okay but nothing special.  Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames and Ty Burrell are probably the most-known of the cast.  They at least try to convince us they're taking this whole end-of-the-world thing seriously, but either they weren't good enough actors or the director didn't do his job.  Either way, this movie sucks.
Slow the fuck down, assholes.
Let's do another one.  Night of the Creeps (1986).  Awful? Yes.  But I doubt anyone connected with this movie thought they were making Casablanca.  If a movie is intentionally cheesy and awful, is it fair to lump it into a list of others that tried to make something of quality?  I don't know.  Probably not.
Yes, this movie is terrible.  Bad acting, bad makeup, bad dialogue (dreadful dialogue, in fact) but it's so much fun I can't stay mad at this.  I laugh at all the wrong spots, and cringe in others.  This is one of those It's-so-bad-it's-brilliant movies, like Plan 9 From Outer Space.  In fact, I think Ed Wood would have made this if given the chance.  That's not usually a compliment but I think this time it is.  I'd watch NotC right now if it was on. 
 Yes, this really happens!

One last one before we call it a day.  Virus (1999), starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Sutherland and Cliff Curtis (maybe he needs a better agent, too).  This is definitely the shittiest of these movies.  Almost nothing works here.  The story is adapted from a comic book that I read and liked.  The movie sucks.  An alien made of energy finds its way down to a Russian research ship and turns the crew into half-human/half-machine drones.  It's even worse than it sounds. 
Our heroes are the crew of a tug boat who come upon the ship and try to take it for salvage, seeing a big payday for themselves.  Things quickly go south when the alien wakes up and starts turning the tug crew into cyborgs.  I hate when that happens.
Resistance might not be futile because this is a dumb movie.
The makeup effects aren't too bad.  They're not great but they're watchable.  The dialogue sucks, the sets suck, the acting sucks, just about everything sucks.  This is probably the movie I'm least-inclined to watch of those on this list.  There's at least a little fun to be had with the others but this is a joyless, colorless movie that lacks even a single redeeming quality.  Come to think of it, I should probably take it off the list.  It's so shitty I really have no desire to ever watch it again.
There are others, I'm sure.  Plenty of others.  These are the movies that I came up with after about 10 seconds of thought.  What about you?              


Friday, November 29, 2013

On the Ocean Floor, No One Can Hear You Complain About Lousy Movies

In 1989, for reasons known only to the gods of Hollywood, we were treated to no fewer than three suspense movies that took place at facilities on the ocean floor.  The first two were billed as straight-up horror movies, which, of course, caught my attention.  Plus, I had to admit, there had not been a whole lot of movies in that setting.  So, my curiosity piqued, I had to check them out.
The first was Deep Star Six.

I actually like the one-sheet.  That's a pretty cool image and tells you a lot about the setting and genre of the movie, so kudos for that.  I also like the title.  It's mysterious and cool.  The story was about some Navy people in a rig at the bottom of the ocean who encounter a heretofore-unknown sea creature that goes about terrorizing and eating them.  If that sounds cheesy, well, I'm not doing it justice because it was god-awful.
Who greenlit this piece of shit?  The writing sucks, the directing sucks, the acting sucks (well, most of it.  See below.), the sets suck, and the creature itself makes the rubber Godzilla outfits from the 60s look like Industrial Light and Magic-caliber CGI.  I'm not kidding.  This is what the thing looks like:

Did I lie?  There are a few recognizable actors running about in this piece of shit and they should all be ashamed of themselves.  Matt McCoy and Greg Evigan (yes, from BJ and the Bear!) are probably the two at least some of you will recognize.  They suck in this movie.  Big surprise there.  If not for I wouldn't even know the other people in this movie, and I'm sure they'd be happier that way.  Awful.  Just awful.
But there was one bright spot in this underwater piece of shit.  I don't know how they convinced him to do it, but they somehow got Miguel Ferrer to show up.  Granted, he's not a Nicholson-level star, but he's damned talented and he should have had a much more successful career than he's had.  I hate to say it, but maybe if he made better choices than this he would have had more success.  I like him as an actor, truly, and I've yet to see him give a bad performance.  He's even decent in this.  God knows how.

Screw this bullshit.  I'm calling my agent!
Aside from Mr. Ferrer, the rest of this movie sucks.  And I don't mean in a Plan Nine From Outer Space good kind of suck, either.  That movie can be very entertaining.  I've watched it myself many times and laughed at every viewing.  This movie makes me want to cry.  Avoid this at all costs.
The second movie taking us to the ocean floor wasn't as bad as Deep Star Six.  That's not saying much.  In fact, it's saying nothing at all.  It's not a great movie, it's not even a good movie, but it has a few moments that are not-shitty and we'll have to settle for that.  The title is Leviathan

This one, at least, has some decent actors on the screen.  The lead character is played by Peter Weller.  Like Miguel Ferrer, I wish someone could explain to me why he hasn't had a Brad Pitt-type career in Hollywood.  This man can act.  Talent-wise, he's better than a lot of the actors collecting $20 million salaries.  In a better world, he'd be up there with Clooney and Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson.  He's not, though, and we'll have to be okay with that.
We also see Ernie Hudson, Hector Elizondo (!), that hot chick from The Flash TV show, Richard Crenna and, somehow, Daniel Stern. 

Weller and Hudson ain't lookin for no ghosts.
Some undersea miners encounter a sunken Russian ship nearby and recover a chest that happens to have some tainted vodka in it.  Drinking it infects the individual with mutant DNA that turns them into fishmen.  Okay, I know that sounds bad. The movie is even worse.  It's a cross between Alien (see the pic above) and John Carpenter's The Thing.  Both those movies rock to perfection.  This one just plain sucks.
I almost forgot, it does have one other thing going for it:  Meg Foster.  She's an actress who could only have been successful in the 80s.  She's known the world over for her creepy/sexy/they-come-in-that-color-? eyes.  See for yourself:

She's also widely known for her role in John Carpenter's They Live!  And while she didn't participate in that movie's infamous fistfight over putting on a pair of sunglasses, she pretty much dominated the movie, anyway.  She doesn't get a lot to do here but she's still cool and, wow, those eyes!  'nuff said.
Leviathan sucks but it's not a total loss.  It could have been better, should have been better, but it isn't and this is what we're stuck with.
It was with heavy heart that I went to the theatre to see the third underwater movie of the year.  It was written and directed by the same guy who did The Terminator and Aliens, so I was desperately hopeful.  Those are two of the greatest movies I've ever seen.  Still, when the houselights went down and the movie was about to start, I kinda cringed and thought, Please don't suck.  Please don't suck.  Over and over again, like a mantra.

I didn't have to worry.  The Abyss rocked from start to finish.  Here's what you can do with a talented writer/director and a budget and a cast full of decent actors.  Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Michael Biehn all kick ass in this movie.  Frankly, they had me at Ed Harris; I consider him one of the ten best actors alive right now.   
More undersea hijinks, only this time everything makes sense.  Imagine that!  The people at an underwater drilling platform are sent to aid the crew of a downed American submarine.  They're too late to save the poor bastards but they encounter something else while they're down there:  a (possibly) alien race and city that, in the extended version, at least, are getting annoyed with how the human race is always one heartbeat away from nuclear war.  A perfect theme for the time when the Cold War was coming to an end. 
The pseudopod was created by ILM's Pixar system. 
I think this is the movie that cemented my opinion of James Cameron.  It was here that I really started to like him.  I'm a  fan to this day, even if Avatar was a bit overblown.  I go to his movies now based entirely on the strength of what he's done before and I haven't been disappointed yet. 
Is The Abyss great?  I don't know, probably not.  Is it good?  Hell, yes!  Of all the bottom-of-the-ocean movies from 1989, it's the only one that wasn't straight-up horror, and thus it should have been my least-favorite of the three.  In fact, I like it the best.  It's not even close.
We're going on twenty-five years since Hollywood mugged us with two shitty movies (and one good one) that took us to the ocean floor.  Isn't it time for some remakes?  Or at least better efforts to make us forget about these assaults on decency?  Both Peter Weller and Miguel Ferrer are still acting and still doing it well.  Give them a shot at redemption.  Give Ed Harris anything he wants.  Let's get some decent underwater movies on the screen. 
If you want, I can be talked into the movie rights for The Last Battleship.  Anything for a seven-figure payday to help the cause.



Sunday, September 29, 2013

Judging a Book By Its Cover

For some authors, the really big names, the cover image simply isn't important. I'm sure they want a decent cover for their new novel but I'm willing to bet they don't stay awake at night hoping the artist comes through. The authors who succeed by name recognition simply don't need to concern themselves with that. Is a fan of John Grisham's really going to pass on his latest book because they don't like the cover? Doubtful. Did JK Rowling agonize over each and every Harry Potter cover? Unlikely. Frankly, the next Stephen King novel could have a pile of rubber dogshit on the cover and people would still buy it. The big guns have the freedom to concentrate on telling their story and most probably don't give much thought to the cover.
Then there's every other author on earth.

When it came time for a cover to be created for my first novel, I was a bit nervous. Okay, that's not entirely true. I was terrified. My terror came from two facts that I hadn't spent much time contemplating before then: 1) I can't draw worth a shit so someone else would have to do it; and 2) Someone else would have to do it. Allow me a moment to explain.
I spent almost two and a half years writing The Last Battleship. No one knew I was writing it, not family, not friends, no one. I spent uncountable hours getting the story to where I wanted it to go. Endless editing and rewrites, sometimes to the point of deleting entire chapters because they didn't work. I consulted no one, answered to no one. During those two and a half years it was just me and my characters.
And then came the professional editing. No matter how great your manuscript is, the editor is going to want changes made. No editor is going to go to the publisher and tell them your manuscript is flawless and requires no changes. Editors who do that quickly become ex-editors. So they're going to make you change things. Not huge, story-altering changes, but changes nonetheless. That's an odd situation in which to find oneself. Haven't you spent a lot of time with these characters? Don't you know them best? Who does this editor think he/she is, demanding you make changes? But they do. And you have to roll with them. I've been lucky. I've worked with editors who have made very minimal requests of me (for the most part) and the changes have been easy to swallow (again, for the most part).

It's still such an odd situation to let someone else touch your baby in so intimate a manner. But that pales in comparison to turning your baby over to a complete stranger and trusting them to whip up a great cover for you.
Publishers will send over something called the Cover Art Form. This is the author's opportunity to paint a mental picture of what he/she thinks would make a great cover. Sometimes the artist will even read it. The rest of the time they'll read the cover blurb and whip up something they think best captures the spirit of the work based on those few short paragraphs the author used to tell prospective readers about the plot of their novel. That's where the terror part comes in. There is no way, no way, an artist completely unfamiliar with the nuances of the story can create a drawing that captures the spirit of the novel. But that's what you have to deal with as an author with no measurable artistic ability.
I got lucky. Right out of the gate I learned the cover duties for The Last Battleship were assigned to Taria A. Reed. Never heard of her. But what she did was create a cover image that wasn't very far off from what I was picturing in my head. Here it is:

I asked for a few minor changes to the original image. For one thing, I had her ditch all the little fishies she had swimming around. I believe I even said something along the lines of, "This is a horror novel, not Finding Nemo!" She removed all the critters and the end result is what you see here. Pretty damned good, if you ask me.
I became friends with Taria on Facebook and we chatted back and forth a few times. When I was going to New Jersey last year I arranged to meet up with her. I started talking about my second novel, Moon Dust, which had sold in a preposterously short amount of time. I knew Taria was working for this publisher as well and I really wanted her to be the cover artist. I mentioned it to the publisher but had received a noncommital response. I was worried I'd get some hack who didn't know anything creating a cover that sucked. The way I looked at it, I'd been lucky once. No reason to push it now. So I told Taria about the image I had in my head for Moon Dust. That same day she whipped up a preliminary design that wound up close to the published version. This is it right here:

That is as close to humanly possible to the image I described to her that day in Red Bank. I was overjoyed. The publisher, less so. Oh, they liked the cover, liked it a lot. But they weren't crazy about me doing an end-run around them and consulting with the cover artist myself. Tough titties. All I cared about was having a kick-ass cover on the novel I spent a year and a half of my life writing. And I got it. Bully for me! And for Taria, who seems incapable of creating a bad cover.
I think perhaps I'll always be nervous when it comes time to hand over the novel, story and characters I've spent so much time with to someone else. That's just how I am. Either that, or I'll have to learn how to draw. But since that's never going to happen I guess I'm stuck with the nervousness. It's a small price to pay for being able to do what I love, and to make a few bucks doing it.
The cover for novel #3, Dark Annie, was not created by Taria A. Reed, much as I tried to talk the publisher into making it happen. As the novel's publication date drew nearer and I had seen no preliminary artwork my nervousness ratcheted up quite a bit. Then I received the "first draft" of the cover. I asked for a few small changes. The artist obliged. Here's what she created:

Her name is Clarissa Yeo and she's from Shanghai and she knocked this one so far out of the park even Mickey Mantle would be impressed.
It's not the cover image I had in my head, not even close. In fact, other than my description of Dark Annie herself there's virtually nothing on this cover that came from me. And I like this one better than the one I had in my head. Loads better. I think it sets the tone perfectly. I doubt anyone knocking around Barnes and Noble will see this and mistake it for a nonfiction firsthand account of a Ferris wheel being built next to a woman's dilapidated schoolhouse.
(Don't laugh. Some idiot blasted me on Amazon because he thought The Last Battleship was a historical account and was deeply disappointed when he discovered it's sci fi. He never bothered to read the description or any of the reviews, and he obviously didn't read the novel, either, because he labeled it sci fi when it doesn't even come close to being a sci fi story.)
So I'm pretty happy with this cover. And I'm pretty happy with the previous two covers as well. So far I've been lucky. I've been gifted some pretty good cover artists who know what they're doing and they've come through for me every time. I cannot thank them enough.
Until the next time. When I'll be nervous all over again. But for now, you're looking at a content author.   

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Spreading the Sunshine

I'm gonna try something different this time around.  I'm going to review a movie, and a damned good one, if you ask me.  You didn't, but since you're reading this I'm gonna assume you take my opinion as gospel.  I'll try to live up to your faith in me. 
In 2007, Danny Boyle, director of brilliant movies like Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, tried his hand at sci fi with this little-seen and hopelessly-neglected movie titled Sunshine.  Admittedly it doesn't sound like great sci fi with a lame title like that, which might possibly explain why genre fans have never heard of it, much less seen it.  I think "Sunlight" would have been a better title but no one asked me.  Regardless, I'm about to lay some knowledge on you about this awesome and brilliant movie in the hopes you'll give it a go.  You won't be disappointed.

This is the opening voiceover from Cillian Murphy's character: "Our sun is dying. Mankind faces extinction. Seven years ago the Icarus Project sent a mission to restart the sun, but that mission was lost before it reached the star. Sixteen months ago, I, Robert Capa, and a crew of seven left earth frozen in a solar winter. Our payload, a stellar bomb with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island. Our purpose, to create a star within a star.  Eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb. My bomb. Welcome to the Icarus II."
It's written by Alex Garland, who has worked with Danny Boyle on the two movies mentioned above as well as The Beach and other worthy endeavors.  The story and screenplay are airtight.  I wish I had written this.  For an author, that's the highest compliment possible.  This is what I refer to as "smart sci fi."  By that I mean the situations and the technology in this movie are not the stuff of fantasy.  There's no warp drive or lightsabres to be found.  This could happen.  It's easy enough to believe mankind is even now capable of building a ship like the Icarus II.  Here's a look: 


The bulky and heavy spacesuits were based, in part, on Kenny from South Park!
The only real technological conceit the filmmakers made was the artificial gravity aboard the ship.  I can live with that.  It was certainly cheaper than attaching wires to every actor in every scene in order to simulate weightlessness.  That aside, and, I suppose, the stellar bomb itself, there is no technology presented in the movie that we either don't already have or we believe we can create.  To me this puts it in the same category as 2001 and, to a lesser extent, Alien.  That's right, I just compared this movie favorably to two of the best sci fi movies ever made.  It's that good.
The cast is awesome.  The captain of the Icarus II is Kaneda, played by Hiroyuki Sanada, known as "the Harrison Ford of Japan."  Fans of Lost will recognize him as Dogen, the leader of the Others at that strange temple on the island.  He kicks ass in this movie.

The rest of the crew is made up of great actors perfectly cast.  They are:

Troy Garity as first officer Harvey; Cillian Murphy as payload specialist Capa; Michelle Yeoh as Corazon; the gorgeous-beyond-words Rose Byrne as Cassie; Cliff Curtis as Dr. Searle; Benedict Wong as Trey; and Chris "Captain America" Evans as Mace.  Each and every character in this movie has a distinct personality and you believe they would have been chosen to carry out a mission as important as this one.  Kudos to the casting director.
As the Icarus II prepares to slingshot around Mercury (the planet, not the lead singer of Queen) they pick up an automatic distress signal from the Icarus I, lost seven years earlier.  The crew are split on whether or not to go to their aid but circumstances force them to do just that.  They locate their sister ship:

 and go to their rescue:

This is the part where I put in a giant SPOILER ALERT.  If you plan to see the movie you might want to stop reading here and skip to the end. 
The Icarus I is powerless although life support is functioning.  The interior of the ship is covered with dust.  The boarding party finds the crew in the observation room, burned to death.  A cryptic log entry made by the Icarus I's captain, Pinbacker (played to the hilt by perennial bad guy Mark Strong) indicates the crew abandoned their mission because they felt God intended for mankind to die and it was not their place to question His will.  And then the shit hits the fan.  An explosion separates the two ships, stranding Mace, Capa, Searle and Harvey aboard the derelict Icarus I

They come up with a daring plan to make it back aboard their ship.  The results are mixed, to say the least.  Once back aboard their own ship the survivors continue their mission.  But a lethal stowaway has other plans for them.  When Capa realizes there's someone on the ship with them he tracks their mystery guest to the observation room.  It doesn't go well.

The intruder finds a way to shut down the Icarus II.  Realizing the only way they can complete their mission and save mankind is to separate the payload and force it into the sun, Capa sets about doing just that, even though it will kill him and the rest of his crew.  It is a thrilling sequence.  See for yourself:

Capa flies between the Icarus II and the payload.

 The payload boosters fire, destroying the Icarus II's heatshield.

When Capa finally boards the payload, he sees this:

Trapped aboard a giant bomb falling into the sun and stalked by a psychotic religious nut, can Capa survive long enough to activate the stellar bomb?  What do you think?

This movie kicks one hundred different kinds of ass.  It is whip-smart, character-driven (after you get past the reason for them being out in space) and one hell of a great ride.  Seriously, you owe it to yourself to check this out.  I rate this movie 5/5 stars.  It's as good as is humanly possible.  Go see it and get back to me.  You'll be glad you did.
And before we end this review, one more shot of the beautiful Rose Byrne.

You're welcome.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Things You Shouldn't Say To An Author

Being a professional author is a pretty sweet gig and I won't claim otherwise.  Since the publication of my premiere novel, The Last Battleship, I seem to have entered into a hitherto unknown social paradigm wherein poeple, both those I know well and total strangers, fell free to hit me with some of the following statements/questions.  They range from the innocent-but-no-less-insulting to the truly bizarre.  While there are any number of things one can say to an author, they aren't on this list.  If your intent is to insult or anger the author, however, here's where you start.
1)  "I'd like to write a novel but I don't have the time."  This might be the most common statement I hear and it's a double-whammy insult.  First, it implies that anyone can write a novel; second, it also implies the author has nothing better do do with his/her time.  Both statements are equally untrue.  If I sound harsh or condescending, well, I don't mean it that way. 
The fact is writing a full-length novel is not easy.  If it was, everyone would do it.  To paraphrase another author, "You look at a blank computer screen and take the same twenty-six letters of the alphabet and combine them and recombine them tens of thousands of times until they make a coherent and publishable story that people actually want to read."  If that sounds easy you clearly have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. 
The second part of that statement is just as bad.  It makes the author sound like someone who leads a life empty of anything meaningful.  After all, if you check off the hours of the day doing nothing but writing, you must not have anything better to do.  I suppose if I didn't write novels I could work on that cure for cancer but I guess I'm just too lazy.  Hence the writing.
2)  "I have a great idea for a novel.  If I give it to you, can you write it and we'll share the byline?"  No.  The idea itself is no big deal.  It's the easiest part of writing a novel.  And it changes constantly during the writing process.  Of the three novels I've written, only the latest, Dark Annie, kept its original idea intact from start to finish.  Both The Last Battleship and Moon Dust experienced major plot changes during the writing process.  So the idea itself is less important than most people think.  Giving me the idea and then expecting me to do all the work so you can share a byline is not going to happen.  Ever.  With any author.  So don't ask.
3)  "I've written a novel.  Can you read it and critique it for me?"  Again, no.  It's sad to admit but the fact is people today are way too litigious.  Let's say you hand your manuscript to an author and they read it and the plot happens to be close to something they're working on.  When their work is published you think they stole your idea and you go apeshit.  There's a lawsuit, there are cries of plagiarism and outright thievery, the author's name is dragged through the mud in a very public way.  Sure, which author wouldn't want to subject themselves to all that?  Critique your own work or hire somebody to do it for you.  No author in their right mind would agree to do this.
4)  "My life story would make a great book." No, it wouldn't.  Why, because you suffered through some adversity?  Newsflash:  Everyone has gone through adversity in their life.  What makes yours so special?  Unless you lived through some major disaster and came through it in some extraordinary way, no one cares.  If you're a celebrity, someone will publish your memoirs, I suppose.  Professional athletes, war heroes, political leaders, someone will greenlight their books.  Yours?  Not likely.  This probably sounds a bit harsh but it's a fact.  If you don't believe me try to get an agent or publisher interested in your life story and see what happens.
5)  "Can I be a character in your novel?"  Sure.  I stick mostly to the horror genre and I'm always looking for names for the people who get bumped off.  Once you put this forward you'd better be prepared to accept how the author uses your character.  You can be the victim of a serial killer, or a very minor character that gets clipped to show the readers just how dangerous the situation is for the other, more important characters.  You can be painted in a very unfavorable light.  Or you can be the hero of the whole piece and save the day.  This is a very clear cut example of caveat emptor.  Keep that in mind if you ask this question of an author.

There are more, I'm sure, but these are the ones that get thrown my way the most often.  I never make it a point to call anyone on their bullshit when they say these things to me.  I know they're not being insulting intentionally.  Or maybe they are and I'm just too dense to realize it.  My usual response to this is to nod politely and smile and resist the urge to strangle them and hide the body. 

Or to write them into the next novel with a brutal death scene.