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?