Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mini movie review: The Maze Runner

Here's another post-apocalyptic dystopian YA novel-turned-movie for you, along the lines of The Hunger Games except there's no love triangle (no love interest at all - amazing!) and no one emerging with Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss charisma.  I don't know how much of that is due to the source material, however: THG books are so strong; I don't know anything about The Maze Runner series by James Dashner. Still, TMR is a decent little movie, even if it fizzles out towards the end.

Thomas (our hero) wakes up, retching and amnesiac, in a subterranean elevator as it rocks to the earth's surface.  Once above ground, he is met by a group of boys/young men who are trapped in a wooded glade surrounded by a shifting, murderous stone maze.  The boys have set up a nice little society in the three years they have been there: building living quarters, assigning jobs; following rules.  Thomas (who remembers his name but nothing else in a day or so) immediately starts questions things: who keeps sending boys to the surface once a month in that elevator?  Who were the boys before?  Where are they?  Who made the maze? And most importantly, how the hell do they get out of here?  Thomas earns a job as one of the titular maze runners: fast, brave and clever boys who go out into the Maze every day, memorizing its layout.  Within no time at all, Thomas has upset the status quo by surviving a night in the Maze, killing one of the giant, robotic/flesh spider monsters called greavers, and figuring out how to escape.  As expected, his actions shake up the fragile glade society.  But Thomas has sparked something in many of the other boys and they make a break for it.

None of the characters are all that deeply developed and the dialogue isn't anything to write home about.  But The Maze Runner is a passable entry into the genre, particularly since it isn't dragged down with the romance typically inserted in other YA science fiction.   The plot moves steadily forward; the named characters are distinguishable and relatable; the action, while depending overmuch on CGI (see above re: giant robot spider monsters), is decent, if a little confusing and dim sometimes.  My biggest issue is with the very ending where after keeping my attention for the run-time, the movie has no sort of resolution for its characters, instead going out on a "this story will be continued in the SEQUEL so no point in resolving anything NOW" note.  The Maze Runner did pique my interest enough to add the SEQUEL to my Netflix queue tho, so well-played, movie.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mini movie review: The Neverending Story

So ... that was not quite what I had hoped for or expected.  The Neverending Story is a classic (?) early 80s children's fantasy movie, based on the first half of the German YA novel of the same name by Michael Ende.  Ende was so disappointed with how the movie came out that he tried to get the name of it changed, so as not to continue to be associated with it, but it was too late and the rights had been locked down.  This rather makes me want to check out the book - in translation, of course, as my German is rusty nonexistent.

The Neverending Story is a framework piece, with the overarching story about young Bastian, a bullied boy, mourning the death of his mother, who obtains a fantasy book, The Neverending Story, which not only immediately captures his imagination but also draws him in, literally.  The story-within-the-story is a quest by young Atreau who must find a cure for the young Empress so that she can save their land of Fantasia from the Nothing, which is swallowing and obliterating it.  After travelling 10,000 miles with the help of some gnomes and Falcor the luckdragon, all to no avail in the end, Atreau and the Empress must call upon Bastian to help save them.

The creature effects are pretty rudimentary, especially when compared to similar films like The Dark Crystal.  But I liked the creatures - I love practical effects and am willing to forgive a lot.  But this movie is sooooooooooo sloooooooooow, even at only 90 minutes long.  The creatures talk slowly, there are pointless scenes and there are an awful lot of gazing off into the distance and/or moving through space with nothing happening shots.  Slow.  The other thing I struggled with was how bad the child actors were.  I can't really fault the Empress as she didn't get a lot to do.  But Atreau is pretty awful and any time he was called upon to express any kind of intense emotion, he shouted.  There was a lot of shouting.

I suspect that if I'd seen this movie as a little kid, I would have liked it a lot.  Seeing The Neverending Story as an adult, however, didn't do the movie any favors.  Next time I have a craving for early 80s fantasy with lots of creatures, I'm going for The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth or Time Bandits.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Allow me to pause for a moment here

Wow.  Once The Walking Dead ended, things really dropped off here, didn't they?  Part of the problem is that I was traveling for several days.  And although I have two books going right now - The Covenant by James Michener and The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie - I've read them both before.  I need to get to the library; I need to watch the DVD of The Neverending Story that Netflix sent me (can you believe I've never seen it?); I need to find something new to recap.  I need to finish off True Blood but that really seems like a summertime project - something about watching Alcide and Jason, with their shirts off, all sweaty ... I'm rather thinking I might try recapping Preacher when it comes up on AMC.  That's a few weeks away, however, so I'll try to consume some media worth sharing here before then.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Walking Dead S6E16 "Last Day on Earth" 4/3/16

First of all, let me admit that I was completely wrong about the guy in body armor being Negan.  Second of all, what an utter waste of ninety goddamn minutes.  Seriously.  This show is the worst.

Here's the B story, running throughout the ninety goddamn minutes and really only serving to break up the tension that is supposed to be building in the A storyline:  Morgan finds a saddled horse, then he finds Carol.  He patches her up as best he can (although she has a cut on her abdomen that needs stitches and antibiotics); they blandly argue about him taking her back to Alexandria because she's all, you were right and I can't kill anymore because feelings.  She scarpers off while he wastes time killing a zombie that wasn't going to hurt anybody.  That wounded Savior finds her, shoots her a couple of times (arm and leg) and then, when the Savior is about to finish her off, up rides Morgan on his horse.  Morgan warns the Savior and then shoots him about six times with the gun Rick insisted that he take.  Because, Carol, you see that anyone can kill when they really need to.  Then, two guys in body armor (another online reviewer thought they looked like street hockey players, which LOL) show up, one on horseback and the other on foot.  Morgan says to the pedestrian one, "I found your horse.  Found my friend too.  She needs help."  The street hockey players say, "Then let's get you some help" and the pedestrian one holds out his hand for Morgan to shake.  I'm assuming that the street hockey players are going to be allies in whatever battle against the Saviors there is in S7.

Here's the A story:  Maggie is really pretty sick so in a BRILLIANT move, everyone who is a first-tier character not already captured by the Saviors, plus a couple second- and third-tier characters as well, jump onto the RV to take Maggie to the Hilltop doctor.  No, really: Rick, Carl, Abraham, Sasha, Maggie (of course), Eugene and Aaron (remember him?).  That leaves Father Gabriel in charge of defending Alexandria.  No, really.  As they start off, Rick is confident and encouraging, saying that their group is strong and mighty and can do anything that needs to be done.  Woohoo, go team!

Then begins this series of encounters with the Saviors, who have inexplicably become extremely confident, tactical and stealthy, despite all prior events to the contrary, where no matter what road Rick et als. drive down, they are stopped by a Savior blockade:  first just a bunch of guys with a beaten prisoner, parking their trucks across the road; then a bunch more guys with their trucks parked across the road; then a string of zombies, several of which have been festooned recognizably with some of Rick's captured peoples' belongings (like a couple of Michonne's dredlocks and Daryl's leather jacket), chained across the road; then really a lot of guys with their trucks parked across the road (surely at least one of these could have been edited out); then a massive pile of burning logs. 

Each time our heroes are turned back, Rick's confidence fades further and he begins to doubt the wisdom of this venture.  Never mind that this is rather implausible since the timing and set-up of each roadblock would have been daunting at best, even if there are hundreds of well-organized and efficient Saviors, which we have been given no reason to believe there are.  Until now. With the RV running low on fuel and night about to fall, the gang realizes that as the crow flies, they aren't that far from Hilltop.  Eugene devises a plan whereby he will drive the RV off as a decoy while the rest of them haul Maggie (on a stretcher) by foot through the woods.  Eugene gives Rick his recipe for making bullets and Rick sincerely thanks him for it; Eugene and Abraham have themselves a moment and a big hug, saying goodbye.  Eugene drives off.

The rest of them make their way through the woods, Carl strutting and being all, you're right, Dad, we can do anything!  And then the woods erupts around them with eerie birdcalls.  It's the Saviors, and they herd our heroes into a clearing.  There are many, many, many Saviors there, all heavily armed.  Eugene is there too, bloodied and on his knees, the RV parked at the far end of the clearing.  Rick and his group are forced to their knees and then Dwight comes up, depositing Rosita, Michonne, Glen and Daryl (Daryl!) in a line with the rest of them.  Carl and Michonne are the only ones showing the slightest bit of bravado - everyone else looks terrified.

And then, the moment everyone has been waiting for all season, ever since the comics fans told the non-comics fans about him:  Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan.  For the record, Negan emerges from the RV, barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat "Lucille" nonchalantly over his shoulder, with ten minutes left in the episode.  And then he commences to do nothing but speechify for approximately nine minutes and 50 seconds.  JDM has considerable charisma but holy fuck, this is just boring.  He goes on and on and on and on.  He doesn't stop.  We know - from the comics - that this is the point where Negan beats one of our beloved characters to death with Lucille, just to show Rick et als. just what the hell he's up against.  But it's just talking ... interspersed with shots of Rick becoming more and more unhinged, sweating, shaking, nearly drooling with fear.

Finally, Negan stops talking and picks someone to beat to death.  And the camera switches to first person POV, where we the audience are in the shoes of his victim, and we watch Lucille descend.  There's a splash of blood and a cut to black, and horrible squishy noises.  And that's it.

Seriously, show?  First we get a bait-and-switch with Glen's "death," then last week we get a Daryl-gets-shot fakeout, and now this?  Three bullshit tricks in one season?  You stretch approximately twenty minutes of plot into a bloated 90-minute episode, ostensibly to build tension towards the big Negan reveal and confrontation (never mind that said tension was completely dispersed every time you cut away to Morgan and Carol's boring story (never mind that you've taken two of  the best characters and given them a boring story)), and then you don't even show it?  Fans have been steeling themselves for the loss of a major character as a heart-rending way to end the season and talk about ad nauseum until S7 ... and we get this?  Not cool, TWD, not cool at all.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Walking Dead S6E15 "East" 3/27/16

The cold open gives us an Impressionistic view of a roadside showdown in which Carol ran into trouble.  We know it was Carol because of the rosary sitting in a puddle of blood.  We don't know what happened or who survived.  Backing up a little, the next scene shows Carol packing up food and gear in anticipation of her departure from Alexandria.  Tobin comes in and it's literally blah-blah-blah as the sound fades out during his talking to her, showing her displacement.  Later that night, she slips from their bed, grabs her pack and leaves.

Here's what I'm not recapping: Rick and Michonne snuggling together in bed because ick.  Except that they both seem happy and they both are all, we're not losing this.  So of course they will.

Things get a little confusing for a bit because Daryl hops on his motorcycle and leaves, apparently to revenge Denise's murder, around the same time that it's discovered that Carol is gone.  Glen, Michonne and Rosita take off after Daryl and Rick and Morgan take off after Carol.  Because when two of your best fighters leave, it's a REALLY good idea for five of your other best fighters to leave too.  People are making extremely bad decisions here and, quite frankly, not acting the way they should be acting, given what we know about these people.

Carol drives down a stretch of road in one of the cars that had been placed outside Alexandria's gates (it's covered in spikes as an anti-zombie precaution).  She comes up to a pickup truck carrying five men, well-armed with guns and spears.  They shoot out her tires and the stand-off begins.  They know she's from Alexandria.  She figures that they are Saviors.  They are menacing and Carol starts to shake and tremble, on the verge of another panic attack.  She begs them not to let this devolve into violence - no one needs to die today - but the men sense weakness and move towards her, menacing.  And then she shoots them all with the semi-automatic she has hidden inside the sleeve of her oversized barn coat.  She doesn't get them all, however, and the driver lunges out of the truck, shooting back at her.  She hides behind her car and when he gets close enough, impales him on one of the spikes.  Then she takes his gun and goes to check on the others.  One man is hiding and when she gets closer, he lunges at her with a knife.  Their struggle is offscreen and there's a gunshot.

Back in Alexandria, Maggie looks tired but she is working on getting the town prepped for when the Saviors attack.  She hides guns and other stuff.  Enid tells her to sit and rest, "put your feet up and eat some pickles," and she'll take Maggie's guard shift on the wall.

Rick and Morgan drive and talk, looking for Carol.  Blah blah blah.

Back at the aftermath of the roadside massacre, the passenger in the truck is still alive, although shot in the shoulder.  He gets out to survey the damage.  The man who attacked Carol with the gun is lying on the road, bleeding from a massive stomach wound.  The passenger tells him to shush and then walks off.  In the distance, on the road, there's a figure but it's too far away to tell whether it's Carol or just some wandering zombie.

Rick and Morgan get to the roadside massacre.  When that gutshot man can't tell them anything useful, Rick just puts his knife through his skull.  They put down a zombie who is feeding on the man Carol impaled.  Rick shakes his head, admiringly.  "I'm proud of her.  She took four of them down.  That woman, she's a force of nature."  Morgan just looks weary at all the humans killing other humans.  Bless his heart but he sure does seem naive to think that this world is going to get any better.  He and Rick find a trail leading off through the fields.  There's some blood and they decide to follow it, just in case it's a wounded Carol.  Or a zombie Carol who needs to be put down.  Rick notes that these dead Saviors are awfully close to Alexandria: "We didn't end it."  No, notes Morgan, "we started something."  Unbeknownst to them, the shoulder-shot passenger comes out of his hiding place and follows them.

In the other storyline, Glen, Michonne and Rosita have gone back to the train tracks where Denise died.  They find Daryl's motorcycle, hidden in the underbrush.  Rosita thinks that maybe they should just let him do what they want but Glen's not having any of it, saying that Daryl's going to get himself killed.  They catch up with him after a while.  He's furious, with himself: for not having killed Dwight out in the burned forest.  Glen pleads with him to return to Alexandria so they can figure things out. "It's gonna go wrong out here."  Michonne also asks him to go back but Daryl can't/won't.  He continues off along into the woods, Rosita trailing after him.  Glen and Michonne don't follow, but decide to head back, regroup.  But instead of moving swiftly and with purpose, they stop in a clearing for a heart-to-heart and before long, they are captured by Dwight and a group of Saviors.  Why has everyone decided to not use their brains today?

Rick and Morgan find a female zombie who looks a little like Carol.  It's isn't her though and they put it down without incident.  They continue on through pastureland to a barn.  There's a small swarm of zombies there, and a man who seems to be fighting them.  He hides from Rick and Morgan, though, telling them that he's just out here looking for his horse, but there's a bunch of walkers.  While Rick and Morgan tangle with the zombies, the man runs off.  It kind of looks like he's wearing body armor.  Rick takes a shot at the man but Morgan gives him a shove and the bullet goes wide.  It is my completely unfounded opinion that this is Negan and he has drawn the walkers here as an impediment to Rick and Morgan.  Morgan's all, you didn't know who he was.  Rick: I don't take chances anymore.  Except that he's out here, looking for a woman who doesn't want to be found.  Then Morgan tells Rick the story about how he saved that Wolf and the whole Carol/Denise/Wolf thing.  "All life is precious ... [because I saved him, he saved Denise and then Denise] was there to save Carl.  It's all a circle.  Everything gets a return."  He tells Rick to take the car and go home where he is needed.  He says that he will keep looking for Carol and he will find her.  Rick: "You're coming back."  A statement, not a question.  Morgan: "Yeah.  But if I don't, don't come lookin'."  He turns to go but first, Rick insists that he take a pistol.  Morgan doesn't want to but he does.

When Rick gets back to Alexandria, he is a little concerned that Michonne, Glen, Rosita and Daryl are still out there.  Nothing to panic about yet.  Enid goes to check on Maggie and Maggie asks her to give her a haircut.  She wants it short because she's got a lot to do and doesn't want anything getting in her way.  Of course, right after she says that, she screams and drops to the floor, clutching her belly in pain.

Meanwhile, Glen and Michonne are bound and gagged at the Saviors' campfire.  Daryl and Rosita sneak up, intending to save them.  Glen spots them and struggles, trying to wave them off.  That's because Dwight and another couple of Saviors are sneaking up behind them.  "Hi, Daryl," says Dwight, as Rosita puts her hands up.  As Daryl turns to face him, Dwight shoots him (from the way the gun was pointing, it looks like he shot Daryl in the shoulder and not the head, which is why I am not FREAKING OUT right now) and the screen goes black.  Then Dwight says, "You'll be all right."

This fucking show.  Does EVERYONE have to make really stupid decisions all at once?  Carol: whose character has been painstakingly built over five seasons to make her into a total "force of nature" has completely flipflopped from out of nowhere, with no warning.  All the best fighters rush off half-cocked, with no plan - what if Carol didn't want to come back, Rick and Morgan? what then? - leaving Alexandria to be defended only by Abraham, Maggie, Sasha and Carl.  Glen and Michonne: yes, let's stand here in the middle of an unfamiliar forest and just TALK, instead of hightailing it back to the car.  I know I'm echoing other reviewers when I say that with these last couple of episodes, it really seemed like the characters were doing things just because the show's writers wanted them to, and not acting from a place of character.  Everything is being moved into place for next Sunday's season finale - in which we'll finally get to meet Negan, and it'll all be horrible.  I shall have to start steeling myself now in order to get through 90 minutes of this mess.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Walking Dead S6E14 "Twice as Far" 3/20/16

Life goes on as usual in Alexandria: whatshername checks the food pantry; people take turns on their guard watches; Morgan practices his moves and builds a solid cell ("It'll give you some choices next time," he tells a skeptical Rick); Carol sits on her porch and smokes, running through the rosary she picked up in the last episode.  We learn that Rosita has hooked up with Spencer.  And Darryl works on his recovered motorcycle.  Carol stops by to see him, sharing her cigarettes.  They talk a little about how he lost the 'cycle - to the people in the burned forest after he saved them.  She says she's sorry but that's how he is and we're all stuck with that.  Darryl grunts: "No, we ain't.  Shoulda killed 'em."  He asks her what the Saviors did to her and Maggie.  Carol, who is soul-searching after her latest bout of killing 'em, says: "To us?  They didn't do anything."

Dr. Denise watches as Abraham and Eugene head out, ostensibly on a scouting mission.  She consults a map and then finds Darryl and Rosita: she knows where there is an apothecary nearby and thinks they might be able to scavenge some usable drugs from there.  The catch?  She wants to go with them.  Both Darryl and Rosita think this is a VERY BAD idea but they don't really have anything else to do and she convinces them to take her with them.

En route, Denise tries to give Darryl some pointers about driving a stick-shift beater truck since he's grinding the gears like crazy; she grew up driving trucks like that, her brother taught her.  [I call shenanigans:  there is NO WAY Darryl doesn't know how to drive a standard.]  When they come to a downed tree, they get out and walk.  Rosita suggested going along the train tracks - as it is twice as far by the road - but Darryl's all, no way, I ain't takin' no tracks (perhaps remembering the good old Terminus days).  He walks off down the road, Denise trailing behind; Rosita rolls her eyes and stomps off down the tracks.

Meanwhile, somewhere else, Abraham and Eugene have made their way to an industrial area.  Eugene has designs on a smelter, thinking that they should start making their own bullets, seeing how ammunition is very important and a finite commodity - Abraham is quite impressed with this thinking.  But Eugene also insists that he's "changed, adapted, become a survivor."  Abraham rolls his eyes a bit and when a lone zombie staggers out of a back room, moves to put it down.  Eugene insists that he can do it himself and Abraham lets him, wary.  When Eugene doesn't seem to be able to get the job done, Abraham steps in.  Eugene is furious, telling the larger man that he doesn't need him any longer, and Abraham get frustrated and takes off, leaving Eugene to find his way home alone.

Rosita rejoins Darryl and Denise without incident, and they make their way into the apothecary.  The outside windows are covered with gory handprints but inside, there's nothing but a bad smell.  As Darryl and Rosita load up their packs with every bottle on the shelves, Denise decides to explore, particularly since she hears a thudding coming from a storeroom.  I will confess to being a little nervous at this point since Denise is the obvious one to get wounded and/or killed, and it's dark and I was sure that something was going to jump out and fasten its teeth on her.  But instead she just finds one broken down, emaciated zombie with a cast on its skeletal foot.  Above this zombie, written on the wall: HUSH   HUSH   HUSH  HUSH   HUSH.  And in the sink, submerged in disgusting, murky water, is a toddler's sneaker ... on a toddler's foot, connected to, one presumes, the remains of a toddler.  Denise gasps and runs out of the shop as Darryl and Rosita look on, all WTF?  After they're done packing up the medicines, they find her outside, huddled against the wall.  It's a little more horrible outside the Alexandrian walls than she had hoped.  But Darryl tells her that she did good, finding this place, and they head for home.

When they get to the railroad tracks, Darryl walks down them, saying, "This way's faster, right?" and Rosita and Denise grin at each other.  They pass some cars as they walk and Denise can't help but check them out, looking for stuff to scavenge.  She finds a car with a cooler - and a zombie - in it.  Both Darryl and Rosita are all, never mind about that, but Denise is not to be put off.  They don't see her open the car door and pull out the cooler, the zombie tumbling out afterwards.  Denise struggles with the zombie and the other two hear that, and come running.  But she waves them off - like Eugene tried to wave off Abraham - and manages to stick her knife into the zombie's head.  Then she throws up.  But there was a six pack of soda in the cooler, so she seems to think it was worth it.  Darryl and Rosita are pretty pissed at her but she had a point to make.  She has been scared and sheltered and she needed to be brave, to get outside the walls and prove herself.  She was too afraid to tell Tara she loved her and that was stupid and she wishes that ... and right in the middle of her impassioned rant, she gets a motherfucking arrow through the back of her head, through her eye.

It's a group of Saviors, led by Dwight - the guy from the burned forest who stole Darryl's crossbow and motorcycle (so now we know how the motorcycle ended up at the Savior compound) - who still has the crossbow.  He's the one who just shot Denise.  They also have Eugene, hands tied and on his knees.  There's some speechifying by Dwight and both he and Darryl are all, I should have killed you, to each other.  Eugene spies Abraham hiding behind some oil barrels at the side of the tracks and helps escalate things by saying if the Saviors want to shoot somebody, they could start with the "first class a-hole who deserves it so much more than us three."  Heh.  Things erupt pretty quickly at this point: everyone shooting at everyone else and, awesomely, Eugene lunges forward, fastening onto Dwight's crotch WITH HIS TEETH.  Dwight screams and screams [I'm also going to call shenanigans here too: Eugene would have to have awfully strong jaws to successfully bite through jeans enough to hurt].  Dwight finally breaks away and he and his remaining Saviors take off through the woods.  Darryl snatches up his crossbox - REUNITED AT LAST - but Rosita calls him off.  Eugene has been shot and she and the other two men pick him up and carry him off.

Back in Alexandria, Eugene is okay.  The bullet just grazed him and the antibiotics that they got from the apothecary Denise found have saved him from infection.  He and Abraham make up:  "I apologize for doubting your skills.  You know how to bite a dick, Eugene, and I mean that with the utmost respect."  Some time later, Darryl buries Denise in the town's graveyard.  [I may have moaned a little, seeing his bare arms.]  Carol finds him there:  "You were right.  I knew it when you said it." I think she means that she now agrees that he should have killed Dwight in the burned forest.

And then we get a Carol voice-over, as Tobin reads the note she left over a similar montage of daily life to what opened the episode.  Basically, Carol has come around to Morgan's way of thinking.  She doesn't want to kill people anymore.  But instead of staying in Alexandria and building a life there, she has decided that she doesn't want to be involved in having to defend the town because it would mean fighting other humans:  "I love you all here.  I do.  And I'd have to kill for you.  I can't.  I won't."  Instead, she's leaving, going out on her own, and asks that no one come after.  "I can't love anyone because I can't kill for anyone.  So I'm going, like I always should have."  Which is total crap because out there, on her own, she's most likely going to have to fight and kill other people to survive.  I call shenanigans, writers.

Seriously - WTF are they doing with Carol's character?  I guess I'm okay with her questioning herself but this running away is crap.  I'm guessing she's going to get caught up by the Saviors and come into play when we finally have to deal with Negan, so this is all just a plot device, not actually being true to the character.  Stupid show.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Friday, March 18, 2016

Mini movie review: Never Let Me Go

Adapted from the Kazuo Ishiguro novel of the same name, Never Let Me Go is a sadly quiet science fiction movie with ruminations about genetic engineering and the meaning of life.  And there's a love triangle.  Although the novel apparently holds onto its secrets for much longer (and I've just requested the book from the library to see how it compares to the movie), the movie does not SO SPOILERS AHEAD EVEN THOUGH THE MOVIE COMES RIGHT OUT WITH IT: we open with title cards telling us that in the late 1950s, a scientific breakthrough meant that most diseases that were previously unsurvivable were now curable and that by the mid-1960s, human life expectancy was in the 100s.  This progress comes at a price and we are first introduced to Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightly) when they are pre-teens in 1978, at an English boarding school, Hailsham.  These children have no parents: they are human clones, formed in a lab to provide clean and healthy organs for sick, natural humans.  From their childhood, they are kept safe and sheltered and are told what an honor it is to be Donors.  The film follows Kathy, Ruth and Tommy to 1985, when they move to a group home, meet other Donors from other places and learn a little about the world before their required donations begin when they are in their mid-20s.

Never Let Me Go is calm and measured, much like these Donors' lives, and chooses to focus on the relationships among the three main characters, their hopes and dreams, and just touches on the moral issues surrounding their lives (are these cloned Donors humans? is it right to give these young people life, only to take it away from them?).  One of the saddest scenes, I thought, takes place when Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are still little, living at Hailsham.  The students collect tokens and every so often, a delivery van will bring boxes of treats and toys for them to purchase with their tokens.  A small group of students waits eagerly at the door, asking the deliverymen if it is "a bumper crop" this time.  The men say, yes, it is, but when the contents of the boxes are spilled out onto the tables, it's nothing but old dolls, broken toys, decks of dog-eared playing cards and other castoff bits of rubbish that the real people have donated.  The little donor children don't know that this is rubbish and it is heartbreaking to see how happy they are to have new things to play with.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Walking dead S6E13 "The Same Boat" 3/13/16

It's a slow burn of an episode here, focusing on Carol and Maggie, with a lot of talking, until it all kicks into gear at the very end.  Let's get down to it.

As the klaxon sounds in the distance, Maggie wants to go help Rick et als. and Carol is all, no, you're staying here.  A man ("Donny") comes out of the woods and Carol shoots him in the upper arm.  Before Maggie can put him down, three women also come out of the woods, guns drawn, capturing Carol and Maggie.  The redhead (played by Alicia Witt), Paula, is the leader; it is she who speaks to Rick over the walkie.  They tourniquet Donny's arm and speak with Rick, trying to broker a trade.  The Saviors would like to get back the man Rick has captured ("Primo") because he's got some medical training, but Rick's group outnumbers theirs more than two to one.  Paula tells Rick she'll think about his deal and get back to him.  Then the Saviors hood Carol and Maggie and march them off through the woods.

After quite a bit of walking and some driving, they arrive at a Savior "safe house."  It's not clear what this place is - an old slaughterhouse, maybe - but there are a few zombies lurching around that need to be cleared out.  Paula gags Carol and Maggie and tapes up their hands and feet.  As she drags out a now-dead zombie, a rosary falls out of its pocket; Carol snatches it up.  When the Saviors go to kill off the zombies, Maggie immediately starts trying to get her hands loose.  Carol, however, looks like she's about to freak out instead.  The Saviors return and Carol starts hyperventilating.  Maggie stares at her, all WTF is going on with you.  She can't tell - I can't tell - if Carol is faking or if the panic attack is for real.  Finally Paula takes the gags out of Maggie and Carol's mouths.  Carol calms down a bit, but she's a mess.  Young Savior Woman: "Look at you.  Bitch, how did you make it this far?"  Old Savior woman ("Molly"):  "Honey, you need to take some yoga breaths and calm down."  There's a lot of talking about fear and dying and the apocalypse and Carol is all meek and scared, asking the Saviors just not to hurt Maggie or the baby.  Then there's a lot of talking about WTF Maggie was thinking, getting pregnant at a time like this.

Paula talks to a Savior scout crew, telling them to come to the safe house to pick them up.  They should get there in about thirty minutes.  Maggie observes Donny, saying that he may not have thirty minutes as the tourniquet on his arm is killing the nerves.  He staggers to his feet and starts ranting about Carol having shot him.  He wants to kill Carol and Maggie or at least shoot them a little and when Paula refuses, he hits her.  Maggie strikes out at him, despite being bound, and after he knocks her away, he kicks Carol for a bit.  She doesn't fight back at all.  Then Paula stands up and clocks him on the head with her gun, dropping him.  She tells Young Savior Woman to take Maggie out and question her, which she does, completely ineffectually, giving more information to Maggie than she gets from her.  In the other room, there's quite a bit more talking as Paula scoffs at the rosary Carol is clutching.  "Faith got me through the death of my daughter," says Carol (really? I don't at all remember that - is this a put on?).  Paula tells her captive about her zombie apocalypse backstory: she was a secretary, stuck at work in D.C. when the shit went down; she never got home to see her husband or her four daughters (really?  four?  she looks young to have had four kids if she isn't a Mormon); she started killing people in addition to the walkers and she stopped counting when she got to double digits.  Yeah, yeah, you're a tough guy.  Like no one else has gone through anything like that in this world.  Carol watches her closely, however.  There's more talking and Carol even cries a little.  If she's faking, she's selling it awfully well.

Rick comes over the walkie again, saying he's ready to make a trade.  Paula tells him about a field and they arrange to meet up and trade captives.  When she hangs up the walkie, however, she points out that there hadn't been any static on the transmission so that means Rick and his group are close, have crept up and are getting ready to take them out.  She calls the scout Saviors: they're ten minutes out.  Paula and Molly go to collect Young Savior Woman and get ready for what's next.  As soon as they're gone, Carol sharpens the crucifix on the rosary, using it to cut through the tape on her hands and ankles.  She finds Maggie and cuts her loose.  Carol wants to sneak out but Maggie is all, we can't leave them alive - we have to finish this.  They go back to the room where Donny is and find him dead, bled out or dead from the blow to the head Paula gave him.  Maggie takes his gun and then, noticing that he's about to turn, ties him up.  Carol is all but useless; Maggie is the one in charge.  Molly comes back for Carol, gets bitten by the now-zombie Donny and then Maggie kills her brutally, coming up behind her, stabbing her in the stomach and then beating her head in.  A little while later, Paula comes in, sees the mess and gets her game face on.

Carol and Maggie walk down the hall and find a bunch of zombies, still alive but impaled on metal poles, cluttering the hallway.  They're a trap to keep Carol and Maggie in and to keep Rick and his group out.  Our women start to make their way through, killing zombies as they go until Paula shows up.  Carol points her gun at the Savior but tells her to just run away.  Maggie, aghast: "Carol! Shoot her!"  Paula is all, "You are such bitches! You killed Donny, you killed Molly, you killed all my people and ruined my home."  Carol: "Paula, run away."  Maggie: WTF, Carol, shoot her!  A zombie breaks loose and Carol and Paula tangle with it.  Young Savior Woman hears the gun shots and Maggie closes with her.  Carol comes up but doesn't get involved until YSW almost guts Maggie and then she shoots YSW in the head.  Paula watches and is all, you tricked me.  "If you could do all this, what were you so afraid of, Carol?"  Carol: "I was afraid of this."  And then she and Paula fight, until Paula gets impaled on one of the pieces of rebar, snug up against a living zombie.  The zombie takes a chunk out of her face and, as Paula screams and screams, it buries its jaws in her neck.  In the midst of all the screaming and eating, the walkie goes off: it's the Savior scout team, wondering where Paula wants them.  Carol picks up the walkie, hesitates just a bit and then tells the scout team that they'll meet them on the "kill floor."

As Carol and Maggie wait for the scout team, Carol goes over some of what has been bothering her.  She tells Maggie that she's killed eighteen or twenty people, but she should have killed Donny out there in the woods - that none of this would have happened if she had just done that.  Maggie: Don't think about it, we're almost done.  The scout team shows up, goes into the kill floor.  Carol lights a cigarette and, as she and Maggie slam shut the door to the kill floor, she tosses the lit cigarette inside the room, where it ignites the gasoline they have poured out.  They stand there a moment as the men inside scream, burning to death.  Then they walk out, through the gauntlet of impaled zombies, killing them as they go.  Maggie stomps on a couple of heads.  They get to the exterior door and pull it open, just as Rick et als. arrive.  For a moment, everyone points guns at each other until they realize who it is.  Carol staggers a little and Daryl goes to her, asking "Did you start a fire? Are you good?"  She answers yes and then no, and he pulls her into a hug.  Glen embraces Maggie who also says she isn't okay either: "I can't anymore."

Rick turns to Primo, asking about Negan.  Primo turns to him and gives a sassy answer.  But Rick is not having any of that and just shoots him in the head.  Carol watches, a little stunned looking, and clutches her rosary so hard that the crucifix digs into her hand.  Blood drips to the floor.

So Carol sees herself in Paula: a ruthless killer who has lost her humanity in the wake of all she has had to do to survive.  In the few calm weeks at Alexandria, Carol has allowed herself to relax, to let go of the killing instincts that had sustained her for so long.  When she went out on the Saviors raid, Carol was conflicted, having enjoyed not being a killer in the interim.  And when she and Maggie were captured, I think some of the trembling and fear was real - despite how much I hoping that it was ALL an act - some of her old self creeping back in around the edges.  When it came down to it, Carol was once again able to tap into her bad-assery, but her toughness is fraying.  It's understandable that the character would feel conflicted, and it's wonderful for Melissa McBride to have been given so much to play with - but Carol the bad ass is a much better, more interesting character than early-season Carol.  Sending the character backwards after the painstaking, seasons-long development that brought her from mouse to lion would be a mistake.  Heed my words, TWD writers.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Mini book review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

In Depression Era Chicago, a not very nice man named Harper Curtis stumbles into a derelict-seeming house.  The House (for it is a House, not just a house) is different on the inside: in a room upstairs, there are trophies taken from women that Harper will kill.  The House has a listing of these "shining girls," and whenever Harper opens the front door, the House delivers him to a different time between 1929 and 1993 so he can locate these girls and snuff out their light.  Although he starts awkwardly, he quickly becomes quite good at these vicious, seemingly untraceable murders as he bounces back and forth through time.  But in 1989, Kirby Mizrachi manages to escape Harper's knife, despite her belly and throat being slashed.  And because she manages to escape, she systematically begins to track down her would-be murderer.

Time travel stories are always tough but despite a couple of passages that I had to read and re-read to figure out who was sticking what knife into whom, The Shining Girls is pretty successful.  It's very violent - the descriptions of Harper's attacks are detailed and extremely bloody - but also very convincing.  The amount of research Lauren Beukes did to create the Chicagos of the various times must have been staggering.  The characters, including all of the victims, are fleshed out and real, interesting, sympathetic; the only one who gets short shrift is Harper but he's such a horrible person that I really didn't want to get to know him better.  I recently had a rare rainy Sunday when I didn't have to do anything, so I sat down and read The Shining Girls all in one go.  If that's not a recommendation for a book, I don't know what is.

PS - I have also read Beukes's Broken Monsters and liked that too, but it's a weirder book and didn't connect with me quite so well.  Don't know why I didn't review that here.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Walking Dead S6E12 "Not Tomorrow Yet" 3/6/16

This is what we learn about Carol: even though she has become a stone-cold killer, a badass who does what has to be done, when she has enough time to relax, she's still a mom who likes to wear cardigans and make cookies for everyone.  In this case, it's acorn and beet cookies (the acorns gathered outside Alexandria's walls; and she brought her machete so she could decapitate zombies when necessary) because of the food shortages.  But still.  She likes to take care of people without having to shoot.

Rick et als return in the RV with enough food to last them a month.  Rick tells Sasha to spread the word: everyone meet in the church in an hour to talk.  Carol wants to know what's going on.  He tells her, "We're going to have to fight."  Before the meeting, Morgan finds Carol, asking her why she - and Rosita, Eugene and Tara - didn't tell anyone about what happened with that Wolf he wouldn't kill.  He tells her that she doesn't have to carry that alone but she brushes him off, saying that they just need to forget it and move on.  This conversation?  Takes place in the small Alexandria graveyard.  Carol leaves the last cookie on Sam's grave.  (Because she has guilty feelings about her treatment of Sam, obvs.)

At the meeting in the church, Rick lays it out for everyone: the deal they made with Hilltop to take out Negan's Saviors.  He says that sooner or later, the Saviors will find Alexandria and, low on food, the Alexandrians might not prevail.  But if they go after the Saviors first, they'll have the upper hand.  He says that it needs to be a group decision and asks for dissenting opinions.  Morgan stands up and says they should approach the other group first, give them an opportunity to coexist peaceably.  Rick disagrees, saying that will give away their advantage.  He asks if anyone else agrees with Morgan.  No one does.  "It looks like it's settled ... We don't shy from this, we live.  We kill them all." Rick adds that not everyone in Alexandria will be expected to kill, but everyone will have to accept it.  Morgan sits down, sad-faced.

That night, Carol can't sleep.  She gets a notebook out of the bedside table: in it, she's been keeping track of the people she has killed.  Her death count is up to 18 now.  Later, she goes walking and finds Tobin (one of the Alexandrian guys) up too, sitting on his porch.  They talk about tomorrow.  He likes her.  He tells her that she is able to do things that just terrify him but the reason she is able to do them is because she's a mom, then and now.  Then, for the hell of it, she leans in and he kisses her.  Nice! Carol getting some before heading off to battle!  (Seems a little out of character but Melissa McBride sells it with a "oh, what the hell" look on her face.)

In other parts of town:  Maggie tells Glen that she's going on the raid because it was she who brokered the deal (which is BULLSHIT because she is pregnant and should be thinking about that); Abraham leaves Rosita by telling her that when they met, he thought she was the last woman on earth, but now he knows she's not (which is a BULLSHIT way to break up with her and mean and terribly bad timing); Tara is nervous about going and tells Denise that she loves her but Denise won't say it back, instead saying that she'll say it when Tara gets back from the two-week supply run she's going on with Heath directly after the raid (which is kind of bullshit and I don't understand why Denise does this) (also, is the actress who plays Tara pregnant? because she looks like she's gained weight and they're dressing her in sweatshirts and placing her behind dish racks).   Also, Eddie, the non-Jesus Hilltop guy, draws maps of the Saviors' compound, telling Rick, Daryl, Glen, Michonne and Maggie as much as he can about the compound.  His information is pretty vague - he only went there to deliver food - but our gang seems confident they can figure it out.  And the way they're going to get in without busting down the front door?  Rick: "They're going to let us in.  They want Gregory's head and we're gonna give it to them."

The next day, the raiding party drives out a ways and parks on the road, honking their horns.  They all pile out of the cars and start combing the woods for zombies: they're looking for ones who look kind of like Gregory, of course, because they need a head.  Rosita, still smarting from Abraham's abandonment, bitches to Carol about Morgan being such a pussy.  Carol is feeling understanding - he doesn't want to kill - and when she can't get a rise out of the older woman, Rosita gives up, pouting a bit.  Glen and Heath search together and Heath asks Glen if he's nervous, especially since they'll be killing people instead of zombies.  Glen's like, yeah, it's going to be basically the worst thing ever and yeah, he's nervous.  When everyone regroups, Rick goes over the plan (Carol is mad that Maggie is even out there with them and says that she's going to stay out on the perimeter with her; Rick wishes she would come inside but doesn't press the issue) and examines the potential heads.  One of them is close but the nose is not quite right, according to the Hilltoppers.  Rick picks up the head and punches it in the nose a few times.  Eddie stares at Rick, who's all, what?  Eddie:  "The Saviors, they're scary, but those pricks got nothin' on you."  Rick: *...*

At midnight, our gang makes their move.  Eddie drives up with the purported Gregory-head and after a couple of tense moments, the two Saviors on guard buy it, bringing out the Hilltopper they've had captive.  As soon as that captive is handed over, the two guards are promptly killed by Michonne and Daryl.  Their bodies are dragged into the tall weeds and then the show totally morphs into an action flick.  Our gang infiltrates the compound, silently, opening doors, looking for the armory.  It gets VERY tense, especially when first Rick, then Glen find sleeping Saviors and run their knives into the sleeping men's heads.  It doesn't matter that these Saviors are obviously horrible people - one has Polaroids of bodies with bashed-in heads tacked to the wall over his bed - our people are murdering other humans while they sleep.  It's grim and feels like there's a line being crossed.  Glen struggles with it but does it (including killing one that Heath is supposed to do, so Heath doesn't have to); Rick pauses for a moment before his first but seems to deal with it more easily than Glen.

You know it can't go entirely smoothly, however, and as Sasha and Abraham are trying to open a locked door, a Savior finds them.  They try to kill him quietly but he is able to pull an alarm and soon the whole compound is awake.  Lots and lots of gunfire.  Lots and lots.  When the alarm sounds, Tara, Gabriel, Jesus and Eddie (plus the rescued captive) hear it.  Tara sends Eddie and the captive back to Hilltop, thinking that if he is returned, then Hilltop will have to keep their end of the bargain with Alexandria, not matter what the outcome here at the compound.  She, Gabriel and Jesus pick off Saviors coming out the front door, then Jesus slips inside.  Out on the perimeter, Maggie and Carol also hear the alarm.  Maggie wants to go help but Carol is like, goddamn it, Maggie, you're going to be a mother and you are staying here!

Inside the compound, it is a madhouse.  SO MUCH SHOOTING.  Amazingly, none of our gang gets hurt badly, much less killed.  As the sun comes up, they make their way outside, dully congratulating themselves on the victory.  Tara and Heath - who can't meet Glen's eyes - take off on their supply run.  Michonne goes up to Rick and says that she wonders which one was Negan.  [And of course, the audience is all HE WASN'T THERE YOU DIDN'T GET HIM YOU HAVE NO IDEA THE SHITSTORM THAT'S ABOUT TO RAIN DOWN ON YOU POOR FOOLS.]

They hear an engine and look up to see a Savior making a run for it on a motorcycle - Daryl's motorcycle.  They shoot him down - Daryl punching his face for a bit for good measure.  He sneers at them but before they can shoot him, a woman's voice comes over the walkie-talkie he was carrying: "Lower your gun, prick.  You with the Colt Python.  All of you lower your weapons.  We've got a Carol and a Maggie - we're thinking that's something you want to chat about."  Everyone gives each other OH SHIT looks.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead