Sunday, October 9, 2011

'The Walking Dead' recap, 'Wildfire' - Season 1, Episode 5

A few months after the first season of "The Walking Dead" ended, I wrote up a recap/review of the season's fifth and penultimate episode that never left its file in Microsoft Word. I have decided to share it below. Enjoy:

When we last left Frank Darabont’s thrill ride “The Walking Dead,” a zombie ambush plagued the 20-plus survivors who were finally united near that big abandoned rock quarry outside Atlanta. This racks up the group’s body count, which now includes an abusive husband. The walkers bit both Ed in his tent and Andrea’s younger sister Amy, the worst bummer it being the night before the girl’s birthday. Andrea had been diligently looking for makeshift gift-wrap.

Around dawn, Rick, a sheriff’s deputy in civilized life, uses his walkie-talkie in the hopes that Morgan – a man whom Rick met after awaking from a coma in “Days Gone Bye” – can hear him, and urges him not to enter Atlanta, which is crawling with hungry walkers. When Morgan and his son Duane went elsewhere, Rick gave them a walkie-talkie to maintain contact everyday at dawn. Morgan once said the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta was allegedly working on a cure; he is since unreachable. These details from the pilot are big motivators for Rick in Season One’s penultimate episode.

Andrea leans over Amy’s body, still in frozen shock from the slaying. The clock ticks until Amy is to become a zombie, but Andrea threatens to shoot whoever approaches the corpse with intent to harm.

The group deals with death in different ways. Ruthless redneck Daryl Dixon moves Ed’s body to be burned, which upsets Korean 20-something Glenn, a former pizza delivery boy who believes all should be buried. Families come to terms with their respective losses – by doing the devastating deed of killing a loved one before they turn into a full-on zombie. Carol smashed in her husband Ed’s head with an axe, and Andrea shot Amy just in time. Everyone, the characters and the audience, knows that the bitten need to be killed, sooner rather than later. Then, there’s the guy who conceals it. Jim gets called out for concealing a stomach bite from the ambush. Rick tries to protect him from trigger-happy folks like Daryl in the precious hours before morphing into a bug-eyed stiff.

Meanwhile, Rick keeps his pipe dream of visiting CDC in his back pocket. Shane vehemently shoots it down and proposes relocating to the heavily armed, if not operational, military base in Fort Benning 100 miles south.

Lori is ambivalent about the two men in her life. Looking back, her husband Rick left camp looking for a bag of ammo almost as soon as he arrived, and his best friend Shane lied about Rick being dead while he was MIA post-coma. Shane dutifully looked after Rick’s family then, specifically shacking up with Lori, unbeknownst to Rick. (Hopefully, that secret won’t come to light for a while.) Needless to say, neither guy is Lori’s biggest fan right now. But she supports the voyage to CDC.

While hunting in the woods, Shane aims his rifle at Rick from a distance. Dale subtly notices, only strengthening the token old guy’s own paranoia, and Rick unconvincingly plays it off like “we need some damn reflective vests around here!” The pilot, “Days Gone Bye,” was the only episode that convinced me that Rick and Shane were best friends. Aside from a Tarantino-esque squad car chat over hamburgers, these police have yet to click in an apocalyptic setting.

In what amounts to a Jack Shephard speech, the de facto leader of the pack, Shane, concedes to pushing onward to CDC in the morning. “The most important thing here is we need to stay together,” he sermonizes, to the group at fireside. All but one family chooses to stay behind. Rick equips them with guns and ammo.

Again, Rick’s attempt to reach Morgan at dawn via walkie-talkie is to no avail. Our considerate hero leaves him a note and map. No sign of Morgan yet – will he show up in the finale for a “Shawshank”-style homecoming?

The crew departs in separate vehicles, which goes smoothly until Dale’s ancient RV burns out. Jim is, predictably, in bad shape, so they leave him by a tree to ideally die as far away from them as possible.

Then, we meet someone new, Dr. Jenner (played by Noah Emmerich), who records scrambled video transmissions as the last remaining CDC scientist. He is admittedly a suicidal wino, or in other words, an entertaining guest role. The gang arrives at the corpse-ridden concourse outside lab headquarters and immediately loses hope. Not Rick though! After detecting a slight shake of the security cam, he desperately pleads for CDC to open up. As Jenner programs the doors to unlock, a beam of light is cast on the survivors.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Barney's Version to win best picture at 83rd annual Academy Awards


Best Motion Picture of the Year

4 Black Swan

5 The Fighter

8 Inception

7 The Kids are All Right

1 The King's Speech

2 The Social Network

10 127 Hours

3 Toy Story 3

6 True Grit

9 Winter's Bone

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

2 Annette Bening (The Kids are All Right)

4 Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)

3 Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone)

1 Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

5 Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

4 Javier Bardem (Biutiful)

2 Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)

1 Colin Firth (The King's Speech)

3 James Franco (127 Hours)

5 Jeff Bridges (True Grit)

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

1 Christian Bale (The Fighter)

4 John Hawkes (Winter's Bone)

5 Jeremy Renner (The Town)

3 Mark Ruffalo (The Kids are All Right)

2 Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech)

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

5 Amy Adams (The Fighter)

3 Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech)

1 Melissa Leo (The Fighter)

2 Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)

4 Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

3 How to Train Your Dragon

2 The Illusionist

1 Toy Story 3

Best Documentary Short Subject

2 Killing in the Name
4 Poster Girl

1 Strangers No More
5 Sun Come Up
3 The Warriors of Qiugang

Best Short Film (Animated)

1 Day & Night Teddy Newton

2 The Gruffalo Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
5 Let's Pollute Geefwee Boedoe
3 The Lost Thing Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
4 Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary) Bastien Dubois

Best Short Film (Live Action)

3 The Confession Tanel Toom
4 The Crush Michael Creagh
2 God of Love Luke Matheny
5 Na Wewe Ivan Goldschmidt
1 Wish 143 Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite

Achievement in Art Direction

2 Alice in Wonderland

5 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

4 Inception

1 The King's Speech

3 True Grit

Achievement in Cinematography

4 Black Swan (Matthew Libatique)

1 Inception (Wally Pfister)

5 The King's Speech (Danny Cohen)

3 The Social Network (Jeff Cronenweth)

2 True Grit (Roger Deakins)

Achievement in Costume Design

2 Alice in Wonderland (Colleen Atwood)

3 I Am Love (Antonella Cannarozzi)

1 The King's Speech (Jenny Beaven)

5 The Tempest (Sandy Powell)

4 True Grit (Mary Zophres)

Achievement in Directing

3 Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)

4 David O. Russell (The Fighter)

2 Tom Hooper (The King's Speech)

1 David Fincher (The Social Network)

5 Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit)

Best Documentary Feature

2 Exit through the Gift Shop Banksy, director (Paranoid Pictures)

4 Gasland Josh Fox, director (Gasland Productions, LLC)

1 Inside Job Charles Ferguson, director (Representational Pictures)

3 Restrepo Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, directors (Outpost Films)

5 Waste Land Lucy Walker, director (Almega Projects)

Achievement in Makeup

2 Barney's Version

3 The Way Back

1 The Wolfman

Achievement in Film Editing

5 Black Swan (Andrew Weisblum)

3 The Fighter (Pamela Martin)

2 The King's Speech (Tariq Anwar)

4 127 Hours (Jon Harris)

1 The Social Network (Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall)

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

2 Biutiful (Mexico)

4 Dogtooth (Greece)

1 In a Better World (Denmark)

3 Incendies (Canada)

5 Hors la Loi (Algeria)

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)

5 How to Train Your Dragon (John Powell)

3 Inception (Hans Zimmer)

2 The King's Speech (Alexandre Desplat)

4 127 Hours (A.R. Rahman)

1 The Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)

4 "Coming Home" from Country Strong Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey

1 "I See the Light" from Tangled Music and Lyric by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater

3 "If I Rise" from 127 Hours Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong

2 "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3 Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Achievement in Sound Editing

1 Inception

3 Toy Story 3

4 TRON: Legacy

2 True Grit

5 Unstoppable

Achievement in Sound Mixing

1 Inception

2 The King's Speech

5 Salt

3 The Social Network

4 True Grit

Achievement in Visual Effects

2 Alice in Wonderland

3 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

5 Hereafter

1 Inception

4 Iron Man 2

Adapted Screenplay

5 127 Hours (Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle)

1 The Social Network (Aaron Sorkin)

2 Toy Story 3 (Michael Arndt, story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich)

3 True Grit (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)

4 Winter's Bone (Debra Granik and Anne Rossellini)

Original Screenplay

5 Another Year (Mike Leigh)

4 The Fighter (Paul Attanasio, Lewis Colich, Eric Johnson, Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy)

3 Inception (Christopher Nolan)

2 The Kids are All Right (Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko)

1 The King's Speech (David Seidler)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Best of 2010


1 The Social Network
2 Black Swan
3 The Kids are All Right
4 Inception
5 Animal Kingdom
6 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
7 Toy Story 3
8 Winter’s Bone
9 True Grit
10 127 Hours

Honorable Mention: The Fighter, The King’s Speech, Greenberg, Kick-Ass, Please Give, Life During Wartime, Cyrus, Solitary Man, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.

Did not see: Another Year, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Rabbit Hole.

Hot Tub Time Machine
Due Date
It’s Kind of a Funny Story


1 Community
2 Mad Men
3 Louie
4 Breaking Bad
5 Treme
6 Party Down
7 Men of a Certain Age
8 30 Rock
9 Parks and Recreation
10 The League


1 Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
2 LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
3 Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
4 Bruce Springsteen – The Promise
5 Beach House – Teen Dream
6 The Black Keys - Brothers
7 Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer
8 The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
9 Das Racist - Shut Up, Dude
10 Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

Honorable Mentions:
Sleigh Bells – Treats
Yeasayer – Odd Blood
The National – High Violet
Ben Folds & Nick Hornby – Lonely Avenue

Best Single: "Rill Rill" by Sleigh Bells

Thursday, December 2, 2010

'Tiny Furniture' star has ample room for growth

At the forefront of the low-fi comedy “Tiny Furniture,” is a new brand of the recession-era female nerd, a “Juno” of the mumblecore.

Oberlin grad Lena Dunham, 24, wrote, directed and starred in her second feature, “Tiny Furniture,” in what is likely a semi-autobiographical profile of the directionless twentysomething.

Aura is 22, a college grad in a self-professed state of delirium since moving back home after four years in Ohio. She has an imperfect, flabby body with an ugly arm tattoo and an endearing neediness. Here is an example of Apatow’s common depiction of man-child syndrome as adapted for the XX chromosome. Dunham the actress has a knack for eliciting surprise chuckles from the audience, not the hearty guffaw but the zinger that’s so faint it strengthens the tone more than anything else.

Aura gets a job as a day hostess, reunites with a rebellious old schoolmate Charlotte (Jamima Kirke) and lets a platonic boyfriend Jed live with her in her mother Siri’s posh TriBeCa loft. Siri, a successful artist, sides with Aura’s bratty teenage sister Nadine (Grace Dunham, Lena’s real-life sibling) in almost every family quarrel.

As a storyteller, Dunham makes a fervent attempt to stay true to the characters and honest in its depiction of relationships. Pop culture allusions do slip into the wry, self-aware dialogue. There’s mention of YouTube and Seinfeld re-runs as well as the Codyesque line, “It’s worth a Google.”

“Tiny Furniture” has more polish than the Hollywoodized indie circle where Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Sam Mendes and dull conversations about Vampire Weekend went to die. Those movies have plots that movie at a glacial pace or search for life answers that never appear.

By the time the audience is content with the pacing in the third act, Aura’s life flies off the handle. She takes a progressively active role in harming each of her relationships. It’s awkward, vaguely disturbing and ultimately redeems itself as offbeat.

Celebrity comparisons are evident, a tribute to its effectiveness perhaps. Alex Karpovsky has a David Krumholtz voice, Grace Dunham has a Scarlett Johansson vibe and Laurie Simmons must derive her character’s coldness from an Anjelica Huston role. And, David Call, who plays the chef, may be a thin Tom Hardy.

In addition to a laudatory New Yorker profile, Dunham has gained residency in Apatown in response to the film. Judd Apatow is producing Dunham’s new series for HBO, tentatively titled “Girls.” Dunham’s potential as a new star transcends through all of this, and in spite of the film’s blemishes, the girl has room for growth.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Photo Credit:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Franco adds weight to stoner persona in boulder saga ‘127 Hours’

With “127 Hours,” Danny Boyle’s career comes full circle with a film that once again makes use of the tourniquet a la “Trainspotting.”

His tenth feature arrives on the heels of Oscar wins and takes on the true story of Aron Ralston, who in 2003 went to great lengths to survive while trapped between a rock and a rigid spot.

If watched back-to-back with “Slumdog Millionaire,” a crime-tinged romance lacquered in artificiality, the opening five minutes are bubbling with passion. Shown in a three-panel split screen, the hyperkinetic opening presents huge crowds amid global haste. Then, enter the solitary Ralston, portrayed with commanding sincerity by NYU grad student James Franco. He leaves home in the early morning to embark in a canyoneering trip through Blue John Canyon in Utah and tells no one where he’s going.

His right arm goes without circulation for five-plus days in the recesses of a cave. Within 10 minutes of running time, Ralston’s trapped under a boulder, which initially had me worried. The movie keeps the story compelling as we’re caged in with our Castaway.

Most folks going in already know how the story will unfold, but the anxiety of the situation had a boy begin to vomit in the row in front of me.

If Boyle hadn’t taken it on, the tale would have been relegated to a two-minute blip on a broadcast newscast or fodder for a short screening at the Tuttleman IMAX dome.

Franco takes his career to new heights, acting bleary-eyed and aloof with none of the stoner drollness.

His family is played by Lizzy Caplan and, in inspired casting, Treat Williams, who also worked with Franco in “Howl.” I craved more Williams screen time, but that’s not uncommon.

I had a problem with how “Into the Wild” portrayed the family as caricatures. Even poor William Hurt. “!27 Hours” employs them for the sake of brevity and atmosphere without making much of a statement.

The film is sparsely plotted with Aron’s several futile attempts at escape and a memory recall of snapshots from his life. The retrospective would be more meaningful, not only if they were longer but if the 28-year-old had lived a more remarkable life.

Boyle, arguably too anxious a filmmaker for straightforward source material like this, gets stylish when filming inside Aron’s camcorder, his bottle of water and even the water itself. These shots struck me as David Fincher’s territory, but it worked. When it comes to the few grisly moments however, the camera is stationary.

Boyle re-teamed with “Slumdog” crewmembers, his writing partner Simon Beaufoy and music composer A.R. Rahman, all of whom possess Academy Awards. Compared to back when he debuted with “Shallow Gave,” he’s working with an almost entirely new set of people.

Franco dives deep, and Boyle makes a film about courage and perseverance even if it the end product does not warrant repeated viewings.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Two Lower East Side dive bars are not what they seem

Two of the Lower East Side’s finest bars are shrouded in irony.

Cake Shop and The Library are unpretentiously hip and unique dives, sort of. The Cake Shop is too multi-functional to be classified as a bar, and The Library’s back wall projector of an endless stream of cult movies detracts patrons from the front-counter seating. Speaking of irony, the former has no pastries (but $3 Rolling Rock cans), and the latter has a few novelty rank bookshelves out of arm’s reach.

Upon entering The Library, lasciviously dressed barmaids in low-cut garb serve affordable beer and lowbrow combos like The Pube – a shot of whiskey and a can of Natty Light. The best in punk, post-punk, indie pop and speed metal is blasted through speakers. You’ll hear more Pixies, Metallica and Smiths there than anyone else in the neighborhood. Lady Gaga’s LES hangout, on the other hand, wishes it has this kind of cred.

But the main attraction is the selection of depraved, vile B-movies and grindhouse pics on the big screen in the back. Some films have the awesomely bad quality, prompting you and your date to engage in a do-it-yourself Mystery Science Theater commentary. “Scanners” is a prime example because spontaneous combustion in the third act is still fun.

Other times, it takes it too far. Horror-exploitation classic “Blood Sucking Freaks” is grotesque beyond the realm of camp. The women are either topless or in bikinis while getting their brain sawed into by a Gene Wilder-type gone berserk and his ‘little person’ assistant. This pint-sized henchman is no Tony Cox, Peter Dinklage, elf or smurf; he’s pure evil. Violence is enacted with a skull-crushing vice, a bone saw, a meat cleaver and the goddamn anachronistic presence of a guillotine.

Two women abandoned their table to nestle amid a crowd by the bar up front. It takes both confidence and apathy to play that during peak hours on Saturday night. I don’t frequent this place enough to know how frequently “Videodrome” is played, but it would probably be gilded in a shrine.

Unabashedly plaintive pop and rock numbers, good beer and the unpredictable X-rated cinema pretty much sum up my expectations for a fun night.

Cake Shop is a lot more hands off albeit juggling multiple personalities. This amalgam of a records store, bar, music venue, coffeehouse and speakeasy puts the ball in your court. Their red velvet cake is a cool commodity but never the sole reason to visit. The ragged, vintage furniture situated incongruously always appears to be in a state of quiescence.

It’s a one of the few bars that promotes an interrupted, introspective conversation with friends and applies little-to-no pleasure to drink. No one will bug you if it takes you three hours to finish a design project on your Mac.

The Library - 7 Ave. A.
Apollo's Rating: B+

Cake Shop – 152 Ludlow St.
Apollo's Rating: A-

Photo Credits:
1 - The Library -
2 - Cake Shop -

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Film Review: Knight and Day

In light of the commercial failure of Knight and Day, some analysis is needed. The movie, which cost some $125 million to produce, has thus far failed to recoup even half that amount at the box office. The question: did it deserve to flop?

The film’s plot, formulaic as it is, pushes the right buttons for a summer action movie. Cruise plays Roy Miller, a rogue secret agent with apparently noble ideals. Cameron Diaz is June Havens, a civilian who’s swept up into Miller’s world by chance. The formula is so well worn that a movie released just a few weeks prior to Knight and Day – the Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl bomb Killers – used it as well.

As is the case with such movies, Knight and Day leaves its identity in the hands of its stars. The leads, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, are two Hollywood veterans who could once be counted on to rake in the ticket sales. Their performances are predictably solid, and their time on-screen together almost sells the idea that a super spy could fall for a girl next door type after meeting her in an airport.

Audiences long ago learned the appropriate amount of suspended disbelief necessary to accept the diminutive Tom Cruise as an action hero. He’s not doing anything here that’s more difficult to swallow than, say, any of the Mission: Impossible movies. Cameron Diaz, on the other hand, is out of her element in a way the film’s writers didn’t intend. No doubt, she’s perfectly cast as a fairly sheltered middle class woman who is unaccustomed to flying bullets and international espionage.

But the film expects us to believe she owns an auto garage and is completely restoring her father’s dilapidated 1966 Pontiac GTO to give as a wedding present to her sister. It isn’t that a woman as slight as Diaz couldn’t believably get her hands dirty tinkering with muscle cars. The problem is she doesn’t sell the idea, a problem that may well lie more with the script than Diaz. Whenever she talks about the car, it’s as if she has only a passing knowledge of auto restoration. It’s unfortunate, because it turns out that Diaz’s supposed profession plays a sizable role in the movie’s plot.

Other than these minor holes in the plot, Knight and Day makes a perfectly sturdy summer popcorn flick. It’s funny at times, particularly the interactions between Cruise and Diaz, and there’s no shortage of gunfire and explosions. Why, then, did no one really care when it was released?

The most likely culprit: star power, or lack thereof. The leads certainly haven’t lost their acting edge, but this is the age of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. In comparison, Cruise and Diaz are most likely in the twilight of their years of drawing the 18-35 demographic based on name recognition alone. Pair that with an essentially nameless summer paint-by-numbers flick and it’s a recipe for a big disappointment.

The bottom line: expect plenty of light entertainment from Knight and Day. Expect a similarly plentiful number of empty seats in the theater.

5 out of 10