The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 5 – “Say the Word”

“Say the Word” opens on the Second Annual Woodbury Community Block Party. It looks like a heck of a lot of fun, but Michonne refuses to join in. Instead, she takes a look up at Governor Pip’s apartment window. You see, he’s in there brushing someone’s hair. Nope, it’s not a severed head, it’s his daughter. Of course, his daughter is a walker. Yep, another big secret. Sure it isn’t the walker sex dungeon I mentioned previously, but it’s still early in the season (and an episode with a few other reveals). The Gov locks his daughter away again and then heads down to deliver a speech in front of the crowd of adoring Woodbury-ans. What a great charismatic leader!

“Here’s hoping for an early renewal for season four!”

While the Gov’s pumping up the crowd, Michonne breaks her sword free from his quarters. She finds his John Doe-esque serial killer notebooks and almost breaks open the door to his head-quarium room. Before she can get the door open, she hears the Gov coming. She hides when he comes into the room, arguing with his mad scientist about whether it’s okay to use the community’s power for the celebration, instead of the scientist’s experiments. The Gov wins, intent on the block party being even better than last year’s! Michonne takes her sword out the back window and stumbles up on the Woodbury Community Walker Zoo. It does not feature a petting zoo. Michonne sets the walkers free and cuts them all down. She doesn’t want to get rusty. Of course, she gets caught and has to meet with the Gov.

Our obligatory “Michonne alone in the center of the frame” shot for this episode

I must admit, I was pretty excited about the scene between Michonne and the Gov. Our two new main characters are finally squaring off one-on-one and arguing about who gets to use this as an Emmy submission episode. The Gov explains that Michonne needs to be punished for her transgression, unless, of course, she wants to join up with the Woodbury Community Militia. They need a good swordswoman (swordstress? swordtrix?). Michonne gets ahold of her katana again and tickles he Gov’s adam’s apple with it. She’s had enough of this. She ends up leaving Woodbury, but she’s unable to convince Andrea to leave with her, so I’m going to declare the Michonne/Gov face-off a tie. What’s the over/under on episodes until Michonne reaches the prison?

As a side note, this episode is entitled “Say the Word,” clearly implying that “Sussudio” is intended to be the omitted last word of the title. Take a moment to Imagine Sussudio from The Governor’s perspective, singing about Michonne. It kind of makes sense, particularly for this episode.

Later on, Merle, the mad scientist and company drive out to a walker trap and go fishing for zombies, reeling in a few good ones. Merle kills one female walker (who is unable to bite through the mad scientist’s homemade duct-tape-sleeved shirt) and then he and another guy begin to de-tooth another walker. Perhaps Merle’s mother told him to be a dentist. The freshly caught walkers are replacements for the ones Michonne killed. They are needed for the main event: The Woodbury Community Middleweight Walxing Championship!

Are you not entertained!?

Merle and one of the fly-dancers from the first Christmas episode of Community face off in a ring of walkers on chains while everyone in the crowd watches and cheers them on. It’s almost as intense as the commercial for Crossfire (Crossfire!). Andrea is clearly disgusted, and I’m a little put off by this whole thing. Is this really one of the big secrets that Woodbury is hiding? I think it’s a good idea for a middle-of-the-road zombie movie, but it feels a bit out of place here, especially the fact that everyone but Andrea is going crazy for this. Of course, the Gov’s explanation of the fight makes things a little better, I guess. He tells Andrea that the fight is a way to blow of steam, and a way to teach people not to be afraid of walkers. Also, it’s staged (so that’s why they were removing walker teeth). Whether that works or not, I find it hard to believe that everyone would simply go along with this ridiculous form of entertainment from the start. Then I realized that this is the south, and hey, NASCAR. I think Andrea’s second-guessing her decision to stay a little longer, after all, with Michonne gone she no longer has a partner for the three-legged race.

Oh yeah, we also get some time at the prison. Rick is catatonic for a bit. Herschel mentions that the baby (a girl!) needs formula. Daryl is the first person to volunteer. Ain’t he the best? He and Maggie head off on his bike to hunt for baby supplies. Glenn starts to dig three graves. I guess that means we lost Carol too? It’s nice to know that T-Dog’s sacrifice was even more pointless. Glenn and Herschel share a nice moment together, which is undermined by the fact that Glenn spends the time talking about how great a guy T-Dog was. His actions in closing the gate saved Maggie too. Also, as Glenn notes, apparently “when the evacuation started, T-Dog drove his church van to the home of every senior he knew.” Sorry writers, this posthumous character development simply isn’t working. Too little, too late.

“…and there was the time when T-Dog found homes for all of those orphans, and the time he donated his kidney to that nun, oh, and the time he cured polio…”

Rick decides to go on a rampage with an axe. He kills a bunch of walkers in disgusting fashion. He’s gotta harness that stuff for when the Gov shows up. Glenn catches up to Rick and tries to convince him to come back to his kids. Rick resists Glenn, who gives up. Meanwhile, Maggie and Daryl search a creepy, abandoned daycare. The best part, other than the possum Daryl finds in a closet, is the wall covered in paper cutouts of children’s hands. It’s great. They find a some supplies and formula and bring it back to the prison. Glenn asks Carl what the baby’s name will be. Carl immediately offers up the names of every female character who has died on the show. How creative. The best part of this scene is Daryl, who grabs baby “in memoriam” and begins to bottle feed her. The guy continues to impress.

Could you have imagined this back in season one?

Rick continues his journey into the bowels of the prison. He stumbles upon the delivery room, but doesn’t find Lori’s body. He does find a bullet stuck in the floor beneath a huge blood streak. He follows the blood to a walker who appears to have eaten his fill of something. Rick blows the back of the walker’s head off and then proceeds to stab it in the stomach a bunch of times. Maybe he wants to get Lori’s wedding ring back (yes, I know a woman as pregnant as Lori was probably wasn’t wearing her wedding ring on her finger, but still). Either that or he just wanted to see her face one more time (see what you get when you nitpick my “jokes”?).

Daryl heads out to the prison yard to pay his respects to the three graves. It appears that three graves were actually dug, but who are they for? I think T-Dog is a given. Also, Daryl gets the hat trick for this episode, pulling a Cherokee Rose out of his pocket and placing it on one of the graves. It’s a very sweet little moment. I love this guy. The third grave though? It is decidedly unclear, but at this point I don’t think anyone went back for Lori’s body. Considering what Rick found, I think maybe there wasn’t a lot left to be buried. Plus, Rick is still in the delivery room at this time. I don’t think they would waste the effort to bury Andrew either. I’m forced to assume that the third grave is for Herschel’s leg, buried Santa Anna style.

Yes, I can see that the third grave hasn’t been filled yet and is clearly waiting open for leftover Lori. Seriously, stop nit-picking.

The episode closes with Rick sitting despondently in the delivery room. Here’s a guy who is grieving, broken and angry. He then hears the cries of his new daughter echoing through the prison. Way to twist the knife. But, that’s when the phone starts ringing. What a great way to bring Rick out of his funk. I only hope it’s not a wrong number.

“Yes my refrigerator is running.”

Next week on The Walking Dead: Daryl teaches everyone proper swaddling technique.

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Building a Bond Villain: Where Does Silva Rank?

I’ve still only seen Skyfall one time, but I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit as more of my friends have been trekking to theaters to watch the latest Bond extravaganza. A lot of things I’ve heard and read about the film praise Javier Bardem’s Silva as one of the best (or perhaps, the best) villains in the entire series. Though I was cautious in my first Skyfall post, choosing to say vaguely that the film was probably near the top half of the series (until I’ve seen it again at least), I been thinking about Silva and exactly where he ranks in the James Bond rogues gallery.

While eventually I might like to turn this into an in-depth film-by-film look at all Bond villains, I won’t do that here. I do think that it is worthwhile to at least briefly consider many of the main baddies and find out specifically what doesn’t work, what does work and why Silva is getting so much praise. Please keep in mind that this isn’t a comment on the quality of the films, or even the performances, it’s just my way of beginning an analysis what might make a cool/good James Bond villain. Many villains embody some or all of the few characteristics I list below, but I wanted to try to separate them a bit, not only because it’s fun to make lists, but also so I’ll have a bit more to write (and you’d have more to read).

What Doesn’t Work So Well

-Weak/Old Men: Ernst Blofeld (Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice), Karl Stromberg (Curt Jürgens in The Spy Who Loved Me), Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies).

They may be creepy or charismatic, but they’re just not quite imposing enough to be Bond’s main antagonist. Granted, Blofeld is a HUGE part of the Connery films, but Pleasence just seems so slight in YOLT, despite his creepiness. I feel like the only thing the filmmakers could decide on for Stromberg was “menacing,” otherwise he seems like a clumsy retread of Pleasence’s Blofeld mixed with Dr. No (webbed hands, really?). Price chewed the scenery appropriately and really went after it with his one-handed computer keyboard, but he’s not exactly imposing. These three guys were each helped with the physical side by tough henchmen (Hans, Jaws and Stamper, respectively) who were more a match for Bond, which brings me to…

-Villains who won’t get their hands dirty: The above, plus Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale in Moonraker), Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan in Octopussy), and Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé in The Living Daylights).

These guys have henchmen too, though perhaps they could hold their own if they weren’t so lazy or cowardly. Koskov is fun at times, but he’s never really a threat. Drax has some great lines, but Lonsdale seems to be sleeping through some of the film (though he’s better than Lois Chiles in Moonraker, who appears to be clinically dead). Jourdan (pictured above, as Kahn) was also in his early 60s when Octopussy came out. That makes him one of the older villains, a trait which is offset by the fact that he was squaring off against Roger Moore, who was in his mid-80s at the time.

Worth a mention: Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi in Thunderball) as well as the Telly Savalas and Charles Gray versions of Blofeld (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever), and perhaps Aris Kristatos (Julian Glover in For Your Eyes Only) kind of feel like they should fit into the first category. They’re not all exactly old or weak, but they just don’t seem ready for the fight. They each partake in some of the action, however, which keeps them off the lists proper.

What Does Work Well

-A villain who is in charge: Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe in Goldfinger),  Max Zorin (Christopher Walken in A View to a Kill), Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi in Licence to Kill), Elektra King (Sophie Marceau in The World is Not Enough).

Goldfinger is the classic villain with classic lines from arguably the most popular Bond film of all. Zorin is appropriately crazy and is, of course, Christopher Walken. Sanchez is ruthless and violent (here comes the PG-13 rating!) and he makes Bond’s hunt personal. King is just manipulative and seems to take pleasure in her villainy. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Marceau is quite attractive. Bond doesn’t technically go one-on-one with all four of these villains, but they are the masterminds behind their grand plans, they are (mostly) charismatic, and they’ll all pick up a gun or a knife if necessary.

[NOTE: Elektra King is essentially on equal footing with Renard (Robert Carlyle), but I think she’s strong enough on her own to fit in this category. I’m hesitant to say the same for Renard, but, considering his co-lead villain status, and his absence in the early goings of that film, I’ll include him in the next category]

-A villain who is an equal to Bond: Red Grant (Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love), Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee in The Man with the Golden Gun), Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean in Goldeneye), Renard (The World is Not Enough).

It’s this category that I think works the best. Grant and Trevelyan are spies; Renard is ex-KGB; Scaramanga is an assassin. They are physical equals to Bond and they can turn a phrase as well as they can throw a punch. Also, I’d put two of these four films at/near the top of my list for the best of the series.

A lot of the guys in charge are often the older men from the first section, and, as mentioned, a lot of the guys who are equal to Bond are the henchman. The physicality that henchmen bring to the films (a trait that the main villain sometimes lacks) helps to balance a film out. Imagine Stromberg without Jaws (Richard Kiel), Carver without Stamper (Gotz Otto), or even, to a degree, Goldfinger without Oddjob (Harold Sakata). Those films wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.

Leftovers: Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) is a prototypical Bond villain, but he has such little screen time that it’s hard to call him much of anything. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto in Live and Let Die) holds his own and actually fights bond, but he’s got more henchmen than any other villain in the series (Whisper, Tee-Hee, Baron Samedi, Rosie Carver). Orlov (Steven Berkoff in Octopussy) and Whitaker (Joe Don Baker in The Living Daylights) seem sort of secondary, though both are a bit crazy. Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale) is imposing, but is also under the thumb of Mr. White (and he’s a careless gambler). Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric in Quantum of Solace) is slimy, but forgettable. The less said about Die Another Day, the better, though the argument could be made that the villains Graves and Frost (Toby Stephens and Rosamund Pike) fall into the “equals” category.

What About Silva?

If you can’t already tell from the above, he fits into the categories that work. In thinking about him, I honestly believe that the writers of Skyfall went back to the previous films in the series to find out who the best villains are and why they work so well, then they modeled Silva after them, at least in part. This holds with my observation that Skyfall is also more of a return to formula for the Bond series (though it still fits nicely with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, despite the lack of Felix Leiter).

Like my group of villains that “work,” Silva is in charge of his outfit of nameless thugs, answering to nobody but himself, but he also gets in on the action throughout the film. Sized up against Bond, Silva is undoubtedly one of 007’s equals. I’d say he is most closely related to Trevelyan. He’s former MI-6, he wants revenge, he had his face messed up. He also owns his own island like Scaramanga (though sadly, we didn’t get to see as much of it as I would have liked). Perhaps the main difference between Silva and the other three is that he never gets a one-on-one showdown with Bond, something that I think is a missed opportunity for Skyfall. However, to the film’s credit, this omission is one you might not even notice. Sure, they have a memorable introductory scene, and they have the shooting match (shades of Goldfinger‘s golf game, Moonraker‘s shooting party, or any number of casino games throughout the series), but they never really get a chance to beat the tar out of each other (like with Grant, Trevelyan or Renard), or even just face off (like Scaramanga). I noted in my previous post how strange it is that Silva doesn’t even show up until almost halfway through the movie. It also takes a little while for Renard to appear in TWINE and for Trevelyan to be officially revealed as the main villain in Goldeneye, so perhaps there’s even some precedent for that, and it isn’t so strange after all.

Something that sets Silva apart from most other Bond villains is the fact that he’s played by a reasonably well-known actor, Academy Award winner Javier Bardem. The degree of fame achieved by actors playing villains in Bond films tend to vary, quality of performance aside. I don’t think it matters a lot, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, especially in Bardem’s case. Of course, having an Academy Award does not a great Bond character make (ahem, Halle Berry), but still, anyone who has seen No Country for Old Men knows what Bardem can do. Plus, the guy has been nominated twice in the lead category as well (Before Night Falls in 2000 and Biutiful in 2010). He’s got pedigree. Notably, Walken was an Oscar winner prior to starring in a Bond film as well.

Whether they went back to the well of previous Bond films or not, the writers certainly took at least a little look at another iconic villain in recent film history, the Joker, as played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. There are a lot of connections between the two, including the aforementioned “William Tell” shooting contest with Bond (a deadly little game), the army of nameless goons, seemingly unlimited resources, dressing up like a cop, and perhaps most notably, the elaborate escape from MI-6. A friend of mine said that Silva is a combination of the Joker and Hannibal Lecter, which I think is a pretty interesting description. Hopkins and Ledger both won Oscars for those roles, but whether Bardem is ready to add an(other) Oscar to his collection, we’ll see.

In conclusion, if there is a conclusion, have I decided whether Silva is the best Bond villain ever? I’m not ready to say that. However, I think he shares many traits with the best and most memorable Bond villains of the past, plus, he’s in one of the better films in the series (I feel I can fairly confidently say), and that probably puts him near the top of the list.

Wreck-It Ralph

My wife and I wanted to see a movie a week ago. After considering Argo, Cloud Atlas and Flight, we settled on Wreck-It Ralph. It looked fun, featured recognizable video game character cameos, had some familiar voices and was a Disney computer-animated film, so it had a lot going for it.

I think it’s fair to say that our expectations were mostly met. The film is set in an arcade and follows Ralph (John C. Reilly) who is a “bad guy” in his game Fix it Felix, Jr., as he fights his bad existence and tries to be a hero. Wreck-It Ralph takes a page out of Toy Story in that, when the arcade is closed, the game characters “come alive” and are free to live lives beyond the boundaries of their arcade monitors. Characters even travel from game to game via “Game Central Station,” which is basically the electric wiring system of the arcade.

In his effort to be a hero and win a medal, Ralph does the unthinkable and abandons his game during operating hours for the arcade. He finds a medal in first person shooter game Hero’s Duty and he gets transported to Sugar Rush, a racing game populated by cute little girl racers and candy landscapes. While he’s there, he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a “glitch” in the game who steals his medal to enter a big race and prove that she’s not a glitch after all.

Also appearing in the adventure are King Candy (Alan Tudyk) the ruler of Sugar Rush who is attempting to stop Vanellope from racing, Fix it Felix, Jr. (Jack McBrayer) the aw-shucks hero of Ralph’s game, and Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch) a tough soldier from Hero’s Duty, bound to save Sugar Rush from a “cybug” that has traveled to the game with Ralph.

The animation is great, as expected. The cameos from games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter, Pac-Man, Q-Bert, etc… are a lot of fun (though I probably missed a few little references since I’m not a big gamer). The other residents of the arcade, particularly the folks who live in the high rise from Fix it Felix, Jr., are creatively animated. The actors are perfectly cast for their roles. I also enjoyed the music, particularly that within the game Sugar Rush. It just sounds like it’s pulled right from a real racing game. I’m not going to fault the film for having the expected happy ending, though I will say that it takes a couple of darker turns that caused me to question whether to side with Ralph and also wonder just where the film was going to end up. This was something unexpected, but something that added to my enjoyment of the film overall. (As a side note, I’d love to see an animated movie like this take a dark turn that sticks, but I guess I’ve got to consider the kids) It’s an entertaining movie and even at 1 hour and 48 minutes, it doesn’t feel long at all.

As exciting as the premise of “Toy Story in an arcade” is, my wife and I both agreed that Wreck-It Ralph felt a bit limited in scope. We wanted the characters to travel to and from more games. The bulk of the action is set in Sugar Rush and the only other games we see for any length are Fix it Felix, Jr. and Hero’s Duty. The more I think about it, I understand the need to keep it small, otherwise the plot would probably get out of control. Still, it might’ve been fun to see Ralph jumping from game to game and dealing with different gameplay styles and gameworld designs. Of course, this is something we may see in the sure-to-be-forthcoming Wreck-It Ralph 2. I’d personally welcome a sequel to this film, as I think there is a lot of potential for the world of Wreck-It Ralph to expand.

Ralph was preceded by an animated short entitled Paperman. I usually enjoy the Pixar shorts and I was really loving this until about 3/4 of the way in, when it went in a direction that I wish it hadn’t. Still, it’s enjoyable, creatively animated, and at 7 minutes, hard to really complain about.

A quick note about Disney Animation and Pixar, which I’d like to expand on in a future post, perhaps. With Ralph and 2010’s Tangled, I think Disney Animation has proved that it can hold its own against Pixar (despite their affiliation, I’ll make this a competition). I liked Toy Story 3, I couldn’t bring myself to see Cars 2 and I was disappointed by Brave, though I didn’t dislike it. With Pixar set to release Monsters University next year, another sequel (or actually, prequel, to the only other Pixar movie I haven’t seen, Monsters Inc.), I wonder if they’re becoming mired in existing properties. Disney Animation is slated to release Frozen next year, a musical-fantasy-comedy starring Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell. It is a loose adaptation of a Hans Christian Anderson story, but it’s a new story for Disney Animation. I don’t know if next year will crown a “winner” between the two animation studios, particularly with more original content on the way from Pixar, but I’m excited to find out.

Skyfall

A disclaimer: In the US, Skyfall was released one day early on IMAX screens only. If you’re reading this late on 11/8/2012 or early on 11/9/2012, you may not have had a chance to see the film. This post is probably best enjoyed after seeing Skyfall, but I’ve tried to avoid major spoilers.

For a blog with a name inspired by a James Bond movie, it would be a missed opportunity not to feature at least something about the newest James Bond movie, Skyfall. Below are simply my initial thoughts and a lot of the usual rambling. I saw Skyfall last night, in a true IMAX theater, at the midnight (technically 0:07AM) screening. Skyfall is unique in that although it was not shot with IMAX cameras, it has been specially formatted in post-production to be screened with a larger aspect ratio than a typical widescreen movie (go here for more info). For this reason, it’s totally worth seeing in IMAX if you have the chance. Surprisingly, the theater was not sold out, which was nice, because back row seats were available, a welcome change from the front row, where my wife and I ended up for The Dark Knight Rises. What follows are some of my rambling initial thoughts on the film, having seen it just this one time. As I said, I’ll try to stay free of major spoilers, but some little bits here and there will probably fall through the cracks.

Skyfall is a departure from the previous two Daniel Craig-starring Bond movies in that it is free from the task of re-introducing the character and it operates more as a standalone film. Sure, there are recurring characters (Bond, M, Tanner), but there is really no direct connection to the plots of Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace, and I’m inclined to say that the movie is better for it. I really liked Casino Royale, but not so much Quantum (though a recent revisit has slightly improved my opinion on the latter). Skyfall falls somewhere between them for me, though closer to the Casino Royale end of the spectrum.

As much as Skyfall fits into the new era of James Bond films, it is also a sort of return to formula for the series. Of course the big action setpieces never went away, but Skyfall also has a bit more globe-trotting, an over the top villain, the introduction of a couple of new, old friends, including Q (Ben Whishaw) who supplies Bond with at least one gadget. There are several references, whether knowing or not, to previous Bond films, and several moments that feel like they could’ve been taken out of earlier efforts. As familiar as some of these things are, it’s strange to see Craig throwing off one-liners à la Sean Connery, or giving a bug-eyed look at a Komodo Dragon à la Roger Moore. It is also difficult not to see some of these moments as fan service, though I think they work for the most part.

One major observation (I hesitate to call it an issue) I have is the change in tone between the first and second half of the film. The first part of the film feels like classic Bond, including a great pre-credits sequence, trips to exotic locations and the introduction of the scene-stealing/scenery-chewing super-villain, Silva (Javier Bardem). The thing is, once Silva is introduced, the film starts to shrink a little bit. As much as I enjoy Bardem in pretty much everything, and as good as he his here, I never fully understood the source of his power. His motivations, or at least his end goal are pretty clear, but how he does what he does and why he does it that way ultimately remain a bit hazy for me. He does a great job with the material, being creepy, funny and in the end, crazy, but something tells me the film may have benefited from introducing Silva earlier in the film. Of course, that might have robbed us of his great introductory scene, so maybe it was the best choice.

I think the actual plot of the film works pretty well, though as I said, it seems to grow smaller as the film progresses. There are a couple of larger action/destruction moments having to do with MI-6 HQ and the London subway, but those seem to be forgotten (at least the latter is). Despite high-ranking official Gareth Mallory’s (Ralph Fiennes) best efforts to tie the story to the larger world of British Intelligence and the responsibilities and failures of MI-6 to protect the agents and people of England, it all ends up feeling very personal for the trio of Bond, Silva and M (Judi Dench). Of course, this is nowhere more apparent than in the finale, set in a location at which the series has barely hinted. It all seems a little atypical for a Bond film, but the more I think about it, the more I think I like it.

As is common with Bond films, Skyfall ends with the promise that James Bond will return. As long as they can maintain this level of quality, I certainly won’t be complaining.

Some more notes about Skyfall:

Adele’s theme song is pretty good. It’s better than anything since “A View to a Kill,” with the exception of Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” (I’m also willing to consider exceptions for “Goldeneye” and perhaps “The World is Not Enough”). I didn’t listen to it before the film and I haven’t listened to it (in the one day) since, but I think it’s probably better than average. Sometimes Bond themes are saddled with fitting the title into the lyrics which makes for some awkwardness (“Thunderball,” “The Living Daylights”), but most of the time the titles fit in pretty well. “Skyfall” is fine in that regard.

I’ve already said my piece about Javier Bardem as Silva, but I haven’t mentioned the Bond girls for this one. Probably because they’re not really traditional Bond girls. This might be a bit of a SPOILER but there’s not really a romantic lead. The movie opens with Bond working alongside Eve (Naomie Harris), who is more of a partner throughout the film than a love interest. Think of her as a less-action-y Wei-Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies) or a more competent Mary Goodnight (The Man with the Golden Gun), minus the sex. Bérénice Lim Marlohe is the other prominent Bond girl in the film, Sévérine. She‘s quite good in the role, but doesn’t have too much to do.

Of course, M is the ultimate Bond girl, and Skyfall gives her more to do than ever before. She’s involved in some of the action scenes, but thankfully, the script and the filmmakers don’t ask her to do too much, keeping it believable. I’ve really enjoyed the Bond/M relationship in the Craig films. Despite the nature of their work, these characters care about each other, and Dench and Craig sell their relationship as one that has gone beyond the professional. Dench works better with Craig than she did with Brosnan, or at least more consistently well.

One of the best things about the movie is how it looks. Roger Deakins is one of the best cinematographers in the business and this may be the best looking James Bond movie ever. The opening action scene has the expected level of grittiness and the views of Istanbul, Shanghai and even London are spectacular. Deakins’ work really shines as the film nears its conclusion, finding loads of atmosphere among the misty moors of Scotland. As director, I think Sam Mendes succeeds in bringing us a good action film with some smaller moments, but I’ll have to watch Skyfall again to determine if there is any kind of Mendes stamp on the film or if he becomes mostly lost in the franchise. I’d consider myself a mild Mendes fan. I like his Oscar-winning American Beauty and I’d argue that Road to Perdition is probably his best film (and under-seen). Both of those films are shot by the late, great Conrad L. Hall, and both earned him Oscars (Perdition posthumously). [As a side note, Roger Deakins has the record for most nominations (9) for the Cinematography Oscar without a win, for someone still living.] Anyway, I was excited to see what Mendes might do with a Bond film, and I’m pleased with the result.

As far as the action goes, I have few complaints about the film. The aforementioned pre-credits sequence was perfect. The climactic battle delivered as well, though it initially looked like it might be a bit Home Alone-y (with a touch of Straw Dogs thrown in). It was loud, explosive, brutal and even featured some beautiful shots. Mendes stages action scenes so they’re much more comprehensible than Marc Forster’s Quantum of Solace. I really liked how inventive Forster tried to get with some of the shots in Quantum, but the cutting in that film was so quick and all over the place that I didn’t have time to enjoy what worked. Skyfall brings back Casino Royale editor Stuart Baird, somewhat loathed director of Star Trek: Nemesis, but notable editor of several films by Ken Russell and Richard Donner, including The DevilsTommy, Superman, and Lethal Weapon.

Perhaps my favorite bit of action in the movie is a fairly short, stylized scene in which Bond fights with a baddie while silhouetted against the fluorescent lights of Shanghai. Although it’s a fairly quick scene, the bulk of the fighting is done in one take. Shadows against a blue background, the men throw punches at each other and grapple for a gun which goes off periodically, lighting up their faces and blasting holes in the ceiling of the room. It’s a quick moment, but it’s one that really stood out to me.

A big question to consider in the days ahead concerns where Skyfall ranks among the other films of the Bond canon. I think it’s too soon for me to decide, considering I’ve only seen it once. I don’t think it tops Casino Royale, but it’s a definite improvement on the disjointed Quantum of Solace. This latest batch of Bond movies has been so different in tone than almost all of the others, plus, the series has been around so long (celebrating 50 years now) that it’s like comparing apples to oranges to sausages to graham crackers. I’ll play it safe and say that Skyfall is probably in the “Top 15” of Bond films (I hesitate to say “top half” without appropriate consideration). I have a long-term plan to write more in-depth posts about every James Bond movie, but that’s going to take a while (I’ve actually been sitting on my Dr. No post, but you can currently read my post about the 1954 TV version of “Casino Royale”). I’d like to write a post that is strictly concerned with ranking the Bond films, but it may have to wait until I’ve seen Skyfall again, which I might just do soon.

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 4 – “Killer Within”

25% of the way through season 3 and we’ve got a pretty big episode. The scale isn’t huge, like the first two episodes of the season, but some important things sure happen. Birth, death, romance, violence, the Walking Dead delivers. Now whether it all works, well, we’ll have to wait for some fallout next week. Oh, and though I don’t usually do this: spoilers early and often below.

For the second consecutive week, the “previously on…” segment before the show spoiled something that I have to assume was supposed to be a surprise reveal. Why show Andrew (the guy Rick locked out of the prison in the courtyard of walkers) at all, especially if you’re not going to reveal him until near the end of the episode? Oh well. Anyway, Andrew is alive and he’s cutting locks and luring walkers into the safe zones of the prison. I assume Andrew was the unseen person watching Carol from the woods in episode 2. The other “good” prisoners, Axel and Oscar, plead with Rick to let them join the Grimes gang, but Rick is having none of it. It seems harsh, but it’s in keeping with Rick’s hard-line stance on outsiders. Rick doesn’t trust anyone.

No, you can’t join us, but you can have Carol

The rest of the gang seems to be doing pretty well. Glenn and Maggie have taken up lodging in a guard tower, from where they descend with some embarrassment. Carol must be jealous, wishing she was up there with Daryl. Maybe if she stopped dressing like a cancer patient (she isn’t is she?).

Chloe looked the way Meryl Streep’s skeleton would look if you made it smile and walk around the party being extra nice to everybody.”

T-Dog actually has multiple lines in the opening act, and a few more later. It’s almost as if they’re trying to make up for something…. Also, Herschel decides it’s time to get moving again. Lori, along with Carl and Beth (who share another supposed-to-be-cute glance) help him up and out into the courtyard.

Look at me! Up and about! I haven’t done this in twenty years!”

As Lori sees Rick in the distance, she smiles at him. He kind of smiles back, or at least he looks at her. Of course, it’s hard to tell if they can actually see each other well from such a distance, but it’s really a nice contrast to the last time we saw them, feet away from each other, but unable to allow their eyes to meet (at least on Rick’s part). Here, with the prison yard separating them, Lori and Rick can share a semi-happy moment. Maybe things are starting to look up for them.

Nope. Just as everyone is enjoying Herschel’s newly regained mobility, Andrew’s walkers attack. Herschel and Beth lock themselves away safely, Maggie, Carl and Lori head back for the home cell block. Everyone else tries running to the rescue and T-Dog gets bitten.

“How did I survive this long?”

Yep. That’s it. Of course, he takes a good chunk of the episode to finally die, and who knows, we may see his heavily-chewed on corpse again down the line, but that’s the end of T-Dog. I can’t say I actually have strong feelings about this death. T-Dog has always been a problematic character in that he never had anything to do. The problem is compounded by the fact that T-Dog has really been the only “semi-important” (note the quotes) minority character on the show apart from Glenn. Racial issues aside, he has never been a particularly well-developed character, and I found that I couldn’t really care all that much about his death. Yes, it was heroic, but he died saving Carol, a character who is almost as uninteresting as he is.

No obvious place for this.

I’ll get back to the prison in a bit, but I need to spend a bit of time with the Woodbury crew. Michonne discovers fresh bullet holes and blood in one of the trucks the Gov liberated from the military men last week. She knows he’s full of crap. Of course, just as she finds these clues, the Gov shows up to deny things again. Later, Michonne and Andrea talk about leaving and finding an island to live on. It seems they’re going to leave Woodbury after all (yeah right). Andrea also talks to Merle, in a scene that is introduced almost like a romantic encounter. Of course, Merle also sees it as such, asking Andrea why they never hooked up (hook-hand jokes aside). Andrea gives him a map to the farm and Merle decides he’s going to hunt for Daryl.

Elizabeth Bennet may end up with Mr. Darcy yet

Merle takes his plans to the Gov, who convinces him to stay saying that Woodbury couldn’t operate without him. I guess a resident redneck asshole is a requirement. The Gov does tell Merle that if he can find more concrete evidence, he will help to look for Daryl himself. I can’t really tell if this will amount to anything, but I could see Merle somehow tracking the Grimes gang down and getting the Gov to try take them in, or take them out.

Before Andrea and Michonne leave Woodbury, Andrea shares a drink with the Gov. I don’t know if any of you have seen it, but I’ll be damned if Morrissey isn’t doing his best impression of Sterling Hayden in Johnny Guitar for this role. He sounds just like Johnny at times. Anyway, Andrea opens up to the Gov, telling him about her plans with Michonne and the fact that her entire family is gone. He tells her that he lost his wife in a car accident before the world went to hell and his daughter is all that he has left. The sparks, of course, start to fly.

“Don’t worry, I save the roofies for the second date.”

The Gov tells Andrea that he’s still interested in things like family life (and perhaps a domestic union with her?). Andrea gets up to leave and the Gov tells her that she’s always welcome back in Woodbury. He also tells her that his name is Phillip. So there’s that. After he kind of creepily opens the door for her, Andrea leaves and eventually goes back to Michonne to tell her that she wants to stay a couple more days. Of course, we saw this argument coming last week, but I want them to stick around in Woodbury. I’d love to get to know some of the people there, and maybe find out that there’s even more to this little community than the Gov’s shady dealings.

Now back to the prison. Rick starts to accuse Oscar and Axel of letting the walkers loose, but then the prison alarms start to go off, something they couldn’t have done. Oscar tells Rick that someone has started the backup generator. He, Rick and Daryl go one way to find it, while Glenn and Axel go another way. Eventually, Rick’s crew finds the generator room. (Non-)surprise! Andrew is there! He and Rick fight it out, but eventually Oscar gets the drop on them both, holding them at gunpoint. Despite Andrew’s request for him to cap Rick, Oscar does the right thing and kills Andrew, then hands over the gun. Looks like we’ve got our new T-Dog!

They say this cat Oscar is a bad motherf–SHUT YOUR MOUTH! (I’m just talkin’ ’bout Oscar)

Meanwhile, after being chased out of the home cell block by loose walkers, Lori goes into labor. Yes, it’s zombaby time! Maggie and Carl are almost completely unprepared to deal with the situation, but Carl does a good job of not reacting when he sees another woman pull his mother’s pants off. Maggie knows enough to realize something is wrong when Lori starts bleeding profusely after trying to push the baby out. Lori realizes that the baby will need to be cut out of her. Yikes. There’s actually a really nice moment when Lori, accepting her fate, talks to Carl and tells her son that he his a good person and that he must always do what’s right. “If it feels wrong,” she says, “don’t do it.” I can’t tell if she’s trying to keep him from turning into his father, or accepting the fact that he’s just like his dad and encouraging him to embrace it.

Maggie cuts Lori open and delivers the baby. Lori dies. Carl decides that he is going to be the one to prevent Lori from coming back as a walker. “This is for all of the times you wouldn’t let me go off with Shane and play with guns!” he yells. Just kidding. Poor Carl, though. This kid’s really growing up even more than before. I really hope Chandler Riggs can sell the emotional drama in the weeks to come. We only hear the single gunshot as Maggie holds the new, and newly motherless child.

Having said so much about T-Dog, I should probably say a bit about Lori as well. I didn’t have as much trouble with her character. Yes, she did take that stupid car trip last season, and yes, she was constantly forgetting to watch after he son and then yelling at him for getting into trouble. Still, she did have some real complexity with the Rick-Lori-Shane love triangle as well as the whole baby issue. Plus, she was really the only person that Rick could talk to about anything he was feeling inside. He didn’t have to hide from his wife like he had to hide from the gang. I think I’ll miss Lori most because of that. She was a strong woman behind a strong man. I wonder what her death will mean for Rick going forward. He seemed to be pretty removed already, and set in his course, but the look he shared with Lori at the beginning of the episode said otherwise. Unfortunately, that was the last time he saw his wife alive.

Everyone from the prison meets up and the end of the episode. Well, everyone but T-Dog and Lori of course. Rick sees Maggie come out with his children (plural) and Andrew Lincoln goes into emotional roller-coaster mode. He’s overwhelmed. There’s some excitement about his new child, which gives way to confusion about where Lori is, which turns into understanding as he looks at the blood on his son’s hands. Good Lord, can you imagine what this guy is feeling?!  What kind of relationship will he ever be able to have with his new child, let alone the other child he already has? That’s not even considering the morality of the decision to bring a child into the world of this show. Lincoln sells it all really well. He’s the brightest spot on the show so far this season. I constantly forget that he’s British (very British, his real last name is Clutterbuck–also, Ian Anderson is his father-in-law).

So where does that leave things? Hard to say. I don’t know why the gang would leave the prison, unless Andrew has done some other kind of damage that would prevent them from staying. Despite Herschel’s sprightliness, he’s probably in no shape to move much. Oh, they also have a newborn without a mother. Of course, the addition of the baby, along with Axel and Oscar puts the Grimes gang at plus-one for the episode, which is pretty good for this show. I bet they stay put until the inevitable showdown with the Gov. I do like the two location dynamic I mentioned in the episode 3 post. There are new people and things to be explored in Woodbury and new drama to be mined at the prison.

There’s also the greater question about killing off main characters. T-Dog was basically peripheral, but counting him, we’ve lost four main characters in the past 7 episodes (Dale, Shane, T-Dog, Lori), plus some recurring folks at the farm, the farm itself, and Herschel’s leg. I think the show still has enough core people that we care about to keep things going, but I also think they need to be careful. Maggie and Herschel have certainly grown on me since their introduction last season. Perhaps Axel, Oscar and Michonne will prove themselves worth caring about too. And who knows, the Gov might not be all bad.

Next week on The Walking Dead: Whoops, Maggie’s pregnant!

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 3 – “Walk with Me”

I’m playing catch-up with The Walking Dead because I’ve just been a bit busier than usual, so apologies if this post (and perhaps the next post) is shorter and less focused than you’d like. Yes, I’ll make the assumption that some people actually read this and enjoy what I have to say, if not care about it.

So, episode 3. It’s all about the Governor, baby. I suppose you could say it’s all about Andrea and Michonne as well, since we don’t spend any time with our usual gang at the prison. The episode opens with a military helicopter going down and Andrea and Michonne (and Michonne’s pet walkers) going to investigate. When they arrive on the scene, Michonne finds a dead crew member or two. It also appears that another one of the crew has split.

“Hey man, you wanna go halfsies on whatever I find in this chopper?”

She can’t look around further because some guys in trucks show up. They kill the bisected soldier who has turned (though not technically into a walker, I suppose) and they rescue the pilot who is still alive. Our ladies are almost found out when Michonne’s pet zombies start making noise, but she decapitates them to keep them quiet. Unfortunately, none other than Merle Dixon shows up, complete with new-and-improved battle hand. Merle takes the ladies as “prisoners.” I think it’s too bad they didn’t make Merle’s return a surprise. Sure, we were all expecting him back at some point, but they shouldn’t have showed him in the “previously on…” segment or put his name in the opening credits. I’m guessing SAG rules or something required Michael Rooker to be listed in there, so, no surprise.

Buster Bluth let me borrow his combat hand (Army had a half-day)

Another new name in the opening credits is David Morrissey. Morrissey plays The Governor, the apparent ruler of the gated community of Woodbury, where he and Merle have taken Andrea and Michonne. It’s a nice little walled off neighborhood with 73 (soon to be 74!) residents and bunch of extra guns and ammunition. Andrea and Michonne are not technically prisoners in Woodbury, they can leave at any time. However, if they choose to stay, in a place with food, water, showers and a Caribou Coffee, they can’t have their weapons. I got a definite Stepford vibe upon first seeing Woodbury, and while that may not be entirely accurate, there are definitely darker things going on here, as this episode reveals.

After Merle removes his battle hand and shows off his stump (a touch I quite enjoyed because it’s pretty much impossible for a TV show to have a character lose a hand and keep it from looking like the actor is tucking his arm into his sleeve or the actor is hiding his hand inside its extra-long prosthetic), we actually get to meet The Gov. There’s no way we’re actually supposed to trust this guy, but he’s not a huge jerk right away, which is nice. He even keeps Merle in line and has a nice sit-down breakfast with the ladies where he talks about his grand plan to bring civilization back.

But, of course, there’s a dark side to the Gov. He has a secret lab complete with a mad scientist who examines Michonne’s pets and finds that when deprived of arms and lower jaws, walkers are quite docile. The Gov also believes that walkers still have a trace of the person they once were inside of them, which raises the question about Michonne’s pets, Perhaps they knew her, which is why they kind of obey her. Maybe they were family members or ex-boyfriends. The Gov also has a model of Woodbury in the lab, but for what purpose remains to be seen.

“Please excuse the crudity of this model as I didn’t have time to build it to scale or paint it.”

Perhaps the worst thing the Gov does involves the rescued helicopter pilot. The Gov visits him in his “hospital” room and questions him about the accident. The pilot, who kind of looks like a chubby, young William Shatner, reveals that there are more military men out there. The Gov promises that he’ll bring them into Woodbury.

There was…something…on the wing

However, the Gov’s idea of bringing them in is a bit different than most people. He arrives at the military camp alone, waving a white flag, but then, after a short exchange he and his hidden squad of goons murder every last one of the soldiers. He steals all of their stuff and drives their vehicles back to camp. Then, standing atop one of the new trucks, he addresses the townsfolk of Woodbury, lying to them about the soldiers.

Mankind. That word should have new meaning for all of us today.”

After his speech, the Gov talks to Andrea. She asks him what his real name is, but he refuses to answer. “Never say never,” she somewhat laughingly tells him. “Never,” he quite seriously responds. Still, it seems that Andrea is starting to drink the Woodbury Kool-Aid. I think she may also be headed for a falling-out with Michonne. As for the Governor, he goes home and unlocks a room with a special key he has around his neck. Is it going to be a zombie sex dungeon? Will he reveal that he’s actually been bitten a bunch of times and is immune somehow? Nope (at least not yet). He sits down in his easy chair and basks in the glow of his collection of severed heads, staring back at him from several aquariums on his wall. He’s got Michonne’s pets in there, and, alone at the top of his creepy pyramid, is the head of the helicopter pilot.

They don’t say much, but they sure are purty to look at

This episode had a very different feel than either of the last two. I can’t say that I was particularly excited to be following Andrea and Michonne, despite the mystery surrounding the latter. I do hope we get to learn more about her as the season progresses, however, I get the feeling that even Andrea doesn’t know much about her mysterious rescuer. Working in this episode’s favor is the strong introduction of the Governor and the community of Woodbury. Morrissey is a good addition to the cast as a potential Big Bad for the season (or longer) and Woodbury gives us a brand new setting that could potentially work as a nice counterpoint to the prison. No longer is the entire gang stuck in one location like last season on the farm. Now we get a couple of different places between which to move back-and-forth. The only thing that holds the episode back is the shortage of characters we know and care about. Yes, we have Andrea, plus we’ve already met Merle and Michonne, but I don’t care about any of them on the level of a Rick, Daryl, Glenn & Maggie, or even Lori and Carl. It is really nice to meet new people and see new places, though, and the Gov really has me intrigued. Also, the Prison and Woodbury stories have to come together eventually. The Governor has too much space left in his aquarium room for that not to happen, right?

Next week on The Walking Dead: Woodbury High holds a bake sale for their marching band