Sunday, February 13, 2011

The week that was #23

The Fringe loometh1

Pre-Fringe (i.e. those shows that start prior to the official Fringe opening on February 18) begins this week so this will probably be my last weekly update for a while as my time will become, well, scarce. But I will be making regular Fringe updates while it's on.

At this point I'll be seeing around forty shows, twenty reviews and about as many more by choice. There are quite a few I'd like to see but am not seeing, mostly because of lack of time and opportunity – I've also got to fit in a couple of non-Fringe things, like a buck's party and a birthday party – but also because of budget; as it is I'm looking at spending upward of $600 on tickets, and that's around the limit I'd set myself.

But I should have plenty to write about.

1Yeah, yeah, I know it's not a word, but I'm feeling a bit retro this evening.

The Walking Dead

I got my hands on the first season of the tv series The Walking Dead a few months back and have just finished the last episode – not that it was much of a marathon, given that there are only six.

And it's about zombies. Okay, not about zombies – it's about a handful of people who're trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. In the US it's on AMC (a cable network), so they're free to be more violent than normal network television – so it's pretty gory, as you'd imagine, given the subject matter.

It follows what I guess are the 'standard' rules for zombies – they're mostly brainless, slow-moving monsters who attack en masse, and they have to be killed2 or at least very seriously incapacitated before they stop. Zombieism3 is caused by infection from zombie bites, and zombies don't attack each other – interestingly, this last fact is shown (in this universe at least) to be because of smell.

Watching it reminded me a lot of Stephen King's The Stand which, while not about zombies as such, is about a small group of people who've survived an apocalypse, and how they deal with the situation they're in. And, like in King's book, it's prompted me to think about what people might do under those circumstances – since society as we know it, of course, wouldn't exist anymore.

What's also interesting is that the lead, Sheriff Rick Grimes, is played by Englishman Andrew Lincoln, of This Life, Teachers and Love Actually fame. It seems like an odd choice, but he's a good actor and he does a very credible American accent – and within a very short amount of time I was convinced.

Obviously, with only six episodes, not all that much happens. But it's well-written and well-thought-out, and they managed to fit enough action in to make it worthwhile. And it did well enough to be picked up for a second, thirteen-episode season, so there'll be more to look forward to sometime in the future.

2Shot in the head or decapitated.
3I'm aiming to make that one a word.

True Grit

This week's film – also the last for a while – was the Coen brothers' version (they're being very clear that it's not a remake of the 1969 version with John Wayne) of True Grit.

In Oklahoma, not long after the US Civil War, fourteen year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is looking for a US Marshal to hunt down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who robbed and killed her father before fleeing to land controlled by the Choctaw. After asking around she discovers the most suitable man for her needs is the drunken, grizzled, one-eyed reprobate Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) – his suitability coming from his apparent enthusiasm for meting out justice with his guns rather than leaving it for the courts.

She also happens across Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon), who is also after Chaney for the murder of a Texas state senator. After some initial complications, the three set out together to find Chaney and bring him to justice. However, Chaney has teamed up with local gang leader 'Lucky' Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper), making catching him more complicated than they first envisaged.

I've never actually seen the original; despite being raised watching westerns, my father was more of a Clint Eastwood fan than a Duke fan – though I never asked why – so I never saw it. But, given I'm a massive fan of both Jeff Bridges and the Coen brothers4, I was always going to see this one.

And I'm glad I did; it's a very good film. All the typical Coen elements are there – stunning cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins, minimalist score from Carter Burwell, and a razor-sharp script with a great combination of humour, action and tension. Mattie's dialogue in particular is spectacular, and Steinfeld makes it all sound plausible coming from a fourteen-year-old.

Performances are all excellent, particularly Bridges as the curmudgeonly, mumbles-to-the-point-of-incoherence Cogburn. But he is matched in many scenes by Steinfeld's strongminded Mattie. Matt Damon plays a mostly comic role as the dandyish LeBoeuf, a strong contrast to his hypercompetent Jason Bourne. Josh Brolin is excellent as a seemingly slow-witted Chaney, and Barry Pepper – who I've always liked but haven't seen in anything for years6 – is also great as the nasty (but strangely honourable) 'Lucky' Ned Pepper.

It's probably not up there with either of their best – The Big Lebowski or No Country for Old Men – but it's still worth seeing.

4It should be noted my all-time favourite film is The Big Lebowski – which, if you aren't aware5, is a Coen brothers film starring Jeff Bridges.
5I'll forgive you, this once – as long as you promise to find it and watch it as soon as you're able.
6I suspect it may have had something to do with having been in Battlefield Earth, widely considered one of the worst films ever made.


  1. I'm looking forward to watching The Walking Dead, AMC seem to do well in terms of making intelligent television.

  2. The Walking Dead was always going to be an interesting exercise, because unlike a lot of zombie movies, which rely on the thrill of zombie chases and kills, this alone wouldn't be enough to sustain itself across multiple television episodes/seasons. I've enjoyed the character-driven nature of the show, and seeing how the zombies mirror certain characters' trajectories or feelings.

    Probably the most interesting diversion The Walking Dead has from normal zombie mythology is that the zombies sometimes seem to have a faint memory of their humanity. For instance, the little girl zombie killed in one of the early sequences reaching for her doll, or a female zombie trying to open the door to her old home where he family are trapped inside. This imbues the zombies with something especially heart-wrenching.

    Also, I can't wait to hear you say just HOW BADASS that closing shot of the first episode is.

    I have a one-two-three punch of pre-Fringe shows this week, and anticipate sleepless nights trying to get blog posts up a little more quickly than with The Red Shoes. I can sleep when I'm dead, or Fringe is over ;)