The Walking Dead – New Best Friends Review

The Walking Dead enters it’s fantasy phase

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By Jay Hunter This was the week that The Walking Dead really shed it’s skin. A show that once had more in common with a post-apocalyptic anthology, only metamorphose into a showcase of brutality and torture, emerged from it’s chrysalis as a bizarre Mad Max-esque zombie show.

These are the three phases of The Walking Dead in it’s seven year runtime. Make no mistake about it, we are now firmly in fantasyland. A world where Kings and tigers rule, zombies have battle armour and tribes forge alliances to take down warlords. But i’m strangely okay with it.

This weeks episode opened – ironically – with the group trying to escape a huge dump. While searching for a missing Father Gabriel, Rick and his group encounter a mysterious collective, its inhabitants unlike any they have come across. Once again, Rick attempts a call to arms with a new group only for talks to breakdown. The garbage-pail leader pushes Rick into her – more literal – rubbish version of the Rancor pit from Return of the Jedi. Emerging from the trash rustles a walker, so painfully created in order to sell Pop Funko toys it’s laughable. Admittedly, the Mouth of Sauron walker looks cool, but it has no place in The Walking Dead. Dispatching the zombie with a mountain of bin-bags, Rick proves his worth and so a tentative relationship is formed.

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The episodes best scene however didn’t involve spilling guts, but a touching conversation between Rick and Carol. As subsequently pointed out by the pacifist Morgan, Daryl could have awoken Carol’s inner demons by revealing to her that Negan had brutally murdered Glenn (and to a lesser extent Abraham, Spencer and Olivia). In turn forcing The Kingdom into war by sheer will. However, with Daryl exposing his softer side, he lied saying everyone was fine. It was a sweet moment that shows just how much Daryl cares about Carol’s feelings.

The contrast in these two scenes prove that the show seems to now be splatting anything it can against the wall and seeing what sticks. There was genuine human-drama in the chemistry between Daryl and Carol, but the battle armour zombie will no doubt be a profitable toy as The Walking Dead is now coming across as a show written by children, for children. The question is, will the fanbase be okay with that?

The Walking Dead Midseason Premiere Proves it’s Failing

The Walking Dead finally bends to peer pressure

By Jay Hunter Straight out the gate, I feel I need to state I didn’t dislike this weeks episode of The Walking Dead. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. But it wasn’t the show that we all used to love. Dramatic tension and bite-sized character arcs have been replaced with poorly executed grand narratives and ridiculous set-pieces. Instead of figuring out how to get a zombie out of a well or finding a gas canister, we are now preoccupied with a world – strangely – filled with humans, waging war upon one another.

Unlike a lot of critics, I’ve always been quite fond of The Walking Dead, even if I despise the way it treats it’s more enthusiastic fans. But it’s never been a truly brilliant show. If it ever got close to that statue, it was post-Governor when the show became short stories and arcs set throughout the zombie campaign. In saying that, The Walking Dead’s hardcore fanbase, could simply shrug off criticism by using it’s mammoth ratings as a shield. That is, until season seven’s brutal and divisive premiere, when people tuned out. The coveted 18-49 demographic left in droves as ratings fell by 40 percent.

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After leaving fans hanging for seven months, millions of people tuned in to see who’s brains would be left hanging on warlord Negan’s bat. Billed as an endurance test, the sheer brutality on screen was – for some people – akin to the sadistic Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones. In a huge miscalculation however, The Walking Dead focused on the antagonist’s glee instead of the pain of the antagonists – like Game of Thrones. The Walking Dead revelled in Negan as the star of the show, stretching over the episodes runtime, the whole episode was executed similar to that of a male power-trip. We lingered on the erotic – brutality as Lucile – Negan’s phallic baseball bat – was shoved in our faces. For nearly forty minutes we focused on low-angled shorts staring up at Negan as he paraded around a group of terrified hostages.

Many people have described The Walking Dead as a ‘bad relationship series’ and the premiere was the epitome of that statement. A show that treats you like dirt for weeks, leading you on and teasing you with good, only to finally deliver it just as you’re about to drop it. Before backing up and repeating the process again.

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Which leads me to the midseason premiere.  For the first time in it’s unwavering punishment of it’s audience, The Walking Dead relented and gave in to fan pressure. In an uncharacteristically wooden episode, Rick and co managed to traverse the universes ‘treacherous’ landscape, in order to visit a multitude of different communities and convince them to fight in one – comparatively – fast paced episode.

After spending half a season deciding whether or not it was a smart movie to rebel against Negan’s iron fist, our ragtag hero’s visit the Kingdom, asking for King Ezekiel’s aid. Naturally, the leader is hesitant about going to war and risking the welfare of his people. Daryl responds – likely because the writers need him to sound like a tough badass every now and then – “You call yourself a damn king! You sure as hell don’t act like one!”.  A ridiculous response to a man who doesn’t want to impulsively rush off to help a dilapidated clan of outsiders wage war on the Saviours.

Clearly The Walking Dead is now a show that has lost any sense of nuance. Consider the scene that surprisingly turns out to be the weeks most fascinating. Rick and friends discover a blocked-off road on a recon mission. The barricade, they discover also doubles up as an explosive trap laid by the Saviors. In need of weapons and explosives, they carefully dismantle it, as a gigantic herd of zombies hurdles toward them.

When it transpires that the group are slowly moving the vehicle’s – just so they can put them back again – the sequence feels like a metaphor for the few seasons. However, we slowly build upon that plot, by adding layers to the scene. First they need to move the cars without alerting the saviours, then they need the bombs without them exploding, then the walkers are getting close, then they need to escape. A clear goal, with escalating pressure. Simple storytelling.

It’s also a segway into an over the top action sequence. Upon fortuitous inspection, Rick and Michonne drive two cars in tandem, with a tensile cable linked between. Dissecting the heard in an explosion of blood and gore. A brilliant set-piece – but one – that betrays all the gritty realism we’ve become accustomed to over the course of it’s seven year runtime.

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Upon their return back to Alexandria, Rick and a handful of others go out to find Gabriel and his plot-device. This leads to the group being surrounded yet again by another community. For a world that was so sparsely populated a few years ago, the human race sure have repopulated fast.

Who knows who they are, odds will be they won’t like Rick either. But it’s okay, in a few more episodes they’ll find a safe haven once again – at least for a while.

 

Santa Clarita Diet – Review

A feast of fun and flesh

By Jay Hunter Question, what would happen if you took conventional Americana housewife comedy ala Cougar Town and threw a bucket load of gore at it? Answer, Santa Clarita Diet. The Drew Barrymore led Netflix original series is quite the conundrum, managing to be both highly formulaic and totally original all at once.

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Shelia (Barrymore) and Joel (Scream 2’s, Timothy Olyphant) star as the real-estate couple who’s suburban lives are thrown into chaos as Sheila – without explanation – becomes a zombie, by way of profuse vomiting. The upside is, Sheila is now more adventurous and energetic, the downside is she wants to eat human beings.

It would be easy to judge Santa Clarita Diet by it’s cover, becoming another property that neuters horrors most beloved creatures; the same vein as Twilight and Warm Bodies. But the show plays the material so tongue-in-cheek, whilst not shying away from the blood and guts it’s hard not to love it. The show takes note from 90s proto-dark humour but also interesting shades from Showtimes, Dexter. As Sheila’s appetite evolves from simply graving raw beef into living-breathing human flesh, both her and Joel team up to kill – their targets being “the prototype would be young, single Hitler” type.

The effect of a monster finding home in a placid community is one that’s been explored often in comedic horror – think Edward Scissorhands. And of course, not all the jokes hit home, but with the sheer volume delivered from the cast it’s easy to shrug off some of the more eye-rolling pop culture references. The material works best when Olyphant and Barrymore are on screen, such is there insatiable chemistry, but Santa Clarita does a great job of portioning out the undead arrival effect on other characters too – Liv Hewson as Sheila and Joel’s daughter, Abbey is a particularly great addition. The series unfortunately ends on a gambling cliffhanger instead of wrapping things up nicely, but there’s no denying a second series wouldn’t be welcomed.

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The Exorcist – The Moveable Feast Review

The Exorcist continues it’s strong run of form

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Images: FOX
This article contains spoilers for The Exorcist, The Moveable Feast

By Jay Hunter Father Marcus journeys to an unexpected destination and receives guidance from a most unlikely source; The two priests must decide whether to defy the church by performing an unsanctioned exorcism.

After a CGI heavy dream, Casey’s condition continues to deteriorate in the psychiatric wing of a hospital, where she was transported after last weeks train attack. Due to her case, Doctors inform her mother that she can’t have access to her child for 72 hours, of course this only serves to perpetuate the demonic host inside of her, as it begins to ratify over her soul in private. Threatening  the innocent people around her, Casey is forced to give in to the incubus before it harms more around her.

mv5bmji3odizndqyn15bml5banbnxkftztgwntkzotizmdi-_v1_sy1000_cr0014961000_al_Meanwhile Father Tomas is paid a visit by a familiar face from his past with Jessica. It’s an arc that serves no purpose other than fleshing out and humanising Tomas himself. It’s a storyline that is of minor importance thus far, however assuming it will lead to Jessica being lead to jeopardy later on in the series, providing some calamitous crisis, it may well pay off toward The Exorcist’s climax.

Once again Marcus is the noteworthy focal point. As he visits a local covenant after last weeks excommunication. Gaining guidance and training from the local Nun’s, Father Marcus comes across more gauzy, yet none the less leaden complemented by an equally hardened performance from Mother Bernadette (Deanna Dunagan).

Concluding with the exorcism inauguration, The Exorcist continues to be a stand out horror show this Halloween season. Problems occur when city-wide exorcisms are teased, but for now it’s the most enjoyable horror ride on television.

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Scream Queens – Handidates Review

Hester and a sole survivor of the Halloween massacre are questioned; Chad makes a shocking proposal to Chanel; A patient with an outrageous disorder brings Chanel #3 and Cassidy closer.

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By Jay Hunter Handidates was the most uneven episode of Scream Queens season two to date, where as it’s second entry was a surprising drop off in terms of quality from the season opener, this week managed to claw back some humour, albeit with plenty of lines that don’t land.

Suspension of disbelief is a necessity when it comes to a program like Scream Queens. That being said, seeing the Chanel’s branding #5 as a serial killer in the opening scene still felt like a leap in logic, even for individuals as nebbish as themselves. As the trio go back and forth, Dean Munsch enters to clear up the situation by dumping Tyler’s body into the swap behind the hospital, because it worked so well decades before…

A following scene in which Chad’s friend is brutally murdered is one of the most gore heavy kills we’ve seen so far this season, not to be topped by a brace of Zack Snyder spirited slaughters in the closing ten minutes in terms of brutality.

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Images: FOX

The pacing this week seemed to meander along, with a few entertaining focal scenes thrown in for good measure. Again we are introduced to another patient with a bizarre aliment, only for them to be butchered before the end of the episode. The clinquant scape’s this week however have to be given to Cassidy and Chanel #3 as their romance blossoms, ridiculous almost Scary Movie-esque dialogue decorates their love scenes, it’s all very silly, but if you’re this deep into the series you know what to presuppose.

Chad and Dr.Holt have more great chemistry in the locker-room as they’re vying for Chanel’s attention. Conclusively ending with Chad performing a typically Chad proposal in a public park, asking for Chanel’s hand in marriage. Once she accepts, the episode’s climax is held at Chad and Chanel’s wedding, where the show does less than take a shot to the foot, rather than takes a rocket launcher to it’s heart by killing Chad Radwell. It’s a move that feels like it could of been built as a second storyline throughout the series, ending in a genuine emotional blow. Instead it’s inception and completion within half an episode comes off as a rushed shock-job, sweeping the feet from underneath the audience for a cheap consternation.

Worryingly, Chad provided the main volume of the laughs for Scream Queens, so it will be interesting to see where the show goes from here.

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13th – Review

From slave to criminal with one amendment.

An important and alarming look at inequality in the Western world today

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Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

By Jay Hunter13th is the new documentary from Ava DuVernay (Selma) which claims that the 13th amendment was constructed with a loophole. Allowing compulsory servitude as a forfeiture for crime, a clause which was then directly exploited once slavery had been abolished. Providing an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States the documentary manages to affirm the nation’s history of racial inequality with unequivocal vigour.

The abolition of slavery, through the chain gang labour that reinstated it, along with apartheid and “the mythology of black criminality”, serve as a precursor to a delineate track leading from the Nixon instilled “war on crime and drugs” to present day mass incarceration. Perhaps most startling is the big business of privately run prisons and conglomerates such as Victoria’s Secret which use convicts for cheap labour. DuVernay administers a narrative which deconstructs the amendment and leaves it bare as little more than a instrument to profit from African Americans.

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Images: Netflix

A documentary of this nature could easily be dismissed as tin-foil hat propaganda, however well-researched chronicle’s and ardent one-on-one interviews means the claims that are presented are entirely plausible. No doubt leaving a sour taste in the mouths of the right.

Memorable blurbs affirming that the US penal system is worth around $600 billion a year stain the memory and will not be easily forgotten. A heartbreaking final scene which you may have seen being shared on Facebook recently, punctuates an important movie with a hard hitting reminder of inequality in todays world.

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Westworld – Chestnut Review

‘Til things are brighter, I’m The Man in Black

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This article contains spoilers for Westworld, Chestnut

By Jay Hunter The second week of Westworld saw Lee pitching his latest narrative, whilst Dr. Ford had other ideas; meanwhile Bernard and Theresa debate whether a recent host anomaly is contagious; as The Man in Black conscripts a condemned man Lawernce, to help him uncover Westworld’s deepest secrets.

Where as the pilot episode of Westworld felt very narratively different to most series, focusing largely on continuous loops from the perspective of Dolores. Chestnut sees a much more customary story as we follow a brace of guests experiencing the park.

The “world within a world” scenario with Lee Sizemore giving his pitch on the newest Westworld narrative, entitled ‘Odyssey on Red River’ gave a nice fourth wall feel to the episode, promoting just how complex the theme park actually is.

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Images: HBO

Whilst the showrunner’s may be pointing us in the direction of William and Logo as the “main characters” there’s no denying just how consummated Ed Harris’ arc is. Clearly a veteran of the park, the Man in Black is seen recruiting a new member in the form of Lawrence this week as he baptises himself into Westworld ever deeper. His storyline of course hints at more grandiose schemes, including hints that The Man is in fact, a Host himself.

Still leaving plenty of breadcrumbs and open ended questions which will no doubt be answered by a “higher power” of such throughout the season, Chestnut managed to build upon the series superb opening week. Showing us the inner goings on at the park as well as adding mists of mystery and adding more character development to the likes of Maeve who’s emotions are altered by Elsie to prevent a recall.

From a technical level, there’s no doubt that Westworld is the most flawlessly executed show on television at this moment in time.

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