A review of the “Fear the Walking Dead” Season 5 premiere

“Fear the Walking Dead” has devolved.   It’s fallen a long way from its early years as an earnest, deadly serious prequel to “The Walking Dead.”  (I, for one, really liked the first season’s creative mix of slow-burn horror and family drama, and I loved the ambitious, milieu-exploring apocalypse-in-progress stories of subsequent seasons.)  Today, we’ve reached the point where the show has become so slapdash and campy that you have to wonder whether its creators take it seriously at all.

I’m sorry to say this, but the Season 5 premiere felt like pretty amateurish stuff.  Its writing, directing and acting (in some places) were really, really spotty.  Its early action set-piece involving a plane crash, for example, was choppy, confusing and awkwardly staged.  The plotting and dialogue were … poor.

Even the premiere’s marketing was goofy.  Its television ads seemed like an intentional self-parody — like maybe a Saturday Night Live skit lampooning zombie shows.  (See below.)  The poster is a mess too — even if the center image’s suggestion that John Dorie is a gunslinging Christ figure is pretty damned nifty.

With all of this said, it may surprise you that I still liked the episode well enough, and I’ll still watch the show.  I’d rate the premiere a 7 out of 10, because “Fear the Walking Dead” still has its merits.  I can think of three reasons in particular why I still had fun with the premiere, and why I’ll still tune in next Sunday.

First, some of the characters are terrific.  I’ll always love Victor Strand (Colman Domingo). I really like Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and his mild-mannered girlfriend, June (Jenna Elfman), and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) is the kind of child character that typically grows on me.  (Let’s hope Dorie’s posture in the poster isn’t a hint about his death.)  I still like Morgan, because Lennie James is always a pleasure to watch, even if I don’t share the immense zeal of his legions of fans.  (The writers need to do more with him beyond his weird, vaguely “Kung Fu,” born-again altruism.  I know he’s supposed to be the Eastern philosophy guy, but his dialogue sometimes makes him come off like a stereotypical, nattering Evangelical.)

The second reason I’ll stay with this show is that its stories move along quickly.  There are no static, Negan-centered endless epics here, like there are on this show’s plodding progenitor.

The third reason is this — “Fear the Walking Dead” has always hatched the most creative story ideas.  Whatever problems the show might have developed over time with character, dialogue or plot details, the basic story concepts have always been really damned inventive.  (They consistently offer much more than “The Walking Dead’s” two  boiler-plate plot arcs — group-vs.-group or refuge-with-a-hidden-danger.)  This season looks like it will be no exception.  There are two major reveals in this episode’s closing minutes.  One connects Season 5 with past seasons of “Fear the Walking Dead,” while another is a tantalizing hint about greater forces in the “Walking Dead” universe.

Oh!  One more thing!  There is an important new character here played by the terrific Matt Frewer.  If you’re a true zombie horror fan, then you’ll recognize him as none other than Frank, from Zack Snyder’s superb, unfairly reviled 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake.  And if you’re an 80’s kid like I am, then you might remember him as the original Max Headroom — from both the Coca-Cola ads and excellent but short-lived 1987 sci-fi series.  That’s some pretty fun casting — and the guy is a really good actor.

 

D5-Saa_X4AIh0Vn

A short review of Season 1 of “Black Summer” (2019)

I don’t understand how “Black Summer” can be as good as it is.  It’s produced by The Asylum, the makers of low budget, direct-to-video ripoff films like “Atlantic Rim” (2013) and “Triassic World” (2018).  It’s a prequel to the horror-comedy “Z Nation” (2014-2018) — a show that was so bad I couldn’t make it through its first episode.  Yet “Black Summer” is inexplicably a great, albeit imperfect, TV show.  I’d rate it a 9 out 10.

I might be in the minority here; a lot of people are severely panning this show online.  And I do recognize its weaknesses — there is very little detail in its plot or character development … there is often even very little dialogue at all.  And even I recognized some plot holes.  (I’m typically a little slow on the uptake where these are concerned.)

But this bare-bones zombie story still manages to screen some likable characters, and then put them through a thrilling succession of hyper-kinetic chases and melees.  I was on the edge of my seat, and I consequently didn’t miss the methodical, detailed plotting of shows like “The Walking Dead.”  The season’s finale is crowned by an extended, eye-level, real-time action set-piece that ought to be considered a classic in the  zombie-horror subgenre.  It was mind-blowing. I just can’t dislike a horror property that genuinely scared me.

I could simply be out of step with everyone else; I often have different tastes in zombie fare.  I love Zack Snyder’s 2008 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” which this series reminds me of.  And I also love similar overseas productions like Spain’s “[REC]” films (2007 – 2014) and Britain’s “Dead Set” miniseries (2008), while those amazing entries are hardly known among my friends.  I also cannot understand why many people who love George A. Romero’s and Robert Kirkman’s productions must always compare other films and TV shows unfavorably to them.  We can love both.  Why not?

Hey, if you don’t want to make my word for it, here is what Stephen King tweeted: “No long, fraught discussions. No endless flashbacks, because there’s no back story. No grouchy teens. Dialogue is spare. Much shot with a single handheld camera, very fluid.”

I obviously recommend this.

 

black-summer-season-1-poster-1166630-1280x0

A very short review of “The Dead” (2010)

Take a look at the movie poster below for the Ford Brothers’ “The Dead” (2010).  It’s problematic for two reasons.

One, of course, is that it contains what is arguably the most unimaginative title in zombie movie history.

Two is its immediate recollection of the marketing art for Zack Snyder’s terrific 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake.  It is so similar in composition and color scheme that it makes the Ford Brothers’ film look like a “mockbuster,” whose cover is designed to fool hasty movie renters.

And that’s a shame, because “The Dead” is a fairly decent zombie movie in its own right — I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.  It’s a lower-budget feature, and some of the acting is a bit flat, but this is a movie that does a lot with a little.  The film wisely makes the most of its African setting, and has an intelligent, if slowly paced, story.  It focuses on its two military protagonists’ needs for food, sleep, shelter, fuel and vigilance, during the course of a lengthy overland trek.  That’s refreshing in an era of “Strippers vs. Zombies” (2012), and various fairly lackluster clones of “Shaun of the Dead” (2004).

Best of all, however, is the film’s skilled manner of evoking “slow burn” or “creeping” horror.  The zombies in “The Dead” usually move quite slowly.  They might be the slowest zombies I’ve ever seen.  This might be the anti-“28 Days Later” (2002).  But that makes the vibe here unique among the spate of modern zombie films — and maybe a little reminiscent of George A Romero’s pioneering early films.  If your reaction is like mine, you’ll find it a little unnerving to see them gather en masse at a snail’s pace.

I recommend this.

the-dead-1464333825197

A quick review of the Season 6 premiere of “The Walking Dead.” And is a major death hinted at?

I tend to obsess a little about spoilers, so I’m reluctant even to describe the plot of the Season 6 opener for “The Walking Dead.”  The story I thought we’d see absolutely wasn’t the story we saw, and the very first scene should be a terrific surprise for the viewer.  Suffice to say, this episode was fantastic — I’d give it a 9 out of 10.

After five seasons, even a diehard fan of the program can ask about its screenwriters, “How long can they keep this up?”  This is a horror subgenre that’s hard to keep fresh.  But the show still succeeds.

The writers are trying, and it shows.  I suggest that this actually is sometimes a pretty smart show.  A nice amount of thought has gone into the major action set-pieces since the start of Season 5 — everything from strategy, tactics, terrain, diversion, leadership, and even differing levels of training for new or seasoned combatants.  When one protagonist refers to our heroes’ adversaries as “an army,” I began looking at this episode as … “military horror?”  Is that even a thing?  Anyway, it’s a refreshing change for fans of zombie horror who are tired of the spate of second-rate movies on Netflix — those typically show attractive twenty-somethings in vague battles, cheerfully rattling off dry one-liners while swinging impact weapons, despite their lack of any training or experience.  This episode offered horror fans both exploding zombie heads and an intelligently staged battle to follow.  Nice stuff!

Also present were the other things that people love about the show — great character moments, surprise character development, and terrific dialogue.  The exchange between Morgan and Carol was goddam beautiful, and it makes me rethink my longstanding (and unpopular) criticism that this show sometimes struggles with characterization.

The suspense and tension tonight were absolutely perfect.  I was on the edge of my seat until the end of story.  And the final surprise development and cliffhanger there really drove me nuts, even if I have a pretty good idea why it occurred.

There is one question here that I am embarrassed to ask.  I’m afraid I’m going senile.  Am I the only fan who absolutely does NOT remember the character of Ron?!  I … I thought that Alexandria’s Hester Prynne here had only ONE son, young Sam!

Hey, one more thing — if I’m onto something here, I’m going to be damn proud … and I don’t think this counts as a spoiler, as it is only an unconfirmed suspicion on my part.  We see an erratic Abraham manically and cavalierly battle some zombies here.  When asked why he was behaving strangely, he replies that he’s “taking the bull by the balls.”

He sounded a hell of a lot to me like the erratic Roger manically and cavalierly battling zombies during a fateful scene in George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” (1978).  He keeps blurting, “We got this by the balls, we got this by the balls!”  And both scenes involve people getting in and out of vehicles.  The 1978 sequence ends poorly for Roger because of his carelessness.  Does this mean that Abraham is likewise doomed?

cf43d0c11dcbb85457b9fe4f7282c11c