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.

 

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A few quick words on “The Walking Dead” Season 9 (2019)

I won’t go on at length here about how “The Walking Dead” has so vastly improved.  I’ve already bored a couple of friends of mine to tears by practically evangelizing to them about how they should start watching the show again after having given up on it.

But now that Season 9 has concluded, I at least need to mention here that I loved it — enough to rate it a 9 out out of 10.  There were some narrative problems, some of which were avoidable and some of which weren’t.  (It’s always hard to smoothly script around the departures of major characters.  This instance must have been especially tough.)   But Season 9 is so radically improved in terms of its pacing, plotting and characterization that it might as well be an entirely different TV show.  Not only does it move along at a nice, brisk pace, it also paints a fairly broad post-apocalyptic epic on a broad canvas.  And it’s scary again, too — owing largely to the arrival of “The Whisperers,” who are among the best villains the show has ever offered.  (Only the residents of Terminus come close to being creepier.)

If you’ve given up on the show, I understand that.  The overall story has stagnated for years, most notably when it was mired in the static, over-long and depressing story arc in which our heroes were subjugated by Negan.  But I recommend you sit down with Season 9 and at least give it a chance.  You’ll be happy you did.

 

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Alpha on “The Walking Dead” was Agatha in “Minority Report” (2002).

Didn’t see that one coming.  (Waitaminute. Why are actors “on” shows, but “in” movies?)  The name of the actress is Samantha Morton.

She’s bald in both roles, and both roles depict her in dystopias.

And her characters are repeatedly referred to by others as “the strongest” member of their group.

AND both the show and the film place her in a key plot arc in which girls are taken from their mothers.  Damn.

 

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A review of “The Purge” Season 1 (2018)

“The Purge” franchise continues to defy expectations after its move to television.  It still isn’t high art, and it probably can never fully transcend the high-camp trappings of its premise.  (I suppose it’s hard to script a truly grounded horror property about people in Halloween costumes murdering one another with impunity on a designated “holiday.”)  But, like the movies preceding it, the USA Network’s new dystopian horror show is still a bit smarter and more interesting you’d expect from its bizarre central plot conceit.

The 10-episode first season, which aired with seemingly little fanfare last fall, generally succeeds — I’d rate it an 8 out of 10, and I’ve spoken with a couple of other horror fan who were as happy with it as I was.  The people who recommended it to me are also big fans of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” (which has radically improved this season), and that makes sense.  Although “The Purge” has an entirely different feel than “The Walking Dead,” it also has a lot of common elements — both shows are milieu-type horror stories with a large, diverse group of characters negotiating a sprawling setting with innumerable deadly antagonists.

A surprising amount of thought went into this show.  There’s a nice degree of world-building and detail, with various characters embracing, rejecting or remaining ambivalent about the titular “Purge.”  The screenwriter here tries hard to round out the twisted America in which The Purge annually takes place, with a lot of creative and blackly cynical story elements.  (I’m not clear if the writer here is James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed the first three of the four “Purge” movies.)  We see, for example, a cult whose brainwashed members offer themselves up as willing murder victims, as well as anti-Purge revolutionaries who exploit the night to target the fascist oligarchical government which created the brutal holiday.  There are a lot of surprises in terms of plot, character and setting that I will not spoil here.

The gore and violence were surprisingly high for network television.  (Again, this show may be taking its cues from “The Walking Dead,” which always pushes the boundaries.)

Some of the acting is quite good — William Baldwin is absolutely superb, Lee Tergesen is always fun to watch, and the beautiful Hannah Emily Anderson is another talented standout.  I swore I recognized Fiona Dourif’s distinctive looks and mannerisms.  (She portrays the cunning cult leader who entices young people to sacrifice themselves, and I’ll be damned if she doesn’t totally look and sound the part.)  But, upon Googling her, I realized I’d never seen her before — she just reminds me of her father, who also plays a lot of bad guys — the amazing Brad Dourif.

Some of my enthusiasm for “The Purge” waned just a little as the season wound down toward its conclusion.  After Season 1’s unsettling ideas were left fully explored, the show did start to feel more like conventional television — right down to a standard good-guys-vs.-bad-guys shoot-em-up at its climax.  (If the show had fully sustained its tension until the end, I would have rated it a 9 out of 10.)  And the final minutes of Season 1 consist of a coda among three characters that is forced and preposterous … I’m surprised it made it past the editing stage.  But this still wasn’t enough to spoil the fun.

I should also note here that not everyone enjoyed “The Purge” as I and my friends did.  Critical and popular reaction to it is definitely mixed.  (As of this writing, the show has only a 42% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, with just 63% of audiences liking it.)

Postscript — I could almost swear that the auditorium we see towards the end is the very same shooting location used for Thomas Smith’s school in “The Man in the High Castle.”  You can tell by the establishing shots.  It’s even lit the same way.

 

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