Is The Walking Dead, Dead?

I’ve watched the Walking Dead from the beginning, through all the high and lows, the characters loved and lost. After watching the season six finale, the feeling that it’s got nowhere left to go, just won’t leave me. Speaking to my friends, they disagree completely. They keep telling me how great a character Negan is in the comics and how many cool and incredible characters could be added for the new season. I’m still not convinced. I have to add I’ve not read the comics so don’t know how this all plays out in them, all of this is based on the show itself.

Season one of the Walking Dead was something new, fresh and exciting new take on a genre, that we’d seen with shows like The Wire and The Sopranos. What happens after a virus wipes out most of humanity? How do those left rebuild society, will we lose what makes us who we are, how far will you go to survive? It was an intense experience, a rag tag group of survivors defying the odds against massive hordes of walkers, the simmering tension between the characters as they struggle for dominance, sometimes exploding to the surface. I was hooked!

Then we moved to the second season, which was mainly contained on Hershel’s farm. Everything slowed down and we got to learn more about the characters, for me to much. There’s only so much hand wringing I can take, sure the world has ended as they know it but moping around on a farm for hours on end got grating. It definitely picked up at the end of the season which kept me watching, the next two seasons were a massive improvement.

The introduction of Characters like Michonne and The Governor revitalised the show over the next two seasons and reignited my interest. It was exciting again no more moping around, there were dual threats. It’s always feels more interesting a show when the main adversaries for the group are human and not the undead! This is where the show really sings, when it focuses on the fight to retain a semblance of a way of life, what’s the point of being alive if you’re not living?

After season four it’s felt like the shows been in a cycle of rinse and repeat, meet a band of sociopaths, with a slightly different monstrous quirk ,take them out. Run into walkers, gruesomely defeat them and do it all again. The things that made it different, are now making it feel like the same events are happening over and over again. This feeling isn’t helped with the use of black and white for the first episode of season six, or going back to the opening shot and showing what different characters are thinking and doing at the same moment in time. It felt like they were running out of ideas, throwing something visually different at us to distract us from the fact it was the same old thing happening in front of us.

The end of season 6 didn’t grab me at all. The cliffhanger, who’s Negan killed didn’t land. (unlike Lucille who definitely did, repeatedly in someones skull!) I didn’t care who had been clubbed to death. Negan was this scary guy that the whole season had been building up to, he seemed charming more than anything, the kind of guy you’d like to go for a drink with, as long as he left Lucille at home! Sure he might start a few fights, but it’d be a night to remember!

Don’t get me wrong I don’t hate the show, it’s still one of the best out there right now, I’m just worried that it’s maybe, run out of ideas. At the moment it feels like Rick is going to accept Negan’s terms, fume and plot, waiting for a sign of weakness, before going full on throat ripping Rick on Negan’s ass.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe Negan will turn out to be the character the show needs, bringing it back to being more about the conflict between those who survived, trying to reshape the world in their own image. I hope it will be like a shot in the back of the head from Lucille, restoring my faith in The Walking Dead and begging for more and more seasons.

We’ll find out in October.

Netflix Originals: Daredevil Season Two

I’m not a massive fan of the Marvel cinematic universe, I know this will sound like heresy to some, but to me they’ve become stale overhyped juggernauts, stuck in a creative rut. I find the tone too light at times, there’s no real sense of threat as you know all your favourite heroes will come good in the end. Granted, this looks like it might all change with Captain America: Civil War, which is the first one of their films that I’ve been excited about for a while. I gave Daredevil a try on Netflix, Daredevil was different.

Daredevil follows the story of Matt Murdoch, blinded in an accident as a child which heightened his other senses to such a degree that he could essentially see without the use of his eyes. Lawyer by day helping the disadvantaged, vigilante by night with the same objective in mind.

The first season introduced us to Matt and his journey to become the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, this was a much darker and grittier Marvel. Not afraid to show the brutality of the underbelly of it’s universe, away from the otherworldliness of Thor and outside of the glamour and excess of Tony Stark. Daredevil is looking out for the little guy, me or you. It’s much more grounded in reality than the films, this is only to a degree however, I’m pretty sure there’s not really immortal Ninjas terrorising the streets of New York!

It’s not just the story lines and characters that are darker, it’s also the look of the show. A lot of scenes are set at night rather than in the cold light of day, with Matt using the dark to his advantage against the scum that’s taking over his beloved city. The city streets are painted in orange and teal a pretty played out combination at this point, but it feels more like a stylistic choice on merit rather than the default option.It adds to the feeling that the streets of Hell’s Kitchen are a dangerous place, rundown and seedy begging for relief from the ills that have befallen it. The streets and houses once filled with hopes and dreams now hold only despair and defeat.

Orange And Teal Background

Probably due to the fact it’s a TV budget, Matt’s blindness is never made to be a massive gimmick, with effect shots showing him seeing in some sort of sonar! There’s a bit of slow motion here and there, with a tilt shift effect applied to some shots to show the limitation of his heightened senses. it’s not showy but very effective, it doesn’t make a big deal of it and take you out of the moment.

At the start of season two we’re with back with the now fully costumed Daredevil on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. One of my gripes with the first season was the amount of time it took for Matt to suit up. It was done extremely well with Melvin producing the suit for him, rather than him magically appearing wearing his iconic devil costume, it just felt that they were holding it back just to make sure you watched until the very end.

King Pin is in prison, the Yakuza have fled the city and the law firm of Nelson and Murdock is very much up and running, albeit their main form of payment is in the form of food rather than money! Matt is still cleaning up the streets little by little, but there’s someone new in town, not afraid to wipe out swathes of criminals at a time, in the most brutal ways possible. Daredevil just got a whole lot darker with the addition of The Punisher

The first two episodes are explosive with Daredevil meeting Frank Castle. Frank takes out a meeting of Irish gang members in a hail of bullets and blood, he strikes with military precision. This leads Matt to hunt him down, after he and Foggy agree to represent Grotto who managed to survive the attack on the Irish.

Daredevil’s success on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen has inspired others to become vigilantes, Frank isn’t the first after Matt to take on the job of cleaning up the streets, but he’s definitely the most effective. Dead eyed and square jawed, this Punisher is different from the one portrayed in the two films so far, punching straight through the heads of nameless goons and taking on camp melodramatic villains. This is a much more cold and calculated Punisher, turning his pain and anger against those responsible for the death of his family.

The Punisher

Their first showdown occurs on the roof of the hospital that Grotto’s been admitted to after the hit on the Irish, with The Punisher getting the upper hand, not for the last time. The pace slows down a bit for episode three with Matt taken captive by Frank. the tension during these scenes is cranked up to 11, the two men’s ideologies clashing. Matt has hope that people always have a shot of redemption, they need to be given the chance to change. Frank’s lost all hope, bad people stay bad, they need to be eliminated for the world to be a better place. The episode ends with an Oldboy inspired fight through corridors and down stairways with Matt taking more and more punishment. It illustrates perfectly the differences between the two men, Frank would’ve put them down for good, Matt knocks them down to get back up.

There’s still good in Frank, he does the wrong thing for the right reasons. He’s tormented by the death of his family and the manner in which it happened, caught in the crossfire of a drug deal gone wrong. He blames himself for their deaths, this sense of guilt and need for vengeance mould him into The Punisher. There’s no flashbacks for Frank, we get a slow release of information about his past. One scene does this brilliantly, Matt asks Frank about the rhyme he’s says before pulling the trigger. It’s from a book his daughter liked him to read to her, he refused to read it the night before her death and never got the chance to keep his promise, to read it the next day. It’s an emotionally devastating scene that gives us such an insight into Franks state of mind and past as a loving family man.

Then Elektra shows up. This kills all the energy and tension that’s been built up at the beginning of the season. We see flashbacks of how she and Matt met at college, this serves less to show us who Elektra is but is more about who Matt is and how his moral compass has been in place for a very long time. Even faced with the man who murdered his father he calls the police rather than take matters into his own hands. After the way we were introduced to Frank and slowly given bits of pieces of information about his past, this feels generic and dull. All the effort seems to have been put into The Punisher, with the character of Elektra being an after thought, just a narrative roadblock for Matt. The show definitely works better when it concentrates on The Punisher and Daredevil.

Elektra

Elektra comes to Matt with news that the Yakuza never left New York and have been plotting in the shadows planning their comeback to take over the city, using a company Roxxon as a front. The scenes with Elektra are like something out of a James Bond film, infiltrating buildings dressed to the nines at high class corporate parties, thwarting high tech security systems and taking out hapless guards. All in the search of a macguffin, they never find the information they’re looking for on any of these excursions.

We do get to find out more about Elektra later on in the series, she becomes a much more interesting character when she’s out on her own. This frees up the narrative and propels it forward again, it’s almost as if the writers had come up with the beginning and end, but weren’t quite sure what to put in the middle. We find out who she is and her links to Matt he’s unaware of at first, that they were both trained by Stick to fight the war that will save the world.

At the beginning of season two some characters seem to be stuck in stasis, Karen is still going off on her own getting herself into trouble, Foggy worrying about Matt’s dual lives and what he’s getting himself into. It looks like the season will be two strands following Matt and Frank, then three with the addition of Elektra, but the characters of Foggy and Karen throughout the episodes are given room to breathe and break out on their own. Foggy’s performance in court gives him the confidence he can do this on his own, he gets more to do than just worry about Matt. Karen’s wanderings start to have more meaning, it’s not just a device for her to be saved by Daredevil. She unearths a lot of the information about Frank’s past and uncovers the corruption at the district attorneys office.

Daredevil

Daredevil has two major themes running through both of the seasons so far, the character’s conviction in what the believe is right and the inherent corruption in society. Wilson Fisk in season one believes that his way is right to improve the city, so do Frank and Matt. This makes them much more interesting and sympathetic, there human. Even someone as despicable as Fisk you can to a certain extent admire, in his mind he truly believes he’s going to make Hell’s Kitchen a better place. The system is broken in this world, criminals doing business freely, officials pocketing bribes and covering up their mistakes. If we stand up and be counted this can be changed, it only takes a few people making sacrifices to change the situation.

The addition of The Punisher makes season two tick, ratcheting up the tension and violence, but at times especially when Elektra is introduced, it becomes overcrowded and bogged down with so many narrative strands. Luckily these are all brought together by the end of the season giving a satisfying conclusion, but leaving enough hanging to leave me wanting more.

My hopes for season three are that it’s all about Matt, Foggy and Karen. I’m really excited to see where these characters go after the events of season two. As for The Punisher and Elektra, give them their own shows! Frank Castle is to big and bold a character to be contained in a show where he’d play second fiddle. Elektra was way more interesting when she broke off from Matt, I’d like to see her globetrotting adventures, taking on The Hand wherever they show up and to learn more about her.

Review: Sicario

I’ve been waiting for Sicario to come out for a while, I was gutted when I missed the opportunity to see it at the cinema. I watched one of the Director’s (Denis Villeneuve) previous films, Prisoners, and was impressed with the 70’s style slow burn thriller that he’d produced and was really looking forward to seeing his latest effort.

After a raid on a house owned by the drug cartel ends with deadly consequences, FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is asked to join an inter agency task force by shadowy agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to track down and disrupt the operations of the Mexican cartel responsible. This takes them on operations back and forth across the border with the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) who has his own hidden agenda for being involved.

The film begins with the raid on the house, the aim being to free hostages held by a gang. The raid soon turns sour as numerous bodies wrapped in plastic are found in the walls and two officers are killed by an explosion when a booby trapped cellar door is opened. The brutality of these actions clearly shock and appall the FBI team, the sight and smell making them gag, even the experienced Kate is affected, she’s been knocking down doors for three years and has never seen anything like this.

The bodies in the wall and the explosion change Kate, she needs answers, which is why she agrees to join the task force with little to no information.

The filming of this scene sets the tone for the rest of the film. The camera is handheld moving, as if you’re another member of the team during the raid, looking around corners to check for danger and trying to take everything in. It’s fast moving and urgent, using this movement to compliment the cuts and add tension. The camera leans to the left but not quite enough to be a Dutch tilt. It gives the feeling that there’s something not quite right with the whole situation and is used in other parts of the film to convey the insanity of the situation that is the war on drugs in America.

The lighting setups are motivated, using light sources coming through windows, from fluorescent lighting tubes or the interior lights of a car. This is used to clever effect at times, red light across Kate’s face after she shoots a man dead comes from a red sheet covering the window. The danger to a suspect being interrogated by Alejandro is given extra weight with the blue and red flashing lights of Police cars adding to the tension in the scene. It cleverly manages to add tension and meaning to the film whilst giving it the air of realism that really draws you in.

The trips into Mexico are treated like military operations with Kate, Matt and Alejandro joined by Delta force and heavily armed Mexican Police officers who all have their faces covered. The reasons for this become very apparent when they enter Juarez, headless bodies are strung up from underneath the highway, gunshots can be heard in the background and roads are blocked off along their root. They’re definitely not in Arizona anymore.

Later on there is another raid, this time between borders in a tunnel network used by drug smugglers. Parts of the sequence uses night vision and thermal cameras so we see what Kate and the others see. This makes the world look alien, the rocks all in a green or grey hue as they make their way towards the tunnel. It adds tension but also dehumanises the bodies left lying on the floor, they just look like inanimate objects, like they’ve been playing a computer game. This is a numbers game plain and simple, how can we get rid of some of them and make the drug problem more manageable. Deep down they know the war is lost and the policies don’t work, so they will police it the best they can.

There is an empty hollow feeling you’re left with after watching Sicario, I couldn’t put my finger on it at first but that’s the point. The futility of the American policies dealing with the drug trade, shoot or arrest one and there’s two more guys to take his place, even worse they could cause even more carnage fighting it out over who that will be. It’s a fight that can’t be won but has gone on for so long they can’t admit they’ve lost, which leads them to work with who they believe is the easiest group of individuals to manipulate.

Sicario was definitely worth the wait, a high tension thriller that kept me gripped all the way through with great performances from the main cast. It may leave you feeling drained, the lives broken and torn apart by greed and malice, the pointlessness of the situation. But hey, a good film is one you remember, because it made you feel something, be that good or bad.

Harry Potter Studio Tour

I visited Leavesden studios made famous by the Harry Potter films to go on the studio tour. I’m not a massive Harry Potter fan but I have to say it’s definitely worth a visit. You don’t have to be a fan of the series to appreciate the time and skill that went into making it. The sets and props are simply stunning, having the chance to walk down Diagon Alley and through the Great Hall sets used in the film is an unbelievable experience.

The sets are on the same sound stages that were used during filming, it adds to the weight of the place knowing that the actors stood where you are now, your imagination runs wild! Hagrid and Harry walking down Diagon Alley thronged with so many weird and wonderful witches and wizards, the splendour of the Great Hall, all the magical moments from the films that happened in the very room you’re standing in!

The tour is definitely a must for film buffs, the sets are lit immaculately, giving you the opportunity to take photos with lighting setups you can only dream of, if I could have got away with it I would have starting filming some scenes of my own there and then!

So much is on show, there’s even blueprints and models of the set and character designs, not to mention a myriad of treats that will inspire and amaze. There’s no way possible to give everything your full attention and take it all in with only one visit. I will definitely be going again to see what I might have missed and any new treats they may have in store for me.

If you would like to check out any of the other photos I took on the tour check out my Pinterest board.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.