Monday, 17 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

Director: Peter Jackson

Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries, Lee Pace, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt

Synopsis: Biblo (Freeman) lives an ordinary life in Bagginton and then one day is asked by a friendly wizard Gandalf (McKellen) to accompany a group of dwarves on an adventure to reclaim treasure. 

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have the obvious connotations of fantasy, yet there is also the notion of time attached to the works. All books took a considerable time to write (with J.R.R. Tolkien attempting numerous rewrites on The Hobbit) and the author was the grand age of 63 when his follow up to Bilbo's story, the trilogy on that "precious" ring, was published. When we think of the seminal novels, thoughts of long-winded description and hundreds-upon-hundreds of pages are not uncommon. In contemporary terms the stories are largely associated with Peter Jackson's epic adaptations - the saga that lasted from 2001 - 2003 and a further trilogy starting now in 2012 and finishing in 2014. Watching the adaptions thus far will take a hefty 727 minutes (and that's not counting the extended versions' run times), a time that could easily be matched by reading the books themselves, depending on your reading speed. There has, arguably, never been an adaption of a series of works that has gone beyond the full ten yards in order to engage the audience with that specific world. The Hobbit is no different; it is a grand spectacle filled with meaty action, vibrant aesthetics and stories and characters never to be forgotten (just remember to have a bathroom break before it begins).

For those not completely won over by the events of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit could equally disappoint. It is advertised as more frolicsome and funny than The Lord of the Rings but this is not always the case with the film. The beginning, which introduces Bilbo and the Dwarves, contains many amusing skits and songs but once the journey begins it recaptures the style of the now-classic trilogy. Swooping shots of the scenery along with Howard Shore's beautiful score are both help and hindrances to this new addition. In one sense, it reminds of you of how easy it is to fall in love with this world. However, these features also become overly-reminiscent of films past, sometimes distracting for when you need to be in the modern moment.

For the most part The Hobbit is boasting something very new. Not only does it focus on a story 60 years before the Fellowship was established, it enhances all of the technology once used to bring Middle-earth to life. Shot in 3D and 48fps (double the regular 24 frames per second to smooth out movement), The Hobbit is a dazzling new display of Tolkien's imagination. The mines, caves and shrubbery that makes up a large portion of the landscape is layered thanks to the 3D. What's more, the frame rate (that may go unnoticed by some) is quite astonishing at points. The handheld camera work that can often disorientate in films has a fluidity with the 48fps, perfected with the static shots. Both technologies together animate the action far beyond any previous cinematic means - purely immersive.

Even with an aesthetic that never fails to keep you wide-eyed, the film does have its moments of tedium. Just as The Lord of the Rings had scenes of dull exposition, The Hobbit is not without its moments of informative, though dreary, dialogue. With Jackson stretching out the 300 page book (give or take) to three films, the tried nature of this approach can sometimes seem blatant. The Rivendell sequence, for instance, reeks of some superfluousness. At times this added material lends itself well for characters, though can also spoil it. The appearance of Saruman should be a moment of sheer delight (especially given Sir Christopher Lee's fragile state) though he is mostly muted in preference of Gandalf and Galadriel's mind-messaging.

It is often the smaller roles within the film that garner more attention than the key players (Bilbo, Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel). Sylvester McCoy as Radagast, Barry Humphries as the Great Goblin and Andy Serkis back as Gollum (known by many but with only a minor part in this trilogy) eat up their scenes with extremely pleasing results. All three characters have dialogue that could have easily made the remaining cast jealous - all playing larger-than-life roles in some pivotal scenes. With two played under the guise of a motion-capture suit it may be easy to dismiss their performance - or to forget the actors beneath the CGI - but the Great Goblin and Gollum are wonderfully, frighteningly real.

The final words of mention should go towards Martin Freeman taking the reigns of this entire film, and his accompanying Dwarves. Ian Holm's sweet, antiquated Bilbo was one of the many loveable side-characters of The Lord of the Rings - a brief part in The Hobbit's prologue sternly reminds you of his influence. It takes some time to get used to Bilbo as the lead as you may have forgotten the somewhat pedantic, obstinate ways of the Bag End resident. Freeman plays this with perfection, though it is easy to take this as a negative - the subtle grumpiness to the character does not make the most admirable hero. The charm that is an innate part of Ian Holm is yet to be discovered in Freeman (probably due to his age) and he is not always the idyllic leading man. It takes the entire film for Bilbo to emerge as the familiar hero figure - putting him in good stead for the following two films - making him a tad unlikeable and irritating throughout most of An Unexpected Journey.

Joining Bilbo on his quest is a pack of feral, boisterous Dwarves. Each has a unique personality (not all profiles fully illustrated so far) and make for a memorable movie mob. Focus is put on Richard Armitage as Thorin (leading man in the film's superb battle scenes), an skeptical warrior whose objective and blood-line comes first. He makes for an interesting foil to Bilbo in many segments, and an even better enemy of the Pale Orc Azog (a villain that brings a tremendous amount of ruckus). Much like the key-players, however, Thorin is not the most interesting of the Dwarves and the jovial Bofur (played by the ever-affable James Nesbitt) and "Doc" Dwarf Balin (Ken Stott) prove to be the best of the bunch. There is little fault in Freeman and Armitage's performances, it's mainly down to their character and their lack of experience at the forefront of a blockbuster.

Everyone will have their favourite Dwarf (if not by the end of The Hobbit, then certainly by its second sequel in 2014) and discussion will erupt over who should be seen as the chief character between Bilbo, Thorin and Gandalf when it comes to The Hobbit. Outside of the story there will be no question over the man in charge. It would have been intriguing and imaginably entertaining to see what Guillermo del Toro would have brought to his vision of the text, yet the man at the helm since 2001 is suitably standing in as director. Peter Jackson, who knows Middle-earth better than nearly anyone, lovingly restores the tokens of Tolkien with an exciting new cast, memorable alumni, an enchanting story and an awe-inspiring aesthetic. Some may have grown tired of this world but for those eager to get back to it, The Hobbit gives and sets up what every fan is itching for - adventure.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth

The Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 8 Review

Perhaps due to the massive build up, there was no way The Walking Dead’s mid-season finale could really knock your socks off. Furthermore, with it being mid-way through the season’s arc, there couldn’t have been too many threads opening out without the drama exploding somewhat superfluously. That is not to say that “Made to Suffer” isn’t a great episode, it is – just not in comparison to the rest of Season 3.

Major Spoilers Follow

The nail-biting end of episode 7 saw Rick, Daryl, Michonne and Oscar on the feral side of Woodbury’s fence. One query I had last week was whether Merle, the Governor and Andrea would head off to the prison and the two groups would miss one another by a mere few metres or minutes. Fortunately the tension is amped up when our heroes enter into the Woodbury community whilst the Governor and his band still plan from within their base. Maggie and Glenn are still being held prisoner and their fates (among many) hang in the balance.

The episode does not start where we left off but instead begins with a foggy shot of a wood with the accompanied sound of a high-pitched scream. We cut immediately into the wood to a group of survivors led by a burly black man (Tyreese played by The Wire actor Chad Coleman). As well as introducing new characters (mostly a bonus in this show) this epilogue contains some of the best prosthetic work so far. Recently CG has taken over some of the walker kills but as Tyreese hacks his way through the undead there is either invisible CG work at play, or just fantastic make-up effects. The scream came from an injured member of the party whilst another one is bitten as they run for any kind of cover. In their desperation to find shelter and a place to recuperate, they walk into the prison (open thanks to a split fence – how walkers have not got in this way so far is slightly befuddling); more stories intertwining for this finale.

A lot of attention is given to the Governor’s naive obsession with having walkers cured, the prime case being his daughter. She is locked in a cell in his warped room of death and trophies. There are moments where you can see desperation in his eyes (David Morrissey giving a terrific performance) as he yearns for some semblance of recognition from Penny. Even with this odd tragedy, the lengths he goes to try and control everything around him shows him to be narrow-minded through his need to bring back his old life. He is dangerous in this regard and Michonne is one of the only ones aware of this. Later when Michonne kills Penny (a moment of triumph; allowing Penny to be put to rest and a way to wound the all-too-powerful Governor) and subsequently stabs him in the eye, Andrea and maybe some viewers feel sorry for him. Despite this, he turns his loss and mutilation into a form of motivation – to strike out at Michonne and her new companions. The next half of the season will be doubly dramatic with the Governor out to destroy. It will also have Andrea sided quite firmly with the Governor as her stand-off with Michonne post-stabbing finally shows them divided.

As well as the Governor, the townspeople of Woodbury are put in jeopardy by Rick and co who are unaware of what kind of place it is. They have one clear goal and that is to find and rescue Glenn and Maggie. They do this stealthy (thanks to Rick and Daryl’s cunning and tactical nature) but not without an eventual retaliation. This is where the episode falters somewhat and most action is shakily shot. What’s more, the smoke grenades that cover Rick and his crew fogs most of what the audience can see. It’s all integral to the moment but one can’t help wonder if this event couldn’t have been played out in a less choppy way.

After rescuing Glenn and Maggie the former tells Daryl about Merle. Daryl’s want to see his brother is touching but as ardent fans of the Rambo-esque character will note, that interaction would change things perhaps drastically. Rick’s tact for negotiation and reason allows Daryl to momentarily forget about his brother and think of the situation at hand. It is a wonder that after Daryl is caught and brought in front of the hostile Woodburians that he can live up to his word- to “talk to him [and] work something out”. Daryl has evolved to a lucid, caring figure and as much as it pains me to see him in danger, there is hope that he can work his way out of trouble.
Rick is still not clear of trouble himself and even as the main hero (hopefully bound to survive because of this) he has deep-rooted flaws. A slight delusion including Shane walking up to him (only to be a random Woodbury soldier) shows that his mind is still not without its problems. Mind not completely in the moment also leads to Oscar getting shot and killed - another character entered into Rick and Daryl’s circle that sees his end. At least there is a possible replacement with one of Tyreese’s people.

Back in the prison Tyreese and his group are stuck in the boiler room with a load of zombies only to have Carl save them. As one of the new characters is bit Carl has to bring them all back to a safe cell, though has to lock them in fear of the bitten one coming back as a walker. Tyreese seems collected even under the circumstances and appreciates the space around him – more safe and secure than they’ve known for weeks. He’s bound to become a great new character (plus, as a Wire cast member, there’s no doubt in his acting ability).

There is a lot to absorb in the 40 minutes, arguably more events and overlapping than we’ve seen up until now. My main interest for the next 7 episodes is Daryl imprisoned in Woodbury and how he’ll hopefully get out. The argument that things happen too quickly for this episode may not be considered by some viewers as the action does play out in a realistic time (frantic and for good reason). Still, to my mind, I would have preferred the new characters to have been introduced in February’s episodes and to have all the focus on Rick, Daryl, etc, and the Woodbury lot. That way Oscar’s death wouldn’t have been skipped over so fast, Glenn and Maggie’s close execution may have seemed more dramatic and Daryl’s disappearance and capture could have been investigated (it would be interesting to see how they caught the agile and aggressive hillbilly). Apart from episode 6 this is the least entertaining episode yet, but still miles ahead of what other TV has to offer.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Life Of Pi Review

Director: Ang Lee

Writer: David Magee

Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall, Tabu, Gerard Depardieu, James Saito

Synopsis: Pi (Sharma) spent his childhood amongst the magic and majesty of his family’s zoo. He always wanted to feel close to the animals, especially the zoo’s Bengal Tiger, Richard Parker. However, as the zoo starts to lose money the family relocate to Canada, only to find themselves in a terrible storm on the way that destroys the ship and leaves only a few survivors – two being Pi and Richard Parker aboard a lifeboat.

Without special effects it is fair to say that Life of Pi would have been one of the unfilmable novels. Any attempt to capture the magic-realism, the human/animal barrier of communication or the eclectic earthly elements would have been feeble were it not for CGI. Those wondering if the CGI is too obvious, whether the 3D is distracting or the fantasy too elaborate needn’t worry; Ang Lee has brought Yann Martel’s book to life with precision.

Life of Pi deals heavily with the unknown and incomprehension – not your standard Hollywood motifs. Despite this, Lee brings his expertise on scenes of intimacy and spectacle making both a riveting Hollywood adventure film as well as a majestic meditation on the human condition and of relationships.

Bookmarked with a writer interviewing the eponymous (adult) Pi, the narrative criss-crosses between Pi’s young life and his older self recalling the disaster. With this structure there are occasional moments to catch your breath when the events on the lifeboat become increasingly dramatic. Presenting itself as a family film, Lee and screen-writer David Magee have structured the film as well as they could in order to dilute some of the peril. The book was, at times, incredibly morbid and dark (especially in the aftermath of the ship’s sinking) – not so appealing to the sprogs. With the film there is the opportunity for everyone to enjoy it (great pleasure will be taken with the meerkat scene, for one).

The first 40 minutes warrant a film of its own – Pi’s young life living in a zoo and exploring multiple religions in his pastime – adding soul to what will later turn into a story of struggle and survival. Once the cargo ship that holds Pi, his family, and his zoo, sinks into the abyss of the Pacific Ocean, the film transforms into an exhilarating epic. This is classical story-telling of some of the highest quality, with a visual palette that brings it beautifully to life.

The colour and clarity of the picture is remarkable, with an opening credit sequence that gives you only a hint at its overall splendour. The 3D that Pi’s publicity boasts helps the aesthetic enormously. Some segments in the first third make great use of the 3D but it is not until Pi and a partly-carnivorous crew become stranded at sea that the three-dimensional work comes into its own. Few films make correct use of the technology – Avatar and Hugo being two examples – and Lee has gone to great lengths to ensure his film becomes a leading example. The vast oceans that leave Pi and Bengal tiger Richard Parker striking figures in a sea of blue show the subterranean depth. Furthermore, the splashes of tides, raindrops or paddling drown the audience in the moment.

At the heart of this enchantment is the story of Pi and Richard Parker trapped together on a lifeboat. Depicting the ferocious animal believably has not been easy for the team behind the film and Richard Parker is mostly seen in CG form. Kudos to the special effects team, however, as the tiger’s 80% artificiality (some scenes included an actual tiger) is flawless. Resting the film on the shoulders of the scrawny teenager and striped feline is something very new. Fortunately, each character develops throughout the film and the relationship garners an amazing amount of empathy from the audience.

As Pi explains, this is an unbelievable story; the film’s success requires audiences to buy in to it accordingly. There should be little doubt in its ability to do this as every element draws you in. It is a tremendous story that has already been enjoyed by millions (to note a flaw in the film, the book obviously includes a lot more than the film possibly could) and now has an adaptation that has the winning styles and themes of Classical Hollywood. At points the film is a taxing – with plenty of religious allegories and moments centred on the dangers of hot-blooded animals and the harshest oceans – and may bore or frighten some viewers. Nevertheless, it is a heart-warming and thrilling film that epitomises the experience of the cinema and of great story-telling.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms

The Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 7 Review

The end of The Walking Dead’s first half of Season 3 is soon approaching. It’s a depressing thought as the show fuels its 40-something run-time each week with more entertainment than most other programmes currently airing. Still, the cast and crew behind AMC’s zombie drama are leaving us fans begging for more. Had episode 7 been the last, the final moments would have you screaming out in irritation of the hiatus. Fortunately, the penultimate episode builds up to something bound-to-be-tremendous awaiting us next week.

Major spoilers follow

Starting with Glenn’s vicious interrogation, the first sequence of “When the Dead Come Knocking” highlights the tenacity of both Steven Yeun and Michael Rooker. The latter, especially, ferociously throws half a dozen punches squarely in Glenn’s face and then pulls his bayonet to the prisoner’s mouth. The sadistic nature of this may remind some of Rooker’s Henry in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer that brought Rooker to the attention of Hollywood. He plays the maniac well and for Glenn, Maggie (who can hear all of the commotion from the next room) and the audience, the levels of his cruelty are horribly ambiguous. Eventually, his anger of his desertion on the roof way back when leads him to leave Glenn in a similar situation – taped to the seat and having Merle throw a walker at him.

We know Glenn can handle himself but in his moment of escape he becomes an iconic badass à la Rick or Daryl. His scream of both victory over killing the walker, and of complete desolation and fear, is his shining moment so far in the series.

Michonne’s part in the series is becoming more integral, and she is the first of the characters in other narrative strands to link one to the other (Rick et al - Andrea – Woodbury). Now she has moved on from Woodbury and Andrea and has entered the prison after being saved by Carl and Rick. Her wounds made her faint beneath a shuffling crowd of walkers and her independence has once again been tarnished. From the highly subjective point of view of the audience, Michonne’s need to be in control is annoyingly making her out to be uncaring. She frowns at all those that help her in the prison (thanking Hershel for his aid but somewhat insincerely).

It is only when she sees the group embrace Carol after her return, along with the cradling of the baby, that Michonne “sees the light”, so to speak. We saw her affectionate and friendly towards Andrea so here’s hoping that that kind of relationships develops as she makes a home with Rick and his group. With only one episode remaining for 2012, the depleted numbers in the prison does need some extra members and so Michonne could easily become one of them.

On an expedition to locate Maggie and Glenn, after Michonne informs them of Merle’s kidnapping, Oscar and Michonne join the troop. Together they stand as a smart and powerful force. Nevertheless, a hoard of zombies is a dangerous situation and so they hold down the fort in a thought-to-be-abandoned cabin. The stench and sight of death is merely a trick for one man to stay undisturbed in his once cosy home. The man barks at the four intruders, with Michonne telling the others to keep him quiet as walkers claw at the walls and door. Taking matters into her own hands, she uses her trusty samurai blade and sticks it in his skull. The decision to throw the body out into the walkers is something that shocks Michonne but is understandably justified to save their own skins. Watching a body get torn apart by zombies is a guilty pleasure when watching something with the undead. In Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead a living, breathing civilian is picked apart before our eyes, with graphic gore. Perhaps it was too much for the network to handle but the dead man’s ripped limbs and mangled flesh is barely seen. The blood and guts still show but it’s not up to par with other examples in this genre (in the heat of that moment, though, perhaps it could have been seen as superfluous).

As Michonne, Rick, Oscar and Daryl move toward Woodbury, events taking place there involve the testing of the biters’ minds. A Mr. Coleman is dying of cancer and has volunteered himself for psychological tests with Milton. Coleman is asked to raise his hand to a series of questions, with a side of audio conditioning, and given the same questions once he’s turned.

The Governor’s need to control is less about wielding swords or firing bullets, but to have control over the people around him. Sometimes that requires violence but as we have seen with his zombie daughter, some of it requires the human touch. The aim to break the spell of the virus and the belief it may be possible is corrupting his and Milton’s mind. Milton even asked for the restraints to be taken off of the Mr. Coleman (biter-version) and is saved only thanks to Andrea’s common sense.

Towards the end of the episode everything taking place is beginning to merge together. Maggie is returned to Glenn’s arms but after her confession about Daryl and the others’ whereabouts. As the episode draws to a close, plans are made for the Governor and Merle to go the prison as Rick and his team find their way to Woodbury. On one side of the gate, Andrea walks past and looks at the high looming walls of tires and fence – on the opposing side, Rick and Daryl ponder over their way in. It is a spectacular final few minutes, with the crossing over of stories finally being executed. As said, had this been the end of the season half, the wait would have been unbearable. One more week and Merle and Daryl may be reunited, Rick may come face to face with the Governor, Michonne will see Andrea again, and Woodbury or the prison (or both) will be infiltrated.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Air Doll Review

Director/Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda

Starring: Doona Bae, Arata, Itsuji Itao, Jo Odeagiri, Sumiko Fuji

Synopsis: A life-size sex doll, Nozomi (Bae), comes to life one day and, after educating herself on her community, starts to develop and soul and heart.

Stories on the subject of sex dolls are seldom explored in cinema. Often times, the preferred manner of looking at sex dolls and their owners are through a darkly comic eye. Lars and the Real Girl mixed sentimentalism, drama and comedy together in its exploration of it and similarly, Hirokazu Koreeda’s Air Doll does the same. Where the Western film with Ryan Gosling and the Donna Bae-led Japanese film differ most is the animation of the doll. Whereas Lars and the Real Girl looked at the purchaser’s state of mind when it came to buying the lifeless thing, Air Doll brings that thing to life in order to reflect on what it means to be human.

Donna Bae as the eponymous doll does a fantastic job at mapping out the evolution of the human mind. She begins “life” with the mentality of a toddler, where curiosity reigns supreme in her outlook on life. She then slowly experiences flourishes of hormones in lust and eventually matures with feelings of grievance, love and gregariousness. The story lends itself to showing the change in her life but it is mostly Bae’s appearance that highlights growth. As she awakes from her plastic, inert state her eyes are wide and unblinking, absorbing the details of life. Slowly, through real-life experiences, the eyelids droop slightly and one or two lines appear on her shiny, immaculate face. The movements of the youngster’s zeal gradually become more restrained and the doll seems like any other civilian. As you have to invest your belief in this story, Bae manages to contribute a lot to its believability.

Problems do occur, however, with how you perceive the mysticism. Fairytales are, of course, fantastical but many show the line between reality and magic. For some stories it may be matters of one character seeing a different, unbelievable event take place whilst those around them are blind to any change. In Air Doll it is difficult to understand the metamorphosis of “reality” to accommodate the living, breathing doll. You could go so far to see the whole film as a figment of the doll’s imagination or maybe even one of the other characters’. In any case, some may struggle with the notion of magic in this film, especially considering its blend with social drama.

Trying to encompass all of the themes is something that detracts from the entertaining factor of Air Doll; had the film been cut down to 90 minutes it would make for a purely enjoyable film. There are several side characters that add more to Nozomi’s perception of urban life, all of them given decent characterisation, and mostly the right amount of screen-time. What’s impressive about the enveloping stories is that even with the slightly too-long runtime the end draws it all together in a beautifully shot montage.

Air Doll is a surreal take on the fairytale model with Nuances of Ozu and Capra. It fuses magic-realism better than most efforts and contains some great humour along with deep reflections on life and love. Certainly not for everyone; for those thinking it’s a light-hearted modern fairytale be warned, it contains frequent adult content.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 5 Review

After last week’s grand spectacle of chaos and loss, I was fearful that episode 5 would slow down. I don’t expect The Walking Dead to continually be a show of amped up action and gore; though after Season 2 I wanted it to take a different direction. As of yet that’s exactly what the show’s writers and directors are doing; episode 5 has to show some mourning but it shows it in a more visceral way. What’s more, the programme is starting to look at deeper, darker themes that effectively catalyse a lot of the drama.

Major spoilers follow

Rick Grimes has had to suffer the loss of his wife twice – when he escaped from a coma and hospital he found a world of death around him (visiting his home he believed his wife and son to be lost in the ruin), and now after she fatally gave birth to his daughter. He has had to endure the stages of grief more than anyone would care for, though he has never had issues with the anger stage. For all the tension between him and Lori since her confession about Shane, and the ambiguity about his feelings for her, Lori’s death sparked something inside of Rick. Episode 5 picks up immediately after 4 and Rick is in a near catatonic state of rage, marching his way through the prison, hacking up all the walkers that he finds.

Andrew Lincoln has owned the show all the way through. Now, however, the push in his character’s situation enables him to explore the more morbid side of Rick and bring more to the character. As he slashes his way through the zombies (fantastically shot to begin with, as the camera acts partially as POV shot with blood splatters surging from the audience’s/zombies’ viewpoint) we are seeing the most animalistic and unrestrained version of this man. We have seen his instinctual side before (more recently with the murder of the Latino convict) though as Glenn later tries to pull Rick back from his sanguine storm, you can see no humanity in his eyes. Rick’s cry in the end of the last episode and his blood-stained avenger in episode 5 show him as a wounded and lost man (it will act as great evidence for Lincoln’s deserved Emmy and Golden Globe nominations).

The others allow Rick to deal with his unforeseen widower status and instead focus their attention on the newborn. That means for Maggie and Daryl to head out to find supplies (mainly baby formula) – something we haven’t seen for a while. Unfortunately this excursion from the prison is fleeting but adds some humour amongst the gloom of the episode (Daryl shooting a possum and calling it as dinner). Daryl additionally adds some light on the darkness later on by naming the new baby “Ass kicker” after Carl’s ideas of naming the baby after their dead companions.

In the alternate Walking Dead arc the “will they stay/will they go” aspect of Michonne and Andrea’s story is becoming tedious. Thankfully, Michonne’s attitude toward the town finally leads her to walk out the gates. It takes some aggressive interaction between her and the Governor before this happens as both are becoming too wary and hostile to one another.

The episode starts with the Governor combing a little girl’s hair, stroke by stroke until a clump of hair and a patch of skin are pulled out by the brush. As the scalp rips away the girl starts lashing around on the floor. She is a “biter” (as the Woodbury clan call them) and the Governor’s daughter. He has kept her with him in hope a cure would come (one can assume). This is one of the motifs that has ran through the series – the notion of keeping your loved ones close, even if they are undead. The hope that a cure will be found is something Hershel held on to, and clearly the Governor too. Michonne witnesses this from below the Governor’s window and later finds a cage full of walkers who she warms up with up after repossessing her sword. This scene loses some of its credibility due to some very poor CGI work but later model and practical effects fortunately help you forget it.

The Governor confronts Michonne after her little spot of “exercise”. They discuss the caged biters and then talk about secrets (mainly to do with a list Michonne finds). The Governor, on hearing about the list’s names, shows a tiny bit of fear and anger in his expression. Nevertheless, he goes back to his manipulative mode, appearing collected and caring. Michonne, still untrustworthy, grabs her sword and points it to the Governor’s throat. We know she wouldn’t kill him but it’s an affirming nod to Michonne’s hatred of the place and the people who run it; we now know that she will not and cannot stay.

Michonne going, Andrea decides to stay (further adding to the parallel themes of departure and continuation). Michonne desperately tries to tell Andrea of the uncanny nature of Woodbury but, as of yet, it is only Michonne and the audience who can perceive it. A scene with Merle and helpers wrangling together walkers, killing some and maintaining others (by maintaining I mean pulling out their teeth to leave them relatively harmless) adds to the audience’s suspicions about the place. We later discover the walkers to be set up as walls in a bizarre arena where a gladiatorial fight takes place between some of the townspeople. It is set out as entertainment and the crowd go wild as the two men wrestle in amongst a circle of clawing, biting walkers. Andrea watches with the Governor and soon sees some truth in Michonne’s warning. She is appalled at the display and even with the Governor explaining the fake aspect of it (the toothless zombies, for one) she cannot find any decent quality in it. The zombie arena is also a good pretext for keeping the zombies alive (yet, as we understand, the Governor still longs to find out a way to repair the virus’ effects).

The penultimate scene shows Daryl laying a flower on one of the graves Glenn, Axel and Oscar dug. Daryl is perhaps the most likeable in the show – this poignant moment emphasising that further. Amongst the depressing aspects of this and last week’s episode, there are many uplifting and touching moments. Last week’s was Hershel stepping out and this week’s “Say the Word” has Daryl at the grave and Hershel and Glenn momentarily bonding (Hershel obviously sees Glenn as the perfect partner for his daughter Maggie). The Walking Dead is built on humanism (and ironically on zombies) so it always includes a moment or moments like this.

Finishing on Rick’s exhausted charge through the prison, he stops in the boiler room. In there he finds a bloated walker, having devoured all of Lori (though the lack of bones leads me to believe that is not the case completely and maybe Carl did not shoot her). Rick sticks his gun barrel into the undead’s gullet and fires. Not finished there, he then stabs the stomach of the zombie repeatedly, as if to prevent any kind of digestion of Lori (if that is at all possible with them). He slumps back, tired from his day-long excursion and distress. As he stares into space an alien sound suddenly breaks the silence – a telephone in the room is ringing. Rick walks up to it and answers. The more I think about it the more intrigued I become; not only for the fact that there is no power in the prison, but also by the query of who could be calling and why specifically that room. It is a very decent cliff-hanger that highlights the entertaining quality of Rick’s story far more than Andrea’s (that has lost some momentum and personal interest).

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Jesse Vile Interview for Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet

Piers McCarthy: When did you find out about Jason’s story and what made you want to make this documentary?

Jesse Vile: I first heard out about Jason when I was a teenager, and I was taking guitar lessons and a guitar teacher of mine told me about Jason and gave me some of his music and I immediately fell in love with it. Then when I read more about his story and heard more about him I just became more and more interested in him as a musician and as a person. And so over the years [I] just loved his story and wanted other people to know about it.
I would always try and introduce people to his music and show them songs and things like that and tell them, and they’d always go, “Wow, that’s amazing!” And I just wanted to do that visually and I have been involved in film for many years – I studied film – and so, naturally, making a film about him was the next step. 

PM: You’re producer of the Raindance Film Festival, which specialises in promoting new filmmakers, how long were you part of that?

JV: Well I was. I was from 2006-2008.

PM: When did you start prepping for Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet?

JV: It was under 2 years. Essentially I’ve been in the film industry for 10 years or but it was always in the position of helping other filmmakers and I wasn’t doing my own work and I went to film school, I want to be a director, and so I don’t want to take a back seat. I was at a point in my life where I decided I was going to make my own dreams hopefully come true, so that’s what really launched it. And I saw a lot of filmmakers, who I met, and I saw their work, and I saw that it was doing really well and I thought, “Well, I’ve met them and they’re not any smarter or more creative than I am; I’m sure I could do something just as good, if not better.” That’s the attitude you have to have in life – just go and try and do it. So, yeah, it was under two years.

PM: How was it going about the process of making it? How easy was it to get Jason and his family involved, and to collate all that footage and material?

JV: We spent a good three or four months just taking on the phone and on email. I sent them over a ton of questions and they’d send them back and I’d just always ask questions and try and get a better understanding of who they were as people; where they fit into the story, where everyone else fit into the story and then take it from there.

They’ve been a part of the process from the beginning all the way until the very end. It was very important to have them involved for many reasons. Mainly, because I thought it would make a better film. So anything from giving me their archive—their footage of Jason as a kid, as a teenager, photos, any audio, any scrap of anything I wanted. So they had to dig everything out (they hadn’t done that in years) but it’s good because I digitally archived everything and gave them a copy. So now they copies of everything saved on DVD and stuff.

PM: There’s a scene in the last third of the film where Jason and his dad are communicating through the sign language...

JV: They call it “vocal-eyes”

PM: Well when we see them using the “vocal-eyes” technique, it all seems second-nature to them and very interesting to watch, was there any thought about extending stuff like that? With all that footage you mention, how did you decide on a particular length/structure?

JV: Well we went through various cuts and various versions of the film and the final film was the one that we were the happiest with; we felt it was the best film we could make. We initially discussed having a more past/present, present/past in the way we told the story – mixing up the way we told the story/the form – but I was just always more interested in the classic three-act structure. Mainly, with the first two acts being a telling of Jason’s story in a linear fashion, and the third being the present day – that’s just the way I envisioned it and when you wrote it down and laid it out that’s, I think, the easiest way to digest the story and it also helps to tell the best story.

PM: The pacing is handled expertly. And this is your first feature film, is that right?

JV: Yeah.

PM: Well drawing upon that: the start of Jason’s story looks at his musical education (Bob Dylan, for instance), what education did you bring to the project? Did you watch a lot of documentaries before starting?

JV: I watched a ton of documentaries; I mean that’s all I watched. I mostly watched biographical ones; just to get an idea of how other directors did things – not to copy anything but to get a sense of how certain things are done, or how certain things can be done. You watch anything that’ll educate you or help you develop as a filmmaker. There were certainly ones I gravitated more toward – it’s really the ones that were more honest and true, that captured the spirit of the individual as that was more of what I was going for.

I would send Jason DVDs of documentaries to watch also, as I don’t think he watched too many docs and I think, at first, he was a little wary of opening up so much. My initial conversations with him I think he was planning on putting on a front but not revealing himself as much as I wanted him to. So without saying anything I sent him documentaries like Tyson, in which he [Mike Tyson] reveals a lot about himself (he even cries) and Anvil, which Jason was like, “Oh my God, I hope you don’t make me look as ridiculous as those guys!”. But they’re honest and open and they don’t hold anything back, so I sent him those films (and a few more) just so he could see that to make a good documentary it’s really great when people are honest and open.  So I watched a ton of documentaries and I read Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I had seen the film a couple of times before I started making this film but I wanted to read the book and get a sense of what it’s like to be trapped inside your body. So I definitely read and watched a lot.

PM: Sadly, the success of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is something Bauby was not able to experience; this isn’t a nice thing to bring up but the fact that Jason’s disease is terminal, did that dread affect you as you were making the film?

JV: It didn’t in terms of making me feel weird or anything, but because it’s so up in the air (his life expectancy), no one really knows – it’s unprecedented. So I was always panicked that we weren’t going to finish it or that he was going to pass away before we had chance to finish it. Not for any other reason than I wanted him to see it and experience any kind of publicity or fan-fare that he would get from it, and so thank God that that didn’t happen. That’s probably the only time I ever really thought about his terminal illness. Because every day is a miracle for him; I was like “Wow, it’s almost three years—three and a half, that’s a lot of miracles.” So thankfully he’s still around.

PM: Well it is a miraculous story and it has the chance of reaching a massive audience because of that story of a strong human spirit. What are your expectations of the film?

JV: Thanks, and I know what you mean, but unfortunately documentaries aren’t the most popular form so it really just depends on cinemas picking it up and putting it out there, getting it into the press or just something happening (it being on a famous talk show). There’s a lot of great films that don’t get seen by as many people as they should, so I don’t know. I just hope it helps Jason and his family and that people take away something positive from the experience of watching it.

PM: Well documentaries are kind of thriving at the minute, so has there been any push from distributors?

JV: Yeah, well we have UK distribution, US and Canadian distribution and hopefully they’re doing their jobs in trying to get word out as much as they can, and having the film into as many outlets as they can. But they can’t control the cinemas – if the cinemas don’t want to book it, for instance. But we have a Facebook page with 40,000+ strong around the world. And Jason has a huge following. So we just promote every screening and try to get as many people as we can to go, and try to do as many interviews as we can, and that’s essentially all we can do. I’m a one-man-team – doing all this stuff on my end and there’s only so much I can do. But hopefully it gets out there.

PM: Well I imagine anyone who’s seen it so far – me included – hopes the same.

You mentioned being on your own for the promotional side of things but when it came to making the documentary how did you assemble your crew?

JV: Most of them were NFT [National Film and Television School] graduates and so what’s really good about NFT grads is that they’re usually very talented, very creative, and they’re looking for projects; they’re fresh out of film school with all this knowledge and talent and looking for big projects. So I asked one of my co-producers, Peter King, if he knew anyone and he’s worked with some people and he gave me a few recommendations - that’s how I found my sound designer and my cameraman. With my editor I was just asking people – I asked my sound designer for any recommendations he had (people he knew, people he’d worked with) and he gave me a few names and then I went to an editing talent agency – I can’t even remember how I got the other guys – to interview them and the one I gelled with the most, and the one I felt the best energy from, and whose work I liked the most was who I went with.

It was a small budget – they weren’t doing it for free but compared to what the top editors earn it was very little. It was really just getting recommendations from people and meeting them and making sure their ideas for the film gelled with mine and that I got a good feeling from them.

PM: Did their love for music come into that choice at all?

JV: I think originally – it definitely helps if they like music (none of them liked Jason’s music to begin with) – I was looking for an editor who was a shred guitar fan; I felt I needed someone who knew what that type of music was about and just got it. But then that didn’t happen (it didn’t break my heart that it didn’t happen – I wasn’t beholden to that idea) and after I picked my editor I realised it’s actually better they’re not into that kind of music because I wasn’t making the film for fans or fans of shredded guitar, I was making it for people that don’t even know about it but will still like the film. So I thought it was more important to have someone who was into music, but not into that type of music because then you would have had a fan-boy putting in lots of stuff, and as a director I would have stopped them, but it would gotten in the way of things. The main thing was that they were all in love with Jason’s story and that was important. Everyone who worked on it was very passionate about Jason’s story and that was the important thing with putting it together. This wasn’t a money project; it was more about getting experience (of course getting paid, too) and believing in the story. 

PM: Speaking of music, what’s your favourite track of Jason’s? It’s incredible that even after being diagnosed and becoming paralysed that he still writes music – are you a fan of the new stuff or more taken with the old classics?

JV: Well I like everything that he’s doing, but my favourite stuff is the stuff that turned me on to him because it’s nostalgic and it’s what launched this whole thing for me. My favourite track (which is probably pretty much everyone’s) is “Altitudes” which is on his first solo album, Perpetual Burn – that’s what made me stop and say, “Wow, I can’t believe this 17 year-old is exuding this much emotion in their music with the guitar” and that’s what made Jason stand out for me, so for those reasons I prefer his early work.

PM: I know you mentioned it not being a money project but would you release the soundtrack for the film?

JV: I don’t think so because I know nothing about the music industry and, again, it’s just me and I don’t have the time or resources to put out the soundtrack and I don’t think his record label does either.

PM: But it’s all out there anyway?

JV: Yeah, the only thing you can’t get is the original score that Michael Lee Firkins did, which is not throughout the whole film (it’s mainly in the first half of the film – it doesn’t appear at all in the third act).
Actually, there are two tracks in the film that you can’t get yet but I’m sure they’ll be out soon.

PM: Right at the end we see that concert honouring Jason – is that more common now? Are people more aware of the man behind the music thanks to the documentary?

JV: I’m not sure how it’s affected his album sales but he’s going to a lot more screenings and he’s a lot more active now because of the film so that’s been really great for him. It gives him stuff to look forward to and to go out with his family and friends, celebrate his life and meet new people – in that regard it’s been really great for him.

PM: Veering off from the film, have you got any future projects lined up?

JV: Yeah, I’m developing one at the moment. It’s way too early to get into it – I’m not supposed to say anything about it – but it’s the early stages of development. It’s quite a complex story but hopefully it does happen.

Thanks to Jesse Vile for taking the time to take part in this interview and to DogWoof Productions for setting it all up.
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet has a limited release starting from the 16th November, you can read the review for the film here.