Monthly Archives: April 2015

Wrapping my head around ‘Ex Machina’

Ahead be spoilers. You were warned.

I’m not going to go in-depth into Ex Machina. I enjoyed the movie, and I was pleased both by the fact that it wasn’t predictable and that I was able to see some things coming. But a couple of things happened that threw me off, and those I’d like to share.

What are the AI plotting?

What are the AI plotting?

I THOUGHT THE ROBOTS WERE RUNNING THE SHOW. The premise of the film is that a programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), is selected to spend a week with the brilliant tech billionaire, Nathan, who owns the company he works for. When they meet, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) explains this will be more than just a week hanging out. Nathan wants Caleb to interact with his new AI, to perform the Turing Test, which is an attempt to determine whether artificial intelligence can fool a human into believing that the AI is also human. Early on, it becomes apparent that Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) is an AI herself. Kyoko never speaks and allegedly doesn’t understand English, but slowly it becomes apparent that she does have a certain level of awareness about what’s going on around her and her own creation. At one point while watching Kyoko, a light clicked on in my head: Nathan isn’t running the experiment. The AI are. And, for a while, it looked like the might be the case. It wasn’t, but it’s just one example of how Ex Machina mind fucks you to the point where you’re no longer entirely sure what is reality.

THE FINAL CUT. The audience isn’t the only one being screwed with. As days pass, Caleb starts getting sucked further and further in to Nathan’s ego trip and his interactions with the AI, Ava (Alicia Vikander). His head gets so twisted that he’s not sure who or what to believe, to the point where he takes a razor and cuts open his own arm, to make sure he is human. It was an eye-opening moment to me, as I hadn’t considered the idea that maybe Caleb was the AI being tested. Caleb bleeds red, but it was another moment that created doubt for viewers about the path Ex Machina was blazing.

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Don’t read this post about an awesome vampire movie

Just a girl out for a walk. Nothing to see here.

Just a girl out for a walk. Nothing to see here.

“You’re sad. You don’t remember what you want. You don’t remember wanting.” – The Girl

Wow. … OK, maybe that wasn’t emphatic enough. WOW! It’s not often I watch a movie, and I think, “I’ve never seen anything like this.” Sure, my teaser to this post drops a number of movie references, all of which seem justified. The pimp looks like he has purchased his living room decor from the Kohl’s Tony Montana collection. When The Girl is shown walking the dark, quiet streets of Bad City clad in her chador, she appears like Death from Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal … or possibly Death from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, which featured a Death that was, in turn, and homage to the Bergman classic. Girl has its own unique, dark humor, which made me think of Tim Burton, especially when The Girl herself (Sheila Vand) has the big, black, expressive eyes, narrow face and haunting paleness of a Beatlejuice/Edward Scissorhands-era Winona Ryder. And Arash, in his white t-shirt and jeans, driving his classic Ford coupe, is the Iranian image of James Dean from his signature role in Rebel Without a Cause.

But this film is so much more than the sum of its references. Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour, who based the movie on her own graphic novel, has created a surreal parallel universe in Bad City, a bleak, lower-middle class city that is bordered by oil rigs that never stop pumping. Her characters adhere to archetypes making them familiar, yet each character is unique enough to stand on his or her own. Amirpour walks a constant tightrope, balancing between the stories she is trying to reference and the stories she is trying to tell. And she nails it.

Which brings me to Quentin Tarantino. That’s precisely what makes Tarantino compelling, his ability to re-invent genres using a mix of disparate references and his own perverse ingenuity to make something familiar yet not. So when Federale kicked in with Sarcophagus during A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, while many reviewers thought “Spaghetti Western,” I thought of Tarantino’s similar references in Kill Bill rather than the old cowboy flicks themselves. The song was a seamless fit, an envisioning of a unique moment that managed to be grounded in similar movie moments decades before Girl was developed.

Tarantino’s gift has resulted in some amazing cinema over the decades. I can’t wait to see where Amirpour goes with her talent.

I love the soundtrack. Again, this is something that sets A Girl Who Walks Alone At Night apart. It’s not the latest pop music, or tunes that sound sort of like the latest pop music. It’s not a period piece weighed down by its over-played hits. It is a mix of genres and languages. The music supports and enhances the images and the emotion, never cloying, saturating the film to the point of over-doing it.

The cat. The fucking cat. Heh.

Arash is a rebel, and he'll never, ever be any good.

Arash is a rebel, and he’ll never, ever be any good.

Thematically, the quote this piece leads with says it all. The pimp needs for nothing, yet really wants for nothing, either. He goes and does his job every day, to the best of his ability, just like a banker or garbage man. He is joyless in his routine. The prostitute clearly has wanted for more, at one point, saving to achieve that goal. But the goal is now lost in the darkness, in the moments with ugly, violent men with their clutching and demanding. She is just a hamster on a wheel, saving and saving, but saving for nothing, saving for the sake of saving, because that is what she does, what she’s always done. Arash’s dad Hossein is a junkie, torn apart by the death of his wife. He exists simply to exist, because he doesn’t have the guts to move on with his life, and he doesn’t quite have what it takes to end it all. The Girl herself is the prime example of this, a creature that lives forever solely to feed. She has only her sad pop music and the never-ending hunger to occupy her infinity, no hope for anything else to break the endless monotony of her existence. Even the endless pumping of oil on the outskirts of Bad City is no longer about want, just black blood filling a thirsty, endless addiction.

This is what sets Arash apart from his fellow Bad City residents. He wants. He worked to buy the cherry classic car that he desired and now loves so dearly. He wants to be noticed by the rich girl whose yard he tends, wants to dance with her, kiss her, feel her. He wants to break out of Bad City, get beyond his pathetic life that is all he knows. He wants to know the Girl, who to him is a fleeting image of freedom, an enigmatic darkness from which springs hope for something new and exciting. His desire, his want is what drives the film and what makes him so appealing to the Girl and makes him such a sympathetic character to the audience.

And that, folks, is the long and the short of why you should give this awesome vampire film a chance. I hope you enjoy it is much as I did.

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A tale of two families: ‘Boyhood’ and ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’

Miles (Ellar Coltrane) growing up over the course of "Boyhood."

Miles (Ellar Coltrane) growing up over the course of “Boyhood.”

WHILE WATCHING BOYHOOD, I was struck by how it is the ultimate Richard Linklater movie. Usually, Linklater uses a compressed time frame to support his more personal, non-studio stories: The last day of school in Dazed and Confused, as well as two movies that bear titles explaining precisely when they take place, Before Midnight and Before Sunset. Then add to that liberal sprinklings of arm-chair philosophy and stoned paranoia, such as Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. In Boyhood, Linklater’s “compressed” time frame is about 18 years, but consider that really is about 1/4 of a human life, still relatively short. The philosophy is Mason’s evolving view on life, how he can become the man he wants to be. Sure, a movie that runs two and three-quarter hours and doesn’t have an orc or hobbit in sight can feel a little long. However, I was surprised about how quickly Boyhood felt like it moved. I don’t often agree with the Academy when it comes to choices for prestige pics. But Linklater has created a unique film marked by its detail, realness and maturity. This is precisely the type of film that should win awards.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) share an eternal love in "Only Lovers Left Alive."

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) share an eternal love in “Only Lovers Left Alive.”

I TEND TO BE OF TWO MINDS when it comes to Jim Jarmusch. I’m amused by his earlier films: Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law. They are black and white, low-budget, quirky, raw indie movies made before anyone paid attention to indie movies. I wouldn’t say they’re great, but if you’re a young filmmaker looking on how to do a lot with little, both would be worth the viewings. Ghost Dog is my favorite, maybe one of my all time favorites, a menacing yet humorous mix of eastern warrior philosophy, goodfella culture and the street sounds of Big Apple hip-hop (the score was produced by the RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan). However, I’ve never loved his western, Dead Man, like a lot of critics do, and while I appreciate the experimental approach of Coffee and Cigarettes, it got old, quickly.

Only Lovers Left Alive might be Jarmusch’s crowning achievement. Adam is a moody, underground rock star with a penchant for expensive, rare guitars and a talent for brooding tunes. Eve is a bold, up-beat westerner living in Tangier who favors books and late-night walks. Both are also vampires, married for ages, living apart but returning to each other again and again as the centuries unfold. This film is but a slice of their life together, a story that seems to fight the idea that history repeats itself while simultaneously succumbing to that very inevitability.

THE TWO MOVIES very much focus on the family (while, I would imagine, being completely reviled by Focus on the Family). In Boyhood, there is no stability in Mason’s family life. Mason’s mom and dad are split when the movie begins, his single mom trying to figure out her life and how to best provide for her kids, his dad a flaky musician who was unprepared for fatherhood and fled at the start. Friends, step-parents, schools and neighborhoods come and go, but that core family unit hangs around. Mason’s mom gets lost in some romantic entanglements, but she consistently fights to maintain her connection with her children. Despite being selfish dick, the only genuine thing in Mason’s dad’s life outside of his music is his love for his kids. Grandma is there, as are some family friends that revolve around Mason. There is a support group, even if sometimes its more feeble or tenuous than others.

Adam and Eve are not alone, either. Eve lives near a long-time family friend, Christopher Marlowe (yes, that one), who is a father-figure to the couple, a companion to Eve and over-bearing dad to Adam. Eve’s sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowski, who is a hoot), is unstable, showing up uninvited, constantly trying to bogart the good blood. Adam has zombie (i.e. human) acquaintances, among them his default aide, Ian, and a doctor who supplies him with blood. They are a tight crew because their uniqueness requires it.

In both cases, these families function despite their dysfunction. Mason’s dad is barely around, and his mom’s romantic interests tend to be bad for her and her kids. But she keeps plugging, keeps hoping for more, and her children end up the better for it. Yes, Mason and his sister, Samantha, are a bit detached and cynical, but they’ve never really gone off the tracks, graduating high school, moving on to college, searching for a way to stabilize their own lives. In Only Lovers Left Alive, Adam periodically contemplates suicide, bemoans how the zombies live their lives in ignorance and hate instead of choosing enlightenment, actively separating himself as much as possible from those who know him the best. But with Eve, Adam finds peace, finds companionship, finds someone who is his equal. Eve challenges him to fight his ennui, brings him perspective when he can’t see the forest for the trees. And when Marlowe gets some bad blood that brings his time on Earth to a close, the petty family bickering is forgotten, his loved ones gathered with him as he moves on.

Another theme both films share is the idea that life and time are cyclical. Mason’s dad left when he was young. His mom’s second husband was a violent drunk, and they end up fleeing for safety. When Mason’s second step-dad enters the picture, he can see that this man is temporary, relatively unimportant. In one particularly strong scene, Mason shows up late after a night partying, his step-dad drinking a beer on the porch waiting for him. You can see the frustration in the step-dad’s face, that this kid is disrespectful and possibly starting to veer down the wrong path. He wants to impart this to Mason, although he doesn’t have the ability to communicate it in a way Mason will listen, largely because Mason knows this father figure won’t be here long, that his step-dad has no real power over him. The lack of concern about this man’s very existence is etched in Mason’s face. Mason knows this too will pass, so it doesn’t faze him. And, of course, he was right.

In Only Lovers Left Alive, Ava is a blight on the family. Her very name raises a spectre of dread and dampens the reunion of Adam and Eve. Adam bemoans her appearance, knowing that she will bring something dreadful upon them all. And sure enough, when Ava is left alone with Ian, she drinks him, killing him and forcing Adam and Eve to run from Detroit to Tangiers. Throughout the film, Adam and Eve avoid feeding on live humans, both to keep a low profile and because zombie blood has become too tainted for their tastes. But when they are on the run, out of resources and have nowhere left to turn, they feed, returning to their predatorial roots in desperation and need.

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The Avett Brothers: 04/17/15 at Elliott Music Hall

Thou shalt not doubt the Avett Brothers. And yet I did.

This was the fifth time my wife and I had seen the Avetts live. Last time we saw them, summer of 2014 at the Lawn at White River State Park in Indianapolis, was the first time I wasn’t absolutely blown away by them. It was the first time we’d seen them with a full band, and it didn’t seem as if they were as tight as usual. Plus, one of my favorite things about these guys is when it’s just Seth, Scott and “the third Avett brother,” bassist Bob Crawford. The trio did some stuff by itself, but the new, full band was clearly the focus of the performance. Also, the crowd was easily 500 people or more larger than the previous two times we’d seen them at the same venue. The place was elbow-to-elbow, and, in an odd turn, a lot of people were there with very young children. The energy we were accustomed to was sucked out of the venue, added to that an element of claustrophobia. It wasn’t as much fun as out previous Avett experiences, and I was left with doubts.

Doubts effectively shattered and discarded. The Avetts I saw at Purdue University were tight, having fun, belting it out for the cheap seats. The new band members are now much more effectively part of the show. When Scott, Bob and cellist Joe Kwon jammed, it was more classical trio than bluegrass stomp. Violinist Tania Elizabeth soloed and sang, a standout performance on the night. The full band allowed the Avetts to take on some blues and more straight-ahead rock, something absent from previous outings. And the original three spent more time alone on stage, including a soul-stirring rendition of one of my favorite hymns, Alone in the Garden. Had they ended the show with their cover of the Grateful Dead’s The Race Is On, it would have been the perfect Avett performance.

But if I can’t have it all, that was more than good enough. Can’t wait to see the Avetts again, where ever my wife and I may find them.

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Long game starting to come together on ‘Game of Thrones’

I'm looking forward to what Arya will do next. I'll miss Dog, if he's really dead.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Arya will do next. I’ll miss Dog, if he’s really dead.

* Arya and Sansa Stark are learning, more than Rob and Papa Stark ever did. Arya – thanks largely to Dog, although she’s had other tutoring along the way – is figuring out just the sort of mentality it takes to be a warrior and leader and survive in Westeros. She seems comfortable keeping her own company, observing and learning from the mistakes of others. She’s smart enough to avoid conflict, and savvy enough to understand when blood needs to be spilled. Sansa has had a different path, but has grown wiser just the same. Sansa, who has been pretty much everyone’s pawn at some point during Game of Thrones, finally understands her own power: Her rank, her name and her beauty. She probably should have trusted Tyrion more, something that could have saved them both significant time and trouble. That said, joining forces with Lord Baelish shows some smarts on her part. I think Sansa also understands the spell being the daughter of Catelyn casts over Baelish, as well as Baelish’s abilities as a diplomat and sneak. It was savvy political alignment on her part, some character development that really, finally makes her interesting, not just important.

* I love the idea of an alliance of Tyrion, Lord Varys and Daenerys Targaryen. Tyrion is a bit indulgent and self-destructive, but he understands strategy, the short and long games. He also knows how to exploit weakness. The throne wouldn’t suit him, but being the power behind the throne very well could, even if he doesn’t want to follow in daddy’s footsteps. Lord Varys is the master of collecting information and has eyes and ears all over that world. Daenerys has military power and advisors and is loved by her people, but – particularly as the final episodes of Season 4 and first episode of Season 5 show – she lacks the skills of day-to-day governance that someone in her position needs. With Tyrion as the hand of the queen and Varys lurking in the shadows, this could end up making Daenerys the power to deal with, dragons or no.

* John Snow just gets more and more interesting. In the first season, even into the second, he’s a bit of an afterthought. But now, John’s a key player. He’s one of the few on the south side of the wall who may be able to get through to the Wildings, and his ties to the Starks, ability as a fighter and general mental sharpness make him important to Stannis. The question is what is Snow’s ceiling? How high can he rise before someone resents Ned Stark’s bastard and tries to take him down a notch or two?

* I love the Missandei-Grey Worm storyline. I don’t know that it will mean much to the series, but it really humanizes the Unsullied and is the one relationship in Game of Thrones where power or potential for power is not in play. Two star-crossed lovers who likely won’t find a way to make it work.

* Every time I see Lena Heady in anything, I like her more. Heady is simply fierce. It’s the eyes. And it doesn’t matter the project – Game of Thrones, 300, The Purge, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, The Broken, etc. – Heady brings intensity to her role. Sometimes its more over-the-top – such as Dredd – while other times it’s controlled and internalized, such has her turn as John Conner’s mom. I look forward to what she does beyond GoT down the road.

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‘Company of the Dead’ enough to make one’s head spin

Here’s Company of the Dead in a nutshell: Germany and Japan rule most of the world and are at an uneasy detente. The United States really is no more, as Japan has taken New York and the West Coast, and the South broke off after a second Civil War and is quietly allied with Germany. Amid all of this, Joseph Kennedy – of the Kennedys – is a Confederate war hero now running a secret operation as an intelligence officer for the South to prepare to unite the states once again.

Or maybe that’s what Kennedy is doing. His boss, his ex-girlfriend, the media, all but his closest allies are trying to figure out what is really behind Kennedy’s moves. His motives go deeper and broader, as it turns out. He has discovered a time machine, as well as evidence that someone has been messing with history. During a brief trip to the near future, Kennedy sees a decimated planet, nuclear war ravaging the world and killing everything. He must go back in time to set history on the right path and, hopefully, save Earth. The incident that changes history, which Kennedy and company must confront? The sinking of the Titanic.

Author David Kowalski’s effort is brilliant, because the description above doesn’t quite cover the breadth of the author’s historical knowledge nor his ability to lay out a bizarre, mind-twisting path that our heroes blaze down. In part, the journey is a monumental effort to avert the end of history. In part, it is a journey these brave men (and woman) have taken many times, so many, in fact, that this is the last attempt before reality is torn apart by their time skipping, leading to an end that only the fates know.

Kowalski has crafted a fast-moving, action-heavy thriller that doesn’t slow to take many breaths over its 700+ pages. But he goes much deeper than that, sinking into the nature of reality, the question of fate vs. free will, people who are so key to the direction of history that they exist almost as other-worldly presences, recognized by those who live on the same frequency as the larger universe. If you could go back and change history, should you? What are the repercussions. If history is what it is, why should it be changed?

I’m not a fan of the alternative history genre, in general. But Company of the Dead is both unique in its aim and finely crafted, so much so that down the road, I may have to revisit Kowalski’s vision.

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5 thoughts on ‘The Purge: Anarchy’

I'm no Purge expert, but I'm pretty sure you don't want to see this on your drive home.

I’m no Purge expert, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to see this on your drive home.

1) The Purge: Anarchy was a pretty good film up until the end. It wasn’t so much the horror movie the original was, more of a suspense/thriller kind of flick. The pacing was great, the action was solid. Where it really excels is the totality of the environment. The random gangs of toughs in disturbing masks and costumes, a burning bus rolling by in the background, the constant clock and status updates by the media, etc. The scene is marvelously set. If you’re looking for a fun time that doesn’t involve much thinking, Anarchy is a good choice.

2) Every time I see Michael Kenneth Williams, revolutionary Carmelo Johns in Anarchy, I’m waiting for him to say, “Omar coming!” In this flick, that would have actually worked. (And if you don’t understand this reference, that means you’ve never seen The Wire. I feel sorry for you.)

3) Instead of “Anarchy,” this sequel’s title could have instead included “Fuck the 1%.” Anarchy does one thing many great movies do: Establishes its theme, builds it into the DNA of the film. Here, the (largely) white and rich live protected and prey on the weak, poor and non-Caucasians. The elite are usually safe during the Purge because they can afford to be. Those of color, the disabled, the elderly, they pay the price during the Purge. It really holds a mirror up to modern society, just how uncaring those of the privileged class are, how all human life is not considered equal, how the “capitalist” system we have reinforces and protects these prejudices and injustices, how religion is used to justify all of this madness. Beyond its setting, this is what Purge: Anarchy does best.

Our heroes, hoping to make it a few more hours without getting shot, stabbed, burned or raped.

Our heroes, hoping to make it a few more hours without getting shot, stabbed, burned or raped.

4) The weakness of Anarchy is its characters. Our main badass Sergeant and the mother-daughter duo of Cali and Eva are solid, especially Sergeant, played by Frank Grillo.. However, Shane (the first time I’ve seen Matt Guilford since he was QB 1 on Friday Night Lights) and Liz are largely … unimportant. Their storyline really adds nothing to the plot. There’s not enough there to care about whether they live or die. Shane and Liz mostly seem to be there because they are the most likely to die so that the more interesting, developed characters can survive. The sacrifice of Cali’s grandfather early adds another aspect to the insanity that develops in the world of the Purge, but it could have been excised with little concern. Big Daddy isn’t around enough to be as menacing as he might have been. And so on.

5) I would argue that Anarchy is better than its predecessor. The original has a great set-up, but gets stupid in a hurry. The ending redeems it a bit. The problem is that we are supposed to believe the family in the original is living in inpenetrable castle, being that the dad is the top salemsan at the best home secuity company in the country. And what does it take to break into such an imposing fortress? A redneck with a pickup truck. From there, the movie devolves into dark rooms with poorly armed prey waiting for someone to jump out at them. Just awful, and a waste of the promising Purge premise. Purge: Anarchy still doesn’t live up to its premise. However, it shows the larger Purge world, giving viewers a more complete picture of this horrible night. It’s also a serviceable action flick that generally moves fast enough that when things get dumb, there’s no time to contemplate it as the next threat is fast approaching.

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All ‘The Long Goodbye’ was missing were nihilists, a marmot and a toe

Private detective Philip Marlowe lights his ever-present cigarette.

Private detective Philip Marlowe lights his ever-present cigarette.

Detective Green: My, my, you are a pretty asshole.
Philip Marlowe: Yeah, my mother always tells me that.

The Coen brothers, writers and directors of The Big Lebowski, have made no secret of their fondness for author Raymond Chandler and his unshakeable detective, Philip Marlowe. Not knowing much about Chandler, that really didn’t mean anything to me. But after seeing The Long Goodbye, director Robert Altman’s adaption of the Chandler novel by the same name, I totally get it now. The convoluted plot, the ridiculous characters, the twist on film noir, Los Angeles as the back drop, the drama of the wealthy and foolish wreaking havoc on all those around them. If you’re a Lebowski fan and haven’t seen The Long Goodbye, I recommend giving it a shot.

To me, what was most fascinating was the Lebowski-Marlowe comparison. Jeff Bridges’ Lebowski is a stoner shlub who loves his weed, White Russians and bowling. He gets dragged into nefarious business that’s not his simply by having the same name – Jeffery Lebowski – as the wealthy man whose drama it truly is. Lebowski stumbles and bumbles his way through a poorly executed ransom payment then stumbles and bumbles some more as he hopes to recover the cash and luck into a payday.

Elliot Gould’s Marlowe is a private detective, although the mystery of who killed Eileen Wade isn’t his case. Marlowe’s pal Roger Wade shows up late one night asking for a lift to Mexico. Marlowe obliges, then is arrested upon his return for aiding and abetting Roger in the murder of his wife. Marlowe is dragged in further by gangster Marty Augustine, who believes that Marlowe knows where Roger and Augustine’s missing money are located. Marlowe neither stumbles nor bumbles, nudging, grimacing, yelling, threatening and smart-alecking his way through the madness in an attempt to figure out who framed his friend and clear his own name, both with the law and the lawless.

The story is similar, and there are even similarities between Marlowe and Lebowski. But while Lebowski is just kind of wandering aimlessly hoping to luck into his fortune and out of trouble, Marlowe only appears to be aimless. His constant smart-ass comments, his chain smoking, his rumpled appearance, his mumbling, all of that are part of the show. He wants to be underestimated, because if you believe he’s a bozo, Marlowe has that much more of a chance to ooze into your life and learn what he wants to learn without you even realizing it. At first, Marlowe very much comes off as incompetent and a jackass. After awhile, the viewer starts to realize that’s just as false as anything Marlowe’s adversaries are throwing at him.

What I’m considering doing now is watching both, back-to-back, just to get a better look at how the two parallel each other. Marlow and Lebowski, two shlubs cut from slightly different cloth.

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I will continue to walk with the ‘Dead’

Finally, our plucky gang comes out swinging.

Finally, our plucky gang comes out swinging.

After Season 4 of The Walking Dead, I had serious questions about whether or not I’d dive into Season 5 (check out those thoughts here). I won’t go into the long of it in this post, but the short of it is that I felt that the series tended to plod through large parts of Seasons 2-4, and the incessant focus on the background and re-ascension of the Governor in Season 4 felt like filler because the minds behind the show needed to get our heroes from point A to point B, and they didn’t have enough to justify a season just focusing on Rick and company.

Season 5 will – or at least should – be remembered as a high-water mark. The one thing that our crew should have learned – quit trusting everyone and quit approaching everyone as friends or potential allies – finally got through their thick skulls. Yes, their treatment of the cannibals was brutal. As it should have been. Some things aren’t acceptable, and in a world where humans are slowly becoming an endangered species, eating them is not an option, particularly if you’re going to saw parts off while the human is still alive and mock him as you suck down meat off a his calf. The showdown with the gang at the hospital was interesting, in that instead of attempting to turn or recruit them, both went their separate ways. Both groups could have helped each other, sure, but too much water was under the bridge. In a choice between mutually assured destruction and detante, both wisely chose the latter. And when the opportunity to return to civilization presented itself, our survivors were able to suck it up and dump their problems at the gate.

OK, not so much the last one maybe, but some of them – Michonne, Maggie, Carl, etc. – made a good go of it. Some – Daryl, Carol, Sasha, etc. – not so much. It made for some of the best conflict within the group since our original survivors arrived at the farm in Season 2. Watching the struggle with PTSD and shock, particularly with Rick and Sasha, was fascinating and real. The disbelief among our gang about how their new, civilized compatriots just didn’t get “it” was also interesting to see play out. And damn if Carol may not be the most interesting character on that show now. I’m half surprised she didn’t cap that wife-beating piece of shit the minute he walked into the meeting with Michonne’s sword.

The direction of the show has re-energized it, and viewers such as myself as well. Bring on the wacky wolf boys. This time, Rick and the gang – and me, for that matter – are ready.

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Fave songs of 2015, the first quarter review

15 Years, Houndmouth – It isn’t hard to imagine a bar full of folks stomping their feet and singing along to this country-tinged rocker.

Baby Britain, Seth Avett and Jessica Leah Mayfield – Avett and Mayfield sound sublime together, and this boozy lament (“Dead soldiers lined up on the table”) is one of my favorite Elliott Smith songs. Match made in heaven.

The Blacker the Berry, Kendrick Lamar – Kendrick doesn’t shy from America’s racism and speaks truth to power.

Bunker Buster, Viet Cong – These guys make good noise. If you like this one, check out their 11+ minute opus, Death.

City Boy Blues, Action Bronson – The more I listen to Bronson’s latest album, Mr. Wonderful, the more I like it. This little burst of neo-blues in the midst of Bronson’s top-shelf hip-hop collection is just one example of why.

Cross the Way, Moon Duo – Fuzzy, trippy stoner rock, somewhere between Jesus and Mary Chain and The Raveonettes.

Hate Street Dialogue, Avener feat. Rodriguez – An infectious groove with dark lyrics resulting in a unique sound.

Hey Darling, Sleater-Kinney – Compact and complex, the signature traits of any great Sleater-Kinney track.

How Could You Babe, Tobias Jesso Jr. – A soulful, plaintive piano ballad that Billy Joel would be proud of.

Pedestrian at Best, Courtney Barnett – Not having seen Courtney Barnett live is an oversight I need to correct, ASAP.

Penny Licks, Lady Lamb – A nifty shot at the sexists out there. The power of both the song and the singer increase as Penny Licks develops.

Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL., 1996), Modest Mouse – Weird Modest Mouse tends to be great Modest Mouse. This is no exception.

Trustful Hands, The Do – These “sentimental animals” craft a groovy, electro-pop gem with a bridge that seems like it could have been lifted from Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World.

Uptown Funk feat. Bruno Mars and Feel Right feat. Mystikal, Mark Ronson – The power of Uptown Funk is simply undeniable. Feel Right feels like something that could have come off of a classic James Brown album.

Witness, Will Butler – Butler’s sense of humor mixed with the piano-driven power pop he’s peddling results in a pretty sweet tune. I’m not sure Butler should give up his day job with Arcade Fire yet, but his solo debut is worth checking out.

Honorable mention: All is Forgiven, Alekesam; Allie, Belle & Sebastian; Better Man, Leon Bridges; Bitch I’m Madonna, Madonna feat. Nicki Minaj; Don’t Wanna Fight, Alabama Shakes; For You, Genevieve; Go Out, Blur; Going Though Walls, The Do; Institutionalized, Kendrick Lamar feat. Bilal, Anna Wise and Snoop Dogg; Kelly, I’m Not a Creep, Young Guv; Mantra, Earl Sweatshirt; Melt Me, Hanni El Khatib; Miss Catalina 1992, Buxton; Natural Pearl, Murder By Death; Never Bury the Hatchet, Sons of Texas; No GMO, THEEsatisfaction; Only in America, Action Bronson feat. Party Supplies; Ray Gun, Ghostface Killah feat. DOOM; Rock & Roll is Cold, Matthew E. White; Son of God, Will Butler; These Things I’ve Come To Know, James McMurtry; This World Is Not My Home, Robert Earl Keen; Under a Rock, Waxahatchee

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