Wednesday, April 27, 2016

On zombies and who Negan killed (not just a theory nor a spoiler)

Joe Puente
(post-zombie apocalypse)
For the most part, I would not say that I’ve been a big fan of the zombie genre. The only time I ever saw “Night of the Living Dead,” it was an abbreviated version over which comedians improvised new dialogue—with a completely different plot. It’s also interesting to note that of all the zombie movies ever produced, more than half of them were created in this century. I couldn’t keep up with them if I wanted to.

I’ve had a few different reasons for not being interested in seeing most zombie movies. My go-to excuse is that I have no interest in seeing pointless violence in the form of people killing other people that, technically, are already dead. The real reason I haven’t watched too many of these movies is because… well… I think zombies are scary. There. I said it.

Who wouldn’t be creeped out and downright terrified by a hoard of creatures that kinda look like people but can’t be reasoned with? They just keep on coming after you despite your best efforts to evade them. Like a mall kiosk salesperson who won’t take “No” for an answer, it’s horrifying! Okay, at the very least it’s creepy and makes you uncomfortable despite the fact that they’re essentially harmless. The zombies, I mean—because they’re not real. I can’t say the same for the kiosk salespeople.

The slow, staggering zombies are scary enough. Fast zombies like the ones in “28 Days Later” are even worse. I don’t like running! But at least I know that I could outrun a slow zombie. The ability to run seems like a majorly unfair advantage to give to those things.

I totally understand why zombies are so popular as villains. What they lack in thinking ability they more than make up for by instilling fear in others, especially when facing a hoard of the undead. That’s probably why the Borg were such effective villains in Star Trek. They were basically space zombies.

It’s odd to consider characters like the Borg or the White Walkers (occasionally just called "walkers") from “Game of Thrones” as variations on zombies. The “modern” zombie is itself is derivative of the original zombie concept. Am I the only one who remembers “The Serpent and the Rainbow”? (I’m not saying that it’s definitive, I’m just wondering if anyone else remembers that Bill Pullman was in that movie). Remember that one scene that made every guy who watched it cringe and snap his legs together?

As I stated above, MOST zombie movies don’t interest me. Obviously there are a few that I found intriguing.

I did enjoy “Shawn of the Dead” though I only saw it years after it had been in theaters.
That the producers of “Warm Bodies” were able to pull off a Zombie/Romantic Comedy mashup was quite impressive. Of course, making the audience sympathetic to traditionally unsympathetic characters (i.e. zombies) was quite a challenge. The filmmakers’ choice to present part of the story from the zombie’s perspective as well as to contrast them with a different type of zombie that was simply even more unsympathetic (the Boneys) was very effective. Of course John Malkovich’s character did the human population of the film no favors as far as endearing the audience to them which, of course, made the “friendly” zombies easier to root for.

There was a time when I was dismissive of the entire zombie genre but that changed when I saw the first trailer for AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” At first, I was indeed dismissive of it. “Great!,” I thought. “More zombies. When is this zombie fad going to just go away?” But I kept watching and there came a brief moment in that trailer that really got my attention:


Seeing Morgan’s determination to rid the world of walkers seemed apropos for the genre but this is followed by a look of utter devastation when he recognizes the creature that used to be his wife among the hoard. That moment made it very clear to me that “The Walking Dead” was not just an action-packed tv-show about zombies. It was a dramatic series about people and how they live in extremely difficult circumstances and made me think, “Okay, this is something different and I think I need to see it.”

I’ve been watching the series ever since and have really enjoyed seeing how these disparate characters have evolved in this strange world over the course of its run. While I have not taken the time to read the comic book it’s based on, I have read about it in the interest of knowing how the television show has both followed and deviated from the source material.

The original Negan and actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan
(Photo: Twitter Photo Section/@JoBlo)
I recall learning about the new villain “Negan” and how he was supposed to be the worst person Rick Grimes and company have encountered so far. Between the Governor and the “Termites,” I thought that was going to be pretty difficult to pull off but Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s brief introduction of the character at the end of season 6 has certainly made me reconsider that preconception.

Of course, the major mystery of the season 6 finale, “Last Day on Earth,” is just which of the beloved main characters was murdered by Negan with his weapon of choice, a barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat named “Lucille.”

The identity of Negan’s victim in the comic books has been known since 2012 when Glenn made his last appearance in issue #101. However, since the television series has never shied away from deviating from the comic book storyline, this particular outcome isn’t set in stone. There are several characters who have been killed on the TV show that are still alive in the comics and vice versa.

It’s reasonable to assume that most fans of the show have their theories about how any one of the main characters got to meet Lucille up close and personal. Some have even painstakingly analyzed the audio and visuals from the show to try and find clues. I personally don’t have the patience to break down the final moments of the episode frame-by-frame nor am I particularly invested in any of the characters to be heartbroken if they’re let go from the series.

Nevertheless, I’m just as curious as anyone else who wants to know who died and what will happen next but instead of trying to analyze audio, video, characters arcs or potential hints from the source material, I thought it would be interesting to try and look at the situation from the point-of-view of the WRITERS on the show.

So, as I imagine myself sitting with the other series writers, I have to ask them a couple of questions:

Writing Staff Question #1) “Who should be kept alive and why?”

I wouldn’t kill off Rick because he is the show.

I’d keep Carl around because watching him grow up in this world is just too damned interesting.

Michonne can’t die. I won’t allow it. ;-) Okay, it would really suck for Rick to lose another love interest so soon after losing Jessie. He had just gotten to a place where he felt he could be with someone after losing Lori in season 2.
Update: It was brought to my attention by a friend familiar with the comics that 
"Negan doesn't kill women with Lucille... Because of that, the women are safe (IMO)." (emphasis added) 
To clarify, my friend didn't say that Negan doesn't kill women. Only that he doesn't kill them "with Lucille." So, I'm not sure how safe women are around him in general. Taking that into consideration, one must ask if this policy will cross over to the TV show or not. One never knows.
Daryl, the only surviving Dixon brother, is way too valuable to the show to let go through the business end of a repurposed baseball bat. Of course, there’s also that whole riot threat to consider.

Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee
(Photo:AMC)
I would prefer not to have it be Glenn. If, for no other reason, than to be different from the comics. That whole expectant father in the apocalypse angle is also something to consider. HIs relationship with Maggie is another thing that keeps people watching the show.

Abraham and Sasha just started their romantic relationship so it would be a pity to see that come to a quick end.

Eugene has come a long way since his “Scientist on a mission to D.C.” ruse fell apart. It could be argued that he needs more time to put the karmic balance in his favor before he can be killed off. Especially since he failed so horribly in his efforts to bait the Saviors away from the rest of the group.

Writing Staff Question #2) “Who’s death would have the most profound impact on the rest of the group (and by extension, on the audience that empathizes with them)?”

Obviously, if you killed Rick, you break everyone’s heart (especially those of Michonne and Carl). Though it would be interesting to see how Carl’s character develops without his father’s guidance.

Norman Reedus already has another show on AMC to fall back on—and I’m sure a backlog of other film and television offers to choose from should Daryl meet an untimely end. Part of what makes “The Walking Dead” so great is the fact that no one is ever off limits when it comes to character mortality, even if they’re the most popular on the show. Let the fans riot!

Which brings us back to Glenn. I don’t think Glenn’s death would be all that impactful. While there would be disappointment on both sides of the fourth wall, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to the audience since it’s known that Negan kills Glenn in the comics. Sure, Rick and company would be devastated to lose one of their own—especially since Glenn is thus far one of the longest-surviving members of the core group—but he wouldn’t be the first husband/father/leader to be lost. This is the point where the reader chimes in with, “What about Maggie? They’ve been through so much together! She’s already lost her parents and she’s pregnant with his child. Losing Glenn would certainly have a profound effect on her.”

To which, I respond, “You’re right. What about Maggie?” She wouldn’t be the first widow or single mother on the show. We already know that she’s a strong character who can survive just about any challenge thrown at her. Losing Glenn would be tragic for her and the audience but she has already proven herself capable of enduring such tragedies.

This begs another examination of the second question posed to the writing staff.

Dare I answer that question with a question?
Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene
(Photo:AMC)

 “What about Maggie?”

Murdering anyone in cold blood for completely arbitrary reasons is awful enough. When that person is an ill, pregnant woman and is also adored by companions and audience alike, it becomes extra tragic. Make said pregnant woman the spouse of an equally admired character—to say nothing of being one half of a fan-favorite couple—and the dramatic stakes are raised even higher and that’s just in the moment. Consider the impact a pregnant Maggie’s death would have on Glenn.

Glenn’s story has been played out in the comic. A good guy in a rotten world whose life ended tragically and without purpose. By changing Negan’s victim from Glenn to Maggie, there is potential to explore parts of Glenn’s psyche that no one has seen before. Not just over losing the woman he loves—he’s considered her loss several times before, though I imagine he usually thought of her succumbing to walkers. While there were certainly situations where Maggie was in danger from other humans, add to the encounter with Negan the factors of her pregnancy, the danger her life and the life of their unborn child are already in as they try to get medical attention and the thought of her being murdered in cold blood and you have a constellation of circumstances that I think could make the otherwise thoughtful and cool-headed Glenn just snap.

By making Maggie the victim of Negan’s sadistic initiation of the group into the Savior collective, the writing staff has an opportunity to take Glenn’s character to places they may never have considered before. Glenn will have lost everything. Not only the world that he shared with Maggie—despite how frightening and uncertain it was—but also their future, the potential that was their child and the hope they may have had to try and raise a good person in a broken society. In this scenario, Glenn has nothing else to lose, except his own humanity. Yes, it would be tragic (dare I say more tragic than the initial loss of his family) but for dramatic and story-telling purposes it gives the writers a lot to work with. How would Glenn process this profound loss? Do the new circumstances he finds himself in even allow him an opportunity to grieve?

As a writer, I would relish the opportunity to explore just how Glenn channels his anger. To figure out how he might avenge the death of his wife and especially to see if his moral compass remains intact throughout. It would be much more interesting (and probably more realistic) if his need for revenge means not allowing anything or anyone—even the people he has survived with—to get in his way. Perhaps even to the point of betraying the people who are, for all practical purposes, his family all so that he can exact vengeance.

Of course, at the end of that journey, the writers would also have so figure out what would become of Glenn in the end. Dying in the attempt would seem anti-climactic. To see Glenn succeed, defeat Negan and then find himself alone because he may have also destroyed what was left of his original group in the process, would be the ultimate challenge. What would that do to the psyche of anyone? Would there be any humanity left within him to redeem at that point? And, if so, how?
N.B. I’m totally calling intellectual property "dibs" on this alternate history. If any comic book artists reading this would like to collaborate with me on a one-off/what-if Walking Dead issue that explores these ideas, let me know.
Revised 4/27/16, 1:51 PM MST

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Better Call Saul… but only once a week.


I can’t say that I’m an intense binge watcher. I did get through “Firefly” in a couple of days and I watched the first three seasons of “Game of Thrones” in fairly rapid succession—then watched it all again to make sure I didn’t miss anything. With other series, I guess I’ve been more casual. I just finished watching “Weeds,” for example. An interesting and unusual story with elements both hilarious and heartbreaking but instead of binging, I would watch it casually, as I’ve done for a few other series.

I kinda dig this method of watching programs but I’ve come to realize that I can’t do this for all programs. Case in point: “Better Call Saul.”

I loved “Breaking Bad” and when I first heard the rumors about a prequel series focussing on Walter White’s crooked lawyer—of all people!—I was simultaneously intrigued and skeptical. Intrigued to see how Vince Gilligan and company would tell the story of how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) becomes Saul Goodman and skeptical about whether that was enough to carry the whole series. The addition of the complicated origins of Mike Ehrmantraut and the judicious use of “Breaking Bad” character cameos have put my skepticism more than at ease.

Bob Odenkirk, Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan
on the set of "Better Call Saul"
I think it’s safe to say that “Better Call Saul” is one of my favorite series currently airing and I’m glad that I can only watch it one episode at a time with a week in between to process. I don’t think I could binge this series because as much as I love the show, every week it breaks my heart. Sometimes for the events that unfold on the show (“You’re not a real lawyer!”) but mostly because, as in “Breaking Bad,” I already know that it can’t end well for anyone involved. Sure, it’s no secret that Jimmy will become Saul and then later become an anonymous manager of a Cinnabon in Omaha. There’s no mystery about where he winds up, only now we’re learning what set him on that path. I knew that going in. What I didn’t fully anticipate, however, was that I would also learn about the body count that Jimmy/Saul would leave in his wake.

In “Breaking Bad,” Walter White was deliberately breaking the law and doing whatever he could to build his empire. The body count in Heisenberg’s story was literal. In “Better Call Saul,” Jimmy starts out trying to do the right thing. As his brother—played brilliantly by Michael McKean (Every time I see him, I still think, “Hey, it’s Lenny!”)—Chuck says, “Jimmy has a good heart.” It’s obvious. We wouldn’t love him as a character if he didn’t. His motivations for the actions he takes are sincere, even if they do range from ethically murky to blatantly illegal. From my observations, Jimmy’s main character flaw—which is exactly the thing that brings us back to his story every week—is that he doesn’t think about the long-term consequences of his actions. His reasoning always seams to be, “If I do A then B will happen.” He doesn’t stop to consider that B leads to C, which effects D, E, F and every other letter down the line. Once in a while, someone is there to give him a course correction. Like his assistant Omar reminding him about some important minutia in his contract with Davis & Main that prompted him to rethink resigning from the firm.

One would think that Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) would be the perfect moral compass for Jimmy. She has a strong sense of ethics (at least where her job is concerned) and she cares about him but she would rather have plausible deniability about Jimmy’s actions than have any part in trying to help rehabilitate him. When she is first made aware of an action Jimmy took that she knew would get him disbarred if it were to ever come to light, she doesn’t say to him, “Please, don’t do it again.” Instead she says, “I can’t know about anything like that.” At first I wondered why she would not just ask Jimmy to play it straight. Is it because she doesn’t want to try and change him? Is she attempting to maintain some boundaries in their relationship? Then I realized that my thinking on the matter was kind of sexist. Kim is a lawyer. Her actions are dictated by that fact. She doesn’t want to know about Jimmy breaking the law because, as a lawyer, she can’t appear to be complicit. It’s not just a selfish act to cover her ass, it’s the default position any lawyer would take in that situation. That’s how lawyers are trained to think. In light of that fact, it’s no wonder that she applies this way of thinking in her personal life, especially considering professional priorities and her youth where the lines between one’s personal and professional life tend to be blurred.

I love Kim’s character. I find myself repeatedly rooting for her, celebrating her victories and mourning her losses but at the end of every episode, no matter how Kim’s character is doing, I feel sad. Because, as a beloved character, I know that this series cannot end well for her. She’s closer to Jimmy than anyone else so, of course, she’s going to be the most tragic victim of his actions and will probably wind up being the most painful of Jimmy’s/Saul’s long list of lifetime regrets.

What’s especially interesting to me about the experience of watching this show is that we’re seeing all of the skeletons in Saul Goodman’s closet, all the things that made him who he was in “Breaking Bad” and yet, none of it was written when we were first introduced to the character. It makes one wonder how Odenkirk envisioned the origins of the character to divine his various motives and motivations and what sort of influence that had on the development of “Better Call Saul.”

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"House of Cards Season" 4 Trailer

I've always been a fan of anti-heroes. I just can't get enough of wanting to root for them to win and for karma to bite them in the ass all at the same time.

The last time I felt this way about a character was most likely Walter White.

These days, it's Frank Underwood.

I'm also a fan of trailers with a lot of quick and intriguing shots, just a few frames in duration.


I'm an even bigger fan of being able to download said trailers and go through them frame by frame to try and figure out what's in store for the new season.

Here are a few screen caps that caught my interest and the thoughts and questions they brought up for me:


Is Zoey Barnes back from the dead? And she's working for Claire?...
Oh, that's just Neve Cambell



A gun pulled from a drawer... how sinister. Remember what Chekhov said!



Is that Lucas Goodwin on the top bunk?
And is that other guy going to... er...
make a... "prison proposal"?



Claire is being spied upon...



...by a bald woman?



I suppose it could be Ellen Burstyn. My first thought is that she's playing Claire's mom, because when you leave your husband, you go to your mom's house, right? But if she's the spying bald woman then maybe she's "got the cancer" and only wears a wig when she isn't spying on people.



I think this might be where Chekhov's gun goes off.



Is this that same Civil War reenactor who claimed to be portraying Frank's ancestor? 



Who is Doug tackling in his living room? Is that Seth?



I think it is Seth! I'm having trouble picturing a White House Chief of Staff
doing something like this... Well, any Chief of Staff that isn't Rahm Emanuel*.



Dancing half-naked guy wearing headphones...
I want to know but I don't really want to know right now.



It's those rare moments of quiet vulnerability
that make Frank such an endearing character,
despite being a narcissistic, amoral sociopath.



Claire's Dad?



My first though was, "Mr. President, you're hooker is waiting for you."
Then I thought, maybe it's Claire.
Perhaps she and Frank reconcile at some point.



Okay, someone is assaulting Frank.
Which is to say that someone is assaulting the President.
Who could get close enough to do that?
Obviously someone who's working for Claire...
whose blurry reflection can be seen in the window.



Another gun... going into someone's mouth.
I don't know if Chekhov ever said anything about that.
But then—full disclosure—I haven't really read anything by Chekhov.



Angry bald guy. Probably Doug.



Claire?


There were a few other shots that caught my attention. Like some guy that I assume is going to be Frank's running mate. I'm very much looking forward to the new season. And I hear that Season 5 has already been given the green light.

*I'm not saying that Rahm Emanuel has ever done anything violent or that he's even capable of such behaviors, or that Doug might be somehow based on him... I'm just saying that Emanuel has always had a reputation of being kind of a tough guy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"That Guy... Who Was in That Thing." (Documentary Film Recommendation)

If you are aspiring to be a working actor—regardless if you are just starting out or have been at it for decades—then I highly recommend that you watch the documentary "That Guy... Who Was in That Thing."

A lot of us get into the business with dreams of super-stardom. The possibility—albeit remote—of lucrative roles, name recognition and, of course, having the luxury of passing on a job because it doesn't appeal to our artistic ideals... then we actually start trying to get work and the role doesn't matter to us as much as whether or not it comes with a paycheck.

I've had the opportunity to talk with young actors in high school and college and I like to ask them the following question: "What's the best kind of actor to be?"

And it's so cute when they say things like, "A theatre actor," "A film actor" or "A method actor." Then I smile and say to them, "There's only one correct answer to that question: The best kind of actor to be is a WORKING actor."

Yes, we do get into the business because of our passion as artists but we can't lose site of the fact that it is a BUSINESS and if we want to make a LIVING at it, we need to be willing to say "Yes" more often than no.

Admit it, if you're agent called you up and said, "A casting director saw your reel and they want you for a part in a film, they're offering to pay you a SAG-equivalent day-rate for a week of work," you'd say yes without even knowing what the movie's about. At least, if you want to call yourself a professional, working actor, you will.

Of course everyone is going to draw a line somewhere. I remember when most of the acting gigs on Craigslist were for non-paying student films and not porn. But let's be honest... I couldn't get hired as an "adult performer" even if I wanted to be.

All that being said, "That Guy... Who Was in That Thing" profiles the type of actor that I would LOVE to become. Somebody that people recognize on the street because they've seen me in a whole lot of commercials, TV shows and movies but they can never quite remember my name because I'm not the leading man, I'm usually in a supporting or character role. I'm on screen just long enough to make an impression and be recognized and working enough in the industry to at least not have to work at a "day job" that I would hate. And that should be the dream for most actors. To be able to do what you love and make a living at it. To be a working actor.

I used to tell people that if I could be like any actor, I'd want to be like Terry O'Quinn... Because he was always working. Then he got that gig on "Lost" and everybody knew who he was so I had to look for another woking actor to aspire to be like... so I chose Anthony Zerbe. I met him once when I was in college. You've probably never heard of him. But I bet you've seen him. He's so obscure he wasn't even asked to be in "That Guy... Who Was in That Thing." But at least he's working. :-)

I do have some higher aspirations than that, of course... when I allow myself to really dream big: I want to be the Paul Giamatti of the Intermountain West film community. ;-)

"That Guy... Who Was in That Thing"
"That Guy... Who Was in That Thing"

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Breaking Bad

Vince Gilligan's series managed to knock "Six Feet Under" out of my top spot for favorite television show of all time. I was hooked on "Breaking Bad" from the beginning. Intrigued by the premise and blown away by its execution, my inner hipster takes immense pleasure in the fact that I have been watching the show on AMC since it first aired.

Walter White's journey has been a fascinating one and "Breaking Bad" has served, for me at least, as a great example of how Brigham Young described the theatre (and, by extension, film and television): "Upon the stage of a theatre can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to shun it."

We watched Walter give in to evil and how it had consequences. We saw his weakness (pride) and his follies. The greatness of truth in his redemptive act of finally admitting to Skylar his selfish motivations for what he did. And I have always felt impressed with a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences by the actions of multiple characters in the series. While there are a fair share innocent bystanders in the series, most of the guilty parties do get what was coming to them. As someone with an overdeveloped sense of justice, it's what I needed to see in order to have closure with this journey and yet I was at first a little torn by seeing Walt come back from the brink, at least a little bit in the end. Then I was glad to see that even though he did embrace the Heisenberg persona in the end, it was to some degree a facade and that Walter still managed to come clean about some things with Skylar and find a way to help his family before going out in the inevitable hale of gunfire.

I'm very grateful for the opportunity to have experienced "Breaking Bad" and to bond with family and friends over the shared journey. I wish to express to the creator, cast and crew of the series a great deal of thanks for their work and wish them all continued success in their careers.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Expiation by Richard Dutcher (Review)

My friend Richard Dutcher wrote an excellent short story titled "Expiation"—published by Sunstone Magazine.

It gave me a lot to think about when it comes to Mormon culture and attitudes regarding a number of topics from redemption to the words of prophets—and how they are interpreted—and attitudes towards the sins and nature of others, especially those that we love.

The story isn't a happy one and is written as a confession discovered in a Utah canyon. The story made me grateful for the light and knowledge that's been made available to us through modern revelation and also disappointed in the fact that so many people will close their eyes and ears to it out of fear of getting something wrong, all the while forgetting that we're not expected to get everything right in the first place.

The story also raises questions for me that I hope someday to find the answers to about Church history and attitudes and beliefs of the early Latter-day Saints and their leaders and how God requires different sacrifices from different groups of His children at different times.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

ZERO DARK THIRTY (Review)



This was a disturbing film to watch. And I'm glad I was disturbed by it. That isn't to say it wasn't a worthwhile film. It was. And I highly recommend it.

"Zero Dark Thirty" gave me reason to pause. Reason to think and evaluate not just my own values but our country's values. When a CIA officer is yelling at his staff and telling them, "Give me people to kill," I would hope that would make anyone with a conscience stop and think.

It was interesting to learn that the officer(s) who discovered Bin Laden's compound actually wanted to drop a bomb—or use a drone strike, I suppose—but I'm glad it was decided that we put boots on the ground for the operation. There's something to be said for seeing ones enemy up close, especially when the time comes to neutralize them.

Osama Bin Laden is probably the closest this world has come to having an actual super-villain. Should I not use comic-book analogies for something so serious? I guess not. But that's how I feel. But it wasn't a super-hero that took him out. It was regular men and women working hard at what they do.

Having worked for a time in the US Intelligence Community, I can appreciate the effort that was made and the need for teamwork to make such a mission successful. I also felt a certain degree of pride for having once been part of that community and at the same time a bit of shame for the way we've treated detainees in the name of homeland security. I'm still on the fence in regard to what we're doing with armed drones and what that means for future conflicts and perceived threats to our country.