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The Walking Dead 1.1 – Days Gone Bye

ALSO: Check out our interviews with author Robert Kirkman, director Frank Darabont, producer Gale Anne Hurd, and stars Andrew Lincoln, Jon Berthnal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Steve Yuen and Norman Reedus.

I’ve been aware of Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” for quite some time now, but I was always hesitant to read it because the idea of a zombie comic that never ended seemed boring as hell. Turns out it was the complete opposite. After AMC announced that they had commissioned a pilot based on Kirkman’s book (and directed by Frank Darabont, no less), I finally decided to give it a try, only to end up tearing through the 60-plus issues in a matter of months. Suffice it to say, I was hooked, and have been a dedicated reader ever since. It also changed my feelings about the upcoming television series, however, as I was now inclined to be somewhat protective of the source material. But after watching the pilot episode, it’s clear that fans won’t have to worry too much, because “The Walking Dead” is not only in good hands, but it translates perfectly to TV.

The show didn’t waste any time in setting its graphic tone, either, with sheriff Rick Grimes shooting a little zombie girl in the head while out searching for gas. Of course, the world wasn’t always swarming with the walking dead, and we get an appropriate flashback to the days before the zombie outbreak when Rick was just a normal police officer alongside his partner and best friend Shane. But after Rick gets shot in a firefight and falls into a coma in the hospital, he awakes weeks later to discover he’s all alone. The hospital is completely empty save for a few dead bodies lying on the ground, and when he goes outside, there are piles of carcasses all over the place. An unsettling sight for sure, but not nearly as frightening as seeing a decayed upper torso that’s still crawling around on the ground.

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If Rick doesn’t seem that concerned with figuring out how a dead person can still be alive, it’s because all he cares about at the moment is making sure his wife Lori and son Carl are still safe. But there’s no sign of them at their house, and before he can look anywhere else, he gets a shovel straight to the face, knocking him unconscious. When he comes to, Rick finds himself tied to a bed post and in the company of a man named Morgan (the always awesome Lennie James) and his son Duane, who are immediately concerned that his bandaged wound is more than just the gunshot he claims it to be. Rick eventually convinces them that he’s not only still human, but has no idea what’s going on, so Morgan fills him in on the basics: people are dying and coming back to life (whom he refers to as “walkers”), and the only way to kill them is by hitting or shooting them in the head. But gunshots make noise, and noise attracts walkers – hordes of them, in fact, including Morgan’s dead wife, who continues to haunt him and his son by roaming outside the house where they’ve set up camp.

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Boardwalk Empire 1.7 – Daddy Issues

I feel like I have to start off this week’s write-up by noting that, as a result of having been watching the show via advance screeners that I received way back in August, this week is the first time that I’ve ever actually seen the opening credits of “Boardwalk Empire…and, hey, they’re pretty awesome! I particularly dug the shot of the ocean filled with bobbing bottles. And as far as the theme song goes, I was briefly convinced that I was hearing an instrumental portion from Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” but, no, it’s The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Straight Up and Down.” Fair enough.

Things start out in Chicago, with a cop keeping close tabs on a gentleman indulging in a bit of corned beef hash and eggs. Bad news for him: turns out the cop is one of Capone’s informants. Worse news: I didn’t recognize him at first, but he’s the son of a bitch who slashed Pearl. How nice of Al to help Jimmy extract his revenge. I had no idea he was so sentimental. Now that they know where they can find the bastard, Jimmy heads over to the doctor to get his leg checked out (it’s the one that was wounded during WWI), since it’s been giving him trouble, describing the pain as “a dull ache inside.” A la the medical history lesson we got from Margaret’s pamphlet last week, this time we find out about Dr. Robert S. Woodworth and his so-called “Personal Inventory Test.” Jimmy agrees to take the test, though he’s clearly skeptical of its worth, but then he sees a guy who’s lost an eye and is wearing a colostomy bag. Surely he thinks the same thing we do: it could’ve been a hell of a lot better off.

Who’s the eccentric old codger in the bathrobe, wielding a fireplace poker? Shit, is that Nucky and Eli’s dad? Sure is. All the money Nucky’s got up his sleeve, and this is how his father lives…? Looks like the old man has a reason for preferring Eli…and not just because he was the first son to arrive on the scene after his accident. After Eli makes sure that his pops is in safe hands, he sets onto Nucky for seeing Margaret, reminding him between the lines that he was directly responsible for putting Margaret on the market by making her a widow. Nucky assures him it’s not an issue (though you know it will be one of these days), then shifts the subject back to their father, suggesting they put him in a home. Eli nixes the idea and, after Nucky dismisses any possibility of paying for a live-in nurse, suggests that he and his family can take him in, thereby underlining further why he’s Daddy’s favorite, but it’s the moment where an annoyed Nucky muses on how much the toaster cost ($9) and how it was never used that’s the more telling: Nucky wants to show off his wealth on his own terms, and he’s pissed when his gestures aren’t appreciated.

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Weekend box office: “Saw 3D” tortures its way to the top

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Even given my low information preview Thursday night, there really weren’t any big surprises this Halloween weekend as the seventh installment in the “Saw” series, but the first in 3D and therefore logically entitled “Saw 3D,” extracted a healthy but far from huge sum from audiences. The amount was an estimated $22.5 million for Lionsgate if you believe Box Office Mojo and the Playlist, or $24.2 million if you believe Nikki Finke and Anthony D’Alessandro. D’Allesandro, as usual guest/co-blogging with Anne Thompson, also tells us that it really does appear that 3D drove this film to its modest success, with 92% of tickets being sold for “digital hubs,” which I assume translates into 3D screens.

I wonder if that means the film will pay a commensurate price in home video for at least as long as home 3D remains rare. It’s also worth noting that the $20 million budget — modest by Hollywood standards but large by horror film standards — is double that of the prior films and the take is about $10 million below the opening weekends of the series at its peak. Still, making back your budget on opening weekend is never bad.

“Saw 3D” merited a B- on Cinemascore and apparently gave series fans what they want (misery, and lots of it, I gather), though their numbers be diminishing. Now that some of them have finally seen it, what critics want, however, is for the series to end with the  film currently getting drubbed by all but one scribe on Rotten Tomatoes. EW‘s Owen Gleiberman‘s more positive review is less a good review and more a bit of a confession — even the gore hardened critic had to turn away from the screen at one point or risk becoming physically ill — and a rumination on whether it’s even appropriate to enjoy a movie that sounds so invested in human pain that it should never have been allowed anything remotely short of an NC-17. (Which should not be seen as punitive or a a box office kiss of death, but let’s not open that can of worms right now, except that I just did.)

Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, and Morgan Freeman look relieved in Moving right along in a relatively slow weekend with competition for people’s time heavy from the holiday, the election, and maybe even Jon Stewart’s rally, last week’s much less physically aggressive horror hit, “Paranormal Activity 2,” endured a very usual second-week horror drop  of just under 60% that still left enough for an estimated $16.5 million in the #2 spot. The leggy action-comedy “RED” was #3 with an estimate of $10.8 million and change. And “#4 “Jackass 3D” is predictably sinking like a stone at $8.425 million. However, it started at such a profitable point it actually crossed the $100 million mark in its third week. There are no tears at Paramount.

In limited release, the week’s two highest per-theater takes was as art-house as art-house gets. The single theater showing “Waste Land,” a documentary about Brazilian trash-gatherer/artists, earned a hefty $11,600 estimate over it’s weekend. Meanwhile, the two venues final thriller directed by the late Claude Chabrol “Inspector Bellamy” starring Gérard Depardieu, raked in a very healthy estimated $11,200.  This one is on my list.

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RIP George Hickenlooper (updated)

I was hoping to be able to post something silly and Halloween-themed this morning, but a very sad reality got in the way with the passing yesterday of a really good filmmaker, much too young. The news, which I learned via The Playlist, was broken by the Denver Post.

Best known for two outstanding, possibly great, documentaries “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” codirected with Fax Bahr, and “Mayor of the Sunset Strip,” as well as for directing the original short film with Billy Bob Thornton that formed the basis for “Sling Blade,” the prolific independent director George Hickenlooper apparently died in his sleep in his Denver hotel room. He was there getting ready to promote his latest foray into dramatic feature filmmaking, “Casino Jack” starring Kevin Spacey as jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff, at a film festival in the city where his cousin, John Hickenlooper is the mayor. The two cousins had only met for the first time in 1991 when he came to the city to promote “Hearts of Darkness.” The mayor became the focus of Hickenlooper’s film about the 2008 Democratic convention, “‘Hick’ Town.” He was 47.

I never got to meet Mr. Hickenlooper, who had better luck with documentaries than dramatic films, but I had brushes with friends-of-friends  over the years. He was part of a group of St. Louis-bred creatives that also includes writer-director James Gunn (“Slither“). It’s pretty clear this is a huge shock to everyone and my sincere condolences to everyone.

Below are some brief moments from Hickenlooper’s signature films.

UPDATE: As usual in these situations, David Hudson at MUBI has more.

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A chat with Greg Nicotero, make-up and effects wizard of “The Walking Dead”

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With 124 make-up credits and 64 effects credits to his name so far, Greg Nicotero is one of the busiest and most respected make-up and effects professionals in Hollywood. Originally inspired to take up special effects after seeing “Jaws,” he broke into the business working for the legendary gore-effects maestro Tom Savini on zombie-master George Romero’s 1985 splatter opus, “Day of the Dead. ”

A few years later, Nicotero had decamped from Romero’s Pittsburgh’s to show-biz’s Los Angeles and formed the multi-award winning KNB Efx Group with friends Robert Kurtzman and Howard Berger. Aside from his intimate involvement in such effects heavy films as “Sin City,” “Kill Bill,” “Minority Report,” “Serenity,” “Spiderman 3” and, yes, “Ray,” Nicotero has also branched out into directing, helming the second unit on Frank Darabont’s “The Mist” and making his own short subject, a funny and endearing homage to several generations of classic movie monsters, “United Monster Talent Agency.”

When I met with Nicotero and last Summer’s Comic-Con, however, it was to promote the already highly buzzed new AMC series, “The Walking Dead,” which reunites Nicotero with writer-director Darabont in an adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s Eisner Award-winning comic book series. Premiering Halloween night, the show will be taking a more dramatic look at the cannibal zombie mythos originally created by George Romero in his 1968 “Night of the Living Dead,” combining slow-moving zombies with the kind of in-depth characterization and complex yarn-spinning that’s making the onetime “vast wasteland” of television into something more like the last refuge of classical storytelling.

There’s only one problem. I’m kind of scared to actually watch the thing. You see, much as I admire the craft of someone like Greg Nicotero, I’m not exactly the usual gorehound media-fan for whom the more, and more realistic, cinematic gore he can create, the better. There was no point in hiding it.

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