My Favorite Performances of 2011

Not a zombie or writing related post.  Wanted to make a year-end Best of List for stuff other than music, but I don’t really see a lot of movies at the time they come out and something like a Top 10 list of the best TV shows would be an arranging of all the shows I watch.  So instead, I made a list of acting performances that were truly exceptional according to me.

So of course I have to start with:

Bryan Cranston in BREAKING BAD

http://youtu.be/wMEq1mGpP5A

“I am the one who knocks!”

So says Walter White, formerly mild-mannered school teacher, currently borderline psychotic meth cook during another stellar season of AMC’s Breaking Bad.  I don’t think that mere words can describe how much I love this show.  It’s my favorite show, it’s my second and third favorite show and watching it all in a row would be my favorite movie.  It is so expertly crafted, so well written, so well acted, there’s nothing to even compare it to.  It’s a given that someone is going to get robbed at the Emmys because there aren’t enough categories to cover all the great work that is being done here.  Cranston will get another one, though.  He just kills it every single time so that it’s not even surprising anymore.  It used to be “Wow, the dad from Malcolm in the Middle can do drama.”  Now it’s, “That’s Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad!  Best show ever!” 

Claire Danes in HOMELAND

http://youtu.be/wrSI3a1aebo

On paper, Homeland is just another character-driven drama.  It’s like 24 but with surveillance instead of explosions.  Who’s bad?  Who’s good?  And how far will, Jack Bauer…err, Carrie go over the line in the name of protecting our country?  Danes plays the typical flawed heroine who plays by her own rules but gets results, damn it!  I was enjoying the character through the whole season; I like the way the CIA is portrayed as being run by real, actual people with human feelings and actions.  Most of the time, the CIA or the FBI or whatever is portrayed as emotionless robots just doing their job.  Homeland shows us an agency where the demands of the job actually take their toll.  I loved the little shrugs and pouts and little human touches that portray Carrie as a real person who just happens to have a high stakes,  high pressure job.  She is definitely not a robot.

Then came the last two episodes where I moved from enjoying the character to loving Danes’ performance as an actress.  It’s an easy thing to dismiss the portrayal of someone with a sickness as baiting the awards-givers or whatever and I’ve actually seen a lot of people saying that the manic side of  the bipolar Carrie was over the top.  I can assure you, it was not.  As someone who has witnessed manic episodes, I found the scenes of Carrie off her meds to be  a spot-on depiction, so much so that it made me almost uncomfortable.  There are not many things more unsettling than someone you know and love screaming insane random bullshit that they are convinced is really important at you.  It’s scary!  And if you’re ten, you hide in your room.  Anyway, I hope that Claire Danes is recognized for her brilliant and accurate portrayal; I will be disappointed if she is not.  She was excellent.  

John Noble in FRINGE

This is how you know that the Emmys are a joke: Not one single acting nomination for the outstanding cast of Fringe.  Anna Torv has played countless different versions of Olivia Dunham (seriously, it must be like FOUR now, I think) and she even did a pretty damn good Leonard Nimoy impression when his character invaded her body. 

But the true star of the show is John Noble.  It’s such a cliche to have a character praying or pleading with God.  When Andrew Lincoln did it on The Walking Dead, I rolled my eyes out of my head.  But when John Noble did it on Fringe, I was moved.  The moment had been earned.  A great acting performance takes you with it, makes you feel things.  I bought the plea to God because Noble made me buy it.

These are the things John Noble is asked to do on Fringe: 

1) Provide all the sci-fi techno-babble that will advance the plot and ultimately save the day. 

2) Play a mentally unstable, possibly crazy man who has been isolated in a psych ward for thirty years trying to readjust to society, while also reconnecting with a son he holds a dark secret over and, of course, being asked to save the day too.  Not to mention he is tormented by his past experimental atrocities that have largely caused the disastrous scenarios he is trying to stop from unfolding. 

3) Be essentially the only comic relief as he gets names wrongs, is generally socially awkward and tries to connect himself to the world by being obsessed with the sweets he enjoys.  Watch this collection of clips on youtube: http://youtu.be/OIeDWzls3gs

4) Play an alternate, evil version of himself that is so radically different than the original Walter that I’ve several times said to myself, “Wow, they didn’t use John Noble in that episode!  Oh…wait, yes they did! Ha Ha.”  All the actors convicingly play alternate versions of themselves, but Noble is by far the best.

Jessica Lange in AMERICAN HORROR STORY

Sometimes a program is just so trashy and out there and full of holes that it gets twisted around into something great.  The first season of American Horror Story wasn’t the best written or most innovative television around, but it was still riveting, must-see TV because it was ambitious, embraced its flaws and didn’t care what you thought.  I loved every minute of it and a big reason for that was Jessica Lange. 

It takes true talent to rise above the material one is given and on paper Lange didn’t have much to work with.  Scorned Southern belle, faded dreams, fiercely proud and vain.  Not the most original character ever written.  Then Jessica Lange took that role and ACTED THE CRAP OUT OF IT.  She was out there showing the young kids how it’s done week after week.  It wasn’t even fair how she was doing acting laps around the others.  I think the only person who didn’t manage to get swallowed up by Lange’s scene-stealing was Zachary Quinto.  She WILL be nominated for Supporting Actress…but then again, the Emmys are a joke…

Hank Azaria in THE SMURFS

http://youtu.be/3cOnuqCAZEA

Speaking of embracing a role even though you know you’re in a piece of crap…we now have Hank Azaria’s take on Gargamel.  I didn’t want to see The Smurfs movie, but when it’s your daughter’s birthday, you do what you gotta do.  For me, Hank Azaria took this kid’s movie and made it almost watchable!  He was hilarious.  He became a cartoon.  If there was a good part in the movie, it always involved Gargamel.  I wanted more.  I want a Gargamel prequel.  I want a Gargamel sequel.  If Hank Azaria reprises his role as Gargamel for anything, even Smurfs 2, I will take my daughter to see it much more willingly, confident that Hank Azaria will save me.

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Zombie Movie Night- December ’11

Hoping to have a holiday-themed zombie movie, Jeff purchased the DVD of Silent Night, Zombie Night.  Perhaps zombies can be defeated by Christmas spirit?   The best way to dispel zombie fear is singing loud for all to hear!

But sadly, if you’re hoping for some Christmas magic from Silent Night, Zombie Night, you will be disappointed.  It’s like they came up with the title first and then threw in some decorations in the background to justify the name.  There’s the inevitable fat mall Santa zombie, but that’s as close as we get to Tis the Season.  Jeff put it best: SNZN is a Christmas movie the way Die Hard is a Christmas movie.  It doesn’t help matters that the action takes place in LA, where there is no snow or any wintery effects to remind us Northeasterners more of December.

This is another sad case where most of the money was spent on creating a deceiving cover!  It’s very well done with the names of actors splashed across the top.  We don’t recognize the names but it’s still a pro-looking job.  Found out later that those names aren’t even the main characters shown on the box but rather, people who show up in the second half in supporting roles.  So weird.  Also, there’s a praise quote that says something like “Better than Zombieland!!!!”  Which is of course a red flag that means it is definitely not better.  Man, as a youth did I learn that trick the hard way when Very Bad Things was advertised as “better than There’s Something About Mary!” and it turned out to be a rather disturbing drama that was played and directed as a sociopathic comedy.

Anyway, the performances and zombie rules vary greatly.  Five minutes in and one guy is waaaayyyy too sure of the way the game is played for a supposedly new apocalyptic phenomenon and his friend’s foot pays a heavy price for that overconfidence.  This guy also has a sleazy kind of charm but the movie falls flat whenever the music swells loudly and the characters try to have moments.  The center of the human drama is supposed to be a love triangle, but it seems like a stupid thing to be dealing with when there are ravenous zombies everywhere.  Most of these people would benefit from a good slap and a reality check.

The ending is terrible.  The all-important menfolk are left to their fates and we’re down to following the two women.  Boring!  Roll credits.  Who cares what happens to them?  We’re out of money so everything must be dropped RIGHT NOW, including the plot!

Silent Night, Zombie night fails as a Christmas movie.  It fails as a horror comedy.  And this review definitely sounds like I hated it, but…I didn’t.  It’s actually a passable zombie flick compared to most of the other home video crap that’s out there and the bad parts aren’t so bad to make you want to shut it off.   It’s decent enough for what it is.  Just don’t expect anything to do with Christmas.  Grade: B-

I still want to see THIS movie instead of the one that's actually inside.

 
 
Much like watching a film just for a Christmas theme is risky, so too was watching a movie solely to add one more country to our remarkable list of international zombie romps.  And so next came Hell’s Ground, a horror movie from Pakistan.  Now I am shamefully as ignorant as most other stupid Americans when it comes to very foreign cultures, so I took this as a learning opportunity.  Oh, the women aren’t covered up in Pakistan!  Oh, look, they have newspapers in English!  The “cool” teenagers even comment how Pakistan is a weird mix of the old and the new and the cinemetography totally backs this up this claim. 
 
The cool kids lie to their parents about where they will be and head off to an out of town concert.  And then they take the inevitable short cut of doom!  Even a crusty old vendor who warns them about Hell’s Ground can’t stop the kids from their determination to be horribly murdered. 
 
The director had to overcome a lot of censorship and whatnot, as you might expect from what we ignorant Americans DO know about the Middle East, so when he had the chance to make this horror movie, he threw everything he had at it.  Flesh-eating zombies, creepy weirdos who carry human heads around and will literally kill you for a glass of water, creepy old ladies with evil hidden agendas, a Jason Voorhees-esque maniac who hunts and carves up humans for sport, creepy doll parts and chicken feet hanging from the trees and flesh-eating zombie midgets!   And it’s all fairly awesome, even if there are no real surprises or new ground to cover.  It’s like the director fell in love with American horror movies and wanted to remake all of them.   At the same time.  The only knock I have, which isn’t even a “real” knock, is that it’s not exactly a zombie movie.  The zombies have their moment in a pretty good scene and they do get the last laugh, but all in all, they are just part of the backdrop.  The last act is focused entirely on the unnecessary backstory of the maniac and the inevitable showdown with the surviving teen.  Still, for a director who overcame cultural obstacles and financed his movie with sales from his ice cream shops, Hell’s Ground is a little horror gemstone that is well worth watching.  Grade: A-
 

So the name of the road is Hell's Ground! Pssh, I'm sure it's just a name...