Z Nation: Audios Muchachos (Review)

Last week on Z Nation, Vasquez was one injection away from becoming Murphy’s slave. In Audios Muchachos Warren steps in and saves the mercenary by suggesting that Dr. Kurian (Donald Corren) be injected with the vaccine instead. As the doctor protests, Murphy sits watching the proceedings with obvious delight while eating popcorn and drinking wine.

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Last week on Z Nation, Vasquez was one injection away from becoming Murphy’s slave. In Audios Muchachos Warren steps in and saves the mercenary by suggesting that Dr. Kurian (Donald Corren) be injected with the vaccine instead.  As the doctor protests, Murphy sits watching the proceedings with obvious delight while  eating popcorn and drinking wine. The expression on his face says it all, to Murphy, this is better than television. 

It appears that the vaccine works, as Kurian survives not just the injection but the “test” as well; a box with some zombified creature that bites the doctor pretty enthusiastically.  Things become interesting for the gang when La Reina (Gina Gershon), after getting her injection, tells Kurian to give the cure to Warren next.

Murphy steps in and offers to give Roberta the shot himself.  La Reina agrees and Murphy gives the shot without ever breaking skin.  Kurian is then ordered to inject the rest of the Zeros and all, except for Escorpion (Emilio Rivera) who goes to beat Vasquez some more, get the vaccine.

La Reina’s right-hand man learns that the “mercenary” is the DEA agent whose family he killed.  Later though, he lies to the Zeros leader and says that all of the group, including Warren, are part of a plot to kill La Reina.

Keith Allan gets to take Murphy to new levels in this episode of Z Nation.  Gleefully controlling Kurian, “Whoops did I do that?” Later, he shows off to Roberta by controlling the doctor effortlessly.  After the “would you like a drink” scene, Murphy manipulates La Reina and orders Warren to kill Escorpion.

In between Murphy’s controlling Kurian and talking for La Reina, Roberta splits up the remaining group. Doc, Addy and 10K are to find Vasquez and Roberta is in charge of Murphy.

Standout moments:

Murphy watching Kurian at the start of the episode, grinning between mouthfuls of popcorn and clearly very entertained by the doctor’s predicament.

Murphy controlling La Reina, talking for her and clearly gesturing for her, the arm flailing when Warren forces him to back down is a classic Murphy gesture.

Escorpion and Vasquez with their big battle at the end of the episode.

Warren and Murphy continuing their bonding exercise, these two are slowly coming to respect one another. Clearly Murphy likes being ordered around by a strong woman. Roberta is coming to feel more compassion and in the process is starting to understand “The Murphy” and the two enjoy a little give and take exchange:

Roberta: “What the hell is wrong with him?”

Murphy: Jesus Warren! Give a guy a heart attack!”

Roberta: “Really? You can still have a heart attack?”

The Doc and Addy interchange:

Addy:  “My brains, 10K’s gun  and Doc’s…”

Doc: “Dumb luck? Good Karma? Funky mojo?”

Addy (Nods once): “We can get him.”

Kurian losing his head.

10K and his “El Camino” and the dusty drive into the Z Nation sunset and his leaning out of the moving vehicle to shoot a drone from the sky, all set to Scott Metzler’s Sock Full of Quarters performed by WOLF!.

Annoying bits:

Vasquez being suspended at different heights during his Escorpion beatings.  At least half the time the ropes holding his arms were too long allowing the actor a chance to dance limbo if he so chose.  This lack of attention to detail overshadowed the two men’s impressive interaction together during the interrogations scenes.

When Murphy is “talking for La Reina” as the camera shifts later in the scene so that Murphy and Warren are talking to each other, instead of via La Reina, each time the camera shows Roberta, from Murphy’s POV,  Gershon is seen sitting on her throne with arms crossed.

As the camera focuses on her comic “Murphy speak,” she gesticulates as Murphy but each time the camera moves back to Roberta and Murphy (for that POV/close up shot), La Reina is once again sitting arms crossed.  Continuity error? Someone falling asleep in the editing room? Who ever let this happen should be put in the cage that first Vasquez and then Escorpion inhabit with the chained zombie.

Thoughts:

This episode can be counted as the one having the most “how cool is that scenes.” Apart from the above mentioned stand out moments, there was Kurian having a Ghost Ship or Resident Evil “head-slip.” Another  was a brilliant bit of comedic acting from Gina Gershon as La Reina when, after getting the injection, she sits on her throne, legs up and growls: “I feel strooonng. Don’t you feel strong?” All the while holding two golden chicken claws in her hands.

Warren and Murphy share an El Camino at the end.  This clearly indicates a shift in the group dynamic. Murphy, who slo-mo punches Roberta in the shoulder when she asks why he did not inject her, “I like you just as you are,” he says.  Murphy even says that he will continue to California despite having an army of “blends.”

Warren is quick to point out that this is not such a great idea, “Yeah because you could control Cassandra so well.”  As it turns out he does not get a chance to control his blends, at least not for long,  but does get to finally influence a horde of Z’s to kill the group chasing them from the Zeros’ lair.

Mad props to Emilio Rivera who just kills it in this episode and kudos to Matt Cedeño for proving that his chops are up to the job of acting with Rivera, despite the faux pas with the ropes.  Kellita Smith and Anastasia Baranova continue to prove that strong women are sexy as hell and the rest of this cast put the “E” in ensemble. 

Abram Cox, directing his fourth episode of the series shows that he has got that touch, in spite of the afore-mentioned “boo-boos.” There are two episodes left in this season and with that big twist at the end:

Kurian’s head: “It’s you…y-you’re alive.”

As La Reina’s two hands reach down and grab Kurian’s head up and away from the dead bodies on the floor.

No doubt, the queen of the Zeros is going to be heading out after Murphy and the gang.  Z Nation airs Fridays on SyFy tune in and see where the show heads next and whether or not Citizen Z will make an appearance before the end of season 2.

 

Z Nation: Party With the Zeros (Review)

After last week’s Native American tribute, along with a nod to Hannibal Lector…Z Nation this week revisits the Zeros and the gang end up attending a party, in their and Murphy’s honor.

Gina Gershon as La Reina with a minion...

After last week’s Native American tribute, along with a nod to Hannibal Lector…Z Nation this week revisits the Zeros and the gang end up attending a party, in their and Murphy’s honor. A familiar face turns up,  Dr. Kurian (Donald Corren), who was last seen in Batch 47 being taken away by Escorpion (Emilio Rivera) and his henchmen.  Although the entire episode is quite serious, compared to last week’s show, and the ending a real cliffhanger, there are some comic moments.

The episode begins with   Vasquez shooting through a door, marked “Training” and clearing a path through a huge group of Z’s.  Lt. Warren, Doc and Addy help a wounded Murphy through a Mexican compound full of zombies. Apparently Murphy is still recovering from being shot in Corporate Retreat.

After being cornered, the gang check their ammunition levels and Warren tells Murphy to act like the “Zombie Messiah” he is supposed to be and produce a miracle. Cue the Zeros coming to the rescue as Murphy weakly tells the group that there are too many Z’s to control.  Escorpion opens a door in the wall and tells Warren and the rest to come in.

Z Nation: Party With the Zeros marks a higher level of subtlety from previous episodes.  It also self references previous episodes, most importantly the episode RoZwell and the mysterious “Zona.” Escorpion questions Vasquez toward the this installment and asks who they are working for, after listing “obvious” choices like the Russians or Chinese, he then asks:

“Those rich b*stards in Zona?”

Guest star Gina Gershon (Killer Joe, Red Oaks) is “La Reina de los Muertos, Queen of the Zeros Cartel” who offers to either pay Roberta and her group the CDC bounty or welcome them into the Zeros gang. What follows is an initiation, but only after Warren spares Kurian’s life. The “examination” has the group fighting off a zombie horde and surviving.

Stand out moments:

Stand out moment number one is during the build up to the zombie cage battle in the dark. After being given some rudimentary weapons by the Zeros, Warren chooses a knuckle duster and knife, the Murphy leader “zeroes” in on Escorpion and mimics the legendary Bruce Lee with a thumb brush to the nose.  (On a cool scale, with 10 being the pinnacle of coolness, this ranks an 11. #TeamWarrenOwnsEscorpion)

Stand out moment number two occurs when Murphy, after being reluctantly reunited with Dr. Kurian, has a “Marx Brothers Duck Soup” interaction with a Cassandra type Z created with his blood by Kurian.  The doctor injects the “volunteer” who then turns. The new Z immediately goes for Murphy who controls the creature.

What then happens is a brief “Z see, Z do” scene which culminates in a  very brief recreation of the classic “mirror scene” from the 1933 Marx Bros film.

Stand out moment number three is the “Z piñata scene”  where Zeros gang members are “breaking” the party favor open to get bags of drugs instead of small toys and sweets.

Honorary Mention:

The Vasquez execution attempt of Escorpion. The slow motion “dance” between the mercenary and the Lieutenant works beautifully. As the three players, one who is unaware of his role in this waltz, finish, La Reina believes that Warren has saved her life and Roberta becomes a member of the “royal” circle.

Plot Hole:

Earlier, in the previous episode of Down the Mississippi Escorpion tries 10K, Sketchy and Skeezy for stealing from the redneck zombie traders. Despite being “up close and personal” enough to pass a sentence of death on the three, Escorpion fails to recognize the sniper in this episode. Considering that this storyline has the Zeros following The Murphy and his group of protectors, which is used to explain a myriad of plot threads, it makes no real sense that the Zero enforcer would not recognize 10K.

Cliffhanger:

Kurian, is working  on a ploy to escape La Reina and the Zeros. He is using Murphy’s blood to create more “Cassandra” hybrids that Murphy can exclusively control.  After announcing that he has developed a vaccine, Kurian demands he test it…on Vasquez, cue one hypodermic needle being slowly moved to the DEA agent/mercenary’s neck.

Rivera (who is best known to television viewers as Marcus Alvarez in Sons of Anarchy) continues to rock as the Zero enforcer/middle management “right-hand” man to La Reina. Gershon turns her guest starring role into something memorable as well. Her power mad leader of the cartel can be seen as an ethereal relation to the female leader (in Ray Donovan) of the  Armenian  mob, Mrs Minassian (played brilliantly by Grace Zabriskie).

By the time the end credits roll on Z Nation: Party With the Zeros, Murphy confesses he likes being treated like a  Saint, although he should be wary of the honor Saints, after all, have to be dead to have been bestowed this status and Vasquez looks as though he will  become a new “Cassandra.”

There are three episodes left in this season on SyFy, the series airs on Fridays, and despite the titles all sounding a bit “final” The Asylum show will be back in 2016. Tune in and see whether or not Matt Cedeño‘s character become’s Murphy’s newest pet.

Killer Joe (2011): Texas Trailer Trashy

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Directed by the legend that is William Friedkin (who scared us silly with The Exorcist and thrilled us with The French Connection) and written by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the play that the film was based on) Killer Joe takes great pains to tell us that all the things we suspected about American “trailer trash” were true.

There is even an ending to the film that could have come straight off the Maury show. But  despite looking like a Jerry Springer or Steve Wilkos episode gone wrong, Killer Joe steps into the dark territory of the black comedy with overtures of depravity and being dirt poor in the southern gothic arena of Texas.

While mixing my metaphors, I do have to point out, that KJ is not politically correct nor does it try to keep from using southern stereotypes to send its message. From the incredibly rich “good ol’ boy” that Chris needs to payback to the illiterate shambling hulk that is Chris’s father, each and every character in this film are stereotypes. Even Killer Joe himself.

But perhaps none more than Dottie; Chris’s sister. Dottie’s mother tried to kill her when she was an infant by holding a pillow over her face. An act that Dottie solemnly relates to Joe as one she remembers. She also tells him that her mother thought that she had succeeded but that she, Dottie, wasn’t dead.

But I am getting ahead of myself here, so I’ll get back on track now.

The plot: 

The film follows the trails and tribulations of the Smith family in one of the poorer Dallas trailer parks. Chris owes a lot of money to the local redneck loan shark and he is desperate to pay him off. He approaches his dad, Ansel  for a thousand dollars to keep ‘Red’ from killing him.

English: Thomas Haden Church at the 2009 Tribe...
Actor Thomas Haden Church plays Ansel.

Ansel doesn’t have a thousand dollars and with a hangdog delivery states that he’s never had a thousand dollars in his entire life. Ansel’s wife Sharla hates Chris and wants him thrown out of their trailer which Chris has come to after his mother Adele has kicked him out of hers.

Adele is Ansel’s ex-wife and according to her boyfriend Rex, is worth 50 thousand dollars dead. Rex also tells Chris that the money would go to Dottie and he reveals the existence of Killer Joe, a police detective who is also a contract killer. He tells Chris how Joe operates and Chris decides that his mother Adele must go.

Since Chris and Ansel don’t have the money to pay Joe up-front, Joe decides that he will take Dottie as a ‘retainer’ until the job is finished. Unfortunately things don’t go as planned.

The Cast:

Matthew McConaughey
Emile Hirsch
Juno Temple
Thomas Haden Church
Gina Gershon
Marc Macaulay

The Characters:

While Killer Joe could be seen as an ensemble film, it really follows Dottie and Chris. Dottie, who obviously suffered brain damage from oxygen deprivation when her mother attempted to smother her, is what we would have called simple or “touched” when I was a boy. Nowadays, in this more politically aware world, we’d say mentally challenged. Chris is just trouble on two legs. He has a penchant for failure and his failings unfortunately touch a lot of people, especially his family.

Killer Joe, besides being a cop and a contract killer, is a cold and detached man who likes things spelled out and who does not, apparently, like foul language.

Chris and Killer Joe.
Chris and Killer Joe aka Emile Hirsh and Mathew McConaughey.

The other two immediate characters are Ansel and Sharla. Looking and acting like refugees from the Maury Show, these two are living proof that Texas trailer trash exist and they both possess a disturbing nature and disposition.

Adele, the object of the proposed hit and Rex her boyfriend are shadowy figures that we never really see, even though Adele is the catalyst that moves the main theme of the film along.

The Twist:

There are several twists to this film and all are done expertly. Woven into the action and coming from different directions, the best twist of all is Dottie. I can say nothing more, otherwise this will fall under “spoiler” territory.

The Verdict:

By the time this film reached its climax I sat shaking my head in wonderment. This was darkly entertaining and disturbing at the same time. I knew people like Ansel, Chris and Dottie when I was growing up. Luckily, I knew of someone like ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper, but had no direct dealings with him. The most this version of Joe was capable of was petty larceny and blackmail.

So for me, these stereotypical characters had a stamp of reality in their makeup.

Friedkin has lost none of his deft touch and the film works in spite of its reliance on stereotypes.  I would give this film a solid 5 out of 5 stars simply for the very last twist in the film. If it doesn’t leave you sitting and looking at the screen shaking your head? I will be surprised.

William Friedkin and his wife Sherry on the re...
William Friedkin and his wife Sherry on the red carpet for the UK premiere of “Killer Joe” (Photo credit: EIFF)