#1 The Walking Dead (11/5)

EW Description: “Zombies are invading! Your TV, at least. AMC’s spooky new series debuts Halloween night and depicts the survivors of a zombie invasion who have to deal – violently – with some very gnarly undead.”

This was definitely better than I was expecting. Whenever I hear of something about zombies, I just picture hordes walking around and saying “brains” in a really creepy voice. I mean, there are still hordes of zombies, but there is real substance to the show. It focuses on Rick, a sheriff’s deputy who wakes up in the hospital after a gunshot wound, only to find that the zombie apocalypse came while he was doped up on morphine. I don’t really know how they didn’t get him, since he’s literally the only person still in the hospital, but okay. He sets out to find his wife and son. On his journey, he comes across some other survivors, who he hangs out with for a while. Then he continues on toward Atlanta, which is apparently where the CDC is working on something to cure the zombies. Based on what another group of survivors is saying about the city, however, it’s going to be quite the shitshow if Rick ever gets there. He finds a horse to ride once her car runs out of gas. At the end of the first episode, Rick is stuck in a tank with masses of zombies crawling all over it trying to get to his tasty brains.

I really had no intention of watching this show. I saw the commercials for it during Mad Men and it didn’t interest me in the least. I’m not a big fan of zombies to begin with. They’re far too gory for me. The great thing about a zombie television show, though, is that it can develop characters in a way movies usually don’t. With a 13-episode season, the writers can take the time to let us know the survivors and really get invested in their fight to live.

That being said, there’s still a lot of gore in this episode. I spent most of the last scene with a pillow over my face, asking my boyfriend when it would be okay to look again. That’s not how I like my TV shows. I don’t like having to hide my face because the amount of blood on screen is making me want to vomit. It’s not enjoyable. There’s nothing particularly bad about this show. I think it has great potential for AMC to attract a new group of viewers. It can bring some legitimacy to the zombie genre the way other films haven’t been able to. It’s just a little too bloody for me to continue watching.


#10 Winter’s Bone on DVD (10/22, 10/29)

EW Description: “This chilling R-rated indie drama about a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) in the Ozarks on the hunt for her bail-jumping father is one of the best-reviewed movies of the year. And chances are you haven’t seen it yet. So we suggest you get your hands on a copy – which includes a director’s commentary, deleted scenes, and a making-of doc – and see what all the fuss is about.”

This just might be the best movie I’ve seen this year. I am completely blown away by how good this was! Very few people have probably heard of this, and trust me, you are missing out.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old girl living in the Ozarks, who has way too much on her plate. Her mom is nearly useless because of all the drugs she has done, mainly meth. This leaves Ree to take care of her 12-year-old brother and 6-year-old sister. Ree’s dad, Jessup, was arrested again for cooking meth and bonded out, but is now missing. He didn’t have quite enough money to make bond, so he put up the house where his wife and children are living. When the sheriff comes to tell Ree this, he says if Jessup doesn’t show up for his court date, the family will lose the house and they’ll have about a week to find somewhere else to live. Ree decides she’s going to find her dad and make him appear in court.

The film does an excellent job of portraying life in deep poverty in rural Missouri. It’s more than just the run-down houses. They show the entire culture. They show how close-knit these communities are and when anyone starts searching around where they don’t belong, there are consequences. The film really highlights how affected these communities are by meth, taking it and making it. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see a young woman who should be getting ready to go to college instead have to take care of her younger siblings because there is literally no one else to do it.

Possibly the most heartbreaking scene is when Ree is meeting with the Army recruiter. She wants so badly to join because to her, it means financial security for her family while giving her the chance to see the world. But then the recruiter tells her she won’t be able to bring her younger siblings with her when she’s in training and on active duty. You can see Ree’s heart breaking through Lawrence’s facial expressions. It’s absolutely heartwrenching.

Lawrence has been talked about as a possible Oscar nominee and in a perfect world, she would be the frontrunner. I worry this will be like last year where Gabourey Sidibe gave a far better performance in Precious but got overshadowed by the more Hollywood nominee. As far as the other cast members go, it’s not that they’re bad. No one in this film gave a bad performance, in my opinion. It’s just that Lawrence stole every scene she was in. Her portrayal of Ree was truly astounding. I can’t say enough good things about it. Watch out for Jennifer Lawrence. She has the potential to be Hollywood’s next great actress if she keeps giving performances like this one.

#8 Nashville Chrome, by Rick Bass (10/1)

EW Description: “In the late 1950s, the real-life Brown siblings were a smash success on the country scene, but enduring fame eluded them. Bass’ twangy, heartfelt novel gives a fictionalized account of how they fell through the cracks.”

As with the popular biopics “Walk the Line,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” this falls in the vein of stories about country singers who have faced adversity in their lives. However, this is a story about The Browns, a family trio popular in the 1950s and 60s that did not last in the public consciousness the way Johnny Cash or Loretta Lynn did. This is a shame because they’re really good. I included a video below to a performance of them singing “Would You Care?”

Maxine, Jim Ed, and Bonnie Brown were raised in Poplar Bluff, Arkansas and came from deep poverty. Their dad was an alcoholic. Their younger brother died in an accident. Yet through all their problems, they had each other and they had their music. Eventually, they started getting local gigs to sing together and later got signed by a producer who pretty much screwed them over. They left that producer and went to another one, but fame was taking its toll on them. Bonnie was happily married to a man named Brownie after a love affair with Elvis. Jim Ed was starting to settle down. But Maxine was hungry for fame and would do anything to keep going.

The story switches back and forth between the past and the present. We see how the Browns built up their music. We see them at the height of their fame. Then we see them starting to descend. In the present, we mainly see Maxine who is clinging to the hope that she still has fans and people still care about her music. All she wants is to be remembered.

Though the Browns are real people, this is a fictional account of what happened to them. Bass does a terrific job of capturing the essence of classic country music. He writes in a very matter-of-fact manner about the family’s beginnings. He doesn’t try to dramatize the poverty or anything about their life. He just tells a story and lets the characters speak for themselves.

This is a really terrific novel and I highly recommend it to anyone, especially those who are fans of classic country music.

#2 Eminem’s “No Love” video, feat. Lil’ Wayne (10/15)

EW Description: “When two of hip-hop’s most fearsome talents team up, they can make even a sample of the cheesy dance tune “What Is Love” sound epic. As if torn from the headlines, their dramatic new video encourages young fans to stand up to bullies.”

The video centers on a young boy who is being bullied by a group of kids at school. We see clips of him being shoved by other boys and being pelted by dodgeballs. The boys throw his papers down on the floor of the bathroom and also steal his hat to flush down the toilet. We then see one of the boys punch the main boy in the face, giving him a black eye. When he gets home from school, his dad sees the black eye and teaches his son to fight. The video ends with the boy standing up to the bullies.

I know this video was very well-intentioned, but so many things about it are very problematic. For one thing, I am not a fan of teaching children to punch someone who is beating them. I feel like there are other ways to to stand up for yourself without perpetuating violence. Having a boy find the inner strength to walk away from the bullies with his head held high doesn’t make for quite as dramatic of a video, however.

The lyrics are much more positive than the message of the video. Rather than saying he is going to beat them up or kill them, Eminem and Lil’ Wayne rap about getting even with those who did them wrong. However, he phrases it more as just becoming more successful than them and having better raps. While he says “what comes around goes around,” this is not one of the songs where he seems to be advocating violence against another person, which is refreshing.

Overall, it is a very well-intentioned video that fits in very well with the current string of bullying reports. I just do not agree with the overall message.

#5 Community (10/22, 10/29)

EW Description: “They’ve discovered the cure for the sophomore slump! The comedy about a motley group of community-college students is back with a second season full of clever pop culture nods – like the Heather Pop-and-Locklear dance team – and even more lovable snark.”

Top 5 Reasons Community is the Best Show You’re Not Watching:

1. There’s no better show for pop culture parodies. Every episode takes on some sort of pop culture theme or parodies something. Last year, there was an amazing Goodfellas parody when Abed started an underground chicken finger ring and then of course, the classic paintball episode when they mocked every action movie ever. Already this year, there was the hilarious Apollo 13 parody with the space bus and there’s still plenty of time for more.

2. Joel McHale. I’ve been a long time fan of The Soup and McHale was the reason I started watching Community. As the amoral center of the group, McHale plays Jeff Winger, a former lawyer who was disbarred for lying about going to law school and now finds himself at Greendale Community College. He unites this beloved group of misfits, try as he might not to do so.

3. The classes. The show also does a great job at mocking some of the ridiculous classes offered in college and the insane professors that teach them. Whether it’s the accounting professor who just wants people to “seize the day” or the pottery teacher who loathes everything about “Ghost,” we’ve all had a psychotic teacher. Community takes that teacher and turns the volume up to 11, without it being unbearable.

4. The group. They come from all walks of life and have found themselves at Greendale. There’s Britta (Gillian Jacobs), the radical feminist who thinks everything is ridiculous. Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), the devout Christian mother of two who is the mother hen of the group. Annie (Alison Brie), the Type A 19-year-old who would likely have been at an Ivy League school if it wasn’t for her Adderall-induced nervous breakdown. Pierce (Chevy Chase), the old man of the group who is desperately trying to stay young. And Troy and Abed, which brings me to…

5. Troy and Abed. They are the definition of bromance. Troy (Donald Glover), the adorably dumb jock, and Abed (Danny Pudi), the wannabe filmmaker who must have Asperger’s or something, have the single greatest relationship on the show. They’re always up to something ridiculous, normally revolving around one of Abed’s films, and have amazing chemistry with each other. Glover and Pudi play off each other better than any other two characters on the show. And the tags at the end of every episode normally involve them and are normally completely genius.

Community is possibly the best sitcom on television right now and it’s difficult that it’s up against the second best sitcom, The Big Bang Theory. As a devout fan of both, it’s hard to choose between them. However, through the magic of DVR and Hulu, it’s completely possible to have both shows in your life. If you haven’t checked out Community yet, then what are you waiting for?

#8 “Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Graphic Adaptation” (9/10)

EW Description: “Seymour Chwast’s version is a clever reimagining of a classic. All your favorite characters are here, albeit in a slightly altered form. The lamentations of the damned were never so much fun.”

This whole book just felt fairly useless. It wasn’t really a reimagining the way EW describes it. More than anything, it was like Spark Notes, but even simpler and with pictures. The pictures are not even particularly good. It’s all black and white and looks kind of like an elementary school student drew most of it. There’s no real detail. I figure if they’re going to make the Divine Comedy into a graphic novel, the least they could do is add some detail to the pictures. Really make the story come alive. Have the flames of hell jump off the page at the reader.

Instead, we get a bland, undetailed book. It’s about 130 pages long and took approximately half an hour to read. I swear I read every sentence of it. I looked at every picture, but there was just so little detail that it didn’t take long to flip through. Every canto is summed up into one or two sentences. I feel like Dante would be embarrassed that this is what his masterpiece has become.

This had real potential to be something imaginative. It could have introduced Dante’s work to a whole new generation of people and made them actually enjoy it. Instead, we get illustrated Cliffs Notes. Thanks, but no thanks.

#4 “The Thousand,” by Kevin Guilfoile (9/10)

EW Description: “A taut suspense thriller about a gifted girl and the ancient cult that wants to use her mental abilities for its own sketchy ends.”

Oh, lord. How do I even begin to describe this plot? Okay, it’s part science fiction, part ancient conspiracy theory, and part murder mystery. In the world of this book, a group of doctors put neurotransmitters into people that would control disorders, such as ADHD and seizures. However, these devices made the people go insane and kill either themselves or other people. It also made them geniuses. The main character, Canada Gold, had a neurotransmitter — or “spider” as she likes to call it — put in her brain when she was a child. She is basically the only person that didn’t go insane because of it. Since then, she has become a genius when it comes to counting cards and observing people.

Another key plot point involves The Thousand, an ancient cult that followed Pythagoras. Over time, they devolved into two sects: the acusmatici and the mathematici. The two sects disagreed on how to interpret Pythagoras’ teaching and were at war with each other. Canada’s parents were in the mathematici and now the acusmatici are trying to kill her.

Enter the murder mystery, which has two parts. The first part involves Canada’s father Solomon. When Canada was 13, her dad was on trial for killing his lover Erica, was found innocent, and then was later killed himself. The next involves a string of murders of people who are close to Canada and the framing of another person by the acusmatici.

Confused yet? Welcome to the club. At 337 pages, the book is packed full of story and does move very quickly. It was difficult for me to keep track of all the characters at times, especially when they hadn’t been mentioned in several chapters. I don’t feel Guilfoile did a very good job of really explaining The Thousand and why the two sects were at war with each other. I was largely confused about that entire section of the story.

I feel like Guilfoile is trying hard to write something in the same vein as “The Da Vinci Code” or “Angels and Demons,” but it wasn’t as successful for me. If an author wants to write about an ancient cult, there needs to be lots of exposition, especially if it’s central to the book. Dan Brown exposits forever about the Illuminati and Freemasons in his book, which is helpful to the reader who might not be familiar with it. I feel like Guilfoile definitely expected the readers to already be knowledgeable about The Thousand.

I still enjoyed the book because the other parts of it were very compelling and it kept me guessing right up until the end. Parts of it were just somewhat muddled, however, and it sometimes left me more confused than anything else.