Battle for Haiti (2011)

Rating: FR.Battle for HaitiBattle for Haiti is the first episode of the 29th season of the PBS documentary series Frontline, and it details the disintegration of Haitian society in the year since the Caribbean nation was hit by a massive earthquake on the 10th of January, 2010.

Only a few years before this event, Haiti underwent a revolution following decades of dictatorship. The political situation was entirely tenuous since then, and the earthquake undermined an already fragile, fledgling government. In short, the country has experienced a nearly complete breakdown of law and order.

The documentary is focused on events within the capitol city Port-au-Prince, in which much of the the infrastructure was destroyed outright. This forced the majority of its residents into to relocate, not to the countryside, but to improvised tent camps around the city itself.

battle_for_haiti_02The national penitentiary housed something in the neighborhood of 4500 criminals at the time of the quake, the majority of whom simply wandered back out into the street once the compound was structurally compromised. Many of these criminals were gangsters who were somewhat quicker in establishing a social order within the tent camps than were the police. These gangsters proceeded to rape women, beat or kill men, and generally exploit the comparatively peaceful inhabitants of the camps as a matter of course.

What remains of the Haitian police force makes occasional forays into the camps to retrieve what they perceive to be the very worst of the gangsters. They are mostly ineffectual, however, and more often than not are only distinguishable from the gangsters by their bedraggled and mismatched uniforms.

battle_for_haiti_03Local officials have collectively shrugged their shoulders in the face of corruption, poor organization, and a lack of resources, and seem to be entirely reliant to the blue-helmeted United Nations peacekeepers to maintain any substantial sense of order.

It might be easy for people sitting in the United States to dismiss the state of affairs in Haiti as symptomatic of the third world backwardness of the country. Under the right circumstances, in a crisis of sufficient magnitude, law and order can be suspended pretty much anywhere. Documentaries like After Armageddon have tried to construct an imagined post-apocalyptic world in the United States. Battle for Haiti is a thoughtfully presented examination of what actually does happen in the absence of the rule of law, and should be instructive to anyone preparing for a potential disaster.

Tremors (1990)

Rating: FR.

Burt and Heather Gummer

Burt and Heather Gummer

There is one reason to watch Tremors, and that reason is:

The Gummers!

Burt (Michael Gross) and Heather Gummer (Reba McEntire) are the quintessential, fringe-dwelling, paranoiac prepping couple. They’re a caricature of a couple designed for a B movie, but they’re also quite possibly the most entertaining version of the pair we may know, or even be a part of,  in real life.

When their podunk mining town in the desert is besieged by giant space slugs or something, the wisdom of their paranoia is suddenly obvious. As the other podunk townsfolk climb up telephone poles and engage in a string of Wile E. Coyote type schemes to outwit the slugs, Burt and Heather calmly retreat to their bomb shelter, arsenal and rec room and get ready to go slug hunting.

Broke into the wrong god damned rec room, didn't you, you bastard!

“Broke into the wrong god damned rec room, didn’t you, you bastard!”

In the end even the best laid plans can’t be perfect, and the couple’s castle in the sand more or less falls short. As Burt puts it:

Food for five years, a thousand gallons of gas, air filtration, water filtration, Geiger counter, bomb shelter… underground, god damned monsters.

You can’t be prepared for everything, folks, but you can damned well try!

In the general world of cult “horror” films, Tremors isn’t bad. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward head up a cast of fairly able second stringers as townspeople. The story line is decent, and the special effects are passable. The Gummers are a deal clincher for the survival-minded viewer, and should put this one on every prepper’s list.

Hell (2011)

Rating: OK.Hell is a film about the end of the world following some catastrophic solar malfunction, but it’s at least as much an art-house  horror flick. Initially it comes across as a Teutonic rendition of The Road (2009), which is the most relentlessly pessimistic SHTF flick I’ve seen to date and one I’d resolved never to watch again even though I do own a copy. About halfway through, the apocalypse of Hell gives way to horror themes as a band of sullen cannibals try to abduct and slaughter the main characters.

Hell (2011)The overall vision of apocalypse in Hell is credible, but it’s a tedious and plodding sort of apocalypse. People are pretty much scurrying around in the dark, or else wrapped in sheets and ski goggles so they don’t burst into flame from the intense daylight. There’s naturally no water because it stopped raining after the sun malfunction, and so the main characters are  pretty much looking for a drink whenever they’re not being chased by the cannibals.

Hell (2011)The trouble with Hell is that it was made in Germany, about Germans, and filmed in German. As such, there’s just the confluence of ennui and anomie that one might expect of a German hell. There are few clear connections among the characters, and with the exception of the two sisters at the center of the story none of them seem to like each other.

They don’t so much dislike each other either. It’s more that they’re inherently unsympathetic, and have just barely been lifted out of apathy by the critical need that has been inflicted on them. This makes it a little difficult to relate to them, at least from an American perspective.

The film absolutely does not embrace the full potential of the genre, but neither is it boring. There’s a fair amount of action, and the characters try to kill each other off a lot with hammers and jackknives (no guns in the European apocalypse, you know). Hell was sitting in line for a WTF? rating until the last twenty minutes or so when the main characters were injected with an adequate dose of humanity as a closer. It’s worth a look if you like SHTF stuff.

After Armageddon (2011)

Rating: OK.After Armagddon is the documentary that doomsday enthusiasts have been waiting for. All of the right elements are there to paint a compelling image of the end of the world as we know it. Unfortunately it ends up being sort of a tepid dishrag of a production, and I’m pretty sure that the fault lies in the direction

After ArmageddonThe documentary takes us into a hypothetical breakdown of society after an imagined influenza pandemic. In order to humanize the scenario, it is structured around the journey of one fictional, “normal” family through the apocalypse, from the first sneeze to the last staph infection after the antibiotics run out. This is just the thing to do, but the members of this family are dismally boring, to the point that it’s hard to care whether they make it or not.

The action in After Armagddon is punctuated with interjections from a host of experts, and most of them actually are experts of one sort or another. There are lots of academics who have presumably studied disasters, and they are generally making reasonable observations in as dull a manner as possible. The director has mixed in a few people of questionable expertise who spout off their opinions with a bit more vigor, but since they are all put on the same level in the film it’s hard to tell a good source of information from a bad one.

The actual dramatizations of survival-type scenarios are middling at best. Some seem kind of plausible, but others are outright misleading. In one case, for example, an expert explains that you can boil water to make it biologically safe and the scene cuts to the family boiling rusty water drained from a car radiator. After they cook it, it’s miraculously clear and palatable and that just doesn’t happen. Never mind that the boiling does nothing for whatever chemicals might leech out of an old radiator. That bit of miscommunication could actually get someone killed.

All in all, the video is kind of interesting. I’ve watched it a couple of times. Still, it’s not a brilliant reference, nor is it particularly entertaining. It’s kind of a miss, but if you’re into critically speculating on the end of the world you won’t want to miss it.

20 Years After (2008)

Rating: WTF?20 Years After starts off as an interesting construction of the apocalypse. Some guy, Michael, is broadcasting over the shortwave to an apparently barren and irradiated landscape somewhere in the former U.S.A. The last pregnant girl turns up, living in a burned-out basement with her mother. They all go on an adventure to find some other guy who’s broadcasting across the desolate, irradiated landscape with a crazy old retired history professor with a melted ear. I’m on board to this point.

Creepy witch with poisonous scissors.

Creepy witch with poisonous scissors.

Then it gets weird in the 20 Years After universe. The crazy old ex-history professor turns out to be magical. Then there’s a magical witch living somewhere deep in an old industrial complex. The magical witch runs around poisoning people and scheming to thieve the world’s last baby away from the world’s last pregnant girl. I don’t get that bit at all. Stealing babies in the apocalypse is completely beyond me. There’s more to it than that, but that’s enough to give you an idea of the general weirdness of this piece of work.

All things considered, the post-apocalyptic landscape is fairly convincing. There are a few scenes in the first half of the film that give you that inspiring TEOTWAWKI kind of feeling. The actors are fairly watchable, if not entirely interesting. If you’re really jonesing for an end of the world flick that you haven’t seen, 20 Years After might fit the bill in the moment.

On the other hand, the people responsible for this flick (Jim Torres and Ron Harris, I suppose) have committed one of the most egregious atrocities in the apocalyptic genre: they’ve turned Armageddon into a faerie tale. The 1994 miniseries The Stand, based on the Stephen King novel, was guilty of exactly the same thing, but with better actors, writing, and direction. There’s no brave new world in 20 Years After. It’s a small story which breaks the rules of the genre and comes out the worse for the effort.

The Walking Dead S3E16: Welcome to the Tombs

Rating: FR.The Season 3 finale was awesome? Carl’s an unrepentant monster. Rick’s insane, but tactically competent. Glenn and Maggie are space ninjas. Who cares whatever else happened?


Forgive my schadenfreude. I’ve been on the fence about continuing to follow The Walking Dead since about the middle of the second season, and the messy excision of Andrea, one of the most persistently irritating characters on television, goes a long way toward making peace. The underlying problem remains, of course, that the writers seem intent on systematically deconstructing every character until he or she is a quivering mass of insufferable twat. I suspect that this is not intentional, but the result of tone- deafness and a massive overestimation of their own subtlety.

Zombie Milton

Zombie Milton

To make a completely unfair comparison, the writers seem to be reaching for the sort of compelling moral ambivalence that we see in Breaking Bad, a show in which characters are so impeccably developed that is doesn’t matter which side they’re on. You can’t do better than Gus Fring or Walter White where fundamental slipperiness is concerned, and you certainly can’t do as well in the universe of The Walking Dead as it now stands.

In this show we need a good guy to come through for us unambiguously in a way that we can both believe and stomach. Frank Darabont’s Rick Grimes could do that for us, and drove it home in each of six short episodes during Season 1. The Rick we have now is the product of nearly thirty episodes of atrophy. He can’t seem to get out of his own way most of the time, and is continually being pushed around by an eleven-year-old. Sack up already. It’s the fucking apocalypse.

Rick Grimes in Season 3

Rick Grimes in Season 3

This finale had its moments. Even though we had to suffer through a twenty minute foot fetish video to get to it, the fact that MILTON ATE ANDREA was awesome. There were a couple of memorable scenes with the Governor that would have ably solidified his badass villain status had he not cried so much and gotten his ass kicked by Michonne earlier in the season. They’re working on making Michonne into more of a human being and less of a killer robot, and Carl has been almost completely rehabilitated since the nadir of his youthful character arc last season.

We’ll see what Season 4 has to offer in the fall.

The Walking Dead S3E3: Walk with Me

Rating: FFS.OK, I made it through Season 2 of The Walking Dead. The writing took a nose dive, the creative vision was blurry at best, and most of the characters were damaged in all the wrong ways. Still there were high points, and enough of the original show and premise remained intact to keep me hanging in there.

When I tuned in to Walking Dead, Season 3, I wasn’t sure whether I would see a show rehabilitated, or a confluence of unwatchable drivel that had backed up among the writing squad over the down months. I was pleasantly surprised. The first two episodes were not only watchable, but good. The new tack into the wind of unrepentant badassedness seemed to suit nearly all of the remaining characters. Order had been reestablished, and the apocalypse made sense again!


Then they (Them, They, the shot-callers for this goddamned thing) presented us with a complete departure from the little bit of coolness that got them the goodwill back. They built the entire third episode, “Walk with Me,” around Andrea and Michonne.

To be fair, I wanted nearly all of the characters to be eaten by zombies by the end of Season 2, but Andrea was pretty much at the top of that particular shit list. I didn’t want her to die the way I wanted Dale to die by the end of “Judge, Jury and Executioner.” Angela Kang wrote Dale to death far before the zombie got ahold of him, and he was a credible presence in the apocalypse until that point. In fact, the only thing that I could hold against Dale before that was that he prevented Andrea’s suicide.

Andrea needed to be gone because she’s irritating and implausible. She was irrational and inconsiderate, but not endearing in any way. She acted strong, in the way that weak people do to make themselves feel better. Set her alongside Shane for a moment. Did he ever once feel the need to tell everyone how tough he is?

Shane was tough. He only brought it up if he was desperate to justify some of his own, often unnecessary toughness to some less tough members of the group. Shane was all evil and whatnot, and he cracked up, and had to go… but everything about him indexed the strong, confident assholes that we all run into in real life.

Andrea, on the other hand, is at the center of a story arc that’s meant to empower women. Glen Mazzara himself has said so in interviews. It strikes me that the people responsible for her have very little experience of women in life who are actually empowered, because Andrea indexes every insecure woman I’ve met who’s trying her hardest not to be a victim. It could be that there are a lot of people who can relate to that, I suppose, but her story is fundamentally one of insecurity.

Michonne is standing right next to her throughout “Walk with Me,” by way of contrast. She’s stoic, stony, even zombie-like at times, and an equally inconceivable cartoon of a character (yes, I know the series is based on a comic book). She’s not irritating, but neither is she any sort of real. Of the other female characters in the show, Maggie stands out as having the most potential for a realistic empowerment arc.

Maggie acts like people who are walking around out there every day, and I can relate to her. She’s neither disempowered, nor is she particularly insecure, and she has room to grow. She’s with Glen who is at the center of his own unorthodox sort of empowerment story, and one that’s been quite convincing to this point. Sure, Maggie was rescued by Glen in the Malt Shoppe (or wherever), but Rick got rescued by Darryl like a dozen times in the two prison episodes without the mildest threat of being overshadowed by him. Nobody is any more independent in the zombie apocalypse than in real life, and real life is at the core of the zombie apocalypse… or else it’s just a cartoon.


Post Script:

There’s nothing inherently uncool about the Governor, Woodbury, or Merle 2.0 at this point. They’re all supposed to be our new friends, and “Walk with Me” was our introduction to them. It was like meeting a bunch of strangers on the recommendation of the most irritating and inscrutable people that you know. The episode did them no favors. 

Parks and Recreation S4E6: End of the World

Rating: FR.Here I just want to give a hat tip to the NBC series Parks and Recreation for two things: first, they had an apocalyptic episode; and second, they have Ron Fucking Swanson.

The Reasonabilists

Parks and Recreation is a sitcom, not a survival show, and it centers on Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) as the Deputy Director of  Parks and Recreation in Pawnee, Indiana. The show gets the nod for apocalyptic content in the one episode, S4E6: End of the World, in which the Cult of Reasonabilism predicts global destruction at the hands of some extraterrestrial Zorp figure,  and schedules a vigil in one of the town parks for the occasion. The show’s generally pretty entertaining and its mini-apocalypse is a good time. Zorp never turns up. The world doesn’t end, and the sitcom goes merrily along afterward.

Ron Fucking Swanson

Ron Fucking Swanson

Ron Fucking Swanson (Nick Offerman) is a different matter, and this review is largely an excuse to talk about that dude. Swanson is a vindication of masculinity in a time when masculinity has been deconstructed, devalued, and pushed off into a corner.

He is a Libertarian who hates government, but works for the government. He wants to be reincarnated as a bolt cutter. He eats rare steaks and drinks whiskey, and watches The Bridge on the River Kwai on his birthday. He takes the Reasonabilists in stride, and is himself a “practicing none of your goddamned business.” Apocalypse or no, he’s Ron Fucking Swanson, and he’s worth a watch if you’ve ever had a moment’s hesitation on the direction of the 21st Century world. Check it out.