Sunday, April 20, 2014

4 to Consider . . .

Let's consider this the "marriage post" - I've got four here for your consideration.

We'll begin with the something old.  Recently, I saw Top Hat, a 1935 comedy considered by many to be the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers pairing. Between 1933 and 1949, these two hoofers did a total of ten pictures together, nine for RKO and one (their only color film) for MGM. Say what you will about the tissue-thin plot, Top Hat is delightful. This was when movies were aspirational - the plot truly is ridiculous, but ignore that - reality and these dancing pictures really shouldn't spend unsupervised time together. Astaire is suave and blade-thin (as compared to the more muscular build of Gene Kelly) and Rogers is spunky and seems to float on air. Together, they're unstoppable. A wonderful, light-as-meringue way to while away a spring night.

Next, let's look at the something new. I just saw the new Johnny Depp science-fiction flick Transcendence.  It has some interesting questions to explore, but overall, this one's a rental.  (I was gratified to learn that even when the machines begin to rise, I should have no trouble locating an adequate supply of eyeliner and peroxide, however.) Really - this movie does take some risks, and it wants you to think about what it means to be human and is it worth giving up some very central things in return for health and life, but it didn't totally come together for me. It's directed by first-timer Wally Pfister, who is far better known for his cinematography work on films such as Inception and the Dark Knight movies and indeed, Christopher Nolan has an executive producer credit on Transcendence. One to watch, but this one left me unimpressed.

Now for something borrowed. As a child, I never got around to seeing Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal (1982), so I borrowed from my childhood and finally fixed that.  Sigh.  As a kid, certain scenes would have scared the bejeezus out of me and I can appreciate Henson's efforts to take puppetry to the next level.  But maybe you can just be too old to see something for the first time.  I liked the level of detail, but I found the plot to be trite, predictable, and meh.  And I hated that I found it to be so.  I really, really wanted to love this movie, but alas - perhaps it was too late for me.  Henson would go on to elevate puppetry in both Labyrinth and the TV series Farscape, so it's not that I dislike anything that isn't Muppet.

And last, the something blue. Living in small-town North Carolina, I am sometimes limited by what I can see locally.  I greatly regret - and it makes me blue - that I missed Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. It's nowhere within an hour of me, but that's what DVDs and streaming services are for.  Still, if you're interested in a quirky movie involving a hotel, please seek out John Madden's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 98

It's amazing how Wanna Cook? is picking up steam!  Ensley has details over at his blog and let me remind you as well - the official book launch is Saturday, April 26 at Fireside Books & Gifts in Shelby (212 S. Lafayette Street) at 5pm, and we couldn't have asked for a better day!  It's as if all of Shelby is celebrating with us!!

April 26th is also the start of the two-day Foothills Merry Go Round Festival in Shelby, along with the Foothills Farmers Market that morning and Arts on the Square and the Broad River European Classic going on through the afternoon!  So come on out, eat, wander, take a tram ride up to the restored carrousel in the Shelby City Park and then come on by Fireside at 5pm!  Meet the authors, browse Linda's fine store, buy the book!!, and help yourselves to some yummy snackerels while we sign it.  Then go visit one of the Shelby businesses that are helping us promote this fabulous Breaking Bad companion book!  Deals abound and we'll have a few more to report to you before the actual event, but that signed book is worth:

Remember these deals are only good on Saturday, April 26 - so come on out!

Wanna Cook? is beginning to get some buzz from those who love both books and Breaking Bad - check out this review on the book blog curledup.com:
Every nuance is pulled apart and analyzed for its meaning.

Then the book goes two levels deeper for all of the under-surface connections. Very revealing and thought-provoking. The book also describes the key signature characteristics of the series. The camera angles, the non-linear story lines, the "cold" opens that get put together piece by piece in a complex puzzle that ultimately tells the arc of the story.
At the end of every season/section, there is an essay on a key topic that adds to the understanding and at times realism that made Breaking Bad so compelling. Those essays just add more of the backstory to the overall understanding and appreciation for the show.
After reading the book, I know what I have to do--I have no choice. I have to go back and see every Breaking Bad episode again to dive deeper into the morass and put together the pieces that I missed first time around. Wanna Cook? makes you want to do that. Sort of like an addiction, don't you think?


The whole review can be accessed here.  And hey - if you've already read the book and liked it - tell us (and letting Amazon or Goodreads know would also be much appreciated!!) - leave us a comment on our blogs, or tweet the world using the hashtag #wannacook and include us (@KDaleKoontz and @EnsleyFGuffey) in the news!

Last - just to prove that Bryan Cranston is indeed awesome beyond the measure of mortal men, watch him help out Stefan Montana by asking a girl to the prom for him.  Stefan waited outside the stage door of Cranston's Broadway play All the Way and Cranston couldn't have been nicer when faced with such an unusual request.







Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 97

It gets closer and closer!  The publication date of Wanna Cook? is only a few very short weeks away and it turns out that pre-orders are already being shipped!  We've had several friends and fans report that they've already gotten their copies - and they're posting pictures to prove it!!  Please, if you have received your copy, let us and the Universe know!  You can post here at UnfetteredBrilliance in the comments, over at Ensley's blog (did you catch the latest "Meth Monday"?), or tweet about it - just please include us in on it by tagging us (that's @KDaleKoontz and @EnsleyFGuffey) and using the hashtags #BreakingBad and #wannacook!  Already we're burning up the Amazon charts and are ranked at #8!! (Okay, that's #8 in [ready for this niche?] in Books > Humor & Entertainment > Television > Guides & Reviews; we're #18,132 overall).

Plans have been announced for the entire series to be available on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 3rd.  That gives you plenty of time to get Wanna Cook? and read up on this critically acclaimed and fan favorite before your discs arrive.

Remember - the Wanna Cook? launch will take place at Fireside Books & Gifts, located at 212 South Lafayette Street in Shelby, NC on Saturday, April 26!  We're going to start at 5:00 that afternoon and we hope to see many, many of you!  Please - if you can, support local businesses with your order - on April 26, the lovely Linda Parks will have copies available for you and you can contact her ahead of time to have a copy on reserve for you.  Go ahead and tweet Linda (@FiresideLinda) or let her know through the Fireside Facebook page that you want a copy reserved for your exclusive use on the 26th and she'll make sure to make it happen!

Fireside isn't the only local business we're supporting with the Wanna Cook? launch.  We're planning to involve several other businesses in our festivities, but I can't report on that just at the moment - check back for more details!  So please - mark your calendars, brush off your best porkpie hat, or plan to wear your favorite purple outfit, and come see us on April 26!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain's Orders

Quick lesson - superhero movies are a particular sub-genre of the "action/adventure" movie category.  They are also notoriously easy to screw up, although you'd think that would not be the case.  However, it is not uncommon for filmmakers to lose sight of what makes a good movie when the modifier "superhero" is added in front of the noun "movie."  Good movies involve characters and plot - not just action sequences and VERY LOUD explosions.  All too often, filmmakers look at comic books, think "Aha! Built-in audience," and get lazy.

I am almost ridiculously pleased to announce that is not the case with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Not only do I recommend you go see this movie on the big screen as a great example of a superhero movie, I think Cap 2 (as I shall call it from here on) is just a great movie, period. As in "full stop."

Why?  Why did this one work and other big-budget attempts (Elektra, Catwoman, and Green Lantern spring to mind, but oh - there are others) thud so terribly?  Easy.  Story.  Character.  Relationships.  Dialogue.  Mind you, Cap's a tough character to sell in our cynical world, because he's just so good.  (In that regard, he's a little like Superman, another superhero that studios have had a hard time handling.)  Cap is us at our very best, only he's at that "the best" level all the time.  He's tough, yet kind and he can make the hard call, but isn't a bully.  He is the living embodiment of our highest ideals - including freedom, justice, and equality for all under the law.  How do you not make that a cardboard cutout do-gooder?

Well, you do it by casting Chris Evans, a decision that deserves to go down in history as a time when a casting director just flat-out got it right.  (You can read about how reluctant Evans was originally to sign a multi-picture deal here.  Makes sense, especially given his experience being Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four - a less than stellar two-picture outing. Also, he's got to stay in absolute top physical shape throughout this contract due to the grueling filming schedule.)  This movie demands that Evans be rock-solid in his principles, yet able to blithely quip with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, who really needs her own franchise) about his lack of a dating life.  Cap is a man out of time and there's a heartbreaking scene with his "best girl" in which is brought to dazzling life.  To Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell, who is scheduled to have her own TV series as Peggy), the war was about 70 years ago.  To Cap, who could still model for a recruiting poster, the war was about three weeks ago.  His lovely Peggy is wrinkled, fragile, and her memory isn't what once it was - but she's still his "best girl."  Evans plays this scene with tenderness, heartbreak, and resolve.

Comic movies also can be (and this one is) quite subversive.  So many people don't expect anything aside from an entertaining shoot-em-up that you can slip some deeper ideas in.  In Cap 2, while Cap is literally the poster boy for the American way, he's got questions about things, and when he asks them, it's the audience who needs to answer them.  Do you know who your friends are?  How far will you go to save a friend from darkness?  What balance are you willing to strike between messy freedom and sterile order?  Is being safe better than being independent?  And just whose hand is on the switch? Do you trust that hand? This is not a simple "good guys win" movie.

There's much more to say, but I don't want to spoil the movie; this is one I want you to see. (Stay through the credits, even without Phil Coulson.) Cap 2 takes its inspiration from the "Winter Soldier" storyline scripted by Ed Brubaker (he has a tiny part in the film as "Scientist #2).  In this film, we meet Zola (Toby Jones) and learn that patience can be fertile soil for nefarious plots.  We see that threats can be candy-coated as well as armor-coated.  Robert Redford shows he still has chops and Samuel L. Jackson reminds us that he's never lost his.  Casting Anthony Mackie as the Falcon - brilliant!  (That reminds me - I've got to buy Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man . . .)  And we learn that, hopefully, we've all got the guts to be Launch Tech #1.  Captain's orders . . .

"Trouble Man," from the album of the same name, by Marvin Gaye

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 96

Ensley is keeping you updated with "Meth Monday" and we're both excited about the countdown - it's only four weeks (plus one day!) to go before Wanna Cook? hits bookshelves and our baby is sent out into the (hopefully) kind and sunny world.

But how would you like to get your copy early?  And meet the authors?  And have us autograph your "hey-I-got-my-book-early-bitch!" copy?  Well, all this - plus snacks! - can be yours.  (By the way, "snacks" do not include uncut pizza that has previously been thrown on the roof of the house in a snit.)  That's right - after teasing you for a bit as we worked to nail down some things here behind the closed doors of the lab, Ensley and I can announce details of the official book launch for Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Guide to Breaking Bad.  So gather around to hear the tale.

Wanting to support our hometown, the Wanna Cook? launch will take place at Fireside Books & Gifts, located at 212 South Lafayette Street in Shelby, NC on Saturday, April 26!  We'll start the shindig at 5:00 and plan to wrap up around 6:00, although if you're there and we haven't talked with you when the clock strikes, we won't disappear on you.  Keep in mind you'll be able to get the book BEFORE ANYONE ELSE CAN!  Yep, even if you pre-ordered the book (and a sincere "thank you" to all who have!), you won't receive it before 1 May - but if you come to Fireside on April 26, the lovely Linda Parks will have copies available for you.  (It's true; we're taking a cue from Walt - you can only get it from us before it hits the street!  Accept no substitutes!)  We're so pleased to be teaming up with our locally-owned and independent bookstore - let them know you appreciate them being here, would you?  Go ahead and tweet Linda (@FiresideLinda) or let her know through the Fireside Facebook page that you want a copy reserved for your exclusive use on the 26th and she'll make sure to make it happen!

Fireside isn't the only local business we're supporting with the Wanna Cook? launch.  We're planning to involve several other businesses in our festivities - check back for more details!  And please - mark your calendars, brush off your best porkpie hat, and come see us on April 26!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 95

I'm just getting so excited!!  Wanna Cook? will be officially released in just five weeks, plus one day!  As regular readers of this blog know, it's available for pre-order from a number of outlets, so pick your favorite.  Heck, I've even done some of the work for you . . . Try Amazon, Powell's, Barnes & Noble, or Books-A-Million!

And, because I can, here's a look at the spread-out cover.  Ensley and I both think it looks fantastic and we hope you'll agree that it'll make a snazzy addition to your bookshelf, desk, entertainment center, coffee table, or the back of your toilet.  (Hey, multitasking by reading books while utilizing the facilities has a respected history in Breaking Bad and if you can't immediately put your hands on some Whitman, why not some Wanna Cook?)

I'm meeting with the bookstore today to finalize details of the launch, so I can't say anything just yet, but check back for news - I should have specifics to share with you about the official launch by the end of the week, along with details about a few giveaways that could score you a copy of the book before the official release date - yay!!!!!

Also, if you haven't checked out my co-author's blog, you ought to.  Ensley needed to take some time off from regular blogging (graduate school does make some demands on your time), but he's back and this week's "Meth Monday" catches you up to speed, so go over there and ponder a bit, won't you?

More coming soon.  Promise!


Sunday, March 23, 2014

It's Time to Play the Music . . .

OK, this is not going to be an unbiased review. I've loved the Muppets since they taught me how to count on Sesame Street lo those many years ago, and I'm pretty sure that a steady diet of The Muppet Show had something to do with my decision to pursue a backstage life throughout my early 20s. I relate a little too well to Kermit, who's always supposed to run the show, but is usually at the mercy of the asylum's inmates and spends a large amount of his time either sighing deeply or flinging his flippers in the air and screaming incoherently.

(Sorry, Jennifer Lawrence, I guess Kermit really is my spirit animal.)

In 2011, the Muppets were relaunched for a new generation.  I wasn't sure about this without the direct involvement of Frank Oz and Jim Henson (who sadly passed away in 1990) but my fears turned out to be unfounded. The sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, picks up quite literally at the end of the 2011 movie.

This is a caper movie - Kermit is supplanted by a lookalike frog who is a criminal mastermind. He promises the troupe their heart's desires, so they squash their suspicions that "Kermit" isn't acting quite like himself. Like all Muppets movies, much of the charm comes from guest spots and cameos - in addition to the trifecta of shine that is Ricky Gervais, Ty Burell, and Tina Fey, Most Wanted has walk-on roles for Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, and that's before the opening credits roll.  Look quick and you might spot Tom Hiddleston, Frank Langella, Salma Hayek, Josh Groban, Stanley Tucci, and dozens more, including a hilarious Danny Trejo who bills himself as a "triple threat.  I'm a singer, I'm a dancer, and I'm a murderer." (For the really deep cuts, click here.)

Is it a fantastic movie?  Probably not, but I was having too much fun to care. The Muppets are meta pop culture, which is my favorite dish. References to The Shawshank Redemption, A Chorus Line, Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal, Princess Beatrice's horrendous fascinator from the last royal wedding, and the legend of the ravens leaving the Tower of London are thrown in there, just for laughs from a few audience members.  There's plenty for the kids as well - I took my goddaughter to get that perspective (her dad, Victorian Marxist, came out to play as well). It's rated PG, although I'm not entirely sure why.

Indeed, it's time to play the music.  It's time to light the lights. Go buy your popcorn and relive your childhood.