Monday, December 30, 2013


Movies that take their material from real life can be tricky.  Documentaries are often dismissed by the general public as boring in their relentless sincerity or too one-sided in their coverage.  Feature films that focus on the events of a real person's life ("biopics") can likewise be tricky.  Two recent biopics - Lincoln and 42 - dodge this problem by not trying to tell the whole story; instead, both films focus on a small, incredibly important, slice of the life of their subject.  (I reviewed Lincoln here and the Jackie Robinson film 42 here, by the way.)

Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom takes another path.  The film attempts, in less than two and a half hours, to tell most of the life story of an incredibly influential, complex man.  Such a task cannot be completed in that time frame, although Mandela tries mightily.  Make no mistake - this is a good film and has much to recommend it - but it wobbles slightly under its own weight.  Then again, how could it not?  Nelson Mandela is nearly a creature out of myth.  An educated man who bristled under the yoke of a blatantly unfair society, he first sought to change the system peacefully, but eventually turned to violent means.  Arrested and convicted, he was imprisoned under harsh circumstances for 27 years, yet never surrendered his dream of a more just society.  From behind bars, he became a global force to be reckoned with, due in no small part to his commanding presence, sharp intelligence, and uncanny ability to listen and file information away.  Released, he became South Africa's first black president and (with former Archbishop Desmond Tutu) established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help heal the deep, festering wounds left by apartheid.  It's all too easy to make Mandela into some sort of saint who spent his time on Robben Island quietly contemplating the birds in flight.

Director Justin Chadwick tries hard to resist the pull of a simplified myth and this Mandela (played magnificently by Idris Elba) has some warts.  He's a skirt-chaser early in life and his unfaithfulness, as well as his near-constant absences from home, led to the breakup of his first marriage.  He's also a shrewd politician - notice how Mandela listens to everything and often says very little.

Elba is a wonderfully accomplished actor who has brought a certain gravitas to his recent roles, including Heimdall the Guardian in the Thor franchise, but this role is a whole new level and Elba rises to the occasion.  The same can be said for Naomie Harris, who played Eve Moneypenny in the recent Bond flick Skyfall.  That was a fun role, to be sure, but sensitively portraying Winnie Mandela, who embraced violence in the name of social change long after her husband nigh-miraculously renounced it - well, that's a job to be proud of.  The film does a good job of showing just why Winnie Mandela was led to continue advocating violence - it's not just something that happens, but it is a stark reminder that we so often make our own monsters.  She chose necklacing to silence her political opponents; he chose the ballot box.  While South Africa continues to have problems galore to deal with, the country is much better off for Mandela's leadership during that crucial time.  Go see this movie.

(By the way, following Mandela's death in early December, I was shocked (for in many ways, I remain naive) at the vitriol and sheer hatred that poured forth from some of the human family who denounced Mandela as a communist and terrorist, thereby completing ignoring (1) the sheer inhumanity of the apartheid regime, (2) the desperation people can be driven to, and (3) the role politics plays in history.  Chadwick's film is not perfect, but it's well worth seeing.  It's likely to spark some uncomfortable discussions and that's a very good thing, for history does not disappear by being ignored. Instead, it becomes twisted and distorted, thus requiring a good cleaning.  And truth is the best disinfectant.)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Hobbit, Part 2

. . . . you know, the one with the dragon.

Peter Jackson's decision to turn J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit into three movies has been (justifiably) criticized.  The book focuses on Bilbo Baggins, the meek hobbit who has any number of adventures, including obtaining the infamous One Ring, which he later gives to his cousin Frodo, an act that would launch the Lord of the Rings ("LotR") adventures.  It's worth noting that the novel, which was originally written for a younger readership than LotR, is roughly the same length as any one of the three LotR novels, all of which were a single film each.  (Side note - and they were masterful!)

Herein lies a problem.  In order to stretch the story - which is a straightforward "hero's journey" tale; I've referred to it as "Campbell for beginners," and I mean no disrespect by that - Jackson has to pad the story.  In the first film (reviewed here), that was done primarily by having lots and lots of scenes that were quite possibly described in the script as "They walk through New Zealand.  A long way.  And they keep walking."  Jackson expanded the source material to include Tollkien's numerous appendices and The Silmarillion - the man created an entire world for these tales and he was nothing if not thorough about it.  Even so, this film felt long in places.  I enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug a bit more than the first film; probably because I was ready for the padding.

Dim spots - some woods elf scenes that feel just wrong.  I tried to just let go and enjoy without my Inner Grump saying, "But that's not in the book!"  I had a hard time.  Also, some of the action scenes are long and unnecessarily complicated - too much whirling and slashing without any accompanying thrills for the characters.  I want to at least think the characters are in danger and here, I just knew that everybody was going to be A-OK and the orcs were nothing but practice-meat.  That said, be warned against taking the very young.  I think you could read the book at an earlier age that you could see the movie.  Also, Jackson's cameo as "Carrot-Eating Threatening Guy" is a bit too telegraphed for my taste, but that's a minor nitpick.  The bigger problem is that this isn't really Bilbo's story - there are too many competing storylines happening here.  Bilbo needs to be the focus of The Hobbit and he's just one part of the story - to the point that I was thinking several times during scene shifts, "Meanwhile, in another movie . . . "  Martin Freeman does a yeoman's job here, but he needs more material.

Bright spots - Smaug.  Jackson has done a wonderful job here.  Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock to Freeman's Watson on the BBC, remember) is cast exactly right as the dastardly dragon (Necromancer, meh) and the way the audience is introduced to the sheer size of this beast is a spot so bright that it throws me over to the "go see it on the big screen" camp.

In short, an improvement over the first, but still - three movies is too much for this one book.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 84

"And a Heisenberg in the Christmas tree!"
Greetings, Breaking Bad fans!  The "Walter White Wednesday" portion of this blog is about to go on a holiday hiatus to allow me to take care of end-of-semester things at the college, celebrate the holidays with my dedicated and exciting (rowr!) co-author, and work through the final proofreading check of Wanna Cook? prior to spring publication.  (Remember - we're available for pre-order at Amazon, Books-A-Million, and Powell's!)

But before I go away for a few weeks, let me say a heartfelt "thank you" to everyone who has read the posts, forwarded them along, commented, tweeted, +1d, and encouraged us.  Writing a book is an intense and often lonely job, even with two of us doing it.  Thank you for reminding us to take time to go look at the sunset, eat something that we didn't have to unwrap, and your kind, kind words.  The book isn't quite done yet, but it's soclose!  Of course, we'll be posting more about publication events and where to find it (and us!) after the New Year.  And the blog will continue - I'll still be posting about movies and TV here throughout the holidays; I'm just taking a Breaking Bad break from the Wednesday posts until the start of the New Year.

As the year winds down on the calendar, it's amazing to look back on where Vince Gilligan & Co. have taken us.  Walt's saga is over, but the lessons he taught us live on.  Many people have found unexpected wisdom and humor in Breaking Bad - here are a few of the resulting articles.  (Please note that I accept no responsibility for anything that happens as a result of following the guidelines in any of these.  I'm just the messenger.)

Of course, Breaking Bad has an official Christmas gift shop for all of your holiday needs.  (Guess it really will be a "blue Christmas"!)  Really - everything from an A1A air freshener to cuff links to some Los Pollos lunch bags can be yours!  Click here and happy shopping!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Snow Queen Meets the Mouse

Walt Disney, through its various subsidiaries, now owns approximately 87% of the known world.  (OK, I made up the number, but I'm still pretty sure it's in the ballpark.  Click here for a list of holdings and let's just say that they've come a long way from a little animated mouse that was nearly named Mortimer.)  This holiday season, Disney has released Frozen, which is loosely based on the dark Hans Christian Andersen tale The Snow Queen.  It's a keeper.

Now, I have long lamented the Mouse's desire to round off the sharp edges of fairy tales, which were not originally for children.  These were meant to be cautionary tales full of danger, darkness, in which a prince's kiss usually brought more trouble than it was worth.  Still, I"m a sucker for a bouncy tune and Frozen is a nice addition to the Disney pantheon.

As far as I can recall, Frozen is the first Disney to have two distinct female leads.  (And the voices!  Swoon.  By hiring Idina Menzel, who was the original Elphaba in Broadway's Wicked, I suspect that Disney is positioning itself to go into full-scale Broadway production with this one, a la The Lion King.)  The bond of sisterly love, as opposed to step-sisterly-wickedness, is new. There is a honorable ice-seller, trolls, and a dastardly duke (voiced by Alan Tudyk, which ensured I'd be content.)  For sidekicks, there's a dim-witted, lovable snowman and a wise, goofy reindeer.

Honestly, Frozen is a delight.  The animation of ice, frost, and snow is a marvel.  The children in the audience were enraptured (as were the majority of the adults), and the message (and all films have messages; don't fool yourself into thinking they don't) is positive and worthy.

You could do far worse this holiday season.

(Still . . . go read the original Andersen.  Just maybe not out loud to the littlest among you.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 83

Okay, technically, I'm on a break for the Thanksgiving holiday, but these were too good to not share with you!  While neither of these is brand-new, they're both funny and relevant to this family-oriented-but-quickly-being-overtaken-by-earlier-and-earlier-shopping holiday.

Whether you shop or just eat the extra pie, enjoy your own Thanksgiving and join me next week for further adventures in the post-Breaking Bad world!

First up:  AMC has a pilot (no, not really) for a new spin-off from the Breaking Bad world.  Courtesy of "Funny or Die," please check out Huell's Rules!

Next:  Walt and Jesse show you how to make a truly unforgettable Thanksgiving dinner!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

May the Odds . . .

The second installment of The Hunger Games franchise has been released and yes, it's worth a look.  I wrote about the first one back here and many of my concerns have been addressed.  It's been a while since I read the books - part of my job involves teaching teenagers, so I try to maintain a passing familiarity with the books that are the rage and Hunger Games fit that bill a few years back.  Suzanne Collins has been accused of ripping off Koushun Takami's Battle Royale, but I don't really see that.  Yes, there are thematic similarities - Takami's book (which is quite, quite good) does concern a fight to the death waged by unwilling teens raised in a totalitarian state - but Collins' trilogy takes the battle beyond the arena into the political sphere.

Catching Fire begins with Katniss back in District 12 and finding that her life has been changed, but not necessarily for the better. Remember that the purpose of the Games is to remind the districts of the consequences of rebellion and, to that end, the people are kept on the brink of starvation and despair.  How else could you convince kids to put in their names for the dreadful Reaping more than once?  (Each time you add your name, your family gets extra food rations - a choice that isn't really a choice.)  Catching Fire has a lot to say about the life of a celebrity.  Katniss and Peeta are supposed to be mouthpieces for the regime as they tour the districts to advertise the benevolence of the bloated, corrupt Capitol, but the cracks are beginning to show and Katniss just can't manage to smile and preen and stay on-script.  (By the way, there is really something deeply disturbing about the beauty product tie-ins for this movie - by buying these products, you're aligning yourself with the decadent layabouts of the Capitol whose all-important social life is dictated by how slavishly they follow the trends.  Keep people busy and distracted so they don't notice the real problems.  Much like French court life, I suppose.)

While I would have preferred more time on the arena scenes (which feel a bit rushed to me), at least they got rid of the shaky-cam which I found to be a cheap trick in the first film, as it let you think you were seeing more than you actually did.  If you're going to make a film about kids turning into vicious killers in order to survive another night, it's a tawdry gimmick to then blink away from showing it.  Katniss is soul-scarred from her time in the arena (and she wasn't all that warm and glowy to start with), and it was a coward's trick to not show that for what it was.

Costuming is gorgeous in Catching Fire - extravagantly eye-catching and the "smokey eye" is taken to bizarre extremes. Casting is strong and the characters are developed from the first movie.  (And yes, I'll unashamedly admit to being a Jennifer Lawrence fan.) Further, the underlying messages - that revolution can begin with  the slightest of sparks and the undeniable power of symbols - is one that is not bad to repeat.

For a little fun, click here to discover your Hunger Games name!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 82

Another brief post this week - in fact, as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, I'm going to give Unfettered a week off to count my blessings, which have been legion this year.  Wanna Cook? is in the proofreading stage and Ensley and I have agreed that no work is to be done until we have sampled every variety of pumpkin pie we can get our hands on.  (Or maybe that was just me.  Hard to tell.)

This hilarious clip has been making the Internet rounds, but it's getting hard to find.  Apparently, it'll be a bonus on the fancy-schmancy box set that comes out next week, so Sony asked YouTube (probably by way of a sternly-worded cease-and-desist letter) to remove all versions of it.  But those laws have a harder time being applied across the pond, so thank you Mirror Online!

Click this link and marvel at the sheer range of Bryan Cranston.

And here's a bonus that I can embed here!  Badger and Skinny Pete would be watching this for three hours straight!

Happy pre-Thanksgiving, everybody!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 81

Just a brief post this week - I am presenting on negative fan reaction to Skyler in two days and that paper is (ahem) not quite ready for public consumption.  Should be a fun time, though.  Details are here and the schedule is here - if you're near the Upstate area of South Carolina, come on by - free to attend!

Yesterday, we received the full typeset pages of Wanna Cook? and I have to say, I nearly fell out.  (That's a Southernism for "collapsed," for those in need of translation.)  This book looks GREAT!!  I mean, seriously fantastic!  To see it in this form, instead of our electronic typewritten pages, is just such a kick that I had to sit back in my desk chair and just look at it for a moment.  Our next job is to carefully go through these pages with a fine-toothed comb (and a red pen) to nitpick anything that made it past both of us and two editors.  It's painstaking work that is best done in small doses - speed up too much and you get sloppy and we don't want sloppy.  96% pure; that's the minimum we'll accept.

Speaking of which, Breaking Bad continues to attract attention, often in unusual ways.  For instance, the teenage son of a friend of mine (I'm keeping names out of this; one day the kid will apply to college) threw a Halloween party, with his parents' permission.  Said parents were trying to walk that tightrope of responsible supervision and "let the kids have their fun."  Now, the light-blue rock candy that the Breaking Bad crew used as meth made an appearance, packaged in little plastic bags.  What also made an appearance was a gorgeous hand-crafted knife (made by my friend's grandfather, I believe) - a big thing, with a horn hilt.  The knife is usually displayed prominently on the family mantel.  Yep, you guessed it - Teenage Son used the knife to pound the rock candy to powder while screaming, "TIGHTTIGHTTIGHT!!"  My friend doesn't know whether to be amused or deeply disturbed that her son was snorting crystallized sugar off a sharp blade.  (Oh, and Teenage Son was dressed as Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, which is a whole other level of hilarity in this tale.)  And fear not, the knife was whisked away quickly.  Kids.

Also, I thought Ensley and I had done something amazing in writing a book together and maintaining a solid marriage (and I still do, by the way), but this couple takes things to a whole new level of Breaking Bad love!

Where's that red pen?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Of Gates and Hammers

This post covers two new releases - Ender's Game and Thor: The Dark World.  Look, I wanted to be excited about these - especially Ender's, but I fear there is little joy here.  Let me be clear - both of these films are solid efforts, but neither one really worked for me.  Let's discuss.

Nope, the gate's still up.
First, Ender's Game. This was always an ambitious project, which might explain why the book was published in the mid-80s and the film is just now seeing the light of day.  Orson Scott Card created an intricate, fascinating world with this series and I worried a bit.  It turns out that my anxiety on this one was well placed.  Too much of this rich narrative is skimmed over which pulls the punch from the ultimate reveal.  (Also, I need a re-read on this, but some relationships are just not quite right in this one, at least by my recollection.)  While the movie still makes some good points about whether or not war should have rules, what it takes to make a good leader, and the ethics of using child soldiers, this Game wastes some excellent actors and some very pretty effects. It isn't a hot mess, by any stretch of the imagination, but I grieve what could have been.  Director Gavin Hood (he directed X-Men Origins: Wolverine which alone says a few things) has not managed to breach the enemy's gate with this film.  Skip the movie and read the book.

(See - I didn't even get into Card's politics and let me tell you, that took some doing.  I myself am a little conflicted as I like the book tremendously but find Card himself to be - well, let's just say we disagree on some things.  Not sure what I mean?  Click here. For a view on whether Card's politics are affecting the box office, click here.)

Hammer?  No, but I've got some pliers.
Second, Thor: The Dark World.  This is a different kettle of Norse fish.  While Ender's Game expects a too-thin story to support too much weight, Thor's just having fun.  There's nothing wrong with having fun, and watching Tom Hiddleston strut and mock isn't a bad way to while away half an afternoon.  Provided you don't expect anything more than that, you'll be happy.  The Rainbow Bridge (Bifrost) has never looked better and Idris Elba's Heimdall is just cool.  He's far more menacing than Anthony Hopkins' Odin, which is a pity.  I mean, shouldn't you tremble when Odin sweeps into a room?  The story's thin, which is a shame, as I wanted to see Christopher Eccleston's Malekith glower and scheme and scare.  Instead, he's a generic bad guy who wants to destroy things Just Because.  He also picks up flawless English when the plot requires it.  This is not to pick on Eccleston - there were a lot of deliveries from the Plot Convenience Warehouse in this production.  Look, it's fun.  Buy your popcorn, say a little prayer of gratitude for the creative mind of Walt Simonson, and enjoy.

Then go to your local comic shop and buy the Simonson omnibus.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 80

This is a post I've been waiting for nearly two years to write - the edited draft of Wanna Cook? (insert drumroll, please!) is done.  Done, do you hear me?  Episodes have been watched, notes have been taken, a first draft has been created, extras have been researched, extras have been drafted, all that's been reviewed and sent to Our Dear Editor (like North Korea's Dear Leader, but ours has both a far better haircut and sense of humor) who marked it up with line edits and sent it back to us.  Changes made, or not made and argued about, then sent back. When that hurdle was cleared, it was on to the copy-editing stage - smaller nits to pick, but very important ones were caught there.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  For 5 seasons, the last of which was split into two parts by a year.  Done.  There really should be cake at this juncture, but I'll settle for jazz hands.

Soon we'll get galley pages, which have been typeset, with graphics and so forth added in for our final pass and a proofreader is hunkering over things with a magnifying glass and a thick style manual to make sure we have been consistent throughout the book.  (Wait, wait - does "Hector" have an accent mark or not?)

Then Wanna Cook? goes to the translation folks, since the book is being released simultaneously in English ("the meth") and German ("die meth." Or maybe "das meth." Heck, it could be "der meth."  OK, that alone explains why someone else is translating the text.) I won't really consider the project "finished" until I can hold the bound book in my hands, but this is a point well worth celebrating.  And, as a reminder, Wanna Cook? is scheduled to hit bookstore shelves (and be ready for delivery from online booksellers) May 1. That day also happens to be my and Ensley's anniversary - not a traditional gift, to be sure, but what can you do?

So until we get the galley pages in a few weeks, there's a lull of quiet at the writing desk.  Well, at least for the Wanna Cook? project.  We both still have our day jobs to attend to. Also, on Nov. 15, we're presenting at a one-day conference at Converse College in Spartanburg, SC (here's the schedule) and our presentations need some fine-tuning for that.  (Mine's a longer version of an extra in Wanna Cook? that deals with negative fan reaction to Skyler, by the way.)

But we also plan to carve out some time to just savor reaching this point in a project that has mattered so very much to both of us.


I say it's time to dance!  So click and enjoy!  (I thought about just cutting this to the Bryan Cranston intro, but nah.  This is choice stuff all the way through and we all deserve four minutes to laugh!)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Other Hats!

We don't have to wear these!
As most of you know, co-writing Wanna Cook? has been a time-consuming labor of love for me over that last eighteen months or so.  It is not my "day job," though.  Writers who can completely support themselves by writing are rare animals indeed and I spend most of my days (and far too many of my weekends) doing the tasks associated with teaching; in my case, teaching communications at my local community college.  There are a series of posts that one day should be written about that, but for today, let's just say that it's a career path that I never expected, but that I've found I enjoy and am good at doing.

In a previous life involving a closetful of bank-wall-grey and navy-blue suits, I trained as a lawyer.  I attended three very arduous years of law school, studied, studied, studied and passed the bar.  First I worked for an accounting firm, going over the exceedingly fine details of state and local tax laws and regulations, then I worked for a small law firm in a town not far from where I currently live.  Although my license is no longer how I earn my bread (and I'm not alone in that - check out this list), I worked far too hard to obtain it to let it lapse.  Therefore, throughout the year, I am required to take a dozen hours of CLE ("continuing legal education") training.  It's not bad - you can tailor your CLEs to your particular interests - but they can be expensive and inconvenient and yes, sometimes you wind up taking a course just to get the hours because your window of opportunity is very small.

Then there's this past weekend.  I attended a weekend seminar in the lovely, and slightly mad, city of Asheville and had a wonderful time.  Dynamic speakers who knew their topics, a gorgeous setting for the conference itself, and a free afternoon on Saturday to go explore this small city in western NC that welcomes crystal-gazing New Age witches, back-to-the-land homesteaders, hipsters, and holler-dwellers.  It's marvelous and quirky and glorious.  Yes, this is the same county that gave The Daily Show an interview from heaven in the form of Don Yelton, GOP mouthpiece and peckerwood extraordinaire.  Asheville - ignore the "evil" in the middle of the name and go have a good time.

All of this is to explain why there's not a movie post this weekend.  Not to fear - reviews of Ender's Game and Thor: The Dark World will be coming soon.  And, of course, Walter White Wednesday will be along in a couple of days!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 79

We can all agree that Breaking Bad was an amazing show that's worthy of deep reflection and frequent re-watching.  The acting is astonishing (remember the gorgeous mash letter Sir Anthony Hopkins wrote to Bryan Cranston after Hopkins' binge-watched the show?  If not, click here), the settings are characters in and of themselves, and the writing is often transcendent.

Don't believe me?  Click here, then.  Seems that at an event honoring Vince Gilligan at the Austin Film Festival, a few pages from "Felina," the final episode of the series, were on display.  Gilligan wrote "Felina," and some intrepid festival-goer snapped pictures.  Here's the next-to-last page . . . and here's the final one.  Read these final pages - it's not about the dialogue here; see how Gilligan captures the mood he's trying to create, the subtle hints he's giving his actors to get across the "neo-Western" feel of the show.

Amazing stuff.

On the writing front, Wanna Cook? progresses.  Everything has gone through the first round of edits (and Jen, I owe you dinner for straightening up that source list!) and most everything has been finishedfinished.  A couple of bits are awaiting the last go-round of "move that comma, would you?"  Let me make it clear - by the time Wanna Cook? hits the shelves - and it's already available for pre-order at your favorite e-bookstore, whether that's Amazon, Powell's, Barnes & Noble, or Books-A-Million! - this manuscript has been look at thoroughly.  However, I expect that a couple of "freckles" will sneak through.  Blame American/Canadian variations in spelling.

Please let us know - either here or over on Ensley's blog - if you'd like to arrange a book signing in spring when Wanna Cook? is available.  We've been given a publicist (I know, right??) who will help make such things happen.  We'd love to come visit and we've been told we're quite fun!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Adventure on the High Seas!

When looking for all-around good guys  in Hollywood, it's hard to beat Tom Hanks.  His latest film, Captain Phillips, solidifies his reputation as a stellar actor as well. There's been some criticism that Phillips' memoir makes him look more heroic than he actually was and, in fact, he's being sued by some of his crew who allege he created the dangerous situation in the first place.  That's for a court of law to sort out, but the movie itself is fantastic!  (And this falls squarely within the parameters of "it's not pretending to be a documentary, and don't get your history from movies."  Go do some research on the actual events and make up your own mind on that - I'm limiting my comments here to the film.)

I wasn't sure about this one - I remember the actual hijacking back in the spring of 2009 and I remember how it ended, so I wasn't sure how compelling the movie would be.  (I know that's not a great argument - I go see Shakespeare plays all the time when I know how they'll end, so . . .) But I was amazed that I caught myself holding my breath with tension. Paul Greengrass, who is best known for the Bourne movies, as well as another film inspired by actual events, United 93, does a masterful job of ratcheting up the action.  (A little too much shaky-cam for my taste, though - I want this trend to go ahead and pass.) He uses an interesting framing device at the start of the film as you see Phillips and Muse, who will become the head pirate, both essentially getting ready for work. The film does a very nice job of not creating cookie-cutter villains, but instead rounding them out and presenting the audience with a more nuanced view.  These are not dashing, wear-a-stuffed-parrot pirates; these are desperate, frightened, hungry men, often half out of their minds on large amounts of khat, and they are not acting as a unified, well-trained team.  It's nearly a miracle no one gets badly hurt earlier.  Greengrass even generated some sympathy in me for the plight the pirates are in - Somalia is essentially a failed state and people want to survive - but, at the end of the day, I'm rooting for Team Hanks. (But don't overlook Barkhad Abdi, who plays Muse.  First time out of the gate, and he holds his own with Hanks.)

Captain Phillips was made with the cooperation of the U.S. Navy and other government agencies, so naturally they appear well-trained, calm, and frighteningly efficient.  One of the takeaway messages of this movie is definitely "Don't mess with the U.S. military."  My father was a Navy pilot, so I heartily endorse this message.  The Navy and the SEALS aren't reckless cowboy types - they've got a job to do and by golly, they're going to do it.  Hanks' Phillips is a man in a situation that's spiraling rapidly out of control and he's trying hard to stay calm and stay alive, but he was never trained for this - the military personnel were and the final few minutes, when that contrast is made sharply evident, completely sold me on Hanks' acting.

If you're looking for a great thriller, this is the movie for you.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 78

I hear Whitman was quoted at the funeral.
Breaking Bad may have ended its run nearly a month ago, but fans aren't quite willing to let it go.  Walter Hartwell White had an obituary in an Albuquerque newspaper (where his death was stated to be the result of a "battle with lung cancer, and a gunshot wound."  Click the link for more details) and a funeral service was held for him recently.  (The "funeral" was a fundraiser for a charity, Albuquerque's Healthcare for the Homeless, but understandably a few people with actual loved ones laid to rest in the cemetery weren't too thrilled.)

Nearly any show these days sparks fan fiction, but Breaking Bad's has been taken to a whole new level with this piece, published on CNN.  Here, Samantha Highfill of Entertainment Weekly speculates on what life might be like for the surviving characters ten years out.  Not sure I agree, but fun to read.

On the Wanna Cook? front, we're in editing mode right now.  Cross-checking, trying to pare a few words here so we can add a few words there, that sort of thing.  It's exciting, actually.  And we're getting messages from ECW (our publisher) with details about things like "marketing plans" and the name of our publicist.  (We have a publicist!  Wow.  Soon, I'll be able to have my people call your people to set up a lunch date.  C'mon, baby, you know I love ya!)  Both Ensley and I have added author pages over at Amazon - here's his and here's mine - and we'd appreciate any help you can give us in spreading the word about Wanna Cook?.  Tweet the blog links, like our author pages, really - anything you can do to let folks know that the best and most complete guide to the fantastic show Breaking Bad is coming soon would be greatly appreciated!

There might even be a teenth in it for you!

(Rock candy, of course.  What were you thinking?  Wink.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Blood On Your Hands

As a general rule, I don't like remakes.  In fact, in the previews for this week's movie, I sat through the trailer for a remake of Endless Love, which just made me angry.  My anger comes only partially from the idea of remaking a Brooke Shields movie (although please tell me Blue Lagoon 2014 is not in the development pipeline), it's also from the trailer's depiction of obsessive teenage love as a Good, Though Misunderstood Thing, and it's being released on Valentine's Day.  Sheesh.  Girls - and boys, for that matter - stalking is creepy and yes, your parents do know how you feel.  That's precisely why they worry.

OK - rant over.  This week, the focus was on the updated version of Brian De Palma's (by way of Stephen King's) Carrie.  This time around, Carrie White is played by Chloe Grace Moretz (Sissy Spacek in the original, in an Oscar-nominated performance), and her deranged mother Margaret is played by Julianne Moore (Piper Laurie in the original and also Oscar-nominated).  Right off the bat, let's talk about the original - and here I mean the book.  When a then-unknown Stephen King sold the hardback rights to Carrie, he was thrilled.  When he sold the paperback rights for a jaw-dropping-in-the-1970s $400,000, he became rich and famous and was well on his way to becoming Stephen King, author extraordinaire.  One problem I've long had with King's writing is the bloat - his novels often seem to lumber and lummox their way along.  (On the other hand, I adore his short stories and novellas - tight, spare, and Mrs. Todd's Shortcut and The Mangler are among the best I've ever read.  And his latest, Joyland, is an absolute delight.)  Carrie was tighttighttight, with nary a spare word.  Sure, it reads like a first work, and the story has some weaknesses, but Carrie also does a great job of capturing the fear of being an adolescent girl - so much is happening to Carrie that she just doesn't understand and that no one is explaining to her.

There will be much talk about whether this version, directed by Kimberly Peirce, is as good as/better than de Palma's.  That's fair, I suppose.  But here's my dirty little secret - I've never seen the original, not all the way through.  I was too young when it first came out and I just never got around to seeing it all in one sitting.  (I've picked up bits and pieces of it here and there, though.)  I know, I know - bad critic!  Bad!

That being confessed, I liked this a lot.  I wasn't sure if the gorgeous Moretz could pull off being the uncomfortable, unpopular, plain and picked on Carrie, but she does.  And Julianne Moore is pitch perfect - to the point she makes an empty closet the scariest thing in the film.  One thing that King does well, and that Peirce carries through on in her film, is making Carrie White sympathetic.  Our culture has changed since King first published the book and de Palma first filmed Carrie in 1976.  Carrie's tormenting at the hands of her high school classmates (and let's face it, Buffy got that one right - high school is hell, no matter where you rank in the pecking order), is now recorded and uploaded.  All this girl wants is to be normal and, honestly, to be overlooked.  I nearly cheered when Moretz's blood-drenched face takes on a vengeful expression following a criminal prank and she telekinetically slams shut the doors.  It's time for payback, bitches.  And it's gonna hurt.

Carrie does terrible, horrible, violent things.  But I want her to.  And that's the key.  Carrie's every bullied kid who commits suicide, but she's also every school shooter.  She is Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds, in a homemade prom gown.  She wants to be Everykid, and when "they" won't let her be that, well, then, by God, she'll be the freak they say she is.

We create our own monsters.  Is a telekinetic teenager out there?  Doubtful.  But there are plenty of those we brush aside and tell to "toughen up."  And gun laws in this country are lax.  Let's stop pretending to be surprised when these kids snap and either hurt themselves or turn their rage outward.

Blood on your hands.  On Carrie's, on Chris', and yeah - on ours.  So go see Carrie and have a good scare.  Then do something to make sure Carrie only stays a story.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 77

Breaking Bad may be over (sniff, sniff, whimper) but the Wanna Cook? project is chugging along.  Ensley and I have gotten the final "chunks" off to our intrepid editor for the first pass of her not-so-dreaded red pen, which means a cautious celebration is in order!  Yep, the final episode guides have been drafted and the "long extras" (not quite full essay length, but considerably longer than the "extra ingredients" that are featured with each episode's write-up) have all been sent - and in some cases, edited and re-submitted.  What that means is that we're in the final stretch.  It can become very tempting at this point to rest on our laurels (okay, it's more like collapse on our laurels at this point - anyone who says writing isn't "real work" has never really written.  It's a different kind of effort from ditch digging, to be sure, but that doesn't mean there's no effort involved), but keeping our eyes on the finish line is crucial at this stage.  There's still plenty to get done and you just can't lose your focus on these details.  In about a month, everything should be at the final, ready-for-the-typesetter stage and that's when we're really relax and hey - that's the start of the holiday season, so it'll be especially sweet.

However, I think we can take a step back and marvel at what has been wrought.  Seriously - we've written a book-length examination of this incredible, amazing, groundbreaking show, and that's worth taking a moment or two to savor.

(takes moment)

Now back to the desk.

And here's the weekly gem - turns out Anthony Hopkins is a fan of the show and wanted to voice his appreciation.  Hmmm - so Hannibal Lecter has a favorable opinion of Walter White.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ground Control to Major Tom . . .

Let's get this out of way early on.  Human beings don't belong in space.  It's harsh, utterly unforgiving, and vastvastvast in terms of size.  Yet we go, which I think is one of humanity's more glowing qualities.  On top of that, while I was a fan of the space shuttle, I'm a little disappointed that we don't have a lunar base by now.

What I'm driving at is - I like space.  And I like space movies.  I like space movies enough to have paid the extra few bucks for a pair of cheap, one-use-only 3D glasses to see Gravity, a movie that tells you very little in the trailer.  And I won't tell you much here, either.

But I'll tell you a little.

As I said, the trailer to Gravity doesn't tell you much - Sandra Bullock's had some sort of accident far above the world and there's nothing she can do (and yes, planet Earth is indeed blue). When I first saw the trailer, I remarked snarkily, "Well, that's gonna be a short movie."  And it is - Gravity comes in at a lean 91 minutes. But oh - what a 91 minutes!  What could have been a standard disaster movie is elevated by Bullock's performance and visual effects that are simply stunning.  While some will nitpick the science or the narrative, phooey on them, I say. (Although they may have a few points, I'll concede.)

It's beautiful. You see exactly how unsuited humans are for the bleak environment of outer space and how smart and brave and brilliant we are for venturing beyond our little marble, while still being sensible enough to be scared about it.

Bullock has said she didn't feel she truly deserved her Oscar for The Blind Side (to be fair, she faced stiff competition that year that included both Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep) and I don't know for sure if she'll be nominated for Gravity.  But if she is (and she should be), she better start drafting her acceptance speech.

There's more - much more - but if I say too much more, I risk major spoilage and that's not fair.  Go see this.  Go see it on the biggest screen you can and then ask your Congressman while NASA is hamstrung by the government shutdown when we could be exploring What's Out There.

By the way, if you don't mind MAJOR spoilers, here is an astronaut's take on the movie.  And here's another.

Oh, and here's a favorite - Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performing "Major Tom" on the International Space Station.  It's even better than knowing that Serenity DVDs are available up there!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 76

Strange.  This is the first post since Breaking Bad ended  - well, technically, last week's was, but then I was writing about the finale episode, "Felina," so it didn't feel the same way.  At any rate, by now we know what happened to Walter and the rest of the not-so-merry crew.

Some people are having a hard time dealing with the withdrawal and I know a little bit about this.  On Sunday (or, as we've called it for quite a while, "Breaking Bad night"), Ensley and I were coming home from a conference. (The conference was held in the unfairly-beautiful city of Savannah and we had a fantastic time.  I presented some of the work you'll see in Wanna Cook? that centers on Saul - hope you like it when the book comes out!)  We realized that for the first time in ages, we didn't need to make sure we were home at a set time.  Oh, sure, we DVR the episodes, but c'mon - we want to watch live and get our fan on.  When it hit us that, no, we didn't need to be sure we were in front of the TV at a given time because there was (sniff, sniff) no new episode of Breaking Bad airing that night (whimper), we didn't quite know what to do with ourselves!

What we didn't do was get this creative - enjoy!

Wanna Cook? update - we're in the final push with the manuscript.  We've delivered the vast majority of it already and Monday is our deadline for the write-up of the final eight episodes.  We're on track and then it'll be about a month of back-and-forth editing, but the whole thing - from acknowledgements to index - ought to be done and in the caring hands of ECW Press by mid-November.  (I plan to collapse at that point.  I know it's not usually the sort of thing you schedule on your calendar, but it's the only way I have the time!)

And remember - we're available for pre-order from these fine online retailers!

Amazon (I've really got to finish my author page over there!)
Books-A-Million (lists the book as shipping on our anniversary - isn't that sweet!)
Powell's (doesn't list me as an author, but I promise I haven't been putting the shine on you for a year and a half!)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 75

Sometimes I dislike that I picked Wednesday for my Breaking Bad posts - everyone's already gotten a crack at things before my posts roll around - but here's the plus side.  I get a little more breathing room.  And I needed that after "Felina," the episode that closed out Walter White's descent into dark respect.

Of course there will be spoilers.  Deal.

Over the course of about two years of Walt's life, we've been with him on his own personal chemical transformation.  We've seen him go from a nebbishy, sad-sack high school chemistry teacher to a man who made the purest methamphetamine on the market.  Then he moved from manufacturing to distribution.  He garnered respect for his mad chemistry skills, albeit from some reprehensible types.  Moreover, he became consumed by at least four of the seven deadly sins (I won't accuse him of sloth or gluttony, but he managed to corner wrath, envy, pride, and greed.  The jury's still out on lust when "lust for power" is added in to the equation).  Gilligan's brilliance has been that we started out rooting for Walt, even as we disagreed with his decisions.  Remembering his circumstances, it was hard to stop being a fan.  But it got harder.  And harder.  And, for me at least, it became impossible.  Now, I've kept my ear to the ground a bit on fan sites and commentary posts and that's not true for everybody - there are some folks who wanted Walt to "win."  They believe wholeheartedly that he did all this for his family.  (Coincidentally, they also believe that Gretchen & Elliott Schwatrz stole Gray Matter from Walt, something that I'm highly skeptical on, since Walt's story and Gretchen's don't match up at all and we know that Walt can take the truth and turn it into a pretzel without breaking a sweat.  They offered him a sinecure job for the sole purpose of paying for his treatment, but nooooo.)

These fans rationalize as much as Walt.  Sure, he watched Jane die, but really - was that his fault?  And yeah, he poisoned a child, but he knew what he was doing.  And Gus had threatened to kill his family, so he had to die and it's not like anyone innocent got hurt in that nursing home.  Walt told Todd they couldn't leave witnesses at the train robbery but it's not like he shot Dirt-Bike Drew.  Mike, well, Mike was a violent man.  And Hank shouldn't have been - well, shouldn't have been so Hank.  And Jesse shouldn't have crossed him.  And Skyler was just a bitch.

I do not want to break bread with these people.

Walt was a terrible person.  Maybe he didn't start that way, but he was so far from mild-mannered Mr. White by the time of "Felina" that he couldn't have found that person with a telescope and a clear night.

And I wanted him punished.

But in "Felina," an awful lot happens on Walt's terms.  (And while I've never credited white supremacists with an "overabundance of schooling," as Mal Reynolds might say, they didn't search the half-acre-sized trunk in Walt's car?  Seriously - I've seen smaller parade floats and you know that they've watched Jesse's confession, which would have included the whole "I like remote controlled death traps" aspect of Walt's personality.)  Yes, he loses it all - wife, son, daughter, friends, money, and even his life - but he loses on his terms.  Yes, yes, Lydia's death was fine by me and I was practically cheering as Jesse throttled Todd, but overall - Walt had too much power in this to satisfy my (admittedly dark) sense of justice, although he does finally admit that he did all of this for himself.

My favorite moments?  Easy:
  • The close-up of the Marty Robbins cassette tape falling out of the Volvo's glove box.  Robbins sings the lonesome cowboy song "El Paso," which features a Mexican maiden named "Felina."
  • The flashback of Jesse carefully crafting that inlaid wooden box that we heard about back in "Kafkaesque" in Season 3.
  • Jesse refusing to shoot Walt because that's what Walt says he wants, and Jesse's done being Walt's chew toy.  Bleed out, bitch.
Speaking of which, I hope Jesse finds peace, although I doubt he manages.  And I wish Saul well with his new career with Cinnabon.

Anyway, that's my take.  Click here to see my co-author's take and here to see the view from someone much farther north.

Breaking Bad may have come to a close, but "Walter White Wednesday" will continue.  Wanna Cook? is in the final push, then there's editing to do and I want to keep you all up to date as publication nears.  So please - keep "Walter White Wednesday" near and dear to your heart - and your bookmarks!  (And use that handy "Follow Me on Twitter" button over on the right!)

. . . or maybe it hasn't come to a close . . .

Monday, September 30, 2013

Porn and Food

Yes, trust me - I know that the Breaking Bad finale was last night - fear not, thoughts on that are coming for
"Walter White Wednesday," but this is "Movie Monday," so tune back in Wednesday for thoughts on "Felina," which closed out Mr. White's Wild Ride.

This weekend, I took in two new releases - Don Jon (which explains the first part of this post's title) and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (which explains the second part).  It would be hard to find two more disparate movies, but that's part of what I do here.

I have a friend whose taste in movies often mirrors mine, but we disagree on Don Jon.  I'm not sure, but I suspect this might be one of those male/female divisions.  For me, this movie wanted to explore some interesting ideas and it started down that rabbit hole, but the film gets tripped up.  The premise is intriguing - a muscle-headed Jersey Shore type (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote and directed) likes sex, but prefers the unattainable perfection of porn.  (And there's a LOT of porn imagery in this movie - be prepared for a conversation if you take a younger teen to this one.  The language is profane, yet repetitive and attitudes towards women - well, the central character is essentially addicted to pornography [the original title was "Don Jon's Addiction"], so there you go)  He meets a hot girl (Scarlett Johansson) who has her own unrealistic ideas of what should happen in a relationship - in her case, that's been formed by a steady diet of Hollywood rom-coms.

As I said, intriguing.  My problem is that the characters are two-dimensional - to the point that, if I were Italian-American, I'd probably be a little peeved.  Jon's family is stereotypical enough to make me ask two questions - How did Jon pick up his "I like to clean" habits in that house where his mama does everything for his papa and what's the point in having a sister if she only gets one line, regardless of how insightful that line might be?  Johansson's character is manipulative and basically unlikable.  Julianne Moore shines in her role and I maintain that Gordon-Levitt is an actor/director to watch, but this played more like an extremely well-polished student film than anything more.  Other reviewers disagree with me on this one, but I say give it a pass.

The second film this weekend was Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.  As I've said before, sequels can be tricky.  The first movie was released in 2009 and was a success.  The film was fresh, creative, and had some good things to say to both its child and adult audiences.  Among them were some lovely messages about how news is an industry, how women are perceived within that industry, and the barriers that are often between us and our families.  (Plus, Neil Patrick Harris as a monkey.)

I wasn't sure about a sequel and, while I believe the first movie to be stronger, I have to say, this was just fun.  Then again, I have a weakness for puns and Cloudy 2 is loaded with them.  If the kids in the theater when I saw Cloudy 2 are any indication, kids will love the "foodimals" and adults will enjoy the serious jabs that are lobbed at Steve Jobs and a gorgeous nod to, of all people, Tom Waits.  (The original had a nod to Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," so . . .  (Plus, Neil Patrick Harris as a monkey.)  In both cases, Mark Mothersbaugh of long-ago Devo fame worked on the music.  Overall, a rental rather than a big-screen must-see, but fun.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 74

Whew! "Granite State" provided us with a bit of a breather between the nonstop, hold-your-breath action of "Ozymandias" and the sure to be action-packed "Felina" this Sunday.  Behold - there will be some spoilers in this post, but not until after the picture, so if you want to stay (like Jesse's last cook) 96% pure, just read until the pic, then stop.

First off - yay for Breaking Bad at the Emmys!  Anna Gunn took home the Best Actress in a Dramatic Series award and the show took home the Big Kahuna Prize for Best Dramatic Series.  Obviously, I'm pleased that the show won this very public acknowledgement of its quality, but I'm also delighted that Anna Gunn, who has faced some truly dark, nasty, mean, and downright misogynistic twaddle, is able to raise Emmy high and say, as only a winner can, "Go jump.  All of you."  (And by splitting the final season into two parts, Breaking Bad will be eligible for Emmy consideration again next year.  No doubt that had something to do with the decision to broadcast the final season in this way.)

Also - if you're behind in your Breaking Bad viewing, you can call in sick for the next few days (not that we here at Unfettered Brilliance advocate that sort of thing) and binge-watch on AMC.  Beginning tonight (Wednesday) at 8:00, the network is airing Breaking Bad from the beginning, nonstop.  That's 61 episodes of Breaking Bad, with the finale left to go.  I'm not sure I suggest actually live-watching that much of it - for one thing, sleep is good.  Second, this show gets seriously dark and at some point, you're going to need videos of kittens and baby otters to balance it out.

Speaking of balancing . . . "Granite State" after the picture.

So - "Granite State" explains to us how Walt got across the country to New Hampshire and what draws him back to the Land of Enchantment at the start of Season 5A in "Live Free or Die" (the state motto of New Hampshire, by the way).  What struck me most about this episode is that Walt really hasn't learned a thing.  Yes, he's feeling sorry for himself that he's stuck in the middle of nowhere in the New England winter and yes, cancer treatment in an isolated hunter's shack is uncomfortable, but . . . this is his choice.  He chose to run (Saul told him to face the music and take the burden off his family, remember, but noooo - Walt's gotta save his skin.) and, by so choosing, he chose to be alone. And he's headed back because Gretchen and Elliott publicly downplayed his contributions to the incredibly-successful Gray Matter.  You remember, the company Walt claims they stole from him, although G&E generously offered him a job and gold-plated health benefits that would have easily covered his cancer treatment.  Pride goeth before a firefight.

Just look at that.  Mr. "Everything I did, I did for my family" has lost it all.  He has to pay some stranger $10,000 for an hour of playing cards, his family has lost the house to the Feds (RICO took it as part of an "ongoing criminal activity"), Skyler's going by her maiden name, Junior is now officially "Flynn," and Walt can't even give his blood money to his family.  His loving son, who always believed that his dad hung the moon, angrily asks him why he's still even alive - the odds are good that "Felina" does not include a father-son pancake supper.

And Jesse.  Yikes.  Poor, beaten, brave, stupid Jesse.

There's gonna be a body count next week - and I'm not willing to speculate on who's going to be left standing.

That doesn't mean others aren't willing to guess!  Check out this site for 4 predictions about "Felina."  Also be sure to check out Ensley's take on "Granite State" over at his blog.

And this is just fun - 10 Ways to Get Ready for the End!

Lastly - it may be too late to enter the contest, but it's a great charity and c'mon - the video is worth 3 minutes of your time.  Trust me.

One to go.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 73

Holy.  Cow.

This week's episode is titled "Ozymandias," after the Shelley sonnet.  I mentioned the sonnet when Breaking Bad used it as a promotional piece with Bryan Cranston intoning the lines - click here for that - and the Wanna Cook? guide will have a brief discussion of it to go with the episode.  Spoilers aplenty.  Deal.

In what very well may be the absolute best cold open of the show, we see how far Walt has descended and just what he's lost - and our first image is of water coming to a boil.  The joy is gone and there are no exultant cheers of "Chemistry!  Science!  Yay!"  What began as a highly stupid, pissant criminal enterprise intended to create a nest egg for Walt's family (a loving, caring family, as the cold open points out) has vanished into the blank, bleak desert.  It vanished one lie at a time and the winds of change swept away the footprints so Walt can't even see where he began, although we know it was in this very place.  But the trackless desert has no memory.

Honestly, I've been reeling ever since I watched this one.  I've seen other amazing dramatic episodes of television that left me breathless, but "Ozymandias" is different.  It's more gut-wrenching, more horrifying, and if anyone remains convinced that Walt is somehow to be emulated and sympathized with - seek help.  Several diagnoses in the current version of the DSM apply and none of them are good.  Sure, his rant to Skyler very well may be his attempt to get her off the hook for her involvement, but so what?  That doesn't make up for a teenth of the bone-headed, petty, and just plain mean things he's done and said.  And nothing, nothing justifies that chilling line to Jesse regarding Jane.

Walt's lost. He's not noble, he's not heroic, he's a man whose choices have caused him to lose every single thing he once held as precious and valued. So he hooks up with Saul's guy out by the spillway with his one remaining barrel and makes tracks. In his wake are bodies, despair, cruelty, and blood.

I've often been amazed at how Breaking Bad ratchets up the tension and then keeps doing it!  It's like some sort of crazed Jack-in-the-Box that never quite manages to pop, instead going&going&going while your nerves fray under the tension.

So let's talk about Jack.  Not the one in the box; rather, let's talk about the one in the desert.  I'm not sure there's a better example of just how much control Walt doesn't have than his use of Jack.  Walt thinks he can tell Jack to "jump" and Jack will simply ask, "How high, Walt?"  Not happening.  Even Todd, who appeared to be a fairly dim bulb, turns out to have a strong streak of family loyalty to Uncle Jack, to the point of committing wholesale murder, enslavement, and just generally being a waste of human skin.  Walt has not just brushed up against evil, he made a deal - and shook on it.  Might as well of signed the contract in blood, Walt.  Preferably your own, but Walt gets squeamish that-a-way.

But I've got to give Walt points for one thing.  He raised a hell of a son, who I will no longer call "Junior."  He's Flynn all the way.  His world, the one that had Walt as its sun, was rocked and split and he didn't want to believe it.  But when Walt showed his true face, Flynn didn't hesitate - and the kid gets around on crutches!  Flynn chose his side - and it wasn't Walt's.

So Walt's in the wind.  Hank's in the ground, as in Gomez.  Jesse's chained like a beaten dog on a backyard run.  Todd's got help in the meth kitchen to up the purity in order to impress his heartless Lady Love, who probably won't like seeing Jesse beaten and enslaved, but hey, it's for the good of the brand.  Jack's rolling in stolen cash. Holly's safe at an ABQ firehouse.  Skyler and Marie are pulling together.  And Flynn became the man of the house.

Two to go.

For more, read my co-author's blog.  And also this one, which happens to be written by my good friend and editor.  Both posts brilliantly discuss this episode.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Dysfunctional Family

Luc Besson can count among his directing credits at least one amazing drama (The Professional) and one laugh-out-loud funny comedy (The Fifth Element).  Well, two out of three, as Meat Loaf might remind us, ain't bad.

The Family has several things going for it - a strong, strong cast of A-list actors (Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as the parents and Tommy Lee Jones as the weary FBI agent charged with keeping them alive and off the radar) and of up-and-comers (John D'Leo and Dianna Agron [Quinn on Glee] as the teen children).  The film begins as a dark comedy based on the premise of a mob family being relocated to a small village in Normandy and the fish-out-of-New-York-waters tale shows promise.  But the film later veers into much darker, serious territory and, for me, the swerve didn't work.  It was as if Besson was trying to smash together the zany antics of Fifth Element (and the strong musical score of that film) with the heart-wrenching bloodbath of The Professional.  Tricky at the best of times - and this isn't the best of times.

That's a shame, as the comedy bits really do work.  There's good chemistry between the actors (De Niro and Jones are especially fun to watch) and the unlikely chain of events that brings the family's location to the attention of the imprisoned, yet living comfortably, mob boss is fun to watch, as is a lengthy bit about a film society screening mix-up.  But overall, the film just doesn't work.

Maybe a rental.  Maybe.  And while you're at it, pick up a few other films - like The Professional and The Fifth Element.  And, just for fun, grab Stardust which features both Pfeiffer and De Niro.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 72

Breaking Bad doesn't usually do cliffhanger episodes, but the latest episode, "To'hajiilee" ended on a wooly-doozer.  As the final episodes come hurtling down the pike, it becomes more and more obvious that things will not end well - and not just for Walt.  There will be spoilers in this post, so please take that into consideration if you decide to read on.

First, my co-author, Ensley, has written brilliantly about this episode over at his blog and I suggest you check that out.  One of the best aspects of co-writing is the fact that we see different things when we watch and I think having the two perspectives makes for a stronger book - and Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad is coming along nicely.  We're really in the final 30-day push here, although there will be some loose ends to tie up (in a far less bloody fashion than Walt would probably employ) after the manuscript draft is submitted for these final eight episodes.  (OK - spoilers after the jump.)

We know that Jesse has been an avid student of Walt's (well, at least in the meth-making field; his high school chemistry work was apparently subpar) since the two first teamed up back in Season 1.  Turns out that Jesse wasn't just learning chemistry.  Having decided to turn sharply against Walt after discovering Walt's role in Brock's poisoning, Jesse is playing for keeps.  Back in "Rabid Dog," Jesse howled, "He can't keep getting away with it!" but later, having regained a sense of calm (and having come down from whatever chemical cocktail was dusted on that disc on the dashboard), he is resolved to hit Walt "where he really lives."

Interestingly, that's not Walt's family.  Jesse's not interested in going after Skyler, or Junior, or (God forbid) baby Holly.  No, Walt's the one who will stoop to injuring children.  Jesse knows that, despite all Walt's pious posturing about doing everything for the family, what truly matters to Walt is buried in seven barrels in the desert of the To'hajiilee Navajo Reservation.

Walt, who I have argued is the true "rabid dog," has loosed Todd's neo-Nazi Uncle Jack and crew on Jesse and Walt discovers that some things can't be taken back.  Make no mistake - this is Walt's doing and it's his fault.  Sure, yeah, he didn't mean for anything bad to happen.  That and a buck will get you a cup of diner coffee.  He set these wheels in motion and he's going to have to live with that.  And we know he lives (previous episodes have indicated that, going back to "Live Free or Die"), but I seriously doubt that goes for everyone else out in the Place with No Memory.

Three to go.

By the way - just yesterday, we got word that we could release the cover photo for Wanna Cook?  We're thrilled with the work ECW has been doing on behalf of the book so, to paraphrase Shelley (and Walt) "Look on our works, ye Mighty, and pre-order!"  (You can do that here!)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Back in 2000, a bouncer-turned-actor starred in a Little Movie That Could called Pitch Black.  Introducing a character known as Riddick and playing with classic themes such as our fear of the dark and fear of the unknown, Pitch Black succeeded well enough at the box office to spawn a sequel a few years later called The Chronicles of Riddick.  The larger budget (and Judi Dench!) didn't translate into a bigger and better story and the franchise seemed to be relegated to cult status.  Then came the Fast & Furious franchise and Vin Diesel had enough clout to start the ball rolling for a third Riddick film.  (It took some doing, too.  Diesel reportedly considered mortgaging his own house to raise the cash.)

Was Riddick worth it?

Probably.  It's a grim, anti-heroic tale and we seem to like our heroes conflicted and deep, deep into the gray areas of life these days.  There are some cliches that I wish had been avoided, but overall, it's a good science fiction thriller set on an incredibly inhospitable world that would never, ever reward softness or hesitation.  Riddick is set up as a basically good guy who does bad things only in order to survive.  (Hey, he even has a puppy!) There are solid performances throughout, especially by Diesel and Katee Sackhoff (late of Battlestar Galactica fame).  But here is also one of the big flaws.

The language throughout the movie is coarse and repetitive - to the point where I was marveling at the strain the script put on the "f-word" to serve as noun, verb, adjective, adverb and (just maybe) gerund.  Sackhoff's character is the only female and she is clearly established as tough-as-nails, capable, and not interested in men, despite her given name of "Dahl."  At one point, Diesel makes it clear that he's going to have sex with her, but only because she's asked him to, "sweet-like."  My radar went up immediately - surely they weren't going to go down the "all a lesbian needs is the right man" path, right?  To be fair, the later scene is just ambiguous enough that you could read it as "no sex, they just were bantering" but I don't think so.  I just hate that sort of thing - why is Dahl's sexuality an issue in the first place?  It's not a topic that comes up with any of the men-folk.  And Sackhoff is the only named character we see naked (or showering, for that matter.  Hygiene is apparently only an issue for female bounty hunters).  It's lazy and Riddick doesn't benefit from it.

In short, Riddick is not a bad film.  It's not great, but it's better than average.  The "R" rating is well deserved - lots of graphic violence and language that could blister the paint off a wall.  If you enjoy seeing rough justice and the ultimate survivor taking on an entire world bent on killing him, Riddick is for you.  Just don't take the kids.

By the way - I'm becoming a bit of a Diesel fan.  He comes across as a thoughtful actor in his approach to his craft - not what I was expecting, and shame on me.  Check out Find Me Guilty for an idea of the depth he can bring to a character.  But I still have major problems with the Dahl/Riddick dynamic here.