Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 49

Greetings, Breaking Bad fans! My co-author, Ensley F. Guffey, and I are at the end of a 30-day push to get cleaned-up versions of the episode guide parts of the book to the editors at ECW and I'm pleased to report that we're on track. But we're always said that Wanna Cook? is more than just a recap of Breaking Bad episodes, and this week I'm going to show you. This "Walter White Wednesday" is a sneak peek at the "Extra Ingredients" section. This portion, which is included with each episode, is where we take brief references made by characters and give them a deeper look.  Here's one from the Season 5 opener "Live Free or Die":

Towards the end of this episode, Walt insults Saul by telling him that he’s not Clarence Darrow. In fact, Walt sneers at his advertising tactics and says that Saul’s nothing but a “two-bit bus bench lawyer.” Ouch.

"Attorney for the Damned"
Clarence Darrow (1857 – 1938) was a firebrand attorney who was best known for defending teenage “thrill killers” Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in 1924 and for defending John T. Scopes in the famed “monkey trial” in Tennessee a year later. An ardent believer that everyone, no matter what crime had been committed or what sacred cow had being tipped, had the fundamental right to a zealous defense by a sharp, committed attorney, Darrow is a model to idealistic lawyers to this day.  (Also, in keeping with Breaking Bad's use of poetry to advance the plot, it's worth noting that Darrow's longtime law partner was the poet Edgar Lee Masters, who wrote Spoon River Anthology. He also wrote three poems about Darrow.)

Darrow was not without his faults, both personally (he conducted a lengthy affair) and professionally. In 1911, he defended the McNamara brothers in separate trials. The brothers, who were active in the early labor movement and had a violent streak, were accused of causing a fire that killed 21 people when an incompetently-built bomb went off early.  Although he managed to save the brothers from the death penalty, accusations that Darrow was involved in bribing jurors in both trials have strong evidence to support them and have dogged his reputation ever since. 

The Leopold and Loeb case involved two well-off young men who killed a 14-year-old neighbor for the sheer excitement of it. Nathan Leopold was 19-year-old law student at the University of Chicago and Richard Loeb was the youngest person to ever graduate from the University of Michigan – these were not underprivileged, downtrodden youth. Darrow, who was a vocal opponent of the death penalty, had an unusual and risky strategy – he convinced both Leopold and Loeb to plead guilty to avoid a jury trial and concentrated on saving the murderers from the death penalty. His closing argument lasted for 12 hours and neither murderer was sentenced to death. His closing argument was published and became a best-seller throughout several editions.  

In 1925, Darrow defended John T. Scopes on the charge of teaching the theory of evolution in a public educational institution in defiance of Tennessee law. (The trial is the basis, albeit a loose one, for the play Inherit the Wind.) Darrow lost that one, although Scopes’ conviction and $100 fine were reversed by the Tennessee Supreme Court a year later.

Darrow had a fascinating career beyond these two cases and he routinely chose unpopular clients and causes, causing his friend Lincoln Steffens to refer to him as “the attorney for the damned.” Years before the Civil Rights movement would gain steam, Darrow was unafraid to dive headlong into racially-charged cases, such as successfully defending blacks who were accused of murder when a lynch mob arrived to drive them from their home in an all-white neighborhood.

Darrow was an articulate, shrewd, passionate lawyer. However, strong evidence exists that Darrow’s handling of the McNamara cases involved shaky ethics. Despite that lapse – which is a doozy, should it ever be definitively proven – Walt’s right. Saul is no Darrow, although he certainly defends his clients and he can be articulate when circumstances warrant.
But Walt’s wrong in his other name-calling. Judging from Saul’s percentages, the “two-bit” appellation Walt throws out is downright unfair. Further, Darrow was known to take cases for the Constitutional principles behind them – Saul uses the Constitution as office wallpaper.

So there it is!  Don't forget - even with the push, Ensley's continuing to post "Meth Monday" over at his blog and there's "Walter White Wednesday" here!  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Two to Watch

Often, the focus of TV19's Meet Me at the Movies is new releases - not always, as Barry and I like to mix things up sometimes and talk about genre films, or particular actors or directors, or whatever else grabs our attention.  And since we're not big-time critics, but are instead trying to work with the TV19 staff to put together an interesting, entertaining show while also doing our "day jobs," we don't see every new release when it is a new release - there's just not enough time.

Therefore, this post is about two films - both very good ones, although for different reasons - that slipped past my radar when they were big-screen releases.  It's hard to believe, but I missed both of these at the time.

First up, the third appearance of Daniel Craig as the iconic British Secret Service agent 007 - Skyfall.  I must admit, I like Bond, but I'm not an obsessive fan and (in fact) I haven't seen all of the 23 films (I think my count's right, but that leaves off the laughably bad Double 007, which starred [no kidding] Sean's little brother Neil.  Don't seek it out - it's awful, although the MST3K boys have fun with it).  In Skyfall, we get a far more nuanced Bond than we've seen in the past - this James is older, tireder, and subject to the faults and follies of all aging flesh.  It's not a perfect movie - and the treatment of women is still problematic - but it's the Bond that's most captured my attention and it provides a nice bridge from one version of MI6 to the one that Bond viewers are more familiar with.  Javier Bardem (who apparently has a clause in his contracts that says if he's playing a villain, he must have snickeringly-bad hair to take the edge off the menace that he exudes) is a terrific psychopathic bad guy, as well as being the personification of chickens coming home to roost.  Dame Judi Dench is magnificent as the tough-as-nails M and I enjoyed the comic relief (Skyfall's pretty psychologically grim for a Bond tale) provided by Ben Whishaw as a young, hip Q.  (Whishaw was also wonderful in multiple roles in the criminally-underrated Cloud Atlas.)  Rent soon!

Second, the Denzel Washington drama Flight.  It's hard for me to recommend this movie enough.  It's a tough watch in places - Washington's character, "Whip" Whitaker, is a commercial airline pilot with a bucketload of problems.  He's also a really good pilot, which has gotten him through.  Int his one, it's the always-reliable John Goodman who provides the comic relief - and you need it.  I don't want to give too much away, but Flight is one of the most honest, devastating portrayals of the demons of addiction I've ever seen.  Ever wonder why addicts behave the way they do?  Well, the answer is "because they're addicts," but watching Flight shows the desperation-turned-to-anger of loved ones as well as the sheer selfishness displayed by the full-on addict.  I was especially touched by tiny details in this film - a heroin addict who calls her dealer, while muttering, "Please don't answer" and the trigger provided by sounds that most people don't even notice - like a refrigerator compressor kicking in.  Rent now!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 48

My co-author and I are in the midst of prepping the last eight episodes of Breaking Bad that have already aired for the Wanna Cook? project and it's given us an opportunity to carefully re-watch those episodes from last summer.  Things begin to jump out at you - Ensley has a fantastic write-up of the last episode, "Gliding Over All," for the latest installment of Meth Monday over at his blog and I encourage you to go check that out - Gilligan & Co. have created some wonderful, carefully-wrought episodes of television throughout the run of the show, but this one - well, it's a humdinger and not just for the final shot.

As I've discussed before, Breaking Bad is not only a critically-acclaimed show, it's got a faithful fanbase.  And in America, where there are fans, there's the opportunity to make a buck.  (Not that I'm against that sort of thing.  Buy our book!)  Celebrity endorsements made by actors, athletes, and musicians are common - and sometimes not too well-thought-through, as this link can attest.  So far, I haven't seen official endorsements by the Breaking Bad actors, although that's a fun line to speculate upon - Bryan Cranston for porkpie hats!  Anna Gunn for Albertson's deli take-out!  Giancarlo Esposito for KFC! - but others around the ABQ area are certainly doing their best to cash in on the show's popularity.

Submitted for your consideration:

1.  While in the greater Albuquerque area, why not take a Breaking Bad tour?  You can see the car wash and the "Crystal Palace," among other locations.  You can take a trolley tour (well, it's the off-season for another couple of weeks) of popular locations and even end with a complimentary drink at Los Pollos!  The city's Convention & Visitor's Bureau has gotten in on the act with a link to information about the show's filming in the area on its official Website - check it out here!

2.  Want a little more "Crystal Blue Persuasion"?  Try a yummy "Blue Sky" doughnut from Rebel Donuts!  Don't worry - the sugar is real, but the meth is fake!

There's something about these -
it's almost addicting!
3.  Still not satisfied?  Well, after the show finishes airing (which is bound to drive up the price), you can pay way too much for Jesse's 1984 Toyota Tercel, which was leased (that just makes me snicker - didn't want to out-and-out buy a $500 car) for filming.  There's no word on whether Jane's lipstick-stained cigarette is in the ashtray.

The ultimate collectible?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 47

As we begin gearing up for the final 8 episodes of Breaking Bad, there's been a lot (a LOT!) of speculation among the fan base regarding Walt's final outcome.  Face it, no one outside of those involved with the production company knows for sure (and they're not talking!  I suspect hazard pay).  There are two aspects of this that I find incredibly interesting.

The first is how invested people are in the show itself.  As a Whedon fan, I understand incredibly passionate fans and some shows attract that more than others.  Those shows, by the way, are often science fiction or fantasy shows - Firefly springs to mind.  You don't often see the same level of investment in reality-based shows - no one dresses up at Jack McCoy from Law & Order to go attend a fan convention, for instance.  (Something I once heard Elisabeth Rohm, who played Kate Lockley on Angel and Serena Southerlyn on Law & Order say at a fan convention.)

The second part that fascinates me is how many people are pulling for Walt to somehow come through all of this unscathed.  Now this, I must admit, I don't get - and I've tried.  Walt has done horrible, reprehensible things and, no matter how he attempts to justify his actions, he's steadily walked into darkness.  I happen to believe that redemption is possible for just about anybody, but it has to come with remorse, regret, and a determination to "go forth and sin no more."  This humility is simply not present in Walt.  I see no way out for him.  I think some fans see Walt as a rebel who's just had all he can take and want Walt to somehow stick it to the Man, but they ignore the awful, terrible, violent things Walt has done and the things he has set in motion and then stepped back and watched.

I've heard fans comment that they hope he goes out like Tony Montana in Scarface - and we've seen Walt watching the finale of the movie.  What I think people are missing is that the ending of the movie doesn't have Tony blasting away at his enemies and then waltzing away from the carnage.  We know Walt has justified everything as him simply "taking care of the family."  But that's the same family that has his wife flinching when he touches her, the kids packed off the the in-laws (who have made it clear that they like having the kids around), and secrets hidden under the very floorboards of the house.

He's done a lousy job of taking care of the family.

And he's got an M60 in the trunk of his car.  I don't see this ending well for Walt.

And don't forget to check out Ensley F. Guffey's ongoing "Meth Monday" posts over at his blog!  Also, you can always follow us on Twitter and we love getting comments!  Like us?  Tell us!  Think we're wrong?  Tell us - gently!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Before the Slippers Were Ruby . . .

I've liked Sam Raimi's work since Army of Darkness.  I thought the first two Spider-Man movies he helmed were quite wonderful and I've been looking forward to The Great and Powerful Oz since I first saw the trailer months ago.  (And yes, Bruce Campbell does have a quick cameo, hidden under layers of makeup as a palace guard.)

But I was also apprehensive.  So much - so very much - could go wrong here.  The Wizard of Oz is an undisputed cinematic masterpiece, from launching then 16-year-old Judy Garland into instant stardom, creating iconic characters through amazing casting - and on and on.  Oz was released in 1939, a year that saw the release of Gone with the Wind, Stagecoach, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - among other.  Truly, it was a banner year.

So how would Sam "Shop smart.  Shop S-Mart" do with this?

Quite well, I'm happy to report.

No, there are no ruby slippers here - Warner Brothers owns those rights, along with the character likenesses of the original Oz, so you won't see a chin mole of the Wicked Witch of the West - but there are some lovely nods to the original Oz as well as to L. Frank Baum's books.  (A few quick ones - the film begins in sepia for Kansas and goes to glorious, over-saturated color for Oz and also widens the screen ratio in Oz, Oz's assistant is named "Frank," the shoddy carnival he's eking out a living at is the "Baum Brothers Circus" and there are some shots of rainbows as Oz crashes into a river in the Land of Oz - he's somewhere over the rainbow, after all.)  At its heart, the original Oz is about discovering what you carry within you is all you have, but is also all you need - that sentiment is carried through here as well as Oz discovers that, while he might want greatness, there's a lot to be said for goodness.

Although you'll see the same actors twice, as characters you meet in Kansas come back in Oz.  Frank becomes Finley.  Annie becomes Glinda.  And Joey King's china doll will probably make you cry, or maybe that's just your allergies acting up.  Oh, and you'll be reminded that evil is bad, but good turned to evil is much, much - MUCH worse.

Don't try to stretch too hard for parallels with the original and you'll be fine - accept this as a stand-alone. Overall, Great and Powerful Oz is thoroughly enjoyable.  Don't wait for the DVD - see this one on the big screen.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 46

. . . which is all about Jesse James.

In "Hazard Pay," the third episode of the fifth and final season of Breaking Bad, Walt throws a fit when he realizes how much of his take of the cook is being whittled away by the business end of things.  Enterprises have multiple layers of expenses and he doesn't understand that any more than he understood the concept of "breakage" earlier in his budding career as a drug kingpin.  Although Walt's taking home a bigger piece of the pie for a smaller cook now that he's an owner instead of being an employee of Gus Fring's, he's not happy.  A three-way split with Jesse and Mike - that he could handle.  But it never occurred to him that, on top of supply costs, he'd have to pay his share of the costs of the drivers, the pest guys, lawyer fees and all that hazard pay to the mooks who are keeping their traps shut in return for being paid handsomely.  He got into this partnership with Mike (and against Mike's better judgment) with the understanding that Walt was the manufacturing end and Mike was the business end.

But Walt doesn't like how Mike's running his end.  Weary of dealing with this pissant who sees dollars but has no sense, Mike issues one of the best lines of any episode of Breaking Bad:  "Listen, Walter.  Just because you shot Jesse James, don't make you Jesse James."

It's true.  Outlaw and folk hero Jesse James was betrayed and murdered by Robert Ford.  Although Ford was a member of James' gang, he was not part of the inner circle and probably never advanced beyond the position of horse-holder.  Jesse James was the sort of outlaw who, had he lived today, would probably have had narcocorridos written about him and, as it was, folk songs were dedicated to James' exploits.  But he trusted the wrong man, even though he had a bad feeling about him, and he was murdered for making this mistake.  Ford had gotten himself in trouble with the law - he wasn't a very good outlaw - and cut a deal with the governor to kill James in return for a pardon for his own crimes.  Ford delivered - he did kill James, he did receive his pardon (but not the full amount of reward money), but things didn't go too well for him afterward.  He was ultimately murdered by another no-account, who wielded a double-barreled shotgun.  Good riddance to bad rubbish, you might say.

Will Walt turn into Robert Ford?  Or is he actually Jesse James?  Only time, and the final eight episodes, will tell - but I think Mike was on to something here.  Walt has transformed a considerable amount since Season 1 - he's a greedy killer who's more than willing to put innocents in danger and lay the blame at others' feet - but he's not the criminal mastermind he thinks he is.  He may know enough to roll a barrel instead of frog-walking it, but he doesn't know how to read the blowing winds and say "enough."

At the end of the day, he's still a horse-holder.

Now go over to my co-author's blog and read his latest "Meth Monday" in which he discusses just how depraved Walt has gotten by Season 5!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Coming Down with Something

Due to a touch of the late-winter bug (I won't bore you with details), I've gotten behind on reporting on my movie-going activities.  Thankfully, Meet Me at the Movies on TV19 is forgiving.  But we're back this week with a review on the new Bryan Singer directed Jack the Giant Slayer, which has the dubious honor of being dubbed 2013's first bomb.  Jack cost in the neighborhood of $200-plus million to make and market and its opening numbers were (to be polite) subpar.  So is it really that awful?  I have a rule that says I'll go see anything with Stanley Tucci (who plays the villain Roderick), so off I went.  And I can report . . . 

. . . it's not.

Mind you, I prefer my Slayers of the Buffy variety and Jack is trying a little too hard in places, but no, it's not  awful.  The story hangs together (even if it's feels a little long), you have some nice effects, and the actors are clearly having a very fine time.  So why isn't it a smashing success?

Think of it this way.  I have a sweet tooth - I'm pretty much a candyfreak.  While others want to discover how a creative barman can mix pomegranate juice with various alcohols, I'm way more curious about what it's like to dip the somewhat-exotic seeds in dark chocolate.  I'm a card-carrying member of the Lindt chocolate club, but I can also be quite happy in the dollar store by the movie candy.  But you can have too much of a good thing - European truffles and Sugar Babies and red hots and Now 'n' Laters and caramel creams - well, that's just Not Good.

That's the problem with Jack.  I don't know if Bryan Singer (who directed the flat-out brilliant Usual Suspects, as well as three X-Men movies and the upcoming Days of Future Past installment of that franchise) had Suits poking their noses into his production or what, but there's just too much.  It's like me in a candy store with low blood sugar and a credit card - everything seems like a good idea!  Not just one giant - a whole country of them! Not just one beanstalk - how about seven or so?  A farmboy and a princess who share the same taste in bedtime stories!  Magic beans!  Monks! (Monks?)  Don't get those beans wet - wait, are we in Gremlins all of a sudden? Political intrigue! A magic crown!

 Nicholas Hoult (who was Beast in Singer's X-Men: First Class and with his turn in Warm Bodies has become one of my Young Ones to Watch) is Jack and this "Farm Boy" is very much cut in the form of Westley from Princess Bride.  Well, if you're going to crib, pick the good ones, I say.  There's more than one touch of Princess Bride in Jack, including the use of a voice-over story as a framing device.  However, these giants are not nearly as gentle as Fezzik.  The giants are gross, slobbering monsters who have a low cunning, but not much in the way of actual intelligence.  I daresay kids would be entranced by the fun the movie has with scale - full-grown men come up to about knee-level on these giants and the beanstalk is fantastic - and yes, beanstalks work both ways as chlorophyll staircases.

Look, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Ian McShane (now with 75% less cussing than in Deadwood!) are all having so much fun chewing the scenery that they need to floss plywood from their molars.  Not much for the women-folk to do here  - and being a giant seems to be a male-only sort of thing.  Princess Isabelle wants to have adventures, but is basically a prop to be rescued and won.  (By the way - golden armor?  Really?  Face it, princess, it looks pretty, but won't stop a butter knife.)  Then again, not every fairy tale can be Brave.