Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 53

It's been announced now that the final 8 episodes of Breaking Bad will begin airing on August 11, which is about a month after I was expecting them to.  That means our tight deadline for the Wanna Cook? project has been adjusted a wee bit, but it's a tight deadline.  September/October will be interesting times, let me tell you!

AMC has also announced that it will begin airing Talking Bad, a live-action show which will follow each new episode of the final eight.  I'm interested to see how they approach that and how much in-depth analysis they give each episode.  It'll be a little tricky - you don't want to give anything away that will be covered in an upcoming episode (spoilers are not your friends!), but fans love little behind-the-scenes tidbits.

So what to do in the meantime?  I mean, August is a l-o-n-g way off.  Well, have you tried being in the world of Breaking Bad?  No?  Why not?

Here are seven different ways you can deepen your fandom.  Enjoy and be careful!  People are dangerous - regardless of which side of the law you're on.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Walter White Wednedsday 52

What a week it's been!  As regular readers of this blog know, I teach full-time and it is CRUNCH TIME at my college.  My time isn't just taken up right now with class prep and grading,; there have also been several other big (and I mean BIG) projects going on that had non-negotiable deadlines.  Add to that a great deal of uncertainty regarding the fall schedule and it's been stressful 'round here, although I still think I have it easier than just about any character on Breaking Bad.  (To put this in perspective, I can relate to Lydia far more right now than I am truly comfortable with.)  The final straw for me was discovering that my faithful computer was infested with malovolent gremlins.  While it's being exorcised, I have a loaner, which is very nice, but it's set up to run Windows 8, which I know nothing about and I find to be - what's the opposite of intuitive?  Oh, right - counterintuitive.

So I'm tapping this out on my iPad, with a varying degree of success.

Sometimes you just have to punt and this is one of those weeks.  So for Walter White Wednesday 52, let me just remark on the following:
  • Walt's 52d birthday didn't start so well.
  • Gilligan will fill us in on the details starting in July.
  • The Simpsons got on the Breaking Bad bandwagon this past week with a wonderful variation on the "couch gag."  My co-author wrote about it over on his blog for "Meth Monday" - go check that out with this link!

Back soon!

Monday, April 15, 2013


42 is the long-awaited biopic of Jack Roosevelt ("Jackie") Robinson who, by taking the field on opening day in 1947, broke the color barrier in American big-league baseball.  It's a big, feel-good story, so why was it such a hard movie to get made?  (Scripts about Robinson have been kicking around for nearly 20 years.  At one point, Spike Lee was going to direct with Denzel Washington in the Robinson role.  At another point, Robert Redford was considered for the Branch Rickey role.)  Unfortunately, I think this speaks to an unspoken flaw in the Hollywood system.  Movies are expensive and Hollywood wants receipts, not prestige "art house" pictures.  Would there be a "wide audience" (read that as "would whites go?") for a movie about Robinson?  (This may also explain Rickey's large role in 42 and the casting of such a known box-office force as Harrison Ford in that role.)

Based on this weekend's box-office returns - yep.  Grow a backbone, Hollywood.  Tell good stories, support them with a strong marketing campaign, and yes, people will buy tickets.  Sort of like baseball itself, now that I think about it.

Any movie that begins with "the following is based on a true story" makes me shiver a little and I know that events here have been compressed and altered to make a dramatic story even more dramatic, but I have to run past that - it's not Ken Burns' baseball documentary; it's a studio release.  If 42 makes anyone delve more deeply into the story of Robinson & Rickey, fine by me.  (And there's plenty to learn there - go explore the significance of the number 42 in baseball - I'll get you started with this link.)

What struck me about this film was how much things have changed.  42 - Robinson's jersey number and the only number retired from all of baseball - focuses on the lead-up to that fateful opening day, covering his signing by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager and president Branch Rickey, his training in the Montreal farm team, and his preseason travails with the Dodgers.  What I think gets so often lost in translation are the details - we boil things down to "Jackie Robinson, first major league African-American baseball player" and zoom on.  And while that statement is technically true, it is out by a mile when it comes to telling the whole story.

We've forgotten how bad things were.  We think open, overt, institutionalized racism only happened in the Deep South, so it's shocking to see the raw fear and hatred aimed at Robinson in cities such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.  And it's ugly.  (Character actor Alan Tudyk, who plays Phillies manager Ben Chapman made me squirm in my seat - and that exchange is historically accurate.)  A scene in which a young boy, thrilled to be at a big-league game with his daddy, listens to the catcalls being hurled at Robinson and then joins in will probably make you cringe.  We do teach our children and they're always watching.

The movie is strong, with snappy dialogue (the radio commentary by the Dodgers' announcer will make you smile at the turns of phrase like "this game's tighter than a new pair of shoes in the rain") and fantastic performances - Harrison Ford (who plays Branch Rickey) reminds us that he's got real acting chops under that Indiana Jones fedora and I predict a strong movie career for Chadwick Boseman, who plays Robinson (most of his work has been on stage or on television up to this point).  I don't think it's quite a perfect movie - it's a little old-fashioned in that our heroes have no flaws in this film; it's all about Robinson acting with quiet dignity until the yahoos come around and the cigar-chewing Rickey taking the heat, bolstered by his strong Methodist faith.

But you know what?

I like old-fashioned.  I like seeing people dress up to go to a ballgame.  I like seeing Florida rednecks show that not all white folks thought the system of segregation should go unchallenged.  I like occasionally corny dialogue (and I find myself suddenly a Pee Wee Reese fan).

You know, as the movie tells it, Dodgers manager Leo ("Nice guys finish last") Durocher was suspended for a year because he was "carrying on" with a married actress and the Catholic League didn't like that moral fault.  (There were also accusations of "Leo the Lip" running an illegal dice game - that's not covered in 42.)  They threatened Rickey that if he stuck with Durocher, he'd have to face a Catholic boycott of the Dodgers.  Rickey was a fine, morally upstanding man who wanted to break the color line because it was the right thing to do, but he was also a tough businessman who wanted to sell tickets and he didn't care who rooted for the Dodgers, provided they paid for their tickets.  So Leo, who once berated his own team by famously yelling, "I don't care if [Robinson] is yellow or black or if he has stripes like a zebra!  I'm the manager of this team and I say he plays!" gets suspended for a year while Ben Chapman, who yelled the most horrible racial slurs at Robinson was ignored until some of the quotes wound up in the papers, at which time he was told to knock it off and pose for a publicity photo with Robinson.

Yes.  Times have changed.

By the way, my favorite quote about Jackie Robinson isn't in 42.  Ford Frick, who was the president of the National League, learned about a plot by the St. Louis Cardinals to strike if Robinson took the field with the Dodgers.  Frick made it clear what would happen if the Cards went with that course of action:  "If you do this, you will be suspended from the League.  You will find that the friends you think you have int he press box will not support you, that you will be outcasts.  I do not care if half the league strikes.  Those who do it will encounter strict retribution.  They will be suspended, and I don't care if it wrecks the National League for five years.  This is the United States of America, and one citizen has as much right to play as another."

Baseball.  Gotta love it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 51

I have to admit, I'm a little crispy right now.  Between making a major deadline with the Wanna Cook? project (face it, if it's aired, we've written about it and our recaps, "did you notice?" and other extras have all gone through the first stage of line-editing to make the resulting work stronger and clearer) and several medium-to-large projects at work (April is indeed the cruelest month), I was concerned that I didn't have gas in the tank for "Walter White Wednesday" this week.

Really - what I want to do right now is go home, lock the door, and hunker under the covers for a few days - and that can't happen.  (See the aforementioned "medium-to-large projects at work" reference above.)

But then I came across THIS bit of news!

While remaining super tight-lipped about the final eight episodes, Vince Gilligan has said that Saul survives the end of Breaking Bad and a potential spin-off is in the very early stages!  Yep - Saul Goodman will not be at the receiving end of the heavy artillery we saw in Walt's trunk in "Live Free or Die."  As Gilligan puts it, "I like to think of Saul as a cockroach in the best possible way.  This is a guy who's going to survive while the rest of us have been nuked into annihilation.  He'll be the worst-dressed cockroach in the world."

Worst-dressed cockroach?  I'll let you decide!

Cockroach?  That's slander!  About 5 grand worth!

Damn, I love coffee with my shady justice!

C'mon - trust me!  I'm a LAWYER!

We can work this out!  Spinoff?  Prime time?
What's my percentage?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Better With Age

I was having a hard time figuring out how to link the three movies that are featured in this post and I finally concluded that what they all have in common is that they all deal with age, albeit in different ways.  So first up, we'll talk about an older movie that's gotten a facelift.  Then we'll talk about a new movie that deals with old age.  And we'll wrap up by talking about an old movie that's a must watch.

Let's begin, shall we?

First up, the 20th anniversary re-issue of Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. I saw this movie when it first came out and enjoyed it but I wasn't too sure about the re-release, since it's been retrofitted for 3D and readers of this blog know that, overall, I don't think too much of 3D and I especially don't have kind words for shoving new technology on films that weren't made with the tech in mind.  (I have exceptions to my rule - Life of Pi being chief among them, but it was designed with 3D in mind.)  I enjoyed the movie, although I didn't much care for the 3D.  I think it was done well - the film isn't noticeably darker, which is a common complaint with retrofitted 3D - but the story isn't made any stronger by it.  There's plenty to enjoy in Jurassic Park and any movie that manages the improbable feat of making a sex symbol out of Jeff Goldblum is to be admired. (And hey - Samuel L. Jackson before he became - well, Samuel L. Jackson.)  The science is a bit sloppy and the tech is nigh-laughable after 20 years (floppy disks? Wow.) but the dinosaurs are wonderful and the story will grab you if you let it.  Further, Jurassic Park is a big-screen movie that's not ashamed to look better on the big screen.  Go take the young 'uns who weren't around when it first hit the screens (and are old enough to handle the scares) and enjoy.

Next, a gem that probably slipped right by you.  The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel came out about a year ago in wide release, but it was a little art house movie that cameandwent in most places.  This is a "who's who" of esteemed British actors - Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, and Maggie Smith, among others - and tells the story of 7 Brits "of a certain age" who are all thrown together when they all decide, for their own reasons, to retire to a hotel in India.  (Finances are a big concern for most of them and India's far cheaper than England.)  The hotel turns out to not be as advertised.  It's a wonderful film - richly tender and visually stunning.  Yes, with all the horrible stories coming out of India lately, I'm not sure if this move would be a wise one by an elderly retiree, but it makes for a great movie.  Please check this one out.

Last, a classic from all the way back in 1919 that you need to see.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a magnificent example of a style called German Expressionism, but I don't want you to see it to tick a "must see" off your movie list (although it will let you do that).  Caligari is simply astonishing.  Keep in mind that this film was made just after the end of WWI.  On top of the devastation caused by that war - the first to utilize aerial combat and the widespread use of chemical warfare - the world had been stunned by the 1918 flu epidemic and was still in the grip of a mysterious disease known simply as "sleepy sickness."  It was a scary, scary time. Caligari plays on those fears - mind control, insanity, murder are all crucial parts of the story, which also reinforces the idea that you ought to steer clear of traveling carnivals.  What is truly extraordinary about Caligari, however, is not the plot - it's the look of the thing, which is deeply fascinating. There's not a square angle or a plumb line in the entire film - and it's deliberate.  It's not realistic at all, but it's an unparalleled visual statement of what an unhinged mind might see.  Amazing.  Get it now.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 50

Wow!  50 posts about Breaking Bad!  I guess that means I'm right where everything started, with Walt's 50th birthday - and so much has changed from that point.

For this post, I want to both give you an update on the progress of Wanna Cook? and also talk about one of the sorrows of writing.  Word counts.  That leads to the second sorrow - having to cut.

To begin with, if you haven't read my co-author's blog post this week, go there now.  He writes about our intrepid, cheery, and horseshoe-tough editor who well deserves praise built up to the skies.  Really - authors write (and we write a lot!) and editors are the ones who look at the draft critically and kindly advise authors on how to trim, cut, hack, and slash to make the writing stronger, clearer, and more able to leap tall buildings in a single paragraph.  (The image that helps me with this is - as an author, I'm like that client who goes to the accountant with a shoebox full of receipts.  The editor is the accountant who sighs, patiently sorts through it all, separating the wheat from the chaff [what do you mean, I can't claim the dog as a dependent?], and voila! order is restored.)  You don't even realize the writing tics you have until someone else takes a sweep through it - for instance, it took an editor looking at some of my earlier work for me to realize that I am, indeed, the Queen of Semicolons.

At any rate, we all survived the Great 30 Day Publication Push and Seasons 1 - 4 are in the copy editing stage (wording is settled; now let's look at formatting and punctuation - hey, take out that bit in italics.  Should that be an em-dash? Why's there a comma over there? - that sort of thing) and Season 5A is in the line editing stage (we've turned in a solid (not rough) draft and are waiting for our editor's knives to fillet it into shape).  We also have a timetable for the rest - we have some extras (some short, some long) to sprinkle throughout the text and Season 5B doesn't air until summer, so we needed to figure out what needed to be turned in when so Wanna Cook? can be published - in both English and German - on schedule.  And those jokes about how Germans like schedules?  Not all that funny.  True, but not too ha-ha when you're looking at your calendar, muttering, "They want it when?"

All of which brings me to the downside.  Books have word counts.  Books that have their translation rights sold before they are written have very strict word counts.  So that means that sometimes, with fingers a-trembling and eyes a-misting, you have to cut.  You have to cut good stuff that you labored over and that you think is valuable because you need the space and other stuff is even better.  With us, that has usually meant cutting stuff that's neat, but is more of a side item instead of directly relating to the show.

Still, you hate to see it go.  Fortunately, I have this blog, so I get to resurrect things from time to time!  Remember the Season 5 episode "Dead Freight"?  Of course you do - it's the one that begins with the kid on the dirt-bike who stops to collect a tarantula in the desert.  Turns out tarantulas are quite interesting creatures, but we couldn't keep everything in that section.  So here's a bit on tarantulas and their hydraulic legs, which had to be cut for length, but which I still find to be pretty cool.

Tarantulas are masterpieces of engineering, relying on a sort of hydraulic system to move their legs. Tarantulas are arthropods and they have an exoskeleton to protect their delicate innards. They also have simplified muscle connections compared to humans. We humans rely on opposing sets of muscles to move our limbs – for example, in order to raise our arm, our biceps muscle contracts and our triceps relaxes, and to lower it, the biceps relaxes and the triceps contracts. Spiders have flexor muscles to pull their legs in, but don’t have opposing extensor muscles to push the legs back out. This is why a dead spider's legs curl up - there's nothing to push them out. So tarantulas extend their legs by a system that can be compared to a rudimentary hydraulic system.  Blood is forced into the legs to extend them, much like pumping hydraulic fluid into cylinders to lift the bed of a dump truck. Then the flexor muscles work to pull the legs back in.  It's a lot for a spider-brain to keep straight, yet they manage - at least until some kid with an empty mayonnaise jar comes along and scoops them up.   

This probably guarantees that the next time I see a tarantula in a zoo exhibit, I'll probably make mechanical leg-extending noises and then be asked to leave.