Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 62

Every week brings us closer, Breaking Bad fans!  So many unanswered questions, so many ways for things to go wrong for Walt . . .

This Saturday is the Joss in June conference that Ensley and I have been working on for the better part of a year (yes, while also working incredibly hard on Wanna Cook?), so you'll understand if this is a short post.  Joss in June is shaping up to be a great conference, but there are a number of details to tend to before registration begins, so our days - and our lists! - have been long as of late.

But there are a couple of items I want to bring to your attention in this post.  First, Hank may be the brewmaster, but the official Breaking Bad beer will be named for Walt.  Typical, don't you think?  Yes, it's true.  "Heisenberg's Dark" (no, it's not blue) has a limited distribution area, but if you're in the Albuquerque area, you'll be able to pick up a six-pack of the intensely dark, internally-conflicted brew.  And if you don't, it'll probably track you down and poison you.

Also, why not show the world you're a Breaking Bad fan?  AMC has made available the "Breaking Bad Name Lab" which will render your name in the style of the credits.  You can then post your own personal periodic table to Facebook or Twitter, and even send an animated GIF to your friends.  Or your enemies, if want them to say your name.

That's it for this edition of "Walter White Wednesday" - as I said, I know it's short, but hey! - it's full of quality work, so that has to count for something!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Yes, Yes, Yes!

During the summer months, studios release the films they fervently hope will be major blockbusters.  For the moviegoing public, this is the season of (as we say here in the South) high cotton, as every week there's something new to excite our jaded senses; something advertised with the sounding of trumpets as being Bigger, Better, Louder, and More!  (More what is a question that should be asked, but I digress.)

But every now and then, if you look diligently and patiently and don't mistake quiet for dullness, you'll find a small and glittering gem, so sure of its worth that it doesn't require the circus parade of whizbangwow!  Readers, I am pleased to report that I have found that summer gem and it is Joss Whedon's adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing.  It's a small movie, not available in every market, so you'll probably have to search a little.  Don't bother, I hear some of you saying.  It's Shakespeare?? I hate that guy - he talks funny and I never understand him.  Isn't something with explosions or aliens or car chases or hangovers playing anywhere?  Readers, lend me your ears.  Let me tell you why it's worth the effort.

First off, Shakespeare is only dull and boring if you approach it the way many of us were first exposed to it in high school - by silently reading the script and having our eyes dart down the page to figure out what a "cankerblossom" is.  Tsk, tsk.  It's the worst possible way to read Shakespeare (or any play, for that matter).  But you don't have to read the whole thing out loud - let trained actors do the heavy lifting for you.  When done properly, Shakespeare's language dances and twirls and delights in itself.

Second, back in the 1930s, American cinema had a heyday with a particular kind of romantic comedy known as the "screwball comedy."  Among the particular elements of the screwball comedy are two lovers who can't abide each other, a strong and independent female lead, quick-paced dialogue, an exploration of social norms, and highly exaggerated circumstances.  Fun movies - and it can be argued that Much Ado started the whole screwball comedy genre.  Beatrice and Benedick can't stand each other, but they're irresistibly attracted to each other.  (Hero and Claudio's romance is supposed to be the main storyline, but they just can't compete with these two, whose wit and banter and heat can blister the paint off a wall.)

Whedon has long had a liking for Shakespeare and he's been known to host informal readings at his house.  He shot Much Ado in 12 days at his house, in between principal photography on The Avengers and post-production work on that monster-budget film.  This is a "micro-budget" film - in fact, it's been said that the total budget of Much Ado was less than the catering budget on Avengers.  Like the best of the screwball comedies, this Much Ado is filmed in sharp black-and-white.  Whedon assembled a cast of actors he's worked with before and the results sparkle.  The incandescent Amy Acker (Beatrice) and the highly magnetic Alexis Denisof (Benedick) get to show off their comedic chops, while Nathan Fillion (Dogberry) and Tom Lenk (Verges) nearly steal the show as bumbling, nearly incoherent cops.  I could go on and on, but I won't.  Go see for yourself.

Of course the plot isn't realistic - when Shakespeare was writing, realism in drama was several centuries in the future.  (Although the very first scene of the movie provides a reason for why Beatrice and Benedick are so strained around each other.)  You know what else?  People didn't go around in Shakespeare's time speaking in iambic pentameter, either.  Let it go.  Quit being so hip and cynical and just enjoy watching overheard conversations lead to the the unfolding of True Love.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 61

You know the final eight episodes are getting closer - AMC has announced its "encore so you can catch up and get your friends hooked" schedule!  Beginning this Friday (June 21) at midnight, multiple episodes of Breaking Bad will air - from the initial pilot episode all the way through the revelations of "Gliding Over All" where we left off back in 2012.  It really is a perfect time to refresh your memory and share good times (and bloody mayhem) with friends, so take advantage of this opportunity!

Here, far from any Los Pollos Hermanos franchise, my co-author has explained where we are with book-project-writing.  While every episode includes "extra" material, there were half a dozen items that we just couldn't cut down to a couple of hundred words (which is the average length of what we're calling the "short extras").  So rather than slice-and-dice them, we're having these in the book as "long extras."  (Cunning name, don't you think?)  Each will be essay length (around 1500 - 2000 words), which lets us get into more depth.  Think of it like this - the short extras are neat little tidbits to impress folks with, sort of "did you know" types of things, while the long extras are meant to get you really thinking about the subject.  So over the next two weeks we need to polish those up and get them to our Eagle-Eyed Editor.

While we're up to our white-out with those tasks, here's something to keep you occupied.  Want to support one of the best of good causes?  Want to go to the Los Angeles premiere of the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad?  Want to go hang out at the premiere with Bryan Cranston?  Want to arrive in a freaking' RV?  Then AMC has the contest for you!  Check out the details and know that, even if you don't win the big prize, you're helping the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and that's a Good Thing, no matter what.

Seriously.  Do good works.  Do it in the (un)name of that poor kid in "Peekaboo." 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Man of Steel, Ear of Tin

Man of Steel hit theaters on Flag Day, which is appropriate for this most American of superheroes.  Seriously, if there's a character who most embodies the idea of American exceptionalism, it's the Last Son of Krypton, whose story is that of countless immigrants Writ Large.  Fleeing a home torn apart by chaos, he arrives on these shores (okay, Kansas cornfields) not even knowing the language and, through raw pluck, makes good.  C'mon, who doesn't respond to that?  Zack Snyder directed the film, based on a story by both David Goyer and Christopher Nolan.  They all get credit, which means they also all share responsibility.  And let me say up front - there's good stuff in here.  Man of Steel is a good superhero movie.  Unfortunately, it's not a good Superman movie.

How can that be?

Look, Superman's hard to get right.  He's just so much - better - than we are.  Name a talent, he's got it.  Name a weakness, and he doesn't.  He belongs to a simpler, less cynical age - even his costume is made of bright, primary colors.  (Notably toned down in this film.)  The character has a fascinating history - and the fate of his creators Siegel and Shuster is a cautionary tale in its own right - and, with 75 years of backstory for Superman, Man of Steel had a lot of material to pick from.

But you have to pick.  Man of Steel can't quite decide what story it wants to tell and therefore, it tries to tell bits and pieces of too many.  While I quite enjoyed large chunks of it, the movie didn't satisfy me.  It's cotton candy trying to be a Sunday dinner and it confuses length with quality.  You have some fine casting (Michael Shannon as Zod, especially) and some memorable scenes, but you also have sizable internal inconsistencies in the story, some seriously clunky dialogue and a basic misunderstanding of who Superman is at the core - and that just won't do.

The best part of the Superman character isn't the powers.  It's the hope he provides - that the human race is indeed fallible and error-ridden, but that we have tremendous potential; that we are, in fact, worth saving.  In Man of Steel, there's a wonderful scene featuring Perry ("Great Caesar's Ghost!") White and Daily Planet reporter Steve Lombard staying with and trying to rescue a trapped Jenny Olsen.  It'd be simpler and probably smarter for White and Lombard to flee the carnage, but they stay and try to help.  Superman's nowhere around.  Actually, that's not quite true - he's partially responsible for the collapsed buildings that are crushing the trapped Jenny into cub-reporter-jelly.  See, Man of Steel is a bit bloated time-wise, in part because Snyder opted to keep in lengthy fight scenes that are fun to watch at first, but become repetitive and are conducted by two super-beings with no regard for the millions of humans who call Metropolis home.  From Zod, we get that point of view, but Superman should have the sense to take the fight away from a crowded urban area.

Also - Superman doesn't kill.  That's a constant and don't mess with that.  Don't even try to argue this point with me - it's not justified in the film.  I think the Nolan crew figured that they had to go dark, and you don't get much darker than that.  They are wrong.

In a way, I sympathize with Snyder/Goyer/Nolan's problem.  There's so much to choose from - Superman as Moses in a space-reed basket, Superman as Christ figure (framed by stained glass at one point), Superman as confused kid, Superman as bull elephant, battling for supremacy while totally ignoring the devastation his efforts are causing, Superman as product placement (Sears?  Really?  Although the Lexcorp logo and the Wayne Enterprises satellite were nice touches), Superman as Nietzschean "ubermensch," but it seems as if at some point, they threw up their hands and said, "There's no way to tie this all together.  Just blow stuff up.  And use handheld cameras, so it's shaky enough that no one really notices the plot holes because we've made the audience queasy."

That's sloppy storytelling.  And even with a budget of well over $200 million, it's a cheap shot.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 60

Two months to go!  That's right - still sixty days until we begin the final journey with Walt, Skyler, Jesse, Hank, Saul, and the rest of the Breaking Bad crew.  There are a lot of unanswered questions at this point and a lot of loose ends for Gilligan to tie into neat sheepshanks in eight episodes.  Among them:

  • Is Walt really out of the meth biz?
  • With Hank's light-bulb moment at the end of Season 5A - how's the rest of that dinner party go?
  • Does Todd still have the spider jar - the one with Drew Sharp's (aka the kid on the dirt bike) prints all over it?
  • Will Jesse have another highly uncomfortable dinner with the fightin' Whites?
  • How's Walt wind up in a Denny's buying an extremely serious gun to go with his birthday bacon?
  • Will the silverfish eat the pallet of money?

Much to answer, indeed.

Meanwhile, Breaking Bad won the Broadcast Television Journalists Association Critics' Choice Award for Best Drama last night (well, technically it was a tied with Game of Thrones), and Bryan Cranston won the award for Best Actor in a Drama, beating out a strong field that included Damian Lewis (Homeland), Timothy Olyphant (Justified), Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), and Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead).  It was his second win in a row.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Two to Consider

I've recently seen two new-release movies that are worth talking about, although for different reasons.  First, I'll discuss the new Will Smith vehicle After Earth and then I'll discuss the new magician-sting flick Now You See Me.

After Earth has a lot riding on it.  It's a father-son journey-to-discovery science-fiction picture and that's a lot of hyphens to cover.  The movie stars both Will Smith as the heroic-to-a-fault father who can't seem to connect with his teenage trying-so-hard-to-impress-Dad son, played by his real life son, Jaden Smith.  It's directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who's got a few things to prove.  While Shyamalan's career had a meteoric beginning, his reliance on improbably plot twists soon hamstrung his work, and his last few movies have been both critical and box-office flops.  No wonder his involvement in this picture has been downplayed.  Also, it's become quite fashionable to bash the Smith family, which seems to me to be nothing more than people taking cheap shots.  All that said, I thought After Earth was a strictly "okay" movie.  There's nothing especially awful about it, but it never rises beyond pedestrian science-fiction, either.  There are some nice moments and there are some sizable plot holes.  Worse, no one really seems to be having any fun - filmmaking is work and here, it seems that everyone's just clocking in. I suspect that Shyamalan (who's working from a Will Smith story) decided to play it super-safe on this one, perhaps seeing After Earth as a babystep back into the limelight. I though the movie had some interesting father-son moments and it's hard to go wrong using Joseph Campbell's concept of the hero's journey as a template.  However, After Earth is content to play it safe and therefore, the movie never moves beyond being a rental.

Now You See Meon the other hand, is a different sort of trick.  Boasting an incredible cast (you've seen many of these folks before and the one who's relatively new, Isla Fisher, was last seen as the frowsy mistress in Great Gastsby and is totally different here!) and an intricate plot, this is a film that delights in its mysteries.  It's true - they flat-out tell you "the closer you look, the easier it is to fool you" and they're not lying on that score.  Magicians and illusionists are fascinating creatures - we know that we're marks, we know that what we're seeing isn't real, yet we love being taken in anyway.  Now You See Me toys with us and we love it for that.  It's a fun ride, dazzling and - well, magical.  Go see it.  Try to figure out what's coming.  Even when they explain it, you won't believe it could work.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 59

As viewers of Breaking Bad know, we're in a holding pattern right now, eagerly awaiting the final eight episodes.  Speculation runs rampant - who will survive?  Who won't?  How?

My capable and intrepid co-author has written about the delay in airing the last half of Season 5 and it's well worth a read - click the link here to go there!  

We've gotten some exciting news about the Wanna Cook? project in the form of mock-ups of the book's cover.  I'm not going to post those here; it's early for that, but it makes me realize just how far the project's come in the last few months.  While it's quiet here in terms of working on the episodes, there are some other bits that get my attention during this dry spell - items that I think are going to make the final version stand out and be something that you (and your friends!) want to have.  Honestly, this book goes way beyond a simple recap or episode guide.

And remember to mark your calendars for August 11.  After all . . .