Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 66

Ohboyohboyohboy!!   The beginning of the end is barely ten days away!  To further ramp up the excitement, AMC has released this teaser:

Yes, that's Bryan Cranston - Mr. Walter "Heisenberg" White his own bad self - beautifully reciting Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias," a sonnet that speaks to the fact that Time defeats all comers, sooner or later.  Just look at the imagery used in the teaser - there's the unflinching desert, the house, the RV, and yes, the hat.  Will Walter White's empire pass away, unnoticed and unlamented by the timeless crags and sands of the desert?

We'll find out soon, but this doesn't look good for Walt.  Then again, poetry's never been good for Walt, has it?

The text of the poem is worth contemplating:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"  Definitely not sunshine and puppies for Walt.  But who else goes down with him?  And how?

Tune in beginning August 11 to find out!

Sunday, July 28, 2013


OK - let's get some disclosure out of the way.

Like many kids, I had my stash of age-appropriate comics (Archie, Richie Rich, Little Lulu) when I was a kid.  I outgrew those and moved on to Grown-Up Things, oblivious to some truly magnificent storytelling that was taking place panel by panel.  Then, through some personal dark days that need not be recounted here, I found myself in my mid-twenties angry, disillusioned, frustrated, and confused.  And I found myself with a pack of X-Men comics in my hands.

Serendipity isn't always sunbeams and flowers and at a turbulent time of my life, those misunderstood mutants threw me a lifeline.*  The names Lee (Stan and Jim), Claremont, and Byrne are ones I cherish and yes, I have a deep, abiding passion for Marvel - hence my anger at how badly Disney muffed Iron Man 3.  Yes, there are too many crossovers and alternate timelines give me indigestion.  But I will forgive much due to Claremont and Anderson's God Loves, Man Kills.

So you can see that when I go to see an X-Men movie, it's a serious thing.  The Wolverine has hit theaters and I went with my usual trepidation - I want it to be great; I fear it won't.

Actually, Wolverine isn't that bad.  Let me say upfront - it got that PG-13 rating for a reason and I'm continually gobsmacked-amazed at how many clueless parents take 6 year olds to these sorts of movies.  I suspect it's a "Well, it's based on a comic book, so how bad can it be?" attitude.  To these parents, let me just say this:  If they ever make a movie based on Ennis & Dillon's Preacher, don't take the kiddies.

Wolverine has several flaws.  Aside from some sizable historical inaccuracies and plot holes (generally speaking, if you're trying to not let people know where you are, it's a good idea to not mix with the locals), Wolverine has some rather good fight/action sequences.  It is Comic-Book Land, so I have to grant some latitude in these scenes.  And Rila Fukishima, who plays Yukio, is a breakout.  She comes across as a sharp-edged pixie, just brimming with energy and thrumming with righteous anger, but purists are going to resent the way her character is altered from the comics - and that's not the only alteration.  Some changes I can let slide, but some I can't.  Look, one of the lovely aspects to the Wolverine character has always been his depth, which includes proficiency in Japanese and a high level of comfort with Japanese customs and culture.  That's lacking here and the movie suffers for it.  Instead, we get an extremely-buff Hugh Jackman doing a Wolverine that we've seen before.  He's prickly, heals mutant-fast, has a hair trigger on those claws, and can fight really, really well.  That's great, but it's nothing new.  When I discovered that the filmmakers were apparently basing the film on the 1982 miniseries Wolverine by Claremont and Frank Miller (yes, that Frank Miller), I was excited and the "coming soon" poster above had me giggly with delight of what might be.  Unfortunately, the source material is as mutated as Wolverine's claws.  In short, Wolverine is a good movie, but it had a chance to be better than that; to give viewers something new about the character.  Instead, we get two hours of good stuff that we've seen before.  Rental.

By the way, if you're interested, try this list for well-done explorations of everyone's favorite Canadian mutant.  (No, it's not Anne Murray.)  I was also intrigued by this list of films that the director, James Mangold, claims influenced his approach to the film.

Just for fun, since Jackman's an accomplished song&dance man . . .

* Not too long thereafter, I was introduced to Gaiman's Sandman and Spiegelman's Maus.  Never attempt to argue with my position that comics can be literary, gorgeous, and game-changing.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 65

It's getting closer and closer and closer . . .

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that by "it," I mean the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad.  The new (and final!) episodes will begin airing on August 11 and I can't quite decide if I'm super-excited about that, the way a kid is as their birthday approaches, or if I'm in mortal dread of it, like a coed huddled under a staircase who hears a scratch at the door in a particularly-dumb horror movie.  Probably the first, but possibly the second.

Can't wait to find out more?  Check out this link then - but don't come crying if you get spoiled!  Gilligan & Co. are being very secretive, but this story has a few teasers to get you guessing.

Also, a show called Talking Bad, hosted by Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick (who's been hosting a similar show following Walking Dead called [that's right] Talking Dead for AMC), will follow each new episode.  This link tells you more about that, as well as containing a nifty recap trailer that was unveiled at the recent San Diego Comic-Con.  Heck, I'll include the trailer here - good stuff to get you caught up!!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Mary-Louise Parker Double Feature!

Now there's a title I never expected to write!  Mary-Louise Parker has had a lengthy career, dating back to the soap opera Ryan's Hope when she was just a teenager and she's best known for her work on the Showtime series Weeds.  Her movie career often gets overlooked, but she's got a respectable filmography. Still, I didn't expect to her in two major releases over the same weekend, but life's a funny thing.  In 2010, she played Sarah Ross in Red, which became an unlikely hit.  Since Hollywood loves a sequel, she reprised the role in Red 2 which has recently hit theaters.  Both films are great fun and you don't need to see the first one to enjoy the second (although I would recommend it - you'll understand a few jokes more if you have seen the original Red).  The humor in Red (which stands for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous") hinges on the premise that it's hard for a spy to quietly retire.  (In fact, you might wind up on "ICE," a nifty acronym for "Incarcerate, Cannot Execute.")  In addition to Parker, who plays the wide-eyed not-quite-innocent, you have Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, and the incomparable Helen Mirren.  It's smart to use an ensemble for this movie - Willis doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting a la Die Hard Umpteen and it's great fun to see these actors, who have honed their craft and timing over decades, tackle these roles with such gusto.  The addition of Korean martial-arts star Byung-hun Lee may have been done as an "easy in" to the ever-more-important Asian market, but it also gives rise to some very energetic fight scenes.  Red 2 is a fun, visually-interesting ensemble action-adventure piece that takes the audience to Paris, London, Moscow, etc. in a very James Bond-ish tale of Cold War weapons, trickery, and shifting allegiances.  Who can you trust?  And should you take relationship advice from a guy who always carries a stick of dynamite in case of emergencies?  Questions that are worth pondering.  Red 2 - Fun, but could be a rental.

Mary-Louise Parker is also a major cast member in the newly-released action flick R.I.P.D. which stars Ryan Reynolds as a recently-deceased cop learning the afterlife ropes from a grizzled Jeff Bridges.  As a member of the "Rest in Peace Department," these cops bring in "bad souls" who won't move on to Judgment.  Now, after The Big Lebowski and Crazy Heart, I'll go see Jeff Bridges in just about anything, and hey, this was a fun one.  It's not great, but there are some good lines and visual gags (turns out that the living can see the R.I.P.D. cops, but we don't see them as they are) and there are worse ways to spend a hot, humid afternoon.  But in the interest of honesty, it's a rental.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Villains, Scoundrels, & Spirits

I've gotten a bit behind in my new movie posts, so this is Part 1 of a two-parter post.  Sorry for getting so far behind, but summer is the time when movies come out fast and thick.  Here, I'm going to discuss three July movies - Despicable Me 2, The Lone Ranger, and The Conjuring - then in the second part, I'll talk about Red 2 and R.I.P.D. (the Mary-Louise Parker double feature).

Despicable Me 2 is, as the title would indicate, the follow up to 2010's Despicable Me.  Steve Carell is back as Gru, the now-retired villain whose soft side was activated by three adorable moppets named Margo, Edith, and Agnes.  It's a fun movie and it comes in at a tidy 98 minutes, making it kid-length.  The minions nearly steal the show, which centers around Gru using his villainous thinking to smoke out a villain who is definitely not reformed.  There's enough here to keep the attention of kids and adults alike although, as is true of most sequels, the second time around, things don't feel quite as fresh and shiny-new.  Still, it was a fun romp and I now want a wide-brimmed hat that doubles as an edible guacamole tray.

Going to see The Lone Ranger was tricky.  While I try hard to stay review-free, word of mouth on this one was nearly devastating.  Listening to the chatter, you'd be convinced that this was the Movie That Would Kill Hollywood.  There was incredulity that Johnny Depp had been tapped to play Tonto and there was much disdain aimed at the stereotypical "ugh, me go now" dialogue.  I'd heard about the framing device of Depp's Tonto being an exhibit in a 1930s Wild West show, which seemed to me to be the height of insensitivity.  So it's safe to say I didn't go into this one with a light and joyful heart.

Yet that's how I left the theatre.  I suspect many folks missed several points here.  Lone Ranger was low-hanging fruit - this was going to be one that was easy to make fun of; we just don't like our heroes unconflicted these days and the white hat/black hat Western is a little too pat for our cynical time, which is a shame.  You know what?  I liked this movie and I feel a little defensive about that.  Yes, Tonto does have stereotypical elements to his character, but he's also the cleverest person in the movie.  (Silver the horse is his own special creation and is not a "person," so he's out of the equation.)  Also, Tonto is far from the only stereotype in the movie - you've got the Heartless Railroad Baron, the Naive Yet Honest-to-the-Core Lawman, the Protective Big Brother, the Plucky Wife, the Traitorous Ex-Friend, and yes, the Hooker-with-a-Heart-of-Gold.  This is a fun popcorn movie.  There's humor and love and honor and daring chase scenes that are deliciously over the top.  Honestly, I don't get the dismissive hate for this one.  I say check your realism hat at the door and just roll with it.

The Conjuring is a haunted-house movie.  Supposedly based on "actual events" (a phrase that really has no meaning after Hollywood gets done with those events), The Conjuring features a family down on their luck who buy a house at a bank auction - apparently sight unseen, judging from their surprise at locating the furnace - and move in with their five daughters.  Strange things begin happening immediately.  (Note:  When your dog doesn't want to cross the threshold of the house, begin asking questions.)  Spooky occurrences escalate and finally, the Warrens are called in.  The Warrens are an actual couple of 1970s ghost-hunters who would make their fame and fortune about a year after the events depicted in The Conjuring in the now-thoroughly-debunked Amityville Horror case.  Look, it's a fun movie, despite the fact that the people act like morons.  (Matches?  Really?)  It's also a strangely conservative, right-wing horror flick and one in which women do not come off that well.  All the trouble stems from weak women, although maternal love can be a force of great strength.  The Christian faith will save the day, even in a house occupied by unbaptized believers, who (of course) cannot save themselves.  (Just an aside - I really wanted Buffy to show up at the Warren house and question their habit of keeping a large room full of objects they consider cursed, possessed, and/or just flat-out creepy in a house with a young, impressionable daughter.  Deadbolts might be indicated.  Just saying.)

Honestly, the best part of The Conjuring (which contains no actual conjuring, by the way) was the audience.  I saw this one in a late-night viewing that was packed and every jump (it's a jump-scare movie, not a gore-scare movie) led to peals of laughter.  A popular theory about horror movies is that they allow us to confront and release our fears in a socially-acceptable way and that seemed to be on display that night, at least.

OK - that's it for Part One of this long post.  Next up - the Mary-Louise Parker Double Feature!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 64

The countdown continues!  It's now less than a month before we start seeing new episodes - which are the final eight episodes - of Breaking Bad.  AMC has started whetting our appetite a bit - in his latest post, my co-author has written about (and linked!) the "WTF?" super-short teasers that tell us nothing, but make us eager for more!  Episode titles and one-sentence synopses have just been released for this final half-season - you might not want to know, so click the link, but be warned!  I don't think anything is spoiled here, but you might have a different idea of what constitutes "spoilage." (I will say this much -  the picture that goes with this post is from the first episode, titled "Blood Money."  Well, that could go in all sorts of directions!)

AMC has put an embargo on reviews until July 29, so you can find things out before the official premiere date of August 11, but how much and how accurate may be questionable.  I don't have any advance notice of what will happen - I'll be breathlessly watching along with everyone else on August 11 - and I'm getting more and more excited to see what twists and drops Gilligan & Company have planned for Walt, Jesse, and the rest of the Breaking Bad circle! 

And remember that TODAY, JULY 17 is the final day to enter to win the kick-ass "Ride with Bryan Cranston to the Breaking Bad Premiere in an RV" contest!  Click here for details and go support an good cause and (just maybe) win an amazing prize!!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monsters, Anime, & Popcorn

Every summer, you're on the lookout for That Movie.  You know the one - a flick that rejoices in being big, loud, and worthy of your overpriced bucket of popcorn.  For my money, 2013's Big Summer Movie is Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim.  You know how I can tell?  I felt giddy watching this movie and then almost immediately felt guilty about it.  Now, I understand that not every movie is going to be - or needs to be, for that matter - a sensitive exploration of the human condition.  That doesn't mean a movie isn't a good movie; it just means a different yardstick needs to be employed.  In a similar fashion, I can like both fauvism and the moody glory of Rembrandt.  Del Toro is a chameleon of a filmmaker, giving audiences both the carefully-crafted fantasy Pan's Labyrinth and the fun excess of the Hellboy movies.  

Look, Pacific Rim isn't about the performances.  Heck, parts of the dialogue are cliched to the point of hilarity.  But the CGI is phenomenal and the attention to detail that went into creating both the beneath-the-sea monsters and the gigantic robots is breath-taking.  There's nary a shaky hand-held camera in sight and the fixed cameras swoop and dive-bomb the action.  Lots of rain - at least a 6.5 on the Ridley Scott scale, I'd say.  And this is a movie that was made to be an anime-based game.  So.  Many.  Tropes!  Monsters emerging from the sea to destroy a city.  Robots with swords.  A kendo-style fight.  Funky-colored hair.  You'll love it if you ever liked a creature feature that had rubber-suited monsters or shiny robots.  You'll love it if you ever stayed up late to watch a Harryhausen Sinbad flick.  You'll love it if you ever stayed up late to watch a Ishiro Honda Mothra flick.  (And if the last two apply to you, stay all the way through the credits.  You'll be glad you did.)

Is it Bergman's Seventh Seal?  Nope.  But Seventh Seal isn't Pacific Rim, either.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

In Praise of Cartoons

I've recently seen a couple of movies that make this a fit subject for a blog post.  Cartoons.

To begin with, cartoons aren't just kid stuff.  In fact, the term "cartoon" derives from the fine art world where it refers to a full-sized, preliminary drawing for a work that is to be rendered as a fresco, a technique that doesn't allow much room for error.  The cartoon would then have its final lines pricked, then the perforated drawing would be affixed to the wall that was to be frescoed and a bag of soot would be patted (actually called "pounced," which is cooler) over the cartoon - tah-dah! Now the artist has an outline to follow during the fresco process.  Therefore, show some respect to Bugs Bunny, whose lineage can be directly traced back to da Vinci. (Sort of.)

Anyway - despite this lofty history, cartoons are generally seen as something for children to enjoy.  Oh, sure, there are some cartoons that are meant for grown-ups and it's generally accepted practice to fling a bone or two to the grown-ups in the audience, but cartoons are for kids.  

Even if you accept that, that doesn't mean cartoons shouldn't be of good quality.  Tolkien, among others, wrote quite a bit on the subject of children's literature being all too often shuffled off to the nursery as being too worn-out for adults, but "it'll do" for the kiddies.  He hated that attitude and good on him, I say.  However, many animated movies forget this and are content to just churn out do-nothing films that are instantly forgettable in terms of both story and art.

Thank heavens for the exceptions.

Recently, I sat down and watched a marvelous film by Japan's master animator Hayao Miyazaki.  The 2004 film Howl's Moving Castle features a strong, steampunk-and-magic story and some wonderful vocal talent (Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, and a then-not-much-known Christian Bale, among others).  Moreover, the visuals are both strikingly creative and totally free of CGI trickery.  I'm slowly working my way through Miyazaki's filmography and I encourage you to do the same.

Following Howl's, I dipped back into Shinichiro Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop.  Wow, does that one just keep getting better.  It's not for the kids (neither the TV show or the movie) - it's violent in its action and adult in its themes of loss, sorrow, and trying hard to pretend that you don't care about that stuff in order to just get through one more day - but in its own way, it's glorious.  It'll make you both think and sing - and that's not a bad thing.

Also, I've recently seen Monsters University, the latest Pixar-by-way-of-Disney film.  Fun stuff and again, some great vocal talent - Billy Crystal again, John Goodman (who can very nearly do no wrong), Helen ("I'm  a Dame, but not that kind") Mirren, and in a smarmy role that allows him some scenery-chewing, Nathan Fillion.  There's a nice nod to Carrie in here, and it's a good story of misfits forming a family, but really - there's nothing new here.  It's old, well-plowed ground, yet a fun ride.

I should be including a bit here about Despicable Me 2, but vacation beckons, so Gru will have to wait.  In the meantime, Rotten Tomatoes has a list of "best 100 animated movies" that you might quibble with, but it's an excellent place to begin searching out some old friends.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 63

Now that my co-author and I are on the far side of the magnificent (and exhausting) Joss in June conference, we're both taking a little time to seriously collapse recharge before the August 11 premiere and the final writing sprint for Wanna Cook?  Although we're not full-scale marketing madmen, we did manage to slip promo cards for the Wanna Cook? project into each and every swag bag presented to guests of the Joss in June conference and I'll be presenting on a couple aspects of Breaking Bad at professional conferences this fall, so we're keeping the home fires burning.  But next week is a well-deserved vacation, so "Walter White Wednesday" is going to take a short break and come back towards the end of July.

That gives you ample time to enter Bryan Cranston's "Ride with Me in an RV" contest - and really, you ought to do this.  It supports a GREAT cause and, as a fan of Breaking Bad, can you think of anything much more fun that getting to go the the premiere of the final episodes?  With Bryan Cranston?  In an RV?  Linked here are Cranston's top 10 reasons you should enter - and do you want to disappoint Heisenberg?

No.  No, you do not.  So enter here.

See you in two weeks!