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 . . .