Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 83

Okay, technically, I'm on a break for the Thanksgiving holiday, but these were too good to not share with you!  While neither of these is brand-new, they're both funny and relevant to this family-oriented-but-quickly-being-overtaken-by-earlier-and-earlier-shopping holiday.

Whether you shop or just eat the extra pie, enjoy your own Thanksgiving and join me next week for further adventures in the post-Breaking Bad world!

First up:  AMC has a pilot (no, not really) for a new spin-off from the Breaking Bad world.  Courtesy of "Funny or Die," please check out Huell's Rules!

Next:  Walt and Jesse show you how to make a truly unforgettable Thanksgiving dinner!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

May the Odds . . .

The second installment of The Hunger Games franchise has been released and yes, it's worth a look.  I wrote about the first one back here and many of my concerns have been addressed.  It's been a while since I read the books - part of my job involves teaching teenagers, so I try to maintain a passing familiarity with the books that are the rage and Hunger Games fit that bill a few years back.  Suzanne Collins has been accused of ripping off Koushun Takami's Battle Royale, but I don't really see that.  Yes, there are thematic similarities - Takami's book (which is quite, quite good) does concern a fight to the death waged by unwilling teens raised in a totalitarian state - but Collins' trilogy takes the battle beyond the arena into the political sphere.

Catching Fire begins with Katniss back in District 12 and finding that her life has been changed, but not necessarily for the better. Remember that the purpose of the Games is to remind the districts of the consequences of rebellion and, to that end, the people are kept on the brink of starvation and despair.  How else could you convince kids to put in their names for the dreadful Reaping more than once?  (Each time you add your name, your family gets extra food rations - a choice that isn't really a choice.)  Catching Fire has a lot to say about the life of a celebrity.  Katniss and Peeta are supposed to be mouthpieces for the regime as they tour the districts to advertise the benevolence of the bloated, corrupt Capitol, but the cracks are beginning to show and Katniss just can't manage to smile and preen and stay on-script.  (By the way, there is really something deeply disturbing about the beauty product tie-ins for this movie - by buying these products, you're aligning yourself with the decadent layabouts of the Capitol whose all-important social life is dictated by how slavishly they follow the trends.  Keep people busy and distracted so they don't notice the real problems.  Much like French court life, I suppose.)

While I would have preferred more time on the arena scenes (which feel a bit rushed to me), at least they got rid of the shaky-cam which I found to be a cheap trick in the first film, as it let you think you were seeing more than you actually did.  If you're going to make a film about kids turning into vicious killers in order to survive another night, it's a tawdry gimmick to then blink away from showing it.  Katniss is soul-scarred from her time in the arena (and she wasn't all that warm and glowy to start with), and it was a coward's trick to not show that for what it was.

Costuming is gorgeous in Catching Fire - extravagantly eye-catching and the "smokey eye" is taken to bizarre extremes. Casting is strong and the characters are developed from the first movie.  (And yes, I'll unashamedly admit to being a Jennifer Lawrence fan.) Further, the underlying messages - that revolution can begin with  the slightest of sparks and the undeniable power of symbols - is one that is not bad to repeat.

For a little fun, click here to discover your Hunger Games name!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 82

Another brief post this week - in fact, as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, I'm going to give Unfettered a week off to count my blessings, which have been legion this year.  Wanna Cook? is in the proofreading stage and Ensley and I have agreed that no work is to be done until we have sampled every variety of pumpkin pie we can get our hands on.  (Or maybe that was just me.  Hard to tell.)

This hilarious clip has been making the Internet rounds, but it's getting hard to find.  Apparently, it'll be a bonus on the fancy-schmancy box set that comes out next week, so Sony asked YouTube (probably by way of a sternly-worded cease-and-desist letter) to remove all versions of it.  But those laws have a harder time being applied across the pond, so thank you Mirror Online!

Click this link and marvel at the sheer range of Bryan Cranston.

And here's a bonus that I can embed here!  Badger and Skinny Pete would be watching this for three hours straight!

Happy pre-Thanksgiving, everybody!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 81

Just a brief post this week - I am presenting on negative fan reaction to Skyler in two days and that paper is (ahem) not quite ready for public consumption.  Should be a fun time, though.  Details are here and the schedule is here - if you're near the Upstate area of South Carolina, come on by - free to attend!

Yesterday, we received the full typeset pages of Wanna Cook? and I have to say, I nearly fell out.  (That's a Southernism for "collapsed," for those in need of translation.)  This book looks GREAT!!  I mean, seriously fantastic!  To see it in this form, instead of our electronic typewritten pages, is just such a kick that I had to sit back in my desk chair and just look at it for a moment.  Our next job is to carefully go through these pages with a fine-toothed comb (and a red pen) to nitpick anything that made it past both of us and two editors.  It's painstaking work that is best done in small doses - speed up too much and you get sloppy and we don't want sloppy.  96% pure; that's the minimum we'll accept.

Speaking of which, Breaking Bad continues to attract attention, often in unusual ways.  For instance, the teenage son of a friend of mine (I'm keeping names out of this; one day the kid will apply to college) threw a Halloween party, with his parents' permission.  Said parents were trying to walk that tightrope of responsible supervision and "let the kids have their fun."  Now, the light-blue rock candy that the Breaking Bad crew used as meth made an appearance, packaged in little plastic bags.  What also made an appearance was a gorgeous hand-crafted knife (made by my friend's grandfather, I believe) - a big thing, with a horn hilt.  The knife is usually displayed prominently on the family mantel.  Yep, you guessed it - Teenage Son used the knife to pound the rock candy to powder while screaming, "TIGHTTIGHTTIGHT!!"  My friend doesn't know whether to be amused or deeply disturbed that her son was snorting crystallized sugar off a sharp blade.  (Oh, and Teenage Son was dressed as Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, which is a whole other level of hilarity in this tale.)  And fear not, the knife was whisked away quickly.  Kids.

Also, I thought Ensley and I had done something amazing in writing a book together and maintaining a solid marriage (and I still do, by the way), but this couple takes things to a whole new level of Breaking Bad love!

Where's that red pen?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Of Gates and Hammers

This post covers two new releases - Ender's Game and Thor: The Dark World.  Look, I wanted to be excited about these - especially Ender's, but I fear there is little joy here.  Let me be clear - both of these films are solid efforts, but neither one really worked for me.  Let's discuss.

Nope, the gate's still up.
First, Ender's Game. This was always an ambitious project, which might explain why the book was published in the mid-80s and the film is just now seeing the light of day.  Orson Scott Card created an intricate, fascinating world with this series and I worried a bit.  It turns out that my anxiety on this one was well placed.  Too much of this rich narrative is skimmed over which pulls the punch from the ultimate reveal.  (Also, I need a re-read on this, but some relationships are just not quite right in this one, at least by my recollection.)  While the movie still makes some good points about whether or not war should have rules, what it takes to make a good leader, and the ethics of using child soldiers, this Game wastes some excellent actors and some very pretty effects. It isn't a hot mess, by any stretch of the imagination, but I grieve what could have been.  Director Gavin Hood (he directed X-Men Origins: Wolverine which alone says a few things) has not managed to breach the enemy's gate with this film.  Skip the movie and read the book.

(See - I didn't even get into Card's politics and let me tell you, that took some doing.  I myself am a little conflicted as I like the book tremendously but find Card himself to be - well, let's just say we disagree on some things.  Not sure what I mean?  Click here. For a view on whether Card's politics are affecting the box office, click here.)

Hammer?  No, but I've got some pliers.
Second, Thor: The Dark World.  This is a different kettle of Norse fish.  While Ender's Game expects a too-thin story to support too much weight, Thor's just having fun.  There's nothing wrong with having fun, and watching Tom Hiddleston strut and mock isn't a bad way to while away half an afternoon.  Provided you don't expect anything more than that, you'll be happy.  The Rainbow Bridge (Bifrost) has never looked better and Idris Elba's Heimdall is just cool.  He's far more menacing than Anthony Hopkins' Odin, which is a pity.  I mean, shouldn't you tremble when Odin sweeps into a room?  The story's thin, which is a shame, as I wanted to see Christopher Eccleston's Malekith glower and scheme and scare.  Instead, he's a generic bad guy who wants to destroy things Just Because.  He also picks up flawless English when the plot requires it.  This is not to pick on Eccleston - there were a lot of deliveries from the Plot Convenience Warehouse in this production.  Look, it's fun.  Buy your popcorn, say a little prayer of gratitude for the creative mind of Walt Simonson, and enjoy.

Then go to your local comic shop and buy the Simonson omnibus.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 80

This is a post I've been waiting for nearly two years to write - the edited draft of Wanna Cook? (insert drumroll, please!) is done.  Done, do you hear me?  Episodes have been watched, notes have been taken, a first draft has been created, extras have been researched, extras have been drafted, all that's been reviewed and sent to Our Dear Editor (like North Korea's Dear Leader, but ours has both a far better haircut and sense of humor) who marked it up with line edits and sent it back to us.  Changes made, or not made and argued about, then sent back. When that hurdle was cleared, it was on to the copy-editing stage - smaller nits to pick, but very important ones were caught there.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  For 5 seasons, the last of which was split into two parts by a year.  Done.  There really should be cake at this juncture, but I'll settle for jazz hands.

Soon we'll get galley pages, which have been typeset, with graphics and so forth added in for our final pass and a proofreader is hunkering over things with a magnifying glass and a thick style manual to make sure we have been consistent throughout the book.  (Wait, wait - does "Hector" have an accent mark or not?)

Then Wanna Cook? goes to the translation folks, since the book is being released simultaneously in English ("the meth") and German ("die meth." Or maybe "das meth." Heck, it could be "der meth."  OK, that alone explains why someone else is translating the text.) I won't really consider the project "finished" until I can hold the bound book in my hands, but this is a point well worth celebrating.  And, as a reminder, Wanna Cook? is scheduled to hit bookstore shelves (and be ready for delivery from online booksellers) May 1. That day also happens to be my and Ensley's anniversary - not a traditional gift, to be sure, but what can you do?

So until we get the galley pages in a few weeks, there's a lull of quiet at the writing desk.  Well, at least for the Wanna Cook? project.  We both still have our day jobs to attend to. Also, on Nov. 15, we're presenting at a one-day conference at Converse College in Spartanburg, SC (here's the schedule) and our presentations need some fine-tuning for that.  (Mine's a longer version of an extra in Wanna Cook? that deals with negative fan reaction to Skyler, by the way.)

But we also plan to carve out some time to just savor reaching this point in a project that has mattered so very much to both of us.


I say it's time to dance!  So click and enjoy!  (I thought about just cutting this to the Bryan Cranston intro, but nah.  This is choice stuff all the way through and we all deserve four minutes to laugh!)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Other Hats!

We don't have to wear these!
As most of you know, co-writing Wanna Cook? has been a time-consuming labor of love for me over that last eighteen months or so.  It is not my "day job," though.  Writers who can completely support themselves by writing are rare animals indeed and I spend most of my days (and far too many of my weekends) doing the tasks associated with teaching; in my case, teaching communications at my local community college.  There are a series of posts that one day should be written about that, but for today, let's just say that it's a career path that I never expected, but that I've found I enjoy and am good at doing.

In a previous life involving a closetful of bank-wall-grey and navy-blue suits, I trained as a lawyer.  I attended three very arduous years of law school, studied, studied, studied and passed the bar.  First I worked for an accounting firm, going over the exceedingly fine details of state and local tax laws and regulations, then I worked for a small law firm in a town not far from where I currently live.  Although my license is no longer how I earn my bread (and I'm not alone in that - check out this list), I worked far too hard to obtain it to let it lapse.  Therefore, throughout the year, I am required to take a dozen hours of CLE ("continuing legal education") training.  It's not bad - you can tailor your CLEs to your particular interests - but they can be expensive and inconvenient and yes, sometimes you wind up taking a course just to get the hours because your window of opportunity is very small.

Then there's this past weekend.  I attended a weekend seminar in the lovely, and slightly mad, city of Asheville and had a wonderful time.  Dynamic speakers who knew their topics, a gorgeous setting for the conference itself, and a free afternoon on Saturday to go explore this small city in western NC that welcomes crystal-gazing New Age witches, back-to-the-land homesteaders, hipsters, and holler-dwellers.  It's marvelous and quirky and glorious.  Yes, this is the same county that gave The Daily Show an interview from heaven in the form of Don Yelton, GOP mouthpiece and peckerwood extraordinaire.  Asheville - ignore the "evil" in the middle of the name and go have a good time.

All of this is to explain why there's not a movie post this weekend.  Not to fear - reviews of Ender's Game and Thor: The Dark World will be coming soon.  And, of course, Walter White Wednesday will be along in a couple of days!