Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 87

People do all sorts of things to commemorate the passing of a loved one.  Back in the 19th century, it was popular to wear jewelry made from the deceased's hair (click here for some examples).  Today people commission statues, set up scholarships - all sorts of things can serve as memorials.  And sometimes people get tattoos to remind themselves (and others) of their lost loved one.

And sometimes, that lost loved one is a television show.

Both Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston got Breaking Bad tattoos as the final season wound down.  "Jesse" went for a snippet of dialogue while "Mr. White" went for a tiny version of the show's logo.

Fans have been getting inked since the show first started to air.  Some as small, tasteful, even delicate memorials while others . . . well, let's just say others aren't so much.  So enjoy this collection of Breaking Bad tattoos!

For Jesse.
Tribute to Gus
An empire-builder

Where it all began, sort of.

For more - click here.  And here!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Stitched Together from Corpses

Go watch this instead.
In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the monster is actually quite intelligent - blame Universal's take on the monster myth in the 1930s for giving us the idea of the shambling, mentally-slow creature.  Mary was a woman ahead of her time in many, many ways (read more about that here) but it's true that the monster was stitched together by mad scientist Victor Frankenstein from any number of newly-dead corpses.

Sort of like the plot of I, Frankenstein.

OK, maybe that's a little harsh.  Then again, maybe not.  When a movie has its release date changed three times and isn't advanced-screened for critics, well . . . that's not a good sign.  Honestly, this movie is a stylish mess that ignores its own internal rules.  Gargoyles and demons are fighting a war that's been going on since Satan fell from Heaven and this war has to be kept a secret from humans.  That must be why the gargoyles have set up headquarters in the cathedral located in the middle of some unnamed Euro-city, while the demons run things from a sleekly-antiseptic corporation-with-a-laboratory in the same town!  And I'm willing to grant you that humans can be pretty darned oblivious, but surely someone would have noticed the streaming pillars of fire that erupt when a demon "descends" or the blindingly bright shafts of light that stab through the night when a gargoyle "ascends."  (Or maybe the citizens just think there are a lot of new car lots opening in the middle of the night - I don't know.)  I wanted to find some neat points about the gargoyles being all religious and medieval while the demons were all corporate and Armani-clad, but honestly - I just couldn't care that much.

It's a waste of some good actors, but it gives you an opportunity to wonder, "Hmm.  Had to be a contractual obligation movie."  You've got Aaron Eckhart (Two-Face in The Dark Knight), Miranda Otto (Eowyn in Lord of the Rings) and Bill Nighy (who's worked in everything from Hot Fuzz to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and he's shown up in the Underworld movies before and this is set kinda-there), for gosh sakes!

Hot mess.  But, with previews, it provided me with nearly two hours of time to eat buttered popcorn on my birthday, so it's not a total waste.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 86

Breaking Bad concluded its run back in the fall, but the show continues to make news.  It's awards season in Hollywood right now and Breaking Bad has been well represented on the red carpet.  Anna Gunn, who played Skyler, apparently knows that no matter how great your red carpet gown is, it's all about the accessories - and Bryan Cranston seems to agree!  The picture at the top of this post is a snapshot of the clutch Anna Gunn carried to the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where Breaking Bad won for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.  You can read more about that here.

The show continues to inspire fan art - there have been some amazing fan videos, paintings, cosplay, etc., but the cover for the imagined Little Golden Book is in a class by itself!  It's already sold, but maybe the entire book will be produced - although that's sort of scary.

Last in this week's Breaking Bad roundup - Giancarlo Esposito, who played Gus Fring, was the keynote speaker at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event held at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon.  A local news crew sat down with Esposito to discuss King's legacy - you can play the video here.

It's true - the show may be over, but we're going to continue to hear about it for quite some time!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Oscar Contenders

The Oscar nominations have been made and I'm not ready to make my picks just yet.  See, one of the boundaries we put on Meet Me at the Movies is that we try to limit ourselves to films that are playing locally.  One of the downsides of that is that our local Carmike, although it has ten screens (which isn't bad at all for a town of 21,000), limits itself to movies that will pack 'em in and often, those aren't the Best Picture nominees.  It's a smart business decision - despite rising ticket prices, theaters make their money on concessions, not tickets.  Remember that they have to pay to get the movies to show, so it makes an odd sort of sense that A Madea Christmas has been playing for weeks, but we haven't gotten most of the picks for Best Picture.

Let me put it another way.  Hollywood worships money and money often comes from big, loud, bangbangbang movies.  (See Exhibit 1 - Michael Bay.)  Yet Hollywood wants to think that it spends its time Making Art, so studios have offshoot production companies that make and market the smaller, more thoughtful or quirky "prestige pictures" that crop up during awards season and cause many Americans to say, "Huh?  Never even heard of that one."  In my case, it's often, "I heard of that one, but I haven't had a chance to see it unless I want to drive an hour."  It'd be nice if companies like Carmike would throw me a bone and run the nominees on even a single screen in a marathon weekend session, but, to be fair, that's gonna cost them money, so I'm not holding my breath.  And Meet Me at the Movies isn't a large enough show to bring us to the attention of the studios, so we're not getting advance screening copies.  Yet.

So I left town.

Johnson City, TN, where Ensley is finishing graduate school, is large enough that most prestige pictures get at least a short run here.  Now that the Oscar nominations are out, a few are on their second pass through.  So we mapped things out and, over two days, we hit three of the Best Picture contenders that we hadn't seen.  I still haven't seen them all, so I'm not ready yet to make my picks, but I'm closer than I was a week ago.  (Not that the Academy always gets it right.  I'm looking at you, Shakespeare in Love, who inexplicably won Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan.)

First up was Dallas Buyers Club.  This movie took years - like 20 of them - to see the light of day.  Based on true events (I'm always suspicious of that, and you can fact-check a few things for yourself), Buyers Club uses the real-life character of Ron Woodroof (played by Matthew McConaughey) to remind us of just how scary things were at the start of the AIDS epidemic which was only 30 years ago.  From Modern Family on TV to laws viewing gay marriage as, well, marriage, the tide is turning, despite the last gasp of the hidebound and frightened among us, and it's easy to forget the raw fear and loathing that came with the first reports of AIDS.  Hatred and vitriol spewed forth and a medical condition was seen as irrefutable proof of God's Holy Wrath.  Kept out of clinical trials for AZT, one of the first drugs to show promise in treating AIDS, Woodroof used the skills he'd developed as a small-time scammer to get drugs to sick people.  Buyers Club says some powerful things about Big Pharma, regulations v. common sense, and, at its heart, the film delivers a knock-you-down message of compassion.  Woodroof is looking out for himself, sure - but he also finds himself connected to other people for the first time in just about forever. Matthew McConaughey uses the swagger and bluster that he's often utilized in roles to a deeper effect here, and Jared Leto as "Rayon" well deserves his Oscar nod as well.  A great film, well worth the watching - but it can wait for DVD, as it might be a little hard to find.

Next was the Spike Jonze slightly sci-fi effort Her.  I liked this movie, but didn't quite love it, and that puts me on the outside of most critics.  That's okay.  I want to stress - Her is a wonderful effort and Joaquin Phoenix richly deserves his nomination, since he spends much of the movie acting against nothing.  Her explores questions about relationships and it does that very, very well.  Theodore is at the end of his divorce from his wife and lives very much alone.  He upgrades his computer operating system to a system that is marketed to be specifically designed just for him and one thing leads to another until he is deeply involved with this OS, who names herself Samantha.  I think the problem for me was that Phoenix's character Theodore shows so much awareness of the subtle signals people give off, as well as spending his life communicating for people who can't communicate for themselves that I didn't quite buy (almost, but not quite) his block-headedness regarding his own relationships.  Maybe it's a case of "physician, heal thyself" but I never quite got over that.  Also, there's a nasty power imbalance here - Theo can access Samantha whenever he wants; Samantha does not have that same freedom.  That also means that, at any time, Theo could simply turn Samantha off with no consequences - she's just a machine.  Or is she?  Her asks some very interesting questions and it's worth watching, but I'm one of the few who will tell you to wait for the DVD.

Last was the Steve McQueen (British, not the "King of Cool" who died in 1980) directed 12 Years a Slave.  Oh, my dear and holy God.  Run - do not walk - to see this movie!  Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (learn the name; you'll hear it Oscar night) as Solomon Northup, who was a free black man living in New York and making a fine living as a musician until he was tricked into traveling to Washington, where he was drugged and sold into slavery.  America has never been comfortable with this part of our history and 12 Years will make you squirm.  Good.  Slavery is a despicable system and much of the South's economy was built upon it.  12 Years points out that the economy didn't just rely on field labor, but also on the production and selling of human flesh.  When you permit people to be treated as property, nothing good is going to happen.  It degrades the slave, of course, but it also degrades the owner, who cannot - under any circumstances - be permitted to consider slaves as human beings deserving of human treatment.  To maintain the institution, slaves must be considered non-human.  The film does not flinch away from showing the dozens of ways this manifests - humans stripped naked to be displayed for sale in elegant salons, ripping screaming children away from desperate mothers, vicious beatings as punishment for not making harvest quotas (or for simply desiring soap to stay clean after working in the unrelenting sun of the Deep South), people averting their eyes from hangings, too fearful to interfere, wives turning sadistic to punish the unfortunate women who have caught the eye of their husbands  . . . it's all in here.  It will make many viewers angry and vaguely ashamed.  And it deserves to be seen.  Ejiofor has such power in his slightest glance that, while I'm still open to changing my mind, honestly - I haven't seen a better, more powerful, and truthful film this year.  If you don't see this on the big screen, promise me that you won't pause the playback when you do see it.  Don't turn away.  Watch.  Northup, along with countless others whose names we do not know, deserve at least that.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Return of Walter White Wednesday!

Ahhh - nothing like a little break over the holidays!  I'm pleased to report that additional progress has been made on Wanna Cook? during my hiatus.  When last I posted a "Walter White Wednesday," Ensley and I had received the manuscript draft to do our final proofread.  I have to tell you - this manuscript looks fabulous!  I think you're really going to like the pictures and graphics that our tireless team at ECW have selected.  And talk about quality control!  On top of Ensley and I both going through the draft with a fine-toothed comb to find the tiny errors (the whoops - need a comma there! sort of thing that can slip by both authors and two editors in the push to get the content tight and whip-smart), there was a professional proofreader going through it as well.  Everyone has had their say, so I think at this point, it's safe to say that the writing portion of the project is done on our end.  Is it perfect?  I'd love to think so and know this - if you spot any mistakes, rest assured that you caught something that got by multiple, very involved, people who looked over this very, very carefully!  Hopefully, of course, there will be absolutely no errors, but - well, you're dealing with people and sometimes "freckles" happen in even the most carefully reviewed of manuscripts.

Also, I'm sure some readers will question why this was left out, or why we didn't mention that and that's okay.  It's the nature of publishing - you have a word count that is strict and sometimes, things you like a lot have to go in order to keep the things you love.  Choices.  Sigh.

I don't think it's sunk in yet that we're done and that now that the text is set, it means that very soon, someone is going to be hunched over their keyboard translating the text into German for simultaneous publication in that language in May.  It's simply astonishing to me that there is that sort of interest, and allow me to get a little giddy over being translated - that hasn't happened before.

So with all this interest, you want to go ahead and pre-order the book!  To help you with that, here are some links you might find handy:

and hey - even Wal-Mart's on the Wanna Cook? bandwagon!

After all, you don't want to miss out on the best guide to this amazing show, which won the Golden Globe for best TV drama this year, beating out (among other worthy contenders) House of Cards and Downton Abbey.

On top of putting the final flourishes on the book, I've been keeping up with this blog on the movie side of things and I'd like to briefly mention Peter Berg's newest - Lone Survivor.  While the title seems to give away some major plot points, the story is compelling enough that you nearly forget that in the midst of watching events unfold.  Based on medic Marcus Luttrell's book of the same title, Lone Survivor details the failed SEAL mission Operation Red Wings that occurred in Afghanistan in 2005.  Faced with communication and other technical problems, as well as terrain that can kindly be called "inhospitable" (remember, even Alexander the Great went around these mountains and it's not for nothing that Afghanistan is called "the graveyard of empires," even if that title might be a tad exaggerated), SEAL Team 10 did not succeed in their assigned mission to capture or kill a major Taliban target and, indeed, suffered extensive casualties.  Lone Survivor takes you inside the training that produces warriors who are scary-prepared, shows you the bond that can be forged under extreme circumstances, and also shows that, no matter how prepared you are, things can go tragically sideways and help can come from the most unexpected of quarters.  (It also shows the desirability of teaching those in the field at least a few concepts of the local culture and some phrases of the local language.)  A good movie and a solid effort from Berg, Lone Survivor cancels out the Hasbro mess Battleship.  Mark Wahlberg is solid as Luttrell, but the breakout performance for me was that of Ben Foster as Axe.  Foster's a long way from Warren "Angel" Worthington in X-Men: The Last Stand here.  The film brutally depicts the reality of a firefight and its aftermath, so it is most certainly not for the young among us.  However, it's a good film that's well worth the watch, regardless of your politics regarding our involvement in Afghanistan.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Stories Matter

Well, of course I think stories matter - I spend an inordinate amount of time writing about them, especially the televisual kind.  But it's an undeniable truth - stories matter.  They are cautionary and tall tales, spun for the amusement of the audience and the instruction of same.  Fairy tales tell us the perils of straying from the path, family tales remind us of why Sissy has that thin scar on her eyebrow, and national tales teach us the values we as a society hold dear.

With all that in mind, run, do not walk, to see Saving Mr. Banks.  I have not seen Disney's Mary Poppins in many a year and I knew nothing of the history behind the books.  Saving Mr. Banks made me want to stop at the video store on the way home to rent Mary Poppins and I'm pretty sure at some point in the future when I'm in a particularly mule-headed mood, my husband's going to look at me and say, "Get on the horse, Pamela."

Tom Hanks is wonderful as Walt Disney (seriously - is there nothing the man can't do?), a man who has built an empire on a cartoon mouse, yet hasn't managed to convince a spinster author to let him make a movie from her stories.  The film has an extraordinary supporting cast and you'll see many familiar faces, but the shining star of this film is Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers.  Her Travers is stern, borderline rude, and nearly unlikable, all of which could have made her into a broadly-sketched caricature, but in Thompson's skillful, subtle hands, Travers is sympathetic and we see the harshness as a sort of protective shell.  (Colin Farrell has a good bit to do with that, as well.)

I could go on and on about this one.  Suffice it to say that I found myself tearing up at some hard truths that the film tells.  Children are resilient and they often move forward more successfully than adults, who so often break when they look back.

Does it take liberties with the truth?  Of course it does - this is a tale, after all.  Then again, there is more than one kind of truth - a fact that all storytellers understand automatically.  Saving Mr. Banks is a beautiful tale, well told.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

Wolf of Wall Street

So it turns out that Leonardo DiCaprio made two versions of The Great Gastsby this year - one directed by Baz Lurhmann (reviewed here) and the other directed by Martin Scorsese.  Okay, not entirely.  But The Wolf of Wall Street does have some similarities with Gatsby beyond DiCaprio playing the title character in both films. The Wolf of Wall Street is DiCaprio's fifth collaboration with Martin Scorsese and it's a successful one.  DiCaprio grabs the role of the amoral stockbroker Jordan Belfort by the throat and he's aided by an incredible supporting cast, including Jonah Hill as Belfort's long-time associate-in-crime and Margot Robbie as his second wife, Naomi.  Deftly directed by Scorsese, Wolf is nevertheless running into some resistance.

Scorsese has always been interested in telling stories of extreme characters and (often) showing extreme violence.  Wolf has little violence (there's some, mind you, and it's meant to be disturbing) but the film is extreme in other ways.  For one, it has broken the record for use of the "F-word" in an American feature film (506, for those of you who are counting).  There is also rampant drug use and enough nudity to make Ron Jeremy blush.  (OK, not really. But there's a lot.)  If any of those things make you uncomfortable, stay home.

DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort is a self-described degenerate and he was in the right place at the right time to amass enough money to choke a team of Clydesdales without actually producing a thing.  That's the real addiction, Belfort tells us (as Gatsby also might) - money.  Belfort is, no doubt about it, a reprehensible human being - incapable of fidelity, convinced he should have what he wants because he wants it, and damn all consequences.  Scorsese thinks Belfort's a bad guy, too.  That's what is missing from some of the criticism of the film - by showing Belfort's excesses and by having him talk us through how he got there (a technique Scorsese employed in Goodfellas as well), Scorsese isn't glorifying Belfort.  He may be superficially charming - the film certainly has funny moments - but under it all, the audience sees that there's something deeply wrong with Belfort.  When a Forbes reporter writes a negative piece on Belfort early in his career as a "pump and dump" man (the article coined the title "Wolf of Wall Street," which was not meant as a compliment), the result is not that people recoil in horror from him.  Quite the contrary - bright young things by the dozen clamor for a job with him.  It tumbles down eventually, and Belfort is convicted of multiple counts of stock fraud and money laundering, but he lands on his feet.  Even today, his "sales technique" seminars (which don't mention the cocaine, Quaaludes, hookers, and - oh, yeah, the people he shamelessly ripped off and to whom he still owes upwards of $10 million in restitution) still have the suckers lining up to be ripped off by this guy.  They even applaud him for doing it.

Why?  Easy.  Because Jordan Belfort was right about one thing.  He was wrong about dozens, scores, and hundreds of things, but he was right about one thing.

Nearly everyone wants to be rich.  Quick.

And to get there, we'll do a lot of things that we think can be excused.  That's at the heart of Scorsese's message in Wolf.  The problem is with Jordan Belfort, true - but it's also with the society that spawned him. No banker yet has been indicted, much less served time, for the financial meltdown of 2008.  I'm willing to bet Belfort can tell you why - but only if you pay him first.  Scorsese is holding up a mirror here, and many of us don't really care for the reflection.  That's why it's crucial that we don't look away.

*By the way, Belfort claims to not be profiting even a penny off of Wolf of Wall Street, but I'm not entirely convinced he's a trustworthy source.  (Oh, I'm sure you won't find an account in his name.)