Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 91

With this post, I want to highlight some truly amazing fan art.  Now, I've done this before with Walter White Wednesday (click  here!) but the show continues to inspire people to truly go all-out, so it's time for another round.

First, artist Francesco Francavilla created some wonderful visual tributes to Breaking Bad.  Check out his work in the link!

Next, Hungarian artist Zsolt Molnar (he works under the name Zsutti) created posters for every one of Breaking Bad's 62 episodes.  It took him repeated viewings of each episode to suss out the perfect quote to sum up each episode and it took five months to complete all the posters.  Here's a link explaining the process and here's a link to all 62 posters.  It's some incredible work!  The image at the top of this post is Zsutti's poster for the season five episode "Buried," and as you can see, "X" marks the spot.

In other news, my co-author, Ensley F. Guffey, has been busily putting together his first curated museum exhibit.  No, this one isn't about Breaking Bad - even Bryan Cranston had to move on at some point (seen the Godzilla trailer yet?  It's at the bottom of this post; go check it out!) - instead Ensley's exhibit, Four Color Culture, details how comic books have taken an active role in the political and cultural life of America since the 1930s.  It's going to be a fabulous exhibit and I look forward to hearing his lecture on Sgt. Rock and American memories of World War 2 on March 1.  Join me if you're near Johnson City, TN!  If you can't make the lecture, the exhibit remains on display at the Reece Museum until April 14.

And here's that Godzilla trailer!  In theatres May 16th!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

History & Movies

Hollywood has seldom seen a historical event that they haven't been convinced they could improve.  While Pompeii may not have car chases, I'm pretty sure it was initially proposed in some meeting or another.  The current movie isn't getting very good reviews, which doesn't always mean much, but in this case - well, let's just say that, from the trailer alone, the history seems to be a touch off.  Like, in everything depicted onscreen.  In a way, that's okay, as I don't expect Hollywood to make documentaries - feature films are overwhelmingly pure fiction from the get-go and films centered on historical events, as well as biopics, get away with a lot by using that tag of "inspired by actual events."  But there are limits.

What I'm going to spend my time on here is not a movie like Pompeii that takes exciting and dramatic historical events and so twists things that they become fiction, but rather on how films can use fiction to illuminate fact.

Welcome to Bad Day at Black Rock.

We as a country don't like to look too hard at events that make us look bad.  While that's understandable, it's also terribly juvenile, as we can't learn from what we don't acknowledge.  The undeniable fact is that we, as a country, formed national policy in 1942 that uprooted over 110,000 of our own citizens, forcibly relocating them from their homes, businesses, and communities to stark detention centers.  Their crime was simply looking like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor.  We implemented no such policies with regards to American citizens of German or Italian descent, although those countries were also part of the Axis powers.  (Not that I'm saying that we should have!)

When John Sturges (who would later direct The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, among others), directed Black Rock in 1955, the internment issue was one that was touchy, sensitive, and not talked about.  What Black Rock did was create a tense social drama in the New West that has multiple elements of a traditional Technicolor Western - a lone good guy (Spencer Tracy) trying to do a simple, honorable thing who encounters a gang of toughs concealing a secret in a dusty town.  The supporting cast is amazing - Robert Ryan heads the tough guys, Ernest Borgnine is a not-too-bright-but-plenty-violent hanger-on, Walter Brennan is a weak man who wants the truth to come out, and Anne Francis is a conflicted young woman who's not sure which side she's on. It's an astonishingly good picture, made all the more incredible for being made while the wounds of forced internment was still so raw.  Nowadays, there is a real and unfortunate possibility that this crucial piece of history will fade in the public memory, especially away from the West Coast, which was most affected by the internment.

The annual Day of Remembrance for the internment is generally observed on Feb. 19, the day in 1942 Executive Order 9066 was signed, which authorized the mass detention.  George Takei, who will probably always be best known for portraying Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek series, spent part of his youth in internment camps.  He's taken those experiences and crafted Allegiance, a new musical currently in development at the Old Globe theatre in San Diego.

One of the most heartbreaking and dignified responses to this odious action is found in the picture at the top of this post.  The picture, which is from the US National Archives, shows a World War One veteran arriving at the Santa Anita "assembly center," wearing his dress uniform to clearly identify himself as a veteran of the United Stated military.  These centers served as staging areas to assign Japanese-Americans to their internment camps, which were spread throughout the United States. (Takei's family was uprooted from California and spent part of the internment in a swamp in Arkansas.)  Citizens were forced to leave their homes with very few belongings and most sold their homes and businesses at a loss and never were able to reclaim them.  However, a few bright stories emerge - including this one.

Movies - often good, sometimes great, but hardly ever as dramatic as real life.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 90

It's worth noting that next week (on Feb. 24!) Netflix will begin offering the final episodes of Breaking Bad through its streaming service.

Not sure if you care?  After all, you say, you were just a casual fan; doesn't really matter to you.  Heresy, I say, but I suppose it could be true.  (But really - a casual fan of Breaking Bad?  I've yet to meet one.  Rather like a basilisk.)

To get you in the mood, here's one opinion on the best scenes of the show.  Keep in mind, there are (naturally) spoilers contained within and other opinions may contain different scenes.  Still, it'll remind you of how much good there is in this show!

Or maybe you're looking for practical advice instead of wanting just to be entertained.  Then you might be interested in this article, which compares Breaking Bad storylines to the world of content creation in public relations.

Or, if you just want to have your jaw drop, watch this clip.  Aaron Paul appeared on The Price is Right back in 2000 and he told his secrets to another contestant.  Then it was just a matter of digging through the clip archive . . .

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 89

. . . the snowstorm version!

My part of western NC is battening down the hatches in preparation for the arrival of Winter Storm Pax (as a Whedon fan, I quake at all things called "Pax."  Watch Serenity and you'll understand my fear) and I still have a few things to take care of prior to the arrival of what very well may be a major snowstorm for my region.  (Don't bother teasing me about this - sure, Chicago has lake effect snow and can handle a foot of the white stuff, but they can't handle 90+ degree summer heat; something we handle with a minimum of grumbling, so things tend to even out.)

This week, I can report that plans for the Wanna Cook? launch are proceeding.  I still can't say much about that, which I suppose makes me a bit of a tease.  But I don't want to say something now and have to retract it in March, so just know that we're working on that and it's going to be great!  Again, if you're interested in having us appear in your town, drop me a tweet (@KDaleKoontz) or a comment here on the blog and we'll work to get things set up.

In other Breaking Bad news, did you see Walt's Facebook retrospective?  It makes me wonder what others would look like - Jesse's in particular, although I bet Marie's would be a hoot, too.

But then there's also this - a stark reminder of why purity in processing is so important to Walt.  And why it should matter to you, too!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chasing Creativity

This weekend, I saw both The LEGO Movie and The Monuments Men. At first, I wasn't sure how I could link the two; after all, one is based on an incredibly popular toy of interlocking bricks and the other details a seemingly-oddball effort to save priceless works of Western art during WW2. But the link is actually an easy one - both films deal with the human drive to create. And honestly, both films do it well.

The LEGO Movie is the one getting most of the press. It seemed like the film would be an hour-and-a-half long commercial for colorful snap-together bricks, but nooooooo! Go see this movie. It's heartwarming, has plenty to keep both the kids and the adults in the audience plugged in and it has some serious things to say about creativity vs. conformity wrapped in those plastic bricks. A vast array of vocal talent (Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, and a host of cameos ranging from Jonah Hill to Bill Dee Williams.  Oh, and be on the lookout for Liam Neeson's "Danny Boy") and a solid story. You can create beautiful things by following the rules, but in order to make your efforts truly yours, you have to be willing be a Master Builder with your life. Not a bad lesson to learn. Brought to you by the creative team behind the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, you'll leave with the catchy, meaningless pop tune "Everything Is Awesome" caught in your head on an endless loop, but don't blame me for that.

The Monuments Men is based on Robert Edsel's bestselling book and details an incredibly unlikely true story about how a small group of art historians and architects were put together and charged with recovering artistic masterpieces stolen by the Nazis as WW2 was winding down. Now, war doesn't really become less dangerous as it "winds down," and these unusual soldiers weren't spring chickens. But there were committed to their mission, which they saw as no less than rescuing the soul of what we were fighting for in the first place. Hitler, who by some accounts was a deeply frustrated painter, dreamed of establishing the ultimate museum and had ordered his commanders to strip Europe of its artistic treasures and both private collections and national museums were laid bare. (Mind you, only "proper" art would be displayed - to this day, we don't know how many pieces by "degenerate" artists such as Chagall, Kandinsky, Marc, and Picasso were summarily destroyed for failing to live up to the Nazi aesthetic ideal.) I enjoyed this movie quite a bit - there are several scenes that literally moved me to tears. (I think some critics wanted more Indiana Jones and were miffed that they got something more deliberate and thoughtful - don't let that keep you away. This is an adventure story and the ensemble cast, which includes Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman, among others) kept me captivated.) Art matters. It has to. And, as absurd as it may sound to try to rescue a sculpture while men are dying, it matters that much. George Clooney, who directed as well as starring in the film, understands that the audience needs a through-line, so he focuses efforts on two particular pieces - a Michelangelo statue of the Madonna and Child (click on the pictures to enlarge) and a medieval altarpiece (a story that began before the war and continues to this day. Click here for details!). It's a moving film about the power of art and the human desire to, if not create beauty, at least to protect it from destruction.

So - whether you want to create your own art with a click-click-click or swing a paintbrush across a canvas - there's something for you in movie theaters this week!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 88

Three interesting items about Breaking Bad and its continuing impact on popular culture:

1. Netflix has announced that the final season will be available through its streaming service beginning on Feb. 24.
2. Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad spin-off featuring everyone's favorite "I put the 'criminal' in 'criminal lawyer" attorney, Saul Goodman, now has a November air date. Netflix has contracted to also stream the series, which is likely to give the spin-off a ratings boost.  The focus of Better Call Saul is reputed to be on Saul's pre-Walter White days, but who knows?  We might see Saul as the manager of a Cinnabon in Omaha, which was a career path for him at the end of Season 5.  Jonathan Banks will reprise his role as "Mike the Fixer," but no other Breaking Bad regulars are currently scheduled to appear.  Then again, things change quickly.  Click here for details!
3.  Breaking Bad made a star out of Albuquerque and pumped tens of millions of dollars into the local economy. ABQ business owners have tapped into the popularity of the show, selling "blue meth" rock candy and doughnuts, offering tours of filming sites, and selling T-shirts and other souvenirs of the show.  As this article points out, though, there's another side to the popularity that's much, much darker.  It seems that Walter White casts a long shadow, even after his death.

As far as news on Wanna Cook? progress - we're getting to the stage where we can't say much, because some things are in the planning stages.  Ensley and I have approved the cover copy (you know, that stuff on the back of the book that you read to decide if you're interested.  For Wanna Cook? let me assure you - you are interested in this book.  You very much are), and we're working with our tireless team at ECW on some very, very cool promotional materials and events.  Right now, though, that's all I can say.

Tune in next week for more Breaking Bad and Wanna Cook? news as it develops!