Monthly Archives: August 2012

Analog This: It’s Not Just About Walt This Time

Just in case this wasn’t the first thing to cross your mind: SPOILER ALERT

“Breaking Bad” is the closest thing to must see TV that exists during a time where seeing a program live doesn’t really matter to most people anymore. While watching it live is not mandatory, it is certainly an event. To me, watching live television has often felt like finding out some amazing secret before anyone else does. And finding it out at the same time as a certain chunk of the country that I’ve never met before felt like a strange bonding experience.

This right there is the beauty of television, and with TV changing so rapidly, “Breaking Bad” deserves to be the poster boy for a new era. It earned it long ago, and it certainly looks like it has no intention of ever giving that title up. It is not earned by Nielsen ratings, but rather by pure quality. Just like Walter White, it has crushed its competition just by being the best at what it does.

This past Sunday’s episode, entitled “Say My Name,” was the culmination of Walt’s infinitely expanding ego, which has been on the fritz since he first uttered “stay out of my territory” in season two. “Say My Name” began with Walt making the deal that would get his two business partners (the brain trust) out of the business for good. But for Walt, no deal could go down so easily. He told the man who tried to rip off his product that he had to say his name. With confusion yet no hesitation, the man answers “Heisenberg.” It seems like something a smug psychopath would say before murdering someone. But as we found out last week in his soliloquy about his employment history, Heisenberg really needs the validation. And he could go home happy, knowing that he is still the greatest cook in America. But, as the therapist he never had would probably say*, he made some great strides when he gave Jesse some credit for their blue meth creation. And of course, Jesse responded with a simple, modest grin.

The unpredictability of “Breaking Bad” that I have always talked about showed itself well this week. “Breaking Bad” is a slow burning kind of show. Every episode moves along at a creeping pace and by the end, either nothing significant or a game-changing turn of events will occur. And then when the moment comes that you realize something major is about to happen, it is absolutely terrifying. “Breaking Bad” plays off of the ability to either be totally predictable or unpredictable better than any other show I have ever seen.

Perhaps the most surprising part of “Say My Name” was the way it turned Walt into someone we haven’t seen in a long time. Even after committing what is quite possibly one of his most atrocious acts ever (competing with poisoning a child and letting Jesse’s girlfriend choke on her own vomit), there was a flash of the old Walter White there. Heisenberg, the man who never hesitated in pulling the trigger, seemed to vanish momentarily. The man who just wanted to protect his family may still be alive underneath all of that evil.

But as much as this episode and every single one before it is most importantly about Heisenberg, this episode will forever be notable as the last appearance of Mike (unless we are treated to flashbacks). Mike, the only one who really knew about drug distribution, was always memorable in earlier seasons as a great minor player, but this season he flourished with much more screen time. The fact that I nearly shed a tear as Mike died is a testament to how good “Breaking Bad” is at making bad guys likable without necessarily making us root for them.

While Mike’s death could have been dramatically over-the-top, it was rightfully toned down. The fact that his body falling is indicated only by a shaking bush in the foreground shows that in this world, people move on quick from death. One chess piece topples another. Or in this case, one chess piece may have toppled itself. Mike’s motive for killing himself remains unclear. I wouldn’t be surprise if it was his way of sticking up his middle finger at Walt one last time by not giving Walt yet another reason to boast. As Mike, Jonathan Banks scored a very high note so late in his career. It is a shame he never got any bigger roles before this, but his best days seem yet to come.

“Shut the f**k up and let me die in peace.” There is no other way Mike could have left this world.

*You couldn’t pay any therapist enough money to take Heisenberg as a patient.

Side Observations:

-That moment when Saul opens up a drawer filled with cellphones made me realize there are so many more stories to tell with this character than I ever imagined. Let’s make this spinoff happen.

-The Breakfast King was absent this week.

-The opening scene marked the return of the music which has graced multiple showdowns that Walter has gotten himself into. Every time I hear that music playing, I get chills in the same way I do when listening to the score of a Sergio Leone film.

-This may be Walt’s first showdown in the middle of the desert where he truly was the danger.

-Skyler’s constant scowling at Walt during dinner prompted this Tweet from “Lost” mastermind Damon Lindelof, which may be one of the funniest things I’ve ever read on Twitter: “I’m gonna open a theme restaurant called SKYLER’S where the waitresses sit across the table and fucking hate you. #BreakingBad

-That final scene made me think of several great modern westerns, such as “The Proposition” and “No Country for Old Men.” It looked very similar to the river bank in “No Country” where Llewelyn was chased by that rabid dog.

-Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) for the comic relief win:

Analog This: A Blockbuster Summer for TV; Maybe Less so for Movies

No one can deny it at this point: there is something wrong at the movies. Tentpoles and remakes just won’t seem to go away. A good movie feels like a treat that is too good for its own good. There is good hope when something like “Moonrise Kingdom” can find an audience. However, when even Batman can’t deliver, there must be a problem. However, one place I couldn’t find a problem this summer was on television. While film has already broken down so many barriers, TV is just figuring out how to do the same thing.

This summer (well, it’s been a long time in the making), cable and basic cable networks have nailed the formula down and created an entertainment experience that can sometimes rival even a great film. Now that everyone has a DVR box and access to the internet, shows can carry long stories in ways they never could in the past. Here are the shows that created a Blockbuster summer for the likes of AMC, FX, and HBO, amongst others:

Action/Thriller: Breaking Bad (AMC)

I don’t know if there is much more that I could say about “Breaking Bad” that I haven’t said before, but I’ll give it a try. “Breaking Bad” is one of the best dramas of all time in any artistic format. It is like watching a never-ending tragedy unfold. However, that tragedy is peppered with breathless suspense, spurts of humor, and unforgettable characters. “Breaking Bad” is how the Coen Brothers would make a show if they ever adopted the format. It melds many genres together, perhaps hitting its most breathless strides when pulling off little heists, such as the great train robbery they pulled off last week. Even as one of their best characters (Gus) “left” the show, “Breaking Bad” recovered by giving more screen time to its very colorful side characters, including Mike and Saul. It has been said that this show is about a chemistry teacher turning into Scarface. However, I cannot tell whether or not this will end like “Scarface.” “Breaking Bad” is too good for that. And while I cannot wait to see how the fifth and final season will end, I wish it never would.

Best Episodes of the Season: Madrigal, Fifty-One, Dead Freight

Epic/Fantasy: Game of Thrones (HBO)

Television has now gotten into the adaptation business. “Game of Thrones” has secured itself a long run, as George R.R. Martin hasn’t even finished writing his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series of which this show is based. I have not read any of Martin’s books, but this show is all I need to be totally absorbed into the Westeros universe. “Game of Thrones” rewrote some of the basic rules of television when it killed off a key character in its first season. Now, it continues on its dark tone, as it is impossible to know who is safe and who isn’t. Season two saw Westeros expand, and some new fascinating characters were introduced, most prominently Theon Greyjoy. Meanwhile, old characters such as Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) were more evil than ever. In Westeros, that means they were more compelling, and more likely to have success. “Game of Thrones” continues to differentiate itself from all other entries in its genre through perpetual moral ambiguity. Every bad action can be somehow justified as right. Moral ambiguity is the root of good drama.

Best Episodes of the Season: Garden of Bones, A Man Without Honor, Blackwater

Arthouse/Awards Bait: Mad Men (AMC)

Here is yet another show that I may have said all that can be said about it. Yet, I cannot stop talking about it. This season’s was the best “Mad Men” has ever been. And this is a show that has won the Best Drama Emmy four years straight. Season five gave Don Draper (Jon Hamm) a new wife (Jessica Pare) and a new outlook on life. It took a trip on LSD, and then plunged into darker depths than it ever has before. Don Draper is a man who is too big for a movie, and “Mad Men” has been the perfect home for his development. “Mad Men” is an amazing character piece because it not only captures the period, but the people inhabiting it, the way it was meant to be.

Best Episodes of the Season: Signal 30, Far Away Places, At the Codfish Ball, Commissions and Fees

Only “Mad Men” could make a French song from the 1960s into a part of the current cultural lexicon.

Indie Fare: Girls (HBO)

This has actually been a fantastic summer for independent cinema, ranging from microbudget flicks (“Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Your Sister’s Sister”) to those that could connect to mainstream audiences (“Moonrise Kingdom”). A few months ago, if you were to tell me that one of my favorite shows on television would be a dramedy about the lives of four twenty-something girls trying to make it in New York, I would have scoffed, and then yelled at whatever “Sex and the City” rerun was currently playing on TBS.

But “Girls” managed to exceed all of my expectations. Lena Dunham, the show’s star and creator, crafted a world that is as welcoming as it is raw. It’s hard to be truly shocked by new content nowadays when all frontiers seemed to have been conquered, yet “Girls” continues to surprise in its explicitness, and its ability to find its voice and its realism in its most uncomfortable moments. Dunham is emerging as one of TV’s latest auteurs, with this very personal, semi-autobiographical series. True to its Mumblecore roots, “Girls” lingers long on scenes that could have ended long ago to great effect. The most memorable of these is a fight between two roommates which covers nearly eight minutes of screen time.

Executive Producer Judd Apatow said that he hopes “Girls” will teach men more about women. And it does just that, by not leaving its male characters to the side (Adam Driver, who plays Adam, became one of the show’s best characters). This season, Dunham also dared to answer a question that no one ever wanted to ask: what does Mrs. Weir look like naked?

Best Episodes of the Season: Hannah’s Diary, Welcome to Bushwick a.k.a. The Crackcident, Weirdos Need Girlfriends Too, She Did

Awkward Comedy: Veep (HBO)

Instead of remaking a British show for American audiences, HBO decided to steal a British mind instead (commence brain drain!). Armando Iannucci, creator of “The Thick of It” and “In the Loop” brought his hysterically uncomfortable and pessimistic view of politics from Parliament to the White House.

As Vice President Selena Meyer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus shows once again why she deserves to be known as one of television’s best actresses. She plays the exact opposite of the very popular Leslie Knope from “Parks & Rec”: she’s seen how the political machine works, crushing the ambition she once had. She is bolstered by a strong supporting cast, which includes Matt Walsh and Tony Hale (“Arrested Development”). It includes tough, stinging dialogue along with an edge of meanness that puts some of Sorkin’s walk-and-talks to shame. “Veep” nails it best in the little details. It never reveals Meyer’s political party, or the name of the president. Some of the funniest moments lie in the more mundane tasks of the vice president, such as highly publicized photo shoots. And yes, the words POTUS and FLOTUS are hilarious.

Best Episodes of the Season: Catherine, Nicknames, Baseball

Experimental: Louie (FX)

“Louie” is the kind of show that cannot be defined by just a few words. It’s star, writer, director, and editor is America’s best standup comic. Every episode is also a half hour long. However, calling it a comedy wouldn’t do it justice. “Louie” changes so much from episode to episode. One episode might involve a homeless guy being hit by a truck. The next episode could involve a boat chase. Or diarrhea in a bathtub. “Louie” has an element of surprise that has been absent from almost every movie coming to a theater near you. It’s ability to stray from formula so well makes Louis C.K. one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. The work he is doing on “Louie” reminds me of Woody Allen at his absolute best. But to simply compare him to Allen is unfair. C.K. is a unique and incomparable voice. This current season has carried on the gold standard he set up for himself in season two, and has yet to disappoint. This has been one of the most exciting shows I have ever seen without continuous story arcs. Because of “Louie,” every Thursday this summer was a highlight.

Best Episodes of the Season: Telling Jokes/Setup, Miami, Daddy’s Girlfriend (Parts 1 & 2), Barney/Never

Movie Review: Celeste and Jesse Forever

“When we can’t change a situation, we’re forced to change ourselves.”

Leave it to the Sundance sweetheart to give us hope about love while strumming the tune of “Love Stinks.” “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is the first foray into screenwriting by actress Rashida Jones (and writing partner Will McCormack). If Ms. Jones decided to quit her day job, I wouldn’t mind, as she’s found herself a great new talent.

The opening of “Celeste and Jesse” almost had me groaning, as its opening looked like a slideshow made on Instagram, or a book called “What Hipsters in Love Do.” Luckily, the rest of “Celeste and Jesse” is neither of those things. Rather, “Celeste and Jesse” is something of a chameleon. At first sight Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) seem like a perfectly happy, perfectly sane couple. However, what they are doing is not at all normal, as they are actually getting divorced. The first scene, in which the two of them playfully fight over a cigarette in the car is so well done that it totally through me off once the big revelation came around.

This little secret is revealed at dinner with their friends Beth (Ari Graynor) and Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen), who are getting married soon. Beth and Tucker smooch at the table as Celeste and Jesse talk to each other in faux Russian accents, revealing exactly what kind of couple each of them are. It is the smooching couple that gets most annoyed, as Celeste and Jesse have yet to learn how to spend time apart.

While the two are visibly comfortable being just friends, it is apparent as to why they couldn’t make it as a couple. Celeste is the hardworking one in the relationship. She’s a trend analyst (that’s a thing) working at a small company with her partner and gay best friend Scott (Elijah Wood, in a bit of perfect casting). She has a book coming out called “Shitegeist” (a title that I wish I had thought of), which sadly doesn’t make it past the back shelf on opening day. Piling on to her professional troubles, her company takes on the obnoxious teen popstar (Emma Roberts) who she dissed on TV. While this is a relationship story, it is truly about the development of Celeste.

Jesse, meanwhile, is a slacker. As a grown man, he is not a slacker in the sense that he lays on the couch with a bowl of cereal while watching cartoons. He is more of a slacker in the sense of laying in bed all day with a bag of chips while sobbing to the Beijing Olympics. He’s a talented artist, but he can’t even finish a logo for Celeste on time.

Nothing says ‘bad relationship’ like a faulty IKEA cabinet.

After a while, you will start to realize that “Celeste and Jesse” is not a he said she said kind of story. As Jesse gets involved in another relationship, it becomes reliant on Jones. She shows a lot of strength both in handling awkward moments, of which there are plenty, as well as some of the sadder ones. There is a scene later on in which she gives a toast at a wedding. It works so well because it is played straight and the thematic element is played subtlety. It is exactly how the ending speech of “Crazy, Stupid, Love” could have turned out.

“Celeste and Jesse” certainly has some poignant things to say, and it says them all well. In ways, “Celeste and Jesse” made me think of another Sundance entry from a few years back, “Paper Heart,” which explored whether or not a relationship can be accurately portrayed on film. Maybe it is hard to get the complete picture, but what “Celeste and Jesse” wants to show is that it’s actually a very good way to show post-breakup turmoil.

To me, “Celeste and Jesse” felt very different from a lot of films coming out today, and some of its greater strengths proved to bring out some of the weaknesses of modern Hollywood. For example, none of the characters seem to serve simply as exposition delivering devices. Sure, many of them are there to tell the two leads how respectively crazy they are being at times, but those conversations always come out in the funniest and most delightful of ways. What I am trying to say is that every character deserved to be there.

At times, I could have sworn that I felt characters going off script. At times, it feels like a more understandable version of Mumblecore. As much as I (and I’m sure most other writers) enjoy long monologues, it is nice to hear responses that sound like they were delivered on the spot. Just listen to how Jesse feels about his middle name being Mordecai. You may be able to guess his response, but that doesn’t make his answer any less funny in its honesty. Speaking of which, Samberg can definitely play something besides over-the-top, and I get the feeling that his Jesse is somewhat like his offstage persona. That’s a good and bad thing.

“Celeste and Jesse” never demonizes any of its characters, but it is quite good at pointing out the flaws in those who seem flawless, and the good side in the people we often resent. While Celeste’s job is to predict future trends and know how every type of person behaves, she does not understand how to treat a boyfriend because she will just try and mold them into whatever she desires. Maybe the most interesting idea to come out of the entire film is that there is value in solitude, and a sense of maturity that arises when one realizes a time in their life in which they should be alone.

Speaking of flaws, this film does not come without them. Despite a short 90 minute running time, “Celeste and Jesse” drags on a little bit at times. There aren’t necessarily any bad scenes, but there are many scenes that do not advance anything and linger just a little too long. It is also a sufferer of Multiple Ending Syndrome. Just as the film seems to have hit a logical end, after it has said everything that needs to be said, it tacks on another scene. The short finale is somewhat fitting, but what came before it was much more powerful. Some of have said that some of the film’s individual scenes overpower the whole. That statement is only half right if you look at this more as a breakup mosaic.

Over 20 years ago, “When Harry Met Sally…” pondered whether or not a man and a woman could be just friends, and answered with a big, fat “no,” giving millions of guys in the friend zone hope. “Celeste and Jesse” explores this same topic, but with an answer that might make Chuck Klosterman happy. Celeste and Jesse’s struggle might show that it is possible for a man and a woman to love each other as friends. From there, I’ll just let “Celeste and Jesse Forever” speak for itself.

If you liked this movie, you’ll also like: Paper Heart, Tiny Furniture, Your Sister’s Sister, I Love You, Man, The Puffy Chair

Movie Review: Ruby Sparks

“Ruby Sparks” begins with the most terrifying moment in any writer’s life: the moment of staring down a blank page. It is also an exciting moment, because a story is about to be born. But, it is more terrifying because now you have to think of ideas, and a lot of them will end up being terrifying.

If this quirky (that’s a very good word to use here) film does anything right, it is capturing what it feels like to create a unique character, and then have the character and story engulf your own life, and become a part of it.

Once you write someone out on a piece of paper, it’s hard to erase them. That’s what Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) will find out as he crafts his dream woman. Calvin is a novelist who peaks early and has trouble replicating his earlier success. He also has a troubled love life. As in, he doesn’t have one. Calvin’s brother Harry (Chris Messina), who’d have been put to much better use if he served a purpose other than exposition, is there to constantly remind him that he could have a good relationship if he just went to the gym more often.

But Calvin’s only company is a small dog he bought to make friends. With great responsibility comes great irony, and the timid dog runs away whenever people try to pet it. In his loneliness, Cal keeps dreaming up a woman. Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), a red head with personality, inexplicably pops out of his dreams and into reality.

“Ruby Sparks” rightfully follows the Woody Allen principle, in that it doesn’t try to explain why something so crazy happened. All that matters is how people reacted to it. Imagine if they spent all of “The Purple Rose of Cairo” explaining how someone could leap out of a screen at a movie theater. Likewise, imagine if they spent all of “Ruby Sparks” trying to explain how Ruby came to life. An event like that almost defies all explanation. Luckily, we get none. Unfortunately, Calvin does have to spend a lot of time convincing people that Ruby came from his imagination. Understandable, I guess.

“Ruby Sparks” is a fantasy in every sense of the word. Not just because an imaginary person cannot simply come to life, but it is every male writer’s desire to write a plausible female character. But there is a catch to the creation of Ruby. Calvin must write down everything Ruby does, and every emotion that she feels. That might sound like every man’s dream, but it also means that one wrong word can send Ruby into a tailspin. That also happens to be another way that the film rightfully captures the writing process, as crafting a flawless sentence takes more thought than one would ever think.

I heard a discussion on a podcast once which postulated that anytime there is a story-within-a-story, the story within must be bad in order to bring out how good the actual story is. I always thought this was a good and logical rule, but “Ruby Sparks” breaks from it and mostly makes it work. Ruby is, by most standards, a good character: she is well developed, unique, and three dimensional. She has quirks and personality that go well beyond the surface. At one point, a certain character tells Calvin that all he really ever wanted was to have a relationship with himself. Calvin at first seems as blank as the Kubrickian white walls of his house. Yet, we find that Ruby is literally a chunk of him unleashed.

“Ruby Sparks” is the kind of risky story that Hollywood rarely takes its chances on anymore. Yet, it isn’t totally radical. The idea behind it is a nearly flawless movie concept. When someone asks what would happen if a writer’s creation came to life? my immediate response is what? instead of who cares. The idea feels a little bit like a throwback to the screwball comedies of yesteryear (in fact, it’s poster feels reminiscent to that of “Arsenic and Old Lace”). A throwback of this kind would include a light-hearted and funny spirit and a smart story. “Ruby Sparks” has the latter but oftentimes, it lacks the former.

The main flaw of “Ruby Sparks” is that it sometimes seems to forget that it is a comedy and leans towards too much self-seriousness. I appreciate that it tries to go for a darker twist, but it never prepares us for it. Calvin’s visit to his mother and step father goes on for a little too long, and doesn’t serve much for the rest of the film. However, it was really funny when Antonio Banderas put his glasses on the dog. Things get darkest and strangest towards the end. At that point, it almost lost me. There is a scene that should be there. It shows how Calvin tries too hard to control everything in his life down to his relationships. However, the way that it is presented feels more off-putting than it should.

Obligatory mention that Antonio Banderas is the Nasonex Bee.

“Ruby Sparks” is the first film that director duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have made since 2006′s “Little Miss Sunshine.” Here, they maintain that same attention to little details. Yet, “Ruby Sparks” lacks that same balance of dark humor which separated “Little Miss Sunshine” from every other indie road trip film. “Ruby Sparks” is about halfway to being a dark romantic comedy that comments on romantic comedies that is unlike any other romantic comedy.

Zoe Kazan, who plays the titular Ruby, wrote the script. When looking at it through that lens, the film becomes a little more meta, and I appreciate it more. Perhaps the fact that a woman wrote a well thought out male character who wrote a well thought out female character means that perhaps gender doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter so much anymore in Hollywood. Maybe the whole Battle of the Sexes (another feature of screwball) has finally ended. However, movies would be a lot funnier if kept going on.

The Movie About Dognapping You’ve Always Dreamed Of: Seven Psychopaths Trailer

I only post trailers for movies when it is something I am irrationally excited for and have irrationally high expectations for.

Today, the trailer for “Seven Psychopaths,” the new film from Martin McDonagh, was released. McDonagh’s last film was his 2008 directorial debut “In Bruges” which remains one of my favorite films of the past five years. “Seven Psychopaths” has McDonagh re-teaming with Colin Farrell, whose abilities as a comedic actor remain severely underrated. It also stars Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken, who are two of my favorite actors, as well as Woody Harrelson, who I like most of the time. It also has Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) sitting on a toilet, just in case you were dying to know what that looks like.

The story seems to revolve around criminals who kidnap people’s dogs, return them, and then collect the reward money. “Seven Psychopaths” could be somewhat less dark than “In Bruges,” if there are as many animal reaction shots in it as the trailer seems to portend. However, based on “Bruges,” McDonagh is not one who will let criminals get away with their wrongdoings unscathed.

Are you as excited for “Seven Psychopaths” as I am? Have you seen “In Bruges” yet? If your answer to the latter question is no, go rent it right away. Watch the trailer for “Seven Psychopaths” below:

Analog This: Breaking Bad a.k.a. The One Where They Rob a Train


This week’s episode of “Breaking Bad,” entitled “Dead Freight,” once again proved that the show that is never bad just keeps on getting better.

Obviously, somebody had to pull out the Jesse James comparison once the only solution to the methylamine shortage turned out to be a train robbery. This is not surprising, as Walt is starting to believe more and more that he is Jesse James. Here is someone who will push it to the very end without the fear of death. Maybe it’s time something bad happened to him, something that will finally make Heisenberg cease to exist. And that final straw may have come loose tonight.

Each season of “Breaking Bad” reminds me of the Tortoise: slow to start, taking its time at the beginning, and then taking off and not stopping. Tonight was like the taking off point kicking things into high gear. This momentum should get us through the remainder of this final season.

In one of tonight’s first scenes, Walt paid an unexpected visit to Hank’s (Dean Norris) new office. Walt breaks down and opens up about his fears that he is not a good father and a bad influence, as Skyler (Anna Gunn) told him in last week’s episode. The fact that I bought it for a quick second shows either my naivety as a viewer or Walt’s now uncanny ability to fool others. Of course, it was a rouse, and when Hank gets up to get Walt a cup of coffee, Walt hastily bugs the place. As Heisenberg, Walt is no longer guided by a need to protect his family but rather as a need to keep his business going. As he notes in the preview for next week’s episode, he’s in the empire business. In season one, he talked about leaving his family money to survive long after he died. Now, all he wants is a legacy for himself.

The one thing that currently makes Walt and Hank similar is that they are both good at hiding information that the other has no clue about. There have been many subtle hints so far this season that Hank knows about Walt’s secret criminal life. Hank’s words of wisdom to Walt seemed almost strained. This could foreshadow that Hank’s kindness toward Walt was an act, as Hank is probably the only genuinely good character on the show. Look how good he was with Walt and Skyler’s baby. The “Breaking Bad” team is slowly, slyly building up to a showdown between Walt and Hank. Bloody or not, I’m sure it will be one of the most memorable moments in television history.

But let’s get back to the heist at hand. With all of the methylamine barrels being tracked, Walt, Jesse, and Mike needed to find the miracle chemical elsewhere. So Lydia (the basket case who might be the most irritating character in the show’s history) suggests that they rob a freight train where they can find all the methylamine they need. At first, it seems like a suicide mission. But then, Jesse comes up with a way they can rob the train and not get caught. And while it’s kind of insane, it actually works.

This season, Jesse has become the man with the brilliant plans. Walt always talks about leverage and in case Walt ever wants to dispose of Jesse, Jesse has this leverage over him: Walt has the crazy needs and demands, and Jesse has the plausible execution. In an earlier episode, Jesse finds an old test of his from when he was Mr. White’s student. The words “NOT APPLYING YOURSELF” were scrawled across it. Jesse may not want to be a criminal, but when he applies himself, he is actually a pretty good one.

This is not the first time “Breaking Bad” has taken form of a heist film. They did it earlier this season, when they absconded evidence using magnets. During season two, in one of my favorite episodes of the entire series, they staged a drug bust and hired a fake Heisenberg to go to jail for them. Now, they were using a broken down truck to stop a train. That works. The next step for them is to drain the train of just enough methylamine for them to start their new business, but not too much so no one would notice that any of it was gone.

I hope “Breaking Bad” keeps doing heist episodes every once in a while, because they show off the absolute best and worst of the characters, as well as the best of the creative team behind the show. By setting the stakes so unrealistically high, the characters must think in ways they would usually never think. While most heists onscreen usually unfold with the predictability of the plan, “Breaking Bad” always draws its heists out and adds in unexpected obstacles. In the aforementioned false-Heisenberg scheme, another bald man accidentally gets involved in the middle of the crime. In “Dead Fright,” the unexpected obstacle is Walt’s hubris, which becomes more frightening and unpredictable with every passing week.

Part of the robbery involved Vamonos Pest Control’s (this season’s Los Pollos Hermanos) Todd (Jesse Plemons) pumping water into the barrels as Jesse pumped methylamine out of the freight car. Meanwhile, Saul’s henchman (Bill Burr) blocked the train with his truck. Once the truck diversion can hold no longer, Walt still doesn’t have enough methylamine. Instead of settling for what he has, he insists that they keep pumping, despite the fact that Jesse is under the train and the train has started to move. We now know that Walt will sacrifice the people who care for him so he can get exactly what he wants. It’s not so much that Walt thinks he will get exactly what he wants, but that he will do anything for it. Surprisingly, this isn’t so different from the Walter White of season one. Remember the “I’ll do anything for my family” mantra? Well, now it’s just “I’ll do anything for myself.”

The second the phrase “train robbery” was mentioned, I got giddy in the kind of way that a twenty-year-old probably shouldn’t. John Ford would be proud of those stunning shots of the railroad slicing through the wide open desert. The cowboys of the old frontier would rob trains for money and any other supplies they needed to live off of. That is what Walter was doing. But then again, they could have cooked with cough syrup. Clearly, Walt is still a man who thrives off of the idea of danger.

Speaking of western motifs, the Jesse James comparison came up once again. A few weeks ago, Mike tells Walt, “just because you shot Jesse James, doesn’t mean you are Jesse James.” But with this train robbery, Jesse James comes back once again. If anything, comparing Gus to Jesse James and Walt to Robert Ford might make a little more sense. If “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” taught me anything (besides the fact that snow looks pretty), it’s that Jesse James was still a hero despite being an outlaw, and even if his death would be better for the country’s safety, he would be missed by many. However, at this point I doubt that Walter White will be missed by anyone if someone pulls the trigger on him. If that was to happen, I am still betting that Jesse will take on the role of Robert Ford in this modern western folktale.

As the train passes over Jesse, barely missing him, I squirmed in fear that the show might off him in that moment. Because that’s how good “Breaking Bad” is: even when you know it’s not the right moment to kill a character off, you still get the feeling that any moment could lead to their demise. But after the robbery turns out to be a success, Jesse gets to yell “yeah, bitch!” This is his equivalent of a battle call of victory.

The celebration couldn’t last long. The episode began with a boy we never met scooping up a tarantula in the desert and then riding off on his dirt bike. Knowing this show, I should have known this was another instance of Chekhov’s Gun. The boy from the beginning appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Everyone on “Breaking Bad” has the ability to commit murder. Without a moment’s hesitation, Todd takes out his gun and shoots the little boy. Mike told them that every successful heist leaves no witnesses, but he never said what to do with children. It was a tragic moment, and one that brought Jesse to tears, while Walt just stood there silently. Past Walt would never have allowed that to happen. Next week, Heisenberg will probably conclude that it was “either him or us.”

“Dead Fright” ended with a very “Breaking Bad” shot in which the tarantula that the little boy had collected in a jar struggled to get out of the jar which lay next to the boy’s lifeless body. Perhaps it shows that Walt’s evil is becoming an inhuman force of nature itself, which drags in and kills anyone that gets in its way. As the tagline for “The Dark Knight” touted, welcome to a world without rules.

Side Observations:

-Anna Gunn is killing it this season. In earlier seasons, she got a lot of the same flack January Jones got on “Mad Men” after Jones’s Betty decided to kick her adulterous husband out of the house. Gunn’s Skyler was also faced with the tough choice of tearing her own family apart in order to protect her children. However, the difference between Gunn and Jones is that Jones has the personality of a doorstop. Gunn has gotten to show her true colors ever since Skyler broke bad. In season five, she is proving herself to be one of the few people who can stand up to Walt. She claims to be Walt’s hostage, but she acts like anything but that. 
-Lydia tells Walt that there’s an “ocean of methylamine” on the train. Maybe I’m the only one who felt this way, but I was immediately reminded of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) proclaiming, “there’s a whole ocean of oil under our feet, and I’m the only one who can get to it!” in “There Will Be Blood.” These two pioneers of the American West have a lot in common, including an unstoppable desire to build empires while putting their families at risk. Based on the flash forward that opened this season up, Walt is likely going to end up in a similar, lonely place that Daniel Plainview ended up in. In a perfect world, Paul Thomas Anderson will be asked to direct an upcoming episode.
-Once again, everyone was addressing Walt Junior (R.J. Mitte) by his old nickname of Flynn. This time, he didn’t seem too pleased about it, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he didn’t get to visit an omelette bar like I had wrongly predicted would happen this week. Perhaps the nickname was made to totally separate him from his father. The poor kid didn’t even understand why he couldn’t see his father anymore. When the secret finally comes out, I don’t think Flynn will be standing at his father’s side.
-Saul Goodman, who was absent this week, must have felt pretty left out. As the guy who always knows a guy, Saul is usually an instrumental part of helping Walt and Jesse get out of the messes that they create. 
-Walt, Jesse, and Mike make an awesome team. Their dynamic is very clear at this point: Walt and Mike fight over who’s right, and then Jesse comes up with the idea that saves them. I hope next time Jesse comes up with a great idea, it is accompanied with one of the graphics that included a bunch of light bulbs and the word IDEA that used to appear on “Rocket Power” anytime someone thought of something.
How Jesse comes up with his best ideas.

Movie Review: The Campaign

“The Campaign” didn’t necessarily need to exist. Jay Roach could have just shot footage of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis together in the same room, and I still would have bought the ticket. However, the fact that “The Campaign” gives them a purpose makes it all the better.

At this point, political satire has nailed down all of the main points pretty well: politicians will do anything they can to win, and they will also take any excuse to label their opponents as Communists. But the devil is truly in the details, and the challenge is in finding ways to make stale jokes seem fresh. The best example might be when Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) accidentally punches a baby in the face. The baby punching isn’t the funniest part; the fact that the scene is played out in slow-motion really seals the deal. And here I thought that showing the clip on every single talk show would make it less funny in the actual movie.

At the beginning of “The Campaign,” Ferrell’s Brady is going around telling everyone from auto workers to Filipino amusement park ride operators that they are the “backbone of America.” Political junkies will be surprised by how well versed writers Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell in American political jargon. This isn’t quite “The West Wing” penned by comedy writers (“Parks & Rec” and “Veep” are more in that league). It’s more like if “Step Brothers” focused on a bunch of Washington insiders. That is very high compliment.
I think this is my favorite performance that I have seen from Ferrell in quite a few years. He is in his element as a Ron Burgundy-type politician with less of a heart. Cam Brady is a congressman for a small district in North Carolina. His years in Washington have turned him into a corrupt womanizer. Despite a sex scandal involving a voicemail on the wrong person’s machine (to be far, who still uses an answering machine?), Brady runs totally unopposed.

In Washington, the Motch Brothers (which sounds an awful lot like Marx Brothers when said out loud), senior congressmen played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, look for a way to bring cheap, illegal Chinese labor to the Carolina district. Aykroyd plays a version of one of the men who made him homeless in “Trading Places.” How the tables have turned. The Motch Brothers’s plan is almost a cartoonishly evil plot. I could picture them coming up with this on Looney Tunes before getting blown up by some disguised dynamite.

The Motch Brothers decide their plan will succeed if they bring their own player into the race. They go with Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), who takes ‘inexplicable choice’ to a whole new level. Huggins, who is a variation of Galifianakis’s Seth Galifianakis, is the effeminate tourism director of Hammond. He knows many interesting facts about the town, such as the one regarding the time that Rosie Perez stopped in town because she needed to use the phone. They say people resemble their dogs, and Huggins is essentially a pug walking on its hind legs. His family, meanwhile, could have their own reality show. Galifianakis is a great comic actor because everything he does as Huggins perfectly fits the character right up to the way he runs, which can be better described as skipping with style.

“The Campaign” is a little like a political “My Fair Lady,” with Huggins learning how to walk, talk, and dress like a politician. Dylan McDermott gives a subtlety hysterical performance as Huggins’s campaign manager. He’s a man who often acts much more like a spy. Perhaps one of the funniest scenes in the movie is when he shows up in Cam Brady’s shower, seeing as he doesn’t even seem to open the curtain in order to get in.
Will Ferrell continues to amaze me in the sense that he always seems to star in the projects that he wants to star in. He seems to enjoy putting himself into “gross-out” stories with a very heavy social context. Even when he doesn’t write a movie, it seems as if he did. And now, I’m starting to feel the same way about everything Galifianakis does as well. After all, Galifianakis is a native of North Carolina. However, Ferrell isn’t actually a scumbag in real life.
“The Campaign” goes beyond the politics that push the plot forward. Roach allows a lot of the humor to come from the moments when the characters aren’t campaigning. In simplest terms, it’s about a lot of odd, funny characters doing odd and funny things. “The Campaign” may be a plot-oriented comedy, but something that stood out to me was that it was willing to take a break from itself in order to show the Huggins family dinner. And when one of his children starts confessing his darkest secrets, it appears that everyone goes off script. And for that it works all the better.
The living embodiment of Awkward Family Photos.
“The Campaign” obviously comes out during an election year, and it was definitely released at this time for a reason. It shows a sense of unabashed idealism that can only be found in a movie. However, that is the end. The means show a more bitter look at politicians. This time, there is no knight in shining armor. Everyone realizes that the only way to win is through dishonesty. Yet, despite all of Marty Huggins’s idiosyncrasies (to put it lightly), he becomes the movie’s hero because he is the innocent. Every comedy needs one. He is the only man in the room who actually wants to make good things happen. 
To me, “The Campaign” wasn’t as subtlety brilliant (there, I said it) as “Step Brothers.” And it definitely didn’t have all of the memorable one liners of “Anchorman.” And as far as political satires go, it doesn’t quite reach the top on a scale of one to “Election.” It doesn’t reinvent the wheel on political satirizing, but then again, I never should have assumed it would. It crams more laughs into 85 minutes than any other comedy this summer. And it wasn’t a sequel, prequel, remake, or comic book adaptation of any sort. 
Sometimes, a good comedy doesn’t have to tell a story that hasn’t been told, but rather make us laugh at jokes we’ve never heard. “The Campaign” may be flawed, and maybe it would have been  better with Adam McKay in the director’s chair, but I can say this: it certainly is pure. The political parties of the two candidates are mentioned only once and never again. Maybe that’s because campaigns are rarely about actual issues nowadays. Regardless, this is a comedy about the ridiculousness of American politics that anyone of any ideology can sit down and enjoy. That is, as long as you have a sick sense of humor.
If you liked this movie, you’ll also like: Anchorman, Step Brothers, Walk Hard, Zoolander, Trading Places

Movie Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Finally, a slacker “comedy” where no one utters the words, “what are you going to do with your life?” Instead, there is a fair heaping of “get your ass of the couch.” I find this much more reasonable and realistic.

“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is a nice film that’s also more than a nice film. It’s about a slacker, but it’s also about a hero. To my greatest surprise, this is a refreshingly irony free ride.

Jeff (Jason Segel) is 30 and still living in the basement of his parents’ house, which drives his widowed mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) crazy. Jeff has but one simple task for the day: buy a new wooden panel for the broken door. Even this proves difficult for Jeff. While Jeff is a slacker, he certainly isn’t lazy. Let’s call him a very motivated stoner lost in his own little world.

The first words to come out of Jeff’s mouth, which are stated like a confession into a tape recorder, that he watched “Signs” again. Jeff finds meaning in it that no one else can. Jeff believes that the world is ruled by some sort of invisible cosmic order, and everything around him serves as a sign. It is a testament to how careful Jay & Mark Duplass are with their characters that this comes off as enriching rather than ridiculous. It is also important to add that this brief monologue is given as Jeff sits on the toilet, a private place that could fittingly serve as a suburban slacker’s confessional.

Jeff is the complete opposite of his brother Pat (Ed Helms). Pat is the perpetually angry, middle class office drone that can be found more often in a Mike Judge movie. Pat only gives off the appearance that his life is together, when in reality his marriage is falling apart. His wife Linda, brought to life with Judy Greer’s genuine pathos, feels neglected by her husband. He buys a Porsche when all she really wants is to go on one romantic date at a fancy restaurant. Pat refuses to be around those “snobs” even for a second.

The fact that the two brothers pair up on a quest on this irregular day turns out to be a coincidence. It’s the kind of coincidence that Jeff would claim has a greater significance in the larger scheme of things. While in his basement domicile, Jeff receives a phone call from someone who has dialed the wrong number (which basically seems like the only purpose that land lines serve nowadays) looking for Kevin. Jeff deviates from his trip to Home Depot and instead tries to find out who Kevin is. After running into Pat, Jeff and him witness Linda having lunch with an unknown man, and pursue them to find out whether or not she is having an affair.

There is no limit to how funny someone’s lack of sneakiness can be.

Set in Louisiana, where the Duplass Brothers grew up, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is basically about ordinary people on an ordinary day, save for a few big twists. However, it would be a fallacy to say that nothing happens. Nothing is still something. A prolonged conversation about how to keep the love between two people alive can be considered the world on an insignificant day. “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is really about one regular dude with big ambitions. Those ambitions do not exactly include starting a new life, but rather finding more purpose in his existence than there actually is. This fits the Duplass Brothers’ approach to filmmaking very well, as they always find that even the most mundane events can be turned into interesting stories.

Surprisingly, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is more drama than comedy. I guess I should have come to expect that from the Duplass Brothers at this point. They tend to use comedic actors even when the material bends towards something darker and much more serious. Perhaps they cast this way because the best comedic actors seem to be prepared for anything, and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” constantly veers towards the unexpected.

Helms has played someone who is afraid of life (“The Hangover”) before, but he has never been this hard to root for since he first joined “The Office” as Andy Bernard and found ways to get on everybody’s nerves. At first, it is frustrating in how close-minded Pat is. Helms does well in keeping Pat  in a little delusional universe until fate crashes into him. Strangely, it is easy to root for him when he tries to win Linda back. When he sees that his wife feels no reason for them to be together anymore, he realizes every reason why they should be.

Segel, meanwhile, gives one of his best performances to date. He turns Jeff into one of those people you want to have in your life not necessarily because they provide anything useful to you, but simply because they give you a more positive outlook on life. Jeff will surprise you more and more as the film moves along. He can be at once child-like yet also more mature than anyone else around him. While his sheltered lifestyle cuts him off from real human interaction, it also makes him less likely to hurt others intentionally. And when he is listening to others, you can feel that he is giving his full, undivided attention. People with no real problems tend to be much more helpful to those who do.

The hilarity of “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” lies in little moments that pack a big punch. In a testament to how vital the actors are, Segel’s height turns into a recurring joke. In one scene, Jeff can’t even hide behind a vending machine without the top of his head sticking out.

“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is not perfect, and it never tries to be. There is something positive to be said about imperfection, and Mark and Jay embrace quick cutaways and blurring in and out of focus. They also don’t mind letting the camera run longer than it should, a technique that more directors should embrace nowadays. However, a big flaw that the film could have done without is Sharon’s story, in which she tries to figure out who her secret admirer is at work. This part of the plot isn’t necessarily bad, it just feels out of place in a film in which a series of random coincidences connect so well. It actually ends up being kind of intriguing until the big reveal.

“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is filled with revelations that are surprisingly significant despite seeming so simple. By the end, Jeff is disappointed to find out that his destiny isn’t so unique after all (he is only half right). After some major occurrences, Jeff finds himself back in nearly the same place he was at the beginning. While most films of this nature would include a montage of clips of the main character righting a series of wrongs before their love interest finally agrees to take them back (see: “Knocked Up,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Bridesmaids”), “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” decides to cut us off just as the change is about to occur. The Duplass Brothers like to do that (see: “The Puffy Chair,” “Cyrus”), but it’s never worked as well as it is here. Maybe just knowing that it happened is good enough. Maybe change isn’t about going to the gym or bring someone you love a bouquet of flowers. Maybe it’s just about doing something good without being told to do so. 

Bane: Before and After

Before seeing “The Dark Knight Rises,” I thought that I would be pondering questions about morality and Batman’s place in the world. Instead, I just wanted to know what Bane’s (Tom Hardy) voice sounded like before Christopher Nolan altered it.

But thankfully, as it always is, YouTube was there to answer my prayers. Thanks to gangsterturk25 (I don’t even want to know what that means), we can now know what Bane sounded like before and after. And while Bane was harder to understand in the original version, that voice still seemed so much more fitting. That is both because a man in a mask shouldn’t be easy to understand, and Bane should be scary and unintelligible. His old voice sounds closer to Sauron and Darth Vader. His new voice, as many on the Internet have perfectly noticed, sounds like a less-than-stellar Sean Connery impression. And when he says “your punishment must be more severe,” he sounds like an excited game show host announcing who the winner is. Believe me, Tom Hardy will impress you once “Lawless” comes out later this month.
Watch the video below. That opening plane crash sequence is so much more awesome when you forget about the fact that it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie.

The 2012 Sight & Sound Poll: Is Vertigo Really the Greatest Film of All Time?

Every ten years, the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound Magazine releases a list of the top ten films of all time. For every year from 1962 until 2002, Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane” was hailed as the greatest film ever made. And for the past fifty years, it has become conventional wisdom that “Citizen Kane” is indeed, the greatest film ever made.

This time around, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” was crowned as the greatest film of all time from votes by 846 movie experts. I am not sure what constitutes a “movie expert” in BFI’s eyes, but it certainly isn’t Pete Hammond or Brett Ratner.

Now, I don’t consider myself a complete movie expert just yet. I don’t think I’m completely certified until I’ve seen at least one Robert Altman film that isn’t “Popeye.” I should also check out “Lethal Weapon” already. But I can say that “Vertigo” is an excellent film, and one that is worthy of the growing influence it has gained over the years. Most people probably don’t remember that “Gigi” (just one letter off from being “Gigli”) won Best Picture that year. However, no one will ever forget that “Vertigo” didn’t even get nominated. As a filmmaker, getting a spot on a list is actually a much bigger honor than getting a chunk of gold in the shape of a naked bald dude.

Personally, I might not have chosen “Vertigo” as the best film ever made. It is not even my favorite Hitchcock film. Personally, I would have to go with “Rear Window,” which represents everything that a film should be. It contains a perfect balance of horror and humanity alongside a series of vignettes both heartbreaking and hilarious. It might not be his most landmark directing, but it is his greatest feat as a storyteller.

But this is not a piece about “Rear Window.”And I am not trying to sound smarter than the Sight & Sound voters (but if you told me I was, I would not turn away the compliment). “Vertigo” has influenced the way that films are made in both the biggest and smallest of ways. The famed vertigo shot, known technically as a dolly zoom, used to visually depict Scottie’s (Jimmy Stewart) fear of heights is something of a tiny marvel. The shot would be imitated many times over, perhaps most prominently in “Jaws.”

This is the closest that anyone would come to seeing a naked lady in theaters in 1958.

“Vertigo” could be considered one of the first psychological thrillers ever made. Or at least one of the first to go into reality-twisting dream sequences out of nowhere. The first time I ever saw “Vertigo,” I was in seventh grade. I had yet to see “Memento,” “Fight Club,” or “Mullholland Drive,” so the idea of a character being totally fabricated throughout was still foreign to me. I will admit that I didn’t quite understand the appeal of “Vertigo” the first time around. Catching it on Turner Classic Movies sometime later, I finally understood what was so damn special about it. Also, I cannot neglect to mention that this is the creepiest and most compelling performance that Stewart ever gave. “Aw, shucks” this certainly was not.

Compiling a list comparing any aspect of culture, whether it be film, television, or music, is not as easy as it looks. There is a fine line between subjectivity and objectivity, and it seems to be just fine to messily walk the line between both at all times. Is “Vertigo” both objectively and subjectively the greatest film of all time? I will have to give it another watch through, but I still find it hard for it to be objectively so. While it definitely deserves a spot in the top ten, I still see “Citizen Kane” as deserving that top spot. Even though it is not subjectively my favorite film of all time, I can say with no doubt at all that most great cinema we see today would not exist without it.

As for the rest of the critics’ top ten list, I feel ashamed to say that there are quite a few films on it that I still have not seen. However, I have been hearing more and more about “Tokyo Story.” Thanks to this list, “Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans” is officially on my radar. A great thing about lists like this is that you can come away from them with a few new films you have never heard of.

“The Searchers,” which earned a spot on the list, has continued to gain more and more prominence with each passing year. To think that it jumped from spot 96 to spot 12 on AFI’s Top 100 list. One thing I will never understand is the appeal of Fellini’s “8 1/2.” It certainly is not a bad film. However, his beautiful “La Dolce Vita” deserves to be the defining film of his career. While “La Dolce Vita” is filled with a similar level of chaos and bright colors, it also has memorable characters to latch on to.

In order to move forward as a medium, film must constantly change. That includes our view of its past. It is good to see that not everyone is going to agree that “Citizen Kane” is the greatest film ever made. A conversation between contrasting voices is how better, more informed opinions are created.

Along with the critics’ list, the BFI also releases a list in which directors get to choose the top films. This year’s directors’ list includes a few masterpieces that were wrongly neglected from the critics’ list, such as “The Godfather,” “Taxi Driver,” and “Apocalypse Now.” I guess the people who actually make the movies must know better than the people that review them.

View the lists here.