Monthly Archives: August 2013

Analog This: Breaking Bad- Burning Down the House

This is a recap of episode 11 of season 5 of “Breaking Bad.” The episode is “Confessions.”

Not that I will actually do this, but from now on I am going to stop trying to predict every little thing that will happen on “Breaking Bad.” That’s because nobody can mess with Vince Gilligan and the gang’s sheer brilliance and intricate plotting. I don’t know how this show will end, which is why I am not a writer for “Breaking Bad.”

“Confessions” opens with a scene that isn’t addressed for the rest of the episode, but it will definitely come back to haunt everyone. It is important to note that one of the men that Todd met with also orchestrated all those prison murders at the end of last season and now he knows Walter’s name. Also, that bloody tissue he wiped his boot with probably didn’t flush all the way, as this show follows Chekhov’s Gun very closely. 

After the credits, it was back to where we left off last week. The two a-hole cops continued to taunt Jesse, in a slow motion sequence that kind of resembled the opening of “King of the Hill.” However, once Hank walks in, things gets serious. Jesse, who looks like he’s aged about 50 years in the past three episodes, is still no closer to giving Hank what he wants to hear. For now, he still seems too crushed to do anything. Suddenly Saul, who always acts like he’s saving the day, barges in and reads Jesse his rights. In the mean time, Hank is no closer to revealing the truth to the DEA. This displeases Marie, who’s mainly around this episode to tell Hank to confess to the DEA already. Meanwhile, Walt was working on a little confession of his own. 

This was an episode filled with particularly long scenes, the best of course being the restaurant scene, in which Walt, Skyler, Hank, and Marie sit down for dinner and discuss what happens next. This scene displayed everything that makes “Breaking Bad” great: uncomfortable humor, underlying tension, and breathless suspense. The scene was funny as the waiter, who was basically the annoying Chotchkie’s waiter from “Office Space,” kept offering to make them guacamole while Hank gave Walt the death stare, all to a mariachi tinged soundtrack. All of their concerns are the same yet their goals are very different. Walt slides Hank and Marie his confession CD and walks away.

And here is yet another of the show’s great twists: Walt wasn’t actually confessing, he was instead framing Hank for crimes that he never committed. This has to be one of Walt’s most evil episodes. First, he manipulates Junior with his cancer, then he threatens to ruin Hank’s life. Mr. Heisenberg can be an evil bastard without putting his finger on the trigger. What gives Walter White most of his power is the fact that he is a brilliant man. 

After watching the video, Hank finds himself in more and more of a bind. Marie reveals to him that Walt paid for his medical bills after the twins nearly left him dead. The standoff between Walt and Hank is becoming more of a stalemate by the minute. Hank would probably take some satisfaction in knowledge of the fact that Walt is also scrambling for a solution to his problems. Walt’s desperation leads him to call a meeting with Saul and Jesse in, you guessed it, the middle of the desert. While waiting, Jesse catches sight of a tarantula, perhaps the same one owned by the boy that Landry/Todd shot last season. Poor Jesse can never escape his past. 

Walt is the biggest part of Jesse’s past that he can never get away from. He is like Jesse’s own personal cancer, as he frequently comes in and out of Jesse’s life and finds any way possible to ruin it. Walt tells Jesse that he should follow Saul’s plan from season three by calling the guy who can you a new identity. Jesse has more to look forward to in life than Walt does. However, Jesse isn’t having it, and decides to finally call Walt out for his selfishness. Walt looks insulted and says he would never do that and gives Jesse a big hug. Jesse immediately breaks down crying. The beauty of this scene and this character is that at this point, it could go one way or another. Walt has always been something of a father figure to Jesse, and the fact that he hasn’t offed him yet shows that he must care about the kid. However, this episode also showed Walt lie to and emotionally manipulate his real son. It’s nearly impossible to tell now whether or not anyone is safe from Walter White. Heisenberg isn’t dead: he just comes out whenever he feels like it.

So Jesse goes along with the plan. He tells Saul he wants to move to Alaska. I have no idea why. Maybe he would move there and assume the identity of Dr. Joel Fleischman.* Or maybe he would meet up with Francis from that season of “Malcolm in the Middle” when he runs away to Alaska.** Then, while Jesse waits for the van that will take him away to the freedom of a new life, he has a sudden Jimmy Neutron brain blast that his ricin cigarette, like the dope he was carrying, was snatched away by Huell, therefore realizing that Walt played a very instrumental part in nearly killing Brock. Sure, this came somewhat out of nowhere, but I’ll give it a pass because it was a means to a pretty excellent ending.

After punching Saul multiple times in the face, Jesse rushes over to Walt’s house, gasoline in hand, and starts pouring it all over his house. We never see the house actually go up in flames and given the show’s habitual misdirection, maybe Jesse never actually gets to burn it down. After all, the flash forwards show a house that is wrecked but not burned to the ground.

Last week, we got the cathartic scene of Marie slapping Skyler in the face. This week, we get the cathartic scene of Jesse finally snapping out of his funk and taking control of his life. But this was no mere act of vengeance; this was Jesse Pinkman finally freeing himself from Walter White. One horrible chunk of his past could really become just the bad dream that Walt described to him. Maybe Jesse won’t have to go to Belize after all.

*That whole joke theory that Walter goes off into witness protection and becomes Hal from “Malcolm in the Middle” is getting kind of stale, so why not throw in another fake theory involving another TV show?
**Okay, I know what I just said. But this would be hilarious.

Other “Breaking” Points

  • This review contains a helpful timeline of the events of Jesse’s life since season four that makes his revelation plausible.
  • Can anyone find any meaning in the colors on Saul’s tie. Come on people! Ties are the key to overanalysis!
  • Speaking of Saul, his license plate says LWYRUP. Because of course.
  • Can somebody please take a clip of Jesse crying and put this audio over it?
  • The way that Marie tells Walt to go kill himself is chilling. Betsy Brandt has been on fire this season.
  • “Jesus Christ Marie.”
  • More wind sounds in this episode. 
  • One of the many documents seen on Hank’s desk: “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.” I bet Gomie had some great jokes about this memo. 
  • Why does Saul even have a Hello Kitty phone?
  • The gun in the soda machine was covered in ice. Little details like this are one of the many reasons this show is different from any show that’s ever been on TV.
  • Wow, Vince Gilligan. I dunno. Having Walter turn away tableside guacamole makes him seem REALLY unlikable.” -Tweet from Patton Oswalt. So very true.
  • Seriously, who turns away tableside guacamole?!
  • That restaurant seemed like a Mexican version of T.G.I. Friday’s/Applebee’s/Chili’s to me. I would go to places like that more often if they actually offered tableside guacamole.
  • Okay, now I can’t stop thinking about tableside guacamole.
  • Saul has been involved with drugs, money laundering, and murder. You’d think he’d let smoking in his office go.
  • “I’m so upset that Lydia wasn’t in this episode!” -Nobody
  • There is a painting of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” in Hank’s house. This is one of my favorite movies of all time and I’m sure Vince Gilligan was also hugely influenced by it. I know I’m overanalyzing again, but I have a feeling that was put there for a reason. If we don’t get a standoff between three men in the final episode, maybe we’ll at least get some Ennio Morricone music. 

Movie Review: The World’s End

“The World’s End” marks the end of the Cornetto trilogy, a trilogy connected only by theme and named after ice cream. It’s as much about a trilogy of humans as it is about a trilogy of movies: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost have created a pitch perfect cinematic universe where the code of law is alcoholism and arrested development.

Clearly, I will stay away from all possible spoilers, yet it is important to know that “The World’s End” comes full circle in the most, well, circular way possible: it starts and ends with people talking in a circle. In the beginning, it’s Gary King (Simon Pegg), a man who is a former shell of himself. Gary is a recovering alcoholic who can’t quite erase the memory of the best night of his life: The Golden Mile Pub Crawl.

The pub crawl covered all 12 pubs in his small English hometown of Newton Haven. Craving to relive the magic of that night from 20 years earlier, Gary reunites his whole gang. While they’ve all advanced forwards, he’s stayed exactly the same. Gary has some unfinished business in form of the World’s End, the last stop on the pub crawl and the one place they never got to.

The beginning of the film compromises of a bunch of montages of misery as Gary attempts to reunite the team. All of his friends have now split off and got respectable office jobs, wives, and children. Gary thinks that because he has no responsibilities, he has absolute freedom. What he doesn’t realize though is that having nothing doesn’t always help you get to a better place.

I wish I brought a timer into “The World’s End,” because the buildup is so impressive. It goes an extensive stretch of time as a buddy comedy about a bunch of friends getting drunk and reminiscing. That would be a fine movie by itself, but what makes it even better is the fact that Edgar Wright then takes it to the complete next level. The buildup is what makes the stakes so much higher once the robots invade and bleed blue paint everywhere. Yes, you read that right.

It takes a really long time for “The World’s End” to get to the robots, but that makes the first attack even more surprising and worth the wait. Up until that time, Wright and the guys show their brilliant knack for recurring jokes. The beautiful thing about “The World’s End” is that I already feel like I need to watch it again because of how much I must have missed the first time around. In one subtle sight gag, Gary drives his old, beat up, gas guzzling car past a billboard for an electric car. Few directors are as good at understanding visual humor as Edgar Wright.

“The World’s End” is yet another of Wright’s satires of small town life. In making fun of suburbia, “The World’s End” eventually brings life to the mundane. It is in the little everyday things that Wright seems most interested in, which is why watching a beer get poured in one Wright’s movies can be as cool as watching a robot get his head kicked off. And yes, the fight scenes are better than any Hollywood movie I’ve seen this summer.

“The World’s End” also shows Wright’s proficiency in the language of cinema. “The World’s End” is a perfect sci-fi homage. It borrows from everything from “Blade Runner” to “Minority Report” to movies I haven’t even seen. However, Wright is no thief. He takes things from different genres, blends them together, and then adds his own thoughts to it. What brings it to the next level is that it is also a perfect look at the nostalgia that runs popular culture. Just like the zombies in “Shaun of the Dead,” the robots of “The World’s End” aren’t too different from the humans. Like Gary (who could be a stand-in for a lot of the people who attend Comic Con), the robots are programmed with selective memory.

Of the three characters that Pegg has played in the Cornetto trilogy, Gary is by far the most pathetic, but ultimately the most entertaining to watch. If the Oscars took movies like “The World’s End” seriously, Pegg would be a frontrunner for Best Actor. His self-denial is as sad as his snark is hilarious. Luckily, Pegg is backed up by a great supporting cast, especially Nick Frost, who is one of the most talented comedic actors working today. He spends most of “The World’s End” as a subdued recovering alcoholic. Once that does change (that’s not a spoiler because come), Frost becomes a master of casual slapstick. Oh also this cast includes the guy who plays Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as well as Pierce Brosnan, who sports a Trotsky/Evil Abed goatee.

Perhaps if “The World’s End” does well, people will start taking comedy a lot more seriously. Maybe a line like “he’s my cock!” doesn’t belong in a movie like this, but it is a line of dialogue that this story needs. It is the humor that gives “The World’s End” life and ultimately what makes its satire even sharper. Here lies the best damn movie so far this year. While “The World’s End” heavily debates the idea of slavery and whether freedom can be obtained by being a slave to something. Maybe I am missing the point by saying this, but Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost have my undivided attention and servitude for the rest of their careers.


Summer 2013: Movie Awards

Best Movie Directed by Someone with the First Name Woody: Blue Jasmine

Best Movie About Jews in The Rapture: This is the End

Best Use of Music From the 1980s: Frances Ha

Movie that Really Wants an Oscar: The Butler

Most Surprisingly Good Performance: Sandra Bullock (The Heat)

Best Against Type Casting: Kyle Chandler (The Spectacular Now)

Best Reason to Never Go Back to SeaWorld: Blackfish 

Movie that Most Resembled a Game of Dance Dance Revolution: Pacific Rim

Best Movie I Saw this Summer that Didn’t Come Out this Summer: Bachelorette

Best Documentary I Saw this Summer that Didn’t Come Out this Summer: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Most Believable Scoliosis: Liam James (The Way Way Back)

Funniest Tracheotomy: The Heat

Least Believable Use of Hacking: Elsyium

Most Believable Family Fight Over a Board Game: The Kings of Summer

Least Believable Family Fight Over a Board Game: The Way Way Back

Movie That Restored Some Faith in Superhero Movies: Iron Man 3

Biggest “Eh” of the Summer: Star Trek Into Darkness

Top 5: Summer Movies

We live in a weird time for movies. The phrase “TV is better than movies” gets thrown around constantly. While this statement is accurate most of the time, with “Breaking Bad” and “Orange is the New Black” providing hours of entertainment, there is still a beauty in telling a complete story in 120 minutes or less. While this summer had its share of mind-numbing blockbusters, it was also as good as ever. Summer is the time when all the movies that got distribution deals and big praise at Sundance get released so if you look closely enough, you’ll find a slew of great films every summer. So here it is, the top six films of the summer of 2013. I chose six because numbers.

6. The Heat

“The Heat” was by far the best surprise of the summer. Then again, I was wrong to ever doubt the meeting of the minds of Paul Feig (“Freaks and Geeks,” “Bridesmaids”) and Katie Dippold (“Parks and Recreation”). The fact that this is a female buddy cop movie doesn’t make it special, it’s the fact that it holds nothing back. In its third act, “The Heat” suddenly goes balls-to-the-wall. Never in my life did I think a tracheotomy could be so funny. There are also scenes of never-ending banter that never feel too long. In the end, the surprisingly palpable chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy helps to keep the film afloat and funny.

5. Frances Ha

Note to the brave men and women out there who cut movie trailers together everyday: try and hold back on the ukelele scenes, they tend to be misleading. “Frances Ha” is less a pretentious little indie than a truthful look at the lives of confused, pretentious twentysomethings. “Frances Ha” is the most satisfying film of Noah Baumbach’s oeuvre so far. Maybe it’s because him and Greta Gerwig have such a natural chemistry as a director-writer-actress team, or maybe its because this is the first one of his films that has a satisfying ending. Also, listen for one of the most diverse and catchiest soundtracks of the year.

Soundtrack sample:

4. Blackfish

I cannot tell a lie: I’m not quite sure how to review a documentary. What makes a good documentary anyway? Is it because you agree with the point its making? Or is it because of the way it’s gotten that point across? I guess it’s a little bit of both. Regardless, “Blackfish” is one of the most terrifying documentaries I’ve ever seen. “Jaws” made people never want to go back to the beach again. “Blackfish” guarantees that you’ll never want to step anywhere close to a Sea World for the rest of your life. “Blackfish” has an argument (keeping orcas in a tiny tank is dangerous on their physical and mental health) and it presents it in such a way that its impossible to dispute it. “Blackfish” has haunted me all summer long, but what people aren’t talking about is the detailed way that it focuses on the beauty of the orcas.

See the top three after the jump:

3. This is the End

They say that once you go meta, you can never go back. Then why do I still want to see movies written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg? “This is the End” is the funniest movie so far this year. It includes some of the best comedians and actors out there skewing their personas. It’s the only place this summer that you’ll see Michael Cera get impaled by a flagpole. What really makes “This is the End” a winner is that despite the apocalyptic explosions and demons, this is a very sweet, very human comedy, mainly because the friendship between Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel is the true focal point here. Think of it as “Superbad,” but with well endowed demons.

2. Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen makes so many movies that it seems like he has a comeback every few years. “Blue Jasmine” is the darkest and sharpest he’s been in years, as he chronicles broken middle-aged people dealing with the fallout of the financial crisis. Allen navigates a new territory (San Francisco) well as well as a flashback structure that he hasn’t dealt with in years. As the disturbed and broken Jasmine, Cate Blanchett gives the best performance so far this year. She’s equal parts frightening and heartbreaking and I wager a lot of Reel Deal posts praising her performance that she’ll be on the Oscar ballot next year.

1. The Kings of Summer

This was one of the first films I saw this summer and it is still my favorite. “The Kings of Summer” managed to avoid all of the cliches of the teen summer comedy. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers a comedy that is fresh and original. While it is often light and fun, it deals with some heavy issues in a mature way. Think of it as a more grounded version of “Moonrise Kingdom.” “The Kings of Summer” includes tremendous breakout performances from the three teen leads, especially Moises Arias as Biaggio, one of the most memorable characters of the summer. The film also has some of the strongest performances of the year from the likes of Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally as well as a variety of great cameos (Hannibal Buress, Kumail Nanjiani). Inexplicably, “The Kings of Summer” couldn’t find an audience this summer. However, in terms of comedies about a group of friends running away from home for a life in the woods, “The Kings of Summer” is up there with “Stand By Me.”

Honorable Mention: The Spectacular Now

Analog This: Girls Season 3 Trailer

The season three teaser trailer for “Girls” was just released. It’s noteworthy because there’s no actual scenes here; it’s just a slideshow of Instagram photos of the show’s production. It’s certainly a great way to get our attention and spare our attention spans. In related news, I heard that the season four “Game of Thrones” teaser is going to be a BuzzFeed list.

The trailer tells me absolutely nothing besides the fact that there will be a lot of beach scenes. Either way, I’m excited for season three, even if season two had a disappointing ending. I look forward to how else Lena Dunham intends to skew the half hour format, because she’s done some spectacular things so far. Here’s hoping that this season includes Allison Williams singing a cover of “Black Skinhead.”

Analog This: Breaking Bad Recap- Belize Navidad

This is a recap of episode 9 of season 5 of “Breaking Bad.” The episode is “Buried.”

Well, there was no way to top last week’s episode.

Last week, the cat leaped out of the freaking bag, tore up the entire place, and pooped outside the litter box after Walt warned Hank to “tread lightly.” This week’s episode was also tense, but in a much quieter way. It was a linking and in-between episode, a nice valley between last week’s eventful episode and what is sure to be another great one next week. 

“Buried” begins with a very sad Jesse Pinkman, having thrown all of his money on stranger’s front lawns like some rich paperboy, as he lies on one of those tilting and spinning things on a playground. At this point, he seems less sad then flat out dead inside. The overhead shot of Jesse spinning away is something to marvel at. It’s a great reminder that “Breaking Bad” is the most cinematic show on all of television.

The episode then picks up right where we left off last week: a stunned Walt stands outside of Hank’s garage. Hank, without saying a word, once again closes the garage door. Walt is more panicked and vulnerable than ever. His suspicions further when Skyler won’t pick up her phone and in the distance, Hank makes a call of his own. It’s enough to make Walt drive over to Saul’s, because calling him clearly isn’t an option anymore, as phone taps are a dangerous thing for a wanted man.

Shortly after, Hank meets Skyler in a diner where ever-so-sweet Hank offers his condolences and does everything he can to help Skyler. However, ever-so-blissfully-ignorant Hank doesn’t know the extent of Skyler’s involvement in Walt’s empire. The ever so-confident Walt and Skyler that emerged in the past seasons are starting to crumble, and their desperation is just starting to look like the scene in “Goodfellas” where Henry realizes that Karen flushed all of his coke down the toilet: they are helpless in a frightening, clueless way. 

This was a particularly long scene for a TV show, and one that proves that “Breaking Bad” never adheres to an episode-by-episode structure. Anna Gunn also has a strong chance to show off her dramatic chops in a scene where she must act like she’s a victim even though deep down she knows that she’s screwed. 

“Buried” also had some fine acting from Betsy Brandt, who rarely gets a moment in the sun as Marie. Her only major plot line on the show, in which she moonlit as a shoplifter, was one of the show’s few weak moments. This week, she was finally let in on the big secret by Hank. Hank probably shouldn’t have told. However, Hank’s confession led to the moment in which Marie slapped Skyler across the face. The moment felt weirdly cathartic, as if it were actually the result of five seasons worth of buildup. Marie’s true anger didn’t come from the fact that Skyler knew about Heisenberg, but that she’s been aware since long before the twins attempted to murder Hank. So that’s when the tearful Marie let her hand do the talking. And while many of you might find Marie annoying, she definitely isn’t wrong. 

As all of Skyler’s secrets came out, Walt started hiding all of his. Saul gave him some very Saul Goodman advice (dismantle your phone) and then some (more on that in a bit). Then came the welcome return of Saul’s goons (including Bill Burr, who’s currently one of the funniest standup comedians in America), who entered the episode by using Walt’s giant piles of accumulated money as a bed.

Walt then took the money out to the middle of the desert and buried it in barrels, a great opportunity to stick the camera inside some barrels as well. Maybe it was my sister and I who are the only ones on the planet to think that the digging scene felt a little like “Encino Man,” but you judge for yourself:

Foolproof argument right here.

Walt returns home that night a defeated and exhausted man. As he prepares to step in the shower, he strips down to nothing but his underwear, those same tighty-whiteys he last ran around in during the pilot episode. This Walter White is very similar to that Walter White: equally as pathetic, yet less innocent. However, Walter White from season one said “screw it” because he knew he was going to die. Walter White from season five gives up because he’s done everything he’s needed to and he knows he’s going to die.

It was in this brief scene that Walt and Skyler shared together that I realized how much power Skyler holds over Walt, and I’m not sure if she is aware of that. She tucks Walt in, who looks a little like a grown child at that moment, and stands over him as the puppet master. She pulls the strings. She’s the one who can choose to say one word to Hank and bring the Heisenberg legacy down. Yet, Walt still has this bit of leverage over Skyler: family. Walt asks Skyler to give away every cent of his money to his children and his children’s children if he is to die. “You keep the money,” he tells her. He wants to make sure that everything he did actually has a purpose.
Now, that’s already a lot for an hour long TV show. But that’s not all. Lydia is still here apparently, because the writers still haven’t found a way to write her off the show. But she’s here and she’s mad that her new cooks can’t live up to the Heisenberg standards. Well, she’s not mad, her Czech employer is mad, because she has no feelings or personality of her own. That also might be why she doesn’t bat an eye when the new cooks are brutally murdered, though she refuses to look. This brings Todd back onto the show. Jesse Plemons’ innocent look and kind accent do such a great job at hiding the fact that Todd is a psychopath. 
The catchphrase that didn’t quite take off.
Back at Casa de Schrader, Hank must decide what he is going to do with the Heisenberg file. Marie encourages him to just turn him in already to save his own skin. Marie is a good woman who always looks after her husband. Yet, Hank presents a fine rebuttal: the moment he turns Walt in is the moment that his career in the DEA ends. It’s hard to work for the DEA when you’re brother is a dangerous meth cooker, I guess.
Regardless, Hank returns to work the next day to a surprise visitor. Jesse has been brought in for questioning after his money-throwing spree. He’s giving the officers nothing, so Hank figures that if he goes in the interrogation room, Jesse might finally open his mouth. So, Hank proceeds, and the episode ends in a bit of an abrupt cliffhanger which doesn’t provide a lot but promises much for next week. This is a different Jesse than the one that Hank punched in the face. I have a feeling that Hank will eventually get to him in an incredibly well written scene, and then Jesse will provide Hank’s missing link to Heisenberg. 
Other “Breaking” Points
  • If Dean Norris doesn’t win an Emmy when this season is qualified for awards next year, I will be very angry, and write some blog posts about how angry I am.
  • This was a great night for comic relief. Gomez is back! And I was happy to learn this week that Steven Michael Quezada is actually a local Albuquerque comedian/talk show host. Glad to see Vince Gilligan goes local in his casting.
  • There was a haunting presence of the sound of the wind in this episode. Maybe it was to add a western feel to it, but whenever they use it, it sends chills down my spine. It reminds me of when Gus told Walt that “I will kill your infant daughter.”
  • Speaking of which, I love the way this show pays attention to sound as much as color. Also pay attention to the buzzing when Walt goes out to the desert.
  • Yes, Marie’s entire outfit is purple. But here’s a nice little easter egg: so is her teapot. 
  • Another great little detail: bullets falling through the roof of the underground meth lab. 
  • Walt is Daniel Plainview from “There Will Be Blood.” That’s just a little thought I’m still working out and thinking through. 
  • Skyler tells Walt that she “can’t remember the last time she was happy.” Walt might have left enough money behind for his children, but he can never be the great family man that he thinks he is.
  • Speaking of families, it is interesting to see Walt and Hank’s differing views on family. Last week, Hank, the show’s supposed hero, says “screw family” when it comes to bringing Walt down. Meanwhile, this week Saul proposed that Walt take Hank “on a trip to Belize” like he did with Mike. Walt refuses, saying that Hank is family. There is still one, little shred of humanity left in Walter White.
  • Where has Walt Jr. been? I’m guessing that he’s stuck in line waiting for a Grand Slam at Denny’s.
  • One last thing. This guy’s mustache:
“And what, pray tell, is the five-point-palm-exploding-heart technique?”
Thanks everyone for reading. I’ll be back again next week. And the next week. And many weeks over. I hope to hear some of your thoughts in the comments.

Movie Review: The Butler

“Cotton was all I ever knew.”

Pop quiz hotshot: Is this quote from the opening of “The Butler,” or a proposed sequel to “The Jerk.” Surprisingly, the answer is the former.
“The Butler” is a big historical drama that is filled with some shining moments, and some others where Lee Daniel is practically screaming “Give me an Oscar!” at the screen.
“The Butler” is based on an incredible true story. It is one of those stories that chronicles history from a character who was always behind the scenes as opposed to the forefront. Those stories can often be the most truthful, as observers tend to be a little more objective than participants.
Forest Whitaker takes on the role of Cecil Gaines, a man who was born to poor cotton pickers in the deep south. His mother is repeatedly raped by one of the landowners and his father is arbitrarily murdered right in front of him. The old woman who runs the house (Vanessa Redgrave) shows enough mercy to take Cecil under her wing and teach him to be a servant for faux-fancy white people. The name for this is something I choose to not reprint here.
Cecil practices and becomes very good at his job. He learns everything there is to know about fine dining, from which fork is for salad to which one is for the meat, or however that works.* Cecil runs away from the plantation and ends up in one butler job after another until he finally hits the jackpot: White House butler.
Cecil remains the White House butler for nearly three decades. Once Cecil lands the job, “The Butler” becomes a montage of mid-20th century American history, with some insightful glances into the lives of the men who ran America. The balance between the screen time each president gets is sometimes bizarre. Cecil starts work during the Eisenhower administration. It’s unsettling for at least a few moments to see a surprisingly quiet Robin Williams play Eisenhower. James Marsden is a more fitting choice for JFK, yet we spend a very small amount of time with the much celebrated president. Perhaps Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong figured audiences know enough about him by this point.
As a butler, Cecil is trained to be present yet invisible. Even though Cecil is the main character, he is also the audience surrogate. His duty as a butler is the same duty a viewer has when watching a film. Yet, as the years go by, Cecil becomes less invisible to those in power. He never gets to decide policy, but he is a really good listener.
“The Butler” is the least depressing of Lee Daniels’ films to watch. Sure, it has its disturbing moments, but it also has Lyndon Johnson (Liev Schreiber) yelling at people while sitting on the toilet and John Cusack playing Richard Nixon, prosthetic nose and all.
The presidential moments of “The Butler” are more entertaining than they are revealing. The strongest parts of the film take place in Cecil’s home. Cecil’s wife Gloria is portrayed by Oprah. This would be distracting if Oprah weren’t such a good actress. She is dynamic in every scene she is in, a good reminder of why she’s so successful. Thankfully, the home scenes aren’t all politics. A lot of them are just about everything from the culture of the time to the food that Gloria serves her family. You can find out things about presidents from the History Channel. Only in film can you get a real sense of how ordinary families of a certain time lived.
Cecil works hard and sacrifices so he can give his sons a better life. Cecil loves his country and turns a blind eye to the oppression, just because things have gotten a little better. His oldest son Earl (David Banner) won’t have any of it though. Earl gets arrested repeatedly for fighting for civil rights. The most fascinating scene in the film comes as a professor teaches a bunch of students how to participate in a sit-in. It basically involves being tormented without batting an eye. The scene is eye-opening and harrowing. It is a complete contrast to Cecil and Gloria, who just want to believe that what they’ve been given so far is enough for them.
Some of these more interesting undercurrents of African American identity are often tampered by Lee Daniels’ over-direction. The scene in which a Freedom Riders’ bus is destroyed by the KKK would be distressing enough as is. Yet, Daniels feels the need to put it in slow motion. Witnessing something as is can be powerful enough. When Daniels slows it down, it’s as if he’s blatantly manipulating the viewer’s emotions. Visual art is supposed to tell us how to feel but a little thing called subtlety is often forgotten.
The best performance Cuba Gooding Jr. has given since before that bunch of terrible movies ruined his career.
“The Butler” then takes its biggest misstep towards the end. I am not going to label this as a SPOILER ALERT WATCH OUT because this is history and nobody ever got mad about hearing how the Vietnam War ended in class. At one point, “The Butler” finds a nearly perfect point to end at, and then decides to keep going to the present day. Seeing recent history portrayed in film and TV is always a little jarring, which is why I’m not the biggest fan of “The Newsroom.” When “The Butler,” enters the Obama era, it suddenly turns from lecture to PSA. I don’t mind movies about politics, but it gets a little weird when they become political.
People have been calling “The Butler” “black Forrest Gump.” This is a thought I also had when I left the theater so this confirms that maybe I’m not racist. Anyway, while that title might be a little facetious, it’s also fairly accurate: “The Butler” is a look at history through the eyes of the little guy. However, it also relies heavily on forced sentimentality, which overshadow some of the greater aspects of the film. “The Butler” is a good enough Oscar contender that serves as a good history lesson, but it just misses the mark of a much better film.
I don’t normally give out letter grades for movies, but “The Butler is the definition of a B.
*Dining etiquette is hilarious. I know I’m an adult but I still don’t know the difference between one fork and another. Oops.

Movie Review: The Spectacular Now

Finally, here’s a teen drama that has so many things that I never thought I was looking for in a teen drama, mainly because I never thought I was looking for a teen drama. First of all, it’s not on CW or ABC Family. “The Spectacular Now” is not about petty problems but, well, the big things we face right now. Also, there’s no vampires.

“The Spectacular Now” is based on a novel, as opposed to director James Ponsoldt’s childhood. However, the one thing that the film actually has in common with his life is that it takes place in Athens, Georgia where he grew up. There is a strong sense of familiarity with the whole thing, as if he is reminiscing on all the spots he once called home.

The teenage anti-hero of “The Spectacular Now” is Sutter, played Miles Teller, who sounds an awful lot like Jonah Hill and acts an awful lot like he doesn’t give a crap. Unlike most high school stories, the protagonist isn’t awkward. Despite all the cracks in his life, Sutter is frighteningly self-confident for somebody his age. He’s just come out of a pretty bad breakup with a girl (Brie Larson) who seemed like his soulmate. Now, he’s writing an angry college essay with her as the subject. “500 Days of Summer” says something about turning your former loves into literature, but it’s probably a bad idea to put them into a common app.

Sutter has this vision of living completely in a delusional happy moment. He drinks as much as he can as a way to keep reality at bay. His mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works nearly all the time. Meanwhile, his father (Kyle Chandler, completely shattering the Coach Taylor illusion) is completely absent from his life, so he collects a series of father figures such as his boss Dan (Bob Odenkirk), who’s the definition of Southern Hospitality.

His delusional life view is compromised when he meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley) one drunken night. Well, he doesn’t really meet her. He ends up passed out on her front lawn and being the good girl that she is, she gives him a hand. The two begin to rub off on one another (personality wise, you sicko) and eventually fall in love. But given the fact that Sutter is kind of a jerk, he’s not quite sure if he wants to call it love.

“The Spectacular Now” is a lot about breaking stereotypes, which is why everything about this story feels so real. Just like Sutter, Aimee is also not like the kind of teen you’d find in this movie. Her broken backstory is put front and center, yet because her spirits are always so high, she never enters Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory. While she does have a love of comic books that she shares, the real thing that Sutter and Aimee bond over is there families. The way these two people bond and fall in love so sincerely made me think a lot of “Harold and Maude,” except, you know, they’re both the same age.

Speaking of that perennial 70s comedy, “The Spectacular Now” feels like it could have come right out of that era. James Ponsoldt is a wonderful director because he tends to let the film speak for itself. The camera usually sits still, and if it isn’t sitting still, then it’s slowly zooming in. One great moment comes and Sutter and Aimee stand by a window overlooking the football field. This conversation feels so important because we get to hear all of it without a single cutaway. Here, we see how little Sutter knows about what he will do with his own future.

“The Spectacular Now” is the kind of warm, character driven story only expected to be seen on TV nowadays. People like James Ponsoldt and co-writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (“500 Days of Summer”) give me faith in the continued strength of the self-contained story. It even ends at just right the moment. We, as the viewers have guided the characters to where they’re meant to be. And it was a pleasure to bring them there.

Analog This: Breaking Bad Recap- When One Garage Door Closes…

This is a recap of episode 9 of season 5 of “Breaking Bad.” The episode is “Blood Money.”

Last we saw “Breaking Bad,” Hank made the discovery we’ve been waiting five seasons to see. Last night, all of that came to light and it did not disappoint.

Vince Gilligan has such an amazing grip on how the camera works, he is like a master filmmaker who runs a TV show. He is so skilled at misdirection, that I thought the opening shot of a bunch of kids skateboarding in an empty pool was an episode of “Rocket Power.” Nice trying pranking America, Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

This was actually yet another flash forward in the “Breaking Bad” timeline. Walt, with a full beard and a full head of hair, returns to his dilapidated home to get the Ricin that he hid inside an outlet last season. Remember, on “Breaking Bad” every little moment means something and will likely be mentioned again. So you can bet that old lady who nearly spoiled Walt’s assassination attempt on Gus will be back.

I am really digging these flash forwards. They’re simultaneously fascinating and annoying. We see so much, yet get so few answers. Things are beginning to make a little more sense though. I have one possible idea that Walt’s not-so-pure meth that pissed Lydia off might invoke the wrath of some very angry customers.

Now that I got those predictions out of the way, let’s talk about how funny “Breaking Bad” can be. This was an episode chock full of with funny moments.  one of the funniest moments in the show’s history came as Walter simply uttered “Hello Carol.” This show has always been so good at peppering in tiny, subtle comedic moments in the tensest of scenes. After “Breaking Bad” goes off the air, Vince Gilligan should really give comedy writing a try.

“Blood Money” might be right smack dab in the middle of season five, but this episode still felt like something of a fresh start. Walt sheds his black Heisenberg outfit for something more plain and in the process starts to look a little like the old Walter White, sans mustache. Walt is running the car wash with Skyler now, and the most exciting thing about his day is that they might expand to another location. Walt may not show boredom, because he has no choice but to abandon the way of life that he loves so much, but he definitely feels it. Later, Badger describes a script for a “Star Trek” movie that he wants to write (someone please make this happen), in which the characters are stuck in a “neutral zone” and get bored. It doesn’t sound like the most exciting installment of “Star Trek” ever, but it definitely describes what Walt’s life is slowly becoming.

But enough theorizing about what Walt thinks about owning a car wash. There was an underlying tension between Walt and Hank throughout the episode, given that the episode begins with Hank discovering Walt’s big secret. The irony plays well for a while. Usually, Walt is the one hiding a secret from Hank and the rest of the family. Now, it is the other way around. For once, it was nice to see Walt being the one not in the know.

So after finding out the truth on the toilet, Hank went home early, as always blaming it on a bad stomach. After suffering a major panic attack, he puts the Heisenberg investigation back into gear. He sets up shop in his garage. This is a great opportunity to remind us all that Hank brews his own beer. Things go great until Walt stops by and asks some questions. This time, he doesn’t try and put a nice ribbon on anything he has to say, because the jig is up. The second Hank closes the garage door, my blood ran cold. It was such a brilliant way to raise the stakes of the scene with one slow little action. Once again, Hank displays his violent temper and punches Walt right in the face. Walt doesn’t fight back with violence, because no matter how much of a psychopath he is, he is almost always careful about when he uses force. Walt is an emotionless manipulator, while Hank can never keep his emotions out of his actions. Dean Norris is the MVP of this episode, going from a Kubrick stare to a cathartic anger in moment’s time.

The very last thing Walt says in this episode is “tread lightly,” a line that is likely to become yet another one of Walt’s classic, evil one-liners. Treading lightly and carefully is something the writers must have had to do as they created each remaining episode of the show. I thought that this moment would be held off for another few episodes. It was an incredibly risky move to put it in episode one, and a move that I believe paid off. I felt like I was holding my breath for a majority of the episode and once the credits rolled, I could exhale. I hate to have to wait another week for the next episode, but I think it’ll just make the tension even more exciting.

Other “Breaking” Points

  • Tonight was a night for some of the characters to start over, but how many times are we going to have to watch Jesse fall back into his drug addiction? It makes sense but haven’t we seen this enough before? Plus, sober Jesse would appreciate it when his friend writes a “Star Trek” script.
  • Speaking of Jesse, Aaron Paul is the best cryer on television. Take that, Jon Cryer. 
  • Five seasons in, and “Breaking Bad” still doesn’t know what to do with Marie.
  • Bryan Cranston directed this episode. I can’t wait to see what he does once “Breaking Bad” ends. 
  • When Walt throws up into the toilet, he kneels down on a folded up towel. Gus did the exact same thing in the episode “Salud,” a great reminder that Gus and Walt were actually not so different.
  • Hank lists all of the terrible things he now knows that Walt has done. If you forgot that Walt was a bad person, this was a good reminder that he’s kind of had a lot of people killed. 
  • Whenever Walt is in trouble, he likes to inform people, even those he is closest to, that they really have no idea who he is. 
  • Revelation: Saul enjoys happy ending massages. “Duh,” said everyone.
  • Flynn asking for extended curfew is the new Flynn asking about breakfast.
Never forget. (I did NOT make this, but I wish I did)

Movie Review: Elysium

Futuristic sci-fi films wouldn’t be much fun if they imagined the best possible scenario for the future. “Elysium” might be one of the bleakest versions of Earth’s future shown on screen.

It’s approaching the end of the 21st century, and Earth has become extremely overpopulated. Mankind is plagued by disease and pollution. Los Angeles, where the film is primarily set, looks like a third world country. The sleek, electronic buildings that lit up futuristic Los Angeles of “Blade Runner” are nowhere to be found. The tallest buildings we see are nothing but carved out skyscrapers now filled with shantytown homes.

Not everyone is doomed, though. A select few get to go live in Elysium, which is a utopian space station suspended above Earth that looks like a giant recreation of Beverly Hills. Everyone on Earth watches Elysium in wonder while nobody in Elysium can bother to ever look down at the place they once called home.

Max (Matt Damon), who for some reason is the protagonist, dreamed about going up to Elysium ever since he was a little boy. Now, he’s a grown up and he’s still stuck on Earth. He’s one of the lucky few to have a job, which he trudges to everyday while getting pick pocketed by a swarm of people speaking assorted languages (mainly Spanish).

“Elysium” is no easy place to get to. The hardline Secretary of Defense (Jodie Foster) won’t let any illegal civilian step aboard the space station. She is so insistent on this that in a particularly disturbing scene, she releases a series of bombs on a group of ships filled with innocent people.

The space station is almost too good to be true. Not only does it look like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but it even has machines that can heal anything from broken bones to cancer. Max gets lucky and ends up in the middle of a freak nuclear accident that gives him only a few days to live, unless he goes to Elysium. Now, he has a real excuse to get up there.

“Elysium” is the second film from South African director Neil Blomkamp. Blomkamp wowed me in 2009 with his debut feature “District 9.” “Elysium” is not perfect, but it’s not fair to call it a sophomore slump. It is filled with great ideas that unfortunately aren’t fully elaborated on. The most disappointing part is to see this nearly fully realized world go to waste. The film is called “Elysium” and Max spends so much time wanting to get there, yet so little is seen of it. Also, the idea of a Los Angeles that looks more like Mumbai is fascinating to me and I would have loved more of it, or even a more expanded view of what the rest of the world looked like at that time. A futurist should be as particular about details as a historian is.

Perhaps some of the universe building troubles stem from the story. “Elysium” is bogged down by a heist plot that boils down to computer hacking on about the same level of silliness as “Independence Day.”* What made a dystopia film like “Children of Men” so great is that exploration of the world was part of the story. “Elysium” limits itself to cold, gray corridors and the insides of rocket ships.** Not to mention that for an action film, “Elysium” has very little action.

Everyone involved in “Elysium” is doing the best they can, especially the actors, who deal with some weak material. Max feels like a generic action hero when Damon is capable of so much more. Not to mention, his love of Frey (Alice Braga), which should be the heart of the film, ends up being quite hollow. Yet, Jodie Foster manages to do a lot with a little and ejects her villain with icy apathy towards the struggles of others by using so few words. The real show stealing performance though comes from Sharlto Copley as the wild card Kruger. This is a complete turnaround from his aloof hero in “District 9.” He crafts a villain who is sometimes funny but can also be frightening just by the way he looks at you. If anyone from this proved to be leading man material, its Copley.

Looking back, “Elysium” at least gives you enough to paint a decent idea of what humanity is like at the time. You just have to look very closely at the small snippets. The best example comes after Max is arrested by two robot cops and then goes to police headquarters, only to go and talk to a voice box. This felt farcical yet totally plausible. “Elysium” shows a future where people are fractured because of lack of communication, whether that’s because technology has replaced most jobs or rich white people have decided to create their own planet. Had “Elysium” explored this more it would have transcended originality and been flat out revelatory. Instead, like many other blockbusters that try really hard to be important, “Elysium” just ends up with a jumbled message.

*I call it silly just because “Independence Day” came out at a very different time for computer technology. Let me just clarify how much I love “Independence Day.”
**No offense to rocket ships.