Friday, August 30, 2013

The Tragic Flaw...

Quick note: This post is going to contain spoilers for some of the “Final Season” episodes of Breaking Bad. I’ve generally tried to keep my analysis a season behind, but something came up that was so juicy, I had to work it into my analysis. What will follow is part of the discussion for “Buried” the second episode of the Final Season. Or the 10th episode of the 5th Season. I’m really fuzzy on the math of this. But if you haven’t watched it live, through DVR, old school videotape, had your friends re-enact the episode for you, or downloaded it legally or illegally, then I strongly suggest that you’re probably a time traveler from the 18th century. and you’re not sure what Breaking Bad is and why we choose to stare and glowing rectangles for so much of our lives. In which case, I have some other spoilers for you, and we can talk later. Onto Breaking Bad Shakespeare Friday!

Shakespeare loved the tragic flaw. In fact, when studying Othello, King Lear, Hamlet, or Macbeth (the big four tragedies), chances are pretty good that your teacher (albeit not as handsome as me) probably started out the discussion with a brief overview of each of the main character’s tragic flaws. (Inevitably screwing up Macbeth’s tragic flaw and mixing it up with Lady Macbeth’s but that’s another post.) But what a lot of people don’t cover is the fact that the “tragic flaw” is available in all flavors, and affects so many of the other characters. In Othello, the argument could be made that as much as Othello is jealous and easily manipulated, so are Desdemona (she let’s her husband kill her) and Iago (who throws everything into motion because he’s jealous of this dude who’s skin color is not the right color for him and has everything he wants). Most of Hamlet could have been avoided had they had a sitdown at the start of the play rather than taking advantage of all the madness, corruption, and paranoia. The play may have been shorter. And Macbeth is about a dude who’s kind of happy until he gets the idea to be ambitious, then his wife got all ambitious, too. Then Macduff gets all revengy and ambitious. Then they all die. As Bruce Willis might say, “Macbeth won’t be attending that hat convention in July.” (He gets beheaded, so the line is hilarious.)

My point being that the same with Breaking Bad: everyone has spent a long time analyzing Water White’s tragic flaw, which is a combination of pride and ambition. He’s too proud to accept help, so he has to go on and cook meth to pay for his treatments. (At the point in the series that he’s offered financial assistance by his former business partners, he’s already had one major failure as a drug overlord and had to murder two people. One of them he strangled with his bare hands.) Pride and ambition have long been associated with people on this show. Jesse throws out several batches of meth because he can “do better.” Gus Fring... oooooh, we’ve talked about good ol’ Gus, but when Walter crossed paths with him and hurt his pride, how long did it take him to go all boxcutter on people? 

But there’s one line that sums everything up, for me at least. Last week on “Buried” we get the conclusion to the long awaited showdown between Heisenberg and Hank. This is the moment that Hank has been waiting on for a year, and we’ve been waiting on for five. Then the moment is over as the two men run to their respective wives, and eventually Hank ran to Skyler. While confronting her, he let of this gem of a line: ““He looks me in the eye and says ‘If what you think you know is true.' IF!” 
Had anyone told me that line without the context, I’d look at you and say, “That’s a great line from Walt. Writing like that shows us what’s going on in his head.” But that’s Hank. Hank who’s pride is hurt, not from the fact that the Meth Druglord he’s been hunting for the better part of the year is his brother-in-law, but from the fact that he’s being taunted. The fact that he’s being underestimated again. That despite the fact that he’s figured out that his brother-in-law is Heisenberg, he can’t get the confession he wants. He can’t get the few words that he wants: “I am Heisenberg.” 

It’s things like this that push the show over the edge from mere entertainment to something deeper. To something that is more Shakespeare-like. I’m interested to see where we go from here. Really that line starts to seal up Hank’s fate: He’s going to have to die. Hank’s pride is going to get in the way, the same as Walt’s pride affected him, the same as Skyler’s pride is starting to affect him. The whole thing is just going to keep going in a vicious cycle, much like Macbeth or Othello or Lear. Now we get to add White to that list, and all the prideful people around him.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book vs. Film part 2: Mortal Instruments

Earlier this summer, I discussed book vs. film in a rousing post that dissected all the ways that World War Z the movie intersected with World War Z the book, and came to the conclusion that the movie managed to keep all of the excitement and promise of the title, then stripped away all of the things like the “plot” and “characters” and “point of” . But I argued that they could be enjoyed as separate entities, with the movie being one thing, and the book being something entirely different, both enjoyable. And indeed, I enjoyed them.

Recently, an awesome friend of mine awesomely got me involved in the Young Adult series, Mortal Instruments. I always had a passing interest in reading this book, but I always seemed to get involved with something else at the time. Then my friend said basically, “read it now” so I did. Also the movie was coming out, and I’d never read a book so close to a movie before, and I wanted to experience it. Normally by the time the movie comes out, you forget about the book, or at least those little things, like for instance changing it so instead of being a Romero-style slow moving zombie invasion that is told through multiple perspectives, it becomes a Brad Pitt saving the world summer action movie vehicle. So I read the book. And I loved it.

The plot: a young girl named Clary learns that her mother was a demon hunter, and as a result she’s a demon hunter, so she can see the secret world underneath our world. She teams up with Jace Wayland and Alec and Isabelle Lightwood to find the Mortal Cup and prevent this one really evil dude from finding it first. 

Quick note: there’s a twist at the end of the first book that makes a lot of the promo art for this movie extremely disturbing. Thankfully, just keep reading.

Anyway, so how did Mortal Instruments the movie stack up against Mortal Instruments the book? Very well. They keep all of the major beats from the book, cut some of the fat out (like any good adaptation should) and moves along some of the plot points that are present in later books. (like ruining the icky-twist, and one rather cheesy moment where one of the main characters, Simon, suddenly doesn’t need to use his glasses and has two tiny bite marks after his trip to a Vampire Hotel. Seriously?)

I enjoyed both, but that does complicate things. I already made the argument for both WWZ’s that they should be enjoyed on on their own, but here I am enjoying one movie because the book was explored so well. Am I negating my own argument? Should you just stop reading this blog now and pick it up again when I go back to discussing Breaking Bad?

No. You’re jumping to conclusions. But I’m proud of this week’s Breaking Bad Shakespeare Friday. Shameless Plug!

MI the Book was a great read. It got deeper into the story of Angels, Demon Hunters, Vampires, and one particularly fun moment that would have been cheesy had it been on the screen. I enjoyed the way the movie took these elements and condensed them down into a deeper moment. It did something rare, it managed to condense the book into a two hour form, something that too many writers today didn’t get. Either they change everything completely, or break it up to try to fit in every last plot point (and get your money. You pay for two tickets for this one book adaptation!) 

But again, it’s something that should be enjoyed on it’s own. It’s something that should be explored on it’s own. Overall the book is fantastic, and so is the movie. It’s great seeing these characters in your imagination on the screen, again, condensed down. I loved the way this was done... but again explored on their own as different things. But this movie is shows what an adaptation of a book should be. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Hamlet the Wondercat vs. The Salamander

It was the morning when the invader found his way into my house. A normal morning, like any other. The door was opened for any number of reasons... maybe I was checking the temperature. Perhaps it was time to get the newspaper, or even the mail I neglected to get the night before because I’m incredibly lazy. Maybe I was running late for work and threw caution to the wind as I tossed the door open with reckless abandon (sidenote: this was probably the reason.) But as the door was open and the house was a new place, the Salamander decided it was time to relocate to better surroundings.

He was an ordinary Salamander. He presumably led a normal salamander life before venturing forth into the cool recesses of my house. Maybe he had explored other houses and decided he liked laminate flooring, grey walls, and a vast collection of Star Trek toys. But he took those first few fateful steps into the house, and the Salamander’s fate was sealed. 

Almost immediately, Hamlet the Wondercat sensed an imbalance in his household. It’s a little known fact that cats, Hamlet in particular, are finely tuned to pick up disturbances in the force. That’s why there are so many mentions of Kitten-Jedi’s in the original Star Wars Trilogy. (Think about it: the Death Star is shaped just like a ball of yarn.) His white little ears perked up, and his differently colored eyes grew more focused. No longer just an animal sitting around, sleeping or wanting to play, not he had a mission: to destroy the intruder.

The first battle took place in the living room. Fortunately not the home of the aforementioned Star Trek collectables. Salamander deftly avoided his great white attacker beast, dipping and dodging underneath the couch, then over to the dining room table. Did he have the ability to climb the walls? Yes. Yes he did, as Hamlet the Wondercat discovered, as he leapt futilely towards the lizard. After an unfortunate experience with his head an the wall, Hamlet shook his head, and began round two of the great battle. 

The second battle took place in the kitchen. Hamlet let out a might roar as he pounced towards the tiny lizard. Of course, Hamlet was no match for the combined speed of the Salamander and those laminate floors that first attracted the lizard to his non-native habitat. Hamlet slid out of control, slamming into the kitchen table with such force that it knocked over an errant glass of water that had been left out because I was rushing off to work. 

Sensing an opportunity and a vast size difference, the Salamander dashed back into the living room, then under the nearest couch. However, unknown to the crafty lizard, Hamlet was well versed in hiding under the couch, being the youngest of three cats. He was still able to squeeze under it, although just barely. What he didn’t realize was the fact that this was just where the Salamander wanted him... under the couch, unable to quickly maneuver! Salamander was off, heading back to the portal that was going to take him away... but it was sealed! His escape was cut off? What to do next?

But it was too late. Hamlet the Wondercat had broken free from the couch, and was letting out yet another mighty roar has he pounced, this time catching the Salamander by the tail. Of course, it broke free, as Salamanders tails were built to do, but it still wasn’t enough... Hamlet the Wondercat had the hunting lust. With one mighty swipe of his white paw, the struggle was over, and the intruder had been neutralized. 

Feeling satisfied with is kill, Hamlet laid down on his favorite part of the couch for a mid-morning, pre-lunch nap, confident that he not only defended his house, but the beast who brings him his food would dispose of the body. 

Then there was the slight buzzing of a fly...

Friday, August 23, 2013

About that Macbeth Moment...

There’s a rule in film. No matter what, you don’t kill kids, and you don’t kill pets. Doing that is generally short hand for “the guy you’re dealing with is really, really, really bad”. In fact in Jaws,  Steve Spielberg (who’s like... the Orson Welles of filmmaking) kills off a kid and his dog early on so you knew that the shark wasn’t like other sharks... he was an evil shark, possibly built on an ancient indian burial ground.

So let’s talk about Macbeth for a minute. Macbeth takes the whole “no killing kids” thing very seriously, with Macbeth ordering hits on two kids - one to prevent his prophesied successor, and one because he was the son of his chief rival. Up until this point in the play, we could sorta get behind Macbeth. After all, he had no real plans to be anything more than a really good soldier up until he came upon some witches in the woods. (And can you blame him? If you encountered some witches in the woods, what would you do? I’d probably try to be king. And eat their house, if it’s made of chocolate.) After the witches tell him that he’s going to be the king, it’s his wife that helps to ensure that the position gets vacated. I mean, he’s not a nice man, but he’s hardly the monster that deserves to be (SPOILER for a story that’s been retold a billion) decapitated at the end of the story.

That’s a lot of buildup for us to start discussing Breaking Bad’s Macbeth moment: the killing of Drew Sharp. 

The body count on Breaking Bad has never been what one could consider low, and Walter White has had his hand in a lot of it, even if he hasn’t pulled the trigger. Jane, Gus Fring, Gale, Crazy Eight, the two random thugs... it’s an impressive list for a guy who was giving F’s to lazy students a few months back. And yes, it was evil Todd not Walter that pulled the trigger on Drew, the young kid who saw a bunch of men filling up a tub in the desert. 

Was the killing of Drew a necessary death? Not really. At this point he watched a bunch of guys filling up a tub. And they didn’t really know how much he actually saw. He was a kid. On a dirt bike. That could have fled if he really thought he saw something, or if he thought he was going to be in any danger. But these were all arguments made by characters on screen (Specifically Jesse.) 

The problem has been Walt’s reaction. His reaction is what proves to be our Macbeth moment. I’d argue that this is our tipping point where we no longer are watching Walter White. Walt’s gone. We’re now watching Heisenberg.

Walt was never going to win a contest for least selfish person alive. Jesse even reminds him at one point, “hey... you only needed 300,000 dollars for your kids...” But most of the deaths he’s caused have been to protect himself of Jesse. Gus Fring was threatening him. (Although I figure that given a long enough timeline, Gus was going to be killed by Walt... that’s another post.) Jane, while he didn’t kill her, was taking Jesse down a dark path. The thugs were going to kill Jesse AT THAT MOMENT. The most innocent is probably Gale, but at the time he was working with Gus, and posed a direct threat to Walt and Jesse. Also, let’s face the fat that as fun and lovable Gale was, he was cooking meth for a brutal drug lord. Gale, while “quirky” and “fun” was really a gun and an ego complex away from being Walter White. (That’s another post) Even Crazy Eight tried to kill Walter TWICE. These were deaths that, while brutal, were things we could get behind in some way. 

The problem with Drew is the fact that 1) Todd shot him... Todd, who was trying to break into the business. Todd, who was trying to impress Heisenberg/Walt. Todd, who’s really the first of Walt’s henchmen. (Not a partner or paired with him, working for someone else.) 2) They pulled the train heist the way the did SO NO ONE WOULD DIE. 3) they had no idea what he saw. 4) they cleaned up the crime scene, and that was that. The end. Goodbye to Drew, who was reported missing, and really not mentioned by Walt again. 

The placement of this death is also interesting. Macbeth has Macduff’s son murdered in act 4, just before the ramp up to the final act... same with the death of Drew. It’s the ramp up of the final act that starts to bring the true character of Walter (and Macbeth) to light. No longer are we dealing with the sympathetic characters that are victims of their circumstance... these are characters who are brought those circumstances on themselves, they just didn’t take ownership of it. It’s something that we’re going to see more of as the final act is upon us. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mandatory Summer Vacation Post: Do we Still Need it?

I’ve always wanted to do something with writing, even back in my younger days when I was a wee writer pretending to be a superhero of my own creation. (It was basically Superman. All young superheroes are all basically Superman. ) But back when I was beautiful, I considered being a journalist, ever so briefly. I eventually decided not to be a journalist mostly because I started doing it around the time that the whole new media thing started up, and the media became the mess it was today. (Note: This isn’t taking a side on the whole “liberal” vs. “conservative” media. It has to do more with the media’s resistance to accept change, and the fact that they have no idea what to do with this new, flash in the pan internet thing that just popped up, apparently.) 

Learning a lot about the media, though, has allowed me to pay attention to certain things that I wouldn’t notice usually. Like usually around May and August there’s a BIG focus on Summer Vacation. There are always these stories around Summer Vacation: “Oh, man, why do we give kids summer vacation? It was only instituted so kids could help with the harvest? Why do we let them run free for so long. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah blah” and basically rolls around to the fact that the stodgy old media writer who’s sitting in his office on a hot day is writing this while someone in a cubical over is probably checking Twitter to find out what’s going to be on the news the next day.

In any event, people tend to ignore the fact that a lot of the time people tend to forget that Summer Vacation is usually around to let kids... I don’t know... be kids. Get a chance to run around. Do something silly. Not sit in a classroom all day. Go outside and enjoy the sun. Or go see one of the many stupid movies that come out. Go to the beach. BE KIDS.

Then, of course, there’s the argument that students always forget more than counterparts around the world, forgetting of course that most of the time educational programs are gutted by idiots who are frightened by anything that challenges them. Summer vacation isn’t really going to hurt them any more than anything else. 

There’s always going to be too much time spent worrying about work. Too much time spent inside. How about we leave Summer Vacation alone for the specific reason that we just let kids go out and be kids. I had a professor tell me constantly that we will never be successful until we are as serious as a child at play.

In fact, even bloggers need to go outside and be a kid sometime. And he steals and writes a contrarian view to a popular topic so he can skip on his Wednesday Post and run outside and play.

You read it. You can’t unread it!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Summer Movie Season: Starting the Wrap Up

Sadly, we’ve reached that sad time of the year. By Joss, the Summer Movie Season is almost over. 

That’s right, there are just two more scant weeks for us to enjoy... well, really the best movies have already come out this year. I mean, We have at least two great ones coming out... Mortal Instruments (Which if you direct your gaze to “what I’m reading” you may notice that I’ve been burning through to get myself ready for it) and At World’s End, which promises to be the best movie about robots interrupting a pub crawl probably ever.  But sadly... no more anticipating Man of Steel, Now You See Me, Kick Ass 2, Star Trek Into Darkness... they’ve come and gone. In the case of RIPD and the Lone Ranger, in some cases faster than you’d expect. 

Of course, this helps push us closer to Prestige Season, which usually isn’t ushered in by Joss, and means that we may be reviewing them during the AMC Oscar Movie Showcase in February. We won’t be covering that as much, because it’s not as a special time of year. These are the movies that are SUPPOSED to be good. The real problem is that you can never tell if it’s going to be a particularly bad until after it comes out. The good news is that when a Prestige movie fails, it fails SPECTACULARLY bad. Like epic wow it really fails bad. 

In any event, despite the fact the fact that most people are predicting doom and gloom for this Summer Movie Season, I found it to be a great Summer Movie Season so far.  Here’s a quick rundown of how Summer movie season has affected me.

Number of classic movies I’ve seen : 4. It was a good season for the revivals of movies I’ve loved. Whether it was Bruce Willis busting space Terrorists, or Peter Venkman and company being slimed, or Simon Pegg being his Simon Peggiest... it was a great time to look back.

Best non-Prestige Season Prestige movie I’ve seen: The Way, Way, Back. Yeah, awkward kid coming to terms with things isn’t necessarily Summer Movie Season Fodder. But it was a fantastic movie. One that I’m sure may be discussed around the Prestige Season.

To All The Movies I Missed...: Yes, even a cinephile like myself I managed to skip past a few movies that I really wanted to see, notably Johnny Depp inspiring this year’s go-to Halloween Costume, Will Smith’s father/son bonding experiment through what’s left of Earth, and Men in Black but with dead people. 

It’s Learning if it’s based on a book: Yes, I got to see two of my favorite literary... things... turned into movies this year. And it was awesome. And you should go see them.

Superheroes. Everywhere Superheroes: For all the complaining about how there are too many superhero movies coming out, I really only was able to enjoy four of them. Maybe that’s because there was only four of them that came out. I know that’s an interesting ratio when compared to the hundreds of other movies coming out, but I guess we need a news story to explore.

There will be a full wrap-up when Summer movie season is over. Like I said, there are a few other movies coming out his week that I have to see, and we do need to see the one special movie... that horrible movie that comes out during Labor Day weekend, and it will be the best worst movie to come out this year!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Breaking Bad Shakespeare: Hal.. .the Proto-Walter White

Breaking Bad is a writer’s dream. There’s so much to discuss an analyze with this show, probably on par with Lost. (Fun fact: I know it’s trendy to complain about the ending of Lost. I know that a show that heavily relied on religious themes ending in a church might be scary to some, but before watching it, you should probably go back and watch it again.) Breaking Bad is so much fun to dissect, to look at little clues from one episode to the next, to see where certain breaking points are, to watch as Skyler screams “Shut up!” to Marie at the top of her lungs... I mean, there’s some awesome, awesome stuff at work here.

But there’s one thing that I want to address, and I know for a fact that it affected many of you. Let’s face it... early advertisements for this show were... interesting. They boiled down to this: Malcolm’s Dad in his underwear pointing a gun at you, and some vague chemistry symbols making up the show’s title. If you say that you thought the show was going to achieve greatness from that one little moment, you’re a filthy rotten liar. But I want to focus on a specific part of that... the “Malcolm’s Dad” part of it.

Bryan Cranston is known probably for two other parts beyond that of Walter White: Tim Watley, the religious joke making dentist that would occasionally bothering Jerry Seinfeld, and that of the dad on Malcolm in the Middle. Well, when I finished Breaking Bad the first time and was looking for something to binge on Netflix, I decided to go back and look at the role that sort of kept me away from Breaking Bad, and that was Malcolm in the Middle. Then I found that he was the best thing about the show.

Let’s face it, Malcolm (what I’m calling it from this point on) is a pretty dark show. The mother is borderline abusive, most of the children would have been in prison years ago, and there’s an entire episode dedicated to how Hal (Bryan Cranston’s character) gathering an army of giant men to do his bidding. (Not a joke.) Don’t get me wrong, it has some comedy moments, but this is probably one of the darkest shows to be listed as “comedy” out there. Don’t believe me? Pop in one episode. Just one. I’ll wait.

Back? Good. I see you can see what I mean now.

However, Hal was a great proto-Walter White role, and especially in the later seasons when Frankie Muniz was off trying to break into film roles (his role in the Syfy movie Last Vegas, which is known as the Syfy movie coming out this summer that’s not Sharknado is evidence of how well that worked out for him.) and the show started to focus on the other characters, and they realized that Bryan Cranston was probably the best thing on that show. You can always get the impression that he planned out every little thing that Hal did... how he was going to hold (or wave randomly) his hands in a certain scene... how he was going to inflect a certain word... even how he’d react in the background of something.

One of my famous “Hal vs. Walter White” moments comes later in the series when it turns out that Lois is pregnant again. Everyone is freaking out, and Hal calming looks at her, and says that everything is going to be ok, then calmly walks out of the scene, walks to his car, and starts freaking out, big time. Throwing a temper tantrum that would make seven year olds envious. It’s really one of the standout moments to me. It’s just such a switch it’s incredible. The follow up to that is a little scene that just really sells it for me. After losing his job, the family goes $26,000 into debt, then it briefly rises to $28,000 into debt, then they can proudly announce that they’re back to $26,000. Bryan Cranston looks up and says, “Look out, we’re back.” It’s just a fantastic moment.

It’s filled with moments like that. When he’s dressing to take one of his son’s to jail. There’s an episode dedicated to telling two different storylines: One if he takes his kids bowling, and one if his wife takes his kids bowling... just look at the little moments where he’s going for a perfect game. Or the dance off episode. Or the Burning Man episode. So many little moments that are just too perfect and bring us a proto-Walter White, making the darkness that enjoyable.

My point to this trip down to memory lane of a television show that managed to wrangle two Young Frankenstein actors using their German accents, is that I, like a lot of people, wondered how Bryan Cranston was able to pull off this character. The thing we forgot, is that sometimes the funniest characters herald the darkest moments of anything. Despite the fact that Breaking Bad is a dark show, and not something that would be considered a “comedy” (although the first few episodes could be considered a fish out of water comedy...) it can take an actor who’s able to make you laugh at some dark, dark moments to pull off a show like this. The thing is, even if they came back and told me that someone else was up for the role of Walter White, I don’t think I could imagine anyone else playing this part as well as Bryan Cranston. It really makes me sad that the first thing to keep me out of this show is the thing that has me invested so much. It’s sad that the thing that really made me nervous about getting into a show like this is the thing that sells it.

Make no mistake: This show hinges on Bryan Cranston. It hinges on those little moments that were perfected in his role as Hal that made the dark show so enjoyable. It hinges on the those little moments when Hal would take something exceedingly dark and make it light. It’s those proto-Walter White moments that, despite the fact that Walter White is a bad, bad man, makes you stand behind him and say, “yes. I get why he did that. Let’s keep watching him, now.”

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It's Movie Genre Time!

I’ve seen a lot of movies this summer. All types of genres: action, science fiction, drama, comedy... it’s been a plethora of movies. (And remember, you can only call something a plethora if you know what a plethora is. Steve Martin rules.)

However, it was while I was watching the remake of Olympus Has Fallen, the Jamie Foxx-Channing Tatum vehicle we’ve all been clamoring for, White House Down (which I gave a 3 out of 5... not a bad movie. Could have used more cool one liners and explosions), I started to realize that these genres just weren’t doing it for me. I mean, yes, White House Down is an “action comedy movie.” But it’s some much more. It ignores the fact that the movie starts off with a single person fighting against a bunch of bad guys, then teams up with a partner who just happens to be the President. (Unlike Gerard Butler, who didn’t need to team up with anyone to get the job done.)

So, I think it’s important to explore a more specific brand of genre so we can properly discuss movies. I mean, if you’re going to do something, you need to do it right.

Whedonesque: This is a film that’s similar to Joss Whedon’s work, and it’s characterized by making you fall in love with a character just in time to watch them meet a grisly demise. They do all this while making quipping comments. Joss Whedon managed to turn Much Ado About Nothing into something quite Whedonesque. Also, had Gilmore Girls killed off Dean in the fourth season, it probably would have been classified as Whedonesque. (Better than having him con Rory into having sex and cheating on his wife... sorry.. that’s another post.) The Fifth Element is sort of Whedonesque, although no one really dies except the bad guy. But It’s Gary Oldman, so you love him.

Die Hard in A....: This is probably the most prolific of unrecognized genres out there. I mean, we all know that Die Hard, in addition to being the best Christmas movie ever, is also one of the best action movies that was allowed to be blasted into our eyeballs. But a lot of people have tried to copy the formula by sticking one lone man who’s tight t-shirt or tank top makes him impervious to the thousands of bullets whizzing past his face while he makes witty comments and tries to make a catchphrase out of just about anything. Sometimes, they’re successful, like Olympus has Fallen. Sometimes they’re less successful, like White House Down. Sometimes they’re not successful, but time will vindicate them, like Lockout. (It was a prison. In Space. And he had to save the President’s Daughter. In Space. How do people not recognize this as the greatest movie ever?)

The Comeback: This one is great because it can encompass literally any genre, ever. But we know the story. An actor goes off the rails. We all eventually get tired of following the breakdown in US Weekly, so it comes time for them to come back with some spectacular piece of filmmaking that will win them tons of acclaim and we throw Oscars at them, and then they sell their tragic story to People. Then they probably go away for a little bit before having another Comeback. I kind of miss it, because we haven’t seen to many of these lately. I think we’re due, but Lindsay Lohan, the person most likely in need of a Comeback, hasn’t really produce a high profile, good movie in a while. Maybe Charlie Sheen will help us out in Machete Kills. Speaking of which...

The So Bad It’s Good: This is another one that I feel is well known, but at the same time is sort of mixed up with the Liking it Ironically genre. So Bad It’s Good, has a ton of intentional bad acting, bad editing, bad music choices, etc... so we can go in, recognize that a man’s head doesn’t explode when it’s hit like that, but we like it anyway. The Ironic genre is more a bunch of hipsters or “film buffs” deciding that they read a book on filmmaking once, and break apart rules they don’t themselves understand, but the e-book they illegally downloaded to their hipsterpad (that’s so much better than an iPad) told them that it was bad. So Bad it’s Good knows it’s not a good movie walking into it. No one is claiming otherwise, but it can be enjoyed on the merits of its badness. 

I obviously have some issues to work out with hipsters.

The One that the Media Decided What it was going to be Three Months Ago: So, I’m not going to start on a rant of how much the media can manipulate storylines, because everyone has their opinion on it. But sometimes, they’ll pick a movie. For instance, let’s take one from this Summer: Man of Steel. Now, the Superman Shield on my right arm makes me more prone to enjoy this movie, but if you look at some of the news stories, as soon as the writer and the director were picked (Zack Snyder and David Goyer) they said, “ooooh... is it going to be dark, or is going to be bloody like 300?) Then they all threw in the “controversy” that wasn’t for the ending. They ignore all of the facts, and continue to press their genre. It’s noble in a way. Let’s also take Green Lantern. Somewhere along the line the media decided that a movie about a test pilot that became an intergalactic space cop with the help of a magic ring was going to suck. So surprise, when a movie about a test pilot that became an intergalactic space cop with the help of a magic ring came out, it somehow didn’t live up to their expectations despite the fact that is set every single expectation. I hate this genre.

The Nicolas Cage Movie: Any movie starring the man, Nicolas Cage. This also encompasses 3000 Miles to Graceland because Nicolas Cage should have starred in this one. But didn’t for some reason. (It was about Elvis Impersonators that robbed a casino, then double cross each other. The bad guy claims to be Elvis’ son. HOW WAS HE NOT IN THIS MOVIE?)

The Gritty Origin Reboot: I don’t mean the superhero genre of retelling the same origin story but using darker lenses to film it. I mean the Disney Star suddenly starring in a movie where he or she is drinking heavily, swearing, and having sex on film so we can now think of them as adults. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Post of Victory!

I finally passed.

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or real life, you know the good news: I’ve passed the Praxis 2! For those of you who only read this blog... I’ve passed the Praxis 2. I guess you’re finding out now. Maybe you should click that like button on Facebook or start stalking my every move in real life. 

For those of you who don’t know what the Praxis 2 is, all of those lazy teachers that only take the job so they don’t have to work past 3 or during the summer have to take big tests to prove they’re qualified to teach in their subject areas while they’re taking the extra classes they have to take to get certified. But they exist so you can’t, say, just read one or two books then decide that what someone else is teaching is wrong, then demand that everyone learns only what you think is appropriate. But I’m just being silly, who would do that?

Regardless, I passed. I can’t tell how happy this makes me... I’ve failed the Praxis 2 countless times over the past year. It sunk me to a level of despair I don’t think too many people really knew about. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to pass. Despair is a funny thing, really. It gets into your head. It rattles around in there, tells you that you’re not good enough, and that the best you can hope for is to give up all your dreams and work a job that staves of starvation until you eventually succumb to any number of the things that are out to kill you.

Yeah... I went to a dark place for a while.

But then I mustered up, and I threw away the $60 dollars of Pearson-related study materials for the Pearson-sponsored tests (hmmmm... it’s almost like they WANT you to keep taking the test over and over and over and over and over again...) then I studied how to take a test thanks to the teacher who would have been the teacher I would have worked under, had I passed the test the first three times. (Lucky number four, baby!)

While I’m throwing a lot of sarcasm in here, I fully understand that it is necessary to ensure the people standing up there teaching your child understands what needs to be taught. Just do a quick Google (or Bing... just because you’re on a TV Show that’s being sponsored by Bing doesn’t mean you can’t participate in Bad Shakespeare experiments. I’m assuming those are the only people that use Bing.) search for the latest “controversy” over a teacher that is trying to teach. 

Quick aside: you’ll note that most of those controversies are started by one or two people. So... are we assuming that one person represents 6000 people now? The way that politicians jump on it, I’m just assuming.

Moving on.

My point with the complaining about the test is what I DIDN’T do to pass it. I didn’t sit down, learn what I needed to know about English and my subject area. Actually I did that three times. And each time it wasn’t enough. What I ended up having to do was learn the mechanics of taking that particular test. Then I took it. Then I passed.

Oh, I wouldn’t have passed if I didn’t have the knowledge of English. My point is that I didn’t study a word of English since the last time I failed the test. (other than my regular speaking of it.) Really the result should have been the same... I didn’t suddenly absorb all the knowledge I needed walking down the street. People weren’t shouting, “MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND THE USE OF SYMBOLISM IN DON QUIXOTE!” I was burning through past seasons of Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle on Netflix, not  re-reading all of the great literature of the world. By all accounts, I should have failed this time like I did last time. I just knew how to take a standardized test.

But today’s post isn’t just a rant on standardized tests, I have a whole career to rant about standardized tests. No, today is a post to thank everyone who helped me out during this time. Like I said, during this time, I got low. Very, very, low. There were days when getting out of bed seemed like a struggle. Passing that test flipped a switch. Things aren’t 100% better, and I still have a long road ahead of me, but I feel more like myself. I feel like I’m back on the right track after some stupid, stupid missteps. 

So, after all the rants, and all the worry... thank you. Those who helped me, you know who you are. I appreciate it. Even if you just took the time to read these little posts, I appreciate that too. After a brief stall, I’m extremely happy to be back on the right track, eventually doing what it is I want to do with my life.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Breaking Bad Shakespeare Friday: Why We Love George Clooney, but Not Andy Garcia

So here we are. On Sunday, Breaking Bad enters the final eight episodes that will tell us if this goes down as a Shakespearean Tragedy, or a mere Marlowean... Marlowe... thing. I guess. In any event, as you can tell I’m fairly excited to see just how it’s going to turn out.

But why?

Breaking Bad, as anyone knows, focuses on some not nice people doing not nice things. (Contrary to the beliefs of people who know of the show and do not watch it, it does not glamorizing anything, except pork-pie hats. Pork pie hats are awesome.) So... who are we rooting for in all of this? Are we rooting for Skyler, who’s moral stand against what Walt was doing lasted about as long as it took to realize they were really, really rich? Are we rooting for Hank to take down Walt? Are we rooting for Jesse to turn his life around, finally? Or are we just enjoying the ride?

One of the great things about this show is that it taps into the age old tradition of making “heroes” (or at least people we are rooting for) out of the Bad Guy. Basically, think of it this way: Andy Garcia wasn’t a “nice guy” during Ocean’s 11. But he owned a casino. The money that George Clooney and Brad Pitt was stealing was rightfully his. But we wanted those 11 guys to walk out with the money, and we wanted George Clooney to ride off into the sunset with Julia Roberts, despite the fact that he had better chemistry with Brad Pitt. 

Great stories are filled with the “hero” of the story being bad men that were compelling to follow. Think about one of my favorites, Macbeth. It’s hard to bounce back from the fact that he rose to power by listening to a group of witches then murder, then he orders the death of a child. Maybe we forgive the occult, maybe we forgive the murder, even, but when you start killing children out of paranoia, that’s pretty much the end of it right there.

Yet, Shakespeare pretty much sets himself as the “hero” of the story. Macbeth is the story of Macbeth. (And the closest parallel to Breaking Bad: The story of a man who is seen as not living up to his potential who works to become a king.) But we follow this man who is doing terrible things because we strive to understand why.

The evolution of Breaking Bad is similar to that. We understand Walt’s struggle at the beginning. We can even start to understand his struggle with wanting to help his family himself. At what point do we have to stop empathizing with Walt? At one point do we stop rooting for the bad guy? At what point do we want Walt to fail? At what point do we want Macbeth to fail? At what point do we want George Clooney and Brad Pitt to just finally kiss and get it over with? (That’s another post.)

Deep down, I don’t think we do. I think it comes down to point of view. No one can argue that Walt is a nice man, that ship sailed probably around the time that he watched Jane die. (At least for me. I’m sure we all have our own “Walt is irredeemable” moments.) I think what we want to see is the story as it’s been put in front of us. This particular story is the Tragedy of Walter White. This particular story isn’t about the good guy Hank taking down Walter. This isn’t the story of Skyler leaving her husband. (In fact, the reaction of people towards Walter is pretty telling... people find her annoying, not sympathetic because she’s trapped in a marriage with a murderous drug overlord.)

To me, this is why the last eight episodes are so important. Despite the murders, drugs, attempted rape... so many other things... we’re still seeing things through the eyes of Walter White... Heisenberg... the “hero” of Breaking Bad. I want these last eight episodes to continue this. I don’t want a shift in perspective. I want us to keep following our villain until the very end.

Here’s hoping.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Breaking Bad Shakespeare Fridays: This is How it Ends...

Next week sees the return of perhaps one of the greatest television shows ever: Breaking Bad. It’s also been quite a bit of time since we’ve visited Breaking Bad Shakespeare, where I threw out the idea that Breaking Bad was Shakespearean in it’s plotting, characters, comic fools, comedy, drug use, and tragic flaws. (Shakespeare as big on drug use. You tell me A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written by someone sober.) But since I’m re-watching Breaking Bad in honor of it’s return, and the fact that this is the most popular series that this blog has ever done (Way more popular than Dukes of Hazzard Wednesdays) I’ve decided that I wanted to go back and explore this show some more. 

Note: Obviously, spoilers for the current season follows. Given that the show itself is returning, has been on DVD, streaming, and parodied on countless shows (it was on the opening of the Simpsons, people) there’s really no excuse for the whole, “but I haven’t seen it yet!” stuff. We can’t have a discussion while we’re worrying about older spoilers. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan, Bruce Willis is dead the whole time in the latest Die Hard, and Clark Kent is Superman. I think that about covers it. (I’m not covering any spoilers done in interviews, etc. Just things that are up on the screen.)

When last we Walter White and the Scooby Gang, Walt was busy staring at his giant pile of money, Hank seemingly figured out that Walt was Heisenberg (or at least associated with him), we learned about Franch dressing, and we never got any further clues to Walt in New Hampshire with a fake ID, buying guns about a year after all the other stuff we just saw. (with hair!)

As mentioned, I have been re-watching the show, gearing up for every last little clue that the show holds for us, and trying to re-think some of the Shakespearean connections I made before. (Other than making me re-thinking how much I hate Skyler) there’s one element that could blow my whole theory straight to hell: The Ending.

Think about it, a good ending can make or break a show. Some shows have perfect endings (think Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or The Sopranos.) Some shows have terrible endings that make you rethink watching the show (Battlestar Galatica.) Some shows have deep, meaningful endings that isn’t spoon-fed to you, makes you think, so naturally people hate it. (Lost.) This is a critical moment for the series.

How Breaking Bad ends could really change how we think about the show. This isn’t something that can end with a “it was all a dream” and Walter White waking up next to Lois from Malcolm in the Middle. This can’t end with Walt figuring out that he was rich all the time in his family. I would argue that this show can’t end with Walt dying. No... we need a creative ending. We need something unique. 

Breaking Bad has been about one thing the whole time: Walter White. Not Walter White the meth kingpin. Walter White the failure. Walter White the guy who gave up on a fortune with Gray Matters. Walter White the father/husband who’s pride got him into this situation to begin with. The ending needs to focus on that: Walter White and his tragic flaw.

The truth is Walt had about a million ways out of this situation during the course of the series, and he’s turned them all down. This series could have ended in the second season: his rich friends offer him a job, he takes the job, he gets help, boom. Done. We focus on Jesse Pinkman and his quest to sell his house. (Breaking Real Estate? Spin off!) No this series has been about his pride and his desire to let his family know that he wasn’t that much of a loser. Not just his family. EVERYONE. We’ve talked about this before when we talked about Gus Fring: he saw the future he could have and he wanted it. (Enough to poison a kid and bomb an old folks home.) I’m building to a point, trust me.

The show can’t end with Walt’s death.

I know that’s the default idea: the show has to end with Walt dying, probably in a hail of something. Perhaps gunfire. Or his cancer returning. Or finally just offing himself because Skyler is so annoying. (I’m sorry. I know she gets better but those first few episodes are rough on her character.) 

But it can’t. That’s not his tragic flaw. His flaw goes further than ambition.. his flaw is entitlement. Terrible, terrible entitlement mixed in with his ambition. He sees where he can be one day... and he thinks he's entitled to be there. He needs to get to a point where he’s low... I don’t mean really low... I mean LOW. I mean he needs to be stripped of his power with no chance of him ever getting any of it back. It may not just be prison, either. He needs to be kidnapped by another drug lord and forced into service. Maybe he needs to lose everything so he’s sitting on the streets. He needs to be left alive, but with no sense that he will ever be able to raise himself up again. He needs to be stripped of not just his ambition, but his entitlement, his hope... everything. He needs to be in a hole from which he will never escape. (Just not one in the ground.)

Again, we’ll have to see. This is a very critical juncture. I’d say these eight episodes are the most important episodes of the series. I’m hoping that we’ll see something good. One things for certain: Bad Shakespeare is going to be around to take a look.