October 4, 2013

Bryan Cranston Plays Another Criminal Who Cares About Family

But that isn't his next project, oh no. For before he was ever Walter White, Mr. Cranston was the hygiene-obsessed Philip Moses on an episode of The Flash. And he came back to Central City to get his infant daughter and millions in bearer-bonds.

No ricin, though. And this kid seemed happier in the car.

My Five Favorite Films From...1990

Honorable Mention – Dances with Wolves: This film gets cut on more often than not these days. But I still think it was a powerful movie that killed a lot of myths about the Old West.

5. La Femme Nikita: Another Luc Besson film, another favorite of mine. Great movie. The remake with Bridget Fonda was “meh” at best.

4. Total Recall: Probably my favorite Arnie film after The Terminator. Fun action/sci-fi romp with lots of insanity and a nice “what is reality?” undercurrent that isn’t insulting or tacked-on.

3. Misery: A scary movie that doesn’t rely on cheap “scare moments” but revels in the pure horror of how people can mistreat people. In some ways the movie’s sledgehammer scene is more visceral and cringe-inducing than King’s original “whisper of the axe.”

2. The Hunt for Red October: Sure, Connery’s Scottish accent is kind of misplaced as the Russian sub captain. But this is one of the best Cold-War thrillers ever made.

1. Goodfellas: As gangster movies go, only the first two Godfather movies surpass this one. And if someone wanted to argue Goodfellas was the best, I wouldn’t think they were out of line. Note-perfect the entire way through.

Films I Like But Didn't Make The List: Air America, Cadillac Man, Back to the Future III, Arachnophobia, Cyrano de Bergerac, Europa Europa, The Freshman, Diehard 2, The Grifters, Jacob’s Ladder, Miller’s Crossing, The Krays, Pump Up The Volume, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, The Godfather Part III, Hamlet, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Kindergarten Cop, The Russia House, Joe Versus the Volcano

Underappreciated x2 – Tremors and Dreams: Tremors probably doesn’t belong here, because a lot of people know about it. But it is such a good pulp horror film I still think it doesn’t get enough love. And Kurosawa’s Dreams rarely gets mentioned when people discuss his films, but it is one of my favorites. The imagery is remarkable.

Guilty Pleasure – Blind Fury: Rutger Hauer. As a martial-arts expert. Who is blind. How can you not love a setup like that?

Insane Film That Must Be Mentioned – Wild at Heart: No surprise here, as almost any David Lynch film could qualify as “insane” in some fashion. Here you have a violent road movie with crazy Elvis allusions. Yes, that sounds like the “insane” label is justified.

October 2, 2013

Summing Up the Government Shutdown in One Picture

All of this is one big Republican temper-tantrum because the Affordable Care Act is law. And that isn't going to change. So like a child they are collectively holding their breath. Except, unlike a child, this idiocy is hurting the economy to the tune of $300M a day.


October 1, 2013

Movie Review: Play Dirty (1968)

You want me to inform against my own men, sir? - Colonel Masters (Nigel Green)

Director: Andre De Toth

Writers: Melvyn Bragg and Lotte Colin (screenplay), George Marton (story)

Producer: Harry Saltzman

Studio: United Artists

Major Stars: Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Nigel Davenport, Patrick Jordan, Harry Andrews

Note: In keeping with my policy about movies 25 years old or more, I feel no compunctions about revealing the ending of the film. With that in mind, there are SPOILERS below. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you may want to avoid this review.

I am almost 100% sure I have never seen a more cynical war film than Play Dirty. A “men on a mission” film, it is overshadowed by The Dirty Dozen, which came out a year earlier. But where that film involved the redemption of the commander and his charges, there is no redemption in Play Dirty, at any point. And that unyielding viewpoint allows it to overcome a mediocre script to be a good war film, but not one of lasting impact.

Using the exploits of the real-life Long Range Desert Group in WW2 as inspiration, Play Dirty involves a gang of criminals and cut-throats used by Colonel Masters (Nigel Green) as an irregular unit to probe hundreds of miles behind German lines in North Africa. On the verge of having his unit disbanded and his project shut down, he presents his superior (Brigadier Blore – played by Harry Andrews) with photos of a German fuel depot. He gets one more chance to prove his unit’s worth with a 400-mile ramble behind German lines to blow the depot.

It's here we get the first taste of the cynicism of Play Dirty. The brigadier calls in his subordinate and presents Masters’ plan as his own, using the irregular unit as a decoy for the real unit made up of British regulars. As these plans are made, Masters has Captain Douglas (Caine), a BP executive overseeing fuel deliveries, attached to his unit for his expertise. He is led to believe he is leading the attack when it is in actuality Captain Leech (Davenport), a mercenary-minded soldier who only cares about keeping Douglas alive because Masters is paying him a £2500 bonus.

The unit is made up mostly of the most despicable men you have ever seen in a film. There is no one here like Charles Bronson’s Wladislaw in The Dirty Dozen. Even Caine’s Captain Douglas, ostensibly the hero through the early part of the film, is revealed to be a cynic and cold at heart. And Captain Leech…it’s a great role that Davenport has and I wish that De Toth had given him a larger role. Davenport plays Leech straight; there are no efforts to make him likable. He’d sell you to the Germans for a nickel and you’d be a fool to trust him. Let me put it this way; the most sympathetic character in the entire film is a German nurse and she's a Nazi. That is how cynical and dark this film is; the Nazi is who you feel for.

September 30, 2013

"Cheer up, beautiful people. This is where you get to make it right."

Breaking Bad, along with shows like The Wire, Mad Men and The Shield, have made television once again into a medium where stories of worth can be told. But more than the others, I think Breaking Bad grabbed a hold of the audience with a story that was, on one level, relatable.

Obviously, it wasn't becoming a meth kingpin and leaving a trail of bodies in the process. It was that most people know the occasional feeling that we have somehow been screwed over. That we aren't living the life we are supposed to have. Whether it was our former co-workers, or friends or just the whims of fate, we look around and wonder what the hell happened.

And what made Walter White so popular, even in the face of his increasingly murderous and evil actions, is that he pushed back. Whether it was attacking the bullies that mocked his son, blowing up Tuco's office with fulminate of mercury all the way to forcing Gretchen and Elliot to provide for his family (which provided the best quote of the night as seen in the title), he refused to be kept down by what he saw as unfairness.

Obviously, this was also mitigated by his hubris, a ridiculous ego that got him in trouble time and time again. Who can forget him, drunk on wine, being offended by Hank thinking that Gale was Heisenberg? And getting him back onto the case that was all but closed. But in the cold of a New Hampshire winter (being born there, I can tell you that it can be very cold indeed), hubris and ego were stripped away. And we were left with the Walter we saw in the pilot. Well, almost. This is a Walter burdened with the horrible knowledge that all his sins weren't committed for his family or a greater good. He can't lie to himself anymore. They were committed because he was a greedy, egotistical, murdering psycho. But it is also a Walter who again refuses to lay down, this time so he can make things right.

It's the one time in the series where his flair for lying is only used on others, as opposed to also trying to convince himself he serves a greater good. He feeds into the fear and, in my opinion, guilt that Gretchen and Elliot feel to ensure that his family will be provided for in the end. He uses Lydia's regimentation and murderous impulses against her to ensure that not only will she die but that he will get inside the compound. And it is telling that the only lie he tells to Skyler is that he is broke, so that she and their children will be okay in the future.

There are some people not happy with the ending, that don't like that Walt "got away with it". But that is untrue and misses the point. Walt got away with nothing. He lost his family, his home, his reputation, his money...everything. He is a decaying shell of a man.

But what he did find was the smallest bit of redemption. That in all the muck of the drugs and murder and evil he committed to "provide", he pushed through and up and was able to claw back just a piece of who he was before all this began. And that isn't a bad thing. We should all hope that anyone, no matter their crimes, can be redeemed. Can face their actions and own up to them. That they can push back against their own badness and try to reclaim who they once were.

Even if the story was fantasy in some aspects, in the end it was a very human story. All of our frailties, impulses good and bad, the depths to which we can sink and the strength we can find to try and fix it...we could relate to it and understand it. And it was that part that pushed Breaking Bad beyond the other shows and makes it the best television I have ever watched. And it will be damned hard to top it.

Plus, no other show will ever have this:

Yeah, bitch! Magnets!


Site of Future Awesomeness

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