Archive for June, 2012

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Breaking Bad

Why this?

Because simply, it’s the best show on television.

Those who are already fans fully understand the implications of the above image.

Those who haven’t been watching are really missing out.

The upcoming season 5 has been announced as the final for the series. It will be composed of 16 episodes to be split into two separate 8 episode arcs and promises to bring an epic conclusion to the story of Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, and the many people caught up in the wake of their monumentally poor life decisions.

Vince Gilligan, a former writer for The X-Files, has created in Mr’s White (Bryan Cranston) and Pinkman (Aaron Paul) two of the most fascinating characters in television history. Both performers have won Emmy’s for their roles and they truly deserve every accolade thrown their way.

The premise of the show is laid out in vivid detail all the way back in the pilot episode. Walt White is a schlub of a high-school chemistry teacher who finds out he has an aggressive form of cancer with little chance of survival. He blackmails a former student, Pinkman, whom he has discovered cooks and deals meth. Using Walt’s chemical expertise, the two devise a batch of pure, high quality product that becomes a hit on the streets.

At first, Walt’s intentions are as pure as his actions are misguided. But every choice he makes in the service of providing for his family with the money he has made before he dies only serves to strip away more of his humanity and morality. Jesse just wants to make money and smoke out. Gradually, the confidence he gains while working with Walt makes him into a stronger, independent yet highly flawed man. The relationship between the two is very strained at times. One can only imagine at the inevitable showdown that awaits for these two.

I dare not say more for fear of ruining the many twists and turns that wait for our anti-heroes in the four seasons already aired. The uninitiated need to watch this show fresh with no spoilers. The acting is always stellar and the story never goes exactly where you think it might.

The first three seasons are available on Neflix Instant and the fourth is readily available for purchase at any retail store worth a damn or at Amazon.  Season 5 premiers on AMC on Sunday, July 15 9PM Central.

Because some things demand your immediate attention

Moonrise Kingdom Movie

Moonrise Kingdom (d. Wes Anderson)

****1/2

I’ll be the first to admit that I had grown tired of Wes Anderson’s schtick.  The Darjeeling Limited left me cold and The Fantastic Mr. Fox was, at most, a pleasant diversion and departure from the director’s norm.  More and more, it seemed that Anderson was telling the same story over and over again with different shades of the same characters.  He had become, to my reckoning, a hipster version of Woody Allen.

So, it is with no shame that I admit to being somewhat reticent to check out the latest from the auteur.  But with little else to do on a hot, Sunday afternoon I found myself near a theater showing the film and decided to give it a shot.  I’m glad I did.  What I saw was undoubtedly Anderson’s best since Rushmore and it runs a pretty close second to that highly regarded movie.

The success of the film is owed in large measure to the fact that Anderson chose to eschew using his usual (and admittedly reliable) cast of actors. Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are present in minor roles but there isn’t a Wilson to be found in the too short 90 minute running time.  In their place, you’ll find Bruce Willis and Edward Norton in delightful supporting parts.  The real stars of the feature however are young Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, both in their motion picture debuts.  They play Sam and Suzy, young kids in the throes of puppy love.  Their courtship is the heart of the movie and there wasn’t a single moment of it that rang untrue. 

Anderson has made a career of  telling stories of stunted man-children trying to deal with issues both fraternal and paternal.  With Sam and Suzy, he tells a simple little love story free of pretensions and wholly innocent.  It was a breath of fresh air and renewed my interest in any future offerings from one of film’s most accomplished storytellers.

Moonrise Kingdom is most likely playing at a theater near you.  It’s a real charmer and easily the best film I’ve seen so far this year.

Every once in a while, I’ll open up the vault to pull out a forgotten treasure or an underappreciated gem

Angus

Director:  Patrick Read Johnson

Starring:  Charlie Talbert, George C Scott, Kathy Bates, Ariana Richards, James Van Der Beek

This charming little teen comedy dropped in early fall 1995 with very little fanfare and left theaters just as quietly.  And that is a shame because contained within it’s compact 90 minute running time is a truly delightful film.

Granted, there’s nothing spectacularly original here.  Charlie Talbert, in his film debut, plays the title character.  He’s an overweight, brainy freshman who’s been tormented for years by the most popular guy in school, the good-looking Dawson-like captain of the football team.  The fact that Angus, who plays on the offensive line of that same team, protects that quarterback, allowing him the chance to shine, is lost on the fans.  Don’t they realize that championships are won by the defensive and offensive lines?

Anyway, Talbert has appeared in minor roles since and that Dawson-like captain, who was appearing in his first movie as well, went on to play Dawson himself.  Yes, James Van Der Beek plays a straight up asshole here.  Talbert shouldn’t feel too bad, though.  It’s not like The Beek has had a stellar career.

But I digress.

Like I was saying, Angus is a science whiz and a fat kid.  So, according to the high school hierarchy, he’s doomed.  It doesn’t help that he’s been in love with the Van Der Beek’s girlfriend, a pretty cheerleader played by Ariana Richards, since pre-school.  His occasional awkward attempts at communication with the young beauty only open him up to further ridicule by the jock and his cronies. 

But things are looking up for our hero.  His best friend is the only person in school more socially inept than he is. His mom and grandfather, played by Oscar winners Kathy Bates and George C Scott, are very supportive of both his athletic and scholarly pursuits.  And, if he nails his science project, he’s got a chance at getting into a magnet school where he will no longer be exposed to the puerile and childish antics of his peers.

I’d tell you more but I want you to watch the movie.  I mean, it won’t change your life but it will make you feel pretty good.  Angus is a very likable guy.  His family is great.  His friend is loyal and flawed.  The cheerleader turns out to be a rather worthwhile object of his affections.  Van Der Beek is still a cock but that’s to be expected.

Bonus points are awarded for one of the best opening title songs I’ve ever heard in a movie.  Love Spit Love ‘s “Am I Wrong” is mixed with a high-school marching band playing over the football game that begins the action.  It’s a stirring song and gets you in the mood for a good flick.  Who is Love Spit Love, you ask?  I don’t know.  I just like the song.

Angus is not available at retail but can be purchased on demand through Warner Archives  and at Amazon on DVD or Instant Video.

A while back I was doing some research and landed on a movie site detailing the week-by-week releases of films in past years and their box office gross.  Out of curiosity, I checked out 1982, the year that my favorite movie of all time came out (more on that later.)  Upon further study, I was shocked to see the number of all-time greats that were released in a six-week period between May 28 and July 9.

So when the Alamo Drafthouse announced their ‘Summer of ’82’ film series, it didn’t come as a big surprise to me.  These were classics after all, genre geek catnip one and all.  And I had seen a lot of them in the  theater over that eventful summer.  A quality film experience is about more than the mere viewing of the movie.  It’s about who you saw it with and where.  It’s about the excitement in the weeks leading up to it.  It’s about the excited conversation immediately after seeing it.  These are film experiences I still remember and always will. 

Be somebody or be somebody’s punching bag

Rocky III came out on May 28.  I think it may have been the day school let out.  I was 10 years old and had just gotten done with 5th grade.  I went with my dad.  It was at the old twin screen Movies theater in Corpus Christi.  That’s a generic name for a movie theater but it was a great place to catch a flick.  I saw lots of stuff there.

I had seen the first two in the series but only on TV.  I was pretty excited.  The wait in line to get into the movie was long (this was back when people would camp out to get a ticket.  No advanced ticket sales back then.)  I loved Mr. T as the villain.  At the time, I had no idea who the hell Hulk Hogan was and didn’t really care.  I was sad when Micky died and Rocky lost the championship.  I exulted in the rivalry turned friendship of Balboa and Apollo Creed.  I cheered when Rock laid Clubber Lang on the canvas.  It was the prototypical Rocky movie.  What wasn’t to like?

KHAAAAAA *cough* AAAAAAAANNN!

Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan was released on June 4.  By that point, I was in Victoria visiting my grandparents (Dad’s folks.)  I visited them for a few weeks every summer.  My uncle took me to see the continuing voyages of the Starship Enterprise the night it opened.  He had grown up watching the show.  This was my first real exposure though I was somewhat familiar with the concept and the characters and may have glanced up from my Hot Wheels and Star Wars action figures some summer night long enough to catch some of the original series on cable. 

 The movie was a follow-up to the oft maligned Star Trek:  The Motion Picture which I’ve never seen and many figured it was the last gasp for the cult franchise.  Boy, were they wrong.  I know I was sold and never missed any of the subsequent films in the theater. I love this movie and it has over the years rather sneakily landed in my Top Ten faves of all time.  I will admit to being somewhat unaffected by Spock’s death but then again I didn’t have the context to appreciate the emotion of the moment.  Little did I know that another death in another movie to be released but a week later would wreck my fragile 10-year-old soul.

You will believe a boy and a frog alien can fly

E.T.:  The Extra Terrestrial was released on June 11.  I didn’t see it the opening weekend.  I was strictly forbidden by my father to see it until he came to visit his folks and pick me up at the end of my stay in Victoria.  I don’t really remember what I was expecting or how much I knew about it.  I do know that Dad had sent me a bookmark with E.T.’s visage on it.  It fueled my interest and by the end of June when he arrived we went that very night to go see it.  That was the night it became my favorite movie.  Nothing I’ve seen since has even come close.

My father, I believe, was privy to some of the twists and turns of the plot or he was at least, having been quite the movie hound, aware that when E.T. died with about 30 minutes left in the running time that this was not likely the end for our otherworldly hero.  But when I broke down crying, like the 10-year old I was, he couldn’t very well tell me that E.T. was going to come back.  That would have ruined that magical moment when his heart once more lights at the return of his parents.  They came back for him after all.  I walked out of that theater in love with the movie.  Hell, in love with movies themselves.

*******

There were other films I saw that summer.  Some good, like Tron.  Some bad, like MegaForce.  Some forgettable, like Firefox.  I missed others that went on to become classics.  The Thing has become quite possibly my favorite sci-fi horror film.  Blade Runner is one of the most influential movies ever.  Poltergeist is just a damn good popcorn flick that is ageless.

It was a great summer to be a kid with nothing better to do but spend a couple of hours in a well air-conditioned concrete box watching moving images with like-minded folks.  If there’s anything I miss about my youth, it’s that freedom.

There will always be good movies.  But it seems they are few and far between.  Maybe 30 years from now, the Alamo Spacehouse will be celebrating the Summer of ’12 with vintage digital screenings of Men in Black III, Dark Shadows, Battleship & Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter

Though I kind of doubt it.