Friday, August 31, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Christmas at Downton Abbey

Your Sacagaweas (as usual) for Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey are Wordy Ginters and Josh "Old Man" Duggan. This is the last installment until new episodes begin airing. It is a super-sized episode and as such you've got a lengthy recap coming at you. Once again, you can buy the second series on Blu-ray and on DVD. They're the original versions as aired in the U.K. (Series One available here on DVD and Blu-ray.) Why the British versions? Because they're unabridged, unlike what aired in the U.S. Do it (but follow those links if you do).

Christmas has descended upon Downton. Lady Rosamund arrives to join the whole fam damnily. Gifts are given to the staff from the Crawleys. Staff and aristocrats alike are concerned for the fate of Bates, who awaits trial. It takes roughly two lines for Lady Rosamund's lady's maid, Miss Shore, to come across as off. The family plays charades, O'Brien and Thomas dance with Ouija, and Bates sits alone in a cell. The Most British Man Ever, Sir Anthony Strallan visits and relates that he's lost the use of his right arm in the Great War. It is revealed that Lady Sybil and Branson were married with just Edith and Mary in attendance and that Sybil has "crossed the Rubicon" and is with Fenian child. 

Upon Rosamund's insistence, Lord Hepworth comes for New Year's. The Crawleys and Company toast 1920. The rich folk go on a shoot. Mary admits to Matthew of being annoyed by Sir Richard Carlisle; Carlisle and Mary quarrel over a shared laugh with Matthew. Edith attempts to woo Anthony, but he rebuffs her advance by saying he's too old for her and will not burden her with being his nurse. The Dowager Countess discovers that Lord Hepworth is in dire financial straits and instructs him to confess his ruination to Rosamund. Carlisle increases the pressure on Mary to set a date, leading to a pained exchange before dinner and tipping off Lord Grantham to something being amiss; Cora finally tells Robert of Pamuk's face. 

The prosecution calls Miss O'Brien, Mrs. Hughes, and Lord Grantham to the stand and draws a damning portrait of John Bates through their testimony. Bates is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Lord Grantham and Lady Mary talk of the Turkish Incident, and he tells her to kick Carlisle to the curb and go stateside to wait out the storm. Going a step further than what O'Brien has advised, Thomas takes Isis and hides her in an abandoned wooded cabin in an effort to gain Lord Grantham's favor and win Bates's vacated position of valet. Anna visits Bates on Death Row, and he implores her to forgive everyone for their testimony and tells her that he is thankful to have loved her as he does. Mrs. Patmore "channels" William through the Ouija board and tells Daisy to visit his father, who takes her as his surrogate daughter when she visits. Isis is deemed missing and and search party is formed. Mary tells Matthew of her deadly anus. He responds to the news of her murderous asshole by telling her to jettison the choady control-freak Carlisle and that he could never despise her. Thomas goes to fetch Isis, but she is no longer in the cabin he locked her in; he rightly shits himself. Having come back to the manor empty handed, he finds Lord Grantham with Isis in tow, having been found returned by a village child. Mary and Anna plan to run from their misfortune in the States. Robert tells Carson to hire on Thomas, driving a stake into the hearts of Thomas loathers the world over. Mary breaks it off with Carlisle, who becomes the spiteful, base cad he has shown himself capable of being in glimpses. He and Matthew scuffle with Carlisle's resentment coming to a head. Anna spies Miss Shore and Lord Hepworth acting a bit too familiar. A telegram informs Downton of the change in Bates's sentence from death to life imprisonment. In the midst of the Servant's Ball, Anna sees Miss Shore and Lord Hepworth slink off upstairs and guides Mary and Rosamund to the philandering hucksters. Cora begs upon Robert to move past the shame in having a working class son-in-law. Anna and Daisy sit alone at the Ouija board, and a spirit [presumably a Pamuk and Lavinia tag team] tells them, "May they be happy." In a digitized flurry of snowflakes, Matthew proposes to Mary.

Wordy Ginters: New opening scenes! I can almost smell the pine trees. Ah shit, there's Thomas. Buzzkill. Regardless, I'm not too proud to admit: I'm a fucking sap for Christmas. Love it all. Nat King Cole. Bing. Holiday Inn. Mistletoe belt buckles. Meet Me in St. Louis. Especially Meet Me in St. Louis. I'm down with all of that stuff. The holiday vibe had me at full stature despite Thomas slinking about. It's been 140 degrees every day for seven weeks where I'm living, and I damn near got up the gumption to do up a cup of hot cocoa to authenticate the mood. Damn near.

Old Man Duggan: I'm almost the exact opposite regarding Christmas. I don't particularly like it. I hate the fucking music, especially the music pouring out of Buford Tower across the river/lake from my job for one-third of every hour. The Christmas stuff I like: Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Bad Santa, Scrooged, "Carol of the Bells," Handel's Messiah. I'm a fucking miserly bastard. That said, Christmas this time meant a supersized episode of Downton, so whatthefuckever. As for hot cocoa, don't let the heat stop you from drinking anything. I drink my coffee hot, year-around. Have your cocoa and drink it, too.

WG: Care to speculate on the contents of Patmore's gift box? I'm guessing a vintage Wes Unseld Washington Bullets jersey, or maybe some bunion salve.

OMD: My guess? Marcellus Wallace's soul. That or a Jack Rabbit. I liked the deft touch of the gift-giving scene, and how much it seemed to mean to the servants.

WG: The Dowager got a nut cracker for a present, get it? See, she's a ball buster. It's funny. Did you happen to catch the French term she used in reminiscing about her time with Hepworth's old man?

OMD: I laughed. That Cousin Violet. What a card! As for the quote, the Dowager Countess said, "Où sont les neiges d'antan," which is from a famous 15th Century poem by French poet, thief, killer, barroom brawler, and vagabond Francois Villon. The poem is referred to as "Ballade des dames du temps jadis (Ballad of Women of Times Past)" but was just titled "Ballade" by Villon. The quote translates directly to "Where are the snows of last year?" but was translated into English as "Where are the snows of yesteryear?" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which was actually the instance in which the word "yesteryear" was coined. It's an oft-quoted/-cited line, having been featured in Mad Men, Inglourious Basterds, Catch-22, The Dharma Bums, and The Glass Menagerie, just to name a few places.

WG: I loved Hepworth. His smooth, comfortable, sexy charm was a nice contrast to Carlisle's ham fisted hostility. He'd be fun to have around, although I think he's probably on to his next mark. I don't blame him too much, Rosamund's maid was a hot little tart.

OMD: He sort of reminds me of Robin Colcord after he falls on hard times. Still a fairly smooth-talking Brit, but cannot be trusted. Miss Shore, Hepworth's P.I.C., really wanted to stir some shit up. I don't even really see the point. The conniving shit-stirring with the servants couldn't have served her a gainful purpose. If anything, it sort of proved to be her undoing, as Anna was hep to her game. He's probably moving on to Miss Havisham. As for Hepworth, I do wonder if perhaps his troubles portend coming troubles for the aristocracy in England. Post-war unemployment is high well before the Great Depression hits in England leading to quite a bit of strife, if I'm not mistaken. Maybe that won't matter until the Fourth Series, but I'd be surprised if Fellowes didn't start working that in there.

WG: The central role of a Ouija Board in a Christmas episode is ballsy. No accident that bad things happen to Isis shortly after wee-jee shows up on the scene. You ever screw around with one of those things?

OMD: When you introduce the spirits to manor, prepare for objects to move, glass to break, children to cower in fear, and dogs to get locked in sheds. It seems like I must have at some point. Not a life-changing experience, obviously.

WG: I never dabbled. The way Patmore muscled that planchette around to further manipulate Daisy reminded me of Wes Unseld working the boards for the Washington Bullets. Everyone always talked about Elvin Hayes as the heart and soul of that team, but the Big E doesn't get his without Wes cleaning the boards, and Chenier keeping the defense honest from the perimeter, right? I don't want to belabor the point, but it struck me that Fellowes is using Patmore in a Unseldian manner, or maybe they bear more than a passing resemblance to each other. That, and Bates is Christ.

OMD: I associated Patmore much more with Pistons-era Dennis Rodman. Not fully insane yet. Workmanlike. Still devious, voracious, and dirty, but not tatted up and dying her hair like a crazy-ass tie-dyed shirt. Bates is most definitely Christ.

WG: How about Edith and ol' toothsome lefty?

OMD: Oh, Sir Anthony Strallan. I do wish that he'd accept Edith's love. I hated her so much when she wrote that letter to the Turkish Embassy, but she's done nothing but hurtle toward spinsterdom for the six years that have passed since that point. I think she's suffered enough. Give her the old Brit.

WG: The nurse-maid schtick has to buy her some goodwill, right?

OMD: Indeed. Back to the Ouija board. The message Anna and Daisy got: "May they be happy." Presumably, "they" are Mary and Matthew. Each has had a lover die at Downton. The obvious reading of that message is that it's from Lavinia, but there is another possibility: Pamuk. I think Lavinia is obviously involved, but there's no way that Pamuk isn't analizing any and every ghost all up in Downton. You think Pamuk and Lavinia tag-teamed that message? More importantly, are they enjoying the much safer option of F2FA in limbo?

WG: I love Bates's selflessness and encouragement for Anna to forgive. But seriously, how much better is the episode if he hangs? That is the kind of drama that would leave a mark. Especially a Christmas special. Bates dies for the sins of the aristocracy. Maybe Fellowes will eventually follow through during season three. It will be a fun thread to hang on. Some beautiful scenes in the slammer, Anna with her jailhouse eyes and John Bates with his dignity and a stubble beard.

OMD: Hanging Bates would be completely and utterly devastating. Now that we're on level ground, I don't mind saying that I wouldn't be surprised for Bates to get the verdict overturned entirely only to have him confess to Anna that he did, in fact, finish off the late Vera Bates, thus ruining their relationship. After all, what the fuck else could happen to Bates and Anna to tear them apart after a single moment of happiness? The jail scenes were sad. Bates looks beat. Don't get me wrong, he's one stoic motherfucker, and he'll be Anna's Atlas, but fuck me, let Bates be happy for at least two episodes, Julian.

WG: The other plot conventions have been telegraphed for awhile, but it didn't take away any of the gratification. Matthew getting in a scrap with Carlisle. Cora finally giving up the goods to Lord Grantham about Mary's deadly F2FA technique. Matthew and Mary. Pretty scene there too. Big fat snowflakes. Or was that burning embers and ash? Knowing Fellowes penchant for visiting hellfire on those who have sniffed joy and embraced the idea of happiness, the ash could well have been the same end of the world variety as from The Road. Viggo Mortenson and that kid were just off camera huddled in a shopping cart sucking melted snow water from a rusty pudding tin.

OMD: That nighttime scene outdoors between Mary and Matthew was totally filmed in the summer. You can tell the snow is fake. It actually bothered me a lot the first time I saw it and ended up getting distracted. I really like the scene now, but only because I can now move past how fake the digital snow looks. If it is ash, maybe I'm misinterpreting Lavinia and Pamuk's message. Or worse yet, Lavinia and Pamuk are the ones who will be happy, and they can only get there by raining down ruin upon Matthew and Mary.

WG: For me and mine, the biggest emotional pay-off was the relationship between the doltish Daisy and dead William's old man. Perhaps they both had selfish and obscure reasons for getting into the deathbead marriage. I like where it's headed. Daisy's new haircut is going to be a sensation, there was a lot going on this episode, but it will get noticed. Trust me. You've opined eloquently before about the sweeter parts of this series generally being those moments that reflect basic human decency and kindness. The evolution of Daisy's relationship with William's father, and the evolution of her own struggle with the marriage, certainly reflect a nod towards kindness and decency.

OMD: Of all the moments in the episode, the scene at his cottage were the nicest. I'm on record as being extremely irritated by Daisy, but it was really nice to give her a family, something she's never had. It's weird, but the other emotional kicker in the Christmas Special was another Daisy scene; this time it was when she was stoking the fire and the Dowager Countess came into the room to find her crying. Every once in a while, the Dowager reaches out to somebody, and it's really touching.

WG: What did you think of the trial?

OMD: One of the weirdest things about when I watch British films and television is when they have courtroom scenes. I am so used to seeing them in American media, but the language of the trial is different, so despite the fact that I feel like I have a fairly strong grasp on the ways of the American legal system, I'm totally lost when it comes to Britain's. Like when Matthew was describing the appeal process, I understood the words he was saying, but I'll be damned if it wasn't like trying to make out Spanish language television without subtitles. Not nearly close enough to full comprehension to feel good about knowing what the fuck is going on.

As for what happened in the trial, I could be wrong, but how the fuck would anyone have known that Mrs. Hughes overheard the conversation Bates had with his dead wife? She didn't tell anyone, did she? I really don't think she did, certainly not anyone who would have been spoken to by the prosecution. Did she tell Bates that she overheard them quarrel?

Any trial thoughts on your end?

WG: Befuddled as well. Overdone. Everybody knows Bates is screwed. I kept hoping Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny mode would appear on the scene to spark things up a bit.

OMD: I, for, one am excited to see where Fellowes takes us in the third series. The teasers that were put up recently have primed my pump. I'm in your hands, Mr. Fellowes.

WG: And I'm watching from the closet.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Man on Film: The Dark Knight Rises

It does not seem a stretch to deem The Dark Knight Rises the least successful of the Nolan-helmed Batman franchise. That isn't to say that it is bad--far from it, actually--but in relation to its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises fails not only to raise the bar but also to reach the lofty heights of Batman Begins or The Dark Knight.

Now The Dark Knight Rises is a far cry from Spider-Man 3, not going so far as to sully the franchise, but it does have its warts. Without giving away too much for the four people in the world who haven't seen it, there are multiple sequences that are not particularly effective. For starters, the prison sequence really did not work and was the filmic equivalent of The Red Hot Chili Peppers' album Californication--a rehashing of a concept already covered by the artist with the revisitation lacking the requisite inspiration and freshness to make the latter effort work on a substantive level. While Bruce Wayne is in an anachronistic foreign prison (again), Gotham City descends into a bedlam in which criminals run amok and turn the city into a lawless hell on earth. Unfortunately the nearly instantaneous nature of this descent into unadulterated madness requires such a suspension of disbelief that in an otherwise fairly realistic and grounded world the change is jarring, and not in the way that Christopher Nolan intended.

If that was all there was to complain about, then that would probably be fine, but it's not. The amount of screen time in which Christian Bale is actually on screen as Batman is extremely limited. I know the film's plot calls for it, but that doesn't change the fact a Batman movie doesn't really have that much Batman. As for Bane, the big villain in the film, it's a little hard to take him seriously when he running roughshod over Gotham City while sounding like gay Sean Connery as Darth Vader (hat-tip to Tony Borne). I love Tom Hardy and don't blame him for this, but it undermines the menace Bane is supposed to represent when the voice-modulation induces laughter and confusion. And then there's the completely anti-climactic send-off of Bane, leaving the audience deflated and wondering what the point of it all was.

To read this review thus far, one would assume that I was displeased by The Dark Knight Rises. There were certainly elements that were disappointing. There were, however, elements to like.

For starters, the acting was top-notch. Michael Caine, who had been underutilized in the first two films, was finally allowed to stretch his legs, carrying much of the emotional weight in his scenes as Alfred. Anne Hathaway was perfectly serviceable as Selina/Catwoman. Bale, Hardy, and Marion Cotillard were exactly what one has come to expect of them over the past few years of impressive performance after impressive performance. Really, though, The Dark Knight Rises was The Joseph Gordon-Levitt Show. So much of the film is spent engendering a belief in the symbol of Batman rather than the man in the suit that its energy and plot depends largely on other characters, specifically on Gordon-Levitt's Blake. As anyone familiar with his body of work over the past decade would be sure, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great. Any doubt as to whether the future of the franchise would be all right in the hands of another should at least be partially alleviated as long as Joseph Gordon-Levitt is involved. Creative talent involved would obviously play a part, but there is no need to worry about the star. If only there weren't that horrible Robin line in the film's coda...

Despite the film's shortcomings from the narrative spectrum, The Dark Knight Rises predictably looks fantastic. If there's one thing that Nolan can be counted upon to accomplish, it is to craft a film that looks amazing. Sure, he has spent his last two films crawling farther and farther up his own ass while forgoing actually focusing on constructing a complete and affective narrative, but they've looked great.

I suppose it is a testament to Nolan as a filmmaker that The Dark Knight Rises could actually disappoint, as he did craft the nearly perfect second film in the franchise. Unfortunately, he raised the bar himself and has no one else to blame for raising expectations for the series' conclusion, and while it was good, it was far from great.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Breaking Down: Breaking Bad, Season Five, Episode Seven

"Say My Name" is a total shot to the gut. Heisenberg makes a deal with a new distributor as Mike executes his exit strategy. Mike's lawyer is caught red-handed by agent Gomez, endangering the anonymity of the operation. Walt thus scrambles to help Mike skip town, but changes his mind.

The Expendables 3 starring Jonathan Banks
Stan Earnest: This episode went places that I didn't even know Breaking Bad was capable of going to. All new levels of already skyscraper-tall heights is what keeps me on the edge of my seat and tap, tap, tapping my leg away wondering what happens next. Before we get to that, how much do you think AMC paid to say "god" followed by "damn?"

Craig Scholes: I don't think AMC has to. They are on late enough and aren't on a major network. South Park gets away with much worse. The really puzzling thing is, why does Netflix edit things?

SE: I just thought GD was off limits though. I know they will cut it later to just "damn". I mean, they already did in the weekly preview last week. I haven't the slightest clue why Netflix edits. I know I make darn sure my kids are in the family section when they select a movie to watch on it. Apparently, the birthday favor Skyler gives Walt in the very first episode is cut for some viewers.

CS: So are the titties in the first episode when Walt goes on the drug bust with Hank.

SE: Thankfully Ridley Scott isn't involved. Walt would be a cyborg with a jet pack.

CS: But that would still have its benefits. There would be aspects that would be very enjoyable. Hell, The Expendables 2 was terrible, but I loved every second of it.

SE: I'm fully sold on this season of Breaking Bad. At first, I was thinking it would have some Gus flashbacks and go over-the-top. But everything has played pretty straight forward. I think that is the key that has kept this season rolling. It's like a M. Night Shyamalan film without the curve ball, and it works.

CS: Without the curveball... so far. You are going to kill yourself when you find out that the goddamn trees that are allergic to water are responsible for the greater Albuquerque area meth pandemic.

SE: What pitch is left to throw is my question?

CS: I guess the only pitch left is the mythical Daisuke gyro ball.

SE: You know what pitch is left to throw? The darkest, nastiest, spit ball you have ever seen. You can see it coming a mile away, but it doesn't matter. Your still going to swing and miss. If Mike Ehrmantraut is forced away from his granddaughter in one of the most emotional scenes this show has ever produced and then left for dead at the hands of un-swallowed pride, where can Walt go? There is no redemption road here.

CS: So you are telling me Walt is going to kill Jesse?

SE: Something interesting of note is that Gilligan talked about the "industry" last week on the Insider podcast. He openly wondered if people come to Hollywood and the place turns them, or if the type of person it takes to make it that far already has that in them. We are all going to wonder, Gilligan included, if Walter White became a monster, or if he was a monster all along. Maybe there was no Mr. Chips. Maybe he was always Scarface.

CS: I would argue that Walt was always the monster. It’s the same thing when you have a dude who becomes a real asshole when he's drunk. He's already an asshole, but drinking gives him the courage to reveal it or at least the lack of giving a shit for how people see him.

SE: I do get tired of the talk about the show not being worthwhile because Walt is irredeemable. Of course Walt is irredeemable. That is the point. He goes up on the Mount Rushmore of irredeemable characters along with George Costanza and... Help me brother.

CS: King Joffrey on Game of Thrones, and fucking Lorie on the Walking Dead.

SE: I don't think anybody knows what they are truly capable of, good or bad. Thankfully, most of us aren't thrown into a situation where there is a newborn on the way and death is imminent. This is experimental TV. None of those aforementioned characters were the main theme of the show like Walter White. Some of us rooted for Walt at different points in the show, and boy are we ashamed now. If a writer can evoke those kind of feelings, that is good television. There was also talk of a well-known director blowing the final episode out into a full-feature, theater-release movie. What would that be like? The last 10 minutes of Scarface expounded over an hour-and-a-half?

CS: I could be talked into a Breaking Bad version of Serenity.

SE: I can be talked into Landry as Walt's new partner in crime. What a match made in hell.

CS: He's kind of an endearing idiot.

SE: Clear eyes. Full heart. Can't lose. Goooooooooo Team Meth!

CS: I love that basically every publication refers to Todd as Landry. If we can somehow get an Adrianne Palicki cameo where Landry is cooking meth to fund their baby I would lose my mind. In a good way.

SE: Please tell me, who was watching The Three Stooges meet up? They sure made it look like Gomez. That was a nice touch. Something unknown is always lingering.

CS: I missed that, I don't remember any Three Stooges in the episode.

SE: Larry, Moe, and Shemp hiding the methylamine. There was a guy hiding behind blinds watching them. He had the obligatory Breaking Bad facial hair as seen from a faint reflection. The writer's toyed with us. We see Gomez looking like he is about to reveal Heisenberg to Hank and then nothing, but we did get a giant Gomey grin. That was a slick move by the writers. I tip a Skyler wine glass to that. Her wine glasses are bigger than King Joffrey's chalices aren't they?

CS: Man, I need to go back to taking notes, I must have blacked out during that. I really don't remember that scene... at all.

SE: I have a note here that says, "Walt has the best and worst timing ever." He shows up at Hank's office just in time for him to gain knowledge that will inevitably lead to his safety, but about 737 more people will die.

CS: Aboard a 737 on the way to a Sandals resort?

SE: I feel like one day there will be an entire course at NYU film school dedicated to the last 5 minutes of this episode. The contrast of the clothes within the backdrop of the scene, the location, the cars kicking up dust, the intrigue as we follow Walt through the weeds, and the sound effects of an out-of-breath Walt, that is perfection.

CS: I love the line where Mike said, "Let me die in peace." What pisses me off though... Mike was holding a gun, and I don't think Walt shot him in the gut. Why wasn't there a second gun shot?

Let me die in peace, scumbag.
SE: That was interesting. There wasn't a second gun shot. Mike and Walt have the same sick relationship that Jesse and Walt have. They both respect each other, yet both want to be in charge of the other. I think Mike was done. He knew if he raised his gun Walt would fire again. In the weirdest way, I think he respects Walt and hates him also. He probably figures Walt can serve a better demise to himself than he ever could. Plus, if he leaves Walt dead, Jesse gets no money.

CS: It sucks that Mike couldn't ride off into the sunset, enjoying his retirement at a Sandals.

SE: The best line of the whole episode was, "I just realized I could have gotten the names from Lydia." It is a painful line. Ego and pride and everything that hides inside are no longer concealed. Walt realizes he isn't "himself" in that instant. He realizes that masterminds don't overlook details. Heisenberg is angry from years of having to listen to Walter White talk--and Boz Skaggs, for that matter--so he intentionally forgets things to enhance the action.

CS: I have a feeling Jesse is going to get fucked sideways with a cactus in the end. Not even the tough-as-a-three-dollar-steak Mike can withstand the wrath of Heisenberg. NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE!

SE: This brings us all back to the opening scene of the season. Would Heisenberg really be in hiding? Is he going to save Jesse from the other meth distributors? Does Lydia have a few tricks up her sleeve?

CS: I still think Walt will be protecting his family from someone. Or it just turns out that Walt is giving Flynn an M60 for his next birthday, tells him good luck firing this sumbitch. Then we get the inevitable character building episode where Walt builds his son a pair of bionic arms.

SE: There is no way that M60 is firing a bullet until Summer of 2013. If you would have told me that immediately after that scene, I would have tarred and feathered myself. But the way things are shaking out, I am now beginning to think the scene is going to stand out as one of the greatest mind-benders ever. It is unprecedented to show something like that, not give the payoff, leave the audience hanging, and have the audience enjoy what just happened. I bought the ticket. I am taking the ride.

CS: Perhaps Walt is going to use the M60 to take a Sandals resort under siege. Does Jamaica have extradition?

SE: If Walt does retire to a Sandals, is he the type that could then change again. Into a sandal-wearing, Hawaiian-shirt-sporting, potbellied beach bum, sipping pina coladas and slapping asses?

CS: Living the Jimmy Buffett life?

SE: Walt clinks daiquiri glasses with Milton from Office Space. End scene.
Boom. Yosted.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Man on Film: Klown

By my count, I've got a backlog of 14 entries that I have to get to, and that is not counting any Prick Tunes entries. I've been a busy boy and honestly have been a bit overwhelmed lately. I hope to put that in the past, as I'm coming down the home-stretch on a creative project that I hope to complete later today. I also intend to have the last of the Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey pieces up on its scheduled Wednesday slot. In the meantime, here is the first of more than three weeks of material that I've got in store for y'all. 

For those not aware, Klown is the feature-length filmic continuation of a six-season sitcom of the roughly same name, Klovn. Klovn (the 'v' spelling will be used for differentiating between the series and the movie, which will be spelled with the 'w') is, at the cost of being reductive to what may be a fault, the Danish Curb Your Enthusiasm. The concept is a show inspired by real situations, following two comedians, Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, playing versions of themselves and featuring their friends, celebrities and otherwise. The score is also shockingly similar to that of the Larry David brainchild. That isn't to say that the show is or isn't good on its own merits--I haven't seen enough of it to evaluate it--but more to give you a frame of reference.

The easiest way to describe watching Klown would be to use the following analogy: Seeing Klown (for 95% of us) is like seeing Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day without having seen the series; it would be funny, you might feel the urge to seek out the series, but much of the character-driven humor would not carry the same punch it would if you had seen the film. The primary difference, of course, is that in the TPB analogy we're talking about a Canadian export; Klown is Danish, and the Danes are much more fucked up than our mild-mannered Neighbors to the North. Klown is accordingly more self-destructive, more politically incorrect foul, more drug-fueled, more sexualized, and more extreme while maintaining roughly the same pace. After all, what good is all of the social awkwardness without ample time given to squirm?

Given the other films that Drafthouse Films has distributed domestically (Four Lions, Bullhead, The FP), one can probably imagine roughly what this film would be like. Both Four Lions and Bullhead were not films with the typical viewpoint filmgoers are used to seeing. Klown is no different. It surely is not everybody's cup of tea, but I laughed heartily often and wasn't put-off completely by its indebtedness to one of my favorite shows ever, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Director Mikkel Nørgaard and writers/stars Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam certainly did enough with Klown that it made me want to go back and check out the series, and it certainly made me wonder what happened to Iben Hjejle's stateside film career.

(This trailer is extremely NSFW, by the way.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Breaking Down: Breaking Bad, Season Five, Episode Six

This week's episode of Breaking Bad, "Buyout", winds and grinds the springs before they will eventually uncoil. Motor bike boy meets a highly unfortunate chemical barrel. Mike avoids heat from the DEA. Jesse wines and dines in the White household. And Walt plans to build an empire as Mike and Jesse seek a way out by planning to unload the freshly stolen methylamine. Heisenberg does not like their plans.

"These green beans are ricin free, right?"
Shane Earnest: Did you hear that? I just high-fived myself. This episode brings the heat, high and inside. Sure, it's a setup episode, but so much to love here: tragedy, dark comedy, and badassery.

Craig Scholes: Not to mention some epic surreality? Surrealness? Surrealitude? I have no idea what the past tense of surreal is

SE: Surrealing Bad, starring dirt bike kid, poor dirt bike kid and his parents.

CS: Breaking Bad makes it seem like hydrofluoric acid is available for purchase at Walgreens.

SE: My suspension of disbelief is easy to come by in that department. I have no clue how easy it is to come by. Can Walt make it? I always got hydrofluoric acid mixed up with hydrochloric acid, which is commonly used in high school chemistry classes. All I know is that if methylamine is that easy to get rid of and it is $15 million for every 1,000 gallons, I would think there would be a bit more security surrounding tank cars full of it.

CS: I don't think methylamine is that easy to get rid of; I just think Mike has a network of connections. Once, as a freshman in high school, a couple of seniors basically forced me to smell hydrochloric acid…BURNED! Horrible experience.

SE: The opening sequence needed to be brutal. That is how the sausage is made in the meth business. It makes it so much more brutal when Walt decides that all he wants is a meth empire.

CS: Will we get the final scene of Walt sitting on a throne of blue meth?

SE: That is one scenario that is interesting. I like how this episode is what Breaking Bad is all about. Sure, the last episode was great for what it was, but “Buyout” is the real deal. I never really got an idea of what was about to happen, and there were snakes in the grass at every turn. We even got a Breaking Bad specialty with all the dark humor--the coffee pot and the dinner with Skyler.

CS: Man, that was the most awkward dinner party ever.

SE: Agreed, I've never seen anything that awkward. I could never put myself in Jesse's shoes, but I would have dashed first chance, made something up, anything. I think Walt and Jesse are so sickly intertwined with each other now, but it was a nice touch to show how creepy Walt is now with his whistling. Not many shows realize how simply things can be done sometimes without ten pages of dialogue.

CS: Oh man, that whistling scene really threw me off.

SE: Walt is completely insane at this point. He knows he can MacGyver is way through anything, from fabricating a RV battery to slipping Mike's zip tie. He has been through so much that he is not only numb, but has the deadly combination of being immune to tragedy but addicted to the danger of it. Ever see a guy after a serious car wreck with no injuries? That is Walt. The vehicle is trashed, and he is still standing. Only that has happened about ten times. The Aztek dies, but Walter White is unscathed. After a certain point, that has to get into his head. "Hey, Jesse, come on over! Hank could walk through the front door at anytime, no big deal."

CS: Yeah, but there are much easier ways to get out of a zip tie than using electric current to solder your arm to plastic.

The bond that holds Walt and Skyler together
SE: So what other method do you recommend? I am proud to admit never having the chance to finagle my way out of one.

CS: Well the way a zip tie works is there is just a little plastic tab that kind of springs down into these little notches. You can very easily take something thin and press it up and slide the zip tie out, like say his watch band tab.

And we finally found out, at least partially, why Walt is the way he is... Because he is pissed at himself for being a dipshit and selling off his company shares.

SE: The pure genius of the whole matter was saving that info for the right time. It may have been luck on the writers part, but Walt is now Gus. Elliot and Gretchen are the Salamancas. He blames himself for what happened, much like Gus probably blamed himself for what happened to Max. And the story of Walter White now makes complete, utter sense.

CS: Which is why Walt is now in the empire business. Of course, he thinks he should already be worth damn near a billion dollars.

SE: And that is one of Breaking Bad's greatest strengths, giving a reason for why a character is acting a certain way. If it seems like I am gushing about this episode, I am and I don't care. I fully expected this episode to be all setup. I never thought we would get a scene where I was trying to figure out how Walt would kill Mike, and then realizing they have a better relationship than that as Mike was nice enough to say that he was sorry while zipping Walt up.

CS: Do you think the writers will fill us in with the personal details about why Walt let himself get bought out?

SE: I think they already have in that a flashback from Season One, maybe Season Two, where Walt is romantically discussing chemistry with Gretchen. I am assuming Elliot stole Gretchen from Walt, so Walt took his pride and promptly departed. I would love for Gretchen and Elliot to see Heisenberg.

CS: Also, I don't like green beans, but if there was an Albertson's nearby, I would try their deli green beans.

SE: So, you were raised on frozen food too, just like every other kid in the 80s? There was a point in there, like early 90s or something where frozen food just suddenly got better. I remember a lot of those Lean Cuisines and Schwan’s, the Heisenberg of frozen food.
Elliot's ricin noodles

CS: No, I don't think I ever had a frozen meal until I was in my 20s and in college. Lots and lots of Hamburger Helper though. I guess I used to eat a lot of those Banquet pot pies

SE: Yeah, it isn't exactly health food any way you slice it. I worked in a cold storage facility once. Chicken would come to the facility hot and then blast frozen and stored for six months. The client would then come get it, transport it to another facility, dice it, and send it back for another six months of storage. Then they would send it to another facility, turn it into a pot pie, ship it back for another term in storage, likely one full year the last time. Finally, it would be shipped out as a mixed load to a grocery store. Two-year-old cooked chicken, bro.

CS: Nummers.

SE: So what were your thoughts when Mike first stopped Walt from stealing the methylamine.

CS: At this point, it doesn't matter how much Mike would have offered Walt for that methylamine, Walt is going to fight Mike every step of the way.

SE: My first thought was, "Oh no, Walt is going to sneak his way into offing Mike with some hidden weapon." Then I thought he was going to electrocute him, and then I realized that wasn't the plot line. It's nice when I can't predict what is going to happen.

CS: I don't think there is any conceivable way Walt could kill Mike. Mike is too good at what he does to be hoodwinked by Walt.  

SE: Breaking Bad uses objects to build a story and then flips the meaning of them along the line. We all do this in real life, whether it be an ornate wooden box evoking memories of a grandfather or the evil beeping of a fax machine at work. The box cutter was a fine example. The ticking watch gift in comparison to the calculator watch was another. And of course, the whopper of them all was the Aztek. But I think we have a fine call back in this episode when Walt tries to retrieve the coffee pot to cut his way out of the zip tie. I think it was Gale's ghost that chucked that thing across the room.

Gale drinks Walt's coffee from the grave
CS: Gale used the power of karaoke from the grave to release zombie sound waves that pushed the coffee pot away from Walt.

SE: And now this brings us to the crowning moment of the show. Heisenberg is coming out in all of his glory next episode. I’ve been waiting for this moment for five seasons.

CS: Oh yeah. Walt is in full blown couldn't-give-two-shits mode. The dude has fully blown past the point of no return.

SE: So Jesse is going to get kidnapped? Or will Walt make a deal to sell him to the other guys, then use the Rambo gun to un-kidnap Jesse? I wouldn't doubt it for one second if Walt sells them both out and goes all-in with the other guy before blowing them all up.

CS: I think the M60 is to protect him from these new methylamine buyers. I have a feeling he screws them over.

SE: So the "52" is a ruse and his hair is a wig? I don't see Heisenberg wearing a wig.

CS: I think he goes into hiding and bides his time. A lot can happen in eleven months.

SE: The writers really have us in a conundrum here. Is the Season Five opening scene in the Denny's a ploy to get us intrigued for what I am going to just go ahead and call Season Six? Or does it go down in Episode Eight in two weeks? I WANT RAMBO HEISENBERG NOW!

CS: I have a feeling we don't see Rambo Heisenburg till Episode Seven of next year.

SE: Fun fact: next week's episode was previously named "Everybody Wins", but was changed to "Say My Name", which I am sure is a Heisenberg reference. Hopefully we don't get rape-y Walt back, forcing Skyler to call him Heisenberg. And how crazy is it that Todd of all people, knows Heisenberg's real name? Walt don't give a what-what.

CS: I’m sure it’s just an episode about Destiny's Child.

Whatcha gonna do when Heisenberg runs over you brother?!?! OOOOOooooooh YEEEeeeeaaaaahh

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reading Rainbow: Box of Lies by Mark LaFlamme

There are a plethora of authors that can hide behind closed doors or in the cracks of creaky wooden floors, waiting to jump out with a dime-a-dozen scare, and then there are mold-breaking writers that puncture the mind with seeds of imagination that continue to grow over time. Mark LaFlamme is indisputably the latter. His work is easily devoured (the much sought after "quick read"), but sticks to the ribs like a rare T-bone with taters and gravy, just don't think about where that knife has been.

After rave reviews from friends, I was obligated to imbibe this work despite hesitation in fear of what I thought might be a cheaply constructed, pulpy horror-fiction mess, but contained within were twenty-seven short stories that piqued my interests in different ways: Where has that steak knife been? Do aliens watch baseball games? Is there a mass conspiracy training program in the military? How long can one survive the apocalypse on Vienna sausages and cheap beer?

I got more than I bargained for to say the least. Sure, this book has plentiful amounts of horror for the adrenaline junkies, but what I was shocked to find is the soul hiding behind the layers of madness. I wouldn't discount LaFlamme's penchant for throwing in a good laugh either. When is the last time an author crafted a narrative that could bind a gut one page, question human existence the next, and conclude with a rewarding polish, snickering along the way? I haven't been this invigorated by an author since snacking on Stephen King's novels as a teenager. Each story is individually florid enough to fill a novel, so don't be driven away by the short story aspect. Just think of it as twenty-seven books for the price of one!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Breaking Down: Breaking Bad, Season Five, Episode Five

"Dead Freight" brings us the second caper of Season Five. After sliming up Hank at the DEA, Walt and the other two stooges use a wire-tapped phone call to corner Lydia, who oddly enough wasn't lying about the tapped barrels. Walt, Mike, and Jesse then use Lydia's insider info to pull off a methylamine heist with the unwavering help of their trusty sidekick, Todd.

Landry, Moe, and Shemp
Craig Scholes: Can you hear that? If not, it’s my slow clap congratulating you on calling a train heist.

Stan Earnest: Well, thank you, but that was because I have inside info (not Breaking Bad spoiler info, but train info) which I will share plenty of later, but for starters I just want to say I have a lot of issues with this episode. Some are serious issues with the way the heist was pulled, others are simply timing issues with the show. The pacing has left the viewer off kilter at this point. It is fantastic that we get to see Walt dive to all new lows--and highs for Heisenberg--as he plots under the radar of Hank, but the show is snail-pacing the first 8 episodes of Season Five if we are going to see Walt use that M60 before the Summer of 2013.

This is going to get ugly. I am calling it right now. I know how TV works. Breaking Bad is captivating. It is the best show on television, yet it has one-third of the viewers as The Walking Dead. This first half is going to end on a cliffhanger and the madness that would be a Hank vs. Walt standoff will have to wait, for a whole year. A. Whole. Year. Meanwhile, AMC will have a standoff with Gilligan and Co., and we will probably have Breaking Bad move to Fox, and they will only want it if there are three more seasons to come. So, I'm not saying I have lost faith by any measure in Vince Gilligan. I'm on board the train. I just am seeing red lights at this point. But I have faith, and the episodes are still entertaining as hell to me.

CS: I don't think your Fox theory is going to happen at all. From what I understand, the second half of Season Five has already been agreed to. I think if they try and pull out there are going to be some ugly contract problems.

SE: Let's hope so, we never hear the full spectrum with these things. I've heard it has been "bought" but not necessarily paid for--like they could go in with a higher budget, and there would be problems.

CS: I heard a Reddit rumor that Morgan Freeman is going to have a part.

SE: Wait a damn second, Morgan Freeman? Oh, I get it; God finally comes down to give Walt his karmic bitch slap.

CS: It seems to me that everyone involved likes the idea of wrapping the show up and ending it on top, and at this point the show is what it is. Dragging it on forever doesn't do anyone any favors. I don't think AMC is actually making that much money off of it.

SE: That is why I am so on board. Gilligan doesn't lie to his audience. At the same time, I don't think he ever knew how far this show was going to go. I mean, we have had five episodes without Hank even sniffing a scent of Heisenberg. If AMC isn’t making mega bucks off of it--because they have their heads up their asses on the marketing of merchandise like we have previously discussed--then there may be a problem.

CS: And after so long, critical acclaim won't keep a show on the air.

SE: So how much longer can we go with Hank looking straight through Walter?

CS: They've done it for about three seasons so far. Clearly Mike would whip Walt’s ass if it came down to fisticuffs, but that hasn't stopped Walt from getting the best of other people.

SE: Can we add up what he has seen so far, and what has got to be churning for him?

CS: Go for it.

SE: Ok, so the first red flag is the gas mask that goes back to the high school and thus the missing beakers and cooking utensils. Hank still remembers this right?

CS: Oh shit, you said Hank, and I read Mike. Can you imagine how entertaining a showdown between Mike and Hank would be.

SE: Yeah, like a DeNiro and Pacino showdown from Heat: one world-weary guy on the good side sitting across the table of another world-weary guy on the bad side.

CS: Hank is eventually going to have that Chazz Palminteri moment at the end of The Usual Suspects. When he puts all this shit together, will he drop a Pollos coffee cup?

SE: Onto Mike's foot as Mike spills the coffee beans about Walt in a scroungy diner. Chazz Palminteri, where is that guy? He had his Keyser Soze moment and disappeared forever. I think he is in that junkyard with Tuco's henchmen and Jimmy Hoffa.

Give me the keys you fucking cocksucker.
CS: He was in the flick Poolhall Junkies which was all right.

SE: Of course, I am going to search IMDB and see 47 B movies he starred in over the last 5 years. (I clearly underestimated Chazz; searching IMDB an hour after this comment I see he has had exactly 46 roles since Suspects--damn, I was close--and one of my favorites I forgot about, Hurly Burly.)

CS: How is it that The Usual Suspects is a 17 year old movie? It would be a Senior in high school, or maybe even a Freshman in college.

SE: Because we are old. So this Keyser Soze moment includes: gas masks and missing equipment at the school, the poker hand, the tequila incident, the second cell phone, the Aztek at the Jimmy In & Out bust, Gus at the hospital (which he didn't witness but his family did), “WW” from the lab notes, the can’t-handle-red-wine speech, and the car wreck at the laundry. What am I missing?

CS: Acting weird with the GPS at Pollos. He'll probably find out that Walt has been paying for the medical bills, too.

SE: Let's also not forget the cover up story about the gambling. How long before Hank haphazardly asks Walter to take him on a tour of these so-called underground facilities? Are we going to get a dark humor scene like when Walt saved the day at the scene of Jimmy In & Out? I would love to see Jesse orchestrate a fake gambling hall with Badger and Skinny Pete as black jack dealers. Of course, Badger couldn't be seen by Hank, but damn that would be great.

CS: Also, the realization as to why Skyler has been so fucking weird.

SE: What if the show ended with Hank never finding out who Heisenberg is or Hank dying before that moment? Rank that scenario in your list of all-time letdowns.

CS: Unless Skyler takes over the business.

SE: Clearly, Walt's worst mistake so far to me is not taking care of the wife first. I know how it works. You have to keep the wife happy. He should have taken her shopping and put her in a Benzo or Beamer cross-over and then grabbed the SRT. Oh Walt, you can play games with the crime underworld, but you have to keep your lady happy.

CS: I’m not sure spending cheese would have made Skyler happy though. She lost her shit over that champagne.

SE: I like that the show can take any weird direction it wants to and leave plot lines open. For example, Mike was saying that Walt and Jesse don't know Lydia like he knows her. Does this mean that she has stronger ties to Gustavo Fring than previously thought? Is that kid his? Or does that just mean that she is a nutcase and put a hit on Mike? I went from thinking the M60 was for Lydia to thinking that wasn't possible in two minutes.

CS: My theory is that Landry (Todd) turns out to be a maniacal child killer and the M60 is what it will take to keep Landry's blood thirst away from Flynn and whatever that fucking baby girl's name is.

SE: Holly maybe? She is the perfect on screen baby.

CS: Holly is a total bitch diva; I'm sick of her shit.

SE: I am hanging my head in shame, not just at that comment, but because I haven't seen Friday Night Lights yet. But with all the internet Landry comments, I am totally on board and going to mow throw all the episodes in like two weeks. I can't stand not being in on a joke.

CS: I can't wait for Crucifictorious and TwaughtHammer to go on tour.

SE: They can tour with Wyld Stallyns, Station, and Vamonos Pest.

I just realized that Lydia has to be completely wigged out by the time this is over if she wasn't all ready. Laura Fraser is amazing. She has to be thinking, "How the hell did they get a bug in the DEA?" You know, Lydia has a small resemblance to Ron Swanson's ex-wife. If we get a Ron Swanson crossover, that is it, no one can deny this is the greatest show ever. Maybe the M60 is for a corn-rowed Ron Swanson?

CS: Being a Libertarian, Ron Swanson wouldn't give two shits about anyone doing meth.

SE: Until they stepped on his territory.

CS: Walt and Jesse escape the DEA in one of Ron Swanson's hand-fashioned wooden canoes, and don't forget Duke Silver.

SE: They are doing some serious CGI work at Breaking Bad to erase that wheelbarrow Walt is using to carry his grapefruits in. He put a bug in the DEA and slathered his fingerprints all over it.

CS: A friend sent me nearly that exact same message in a text tonight.

SE: Is he going to remove it next time? Or keep them going live? I mean surely the DEA does sweeps once in a while.

CS: It will be much easier to get it out of there than to plant it though. Walt can get it just by tying his shoe laces then accidentally knocking the picture off the table, then offering to re-frame the picture.

SE: And then DJ Roomba sweeps it up and he has to break into the custodian closet.

CS: I didn't exactly get a good look at what he put in the picture frame

SE: I thought he was jacking into Hank's computer for info, but wasn't the device in the frame just a simple mic?

CS: Thanks to the power of DVR, I just rewound it and saw that, yeah, it looks like a mic. I would imagine the thing attached to the computer was just a way to transmit the audio via the interwebs.

SE: Ok, moving on to the heist, we have a resident expert here. I worked as a train conductor for six years. I can’t get into detail, but the way they pulled off this heist was frightening to me. Like I said, I won’t give detail, but I’ve literally lived that particular scenario. I know I get some credit for thinking they were going to heist a rail car of methylamine, but I have insider knowledge that I didn’t want to mention. Apparently, Breaking Bad doesn’t mind sharing the fact that rail cars of dangerous material sit in the middle of nowhere all the time. I am anxiously awaiting the Insider podcast to see what they had to do to get it cleared.

CS: In my amateur opinion (but having a fairly good grasp of momentum), it seems to me they got that train stopped a little too easily.

SE: I'm really biting my lip. This is hard to talk about, but yes, stopping a train is very, very, very hard to do. The thing is, as Lydia mentioned (she was really spot-on with the insider knowledge), this was a small train, but if it was a "local" that switched cars out there would be three guys on board, not two. Your typical coal train that is a mile-and-a-half long takes like a mile to stop under safe conditions. A mile. A little train like that one takes much less distance. There is no way, I mean NO WAY they have any clue how much distance it takes to stop a train. I noticed the bridge was really long that they were going to boost the methylamine off of, but man, NO WAY they have any idea how quickly it stops. It was the middle of the desert where you can see for miles and miles.

CS: I remember in middle school we had a conductor come to our school to warn us about crossroad safety, and he told us that it can take up to a mile for a train to come to a stop.

SE: An empty coal train can screech to a halt in like a quarter mile or less if it needs to, but anything loaded--like tank cars full of methylamine--takes much longer. Lydia is also spot-on with her railroad lingo. The writer's did their homework again. There is "dark territory" railroad--it is actually called that--and it is scary as hell to ride on. I am accustomed to signals controlled by dispatchers that guide train movement, but occasionally there are pieces of dark territory that trains run over. It is old rail that doesn't have much traffic and the dispatcher controls movement through verbal commands the conductor records as a "track warrant". You have to really trust the dispatcher, and then you buzz on down the track in the complete darkness of the night with no signals, guided by all these old railroad rules. In no way does this mean you are ever out of communication with the dispatcher.

CS: I don't like you having insider knowledge over me. It isn't enough that you nailed this episode with the prediction.

SE: Further driving the point home, the first thing that train is supposed to do when it is stopped is contact the dispatcher, and then if the train has anything other than plain old coal cars or other less dangerous cars, is inspect the train. The ingenious part about this plot is that a giant truck in the middle of the road would completely distract the conductor from inspecting his train. The bullshit whistle I am blowing on this heist is huge; it's bigger than a tuba and louder than a train horn. With that said, if everything lined up perfectly, it could potentially happen. I mean everything. The crew has to be paying attention, they have to decide it isn't worth calling the dispatcher after they apply the emergency brakes (which is a violation of railroad rules), they both leave the train unattended anyhow (which is a violation, unless they are on a shortline with less rules and regulations), and on top of it all they don't inspect the train and just take off when the truck is clear.

CS: But isn't that the beauty of TV, everything working perfectly? Isn't it human nature to cut corners and assume things aren't astray?

We killed a kid in the desert, and all we got was this hose and a pet tarantula?
SE: Listening to the Insider podcast, Gilligan knows he takes liberties. The thing is, 99.9% of the people that watch the show haven't been acclimated to railroad procedure, and that may be why I have little suspended disbelief.

CS: I've had my doubts in other situations though. I’m still not convinced you could get that many car batteries to get an electromagnet strong enough to pull a U-Haul over like that.

SE: Yes, I am glad this madness is happening during Walt's off-the-rails phase. They are backed into a corner and don't give a damn, so why not take the risk. I love that he shares with Skyler what he was doing.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room, what does Todd's role mean for the series going further?

CS: It means Jesse is going to kill him.

Oh, and I almost forgot, once again the better half Saul's D team comes to the rescue. Bill Burr has been fantastic in this show. What a fantastic shirt with those nut-huggers too. "Of course you know something about engines, that’s why they call you an engineer."

SE: Most railroad engineers don't know dick about engines. A diesel locomotive is an electronically controlled engine ran on power from a diesel motor. They man the controls, not work on engines. That is why that Bill Burr line was so great.

CS: I'd really like to find out what they did to that dump truck to render it useless though. I know from experience that there are many engineers who don't know two shits about the most basic of engineering principles, hell, me being one of them a lot of the time--if not most of the time. Once, I had someone tell me that they didn't know you had to go to college to drive a train.

SE: You don't holmes, not at all. Any regular joe with half an IQ can hire on and get trained. That isn't to say the railroad isn't chock full of what some refer to as "wasted talent", men and women that could have been brilliant at other jobs, but flocked to the railroad for the money.

CS: Every walk of life is littered with those people. I've known many idiot savants in my day.

SE: Which is why Walter White is so believable. I worked with a guy that was a professional french horn player at one time, repaired microwaves at one time, could sing just like Van Morrison, and had famous relatives, top that.

CS: I had a roommate who's father was fired from Halliburton by Dick Cheney and still voted for Bush/Cheney twice

SE: Speaking of dicks, what is Todd's deal? Is he a psychopath? Did he want to prove he could handle himself to the guys? Or was he just afraid to go to prison?

CS: I think he is just a guy who sees things in black or white. He rectifies problems and worries about consequences later.

SE: So does Jesse immediately off Todd? How does this shake out next episode?

CS: It shakes out with a battle of the bands between Crucifictorious and TwaughtHammer. Faaaaaallacies!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Breaking Down: Breaking Bad, Season Five, Episode Four

"Fifty-One" brings the annual Walter White evaluation. Breakfast with Junior? Check. Pontiac Aztek sighting? Check. Walter threatening Skyler to crawl out of his ass? Check. Things change, but in some ways they stay the same. Walter is still evading his DEA brother-in-law, clamoring for Jesse's affection, and trying to sway his son to the dark side, albeit about 50 shades of black darker than Walt's 50th bacon birthday plate. Lydia tries to make her escape from underneath Mike's heavy boot through a ruse, while Skyler succumbs to becoming sticky glue under Walt's loafers. All of the action is directed by Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Looper auteur Rian Johnson.

Sail swiftly into the mystic Pontiac Aztek, your old soul will be missed.
Stan Earnest: Thirty minutes before the show I sent a text begging for an Aztek return, tell me I didn't call that!

Craig Scholes: Yeah... that car should finally be dead now though. You didn't get your Gus flashback though, but you did get to see a picture of him.

SE: Do you think his mechanic was pulling a Beneke: beating around the bush for a little extra cash?

CS: I don’t think so.

SE: He was being a little ballsy with the talk around Junior, but I think Walt wants that. Walt wants his son to know he is a bad ass and doesn't have to bow down to others like he thought he did for 50 years. And you have to love the wink from Gilligan as the mechanic says, "At least we didn't have to fix the windshield this time."

CS: I got a little bit o’ a chuckle from that. I would have preferred if the mechanic just said, “We couldn't fix it,” and the thing was still mangled, all googly-eyed in the corner of his lot.

SE: Come on man, the Aztek can’t go out with a whimper. The distorted shot of Heisenberg in the rear view was a nice touch. I am not a car guy; tell me what Walt is now driving.

CS: A Chrysler 300, they look very much like a Bentley.

SE: I've seen a thousand of them, but that isn't what they normally look like right?

CS: It’s blacked out. It’s probably not a stock model. Clearly Flynn wanted that Challenger too.

SE: So Chrysler enjoys paying the cheddar for the advertising, but I don't blame Breaking Bad for a second for taking it. As utterly complete and tight-fitting their plots may be, they still pale in comparison to the views The Walking Dead gets. And the car fits the script: it looks like it costs a couple hundred grand until a closer inspection reveals the patented plastic grill.

CS: The only problem I have is, that not in a hundred years could any rational human argue that a Chrysler 300 is a better car than that Challenger SRT.

Daniel Day Lewis drinks your milkshake, Walt eats your bacon.
SE: No human shall ever argue that. I can't wait to see what car Walt decides to drive when he kills half of Albuquerque and moves to Jamaica.

CS: Walt goes on and on about how horsepower isn't the only factor, that drag and suspension are to be accounted for also, nevermind-ing that the Chrysler 300 is one of the heavier cars on the market.

SE: You are talking about the same guy that argued the merits of Boz Scaggs, remember?

CS: Fair point. Walt doesn't seem like the lease type.

SE: Walt is most definitively not a lease guy, and Hank should know this. Walt buys things and keeps them for a half-century and takes pride in repairing them, keeping old things new. Heisenberg loves leases. He loves to lease cars and return them thrashed, hooker saliva still dripping from the dashboard.

CS: How long before Heisenberg starts bringing meth whores home to bang in front of his practically comatose wife?

SE: We are boldly going where...this episode took us. This is a dark, dark episode. It isn't pretty. I am sure a lot of the more excitable fans will have their tighty-whities twisted at the slowness of this episode following the renewed wrecking crew of Walt and Jesse, but I am here to defend this episode. This is reality. If all of the previous episodes had really happened, the screenwriters know what follows. I like how Walter and Skyler swap barbs like a true romantic couple.

CS: That, and Skyler has a real Cameron Frye moment too.

SE: Did that follow the wrecked car commercial where the kid says, "My dad is going to kill me," a la Ferris Bueller's Day Off? If so, that is phenomenal. By the way, I heard a rumor that Matthew Broderick and John Cusack turned down the role of a 40-year-old Walter White; and, thus, Vince Gilligan lobbied for Cranston and rewrote it as a 50-year-old.

CS: Broderick would have been HORRIBLE. Cusack might have been okay, but it would have been a different show. I don't think Broderick has it in him to play a dark character, at least not a Walter-White-type of dark character.

SE: Cusack could have totally done it, but no way I would want anyone other than Cranston. I don't even want to think about it. He is taking super creepy to all new levels. And I can't picture Broderick as anyone other than Abe Froman. Ever wonder what Ferris Bueller's would be like as a coming-of-age indie rom-com?

CS: With Hank getting promoted, the Heisenberg case could really get pushed aside.

SE: Hank does NOT want that job.

CS: I dunno. I think he wants the job, but he wants to finish the Heisenberg case first.

SE: Yeah, that is it, totally. I've heard so many stories about cops that get tangled in cases, intertwining them with their lives and neglecting their families. Hank needs some blue meth to keep up with the Heisenberg case.

CS: Hell, I got sent home early the other day and didn't want to go until I wrapped up what I was doing. Not really the same, but humans have a desire to have closure.

SE: Not to mention our one-track minds. Curiosity didn't kill the cat, tenacity did. Nothing bothers me more than not being able to figure out what is wrong with my computer at any given time.

So clearly it is hinted that the Gus-to-Germany connection doesn't make sense, that something is in between. Couple the Chile connection with Skyler being adamant that her family is in danger and some somewhat-under-the-radar foreshadowing is taking place. Walt's family is in complete danger. I can't decide if he is just mentally blocking this out of his mind or if he is just such a scumbag that he doesn't care.

CS: Oh, he doesn't care. At this point, Walt is in it for Number One. He doesn't care what is good for his family; he only wants his cake and to eat it too.

SE: It is like when you hear a tornado siren. When I was single, I would just sleep those suckers off, but with a family a plan has to be made ahead of time, packing a bag with shoes and flashlights and water and fruit snacks at the top of the stairs, and then gathering everyone up and heading to the storm room at 1:00 a.m. The siren is going off, and Walt is asking his family to ignore it.

The only problem I have with Season Five so far is that--well, it isn't moving too slowly for enjoyment--it is moving too slow for a proper pay-off before the big bang that won't come until Summer of 2013. The wait is so going to suck.

CS: I kinda think the show is following the same format of the previous seasons, but it's just prorating it out over 16 episodes instead of 13 episodes. Shit is about to hit the fan.

SE: Well, we know something fun is about to happen, because they need methylamine. You know what time it is? CAPER TIME! And I ain't talking about those delicious little peas that are great on aged ham. I am talking about Walt and Jesse in fuzzball ski masks heisting a rail car full of methylamine.

CS: Too predictable. That bitch is going to get got, too. I have a feeling Mike kills her anyway. I also think Skyler might off herself. Hell, Walt might kill her.

SE: I don't wonder if Walt hatched a plan to put Lydia away by thieving all of her methylamine and putting her in a precarious situation. But, you did notice the cameras the facility had. Speaking of which, shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad are soon going to be obsolete. Cameras are cheap and they are everywhere. If you are doing something illegal, and you don't have anyone on the inside, you are normally on film somewhere waiting to be got. The public may have to give up a lot of privacy, but it might save them from the rampage Aztek.

CS: Breaking Bad is helped out by the show taking place five years ago. I think it's impossible to have surveillance on everything though, and how much longer before everyone has those Batman camera deactivators.

SE: Who needs them when Mike has wasp spray?

Now that I think about it, Skyler dying would leave Walt to complete free reign, but we cannot underestimate umpteen years of marriage. I believe Walt is still faithful in a lot of ways and knows he has caused this. I think Skyler dies, but not at the hands of Walt. Then we get rampage Walt.

CS: For someone who allegedly cares about his wife, he is sure putting her through the ringer, essentially torturing her. That breakfast scene was awkward.

Shoppers are falling off lab vats to get this limited edition watch.
SE: How about the gift from Jesse? The writers don't miss a chance to drive a point home. That thing ticks and clacks, isn’t stylish--at least not in Walt's vein--and has only one purpose, not to mention watches in general are basically obsolete with the advent of modern cell phone usage, but Walt loves it. He loves that he is being respected. It is in stark contrast with that calculator watch he was rocking out in Season Three.

CS: Oh yeah, and what Walt loved even more was being able to throw it in Skyler’s face. “You think you hate me? This dude stuck a gun in my face, and now he is buying me bling.” I really want to buy myself a swank watch.

SE: We are really programmed to consume aren’t we? I want one too, but it is the most asinine purchase ever. It weighs the wrist down, annoying any movement. It has no purpose, except for looking cool, and when I see someone with one, I just think, “Man, don’t you have a cell phone in your pocket that does more with time than that costly hunk of jewelry?”

CS: I just think watches are classy. It’s really no different than a woman wearing diamonds. I would never have an ear ring or slick my hair, and I’m not talking Rolex (those things are fucking tacky), but something like a Tag Heuer would be nice.

SE: Who are you trying to be? Eli Manning? Are you timing your stop at the rail station? Well, I had a Rambo knife when I was a kid, and I would love to wear one now too, at least that has its uses.

That line to Skyler was uncanny. I really thought Walt was going to just wave the gift in front of her to show her someone else cares about him, but he takes it to another plane, further driving home the message that life is fragile. "Hey Skyler, I know you are scared half to death, and just pulled a Benjamin Braddock on me, but hey, I've had a gun pointed to my head! Can you imagine what it is like to have a gun pointed to your head? What a rush! We should try some role playing with that scenario. You know, Hank and Marie told me role playing saved their marriage..."

CS: I have a feeling Marie is the dominant one in the bedroom, Hank dressed as a french maid, with Marie pegging him.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Series Two, Episode Eight

And just like that, here we are again. Your Tenzing Norgays (as usual) for Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey are Wordy Ginters and Josh "Old Man" Duggan. Tell your kinfolk and your people that they need to get this while the gettin' is good. Once again, you can buy the second series on Blu-ray and on DVD. They're the original versions as aired in the U.K. (Series One available here on DVD and Blu-ray.) Why the British versions? Because they're unabridged, unlike what aired in the U.S. Do it (but follow those links if you do).

As the episode begins, Fellowes wastes no time in getting the ball rolling. We are thrown into Downton in the midst of preparations for Matthew and Lavinia's pending nuptials. The parents of the dead fuckwad Major Bryant have done an about-face and want to see Ethel's bastard child. Carson kindly tells a broke Thomas that he should be pushing on since he has no position at Downton. Branson and Sybil announce their plans to move to Dublin--where Branson has a job as a journalist at a paper and Sybil looks to continue on in nursing while giving up her life in the aristocracy--whereupon Lord Grantham puffs out his chest and gets indignant and tries ineffectually to strong-arm Sybil into doing as he commands.

And then everything goes to shit. Spanish Influenza hits Downton Abbey like a motherfucker. Before you know it, Carson, Cora, Molesley, and Lavinia are near death. While sickness takes its hold on the house, Anna tells Bates that they're getting married and there's not a goddamn thing he can say to deter her. The intrepid Dr. Clarkson prescribes Aspirin and cinnamon and milk to those coming down with the sickness. While Lavinia is resting, Mary and Matthew share a dance and their feelings for one another. As was inevitable, Lavinia walks down the stairs while they're kissing. It is revealed that Molesley isn't sick with flu, but rather he's drunk from having to taste the wines. While Cora is ill, Robert takes the war widow maid, Jane, into his room where they kiss but are interrupted by Bates, whereupon Lord Grantham's conscience gets the best of him and he breaks off the tryst before it really starts. The next morning, Lord Grantham tries to buy off Branson at the Grantham Arms. It is determined that the wedding must be postponed. Cora is the illest of the stricken and looks to be potentially dying. Major Bryant's shithead father wants to take their bastard grandson and raise them without Ethel. Mrs. O'Brien tries to confess her role in the miscarriage to a delusional Cora but realizes it won't be heard. Having stabilized, Lavinia breaks off the engagement with Matthew on account of his obvious feelings for Mary. Sir Richard Carlisle comes to "help" and prevent Mary and Matthew from getting together if Lavinia were to perish. Cora gets disturbingly sicker, bleeding out of her nose and looking like hell. Thomas lends an overeager helping hand to endear him to everyone and try to get his job back. Lavinia takes a shocking and sudden turn for the worse after looking to be well and just before dying tells Matthew to be happy with Mary, saying her death is for the better. Cora and Robert mend their strained relationship after she comes through on the other side. Bates and Anna get married furtively in Ripon. Lord Grantham promises to provide for Jane's son after she hands in her notice. Mary has a room set up in secret for Anna and Bates on their wedding night. At Lavinia's funeral, Matthew tells Mary that the two of them are cursed and that their kiss killed Lavinia. Robert gives Sybil and Branson his blessing. When the staff arrive back from the cemetery, Bates is arrested for murder.

Wordy Ginters: Throw all of the relationships in a pot, add a dash of Spanish Influenza, and stir like a bastard. Matthew standing up like Freddie in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels didn't throw me, but the whipsaw switchbacks from weddings, to funerals, to Bates shirtless and ultimately cuffed may have.

Old Man Duggan: So much shit happened in this episode. The recap for this chapter was ridiculously long, and not for my lack of wanting it to be more brief.

WG: Come on Fellowes, save a little something for Season Three. Or better yet, parcel that action out a little. And no sign of Patrick's melted face.

OMD: I am seriously hard-pressed to think of an episode of television in which so much happened, plot-wise.

Jordan Mooney, WWI Nurse
WG: My favorite angle of the last part of Season Two has been the ascension of Branson. As Bates wilts, Branson gows. You figured when they laid their cards on the table some ugly bluster would come down. Fathers of the world can't front on that. I liked how Fellowes had Branson handle the heat shamelessly. Grantham pre-sages Cocktail by whipping out the checkbook and tries to buy his daughter's future back. This brings up an important question, who makes a better WWI nurse, Sybil or Elisabeth Shue? Branson, unlike Tom Cruise, shows a little fucking reserved nobility. So he's got a gig at some Irish newspaper, eh? You got him pegged for covering the Gaelic football and hurling beat, or does he land on the opinion pages day one?

OMD: Branson has definitely been the undeniable success story in this season. Everyone else who we find ourselves rooting for has gotten the shit kicked out of them from time to time, but Branson has won at every turn. At least Fellowes gave us someone who hasn't been beaten down this season. I loved Branson telling Carson that he felt no shame. Damn right you shouldn't, Branson. Bully for you. Mr. Mooney was clearly inspired by Lord Grantham, whose failed attempt at buying off Branson surely made it 'round their social circle for generations. On the nursing front, I'd imagine Elisabeth Shue would deliver any and all liquids I needed via bottle poured over top of her breasts, so I'd have to opt for that nurse each and every time. As for Branson, I'm sure he'll make his name by way of covering the Irish War of Independence is just getting underway with their Declaration of Independence having happened just a couple months earlier, given his proclivity for politics it seems unlikely that his fate would operate outside of the rebellion. Of course, I suppose that Icarus has flown too close to the sun, and his wings will melt in a most horrible way because no one can be happy for good on this show.

WG: I was trying to connect the dots between the various "couples" and various maladies. Those being cuckolded in some fashion are the ones who get the sharp end of the stick. Lavinia? Dead. Bates? Jail. Cora? The worst bloody nose ever. Ethel? Doomed to live in a shadowy one-room efficiency with only a baby, a wooden pacifier, and short-brimmed steam punk hats for company.

OMD: This is definitely a bizarre trend. Getting fucked around on by your mate? Here. Let me stab you in the arm and mash your testes with a rusty 19th-Century garlic press. Ethel's being punished for being the horniest thing with two legs in the history of the world. That randy broad and her dumb-looking mouth-breather of a kid are doomed to a life of destitution. The Depression is gonna fuck that kid up something rotten.

WG: Have you sussed out what LP Matthew threw on the old gramophone? I thought for sure we'd hear the phat beats of Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" rocking the drawing room.

OMD: You'll be glad to know that from what I can tell, Zip, Goes a Million was a musical written by Jerome Kern. It was based on the 1902 novel, Brewster's Millions. Yep. Brewster's Millions. It did rather poorly, and a Broadway run was cancelled after its failure in London. A separate musical was later adapted from the same novel in 1951. "Look for the Silver Lining" is the tune they dance to. Given how quickly it was at the end of the record and the fact that slower records weren't widely available until the 1930s, they had to have been listening to it on 78, or at the very least Fellowes made it appear to have been a 78 to keep up with historical accuracy.

WG: Excellent. Brewsters Millions! is this the same vehicle that brought about the genius pairing of John Candy and Richard Pryor?

OMD: Oh, don't you know it.

WG: I generally dig the camera work on this show, but the dizzy, spinning, kissy, busted sequence was a little over the top for me. Matthew's smoldering repressed self-pity provides all the fireworks my groins need.

OMD: It rubbed me wrong the first time, but it makes sense from a psychological standpoint, as Matthew and Mary are in the throes of a moment. The camera movement puts the viewer in that disorienting place. It might be a little heavy-handed, but it didn't get to the point of bothering me.

WG: I loved the dated remedy for Spanish Flu: Aspirin, Cinnamon, and Milk. I bet you served plenty of those in your barista days?

The Dr. Clarkson of lawyering
OMD: Fucking Clarkson. It reminds me of George Bluth, Sr. every time he realizes his lawyers have given him terrible advice. "I have the worst fucking attorneys." It's like Clarkson is just out to dick Matthew over at every turn. You'll never walk. Lavinia's fine. Jesus, Clarkson, get your druthers about you, you sod.

WG: I plight thee my troth. Bates shirtless. Obviously Anna employed the reverse cowboy. It was gratifying to see a look of relieved joy wash over his face, if only for a moment. Somehow, I had pictured Bates with broader shoulders and at list a hint of muscle definition. Sweetly complicated move that Jane left that room as a wedding gift? Was that on the up and up or was she planning on luring Grantham in for a hump?

OMD: The audience got the moment they had been waiting for since about the 20th minute of the first episode. Bates and Anna together in marital bliss. I was choked up when Mary took Anna into the room that Jane had done up on the way out. That's where the show gets me--those little moments where a character goes out of their way to do well by another character when they don't have to, especially when the act of kindness affects a character whose life otherwise has so little going on to be counted as something momentous. These small kindnesses carry a weight that in any other hands would be rendered mostly inconsequential.

WG: Without a doubt. The compassion displayed by some of the characters goes a long way towards keeping the viewer invested.

I laughed when Bryant's wife jumped on him for his frequent use of the word "bastard," and he countered with "nameless off-shoot of a drudge." Much better.

OMD: He's unquestionably a shithead, but his categorization of that fallen randy housemaid was spot on.

WG: The end scene where the Dowager Countess was searching for salvage value in the Sybil/Branson marriage via Branson's involvement with the press and the politics hits a little close to home. The aristocrats have been running that game for years.

OMD: There are certainly socio-political elements of the show that are just as relevant today as they were then. Human nature, I guess. As long as people have their precious status at stake, they'll spin anything and everything to save face. I liked that Lord Grantham ended up eventually coming to terms with everything despite his petulant protestations early on.

OMD: It's weird but it felt like Bates was scowling at Branson when Branson said he had no shame. I'm sure I'm projecting something that wasn't there, but it seemed odd to have the camera linger so long on a reaction shot of Bates--a reaction shot that seems to convey annoyance at the least and ire at the most.

WG: I had the same reaction. It put me off a little. I thought Bates of all people may recognize that love trumps social mores. His reaction is another indication of how batshit crazy it was to cross the caste system back in 1918 England. Or more likely, an indication of how the relationship between the aristocracy and the great unwashed was beginning to blur. I'm pretty sure this was covered in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games.

OMD: Honestly, I really liked the Molesley flu gag. Amidst all the real sickness, the timid Molesley being sick with drink--and by way of occupational hazard no less--broke the tension just a bit.

WG: Funny scene. I laughed out loud as Doc Clarkson made the diagnosis by sniffing. The wine pairing and decanting was intimidating. Pudding wine.

OMD: Most definitely. I would have no idea where to begin with wine for the pudding course.

The first time I watched this episode I thought that Lavinia's death was absurd. I had no real knowledge of how the Spanish Influenza actually struck down its fatal victims. I later found out that I was dead wrong. It hit the young and healthy hardest, and apparently fake-outs like happened with Lavinia were commonplace. The more you know.

OMD: And lastly, the emasculation of Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham, continues on. His money cannot buy off Branson. His youngest daughter is flying the coop and leaving the life of the aristocrat. He leaves to buy off Branson only to get back and have Cora have taken a turn for the worse in his absence. He grasps feebly at seizing onto his last shred of virility with Jane but is interrupted and eventually thinks better of it all. Methinks it may get worse for Robert before it gets better, despite the fact that Cora seems apologetic for having neglected Robert's needs for the past couple years.

WG: Grantham does appear to be in a fragile state. He needs aspirin, milk, and cinnamon, or maybe just a handjob and a nap. A man trapped in the wrong time period. Too early to go buy a red sports car or dabble in Scientology, too principled to have a scandalous affair. That leaves the stock market. Knowing Fellowes penchant for sadism, I'm guessing Grantham will get into margin trading on utilities a few weeks before Black Tuesday in October of 1929.
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