Friday, October 18, 2013

Movie Movie Movie: Shining a Light on ROOM 237

As a few may know, I'm a something of a fan of Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING. Okay, I can lip-sync the entire film, and even though I don't often cite it among my three or four all-time favorite films, I've probably seen it more times than almost of those cinematic masterpieces combined.

So several months ago, when I first heard about a documentary that would delve into a fistful of creepy and creative conspiracy theories relating to that classic chiller, I was intrigued. There aren't many non-fiction films that become "must-see" for me, but this was certainly one of them.

But after finally getting the opportunity to soak it all in, I have to say...I was mildly disappointed by ROOM 237. Not one of the premises posed really grabbed me. It wasn't simply a matter of being far-fetched (such as connecting the film to the faking of the moon landing); it was more a general feeling of "Is that all you've got?" I found myself mumbling "Really?" and sighing far more than anything approximating a positive reaction. 

After a while, I grew weary of both the well spoken intellectuals and wing nuts that must have been conceived on a grassy knoll, and the clips from a thousand films stitched together to form the visual narrative annoyed me more than entertained me. Sometimes talking heads are preferable to using footage that isn't half as clever as the filmmakers seemed to believe it was. 

I also realized I could easily concoct one on the spot that would be just as plausible as any featured in this film.

Like how about...THE SHINING is really all an analogy for the hardships of Jackie Robinson and the Dodger organization abandoning Brooklyn for Los Angeles. I can give just as many reasons to support that as the Holocaust theory. The preponderance of the number 42, the uprooting of a family to a strange and alien place, and then there's what happens to the Scatman...

Sounds ridiculous? Of course it is...but it's not any more loopy or loony than the theories espoused throughout ROOM 237. And I only plucked this out of my posterior five minutes ago!

However, I will say I enjoyed all the continuity errors, gaffes and Easter Eggs uncovered throughout this film. Besides that, my favorite part had to be superimposing the film over itself: playing THE SHINING backwards and forwards together was pretty goddamned awesome, resulting in some amazing juxtapositions. I do wonder if one only uses ONE soundtrack, or has them BOTH playing over each other.

Many a diehard fan of Kubrick will be willing to sit through all sorts of nonsense for an examination of this film as well as references to all his other films. And for those hardcore cineastes -- by all means check out (or should I say "check into") ROOM 237. But despite my love of the man's work, I just can't quite give this my seal of approval. I guess I just didn't take "a shine" to this flick.

And yes, that previous sentence is worse than anything in ROOM 237.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What I Watch: My Top 25 Favorite Episodes of Breaking Bad

Weeks before the final episode aired, I had already decided that BREAKING BAD had officially taken over the #1 slot on my list of all-time favorite dramatic TV series, pushing titans like THE TWILIGHT ZONE, LOST, THE WIRE, OZ, COLUMBO, THE SOPRANOS, DEADWOOD, STAR TREK and MAD MEN all down a notch. 

So, in the spirit of equally arbitrary and totally irrelevant rankings...

...similar to what I did with THE TWILIGHT ZONE earlier this year, I present my personal Top Twenty-Five Favorite BREAKING BAD episodes. Oh, I use the seemingly redundant word "favorite" to clarify that these are completely based on my personal preference and nothing else.

25. ...AND THE BAG'S IN THE RIVER (Season 1, Episode 3)

Why it made MY list:
Although the stunt he pulls in the RV results in the death of Emilio, this is the first time Walt murders someone with his own bare hands, or in this case, a bicycle lock. We also meet Wendy for the first time when Hank takes Walter Jr. on a trip to the Crystal Palace.

Memorable Quote: 
Jesse: We flipped a coin, okay? You and me. You and me! Coin flip is sacred! Your job is waiting for you in that basement, as per the coin!

24. BUG (Season 4, Episode 9)

Why it made MY list:
We see just how big a true badass Gus is as he dares a sniper to shoot him; Skyler shows off her acting chops by putting on a dumb blonde routine for the IRS, and Walt and Jesse prove that neither of them played Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots as kids, as they have an incredibly awkward but savage fight.

Memorable Quote
Mike: Shut your mouth. You shut your mouth or I'll shut it for you. I don't want you talking to me or Jesse. Just get the barrel. And if you ever plan on calling the cops on one of my guys again, you go ahead and get two barrels.

23. CABALLO SIN NOMBRE (Season 3, Episode 2)

Why it made MY list:
A double dose of Saul Goodman goodness: providing relationship advice regarding Walt's estranged marriage, and later screwing over Jesse's parents and their snobby lawyer to get Jesse's house back.

Memorable Quote
Saul: It is not a disaster. It's not a disaster, alright? She's not going to the cops, she's not telling a living soul. You wanna know why? One word: blowback. If she blabs, it'll be a disaster – for her. That DEA brother-in-law? Screwed! You were right under his nose. He'll be lucky if they let him bust glue sniffers at the hobby shop. The kids? Paging Dr. Phil! "My daddy's a drug dealer and my mommy turned him in!" And the house? Gone! The feds will come in and RICO her and the kids out on the street. Good luck arguing with them on that, noooo. It's not gonna happen. She's bluffing. And she knows it.

22. HERMANOS (Season 4, Episode 8)

Why it made MY list:
Walt playing buddy cop with Hank on a trip to Los Pollos Hermanos under the scowling eye of Mike is certainly noteworthy, but it's the 20 year old flashback of Gus and his partner Max's ill-fated meeting with Don Eladio that makes this a truly memorable episode.

Memorable Quote
Jesse: So, what if this is like math or algebra? And you add a plus douchebag to a minus douchebag, and you get, like, zero douchebags? 

21. SUNSET (Season 3, Episode 6)

Why it made MY list:
We meet Gale Boetticher for the first time, a well-meaning nebbish who's blissfully unaware of the horrible turn his life will soon be taking.  And then there's Old Joe from the local junkyard. Old Joe is a demolition expert, and as we learn when Hank briefly traps Jesse and Walt in the RV -- he also knows a thing or three about the law. Good Old Joe...

Memorable Quote
Walter: And do what exactly? I mean, what...the thing, the thing is the size of a, of a...It's RV size! I mean, where do I go to make an RV disappear? I'm not David Copperfield!
Saul: What do I look like – the RV disposal people? Did you not plan for this contingency?
Walter: No.
Saul: Well, next time plan for it, would ya? The Starship Enterprise had a self-destruct button. I'm just saying.

20. CORNERED (Season 4, Episode 6)

Why it made MY list:
If for no other reason than the fact it features Walter White's most iconic monologue: "I Am The Danger". Also, Skyler has that great moment, standing at the crossroads of a decision that she appears is going to leave up to chance -- but then she doesn't.

Memorable Quote(s)
Well, the entire aforementioned Walt rant would certainly qualify -- now how did that go again?

But...let's not forget Skyler putting a acidic button on the entire episode with this.

19. CRAZY HANDFUL OF NOTHIN' (Season 1, Episode 6)

Why it made MY list:
The introduction of the "Heisenberg" persona. Everything from Walt shaving his head to wearing dark colors (the infamous hat would appear in the next episode) to telling Tuco his name is Heisenberg. Walt's stunt with the fulminated mercury (which took me back to the film MISTER ROBERTS) is one of the first jaw dropping moments on the series.

Memorable Quote:
Hank: Nothing personal, Walt, but you wouldn't know a criminal if he was close enough to check you for a hernia.

18. GRILLED (Season 2, Episode 2)

Why it made MY list:
We meet Hector Salamanca for the first time (ding ding ding). And we bid a bloody farewell to Tuco as he is blown away by Hank. Of course, we also know this later sets off a serious bout of PTSD as Hank is elevated from comic relief to dramatic foil.

Memorable Quote:
Walt: We tried to poison you because you're an insane degenerate piece of filth, and you deserve to die.

17. SALUD (season 4, Episode 10)

Why it made MY list:
Gus mixes business with revenge by mixing poison with tequila -- taking out the entire Mexican cartel including Don Eladio. Also, Jesse is truly "the man" this episode; first when he runs roughshod over the snobbish dicks at the Cartel's superlab, and later when he essentially saves both Mike and Gus.

Memorable Quote:
Jesse: Tell this asshole if he wants to learn how to make my product, he's gotta do it my way. The right way.
Fuentes: I speak English.
Jesse: So you understand what 'asshole' means. Now go get me my phenylacetic acid, asshole.

16. GLIDING OVER ALL (Season 5, Episode 8)

Why it made MY list:
Walt takes another page from Michael Corleone's playbook and orders the hit of ten men in three prisons in a two minute window of time. We also meet Uncle Jack and the Aryan Brotherhood, the song "Crystal Blue Persuasion" is FINALLY used in the series, and Hank truly de-DEUCES something that FLUSHES away any chance of a bright future for the White and Schrader households.

Memorable Quote:
Hank: Tagging trees is a lot better than chasing monsters.

Also, I did discuss this episode at length last year on Facebook:
Breaking Bad, Recapping Worse: Gliding Over All

15. SAY MY NAME (Season 5, Episode 7)

Why it made MY list:
This is paired with the episode it precedes, but I rank it higher as it begins with the desert showdown with Declan -- where he's learns he's goddamned right when he realizes he's talking to Heisenberg. But it's really about the life and death of Mike Ehrmantraut, whom Walt kills in an unfortunate flash of ego-fueled rage. Realizing his error, Walt's apology is cut off by Mike's dying words…

Memorable Quote:
Mike: Shut the fuck up and let me die in peace.

I discussed this episode as well last year on the Book of Face:
Breaking Bad, Recapping Worse: Say My Name

14. NEGRO Y AZUL (Season 2, Episode 7)

Why it made MY list:
Do we need another reason besides Tortuga's head mounted on a tortoise? How about an exploding tortoise? Also, Walt meeting with Skinny Pete, Badger and Combo (while in Heisenberg mode) shows the polar extremes of comedy and horror this show traverses so easily between.

Memorable Quote:
Jesse: We're gonna be kings, understand? Well, I'm gonna be king; you guys'll be princes or dukes or something.
Badger: I wanna be a knight.

13. FULL MEASURE (Season 3, Episode 13)

Why it made MY list:
His own execution imminent, Walt orders Jesse to insure that there's only ONE chemist that can work for Gustavo Fring. Here's hoping they have vegan treats and karaoke in the afterlife for one Gale Boetticher.

Memorable Quote:
Mike: Saul, don't make me beat you until your legs don't work.

12. PHOENIX (Season 2, Episode 12)

Why it made MY list:
Walt doesn't get to witness the beginning of a life when he misses the birth of his daughter, but he does later watch Jane choke on her own vomit and die. So there's that.

Memorable Quote:
Jesse: Right on, New Zealand, that's where they, uh, that's where they made Lord of the Rings! I say we just move there, yo! I mean, you could like paint the local castles and shit, and I could be a bush pilot!

11. FELINA (Season 5, Episode 16)

Why it made MY list:
It's the series finale. Every loose end is tied up like a hangman's noose or a heroin addict's rubber tubing.

Memorable Quote:
Walter White's first truly honest confession of the entire series...

10. DEAD FREIGHT (Season 5, Episode 5)

Why it made MY list:
It's a great heist, a thrilling caper -- and like the magnets scheme that started off the season -- it's the brainchild of one Jesse Pinkman. However, there is one thing that Jesse didn't plan for...and it's THAT shocking moment that really hauls DEAD FREIGHT into my Top Ten.

Memorable Quote:
Skyler: Just a couple of days ago, you told me that a man held a gun to your head. You said it like it was a point of pride. There's nothing you can say that'll convince me there won't come a day that somebody will come knocking on that door looking to harm you or me or all of us. And when that day comes, the children cannot be here. You agree to that, and I will be whatever kind of partner you want me to be.

And wouldn't ya know, I covered this episode last year elsewhere too:

9. CRAWL SPACE (Season 4, Episode 11)

Why it made MY list:
Walt's panic justifiably grows, especially after being tazed, dragged out to the desert, and having the lives of the entire White family threatened by Gus. Walt finally feels it's time to make use of the man who makes people disappear, but when he discovers most of his nest egg has been given to Ted to pay off his IRS debt, we get the creepiest and possibly the most iconic closing shot of the entire series.

Memorable Quote:
Walter: What?! This.. this is a vacuum cleaner repair company!
Saul: What'd you expect, Hadji's Quick Vanish?

8. FOUR DAYS OUT (Season 2, Episode 9)

Why it made MY list:
"Cracked-bottle" episodes of BREAKING BAD are often impressive pieces of film making, and two land back-to-back on the list. Here, we spend four days with Walt and Jesse stranded in the desert, exploring the bonds and boundaries of their relationship, as well as Jesse's love for Funyons.. It's the first time Walt dismisses the idea that this is all for his family, asserting all he's ever done is worry and disappoint them with his litany of lies. 

We also learn that Walt's cancer is in serious remission, and he doesn't care much for towel dispensers.

Memorable Quote
Jesse: Yo, you wanna go shopping, go do it yourself. I got plans.
Walt: Smoking marijuana, eating Cheetos and masturbating do not constitute plans in my book.

7. FLY (Season 3, Episode 10)

Why it made MY list:
I covered my effusive feelings towards the mildly controversial episode FLY in a brief blog a few months back:  What I Watch: BREAKING BAD...FLY  It's a fantastic character study, riffing on the metaphor of a winged contaminant in the meth super lab when it's more about Walt's fears, the consequences of his decisions and his guilt, especially over the death of Jesse's girlfriend Jane.

Memorable Quote
Jesse: Did you know that there's an acceptable level of rat turds that can go into candy bars? It's the government, jack. Even government doesn't care that much about quality. You know what is okay to put in hot dogs? Huh? Pig lips and assholes. But I say, hey, have at it bitches 'cause I love hot dogs.

6. BETTER CALL SAUL (Season 2, Episode 8)

Why it made MY list:
It's the reason I ever gave BREAKING BAD a shot back in early 2010 -- which was when I found out that Bob Odenkirk was playing a recurring character. A quick binge later, and I was hooked like an ATM stealing meth monkey. Of course, this is when we meet Saul Goodman, and like his name implies: it's all good, man.

Memorable Quote
Walter: I don't understand. What exactly are you offering to do for me?
Saul: What did Tom Hagen do for Vito Corleone?
Walter: I'm no Vito Corleone.
Saul: No shit! Right now you're Fredo. But, y'know, with some sound advice and proper introductions, who knows? I'll tell you one thing: you've got the right product. Anything that gets the DEA's panties in this big a bunch, you're onto something special. And I would like to be a small and silent part of it. Food for thought, yeah? So if you want to make more money and keep the money that you make, better call Saul!

5. HALF MEASURES (Season 3, Episode 12)

Why it made MY list:
We are treated to one of the greatest monologues in TV history as Mike relays a story about when he was a beat cop back in New Jersey. This teaches Walt to never to choose half measures -- always go all the way, although Mike never imagines the consequences of this lesson. And that later leads to one of the most jaw-dropping final minutes of any BREAKING BAD episode.

Memorable Quote:
Walt: Run.

4. PILOT (Season 1, Episode 1)

Why it made MY list:
Well, all starts here. From that flying pair of pants to the first time Walt is videotaped saying something which isn't an actual confession,we are introduced to Walter Hartwell White, a fifty-year-old doormat of a high school chemistry teacher who also works a second job at a local car wash to help make ends meet and pay for his house, his special needs son and a baby on the way. 

And if life hadn't already made it clear he's little more than a beige blah who's just marking time -- this non-smoker then finds out he has inoperable lung cancer. But when he hooks up with a former student turned drug dealer named Jesse Pinkman, everything changes...though not necessarily for the better.

Memorable Quote
I often say it was this funny line that truly hooked me on the series...

3. ONE MINUTE (Season 3, Episode 7)

Why it made MY list:
In the pre-credits teaser, we get our first peek at Hector Salamanca as a younger man, long before the wheelchair, the bell and those insanely googly-eyes and curling lip. 

Back to present day, an H-Bomb detonates on Jesse as Hank pummels him beyond recognition. Later, we get not just one, but two blistering scenes that might have helped win Aaron Paul his first Emmy.

Jesse first outlines how he will haunt Hank until the day Schrader eats his gun -- and later rips apart Walt for how his life has been ruined since the two of them went into business together. Both moments are chilling, intense and simply unforgettable.

But...what most people buzz about when they think of ONE MINUTE is that showdown in the shopping center parking lot between Hank and the Cousins. It's not the first jaw-dropping final scene to appear on this list, but many would justifiably identify it as the best.

Memorable Quote(s)
Here's a straight up clip of the first of the two hair raising Jesse soliloquies...

This next clip has been dressed up with music as well as shots and even dialogue from 
other episodes, but the spine of the entire piece remains Jesse's heartbreaking 
declaration of how the great Heisenberg has ruined his life...

2. FACE OFF (Season 4, Episode 13)

Why it made MY list:
When it comes to season finales, BREAKING BAD didn't write the book. But at the close of  the fourth season, they took the old book, ripped off its cover, shredded each and every page, doused it in lighter fluid and roasted a succulent Los Pollos Hermanos drumstick over it. 

Has there been another hour of television that could continue to build white-knuckling tension minute by minute while also cramming in several laugh-out-loud moments? An episode that could shock us not once but several times? A story that could have conceivably ended the series but also served as the launching pad for the actual final season?

You don't need to be Saul Goodman to make a "Coulda Been Number One" case for several of these episodes. But this was when it still felt acceptable to be rooting for Walt (I never stopped, but most rational minded people certainly did). And vanquishing a foe that appeared to be indestructible and unstoppable -- it's like knocking off Darth Vader or Voldemort -- and how do you top that? Turns out, only one episode did...

Memorable Quote
WalterI won.

1. OZYMANDIAS (Season 5, Episode 14)

Why it made MY list:
Let's face it, top to bottom -- from a revisit to the idyllic days of "the first cook" to Walt boarding that mini-van to his new but lonely life -- OZYMANIDAS was the pinnacle of the final season. Just when you think it's reached a crescendo of nail-biting and pants-soiling, along comes another powerhouse punch to the gut. What most programs would have parceled out over a month, this episode delivers in just over forty minutes, such as:

...Hank's execution. 

...Walt pointing out Jesse to Uncle Jack and then telling the poor kid how he let Jane die;.
...Walt Jr. reacting to the truth about his dad. 
...the White Family Wrestling match with that knife held aloft. 
...Walt snatching the one family member who hadn't turned on him yet -- his infant daughter Holly.
...and that final phone call to Skyler. 

A true stunner, and it's no wonder that Vince Gilligan picked it as "the best episode we have eve had or ever will have." I came very close to being in total agreement.

Memorable Quote(s)

Hank: What? You want me to beg? You're the smartest guy I ever met. And you're too stupid to see... he made up his mind ten minutes ago.

WalterI watched Jane die. I was there. And I watched her die. I watched her overdose and choke to death. I could have saved her. But I didn't.

Walter Jr.So you’re saying all of this time you were lying about this? I mean, so you’re saying… you’re a liar. You… you just admitted it. So were you lying then, or are you lying now? Which lie is it?

Walter: I've still got things left to do.

Just one more thing...

If you haven't already figured out that I'm far better as words on a screen rather than a voice in your ears, you can check out the two Live BREAKING BAD podcasts I co-hosted by going here: 

Remember, these podcasts were truly "live", so there was no safety net of editing, and thus my blathering is jam-packed with "uhs", "ums" and other forms of inarticulate nonsense. Not sure if 
it was helped by the copious amounts of nerve-settling whiskey I was swigging at the time. 

But as far as I can tell, this is the only place to access them. So feel free to download them to your iPhone, iPad, iMac, Commodore 64, Fred Flintstone tablet...

Earth below us, drifting, falling...floating, weightless, coming, coming home...