August 26, 2013

TPG's Chemistry Class: Season 5, Episode 11 - "Confessions" (Breaking Bad Recap)

Now that we are three episodes into the the final batch of episodes, I have to say that this not how I expected the show to be progressing at this point. Yet balancing expectations and the story that is delivered is what entertainment is all about, so while I am disappointed this episode wasn't as epic as others, I do think it was a great one indeed. But let's save those thoughts for the points below. I'm going to go slap kid on a bicycle so he isn't protected by the Nanny State.

1. Todd and his lovely Nazi family seem wildly unpredictable at this point in the story. The physical look of Todd has grown more intense and he doesn't have the same kind of youthful innocence that he had last season. Yet he still tells train heist story to his uncles and seems very eager for some validation. Ahh kids these days. But speaking of the Todd of it all, how does he fit into the end-game for the show. Smart money would be on Jesse killing him as some kind of psychological vengeance for killing motorcycle boy.

2. EARLY MIND MELT FOR YA - Walt puts on Skyler's make-up to cover his protect himself from inquiry about the wounds on his face. This is a clear metaphor for her increasing role as his partner in his fight against Hank. Notice that Skyler's shirt in the dinner scene above was almost the exact color of the makeup he put on.

3. In case you haven't heard, Anna Gunn wrote a column in the New York Times how people hate her because they have so much beef with Skyler. I find this hate to misplaced because behind almost every strong man is a strong woman and we saw that tonight. The scenes with Marie and Skyler scheming with their respective husbands reminded me of some ancient Greek tragedy. You know, two sisters working with their warrior husbands before they go do battle or some shit like that. I mean everyone knows you need a wife for advice, but advice on things like this, that's next level.

4. The whole Heisenberg confession tape is a little zany for me. It feels like for the first time the show is reaching a little bit to create drama and tension. I'll go with it to see where it ends up. I do love how it is a shout out to Walt's first confession tape he recorded way back in the pilot.

5. Gotta love that lower lip quiver on Dean Norris while he's watching the confession tape. It's either fantastic acting or he was just hungry. Both are great.

6. "Saul knows a man who can give you a new life." He may drive an old van but I wonder if this is the last we see of this character with a particular set of skills - that is, making someone disappear. Considering that Walt's appearance in the flash forward episode openers causes great shock to his neighbor, I wonder if Walt will be put in touch with this man.

7. I'm not going to sugarcoat it, that hug in the dessert was one of the more emotional scenes on the show ever. Just a nice moment for Jesse and Walt, and considering that Jesse is going to burn down their house, I'd say it's most likely one of the last.

8. Last time Huell did a little hot hands swap on Jesse it wasn't nearly as obvious as it was this time. I wonder if this much more direct take was a studio note telling Gilligan and company to be more clear.

9. I love how the structures behind Jesse when he was waiting for his pickup looked like tombstones. It was as if every person he has killed was behind him watching him as he tried to make his escape. Also makes me wonder if he is a dead man himself.

10. These past two episodes have been a little too slow for me. Maybe I'm just conditioned from summer blockbuster season, but I want things to really ramp up. After this weeks ending I know they will.

No recap next week as I'll be out of town, if you want to guest write it, just email me!

August 18, 2013

TPG's Chemistry Class: Season 5, Episode 10 - "Buried" (Breaking Bad Recap)

Now that Old Man Withers aka the Santa Claus of Albuquerque has found his money, I think it's time for us to talk about the latest episode of "Breaking Bad." Titled "Buried" I found the episode to be one of the weaker episodes of not just the season, but of the entire show, but more on that in a little bit. So let's strip down to our dungaroos and get this thing going.

1. After opening with the ferocity of a meth overdose, the show was bound to come down a little bit on the intensity scale in this episode, but this episode felt slower than usual. I found some of the family scenes to be overtly soapy. In fact, the baby tug-of-war moment felt very out of place on the show. I understand that the relationship between Skyler and Marie is crucial to the show's endgame but that scene just felt forced. So did the slap. Am I alone on this? Sound off in the comments.

2. Dean Norris (Hank) was killing it in this episode acting wise. When people praise the acting on Breaking Bad it's always about Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston, or Giancarlo Esposito (when he was around), but I rarely hear Norris get mentioned. Hopefully that will change after this episode because boy was Norris on point. Can't wait to see his interrogation of Jesse next week. Why do I think it may take a very "Dark Knight" like turn?

3. MILD MELT WITH CHEEZE WIZ - How many times have we seen important meetings between important figures at diners on this show? Walt, Jesse, and Gus and others are/were all frequent diner goers for important conversations, so it's refreshing to see Skyler get her on diner showdown. Worth noting that Skyler's food scenes usually take place within the home, but now she's operating beyond her domestic circle. Is this an indication that she is getting deeper into the criminal empire. I think so.

4. This episode more than any previous one was about the role that family plays in our lives. Walter reveals that he just wants his family to have the money. That's all that matters to him. Marie and Hank's  aggression toward Skyler (baby-stealing included) was based in protecting their extended family. Jesse is lost because he doesn't have any family, not enough his surrogate father in Walter. Now who has a family to rely on? That would be Todd his Neo Nazi Uncle. Lydia with her Czech buyers and friends in Todd. Shit, maybe even Hank in the DEA? But can that much family be a weakness? After all it has been used by Heisenberg before to manipulate people to act a certain way.

5. Let's give it up for Kurt Nicholas Forshager. Who? That would be the sound designer for the show (which is consistently amazing). I'm not talking about the score. I'm talking about the way that the car engine lingered in the first scene, just lingering in the background of the scene. There are other examples of brilliant design throughout the show. What's your favorite?

6. MIND MELT WITH CHEDDAR INFUSED BACON - Whenever I see a barrel on the show I think of either meth or dead bodies. Throughout the show that has been the through-line for barrels. But now we see barrels full of money and I'm wondering just how much, in the eyes of a show is a human life worth? The episode already showed the brilliant body-money size comparison with Huell & Kuby so it wants us to think about that. To Jesse the money is worth nothing. To Walt, it's worth everything. But would the value change if the money was stacked up with the worth of a life? Would Walt give up the money if the Neo-Nazi-Czech-Madrigal consortium threatened his family?

7. 34, 59, 20, 106, 36, 52. I guess TV has a new set of numbers now

8. Last week Hank said "screw family" this week he wants to protect Skylar and their family. Which Hank will rise to the occasion when they release that his rehab treatment was paid with drug money?

9. So Todd makes his first appearance and he brought his terrifying neo-nazi uncle Jack with him. This scene out in the desert showed that while Hank and Walt are playing cat and mouse, outside a bigger much more sinister predator is lurking.

10. How many people has Saul sent to Belize?

August 11, 2013

TPG's Chemistry Class: Season 5, Episode 9 - "Blood Money" - Breaking Bad Recap

If there is one thing that is certain after tonight's season premiere of "Breaking Bad" it's that Walter White is very good at knocking on doors. I mean this both literally (seriously, just firm, powerful knocks) and metaphorically in the sense that he's opening doors which lead to some very dire places. But we're just starting off in this final season, so what do you say we eat some potato salad and get into it?

1. Skateboarding is a great metaphor for criminals. It requires an understanding of the basics, but allows for plenty of improvisation. It can be done almost anywhere but anywhere you do it it's basically the same thing. And finally, much of it, or at least the skateboarding we saw tonight, involves a rise and fall. Rise and fall. Are we seeing the fall of the mighty Walter White or maybe just his further ascent?

2. At first I thought the "Heisenberg" graffiti was there inside the home as some kind of taunt, but since  Walt is still out there I wonder if "Heisenberg" has become become an even more elevated mythic figure in the drug world than he ever was before. 

3. I honestly don't care that much about what happens with the ricin, seems like a small beans item in the scope of all the other deeper thematic issues at play here.

4. Gotta love those rolling oranges in the street. Vince Gilligan loves his "Godfather" references. Whether they mean that Walt or Carol is on the way out remains to be seen.

5. SNEAK ATTACK MIND MELT WITH EXTRA PIZZA FOR SKINNY PETE - Hank is the new   Heisenberg. What? When I say that I mean that he is consumed by ego and a thirst for glory. Notice how quickly he shuns the other DEA agents? He wants to be the guy who took down Heisenberg, his shot at glory. It doesn't matter if it is former friends at Grey Matter technologies or the DEA, both Walt and Hank are driven by desire to be recognized. Walt got his recognition, savored it, and legitimately seems to want to live a "decent life." Hank...he wants people to remember him.

6. I guess it's cool that Badger is such a Trekkie, but it is still way cooler that Skinny Pete is a fantastic piano player.

7. Skyler standing up to Lydia was a cool "she is the danger now" moment but I think Skyler has no idea who is she is messing with. Lydia may come across as a high strung bitch, but she is an international criminal who has no problem having people killed. I don't think Skyler can handle her, although pointing out she was washing a rental car was a great pick-up.

8. Jesse was really getting his "You Shall Know Our Velocity...." on when he was throwing that money away, but he needs to reign his shit in. Honestly, considering he was a mess at the start of last season as well, his losing his soul shtick is getting slightly old and I hope the writers find something better for him to do than be mopey as hell all the time.

9. With all it's zany camera angles, striking colors, and expert production design, sometimes the show just wins when it goes the simple route, like the bags of money dividing the two former partners on the couch.

10. For almost the entire show Hank and Walter have been playing this game of cat and mouse. It's clear that Hank is a severely unprepared mouse and Walt is the gigantic demonic Lion who will crush him. I found it interesting that Hank disavowed his family when Walter is begging to try to salvage his. Different people with different priorities at this point in time. Hank will be dead by the midpoint of the season.

Shredding The Subtle: The High Impact Power Of Elysium

"Elysium" is the summer movie you've been waiting for. I mean I feel kind of bad putting the "summer" tag in front of it because while it is extremely entertaining and packed with awesome action and cutting edge visual effects, it is the film's political courage that elevates it to the next level. This is a film that speaks to real life issues like immigration, health-care, national security, and corporate power. director Neill Blomkamp's last film "District 9" also touched on politics and social issues and he proves with this one that in addition to being a masterful director with a distinct visual style, he's not afraid to show us how he feels about the present by using the timeless power of science fiction spectacle.

The center of the film is Matt Damon. He plays an ex-convict turned factory worker who lives in the polluted slums of a futuristic (2154 to be exact) Los Angeles. After a factory accident leaves him with radiation sickness, he makes a pact with underworld figure Spider (Wagner Moura) which guarantees him a trip to Elysium. He also picks a metal exo-skeleton to help him with the job. Sharing a name with the Greek Afterlife, Elysium is a futuristic space station where the richest of earth's citizens live a trouble free life complete with perfect weather and medical pods that cure all diseases. Elysium's Secretary of State is Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and she calls the shots behind the scenes in a way that would make Dick Cheney proud. When Max and Spyder somehow get involved in one of her schemes, she sends psychopath special agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) after them. That's all I want to tell you, but the film does have some great twists to the narrative all the while staying emotionally fixed on Max's struggle.

By far the most magical aspect of the film is the incredible world that Blomkamp and his team have created. Similar to the classic "Minority Report," the world of the film comes across as a futuristic version of our own. Tiny details like how the droids in the film move, the futuristic weapons tech, and the focus on physical augmentation all make the film both extremely realistic and familiar. Because it comes across as familiar, the action scenes, and there are many, are brutal and exciting. It doesn't matter if it's how a futuristic weapon makes bodies explode or how a luxury space shuttle reminds you of a Mercedes couple, the action and world design hits home.

Speaking of hitting home, the film doesn't hold back when it comes to its political beliefs. With only the elite living on Elysium and the poor stuck down on earth, the film shows the extreme end of the belief that 1% of the world has all the wealth. Other ideas like access to health care, corporate greed & corruption, and immigration are all over the film. It's far from subtle, but the way I see it, we don't exactly live in subtle times these days. When it comes to most issues, people are either in one camp or the other, with no love being shown for the middle. Elysium, so firm in it's beliefs, is not in the middle. It's firmly in the left and shoots these ideas at you with the force of the many futuristic flesh exploding guns featured in the film.

I'm a sucker for all things Sci-Fi. I would probably pay pretty good money to just see space-ships fly across a movie screen with great sound. And while the movie does have some cool space-ships it also has a simple but effective story to tell, and it does it very very well. I saw it three days ago and I'm still thinking about both the emotional ending and all the ridiculously badass fight scenes. Any movie that can give you the emotions, the action, and ideas that challenge you is one that works very well in my book. It's a fantastic film and as I was walking out I was thinking how I can't wait to see what Blomkamp does next. The countdown begins now.