Monday, September 30, 2013

Thoughts on Breaking Bad


           After last night's series finale, I thought I'd write a post about Breaking Bad. I started watching this show when it first aired, got about half way through the first season, and then for whatever reason quit following it. It's hard enough to watch an episodic show week-to-week, not to mention one that has a complex story arc like Breaking Bad. I'm not a big TV person, but through Netflix and other media, I have managed to find a few diamonds in the rough. I rediscovered the show about a year ago, binge watched the first four seasons, and then started watching the fifth season as it aired, my obsession slowly growing (along with the rest of the world, apparently). And last night, it finally came to a conclusion. I can happily say that unlike almost every other show I've enjoyed (with the exception of The Shield, maybe), Breaking Bad managed to tie up every plot thread and leave the viewer with a satisfying ending that is truly an ending. 
         My one complaint, if it is indeed a complaint, is that the writers created such a tightly written story that the majority of the last episode was predictable, though that didn't necessarily make it any less enjoyable. For the last several episodes, I've wanted Walt to come out ahead, not because I think what he's doing is right, but because I think the show has always been about him becoming what he truly is: the bad guy. I really hoped they wouldn't kill him off, and that being said, I'm still satisfied with the way it all turned out, because in the end he managed to find a way to get the money to his family, which is all he ever really wanted in the first place. So, even though everything falls apart around him, and he is finally undone (by one of his own bullets nonetheless), in a weird way, he wins.
       Breaking Bad was never a show about redemption, so I love that Vince Gilligan and crew did not try to make Walt recompense; the closest he comes to redeeming himself is admitting he's a selfish bastard to Skyler. Walt's ending is not only appropriate but foreshadowed throughout the series, most notably in the scene where he notices his car has been shot up by Jack's men after Hank's death, and the bullet hole is perfectly placed over Walt's reflection. One thing I love about this show, and I'm sure others do as well, is how every shot, camera angle, effect, and prop adds depth and detail to the story. In fact, the dialogue only conveys the smallest part of the narrative. Like the best of films, Breaking Bad's real storytelling power is in its visuals. Even the locales, from the searing deserts of New Mexico to the frigid backwoods of New Hampshire, are important characters in the show, contributing to the atmosphere and the tone of the story. 
        Despite the hype, Breaking Bad is truly a work of art. The show explores themes that hit close to home, develops characters that you come to know and care about, and delivers an action-packed plot that would make even the best thriller writers jealous. In short, Breaking Bad is the best TV drama I've ever seen, and I'm so glad Vince Gilligan and all the show's writers are getting the attention they deserve for creating what is truly a modern classic.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Movie Review - Riddick


         One of my favorite sci-fi action movies growing up was Pitch Black, a low-budget flick about a group of interstellar passengers who crash land on an alien planet populated by horrific nocturnal creatures, which is bad enough until they discover an abandoned mining outpost and learn that the planet is about to undergo a total eclipse that will last weeks, trapping them in the dark with the monsters. It's a simple plot, but well executed, and one of the most interesting characters is Riddick, played by Vin Diesel (an unknown at the time), an escaped convict who can see in the dark and is the stranded crew's only hope of survival. It's dark, scary, violent, and fast-paced, all the things I love in SF and horror. Unfortunately, David Twohy, the writer/director best known for The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford, made a slapdash mess of a sequel that had little connection to the first film and was tonally just off, the less-than-stellar Chronicles of Riddick. In that movie, the antihero from the first gets wrapped up in an interstellar crusade being fought by a group of space goths called (I shit you not) the Necromongers. Hmmm. Sounds like a bad metal band. Though there's plenty of special effects and over-the-top action sequences, Chronicles totally destroys everything that was enjoyable about the first movie. It definitely takes some risks, but fails miserably.
       When I saw that Twohy and crew had somehow managed to make a third Riddick film, my first thought was -- WHY??? Is this franchise even relevant anymore? However, I withheld my judgement, and upon hearing it was much more like Pitch Black than the awful sequel, I decided to give it a chance. At the very least, it would be a fun action movie with aliens, which gets it at least three stars in my book. I'm happy to say that Riddick does indeed make up for the travesty that was Chronicles. I really enjoyed this movie, and yes, there are lots of problems with it, yes, it is formulaic, yes, there are cheesy one-liners, BUT, that being said, it's fun. The movie takes its time to build setting and character, uses its special effects wisely, and sticks to a simple, straightforward plot that it pulls off quite successfully. The opening fifteen to twenty minutes show Riddick alone on a desert planet as he struggles to survive its deadly predators and hostile environment. That on its own won me over and was far more enjoyable than anything in the second film. The scenery is beautiful and alien and recalls elements of Pitch Black while remaining entirely its own setting. I also enjoyed the characters, particular Santana, who is a major prick throughout up until -- well, I won't give that part away, but suffice it to say, he gets his comeuppance. On the negative side, the writers really dropped the ball with the only female character (well I should say only living female character) of Dahl, played by Katie Sackhoff, who is an interesting, tough heroine at first but quickly degenerates into pointless eye-candy. I also thought their handling of her homosexuality was sloppy and underdeveloped. The potential for a great character was definitely there, but I guess it's too much to ask for a Riddick movie to be both exciting and intelligent.
       In conclusion, if you go into this movie expecting it to revolutionize the SF genre, you will be terribly disappointed. BUT, if you go into it with an open mind, embrace the cheesiness, and have a sense of humor, you'll have a good time. I certainly did.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Back in Action

    's been a while since I've updated this thing. It hasn't really been lack of interest, more lack of time/energy. Not a lot to report on the writing front. I've finally started to pick up momentum again. I'm working on a new short story, and I'm happy to say I'm several chapters into a new novel, which cannibalizes some of the better elements from The Singularity War, my MFA thesis. Over a year out of the program, I'm still learning lots about writing. I'm trying to be more disciplined in my work, aiming for 1,000-2,000 words a day (not including blog posts or e-mails), and I've set a tentative deadline for a completed first draft in mid-November.
      Since my last post, I've read a number of good books, seen some good movies, and become hopelessly addicted to Breaking Bad. I could write a dozen blog posts about that show, but I won't, since that territory seems to be pretty much covered by the rest of the world. A couple books I enjoyed were Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold and, more recently, Perdition by Ann Aguirre, both of which I highly recommend. On the movie front, highlights of the summer for me were Elysium and, somewhat unexpectedly, Riddick, both of which I hope to write more detailed reviews of in future posts. I'm happy to see that science fiction is finally making a comeback on the big screen, which will hopefully fuel interest in the written stuff.
       That's pretty much all for now. I hope to post more frequently from now on, and write many more reviews of books and movies, and maybe even reflect on the finale of Breaking Bad once all the hype dies down. We'll see. So long for now!