Recommended: Breaking Bad

posted in: Film/TV, Review, Writing | 4

Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” is by far one of my favorite television shows ever.  But not for the reasons people might think.  So, let’s jump into it.  I should note that this is not an effort to convince people to watch the show.  It is wonderfully written, acted, and produced in so many ways but it also deals with some very difficult subject matter.  I’m simply explaining why I enjoy such show.

For those who are unfamiliar or only slightly so with the show, I will try to provide a basic rundown.  It follows the transformation of chemistry high school teacher Walter White to the notorious meth cook, Heisenberg, who is diagnosed with lung cancer and sees the end of the tunnel, which would leave his pregnant wife, unborn daughter, and teenage son without much once he’s gone.  Working a car wash job in addition to his teaching gig, Walter is put up against a horrible situation and is desperate to not only pay for treatment but leave his family with more than debt and hospital bills.

By chance, his brother-in-law, a DEA agent, shows a video at Walt’s birthday party where the DEA has busted a meth lab where the evidence gathered reveals a stash of cash to which Walt instantly wonders about.  It’s this event that eventually leads to Walt’s being on a ride along with his brother-in-law to bust another meth lab where he sees one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman, avoiding arrest.  Yada yada, Walt and Jesse join together to go into business and embark on a whirlwind of danger that affects them all in sorts of ways that have them constantly making choices that would keep them safe and out of jail.  Unfortunately, they do not come out unscathed all the time and suffer both physically and relationally throughout.  Whether its the DEA or rival drug lords, Walt and Jesse have to trust each other and their wits to keep ahead of the danger.

Suffice it to say, this show is never dull (even the bottle episodes are great).  It explores characters and the transformation of said characters in ways most shows avoid or don’t know how to execute.  Obviously, no spoilers here but you will often be conflicted, not knowing who to cheer for from season to season.

The reason I love this show and recommend it purely from a storytelling aspect is that Vince Gilligan and his writing team are famous for stating that they purposely wrote Walt and Jesse into corners just so they (the writers) could find a way out for the pair.  Storytelling is the best part of the series while the characters are a close second.  (Aaron Paul’s performance as Jesse is amazing.  He is my favorite character throughout the show.)

Again, this is not an easy show to watch.  It deals with very real subject matter from family drama to the high cost of drug usage.  I do not take these things lightly and never want to insinuate that.  I have spoken with friends who have actually dealt with others in this regard and it’s sobering to hear the stories.  I am not disillusioned by this to say the least.

In my mind, compelling stories are best when they deal with true and difficult aspects of life.  Sure, a lot of the scenarios of “Breaking Bad” are embellished for the small screen to be dramatic and hold our viewership but in reality, life is not easy and we face difficult decisions every day.  I pray it not so for everyone but things happen and livelihoods are put to the test.  Walter White’s livelihood and that of his family are tested so much so that you truly wonder if his choices were worth it in the end.  He makes his choices in order to see his family taken care after he is diagnosed with cancer.  However, his dive into the criminal underbelly costs him a great deal and affects his personality in ways that make you wonder about his overall psyche.

There’s a quality of storytelling here that provokes me as a writer to not just be the gardener but push more towards being the architect when planning and writing my books.  Honestly, I’m drawn to great writing and it’s hard for me to stay away or ignore it when it’s in the form of a show like “Breaking Bad”.

Call to Action: If you’re willing, check out the pilot episode of the show.  If you get through it and are kind of interested to see where it will go, I’d recommend trying another episode and so on.

On This Day: 04 May 2006 – The Blade Itself First Published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day | 0
I hope you’ve all enjoyed the OTD posts I do each month.  They are a lot of fun and let me work different writing muscles.  First, today is Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you) but that would be too easy.  I decided today’s post would be about a book I have come to love and refer back to whenever I think about how fantasy can stray away from the clichés and tropes we too often see in the genre.

Joe Abercrombie’s “The Blade Itself” is the first of the First Law Trilogy and my introduction to the subgenre of “grimdark”.  The agreed definition of grimdark is usually one of realism in tone, setting, and violence in the story.  Think: gritty.  Few things feel clean and there is this sense throughout the world that characters are gray more than anything else.  Heroes with shining swords are not found here.  They are more the antihero type who have vices that are magnified and they do not come out of the fight unmarked in some way or another.

“The Blade Itself” is such a novel.  The main viewpoints follow a cursed warrior, a conniving torturer, and a selfish nobleman who has bought his position as an officer in the army.  None of these characters are your Frodo, Aragorn, or Gandalf type.  They’re characters caught in a violent world of webs of conspiracy.  The world of the book never feels warm or inviting.  The settings are often cold and dark and truly realized through the arcs of the characters as they traverse through the plot, never guaranteed the next day.

Depressing, right?  Well, I don’t mean to paint a murky picture here but what Abercrombie genuinely does is make all of these characters worth your time and interest.  They are compelling despite their grayness.  Each of them realizes they have choices to make and they can either fight to live or let higher powers manipulate them into servitude.

You all know how much I enjoy well-rounded characters (at least I hope you do after these last four months).  This book is where you get some of the best.  Plus, no one is quite what they seem.

Another reason Abercrombie has gained me as a fan is the fact that he purposely sets up what you, the reader, thinks will be common clichés and tropes and he awesomely twists and turns to surprise you from page to page.  This is more realized as you read the entire trilogy but enough so in the first book that you can’t help but smile once you realize what had happened.  He crafts the narrative perfectly.

I recommend this book and series to everyone who asks me but I must warn that it is not for everyone.  Grimdark is like whiskey straight.  It punches you in the mouth at first taste but the more you sip, the better it gets and you truly appreciate the writing you’ve immersed yourself into.

Call to Action: Read it if you dare.  If it’s not your preferred order when it comes to reading, then I definitely don’t fault you.  I actually have not delved into other grimdark books because they are difficult to read.  I personally think Abercrombie provides more than the gray characters and violence but has paved the way for other writers of the genre, exploring new worlds and ideas that color outside the lines.

“Logan” Reaction

posted in: Review, Writing | 2

As I’m writing this, I have not seen the movie yet but I wanted to sort of provide this “before and after” approach.  Just as a heads-up, this is and will be a bit of a nerd post.  If you’re not familiar or care about the Marvel Comics character, Wolverine aka Logan, then I understand if you sort of gloss over it.  But, if you have time and want to just get my take on something relevant and entertainment related, keep reading!  Maybe I’ll peak your interest enough in the character that you’ll go see the movie.Some history first.

I’ve been a fan of the X-Men franchise/world ever since I can remember.  I grew up watching the early 90s cartoon that was on Fox.  This led to an interest in comics, video games and even collecting trading cards if I could find them.  Wolverine was always one of my favorites.  When you’re a kid, as I was, he’s a favorite because he’s cool.  Plain and simple.  He’s a brash brute with claws that pop out from between his knuckles and has a super healing power that means he can take a punch, kick, shot, stab, flying truck (whatever the bad guys want to try).  How can you not like that?!

It’s not until I got older that I understand the complexity of the character.  Without going into a long otherwise highlight reel of his history in the comics (I’ll point you to Wikipedia’s page for the long read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolverine_(character) ), I’ll simply say he’s a tragic character who is a lone, tortured soul amidst the din of a chaotic world.  He’s faced hardship after hardship and continually battled his inner demons.  Never wanting to be the hero but led by a code that drove him to battle injustice.

Now, I’ve followed the films since 2000’s “X-Men” directed by Bryan Singer.  Back then, it was amazing to see this character in real life, portrayed by Hugh Jackman who I had never heard of but embodied the character of Logan perfectly (it never bothered me that we didn’t get to see him in his iconic yellow and blue costume).  Think about this.  He started in 2000 and we’re into 2017 now and Jackman has played the character in nine films (some only as a cameo).  That’s crazy to think about!

“Logan” is supposed to be Jackman’s last go of the character (that could always change so we’ll have to wait and see) and is supposed to be loosely based on the “Old Man Logan” graphic novel, which is not for kids (be advised).  There will be deep deviations from the graphic novel for various reasons but the film based on the trailers will be self-contained and a tribute to the character in all his glory.  Speaking of trailers, whether you’ve seen the film or not yet.  I admit, there was some man tears produced at the visuals accompanied by Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” originally by Nine Inch Nails in the first trailer.  Haunting yet enrapturing.

This is the end of my pre-viewing of the film.  The following paragraphs are my initial thoughts:

They went full berserker!  Saw the movie yesterday and let it process overnight before I wrote up my thoughts.  I’ll preface this by saying this is more a reaction than review.  Reviews tend to be stuffy and sometimes technical whereas I want to give my impressions on the characters, themes, etc.

There will be no spoilers!

“Logan” was by far the most human X-Men/Wolverine movie yet and I hope it’s an upward trend.  For the first time, this felt like a real world where mutants actually lived in.  The past films have had this sort of “comic” motif (duh… but you know what I mean).  End of the world/big baddie bent on destruction sort of thing.

This film aimed for the heart and person of an aging, wounded Logan who was still led by his code, though he’s constantly fought it from film to film.  The relationships here are the prize.

It reminded me a great deal of the relationship explored in the Playstation 3 game, “The Last of Us,” where an older man is tasked to escort a young girl to a safe haven in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a virus that turns the infected into zombie-like creatures.  She’s immune and while he struggles to believe something greater could come of the journey, he eventually finds her to be hope for the future and a reason worth living.

We kind of get the same thing in “Logan” but like I said, this is about exploring relationships.  From Logan to Professor X to Logan and the young girl, Laura, we see the importance of family.

Now, this film is not for the squeamish.  It’s very violent unlike other X-Men/Wolverine films, which have more of the “comic” action.  I would not say that I am desensitized to violence, blood and gore.  I grew up during the days of violent video games being the trend (Mortal Kombat!!!!) and have seen my fair share of the ridiculous in films.  Still, there are some things I don’t particularly care to see when it comes to violence.

Logan’s healing ability makes him a prime candidate to have crazy violence committed against him to show the audience he can withstand whatever weapon may come against him.  I say all this because the violence in the film was crazy brutal but it felt warranted and necessary.  Throw the eleven-year old, Laura, into the whirlwind and you just feel your adrenaline rising.  Both my wife and I had to take a relaxing break afterwards because the intensity just rose and rose to the nth degree until the very end.

My overall impression and reaction to “Logan” was a metaphorical hard clap (never clap in the theater after a movie…seriously, we’re better than that).  X-Men: Days of Future Past has been my leading favorite X-Men movie but “Logan” jumps to number one.  This was everything I’ve wanted in a superhero movie.  Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” showed what a realistic, human superhero can be and few have tried to follow that model.  It took a few years but “Logan” did it, staying true to the character of Wolverine.  Highly recommended even if you’re not familiar or fan of the character.

Call to Action:  See the movie and share your thoughts in a comment.  The whole X-Men timeline confusion might leave you asking some questions but that is minimal at most.  This was a fantastic film and I truly hope we see more in the near future of this caliber.