In which I expand upon incoherent livetweets and deliver my thoughts on last night’s insane episode of Breaking Bad. You probably shouldn’t read this article if you haven’t watched the ep, so I’m putting it under a read more.
I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating when I refer to Breaking Bad as The Best Show On Television. Vince Gilligan’s sophisticated, riveting, and beautifully engineered meth drama is a masterpiece of television, with a cinematic quality that almost seems too great to be contained by the small screen. AMC’s gem is well-written, beautifully photographed, thematically complex, and contains top notch performances unlike any on television.
Bryan Cranston is mind-blowingly amazing (and often terrifying) as the once high school science teacher and cancer patient Walter White, a brilliant chemist and family man who, to secure his family’s future, morphs into the criminal mastermind and meth manufacturer “Heisenberg”, the New Mexico kingpin constantly eluding capture by his DEA brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris). Anna Gunn is absolutely brilliant as Walt’s wife Skyler, an amazing character who, for some reason, gets a lot of misguided hate from viewers (back off, Skyler is queen). Aaron Paul shines as Jesse Pinkman, the heart of the show whose humanity and tender-heartedness only become more apparent as his business partner and frenemy Walter White grows colder and abandons more and more of his scruples.
A lot has changed since the Pilot, in which Walter White is first diagnosed with cancer, teams up with his former student Jesse Pinkman, and cooks his first batch of meth in a beat up RV. As Walt says, “Chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to see it as the study of change. It is growth… then decay… then transformation.” Growth, decay, and transformation are the basic plot points of the show, as viewers witness the frustrated, dying chemist stuck in a low-paying job transform into Heisenberg (and by Heisenberg I mean an enormous douche who kills people and does terrible things). My mom used this proverb to describe Walt (even though she doesn’t really watch the show): “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Most times, Breaking Bad makes me feel like I’m on the verge of a heart attack. Season 4, my personal favorite, is like one gigantic instant heart attack, especially the last three episodes, which contain a level of intensity so high it’s almost dangerous. When you’re not crying, cowering, or on the edge of the seat, Breaking Bad also has the ability to make you laugh a lot with its brilliantly crafted dialogue. It’s an amazing show, and an amazingly well-written show. It also has really good music.
And now, after four and a half seasons, AMC is preparing to air the final eight episodes that will bring the series to its close. It’s not the kind of show for which a happy ending seems likely, and I could speculate about who will die and how, but, like everyone else, I’m just going to have to wait and see how the drama unfolds. In preparation for the conclusion of my absolute favorite television show, I’ve been marathoning a rewatch via Netflix (the first eight episodes of season 5 became available on streaming just in time!), and I’m currently extremely emotional about this insane roller coaster ride of a show.
Since writing the above, the first two of the final eight episodes have aired, and after watching both multiple times, I’m still in shock. 5×9, “Blood Money”, was a finely crafted episode directed by the wonderful Bryan Cranston, who I think deserves a big round of applause. Tears appeared in my eyes the second it started, and throughout the rest of the episode it became apparent that this is going to be an insane final season containing a dangerous level of intensity. If every episode is anything like this one, I thought, I’m not really sure if I’m going to survive the end of this show.
“Buried” aired last night, and there’s so much that I could say about it that I should probably make a separate post. Basically, it was even more intense than “Blood Money”, and had me crying at intervals. Breaking Bad is probably the most stressful show on television–you’d think that sitting down to watch your favorite show in the evening would be an enjoyable experience. Well, watching Breaking Bad is… certainly an experience. THAT EPISODE WAS CRAZY.
The short version of this post? Go watch this show if you don’t already. And if you do, please join me in a group hug as we await the end.
Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express is the interconnected tales of two police officers who’ve just undergone heart-breaking breakups and face loneliness in a city of millions.
In a swirl of beautiful imagery, Chunking Express tells the stories of Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), depressed about the end of his relationship with a pineapple-loving girl named May, and Cop 663 (Tony Leung), likewise depressed about the end of his relationship with his beautiful flight attendant girlfriend (Valerie Chow). Similarly, both cops become interested in new women: Cop 223 becomes captivated by a mysterious drug runner in a blonde wig and sunglasses (Brigitte Lin), while Cop 663’s storyline becomes entangled with that of a quirky, well-meaning, California-dreaming snack bar worker named Faye (Faye Wong).
The two narratives are separate from each other, though loosely connected in that both of the lovesick cops frequent the same restaurant, and both deal with heartbreak, though in different ways. Cop 223 collects cans of pineapple with the expiration date of May 1, telling himself that once he has collected 30 of these cans, he will either be reunited with his ex-girlfriend May, or his love will, like the cans of pineapple, “expire”. Meanwhile, Cop 663 pep-talks the various objects around the apartment he used to share with the flight attendant girlfriend who left him.
Though Chungking Express is humorous and smartly written all throughout, I found the second part of the movie (Cop 663’s storyline) to be the most compelling. After falling for Cop 663 (Tony Leung), endearing snack bar worker Faye begins sneaking into his apartment he shared with his girlfriend and brightening up the place, unbeknownst to him. Eventually, though, he figures it out (although it takes him a ridiculously long time). It’s pretty goddamn cute.
This is only the second Wong Kar-Wai film I’ve seen after In the Mood for Love, and I loved it a whole lot. I can’t wait to watch more!
It’s been awhile since any of us kool kats posted here at Moviefellas. I’ve been trying to get in as much movie-watching as possible in between rewatching the entirety of AMC’s Breaking Bad (expect a post about that coming soon…) and getting ready to go off to college for the first time ever, and recently I enjoyed watching Umberto D. for the first time during a Skype movie date with my fellow Moviefella Miranda.
Umberto D. is, in a word, heartbreaking. Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist film offers a stark view into the reality of Umberto D. Ferrari, an aged former government worker in postwar Italy who loves his dog Flike and is having a hard time making ends meet. Nothing seems to go his way–his coarse, unsympathetic landlady threatens to evict him and his dog if he does not come up with a large sum that he is incapable of raising. As if things weren’t looking bleak enough, Umberto falls ill with tonsillitis.
Umberto’s life is marked by loneliness. Perhaps his only human friend is the pregnant maid who works in his building. Umberto’s one constant, loving companion, though, is his adorable little dog Flike, a source of light in his otherwise depressing life. Flike was probably my favorite part of this overall wonderful film. Watching it, I found myself growing extremely anxious about what would become of these two friends.
The performance by Carlo Battisti, a nonprofessional actor, felt incredibly real. Umberto is a resilient, heartbreaking figure whose desperation and poverty make for a grim but sincere and heartfelt film from De Sica. De Sica’s exploration of working class struggles (and just human struggles in general, such as old age and loneliness) make for a beautiful, tear-inducing, and noteworthy neorealist film that I definitely would recommend. In a relatively short running time (1 hour and 29 mins), De Sica packs an emotional punch and powerful message, creating a film that is sure to stick with you.
Park Chan-wook’s South Korean revenge thriller Oldboy is overwhelming in every possible way. Watching this movie was such an intense experience that I kind of don’t even know where to begin with this review.
First of all, Oldboy is one of those movies where giving away too many crucial plot points beforehand would ruin the experience for any viewer. The thrill of Oldboy is the gradual release of the truth; the slow reveal of the intricate details behind Oh Dae-Su’s kidnapping and release.
I didn’t really know much about the movie before watching it (other than a lot of people telling me it was amazing), which in hindsight was definitely the best to watch it. Everything was a surprise, and my eyes were glued to the screen the entire time (other than a few moments when, squeamishly, I had to look away). By the end of it, I felt like I had been run over by a train.
Without giving away too much, though, in case anyone reading this hasn’t seen it, the basic premise of the film is that businessman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is kidnapped one night and imprisoned for fifteen years, torn away from his life and daughter and all of society. Without any explanation as to why, he is trapped in a room with no human contact, and nothing but a TV to keep him connected to the outside world. It is through his many hours watching this television that Dae-su learns of his wife’s murder, a case in which he is a suspect. After fifteen years, Oh Dae-su emerges from his prison extremely changed, and now must seek answers and revenge. The new Dae-su — who is dark and intense and played beautifully by Choi Min-sik — is taken in by a young woman named Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), who he meets at a sushi restaurant.
Oldboy is raw, gritty, violent, and powerful. It’s shocking and emotional and a complete roller coaster ride of a movie. It’s also filled with a lot of really memorable scenes involving hammers and live octopuses. The famous one-take hallway scene, in which Dae-su single-handedly fights his way through an army of henchmen, is particularly brilliant.
Fun facts from Wikipedia about the octopus scene: “The octopus being eaten alive was not computer-generated; four were used during the making of this scene. Actor Choi Min-sik, a Buddhist, said a prayer for each one. It should also be noted that the eating of live octopuses (called sannakji (산낙지) in Korean) as a delicacy exists in East Asia, although it is usually cut, not eaten whole. When asked in DVD commentary if he felt sorry for the actor Choi Min-sik, director Park Chan-wook stated he felt more sorry for the octopus.”
Now, about that remake. A couple of days ago, the first trailer for the English-language, Spike Lee-directed 2013 remake of Oldboy was released, and I saw a lot of outrage in response to it. Outrage that I think, after viewing the original, is definitely justifiable. Halfway through watching the movie, I found myself asking, “Why are they even remaking this?” To cash in on English-speaking audiences (and close-minded people who refuse to watch movies if they have to read subtitles — I know for a fact that these people exist) who haven’t seen the original, maybe? Remakes are acceptable if the source material can somehow be improved upon or reinterpreted, but I don’t see any way that this remake of Oldboy can do either of those things. And from the looks of the trailer, it’s not going to.
The concept of Oldboy is brilliant, and it is beautifully constructed and executed. I’m not exactly sure how any remake could improve, let alone measure up to, the original’s excellence. I just hope that viewers who go to see Spike Lee’s remake (which is out October 8 of this year) will watch the original first. Or, honestly, I just really hope that, at the very least, viewers know that the original even exists.
I had been meaning to watch this film for ages, and put it off because the version Netflix has available stream is an English-dubbed version (I really, really don’t recommend watching anything — especially this — dubbed unless you have no other option), but the other day I was informed that you can watch Oldboy for free on Hulu, so I ran to it with open arms. And it definitely paid off.
My advice to first-time viewers: prepare yourself. Oldboy is a movie that you should open your mind to and allow yourself to be absorbed into (getting sucked into it isn’t hard). The plot twist(s) and overall intensity will hit you like a freight train. After watching it, I felt dazed and drained — it’s a movie that you really experience. And it’s one hell of an experience. I’m still in shock, and I think I will continue to be for days/weeks more before this film fully sinks in.
On Friday, TCM honored French filmmaker François Truffaut in their Friday Night Spotlight lineup, so I camped out on the couch with a frozen pizza and some blankets to watch Les quatre cent coups (The 400 Blows), Truffaut’s first feature.
The 400 Blows is the first of Truffaut’s films centering around Antoine Doinel, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, whose life in this film mirrors the real life struggles of François Truffaut. Like Doinel, Truffaut was born out of wedlock but accepted as a son by the man his mother soon married. His childhood was troubled, as shown by the life of Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows. So brutally honest that his parents were hurt by the film (Truffaut defended his portrayal of his childhood, which he told them really was that unhappy), The 400 Blows is a touching story about growing up, touched with incredible insight and personal experience.
Antoine grows up in a cramped apartment with his mother (who really doesn’t seem to like her son very much) and stepfather, where he always seems to be unwanted and in the way, or else left completely alone. Misunderstood and mistreated by his callous and largely uncaring parents, Antoine engages in a life of petty crime and juvenile delinquency, eventually leading to his arrest for the theft of a typewriter. He is sent to an observation center for troubled youth, where, at the end of the film, he escapes and runs to the nearby sea.
In the famous final scene of The 400 Blows, we see Antoine Doinel standing on the shore and seeing the ocean–something he dreamed of all his life–for the first time. In literature, art, film and elsewhere, the ocean can often be a symbol of hope and renewal. As the final frame freezes on young Antoine, at the brink of the sea, my thoughts were that there is hope for him. Children are in the vulnerable position to be molded–for better or for worse–by their environment (which includes parents, who probably have more power than anyone in shaping the adults that we become). But as they mature, they have the opportunity to free themselves from their past, or from oppressive environments. That hope seems to exist for tender, movie-loving Antoine, who, as a maturing boy, has choices he can make to determine his own future.
Antoine’s real-life counterpart François Truffaut did just that, becoming one of Europe’s most celebrated filmmakers and a huge influence on the New Wave movement through his passion for and dedication to film. Movies became a kind of schooling for the future filmmaker, who, as a young’un, set goals for himself to watch more movies and to read more books. The 400 Blows, with its depth, sincerity, and honesty, shows that Truffaut’s dedication to cinema paid off. Henri Decae’s cinematography and the young talent of Jean-Pierre Léaud add to the impact of Truffaut’s touching debut feature.
After finishing The 400 Blows, I was already deeply attached to the character of Antoine Doinel, and wanted to see more of him, as well as learn more about the life of François Truffaut. I can’t wait to watch Truffaut’s other movies about Antoine (Antoine and Colette, Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run), as well as more of Truffaut’s films in general. Shoutout to my fellow Moviefellas writer Miranda for letting me know this was on TCM!
Happy 4th of July from Moviefellas! Here are ten great movies about America to watch between barbeque and fireworks and shedding a tear to the tune of Proud To Be An American.
All The President’s Men
Three cheers for exposing political corruption!
Forrest Gump unknowingly wanders into some of the biggest events in 20th century American history.
Born On the Fourth of July
It has ‘Fourth of July’ in the title. Also, Tom Cruise stars as Ron Kovic, a gung-ho marine whose view on war quickly changes when he experiences it and is left paralyzed and scarred.
Daniel Day-Lewis received basically every award available for his portrayal of the 16th President in Steven Spielberg’s historical drama about the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Nic Cage is going to steal the Declaration of Independence.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
An idealistic young Jimmy Stewart goes to Washington and learns a few things about the reality of politics.
The Burnhams are living the American Dream! Only not really. Look closer and everything is not as it appears to be.
Flags Of Our Fathers
Clint Eastwood’s counterpart to Letters from Iwo Jima is based on the book Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley, which tells the story of the famous flag-raising photo taken by Joe Rosenthal atop Mount Suribachi during the horrifying Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. Flags of Our Fathers examines war and heroism through the stories of the men pictured in the photograph.
The story behind the historic Nixon interviews in 1977, conducted by British journalist David Frost.
HBO’s John Adams Mini-series
An incredibly well-made series about John Adams’ role in the founding of the United States, starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail Adams. Just set aside like eight and a half hours to watch it.
*BONUS* The West Wing
Not a movie, but if you feel like watching a television show about politics in the White House, your best bet is to stay inside and watch ten episodes of The West Wing.
Jean-Pierre Melville’s cool, stylish French crime drama Le Cercle Rouge (1970) is the slow-paced but brilliant story of an escaped murderer (Gian Maria Volonté), a high-class moustachioed thief (Alain Delon), and a police superintendent who really loves his cats (Andre Bourvil).
All men are guilty. They’re born innocent, but it doesn’t last.
Corey (Delon) is released from prison the same day Vogel (Volonté) escapes from police commissaire Mattei (Bourvil) while being transported on a train. Road blocks are set up all throughout the area, but Vogel manages to elude capture and ends up stowing away in the trunk of Corey’s car. The two inevitably meet and, along with alcoholic ex-cop Jansen (Yves Montand), set up an intricate plot for a multi-million dollar jewel heist. They carry out the heist, but Mattei, a former colleague of Jandsen who is still searching for the murderer Vogel, is on their trail.
Melville’s deliberately paced thriller unfolds slowly, set to impressive cinematography and a bleak atmosphere that make it well worth the watch. Alain Delon is probably the smoothest criminal in town — everything he does looks super cool. Maybe it’s just the moustache. I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is that the whole film is super cool. Criminals, police commissioners, and potential informants rendezvous in Santi’s nightclub, where cigarettes are inevitably lighted and girls are always there to entertain audiences and provide a glittering backdrop.
Overall, I was deeply impressed by Le Cercle Rouge, and thrilled by every second of it. I couldn’t help but take two hundred screencaps, some of which I put to use in this photoset on tumblr. Also, shoutout to our Star of the Month Alain Delon, who is one kool kat as Corey. Full disclosure: I watched this because I found out Alain Delon has a moustache in it. But whether or not you are a fan of Alain Delon/facial hair, I definitely recommend it. It’s worth the 140 minute running time if you want to watch a moody crime thriller.
Summertime is a time to binge watch tv shows on Netflix and catch up on one’s movie watching. Last week, I decided to banish the various preoccupations keeping me from my one true love (movies) and returned to a rigorous schedule of film consumption. And a bit of crack tv watching.
Le Samouraï (1967)
After realizing that I hadn’t been watching movies regularly for quite awhile (and had been watching far too much Gossip Girl), I decided it was time to begin anew. I’ve seen a disappointingly small amount of foreign films, so I took to twitter and asked the lovely people there for recommendations. Le Samouraï was one of the fifty or more recs I got in return–thanks Monica!
Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 film follows French assassin Jef Costello (Alain Delon), whose latest job doesn’t go as smoothly as it should have: Jef is pulled into the police station for questioning, leading to various complications that endanger his safety (naturally, Jef’s boss isn’t happy when he is questioned by the police). Le Samourai is thrilling and iconic. I loved it a whole lot, and also ended up falling in love with Alain Delon, who is memorably cool as the killer in the beige raincoat and hat.
Nights of Cabiria (1957)
Nights of Cabiria, directed by Federico Fellini and starring Giulietta Masina, was recommended to me by the lovely Miranda, who cherishes this film (as I cherish her). Anyway, it was a really great recommendation, because I absolutely loved it.
Cabiria (Masina) is a spunky prostitute who endures misfortune after misfortune, but manages to keep her head up in spite of being screwed over by a series of men. Played beautifully by Giulietta Masina, Cabiria is lovable and easy to feel sympathetic for as she endures humiliation and heartbreak, yet remains resilient. In spite of the many wrongs inflicted upon her, Cabiria ends the film with a smile.
I didn’t anticipate getting so thoroughly sucked into this show, but then, what’s summer without a show to binge watch? I started watching Gossip Girl by accident when I happened to be in the room while my twelve-year-old sister was watching it, and though I poked fun at its melodrama and generally aggravating characters, I found myself going back to watch the show from the beginning.
Set in the landscape of Upper East Side New York City, Gossip Girl is pretty much a show about secrets and backstabbers and a host of characters who seem to have nothing better to do than tear each other down. Unhealthy friendships, relationships, and families abound in this sometimes laughable series. And yet, it’s addicting as hell, and from time to time illustrates a touch of humanity that, speaking completely honestly, has brought tears to my eyes more than a few times. Twisted webs of complicated drama, various takedowns and schemes, a couple of surprisingly dynamic characters that show depth on occasion (Blair Waldorf is my personal favorite), and some kind of a party every episode make this show extremely entertaining and extremely addicting. You know you love me xoxo.
This Is The End (2013)
I’d be lying to myself and everyone else if I tried to hide my genuine enjoyment of this movie. I went into it thinking it was going to be pretty stupid, but This is the End is brilliantly funny, I’m pretty sure I was in hysterics for at least 75% of it. Everyone else in the theater seemed to be having a great time too. Except for the middle-aged couple sitting in front of me and Lauren who got up and left twenty minutes in. This Is the End is probably not for everyone, but I enjoyed it’s brand of crass-yet-well-written, laugh-out-loud-inducing humor. Stars like Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and James Franco play versions of themselves, trapped at James Franco’s house while the world is engulfed in hellfire. Shenanigans and casualties ensue. Go see it if you like to laugh.
La Piscine (1969)
Like the title might suggest, Jacques Deray’s drama centers around a swimming pool. The significance of this fact is that stars Alain Delon and Romy Schneider spend most of the movie in their swimsuits (A++). Oh yeah, and someone gets drowned in said swimming pool at a lavish villa. When lovers Jean-Paul and Marianne (real life ex-lovers Alain Delon and Romy Schneider) are paid a visit by Marianne’s former lover Harry (Maurice Ronet) and his teenage daughter Penelope (Jane Birkin), a love rhombus ensues, leading to drama and tension that explodes in the second half of the film when murder happens. This movie is mostly worth watching for Alain and Romy.
Now in theaters and receiving widespread critical praise, Before Midnight is the third in Richard Linklater’s Before series, previously consisting of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Each film is set nine years apart from the last, and offers us a glimpse into the day (or night) in the interconnected lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy).
The pair first meet on a train in Europe in the first film, Before Sunrise (released in 1995), and soon fall in love after American Jesse convinces the French Celine to spend the night walking around Vienna with him before he boards a plane home the next morning. Before Sunrise is a film that I will forever hold dear–I don’t know of any other movie that could so beautifully make two people walking around and talking so engrossing and insightful. Watching it, you fall in love with Jesse and Celine as they fall in love, and are left with a question at the end: will they ever meet up again?
In Before Sunset, (spoiler alert) they do, though not under the circumstances they had originally planned. It’s nine years later, and Jesse has written a novel about that night in Vienna with Celine. While on a book tour in Paris, Celine finds him, and the two long-lost lovers are reunited. The reunion isn’t without its complications, however–Jesse is caught in a troubled marriage, and Celine in a long-distance relationship.
I was so excited to learn that the third movie in the series, Before Midnight, was coming out, and even more excited when it finally expanded to wide release. Naturally, I rushed to the nearest theater to see it as soon as possible, and I was not disappointed.
This time, Jesse and Celine are in Greece, on holiday with their twin daughters. As always, the dialogue is what drives the whole thing and, as always, it’s a beautiful, natural-sounding balance of wittiness, realness, and depth. The screenplay by Richard Linklater and the film’s stars is brilliant, tackling a wealth of issues unexplored by the previous two films. As aging adults and parents, Jesse and Celine face new challenges and a changing relationship in a changing world.
Their relationship is not untroubled or as simple as it was when they were only two strangers who met on a train; this becomes especially evident in the second half of the film, which is pretty much just Jesse and Celine arguing in a hotel room. In spite of the back-and-forth jabs and obvious unrest, Before Midnight contains the underlying sweetness and deep, undeniable love that marks Jesse and Celine’s relationship throughout all three films.
Before Midnight is, overall, darker than the first two films (although, at parts, also a lot funnier). It tackles real, timely issues through performances that are so natural that the actors don’t seem to be acting at all. It’s easy to believe that Jesse and Celine are real people, in spite of their almost fairytale-like beginnings. But if true love ever existed, it’s here, and it’s not difficult to feel reassured that there is hope for them.
I would rank Before Midnight as my second favorite of the series. I found it to be a bit more dynamic and engaging than Before Sunset (though they’re all great and I love them all a whole lot), but nothing beats Before Sunrise. If you’re a fan of the first two films, rest assured that Before Midnight definitely stands up to them. If you haven’t seen any of the films… GO GO GO!