Goodbye Walter White

Surprise! Not only are we avid movie fans, but we also love to watch TV. Dexter, The Sopranos, The Walking Dead; you name it, one of us has seen it at some point. Posts about television will be pretty rare– we like to stick to our roots– but seriously, who doesn’t love Breaking Bad?! And with it coming to an end on Sunday night, we just had to find a way to celebrate it. Therefore, we decided to give you our top five favorite episodes of the entire series.

It will be really hard to say goodbye to Breaking Bad.  It has brought us phenomenal acting, unbelievable writing, and just about everything in between (hell, even Belize means something). It shouldn’t need to be said, but, major spoilers. If you haven’t finished Breaking Bad, and you intend to, I recommend sitting this one out.

As Jesse would say, “Enjoy, b!tch!”

Series Finale Teaser

5. Better Call Saul (S2, E8)

The introduction to one of my favorite characters in the show, Saul Goodman. From the get go, with his ridiculous commercial, Saul was a quirky, shady, and somehow half-decent lawyer. He proves able to get Badger out of a rough spot, and ultimately becomes Walt and Jesse’s lawyer, joining them in the meth business. Without even discussing Hank’s storyline, which features him struggling with PTSD after a bombing in Juarez, this episode was intriguing and proved to be the beginning of the excellence that was Saul Goodman. When he walked into the interrogation room, called the detective a sneaky Pete, and then gave Badger that stupid smile. Oh man. Better Call Saul.

4. Gliding All Over (S5, E8)

Since I had a ridiculous amount of catching up to do, I watched this episode a mere two months before the final episodes aired, but the final scene has to be one of the biggest cliffhangers in TV history. We see Hank look up from Walt’s book with a menacing, shocking look that would prove to change the events of the show as we knew it. Then you realize that the rest of the episode was pretty damn good too, including the fantastic prison death montage, the kids coming back home, the nostalgic references and the gigantic pile of cash that symbolized how far Walt went for his family… or for himself.

Cash Money $$$

Cash Money $$$

3. ABQ (S2, E13)

This episode would have been great solely because of the pink teddy bear that came out of nowhere and landed in Walt’s pool. Luckily for us, we received the start of Jesse’s fall into hell, by him checking into rehab, ironically enough.  Dealing with his girlfriend’s death is one of the events that tips him over the edge and reveals the Jesse that we now know: dark and disgruntled. Additionally, the bit with the bear at the end was fantastically done. Pink the color of hearts and Valentine’s Day, is actually symbolic of death. And remind me, what color was Walter wearing?

2. Ozymandias (S5, E 14)

While not my favorite episode, this may certainly be the best one. It was intense from beginning to end, something that is difficult to have in a single episode. The beginning was charming and memorable, with a flashback to the good ol’ days when Skylar was still pregnant and Walt still had hair. Then BAM Hank is shot, Walt is crying, and the neo-nazis are in charge. Then, out of nowhere, Walt Jr. (or should I say Flynn) finds out about his dad, and Skylar and Walt are in a knife fight… it’s just too much to describe. This episode was entertaining and exhilarating from beginning to end, and may be in the conversation for the best TV episode of all time. Yes really.

1. Crawl Space (S4, E11)

The final 8-10 minutes of this episode are some of the best TV of all time. When Gus threatens Walt and his entire family, everything shifts. Walt goes from the man with all the power to the bottom of the chain. He is scared for his life. He is no longer the one who knocks. For a split second the real Walter White is seen. Then, in my favorite scene in the entire show, Walt looks for his money with desperation and when he finds Skylar gave it away, his life is gone. Walt is gone. Heisenberg has taken control. The final image leaves us with Walter White lying in the crawlspace looking through a hole in the floor; his coffin.

~Vig

5. Peekaboo (S2, E6)

A lot of people dismiss this as an inconsequential filler episode of this show. Why? It’s actually a very well-written and revealing episode that was just self-contained. First off, we get a sobering reveal of Walt as he tells Gretchen off in a “Heisengerg”-y way. Later, Jesse is playing with a kid while trying to be a badass distributor like he’s always planned on. So what do we end on? We see Jesse that might be a good person trying to pretend to be bad while we see that Walt might be the opposite. We also get a fleeting glimpse of their customers in between.

4. Crazy Handful of Nothin’ (S1, E6)

If you made me write this a year or two ago before I gave the series a re-watch, this would be number one.
When I’m showing someone this series, they look at me like I’m crazy for saying that this show is nailbiting and intense. The first five episodes of the show are provoking, just not exciting. And then Tuco, in all his psychopathic and loud glory, comes in and suddenly people are on the edge of their seat. It’s an episode that raised the stakes, upped the insanity and showed us that there’s an angry side to Walt. It’s a perfect thesis for his transformation.

3. Ozymandias (S5, E14)

What a beautiful, perfect episode this is. Just from the Shelly-inspired title, you know exactly what’s going to happen, you just aren’t ready for it. This is the one everyone was waiting for from the first episode. The one where Walt’s criminal and family lives collide and here it was. As soon as Skyler began waving a knife at Walt over the cries of Walt Jr. and Holly, I didn’t think I could take it, I nearly stopped the episode for a breather. Props for one of the best openings and endings in the series also.

2. Face Off (S4, E13)

It’s a cliche choice. But if I could somehow cram all of the final 6 of season 4 into one entry, I would. Gus meets his fate. Hector gets his revenge. Walt wins.
Enough said.

Gustavo Fring meets his demise

Gustavo Fring meets his demise

1. Mandala (S2, E11)

When I tell people I love this episode, they usually have forgotten about it. It’s not the most exciting, action packed or clever of the show but I love it. It’s a perfect turning point for the plot and a great example of what the show is about.

The most important moment of Walt’s journey to me isn’t in the fascinating basement scenes with Krazy-8. It’s not his terrifying fit in “Crawl Space”. It’s the moment he gets Skyler’s text that she’s in labor and he smiles briefly but then realizes he has to finish the deal.

I can’t think of how many times Breaking Bad has perfectly summed up an episode in one ending image. So what do we get in this? We get Walt putting on his most serious Heisenberg expression hastily rushing to a deal with a mysterious man he doesn’t know. He’s almost certain he’s going to miss his daughter’s birth. He doesn’t even know if he’ll make it to said deal in time. But something (Arrogance, work ethic, whatever the viewer sees) drives him to go anyway.

If that doesn’t perfectly sum up the suspense and development of this story, I don’t know what does.

~Zach

What are your favorite episodes? Feel free to tell us in the comment section below.

Bonus Video: Even Weird Al loves Breaking Bad! Check out his 12 minute epic “Alberquerque”. It truly is something.

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Thoughts on…

Modern Day Mob in Film

We’re going to introduce you to another style post that we will be writing occasionally. We will be writing a “Thoughts on” post, giving you our… well, thoughts on a certain topic. That topic will usually coincide with the release of a new movie. For example, we could have written a post about our thoughts on Christopher Nolan films the day Inception came out. These columns are intended to give you, the reader, more than just straight forward review on a movie. Its a review of an entire subject, topic or genre.

This week, coinciding with the release of The Family, starring Robert DeNiro, we will be discussing our thoughts on 21st century mob films, and how they may differ from older type of mob films.

Trailer for The Family (which we will not be reviewing)

Mob films are among the most popular and developed genres of all time, because of their intensity and rambunctiousness, as well as how they provide pure entertainment and an engaging story. They are also straight up bad-ass. All this has contributed to the well-documented growth in these types of films, the most recent generation being our topic of discussion for this week.

From the original Scarface to The Godfather to The Departed, the mafia-mobster genre has seen change in all sorts of form. Pre-1934 films were very violent and very gruesome (for the time). Then in 1934, strict censorship was enacted, prohibiting movies from displaying such violence (among other things). 40’s and 50’s mob films weren’t as bold, primarily due to the inability to have such extreme violence. The Roaring Twenties, and On The Waterfront, our review from last week, are examples of this. Then, as cinema became more violent thanks to Bonnie and Clyde, so did the mobsters. The 70’s through early 90’s brought classics such as The Godfather, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction and Scarface. These films were bolder, bigger and therefore more appealing to audiences. That brings us to the main feature.With Coppola’s trilogy concluded, Tarantino slowly turning away from the genre, and Scorsese going towards the new style of mob films (with Gangs of New York & The Departed), the classical grittiness and style started to disappear, and we began to see films more driven by plot, including Road to Perdition, Gangster Squad, and of courseThe Departed. These films relied more on the story, whereas Scorsese films, for example, were more character driven. The stories were centered on the characters, and their life. There was no real “plot”, and clearly, it worked out just fine.

The new era of mob film also brought a whole other perspective to the story: justice. In the Coppola-Scorsese era, law enforcement never played a huge role. Movies were more focused on strife between and within the mob and conflicts within the protagonists’ own mind and heart. Obviously, FBI and CIA weren’t completely irrelevant, it just wasn’t as crucial to the conflict. Yet, now, in popular movies such as American Gangster and The Departed, laws enforcement were essentially one entire half to the story. Why exactly is this; is it because American culture calls for justice? Or because the good guy versus bad guy is more intriguing. Clearly there is something attractive about this to American audiences, even if these movies have not been as high quality as the classic films discussed earlier.

I would feel awful going a whole post about modern mafia on the screen and not even mentioning The Sopranos, being the beautiful work of art that it is. It’s very similar to the earlier era of films, as it deals with Tony Soprano dealing with conflicts within his own family, and his crime organization. Being a TV show set in modern times, it obviously has a more modern feel to it, in addition to having the problem of law enforcement (though not the main conflict). It’s a lot different, being a TV series, but still important to the discussion concerning the mob genre.

tony soprano

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano

With the release of The Family this weekend, the modern mafia film has reached a new frontier; comedy. This genre has been forever growing and developing since the times of On The Waterfront, a mob movie that highlights corruption without using violence or language, to Casino, a mob movie that ranks fifth all time in uses of the f bomb. And joining the affinity for the mob is the 21st century, which has taken its own spin on the genre, shaped by the ever-changing American culture.
~Vig

Who says the mob’s dead? What about crime is so damn fascinating to us? Is it just how cool it is that there’s a whole secret society out there that (In our mind’s eye) wears suits, woos women and has some sort of complex code? I think there’s something to that but there’s still something deeper. What I think is so interesting is that, in this modern day and age, there’s still violence. There are still shootouts and rivalries. There are still informants to be whacked and associates to be met. And the thing is, it’s all under everybody’s nose. It’s funny how when you’re in a city there could be some of the criminal business which seemed so distant going on a mile away. In this polished day and age, it’s good to look at what lies under our seemingly safer society. So that’s what makes the gritty mob movies of today so good. They can give us an insightful look on the comings and goings of the everyday outlaw. Hollywood can do it, and they can do it well, so let’s look at some examples:

We’ll start off with American Gangster (2007), in which we get to see Denzel Washington rise as a drug lord in late 20th-century New York. Overall, I like Gangster. A lot of films try to emulate the structure of Goodfellas and The Godfather by making it a long sort-of epic. The formula is we see the start, the prosperity, and the fall. Rinse and repeat. American Gangster may use that formula but it has enough going on to use it to its advantage. It tells the story of a regular man descending into the depths of the drug world; going so far as Cambodia to do so. In a lot of cases, story is everything. But in the case of film, story does not have to be everything. It’s a huge part but there are plenty of other factors. Gangster is clunky with its focus in scenes but the acting really gets you into it. There were times when Denzel Washington played the competence of Frank Lucas so well. The soundtrack also mixes some of the more modern rap of the 2000’s with the 70’s so well in a way that Gatsby tried to but couldn’t.

Denzel Washington in American Gangster

Denzel Washington in American Gangster

Next off is a two-fer. The Town and The Departed. There’s a reason I pair these two together. They’re both cover similar ground, after all. Both are great at show the grit of Boston as a perfect backdrop to the characters. Both have an all-star cast. When I was putting together my top 5, I was very tempted to include The Town somehow. But one thing always draws me to The Departed over The Town. The Town often feels like it has too much story. Not meaning it drags, meaning it feels very direct at times. The Departed always feels like you don’t know when it’s going to end. You feel just like Costigan does. It feels like a terrible ride that won’t quit. I saw no real buildup in it, just a number of close calls. The Town, you know something’s going to happen with the heist and you know how the FBI and Irish-mob are going to collide. And the ending is far too happy for my taste (Hate to sound so down), it’s not happy but “oh he went to Florida”. That feels too Disney. The Departed ended with a couple of dead men at the close of a war everyone lost. That’s not to say The Town is bad, I love how it pulls off everything and captures certain elements so well. But overall, a film should try and emulate The Departed as an exemplar for a modern crime-drama.

I wish I could write about a few more modern dramas but that’s all we have for today, folks. This week The Family opens up so we’ll just have to see how that shows the wonderful world of the criminal underworld. Happy travels! Just keep off the streets of Boston and the Bronx…
~Zach

What do YOU think about the modern mob genre? Love it or hate it, feel free to tell us in the comment section. Thanks for viewing!Bonus Video: A montage of every single f-bomb from Goodfellas (all 300 of them- Casino has 398!). Viewer discretion is advised. Extremely advised.

On The Waterfront

To honor the great Elia Kazan, who would have celebrated his 114th birthday last Saturday (September 7th), we will be taking a look at his 1954 Best Picture winner On The Waterfront. Directed by Kazan, the film stars Marlon Brando and Eve Marie Saint. It is rated PG-13 for Violence and Smoking.

On The Waterfront tells the tale of former boxing champion Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) as he struggles to stand up to mob boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), and to himself.

Terry, now condemned to working on the docks, had been a promising boxer until his brother Charley (Rod Steiger) instructs him to lose a fight so that Friendly could win money betting against Terry. Under the orders of the mob, Terry hoaxes fellow longshoreman, Joey Doyle, straight into an ambush so that he won’t testify against Friendly. After Doyle’s death, Father Barry (Karl Marden) calls for action and urges people to testify against the mob, even though it is seemingly a death sentence.

Meanwhile, Terry falls in love with Joey Doyle’s sister, Edie (Eve Marie Saint), who, along with Father Barry, influences him to take a stand against the mob. Terry, struggling with his conscience, faces moral death by keeping quiet, or actual death by speaking out.

9.5 out of 10

I don’t feel like it needs to be said, but Marlon Brando is commonly regarded as one of the best actors of all time, delivering fantastic performances in films such as The Godfather and A Streetcar Named Desire. His portrayal of Terry Malloy, a former boxing champion entangled in the mob, is definitely up there as well. This film is extremely powerful, largely in thanks to how convincing Brando is. His struggles are genuine. His love for Edie is true. He is electrifying, to say the least. But his actual performance is only part of the reason his masterful showing as Malloy is regarded so highly; it’s also because of the effect he had on film history. He revolutionized acting with this single display, providing it with more of an emotional connection than it ever had before.

Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando

The ensemble does a fantastic job as well. Rod Steiger, Lee J Cobb, and Karl Malden all earned best supporting actor nominations, and Eve Marie Saint was excellent in the lead female role, albeit in her screen debut. This was a huge part in making this film the success it was.

I could discuss the Oscar winning cinematography, which assists in invoking emotions and dilemma using perspective. I could also discuss the fantastically written script, which also won an Academy Award. Hell, even the music is great. But honestly, the reason this film is such a success is because of how powerful and motivational it is.

Using themes of corruption, class, extortion, and fear, the viewer is always left with a feeling of awe after seeing Terry Malloy stand up to mob, despite the dangers it presents. This film, specifically Kazan and Brando, does a phenomenal job of conveying this message and assuring that a viewer empathizes with Malloy.

Batman Begins reminds me of this film. Of course Terry Malloy is not running around in a cape and mask, but the basic idea of attempting to find justice within the corruption and chaos is the same. And like Batman, On The Waterfront heavily displays themes based around morality. Though it’s technically a crime-mob film, it doesn’t have the same feel; Maybe that’s just because I’ve seen too many Scorsese films. But actually, it’s because the battle between doing what’s right and saving your own skin is the real story. As Terry says, “Conscience. That stuff can drive you nuts”.

Brando is great, the writing is great, the camerawork is great. But Elia Kazan did something no one else was daring to do; expose real corruption and violence. Kazan, with one film, impacted both American politics and cinema history. Now, named one other person who could do that.

The problems with this film are virtually non-existent; but if I had to pick one out, it would be the somewhat quick ending. It seemed to rush itself once Brando committed to going after Friendly. Regardless, it was still phenomenal; an ending that wrapped up the film really well, with justice being accomplished in a simple but fitting way.

If you ever get the chance to watch this film, please do. It is an important piece of cinema history, and a moving, powerful piece of art. Even if you’re not interested in the crime mob genre, you will appreciate this film.

9.0 out of 10

It’s September, so let’s talk about the revolutionary Elia Kazan.

In the 1950’s, the cinematic landscape kept it pretty darn light. Movies were seen as a form of some sort of escapism (Which they still are, regardless) and, while the occasional challenging piece was released, stayed out of the problems of the era.

But every once and a while a director would come along ready to provoke the viewer and expose the inside of American institutions that were more corrupt than previously viewed. Kazan was one of those challengers; fiercely ready to douse the happy images of a relaxed age with the underlying conflicts that wouldn’t bubble up to the surface until the next few decades.

On the Waterfront chronicles the exploits of the mob-connected Johnny Friendly and the dockworker Terry Malloy (Played by a pre-Vito Marlon Brando). Johnny holds the docks hostage under his reputation for violence and unyielding desire to wipe put his enemies. Eventually, Malloy comes to be the sole challenger of Friendly’s mob-laden reign and, of course, criminal hijinks ensue.
Politically, this may not seem all that important. It’s just a hunch of Teamsters taking down a primordial Marlon Brando right? But you have to give it some sort of background. On the Waterfront is based off a series off muck-raking articles that ranked on the corruption of unions that was published in the New York Sun. The article was acclaimed at a time when many stood oppose to those groups in light of opposition to Communism. Kazan participated in the House Committee on Un-American Activities (Yes, that once existed and, no, I’m not making an NSA joke) and sold out many left-wing filmmakers. While many playwrights and directors sought a sort of vengeance for this persecution, Kazan stood by his decision and portrayed unions in an unholy light.

Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan

Whether that’s right towards his community or not, I’ll leave you to debate at some dinner table or comment section somewhere but you have to admire that he did it in a completely kick-ass and revolutionary way. It’s almost impossible not to be on Terry’s side in his face off with the intimidating “friends” of Johnny Friendly throughout the movie. Pulling off sympathy for a character you know the audience may very well not side with is very risky business. Yet, against most odds, Kazan was able to wow the audiences of 1954 and wow me today.

The shots seem dark and urban; they mix well with the sobering look at mob-violence. Brando is Brando so if you think I’m going to say much else you’re wrong (One day he might get a paragraph or two devoted to him on this site). I particularly love a good, 1950’s-esque portrait of New York and this film hits a bullseye with that preference.

Kazan, you have to half some sort of genius inside of you to throw your fists up with the Hollywood definitions of right and wrong, style and execution and, above all, entertainment.
Happy belated, buddy.

Bonus Video: The most iconic scene in this film, featuring one of the most famous movie quotes of all time.
IMDB: 8.3
Metacritic: 88
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%