TV Review: Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

Original Run: January 20th, 2008 – September 29th, 2013
Created by: Vince Gilligan
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito, Jonathan Banks, Laura Fraser, Jesse Plemons, Steven Michael Quezada, Charles Baker, Matt Jones, Krysten Ritter, Mark Margolis, Michael Bowen, Bill Burr, Raymond Cruz, Jere Burns, John de Lancie

High Bridge Entertainment, Gran Via Productions, Sony Pictures Television, AMC, 62 Episodes, 43-58 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I came to the Breaking Bad party pretty late but after multiple seasons of people raving about it, I ended up binging through it all just before the last season premiered.

I also almost quit the show, as the beginning of the first season drags. But once I got to the end of Season One, everything just sort of clicked and I was hooked. But even then, I thought that it would be good but that it would slowly lose steam, as all shows do and eventually, I wouldn’t care about it.

Breaking Bad did something that almost no other show has been capable of doing, though. It continued to improve and get better as it rolled on.

Just when you thought the show reached its peak, it’d throw a curveball or shock you in a way that television shows before this were never able to do. And most importantly, it either gave you satisfying resolutions to plot threads or it subverted expectations and actually gave you something better and surprising.

Frankly, I hate the “subvert their expectations” bullshit that creatives in Hollywood seem to be clinging onto because 99 percent of the time, it’s just an indicator that they’re out of ideas and their only solution is to take a big shit and go, “Ha! You fans didn’t see that coming! I’m a genius! Adore me!”

No. Breaking Bad subverts expectations and gives the viewer something better. And it didn’t just do this once or twice, it did it quite often and it was consistently really fucking good at it. More than anything, that’s what made this show so great.

Additionally, very extreme things happen on the show but it never jumps the shark or takes you out of reality. Everything feels real and plausible and it does a superb job in staying grounded and not taking a turn for the ridiculous, as many shows have done that started out really strong.

I’d have to say that the best thing about this, though, is the cast. Everyone, top to bottom, is perfection.

Almost every character in the show starts at one end of the spectrum and finds a way to make it to the opposite side. All of this happens slowly and naturally. Characters you like become ones you despise and ones you might not have liked become lovable. There are secondary characters that stay the same throughout but many of them are there to be measuring sticks, to show you how every main character evolves in their own way over five seasons.

I know that there has been a ton of hype about this show for years but it is one of the few that lived up to it and actually, in my opinion, exceeded it. Breaking Bad is as close to a perfect show that you can get for a crime drama with neo-western and neo-noir flavors.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other modern crime dramas but this is the best of the lot.

TV Review: The Mandalorian (2019- )

Original Run: November 12th, 2019 – current
Created by: Jon Favreau
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas
Music by: Ludwig Göransson
Cast: Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Nick Nolte (voice), Taika Waititi (voice), Gina Carano, Ming-Na Wen, Mark Boone Junior, Bill Burr, Clancy Brown, Natalia Tena, Richard Ayoade (voice), Giancarlo Esposito, Emily Swallow, Jason Sudeikis

Lucasfilm, Walt Disney Studios, Disney+, 8 Episodes (so far), 31-46 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

While I haven’t been too happy with Disney’s handling of Star Wars, this was still one of the television shows that I was anticipating the most.

I assumed that after the Boba Fett movie was cancelled, following the lackluster performance of Solo, that this show would end up taking some of that planned film’s ideas, reworking them into a new character and story. I’m not a hundred percent sure that’s what they did but this feels close to what Boba Fett could’ve been.

The first few episodes of this show were mostly okay but they didn’t blow me away, if I’m being honest. However, it did feel good to have someone seemingly taking Star Wars seriously once again, which I didn’t feel was the case since Rogue One, the only Disney Star Wars film I actually liked.

The middle few episodes were low points but everything really started to pickup with episode six. Episodes seven and eight were then quite awesome and they brought everything that happened over the course of the season together in a way that justified the episodes that felt more like filler than part of the larger story.

Season one of The Mandalorian was more about world building and introducing the audience to these new characters. In that regard, it succeeds greatly. But ultimately, it feels like the first act of a much larger story and not necessarily its own self-contained arc.

In any event, I’m more excited for season two than I was season one and I hope that the momentum continues to build and that this stays on the right trajectory, especially after the terrible sequel films just concluded, leaving most people with a really bad taste in their mouth. I still haven’t seen The Rise of Skywalker and I’m really not that enthused about taking time out of my schedule to go see it in theaters.

I used to be a massive Star Wars fan: massive. But until this show mostly impressed me, this gigantic force in my life was dwindling away. Granted, The Mandalorian alone isn’t enough to bring me back and, at this point, I don’t think I’ll ever have a love for Star Wars like I once did.

But so far, so good. Don’t fuck this up.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: any Mandalorian heavy Star Wars Expanded Universe books, comics and video games.

TV Review: The Boys (2019- )

Original Run: July 26th, 2019 – current
Created by: Eric Kripke
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Boys by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson
Music by: Christopher Lennertz
Cast: Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Dominique McElligott, Jessie T. Usher, Laz Alonso, Chace Crawford, Tomer Kapon, Karen Fukuhara, Nathan Mitchell, Elisabeth Shue, Simon Pegg, Jennifer Esposito, Giancarlo Esposito, Haley Joel Osment, Brit Morgan

Sony Pictures Television, Amazon Studios, Kripke Enterprises, Point Grey Pictures, Original Film, Kickstart Entertainment, KFL Nightsky Productions, 8 Episodes (so far), 55-66 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

If I’m being honest, the trailer for this show hurts it. When I saw it, I thought it looked cheesy and way too edgy boi. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the show was something much better than what the trailer alluded to.

In fact, this is the best superhero show on television. Now I’m saying that only having seen the first season, as that’s all we’ve got at this point. However, I have a good feeling that it should maintain its quality, at least for another season or two, as it ends in a pretty profound way like a stiff, solid gut punch.

Like Preacher, another television show adapted from the comic book work of Garth Ennis, this is a dark tale that shows some people at their very worst while still providing enough lightheartedness to help take the edge off.

The cast is absolutely superb in this. Every single person that’s a regular on the show is putting in some top notch work. Karl Urban kills it in everything and that should go without saying. However, I don’t know much about Jack Quaid but I’m a fan now. The real standout though is Anthony Starr, who plays Homelander, who is this universe’s version of a Superman. Except this Superman is a total asshole that does some unbelievably heinous stuff.

I wasn’t completely sold on the show until episode four, which was the halfway point for this short season. Starr’s Homelander takes center stage and shows you the type of mad god that he is. While powerful superheroes turned evil and running amok is nothing new in the genre, this was some next level shit. And it was a moment that could have made the show or broke it. It certainly made it, as its perfectly executed, giving off the right sort of emotion and context, adding real depth to two of the main characters.

Since I loved the hell out of this show’s inaugural season, I don’t want to spoil too much. But if it’s not hitting the right notes for you early on, give it until the end of episode four. At the point, it’s hard not to go on.

The Boys is solid storytelling, solid character building and maybe the savior of the superhero genre, which is starting to get redundant and tiresome like spaghetti westerns by the late ’70s. And maybe that’s because this isn’t a standard superhero story, it’s real drama with high stakes and there are a lot of narrative threads and different avenues that the show can explore.

In only 8 episodes, it perfected world building and gave us something special… something I definitely want more of. Only two other shows really ensnared me like this in the last ten-to-twelve years: Mr. Robot and Breaking Bad.

Now the rating is pretty high but it just represents the first and so far only season. Hopefully, The Boys can maintain its quality moving forward.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: another Garth Ennis comic turned television show: Preacher.

Film Review: Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Release Date: July 25th, 1986
Directed by: Stephen King
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: Trucks by Stephen King
Music by: AC/DC
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Christopher Murney, Yeardley Smith, Frankie Faison, Giancarlo Esposito, Stephen King

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Adios, motherfucker!” – Bill Robinson

At the height of the 1980s Stephen King movie craze, you knew the man himself would eventually have to direct his own feature. Well, this is that film.

For some reason, Emilio Estevez, at the height of his career, when he was becoming a huge Hollywood star, decided to take the starring role in this. I’m not saying it was a bad choice but it was a surprising one, considering where his career had already been and where it seemed to be going. At the same time, I’m glad he did this because it is a fun and bizarre picture and working with King had to be a neat experience, especially at the time.

The story for this film is really bizarre. A comet comes close to Earth and the planet passes through its tail. All of a sudden, machines come to life and go on a homicidal rampage. A drawbridge causes some havoc, a soda machine goes berserk and attacks a Little League team, lawn mowers get hungry for human flesh and every motor vehicle on the planet turns into a crazed murderer. The cast of this picture are trapped inside a big gas station outside of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Maximum Overdrive actually has a cast of a lot of notable actors. Along with Estevez we get Pat Hingle, most beloved for me as Commissioner Gordon in the Tim Burton Batman films, Yeardley Smith a.k.a. Lisa Simpson, Frankie Faison, a guy I’ve loved since Coming to America, Giancarlo Esposito, who is probably most known as Gus Fring on Breaking Bad and as Buggin’ Out in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Stephen King, himself, even has a small cameo.

The film does have some slow moments but the action is pretty high octane, pun intended. Ultimately, people are trapped by evil killer semi trucks and have to feed them gas or face death. The heroes devise a plan, outwit the murder machines and are able to escape while destroying most of them. Granted, there is one final showdown between Emilio and the Green Goblin faced semi to close out the picture.

The acting is far from great. King’s work as a director isn’t bad but it isn’t good either. The film is shot pretty straightforward without a lot of artistic flourish. But this isn’t the type of film that needed to get artistic or sneak in the Dutch tilt. Maximum Overdrive is supposed to be a balls to the wall extravaganza and it mostly is.

This is one of those late night movies I loved as a teenager. It was featured on Monstervision with Joe Bob Briggs and in constant rotation on cable in the 90s. There isn’t a whole lot to dislike and Maximum Overdrive is just a lot of fun and pretty cool, despite the ridiculous premise.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Jungle Book (2016)

Release Date: April 4th, 2016 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Justin Marks
Based on: The Jungle Book by Rudlyard Kipling, Disney’s The Jungle Book
Music by: John Debney, George Bruns (original Jungle Book themes)
Cast: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Neel Sethi

Walt Disney, Fairview Entertainment, 106 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2016.

My mum wanted to see The Jungle Book for her birthday. It wasn’t a film I had planned on seeing in the theater even though I thought it looked pretty decent. The thing is, live action Disney films just haven’t hit their mark for me. So is this one any different?

Well, in all honesty, I would say that this is the best of the live action Disney remakes of their classics. That doesn’t mean it is a perfect film, far from it, but it is an exciting adventure and pretty enjoyable all around.

The voice cast is the highlight of this film. Idris Elba is chilling as the killer tiger Shere Khan and he is nothing but evil in this film. There are no bits where Shere Khan is not taken seriously, unlike the original animated version. Ben Kingsley is majestic as the good panther Bagheera. Bill Murray is perfect as Baloo the bear and his physical mannerisms add to the performance. Scarlett Johansson was good as Kaa and Christopher Walken was solid as King Louie, especially during his rendition of “I Wan’na Be Like You”.

Neel Sethi, the young boy who plays Mowgli, was spot on. In most films, child actors are a distraction and can either overact or underact and just don’t feel natural. Therefore, there is cause for concern when the bulk of a film has to be carried on the shoulders of a child. This kid deserves props. He nailed the role, he wasn’t annoying and you truly felt for him. Director, Jon Favreau did a good job casting the young Sethi.

The visual style of the film is striking and effective and Disney made magic happen once again. Also, it feels a lot more realistic than their previous live action remakes. It wasn’t overly stylized. It felt natural, lush and authentic.

The Jungle Book is a quality film and all involved should be proud of the finished product. As I said, I wasn’t planning on seeing it in the theater but I am glad I did.

Film Review: Do The Right Thing (1989)

Release Date: May 19th, 1989 (Cannes)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee
Music by: Bill Lee, Public Enemy
Cast: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, John Savage, Roger Guenveur Smith, Rosie Perez, Joie Lee, Steve White, Martin Lawrence, Robin Harris, Paul Benjamin, Frankie Faison, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Park, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Turturro, Miguel Sandoval

40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Universal Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

In the summer of 1989 I was in Brooklyn visiting family for a few weeks. Being a big film buff, even at ten years-old, I had already seen every big summer movie that year. My cousin was driving us around and he asked if I wanted to see a movie. I did. He asked what I wanted to see. Thinking he would say “no”, I still replied “Do The Right Thing.” Being the cool nineteen year-old kid that he was, he smirked and said, “Well, alright.”

Leading up to my seeing Do The Right Thing in a movie theater in Brooklyn, not far from where the movie took place, I was mesmerized by the trailers and footage I saw on television. Living in Southwest Florida, I didn’t have a lot to do during summer days, except hang with friends, play video games or watch TV. I often times spent hours watching a cable channel called Movietime, which was actually E! Entertainment Television before it re-branded itself. On that channel, they always showed trailers, over and over again, and also went behind the scenes on films in development or coming out. It was a cool channel that taught a young film fan a lot about the industry and art he loved. But it is there, where I saw trailers and other footage for Do The Right Thing. Something about it just drew me in.

I always cherished the experience of seeing this film, so close to where it was made, at a time when I hadn’t quite experienced a real adult film in the theater. It was exciting but at the same time, it was a lot more than that. Do The Right Thing had a profound effect on me and how I saw other people. When I watch it now, much later in life, it is a reminder of that experience and the lessons I learned from it. It also is one of the first films that I saw to really cultivate my love for the art of motion pictures and filmmaking itself. This, alongside Cinema Paradiso, made me see movies differently.

Having just revisited Do The Right Thing for the first time in several years, it is kind of sad. Not because of the film itself but because it took away some of my optimism in regards to people. When I saw it was a kid, I truly believed that society was headed in the right direction. I thought that as time rolled on, the struggle of black people and the prejudices in America would improve. Yet, this film is almost thirty years old and its message is maybe even more relevant today than it was in 1989. Will it be even more relevant in another 30 years?

Spike Lee did a fantastic job with Do The Right Thing and it is, still to this day, my favorite Lee film (Malcolm X is a very close second). Maybe it is due to the experience it gave me when I should have been too young to have to see the world for what it is. But out of all his films, this one has the strongest message not just for African-Americans but for all Americans. And again, it is still a message that needs to be heard today.

The cinematography is stellar. The film really captures the people, the scenery and Brooklyn life in that era. The technique of using first-person perspective, which gets more prevalent as the film progresses and racial tensions increase, is masterfully shot and presented. The breaking of the fourth wall, as characters’ inner monologues come to life, directed at the audience, is effective in understanding their deepest inner prejudices and in helping escalate the tension from a narrative standpoint.

The use of Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” throughout the film is perfect and really gives an anthem to the attitudes of many of the characters. It represents, what this film, at its core, is all about. The character of Radio Raheem was the perfect vessel within the film to deliver the song to the masses, as he walked up and down the street, all day, blasting the song from his radio. He wasn’t just a vessel for the message though, he was also a symbol, a physical embodiment of it. Bill Nunn did a fine job as Raheem and made him into an iconic figure for many.

There are several really standout performances in the film. I think a lot of props need to go to Giancarlo Esposito as Buggin’ Out. Most people know Esposito as the villainous Gus from Breaking Bad. It was his role in this film, that put him on the map for me. Then years later, when I did see him on Breaking Bad, playing one of the greatest villains in television history, I was ecstatic because this was a guy who I had followed since seeing him on the big screen as a ten year-old in a Brooklyn movie theater. I’ve always thought Esposito was an underutilized actor but those who regularly work with him know his talent. In Do The Right Thing, Esposito is so committed to the role that he really stands out above everyone else. And we’re talking about a movie that has Samuel Jackson, Rosie Perez, John Turturro, Robin Harris, Frankie Faison, Ossie Davis, Danny Aiello, Martin Lawrence, Frank Vincent and so many other faces that own the screen when they are on it.

Roger Guenveur Smith’s performance as Smiley is also superb. You couldn’t not feel for the guy and when he lost his shit, you were right there with him. It’s also heartbreaking to see how others in the film treat him, even his friends, due to his handicap. Smith  has played a lot of great characters over the years but Smiley is the one I most fondly remember.

There are few films that illustrate a sense of human brotherhood as much as Do The Right Thing. While it shows cultural clashes and tensions boiling over into violence, it also provides hope and displays a lot of wisdom. Most of the characters try to maintain order but the few who keep pushing each other bring the whole neighborhood to its breaking point. And then the cops show up to screw it up even more.

Do The Right Thing isn’t just a great film, it is an important film, maybe even more so today than in 1989.