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There has now been some time to absorb the finale of Breaking Bad. It’s been thought about and discussed, and for many the episode was supremely satisfying. There is a contingent, though—and a growing one—of those who found the ending a little too satisfying. One critic after another labeled the episode “too neat.” They’re not wrong, at least not in the literal sense. In the matter of plot, the episode is neat. Too neat. Cosmically neat, as though Walt had an angel looking over his shoulder through his final plans. But that neatness bears witness to the great beauty of Breaking Bad as a complete series.

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The neatness on its own has been cause for consternation, owing mostly to its convenience. There have always been neat coincidences and conveniences in Breaking Bad, but rarely if ever so many so close together and without anything going wrong. Here, in its final episode, Gilligan and company got writerly, focusing on tying up their loose ends and selling themes rather than organically following their universe’s trajectory.

Of course, the bigger potential problem created by this writerly mode is the impression that the show effectively endorses Walt’s final actions as right, or heroic. It’s not surprising that many critics have taken this away from the finale. There’s certainly room enough to interpret it that way, right down to the final shot of the series. What are we to take away from a series that turned its lead character into a man impossible to root for, only to reverse course at the very end?

The answer is maybe not as obvious as some would like, but the truth is, a show that once seemed to be taking a specific journey—Mr. Chips to Scarface—instead decided on something far less black-and-white. Where it would have been easy to send Walt off as a monster, synonymous with the monstrous acts he committed and caused, the show instead chose to pull back and examine the man’s soul. Hard as it may be to remember, Walt is and always was a human being. In extending a hand to his humanity, Breaking Bad became something so much greater than the moralistic enterprise we all thought it was.

‘Felina’ opens with Walt in a car, attempting to steal it and having no luck in the attempt. He begins asking, almost in prayer, for help in this low moment, and miraculously finds keys to the car behind the sun visor. Of all the Deus ex machina moments in the finale, this is the most crucial. This is Walt meeting his guardian angel. This is the writers seemingly taking his side, nudging him along on his journey to make things right for his family and take revenge on the people who have wronged him.

Only, the writers aren’t necessarily taking his side in the moral sense. They are simply granting him this final journey to express all the facets of his fractured humanity. In just one episode we see all sides of Walt and we finally come to understand him fully, notably because he finally comes to understand himself.

Walt’s conniving brilliance shines bright in his scene with Gretchen and Elliott. He enacts a brilliant plan to strike fear into their hearts—no doubt a partial revenge for his feeling of being wronged—while also doing something genuinely good for his children. And furthermore, his threat of assassination was knowingly idle. As critic Matt Zoller Seitz described it on Twitter, “those red dots, courtesy of Badger/Skinny Pete, are Walt waving a big rubber dildo around.” Classic Walter White.

In his scene with Lydia and Todd, Walt gets to go undercover as the crazy fool, all the while setting in motion the complex machinations of his final plan to kill them, the Nazis and Jesse.

There’s the last bit of MacGyvering we’ll ever see Walt do, when he rigs a garage door motor to create a remote-activated oscillating device for his newly acquired M60 machine gun. It was always in the moments he was most desperate that he turned to his scientific know-how to pull off a crazy plan.

We also have Walt the Killer. A man who at first had the most difficult time killing a drug dealer in his basement, and who now doesn’t even flinch at the thought of poisoning Lydia, leaving her daughter without a mother, or mowing down a gang of neo-Nazi thugs in a hail of bullets. The killing is something he has come to take pleasure in, which leads to the most important facet of his character uncovered by the finale.

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Walt goes to visit Skyler one last time, giving her the ticket to find Hank’s body and the means for a deal with the prosecutors. That’s all well and good, and fits perfectly into his mission to provide for his family. The more surprising moment comes when Walt finally admits, not only to Skyler, but also to himself, that everything he did was because “I liked it.” We’ve seen Walt lie an extraordinary amount. We’ve occasionally seen him be honest, or at least partially honest. This is new, though. Walt has come to terms with himself and his own motivations. He can finally offer Skyler that one thing she really needed, which was his complete honesty, and there she once again finds his humanity.

It’s a humanity that had become obscured and broken, and it wasn’t clear if we’d ever properly see it again. Even in ‘Ozymadias,’ when Walt cries over Hank and gives Skyler an alibi, there was a selfishness to his actions. A perpetuation of his deepest lie: that everything he did, he did for his family.

Walt’s profound lie is vanquished in ‘Felina,’ and the writers give Walt to space to pursue his needs honestly for once. He really does love his family. He wants Hank to have a proper burial and to provide closure for Marie. He wants Skyler to know he truly is sorry for how he ruined her life. He wants his children to have the means for a great life after his passing. Along with all that, of course, he wants to secure ownership over his greatest creation: the blue meth. He wants his enemies dead. He wants his meth to die with him.

Finally, we come to Jesse. Walt wants Jesse dead most of all. Jesse ratted on Walt to Hank, and worse, now he has partnered with the Nazis to cook the blue. It’s only when Walt gets to Uncle Jack’s compound and Jesse is brought in, shackled and totally beaten down, that Walt has a change of heart. In that moment he is face-to-face with the extent of the damage he caused over the last two years. Walt saves Jesse’s life, not because he is suddenly a good person again, but because his humanity is still to some degree intact. Jesse is granted a reprieve and a chance to become a better person once and for all.

In the final scene, with Walt walking through the meth lab to look on his works, he is finally where he belongs, notably alone except for his creation. There he expires, content. And that’s the tragedy of Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan and his team, were they lesser artists, might have found a way to truly punish Walter for his actions, but they opted for the poetic.

In interviews, Gilligan has compared these final scenes to both The Searchers and The Lord of the Rings, with Ethan Edwards in the former finding a sliver of humanity in himself and yet remaining alone, and Gollum in the latter dying in the fires of Mount Doom clutching his “precious.” Walter Hartwell White was a far worse person than Ethan Edwards, but like the great John Wayne character, he was just a sad, lonely human being in the end. And like Gollum, Walt finds final solace in something so material and so trivial.

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Walt is not redeemed in ‘Felina.’ Breaking Bad doesn’t ultimately take Walt’s side. The show simply pities Walt. It pities him because he’s a pitiful person, but a person nonetheless. He may not be worthy of love or admiration, or even respect, but the show does empathize with him, and through that finds a modicum of sympathy and a helping of pity. It’s pity for a man who was so consumed by the concept of success that he became perverted by it, and with nothing to show for it in the end but a legacy of pain and destruction. The tragedy of Walter White is not that he was a good human being who became evil, but that he was a human being through it all.

Let’s Talk 48fps

December 15, 2012 — 9 Comments

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

Oy vey, you probably don’t even want to hear about 48fps anymore. Ever since the first screenings of Peter Jackson’s new film, The Hobbit, the interwebs have been inundated with all kinds of opinions on the high frame rate employed on the film. Well, I wanted to put my two cents in. Why? Well, because this is the Internet and what else is the Internet for if not to intellectually masturbate all over a personal blog? Also, I feel like a lot of the talk surrounding this new “cinema” format has been either to extreme, too ignorant of the fact that this is the first film to ever use 48fps, or too technical in its praise or trashing of the format.

I went to see The Hobbit in 48fps 3D earlier today and the first thing I want to get out of the way is that it’s a shitty movie. No, not because of the 48fps, though that doesn’t help matters—I’ll get to exactly why in a moment—but because Jackson has done a remarkable job of taking a fun, light story, stretching it out to the point of lunacy, while draining the film of all stakes, urgency and even character. It’s a disaster of a film, and the thought that there are two more of these things to go fills me with a special kind of dread often reserved for the next Kevin James offering.

Now, onto the 48fps. Originally, even after seeing the film, I’d have argued that there is nothing inherently wrong with 48fps as a shooting format. Jen Yamato’s interview with James Kershwin delves into some of the science of higher frame rates. Now, some of the science Kershwin claims as solidly proven really isn’t. A lot of the theories involved are very difficult to pin down. The crux, though, may actually hold serious water, at least in terms of how we perceive cinema as an art form. That is to say, when we watch a fictional film we understand its unreality. That is a given. Our suspension of disbelief comes in part from how filmmakers use that inherent unreality to create what amount to illusions of believability. A film like Children of Men doesn’t actually resemble the world we see when we look outside, but it creates an engaging atmosphere that draws us in and feels believably real. Any good film can do this, or, conversely, go for surreality. The 24fps, with its motion-blur and other artifacts, is part of what makes this possible. 48fps gets in the way of this latitude by forcing things to look more real.

Kershwin discusses theories about how the brain perceives high frame rates, but what his argument ultimately comes down to is that the higher the frame rate, the more “real” the visuals look and thus the more they bump up against a sort of uncanny valley. Things look real, but also just off from actual reality, and this is unnerving. I can definitely buy into this theory, especially since I got exactly that unsettling feeling while watching The Hobbit. But I also don’t think it’s as simple as all that. Kershwin claims that the science soundly proves that despite some variations in viewers’ adaptability to the high frame rates, as a whole human beings will never be able to take it. This part of it I have a harder time accepting. Even as the movie wore on I became more accustomed to the format and it began to feel natural to the images being created on-screen.

But it was never full natural, and this is where I think there are a combination of factors at work. Part of it is the uncanny valley Kershwin describes, but much of it seemed to come from the filmmaking and not the frame rate itself. The most clear issue was the overall visual style and cinematography. To put it lightly, the film looks atrocious. The truth is, the Lord of the Rings films never had the best cinematography out there, and it’s quite possible, based on having seen the trailers in 24fps, that in the slower frame rate the film looks fine. All that says to me, though, is that 48fps requires a completely different approach to shooting and lighting. This makes sense. 48fps begs for a new language. A new cinematic approach.

For example, one of the things 48fps does is make lighting seem brighter. If you stick a key light on a person and just look at them, chances are it’ll look unnatural. Film that person at 24fps and the light doesn’t appear nearly as harsh. Well, 48fps makes things look more like they appear in reality, which also means that the lighting will look as harsh as if you were right there on set. There are many scenes in the film where in certain shots the lighting is just right, and despite the oddly smooth motion the film actually looks very good. But then the shot will change and the lighting will suddenly be too harsh, and what looked before like a believable fantasy film now looks like a stage drama with obvious sets and costumes. And it’s not that the sets and costumes look bad or cheap. They look great! Except they are lit so harshly that you feel like you’re in a soundstage with overly bright lamps overhead. From my perspective, this is less an inherent problem with 48fps, and more of a learning curve.

The place where the lighting issue was most clear to me was in the “Riddles In the Dark” sequence involving Gollum. The motion-capture and CGI technology has come a long way since 2003’s The Return of the King and Gollum looks better than ever. Not only that, but because the 48fps gives the film a more palpable and believable sense of depth and dimension, the perfectly textured and animated Gollum actually looks like he’s there on set. I swear, there are some shots I was almost convinced he was actually there. The effect is that good. Weirdly, though, in that same scene, the shots of Bilbo, while not as bad as at some other points in the film, look overlit and too much like that stageplay or BBC effect you’ve been hearing so much about. The biggest difference, so far as I could tell, was that Gollum has no real lighting. It’s all virtual. Added on when he is rendered. Bilbo, played by Martin Freeman, is lit with practical lights, on a set, and that’s exactly what it looks like. Maybe the quality of CGI still isn’t quite there to make the lighting look real or harsh enough, but whatever the case, the digital artists clearly “lit” Gollum in a manner that feels more natural to a film than a soap opera. In fact, almost all the CGI creations, even the ones that look a little less believable that Gollum are benefitted by the 48fps.

The other major problem in a 48fps film is the acting. When the image appears so real, false acting appears that much more false. There are several sequences involving all the dwarves where a couple of the actors feel like believable characters, but the rest come off as poor theatrical stage performers. This, combined with the British accents, is probably one of the reasons a lot of people are jumping to the BBC comparison, because that’s how it feels.

Similarly, bad sounds effects were more noticeable. What’s that? 48fps makes the film sound worse? Yup! Who knew? When everything looks so damn real, and when there’s less blur to hide the actual motion, rudimentary foley effects no longer sound like they’re coming from the objects they’re meant to.

Then there are the psychics. Again, the motion looks so smooth and realistic (once you get used to it) that any physics that don’t look real, well, they aren’t believable. When those dwarves are throwing plates all around the house and the plates seem to be defying gravity, well, unless there was some magic spell going on that I missed, it just felt like badly done plate-throwing physics. Bad effects. Again, 48fps, assuming it’s a neutral format and not inherently bad, is far less forgiving of these bits of fakery that 24fps can so easily mask.

And so we ask ourselves. Is 48fps the future? No. I doubt it. Is Kershwin right that 48fps can never work because our brains can’t handle the dissonance? I’m not sure, but I think I’d like to see a couple more movies done in 48fps before I can truly decide on that one. What is clear to me is that 48fps now exists. It’s a tool in the toolbox. I don’t think The Hobbit was the right film to try it on, though. For loads of reasons, but primarily the fact that Jackson underestimated the degree to which the realism of 48fps would undermine the unreality of even his most lavishly created soundstage sets. The best shots in the film, aside from the CGI ones, were often those shot outdoors, with the beautiful vistas and the characters more naturally lit.

So where should 48fps go from here? Well, I’d like to see it tested out in two specific areas. The first is in CGI. Somebody should do a computer animated film in 48fps. In fact, maybe James Cameron will be the saviour of the format when he does Avatar 2. The first film was already mostly an animated film trying to pass itself off as a real place. If the Gollum scene is any indication, Cameron could definitely “shoot” the sequel at a higher frame rate and thus enhance the illusion of physicality in his computer generated world. On the other end of the spectrum, it might be interesting to see a film entirely shot in the wilderness using 48fps. I would kill to see a big screen, HFR version of Planet Earth. Or, if you want to stick to films, maybe make something like Peter Weir’s epic survival story, The Way Back, which other than some sets at the beginning was shot entirely in the wilderness being portrayed. Match the reality of the content with the reality of the shooting locations and capture it through the reality of 48fps and you might be onto something.

Those are the kinds of experiments that should be done. I saw far too many people saying of the 48fps in The Hobbit that the format represented the death of cinema. I don’t believe that to be the case. The technology may never go anywhere, but it certainly won’t take over or even come close until filmmakers actually learn how to make films suitable for it. The Hobbit was not the film to do that, though it shows glimmers of possibility even still. At the very least, get me one of those nature docs in 48fps. Please. It would be incredible.

This week, in a classic display of masochism, I decided to watch and review the final instalment in The Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn Part 2. Of course, I wasn’t going to do it alone, so I enlisted the help of Joanna Robinson (@quityourjrob) from Pajiba and The Station Agents podcast.

Together, Joanna and I dissect everything that is awful about the franchise and this film, as well as the moments that surprised us and in some cases shocked us. In about an hour of discussion we cover it all, from our fascination with RPatz, to our love of Michael Sheen and Lee Pace, to the depressing influence of the series on a generation of young girls, and even the terrifying pitfalls of CGI babies.

I won’t lie, I had fun watching the movie, though maybe not for the reasons the makers intended, and I think it provided for some good podcast fodder. Because bashing awful movies is always fun, no?

Anyway, sit back and enjoy the episode.

If you have any feedback on The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, this episode, or the show in general, don’t hesitate to email me at coreyatad@gmail.com.

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Note: In the episode, Joanna references this article from Pajiba featuring some of the best disdainful quotes from the biggest Twilight hater of them all, Mr. RPatz himself.

 

Sometimes a film just begs to be discussed. It’s not always a great film, or a film that everyone loves, but it’s always a film with a lot of interesting parts. Trying to add all those parts together is too much fun to resist. Such is the case with Cloud Atlas, the new film adaptation of the David Mitchell novel, co-directed by Tom Tywer and the Wachowski’s.

For this week’s episode, I was joined for the second time by Kristen Sales (@salesonfilm and writer at Who Got The Role) as well as Christopher Runyon (@CGRunyon and Cineffect). The discussion was long and wide-ranging. And when I say long, I mean it. Two whole hours of Cloud Atlas talk covering just about everything we could think of, from the qualities of the adaptation to the music to the acting to the thematic resonance or lack thereof. So settle in and enjoy the show.

If you have any feedback on Cloud Atlas, this episode, or the show in general, don’t hesitate to email me at coreyatad@gmail.com.

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The justAtadcast is back with a new episode. This time we’re looking at one of the most buzzed about films of this Awards Season so far, Ben Affleck’s Argo, the thriller about a CIA operation to get six Americans out of Iran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis under the guise of a fake movie production.

 

 

This week on The justAtadcast, I invited on two guests. Danny Bowes (@moviesbybowes) writes for his own blog, Movies by Bowes, as well as Tor.com. Andrew Parker (@AndrewJParker) is editor at Dorkshelf and also writes for Criticize This!. There’s a lot to discuss in Argo, from its classic Hollywood-style entertainment, to the flap over the film’s representation of Canada and the career arc of Mr. Ben Affleck, and we touch on all of it. Hope you enjoy the discussion.

If you have any feedback on Argo, this episode, or the show in general, don’t hesitate to email me at coreyatad@gmail.com.

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There have recently been a spate of articles and blog posts discussing whether certain movies require multiple viewings. It’s all spurred by Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, a film that many critics and cinephiles have claimed requires multiple viewings in order to reveal its many layers and ultimate meanings. Dana Stevens wrote about watching the film three times, and how that made the experience of The Master a more complete one. Stephanie Zacharek wrote a piece at the AV Club questioning the notion that certain films require multiple viewings as well as the notion that certain film are more self-evidently deserving of such treatment. Today, Ryan McNeil wrote a post comparing re-watching movies to listening to a song over and over before finally falling in love with it.

I saw The Master twice. I’m biased immediately. In fact, I watch lots of movies twice, sometimes three times, sometimes even more, often seeing films multiple times in theatres. I also saw Looper twice. I saw The Dark Knight Rises five times, including three times in 15/70mm IMAX. I saw Paranorman twice, Brave twice, Prometheus twice, Moonrise Kingdom three times, The Avengers twice, Monsieur Lazhar twice, 21 Jump Street three times, The Cabin in the Woods twice, and that’s all re-watches in theatres and only this year so far. (To be fair, I work at a theatre, so most of these re-watches were free.) But why would I watch these movies so many times? What do I get out of re-watches? Click to read more.

Another week, another justAtadcast. The reason, of course, is that the Fall season is really getting kicked off and almost every week there are great movies to talk about. Heck, this week alone there were two movies worth discussing. One was Pitch Perfect, which while fairly lightweight is also a ton of fun. If you’d like, you can read my review of that film over at Dork Shelf. The other film, the one that could inspire almost endless dialogue, and the topic of this week’s episode is Rian Johnson’s new time travel flick, Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt.

This week on The justAtadcast, I invited on two internet friends, cinephiles and writers. Kevin Ketchum (@Kevin_Ketchum) writes for Next Projection. Sam Fragoso (@SamFragoso) writes at his own site, Duke and the Movies, as well as Fan the Fire Magazine. We jumped right in to a lengthy discussion of the ins and outs of Looper. It’s another long episode, but Looper is a film that calls for that sort of discussion. We get into everything from the time travel mechanics, to the thematic weight of the film, as well as Rian Johnson’s style and his brilliant casting. We hope you enjoy the discussion.

If you have any feedback on Looper, this episode, or the show in general, don’t hesitate to email me at coreyatad@gmail.com.

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It’s been a while since the last episode of the justAtadcast, but fear not, the show has returned for the Fall/Awards season. There are tons of great or potentially great films coming out in the next several months and I’m looking forward to podcasting about many of them. First up is also the first major film of Awards Season: Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.

This week on The justAtadcast, I invited on two writers and cinephiles I’ve gotten to know over Twitter. Daniel Carlson (@danielwcarlson) is Managing Editor at Pajiba and collates all his writing at his personal website. Kristen Sales tweets @salesonfilm and occasionally writes around the web. Together, we three dived right into The Master. The discussion is long—over 75 minutes—and we get pretty in-depth. It’s a spoiler-filled conversation about the film, but if you’ve seen the film and are itching to hear more dissection and theorizing about Paul Thomas Andersons’ latest, I think you’ve come to the right place. We had a lot of fun talking about the film, and hopefully you’ll enjoy listening.

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TIFF’12: The Great Wrap-Up

September 18, 2012 — 6 Comments

Another year, another TIFF. The first movie I ever saw at the Toronto International Festival was Juno in 2007. It was the only film I saw that year, and my friend and I chose it completely on a whim, not knowing anything about it until we got to a wifi hotspot to check it out. The next year, 2008, I saw ten films, including Synecdoche, New York and Slumdog Millionaire. Each year since, I’ve pretty much gone “full TIFF” and seen as many films as I could fit in. This year, 2012, I broke my record from 2009 for the number of films I watched. It was also the most exhausting year of TIFF for me, not only because of the number of films, but because I squeezed that higher number into fewer days.

Seeing so many films in so few days has its advantages and disadvantages. The most obvious are the disadvantages. I’m sure anyone who has seriously done a film festival has been subsequently asked by others, “can you even remember all the films you watch?” Well, yes. Yes, I can. But there is a kernel of truth to the question/accusation. Ask me which films I saw at TIFF’12 and I’m going to start drawing blanks. Remind me of a specific film and it’ll all come back to me, but when I consider them all in a group it’s difficult to separate one from the other. The other major disadvantage is the exhaustion. Watching twenty or thirty or fifty films in a little over a week sometimes sounds to people like an easy vacation. Sit back, in the dark, watch movies. Only, at a festival you aren’t usually there to watch films passively. The mind is constantly working and processing and that’s tiring, especially when hours get thrown out of whack and it becomes so hard to find time for a meal that you sometimes forget to eat at all. Watching a silly movie like Ghost Graduation might be okay when you’re exhausted, but what about when it’s a new Terrence Malick film? Was my reaction to that film too heavily influenced by the fact that I’d rather have been sleeping? It’s hard to say.

Still, the advantages are there. Seeing films with like-minded people is one of the best things about the experience. For the most part, the people who come to a movie at the festival WANT to be watching a movie at the festival. These aren’t the chatters or texters or other sorts of assholes who regular ruin the moviegoing experience. At TIFF, generally, it’s an appreciative audience of fellow film lovers. They’re respectful to the films and to the people around them. There’s also something to be said for being in a cinematic state of mind. Normally, throughout the year, I intersperse movies amongst all sorts of other things. During the festival it’s all movies all the time. My brain is set to movie-mode. That’s what I’m built to think about and process and enjoy. I could never do that year round, but for about eleven days per year it certainly works. And none of that touches on the chance to see films that either may never be released or may be months or years away from coming out. I saw The Loved Ones at Midnight Madness back in 2009, and it only got a release in the US this Summer, and is finally coming out on DVD here this month.

But enough thoughts about film festivals in general; let’s talk TIFF’12! CLick to read more.

TIFF’12: Day 9

September 17, 2012 — 3 Comments

Finally! I have come to it. The end of TIFF’12. Okay, so there were actually two more days. But I skipped them! Including Day 9, I saw 29 films and a special live event. That’s 30 ticketed events in 9 days. I know some people who do more than that, but those people are crazy and my load just about killed me. But before I could officially call it quits, I did have to, you know, watch some more movies.

For my last day at TIFF I decided to go all out. I had four tickets, plus I planned on rushing one of two possible movies. It would be a long day, beginning with a movie at 11am and ending with a movie starting at midnight. I was also pretty confident that my line-up of films would be stronger than the last couple of days. As it turns out, I was right. Click to read more.