Tag Archives: Netflix

What Breaking Bad Has to Say About Control and Moral Failings

Nah, come on man. Some straight like you, giant stick up his ass at like what, sixty, he’s just gonna break bad?

Breaking Bad

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So, I’m late to the party on this one, but Breaking Bad is one seriously good show.  Srsly.

As a briefing for those who haven’t watched the show (don’t worry, this is in the pilot), Breaking Bad is about a brilliant chemistry teacher by the name of Walter White who is diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer (a revelatory Bryan Cranston) and decides to start cooking meth to pay for his treatment.

Seeing the former father of Malcolm in the Middle commit various crimes is weird and disturbing enough, but it’s deeper than that.  On a similar level to shows like The Shield and The Wire, Breaking Bad explores morally grey areas that are tough to look at.  They put a mirror on situations we’d rather ignore, showing what can happen when people falter and the tremendous fallout that can transpire when people rely on themselves to be saved.

**Warning, there be some spoilers from here on**

This Sunday, I heard a sermon on how we as people consistently fail.  It is true: no matter how much we try to prevent it, we are imperfect creatures and *will* fail at some point.  This concept is so hard to grasp because try as we can, we (mostly) try to do the right thing, at least what we view as being the right thing at the time.  And when we do fail or somehow don’t have things turn out the way we wished, we are devastated.

This is the major failing for Walter White; he believes he can save himself and his family, even if there may be some corners cut along the way.  The problem is that it is never enough.  Even if he makes a million on a batch of meth, there’s always another million around the corner.

This is what makes Breaking Bad so gripping and so hard to watch.  We are bystanders, watching a man and his “cooking” partner–Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul–fall apart and eliminate any sort of ethics slowly, but surely.  We are voyeurs, watching Walter transform from a man who cares deeply for his family into a ruthless drug kingpin of sorts.

A large turning point for me in the series was the first season episode “Gray Matter”.

During this episode, we learn that in his younger years, Walter White had the opportunity to work with a colleague at the organization Gray Matter.   He turned it down, deciding to enlighten youth as a high school chemistry teacher, a job he learns to loathe.  At a birthday party for his friends at Gray Matter, Walter learns one is willing to pay for his chemotherapy treatments.  But Walter turns him down.

These types of prideful decisions doom Walter throughout the course of the series, with much of his subsequent decisions a result of his despising his previous life as an underpaid, overqualified high school instructor.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Walter’s  decision to go in the opposite direction ends up slowly destroying his (and his family’s) life.

This one decision largely sets the rest of the series into motion, with Walter making the choice to no longer explore legal means to pay for his treatment, his belief that cooking and selling methamphetamine is being a “provider” to his family.

This belief that excessive control over our own lives brings freedom is a common struggle we often face and Breaking Bad is a brilliant example.

Watch Breaking Bad.  Seriously.  Like now.  Follow John on Twitter, if you so wish – @jododojo10

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“Ikiru” and Leaving a Legacy Behind

Hey, folks.  In preparation for my upcoming trip to Japan, I decided to delve into a work by *the* master of Japanese cinema, Akira Kurosawa.  Particularly, one of my favorite films ever made, “Ikiru”.

As I stated in a previous post, I first really got into foreign films (and more obscure films) once I was able to break the chains of the big box movie rental stores that were in the rural area I grew up in.   These stores often had racks and racks of bland, processed, mass produced films, but never the obscure and interesting movies I was looking for. Once I had gotten Netflix, there was no going back.  The virtual cornucopia of films by the masters of cinema was eye-opening.

One of these masters was and still is Akira Kurosawa.  My first foray into Kurosawa’s work was The Criterion Collection version of “Seven Samurai” (Suichinin no Samurai).  I was impressed by the film, but found it a bit overlong.  The best part of the film was Toshiro Mufune, who remains one of my favorite actors to this day. 

Despite being a tiny bit underwhelmed by “Seven Samurai” (perhaps because I saw the American remake first; movie blasphemy, I know), I went into Kurosawa’s other films and found many of them to be even better.  “Throne of Blood”, “Rashomon”, “Stray Dog”, and “Ran” are all excellent, beautifully shot films and further cement Kurosawa’s place in cinematic history.

However, the film that firmly placed Kurosawa at the top of my list of favorite directors was “Ikiru”.  “Ikiru” isn’t as well known as “Rashomon”, “Seven Samurai”, or even “The Hidden Fortress” (which was an inspiration to “Star Wars”), but it is more touching on an emotional level.  Well, at least it was for me.

“Ikiru” (translated as “to live” in English) is about a man who works at an office job, emotionless and without passion.  He has a strained relationship with his son that haunts him and a wife who is no longer there.  These regrets paralyze him, preventing him from living life to the fullest. At a routine doctor’s visit, he finds out that he has cancer and a limited time to live.  He then decides he has to do something about it.

The most noticeable thing about “Ikiru” is not its brain, but its heart.  The film has so much to say about the human condition in the span of its running time.  Just like all great works of art, it makes you look at your life in a different manner.  The emotions are not only conveyed in the actions of the characters, but through the use of sound and vision, just as film should be. 

Witness this swing scene.  So spare and minimalistic, but so much emotion conveyed in the span of a little over a minute of screen time:

“Ikiru” inspired me as a high school student to do something good and infused in me an energy to go study biology in college to help others.  I now work in public health, but still have a passion for art and its impact on others.  This film is a reminder of that power, the power of emotion in telling a story and connecting to the public.  “Ikiru” also makes one treasure the time they have on this Earth and the importance of grasping opportunities and caring for others.

“Ikiru” is a rare film–along with “Wild Strawberries”, another masterwork–that can alter the trajectory of one’s life.  It is that good.

 

Yes, it’s true.  John Donovan will be in Japan for some time.  He is also a huge fan of Akira Kurosawa and talking in the third person.  John can be reached at his Twitter @jododojo10 or his new Tumblr blog New Wave of the Future (newwaveofthefuture.tumblr.com).


Instant Gratification In a Digital Age

When I was in high school, films and music were my escape.

I used to have a library of VHS tapes envisioning I could start my own video rental company some day. I even considered charging classmates to rent out the tapes, but never had the business acumen to pull it off.

Then came the DVD. For the longest time I resisted, but became a late adopter of the technology once I bought the special edition DVD of Fight Club in 2000. Despite the format change, I wasn’t happy with my local Blockbuster’s selection.

This brings me to Netflix.

I never once considered the concept of the internet or an interactive community outside of face to face conversation. Netflix provided an opportunity to access a multitude of titles, many of which were considered not mainstream enough for big box stores.

As an angst-ridden teenage cinephile, Netflix was my catnip. Through Netflix I began to watch what I wanted when I wanted to.  And therein lies the problem. Netflix was my pusher and I could get my fix in a few days.  A few years later with streaming, I could get it instantly.

In a digital age, we no longer have the patience to wait for *anything*. This translates to a short attention span for many. Heck, I’m writing this blog post on my phone right now.  This also translates to the revolutionary nature of mp3’s, Napster and later p2p (peer to peer) sharing sites.

Ten years from now, we’ll wax nostalgic for the day of CDs like we do now for records . I envision retrobars spinning compact discs, playing Coldplay and American Idol albums on loop.

God I hope not.

Regardless, I fear this will result in the death of the slow burn. Music and film are now often programmed to be immediate, accessible. Very few albums or films are a major success unless they sell the sizzle, something that pulls the viewer or listener instantly. Unfortunately, this often results in movies engineered for Trailers and albums engineered for singles.

All I’m saying is maybe it isn’t so ironic that the notoriously slow moving films of Terence Malick are now getting booed at Cannes and a film like Lost in Translation is slammed for not having a “story”…

On that upbeat note, happy Memorial Day weekend to my American friends out there!!!!

John still loves Lost in Translation and doesn’t care what others think.  He can be tweeted at @jododojo10 or even contacted at his new, shiny Tumblr blog – newwaveofthefuture.tumblr.com


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