Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Whatever you think is supposed to happen..." - Breaking Bad and the Joys of Almost Knowing It All

This is a special time in the life of a TV show that can only be experienced once, the final week leading up to the series finale when all remaining questions will be answered at last ... or not.  But either way, the door will close for good.  So this is the last, best chance you have to make a prediction as to how it all ends.  "It" in this case is, of course, the Breaking Bad finale set to air on Sunday, September 29th.

I have to admit that this is my absolute favorite time to be a devotee of a series.  When the pieces are all laid out on the table and you think you have a pretty good idea how the final picture is supposed to look, and yet ...  "And yet" is that gnawing sensation that something amazing is waiting out there just over the horizon, something you can't quite see from your current vantage point.  It's the essence of anticipation, when the lines of expectation and the potential for surprise crisscross on the graph of the mind.

One measure of a great thriller (or possibly any truly great story) is whether a fair number of outcomes to the central conflict are at least somewhat plausible while at the same time also being potentially satisfying.  A story that can end only one way lacks imagination and probably has very little to say.  On the other hand, a story that takes a wild turn out of nowhere for the sake of surprise betrays a lack of preparation by the storyteller.  When a series hits that sweet spot, though, you'll find a veritable army of bloggers try their hand at predicting the end in ways mutually exclusive from each other yet equally intriguing.  ( in particular has a great round-up of predictions here.)

Of course, I have my own predictions.  Not that I can take special credit for any one of these theories, but then the playing field is crowded enough that I don't think anyone can claim ownership over any single theory.  (Though, if I could have claimed any one theory out there as my own, it would be the amazing "Breaking Bad is a prequel for Malcolm in the Middle" theory.)

My spoiler-filled theories after the break ...

Monday, September 16, 2013

What Is Out There In The Black Void Beyond?: Four Movies (And One TOS Episode) I'd Recommend They Watch Before Making Another Star Trek Movie

"Do you remember when we used to be explorers?" - Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, Insurrection
This past week saw the release of Star Trek[:] Into Darkness on DVD/Blu-Ray, which gave us all an opportunity to reflect on the visceral hatred that movie set off among Trekkies and critics alike.  Seriously, it's gotten pretty ugly.  Like, Prequel Trilogy ugly.  So ugly that the attendees of a recent Star Trek Convention in Los Angeles voted Into Darkness as "the worst Star Trek movie ever."  I've  expressed my own issues with the film's bogus marketing tactics (which I believe amounted to a cynical manipulation of "spoiler" etiquette), while others have brutally taken down the film's narrative shortcomings.

Yet, with a third movie a foregone conclusion for the "nuStar Trek" series (as it's come to be known), I don't want to dwell on the past.  For despite all the topical political analogies that have been the franchise's bread and butter since the beginning, the singular defining feature of Star Trek has always been an unabashed optimism about the future.  The Enterprise of the 1960s had a multi-racial cast during a time when the nation was tearing itself apart over racial tensions.  The human race in the Original Series (TOS) had moved beyond national boundaries and economic class divisions.  They'd put humanity's petty squabbles aside to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and new civilizations.  The mission statement of the franchise was captured perfectly in the opening narration of TOS, but I have to admit that I love this one sentence summation from the pilot episode even better:
What is out there in the black void beyond?
How do you recapture that spirit of exploration, that optimism for the future from the cynical, gritty, action-oriented "nuStar Trek" universe they've created?  I can't tell you how, but I can recommend a handful of movies (and one TOS episode) that I hope the writers and director watch before they start banging out the plot for Star Trek Course Correction (which I think would make a great title).

Monday, September 9, 2013

Trailer Logic: Black Edition

I've started to notice that any time I've seen the trailer for the new Nelson Mandela biography, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, it's been paired back-to-back with Captain Phillips, the Somali pirate movie ... I'm not suggesting that this is deliberate, per se.  But there probably is some trailer distribution algorithm (the same algorithm that prevents the Hangover Part III red band trailer from playing before The Croods) that is lumping together Mandela, the movie about the Nobel Prize laureate head of state, with the scary African pirate movies.

I get why this happens.  It's a marketing decision and it's no surprise that it's going to be hamfisted at times.  Still, the algorithm got a little out of control before Fruitvale Station, which I caught a few weeks back and highly recommend (whenever you're in the mood for devestating).  It's the recreation of the tragic last day in the life of African American Oscar Grant.  And judging from the trailers they lumped together before the movie, the trailer gods apparently figure if you've decided to see a movie about a black man, you'd probably like to see every movie starring African Americans coming out this year.

Here, for your viewing enjoyment, is the sequence of trailers (which is only missing a Tyler Perry film -- they must still be cutting the trailer for Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas).

Monday, September 2, 2013

"Confessions" and Khan Jobs: Questioning the Spoiler Orthodoxy

I am a devoted fan of The /Filmcast and I deeply appreciate the way that David Chen, Devindra Hardawar and the rest leave any discussion of "spoilers" till the end of their reviews.  I've frequently listened to the first half of reviews for movies I hadn't yet seen, and held off on listening to the "spoiler" portion until after I'd seen the movie in question.  Now, I generally agree with their approach to "spoilers", that is, treating any plot detail as a spoiler unless it had already been revealed in a trailer or commercial.  However, in a recent podcast of  The Ones Who Knock ("TOWK"), David's spin-off podcast with Joanna Robinson, they took things a step further by treating the title of an episode airing the following week as a spoiler.  At the time, I took the "spoiler warning" to heart and did all I could to avoid learning the title until after I saw the episode.  In retrospect, however, I think that was a mistake.

That experience left me thinking about "Spoiler Orthodoxy", which is what I'm calling the perspective that any piece of information that reveals plot details of any sort is a "spoiler."  I think it's time we reconsider what constitutes a "spoiler", and maybe push back against the Spoiler Orthodoxy when it takes control out of the storyteller's hands and treats all plot details as "spoilers" without differentiation.  In fact, I'll go a step further and say that "spoiler warnings" can create false expectations that may even harm the viewing experience (particularly when the system is abused for the sake of marketing alone).

More below the fold, and (yes) "spoiler warning" for the latest season of Breaking Bad, the fourth season of Venture Bros. and Star Trek Into Darkness.