Saturday, August 18, 2012

Movie Reviews-Breaking Bad (Season 2), White Heat, Intruders

Breaking Bad (Season Two)
created by Vince Gilligan
What would it be like to be a criminal? Have you ever thought about it? What would it be like to live outside the law and have to deal with all the problems that decision would include? How would you change personally? Obviously criminals can't be nice guys, especially if they are working as drug dealers. How could you trust your partners? How you would you hide your ill gotten gains? How would you keep the IRS from sniffing around? Could you be a vicious mean SOB at "work" and still maintain a decent "home" personality? How would you keep your work associates from knowing where you lived or contacting you during off hours? What if one of your associates gets arrested and decides to rat? If you work with killers and other dangerous people do you have to become a killer and get a deadly crew of your own just to keep up with the Joneses? Is it a good idea to let vicious and totally immoral co-workers get the idea that that you're soft? How do you learn the rules of the criminal world? Can you learn how to bribe people and who to bribe? Is the money really worth all the extra bother?

In the second season of Breaking Bad, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) has to confront all these questions and more. He became a murderer in Season One though it was by accident, impulsive and arguably in self-defense. In Season Two White becomes a more calculating and less sympathetic character. He finds it less possible to hide behind the "Hey I just make the stuff, what people do after that is not my business" dodge and occasionally he doesn't want to. He's also, to his partner's annoyance, an arrogant SOB.

That said, changing morals or not, blooded or not Walter White at this point is still a lower middle class high school chemistry teacher who's cursed with terminal lung cancer. His experience with underworld ethics and rules is still quite limited. He's not by any means physically imposing or intimidating nor is he capable of shooting first and asking questions later like some of his associates.

One such associate would be the violent, depraved and scarily unpredictable Tuco (Raymond Cruz) who is the distributor for Walter's and Jesse's (Aaron Paul) trademark blue meth. Tuco is the living embodiment of chaos. He beat an underling to death for the sin of speaking out of line. Tuco did this in front of Walter and Jesse. Now Tuco's business is under assault from the local police and DEA. Worried and paranoid, Tuco kidnaps Walter and Jesse and prepares to flee to Mexico, that is if he doesn't decide to kill them first as witnesses or possible snitches or because his sickly but still malevolent uncle just doesn't like them.

Walter and Jesse manage to escape from this situation by some unexpected intervention from Walter's DEA brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris). Although this initially feels like something of a deus ex machina it has a cost that will reverberate throughout the season. for everyone. The strutting macho slightly bigoted Hank discovers that taking a life or seeing one taken has consequences, some of which he can't share with anyone. Rather than be caught at the scene Walter and Jesse flee separately and make up totally implausible stories to explain their sudden disappearances and reappearances. These stories put Jesse on Hank's radar screen and cause Walter's pregnant wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) to start to question her husband's sanity and then his truthfulness. How many lies would you let your significant other tell you? Is one enough to end a relationship? Does it matter what it was about?
The tension ratchets up as business and personal advances and setbacks see Walter and Jesse make and lose fortunes and engage in very volatile relationships with their loved ones. Walter finds that the harder edges of his business side poke through in his personal life whether he wants them to or not. In a strange way it's almost like watching a werewolf movie. Walter is changing. He can't help it or always control it and he often likes it. For his part Jesse is tired of always being considered the partnership's dumb second banana. He makes some bad business and personal decisions that will end in tragedy for many people. Season Two also introduced the enigmatic Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), who may have a business arrangement for Walter, and the oleaginous Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) a truly criminal lawyer who keeps a sharp eye out for his own interests. And there's still the cancer thing of course. The cancer treatment is running through Walter's money faster than he can earn it. 

This season went to some very dark places but the acting and writing shone through. Cranston and Gunn really bring it! It's a truism that if you hide things they just fester until they come out in other even more harmful ways. And Walter White has been hiding a lot over the years. He was at or near the top of his class in high school and college but somewhere something went awry. Walter intends to fix that and get his rightful place in the sun, by hook or by crook.
Trailer for Season Two   Scene from Season Two

White Heat
directed by Raoul Walsh
Warners Brothers was always known for its gangster movies and White Heat was a beauty. It was one of the last of the classic crime movies with the old school touch.
I could say just see it and leave it at that. I like film noir and this fits the bill. It's filmed in glorious black and white and features film legend James Cagney in one of his later, more mature gangster roles. Although White Heat was considered bloody and violent for the time it is perhaps surprising to see how much can be said or implied without explicit bloody violence or nudity.
Even if you've never seen this film you may be familiar with some of its dialogue, including the infamous line "Made it Ma! Top of the world!!!".

Cagney was a former vaudeville song and dance man and this film plays to that strength. Even at the age of 50, Cagney brought a tigerish grace and lithe athletic intensity to the role of Cody Jarrett, stick-up man, gangster, bank robber and all around thug. He's always moving, bouncing on his feet and acting aggressively. He dominates the film and I mean that in a very good way. This film set the stage for later filmic killers like O-Dog in Menace II Society. The language is not as foul but it's the same guy separated by time, race and setting. The lead character is a psychotic killer who may be epileptic. He's cruel and capricious but he is occasionally quite funny. Everyone has the trademark quick, fast paced snappy dialogue that was common in many films of this time. I really like this dialogue. Too bad we don't speak like that any more.This picture was inspired in part by real life gunsels such as Ma and Doc Barker as well as Two Gun Crowley
Cody Jarrett is the leader of a small time bunch of hoodlums. He doesn't really trust or like any of them, especially his number two guy Big Ed (Steve Cochran). As Cody says, "Ya know somethin', Verna? If I turned my back long enough for Big Ed to put a hole in it - there'd be a hole in it. Big Ed. Great Big Ed. You know why they call him that? 'Cause his ideas are big. Some day, he's gonna get a really big one - about me - it'll be his last."  Cody has a strange almost Freudian relationship with his Ma (Margaret Wycherly) a cold gangster in her own right who watches over Cody's interests when he's not around. She's one of the few people that Cody trusts absolutely. She also physically comforts him when he suffers from horrible headaches/manic moods. Cody also has to act as referee between his mother and his beautiful but vain and vindictive wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo). The two women do not get along, perhaps because they are so similar. Verna might be jealous of Cody's relationship with his mother. Verna is also wondering if Cody still has the stuff to lead and if she might not be better advised to jump ship to another up and comer.

When Cody commits a train robbery he admits to a lesser charge. He's sent to prison with a shorter sentence where the authorities plant an undercover agent "Pardo" (Edmund O'Brien) in his cell to try to get Cody to confess to other crimes and/or find out who his fence is. But it's while Cody is locked up that Big Ed finally starts to make his move. And some of these moves involves Cody's family. Locked up or not you don't do that to Cody.
Ma: Any time I can't handle his kind, I'll know I'm gettin' old. No one does what he's done to you, son, and gets away with it.
Cody: No, no, Ma, look, listen to me, you won't have a chance...
Ma: I'm goin' after him, Cody, to keep him from having you knocked off in here.
And that's when the movie moves into a higher gear, one replete with double crosses, fake outs, more lies and one of the best shootouts then filmed. Cagney carries the film and I had a lot of fun watching it.
TRAILER

Intruders
directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Although this is a modern film it is a bit of a throwback to sixties movies in that there is not any blood and gore, only a small amount of nudity (provided by Game of Thrones star Carice Van Houten aka "Melisandre") and not much in the way of hyperactive camera work. This film takes its sweet time to provide old school fears, mostly by the simple technique of not showing everything. In fact it doesn't show much. So if you're looking for guts, gore and lots of toplessness this probably isn't the film for you. This is by the same director who did 28 Days Later, which had completely different camera work and storytelling style.

Intruders tells two stories of children on the verge of puberty, one Spanish boy Juan (Izan Corchero) and one British girl Mia (Ella Purnell) who are being terrorized when they sleep by the seeming boogeyman come to life, who they name Hollowface. Hollowface apparently doesn't have a face of his own (hence the name) and wants to steal the children's faces. Both children are thus afraid to go to sleep and need extra attention from their worried parents, as well as either priests or psychological specialist as culture dictates.

Mia's father is John Farrow (Clive Owen) and her mother is Susanna Farrow (Carice Van Houten). Mia is their only child and John, a construction worker, dotes on her. So when she finds an old story about Hollowface in a tree trunk he's worried. And when she starts to see or hear Hollowface he's more than concerned. Meanwhile Juan is almost kidnapped by Hollowface but is saved at the last minute by his mother, Luisa (Pillar Lopez). Later, Luisa tries to get a priest to perform an exorcism. Susanna thinks Mia is hysterical while John tries to calm her with a staged burning of a Hollowface effigy.
The burning doesn't work as Mia's convinced that Hollowface is inside the home, hiding in the closet. Her parents don't believe her until one night when John hears a noise and screams from his daughter's room and runs in to confront Hollowface. He fights the thing but for some reason the entity is not captured on the video camera John has installed. So the question starts to become is this supernatural or psychological? And why can't you find a good exorcist when you need one? This is a creepy little film but I'm not quite sure the payoff works. Still I liked it because it was a change of pace in thriller/horror films. Again, this is really NOT a film with a lot of violence, sex or bad language. It's the slow building sense of fear that this movie tries to stoke and employ. If you are a patient film viewer this could be for you.  TRAILER
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