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Why Walter White Will Survive Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad

 

***Insert General Spoilers Warning here***

A couple of my friends, who are fond of unorthodox wagers, have a bet: Will Walter White die at the end of the final season of Breaking Bad? The terms are simple but specific. The character must either be explicitly dead, or be close enough to imminent death to remove all doubt of his demise. If there is any ambiguity, any Sopranos-style interpretive ending, the character “lives” for purposes of the bet.

I’m not in on this bet myself, but if I were, I would have my money on “Walt lives”, and the reason I believe that is Batman. 

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Review – Iron Man 2

I actually first saw Iron Man 2 in theaters in the Summer of 2010. I remember walking out afterwards feeling a vague sense of disappointment that I couldn’t put my finger on. The acting was fine. RDJ was wonderful as always. Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, and Don Cheadle are all solid actors. The story (for the most part) made sense and there was just as much action as the first film. And yet, I still felt an inexplicable air of crappiness. I had watched the Rotten Tomatoes score, which started high, gradually dip into the 70’s (as opposed to the first movie’s rock-solid 94%), but I didn’t really agree with the consensus that the film was undone by an over-reliance on setting up the impending Avengers franchise. No, the problem with Iron Man 2 is that it is incredibly corny.

Corniness is something I could never abide in movies. The thing about comic book movies though, is that we’re expected to suspend our disbelief. There could never be such thing as a real super hero, etc. But Iron Man 1 rode the line perfectly between being deadly serious like the Dark Knight and cartoony like Spider-Man 2 (to use good examples). The Afghanistan-centered first act was relevant, realistic, and incredibly exciting when Tony Stark so dramatically turned the tables on his captors. The rest of the film was pure popcorn adrenaline, but rarely crossed the line into corniness. It adhered closely enough to the real world that the events of the film felt like they had consequences.

In the sequel, Jon Favreau lost that balance and fell head-first into cartoon territory. The thing is, this loss of balance was evidenced by rather small details that, added together, results in a loss of investment in the viewer. This is why my disappointment was hard to quantify. Taken as a whole, the tone feels just like the first movie, but on reflection you realize that the seriousness and gravity is missing. Here are just a few examples of moments in the film that stretched the boundaries of realism too much and took me out of the story.

  • In the beginning of the film, Tony Stark makes a grand entrance to his “Stark Expo” in his Iron Man suit, which is removed to show him with a pristine tux and perfect hair underneath. With the way we know the suit comes on and off, this would be pretty much impossible.
  • In one of the centerpiece action sequences, the race track scene in Monaco, Tony Stark spontaneously decides to drive the Stark F1 car himself in the race, as a total surprise to everyone, including the visibly pissed off professional driver. This is outlandish enough as it is, but what’s more interesting is that the villain Ivan Vanko has posed as pit crew in order to get out on the track and attack Tony directly. If nobody, not even Pepper Potts, knew that Tony would be in the car, how did Vanko know to impersonate pit crew?
  • In the Senate hearing scene, Tony turns the tables on his accusers by wirelessly streaming embarrassing video from his phone to a TV set up in the corner. So the US Senate has TVs that are set up to receive wireless streaming video that happens to interface with Tony’s custom phone?
  • Same Senate scene, Gary Shandling’s Senator Stern character says to Tony, “Fuck you, buddy” live on CSPAN. Ridiculous.
  • When ScarJo’s “Stark Industries Intern” character is first introduced, Tony does a Google image search on her which pulls up a number of professional photos of her in lingerie. This character later turns out to be a spy for SHIELD. Where did she find time for professional underwear modeling, and subsequently post these on the internet under a fake name?

There’s more than this. A lot more. Jon Favreau giving himself way more screen time as the bumbling chauffeur Happy Hogan, Tony destroying half his house in a drunken Iron Man on Iron Man fight with Rhodes, Rhodes somehow being able to get into and operate an Iron Man suit without any instruction, Tony inventing a new element to power his suit based on an atomic structure hidden in a model from the 1960’s…… It goes on and on like this. There’s too much goofy stuff to ignore.

It doesn’t help that the main villain of the film spends the entire second act working in a shop, and then is defeated in about 20 seconds at the end of the film.

As I alluded in the beginning, there is plenty that’s good about Iron Man 2. The 70-something RT score is accurate. The cast is great, the effects are solid, the action is engaging, and there were story elements that, had they been further developed, would have really resonated. But I believe the crucial ingredient that takes a good comic book movie and makes it a great one, is a sense of realism. Or in place of that, emotional gravity. Iron Man 2 was lacking both.

Of course it doesn’t really matter how good these films turn out, as long as they are successful enough to justify 2012’s The Avengers. If there’s any way to make that movie NOT turn out to be a disaster, I can’t think of it.

A Story About My Slightly Perfect Friend

 

Whiskey Lilley-Gerblick – 2004 – 2011

I normally use this blog to complain about things. Petty things, honestly. This time though, I’m taking a rare transgression into the genuine. I am saying goodbye to a great friend and a member of my family, Whiskey the dog.

I’ll get everyone up to speed first. On March 4th, 2011 Becky was getting ready to head out to Vegas for her bachelorette party. As she was getting ready I noticed that Whiskey was laying lethargically in the middle of the floor. It seemed a bit strange because he was usually eager to go outside in the mornings. I told him it was time to go outside, and he slowly rose and walked to the back door. When I let him out, he very slowly walked to a random point in the yard, peed without lifting a leg, and then plopped down. It was then I realized something was seriously wrong. I noticed a bit of a stumble in his steps, and I feared something in his back had flared up, and started to dread the possibility of more spine issues. It was very difficult to hide both Whiskey’s odd behavior and my own worry, but I knew it would be a bad idea to let Becky spend her bachelorette party worried about the dog, so I stayed quiet (she did notice he seemed a little down, but chalked it up to a random funk).

Virtually the moment Becky’s vehicle was out of sight I called the vet and brought him in immediately. This was the second bad sign – Whiskey can’t help his excitement about any car ride, but he lumbered to the garage with the same lack of enthusiasm as he did going outside. The vet tested his limb mobility and it seemed fine. There was no evidence of spinal disc pressure. She noted that he seemed tired, and then saw that his gums were pale. Our vet is very good about mitigating owner concern, but I could tell she was not pleased with his discovery. She said that sort of thing can signal anemia, but that it could also be Tick fever. She loaded Whiskey up with some injections, sent some blood to the lab, and sent me home with yet more drugs and told me to let them know how he was doing tomorrow.

I set him down in his bed by the window with food and water close by and went about my day. When I came back several hours later, Whiskey was in the exact same spot. He hadn’t eaten, and did not seem at all interested in moving, let alone getting up. But I helped him get outside to go to the bathroom, and he could not stand on his own. Panic set in when I looked at his gums and they were stark white. At this point I rushed him to the emergency animal clinic.

When they saw his condition, they rushed him into triage immediately. This was the moment I had my last calm moment of the night. I was envisioning the high bills, for sure, but I felt good that he was in the care of doctors. About 15 minutes later, a doctor emerged with a grave expression and introduced himself, like on a television show. He explained that Whiskey was in bad shape, and used phrases like “do you understand what I’m telling you?” His red blood cell count was too low to oxygenate the body, and he suspected liver failure or severe anemia, and told me to wait while they ran more tests. When the doctor  re-emerged about half an hour later, he informed me that Whiskey was anemic and would need an expensive blood transfusion to live through the night. From there, it would be a matter of constant and uncertain medical management of the disease. Apparently, Whiskey had been hiding this disease very well for likely years, slowly adapting to it until today, when he reached his limit. I listened to the doctor’s speech about quality of life and humane euthanasia with some degree of shock. He asked if I wanted to mull it over, but I already knew what needed to be done. 18 months ago, Becky and I took a big hit to repair his back when he injured it. We only had one of those hits in us, and with the wedding coming up we could not afford to go through it again.

When they brought Whiskey into the exam room, I finally understood what I was seeing that day – he was ready to die. I held him, I told him what a perfect dog he was, I said goodbye, and I called the doctor in. I stood with him as they gave him the injection. He went incredibly quickly and peacefully. I walked out with his collar.

I thought a lot about Becky having fun in Las Vegas, and how important it was for me to allow her to enjoy this once in the lifetime event. But it was going to be hard for me to carry on knowing about her ignorance of this terrible event.

I spent the weekend managing my grief and figuring out how to break the news to Becky. It wasn’t until now that I’ve been able to start thinking about the past, about our lives with Whiskey. His story begins in 2005. Becky and I were not living together yet, and she decided she wanted a dog. I remember being out to dinner with her at Macaroni Grill. We were playing an epic game of Hangman, and her answer was “A puppy for Lilley Lush = someone to always drink with”. How (little) much we’ve changed. I met Whiskey for the first time when I walked into Fort Awesome for my weekend visit. Becky wasn’t home yet, but there was Whiskey. He walked right up to me and got on his hind legs, showing his most prominent character trait right away – his love of humans.

 

Our first picture of Whiskey

Having a dog brought Becky and I closer together. After a few years, it started to feel like practice – having a life to care for, and the responsibilities that brings. Practice for what will someday be a human life, in all likelihood. This amplified when we moved in together. We were becoming parents.

Ask anybody who has met him – Whiskey was a phenomenal dog. Aside from an early propensity to rummage through the kitchen trash can and seldomly chew up our underwear (just the underwear), he was near perfect. He never barked, he was immediately house trained, he wasn’t a picky eater, and the only recorded instance of him biting anyone was a groomer who got a little too fresh with the nail clippers. Before his health problems, you couldn’t ask for a more low-maintenance dog. As I mentioned before, he adored humans. He wasn’t so eager to associate with his fellow canines, but he was a fixture at all our parties from the day we got him, actively mingling with everybody. I couldn’t tell you how many times guests threatened to steal him away.

 

Whiskey with one of his favorite toys

Whiskey partying

Whiskey had a few funny quirks. He was known to jump directly into people’s laps just when they were least suspecting it, and often followed up with a face lick in the mouth region. And oh, that tongue. Whiskey licked us so much Becky once reported it on a vet checkup. I still remember the conversation:

“Any unusual behaviors?”
“Well, he licks a lot.”
“What part of the body does he lick?”
“Oh no, he licks us a lot.”
The vet writes in the notes: “Licks owners excessively”

As I said before, Whiskey never barked or growled at anyone, except about one in every 50 people that stopped by the house would put him on the offense. It was completely random. We think Whiskey could detect some very well-hidden evil in people.

My favorite Whiskey behavior was something he picked up when we moved into our house. At some point he claimed the front living room as his second bedroom, and when Becky and I would sit down to watch TV we would see him shuttling his toys back and forth from the bedroom to the living room. There’s Whiskey carrying the olive to the bedroom. Two minutes later, he’s taking it back to the living room. Then, he’s taking another toy to the bedroom. Arranging his toys was a night time routine.

Drawing of Whiskey done on iPad

I’ve had many pets in my life, and not to disparage any of them, but I don’t think any have enriched my life as much as Whiskey did. Growing up I had only cats, and although I have nothing against cats, their personalities typically don’t allow you to become as attached as you do to a dog. Knowing that I had my girl, my home, and my dog has given me a ton of inspiration when I’ve gone through rough times. I am going to miss him immensely. At this point, it still feels strange to leave the house or come home to it, because I’m not putting Whiskey in his crate or letting him out. The little memories are the toughest things to deal with for me. Every time I remember something he did or see something that was his, I feel a little squeeze in my chest. I know this is how loss feels, but it’s been a long time since I’ve dealt with it.

Feel free to leave some comments here and share your memories of Whiskey.

Goodbye, Doggen. You were one of the all-time greats.

Things people say all the time in movies but never in real life

Film and television are riddled with cliche’s. In fact, there are so many cliche’s out there, you can categorize them. There’s simply no way to collect them all without an army of pop culture savants. But today, while watching the venerable Van Damme masterpiece, Time Cop, I realized that characters in movie and TV shows often say things that would be completely ridiculous if heard in real life, and yet these phrases have managed to become common enough to be cliche’. I haven’t been thinking about this for very long so this list is bound to expand, but here are some examples.

1) “Who sent you?”

Protagonists in action movies are always being hunted by some ultra-powerful entity. And as we all know, ultra-powerful entities don’t do their dirty work themselves – they send people. And they usually send people who are very easily defeated, and give the opportunity to the hero to demand information that will lead to the Final Encounter. Usually, the assassin/spy dies before spilling the beans, but they will often say something that, while not directly identifying the villain, provides a helpful clue to advance the plot. In our every day lives, we never get the chance to ask somebody who sent them, no matter how embroiled in shady affairs we may be.

2) “Enhance that.”

I love fictional technology. It always does exactly what you need it to do, and it’s never limited or inconsistent in any way. In movies and TV, the police and government agencies always have technology that in real life would be five to ten years away from existing, and even if it did it wouldn’t work right. In this case, photographs taken from security cameras and cell phones manage to capture enough data to be able to identify the thread count in a bystander’s coat, but only if somebody asks the computer guy to “enhance” it after zooming in far enough to make it a pixelized mess. Who knew we had the server space to store hundreds of thousands of 50 megapixel images just in case a detective needs to read the address on an envelope being carried by a dude photographed from 60 feet away?

3) “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”

Perhaps our lives simply aren’t dramatic enough, but I can’t fathom any situation that would compel me to shout a long No at the top of my lungs. Then again, I’ve never witnessed somebody important to me die, or come extremely close to dying in a dramatic way. The list of characters who have screamed NOOOOOOO is very long indeed, and includes such names as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, Spider-Man, Frodo, and Wyatt Earp.

4) “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Want your audience to feel as though the characters in your movie have stepped way outside their comfort zone, but don’t feel confident enough to portray it without words? Use this dusty old phrase from Wizard of Oz. Somehow cliche’ from the first time it was used outside of the original context, this adage was most recently, bafflingly uttered by Stephen Lang in James Cameron’s Avatar. If you were to do this in real life, no matter what the circumstances, you would be punched in the mouth. It is a provable fact. Or someone would look at you awkwardly, but it would feel like a punch in the mouth.

5) “Who’s there?”

Again, this one could be chocked up to us not leading dramatic enough lives, but in movies (horror mainly), when somebody is alone, and they hear a strange noise, this is what they invariably say. But put yourself in that situation – can you see yourself asking “who’s there?” If you’re in a place where another person’s presence is to be expected, you would simply look for the person, or maybe say “Hello?”, but you wouldn’t ask who’s there. And on the flipside, if you were somewhere where there really shouldn’t be anyone else slinking around, what does that question accomplish? What if somebody answers? The appropriate response would be to run the fuck away.

America’s love affair with the outside turn lane

Drivers, I have only one urgent request. Sure, there are tons of things you people do that awaken The Anger, but there’s one habit you drivers seem to have that I just can’t understand. The worst thing is, I don’t even hear other people complain about it in day to day life.

What is your intense fascination with the outside left turn lane?

I’ve drawn a very simple illustration to …… illustrate what I’m talking about:

How often has this happened to you? You need to make a wide left so you can get to a place on the right side of the road immediately after you turn. This is one of the purposes of the wide turn lane. The other is to allow more people to make the turn at once. Most traffic lights in the Phoenix Metro area have red/green left turn arrows, meaning time is of the essence.

So you roll up to the light and every driver is stacked up in the outer turn lane, and you really have no choice. You have to get over to the right quickly, so you suck it up in get behind everyone else. The red arrow turns green. You beg the driver in front to notice. Often times they don’t. Things finally get moving. The arrow turns yellow and you’re still several cars back, so you curse, and you hit the brakes. Then, something fascinating happens. The car immediately in front of you punches it. Flies through the light with dubious legality, leaving you the only poor sap waiting to make your turn in the next cycle.

Now this is the part where it turns from “mild annoyance” to “societal blight” – everyone that made the turn from the outer lane goes straight on down the road. Nobody turns into the parking lot where you were trying to go. They had no reason to stack up in that lane.

And yet, they always do. Almost without exception, when drivers have the choice between the two turn lanes, they take the outside one regardless of where they need to go next or how many cars in already there. They have defeated both purposes of having two turn lanes. This is what I don’t understand. Are people afraid of committing to the turn? Do they want to preserve the freedom to do a dickish move and pull out of the turn at the last minute and go straight? Is it like people who prefer the aisle seat on planes?

Either way, the curriculum in driver’s ed needs to be updated to squash this phenomenon. And yes, the reason I think this is because MY time has been wasted.