Category Archives: Spirtual Hollywood Journey

BREAKING BAD: Walter White Is Not A Villain

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I just finished watching the finale of Breaking Bad, and was immensely pleased with how it turned out.  Not only did it tie up all the lose ends, but it brought meaning and self realization to a series that’s been an incredible journey.  As I like to say, it’s a good story well told, and it completes the perfect arc for one of the most inspiring and unique mythological characters ever created for a television series.  Walt’s journey is a mythical one, as it is fraught with serious choices and major consequences.  But after awhile, Walt starts to take it in stride, and embraces the side of himself he calls Heisenberg.  Here’s the thing, however.  I think there is a large misconception among people about Walt’s character.  Most people see him as an evil person or a villain.  I highly disagree.  I think Walt is a much more complicated character than to so neatly fit into one of those persona’s.  If I had a reason why people think of him as evil, its a reason for them to feel okay with watching his character do the things that he does.  As long in the back of peoples minds they acknowledge him as a bad person, it creates an easy disconnect so that the audience won’t fully have to identify with him.

Well, if you’re a fan of the show and you think Walt is evil, I’m going to challenge you on that perception.  Walt is not a villain.  He does a lot of terrible things, sure.  He kills people.  He’s gotten many innocent people killed because of his actions (the plane collision for instance).  He’s been terribly sadistic towards Jesse, even to the point of almost having him killed by someone else.  For awhile, his thirst for power and money consumes him.  There are many reasons for us to easily judge him as an evil man.  Except he’s not.

Walt is engaged in a spiritual journey.  The way it begins for him is harsh as he is pushed through desperate needs, because of his cancer, his pride, his failed opportunity to be a part of a multi-billion dollar corporation, his lack of health care and life in the poor house…his life is considered all for nothing.  Until he finds his calling as a meth cook.  With his incredible chemistry skills, Walt’s path to becoming a meth cook brings out the best and worst aspects of him.  The universe has guided him on several instances, and the best aspect of Walts journey is that he owns his destiny.  It’s a life that he admits at the end of the series that he built for himself.  Because he wanted it.  What he wanted most was for his life to matter, even if it meant going down as a criminal meth kingpin.  What is actually happening is an incredible transformation, as a butterfly of a whole new color begins to emerge.  And you know what?  Despite the fact that Walt dies at the end, he gets everything he wanted and does everything he set out to do in the first place.  Skyler finds it in her heart to forgive him.  He gets his money to Walt Jr.  And by setting Jesse free from the meth lab, in so doing he sets his spirit free.  There’s a reason Jesse, representing Walt’s younger self, is imprisoned in that meth lab by the end with no way out.  By the time Walt sets him free, Walt can begin the next leg of his journey.

I’ve thought of Walt’s death scene being a comparison to the end of American Beauty, just in the same way as Lester is looking at the photograph of his family before he goes…as Walt is looking around the meth lab before he goes, there is that moment where it all comes together, where the two characters see it all before them, their lives and everything that brought them to their current path.  They get it in that moment.  Walt doesn’t actually die at the end.  His spirit lives on through Jesse.  What I love about the end, is that when he falls to the ground, there is a sight smile on his face, just in the same way after Lester is shot, he has that same smile in his own pool of blood.  It’s an absolutely beautiful moment as Walter White has finally come home.

I’m sure what I’m saying might be a little difficult to understand about why for this reason I don’t consider Walt an evil person.  I don’t even consider it redemption.  I believe the purpose of everything he did was to lead up to this moment of self realization.  His path has a kind of flow, where we might put meaning to the death count in his wake, except in the end, it really has no meaning.  It’s just about this singular moment.

Like I said, calling Walt a villain makes it easier on people so they don’t have to connect with him.  But that’s not the reason we watch him.  We watch with fascination, wondering how and if this character is going to find his way to bliss, after committing so many horrible, awful acts.  I was watching Vince Gilligan on Stephen Colbert, and it’s interesting because he talks about Walt as being an evil character.  Except it’s a lie.  He knows consciously that Walt isn’t evil.  But he has to say it because otherwise people aren’t going to understand him and believe that he’s condoning meth distribution and murder.  Which he’s not.  Gilligan does the most noble thing he can do with his hero character, and that’s to not judge him.  None of the characters are judged personally through their actions.  There are prices to be paid and consequences for sure.  But we love these characters because they are being allowed to find their own way.  It makes them even more funny, sadistic, or even tragic.  It’s the best thing any writer can do for their characters which is to just let them go in their own way.  The characters story wants to be told.  And it’s a mythological journey about someone finding their place in the universe.  Walt thinks he’s going against the universe, but it’s actually there with him the whole time, allowing him to chose and find his own path.

So if you’re a fan of the show and you love Walter White, don’t be afraid to step outside for a moment that the character might be evil.  There’s more to him than people give him credit for.  I think there’s an important reason why so many people are in love with the show, and the reasons are because of our connections to myths.  Walter White will go down as one of the greatest hero characters ever created, and we have a lot to thank Vince Gilligan for his understanding of that.

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Breaking Bad Tour!

1234734_10200556207051117_176550352_nI’m currently in Albuquerque, New Mexico as I write this, and couldn’t resist the chance to take a personal tour of some of the main locations from the show Breaking Bad.  It was quite a fun adventure.  Many of these locations turned out to be right around the corner from one another.  The filmmakers didn’t have to go far when they were shooting this series.  On our tour, I picked out six major locations that I figured were the most recognized spots.  We managed to hit them all before sundown.  So here for your viewing pleasure, I present a tour of the locations of Breaking Bad!

WALT AND SKYLER’S CAR WASH

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545220_10200556325654082_1551919543_nThis is the car wash used in the first season where Walt had his second job, and later in Season 5 where Walt and Skyler buy it to use as a money laundering system for their drug money. In actuality, Walt and Skyler’s Car Wash is part of a chain of car washes in Albuquerque called Octopus Car Wash. I saw several of them as I was touring around with my friends. The place was closed by the time we got there, so there was no BB insignia or anything we could see related to the show, but it was still pretty cool as it became a major part of the show.

LOS POLLOS HERMANOS

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This was the Chicken Restaurant owned by wealthy drug lord Gus Fring.  The place is actually part of a fast food chain in Albuquerque called Twisters.  It’s not much different than what you see here, but the cool part is the Los Pollos Hermanos sign remained inside the Twisters restaurant!

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CROSSROADS MOTEL

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This site was used, known to everyone as Crystal Palace.  The family thinks Walt Jr. has been smoking pot, which was left over from Walt Sr.  To teach Jr. a lesson, Hank takes him to the Crossroads in a funny scene where he calls over a hooker to show him the depraved life that awaits him.  Crossroads as it turns out is a real life hooker motel.  Whats funny is if you look at the sign below, they decided not to change it, and it was the same when I saw it.  It reads: WELCOME. FREE CABLE TV. OPEN 24 HOURS.  YOUR HOME AWAY FROM HOME.

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DEA BUILDING

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1175353_10200555581555480_1413208575_nThis location was the exterior for the DEA office in Albuquerque.  It’s the place where Hank has his office while he searches for the drug kingpin known as Heisenberg.

COMBO’S CORNER

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This is the location where Jesse’s drug dealer buddy Combo is shot and killed.  It’s also the same place where Walt runs down and murders the two guys who went after Combo.  It is what it is, a big empty lot, but big stuff happens here, and it was cool to see.

SAUL GOODMAN’S OFFICE (“Better Call Saul”)

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Last on our tour, we found the location for Saul Goodman’s office!  And yes, funny enough, Hooligans is the name of the actual place used for exterior shots, which is a bar.  What’s also funny is they kept the May Hong vietnamese restaurant next door, which I guess looked tacky enough for the shopping mall where it was located.  You will also noticed the buildings were repainted to a kind of puke green from its original brown, which just adds to the tackiness.

I visit Albuquerque quite a bit, so the more I watch the show in the future, the more I will pick up on other places to visit.  The only places I won’t be going to is residential homes just because I think it’s weird to have strangers taking pictures of your house.  As a bonus, we also visited the Atomic museum where portions of the show were shot, although I couldn’t find the spot where they filmed and figured they must have brought their own backdrop props to the set.  Also as part of our tour, we stopped at the Candy Lady in Old Town, where they sold Breaking Bad T-Shirts, Heisenberg Hats, and even Blue meth rock candy! It was a great experience.  I’ll keep you all posted when I make future visits and see some other locations.

City Slickers (1991) Dir. Ron Underwood

CITYSLICKERS CITY SLICKERS is one of those movies I saw when I was 10 years old.  I absolutely loved it for the adventure of three guys going on a cattle driving trip in the open plains of New Mexico and Colorado.  The film was a fun experience for me, although I was a little young to understand the more adult messages of what these guys were facing in their lives.  I’ve only seen the film occasionally on TV but last night I watched it for the first time in a long while.  What struck me is the connection I had with the three men as they face middle age head on and wondering if this is all there is going to be in their lives.  Mitch, played by Billy Crystal, is 39 years old in this film.  I’m almost 32.  While that’s not quite middle age yet, I found myself more connected to these characters, watching them each face their own personal struggles.

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Mitch wonders if his life is ever going to be more than what it is, and the one thing that injects some kind of adventure and craziness into his dole drum existence are the vacations he takes with his childhood buddies Phil and Ed.  After awhile Mitch finds these trips a desperate attempt to cling on to his youth, but he becomes so depressed that his wife insists he goes on a Cattle Drive adventure in New Mexico and find his passion for life again.  On the trip he gets that and then some, as he meets trail boss Curly (the awesomely brilliant Jack Palace), who is one of the last of the real cowboys, and a downright scary fella.  Curly of course winds up being a reflection of Mitch, a crusty, grizzled, no nonsense kind of guy.  But he also teaches Mitch the value of finding the secret of life and embracing it.  He calls it that “one thing”…the thing that’s presently most important to you and you let that be the guiding force of your life.

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The other characters Phil and Ed are terrific as well.  Phil especially as he deals with the divorce of his wife, not knowing where his life went from the past 12 years.  Phil has to find a new passion for life when at this point he really has nothing left except his lonliness.  One of my favorite scenes in the film is the three of them talking about the best and worst day of their lives.  Ed has the most powerful story of all, talking about his best day when he stood up to his father who beat his mother and told him to get out.  It’s a powerful, sad moment that Bruno Kirby plays to perfection.

The stakes of the film build as the group deals with the death of Curly and two unruly cowhands who almost kill one of the young calves Mitch affectionately named Norman.  Once the two guys run off after Phil threatens them with a gun, the group finds themselves on their own with no choice but to move the herd themselves across the river and into the Colorado ranch.  It’s one of the things I admire most about this film is that once all the people helping them leave or abandon them, the three main characters are put to the test to safely get the cattle moving.  In that challenge, the three men wind up finding themselves.  Ed puts it perfectly that there are no more rules, no one telling them what to do, and that getting the cattle safely across is something he has to do for himself.  His friends wind up feeling the same way and help him out.

The irony though is that once the cattle are brought to safety, they find out that they are being sold to the meat company.  It’s a sad twist for the main characters as they developed an attachment to these cattle, and a reminder of the end of an era in the days of the cowboy.  CITY SLICKERS is a story about embracing your middle age and finding a passion for life.  Mitch laments in the beginning that his face is the best its ever going to look before he slumps down into old age.  He is clinging on to whats left of his younger years as he fears facing the inevitable with old age.  But that changes by the end of the film when he’s a little wiser, and becomes okay with facing old age, as long as he can still embrace the things that are most important to him in life.

I don’t want to forget also the great score by Marc Shaiman, and the wild rousing cowboy theme he wrote for the film.  It also includes a solid cast of supporting characters who help make the journey with our heroes, especially the great Noble Willingham, a dentist with his son eager to get everyone in the spirit of the adventure, as well as the brothers playing a take off of Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream brothers.  CITY SLICKERS is a great, wonderful film with a sold message and story.  It’s and enduring classic that I hope to rewatch again the day I turn 39.

Checking In

BornyesterdayJust wanted to write a post and check in because I haven’t written anything for about a month now.  And it’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, I’ve just been busy with a personal project thats taken up much of my time.  But it’s worth it, and I think it’s going to turn into something really special.

In the meantime, I’ve been going to the movies and watching all sorts of films.  And to tell you the truth…I just haven’t been compelled to write about the movies I’ve seen this summer.  Most of them have been pretty disappointing, and I haven’t found that one film this summer to be extraordinary.  There definitely hasn’t been a LOOPER or a DREDD in the bunch, two late summer flicks that were extraordinary.  My last bastion of hope is with THE WORLDS END, which is due in theaters sometime next week.  I’m hoping Edgar Wright and his crew won’t let me down.  Among the films I’ve seen…there was ELYSIUM, which was blah.  It’s overblown message about class warfare and healthcare really just brings the film down.  I’m all for hard core science fiction, but this movie was just too serious for its own good.  And Jodie Foster…God…this is possibly the worst thing she’s ever done.  So bummed out.

On the classic movie front, I think I may have found a couple of films to go on my all time favorite movie list.  BORN YESTERDAY.  If anything, next to CLUELESS and ROMY AND MICHELLE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION, this may be my all time favorite dumb blonde movie.  Judy Holiday is hilarious as “Billie Dawn”, a young woman living with her wealthy and powerful boyfriend Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) who has congressmen in the palm of his hand.  Then there’s William Holden’s Paul Varrel, a reporter hired by Brock to help make Billie appear smarter to people in public.  However, through the course of her”makeover”, Billie start’s to wisen up to her boyfriend, and she learns that Harry is in fact a corrupt crook.  Crawford is also hilarious and the uncouth Harry, who is loud and brash and completely full of himself.  There’s a great scene as well where Billie and Harry are playing Gin Rummy that seems to pretty much define their relationship.  If anything, the game is one thing that Billie is really good at, as she gets into it with intense focused concentration.

There were a few other classics I really fell in love with, such as WESTWORLD and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE.  I wrote about both of these films over at This Is Infamous, the new website I’ve been writing for.  I have a couple of new article’s up, one about Brad Bird, and why did he leave the animation industry.  And What Happened To Classic Cartoon Villains? which was another article I had posted.  This is Infamous has been a great experience and an enjoyable site to write for.  I’ve had to spend time trying to come up with more articles and stories.  It’s been good practice for me as a writer, which I hope to carry with me as part of my creative arsenal.  Writing is not easy, and neither is making good storytelling.  But it’s a major part of my learning curve.

I’ve been thinking about how much has changed for me over the last year.  For those who don’t know, I have been a mental health patient.  One of the struggles I’ve had to deal with was being on some heavy medication, which all but took away my creative drawing ability. The one thing I found I had left that I could still do was write.  Even though I didn’t always know what I would write about, I kept doing it anyway as a way for me to push forward.  Things have changed for me now, and I am on a much better medication that gives me freedom to be open and creative.  My attitude about life has been different over the last few years as well, and this run I’ve been through feels like going through the fire.  And I’ve survived.

There’s going to be a lot of things happening with me in the next year or so, and some of it I can’t wait to share with you when the time is right.  Life changes are always interesting and never easy at the same time.  It’s like being reborn, in a sense, and you begin to enter a new field where your destiny awaits you.  What is that destiny?  It’s the new life you manifest for yourself.  The life that begins in the imagination and lives in your dreams.  What you put out the universe will bring back to you.  That really is the interesting part.  And somehow inside, even if were not always not consciously aware of it, we know inside the things we want most.  Sometimes the universe surprises us with an opportunity that leads us to where we really want to be.  It’s our choices in life and our openness to accepting new things that helps us shape and evolve ourselves.  For awhile I felt my life was on the verge of complete disaster.  But that changed over time.  We are at the beginning of a new age, and things are sure to get better, but only to those willing and ready to accept them.

In a little over a week, I will be attending Cinecon, Hollywood’s largest classic film festival at the Grahman’s Egyptian Theater.  It’s a great event, and I will be seeing some terrific films and writing about them as I did with my article from last year.  I hope you will be able to come, it’s from August 29th to September 2.  There are some great surprises.  I mentioned before that last years biggest surprise was getting to see a lost John Ford film called UPSTREAM, which premiered for the first time in over 80 years at Cinecon.  And it was a fantastic film too.  I highly recommend anyone to come and check it out.

That’s it for now.  I have some downtime in the next few weeks, which will mean more writing for me, so hopefully you will see more of what I have in store for you.  Take care.

Check out my new gig!

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Hey everyone, wanted to give you a heads up that I have started writing for the film website This Is Infamous.  The website was started by Billy Donnelly (aka Billy The Kidd on Aint It Cool News). I will writing articles a few times per week, and so far I have a few that are already up.  Check out the website if you get a chance, there’s some pretty good stuff up!

6-3-13 Movies Need More Consequences (This Is Infamous)

The Diary of a Film Cynic (This Is Infamous) 5/30/13

When Cartoons Were For Everyone (This Is Infamous) 5/29/13

A Good Story Well Told

0HollywoodI thought I’d take some time to talk about what I look for when writing about movies, and where my thinking goes as a result.  I have always been a fan of great movies, but more importantly I am more attracted to good storytelling in cinema.  Looking back on the films I liked and disliked as a kid, I’ve found it rare that I would revisit a film I liked growing up only to find that the movie wasn’t in fact good at all.  A lot of times there are movies that do end up being absolute crap, but our nostalgic love for the film is what allows us to enjoy it even as adults.  To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying crap.  The movie may be terrible, but there are elements to the main characters journey, or sometimes there are particular elements to the film that draw us in, even if it was a terribly executed idea.

As a kid I was pretty lucky when it came to seeing movies.  I saw everything, and my parents were pretty liberal about the movies they took me to see.  I saw everything from G to R rated features.  The only movies my parents didn’t take me to were hard R rated films that featured an over abundance of language or we’re overly violent and scary.  I was never really big into slasher horror flicks or anything like that.  But other than that, I was exposed to a wide variety of storytelling.  This is where my own emotional intuition would kick in about whether I thought a movie was good or not.  It depended on how much a movie would captivate me and I would be along for the adventure.  Even if I didn’t fully understand the story, there would be some part of the film that would captivate me, like a problem the main character was having that I could identify with and the problem leads them on a personal quest.  I remember seeing a movie like Field of Dreams for instance and being drawn in by the haunting voice coming from the cornfields.  At the same time that child-like wonder and curiosity the main character would feel took hold of me.  I wanted to see where building this baseball field would take him and discover along the way the problems that would get in the way (for instance, the danger of losing all his money and his farm to find out where the voice was leading him).

My point being that great storytelling can captivate us on all levels.  You don’t need to be an adult to understand all aspects of a story.  But as a kid, even if I didn’t understand all the stuff that was over my head, I could tell whether a story was working or not simply by how much I engaged with the main character.  For all of us who knew movies that were great when we were young, such as the films of Steven Spielberg, these were films that never catered to children.  But as kids we were drawn in by the powerful, emotional journey of its main characters.  The kids that were in these movies acted like real kids and were believable.  A story in my opinion doesn’t have to be perfect plot wise.  I don’t always pay attention to the structure of the film.  But my main concern is if the main character has a problem I can identify with, and if the film challenges the character enough so they can find balance again by the end of the story.  Often times, I will watch a movie and see a character presented with a problem, but then the problem gets put on hold several times during the film while the action takes over.  In essence, if the conflict is not in support of the main characters problem, my feeling is that the story gets put on hold while the main character fights a bunch of bad guys.  Sometimes the story doesn’t take itself seriously enough for us to believe in what the characters are trying to accomplish.  I was terribly annoyed after seeing Iron Man 3, because the story kept reducing Tony’s problems into a joke, never giving us a chance to take seriously his panic attacks and PTSD.  None of these crippling problems ever plays a part when Tony is off fighting bad guys.  It never seems to stop him from getting the job done.  If we’re not going to see his personal problems affecting him on the job, how are we expected to care about what he’s going through?  Even the main villain that was advertised for the film as a serious threat is reduced to a comic buffoon.  It’s not the movie it was promised to be.

GQ When a film sets itself up for one thing and then takes us off course in a completely different direction, it looses me.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate spoilers or surprises that take the story in a new direction, but the surprise should be in support of the arc of the main character.  I find that spoiler “surprise” moments in big summer movies now are actually red herrings just to make the story appear more compelling than it actually is.  It has nothing to do with what the audience is going through, it’s a formulaic throwing a wrench in the machine, giving the film a bunch of twists and turns that just distract us from the fact that the story has nothing to say to begin with.  I can tell on an instinctive level whether or not a story is drawing me in, or if the main character has a compelling problem that I will want to see resolved (or even fails) in achieving their internal goals.

The other thing that is really important to me is that I like to see stories that end.  I’m not a fan of franchises because they are not written with the goal in mind to resolve the characters issues, but to keep the story going and going like a soap opera, where one aspect of the adventure might get resolved, and suddenly a new problem takes its place.  In this manner, the character loses his or her ability to find balance when their lives are written to always be out of balance.  I’m not speaking of the format of a TV series, where we are accustomed to this sort of writing, but even in a series, by the end of the show we hope the characters will find some sort of peace within themselves.  The same goes for movies.  A characters life can fall even more out of balance by the end of the story, or reach a dead end, but if we are not compelled by the journey they are taking, then we are simply watching characters go through the motions without an engaging driving force that makes us want to see them succeed.

When I am riding this emotional wave, it lets me know when a movie is going strong.  There is an honest sincerity to the character’s journey that enables me to connect with them.  In other words, it’s just good storytelling.  It’s also what keeps us coming back for more when we feel we can learn new things from re-experiencing the characters journey.  As a storyteller, these are not just the things I look for when watching a movie, it’s what I strive to accomplish in my own work.  A good story is one that’s well told.  Not one that is hampered by distractions.

Moviecappa One Year Anniversary!!

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Hot damn!  Moviecappa is One year old!  I missed it by two days, it was actually on May 10th, 2012 that I first started this site.  I for one am very grateful that I have kept this site going for that long.  I started this site because I have always had running commentary in my head when I go to the movies as well as when I see what goes on in the industry.  It’s a place for me to talk about why I think the movies are important, and what we can do to see them get better.  It’s also been my vision that this could be a place for filmmakers to come and talk about movies, and discuss the thing we want most out of them:  good storytelling.  This site was created out of passion, and I hope to see more discussion and bigger things to come for this site in the future.  If you have been an ongoing reader of the site, thank you so much for coming back and for your support!  Greater things are yet to come!  So stay tuned!

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