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Entries in bryan cranston (7)


In Which There Is Nothing To Be Afraid Of

Lady Banjo Eyes


Breaking Bad
creator Vince Gilligan

True Blood
creator Alan Ball

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is distracted from his job for a moment, but no more. On his 51st birthday, his wife slowly walks, fully-clothed, into the family pool. She can't get good with the way things are now that Walt is running his own business. She chainsmokes in the home, she begs for his cancer to return, she can barely manage to bake a chocolate cake. Her behavior is so exaggerated that she has turned into the Danielle Steele version of an adulterous wife.

It's a lot harder to write a character sketch like this about the protagonists in the eighteenth season of HBO's True Blood. What's that you say? It only feels like the eighteenth season? No matter. The typical scene on True Blood lasts only the thirty or forty seconds it might take you to get bored of it before moving onto the next character. It's like skipping from YouTube to YouTube, and in every episode, there are over a thousand.

not casting Fred Savage as Godric was an almost unforgivable mistake

The character I least understand on True Blood is Eric Northman. When the show began he was completely committed to the superiority of vampires over humans, now he walks around acting like he's Saint Ignatius. You have never seen a man so completely convinced there is no vampire god. He's become a Christian message board troll who waits for someone to espouse their faith in under 130 characters and then chimes in with a "Not likely!"

Understanding the motivations of a drama's personages is the first step to empathizing with their predicament. I almost admire how much True Blood eschews this. The only time it has its characters even react to the madness that surrounds them is when they cry afterwards. By the next episode, they are generally fine. The rule on True Blood - that everyone gets a storyline - extends even to the most peripheral characters, especially if they were kind enough to offer Alan Ball an on-set blowjob.

Alan Ball and Anna Paquin will not be doing any USO tours, of that much we can be certain

After a time, playing with the lives of fictional people becomes like moving things around on your desk. Alan Ball hates God so completely he had to become him.

Everything bad on True Blood is associated with religion, even the eating of a child. Ball believes that faith is the corruptor, the scapegoat instrument by which evil is wrought. His most sincere and good-willed individuals on the show are completely without faith; they feel lost in the world as he does, and simply by virtue of not knowing exactly what they are, are blessed and imagined as heroes.

No such luck for Walter White. He spent his entire life before he got brain cancer afraid of things, unable to decide who he was or what he should be doing with his life. Once he realized that, his new problems began.

I have lived longer than anyone I have talked about so far in this essai besides Eric Northman. One of mankind's most enduring cliches is that success comes with a price. (This cliche was first associated with Jesus, and later, Kristen Stewart.)

Whatever truth there is in this statement exists completely outside the realm of human experience. For those who aren't successsful, no price is too high. And for those who are successful, like the creators of Breaking Bad and True Blood, there must be some other reason for their unhappiness, an explanation that lies outside themselves. If they actually found they liked being miserable, success would feel like a curse.

taking Nancy Pelosi's dream and bringing it to life

Basically, it's easy to forget that you are the one who knocks. Many years ago my daughter came to me and explained that one of her classmates was afraid of me. What was I going to do about that? I offered to meet the young man, and he came over to our house for dinner. I asked him if he still felt afraid of me. "No," he said. I told him to wait.

Walter White is happy, perhaps the happiest he's ever been, but there is no one to enjoy it with him. Is this what it is truly like to run a critically acclaimed television series? Must there be a feeling in everything that they will be found out as a fraud, a charlatan? Did Matthew Weiner put his blood in a syringe and infect everyone in Hollywood with his identical insecurities?

I noticed some years ago that I find myself happier in the company of sad people, simply by comparison. And when I meet truly happy people - Oliver North comes to mind - I feel sorry for myself, that I cannot be as they are. Even more astonishing is that I am allowed to behave this way by the people in my life.

Beel, drain this woman while I watch the uneven bars

There might be another reason that this cliche keeps reoccuring in our popular fictions. Vampire leader Salome Agrippa (Valentina Cervi) has quickly become the worst character on True Blood. Her scenes are completely boring; she speaks with a vague monotone that is supposed to come off as threatening but in reality just lulls the viewer to sleep. Her idea of acting consists of brushing back her bangs. If I have to view her bare chest one more time, I'm going to start missing the acting "skills" of the guy who played Lafayette's top.

But besides the fact that Salome can't act and looks completely unappealing without clothes, the various travails of Salome don't interest me or my wife because she is truly satisfied with herself. Salome is incapable of change. Eventually this will be her downfall as she tries to take over the world for her vampire God, but until then I guess I have to keep watching Bill (Stephen Moyer) penetrating her with his ass raised high in the air, like he's about to hammer a nail.

you killed off Christopher Meloni FOR THIS?

True Blood and Breaking Bad, as they ascended to their first heights, made a point of portraying strong and powerful women. Now that these dramas near their conclusion, these women are actually revealed only as exceptions to the general rule of female archetypes - power and vulnerability can no longer exist within one human person. There may be sexism behind this, and I'm sure there is, but I can suggest another cause as well.

sexism, yoWhen a man changes his mind, or becomes something different than what he is, it is not a betrayal. This is expected of him: it happens when he begins a household, settles down with his partner, has children. These are all changes for him, and the responsiblities are said to improve who he is.

When these things happen to a woman, it is thought to be no more than a natural extension of herself. Lies. This vicious canard is completely subsumed in how men think of the opposite sex. But the reality is not that women aren't changed by the contours of family and marriage. It is that, on a conscious or even subconscious level, women are better at understanding what change implies than men will ever be.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is the former vice president of the United States. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about the beginning of Breaking Bad's season.

"We Are Not Good People" - Bloc Party (mp3)

"Octopus" - Bloc Party (mp3)

The new album from Bloc Party is entitled Four, and it will be released on August 20th.


In Which It's The Universal Signal For Keys

Totally Broken


Breaking Bad
creator Vince Gilligan

While watching an episode of Louie last week, I found myself mystifyingly turned on. It was the episode where Louis C.K. is out on a date with a pretty lady and a ruffian of a teenager threatens him. Louis doesn’t really do anything except back down, then follow the kid to his house in Staten Island. I couldn’t tell if it was his actions or his lack of action or his sad sack face, but during that episode (and as it turns out, every subsequent episode of Louie that I’ve watched) I wanted Louis C.K. more than I’ve ever wanted a person on my television screen.

With the exception of one Walter White.

Something about seeing an overworked, run-down jackhole who is trying to make it work in his terrible weird life gives me some creeping down there. It’s like some real husband heroism no matter how screwed up their version of reality is. You’re a piece of shit but you’re doing it for your family. And sometimes you happen to lose your mind at the same time. A family man who can also wield a gun and blow up a nursing home is highly attractive.

Over the course of four seasons of Breaking Bad, endearing ignoramus Jesse Pinkman reached new pinnacles that involved my analyzing and critiquing his fashion choices as they evolved from highlighter yellow hoodies to sophisticated black leather motorcycle jackets. I didn’t mourn the loss of his one-time girlfriend Jane one bit. Good riddance. But always in the background — from my viewing perspective, keep in mind — was the elusive Walt. Getting what he wants. Bossing people around. Taking control of shit.

The first episode of Breaking Bad's fifth season opens with Walter White and his breakfast. Walter has grown his fucking hair back. And he’s got on some stylish “young people” glasses — he’s either living in the metropolitan East Coast and driving a much hipper, more vintage car or running for his life. Has Walter traded in his Midwestern persona for a cosmopolitan version of himself in order to evade whatever is likely following him? To be determined. Maybe Breaking Bad is en route to becoming the Friends of meth making.

Each season of the show has started out slow and built into something maniacal from which one cannot turn away. But what bothered me about the season premiere isn’t that things are already unraveling too fast, it’s that it had a dumb setup. No one questioned the fact that Jesse, Mike, and Walt all knew that they were being filmed until now? Why did it take them until this point to figure out that the tapes are somewhere? Call me a skeptic, and yes, Walt and Jesse are still amateur criminals, all things considered, but Mike is not. I refuse to believe that that dude had not thought of this a long time ago.

In a moment of true Jesse Pinkman ingenuity, a plan is devised wherein a mammoth magnet is manipulated to destroy Gustavo Fring's incriminating laptop. The way Jesse tries to get into the conversation while Walt and Mike (Daddy and Mommy) figure out what to do is hilarious and frustrating. Just listen to the dude! They do, and he’s right, and of course he is, because we’re at a point where it’s okay to enjoy the highly satisfying role reversal this show has promised us from its first season. All would be perfect if that douchebag Ted Beneke wasn't still alive.

The revelation at the end of Breaking Bad's fourth season that Walt poisoned a child to get Jesse allied against their boss isn't so easily glossed over. We know that yep, dude is evil. And that’s an important thing to note. Because like Medea before him, we have to keep asking how much of what he does is actually defensible? I mean, is any of it?

Despite the new glasses, new hair, and new attitude, I felt most unnerved by Walter White’s new persona during his episode-end "hug" with wife. It was a long, unsettling embrace with several back rubs and not much squeezing. At the end of it all, Walt uttered a terrifying “I forgive you.” After all Walt has done, he has now granted himself the power to forgive someone else. Talk about egomania.

Some doors are left open. I’m not just talking about the car door that Mike brazenly left open after signaling the universal signal for keys. I mean a picture frame with a Swiss bank account written behind it, a truck precariously tilted on its side, a Ted Beneke who supposedly “won’t talk,” which is what I’ve been asking for since the day he was introduced, and Saul’s involvement, which continues to get heavier every day. But in the eponymous words of Walter White, “we’re done when I say we’re done.” I’m done.

Dayna Evans is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can find her website here. She last wrote in these pages about a river of ashes.

"You Could Be Mine" - Ben Taylor (mp3)

"Not Alone" - Ben Taylor (mp3)

The latest album from Ben Taylor is entitled Listening, and it will be released on August 14th.



In Which We Get This Show On The Road

Drive Angry (3D)


dir. Nicholas Winding Refn
100 minutes

For the first ten minutes, Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive is a fantastic movie: tense and thrilling, with a meticulous, soft spoken getaway driver, The Driver, pushing his way through Los Angeles, gunning through lights, across bridges, pulling off hairpin turns to hide the car from the all-seeing helicopter eye in the sky, only to pull into a parking lot chocked with L.A. Clippers fans, the easiest place to disappear. Most importantly, what gives the sequence suspense is the diegetic cue of the Clippers game on the radio, fighting for airspace with the police CB. Those voices give Driver's driving purpose, and the audience can imagine that played out on Ryan Gosling's placid, smooth face.

But after that scene, Driver keeps driving, and the neo-80s synth squalls and gurgles that pass for an updated Pretty in Pink soundtrack take over the film, and more importantly, swell with importance during any scene where Driver drives. Drive is a movie with air quotes around it, a European reimaginging of American noir with a John Hughes fixation and a hard-on for style over anything approaching empathy or character.

Watching it felt like watching a Paul Verhoeven film dedicated to making fun of America, with nothing pointed at the center, just an exercise in nothingness. Worst of all, Drive doesn't understand the art of driving, the necessary relationship that Americans have with their cars and the mythology of the open road.

Driving is an art it is an art of being completely zen, in the moment, and it's also one of those wonderful, private/public spaces where the world can see you, but you're safe. You can be yourself. Gosling's Driver is a man with no name, no discernible personality, and when he's asked what he does, he replies, "I drive." The scene goes on, with Gosling and his love interest, Carey Mulligan, just staring at each other like two adorable puppies.

But if a driver is defined by driving, then why doesn't he give away any feeling or emotion when he's behind the wheel? Why isn't he playing silly pop songs on the radio, occasionally singing along to Delilah's radio show while midwesterners and the elderly talk about the people they've lost? Because Drive is a boring film about driving, filming Los Angeles like it's a Miami Vice movie, barely daring to have any cool stunt driving scenes after all, why have them, when you can have a scene with Ryan Gosling staring off into the distance in a way that may indicate meaning or existentialism? Refn films Los Angeles like he's making fun of it, like it's an ugly, squalid little hellhole of ironic signs and darkness.

The taciturn, nearly catatonic vibe of Gosling's Driver means that there's a big, empty hole at the middle of the film. Drive is assembled for maximum mystery and intrigue who is this guy? Where does he come from? What does he want? But Gosling offers nothing, instead making the Driver another variation on his Lars and the Real Girl character, which made Drive feel like Lars and the Real Girl 2 most of the time. The blankness not even a Mona Lisa smile of intrigue in there is in stark relief to the weathered, character-filled face of Bryan Cranston, who fluttered around as the only real source of geniality and good cheer in this morose little film. (Walter White 4-eva!)

Between Gosling's obviously super-deep quiet man routine and the girlish Carey Mulligan sticking out like a sweet little squirrel in a role clearly meant for a woman with gravity and less of a milky English rose bellwether of good decorum and breeding (not for nothing is Gosling hooking up with Eva Mendes right now, an actress with womanly gravity), the romance, set to synth songs and googly-eyed glances, is nothing worth protecting.

So when the old ultraviolence comes into play, the film accelerates from boring to moderately bonkers Driver has gotten in a pickle, you see, and Carey Mulligan may quite possibly die, so all sorts of crime and ketchup blood smears go off for the sake of a plot.

Most of the violence is cartoonish. Nothing feels like it matters, because there's no there there, no sense of inevitability, no thrust to what's happening. The villains loom (and Albert Brooks is the latest comedian to be overrated for being serious in a movie, clearly he's ripe for his Bill Murray role in a Wes Anderson-wannabe film), Christina Hendricks brings soulfulness and vulnerability to a role that's entirely too short, and more cool things happen because they look interesting.

Driver goes after Ron Perlman in his stunt driver face mask, creating an uncanny valley effect, Driver's sweet satin jacket with the scorpion on the back gets more and more blood stained and nobody seems to notice or care (the best joke in the film). And then there's that other borderline great scene Driver kisses Mulligan's character in an elevator, the sort of kiss you write sonnets and poems about, a kiss where something's happening, and then he beats the shit out of the potential hitman in the elevator, crunching on his skull to the point of disgust. And Carey Mulligan just stands there. Perhaps, however, maybe all of this silence, this lack of Refn telling you, the audience what to think, is meaningful. It doesn't read as such it's empty, goofy style, a total mess.

To its credit, however, it's an interesting mess, and not necessarily a disposable one. But really, if you're trying to make a movie that's entertaining, that has some guts to its structure, you don't have your hero use four of his twelve lines talking about "the scorpion and the frog" when there's a scorpion on his jacket. It's really on-the-nose and groanworthy, just like the closing song that calls the Driver "a real human being, and a real hero." Yes, it's sort of funny, but it's definitely in air quotes, and it has no interest in making the audience feel and marvel at anything. Just a passing giggle.

Elisabeth Donnelly is the senior contributor to This Recording. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about My So-Called Life.

"Pretty in Pink" - The National (mp3)

"Bring On The Dancing Horses" - Echo & the Bunnymen (mp3)

"Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" - The Smiths (mp3)