TV

Hero or Villain? Walter White

Everyone loves a bad boy don’t they, the boys aspire to be them and the girls want to be with them. Now, seemingly everyone wants to watch them. Hit US television series’ such as Breaking Bad, Homeland, The Sopranos and The Walking Dead play on our morals constantly. Every episode finds us asking ourselves the same questions as our ‘favourites’ commit horrible deeds. Can someone commit something bad for the right reasons? Does performing terrible actions make a terrible person? Are they heroes, villains or maybe both?

Storytelling has traditionally played on the premise that a tale needs both a hero and a villain to create conflict and a palpable sense of right and wrong. Films tend to stick to this assertion too yet mediums such as books and television can delve a little deeper into a character and perhaps better explain why they do what they do. With more room for complexity you can include more characters like the proverbial Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. These characters are driven men who leave a path of destruction in their wake yet we still root for them.

Perhaps it is us, the viewers, who are to blame for coming back in our droves. Even when we know our favourites have committed monstrosities we let them back into our living room week after week. All of us are like mothers in that more than anything we want to be able to find something good in even the darkest characters. Television has always been escapism and we want to resist the clutches of our their mundane lives and The Daily Mail, away from the bankers, paedophiles and terrorists to turn to something dark that we can watch safely in their favourite chair. We overlook the bad behaviour because we look for the good and want to believe that everyone has a conscience. Above all, we can have heroes like these because we cannot believe that anyone is genuinely evil.

The lines have become blurred and over time we are going to look at characters who kill to survive yet can still be looked upon as a hero, at least in the eyes of the viewer. We’ll start with the modern day Dr Jekyll, Mr Hyde as portrayed by the irrepressible Bryan Cranston.

#1 Breaking Bad – Walter White/Heisenberg

From the start of Breaking Bad you felt sympathetic for Walter White, how could you not? A laughable excuse of a Chemistry high-school teacher diagnosed with terminal lung cancer who cannot afford his treatment on such a pathetic wage. Then he reached notoriety with his incredibly well-executed meth business and found himself in some dangerous territory. At some point greed manifested itself and he himself manifested into the warlord ‘Heisenberg’, capable of intense intimidation and devious means of killing to extend his empire.

For him the killings were an added expense, the real harm was done in being the best damn meth cook. Obviously the destruction of blowing people up was far more thrilling than watching families destroyed by his product. Breaking Bad never really delved into the ill-effects of his product in Albuquerque and the surrounding boroughs. Sure, we see Jesse enjoy the blue and then suffer the consequences through the loss of his girlfriend, Jane, but that sort of a tragedy could be played out a countless number of times by those on the streets. Walt barely ever saw this played out in the real world and even when he caught a glimpse the money kept on rolling in and he was quite content in his laboratory making another sublimely pure batch. You cannot really blame Vince Gilligan, if you want to see the effects of drug addiction on a local community you can always watch The Wire.

 

Walter White

Walter White

Hero – A former Chemistry teacher who created a popular product to fund his medical bills then toppled down drug cartels using his ingenuity. When he got in a little over his head at the beginning there was a sense of the heroic underdog as this mild-mannered weed of a man confronted the big daddies and took them down. Most notably there was passing off mercury fulminate as meth on unsuspecting drug barons which was a genius move of Bond-esque subtlety. Most poignantly, in the final episode he secured the financial future of his family even if they were with his substantially ill-gotten gains. It’s almost the American dream.

Heisenberg

Heisenberg

Villain – He watched Jane die when he could have at least TRIED to save her. By the start of season three Walt’s cancer was actually in remission yet having gone in so deep he carried on cooking. Perhaps it was the greed or maybe he had simply found something he was good at and wanted to continue ignorant to how many lives he would ruin with the product. As for actual killings he shot Mike in a fit of rage and then there was Gus. However, his carefully orchestrated death could be construed as business in that he gets rid of the competition for the sake of the empire. There were also the orders to kill Gus’ organisation and Gale but when you could wield such power you can make someone else do your dirty work.

Quote – As Walt: “When you have children, you will always have family. They will always be your priority, your responsibility. And a man…a man provides. And he does it even when he is not appreciated – or respected…or even loved. He simply bears up and he does it…because he’s a man.”
As Heisenberg: “No, you clearly don’t know who you are talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger Skyler, I AM THE DANGER. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No, I AM THE ONE WHO KNOCKS!”

Verdict – Villain
For not getting out when ahead and supplying the product that destroyed countless lives you really cannot excuse Walt. Apparently 190 men, women and children died directly or indirectly as a result of his business, that’s a lot of people. Submerged by greed and a lustful taste for domination he became ‘Heisenberg’ and eliminated the competition by brutally foul but highly entertaining means. In short, he was badass, even with that silly facial hair.

Standard
Football

The Tom Cleverley Petition benefits precisely no-one

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, not matter how ridiculous it seems. In this day and age there will always be a platform for people to jump onto the bandwagon. This week has shown just how far some people will go to have their spiteful views known. No, I’m not talking about International Women’s Day yet that always gives an opportunity for misguided, outdated views to come to the fore.

While Tom Cleverley may be enduring a difficult season he is not the only Manchester United player to have served up some mediocre performances. However, it is World Cup year so of course an England fan has taken matters into his own hands, or fingers. Glenn McConnell from Blackpool has begun an online petition demanding Cleverley be excluded from the World Cup squad. The fact that the petition has garnered 18,423 signatures at the time of writing shows how fervent the feeling is. This should not be too surprising, United players have often been made scapegoats during World Cup year. The likes of the Neville brothers, Wayne Rooney and David Beckham have all suffered. Even Danny Welbeck got booed coming off the bench against Denmark.

Roy Hodgson was not impressed by the petition but showed some much needed confidence in Cleverley. He said: “I’m disappointed that Tom, as a sensitive young man, has got to bear that burden, but I know one thing – he will come through it and when he does come through it and Manchester United start winning again, and he’s starting to get praise for his performances, he’ll be stronger for it.”

Simply starting an online petition like that only showcases how pitiful a minority of England fans can be and it benefits precisely no-one. At 23 years of age many believe that Cleverley should already be at his peak which is naïve at best. Some players, especially midfielders, reach their peak closer to their 30’s. At 23 years of age the pressure on Cleverley is immense and during such a transitional period at his club you can expect his performances to dip. Do England fans take that into account? Doubtful. Do they realise what effect such criticism may have on a young footballer? Again, doubtful.

Football fans are fickle to enough to forget that Cleverley played 32 games last season and was at the heart of most of the team’s best performances including Chelsea (a), Arsenal (h) and Manchester City (a). Back then the team was riding high at the top of the league and with confidence now running low scapegoats are being made. There is a suggestion that Cleverley is a ‘confidence player’, one who plays well when team-mates are making it easy for him. A midfielder can only pass the ball forward confidently if team-mates are making effective forward runs which is a facet of play that has been marked by its absence this season.

Reports now suggest that Cleverley is set to be given a new contract which should be welcomed by United and England fans alike. Promising English midfielders need to be nurtured, not booed, heckled or branded as ‘inept’. For the timebeing Cleverly only needs to concentrate on his own performances and listen to comments made by the only two people that should really matter right now, David Moyes and Roy Hodgson.

Standard
Food

Difficult Decisions – Lent

Ok. Confession time. I’m not a religious person. Despite attending a Roman Catholic school my religious beliefs are neither here nor there. For that reason alone primary school was a little weird and more alienating than it should have been. For all my pals celebrating getting confirmed, getting blessed during mass or even having the honour of becoming an altar boy I stood by and watched. I didn’t really mind, the experience as an outsider let me look in from a position of n0n-commitment and I never really understood the ceremonies.

To that extent the only occasions I have ever been barely considered religious are the holidays. When I was growing up there was never a furore over celebrating Christian holidays, no-one refused to attend the nativity play, no-one clamoured to rename the occasion and everyone made pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. It’s just tradition.

There was often noises about giving up something for Lent yet I’ve never really bought into it. The prospect of resisting chocolate or biscuits or wine never appealed to me. Sure, I could see the point of setting yourself a challenge but giving up treats seemed absurd. Something has changed and this year I have taken the very difficult decision of giving up cake for Lent. That’s right, CAKE.

Anyone that knows me should realise that this is going to be very, very hard. Part of the joy of travelling was sampling the local pastry delicacies and I adore baking. Lord knows how I’m going to make it to the end. During grocery shopping yesterday afternoon my sister decided to pick up my own Kryptonite, a pack of Jaffa Cakes. Even typing those two delicious words out makes me want to run downstairs and gorge down the pack. Still, I must stay strong.

So for anyone having a birthday, wedding or any other celebration that necessitates cake bear in mind that you will be driving me nuts should I have to stand there and resist taking a piece. We all have to take difficult decisions in our lives, this one may be just a challenge too far.

Standard
Fitness

Gym Buddies #1

1. The Balding Show-off

He announces himself with the cataclysmic noise of weights crashing against each other. After 30 seconds he has moved on to another piece of equipment. There is no time to catch breath, nor to take a gulp of water or even wipe his own sweat off the faux-leather covers. Rules mean nothing to him. A comfortable position merely translates to the amount of reps he can complete without boredom setting in. 

He goes his own renegade way, stalking the tight spaces as if a tiger on the prowl. Equipment is chosen on a whim and woe betide anyone that happens to interrupt his show. No-one wants to stare yet he loves the attention. The tight, black lycra costume shouts, ‘I am Adonis. Worship me and feel privileged to bear witness to such a perfect physical specimen’. Only, he’s bald and sweating profusely. 

 

2. The Eastern European Model

She’s a temptress. With her long, bleached blonde locks hanging loose onto her sticky back she craves the attention. Gyms are practice rooms, not for mastering the equipment but perfecting her pout. Every move is calculated, equipment is chosen stealthily and based on prime position. Arse facing walk-ins, full reflection in front, whole torso exposed on either sides.

‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?’ Such a silly question. Every second glance is eying up the competition and catching whoever is eying up her. With her hands locked on the handlebars she is in her comfort zone as her icy, blue eyes dart around. No-one cares and the mirror fails to respond. 

Standard
Film

Oscar Predictions. My personal preferences.

It is awards season and tonight is the big one, The Oscars. Being such an American event I am afraid to admit that I have never actually watched the ceremony the whole way through. I could blame the time difference, the tired showing-off on the red carpet, the kiss-up reporters and the celebrityism but unlike The Superbowl it isn’t on terrestrial TV here.

Now I’m no film buff, I try to catch a flick at the cinema every week and I have a list of films that I need to see  (this weekend I finally watched Singin’ In The Rain and Wolf Creek). I can’t say I’m an expert in cinematography or direction but, like everyone, I have an opinion and these are my predictions based on the films that I have seen. This is not a list which is based on which performances I THINK will win but which performances I HOPE are awarded. Feel free to disagree/agree in the comments section.

NB – I did this two years ago in an office sweepstake and finished in the bottom three but having wildly different opinions than industry types is not necessarily a bad thing is it.

 

BEST PICTURE

“12 Years a Slave”
“American Hustle”
“Captain Phillips”
“Dallas Buyers Club”
“Gravity”
“Her”
“Nebraska”
“Philomena”
“The Wolf of Wall Street”

There are some great films in that list but the one I enjoyed the most was Wall Street. Not just because of the performances, having read the book I had such high expectations for it then it blew me away.

 

BEST DIRECTOR

David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Yesyes, I’m aware what a superb job Cuaron did in such difficult circumstances with basically a green screen to work with. However, McQueen runs such a tight ship and you can see in such long, arduous shots that it takes a genius to squeeze that out of a crew and cast.

 

BEST ACTOR

Christian Bale, “American Hustle”
Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Poor Christian Bale, he remains one of my favourite actors and I thought he was sensational in Hustle. Then they stick him against three top runners and you forget how good a performance it is. Anticipating the chin-strokers at the Academy Ejiofor will probably get this. However, DiCaprio fully deserves an Oscar and it’s a travesty he hasn’t got one, yet. His performance in Wall Street is gargantuan; tragic, laugh out loud funny and ferociously delivered. Knowing the Academy they’ll probably give it to McConaughey, the bastards.

 

BEST ACTRESS

Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”

I’m still surprised that Adams hadn’t caught pneumonia by the end of the shoot so I was pleased she could deliver her lines without chattering teeth. Having said that, Sandra Bullock negotiated 15% of the box office earnings for Gravity so she must have known she’d put in a top notch performance, which she did.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

“American Hustle” – Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
“Blue Jasmine” – Written by Woody Allen
“Her” – Written by Spike Jonze
“Nebraska” – Written by Bob Nelson
“Dallas Buyers Club” – Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack

Having only seen only 2/5 films in this category my prediction isn’t exactly fair on the three I haven’t seen. Never mind. Give it to Hustle for sheer audacity.

 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

“Before Midnight” – Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
“Captain Phillips” – Screenplay by Billy Ray
“Philomena” – Screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
“12 Years a Slave” – Screenplay by John Ridley
“The Wolf of Wall Street” – Screenplay by Terence Winter

Having read the book I thought Wall Street looked largely how I imagined it, arguably even more ridiculous. I was saddened that Scorcese didn’t stick the boot into bankers and capitalism yet that’s not being awarded here is it.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”
Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”

I’m not entirely sure why Jennifer Lawrence is nominated here for what is pretty much an overshadowed but amusing performance. Nyong’o delivered a painful delivery but for anyone who has seen Nebraska they will be praying that June Squibb gets the nod. Given the best lines in the entire film she had me in stitches with her vicious, occasionally deadpan delivery. Plus, seeing her deal with her ridiculous husband in the film I’d love to see her in a state of shock accepting the award.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”
Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

By now I really should have seen Captain Phillips and Dallas Buyers Club but alas, that’s the situation I find myself in. Until now I never really rated Jonah Hill as an actor but alongside Di Caprio he stands up and delivers in a funny, energetic performance.

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

“The Grandmaster”
“Gravity”
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
“Nebraska”
“Prisoners”

Either the warm glow of Inside Llewyn Davis or the bleakness of Nebraska would be a deserved winner. Then Gravity turned up and ruined it for everyone. No brainer for me.

 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Michael Wilkinson, “American Hustle”
William Chang Suk Ping, “The Grandmaster”
Catherine Martin, “The Great Gatsby”
Michael O’Connor, “The Invisible Woman”
Patricia Norris, “12 Years a Slave”

While Hustle stayed true to it’s 70s sensibilities I spent more time wondering how cold Amy Adams was than actually paying attention to the film. Poor girl. While it was such a disappointing, overblown, over-hashed film I thought the costumes were slick enough in Gatsby to give the nod.

 

BEST FILM EDITING

“American Hustle” Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
“Captain Phillips” Christopher Rouse
“Dallas Buyers Club” John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger
“12 Years a Slave” Joe Walker

I’ll be honest, I’m not quite sure how you award this so I’ll put it bluntly. In a scale of 1-10, 10 being ‘arse numbing, losing the will to live after an hour’ and 1 being ‘tight’, I thought 12 Years kept me engaged.

 

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

“The Broken Circle Breakdown” Belgium
“The Great Beauty” Italy
“The Hunt” Denmark
“The Missing Picture” Cambodia
“Omar” Palestine

Omar, duh. I want to hear my name read out.

 

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

“Dallas Buyers Club” Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews
“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” Stephen Prouty
“The Lone Ranger” Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny

Hang on. Where’s Gatsby and Hustle? Is this a joke?

 
BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“Alone Yet Not Alone” from “Alone Yet Not Alone”
Music by Bruce Broughton; Lyric by Dennis Spiegel

“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2”
Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams

“Let It Go” from “Frozen”
Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

“The Moon Song” from “Her”
Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze

“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen; Lyric by Paul Hewson

If The Moon Song wins does Karen O get to pick it up? If so, GIVE HER THE DAMN AWARD. Wouldn’t mind seeing Pharrell Williams’ silly hat though.

 
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
“American Hustle”
Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler

“Gravity”
Production Design: Andy Nicholson; Set Decoration: Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard

“The Great Gatsby”
Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn

“Her”
Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena

“12 Years a Slave”
Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker

Gatsby. Partly because I accidentally walked onto the set in Sydney overlooking Darling Harbour. Looked very well designed to me.

 

BEST SOUND EDITING

“All Is Lost” Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
“Captain Phillips” Oliver Tarney
“Gravity” Glenn Freemantle
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Brent Burge
“Lone Survivor” Wylie Stateman

Best sound editing? Right. Well. You shouldn’t really get to hear much in space should you so I’ll give it The Hobbit.

 

BEST SOUND MIXING

“Captain Phillips” Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro
“Gravity” Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson
“Inside Llewyn Davis” Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
“Lone Survivor” Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow

Best. Sound. Mixing. That’s a category is it? Guess they do this one early because everyone has found their seat huh. Soddit, let’s give The Hobbit another one. (I really don’t know how you can tell the difference)

 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

“Gravity” Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds
“Iron Man 3” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick
“The Lone Ranger” Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier
“Star Trek Into Darkness” Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton

Ahahahahaha. Seriously. Why are the others even bothering turning up? The Hobbit had dwarves and a dragon, Iron Man 3 had a few CGI bots, Lone Ranger had… a horse on a platform? Star Trek looked good. Then again, Gravity WAS ENTIRELY IN SPACE. C’mon now.

Standard
Football

No United this weekend, no worries

In these troubling times a weekend without United in action is actually a relief. For instance, Match of The Day can be watched painlessly even if you do have to suffer through the dulcet tones of Messrs Shearer and Hansen. On Monday morning you can stride past those ‘football fans’ in the office who have failed to betray any knowledge of the Premier League until this season. It’s all a bit.. peaceful.

We are a spoilt bunch yet there are subtle differences between previously ‘difficult’ seasons. The game against Olympiakos proved a new nadir for David Moyes. You could not claim that this defeat was unlucky yet it was symptomatic of United’s struggling season so far. Since Sir Alex Ferguson left in May the fear factor has gone with him to be replaced by an inferiority complex and you wonder how damaging this season will be.

There was always the fear that by employing David Moyes there would be a change of mentality and playing style. The game in Athens proved how far the emphasis has shifted from attack to safety first and how difficult the players are finding it. With an away goal crucial in the first leg it was inexcusable to not record a single shot on target. Only in the last ten minutes did United actually threaten which was far too little, far too late.

The tie against the Greek league leaders was seen as one of the easy picks yet United made them look far more threatening than they actually were. Passes went astray, there was a limited discernible threat and no ‘zip’. When Andy Townsend seems to realise what is going wrong on the pitch then you know you’re in trouble. Above all, the Greek side simply looked like they wanted it more.

Right now David Moyes looks alarmingly weak and Robin van Persie’s post-match criticism will have gone down like a wet fart in church. In such situations it is difficult not to compare the two tenures and realise that such an outburst would not have been tolerated. Whether Moyes can adopt the same hard line as his predecessor is yet to be seen, certainly after Rooney’s bumper deal.

The muchly-anticipated summer overhaul already looks essential. Not simply for bringing new players in but for putting a fire under so many under-performing squad members. The club have been here before yet the main difference is that so many first-teamers have seem to have regressed. Tom Cleverley still manages to retain his England place as if his mediocre performances have simply gone unnoticed. Antonio Valencia cannot even get into the position to deliver another poor cross and the least said about Ashley Young the better. Though vastly experienced, the partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic looks increasingly outdated and slow with each passing week.

Whether the change in playing style is far too radical for them to comprehend the team’s psychological well-being seems to have suffered dramatically. The vicious circle of defeats followed by hard questioning has taken it’s toll to the extent where players simply do not seem to be expressing themselves. There is a tangible anxiety to play as if each of them are expecting the worst already. In turn players become cautionary and vulnerable, gifting hope to the opposition. Against apparently inferior sides there is a tendency to contain instead of charge. Ask yourself, when was the last time United went for the throat from kick-off?

Should United triumph against Olympiakos then all may still be forgiven from the pathetic midweek display. Hindsight is a bitch and perhaps the worries will be allayed between now and May. Maybe another great European night could be in store yet right now just some fight would be nice, a few chances would be lovely. In the next few weeks it would be nice to be able to watch a football highlights show without avoiding the shirts. That’s not too much to ask is it?

Standard