Saturday, December 29, 2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

After the misfires that were the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films, and two out of three varyingly disappointing Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films, what a treat it has been to see two films within a year and a half that perfectly capture much of what’s great about Spider-Man. These two films are of course Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and this year’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (with special mention going to the 2004 Spider-Man 2, which is a superb overall film, if an inferior representation of the character).

Friday, October 12, 2018

Better Call Saul Season 4, Episode 10, “Winner”

The season four finale of Better Call Saul, “Winner,” is aptly named, as it offers up a great finale to another ultimately strong season of television. This season has had lagging moments, but when firing on all cylinders like it is here, even previously lackluster or mixed bag plots like the construction of the super lab come to life in new and exciting ways.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Better Call Saul Season 4, Episode 9, “Wiedersehen”

One of the questions Better Call Saul has raised, and that “Wiedersehen” addresses explicitly, is the actual effectiveness of Jimmy’s powers of persuasion. Just how charming is Jimmy supposed to be? On the one hand, his folksy shtick goes over really well with the elder care clientele he courted in seasons two and three, and many of the cons he’s run over the course of the series have been successful. Moreover, we’ve also seen him be an effective salesman, most recently in his burner phone business. Yet on Breaking Bad, Saul’s attempts to charm people always came off as smarmy and half-assed, and were often much less successful. Take, for instance, his transparent attempt to flatter Skyler upon first meeting her, and then his patronizingly explaining money laundering to her. Here and elsewhere (there are many examples), Saul fails to read his audience, which begs the question: How can we reconcile Jimmy’s charm on Better Call Saul with Saul’s smarm on Breaking Bad?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Better Call Saul Season 4, Episode 8, “Coushatta”

“Let’s do it again.” With this line, Kim completely upended my expectations about where her story is headed, and where some of the tragedy of Better Call Saul rests. Throughout this season, I was certain that Kim and Jimmy were headed toward a break up, that Jimmy’s slow transformation into Saul, and his willingness to bend the rules and play dirty would be too much for Kim, and that the eventual emergence of Saul Goodman would become all the more tragic because it would come at the cost of Kim’s love. I could not have been more wrong.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Better Call Saul Season 4, Episode 7, “Something Stupid”

Season four of Better Call Saul has found its stride. “Something Stupid” marks the third strong episode in a row, this time by showing substantial developments in the deterioration of Jimmy and Kim’s relationship. It’s aided in no small part by an outstanding split screen montage sequence at the start of the episode (perhaps the best of many on this series), which not only shows us various ways in which Jimmy and Kim’s evolving careers push them apart, but also advances the story clock, moving past the uneventful passages of Jimmy’s suspension and landing us a month before he can resume his law practice (various date indicators suggest that the montage covers roughly seven to eight months, ending in January of 2004).

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Better Call Saul Season 4, Episode 6, “Piñata”

For the second week in a row, Better Call Saul delivers another strong episode by paralleling Jimmy’s past with his future, this time showing how Kim is central both to Jimmy’s decision to become a lawyer, as well as his decision to commit further to his criminal tendencies in the process of becoming Saul.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Better Call Saul Season 4, Episode 5, “Quite a Ride”

In my write-up of the previous episode, I expressed impatience with the repetitious nature of Jimmy’s plot this season, and the slow pace of his transformation into Saul. “Quite a Ride” corrects for this slow pace and then some, thrusting Jimmy ever closer toward becoming Saul, and offering my favorite episode of the season thus far. It helps, of course, that we actually – shockingly – see Saul for the first time on Better Call Saul (outside of Gene watching his old TV commercials). The episode opens with a flash forward to a scene set near the end of Breaking Bad, with Francesca shredding documents and Saul scrambling to pack his things and arrange a meeting with Robert Forster’s fixer character.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Sharp Objects, Back Half of Season 1

I wrote a piece on the back half of Sharp Objects for Cultured Vultures, focusing on character psychology. Check it out here:

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Better Call Saul Season 4 Episode 4, “Talk”

Even more than in previous seasons, season four of Better Call Saul has really seemed like three or four separate shows that just happen to air within the same hour. Jimmy, Nacho/Gus, Mike, and to some extent Kim have all been off in their own worlds, dealing with largely unrelated conflicts and problems. Your mileage may vary on which of these storylines you find more compelling in a given week. Arguably, plots related to Kim and Nacho could be considered more interesting, as the fates of these two aren’t nearly as predetermined as Jimmy, Mike, and Gus’s. Regardless, while the writers and actors are capable of making each of these stories compelling in their own right, Better Call Saul is most enthralling when these different characters and plots intersect with one another, as they finally do once again near the end of this episode.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Better Call Saul Season 4, Episode 3, “Something Beautiful”

Like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is not the kind of show that leaves logistical problems unaddressed. A problem the end of “Breathe” poses: how to dispose of Arturo’s body in a way that won’t arouse the Salamancas’ suspicion of Gus. The answer is to make Arturo appear to have been the victim of an ambush by a rival cartel. On Breaking Bad, when Walt and Jesse would come up with a plan like this, most of the time we would watch the whole process, from the posing of the problem, to the brainstorming of a solution, to the execution of the plan. Here, however, we skip all but the execution phase, leading us to wonder what Tyrus and Victor are doing, at least until they pop the trunk to reveal Arturo’s corpse.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Better Call Saul Season 4, Episode 2, “Breathe”

After a saggy episode to kick off the season, “Breathe” finds Better Call Saul returning to form with a tight episode that offers some interesting points of comparison with Breaking Bad, along with another standout Kim scene thrown in for good measure.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Better Call Saul Season 4, Episode 1, “Smoke”

Like every season of Better Call Saul, season four begins with a flash-forward to Jimmy/Saul's life as Gene in the post-Breaking Bad years. This season's flash-forward picks up exactly where season three's flash-forward left off, with Gene being attended to by paramedics after he collapsed in the Cinnabon. His collapse was a product of an encounter he had with a thief trying to hide from some mall cops. As we saw in season three, Gene reluctantly led the cops to the thief, but witnessing the thief’s arrest caused a bit of Saul to resurface from underneath Gene’s stoic exterior when he urged the thief to get a lawyer (much to the cops’ irritation). Upon returning to the Cinnabon, Gene collapses when he realizes how stupid it was to blurt out his advice to the thief and potentially draw the police’s attention.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Sharp Objects, First Half of Season 1

I've published my thoughts on the first half of HBO's compelling Sharp Objects over at Cultured Vultures. Check it out here:
Sharp Objects Season 1: Where We Stand Halfway In