Over six Sundays, we’re looking back at the five seasons (and one movie) of one of the last decade’s elite TV series: AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” First up is Season 1 (2008):
My pal Michael likes to say that there’s nothing worse than a bad comedy, and “The Green Hornet” (2011) is a prime example. Flat and difficult to watch, Seth Rogen’s bid at being a superhero – yes, that’s how ubiquitous this genre was last decade – is the longest 119-minute movie you’ll ever watch. It has a basic technical competence under the direction of Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) and the actors are dialed in, but nothing about the experience of watching this film is enjoyable.
John Carpenter has built up enough of an oeuvre that everyone has their own pick for his elite work, but for me it’s “The Thing” (1982) in a landslide. I appreciate “Halloween’s” status as a slasher trope codifier, and “Escape from New York’s” guerrilla grit, but “The Thing” is the director’s most fully formed masterpiece. It’s mentioned a lot for its elite practical creature effects and its portrayal of paranoia within a small group, and it has made must-watch lists during the coronavirus pandemic thanks to its story of a mysterious infection. But what most defines the film for me are its sense of place and sense of dread.
Iappreciate “Escape from New York” (1981) more as an influential piece of history in the action genre than as a film that stands the test of time. It has two undeniably iconic aspects. First: the gritty, dark cinematography by the legendary Dean Cundey, which turns 1981 St. Louis into the dystopian future of 1997 Manhattan. And second: the eye-patch-wearing, gruff-voiced, take-no-crap Snake Plissken. Kurt Russell does a lot more with this role, to darkly comedic effect, than what’s on the page from John Carpenter (who also directs) and Nick Castle – although they do give him some great one-liners to work with.
National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983) both makes fun of and lauds the archetypal dad who wants to show his family a fun time but runs into a building stream of annoyances and gradually loses his mind. Writer John Hughes shows love and sympathy for this type of person, and has the perfect actor to embody Clark Griswold in Chevy Chase.
Back when a “Blade Runner” movie sequel seemed unlikely, Bantam (the publisher of “Star Wars” spinoff fiction at the time) and author K.W. Jeter delivered three follow-up novels from 1995-2000. The first, “Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human” (1995), returns us to the world of the film nine months later, and the author paints a picture with words as beautifully as Syd Mead and his team created the movie’s dystopian Los Angeles.
Dredd” (2012) — the second go at bringing comicdom’s single-minded future cop to the big screen — is tight, simple and brisk. It’s objectively better than Sylvester Stallone’s “Judge Dredd” (1995), particularly in regard to the main character’s portrayal – by Karl Urban this time – but it’s actually a shallower text than the first version. Concerned with action and atmosphere more than police-state critiques, “Dredd” wins the battle of the “Judge Dredd” adaptations entirely with coolness points.
In 1998, I thought “Disturbing Behavior” was an elite portrayal of high school as a conformity factory, as that concept was a new discovery for me at the time. While the theme is now old hat, the movie still makes me smile as it meets at the intersection of blunt metaphor and derivative sci-fi warning but comes off as a dark comedy. It features a dizzying variety of performances in a tight 84 minutes, cut down by the studio into almost a trailer of itself. It’s a crystallization of 1998 (flannel), yet it exists in a parallel reality (“razor”). It’s not objectively great – and I can see why some people hate it — but it’s so fun to watch.
Battle Royale” is the 2000 Japanese film that predated “The Hunger Games’ ” saga of kids fighting each other to the death per government mandate, but it’s a lot more than that. It might be the ultimate BYOM movie, as in “bring your own metaphors.” At times it plays like screenwriter Kenta Fukasaku (son of director Kinji) – adapting the 1999 novel by Koushun Takami – is a teenager putting his disillusionments into an absurdly violent action movie.
Philip K. Dick’s “Deus Irae” – co-penned with Roger Zelazny (1937-95) — was published in 1976, the decade when he released most of his religious-themed novels. But he started writing it in 1964, making it one of his earliest full-on explorations of the topic. Also in 1964, Dick wrote “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” (published in ’65). Both books feature an evil deity, but whereas the dark god hangs over “Stigmata’s” events like a cloud, it’s the whole point of “Deus Irae.”