By Chauncey Telese
FINALLY THE CHAUNC HAAAAAAAAASSSSSS COMEBAAAAAAAAACK TO K-H-T-SSSSS! Hello everyone, how are you? I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long but August has been a busy and frustrating month for me. It started off great with my vacation to Kona where I swam with manta rays, snorkeled at fifteen beaches, visited a volcano, and a ton of other stuff.
When I got back back to Cali Cali (I actually played that song on my iPod when the plane took off, because I’m that lame), I came down with some sort of stomach virus that sidelined me for over a week. Then school registration began (I have 36 weeks of actual schooling left then I’m a college graduate!) and I had to organize a fantasy draft (my team this year is called Hooray for Zoidberg) which was more complicated then it had to be.
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So after all that and other drama I finally have time bring you the best and worst of pop culture and the world. So, today we have two movies, and the further adventures of Sookie Stackhouse and Walter White. Before we do though allow me to run through what I missed in the last month (and there was a lot).
Washington solved the debt ceiling crisis with the grace and maturity of a group of kindergartners fighting over dividing up Halloween candy. Texas Governor and Josh Brolin look-alike Rick Perry is the new front runner for the GOP nomination; there was anarchy in the UK; Louis CK is continuing to elevate the standards of television comedy by making Dane Cook cool again, having an entire episode involving Doug Stanhope wanting to kill himself, proving that whether you are an Afghani villager or an American solider, a fat guy chasing down a duckling is funny.
Larry David is causing all sorts of chaos in New York and finally shared the screen with Ricky Gervais; the NFL is back in full swing (my preview column will be up next week), the NBA is not; “Cowboys and Aliens” bombed (to be fair it didn’t live up to its potential); Carol Rock’s Giants will not repeat as champions let alone make the playoffs (Carlos Beltran was a bad idea); Jim Thome hit 600 home runs the real way; A-Rod and a slew of celebrities were named in an FBI probe regarding illegal underground poker; The U managed to out sleaze every college program and should probably not have football for a little while, the east coast got hit with a 5.8 earthquake to which the west coast said “aw, how cute” and then Hurricane Irene came and went.
Whew! Did I cover everything? Probably not but I don’t care about the VMAs, “Jersey Shore” or the Kardashian wedding. Alright, now let’s get down to business.
I’ll start in the movie world covering two lesser-known movies that deserve to be seen whether you have to rent it or drive out to the Arclight. Our first is proof that you don’t need a big budget to make a kick ass sci-fi movie and in light of the recent actions in London proves to be somewhat topical (this point made by Grantland contributor Hsa Hsu). By the way, as I’m typing this I’m listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers new album “I’m With You” so I’ll let you know how it is at the end of this piece.
“Attack the Block”: The Most Original Movie of the Summer, if not the Year!
Every once in a while a movie comes a long that offers a fresh take to a particular genre or subject matter. In sci-fi this has been happening with a greater frequency with “District 9,” “Moon” and “Star Trek.” Science Fiction at its best provides strong social commentary in a way that isn’t ham-handed or pandering (i.e. “Avatar”).
This year the movie that best exemplifies this idea is rookie director Joe Cornish’s “Attack the Block” which uses an alien invasion in the London slums to comment on class and racial divides in England while also being bloody, funny, and entertaining.
The story begins with Sam (Jodie Whitaker) a London-area nurse walking home from work and getting mugged by a gang of kids lead by 15-year-old Moses (great rookie performance from John Boyega). Moses is the leader of these “Goonie-”esque kids because he’s the most intimidating and he’s taller then the others. Unlike the kids in “The Goonies” though, they are not instantly charming, they smoke and sell pot, they swear, and they are on a road to becoming a byproduct of their environment.
Moses is on the fast track to working full-time for gang leader Hi-Hatz and the kids regularly frequent the apartment of Ron (Nick Frost) a pot dealer who is addicted to the nature channel. They come upon an alien creature (to be more accurate, one attacks Moses) and after killing it, they try to convince Hi-Hatz that it’s an alien but he doesn’t care. Soon after more of these things fall to the ground (everyone thinks it’s fireworks because it’s New Year’s Eve) and these creatures begin to attack the residents of the block.
The kids take it upon themselves to defend their neighborhood because they don’t trust the police (nor should they) and the block is all they have in the world. Moses believes that the aliens were sent by the government to eliminate the slum element from the country and who could argue? Even though the kids aren’t the most upstanding of citizens, they are treated harshly by cops and have little or no hope in their lives.
What’s fascinating is the journey these kids go on as there are more and more of these aliens trying to eat them. Over the course of the movie these kids go from being punks to legitimate heroes in a way that feels natural and organic especially Moses who proves why he is a leader and not just another scumbag from the streets. They really start this coming of age process when they have to team up with Sam out of necessity and she starts to see these kids as real people instead of hoodlums.
I won’t ruin the plot any further, but I will say that this movie earns its “R” rating. No character is safe, the aliens cause some real violence (and they look really cool), and even the little kids that inhabit the neighborhood cause some damage. Above all though, the movie is full of some great lines and makes the kids feel like actual kids (a feat which was accomplished by “Super 8” as well). I couldn’t rave more about this movie and hope that Joe Cornish isn’t a one hit wonder (he is a co-writer on Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tin Tin” with Edgar Wright, who produced “Attack the Block”). I implore all of you to find this movie and see it because it is light years above the typical summer fare.
Okay, now onto our next movie, which features one of the best acting performances of the year and an interesting look inside a world we mainly see from CNN.
“The Devil’s Double”: Dominic Cooper’s Coming Out Party
I agree with the Bill Simmons idea that the Oscars should evaluate the acting categories on a degree of difficulty scale. This would mean adopting an acting equivalent of baseball’s VORP stat (victory over replacement player) meaning how would someone else do if given the same material. If this were implemented I’m sure a number of acting races would’ve fared differently (I’m looking at you Sandra Bullock) and this stat would bode well for people that take a real risk.
I’m not saying that Dominic Cooper will win best actor for his portrayal of both Latif Yahia and Uday Hussein but he definitely deserves to be nominated. “The Devil’s Double” is billed as the Middle Eastern “Scarface” but in reality it is more like “Blow” or “Man of War.” It is gritty and based on a true story that contains a ton of dark humor and one of those movies that has you saying “cocaine’s a helluva drug”.
The movie begins with Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier who gets chosen to be the body double for his grade school classmate, Uday Hussein, whose father is, of course, Saddam. Latif is greeted by a very eager Uday who promises Latif the world, but Latif declines. As can be expected, saying no to Uday is not exactly a good idea and at the urging of Uday’s aide, Latif agrees so that his family can be safe. Uday pulls up in his Ferrari and is delighted when a beaten up Latif says yes and then Latif is whisked away to begin the plastic surgery.
As Latif travels to the night clubs wearing all of Uday’s jewelry, Armani suits, and driving his cars, he sees what an insane demon he is doubling for and in the midst of this, the US was beginning operation Desert Storm. Latif then meets Uday’s woman of the month, Sarrab, and begins to fall for her, which is the ultimate no no in the eyes of Uday and as you can guess, leads to some major complications. While the movie features some great insight into the Saddam regime pre-9/11 and how strange a place Iraq was during the ’90s, it also shows us that even though Uday was the boy king, even his father thought he was a waste of space. Uday is an evil guy, as I mentioned before, and while he doesn’t have any redeeming qualities, it’s neat to trace how he got to be this way and how Qusay isn’t anything like him.
Dominic Cooper is easily the best thing about the movie as well he should be because it is his movie by far (I know duh right?) and he flourishes. I thought he was great as Howard Stark in “Captain America” earlier this summer and here he shows his range. Latif is a more subdued person and his story involves trying to outlast the hell that he exists in and avoid becoming just like the man he is supposed to impersonate. His work as Latif is good but clearly he has more fun playing Uday which is understandable.
Uday has a ton of charisma and is the life of the party but he also changes emotions on a dime. He is charming and beloved by the people, but in private is an abusive, petty child with major daddy issues and a possible Oedipal complex. Anytime Uday is onscreen and there is someone in the room with him, it is actually quite scary because he is so volatile and so unpredictable.
While the movie is completely full of awful acts of violence it has a great amount of dark humor in it as well and for history nuts. My only complaints are that they don’t show us enough of Qusay, which would’ve been a nice contrast and I didn’t like the romantic elements mainly because I didn’t dig the actress who played Sarrab. Also, the last act wasn’t as compelling as it should’ve been, but those are small complaints. I highly recommend this movie and I definitely hope this leads to some big things for Cooper.
Now we’re moving out of the movie mode and into the TV realm, starting with one of our last trips to Bon Temps until 2012.
“True Blood”: Burning Down the House
There are only two episodes left of “True Blood” for this year and before I break down last night’s effort, let me catch up on what I missed. Antonia decided to crash Bill and Nan’s diversity rally (no vampires present because of the witch threat). Bill and Alcide save Sookie from death and leads to a classic “True Blood” dream where Sookie tells Bill and Eric that she wants them both. Tara is held captive along with the other Wiccans, Jessica and Hoyt broke up (and she hooked up with Jason), the Bellefleurs were freed of their ghost problem by Lafayette and Jesus, Tommy got beaten up by the wolf pack, and that’s about it.
I’ve been a little bored by this season of “True Blood” because there hasn’t been anything really dynamic about it. As season three got towards the end, Russell was an awesome character so it was worth watching, but this season has been a little dull. I like a lot of the things they’ve brought up, but their writers don’t really know what to do and they have a lot of filler stuff that goes nowhere. But we’ll get to that once the season ends in three weeks. Getting to tonight’s episode there wasn’t much to love.
We begin where last week’s left off with the vampires (lead by Eric) that were under Antonia’s control trying to kill Bill. Sookie tries to break it up and at first is unsuccessful but she uses her lightning hands and cures Eric of his amnesia (and I think Pam’s skin deterioration). Antonia witnesses the human casualties that she’s caused and decides her crusade against the vamps isn’t worth it but Marnie convinces her that you have to break a couple of eggs to make an omelet (that’s the way I translated it). Tara and that one waitress from Merlotte’s are trying to free themselves from Antonia’s prison using magic and later it works as Sookie, Jason, Jesus, Lafayette are trying to break through the force field over the coven.
Before I get to that stuff, let’s go to the stuff that was ancillary. Tommy died in the hands of Sam and Alcide (thank God Tommy is gone) and they vow to take out the pack leader who is now hooking up with Alcide’s girl. The Jason-Jessica-Hoyt triangle isn’t going anywhere. And in an actually enjoyable sequence, Terry and Andy worked out their personal problems and Terry is going to sponsor Andy in his recovery treatment.
I like Bill standing up to Nan as he decides he wants to bomb the coven regardless of the consequences to Tara or the other humans because it is the most logical solution, though Sookie objects. Eric is back to his sarcastic self, but it’s interesting that he still loves Sookie the same way he did when he had amnesia and Pam gets upset that Eric didn’t tell her he was back. The main thread with Jesus getting into the coven (and unleashing his demon mode) was cool, but it was predicable that Sookie and Lafayette get trapped in the coven and Jason gets locked out. The end of the episode shows Jessica, Eric, Bill, and Nan with rocket launchers ready to blow the coven to smithereens as a terrible cover of “Burning down the House” plays over the credits.
As the season winds down, I’m not as intrigued as I was at the beginning because they’ve taken forever to get to this point and unlike “Breaking Bad,” which is methodical because they want to be, it seems that “True Blood” takes its time because they don’t have a lot to do so they have to stretch plot points and what not and that isn’t working for me. I hope they give an interesting cliffhanger or two for season five but I’m not exactly positive that’ll happen. Who knows, maybe I’ll be surprised.
Now onto the best show on TV right now and the most regrettable part of me being gone, because the last few weeks on “Breaking Bad” have been amazing and now we reach the midway point.
“Breaking Bad”: Problem Dog
This season has been all about subtle shifts in power and how to survive. Walt in the last few weeks has been emasculated and no longer feels like the power player he’s been has caused him to do some stupid things. He got those Honduran workers deported because he didn’t want to clean the lab by himself, he bought Walt Jr. a Dodge Charger despite promising Skyler he’d live like he was destitute, and he’s been trying to get rid of Gus at the cost of his relationship to Jesse (though he doesn’t notice).
The biggest mistake he’s made was getting drunk and telling Hank that Gale wasn’t Heisenberg and just a copycat and the real man is out there. This mistake really comes back to haunt him this week and proves to be the tipping point of the season. But let’s stay with Walt a little bit because while he wasn’t the focal point of the episode his actions are further causing him to lose his grip on reality and at some point he has to wake up.
At the start of the episode, Skyler is working in the car wash and Marie tries to convince her that they need to do a major grand opening (which is obviously against Skyler’s low key method of operating) and then Walt brings in soda cans containing his week’s salary. Skyler finds out Walt makes over seven million a year from cooking meth and she becomes overwhelmed at having to launder that kind of money. She tells him that the car wash can’t realistically take in that kind of money a year and when Walt argues that this is what she wanted she responds “I didn’t ask for any of this.”
Walt gets the Charger washed before he has to take it back, but Skyler mimes to him that he needs to tip the guy drying his car and he rebels. He does donuts in the parking lot and eventually crashes the car, puts the registration in the gas tank and lights it. He tries to do the whole walking-away-while-it-explodes, but it doesn’t. Instead he calls a cab and as he does, the car blows up. Saul gets Walt off the hook (at the cost of $ 52,000 no less). Walt asks Saul how he’d go about getting Gus killed to which Saul tells him to have Jesse do it.
Jesse is approached by Walt as he is painting the walls of his condo (finally) and Jesse agrees to help Walt, even though Gus told Jesse last week that he sees things in him. Walt prepares the ricin that they were going to use on Tuco in season two (it was great that Walt made it in Gus’s lab, by the way) and Jesse hides it in one of his cigarettes. Mike takes Jesse to Gus’s meeting with the Mexican Cartel that has been attacking his drivers for weeks now and Jesse is presented with two opportunities to kill Gus but he chooses not to.
Mike tells Jesse that Gus sees loyalty in Jesse and that he may have it for the wrong guy (hmmm, foreshadowing?) This leads to Jesse going back to his NA meeting and talking about killing Gale but euphemizing it with a story about killing a dog whose only crime was being alive. This leads to Jesse lashing out for the first time this season and admitting that he was only in NA to sell meth and that they are all fools (great scene by Aaron Paul who is really looking to be the star of this season). The scene was a great bookend to his acting out Gale’s murder while playing a video game and we finally see Jesse confronting this incident head-on.
Jesse wasn’t the only star of the show this week. Hank Schrader is finally back in the saddle. After Walt’s arrogance lead Hank to reawaken his desire to catch Heisenberg, he takes Walt Jr. to Los Pollos Hermanos for lunch and while at first it seems like a simple recon mission, it turns out to be more. Hank is greeted by Gus who does a good job being hospitable towards Hank (he calls him a DEA hero) and even offers to not charge him for any more food and offers Walter Jr. a part time job (that could be interesting).
Hank is his usual self and gets Gus to refill his Diet Coke, in order to collect fingerprints. The end scene where Hank pitches his evidence about Gus being connected to the blue meth and to Gale was simply genius. When it looked like he was going to get shut down by his boss he at first agrees that Gus, who is a pillar of the community, could be a drug kingpin, then shrugs and says “except” in an almost bragging fashion. He pulls out Gus’s fingerprint and points out that it was in Gale’s apartment and the episode ends. It is clear now that the theme of power shifts extends to Gus as well. Not only has Hank successfully pieced together Gus’s story, but also the cartel in Mexico didn’t show up. What they did was send a representative who listened to Gus’s one-time offer of $50 million and was told that “This is not a negotiation” meaning that whatever the conflict is (possibly the services of Walt because Tuco was supposed to take him to Mexico in season two), Gus is now a marked man.
This episode was incredible and like the majority of episodes featured some awesome camera work. Previews for next week showed Hank enlisting Walt’s services in tracking down Gus (uh-oh) and Walt pushing Jesse to take out Gus sooner, and I can only wonder what twists lie ahead. At what point is Walt going to realize that he is destroying his relationship with Jesse which is more important then he realizes. I wonder if Jesse will completely hitch his wagon to Mike and betray Walt and I also wonder if Gus has a guy in the DEA’s office. This season has six weeks to go and I’m sure it will be a roller coaster ride the whole way through.
By the way the Chili Peppers new album is quite good. It is different not hearing John’s guitar, but what are you going to do. I’d give it a B+ and very similar to “Stadium Arcadium” which is a good thing. I recommend you download it ASAP.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned as Friday I meet “Our Idiot Brother” and tell him “Don’t be Afraid of the Dark.” Also, next week in addition to covering “Breaking Bad” and doing an NFL preview piece “Sons of Anarchy” premieres its fourth season so that will be added to the rotation and next week is the final episode of “Rescue Me.”