Essential TV: Better Call Saul

MV5BNjk5MjYwNjg4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzAzMzc5NzE@._V1_Better Call Saul is a spinoff from the acclaimed and wildly popular AMC television show Breaking Bad. Better Call Saul is the backstory of James “Slippin’ Jimmy” McGill who was introduced in the second season of Breaking Bad as money-laundering-lawyer Saul Goodman (played by Bob Odenkirk.)

As the series starts, Saul has made good on his promise to relocate from New Mexico to Nebraska and become a manager of a Cinnabon. He is shown constantly looking over his shoulder to see if the long arm of the law is coming for him. These scenes are set are in the present and shot in black and white to contrast with the the flashback to Saul’s beginnings in Albuquerque. The black and white scenes occur after the events detailed in Breaking Bad.

In the past (now in color) and six years before the events in Breaking Bad, Saul’s origin story starts with him as James McGill, esq., a newly minted lawyer struggling to make ends meet. He works out of a cramped office/washroom in the back of a nail salon. He takes low-paying public defender jobs, defending low-lifes and other bottom-feeder criminal types. As it turns out, he is very good at his job, but it doesn’t yet make him an appreciable amount of money.

Using a flashback within a flashback trope, the series slowly reveals Saul’s beginnings as Slippin’ Jimmy, a low-level con artist and grifter in Chicago. The show effectively details Jimmy’s metamorphoses into Saul Goodman

Characters from Breaking Bad make appearances in Better Call Saul; McGill comes across Tuco (played by Raymond Cruz), the crazed, drugged out meth dealer through a scam gone wrong. Predictably, things go very bad for those who cross Tuco. Saul/McGill shows his prowess as a lawyer in talking Tuco out of executing two hapless accomplices in the scam.

The real standout is the development of McGill’s relationship with Mike “Badass Grandpa” Ehrmantraut (played by Jonathan Banks). At first they can’t stand each other, but after reluctantly working with each other, they slowly develop a grudging respect. Mike’s backstory as a dirty cop is fleshed out as well.

Worth a look if you liked the Saul Goodman character from Breaking Bad.

Skip it if you don’t like ethically-challenged lawyer shows.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

Better Call Saul

  • Steve

 

 

 

Post-Summer Reading reviews

Summer Reading Programs in the library world are like Christmas for normal people. The excitement of all the planning, making the theme your library’s own, ordering the prizes, prepping the weekly trivia questions–fun, all fun. Running it is also a blast for us at the desk; summer is here and people have time to come to the library because they want to and not just because they have to print something out last minute, they playfully spar about who will answer the question correctly first at the desk quiz and spend some good time deciding what kind of chocolate will be their weekly reward.

But best of all we get to spend more time with our patrons chatting about what they’re reading and what they think we should be reading. An option in our SRP was for readers to write a mini-review to be posted in the library. We have found that people like to know what the librarian recommends they read, but they really like to know what their neighbors have been reading and recommending.

Below is just a sampling of some of the reviews our talented readers wrote. We asked the reviews to be anonymous, so thank you to our unnamed commentators!

The Girls She Left Behind by Sarah Gravesgirls
An engaging and readable story centering on finding a missing girl–and unraveling all of the family drama that is her unknown baggage. The protagonist is Lizzie Snow, an ex-Boston homicide detective who has baggage of her own. As a Maine sheriff’s deputy, she is drawn into a complex situation compounded by unknown relationships among the less-than-forthright characters.

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline

An engaging book with an impr3obable story line. The plot is based on a woman who believes her artificial insemination donor is a serial killer. In the beginning it is hard not to empathize with her. Even when the plot starts degenerating into implausibility, there is a need to complete the book to discover the resolution. I’d rate the book 5 stars for readability and 3 stars for plot.

 

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondomagic

Ms. Kondo shares her philosophy on how to de-clutter and tidy your house once and for all. She has a big ego and claims her method never fails. She has some good suggestions, but some of her ideas seem a little crazy. Overall, she has inspired me to take control and make changes that I hope will last.

To place any of the books reviewed on hold, simply click on the title.

-Sarah

10 Cloverfield Lane

MV5BMjEzMjczOTIxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTUwMjI3NzE@._V1_SX675_CR0,0,675,999_AL_10 Cloverfield Lane starts with a great setup: a woman , Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) abruptly leaves her boyfriend. As she is driving away she gets into a traffic accident. She wakes up in a windowless room with an IV drip in her arm and is handcuffed to the wall. Her captor, Howard (played by John Goodman) informs her that she is in an underground bunker and that he saved her from certain death as the above world is now poisoned due to an unspecified apocalyptic attack. Also in he bunker is a young man, Emmett (played by John Gallagher, Jr. ) At first it seems as though Howard has both of his captives’ best interests in mind, but it quickly be comes apparent that his actions indicate otherwise. This tension between what Howard says and what he does drives the story and creates a palpable sense of foreboding.

The strength of the film is that the film makers never really let the audience know what is actually happening until the very end. Howard is clearly unhinged, but is he wrong about his conspiracy theories? Some of what he says seems to be somewhat consistent with the truth but his penchant for severe overreactions makes him truly frightening; he carries a holstered revolver on his hip, despite the fact that neither Michelle nor Emmett are a physical threat to him. His erratic behavior makes him unreliable, but doesn’t necessarily make him wrong. John Goodman is a standout in his role in this film, turning in a chilling but nuanced performance.

Winstead portrays Michelle as a survivor: smart and resourceful. It’s nice to see a female character portrayed in this way rather as some shrinking violet who needs a man to save her. Michelle soon realizes that staying with Howard might be much more dangerous than anything she might face outside the bunker. She formulates a plan to escape which results in unintended, deadly consequences.

It isn’t until the last 10 or 15 minutes that the film makers let the audience in on what is really happening. At this point there is a huge relief of tension but overall there is no real resolution.

This film does not fit neatly into any one category. It is part psychological thriller, part monster movie, part horror film, and part kidnap movie. All these elements are combined to good effect, making it one of the better films which has come out this year.

Worth a look if you like taut, genre-defying psychological thrillers.

Skip it if disaster films set in bunkers make you claustrophobic.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

10 Cloverfield Lane

  • Steve

Cerebral Movies: Anomalisa

anomalisaAnomalisa is an odd film. Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich) Anomalisa is an animated film, but it is not for children. And despite being animated, it seems more real than some films with live actors in them.

Michael Stone (voiced by British actor David Thewlis) is in the midst of a mid-life crisis, but doesn’t realize it. He is the quasi-famous author of a book on how to increase sales through excellent customer service. He is married with a child, but clearly unhappy.

He is to be the keynote speaker at a customer service convention. On his way to the hotel from the airport, a cab driver tries to engage Michael in conversation, but the banality of it irritates Michael.

Michael checks into the Fregoli Hotel,  which is an allusion to the Fregoli delusion, a rare disorder in which a person believes that everyone else is the same person who is either in disguise or changes appearance. Even worse the delusional person feels persecuted by the person in disguise. This theme is developed by most everyone having the same voice (and the same face). In fact, there are only three voices in the movie: Michael, Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and everybody else (voiced by Tom Noonan).

Michael can’t stand the boredom and subsequently calls an old flame from a relationship which ended badly. They meet at the hotel bar; it is an awkward encounter with a predictably bad outcome.

On his way back to his room he hears something remarkable: a female voice that sounds different from the rest. He follows the voice to another room on his floor where he meets Lisa and her friend, who happen to be staying at the hotel for the conference. They say they are huge fans of his and looking forward to hearing him speak. Lisa tries to impress on Michael that her friend is the more attractive of the two, and men usually go for her. But Michael is enchanted by Lisa’s voice and subsequently only has eyes for her. They begin a relationship which begins to quickly disintegrate right after it starts.

As with many films of this type, interpretation is left up to the viewer. The director provides clues, but does not coddle or spoon-feed the audience. Those looking for simple answers to themes posed in the film will be disappointed; a second or third viewing might be in order to get the gist of what the film is really trying to say.

Anomalisa is not a feel-good film. The themes of isolation, loneliness, infidelity, and banality of life make this film hard to watch. Michael’s depressing world-view is pervasive throughout the film, and he never really changes. He’s trapped in an isolated, lonely hell of his own making with no hope of ever escaping it.

Where the film shines is the realistic stop-motion animation. The puppets were made with a 3D printer which makes them look more realistic than if just modeled in clay. The realistic animation, graphic sex scene and pessimistic outlook make for a jarring, unsettling film viewing experience. The film is not for everyone.

Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language.

Worth a look for the stunning, realistic stop-motion puppet animation.

Skip it if you don’t like depressing films.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

Anomalisa

  • Steve

 

Green Room

MV5BMjU1ODQ5NzA0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDg5MTA5NzE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_Green Room is a bleak, ultra-violent and unrelentingly dark film: it is the stuff of nightmares. Those sensitive to horrific, realistic violence should not watch this.

At the start of the film, a series of mishaps leads a punk rock band to accept a gig at a secluded white supremacist bar, where one of the band members witnesses the aftermath of a murder. The band members are locked in a room with a hulking, armed neo-Nazi guarding them. The band turns the tables on the guard and a deadly, brutal cat-and-mouse game ensues with lethal results.

The violence is brutal, pervasive and meant to be visceral and disturbing. In particular, the neo-Nazis turn  a vicious pit bull on one of the members of the band; the camera does not shy away from showing the dogs ripping the band member to shreds.

Much like Jeremy Saulnier’s previous effort, Blue Ruin, Green Room deals with the real-world violence and and the effect that it has on people who are in way over their heads. Green Room ups the ante with an onslaught of brutality that is hard to watch at times. The strength of the film is that real-world violence is not sanitized nor glorified; the violence is shown to be truly what it is: ugly, vicious and permanently life-altering.

The film stars Anton Yelchin (in one of his final roles), Alia Shawkat, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart. Stewart is particularly compelling as the leader of the white supremacists. He gives an understated, but chilling performance as a man who casually orders the vicious deaths of those who might expose his criminal enterprise.

Worth a look for the compelling story and the strength of the lead actors.

Skip it if unsettling violence bothers you.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

Green Room

-Steve

 

 

 

 

Quirky Movies: Mr. Right

mr rightMr. Right is a quirky movie, sometimes self-consciously so, but the strength of the two leads, Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick make for an eminently enjoyable viewing experience. The writing is crisp and witty and at just over an hour and a half run time, the action never lets up. Kudos to the writer, who remained on point and didn’t waste any time on unnecessary sub plots.

Sam Rockwell (in fine form as always) plays Mr. Right/Francis, a hit man who is on the run from his employers. It seems he has developed a conscience and no longer wants to kill people for a living, except those who have hired him. He becomes sort of a “reverse hit man.”

Anna Kendrick plays Martha, a woman who has just recently gone through a painful breakup. Martha is flighty, even exhibiting Manic Pixie Dream Girl(TM) tendencies. Martha meets Francis and they hit it off; she seems to think that he is the “perfect” guy. Of course his fatal flaw is that he is a hit man (albeit a remorseful one) but once she finds out his secret, she decides that what they have is real and wants to make it work. When Francis jokes about killing people it isn’t clear whether Martha just doesn’t believe him or just doesn’t care.  Of course, Francis’ past catches up with him in the form of Tim Roth, a former partner and current hit man with unclear allegiances. Roth turns in a fine performance.

One criticism is that there is  17-year age gap between Martha and Francis. However, the chemistry between the two actors is so palpable it never feels creepy or inappropriate. The cutesy dialog would have been unbearable had it been delivered by lesser actors but astonishingly, Rockwell and Kendrick make it work.

Although it is a fairly violent movie, most of the violence is played for laughs. Rockwell’s patented dance moves are incorporated into the movie as a bizarre unarmed hand-to-hand combat style.  Because Francis is a hit man, there is a fair amount of shooting and killing.

Worth a look if you like offbeat, quirky rom-coms about offbeat, quirky characters.

Skip it if quirky Manic Pixie Dream Girls(TM) are not your thing.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

Mr. Right

  • Steve

 

 

 

Broadcast News

MV5BMTkxODk0NzExOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjQyODQyNA@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_Broadcast News is the story of a love triangle between a dim-witted but good looking news anchor, Tom Grunick (played by William Hurt), a cynical, smart but average looking reporter, Aaron Altman (played by Albert Brooks) and a flighty, neurotic news producer Jane Craig (played by Holly Hunter).

Tom isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but he has the looks and ability to remain cool and calm on the air, so he is on the fast track to becoming the next big news anchor.

Aaron is smart (even intellectually arrogant) and an accomplished writer, but is average looking and worse, he can’t remain composed on the air. He is also in love with Jane, but lacks the confidence to tell her.

Jane is a neurotic mess;  a driven workaholic which makes her an effective news producer. She falls for Tom because of his looks and charming personality but unfortunately he represents everything she despises about network broadcast news: Tom is mostly style over substance and is none-too-bright.

Although Broadcast News was released in 1987, its central theme of trend of style over substance in the evening news is still timely. Sharp dialog and smart writing make this a wickedly funny movie:

Tom Grunick: What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?

Aaron Altman: Keep it to yourself.

In another wickedly funny scene, Aaron is given a chance to read the nightly news, but fails miserably: he sweats so bad that his viewers call in expressing concern that he might be having a heart attack.

Underlying the comedy is a serious subject: dumbing down the news to the point where flash and style win out over substance, which is done by the gradual but constant eroding of standards bit by bit. This film was a harbinger of what televised news would become.

Worth a look if you like smart, intelligent comedic movies with a timely, serious subject.

Skip it if you are expecting a screwball comedy.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

-Steve