Lost in the Movies: March 2018

Patreon update #13: Spirited Away (+ announcing The Return rewatch series, two perspectives on Twin Peaks' meaning & more)

Nearly a decade since I first (and last) saw and reviewed Spirited Away, I was able to revisit Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece - or one of them anyway - thanks to a patron's suggestion. The blu-ray was crisp and gorgeous, and I enjoyed digging into some background to the film on the special features as well. This is my Film in Focus this week, but the other big subjects are gathered in the "Twin Peaks Reflections" series where I announce that I'll be revisiting the third season week-to-week on the first anniversary of each episode. I also dive into two different perspectives on The Return, one presented through a Reddit thread reflecting on an LSD-tinged rewatch, the other a popular theory presenting Laura is "bait" to blow up Judy inside a "cage" universe. You can find out which one I really dug and which one I had major objections to.

I also re-visit my video clips series from 2011 (highlighting a "60 Years of Cinema in 40 Seconds" montage I made at the time) and continue to discuss some tweets and threads from earlier in the winter, including film critic Matt Zoller Seitz's "death of cinema" reflections and the decade-recap aesthetics of a car commercial. Plus find out which Twin Peaks veterans made People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" list over the past twenty-eight years! Only the most important topics are covered on this podcast...

Line-up for Episode 13


WEEKLY UPDATE/recent posts: Mad Men viewing diary

WEEKLY UPDATE/Patreon: changing "Film in Focus" reward

WEEKLY UPDATE/works in progress: Clone Wars & Star Trek viewing diaries, character series - which Twin Peaks veterans were on the "50 Most Beautiful People" list?, Matthew Arnold, history of Fire Walk With Me (screenplay w/ Laura & Cooper hooking up), 4 Ways of Watching of Fire Walk With Me

FILM IN FOCUS: Spirited Away

TWIN PEAKS REFLECTIONS: Announcement - upcoming rewatch segment, two perspectives: Rewatch-on-acid Reddit thread & "Judy cage bomb" theory

OTHER TOPICS: decade aesthetics - what does the 00s look like?, Matt Zoller Seitz on death of cinema, "lost generation" of filmmakers, Rashomon & Anatomy of a Murder - treatment of rape, Ben Dixon on Bernie Sanders in 2020, Scott Ryan & Twin Peaks Unwrapped on "keep the mystery alive", Mark Frost's "accidental" mistakes in the books & Twin Peaks music (teaser for my Reflections next week)


OPENING THE ARCHIVE: "Video Dreams" (September - November 2011), this week's highlight (32 Days of Movies Day 19 - "To Become Immortal, and Then, to Die.")

Mad Men - "5G" (season 1, episode 5)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad MenMost days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on July 26, 2007/written by Matthew Weiner; directed by Lesli Linka Glatter): Don Draper is not Don Draper. Perhaps I should say Dick Whitman is not Don Draper. When "Don" wins an industry award and gets his picture in Advertising Age, a strange young man (Jay Paulson) appears at the reception desk of Sterling Cooper. Don is so shaken that when he returns to his meeting, after sending the curious stranger out to lunch, he can barely speak and refers questions to colleagues. When they meet again at a nearby diner, we learn that this young man is Adam Whitman, Don's - or rather Dick's - kid brother. Dick Whitman supposedly died in Korea but Adam, a child at the time, remembers glimpsing his face from the window of their impoverished, abusive home, always wondering if it was a vision. Adam is not doing particularly well; his whole family is lost, he's working as a janitor in the big city, and he seems lonely and vaguely sad (there's also something strangely threatening about his pale, gangly visage and slight smile; it doesn't help that Paulson looks a bit like Mike White's creepy-friend-returned character in Chuck & Buck). Don shows more cracks in his stoic facade than we've seen before, but keeps trying to shake Adam until receiving an invitation to the room where his half-sibling is staying. Now the big brother has a decision to make.

Concurrent with this darker drama, there's a lighter but similarly troubled subplot with the younger members of the agency. Ken has just been published in the Atlantic Monthly (the series continues to have fun with the relatively confined artsy milieu of the period - what does it means for straight-arrow admen to harbor literary ambitions in this context?). This obviously inspires jealousy in Paul, who thought himself Sterling Cooper's resident man of letters, but it surprisingly spurs frustration in Pete too. Leveraging his wife's prior romance with a man in the publishing business, Charlie Fiddich (Andy Hoff), Pete's grand scheme is to crash the short story field with his masterpiece about a talking bear. He only succeeds in humiliating Trudy (Charlie was her first lover and he tries to initiate a new affair) as well as himself (the story will only be published in Boy's Life). And this places an icky strain on the marriage with the tacit understanding of both spouses that on some level Pete was pimping his wife for his own benefit. Meanwhile Don shows up for his illicit rendezvous (throughout the episode, implicit connections are drawn between Don's extramarital activity and this hidden family history, as if the latter is actually the bigger, more dangerous secret). It is heavily implied that Don has brought a gun to kill the troublesome Adam, but instead the gift he bears is a large amount of cash to pay off Adam, sending him away with the explicit warning never to make contact again. This may not be a physical assassination but it is an emotional one...or perhaps suicide is a better analogy. Dick Whitman is dead after all and it turns out our protagonist - whatever name he's called - is Don Draper. Or is he?

My Response:

Mad Men - "New Amsterdam" (season 1, episode 4)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad MenMost days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on August 9, 2007/written by Lisa Albert; directed by Tim Hunter): For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain an apartment and lose his own job? Not that Pete's soul doesn't feel a bit crushed by the situation too. His literal honeymoon ended before the last episode, but now it looks like his "honeymoon" period is fading too. As his wife Trudy (Alison Brie) pressures him into buying an expensive unit in a high-rise, embarrasses him by soliciting her parents' financial support when his parents won't deliver, and annoys him with her chatty, slightly claustrophobic devotion, Pete can barely disguise how perturbed he feels. Gone is the smug twerp from previous episodes, except for a fleeting moment or two of deserved, and sympathetically defiant, pride in an advertising pitch he came up with. Ironically, this is exactly the gesture that will nearly annihilate his position at Sterling Cooper. Both Don and Roger are insistent that sockless big boss Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) fire Pete but the deceptively casual half of the company name demurs. The Campbells, or rather the Dykemans (Pete's mother's family) are among the tiptop social elite of Manhattan, tracing their lineage back to hardy pioneers who farmed alongside the Roosevelts centuries ago. They could close too many doors, so Pete gets to stay (although Roger tries to save face by telling the trembling young man that it was Don who ultimately saved his job). On the home front, despite her hesitance (but fueled by her curiosity), Betty draws closer to Helen's dysfunctional world, meeting Mr. Bishop (Stephen Jordan) when he angrily knocks on his ex-wife's door and then asks Betty to use her phone (she declines). Later she babysits for the offbeat family while Helen volunteers at the Kennedy campaign's headquarters. She scolds the young Bishop boy, Glen (Marten Holden Weiner - the creator's son) when he walks in on her in the bathroom and stares instead of closing the door. When he cries and compliments her beauty, she allows him to cradle a lock of her hair. As she muses to her therapist Dr. Arnold Wayne (Andy Umberger), the child isn't getting what he needs from his family...something Betty herself knows about, of course.

My Response:

Mad Men - "Marriage of Figaro" (season 1, episode 3)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad MenMost days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on August 2, 2007/written by Tom Palmer; directed by Ed Bianchi): Don is mistaken for "Dick Whitman" by an old Army buddy while commuting to work, although his reaction suggests that perhaps this identification isn't a mistake at all. This is the last we'll hear of that name throughout the episode, though its disorienting aura hovers over the rest. Don continues to pursue...er, conduct business with Rachel, who rejects his overtures when she discovers he's married. This interaction is noticed by Pete, who has returned from his honeymoon smugly complacent with married life (Peggy pretends to understand his self-assured "of course our little fling is over now" flippancy while hiding her hurt). On the other marital extreme, the neighborhood divorcee Helen Bishop (Darby Stanchfield) shows up for the birthday party of one of Don's children and engenders a mixed reaction; some of the wives gossip about Helen behind her back and, to her face, exhibit barely concealed scorn, while their husbands ogle, flirt with, and perhaps even proposition her. Don's casual interaction with Helen is more subtle, and, her reaction (and Betty's) suggests, more successful. When a concerned Betty sends him out to pick up a cake, Don - who's been drinking all day - hangs out under an overpass in his parked car before returning to an empty house that night with a puppy to cover for his dereliction of duty. This streak of irresponsibility beneath the sturdy veneer is noticed by several characters throughout the episode, and frequently (though not universally) admired, as only the deviancy of an alpha male can be: "Don Draper, you are a first-class heel, and I salute you."

My Response:

Mad Men - "Ladies Room" (season 1, episode 2)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad MenMost days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on July 26, 2007/written by Matthew Weiner; directed by Alan Taylor): Last time, Betty Draper was little more than a punchline - "Oh look, Don Draper has a wife. Surprise!" This episode, on the other hand, treats her almost as the main character. Not only is she onscreen about as much as her husband, we begin to glimpse her interior life (externally rendered). Her hands tremble, her eyes flicker with confusion - she even crashes her car into a neighbor's fountain (after witnessing a divorcee move in down the street). Trying to explain to Don that their daughter could have been scarred in the accident, she expresses her fear that the little girl would by condemned to a sad, lonely life. Don is perplexed: isn't Betty happy with what she's got? After initial hesitation, he agrees that she should see a pyschiatrist. This unease with her anxiety spills into the office; as his co-workers attempt to pitch a space-age campaign for aeorosol deoderants, Don is lost in a soliloquey, mumbling, "What do women want?" Eventually - he thinks - he comes up with the cocky answer: "To get closer." Notably he receives this epiphany not with Betty, but with his mistress. The other focal point of this episode is Peggy mooning over a glib postcard from Pete on his honeymoon. (In one of the best lines of the episode - more due to delivery than context - Roger snickers, "Niagara Falls - redefines lack of imagination.") Peggy also has some flirtatious lunchtime encounters with Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis), the acid-tongued copywriter with high aspirations and a sniffy attitude toward his surroundings. Paul is occasionally bashful, especially compared to the frat-boy leering of Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) and Harry Crane (Rich Sommer). Nonetheless, when he aggressively goes in for a kiss, Peggy pushes him away. She's unable to express what - or who - is compelling her to repel him. The company men aren't the ones who have trouble explaining themselves in "Ladies Room," while the women struggle not just to communicate their experiences to others, but to understand them themselves.

My Response:

Mad Men - "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (season 1, episode 1)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Most days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on July 19, 2007/written by Matthew Weiner; directed by Alan Taylor): Don Draper (Jon Hamm) seems to be a certain type of postwar man, late fifties/early sixties vintage - the bachelor who doesn't allow domesticity to soften his edges, the sort of fellow Hugh Hefner had in mind when he founded Playboy seven years earlier ("Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" takes place in March 1960). Don is successful but no millionaire, intelligent but not stultified, sturdy without being a total square. He's good at his job - advertising useless or even deadly products to America's booming middle class - but harbors no illusions. In one scene, his eyes aglow, he delivers soothing Americanisms to Lucky Strike magnates (John Cullum, Darren Pettiel), worried their business will be undone by health concerns: "Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you're doing...is okay. You're okay." The latent cynicism in the consumerist lullaby receives full expression later, as Don attempts to woo potential client Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff), a Jewish woman who tells him she never married because she never fell in love. Smirking, he recites (as if by heart): "The reason you haven't felt it is because it doesn't exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons. ... You're born alone and you die alone and the world just drops a bunch of rules on you to make you forget, but I never forget." So that's Don, casually drinking and smoking his way through nightclubs and restaurants, his corner office, and his free-spirited mistress Midge Daniels' (Rosemarie DeWitt's) apartment, where he spends the night. A modern man with a Purple Heart in his desk drawer and a baffling Freudian report in his trash can, riding high on the racial and sexual advantages afforded him, wise to the hustle without dreaming of defying it, free of the cozy sentimentality that stereotyped the fifties in 2007, when Mad Men premiered.

Of course...it's not actually that simple. At episode's end, Don takes the commuter rail back to his quiet home and we close on a Douglas Sirk-worthy tableau of Don Draper, steady husband and father, hovering over his two sleeping children, lovely wife Betty (January Jones) in the doorway. Throughout the episodes we've met many other characters enduring their own identity crises, most notably the loathsome Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), a young adman with his ambitious eye set on Don's office (when it isn't surveying every woman in sight, even though Pete is on the eve of his marriage). Another conflicted character is Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Don's new receptionist, nervously listening as her confident, arch supervisor Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) gives her the lay of the land. Pete's and Peggy's epidose arcs mark Mad Men as a series premiere: one is a smug scoundrel living his last day as a bachelor, the other a mousy Brooklyn girl surviving her first day in the jungle of Sterling Cooper, where the women are catty and the men are all wolves. Little surprise then that these two go to bed near the end of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," a simpering Pete allowing a suddenly assured Peggy to lead him into her bedroom. There's no question, though, that Don is our star, in terms of screentime and perspective. Yet as Vic Damone's "On the Street Where You Live" kicks in under the end credits, we realize we don't actually know him at all.

My Response:

Viewing diary: first season of Mad Men begins tomorrow

Hopefully you enjoyed my ride through the first season of Breaking Bad, from an episode I'd watched several times before to an episode I'd never seen before. My journey into Mad Men will take a similar route. For just under half the season, I was revisiting vaguely familiar ground (I watched these episodes back in 2014, so there was a lot I didn't remember). For the latter half this was new territory and so as the characters discover the first buds of the sixties zeitgeist blossoming around them, I am right there alongside them. In both cases, of course, I will not be revealing any spoilers - whether out of duty or ignorance.

The diary will halt, for now, with the end of this season but I'll keep watching Mad Men on my own, pausing to record my responses after each fresh episode and probably returning to unveil the whole series when I've finished them all. Even as I write this, I still have a few season one episodes to watch and write about over the next few days. I can say that so far I find Mad Men extremely watchable if at times a tad frustrating (the show, especially in the premiere, can lay on the "this was a different time, folks" nudges a bit too thick, yet admittedly this is the very hook drawing me in the first place).

I remember back in 2007 when the series premiered I was skeptical, but then I'd been skeptical of The Sopranos too, initially; whenever some hot, hyped cable breakthrough came along the contrarian in me would rear his head. But I was curious too especially when I learned the series would move through the decade alongside its characters. I'm looking forward to further indulging that curiosity - the results start appearing tomorrow.

Patreon update #12: Pi (+ Parts 17/18 as Frost/Lynch versions of the same story, Academy Awards, film vs. TV expectations & more) and Images from "4 Ways to Watch Fire Walk With Me"

Episode 12 offers my first opportunity to discuss Darren Aronofsky; like Sofia Coppola, P.T. Anderson, and Christopher Nolan, he's a filmmaker of a certain generation that I haven't talked about in years (in some cases, like Aronofsky and Anderson, ever) so I enjoyed the opportunity to revisit his work. The only one missing now is Wes! There will be at least one Aronofsky film in store before the end of 2018, almost certainly two - the original plan was to launch an Aronofsky retrospective month to month. Since I've decided to step back from commissioned Films in Focus pretty soon, said retrospective will have to be more sporadic and partial.

The pace on the podcast slows down this week, as I begin a "one Film in Focus at a time" approach from now on. However, the pace on the Patreon blog ramped up as I offered a series of updates, announcements, and questions related to the impending change in the rewards structure. I would also love to know - including from people who aren't yet patrons but are considering becoming a member - what rewards will be appealing for various tiers as I take a new approach starting next week. And for my biweekly preview this week I took a visual approach, eager to share my juxtapositions of Fire Walk With Me with various films and Twin Peaks TV episodes.

On the podcast, that film vs. TV question gets a closer look vis a vis a few conversations surrounding Alan Clarke's iconic Elephant (which I covered on the podcast several weeks ago), and I also get into probably the most famous intersection of film and TV: the annual Academy Awards broadcast. For "Twin Peaks Reflections" I dig into a fascinating concept broached by original series writer Harley Peyton - the two-part finale of The Return as a couple solo albums, with both David Lynch and Mark Frost offering alternate covers of the same tune.

Line-up for Episode 12

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Changing 2nd/3rd tier reward


WEEKLY UPDATE/recent posts: Posting every day, Breaking Bad viewing diary

WEEKLY UPDATE/Patreon: 3rd Tier Biweekly Preview - "Images from 4 Ways to Watch Fire Walk With Me"

WEEKLY UPDATE/works in progress: abandoned original "100 films" idea


TWIN PEAKS REFLECTIONS: Harley Peyton & Robert Engels interviews - are Parts 17 & 18 "solo albums," with Frost and then Lynch telling essentially the same story their own way?

OTHER TOPICS: Academy Awards, clip from "Making of Elephant" documentary, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on film vs. TV audiences/expectations

LISTENER FEEDBACK: Elephant & the Troubles

OPENING THE ARCHIVE: "Running on Empty" (January - May 2011), this week's highlight: Blog 10

FINAL WEEK - What will I watch? Until 4/1, 2nd tier patrons pick a film I'll cover on my podcast

From now through March 31, if you become a $5/month patron I will cover a film of your choice on my podcast this summer. To be clear, you don't have to remain at that tier over the following months to access this reward (I'll even email you the file of the episode when it's ready, if necessary); the only reason for the delay is that I'm currently committed to covering many other "Films in Focus" in the coming months. However, around late June/early July I will reach your selections. There will be additional rewards kicking in for April/May and onwards which I will determine over the next few days, so stay tuned for those as well.

For the past three months the "Select a Subject" commitment has been part of my reward structure on Patreon but as more patrons joined the second tier, I struggled to keep up with the workload. Hence I am phasing out this reward on April 1; before then anyone who joins the second tier (or decided to bump up from the first tier) will access the reward before it disappears. I've announced this on my Patreon page and will include that announcement, and other relevant information, in my update on this site tomorrow, but I figured the invitation was worth sharing on its own.

Of course, if you'd prefer to listen without making a selection, you're always welcome to join the first tier and receive immediate access to my weekly podcast episodes (a dozen and counting). There's a lot of new content coming up on both Patreon and this main site; keep your eyes on this spot in particular, because now that I've finished the first season of Breaking Bad, my next viewing diary kicks off this Sunday. I will be covering the first season of Mad Men.

Breaking Bad - "A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal" (season 1, episode 7)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Breaking Bad. Each day (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on March 9, 2008/written by Peter Gould; directed by Tim Hunter): Although producing the two pounds he promised Tuco last episode (let alone the two additional pounds he promises this episode) is definitely a big challenge, the big turning point and climax in Walter's first season journey occurred last week. At least as far as meth is concerned, anyway; his battle with cancer was emphasized in the episode before that. This leaves us with a finale that consolidates the accomplishments of the season and offers a peek into season two. Walter...er, Heisenberg, finally dons the pork pie hat that completes his iconic look (if I remember correctly, though I recall seeing about as many images of him bareheaded), and - after orchestrating a quasi-comical robbery of much-needed supplies and cooking meth while Jesse absentmindedly permits an open house in his previously "for sale" home - the last scene solidifies his lucrative business deal with Tuco. Walter's cathartic release and easement of his anxiety finds release in, as Skyler herself puts it, an open "friskiness" with his wife. In case we miss the connection, the pre-credits teaser concludes with Skyler asking why their parking lot sex (following an uptight drug scare meeting at the school) feels so good and Walter responds, as much to himself as to her, "Because it's illegal." From the earliest episode, Breaking Bad has hinted at a psychosexual charge to the protagonist's titular turn to the dark side and "A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal" confirms that the milquetoast man's criminal path affirms his potency as much as pays the bills.

My Response:

Breaking Bad - "Crazy Handful of Nothin'" (season 1, episode 6)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Breaking Bad. Each day (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on March 2, 2008/written by George Mastras; directed by Bronwen Hughes): Walter and Jesse begin making meth again, but Walter sets some clear boundaries. Jesse is to stay out of the kitchen, and Walter is to stay out of the boardroom so to speak (or, more realistically, "off the streets"). Each member of the team is to know his limitations and area of expertise. Jesse has little discipline or skill when it comes to chemistry, but he know the drug business - where and how to move the product. Walter, on the other hand, is a brilliant chemist but (as his macho DEA brother-in-law constantly likes to remind him) it's a given that he couldn't handle the subtle social intricacies and navigation of force and power of the criminal underworld. One man is book smart, the other street smart: so it goes. Except, of course, it doesn't go that way at all. Walter's chemo and radiation treatments are taking their toll (he shaves his head once his hair starts falling out), rendering him incapable of finishing a batch he starts cooking. It's up to Jesse to learn from the master as Walter admits he has cancer and tells the young man he'll be sitting outside the trailer catching his breath if he needs any tips. More notably, Jesse's cautious pushing yields a small return for the risk Walter is taking, and so the timid middle-aged schoolteacher decides to follow his own advice to Jesse: "Grow some balls!" Enter Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz), a local distributor whom Jesse attempts to impress - winding up in the hospital for his efforts. Exit Walter White, nebbishy nobody who can cook killer meth but stays the hell away from the cutthroat side of the business. And enter, finally, "Heisenberg," the alias a gaunt, bald Walter adopts when he blows up Tuco's lair with some creative chemistry and forces his own terms on the finally impressed local kingpin.

My Response:

Breaking Bad - "Gray Matter" (season 1, episode 5)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Breaking Bad. Each day (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on February 24, 2008/written by Patty Lin; directed by Tricia Brock): Having fully gone their separate ways, both Walter and Jesse have a lot to figure out. Jesse goes for an interview, thinking he's being considered for a sales position at a bank only to discover the interviewer actually has an "advertising" job in mind: standing on the sidewalk dressed as a giant dollar bill waving a sign at passerby. Jesse discovers the man currently holding this position is an old friend, Badger (Matt Jones), a goofball on parole who encourages him to start cooking again. Their session in the trailer goes terribly, with Badger good for little other than eating chips, cracking jokes, and nearly breaking Jesse's equipment (when a furious Jesse rides off without him, Badger fires a crossbow at the rear bumper - he can't even hit the tires with his absurd weapon). Jesse has now completely changed. Next to Badger, a more extreme version of his old persona, the young man seems as serious and short-tempered as Walter: he wears an apron, carefully identifies each instrument, and throws the results away when they are displeasing (in this inability to get the desired product, at least, he remains very much Jesse). Walter, meanwhile, is pressured by both family and friends to seek treatment. His old college pal Elliot Schwartz (Adam Godley), who profited immensely from their collaborations as young chemists, offers to pay for chemo and radiation, while Skyler stages an intervention which doesn't go as planned (both Hank and Marie wind up encouraging their in-law to do what he wants - as Hank puts it, "die like a man" - and Skyler is infuriated). A weeping Walter quietly says that "survival" for a year or two isn't worth the suffering and abasement, but the next morning he changes his mind. He still doesn't want his friend's help, though, lying to Elliot's wife Gretchen (Jessica Hecht) about the insurance and finally turning up, contrite and committed, at Jesse's doorstep once again to offer his partnership.

My Response:

Breaking Bad - "Cancer Man" (season 1, episode 4)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Breaking Bad. Each day (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on February 17, 2008/written by Vince Gilligan; directed by Jim McKay): Walter finally told his wife about his illness three episodes into the series (and offscreen at that). As "Cancer Man" begins, however, he still hasn't told his son, let alone other family members like his brother-in-law or mother. Skyler takes care of that, breaking into tears as Walter recounts how they first met at a small family gathering, and forcing Walter to tell them all about his diagnosis. The rest of the episode will be dominated by two personal stories: Walter's reluctant agreement to a course of expensive chemo and radiation treatment and Jesse's return to his family home after a paranoid freakout. We meet Jesse's upper middle class parents and his buttoned-up little brother Jake (Ben Petry), a musical and scholarly prodigy who couldn't provide a sharper contrast to his burnout sibling. When the Pinkmans discover a joint in the house, they have no doubt who it belongs to and quickly send their grown son packing again. Of course, Jesse is taking it on the chin for the child of the household, whose precocious innocence belies a fondness for weed. When the little boy thanks Jesse for covering for him and asks for the marijuana back, Jesse crushes it and shrugs, with a smile both knowing and mildly mocking: "It was skunk weed anyway." Walter has his own dramatic moment at the end of the episode, when he runs into an obnoxious blue-toothed yuppie for the second time and explodes the loathsome man's convertible with a well-placed squeegee beneath his hood.

My Response:

Breaking Bad - "...And the Bag's in the River" (season 1, episode 3)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Breaking Bad. Each day (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on February 10, 2008/written by Vince Gilligan; directed by Adam Bernstein): What was delayed for an entire episode can no longer be put off. Walter must kill Krazy 8...or free him. That he's even willing to consider the latter option speaks to how haphazard and hesitating his commitment to the criminal life remains; that he ultimately does murder Krazy 8 (yanking the bike lock against his throat as the desperate dealer swings a broken, jagged plate fragment behind him at his assassin) proves that Walter can find the ruthlessness his new occupation demands. Then again, he has an out, and it's not just abstract self-defense (which is real enough, demonstrated when the studious would-be killer writes a pro/con "kill Krazy 8" list, with numerous lofty principles in the "don't" category and one stark rationale in the "do" category: "He'll kill your entire family if you let him go"). No, it's also literal self-defense, given the plate fragment. Walter retrieves the plate from the trashcan, broken when he passed out after a coughing fit in the basement and reassembles it to see that a piece is missing (obviously Krazy 8 armed himself with it while Walter was out cold). The killer and the victim have been building a rapport, even discovering that the young man probably rang Walter up as a boy in his father's furniture store sixteen years ago. But now Walter knows it's all been cold-blooded calculation, so he finishes the job (a few pathetic incantations of "I'm sorry!" the only remaining evidence of his weak-willed desire for mercy). The Walter/Krazy 8 relationship/moral dilemma dominates the story, although there are a few other subplot strands: Skyler's sister Marie (Betsy Brandt) misunderstands a clumsy conversation about pot and concludes that her nephew (not her brother-in-law) is the subject; consequently Hank tries a "scared straight" tactic on Walter, Jr. by nastily ridiculing a methhead in his presence; and Skyler discovers Walter quit his job and tells him to stay wherever he is calling from that fateful night (little does she know the consequences). Finally, at episode's end, the immediate consequences of his entry into the drug business resolved, Walter turns to another important matter. He's about to tell his wife he's dying.

My Response:

Patreon update #11: David Lynch's Cinema - Connecting Eraserhead & Inland Empire, bonus: Blue Velvet (+ Diane Evans in Twin Peaks, Everything Sucks!, Frontline on Iran & Saudi Arabia, The Wind in the Willows & more)

Afternoon update: I have added an important announcement about a change in the Films in Focus second/third tier rewards.

With over an hour of content devoted purely to the work of David Lynch (out of a nearly two-hour episode - so much for last week's high-water mark!), I am taking a look at what his first and last films share...and how they differ. Eraserhead and Inland Empire are among the already subversive auteur's most radical works, yet they're radical in divergent and revealing ways. By parsing ten connections between the two films, both can be perceived in a sharper light (the "ten connections" section is preceded by slightly shorter-than-usual coverage of each film individually). And as a bonus, I'm also reviewing what many still consider the Lynch masterpiece, Blue Velvet.

Breaking Bad - "Cat's in the Bag..." (season 1, episode 2)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Breaking Bad. Each day (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on January 27, 2008/written by Vince Gilligan; directed by Adam Bernstein): As with the pilot, a large part of this episode's "cinematic" quality is narrative. This is not an ensemble TV series with a sprawling cast of characters, each with their own storyline...at least not yet. "Cat's in the Bag..." has one fundamental purpose: demonstrating how Walter's entire life rotates around the consequences of the previous climax, in which he "killed" two drug dealers in self-defense, pretending to show them how to cook meth before poisoning them with phosphane. Krazy-8 (Maximino Arciniega) survived the gassing in the RV, and now Walter and Jesse have two tasks at hand. One of them has to dissolve the body of Emilio (John Koyama) in acid, a messy, ghoulish piece of work especially since it might involve chopping him up and placing different halves in different plastic containers. Shrinking from that possibility, Jesse decides to do the "easy" thing, dragging Emilio upstairs in his own house, and dousing him in the bathtub. Unfortunately, acid won't dissolve plastic - but it will certainly dissolve a porcelain bathub: near the end of the episode, the ceiling of Jesse's first floor collapses, with gruesome chunks of flesh and bone landing below. And yet, somehow, Jesse does have the easy job. After flipping a coin, Walter is assigned the far more stressful task: killing the very much alive, groaning Krazy-8, imprisoned in the basement with a bike lock around his neck. I suppose there's a bit of a subplot in the episode: after Jesse calls the house pretending to be a salesman, Skyler tracks him down and questions Walter about his identity; he cleverly finds the perfect alibi, claiming that Jesse sells him pot. Skyler is savvy enough to find Jesse but - fortunately for both him and Walter - not savvy enough to notice that he's dragging a dead body through his driveway when she shows up to accost him. Something I neglected to mention (along with many other details) in my previous write-up: Skyler is pregnant. She gets an ultrasound with Walter present, and the two parents-to-be find out that the child will be a girl. Skyler makes a joke about what it will be like when she's older, and Walter's face falls. Despite barely coming up in the episode - aside from his frequent coughing fits - Walter is, of course, dying. He will never get to see this daughter grow up, and that mortality hangs over the central hook of episode two: a man faced with his own death must find the nerve to kill someone else.

My Response:

Breaking Bad - "Pilot" (season 1, episode 1)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Breaking Bad. Each day (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on January 20, 2008/written & directed by Vince Gilligan): Any number of small things could have gone differently and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) wouldn't be standing here, on the side of a desert highway in his tighty whiteys and ridiculously incongrous green shirt, weeping and holding a gun aloft, ready to fire on the armada of police cars he hears in the distance as they approach his meth lab RV with two dead bodies in the back. What if Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) hadn't run into his suspicious ex-partner when trying to unload his new product? What if Walter hadn't recognized Jesse, his former student, fleeing a raid, or what if Jesse hadn't been screwing the next-door neighbor when the DEA came knocking, or what if Walter hadn't chosen that particular morning to ride along with his cocky brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris)...and what if he didn't happen to be out of the car when when Jesse made that fatal eye contact with Mr. White, the chemistry teacher who flunked him years ago but now wants in on his business? Despite this string of coincidences, these events, and this outcome, don't feel accidental. Instead they seem to emerge from the nexus of fate and decisive action. At every absurd, outlandish opportunity, Walter chooses to step in a particular direction. More importantly, everything unfolds against the stark backdrop of Walter's cancer diagnosis, exacerbating and inflaming what might otherwise be a run-of-the-mill midlife crisis or even a steadily repressed, grinding misery that might never find expression at all. Three weeks earlier, Walter was a nebbishy teacher, quietly nibbling on his wife Skylar's (Anna Gunn's) vegetarian bacon and taking his son Walter Jr.'s (RJ Mitte's) good-natured ribbing in stride. ("How does it feel to be old?" the boy asks Walter on his fiftieth birthday.) Now, as the gun misfires and the sirens reveal themselves to belong to firetrucks and ambulances, Walter discovers that the same fate that condemned him has also spared him. Walter is a drug dealer, a killer (albeit, so far anyway, in self-defense), a criminal who seems to feel liberated by "breaking bad." And so it begins.

My Response:

Viewing diary: first season of Breaking Bad begins tomorrow

Although binging has become the premiere way to view old shows - after all, why delay the gratification when you don't have to? - I've recently been taking a starkly different approach (in some cases, the slow process has unfolded over years, with extensive interruptions).

I try to spend an hour each week either watching or reviewing a TV episode in order to create viewing diaries for eight notable series. While I'll be waiting until I've finished an entire show before releasing many of these (building up a backlog, eventually, of hundreds of individual entries), I'm making a few exceptions as explained yesterday. In these cases, I'll be releasing just first-season viewing diaries...and Breaking Bad is the first up since it's the only season I've finished so far.

Keep in mind, in case you're expecting obsessive exploration, that these are viewing diaries, not extensive episode guides. That means a few things. They are short; I've settled on a format for viewing diaries which allows me to keep up a reasonable pace while still offering room to ruminate. Each entry is two long paragraphs: one to synopsize the story and re-orient the reader (especially those who haven't watched the show in a while), the other to relay my own first impression  - which is the main point here. Most of the shows I'm watching for the first time. There won't be spoilers because I myself don't know what's going to happen.

If there's value for you here, it will likely come from enjoying my perspective and wanting to find out how I personally react to various episodes, or, more generally, from the pleasure of re-experiencing a show through a first-time viewer's eyes. In Breaking Bad's case, I had made a couple previous forays into the series without getting very far, and of course I was familiar with a few of its touchstones through cultural osmosis. Part of the fun for me has been discovering how the series does or doesn't meet those expectations. Hopefully you find this interesting too. See you tomorrow.

New entries every day (until the 10th anniversary in July)

I had big plans for this winter and spring, but one by one various projects have been postponed. Nonetheless, I want to start posting more frequently - every day through mid-summer to be exact - for several reasons. For one, there are topics I've been wanting to cover for a while and this will provide some encouragement. And to be a bit anal about it, I'd also like to have exactly 1,380 posts the day before Lost in the Movies' tenth anniversary, so that my ten-archive-tweets-a-day can continue right up to that moment (as was the original plan before abandoning an even more ambitious schedule that would have begun in April). This means today is my last chance to start posting daily in order to hit that benchmark.

Most importantly, I need to keep up with public content; since starting my Patreon in January, I have found myself with little opportunity to publish anything other than patron-only podcasts. This ends up making my account a rather self-enclosed enterprise, since more people will probably become patrons as a response to free material than through the enticement of rewards.

That's the rationale - what will be the result?

Patreon update #10: Rogue One, Brawl in Cell Block 99 & Marie Antoinette (+ Mark Twain on the French Revolution, right-wing hypocrisy, Eisenstein vs. Griffith, Cooper's Diane tapes audiobook & more) and preview of the TWIN PEAKS Character Series Top 30 Runners-Up from The Return

There's not so much Twin Peaks in the podcast this week (there will be more, and especially more Lynch, on Patreon in a few days) but before highlighting this episode I'd point you to the third tier reward which is super-Peaksian, a two-page preview of the "Top 30 runners-up from Twin Peaks: The Return" entry which will help kick off my character series. This provides the full list of these runners-up - characters who appeared for less than ten minutes in season three, and thus won't be included as individual entries in the series, but still left an impression. The preview also includes statistics for each one (rough screentime, number of scenes, primary location, top episode, even sometimes their ranking within an episode), as well as a paragraph-long write-up for the first character. If you've been considering becoming a patron at the $10 level, this will be a perk you're sure to enjoy. (As always, of course, the podcast and other features are available to all patrons, from $1 on up.)

Lost in Twin Peaks #9 - Pay Dirt!: discussing my Patreon podcast w/ Twin Peaks Unwrapped

A few months since my last appearance on Twin Peaks Unwrapped, Ben and Bryon invited me on to discuss my own recent work. Ben became a patron of Lost in the Movies in February, and wanted to share the podcast he's been enjoying (thanks Ben!). So we discuss my work (including the upcoming character series) in addition to tugging at the edges of season three. Is everyone talking too much about Judy now? Is the nature of the Lynch/Frost collaboration challenging to unravel? Is Laura Palmer just a pawn in the bigger game? Answers, or maybe just more questions, ahead...

Patreon update #9: High and Low & Elephant (+ podcast recommendations & more)

update: this page now includes a link to the podcast

This week's podcast features a couple intense movies with very different approaches to violence. The first film in focus is an Akira Kurosawa masterpiece, enveloping the viewer in the ever-shifting world of a businessman who must decide if he'll pay the ransom for a servant's son, the cops who try to find the kidnapper, and the sociopathic kidnapper himself. The second film in focus stages a series of shootings, with no context or dialogue provided as we follow characters in long takes until either they deliver death or death is delivered to them. I also recommend a whole host of recent podcast episodes and continue my survey of Twin Peaks books with a discussion of Agent Cooper's "autobiography."

Line-up for Episode 9

WEEKLY UPDATE/recent posts: tweeting 10 archive pieces a day until the 10th anniversary
FILM IN FOCUS: High and Low
TWIN PEAKS REFLECTIONS: My Life, My Tapes: The Autobiography of FBI Agent Dale Cooper
OTHER TOPICS: Podcast recommendations
OPENING THE ARCHIVE: "Four's Company" (February - May 2010), this week's highlight (The Hurt Locker)


#10YearsOfLostInTheMovies starts now

Last night, continuing today and for ninety-eight more days after that, I'm celebrating the upcoming tenth anniversary of Lost in the Movies as follows:

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