Month: December 2015

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Vince Gilligan

“This show has certain elements that could work, but the premise is just too bizarre.”

“It’s too much like Weeds.

“Why would anyone want to see their hero become a villain?”

“It’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard. No one will watch this.”

 

This is the type of criticism that writer/director/producer Vince Gilligan endured in 2007 when he was pitching his pilot script for Breaking Bad, a show about a middle-aged high school chemistry teacher who resorts to cooking and distributing crystal meth after a life-changing cancer diagnosis. Fortunately, AMC – fresh off the mega-successful Mad Men – was, in fact, interested in Gilligan’s script and offered to produce the pilot.

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Gilligan was no stranger to the TV business; he had been a staff writer and co-producer for The X-Files for several years, but since that show ended, he had struggled to find consistent work. He and fellow writer/producer Thomas Schnauz began brainstorming ideas back-and-forth. One day, Gilligan made a joke about the two of them road-tripping around the country in an meth lab converted from an RV. Shortly thereafter, the idea for Breaking Bad came to Gilligan. He had already been considering a show that would go against the grain of network TV.

“Television is historically good at keeping its characters in a self-imposed stasis so that shows can go on for years or even decades,” Gilligan says. “When I realized this, the logical next step was to think, how can I do a show in which the fundamental drive is toward change?”

With that came Walter White, the hero-turned-villain of Breaking Bad.

Breaking Bad has become such a huge cultural touchstone, based on its exceptional images, writing, and acting, so it’s increasingly difficult to look at with fresh eyes. The show won multiple Emmys every year it was on the air and helped establish Gilligan as a major player in the world of TV.

But it hasn’t seemed to get to his head – after all, Gilligan is a man with humble beginnings.

Direct To Series Co-Organized By The Cultural Services Of The Embassy Of France And The Ile de France Film Commission

George Vincent Gilligan, Jr. was born in 1967 in Richmond, Virginia. His dad was an insurance adjuster and his mom was a grade school teacher. Gilligan’s parents divorced when he was seven and he lived with his mom and his younger brother Patrick in Farmville, Virginia.

Much of Vince’s interest in film stemmed from his friendship with Angus Wall, an aspiring editor. The two made short backyard films together – Vince directing, Patrick acting, and Angus editing – and one such film even won them a prize in their age group at a film competition at the University of Virginia. Their moms, Gail Gilligan and Jackie Wall, frequently took them to the theatre at Cloverleaf Mall.

Vince also remained close with his dad, George. George once described his son as “kind of a studious-type young man. He liked to read, and he had a vivid imagination.” He encouraged his son to study film, introducing him to film noir classics and John Wayne westerns.

A few years later, the teenaged Gilligan returned to the Richmond area, where he graduated from Lloyd C. Bird High School in 1985. After that, he attended the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, earning his undergrad degree four years later.

While at NYU, Gilligan wrote a screenplay called Home Fries, which received the Virginia Governor’s Screenwriting Award in 1989 (eventually, it was turned into a film starring Luke Wilson and Drew Barrymore). One of the judges at the competition was Mark Johnson, a TV producer, and the two became friends. Johnson eventually played a pivotal role in introducing Gilligan to Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files. Johnson once called Gilligan “the most imaginative writer I’ve ever read.”

Since the staggering success of Breaking Bad – a show that may never have been picked up by a network – Gilligan has kept busy with the prequel spinoff Better Call Saul. The show focuses on the exploits of Walter White’s smarmy lawyer, Saul Goodman, and takes place 10 years before the events of Breaking Bad.

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What sets Gilligan apart is not just that he makes stellar television, but that he’s a friendly and easy-going guy. He frequently goes out of his way to mention the cinematographers, actors, and writers who help make his shows a success. I can only imagine that Gilligan would be great fun to work with. Hopefully more acclaim comes his way in the near future – if that’s even possible.

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Iwrestledabearonce – EP (2007)

If you follow music as closely as I do, you’ll know how diverse genres can get. Iwrestledabearonce is basically the epitome of a modern band that constantly eschews all recognizable labels and genres.

Actually, I take that back. IWABO started out as actually a very dynamic and interesting band — albeit a metal band that was charting territory that hasn’t really been approached by their fellow bands. What other group could release songs with goofy titles and goofier samples, change tempos, styles and distortion settings as frequently as they change socks, and also feature the trademark blast beats and breakdowns?

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The answer is not many.

IWABO began in 2007 in Shreveport, Louisiana; they apparently took their name from an old Gary Busey sketch on Comedy Central. They released their self-titled debut EP independently, which I’ll be reviewing today.

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Iwrestledabearonce – EP is experimental to the extreme, boasting numerous technical breakdowns, out-of-nowhere tempo changes, and genres ranging from Latin-infused swing to mathcore to electronica. So, essentially, ridiculous in all the right ways.

The EP features five tracks, all of which incorporate traditional metal elements with crazy progressive elements. It’s astonishing how well it all fits together, even while IWABO jumps around like a five-year-old who just stopped taking his Ritalin.

They’re goofy enough to sample the Super Mario Bros theme and include quotes from Clerks, but also serious enough to throw in some crushing breakdowns, dance-worthy jam sessions, and even some smooth jazz. They didn’t even have a drummer at the time of recording the EP, instead using a programmed drum machine for all five songs.

This was considered revolutionary at the time and got IWABO a large cult following that continues to this today. They snagged a deal with Tragic Hero Records, who re-released the EP and also released their debut album It’s All Happening in 2009, which gave them even more exposure and prompted a move to L.A. Since then, they’ve gone through numerous lineup changes, released three more full-length albums (including two remixed albums), and gone on tour with metal heavyweights as Between the Buried and Me, All Shall Perish, August Burns Red, Chelsea Grin, Blessthefall, and The Dillinger Escape Plan.

I love this EP. For me, the highlight of IWABO’s earliest work is lead vocalist Krysta Cameron. Cameron nails it on every song, going from soaring, angelic clean vocals to death growls at the drop of a hat. Just like the schizophrenic genre-jumping, Cameron’s vocal range goes from innocent and sweet to brutal and unforgiving. Her performance really elevates the other band members, all of whom do great as well.

There is a bonus track, a remix of the first song which I felt was largely unnecessary, but as a whole, the EP is killer. IWABO will always be a fun guilty pleasure of mine. I give their debut EP a 9/10.

TRACK LISTING

  1. Ulrich Firelord, Breaker of Mountains (3:47)
  2. Alaskan Flounder Basket (2:45)
  3. Vlork, Mighty Wielder of Sheep (4:49)
  4. Still Jolly After All These Years (2:40)
  5. Corey Feldman Holocaust (4:04)
  6. Ulrich Firelord – Remix by Dada Yakuza* (5:40)

*bonus track

PERSONNEL

Krysta Cameron – vocals

Steven Bradley – guitars/keys/samples/programming

John Ganey – guitars/keys/samples/programming

Brian Dozier – bass

The Beaver (2011)

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Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a depressed husband and father — a shell of his former self. His once-thriving toy company has fallen on hard times, and his oldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin) hates him. His younger son, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), doesn’t understand the complexities of the hard-drinking funk his father has fallen into.

Walter’s ever-patient wife Meredith (Jodie Foster, who also directs the film) has been trying unsuccessfully to pull her husband out of his rut for years. Eventually, she’s had enough and throws Walter out of the house.

After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Walter finds his personal salvation in a beaver puppet found in a dumpster. He soon wears the puppet on his hand and starts talking humorously in a Cockney accent. Walter then makes changes in his life, moves back in to the house, and helps spearhead a new beaver-inspired toy at work. Things are looking up for the first time in awhile.

Porter, ever the moody teenager, dislikes everything about his father’s new beaver friend. Porter has become obsessed with refusing his father’s less-appealing traits; in fact, Porter meticulously keeps track of his dad’s bad habits and vows never to become like Walter.

Meanwhile, Porter has other issues. He’s known around school as a good speechwriter — just not on his own assignments. He’s therefore taken aback when his class’s valedictorian, Nora (Jennifer Lawrence), asks him to write her graduation speech for her. Nora has an equally complicated domestic life, and a budding romance ensues between her and Porter.

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Meredith becomes concerned that Walter is suffering from disassociative identity disorder, unable to communicate without relying on the beaver puppet that helped him become “normal” again. Soon enough, the beaver almost begins to control more and more of Walter’s life, becoming a negative instead of a positive. Will the Black family emerge unscathed?

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The Beaver is a very poignant and bold film–framing a goofy and outwardly humorous premise with uncommonly deep themes of depression, guilt, and mental issues. Gibson and Foster team up for the first time since 1994’s Maverick, and the result is a well-acted, moving film. The dramedy approach is what makes this film work, even if the premise is a bit too strange at times. Foster’s direction manages to lift a script that was challenging to shoot.

The Beaver is one of those spirited, original indie films that have become increasingly popular as Hollywood blockbusters appear to have been running on fumes the last few summers (you know it’s true). Shot in upstate New York on a budget of $21 million, The Beaver suffered from bad publicity almost immediately–in fact, it took almost two years just to get the film distributed, even though it features two Oscar-winning A-list actors.

Much of this has to do with Mel Gibson’s pariah status in Hollywood. Known for making controversial statements (on-screen and off), Gibson was not looked upon favorably at the time–and probably still isn’t to this day. Therefore, making a Gibson film in 2011 could have been considered career suicide for all involved, and that may help explain the myriad distribition issues. The Beaver premiered at the 2011 South by Southwest Festival and bombed at the box office due to a limited theatrical run. However, audiences at SXSW enjoyed it and it received a 61% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Frankly, this is a difficult film to approach because of its strange premise. A talking beaver is obviously a comedic addition to what would otherwise be a very bleak, depressing film. But Gibson pulls off the antics well enough, and the film straddles the comedy-drama line quite well. Considering how Gibson’s personal demons have become so well-known and well-documented, it’s a little all-too-real when you see his performance onscreen.

Mel Gibson Dec. 16

For the record, I’ve always liked Mel Gibson as an actor and filmmaker. He’s said some very bad things and drawn plenty of controversy, but plenty of Hollywood stars have gotten second, third, and fourth chances when a guy like Gibson hasn’t (look no further than Roman Polanski, Sean Penn, Charlie Sheen, and Robert Downey Jr.). I do kinda feel bad for Gibson after he’s been out of the public eye for so long. I think he should be forgiven by the masses and allowed to make a big-screen comeback. It’s a shame that The Beaver wasn’t the success that it was hoped to be.

Foster, one of Gibson’s closest friends in Hollywood, blamed the financial failure of the film on the fact that mainstream American audiences generally don’t wholeheartedly embrace dramedy films. To some extent, that’s true. But mostly the failure of the film can (regrettably) be placed on the shoulder of its talented, troubled star. Which is a shame. The Beaver is a quirky, poignant, and surprisingly entertaining film that is a real hidden gem.

Rating: 8.5/10

Directed by Jodie Foster

Written by Kyle Killen

Produced by Steve Golin, Ann Ruark and Keith Redmon

Starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, and Riley Thomas Stewart

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference.