Tagged Juárez

Breaking Bad – Season 2, Episode 8: “Better Call Saul”

AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 2, Episode 8: “Better Call Saul”
Directed by Terry McDonough
Written by Peter Gould

* For a review of the previous episode, “Negro y Azul” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “4 Days Out” – click here
Oh, Badger (Matt Jones)! What are we gonna do with you?
Sitting on a bench unsuspectingly – one that has an add stating BETTER CALL SAUL no less – Badger is met randomly by a skinny guy looking for drugs. But smarty pants Badger judges him to be a cop, so he won’t immediately sell him anything. No way. Then as the guy pathetically wears him down Badger slips up, selling some of the good blue stuff.
And then swarm the police. Good job, dummy.
On a television a commercial from Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) plays while nobody watches. In bed, Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Jane (Krysten Ritter) lay together. What we can already see is how he’s becoming a bad influence on her possibly. She leaves abruptly, though he can tell something’s off. Turns out she’s in Narcotics Anonymous. You can already tell he is very interested in her, attracted and maybe even falling a bit. Or a lot.
At the White household things are still in a bit of disarray. Not as outwardly aggressive, yet still passive-aggressive slightly. Skyler (Anna Gunn) is off to work, and Walter (Bryan Cranston) worries about her being back around Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins). Still, she kisses him and heads out like a normal couple.
Then Walt gets a call from Marie (Betsy Brandt). Seems things with Hank (Dean Norris) since the incident in Juarez have gotten worse. He sits around mostly, by himself, depressed and withdrawn. Naturally, though. I mean, he saw a bunch of guys get blown to bits. Tragic to see a guy like Hank, a tough dude with principals, get so shaken by his work. He tries putting on a good act for Walt, but it’s easy to see through. Perhaps Hank isn’t reacting how he hoped he would when coming up against the big terrifying stuff. Doesn’t help they think it was a little shitty he was the one to make it out of things, getting an evidence bag while the explosion went off. What’s interesting to me here is how Walt is on the opposite side of the law from Hank, yet he sits there caring for his brother-in-law, urging him to push forward. Such a darkly funny thing, and at the same time sort of awful, that Walt is there as a shoulder to lean on while heading out later to do some drug business.


Walt: “Fear is the worst of it. Thats the real enemy.”
Jesse hasn’t heard from Badger yet, so their cash is light. Well little does he know. When he reaches Combo (Rodney Rush), he finds out what’s actually been going on. And that does nothing at all to ease the tension between him and Mr. White. So with Badger in jail and Walt worried sick, they’ve got to figure out what’s next.
Cut to Hank. He’s close to one of those panic attacks again heading into the DEA office for the first time since getting back. Yet he puts on the tough front and walks through the fire. Steve Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) catches him up, as well as checks in on his old buddy.
In an interrogation room, Badger’s sweated by the young cop (DJ Qualls). Then Saul arrives – his lawyer! Goodman starts running his game, of course, and the tale has begun to weave. He tells Badger exactly how things are about to go; after he’s paid, certainly. He even has cheques made out to “Ice Station Zebra Associates“, which is awesome if you know that movie. Best of all, Saul goes right at the DEA even taunting Hank and his boys right to their faces.
Now we’ve got Jesse and Walt about to meet with Saul for the first time. Walt’s not at all impressed with the look of Saul’s stripmall practice. Although, the younger of the two makes a good case for having a “criminal [who’s a] lawyer” and not a Criminal Lawyer. When Walt heads in he makes the transaction. However, he’s appalled to find out the DEA is involved. Furthermore, Walt now knows the DEA is after Heisenberg. And that Saul plans on having Brandon take a deal involving talking to them about what he knows. Ironic to watch Walt on both sides of a situation once again, as Saul has no idea he’s the Heisenberg the law is after.
Saul: “My real names McGill. The Jew thing I just do for the homeboys, they all want a pipe hittinmember of the tribe, so to speak.”


What happens next is a step up in the criminal game for Mr. White and his clueless partner. Jesse and Walt kidnap Saul and take him into the desert. They wear masks, of course. Only the cough Saul heard earlier in his office gives Walter away. Then the slippery lawyer greases out a little deal for himself, even making Jesse and Walt his clients in the process.
So Saul cooks up a deal with the DEA for Badger to give up Heisenberg. Really, it’s an old bald dude who gets paid to go to jail. He’s a lifetime ward of the system, so that’s sewed up. They set up a meet between this fake Heisenberg and Badger, on the very same bench where he was pinched at the episode’s start. Yet things get messy, and Walt ends up interjecting himself right in the middle of Hank and the boys staking things out from across the way. This is a tense and also comical moment, written well, played perfectly by both Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris; they have awesome chemistry and work great together. Through everything, the old con Jimmy gets arrested and things work out in the end for everybody. Er- not the DEA, just for Jesse, Walt, Badger, and Saul.
Hank ain’t sold, though. Not on this prison lifer being a mastermind meth cook.


Then Saul tracks Walt down in his classroom after hours. Wow. The Heisenberg persona wears thin, hey? Spells trouble for Mr. White who so relentlessly tries to conceal his true identity. But there’s nothing below board, Saul is merely looking out for his new client. First he confuses Walt with a reference to The Godfather, eventually offering up his silent partner services in their meth industry. Not blackmail. Definitely not ethical.


We’ll see how this new relationship becomes more prominent in the upcoming episodes. Next is “4 Days Out”, so stick with me for another recap and review.

Breaking Bad – Season 2, Episode 7: “Negro y Azul”

AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 2, Episode 7: “Negro y Azul”
Directed by Félix Enríquez Alcalá
Written by John Shiban

* For a review of the previous episode, “Peekaboo” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Better Call Saul” – click here
We start with a nice narco-corrido about Heisenberg, a.k.a Walter White (Bryan Cranston). These types of ballads are a part of a Mexican subculture that rocks out over songs about the cartel, murders, and so on. Fitting to include this in an opener to an episode for this second season, as we move further into the Mexican cartel territory. What the song makes clear is the blue stuff has gone south and they are loving it. So naturally the cartel is going to seek out this Heisenberg. Because not only are people loving the drugs, the cartel’s not happy about this mysterious man cornering the market.
Walt’s busy trying to get through to a student. More and more, the life he lives as a high school chemistry teacher gets to him. Also, we can see the conniving ways of Mr. White work just as well sometimes in school as they do in the drug business. Furthermore, we see he’s got a cellphone stashed up in the ceiling. Y’know, for important calls. He rings up partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), from whom he’s yet to hear after the whole Spooge situation. Of course Walt takes back what he told Jesse to do, but too little too late, as we know already.
He heads over to Jesse’s place, lying to Jane (Krysten Ritter) about being his father to try getting inside. Hilarious in its own right – Mr. Jackson, father of Jesse. Soon, the door opens and they have a chat. Walt has no idea what’s gone on over at the Splooge family home. Jesse lets his older partner know all about it. But Walt, as always, spins this whole yarn into making Jesse more confident, saying it’ll play as good street cred for people to think he’s crushed Spooge’s head in savagely.
In lieu of Jesse laying low, Heisenberg himself heads out to meet Badger (Matt Jones), Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), and Combo (Rodney Rush) at the National Atomic Museum – ironically enough, a recording talking about Werner Heisenberg plays; the man that inspired Walt’s name choice.

Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is trying hard to fit in with the task force. He isn’t exactly slipping in without notice. He just doesn’t get this world, not yet anyway. He’s saddled alongside Agent Vanco (J.D. Garfield). But very much out of his league not knowing how to speak Spanish, which is a big time downside when you’re trying to fight Juarez cartels.
At the Atomic Museum, the boys meet Heisenberg, and seem rightly in awe. They’ve also heard about what Jesse did, or what people think he did at Spooge’s place. The streets are abuzz with the fear of Pinkman and his apparent violence. And Walter lets the lie ride, opting to make Jesse’s reputation on the streets grow. For the time being, at least.
Meanwhile, Skyler (Anna Gunn) is out to see an old boss and almost flame of hers, Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins). She used to work for his company in the payroll department, accounting an such. Now she’s looking for work, unknowing of her husband paying medical bills with his plethora of meth money. It’s unbelievably clear Ted has a thing for her, always has, as he all but planks her down in an office right there and then.
Laid out like a oil tycoon plotting land, Walt shows Jesse a map of different territories. He’s ready to up their distributing game. He also doesn’t understand it isn’t simply “initiative“, but that they can’t just stroll into other peoples territory and take things over. Walt’s convinced Jesse has a new reputation that will keep other crews at bay. Yeah, right. Things aren’t that easy. But what’s more, the bullshit of Walt, how he spins things worse than the media, is on display here while he tries to tell Jesse how he has a unique opportunity to use this as intimidation: “You are a blowfish.” Is it illusion, really? Or is it delusion on Walt’s part? Inclined to believe the latter.

Jesse: “Yeah, blowfishinthis up.”

Federal informant Tortuga (Danny Trejo) is holed up in a hotel room, being waited on hand and foot by the task force. And Hank does not like that mess. They all but kiss this guy’s ass to get cartel information. All the while he’s ordering stuff out of SkyMall magazines. Overall, Hank hasn’t figured out how to navigate the murky waters of Cartel Land. He presses Tortuga to get talking instead of placating his “Lets Make A Deal” game. Love seeing Dean Norris up against Danny Trejo here, both of whom are awesome. Even more than that Hank is soon about to find out just how dangerous the world of Juarez and the cartels can get.
At home, Marie (Betsy Brandt) is convinced the whole thing is a desk job. She doesn’t realize he’ll be out in the field dealing with actual gangsters. Walt then finds out Skyler’s headed back over to Beneke with the accounting department. More than the money, it seems she wants control, something of her own, particularly since Walt has been less than honest with her about certain things. Even though they’re mended this is going to provide her with something she’s missing.
Very slowly, Jane gets to know Jesse, after he finds her drawing on the porch outside their attached houses. He reveals his once artistic side that slipped away from him along the way. He changes the subject quickly, though, not wanting to talk about himself. We also discover Jane isn’t huge on commitment, mentioning not wanting a tattoo because of it. Also, a guy on a bike drives by and calls Jesse by his real last name, which reveals more about him to Jane. She’s more intrigued than angry.
Out amongst the desert, Hank and the other agents on the task force wait for the big meet Tortuga let them in on. Simultaneously, the others make fun of Hank in Spanish, lying to him and saying they’re glad to have him around. From nowhere, he’s the one to spy something moving in the distance. His binoculars pick up a gruesome image. When they head down it appears Tortuga’s head is mounted to the back of a tortoise. Worse? On the shell is painted: HOLA DEA. This is a huge shock to Hank, who runs off sick, further being made fun of for his apparent weakness. Still, moving away from the tortoise also puts him away from the blast – when an agent tries picking up the head, the tortoise explodes and sends this into utter chaos.It is one nasty fucking scene. Finally, Agent Schrader bloodily understands the lessons of Juarez and its danger.
Jesse is riling up his troops to take over the city: “Were gonna be kings,” he tells them laying out the plan. He also tells them the structure will be “layered like nachos“, so that he reaches them in their language. Back to Walter goes Jesse with news that things are going ahead. But never ever is Walt satisfied. He starts applying “simple economics” to a business that is far from simple.
In the end of this episode, Jesse and Jane come together. Is this the start of something beautiful, or tragic? For those of us that have watched through, several times, already – we know.
Again, loved this episode. Each one is incredible.
Next up is “Better Call Saul”, an introduction to one of the more fun characters in Breaking Bad‘s little world.

Villeneuve Crosses the Border of Criminality with Sicario

Sicario. 2015. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.
Starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Max Trujillo, Julio Cedillo, Hank Rogerson, Bernardo P. Saracino, and Kevin Wiggins. Black Label Media/Lions Gate Films/Thunder Road Pictures.
Rated 14A. 121 minutes.

POSTERThe opening of Sicario provides us a definition of the term. The first involves Romans, the Jews killing people who invaded their homelands. The second offers up the term as Mexican for ‘hitman’. Immediately, along with the pulsing pound of the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson (who worked with director Denis Villeneuve previously on Prisoners), the film sets us up for a grim story. In fact, the initial 3 or 4 minutes are dark – unbelievably so – and the tone is set.
One of the things I admire about Villeneuve, from his early feature Maelström to the most recent Prisoners, even Incendies, is the fact as a director he sets the atmosphere, mood and tone of his work so smoothly and so quickly that it’s almost ridiculous. Not in a bad way. He immerses us in the bleak lives of the characters sitting in the middle of his stories. We’re right alongside them. In Prisoners, before the main action of the plot even takes place you get this frightening sense of an ominous story to come. Similarly, Villeneuve draws us into Sicario‘s web with a dark and brooding landscape, plus a heavy dose of nihilistic action set within the morbidly electrifying world of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Mexican cartels. Never once does this film let go. Always tense, never ceasing with its suspenseful atmosphere, filled by doubt and an almost raw animal quality. The agents who inhabit this story, everyone involved, they are each predators; all fighting to rule the jungle.
During an FBI raid of possible kidnappers, Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and the rest of the team find corpses stashed in the walls of the house. Kate and others take a breather, as the investigation team starts a crime scene. Then an IED explodes in the back of the house, which kills two officers on the scene. Dave Jennings (Victor Garber) later recommends Agent Macer to a CIA Special Activities Division, and undercover officer/DOD adviser Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). He and a group of operatives are tracking down those responsible, including a hitman for a Juárez cartel named Manuel Diaz. Willingly volunteering her time, and possibly life, Kate takes part in the team.
Once Kate meets a partner of Graver, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), she’s told they are headed to Juárez. This changes everything. Suddenly her journey with the team becomes more likely to be deadly. After they finally land in Juárez, we follow Agent Macer and the others closely, right alongside the action. The drug wars are running high, hot, heavy. The blood is not done flowing, on the streets of America nor certainly is it anywhere near finished in Juárez. Kate has to transform into a different, tougher, more brutal agent if she is to survive the job with which she’s been tasked.

Kate: “The fuck are we doing?”
One reason I walked away from this film thoroughly satisfied is because, while certain elements are things we’ve all seen before, the screenplay from Taylor Sheridan contains a lot of good stuff. It isn’t a ton of cliched CIA/FBI nonsense jammed together with the tired view of cartels with which we’ve been inundated in the movies. Sheridan provides solid dialogue, as well as paces the film pretty well. For an action film that contains a nice helping of dialogue, there doesn’t feel like any points where the pacing lags. That’s always a downer for a movie relying on action to drive the audience’s attention span. But it isn’t predominantly action. This film has so much intrigue and mystery, specifically pertaining to Benicio del Toro’s character, his backstory and origins. Not to mention the already infamous scene where Alejandro in the interrogation room most likely rapes a man; that’s debatable but I believe a running theme in this film, pertaining to the cartel and also the methods of CIA/FBI Agents, is that the horrors we do see are nothing compared to the ones we don’t see. It’s all about the surface, appearances, and the hidden underbelly. So Alejandro as a character embodies much of that theme himself. Overall, the writing is very subtle in places where it could easily have gone over-the-top, typical, or just full-on cliche.
Next is the fact I thought a female protagonist in Sicario works perfectly. We need more strong but also flawed female characters in cinema. Not to say Agent Kate Macer is flawed in a negative sense. Although, in terms of having to become part of this dangerous drug war world Kate has flaws – she is too human. Throughout the film we watch her struggle with the weight of moral ambiguity in the face of trying to attain the greater good. A man is usually who we see in this situations, whether on television or in the movies. Nice to watch Emily Blunt play an interesting character, especially thrown into this typically male-dominated environment, and we follow along to see how she either fits in, or falls out. And she is not perfect, again, I repeat, not perfect. Just like male characters we see who are allowed to be tough and also ridiculously flawed, Blunt plays Agent Macer as someone not perfect, even if she is tougher than nails. It’s the duality that needs to be allowed to female characters, much as it is for the men. Because they are just as interesting, if not more so depending on the situation. Personally, I dig how she navigates the patriarchal world of law enforcement and particularly the one concerning cartels, eventually proving her worth in the part she plays.SICARIO Day 16 S_D16_04262.NEFPic3
There are a wealth of great characters in this film. Aside from that, again I have to say, Villeneuve does a fantastic job making everything look so dark and murky, even in broad daylight. There are a few elements to all that. First, the cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins is slick, rich, it has a vibrant quality in every kind of light, whether among the shadows or in the dusty sunlit streets of Mexico. Deakins is a master behind the lens and his work with Villeneuve only continues to affirm that, every damn time. They are a perfect pairing, almost with the same sensibilities in terms of how subject matter ought to be captured through the cinematographer’s eyes. Regardless, they work so well as a team. Secondly, as I mentioned at the start Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score provides the appropriate music at every last turn. At the start the opening sequence is driven by his foreboding music, throbbing in our ears and right through the chest. Later, the intensity amps up when the action gets frenetic, or generally swells, gets deeper and more gloomy when the story turns darker, darker still. Jóhannsson compliments the story in the best way, which only helps the work of Deakins and Villeneuve look/feel better along the way.
If I said Sicario were anything less than a 5-star film, I’d be lying. I’m not saying it has to be perfect. I’m saying it does an amazingly impressive job with every aspect of the film, from music to production design to the writing, the direction and the cinematography. Every bit of this movie is enjoyable. It enthralled me from beginning to end. Seeing it in theatre is worth it, as the visuals look even more gorgeous on a big screen. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing it on Blu ray, which will absolutely be a whole new experience. This is written well, captured well. Denis Villeneuve is a fantastic and fascinating director who is worthy of watching, film after film. I hope he keeps making things with an edge, a darkness in them. He manages to bring across those tough stories so well, with a shadowy yet human quality. This one is a furious, enjoyable romp through drug war territory with a deep and fractured look into the people who fight it, how they do, as well as the lengths to which they’ll go under the guise of a ‘greater good’. At times nihilistic, Sicario is always a treat for the eyes, the ears, and that dark spot in your soul where only little tiny bits of hope cling.