Monthly Archives: April 2016

When Hollywood Gets It Right


My last post focused on the trend in movies and television to generate fear through depictions of terrorist attacks and other acts of violence.  Though I briefly touched on docu-dramas and documentaries which demonstrate the better side of human nature, I regret not putting more effort into a defense of Hollywood when it uses the powerful language of storytelling to help us understand ourselves and the world in which we live.

Last night I watched the final episode of Season II of “Better Call Saul,” the prequel-spinoff from “Breaking Bad.”  My first reaction.  If Executive Producer Vince Gilligan had been in charge of “Star Wars Episodes I-III,” they would have been monumentally better than the originals.  The narrative of how aspiring attorney Jimmy McGill evolves into the ambulance-chasing shyster and drug money bagman Saul Goodman is exactly what George Lucas attempted to do with the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader.  But the resemblance ends there.

“Star Wars I-III” is a perfect example of lost opportunities when special effects and fight scenes displace intelligent writing and subtlety.  In contrast, “Saul” shares seminal moments in the lives of all its characters which shape their perspectives on life and relationships.  Yet, their personal journeys are neither linear nor without speed bumps. In particular, the last two episodes in Season II represent the classic intersection between nature and nurture.  (I PROMISE, NO SPOILER ALERT NEEDED)  The audience sees both sides, each character’s core values challenged by their life experiences.

I want to share one other observation about “Saul.” I was a late-comer to “Breaking Bad.” I never watched a single episode on its original air date, instead binge-watching the entire series in less than one month.  I was more than satisfied the viewing pleasure was worth the time commitment.  But Gilligan and his team also show us the power of curiosity in the creative process.  They were not content Saul Goodman provided welcomed comic relief in Walter White’s dark world of drug dealing and violence.  They wanted (maybe even needed) to know, “Who is this guy?  Where did he come from?  Why does he represent drug dealers?  Why does he need a henchman?  And how did the two become partners?”

This brand of curiosity may not result in another “Breaking Bad.”  But it sure gets one closer than one could have ever imagined.  One can only hope other film and television producers have a similar epiphany.

For what it’s worth.


Nothing to Fear But Hollywood


 Several of the candidates running for President in 2016 have based their appeal on fear.  Fear of terrorist attacks.  Perceived attacks on religious freedom.  Concerns who will have his/her finger on the nuclear button.  I’ll let you, the reader, decide which are valid and which are fear-mongering.  But that decision should be based on what the candidates say and do as well as current events.

What it should not depend on is Hollywood’s playing to audience fears because it produces good box office.  “Homeland” viewers watched as the CIA building was bombed.  Beginning with “Black Sunday” in 1977, movie plots have included fictionalized terrorist attacks on American institutions such as the Super Bowl, Air Force One and most recently, the White House.

Last night, my wife and I began watching the most recent episode of “Madam Secretary,” a show we had enjoyed immensely in Season One.  We jokingly called it, “If Tony Soprano Were Secretary of State,” as “The Sopranos” and “Madam Secretary” share a common thread. Individuals in high-stress jobs face equally stressful lives at home.

Season Two is a different story.  The show should now be called, “Who Gets Blown Up This Week.”  First it was a dirty bomb at a Washington, D.C. luncheon for a Malala doppelganger.  Last night it was a medical team in Africa trying to ward off a potential pandemic. We turned it off. Enough is enough.

Wikipedia lists 59 fictional films in which terrorism is a central theme ( Many contain worst case scenarios regardless of how credible the situation or probability.  Where is the outcry from those who argue violence on TV and the movies promotes a culture of violence?  My guess: they believe violence portrayed in film and TV against U.S and global. institutions supports their messages “the world is on fire” or “be afraid, very afraid.”

None of this discussion minimizes the tragedies in Paris, Brussels, San Bernadino, Charleston or Oklahoma City.  However, they were not apocalyptic.  And the fact that there are not many more of these events is a good sign.  No, authorities cannot stop every attack, but they do prevent more than might be expected according to Hollywood.

This does not suggest film producers and TV studios have not also played a positive role.  On the same Wikipedia page, there are equally as many examples of films portraying actual terrorist events and their aftermath.  In many of the documentaries and docu-dramas, we are touched by the heroism and compassion of those who are the victims or who make a living trying to keep us safe.  However, fiction carries the day. “Air Force One” is the highest grossing terrorism movie of all time pulling in $173 million.  “United 93” is ranked 24th with $34 million in ticket sales.  If only it was the other way around.

For what it’s worth.