Friday, April 18, 2014

"That Guy... Who Was in That Thing." (Documentary Film Recommendation)

If you are aspiring to be a working actor—regardless if you are just starting out or have been at it for decades—then I highly recommend that you watch the documentary "That Guy... Who Was in That Thing."

A lot of us get into the business with dreams of super-stardom. The possibility—albeit remote—of lucrative roles, name recognition and, of course, having the luxury of passing on a job because it doesn't appeal to our artistic ideals... then we actually start trying to get work and the role doesn't matter to us as much as whether or not it comes with a paycheck.

I've had the opportunity to talk with young actors in high school and college and I like to ask them the following question: "What's the best kind of actor to be?"

And it's so cute when they say things like, "A theatre actor," "A film actor" or "A method actor." Then I smile and say to them, "There's only one correct answer to that question: The best kind of actor to be is a WORKING actor."

Yes, we do get into the business because of our passion as artists but we can't lose site of the fact that it is a BUSINESS and if we want to make a LIVING at it, we need to be willing to say "Yes" more often than no.

Admit it, if you're agent called you up and said, "A casting director saw your reel and they want you for a part in a film, they're offering to pay you a SAG-equivalent day-rate for a week of work," you'd say yes without even knowing what the movie's about. At least, if you want to call yourself a professional, working actor, you will.

Of course everyone is going to draw a line somewhere. I remember when most of the acting gigs on Craigslist were for non-paying student films and not porn. But let's be honest... I couldn't get hired as an "adult performer" even if I wanted to be.

All that being said, "That Guy... Who Was in That Thing" profiles the type of actor that I would LOVE to become. Somebody that people recognize on the street because they've seen me in a whole lot of commercials, TV shows and movies but they can never quite remember my name because I'm not the leading man, I'm usually in a supporting or character role. I'm on screen just long enough to make an impression and be recognized and working enough in the industry to at least not have to work at a "day job" that I would hate. And that should be the dream for most actors. To be able to do what you love and make a living at it. To be a working actor.

I used to tell people that if I could be like any actor, I'd want to be like Terry O'Quinn... Because he was always working. Then he got that gig on "Lost" and everybody knew who he was so I had to look for another woking actor to aspire to be like... so I chose Anthony Zerbe. I met him once when I was in college. You've probably never heard of him. But I bet you've seen him. He's so obscure he wasn't even asked to be in "That Guy... Who Was in That Thing." But at least he's working. :-)

I do have some higher aspirations than that, of course... when I allow myself to really dream big: I want to be the Paul Giamatti of the Intermountain West film community. ;-)

"That Guy... Who Was in That Thing"
"That Guy... Who Was in That Thing"

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Breaking Bad

Vince Gilligan's series managed to knock "Six Feet Under" out of my top spot for favorite television show of all time. I was hooked on "Breaking Bad" from the beginning. Intrigued by the premise and blown away by its execution, my inner hipster takes immense pleasure in the fact that I have been watching the show on AMC since it first aired.

Walter White's journey has been a fascinating one and "Breaking Bad" has served, for me at least, as a great example of how Brigham Young described the theatre (and, by extension, film and television): "Upon the stage of a theatre can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to shun it."

We watched Walter give in to evil and how it had consequences. We saw his weakness (pride) and his follies. The greatness of truth in his redemptive act of finally admitting to Skylar his selfish motivations for what he did. And I have always felt impressed with a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences by the actions of multiple characters in the series. While there are a fair share innocent bystanders in the series, most of the guilty parties do get what was coming to them. As someone with an overdeveloped sense of justice, it's what I needed to see in order to have closure with this journey and yet I was at first a little torn by seeing Walt come back from the brink, at least a little bit in the end. Then I was glad to see that even though he did embrace the Heisenberg persona in the end, it was to some degree a facade and that Walter still managed to come clean about some things with Skylar and find a way to help his family before going out in the inevitable hale of gunfire.

I'm very grateful for the opportunity to have experienced "Breaking Bad" and to bond with family and friends over the shared journey. I wish to express to the creator, cast and crew of the series a great deal of thanks for their work and wish them all continued success in their careers.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Expiation by Richard Dutcher (Review)

My friend Richard Dutcher wrote an excellent short story titled "Expiation"—published by Sunstone Magazine.

It gave me a lot to think about when it comes to Mormon culture and attitudes regarding a number of topics from redemption to the words of prophets—and how they are interpreted—and attitudes towards the sins and nature of others, especially those that we love.

The story isn't a happy one and is written as a confession discovered in a Utah canyon. The story made me grateful for the light and knowledge that's been made available to us through modern revelation and also disappointed in the fact that so many people will close their eyes and ears to it out of fear of getting something wrong, all the while forgetting that we're not expected to get everything right in the first place.

The story also raises questions for me that I hope someday to find the answers to about Church history and attitudes and beliefs of the early Latter-day Saints and their leaders and how God requires different sacrifices from different groups of His children at different times.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

ZERO DARK THIRTY (Review)



This was a disturbing film to watch. And I'm glad I was disturbed by it. That isn't to say it wasn't a worthwhile film. It was. And I highly recommend it.

"Zero Dark Thirty" gave me reason to pause. Reason to think and evaluate not just my own values but our country's values. When a CIA officer is yelling at his staff and telling them, "Give me people to kill," I would hope that would make anyone with a conscience stop and think.

It was interesting to learn that the officer(s) who discovered Bin Laden's compound actually wanted to drop a bomb—or use a drone strike, I suppose—but I'm glad it was decided that we put boots on the ground for the operation. There's something to be said for seeing ones enemy up close, especially when the time comes to neutralize them.

Osama Bin Laden is probably the closest this world has come to having an actual super-villain. Should I not use comic-book analogies for something so serious? I guess not. But that's how I feel. But it wasn't a super-hero that took him out. It was regular men and women working hard at what they do.

Having worked for a time in the US Intelligence Community, I can appreciate the effort that was made and the need for teamwork to make such a mission successful. I also felt a certain degree of pride for having once been part of that community and at the same time a bit of shame for the way we've treated detainees in the name of homeland security. I'm still on the fence in regard to what we're doing with armed drones and what that means for future conflicts and perceived threats to our country.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Griswold Old Navy Ads

I think these are just brilliant. :-)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"On Golden Pond" at Midvale Main Street Theatre


Some of the most pleasant summers I’ve ever experienced were in Maine and there was nothing like watching Midvale Main Street Theatre’s production of “On Golden Pond” to capture those memories so perfectly, right down to the black fly references. If anyone can’t wait to take a summer trip to a lake house, I highly recommend making your way to Midvale for one or more of the five remaining performances on May 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26 at 7:00 PM. You early birds can catch a 2:00 PM matinee on Saturday May 19.
I’ve been attending productions at Midvale since 2010. The first was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” which featured “On Golden Pond” director Eve Speer as Nurse Ratched and E. Timothy Schomburg as the unassuming Mr. Martini. I was very pleased to see Tim taking on the much more vociferous role of Norman Thayer Jr. and cracked up along with the rest of the audience at his take on the crotchety character. I also found myself very moved at times during those quiet moments where the stage is shared by just himself and Mary Scott Mason playing the role of his wife Ethel where Norman’s character reveals his more vulnerable side to the one person he trusts more than any other and who understands him best.

I felt at times that the story seems told more from Ethel’s point of view than anyone else’s; even when she wasn’t on stage. Seeing Norman alone with his wife offers context to the character that the other members of the family aren’t privy to, most importantly Norman and Ethel’s daughter Chelsea, played by Jennifer Mason and her fiance Bill—played by Marc Reading who last graced Midvale’s stage as prosecuting attorney Horace Gilmer in “To Kill a Mockingbird” also directed by Speer. Bill has only Chelsea’s biased recollections to prepare him to meet his future father-in-law.
Austin Heaton play’s Billy Ray, Bill’s son and namesake. He comes across as a young Norman, cracking wise and teasing like the elder Thayer, which probably explains why the two characters seem to get along so well.
Joe Dutson gives a promising first performance as Charlie, the mailman, who seems to be carrying a torch for Chelsea and takes losing her to Bill with good humor and an unusual laugh.
“On Golden Pond” is a wonderful play about family with all of the stress and complications that can be expected. It’s also a story of forgiveness and how it is possible to mend strained relationships after many years and even later in life, whether on the threshold of middle age or at the extreme end of it.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Macbeth and Breaking Bad

I am proud to say that I have some brilliant nieces and nephews. I'd like to introduce you to my niece, Krystal Darling. Yes, that's her real last name. She is my sister Adele's (yes, I have a sister named Adele) older daughter.

Krystal has excellent taste in music, literature, film and television and she is an absolute joy to talk to on any and all of those subjects.

This year, she wrote a fascinating essay for her AP Literature class comparing Shakespeare's "Macbeth" with AMC's excellent series "Breaking Bad" and she has agreed to allow me to share it with you right here in "Puente's Reading Room."

Enjoy


Krystal Darling
Mrs. Silkwood
AP Literature
1 March 2012
“Something Wicked This Way Comes.”
After receiving a compelling prophecy, an otherwise noble man is propelled into corruption by his ambition to achieve his goals. He descends further and further into a moral darkness as his new found power takes control of every aspect of life. This is a well known tale; the tragedy of Macbeth. However, the same description can be applied to another story; Breaking Bad. Though there are some discrepancies among their specific details, overall they are strikingly similar. In fact, the themes, character flaws, and motifs of Shakespeare’s Macbeth are omnipotent throughout AMC’s Breaking Bad
The tragedy of Macbeth is based upon greed, corruption, and the lust for power. The protagonist is tempted to commit evil deeds by a prophecy, and with the help of his wife he attempts to clear his path to royalty. He becomes more and more corrupted by his power until it eventually leads to his downfall. Macbeth is a well known piece of classic literature which influences and inspires many modern works including literature, film, and television. 
Breaking Bad is a television drama which revolves around fear, courage, and the corruption of the human soul. When Walter White is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he turns to drastic measures in order to provide for his family. He begins manufacturing methamphetamines for quick cash. As he achieves his financial goals, he is lured into darkness by a newfound power that is completely unknown to him. His motives and ideas slowly become uncharacteristic of his former self as he travels further on his moral journey.
Just as Macbeth is stirred to action by a prophecy, Walter is set into motion by his cancer diagnosis. In an article in the New York Times, Segal writes “With the death penalty of his diagnosis looming, Walt wakes from the slumber of an unfulfilling life, evolving from feckless drudge to reluctant part-time criminal, then gradually to something worse.” Without this prophecy, the idea of turning to crime must have seemed preposterous and farfetched to both of these men. However, once the idea was planted, it grew quickly and consumed their lives. Eventually it also began affecting those emotionally close to them. 
The role of Walter’s former student and counterpart Jesse is, in many ways, similar to the role of Lady Macbeth. Both she and Jesse do not at first think that the protagonist is capable of the deed. Lady Macbeth states that her husband’s nature is “Too full o’the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way (33). She knows he isn’t the type to commit sin, especially against one who does not deserve it in the slightest. Similarly, when Jesse hears of Walter’s plan, he is disbelieving, saying “All the sudden…at age fifty you’re going to break bad (“Pilot”)?”
Another similarity between these two secondary characters surfaces when the first murder is committed. As Macbeth struggles with his conscience, Lady Macbeth chastises him and criticizes his manhood, disgusted by his indecisiveness. She insults him, saying “When you durst do it, then you were a man;…(43).”  Jesse is also irked when Walter is reluctant to go through with the act, saying “I did my part, now you do yours (…and the Bag’s in the River).”
As well as further goading the protagonist into action, both Jesse and Lady Macbeth do the “dirty work” of the first murder. Lady Macbeth smears Duncan’s sleeping guards with his blood and frames them for his murder, as Macbeth himself is too shaken. In Breaking Bad, Jesse is given the job of disposing of the body. The secondary characters both sustain mental damage from their role in these crimes. They are also affected by the protagonist’s other decisions.
Blood is always present and playing a role in Macbeth, just as methamphetamines are in Breaking Bad. Macbeth’s decision to shed blood is very similar to Walters’s decision to start cooking methamphetamines. Their decisions regarding these subjects lead them into danger and cause them to become entangled in a web of lies. In addition, with both meth and blood the secondary character is eventually more emotionally and physically affected than the main character. 
Macbeth’s first soliloquy in Act Two is strikingly similar to the scene preceding Walter’s first deliberate murder. Both characters wrestle with their morals, arguing with themselves.  Walter goes as far as to make a pros and cons list about the murder. The idea of committing such a heinous deed warps logic in their minds, foreshadowing the upcoming paranoia. Macbeth sees an imaginary dagger, and it seems to come as a horrifying and fascinating revelation. Walter has a similar experience after he decides to let his would be victim go free. As he prepares to do so, he realizes that the man has been hiding a weapon from him all along and plans to kill him. This is devastating news, yet it makes Walter see that murder is now his only option. He is prevented from thinking it over more by discovering that his own life is at risk. In Macbeth’s case, the ringing of the bell interrupts his thought process and sets him into action.  This marks the beginning of a fragile mental state for both men.
The characters in Macbeth are plagued by hallucinations, similar to the way Breaking Bad’s characters are plagued by constant paranoia. As more atrocities are committed, guilt sets in and greatly affects the mental health of the characters. Macbeth is haunted by the “ghost” of Banquo, when in reality it is only a mental manifestation of his blood stained conscience. This warped conscience manifests itself with Walter as he begins to become extremely paranoid. He sees a threat at every turn, convincing himself that every word is a threat and each coincidence, no matter how miniscule, is a sign of something gone horribly wrong.  
This paranoia involves not only the protagonists, but those close to them and involved. Lady Macbeth and Jesse are plagued by guilty hallucinations due to their role in the crimes committed. Lady Macbeth is unable to rid herself of the blood from Duncan’s murder, and she suffers from insomnia and hysterics. As she desperately tries to wash the imaginary blood from her hands, she remarks “Out, damned spot! Out, I say (155)!” Correspondingly, Jesse is unable to break free of the grip of methamphetamines, and under the influence his guilt is magnified until he loses grip with reality altogether. At one point he imagines two large men wielding weapons are walking towards his door to deliver his retribution, when in reality it is only tracting missionaries. 
Both Jesse and Lady Macbeth change drastically as the story progresses and the guilt worsens.  In the beginning, they think nothing of the “evil deeds” and are more than willing to assist actively. However, as time passes, they realize the significance of their sins against humanity. As guilt begins to affect their mental and physical health, the protagonist simultaneously is gaining power and ego. Walter loses his compassion for Jesse and is lost in his own ventures. Macbeth is so engrossed in his own problems that he doesn’t even spare a moment to grieve when his wife commits suicide. “She should have died hereafter; there would have been time for such a word (171).” 
As the main characters in both stories continue in their downward spiral, their initial morals all but disappear. Their original goals are swept away in the lust for power and status. Though in the beginning the two men were meek and seemingly spineless, the passing of time and the atrocities they have committed have hardened their hearts. 
As Birnam wood seems to march towards Dunsinane, Macbeth says “I have almost forgotten the taste of fears. The time has been, my senses would have cooled to hear a night shriek, and my fell of hair would at dismal treatise rouse and stir as life were in’t. I have supped full with horrors. Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts, cannot once start me (171).”
Walter starts out as a weak and frightened individual, and as he changes his actions his constitution changes as well. He explains to his brother; “I have spent my whole life scared. Frightened of things that could happen, might happen, might not happen. Fifty years I spent like that. Finding myself awake at three in the morning (“Better Call Saul”).”  Much later in the story, after Walter’s wife shows concern for his safety, he angrily retorts; “Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see?...I am not in danger, I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks (“Cornered”).” Walter seems insulted by his wife’s assumption. She doesn’t see the complete mental change he has gone through, though it seems apparent to him. 
At one point, Walter has the opportunity to reform his ways and go back to his old life. He almost does this, yet his small taste of power has addicted him. He quickly reverts back to his old ways. When he notices some other men are planning to cook meth, he strides up to them without fear and menacingly warns “Stay out of my territory (“Over”).” Andrew Romano states in a newspaper article, “Walt started out a deeply sympathetic figure and then gradually morphed, over three seasons of escalating immorality, into an almost unrecognizable creep. In the beginning, he was cooking meth only so his family wouldn't be destitute when he died. Now you're not so sure.”
In both stories, the murders that may have seemed almost necessary in the beginning quickly become excessive. One slaughter leads to another, forming a trail of blood. Macbeth kills successor after successor until he is in line for king and feels he is unchallenged. Walter decides he must get rid of anyone whom he feels threatens him, his operation, or his family. These killings go from painful to casual. As time goes on the murders are presented as less and less dramatic. After the murder of Duncan in Macbeth, the subsequent murders are not nearly as described or mentally debated. Similarly, as more murders are committed in Breaking Bad, Walter ceases to show any hesitation or remorse for lost life.  These men’s regards to morals go completely down the drain. They even go as far as to lose sympathy for children. Without second thought, Macbeth sends murderers to kill Macduff’s wife and children in their own home. Walter poisons and nearly kills a young child important to Jesse in order to manipulate Jesse into killing a man.  
One major tool that both Walter White and Macbeth use is Justification. Macbeth tells the murderers that the assassination is for the best, and that Banquo is the cause of all their problems. “Know Banquo was your enemy. So is he mine…(85.)” Walter uses the same persuasion to get Jesse to help him kill Gus. “Who do you know who’s allowed children to be murdered? Gus (“End Times”).”  Walter also justifies his actions by saying that it will save himself and his family. He tells Jesse that the murder of Gus is justified, saying “He had to go (“Face Off”).” 
The changes in character in both Breaking Bad and Macbeth were due to conscious decisions. “Breaking Bad is not a situation in which the characters' morality is static or contradictory or colored by the time frame; instead, it suggests that morality is continually a personal choice. The difference between White in the middle of Season one and White in the debut of Season four is not the product of his era or his upbringing or his social environment. It's a product of his own consciousness. He changed himself. At some point, he decided to become bad, and that's what matters.”(Grantland) Macbeth also made a choice to become an immoral man, as he knew with certainty that his actions were wrong.  These men ignored their conscience and forced themselves into a life of darkness. As they progressed further, dark deeds became easier and conscience slowly faded away.
As conscience was pushed into the far regions of the mind, it was replaced by arrogance. Walter White and Macbeth each developed a mindset in which they considered themselves invincible.  In Walter’s case, his ability to produce a high quality product convinces him that he will not be killed. This confidence leads him to make poor decisions that put his and Jessie’s lives in danger. “If there’s a larger lesson to ‘Breaking Bad, it’s that actions have consequences,” says Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator. In Macbeth, the protagonist is drunk with confidence after hearing prophecies that make it seem as though he can’t be killed.  He consequently is ill-prepared for the attack on his castle. This of course leads to Macbeth’s defeat.
Though there are many similarities between Breaking Bad and Macbeth, there are also notable differences. The obvious differences are within the minor details. Looking beyond these minor details, several major differences are apparent. First, Walter’s motive seems far more benevolent than Macbeth’s in the beginning, and he makes a more dramatic transformation over the course of the story.  In contrast, the reader never really sympathized with Macbeth’s ambition to be king, and had little knowledge of him other than the shallow information given through the words of other characters. Breaking Bad also has no allusion to the supernatural, and in Macbeth the supernatural is a major theme. Another element missing is the conclusion; Breaking Bad has another season yet to be aired, while Macbeth’s conclusion is well known. Even after considering these differences, the two stories continue to appear remarkably similar.
The themes, character flaws, and characteristics of Shakespeare’s Macbeth occur frequently throughout AMC’s Breaking Bad. Though these stories take place in different settings, follow different plots, and belong to different genres, they have much in common. One idea is made very clear. The lust for power, when presented in the right circumstances, can corrupt even the most noble of men. 
Works Cited
“…And the Bag’s in the River” Breaking Bad. AMC. New York. (Feb 10, 2008). Television.
“Better Call Saul” 
“Cornered” Breaking Bad. AMC. New York. (Aug 21, 2011). Television.
“End Times” Breaking Bad. AMC. New York. (Oct. 2, 2011). Television.
“Face Off” Breaking Bad. AMC. New York. (Oct 9, 2011). Television.
Klosterman, Chuck. “Bad Decisions” Grantland. n.p, 12 July, 2011. Web. 3 February 2012
“Over” Breaking Bad. AMC. New York. (May 10, 2009). Television.
“Pilot” Breaking Bad. AMC. New York. (Jan 20, 2008). Television
Romano, Andrew. “The most dangerous show on television.” Newsweek 158.1/2(2011):58-63. 
Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Feb. 2012
Segal, David. “The Dark Art of Breaking Bad.”  The New York Times. n.p, 6 July 2011. Web. 2 
February 2012. 
Shakespeare, William. “Macbeth.” Macbeth and Related Readings. Ed. Unknown.  Evanston:     
           McDougal Littell, 1997. 3-185. Print.
Watts, James D. Jr. “The couple that slays together…” Tulsa World (OK, 05 Sept. 2010:  
Newspaper source plus. Web. 10 Feb 2012