Amoeblog

One Bad Day: Breaking Bad, The Killing Joke & Something or Other about Mark Millar

Posted by Charles Reece, October 2, 2013 09:48am | Post a Comment
breaking bad: jesse reacts to andrea's murder

As if you don't know, that there is Jesse Pinkham from Breaking Bad having one very fucked up day (in the episode "Granite State"). He's just witnessed his ex-girlfriend, Andrea, get knocked off by Todd, whom Jesse has appositely summed up as "that dead-eyed Opie piece of shit." Todd belongs to criminal clan of ratio-instrumentalist racist rednecks and he's the least emotional of the bunch when it comes to taking care of business. He shot a child witness last season without flinching, now terrorizes Skyler by threatening to kill her baby girl Holly should anything come out to the cops about Lydia (Todd's crush and criminal business partner), followed by murdering Andrea to prove a point. The point being that Jesse better keep cooking meth for Lydia and the rednecks or he'll kill Andrea's boy, Brock, just as easily as he did his mother. Contrary to the cannibalistic hillbilly savages that Hollywood tends to depict the under-employed and -privileged white Southerner as, Uncle Jack's family are real cold motherfuckers. Everything is about profit and risk assessment. They are the smartest criminals in the the entire five season run of the show. And they're probably the most evil, too, for that same reason.

Andrea's murder is the most heinous of all in a story that has featured many, many murders. Why? Because of its iniquity: she was killed because of what it would mean to Jesse, not because -- as was the case in killing Hank or even the boy witness last season -- she had anything on Todd's family or business associates. In terms of the criminal ratiocination that makes up the show's diegesis, her death was the most unfair. Hank was actively going against the criminals, so chose to put his life at risk. And the boy on a bike, at least potentially, had knowledge that might've been actively used against Walt, Todd and the others. Andrea had nothing on which to ever actively go against the rednecks. Instead, she was killed as pure means to an end of which she had absolutely no knowledge or ability (potential or actual) to alter as a free agent -- that end being the continuance of Uncle Jack's family business. Her death was pure collateral damage, in other words. Hank went out with honor, accepting his fate as a result of trying to live as a moral agent, Andrea's life was simply used by others.

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Breaking Bad Maintained Course and Didn't Get Lost

Posted by Charles Reece, September 30, 2013 08:34am | Post a Comment
breaking bad finale walt dying

I found every final showdown Walt had, including with himself, to be emotionally satisfying, maintaining a consistency in characterization to the very end. I'm sure some will say it was all too pat and wrapped up, but the show was never big on narrative realism (it was, however, great at the psychological variety). Besides, the opposite criticism was made of The Sopranos, so there's no way Vince Gilligan and team could satisfy everyone. Also, was the final shot a big raspberry blown at the most notoriously disappointing finale in TV history? To wit:

lost finale jack dying

His Mother's Voice: Only God Forgives' Feminism

Posted by Charles Reece, September 2, 2013 06:10am | Post a Comment
only god forgives poster gosling bruised

"In the beginning, in the uterine night, was the voice, that of the Mother." [p. 74]

That line is from Michel Chion, borrowed from Kaja Silverman's The Acoustic Mirror, since it could easily have served as the epigraph for the psychodynamic plot of Nicolas Refn's Only God Forgives. In Bangkok, Julian (Ryan Gosling), a man-child, is all seething impotency under matriarchal oppression (Crystal, played by Kristin Scott Thomas), yearning to be punished by patriarchal law (Chang, aka the Angel of Vengeance, played by Vithaya Pansringarm). Julian is without a father figure, since he murdered him at Crystal's insistence some time prior to the current story. Her maternal control is a smothering totality that's produced this one son who can't make any decision without mother's approval and his older brother, Billy, who proves his virile independence by brutalizing and killing adolescent prostitutes. The Oedipal theme could hardly be more explicit as she incestuously traces the muscles on Julian's arm or discusses with his dinner date how he has the smaller cock of the two brothers. After Billy is killed at Chang's insistence for the murder of a girl prostitute (the police commander actually makes the father of the girl do the deed), Crystal demands that her surviving son exact familial revenge, regardless of what Billy might've done. This seems to keep with Chion's description of the uterine voice of the mother as an "umbilical net," which he considers "a horrifying expression, since it evokes a cobweb."

Refn expresses this uterine trap through Lynchian styled oneiric cinematography: a voyeuristic camera follows Julian's imaginary wandering down sanguine hallways without an exit. It's not the male gaze that haunts his dreams, however, but his mother's. Despite being trapped in this seemingly endless tunnel, he also desires a reconnection with with the womb as he moves forward, reaching into the darkness. His hope of a maternal reconnection is cutoff when the dream image of Chang, the substitute father, performs symbolic castration with a sword that severs Julian's arm just below the elbow. This is, as Silverman might explain it, a Lacanian version of the Oedipal: the child yearns for an imaginary union with the mother, but the father says, "No," which introduces the kid into the symbolic register where laws, such as moral injunctions, operate. This original 'no' is the law of the father, a symbolic castration that "grounds" (interpretatively retrofits) all future symbolic behavior on a fundamental lack that has removed the child's feeling of being the center of everything -- i.e., that comforting blanket of squishy sonority that surrounded Julian in the womb, before he became old enough to realize what a repressive force his mother is. Thus, he has typical mommy issues, which are made more troubling by the fact that she's a treacherous drug-dealing crime lord.

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'Z' for Zionist? The Horror in World War Z (2013)

Posted by Charles Reece, July 22, 2013 09:30am | Post a Comment
world war z poster matt ferguson

To me, about the only interesting aspect of the latest zombie film, World War Z, is how it dealt with a certain notion that it shares with all post-apocalyptic narratives, namely that the politics we (many liberals and leftists, at least) find iniquitous in the real world might find a moral purchase in the dystopian fantasy. (The film itself is arranged like a video game, where Brad Pitt goes from scenario to scenario, completing each mission, only to be told by the Side Character Who Knows that the possible solution lies at the end of another mission set in another context with its own set of possible actions.) That actions can produce different moral outcomes depending on context shouldn't be all that surprising, though, since most everyone is surely familiar with the adage about how even the most heinous of political systems might at least keep the trains running on time. That is, if you simplify the public good enough, like the purpose a junkie finds in addiction, one can find an advantage to any system. In the context of a zombie apocalypse, the desideratum is, of course, surviving one more day from the undead plague.

So, one thing a totalitarian regime like North Korea is ably suited for is to marshall all of its forces into closing off its borders and making sure none of its citizens is able to spread the disease should he or she become infected. Ideally, the advantage to martial law is to circumvent time-consuming debate during an emergency. This automatically gives an advantage to a totalitarian regime over a democracy, since only the latter has to bother calling for martial law, the former having already been operating under a military state preceding the emergency. Likewise, because North Korea recognizes no inalienable rights to selfhood, current Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un can put his state apparatus to efficient use by removing all the teeth from his entire citizenry. Not that infection was all that probable, since the country was living in a bubble at the time of the outbreak.

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Only Superman Forgives: Man of Steel (2013)

Posted by Charles Reece, July 1, 2013 12:50pm | Post a Comment
man of steel mondo poster mark ansin

I was recently working my way through Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four and it struck me how explicit the reference to the destruction of New York was made during the proceeding alien invasion storyline. Sue Storm (the super-mom of the group) demands that her fellow heroes move the battle with the invading Kree from the city's skyline to the ocean (why the ruler of the oceans, Prince Namor, has no problem with this is, I guess, because he's all googly eyed over Sue). And after the battle, the superheroes are shown helping rebuild the damaged city. This kind of real world destruction was so unimportant to superhero comics in the past that it became a central joke for a miniseries made back in the 80s called Damage Control about who actually does all the cleaning up. That's what the terrorists did to us, made it impossible to imagine a fantasy where real people aren't being hurt by collateral fallout from cataclysmic battles between superpowered beings.

Contrariwise, Slavoj Zizek has suggested 9/11 was a soporific, that it placed us in slumberland where American fantasies could take hold once again ("virtualization," he called it). The terrorists gave us real nefarious villains to which we could be safely opposed. The prominent media reaction, as he took it, like that of the typical superhero narrative, dehistoricized the attacks, setting them in the perpetual present of an endless comic book (or Hollywoodian virtual) world, where the action becomes one of pure villainy for villainy's sake, motivated by nothing but pure evil ("they hate our freedom," etc.). As Dan Hassler-Forest puts it in his book, Capitalist Superheroes:

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