Contagion & The Magic of Better Call Saul

Contagion – A movie rarely gets better with age. When Contagion, first came out, it was easy to dismiss. This could not happen here, right? I mean Steven Soderbergh is off his rocker.

I finally got around to watching Contagion and not only it is excellent, it is extremely harrowing. The movie does give the worst version of this virus and the worst version of people’s reactions to the virus. IT is certainly not as bad as COVID-19. It is the similarities and the understanding of how globalization can make this disease possible that help this movie shine.

Contagion Trailer

The first twenty minutes are some of the best and most moving film I have seen this year. Soderbergh does such a good job of showing and cutting. He manages to tell a story of the outbreak and the players involved without it feeling overwhelming. He assumes his viewers are smart but not in need of a lecture. Soderbergh also fills his world with fascinating characters who respond differently to the situation. One reporter who lies about a cure and profits off of people’s pity. Another government official breaks protocol to keep his family safe. These are all very human and understandable, and makes you think about what is important in a crisis.

Many will want to avoid this movie as much as possible. If you can stomach it, this is a must watch. Even if you are unsure, there is something to be gained for everyone. Sometimes we watch things like Top Chef that make us feel comfortable and easy. Sometimes we have to watch things that force us to expand our comfort zone. This is one of those movies, and I am imploring you now to watch it. A

You’ve heard of the Cayman Islands right? Jesus!

Kim Wexler, S5 E9

I did not start watching Breaking Bad until this year. I loved the show, but something felt a bit off. It was just more basic than I was expecting. I expected the show to be exceptionally subversive, instead what I got was bringing the anti-hero to its logical conclusion. It is an excellent show, but I left wanting more.

Spoiler Alert! Do not watch the video if you do not want to have spoilers.

As a result, I went into Better Call Saul with low expectations. Breaking Bad left me a bit unsatisfied, so I did not that a prequel would be any better. I had heard good things, but just did not think the show could be any different or any better than Breaking Bad. As a character, I was not that attached to Saul Goodman to begin with. I just found him to be lacking at times, especially for a comic relief character. I assumed the prequel would be a bad attempt at a spinoff at best. By some miracle, Better Call Saul managed to not just avoid that, but become one of the best TV shows ever. It turned Jimmy/Saul/Gene into one of the most tragic figures on Television. It created new characters that are more captivating than some of the best from the original show, and added depth to characters from the old show in ways that help you understand them better. The show is a miracle, and in its fifth season, it became better than its predecessor.

The show has to not only defy expectations but truly revolutionize the idea of the antihero. Walter White became incredibly hard to root for, especially after the second season. The other characters were excellent, but Walter was never hard for me to root against. Jimmy/Saul is so much harder to root against. He is so charming and funny, and his anger become understandable early on. It also becomes hard to root against other characters. The show suggests that everyone in Walter’s orbit breaks bad, and it makes their fate that much harder to watch.

It also manages to weave in new characters who are just as if not more compelling than there older counterparts. Lalo, Nacho, and Kim Wexler add new twists and excitement to a show that should be spoiler-proof. What happens to these characters become a reason to watch and become the most thrilling parts of the show. Kim especially, as she becomes Jimmy/Saul’s equal. I have never cared for a fictional character more than I care for Kim. It is easy to understand why she acts the way she does, and the inevitable downfall that is coming makes it all the more painful.

Many will still not want to watch a show about a lawyer, no matter how much they loved Breaking Bad. Regardless of how much you liked Breaking Bad, you owe it to yourself to watch Better Call Saul. It has taken the blueprint of Breaking Bad and turned it into a masterpiece of television.

What I have been reading and Watching

Hi everyone. I have read and watched too much during these past couple weeks to write about, so I thought it would be best to put some of my favorite things I watched and read in a post. Let me know if you have other suggestions.

Movies

The Crying Game – The Crying Game is a bizarre story, but is surprisingly effective. Stephen Rea is the main reason I decided to watch this film. He was married to prominent IRA activist Dolours Price. The film takes some incredibly weird turns, but I am surprised by how affecting I found the film to be. It’s on Netflix and I would recommend if you are really bored. B-

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Ang Lee’s beautiful film about sacrifice and growth is still quite good. The performances here are great, but the film is mainly about the cinematography and choreography of the fights. It is excellent and a really fun watch. I think this movie definitely could have more to say, but it is a really well-made film. B

Television

Hillary – The Hulu docuseries is an interesting look at Hillary’s life. The documentary is divided into two parts: the 2016 election and a chronological look at her past. I found the latter to be more interesting, as they ask tough questions about her time as a first lady and show how important she is as an American figure she is. The 2016 election is less interesting to me, but it is through no fault of their own. It simply has been rehashed and debated too much.

The documentary is certainly biased toward Hillary, but it does a good job of giving counters to many of her assumptions. This is a film that is dedicated to her story, so naturally, she will look more sympathetic than others. However, I think this is a good docuseries, that understands the subject. For anyone with a passing interest in politics, you should watch. B

Devs – This is probably the best show I have seen on the nature of free will. Too often shows that tackle these subjects aim for complexity. This show aims for slow understanding. The showrunner is Alex Garland, who wrote Ex Machina and Annihilation, two films that I adore. Devs is a slow-burn, but it is too the show’s benefit. Its approach gives it time to analyze the ideas behind the show, and give it a melancholic feel necessary to the story. I cannot describe the show without giving away important details, but if any of these topics interest you, watch it. A-

Breaking Bad – The hallmark show is definitely overrated, but is still a great watch. The ending is phenomenal, and while certain sections of this show lag, Breaking Bad really becomes a beautiful study on what lurks beneath. Every performance in this show is excellent, Anna Gunn and Aaron Paul are the two standouts to me. Bryan Cranston is obviously terrific as well. While The Wire is still the best show of all time in my book, this is a great watch and should be on everybody’s list. A-

The Leftovers – This is peak pandemic watching. The premise of the show is that 2% of the world’s population disappears all at once. The story picks up three years later, as people are left to try to figure out what happened and avoid it happening again. This is not a show interested in explanations, but rather in how people deal with and attempt to explain the unexplainable. The Leftovers loves ambiguity and uncertainty, which will frustrate plenty of viewers. Nevertheless, I think it is beautiful. I still have one more season to go, but I cannot recommend it enough. If you are into bleak storytelling, it is hard to get bleaker than this. Damon Lindelof is the head writer, and he does a phenomenal job. A terrific watch and my only regret may not be rating it highly enough after the final season.

The Plot Against America – One of my favorite books is now an HBO miniseries. David Simon and Ed Burns, the men behind The Wire, recreated the alternative history into an extremely real story of not doing the right thing when needed. Simon and Burns nail the characters, and the performers really bring the nuance forward. It is a necessary tale of anti-semitism and of poor leadership in times of crisis. Sounds familiar?

Mrs. America – The first three episodes of this show dropped on Hulu a few days ago, and all of them were excellent. The story about the figures in the women’s liberation movement is a terrific story about how women fought to gain respect amongst their colleagues on both sides of the feminist movement.  I will have more as the show continues, but a great watch as well.

Top Chef – Top Chef is the best. I love it. It’s just so fun. If you need a cooking show fix, this is the one. Fun, fast, and incredibly high stakes, Top Chef is what every cooking game show hopes to be. It is terrific. Watch it. Seriously.

Books

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe – The definitive book on the troubles in Northern Ireland. A searing account of the violence and anger that defined generations of violence. It is a terrific and well-researched story.

A Dance with Dragons – The last of the Game of Thrones books. I have read many books in between when I have gotten bored, but this is one of the most entertaining books of the series thus far. I cannot wait to let you know what I think of the conclusion!