Friday, November 25, 2011

Top 5 Quiet Deaths Of Web Series

Somewhere in the midst of the evolution of the Internet, there came the development of Flash games and movies. And yea, it was good. Thanks to this, people with a creative idea and a little bit of know-how are still able to put together fun (and maddeningly addictive) video games as well as stylish, creative animated shorts.

But quite a few of these series are labors of love, produced by people in their 20s or thereabouts in their free time. The lucky few get popular enough to sustain their creator, but sometimes life intervenes in even these successes and the series quietly dies off. Though I'm sure there are plenty of series that have disappeared over the years, here are the top five ones I once followed that have stalled in their tracks, perhaps never to rouse again.

5. Waterman

Waterman still has a bit of spark left, and for that we have to credit Leslie Nielsen. More on that later.

Like a lot of Flash series, this one found a home on Newgrounds, an aggregation site that offers people to submit their animations, games, and audio tracks to an appreciative or not so appreciative audience. "Bryan Waterman's series has serious television potential and a huge following," is the website's glowing blurb at the top of the Waterman page. "His advice: 'You will enjoy the series a lot more if you do not compare it to The Family Guy.'"

Refraining from that comparison is a little difficult, since Waterman shares the same predilection for cutting away from the narrative for a random joke. The randomness carries over to the overall setup, which is more Seinfeld-esque in the way it puts a bunch of strange characters together and sees how their relationships shake out in a strange situation. The cast includes Waterman, the hopefully more dull-witted expy of the creator; Pal, his slightly more level-headed friend; Ice Cream Girl, Waterman's occasional love interest; Roy-Bot, a man with the delusional belief that he's a robot; and Mr. Dillo, a wealthy armadillo. Along the way, they competed in a high-stakes ping-pong tournament, battled pirate reenactors, and befriended a robotic Chuck Norris.

The jokes sometimes fall quite flat, as is always the risk when one tries to turn a pop culture reference into a gag and occasionally decides that a reference is as good as a joke. Still, the series was quite enjoyable and had some pretty clever episodes along the way. Waterman says he was friends with the creators of the immensely popular web series Homestar Runner, dropping a few homages to them along the way. It also took the odd step of including Easter eggs in the form of text that could be read only by pausing the video and zooming in. The series had about 10 episodes and a few shorts in its run.

The disappearance:
The seventh episode was uploaded in August of 2004, and the next installment wasn't uploaded until some years later. It doesn't appear on the Newgrounds site, perhaps because it wasn't as well-received by fans; the plot basically involved the cast walking through a white void and performing with Reel Big Fish, who agreed to cameo themselves (one of several notable guest appearances of bands or celebrities in Flash videos over the years). In 2006, the last Waterman submission arrived and the series went out in a blaze of glory: upgraded graphics and a full 20-minute spectacle.

Bryan Waterman, meanwhile, started up a small graphic design and animation company in Boston known simply as Waterman Studios; the website says he's been in this line of work for over a decade, though he credits the start of the cartoon in 2003 and its modest success with helping him choose a career. He has continued to produce a few cartoons and shorts, available under the "distractions" tab.

However, Waterman has always intended to make the series go out on an even grander note and he's been trying his damndest to produce a full-length movie. A few snippets have appeared, including this impressive sample of the first two minutes. He even got Leslie Nielsen on board as voice talent. In a summary of the production history, Waterman says he nearly bankrupted himself and his company trying to get the movie (originally tagged for a 2008 release) up and running; an independent fundraising effort also failed to get a good response.

Then in November of 2010, Leslie Nielsen died of complications from pneumonia. What this means is that The Waterman Movie, should it ever see the light of day, would be the actor's final piece of work. Waterman says there has been a resurgence of interest in the film as a result and, though a year has passed, he is hoping the movie can eventually be made. "I have lost too much over the years that this project has been in development to never see it come to fruition, and the only personal gain that I have any interest in obtaining from all of this would be the satisfaction of giving my friend Leslie Nielsen another opportunity to keep us laughing," Waterman concludes. With a sentiment like that, there's nothing to do but wish him the best of luck. And maybe send in a donation or two, of course.

4. College University

College University got its start in March of 2001 with a short introduction to the characters and their graduation from high school (later expanded into a flashback episode in the series). It followed a couple of everyman protagonists, Mike and Parks, and their adventures at the titular school. It incorporated quite a bit of random elements, including a washed up kung fu star who runs a campus coffee/hash bar and Optimus Prime as a supporting character. The episodes evolved from the basic college challenges to bizarre plots such as the premiere of a reality show pitting 1980s action movie heroes against each other.

CU was a little clunky in its early days, with fairly basic animation and some slow pacing. Once it found its niche, though, it was able to have the characters play against each other fairly well. The series had 11 full-length episodes (some of which were divided up into multiple parts due to size) and several shorts. It managed to bring in Macho Man Randy Savage, Cynthia Rothrock, and the alternative rock band O.A.R. for guest spots. They also invented the game KushLash, which seems to have a cult following.

The disappearance:
The posting pace started to slow down in later episodes, with the 10th one appearing in 2005 and the 11th one showing up just about two years later. The creators, Mike and Andy Parker, once had an indicator on the website to show where the process on the latest CU episode was in script, storyboards, animation, and sound work. They eventually cautioned that episodes would be a lengthy affair, especially given their work and personal lives.

For a time, the site was updated with shorter, CU-related content that was usually timed to coincide with holidays. Then, out of the blue, the CU page started including links to other series the Parkers were doing. They were cranking out episodes at a much faster pace, usually one a week to the point where they boasted nearly as many as CU, and hosting them on It seems they hit a point where they were able to go through the production pretty quickly, but lost interest in continuing the adventures of their original characters. These new series still got off in a more refined way than the brothers' first project, with better animation and a good sense of where they wanted to go. They included Clock Suckers, about an irresponsible group of time traveling youngsters; Player Haters, about the adventures of some role-playing game characters through cyberspace; and The Game Show, wherein Mike and Andy give the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment to video games.

"Cloooocck suckers!"

According to Mike Parker's LinkedIn page, he worked for HMSDesign for several years after his graduation in 2001, then struck out on his own by launching LowBrow Studios in 2006 to provide animation services for TV and the Internet; the page says he was also a freelance animator for CollegeHumor for the first four years the company was in existence. People going to, the former site for the series, brings you to the Lowbrow site. There, you can still find the CU episodes along with numerous other examples of their work. I'm not sure what happened to Andy; there are three employees listed besides Mike, and Andy isn't one of them.

3. Dubtoons

Dubbing over cartoons, games, movies, etc. etc. to humorous effect probably came out of the traditional dubs for foreign movies brought to new markets. The "lost in translation" effect along can be pretty funny, and it's been about 20 years since the people at Mystery Science Theater 3000 started adding their own humorous overlay to terrible B-movies; not a dub, per se, but similar. And though I haven't seen too much in the way of joking dubs aside from Spike TV's MXC, a re-dubbed and re-edited version of a crazy Japanese game show, it's a fun thing to try out and you can find a few of these projects on YouTube.

Dubtoons grew out of a series of YouTube videos known alternatively as "Boro Tintin" and "Teesside Tintin." The videos were created by Nick Donnelly and Andrew Stebulitis as a joke among friends, but it soon went viral. The basic premise is that they've dubbed The Adventures of Tintin, an animated cartoon following Herge's beloved comic book series, to make the titular character and everyone else who appears in the series a foul-mouthed, rude resident of Middlesbrough, England. The parody has a lot of references to this city that go over the head of the non-Boro viewers, and perhaps we're a little detached just on the basis of not ever meeting any of the more rough-and-tumble city residents. Overall, though, it's pretty clever the way the plots of the cartoon have been done over.

Donnelly and Stebulis later created to showcase the cartoons as well as a few Teesside dubs of more obscure toons such as Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, although the comments on those usually complained that they wanted the focus kept on Teesside Tintin. It was a pretty basic site, aiming to get a bit of revenue from T-shirt and ringtone sales while also inviting user submissions (which were inevitably blasted as being inferior to the creators' work).

The disappearance: disappeared quite some time ago. Going there now brings you to one of those stand-in pages asking if you'd like to buy the domain; the links that are available on the page, oddly enough, are to a bunch of porno sites.
According to this article from the Middlesborough Evening Gazette, Donnelly and Stebulitis formed the film company Moving Picture Productions in 2005, when they were about 24 years old. I remember discovering the Teesside Tintin cartoons in about 2006, so they were still cranking them out while looking to make legit films. It looks like they've made several movies and short videos since then, and the company is still around offering corporate services as well as wedding and social videos. No doubt they're keeping pretty busy.

Like Waterman, there seems to be just a bit of life left in Teesside Tintin. Though the original YouTube channel has disappeared Donnelly and Stebulitis, perhaps spurred by the news that The Adventures of Tintin is hitting theaters as a full-length animated film, have even continued making Teesside Tintin at a slower rate. They have a YouTube channel containing a small mix of older cartoons, presumably their favorites, as well as some brand new ones that went up in the spring; dozens of others seem to have gone missing, although a few have been salvaged and uploaded by fans. More recently, in late October, the boys dubbed a trailer for the movie.

2. Fensler Films

"You tol' me do things, I done runnin'..."

Another dub project, albeit one that got a much bigger following, the Fensler Films contribution to cyberspace may be better known as "Those G.I. Joe PSAs." Back in the mid-80's, a cartoon started airing based on the line of G.I. Joe action figures and the comic book it inspired. The episodes concluded with a brief public service announcement in which the Joes saved dull-witted kids from harm while imparting a bit of a lesson. These always concluded with the kids declaring, "Now we know!" and the Joe responding, "And knowing is half the battle."
Eric Fensler thought these were perfect fodder for re-imagining, and he was right. He cranked out a total of 25 PSAs in 2003, dubbed and recut so as to remove nearly all trace of a lesson and become obscure if hilarious parodies. The most popular one is undoubtedly "Pork Chop Sandwiches," a video in which the Joe shouts that line while rushing to help some kids who have set their kitchen on fire (imparting the fire safety advice, "Oh shit, get the fuck out of here!"). These managed to go viral even before YouTube came about, getting passed around via e-mail.

The disappearance:
This is kind of an odd case. The videos have all disappeared from their original website, but have survived and proliferated on YouTube and other sites.

After about a year, Hasbro sent a cease and desist order to Fensler. The letter declared that the PSAs were "unauthorized derivative works of the G.I. Joe cartoons." Furthermore, Hasbro said, the use of the G.I. Joe logo at the end could violate trademark laws "because it is likely to cause confusion or mistake as to Hasbro's authorization or sponsorship of or association with the derivative PSAs." Despite the fact that the number of people likely to be confused by Snow Job yelling at a few children to "get that kid off my ice, you little wankers" would be small indeed, Fensler acquiesced to the request, and the videos disappeared.

By that time, of course, they had been dispersed to countless inboxes and other websites and Hasbro had no way of shutting down all of those. Since they made their way to YouTube, they have had millions of views. According to, Fensler later put the videos back on his website, with or without Hasbro's authorization, but if so they have all disappeared again. In fact, Fensler's site now only includes a music video he worked on, a series of links to other sites, and his contact information.

Like a lot of his Internet humor comrades, Fensler now works in video production. He did a bit of work with Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, putting together promos for Sealab 2021 and becoming a writer on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Most recently, according to his IMDB page, he wrote a short called The Terrys.

1. Homestar Runner

Homestar Runner may well be the most triumphant example of a successful independent web series, and that makes it all the sadder that updates slowed to a crawl and eventually stopped altogether.

The series, created by Mike and Matt Chapman - "The Brothers Chaps" - of Georgia, grew out of their mockery of children's books. They decided to do a story about the Homestar Runner, "a terrific athlete," and impart a good lesson in his effort to win a grape-carrying contest against the villainous and dishonest Strong Bad. Their initial forays into expanding the story followed along the same lines, including a cartoon where Homestar and his best friend take on Strong Bad and his pals in a wrestling match to retrieve his stolen star.

Then the brothers made a discovery: the bad guy was a lot more fun. So began Strong Bad E-mails, wherein the Mexican-masked, boxing glove wearing villain started to answer fan e-mails and spin various scenarios and sketches around them. Around a core set of characters - including Homestar, a nearly indescribable yellow lackey called The Cheat, polar opposite Strong brothers Strong Mad and Strong Sad, the shady concession store owner Bubs, and so on - the site put out a hilarious short each week. Based on the e-mails alone, they were able to expand on the universe with new settings, in-jokes, and characters. If you've come across Trogdor the Burninator, a dragon with a beefy arm sticking out of the back of his neck, this is where he originated. Along with the e-mails, the site put together some longer cartoons, video games, and other content.

The occasional custom conversion van...

The series became a huge hit, to the point where if you sent in an e-mail it would be competing with thousands of others. There were no ads to be found on the site, but the brothers managed to get by. After all, they were virtually the only ones involved (Matt on the voices, Mike on the animation, and Mike's wife Missy Palmer supplying the voice for the one female character). There was an extensive store offering T-shirts, posters, DVDs, and for a time an obscure "Kick the Cheat" toy. I once calculated that if even a small fraction of the world's population knew of the cartoon and that tiny fraction bought a single piece of $20 merchandise each year on average, the brothers were probably making salaries equivalent to CEOs. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but I'm sure they've done quite well.

The disappearance:
Babies happened.

Palmer gave birth to a daughter in 2006, while Matt's wife Jackie gave birth to a one daughter in 2007 and another in 2009. It was right about this time that the updates to the site started to slow to a crawl. The site even lampshaded a seven-week hiatus following the birth of Mike and Palmer's daughter with a cartoon entitled Welcome Back. As the stops and starts got more frequent, the cartoons were just regular submissions no reference to the gaps in time. One short cartoon in March of 2010 came about after a full five months of inactivity on the site. By the looks of it, the fact that every single person involved in the cartoon was dealing with toddlers took a bit of a toll on daily operations.

It's all about you, isn't it? 

The last e-mail Strong Bad answered was in August of 2009, after answering just three inquiries on his newest computer (a running gag being that Strong Bad always used ridiculously outdated computers, although his latest was more up to date). Some new content finally came around in December of 2010, some eight months after the last real update and over a year after a more significant update. Homestar Wiki has been keeping closer tabs on the site and a few stray appearances of the characters elsewhere (such as Strong Bad in a poker game released by Telltale Games), and if you count that things have still been fairly active. The most recent update to the wiki is an update provided to the site in September, detailing some aspects of a game the brothers were developing but gave up on.

There's also the success of the site to be considered; while the rest of the people on this list managed to build off the skills that went into their web series to create careers, the Chapmans were able to fully turn their series into a career. From a fairly early point, they were able to sustain themselves by merchandise sales. It would probably be too much to estimate that they had become millionaires, but odds are they've been able to live comfortably off the site and any continued revenue from the store. Still, we hope they can start to devote some more time to the site as their children grow older and bring the people of Free Country USA back to glory.

Friday, October 14, 2011

YouTube Scavenger Hunt, Volume II: Slow Motion

As the great Dave Chappelle once said, just about everyone and everything looks cooler in slow motion. Some day, I hope to do the slow motion nonchalant walk away from a giant explosion or dial things down to bullet time or something. But until that time, I give you 10 random actions or things I thought to check YouTube for to see if there's slow motion footage of them.

10. Chopping wood

A few years ago, my parents moved to a house that once again had a fireplace, and they added a wood-burning stove to boot. So now every year they get a pile of firewood dumped in the driveway, and my dad tends to correspond it to my summer visit so I can help split and stack the winter fuel. I tend to alternate between cleaving the piece like a big burly man and having the axe bounce off it with barely a dent left like a nancy boy. Whoever filmed this split the difference (HA) by getting a nice cut on a rather clumsy swing (even though another wood split video shows them neatly slicing through two pieces of firewood). Video is from LucidMovement, a slow motion specialist, in June of 2007.

Views: 7,653
Comments: 8

9. Whip

The top result, with nearly half a million views, is a Discovery Channel clip from a show called Time Warp (apparently about how cool things look in slow motion) where a couple of guys bullshit about whips without showing any slow motion at all. The end of a whip breaks the sound barrier when it creates the crack, and although this guy fooling around in his backyard doesn't give a nice close-up view of that it's still pretty neat. Shared by ksteryou, a bullwhip enthusiast and no doubt adventurous archaeologist, in December of 2008.

Views: 12,787
Comments: 33

8. Kiss

I remember the sitcoms and other shows of my youth as always portraying a really slow leadup to a kiss, both in the interaction between characters and the final magnetic pull between their lips. In retrospect, it was kind of like watching the docking scene in 2001, and offered ample opportunity for the characters to break off and pretend like it never happened (TV Tropes has a whole category for that).

Then I grew up and found out that kissing is a much speedier affair, except in the lazier makeouts. TV shows seem to have reflected the reality more in recent years, which might be why most of the results for a slow motion kiss are just scenes from shows slowed down a bit. Here's one from House, posted by superfan JustHuddy.

Views: 77,816
Comments: 81

7. Water balloon

Odds are you've already encountered a video or photo of a water balloon exploding, and that awesome moment when the skin has burst but the water remains in the globular shape of the balloon for awhile before dissolving into droplets or splattering about someone's face. This video's view count is higher than the population of several small countries, after all. In case you haven't seen anything like it, though...there it is. Uploaded by DiscoveryNetworks, the Discovery Channel page of YouTube, in January of 2009.

Views: 24,446,597
Comments: 32,729

6. Bottle breaking

Oh it's such a waste of a good beer...Put on the site by HumorKick, a website of humorous videos and photos and articles, way back in November of 2006.

Views: 3,171
Comments: 5

5. Card shuffling

I'm forgoing the main result, a slowed-down scene from a Western, in favor of this neat little parlor shuffle. HQMedia, or High Quality Stock Footage, brought this to us on July 29 of this year.

Views: 1 (just me??)
Comments: 0

4. Wrecking ball

An already beat-up old car gets punched in the top. It is indeed a pretty thing to see. This was uploaded by monkeycu in November of 2008.

Views: 7,445
Comments: 5

3. Guitar strings

Long, long ago in ninth grade, a couple of friends of mine used a slow-mo camera for a science class presentation and the outcome looked a bit like this grainy, close-up video of a guitar string getting plucked. And yes, the presentation was still a lot better than anything the rest of us came up with. Also, this was brought to us by twopamels of Spain, whose uploads are a mix of slow motion and music.

Views: 12,798
Comments: 3

2. Match strike

I wonder if the number of pyromaniacs skyrocketed after the development of cameras with high frames-per-second rates. This thing of beauty, uploaded in July of 2008, comes from 78James, an Englishman who seems to specialize in slow motion videos.

Views: 54,847
Comments: 41

1. Cannon firing

If you're reading this before you see the video, I'll save you some time: you can stop after five seconds unless you want to see 51 seconds of smoke wafting about. This was uploaded on July 5 of this year by MrPatriotOne, who had another video of his cannon, a biscuits and gravy tutorial, and something on a Second Amendment March because apparently the government wanted to take his cannons away.

Views: 248
Comments: 0

Saturday, September 24, 2011

That's What I Miss About Mass.: Abbey Cutters

I attended my five-year college reunion in St. Paul, Minnesota earlier this year and realized, as I did on a visit two years ago, that I miss the place an awful lot. A significant portion of that comes from the fact that I had a lot of fun with good friends around that time, something that can't exactly be replicated with everyone scattered around the country and creating lives for themselves, but it still got me thinking about my own wanderings. There was a lot of time in Lanesborough, Massachusetts; the better part of four years in St. Paul; stints in England and Vermont; and a few years in Maine. Though I enjoy where I'm at now in New London, Connecticut, there are still places and things I miss from my old stomping grounds and thought I'd start documenting them.

Let's start in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, just south of the town I grew up in, with a little place called Abbey Cutters.

This screenshot from Google's Street View is, unfortunately, the only photo I can manage to pull of the business. It doesn't have a website, as perhaps is the case with most barbers. If your main service is cutting hair, it might not really be worth it to keep your shop in cyberspace just to let people know about its address, phone number, and hours. Especially when a place like Abbey Cutters likely has a lot of word-of-mouth traffic.

Abbey Cutters has more personality than any barber shop I've been in. It has the standard setup of a waiting area with a few magazines and a few chairs (only one of which is ever used). But the first thing you notice is the art. Dozens of prints of well-known pieces, posters for classic movies like Grease and Spartacus, photography, and a lot of quirky works cover every free space of the walls. A price sign at the counter offers the costs for various trims. Of course, they all cost the same and are simply qualified with conditions such as "Haircut with unwanted advice (happens often)." A relatively recent addition, gifted to owner Teddy after my family moved away, is a cactus in the window that has grown nearly out of control.

Teddy is a novelist in his spare time, working on stories about boxing. I kind of got the sense that he was looking to get his foot in the door in the writing world and then close up shop, but with a place like this you kind of hope that wouldn't be the case. I wish him all the luck in his writing endeavors, of course, but he could do worse than to be a famous or semi-famous author who has a barber shop.

Abbey Cutters (artist's conception)

Now I'm not one to insult someone who has done my shearing since, and I'm especially not one to criticize the woman who has control over a significant part of my appearance now. But you get kind of spoiled if you have Teddy as the guy who cuts your hair. I've visited three barbers since leaving Massachusetts and had a decent conversation or two with each one, but Teddy is one of those rare members of the old guard. He'll cut your hair and regale you at the same time with a perpetually upbeat demeanor and unmistakable Brooklyn accent. He's the priciest of the barbers I've been to, but you get plenty for the buck. A shampoo, some styling, and of course that advice, wanted or unwanted.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that Teddy is the kind of barber who will chat with you non-stop. Unless you're the most tight-lipped and somber patron in need of hair shortening, you'll be able to carry on a good conversation as it meanders to everything from space exploration to sex.

Posted for you people who search for Summer Glau and sex and think this image represents that. And because we haven't seen her on the blog in nearly a year. Also, "It's the hardest thing to get"

Teddy is the kind of character you don't get all that often anymore in the barber shop: a genial, humorous, shoulder-to-lean-on, competent fatherly type figure, and from Brooklyn to boot. Admittedly a specific genotype, but a valuable one nonetheless. Here's to his continued health, well-being, and business success.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Top 10 Stupidest Final Destination Deaths

I had to double time on this article, as I realized that the fifth Final Destination movie it was supposed to preview or coordinate with came out today. The series can be described in two sentences. "Teens escape death in a [plane crash/highway pileup/roller coaster accident/race track disaster/bridge collapse]. Death stalks them one by one, and claims them in gruesome ways." It's the same damn movie five times over, and people keep going to see it. Apparently the first one was halfway decent, though now they're milking the series until, in the true Final Destination fashion, the auto-milking machine starts to suck out blood and innards (ie, film critics will personally murder anyone who continues to watch the new movies that come out and call it part of the experience, and the gross after all the lawsuits will be well in the red).

Now I know I'm complaining about something I haven't seen, what with...well, not watching any of these movies. But it seems like the only reason there's still a demand for this series is to see what ways the writers can come up with people to die. A lot of people have a certain morbid curiosity (it's why I know what a lot of the series' deaths are, after all), so they'll fork over the cash to see how the latest batch bites it. Most of the time it involves some sort of elaborate Rube Goldberg setup. Rube Goldberg, incidentally, died at the ripe old age of 87 after a long illness so apparently he and Death were on OK terms.

"It beats getting decapitated by an elevator."

So without further ado, here are my picks for the top 10 stupidest deaths in the Final Destination movies that have come out to date, minus the latest one which I will not watch. Keep in mind that there are the stupidest deaths...not the worst ways to die, of which there are plenty, but the ones that are absurd. Also, apologies for the clips I can't embed.

10. Movie theaters double as storage units for explosives (The Final Destination)

I'm really not sure how 3D movies came back. The glasses are less stupid-looking, and a bunch of theaters somehow became 3D capable, and quite a few movies now come in with this option. The better ones, like Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon, use it to make it something of an immersing experience without compromising the story. The worse movies use it as a gimmick to throw stuff at the audience. Case in point: this scene in The Final Destination.

Um...did we stumble into Inglourious Basterds or something? What mall theater leaves a depot of highly explosive materials in the megaplex where hundreds of people are concentrated? And not just highly explosive, but "spontaneously combustible" as the one barrel warns, so these things could just blow up for no reason at all. So we get the hot teens chewing the scenery over how they were supposed to be safe at this shitty movie within a shitty movie all along before the massive fireball blows out the screen and hurls a sharp piece of debris at the one girl for a last 3D thrill. Or perhaps your own theater just exploded and killed you? Those wags at The Final Destination sure know how to make you think, but they apparently don't know that most movie theaters have an emergency exit (aka, "the outside") behind the screen instead of a warehouse of nitroglycerin.

This technically doesn't qualify, since the whole sequence is just a vision and the blast is prevented. Still, enough explosives to level a block stored inside a movie theater...

9. The insanely unsafe race track (The Final Destination)

The Final Destination movies always start with some calamity killing dozens of people, and a handful escaping due to a character having a prescient filmstrip of the whole disaster. In the first two movies, it's a horrifying portrayal of a plane crash (thus the only real fitting use of "final destination") and a highway pileup. It gets into more obscure things from there, starting with a roller coaster mishap in the third movie and a race track catastrophe in the fourth movie.

To be fair, auto races aren't immune from tragedy; for some reason people still go to rally car races where the only thing separating spectators from injury or death is a line of tape making sure they don't go onto the track themselves. And a quick search of "race track disaster" brings up the the 24 Hours of Le Mans incident, in which a crashing vehicle did quite a few of the things portrayed here, albeit in the blink of an eye rather than an exaggerated period of half a dozen minutes. According to the Wikipedia article, the flying hood decapitated several people, the engine block flew into the crowd, and an estimated 84 people were killed.

That, however, was in 1955. This movie takes place some 55 years later, when modern race tracks have safety measures such as stronger fences and stop flags to ensure that every car doesn't obliterate itself and hurl debris into panicked grandstands. If the stadium at every racetrack had burning cars flying through flimsy fences and huge chunks of concrete collapsing into the stands, I think NASCAR would be a lot less popular, at least when it came to live attendance. On top of that, you have some downright ridiculous deaths such as the guy who slips and impales himself on a broken bench.

8. Unwanted face piercings (Final Destination 3)

If I'm interpreting this scene correctly, Ramona Flowers there is somehow interpreting a photo from the Carnival of Roller Coaster Death and translating it into "That little whirlwind is going to impale that guy with a bunch of stakes." At which point Death just decides that he'd much rather pile everyone under Ikea surplus and vault a bunch of stuff at a Goth girl so she falls into a possibly triggerless nail gun.

I don't do much in the way of home improvement projects, but I'm pretty sure nail guns need something to set them off. Was there a single frame of the nail gun trigger snagged on the table edge somewhere in this mess? Do some nail guns just operate by pressure alone? Let's watch that opening scene from the fourth season of The Wire, mainly to get a bit of a palette cleanser with some decent multimedia but also to learn some more about this particular power tool.

7. Window panes do not work that way! (Final Destination 2)

You've narrowly avoided a disaster which has killed dozens, and now the people who also cheated death are meeting their demise in ways which are gruesome and painful. In a sense, it's amazing these people aren't hiding out in a bomb shelter and waiting until Death is sated on the latest earthquake victims or something. But I guess you could stare Death in the eye and go about your daily business and run idiotically into a restricted zone to hassle some pigeons:

For shame, Final Destination 2 writers and producers. You couldn't think of some bloodier mishap, say a pane of glass guillotining him lengthwise from head to toe and leaving a couple of slices of human like you see in all the science museums these days? Instead, they decide that window panes versus humans must be done in a flat, head-on way that, for some reason, flattens this poor kid like he's made of mashed potatoes. Granted, this chart does suggest that giant panes of glass are heavy enough to do damage before they shatter, but judging from that clip I have to guess that Death was trying to trap him in the Phantom Zone and only got halfway through or something.

6. Muscles don't make you immortal, ass (Final Destination 3)

You've cheated death but discovered that Death is a nasty character and wants to, um, kill you. What's a guy to do? Why, punch Death in the face, I guess. That seems to be Jock Footballstar's attitude here:

So to recap: the team keeps a stuffed bear in the weight room, like any team with a bear mascot of course. A claw gets knocked into the face of some big guy (who, for a big guy, takes the unprecedented step of flinching away from a bear claw), and then there's some scimitars and head smashing and all.

I think the main thing to take away from this is the question of what school decided that a wise investment would be a coat of arms whose swords are sharp enough to slice through a fucking metal cable. I can only imagine the conversation that must have taken place for that:

Superintendent: I say we need razor sharp scimitars on the coat of arms in the weight room.
Board of Education Member: Are you sure? You know, we could use an upgrade to the computer lab. We're still on Windows 95 and-

5. Yes, but can you make the pool drain dangerously powerful? (The Final Destination)

All right, I guess this is another one I might have to renege on. A simple search for "pool drain" uncovers this CNN story about how drains can exert 500 pounds of vacuum force and disembowel people. The stupidity factor lies more in the reason for Beef Jerkass heading to the bottom of the pool in the first place. OK, so his cell phone is dead and maybe this club has a pay phone he needs to use, but how is he going to check his voice mail? How is he even going to remember the number of the people he wants to dial in this, the age of mobile? Is he just really desperate to do his laundry and can't make do with only 30 minutes of drying?

"Curse you, socialist quarter! This is what happens when you put a Democrat in the White Houuuuu-[explodes]"

And we all know his reaction wouldn't be to go diving into the pool after a measly 25 cents, even in this economy. He'd go off onto the links to commit roid rage against whatever golfer looks like a reasonable enough culprit for a mis-aimed ball, or at least whatever golfer looks thrashable enough, which is to say, all of them. Death could have had a lot of fun figuring out a death out there, too, perhaps involving Rodney Dangerfield and a yacht.

4. Horse breaks the laws of physics (Final Destination 3)

I can at least appreciate that some of these setups are clever and even possible somewhere in the multiverse. There's a reason we have the phrase "freak accident," after all. But then there are scenes like this:

Putting aside the fact that the horse is only tied to a loosely planted flag, there's also the question of whether something with one, that's right, one horsepower has enough force to fling a javelin-like object in a nice arcing trajectory across the fairgrounds and right into some nice girl's back. If it did happen, odds are some people looked at this tragedy as some good inside information on the next Kentucky Derby results.

3. He should have just asked to be friends (The Final Destination)

I guess it's a requirement of the Final Destination universe that cars have to be leaking gas at all time. They must be perpetually at war in that universe to secure oil reserves for their fuel inefficient vehicles, the dumb motherfu-

Oh. Right. OK, let's just take a look at the clip.

So yeah, I'm not even sure why the tow truck's tank is spouting about a gallon of gas a minute, which seems to be the main cause of death here. Maybe there was something I missed earlier. Maybe he just decided to poke a hole in it to douse a cross for the burning, which seems to be his point in visiting this guy's house because the guy stopped him from going back into Le Mans Redux to save his wife or some such thing. Or maybe his company's motto is "Carter's Towing: We'll Pick You Up, But We Should Really Only Drive With A Half Tank Since There Are A Couple Of Punctures We Need To Patch Up At Some Point."

2. Death really hates educators (Final Destination)

Ah, teachers. Underpaid and overburdened with the responsibility of turning our youth into the leaders of tomorrow. Also, completely unaware of their surroundings.

I'm not sure about temperature differentials and all, aside from the time I spent working in a restaurant where the explicit instructions were to not leave an empty coffee pot heating on the burner because if you tried to fill it with water again it would explode in your face. Also the time my mother heated a Pyrex dish of something on the stove and it did just that, except for the my face part. Still, I think even the high school restaurant employees among us would recognize if a cup or container cracked open and started spilling liquid all over the place. Not so much the English teachers on Long Island, it seems. In all the ways Death succeeds in wounding this woman without delivering the fatal blow, I can only think of him as the incompetent hitman in Mulholland Drive. Hasn't he had hundreds of millions of years of practice in this sort of thing?

The idiot majority on YouTube believe the message of this clip is "teachers have flammable blood." No, it's more a result of this alcohol trail which is so very comprehensive that it can track its way back to the source bottle and detonate that. Perhaps vodka, like everything else in this universe, is just gasoline with another name. Credit is due for the teacher slipping on her own blood but recovering, but the fact that so much of her kitchen (and, after this clip, her entire house) winds up detonating is a bit odd. Was the teacher pulling a Breaking Bad sort of operation and running a meth lab in her kitchen cabinets?

1. The news media, now with more explosions! (Final Destination 2)

Given that I work in the media field, it's no secret that the TV news vans can show up awfully quick on the scene, sending either the rapid response SUV unit with a cameraman and good-looking reporter or the satellite truck which is apparently the exact same thing but allows you to broadcast live from the scene rather than just tape some footage for the next Live At Whatever. In this clip, it seems the former option has responded to a bad-enough car accident out in the middle of nowhere.

And once again you have to play the Breakfast Machine music as the ever-leaking vehicles over in Final Destinationland, the world's worst amusement park/alternate universe, as a cigarette ignites a gasoline trail that somehow leads from the accident to the news van (did they just decide that they needed to pull right up next to the wreck before the firefighters chased them off?), blows up the van, and throws some barbed wire at this Rory guy. Even assuming it would make it that far, with that much force, it's not razor wire or piano wire or anything that typically has the slicing capability in movies. It's probably just there to ensure the sheep don't wander off. Rory would likely get a couple of rusty puncture wounds, but I guess they didn't want to show a slow death by tetanus.

Monday, July 25, 2011

God's Mistakes: The Eye Worm

To be fair, there's a handful of other parasitic worms that do things just as horrible as the topic of this entry: the loa loa. And I'll probably pick them up in the future. But the loa loa gets special recognition since the Wikipedia article on David Attenborough, host of the Planet Earth series, includes this quote in his views on creationism: "My response is that when Creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that's going to make him blind. And [I ask them], 'Are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child's eyeball? Because that doesn't seem to me to coincide with a God who's full of mercy'."

Hopefully it wasn't made in His image

So the wonderful life cycle of this little bastard starts when microfilariae produced by adult worms get ingested by a fly, where they manage to stay alive and develop through its larval phases and station themselves in the fly's proboscis. Then the parasite is transferred to a human once the fly bites someone. The flies that commonly carry the nematode, the mango fly and deer fly, are also not really upstanding citizens, given that they transfer the parasite by slicing a painful cut in the skin and licking the blood. So thanks for that, mango fly and deer fly. You assholes.

Maybe leave a tip or something for your "blood meal," guys. At least don't leave a goddamn parasitic worm.

Once in a human, the larva parties around in the subcutaneous tissue for awhile until it grows up into a big, evil adult. They then decide to feed on the vitals in various parts of the human body, including the spinal fluid, lungs, and blood. The cycle keeps going when another fly slices you open to drink your infected blood and transfer the microfilariae to someone else.

The loa loa is also commonly known as the "eye worm." You know, because it likes to infect your eye.


These worms range in length from 2 centimeters to a whopping 7 centimeters, which doesn't seem all that bad when compared with, I don't know, the Woolworth Building, but it seems awfully big when it's in your friggin' eye. Infection generally results in pain and cysts and swelling when the worm is elsewhere, and the unpleasant sensation of a worm crawling over your eyeball when it's up in that region. Assuming it wants to hang out somewhere else, it's likely going to be in your joints and cause them to be rather painful. And if it happens to die inside you, the body becomes a waste product and promptly causes abscesses and pus to sprout around its grave. It's kind of like how I imagine Jerry Falwell's cemetery plot looks.

Overall, some 12 million people are affected by loa loa infestation at any time, usually in about 11 nations of Africa. Often the treatment is taken through diethylcarbamazine, and if that sounds like a scary thing it's because it's one of those "side effects include death" compounds. Another option is cocaine. No, really. Apparently the idea is to paralyze them with a solution of coke and then remove them. So now you know for sure, though I'm sure many of you suspected it: Charlie Sheen was swarming with disgusting worms.

Not so winning now, are you Wall Street?

Then again, I'm pretty sure there's no real unpleasant way of getting a worm out of your eyeball, since the options seem relegated to a) the worm slithers out over your face or b) the worm makes its way back down into your body and exits some other way. There is of course, another possibility: having a doctor evict the unwanted guest. It's possible to pop a few 10-syllable drug drops onto your peeper and make a little incision and use some forceps to get it out. There's at least one video of the surgical procedure to remove the worm here, though it's kind of telling that it comes with a sidebar of a ton of gross-out stuff. Maybe just a picture from the procedure will be a little more tolerable, since-


Seriously, loa loa, go to hell.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Defining Moments Of Breaking Bad

We the fans of Breaking Bad have been waiting for about a year for a new season. Normally debuting around March, it's taken a bit of a longer break (perhaps to let some other shows get an Emmy, since the later start date puts it out of the running for the next round of awards). On Sunday, AMC will debut the fourth season of its hit show. Though we'll have to wait until it finishes its run, rumor has it that they might be wrapping it up at the end of this one in the reasonable strategy of closing out a show before it gets stale. Whether or not that's the case, this has been an incredibly well-done series and deserves a look back at some of its best scenes.

Walt Roughs Up Some Douchebag Kid

We learn quite a bit about Walt just in the first episode. He contributed to research that resulted in the awarding of a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but is now working in a clearly unsatisfying job as a high school teacher. There's additional stress in that he's about to be father to a second child at the age of 50, while his teenage son is suffering from cerebral palsy. Perhaps worst of all is the fact that the kids he teaches are a bunch of uninspired snarky little bastards, who openly mock him both in class and at Walt's second job at a car wash with impunity.

After Walt is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he resolves to keep it a secret from his family but aside from the promoted premise of starting a meth operation we're not sure how he'll react. In this scene, Walt and his wife Skyler are shopping for new clothes for their son, Walter Jr., while a couple of asshole jocks make fun of Walt Jr.'s disability. When Walt prevents Skyler from confronting the kids and simply walks away, it seems to fit his milquetoast personality to a T. Except for the way it ends:

This is the first time we see Walt really breaking out of his shell, and he couldn't have laid down the hammer on a more deserving group.

Jesse Botches a Body Dump

The stakes go through the roof almost immediately as Walt and Jesse are confronted early in their meth operation by a couple of toughs, one of whom Jesse ratted out to the DEA and another who later turns out to be a confidential informant. In his first instance of using science as a weapon, Walt manages to surprise them with a burst of poisonous phosphine gas and trap them in the drug lab RV. This kills one of the men and leaves the other severely injured, and Walt and Jesse resolve that they need to get rid of the body and kill the survivor. They flip a coin to choose who gets what unpleasant task, and Walt instructs Jesse to put the body in a plastic container and dissolve it with hydrofluoric acid. Jesse gets frustrated after he's unable to find a sufficiently large container and simply does the deed in his bathtub. After awhile, it becomes clear why he should have paid more attention in chemistry class.

The scene is both horrifying and hilarious, and just one of many screw-ups Jesse and Walt have to overcome as they start to get things moving. It's one of the most memorable shots of the entire series, and one of the best ways the writers have been able to weave science into the story.

Walter's Kills

One of the ever-developing threads of the show is Walt's alarming ability to go from an upstanding if unremarkable citizen to an out-and-out murderer with a frighteningly high body count. This takes a number of different routes. Early on, Walt kills one drug dealer with phosphine gas in self-defense. He strangles a drug dealer who tried to strong-arm Walt and Jesse but it's his first face-to-face kill; he's reluctant, since he gets to know the man, and it's only when he feels that the dealer will kill him with a plate shard he's managed to pilfer that he does the deed. He has a similar rationale for his plot to kill Tuco, something that ultimately doesn't happen by his own hand.

After that it starts to slip into darker territory. He pushes down his basic human reaction to help when Jane is choking on her own vomit, a decision that is devastating to him but one he makes because he thinks it is in the best interests of himself and Jesse. The unintended result is that it indirectly leads to the deaths of 167 people in a mid-air collision between two airplanes.

By the end of the third season, Walt is still a bit conflicted about his life and this is reflected, oddly enough, with a couple of homicides. He kills two thugs not so much because of their status as competitors in the meth field but because he knows they're likely to kill Jesse, who has essentially become another son by this point. The murders (one done in cold blood with an execution-style gunshot) are also an explicit violation of a truce set up by the overseer of his meth network, the affable legitimate businessman Gus. Finally, Walt orders Jesse to kill a meth lab associate to save his own skin. It's possibly the most charged decision yet: Walt has known and befriended the man, he doesn't personally commit the crime, yet in a weird way it all boils down to self-defense. This last one is going to weigh much more heavily on Jesse than Walt, but it's pretty much the defining murder in Walt's whole career as well.

" Not Meth"

Jessie is selling Walt's meth at a pretty good rate, but it's not netting the profits that Walt hopes to have in place to support his family after he dies. He decides that the best way to remedy this is to start dealing with a supplier, since they can offload a large quantity of product for a significant payoff. The only problem: the local warlord, Tuco, is more than a little psychotic. When Jesse makes an overture to him, he has the sample of meth stolen and is beaten up for his troubles. Walt decides to address the issue himself.

This awesome scene is beautifully framed. The episode itself includes a scene at the beginning where a now bald Walt walks away from a building in a run-down neighborhood as smoke wafts about and car alarms go off. A little later than that, Walt gives a somewhat inconsequential lesson about mercury fulminate; he doesn't even demonstrate it, just notes that it's a volatile compound. Yet when he makes the above statement while holding a whitish crystal in Tuco's lair, we know something amazing is about to happen.

This is the first time Walt enters the lion's den, and he proves that he can hold his own against Albuquerque's criminal bosses. The fact that this is the first time he uses the nickname "Heisenberg," a disguise that got a chuckle out of anyone who knows about the uncertainty of the position of electrons, is just the icing on the cake.

Walt, Jesse, and Hank Kill Tuco

This scene culminates a tense episode in which Jessie and Walt resolve to kill Tuco due to his psychotic nature and instability. Their plan - poisoning his food - goes awry when they find that Tuco cares for his aging, mute uncle. Although his tio can only talk by a bell on his wheelchair, he eventually manages to signal Tuco to their intent. Their first reaction is pure terror that they may be killed, but Walt steps up to give a cold, piercing explanation of just why they're trying to off him...which provides a nice distraction for Jessie to get an attack in. Jesse and Walt have been cooperating, but this is an early example of the two of them collaborating to save their own skins.

No video that I could find. Sorry.

This is capped off by the first real badass scene featuring Hank as well. Until this point, he's been a quite likable guy but also a bit of a swaggering ass at times. In one scene, they set up a long story arc dealing with the dangers he faces on the job, his half-step-behind tailing of Walt's drug operation, and his post-traumatic stress in taking a life.

"Fuck. You."

As the season moves on, Walt has started to settle into his life as a drug lord and all that entails. Early on, however, he is clearly entering this life with reservations; it's the best way he can think of to make a lot of money and go out in a blaze of high earnings glory. So in the early seasons, he has a fair deal of resentment against his former scientific partners, whom he accuses of pilfering his research and cutting him out when they form a multi-million dollar company.

Behind all this is Walt's abhorrence to anything resembling charity. If he's going to get the money for his treatments and to support his family, he's going to do it his own way, even if that means putting himself and others at risk. When some of his former comrades genially offer to support him in his time of need, Walt simply cannot get over his resentment. When one of these people expresses pity over Walt's bitterness, it only enrages him more:

Again, Bryan Cranston was best known before this part as the doofus dad on Malcolm in the Middle. Apparently this line was censored when it was first aired by AMC, but in full it's downright chilling.

"You Have a Good Rest of Your Life, Kid"

After Tuco's death, Walt decides that the best way to remain profitable is to go into business for himself and become a drug kingpin. There's something of an underlying theme of the effect of drugs on children in the second season, from a child shooting Jesse's friend and fellow dealer Combo as part of a territory skirmish to Walt missing the birth of his daughter to drop off a shipment of meth to the death of children aboard Wayfarer Flight 515. In the episode "Peekaboo," Walt orders Jessie to be an enforcer against a drugged out couple who ripped off one of their dealers. He arrives at their house a little early and finds a young boy, unattended amid the squalor. The whole thing ultimately ends up angering Jesse more than the drug theft, and Aaron Paul does a terrific job as the episode goes from his awkward interaction with the kid to his concern with getting him to safety after one parent murders another, and the whole thing is a rather stark portrayal of the degradation caused by meth.

Badger Gets Arrested

Well, this just proves once again that Breaking Bad can be pretty damn hilarious when it wants to be:

Badger is a minor character who often comes off as something of a dumbass. This just shows that for all of that, Badger knows how to keep clear of the heat; he just doesn't listen to himself all the time. It's a well-written, richly layered scene and it helps add to the show by introducing us to Saul Goodman, corrupt lawyer extraordinaire.

"Hola, DEA"

After killing Tuco, Hank gets assigned to some more hardball duty, much to the annoyance of the agents in that unit who think he's just being rewarded for a bit of cowboy behavior. Hank, meanwhile, isn't too thrilled to be in what may be a more dangerous situation since he's already suffering from some PTSD as a result of the gunfight. It's just his bad luck that on his first stakeout, he picks up his binoculars and spots an informant's head slowly trundling along the ground. And then this happens:

Perhaps the thing that threw the fans the most was the fact that Danny Trejo seemed like a name guaranteed for a lasting role. If they'd wanted someone who could speak a few episodes and then model for a special effects head, they could have picked any number of actors looking for a minor role. That only adds to the double shock that occurs when the informant is not only killed, but has his noggin rigged like an IED.

"Stay Out of My Territory"

By this point in the series, Walt has essentially become a meth boss first and a teacher second. That's not to say that he's entirely divorced from his old life, though. In a couple of scenes, we see that even though Walt hasn't had as much success in life as a few of his colleagues, he still expects his students to dedicate themselves and make an effort to succeed in his class. So, in this clip, we get a bit of Walt's first quality. He sees that a shopping cart is ineptly filled with everything on every supply store's Meth Watchlist, and then sees a guy who by facial expression alone is more knuckleheaded than Jesse ever was at his worst. Walt chews him out not just for the obvious red flag, but for not doing things as efficiently as possible.

About a minute later, we get the other side of Walt:

It's an aging teacher suffering from lung cancer versus a fairly bulked up guy and his companion. As has happened more than a few times, the guy who sizes him up could easily take him on. But the sheer force of the statement alone is enough to make one second guess such a scenario. Bit by bit, Walt is becoming Heisenberg. And scene by scene, Bryan Cranston locks up the Emmy for Best Actor.

Wayfarer Flight 515

The second season opened with a mysterious shot of a scorched teddy bear, missing an eye and submerged in Walt's pool. A few episodes later, the pool was removed by a guy in a HazMat suit and placed in a bag labeled "Evidence" alongside several other items, including what appear to be Walt's glasses. A few episodes later, some HazMat guys are photographing Walt's car, which has a splintered windshield, while a couple of sheet-covered bodies lie on the ground nearby.

This led to a lot of speculation as to what exactly was going to happen before the season closed. Was a meth lab finally going to explode? Did the teddy bear signify that something awful was going to happen to Walt's daughter? Maybe the new water heater Walt insisted on installing was going to go Mythbusters on them? Who was going to be killed? And then in the final episode of the season, the evidence was loaded into an NTSB van, and a pan-out revealed two plumes of smoke in the distance. At which point, I thought (along with most of the audience I'm sure), "Oh, a plane crash!"

The ending didn't satisfy everyone, given that it was a rather convoluted outcome of Jessie and Walt's actions, but it was the culmination of a hugely successful misdirection. While the audience was contemplating what may have happened to affect the White household, no one realized that the episode titles for the first three episodes involving these strange opening shots sequentially spelled "Seven-Forty-Seven Down Over," with the finale episode entitled "ABQ," the three-letter abbreviation for the Albuquerque airport.

The story leading up to this incident is basically that in allowing the death of Jesse's girlfriend, a rebound heroin addict and a bit of extortionist, he indirectly puts a huge amount of pain and distress on the girl's father: an air traffic controller. In going back to work too early, he dwells on his loss and allows two planes to fly into each other. The horrifying disaster has largely been shoved into the background, with Walt apparently happy to comfort himself with the knowledge that aging equipment may have contributed to the mishap and the fact that there have been worse plane crashes in history. Still, coupled with the decision of his wife to leave the house over Walt's dishonesty in the same episode, the crash of Wayfarer Flight 515 was a clear example of just how badly Walt had lost control of his original plan to provide for his family.

Party Pizza Toss

After a writer's strike-shortened first season and a second season packed so full of awesome scenes, the third season was a bit of a slowdown. It was more of a character study as it introduced a few new people and delved more into the minor players, expanding on the various meth networks and the dangers therein. Underlying a good portion of the season was the relationship between Walt and Skyler as it was first dashed on the rocks and then slowly stitched back together once Skyler decided that getting involved in money laundering might not be such a bad thing.

In one of the early episodes, Walt is living in a motel and tries to make a bit of a peace offering by bringing home a bag of cheesy bread and an enormous pizza. When this is rebuffed, Walt does this:

It's one of those scenes that's so completely unexpected that it never fails to get a laugh, and it's made all that much greater by the fact that Bryan Cranston managed to accomplish what must have been a fairly complicated maneuver in a single take. The pizza also made a few more cameo appearances, most notably when Skyler calls to complain about it and threaten a restraining order, leading Walt to grab at his crotch and shout at the answering machine, "Restrain these!" in another dark yet hilarious scene that is itself a subtle throwback to Walter telling off his car wash boss in the pilot episode.

Jesse Rips Into Walt

The lowest point in Jesse's life probably comes midway through the second season. His parents kick him out of his aunt's home, where he's been living, after discovering that he runs a meth lab there. Jesse winds up breaking into an impound lot to steal the RV he and Walt have been using for their cooking expeditions, falling into a port-a-potty along the way, and Walt is none too pleased when Jesse, at the end of his rope, comes pleading for help. Jesse gets back on his feet before too long, finding a place to live and striking up a romantic relationship with his landlord, a recovering heroin addict. But more misfortune arrives with the death of his girlfriend due to a drug overdose. Later, after setting up a phone call to Hank falsely telling him his wife's been seriously injured in a car accident to create a distraction and allow the RV to be disposed of, an enraged Hank delivers a pretty severe beatdown.

The episode that starts with this latter incident involves one of the strongest performances by Aaron Paul. He spends most of it recuperating in the hospital, getting a couple of rather effective monologues along the way. In the first, he vows to utterly destroy Hank's life.

The second, which I consider superior but which is unfortunately not available, comes after Walt asks him to rejoin the meth trade in a more professional setting. Jesse launches into a moving tirade about how his life has been completely ruined by Walt, and he wants nothing to do with him. And he doesn't even know about Walt's role in Jane's death at this point.

Jesse's options are kind of limited, however; one need only think back to the pilot and his inglorious escape from a DEA raid, or his even more inglorious entrance to the impound lot, to realize that he doesn't have much to fall back on. Despite the powerful rebuke, he nonetheless accepts the offer later in the day. The characters have been sketched out quite well by this point, and Aaron Paul's Emmy for the third season was well-earned.

Hank vs. The Cousins

Hank is one of the most likable characters on the show. He's brash and can be a little stubborn at times, but it's clear that he's very dedicated to his job and deeply loves his wife and the extended family on her side. Of course, this is television and people get killed off. The third season introduced Tuco's imposing and ruthless cousins, who have it in for Walt for his role in their uncle's death. Gus, the mild-mannered chicken restaurant chain owner and Albuquerque area drug kingpin, puts a halt on this intention but coldly offers a consolation prize until he no longer needs Walt: the name of the fellow who actually gunned Tuco down.

In the very next episode, Hank is on temporary suspension for assaulting Jesse and as a result he has no service weapon. For a good part of the episode, there's an underlying tension as we know Hank is unarmed and could be ambushed by the Cousins at any point. This is ramped up to overdrive in the final scene, which culminates in one of the most intense sequences the show has offered yet:

Hank's been in a few scrapes before, but none have compared to this one. The fact that he once again gets out alive (barely) using some quick thinking just adds that much more to how awesome his character is.

Jesse Kills Gale...Maybe

The third season finale brings together a few story threads, with the fate of Walt being the most important one among them. Walt, who at first had been content to retire from the drug trade after a banner sale to Gus, is instead enticed back into the more high-end, underground operation Gus runs. It's another sign, perhaps the one signaling the final change, of his inability to disassociate himself from what he thought would be a temporary gig cut off by his own death of natural causes. Walt is still highly intelligent, however, and has figured out that Gus plans to get rid of him once he's done training a protege, a rather kindly scientist-turned-crook who enjoys music and using his chemistry skills to brew the best cup of coffee. He's like another kind of Walt, really, but once Walt realizes what's up he has no choice but to treat Gale as a threat.

So this scene serves as yet another turning point for both Walt and Jesse. Walt has shown that he's willing to protect Jesse by committing the worst of crimes, and now he fully expects him to protect his own life when there is a need to do so. And Jesse realizes that he has to answer the call. It's an impossible situation presented to Jesse: kill a terrified near-stranger to protect a shady associate who has saved his own life. Underneath it all is the question of what sort of fallout this is going to bring. Walt knows Gus needs him to produce his drugs, but Gus won't be too pleased that his partner murdered his other meth cook.

Of course, there's that final check of the pistol before the gunshot, so the major speculation now is whether Jesse even killed Gale. In some interview, it was confirmed that Jesse did indeed kill Gale. But then again, these are the guys who made us think a plane crash might have been a ruptured water heater. We'll just have to wait until the premiere to see how it all went down.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Whatever Happened To: The Cast of The Mighty Ducks

Though I'm sure that sports movies aimed at kids are still making regular appearances, they don't seem as prevalent. When I was growing up, they seemed to be everywhere. It's probably a good thing that they petered out. Most of these movies were based on either stupid premises (a dog playing basketball!) or formulaic cliches about the ragtag misfits versus the evil haughty team.

The Mighty Ducks, from 1992, falls into the latter category. Gordon Bombay, a one-time youth hockey star, is a successful Twin Cities lawyer who takes up coaching a struggling peewee hockey team after his arrest for drunk driving. Though Bombay is at first eager to abandon the team as soon as his term of service is over, he and the young players grow to respect each other, improve their game, and take on the top seeded (and eeeeeevil) rival team.

Despite the rather formulaic story, it was still an entertaining movie. Two sequels were made. The first, in 1994, basically transformed the story of the first to a world competition, where the Ducks faced off against the evil...Iceland. Then in 1996 came the third movie...which ditched Bombay and saw the Ducks getting into a turf battle with a prep school's varsity team. Lame. And apparently there was also a direct-to-video movie and animated series, the latter of which I remember being about the mascots of the most lasting effect of the films: the fact that Anaheim started an actual hockey team based on them.

So whatever became of that lovable scrum of skaters? Well, there were a lot of them, and though I remember quite a few snippets about the movies I had to rely on a Wikipedia page on the film series quite heavily.

Emilio Estevez (Gordon Bombay)

Bombay was your standard jerkass redeemed by forced interaction with children. He's been haunted for decades by a championship-winning penalty shot he narrowly missed in his childhood, and goes from being a hotshot lawyer to a professional hockey coach and player. Basically, he comes to respect and care for the kids and craft them into a feared force in the rink.

Emilio Estevez, now 49, is the oldest child of Martin Sheen. He's one of those actors who is recognizable but not really a huge star. Prior to The Mighty Ducks, he was probably best known for his roles in The Breakfast Club, Repo Man, and Maximum Overdrive. He has since appeared in a number of lesser known movies, including Men at Work and National Lampoon Loaded Weapon 1. He's also directed a few TV episodes of Numb3rs, Cold Case, CSI: NY, and Criminal Minds and played a young version of his father's character on The West Wing. In 2006, he wrote, directed, and starred in Bobby, a movie about Robert Kennedy, which didn't make a lot of money but was nominated for a handful of awards, including a Golden Globe for best drama. Estevez last appeared in the 2010 film The Way, and doesn't appear to have any upcoming projects at this time.

Joshua Jackson (Charlie Conway)

Charlie was pretty much the leader among the team members. He came to regard Bombay as a father figure, and part of the reason for Bombay's departure in the third movie was to allow Charlie to step up as more of a strong figure.

Joshua Jackson is one of the few cast members who have become well-known in the acting world. Turning 33 in three days, Jackson got his big break when he played Pacey Witter in the TV series Dawson's Creek from 1998 to 2003. Though he faded into the background for awhile, he once again found a successful TV show and has been playing Peter Bishop in the sci-fi series Fringe since 2005.

Greg Goldberg (Shaun Weiss)

Goldberg was a goalie and memorable character in an odd way; I remember he was one of the key players and got a lot of screen time (and even a full face shot on some movie posters). But now I don't remember much more than a gag in which he gets frustrated with the licking the initially unskilled team is taking at the beginning of the first movie and ends up just stepping aside to let the opponents take a shot. Wikipedia says he had a lot of fart jokes to sustain him and that he later moved from goalie to defenseman.

Shaun Weiss, now 32, has been occasionally popping up in small roles in TV shows. These appearances include The King of Queens, Freaks and Geeks, and Crossing Jordan. His last credited appearance was as a bus driver in the 2008 film Drillbit Taylor. Though he also appeared in a 2010 short film entitled 19 Shots 32 Kisses and the Co@k Blocker and numerous commercials.

Adam Banks (Vincent Larusso)

Sporting perhaps the longest description in the Wikipedia entry on Mighty Ducks teammates, Adam Banks is a wealthy member of the rival team who is acquired by the Ducks after it turns out that he actually lives in their district. For all the evilness of the Ducks rivals, Banks was forthright and loyal to the team (to the point of leaving the academy's varsity team in the third movie to rejoin his old mates). Banks also gets injured more than anyone, probably because he keeps ditching rival teams and provoking their evil rage.

Vincent Larusso, now 33, graduated in 2000 from the Boston University School of Management. Six years after this, he's still had a few bit roles in the acting world, including a bank robber in Superhero Movie and "Buddy #2" in an episode of Dollhouse. He was also in a razor ad. Beyond that, it's kind of unclear what he's up to now.

Guy Germaine (Garette Ratliff Henson)

Clearly I haven't seen these movies in awhile. Guy Germaine is the first person mentioned in the Wikipedia list of Ducks players, and described as one of the most skilled players. He was also on one end of the few romances within the team, starting up a relationship with Connie Moreau. He appeared in all three movies.

Now 31, actor Garette Ratliff Henson starred in a few other movies during the 1990s, including Arachnophobia and Casper. He went to Sarah Lawrence University and got married in 2007. He still dabbles in acting, landing bit parts on NCIS and Cold Case as well as roles in the 2007 movie The Mannsfield 12. This year, he'll appear in the short movie Greetings From Montauk as a surfer. His brother also starred in the series as Fulton Reed.

Dave/Lester Averman (Matt Doherty)

Well this one I don't recall at all, two names and appearances in all three movies or not. The Wikipedia page describes him as a goofball and deadpan snarker who is an easy target for opposing enforcers and is the second most injured player on the team as a result.

Matt Doherty, now 32, went on to graduate from Northwestern University in 1999 with a theater degree. He hasn't appeared in many things on the screen, however, aside from small roles in Boston Common, So I Married an Axe Murderer, and a few other movies and TV shows. He's still getting by, though, and will appear as Fred in the upcoming film Last Call.

Jesse Hall (Brandon Quintin Adams)

He's described as a power forward whose attitude gets him in trouble sometimes, and he bows out before the third movie; good agent, there.

Now 31, Brandon Quintin Adams was also involved in The Sandlot, playing Kenny DeNunez there, and as a young Michael Jackson in Moonwalker. He went over to television after D2, returning to film in 2001 as Terry in MacArthur Park. His roles are more sporadic after that, voicing Raijin in the video game Kingdom Hearts II and Mike in the movie Stuck in the Corners. Adams also released a hip hop album under the alias B. Lee and is still acting, though he's slowed down a bit.

Dean Portman (Aaron Lohr)

Along with Fulton Reed, Dean Portman is a fearsome power hitter and one of the "Bash Brothers" on the team. He's listed as one of the players who doesn't attend the private academy, but somehow manages to come back to deliver some concussions in the end.

Despite his imposing appearance, actor Aaron Lohr has actually done a fair amount of song and dance. He was Max's singing voice in A Goofy Movie and appeared as a dancing kid in the 1984 music video for Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It For The Boy." The now 35-year-old Lohr graduated from UCLA in 2000, majoring in film, and has showed up in several theatrical productions. Other notable roles include Marlon Baker in Sister Sister and the voice of Jak in the video game Jak and Dexter: The Precursor Legacy. His next slated role is Scott in Manslaughter

Fulton Reed (Elden Henson)

Um, this was the guy who was shooting pucks in an alley and took out a window in Bombay's van? I think? The other half of the "Bash Brothers," Fulton Reed has an insanely powerful if mostly inaccurate slapshot. He joins the academy in the third movie, but has trouble adapting to the new coach at first.

Elden Henson, brother of fellow Ducks actor Garette Ratliff Henson, is now 33 years old. He attended Emerson College but didn't graduate, staying rather visible in the acting world with roles in some recognizable movies such as Jesse Jackson in She's All That, Pnub in Idle Hands, Elden Madden in Cast Away, and Lenny in The Butterfly Effect. His last recorded role was as Gordon in the miniseries El Dorado in 2010.

Connie Moreau (Marguerite Moreau)

How much do I remember about Connie Moreau? Not much, as it turns out. Another website I found declares that she did little more than pout, "I'm not a girl, I'm a duck." She's described in the Wikipedia page as a recurring, independent female player nicknamed as the "velvet hammer" who starts up a relationship with Guy Germaine. She appears in all three movies.

Holy damn. Er, I mean...Now 34, Marguerite Moreau has strung together a series of bit roles as well as a few bigger appearances, such as Julie in Wet Hot American Summer and Susan Atkins in Helter Skelter. She graduated from Vassar College in 1999 with a political science degree, and evidently does theater as well. For the Losties out there, you might recognize her as Starla from the episode "Everybody Hates Hugo." She'll be appearing in L!fe Happens as Pauline and Caroline and Jackie as Caroline this year.

Russ Tyler (Kenan Thompson)

The Ducks get schooled in a pickup game with a Los Angeles street hockey team during their world tour in the second movie, and Tyler was talented enough that the team picked him up. His signature move, hitting the puck face on in a way that somehow made it follow a crazy path when fired, racked up a few goals for the team ("It's knucklepuck time!"). The Wikipedia page also describes him as "very loquacious," which is a kind way of saying he never shut the hell up.

That sounds like what I've seen from Kenan Thompson all right. One of the more recognizable names in the credits, the now 33-year-old Thompson had a successful career in the children's circuit with starring roles in the Nickelodeon shows All That and Kenan & Kel. He's remained a comedian, doing standup shows and joining the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2003. He's also appeared in quite a few somewhat unimpressive movies, the most notable of which include Snakes on a Plane and Zombieland (albeit only as a brief appearance in the opening credits in the latter).

Julie Gaffney (Colombe Jacobsen-Derstine)

With a nickname of "The Cat" for her quick reflexes, Julie Gaffney becomes the go-to goalie after the second movie when she prevents a final Iceland shot and to give the Ducks the championship. She appears in the second and third movies, and kind of stays in the background from what I can remember. Aside from the occasional spectacular game-preserving defense, of course.

Colombe Jacobsen-Derstine, who I must say has grown up quite nicely, had a few post-Ducks parts, closing out in 2007 with roles as a prostitute in The Living Wake and Nadia in Descent. She now devotes herself to cooking, competing in the same year on The Next Food Network Star and producing a webisode series for the network called "Conscious Cooking." The 33-year-old Jacobsen-Derstine now runs the food website Colombe Du Jour, which says that she graduated from Natural Gourmet Cooking School and works as a professional chef, cooking instructor, and yoga teacher who would be happy to say hello if you ran into her at a farmers market in New York City.

Dwayne Robertson (Ty O'Neal)

Silly Texans, there's no ice there! Nonetheless, Dwayne Robertson is described on the Wikipedia page as the "best puckhandler" on the team. A rancher and Southern gentleman who shows up in the second and third movies, his most memorable scene might be the one in which he saves one of the girls (Connie, I believe) by lassoing a malicious enforcer bearing down on her. Strangest penalty ever.

Ty O'Neal, now 32, actually is a professional ranch hand and member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. He married a cowgirl in 2005 and works to train and quarter horses. It seems he's favored the ranch life to acting, as his last role was in the TV movie Tiger Cruise in 2004. He also had roles in The Postman, Wild Wild West, and American Outlaws.

Ken Wu (Justin Wong)

Ken Wu was a former Olympic figure skater who joined the team in the second movie. A skilled skater who was also soft-spoken, he earned a good deal of respect from the team's bruisers after putting their advice into action and pulling a towering Iceland player's jersey over his head during a scuffle.

Justin Wong, now 30, had only one more appearance after The Mighty Ducks series, playing a character in an episode of Millennium. Not to become confused with a video game expert of the same name, this Justin Wong has apparently disappeared or at least kept a low profile.

Luis Mendoza (Mike Vitar)

Luis Mendoza was one of the newer team members first introduced in the second movie. His main role was one of slapstick comedy, as he was a very fast skater but had trouble stopping once he was going at full speed.

Another 32-year-old at this point, Mike Vitar came into the film series with a notable role already under his belt; in the 1993 movie The Sandlot, he played Ben "The Jet" Rodriguez. Managing to get only a few minor appearances in TV shows when he was a teenager, Vitar gave up acting and has been a Los Angeles firefighter since 2002.

Hans (Joss Ackland)

Hans was the kindly old man and dear friend to Gordon Bombay. He owns the sporting goods shop where the Ducks get all of their equipment. The character died in the third movie.

Joss Ackland, now 83, is an English actor who has managed to dominate the stage and screen with dozens of roles even if you probably don't recognize his name right away. You may have seen him in The Hunt for Red October, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, and the BBC two-parter Hogfather. He's still active,and will be appearing in the upcoming film Katherine of Alexandria. It seems the second movie's Hans was played by Jan Rubes, a Czech musician and part-time actor whose most notable role was Eli Lapp in Witness. Rubes died on June 29, 2009 at the age of 89.