Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Wire

           It’s been thirteen years since The Wire debuted causing the essence of television drama to change significantly. It’s about to be seven years since the show reached its conclusion and with its departure there has been wave of high quality shows with only a few series that approach the greatness and creative brilliance of The Wire. Now that HBO has released the highly praised drama in its beautifully re-mastered HD depiction, my wife and I were compelled to watch the series … again … for a third time. We are both still equally captivated by this groundbreaking series. As a result of watching it for third time my mind has recently been flooded with thoughts about the message(s) it speaks to viewers.

Much like Tom Cruise in Jerry McGuire I found myself unable to sleep one night because I couldn’t turn off my brain about the show. The root of this stems from watching season 4, which focuses on urban middle school kids and their unfortunate relationships to the Hydra-like drug scene in Baltimore. My profession as a history teacher at a jail allows me to witness on a daily basis the parallels between what is depicted in the show concerning the urban youth and my students. From this point of insight, let me tell you that the portrayal could not be more correct. Therefore, as Jerry did, I was compelled to put my thoughts to paper for this one time honorary post about the greatest television show ever. (Before I proceed please understand that over the years The Wire has been labeled the greatest television drama by many critics i.e. 2013 article in Entertainment Weekly, therefore others support my bold assertion.)
           If you haven’t seen The Wire, I strongly recommend that you do. If you’re in the middle of another series that’s not one of the following: Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, The Shield, Mad Men, True Detective, The Americans, Sherlock, and/or Sons of Anarchy stop watching whatever it is and delve into The Wire.  Trust me - you will be doing yourself a favor.  For those of you who know me personally I’m sure you have heard me speak highly about The Wire for years. In those conversations I summarized the structure of the series without providing intimate plot details. Those of you who have taken my advice and watched the show have come back to me, still in the midst of the series, with the highest of praises. For the most part The Wire flew under the radar while on HBO and its viewership is nothing to brag about so it’s understandable as to why one may not be aware of its existence.
First, the genius of the show stems from its creator David Simon. Simon’s ability to take real life events and people and convert them into a semi-fictionalized drama is nothing short of amazing. As a former Baltimore journalist, Simon accurately displays the intricate, gritty, hard, and corrupt life in Baltimore as seen through the eyes of the police, drug dealers, the labor union, politicians, news media and, most poignant of all, the children. This collective group of characters set the tone and theme for each season. The grounding of each season stems from the police setting, or attempting to set, a wiretap on a given drug trafficking target.  As the seasons progress it becomes evident that each case is not independent of each other but instead its part of a spiders web where one case folds into the other. Unlike other televisions series there are no season ending cliffhangers because each season has a clear beginning and ending with the entire series being inter-connected, as I stated. Furthermore, a small and unassuming scene may mean nothing at the time but a season later that moment will come to have greater meaning; proving to be an important piece of the puzzle. And in the words of Detective Lester Freamon, “All the pieces matter.”

The Wire is like an onion. It’s multilayered and upon your first viewing of the series, it’s extremely raw, stinging your senses. The realism that is portrayed is shocking and painful to the eyes but you can’t stop watching it. By the second or third time you watch it (yes, that will happen and has happened to many) you will start to notice and fully understand the smaller details of story. As you let everything marinate, you come to realize that this once raw uncooked onion has now been transformed into something sweeter and more flavorful becoming easier to digest. Much like the street junkies in the show, you will become addicted to the story. I know I am.
           The Wire has a multitude of characters who each play significant roles in the story. In the opening scene of the first episode you are introduced to Homicide Detective Jimmy McNulty, played by the ever-talented Dominic West. McNulty is an Irish-American cop who does three things extremely well: investigative police work, especially solving murders; drinking; and picking up women. He’s a brilliant detective who defies his superiors at every turn only because he wholeheartedly knows that he’s right. Willing to burn bridges and prove anyone wrong, McNulty serves to be the shows heart and moral consciousness. However, as brilliant of a man as he is, Jimmy is a flawed protagonist. His addiction to solving cases and his frustration with the police department’s bureaucracy causes him to repeatedly spiral out of control in his personal life. However, this is not to label him as an anti-hero a la Walter White or Tony Soprano.  McNulty’s desire for justice keeps you rooting for him throughout the entire series.
I have always viewed McNulty as the show’s main character and some may agree while others may not. However, after watching the show for a third time the true main character is the city of Baltimore. In this partially God forsaken city, viewers will witness the harsh reality of a divided and nearly broken metropolis. Shot in real abandoned heroin houses, project buildings, the docks, etc. populated with real drug fiends, The Wire provides you with a first hand look of a city on its knees yet pumping with a life all of its own. Moreover, the beauty of The Wire is that it is not a black versus white show.  It is not a world where white cops are chasing black drug dealers or white politicians using their power to their own benefit. Baltimore is actually a city that is dominated by the black community and whites serve to be the minority. While the issue of race is addressed more than a few times it is not heavily embedded in the core of the storyline. Instead of a race war, this is a war of classes, something Karl Marx would have been suffocated by if he lived in 21st century Baltimore. There are white and black people who are good, bad, and evil. For instance, Police Commissioner Burrell, a black man who has served the city and department for three decades, is one of the worst because he does everything not to get the job done. A staunch believer of making arrests for the sake of political statistics and never wanting to stand up for what is morally correct, Burrell excels as a Do-Nothing commissioner causing viewers to hate one of the so called “good guys.”  He proves that even if you are in a position of power and influence it can go to waste.
On the flipside there is Omar Little; one of the greatest characters ever written. He is an anti-hero. One that is so complex that you can’t help but love and root for him regardless of his transgressions. In short, he’s a black man who only robs drug dealers and is openly gay. His moral code and Robin Hood-like behavior provides deeper substance to his character and the show because he lives his life going against the grain. To the credit of actor Michael Kenneth Williams and to the writing of the character it serves as no surprise why Omar is so loved by viewers. Omar’s presence allows for a sense of balance and justice within the harsh Baltimore drug game.
To understand true evil one must look to the anti-thesis of Omar, drug lord Marlo Standfield. The antagonist of seasons four and five, Marlo is young man who is drunk with power and absent of compassion. A sociopath to the fullest extent, his lack of respect for people’s lives and the rules of “the game” allow him to easily manipulate anyone within his sphere of influence whether it be for his own personal gain or pleasure. Since the first time I watched the show, Marlo was the character I hated the most and even to this day I still hate him. However, it is only now that I understand him and his methods. A product of his environment, he puts the old school drug dealers: Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell, and Proposition Joe to shame. But again, the material is presented to you in such a fashion that you’ll become so fascinated by him and the way he thinks because it is so abnormal.
There are a plethora of other great characters worthy of discussion and analysis and I've barely scratched the surface but I will leave that for you to discover. I can say for certain that The Wire changed my perception of the way things are in this country, especially because for the last five years I’ve seen only a small glimpse of the style of life The Wire presented through my students. For example, the inequality, the injustice, lack of care for education and life, the focus on materialism are all but some of issues and situations that I have witnessed working where I do. This climate is not just where I work but anywhere and everywhere in this country. One does not have to look that hard to find what I’m talking about. There is no single person or institution to blame for the creation of this general imbalance but there are many to blame for it continued existence.
Not only does the story hone in on everyday issues of a local urban community it also focuses on the post 9/11 world under the Bush administration. Watching the series now is perhaps even better for first time viewers because they’ll be able to recognize the many fallacies, which stem from the Bush years. The political undertones of the show run deep throughout the series. The failure of Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and focus on standardized tests results are evident in season 4. The federal governments interest in political corruption and terrorist activity instead of assisting local authorities for mass murders runs wild throughout the entire series. Moreover, you’re also witnessing a turning point in history. You’re watching the evolution of technology and decline and fall of the newspaper industry.  The former is a staple in our every day life and the latter is a past time that bit the dust rather hard. When you watch The Wire keep these things in mind and remember that David Simon created a show that came to symbolize the struggles of a city at a unique point in American history…a post 9/11 United States.
By the end of the series you understand the cyclical nature of the beast. Unlike David Chase who created The Sopranos, Simon does not cheat you in the series finale. In my opinion, Chase took his artistic license too far causing a major uproar of discontent from loyal viewers. Conversely, Simon’s The Wire will leave you happily satisfied with the conclusion of the show and with a broader understanding of a life some of us will never know about.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Summary: A newly released convict (Dwayne Johnson) set’s out to avenge the murder of his brother. Ten years ago the brothers were engaged in a heist but were double-crossed by a mysterious gang immediately afterwards. Now a veteran drug addicted detective and an egocentric hit man are both tracking this man hell bent on revenge.

Plot (B+): To say that Johnson’s character is a man on a mission is a complete understatement. He is more like a man possessed by some unholy force and nothing is going to stop him until he kills everyone that screwed him and killed his brother. This is immediately visible during the opening scene as you see Johnson pace back and forth in his cell with intensity. It’s safe to say that Faster has some religious, both dark and light, undertones to the film. The plot itself is a straightforward revenge flick with a slight twist at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and looked forward to seeing it for some time. To clarify, only 2 or 3 people in this film are referred to by their actual names. Johnson’s character is simply referenced as “the Driver” since he was the driver during the heist with his brother. I thought this was very cool because it clearly states that this movie is not solely about the characters per se. It’s about revenge and when someone is bent on getting it nothing else really matters. There is a sub-plot, which centers on the egocentric hit man who is hired to kill Johnson’s character. While I understand the connection between the Killer and the Driver I felt they focused a bit much on the Killer’s personal life.

Action (A): I was very happy to see Johnson back in the action genre saddle because it fits him perfectly. He took a break from starring in action films but this was a great comeback. Most of the action scenes are either gunfights or just watching Johnson blow someone’s head clean off. Lastly, the film had several cool driving action sequences, which kept the movie flowing at a faster pace.

Acting & Dialogue (B+): Dwayne Johnson is a good actor and I don’t give a shit what people say. His transition from wrestling to acting was extremely smooth and natural even if that was years ago. Although, Johnson’s character doesn’t not speak much his body language says EVERYTHING. He walks with a purpose. When he confronts each new target his posture is stiff but it gives the notion that he’s ready to attack then and there. Most of all, his eyes are filled with an intense fiery rage which strikes fear into the hearts of his victims (Note: I’ve seen this look before from his wrestling days and it worked perfectly). This rage has been festering for ten years and it gives audiences the inclination that he is no longer human but more of a dark super natural force. Essentially, he is the bringer of death. Billy Bob Thornton plays the veteran Cop who’s days away from retirement but wants on this case for his own reasons. Thornton was particularly good in this role and played his character much like Robert De Niro played the obsessed psychopath Gil Renard in The Fan. Thornton’s Cop is smart but he can’t catch a break with his estranged wife, their cubby son, his job, and in life.

Sex Appeal (6.5): Maggie Grace (the whinny and stupid daughter from Taken) is stunningly beautiful in this film. She walks around in lingerie and is practically flawless. (Sidebar, I saw her in a flea market in Santa Monica last summer. I was going to “accidently” step on the back of her heel and pretend that it was accident so I could talk to her, however, I sadly chickened out.)

Director (B+): George Tillman Jr. created a fine piece of work and I would say that this is one of his best. The other film being Men of Honor, which starred Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr. Tillman also directed Notorious (the Notorious B.I.G movie), Soul Food, and Scenes for the Soul. Tillman’s ability to keep the pace moving and not focusing on one particular thing for too long was executed with great precision. As I said above, Johnson did everything at lightening speed and that was a great metaphor for the entire film. Tillman’s ability to focus in on that really won me over.

Overall: B+

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Green Lantern Trailer

Check out the new Green Lantern trailer in the trailer section below! It looks very cool and I really like Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern. He brought that cocky attitude as usual but it works for the character because that's who Hal Jordan is. While at first I wasn't crazy about the full CGI costume it has grown on me. With that said, I don't care fore his eyepiece because it looks extremely fake. If anything they could have given me a real one. I'm extremely happy to see a new and very different comic book hero finally come to the silver screen!

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Single Man

Summary: George (Colin Firth) is a British English professor living in 1962 L.A. at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Instead of focusing on his job or the looming potential death of the United States his mind and heart are centered on one thing: the death of his lover, Jim. As stated by George throughout his opening monologue, each day is difficult yet typical. However, when we see George he decides to do something a bit different.

Plot (A): Within the opening minutes of the film it becomes very difficult not to feel a deep sense of sympathy for George. It’s even harder to hold back your emotions as you see George lay down next to a dead Jim in a dream. It’s within those opening moments that you understand the suffering the main character internally experiences and yet can't express to the outside world. A Single Man has an extraordinary storyline because it hits so many aspects of life. It’s very touching yet rough for those who are in love and have to watch George's pain for the loss of Jim. For those who grew up during the 60’s, it's reminiscent of what life was like specifically in relation to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, and the constant sense doom that always lingered. Also, for anyone who was gay at that time it expresses how they could not live life in the open thus being forced to conceal their true self behind an illusion. Overall, A Single Man touches on an emotional, historical, and social level of life in the 1960’s.

Action: N/A

Acting & Dialogue (A): The film predominately focuses on Colin Firth’s character and his interactions with the people in his life. Firth is absolutely amazing in his role. He eloquently combined his British charm with the sophistication of an English professor secretly living as a gay man in the 1960’s. As in some of my favorite films Firth’s character discusses his inner thoughts with the audience. This constant running monologue, as always, allows for a deeper connection between viewers and the character/story. Firth’s performance was so highly applauded last year that he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. Julianne Moore plays Charley, a former lover of George, but who is now his best friend. And when I say best friend I mean she’s a self-indulgent divorcee with a shit load of money and a drinking problem. Moore is equally superb although her screen time is minimal. For me, it was the way she spoke which stuck out the most. Picture a pretentious WASP from the Upper East Side saying, “That’s marvelous darling.” a bunch of times and then you'll get the essence of her character.

Sex Appeal: N/A

Director (A): This is Tom Ford’s only directing gig thus far and I have to say he made one hell of an entrance. One of the things that I really liked about Ford’s direction was his ability to brighten up the color in George’s face when some memory, smell, or person made him happy. It’s hard not to notice George’s color brighten up significantly when he is happy. The constant recurrence gives the notion that there is hope for him yet. Just like the monologue, and perhaps even more so, this simply action connects us to George’s emotions on a deeper level. Ford wonderfully mixed the present with flashbacks of random events in George and Jim’s relationship: i.e.) when they first met, hanging out on the beach or in their house, and sadly yes, the moment George received the news about Jim’s death (Firth was great in that scene). I don’t see any new projects on Fords IMDB page but that could and probably will change.

Overall: A

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Batman 3 Entitled: The Dark Knight Rises; No Riddler

Director Christopher Nolan has just revealed the name of his third Batman installment and it will be called The Dark Knight Rises.

Collider reports:

Director Christopher Nolan has spilled some revelations to Hero Complex about the upcoming film. First up, the next Batman movie will be titled The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan also tells Hero Complex that The Riddler will not be the villain in the third film. There have been reports that Killer Croc may be the villain, but that rumor came from Mark “in-no-way-trustworthy” Millar.

Finally, Nolan confirms what we already suspected: the film won’t be in 3D. Cinematographer Wally Pfister shares Nolan’s lack of enthusiasm for the technology. However, they’re both fans of IMAX and will “…instead use high-definition approaches and IMAX cameras to strike out on a different cinematic path…” Nolan filmed the intro of the Dark Knight in IMAX.

I'm kind of torn about the Riddler not being in the third film. I think it would have been a nice inclusion and we would have seen another part of Batman's intellectual side. At the same time, the Riddler doesn't pose a big physical threat to him so if Nolan does go with Killer Croc we will see great fight scenes. Actor Tom Hardy (Inception) is officially signed on for the The Dark Knight Rises so he may/probably will be the villain. I'm happy Nolan is staying away from 3D and taking the IMAX approach again. It's definitely more of a compliment to the story and it's not selling out. 3D would just ruin the quality of the film altogether. As for the title I gotta say I'm not that thrilled with it. I mean The Dark Knight Rises? In my opinion it's somewhat boring and unimaginative. It gives the impression that its the first in the series when its really the third. I would have been happier with The Caped Crusader or if Nolan went back to the simplicity of of just Batman with some other catchy word. Who knows maybe I just need some time to let it marinate. Either way I do look forward to this film immensely and cannot wait until July 2012!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jackass 3D

I'm a huge fan of Jackass. I think its extremely funny and highly entertaining. Watching grown men creatively come up with ways to hurt themselves is just highly amusing in my opinion. However, I felt the Jackass crew could have done better this time around. Although I'm not gonna go into specifics I thought some of the pranks/acts didn't live up to the essence that is Jackass. Don't get wrong there are funny, outrageous, and disgusting parts to the film (which almost made me puke...no joke) but I did walk in expecting a bit more. They relied too much on the slow motion shots where regular speed would have been suffice. Furthermore, perhaps some of the overall essence was different because they weren't hammered on the set or used footage while they drunk. This is mainly due to Steve-O's recovery, which in the whole grand scheme of things was a great sign of support and respect so I can't really argue with that. Is Jackass 3D worth seeing? Yes, especially if you're a true fan but I personally felt the first two were better.

Overall: B

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Social Network

After seeing The Social Network it became abundantly clear that as smart and talented Mark Zuckerberg was (and still is) back at his days at Harvard he needed to do something extraordinary in his life in order to feel special and get noticed. Creating Facebook made him shit loads of money, which in turn got him friends, notoriety, and exclusivity, all of which he was completely incapable of doing on his own. Zuckerberg’s social skills were so lacking and his personality was extremely rigid that it seemed as if he had no emotion at all. After finding out the story behind Facebook, even though some of it was glorified for the sake of cinema, I have to admit that part of me doesn’t want to be part of the Facebook world anymore. Zuckerberg’s dedication to the idea of this groundbreaking social media outlet is very admirable but when you see his lack of honor and loyalty to his best and ONLY friend, Co-Founder Eduardo Saverin, it may really disturb you as it did me. I have come to realize that Zuckerberg created something that has profoundly changed socialization forever but he paid a high cost largely due to his inability to connect to people. His actions towards others didn’t even register on an emotional level mainly due to his genius and dedication to the essence of Facebook. Ironic, isn’t it? What I found even more ironic is the fact a young man who was completely inept of socializing with his peers perfectly understood what people his age desired in order to socialize. It is within that critical understanding that I have to tip my hat to the guy. At the same time, Zuckerberg may have 500 million "friends" on Facebook but when your one and only true friend sues you it says something about the person you are. It says that you’re a jealous, low self-esteemed ass fuck with little to no sense of loyalty, which above all pisses me off.

Overall, The Social Network was a very good movie – a solid piece of cinema. Obviously, certain details were left out for legal reasons but the story that was presented was entertaining, thought provoking, and more importantly informative. Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven) flip-flopped between the past, which was the creation of the site at Harvard in 2003, and everything leading up to the present where Zuckerberg is entangled in two separate depositions. One deposition focuses on the Winklevoss twins (who are the EPITMOE of self entitled WASP jocks) who claimed that Zuckerberg stole their initial idea. The second focuses on Saverin’s. As for Jesse Eisenberg’s performance, it was truly exceptional and he did an excellent job displaying Zuckerberg’s genius, his callous and cynical personality, and his social awkwardness. Eisenberg’s ability to shell out hundreds of interrelated thoughts with intellectual superiority was astounding. Justin Timberlake played Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, who at the time was an entrepreneur looking for the next big thing to make him money. When Parker befriends Zuckerberg things change rather quickly both in the positive and in the negative but it’s clear that Parker’s assistance took Facebook to the next level. Timberlake gave a very good performance playing the confidant and cocky Parker. His transition to the silver screen has worked out rather well for him and I have to say I enjoy watching him in the right roles.

Another thing that didn’t set well with me about this movie is the actual existence of these highly elite and exclusive Ivy League final clubs where everyone is preppy, egotistical, and has this arrogant sense of entitlement. Maybe I'm missing something concerning this because that world is very foreign to me. In the beginning of the film Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg stated that these final clubs would lead to a better life and the establishment of new and better relationships for one’s future. While I can't disagree with that latter part of that statement, undeniably networking and connections can get you very far professionally; I'm still in awe of the arrogance. Yes, it’s a privilege to go to any Ivy League school, especially Harvard, but the majority of people don't want to hear how awesome other people and their private clubs are. I couldn’t care less that you have a trust fund, or that your dad works in Washington DC and has several connections that will highly benefit your future, or that you’re a 6th generation WASP therefore you're apparently more American than me. Shit like that makes me fucking sick. I could say a lot more but I think I should end this little tangent now.

Is The Social Network worth seeing? Yes, and I suggest you see it. However, don't be surprised to feel a little dirty and uncomfortable when you walk out the theater. You may feel even dirtier when you log onto Facebook to update your status, tag someone in a photo, or do some other bullshit it offers. Whatever you do you should always remember at Facebook’s core was a lonely and bitter 20 something year old genius who created this phenomenon but burnt practically every bridge to get where he is today. For some that may not matter but for me I hold the relationships in my life with much more importance and respect than money, fame, and exclusivity.

Overall: A-