Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Wire Season 2 Episode 9

The Wire Season 2 Episode 9: Stray Rounds. In what was, at least for me, a stroke of dramatic genius, David Simon and company chose to bookend this unsettling episode with Janus images -- two faces of drug dealing enforcement. The episode opens with ragtag incompetence and chaos as Barksdale's street level enforcer Brodie (J.D. Williams) tries to push interlopers off his corners with a show of firepower. A young boy getting ready for school catches a stray bullet and is left dead in the bedroom of his apartment. His mother's screams close the opening sequence and offer proof positive that change is needed. When Stringer Bell and Brianna Barksdale tell her brother Avon, who is still behind bars, of the trouble they're having holding onto their portion of the West Baltimore drug trade, he tells them he'll take care of it by pulling in some muscle from New York. Little do they or the viewers know what that portends, not just for the disputing drug slingers but for Stringer and Avon. The episode closes with the introduction of the new enforcer -- the unassumingly bespectacled and bow-tied Brother Mouzon (a terrific Michael Potts) looking up at the towers that he has been summoned to tame.

The Hunger Games

Gary Ross's The Hunger Games is a highly watchable amalgamation of classic dystopian texts -- 1984, Fahrenheit 451, The Wizard of Oz (?) among others -- that sets the child-in-peril trope front and center to uncertain effect, IMO. I'm not familiar with the source material -- Suzanne Collins' novel of the same name -- but expect that it develops the back story of the insurrection that resulted in the creation of the 12 districts from which two children are pulled every year to fight to the death in an elaborate war game. The children, a boy and a girl, are chosen in a lottery and shipped off to the Capital -- imagine the Emerald City without it's stylish sensibility -- to be schooled. The children -- some of them ringers -- are fawned over by garishly attired nabobs and trained in the fine art of evisceration. The film has several winning performances, most notably Jennifer Lawrence, a young bowwoman who volunteers for the Games when her little sister's number is called, and Woody Harrelson as her drunken mentor, whose job it is to make her a likable and bankable warrior. Despite the quality of the performance, inventive camera work and intriguing set design and costuming, this is still a pretty dismal and barbaric affair. I'm not a fan of the notion of turning animalized children onto each other as broadcast entertainment and don't understand the message I'm to take away from this film. It's entertaining enough, I suppose, but I left the theater sure the film wlll make a mint but I'm not certain if that's such a good thing.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Game Change

HBO's Game Change was illuminating and entertaining but a fairly safe affair overall. Julianne Moore's Sarah Palin was a spot on duplication of the Alaska governor's distinctive manner and cadence and only in the last reel began to evolve into the annoying diva that the left loves to hate. The story itself was not wholly unsympathetic to John McCain or the men and women who forced the political marriage between the unlikely pair and who suffered the ignominy of tapping a candidate for vee-pee who was wholly unqualified. There are no villains in the film unless you count a political system guided by expediency, damage control and polling.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sunshine

Reading dire reports of solar flares interrupting earthy affairs, I was reminded of Danny Boyle's intriguing but not totally satisfying foray into science fiction, Sunshine (2007). Boyle is better known for his wholly satisfying Slumdog Millionaire and his indispensable cult hits Trainspotting (1996) and Shallow Grave (1994). Sunshine tells the story of an international crew of astronauts on a mission to deliver an explosive payload the size of Manhattan island to the sun, where it will reignite the star, which is diminishing and threatening life on Earth. This will be the Earth's second attempt, as the previous effort failed mysteriously. As with the best science fiction with which I'm familiar, this adventure is merely backdrop for more existential musings. Some of which, admittedly I could not parse. Still, the visuals are kind of amazing. It's well worth checking out, IMO.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Wire Season 2 Episode 8: Duck and Cover

The Wire Season 2 Episode 8: Duck and Cover. From end to end, The Wire was a character study of a city, David Simon's beloved Baltimore, and the individual troubled lives of cops and robbers, pushers and politicians and the innocents who were too often caught in the crossfire (literally). Det. Jimmy McNulty is a tough character to pull for because he's an ill-tempered braggart (an Irishman, through and through) who suppresses the better angels of his conscience with alcohol and cheap sex. McNulty opens this episode by driving his car into bridge underpass supports -- several times. It would be disturbing and puzzling if viewers hadn't already witnessed McNulty's self-destructive and self-pitying tantrums. When he ends up bloodied in an all-night diner ordering eggs and scrapple and picking up the waitress, we might be tempted to dismiss the whole affair as Jimmy being Jimmy, and it certainly is that. But it's also Simon's way of reasserting McNulty's aching need to be needed. As McNutly's best friend says in his defense, "when he ain't policing he's a picture postcard of a drunken, self-destructive fuck-up. And when he is policing... he's pretty much the same motherfucker. But on a good case, he runnin' in front of the pack. That's as close as the man comes to bein' right." The show's resident sage Lester Freamon will eventually get fed up with McNulty's shenanigan's and urge him to get a life away from the stakeouts and the wiretaps. It's great advice that McNulty never embraces ... and the show is better for it.

The Artist

Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist is a rather surreal silent treatment of the classic old dog / new tricks conceit set in 1920s Hollywood. It was a terrific gamble that was spot on. The film is a wonder. Hazanavicius delivers a picture that is not only fresh but refreshing even for those of us who see a lot of movies. The film's vibrancy radiates from the screen in ways I haven't felt in years. It's compact and precise, like a exquisite timepiece, but with heart. (More on that later.) One immaculately staged scene is representative of the artistry that's in every scene of this film. It takes place on an open stairway in the fictitious Kinograph studios where veteran silent film star George Valentin (a stellar Jean Dujardin) runs into the young starlet he discovered, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo, what a marvel she is). Valentin has just had an upsetting meeting with studio heads in which it was announced that talkies were the future; the silent age essentailly over. The stairway exchange between George and Peppy moves elegantly from George's anxiousness to Peppy's ardor. It's poignant and pure perfection.

The Artist is a flawless film that bests that other truly flawless work released last year -- Scorsese's Hugo -- in that the meticulousness of the Artists's acting, camera work, staging and design do not compete with one another for the audience's attention or awe. At the end of Hugo, I felt I seen an important work by a master director. At the end of The Artist, I felt the same but also enriched and better for having seen it.

John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

Interestingly, even though Chad Stahelski's John Wick: Chapter 3 —Parabellum delivers deliciously brutal set pieces where our hero (K...