Wednesday, February 27, 2008


*Sasha Frere-Jones takes down that awful Oscar-winning song from Once: "Point that sinking boat somewhere else, fella". I release some spleen towards the film itself here.

*An informative survey about the "Frat Pack" is up at Sight & Sound. Old School was apparently based on Fight Club. Fascinating!

*Matt already linked to the Sarah Silverman-Jimmy Kimmel dueling fucking videos, but there's a knockoff one with Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks on the set of the new Kevin Smith movie. It's not nearly as good as its models, but worth a link.

*At Kaiju Shakedown, Grady Hendrix translates some German reviews of Johnnie To's Sparrow, which premiered at the Berlin fest. I'm dying to see it. Literally. But I've got Mad Detective coming in the mail, so that should tide me over well enough:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Will Ferrell's Funny Or Die Tour

My favorite celebrity jerk-off session was on the TV this week, but since Blades of Glory was snubbed in every category, I had to reluctantly pass on it this year. Instead, I chose to attend Will Ferrell's Funny Or Die tour at Radio City Music Hall, featuring three cherubic stand-ups and and Mr. Ferrell himself as the debonair MC. It soon became clear that I made the right decision.

The tour is sponsored by Ferrell's upcoming film Semi-Pro and the Funny Or Die website, a YouTube for comic sketches that often features Mr. Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and others of their merry band. This was the last stop on the 8 city tour, and every bit was well honed. With frequent co-writer and director Adam McKay as his announcer, Ferrell's entrance was teased with clips of his greatest work, including Old School, Talladega Nights, Unforgiven, and Platoon. The directors of the last two made curious decisions in having Farrell act in what looked like his own apartment, but his performance was stirring nonetheless. After defiantly entering the stage in a Patriots sweatshirt, he tore it off with the strength of Thor to reveal the Giants logo beneath. The crowd was agog. After a few pleasantries the Mortal Kombat theme song hit, and was Ferrell was soon fending off an array of ninjas with awe-inspiring athleticism. His balletic martial arts moves brought most of the crowd to tears, so powerful was their ascetic grace. Then, with absolute modesty, introduced the first comedian, Demetri Martin.

Martin: Heavily influenced by Steven Wright, but uses a guitar and visual aids to aid the deadpan. I can't remember many of the jokes, and to list them wouldn't capture their charm - it's all in the flat intonation.

Interim. Dark stage, lights go up to reveal Ferrell as one of those silver-painted street robot dancers. Is there a better name for them? Not sure. But, gyrating to Daft Punk's "Around the World", Ferrell made such questions seem meaningless. What are words in the face of such poetry? McKay disgustingly asked him to stop, and I wept. Then we received a few Oscar updates from gal-about-town Andrea Savage, who had earlier interviewed Javier Bardem (Fred Armisen) backstage. We discovered that John Travolta had won best actress for Hairspray, the cast of Falcon Crest was given an unnamed honor, and Carl Weathers had unconscionably been passed over. Such is life. Next stand-up: Nick Swardson.

Swardson: amiable foul-mouth that loves monkeys and old-people. Most memorable bit about a spider monkey in Las Vegas who would high five him for a dollar. He lost $300.

Then: that perfectly coiffed adonis, Ron Burgundy, graced us with his presence, and he soon brought out the one man who could compete with him in the news hair game, Tom Brokaw. The two legendary journalists covered the hot-button issues: that crazy party in Lake Tahoe when Diane Sawyer was topless, whether Brokaw would smoke a vial of crack to save the President's life, etc. Things got testy when Burgundy revealed his book, The Greater Generation: the Story of the '69 Miracle Mets, but luckily things ended amicably.

Zack Galifinakis was unlucky enough to follow that blast of genius, but he acquitted himself superbly. Like Martin, he's heavily influenced by the great Steven Wright, presenting a number of deadpan one-liners ("One thing a woman never wants to hear whispered in her ear: 'I'm going to perform jihad on your vagina'"), and ending in a blaze of Little Orphan Annie Glory, complete with glitter and lip-synching to "Tomorrow".

Inevitably, it ended with Ferrell, with his Capezio dance pants tucked into his Uggs, leading the whole production in a rousing rendition of Alicia Keys' "No One". During the course of this Utopic tune Ferrell was refused a wedding engagement and kissed Woody Harrelson. All the torrid passions of life in one five minute performance. Sublime.

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YouTubeArt: "I'm F*cking Ben Affleck"

Jimmy Kimmel has answered one of the best Internet videos ever with one that damn near tops it. Huey Lewis in the house y'all!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

How She Move (2007)

So back in January David Bordwell posted a representatively long piece about the pleasures of Cloverfield, which I've yet to catch up with. The opening to his piece talks about the supposed dead zone of the first quarter of the Hollywood release schedule. It's the area where the genre experiments - the low-budget actioners and teen dance romps - hit theaters and get smacked down by lazy critics still suckling the teat of the Oscar race. As Bordwell notes, these are the B-movies of our time, low budget flicks that usually turn a profit - and with low budgets generally comes more freedom, which led to all the glorious Golden Age of Hollywood work.

Bordwell's piece focuses on the actioners, but another dependable genre trotted out in the early months is the teen dance movie. Last year's Stomp the Yard came out in January, and was an enjoyable piece of genre machinery, with flashy dance moves and charismatic character perfs, especially by R&B singer Ne-Yo. There are two entrants this year, the glossy Step Up 2 (as yet unseen by me), and the grittier How She Move, directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid. Gritty in that it looks cheap. An all-Canadian production that premiered at Sundance '07 (with some MTV Films cash involved), it shoots in the inner city of Toronto, focusing on the Jamaican community's underground step-team scene. Shot in washed out colors, and even utlizing 16mm for some shots, it has a young, seemingly unprofessional cast and an endless amount of enthusiasm. What really sticks out here is the film's sense of place, almost as precise as the industrial Toronto landscapes of In Between Days. The motivating force behind the film seems to be screenwriter Annemarie Morais, herself a daughter of Jamaican immigrants, and who had already directed a short documentary, Steppin' To It, which followed the preparations of co-ed step teams before a big competition. Rashid's direction is refreshingly restrained for the genre, allowing the big dance numbers to unfold coherently, with a minimum of edits and digital manipulation. But Morais is the clear talent here, establishing the rhythms of a community within the rules of genre, while saving room for the genre kicks too, including a window busting step competition climax.


Monday, February 18, 2008

From Wire to Wire / EPISODE 14-15: Ebb Tide, Collateral Damage

Ebb Tide
Directed by: Steve Shill
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: Ed Burns

"Ain't never gonna be what it was." - Little Big Roy

Collateral Damage
Directed by: Ed Bianchi
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: David Simon

"They can chew you up but they gotta spit you back out." - McNulty

The new season introduces us to a new location and a new set of characters: the world of Baltimore's ports and the dirty union of stevedores who work it. There are three main characters: secretary-treasurer of the union Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer), his screwup of a son Ziggy (James Ransone) and Frank's more grounded nephew Nicky (Pablo Schreiber).

Nicky is an interesting character in that he's an almost exactly duplicate of the midlevel hood role that was previously played on the series by Larry Gillard Jr.'s D'Angelo Barksdale. Like D'Angelo, Nicky is the nephew of the head of the organization he works for, and like D'Angelo, he is an odd position as a result: he receives preferential treatment on the basis of his relation to the boss, but he's also still low enough on the totem pole to realize how royally cocked up "the game" is. And the similarities don't stop there; Nicky and D'Angelo are both fathers to young children with women they like but do not love, and both wrestle with the question of settling down. That allows Simon to have another of the parallels between vastly different groups that 0The Wire lives on, but I'm a little ambivalent on the sheer extent of the duplications on their character.

I'm even more down on Ziggy, the only character on The Wire to this point who I actively dislike. Understand, the show is populated by drug dealers, murderers, corrupt politicians, and the single slimiest lawyer I've ever seen on television. But all of them bring something to do the table: some are conflicted about what they do, some go about their dirt with such relish you admire them for the strength of their convictions. Ziggy, on the other hand, is just an annoying fuckup. Nicky tries to bring Ziggy along on his schemes out of familiar loyalty and constantly reminds him to keep his mouth shut, to go along with the plan, but he repeatedly refuses to listen. He's disrespectful and stupid to an almost impossible degree. As memory serves, his character does go through a bit of an arc over the course of the series. But at this point in the early going, I'm leary every time he appears onscreen.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Termite (Sequential) Art: Ghost Rider #20

Yeah, it's a film blog. Guess what: I like comics too.

Written by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by Roland Boschi with Dan Brown

Until a few minutes ago, I had never, in my entire life, read a good Ghost Rider comics. Not for lack of trying; I probably own at least two dozen of them, purchased every couple of years when they dust ol' Flamehead off for another go around. Every one of them stunk. Back when I first started getting into comics in my teens, Marvel had two "cool" characters: the Punisher and Ghost Rider. Punisher I get (and I've read plenty of good-to-great Punisher mags in my day) but the appeal of GR has eluded me to this day. Okay yeah, he looks super cool, he's this "spirit of vengeance" who got his powers from an effed up deal with the devil, and he's this crazed firey-headed skull dude riding a Harley through the American West, but if that's all I'm gonna get out of a book, I can glance at the cover in the store and move on. I need something more.

At one point, there was a whole line of Ghost Rider books, called "The Midnight Sons" — you had the main Ghost Rider series, then one called Spirits of Vengeance where GR teamed up with Johnny Blaze, the former (and now current once again) Ghost Rider, plus one just for Blaze. Not to mention that all these other books where Ghost Rider would pop up for 22 pages, shout something like "TASTE VENGEANCE DEMON!" and then ride off into the sunset. In particular, I remember those god-awful story called "Midnight Massacre" where Ghost Rider lost his shit and then went around killing all the other characters in his line of books, but in the last issue, a deus ex machina brought them all back to life, meaning you'd literally wasted $15 (a lot of money to a kid whose allowance was — I shit you not — one or two bucks a week).

The crazy part? That's the stuff Ghost Rider fans look back on as the good old days. That should tell you something about how the character's been treated over the last decade or so, and that doesn't even touch on the debacle that is Nicolas Cage getting his Wicker Man on all over their beloved character. In his most recent incarnation, Johnny Blaze became Ghost Rider again (probably because that's the version Cage played in the film adaptation) and then, just recently, a writer dropped a bombshell: the character hadn't, as has always been the tale, sold his soul to the devil. Rather, Mr. Blaze's condition was all the result of the machinations of some "rogue angel" and Ghost Rider, is, in fact, an angel of vengeance.

Sounds like a pretty noxious idea to me but that's why they pay Jason Aaron to write the book; his first issue is #20 and it's this poor guy's job to pick up the pieces and make something interesting out of this whole new status quo. Somehow he did it.

The secret, I think, has nothing to do the way he's writing Ghost Rider, and everything to do with writing Johnny Blaze. When I was kid, the humans in Ghost Rider were all bland, generic protagonists. They were supposed to be tortured, I guess, saddled with this hellish burden, but as written they just sounded like whiners. Not Aaron's Blaze: this dude sounds like a badass biker who's PISSED OFF about the fact that his head catches on fire anytime shit starts to go wrong around him. Issue #20 opens with Blaze confessing to a priest as a means to try to get a message to heaven: he doesn't know how, but he's coming up there to settle the score. And when he gets there it ain't gonna be pretty. The dude's basically Howard Beale by way of Sonny Barger. If that doesn't sound like a pretty amazing subject for a story, well I can't do nothing for you.

There's a lot of groundwork laid here — you gotta pave the road before you can drive your hellcycle across it I guess — but I love the world Aaron's building. He hints that the "angels" in heaven may be even nastier than the demons in hell, and he creates this whole crazy cult of Nurse Ratchets with shotguns who are doing their bidding. In short, it's a nasty little world with horrible people in it: the only sort of place, in other words, where a guy on a bike fueled by hellfire might be considered something of a hero. And I kinda get this guy now: he's the guy who sees the "Caution! Hazardous Road Ahead!" sign on the side of the road and hits the gas. Because he just doesn't give a shit.

The art by Roland Boschi isn't phenomenal; his scratchy style isn't really to my taste and he seems to be allergic to drawing anyone with a neck, but his storytelling is fine and his layouts work with Aaron's script. The whole book moves; sometimes a comic that read quick annoys me because I'm paying $3 I should at least get a few minutes of enjoyment out of it. This one flows nicely, and it picks up steam as it hits the big action sequence in the hospital with the psychobitch nurses and the creepazoid cliffhanger.

It's just a great read and look, it got me all pumped up. About friggin' Ghost Rider. This is what a good art does. It excites you. It makes you want to share it. It makes you want to get on your computer at 12:30 AM on a Saturday morning when you could be writing something for money, or playing Super Mario Galaxy or (heaven forbid) sleeping to tell people how freaking good it is. So here I am. Telling it.


2008 Slam Dunk Competition: Dwight Howard is my Hero

The slam dunk competition was a highlight of my youth - far more entertaining than any sport's all-star game or skills competition, including the home run derby. Demanding athletic skill and imagination, it reveals as much about the player's personality as his vertical leap. With Dominique Wilkins' workmanlike Tomahawk dunks, Spud Webb's light-as-air acrobatics, and Jordan's muscular heroics - it always holds the promise of something mind-blowing, something jump-off-your-couch insane. Perhaps it's my aging into disillusionment, but dunk contests just didn't seem to hold the same magic recently. Last year, though, showed promise in the person of Dwight Horward, a 7-footer with incredible leaping ability. Last year he slapped a sticker on the top of the backboard with one hand (with his photo on it), and dunked with the other. He got screwed out of the title. But not this year:

It almost seemed physically impossible...bouncing the ball off the back of the backboard and windmilling it home anyway? In terms of pure athleticism, this was the most impressive dunk I've ever seen. But then he showed his creativity:

He was so high up he just threw it through the hoop. I couldn't find his third dunk, where (in the air) he bounced the ball of the backboard with one hand and then slammed it with the other. Again, a pure show of athleticism that, as announcer Kenny Smith said, seemed possible only in video games.

Another favorite from last night - and by far the most creative - was last years winner Gerald Green's "Birthday Cake" dunk, as he titled it. Placing a cupcake on the hoop with a lit candle on it, he jumped, blew out the candle, and slammed it home:

Pure athletic bliss.

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From Wire to Wire / EPISODE 11-13: The Hunt, Cleaning Up, Sentencing

The Hunt
Directed by: Steve Shill
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: Joy Lusco

"Dope on the damn table." - Daniels

Cleaning Up
Directed by: Clement Virgo
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: George P. Pelecanos

"This is me, yo, right here." - Wallace

Directed by: Tim Van Patten
Written by: David Simon & Edward Burns

"All in the game." - Traditional West Baltimore

Some notes on the tremendous final act of The Wire's Season One:

-We've got two more great titles here. Both sides do stuff could be described as "cleaning up": by moving in on the Barksdale gang, the cops are cleaning up the streets (the eerie final shot of the episode shows the formerly bustling Pit totally devoid of activity); and the Barksdales, sensing that the end is near, clean up any loose ends, silencing anyone who can testify against them in court. "Sentencing," of course, refers to the judgments against several (but not all) the members of the Barksdale gang. But the word sentencing could also be a slang term for slinging together sentences, thus returning us to the theme of talking out of turn, something that is crucial to the episode, as D'Angelo has to decide whether to testify against his uncle in court or take the 20 years he's looking at after he's busted muling a new package from New York City.

-The game metaphors get played really hard through the finale as well; as you can see above, the quotation from "Sentencing" (also the final dialogue spoken on the episode, and thus the entire season) reminds us that it's "all in the game." Perhaps the most poignant and subtle use of the term comes as Bodie and Poott prepare to kill Wallace, the young boy who'd fingered Brandon in "Cleaning Up." The unsuspecting target returns home to the abandoned rowhouse he shares with Poot and a bunch of young children he watches over as a surrogate father. The house is empty because Bodie and Poot don't want the "young'uns" to see what they're about to do, but Wallace thinks they're playing hide and go seek and he starts wandering through the rooms looking for them. As Bodie and Poot exchange glances and nods in the foreground, we hear Wallace, off-camera and in the distance calling to the kids and eventually uttering the phrase "Game over!" to try to get them to come out. It's then that Bodie and Poot shoot Wallace, who gets shot in front of a poster of 2Pac, imagery that's certainly not unintentional.

A couple more I spotted: Kima refuses to let finger Wee Bay in Orlando's murder because she didn't clearly see him at the scene. When Bunk reminds her that an ID will play better in court she remarks, "Sometimes things gotta play hard." When Freamon gets a much deserved promotion back to homicide at the end of the episode Rawls, while laying out the unit's ground rules instructs him, "You do not play the game for yourself, you play it for us."

Further, the idea of letting the game play comes into pretty stark focus with the ultimate punishments for both D'Angelo and McNulty — the two characters who have been linked throughout the season. Both get sent up the river, one figuratively, one literally: with D' looking at 20 years on a drug charge and McNulty demoted to riding a boat in the marine unit. D'Angelo and Wallace's fates in particular show us how the game is rigged, how the pawns get sacrificed for the kings and queens: without Wallace to testify against him, Stringer can't be charged with Brandon's murder and while the kingpin Avon takes 7 years in jail, that's less than half of what D'Angelo gets, even though he's barely a lieutenant in the organization. Life ain't fair in West Baltimore.

-Dominic West really grows into the McNulty character during these final episodes. The last vestigial traces of his English accent all but disappear, and he stops looking like an actor playing a cop and more like a cop who just happens to look like an actor. The scene where he lays all his cards out on the table to Daniels is amazing -- finally the full truth about why he started the whole investigation (here's a hint: his motives ain't good). And now that his best friend in the detail is hooked up to a respirator he realizes: it wasn't worth it. All of a sudden his beloved catchphrase, "What the fuck did I do?" carries a bit more weight.


Friday, February 15, 2008

From Wire to Wire / EPISODES 8-10: Lessons, Game Day, The Cost

Directed by: Gloria Muzio
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: David Simon

"Come at the king, you best not miss." - Omar"

Game Day
Directed by: Milcho Manchevski
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: David H. Melnick & Shamit Choksey

"Maybe we won." - Herc

The Cost
Directed by: Brad Anderson
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: David Simon

"And then he dropped the bracelets..." - Greggs

I love that "Game Day" title. There is a basketball game in this episode, one that pits Baltimore's east side against the west (and both sides are employing ringers) but on a more metaphorical level, game day is the thing that comes after days or weeks or month or preparation. It signals that something is going to happen in this episode after some time of buildup and before this hour of The Wire is up someone's gone down in a hail of bullets. "The Game" is also shorthand for the drug trade; and after becoming afflicted with a guilty conscience one character in the Barksdale crew says simply, "I just don't want to play no more."

(The "game" metaphors also recalls the story McNulty hears about a craps game hustler named Snot Boogie in the series' first scene, the chess match from episode 3, "The Buys" as well as the opening metaphor from episode 2, "The Detail": "You cannot lose, if you do not play." That line in its original context also implies another fact about the game: it is rigged; and if you play you cannot win.)

A lot of the episodes have really good titles. "The Cost" speaks to the bloody events that conclude that episode, but there's a lot of different "costs" going on there: the cost of drugs, the costs of fighting drugs, the costs to your personal life when you're good at your job and vice versa, the cost to your career when you follow your heart on a case you shouldn't, the cost of trying to get in the game when you ain't in the game. In future seasons, Simon & co. will make the titles even better by referring them back to the season's main arc. Next season takes place on the docks, so there are episodes like "Ebb Tide" and "Storm Warnings;" when The Wire takes on the education system there're segments called "Home Rooms" and "Final Grades."

This chunk of episodes gives us lots of new looks at characters we thought we already understood. We get our first hint that the Barksdale case is about more than just a powerful new drug dealer. We see Stringer Bell taking classes in macroeconomics at community college and then correctly applying the lessons he learns to one of his fronts (scenes that are given an appropriate police counterpoint with officers Herc and Carver preparing for the sergeant's exam). We see Griggs and McNulty's CI Bubbles try to clean himself up; we see other characters get dirty. We see Major Rawls — up until this point, the show's most clearly defined asshole — show compassion and integrity, and we also see Sgt. Landsman — up until this point, the show's most clearly defined comic relief — become what people on The Wire call "good police."

There's a lot of good beats for Detective McNulty too. He gets to use his favorite expression ("What the fuck did I do?") a bunch of times. To this point we've heard a lot about his kids, but we get a good look at him with them in "Lessons," where he uses his children to spy on Stringer Bell. Immediately, we get how being a good cop makes him such a bad family man. And as a lot of darker characters around him are receiving lighter sides, the seemingly noble McNulty is shown to have a shady streak; he falsifies a call long sheet in "Game Day" and he uses everyone around him to accomplish his goals. If he started the Barksdale case with good intentions, he's quickly losing his own moral compass to it: by this point in the season it's cost him too much already to screw up the endgame on an ethical technicality.

McNulty's counterpoint, D'Angelo Barksdale, takes a backseat to some of his fellow hustlers, but he quietly undergoes many of the same problems. He, too, has trouble with fatherhood; one effective scene finds the mother of D'Angelo's son laying out a laundry list of needs until the fed up Barksdale simply grabs his keys and leaves. D'Angelo's big divergence from McNulty also begins here as well: while McNulty hardens himself, D'Angelo softens. "This game, this thing with my uncle," he tells one character, "it may not be for me. Nothing good to it but the money." If you're paying attention you can anticipate the confrontation between the two at season's end coming a mile away.

Omar, one of The Wire's most dependably complex, says something in episode eight that's clearly one of the "Lessons" the title refers to. "The game is out there," he tells McNulty. "And it's either play or be played." McNulty acts as if he understands but as this season enters the home stretch we'll see whether he realizes that he's playing a game too, or perhaps getting played by one.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

From Wire to Wire / EPISODES 4-7: Old Cases, The Pager, The Wire, One Arrest

Old Cases
Directed by: Clement Virgo
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: David Simon

"It's a thin line 'tween heaven and here." - Bubbles

The Pager
Directed by: Peter Medak
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: David Simon

"... a little slow, a little late." - Avon Barksdale

The Wire
Directed by: Ed Bianchi
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: David Simon

"... and all the pieces matter" - Freamon

One Arrest
Directed by: Joe Chapelle
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: Rafael Alvarez

"A man must have a code." - Bunk

You see? You see what happens with The Wire? You sit down to watch one episode. One becomes two. Two becomes three. In a lot of hourlong shows, even the ones I like, the first couple episodes of the season and the last couple are the only ones worth watching; the rest of the season is basically spinning its wheels for sweeps. J.J. Abrams' Alias, a very worthwhile show I've watched in its entirety, is often like that. Not The Wire; it starts strong and only builds momentum from there, like a snowball rolling downhill. By the midway point of the season, where Melissa and I are right now, it's not that you don't want to stop watching, it's that you can't.

So what makes it so addictive? It's that unique 1 season / 1 story structure -- each individual episode is satisfying, but it leaves you wanting to know what happens next, since within the confines of each sixty minute segment very little gets resolved. In fact, it's more common for a storyline to be complicated than ended in just about any episode before the season finale. For instance, in episode 7, "One Arrest," the Detail seems to be making headway with their wiretapping efforts. The surveillance yielded enough intel that they're able to intercept the Pit's supply "re-up" of drugs. If things followed their course, they'd be building a significant case. But near the end episode, Stringer Bell grows suspicious of the pay phone the crew uses to make their phone calls and orders them to tear it out and to start walking to other pay phones. Cut to Lester Freamon back in the office, watching their equipment suddenly flash "SERVICE INTERUPTED." The characters in The Wire are smart, which is a big reason why it's easy to like (or at least respect) so many of the ones who are on the wrong side of the law.

Of these four episodes, the one that shares its name with the series is probably the tightest. It opens with the images of a dead teenager named Brandon, murdered as payback for his boss, urban vigilante Omar Little's, theft of Avon Barksdale's stash and ends there as well; after one of the police officers has put his career ambitious in jeopardy by fighting one of his superiors over the right to continue the detail's work he tosses a photo of Brandon's body onto his desk in frustration. In the opening, a crane shot pulls off the dead body and follows a telephone wire from a nearby pole down into the bedroom of Wallace, the runner who fingered Brandon to Stringer and his muscle and essentially targeted him for death. That's a beautifully clear visual by director Ed Bianchi, which not only reminds us of the link between the two characters (Wallace's ID of Brandon happened the week before, at least upon initial airing) but also calls to mind the way seemingly random acts and seemingly disconnected people all end up affecting each other in The Wire. Those who succeed and survive within The Wire (and those who most enjoy watching it too, I suppose) are those who can see that big picture. And Brandon's death is retribution; you could also cynically describe it as "returning the favor." I've already discussed how important favors are in the Baltimore Police Department and it comes up one more time in "The Wire" — when Lieutenant Daniels asks Major Rawls not to press charges on three old murders the Barksdale investigation has uncovered as a favor to him.

The parallels between the law and the street continue. In "The Pager" we see two men kiss on either side of the law; Omar and Brandon share one as lovers, McNulty jockingly smooches Pryzbylewski after the latter cracks the Barksdales' pager code. In all these episodes, but particularly in "One Arrest" we see both sides using pagers and pay phones to communicate instead of cell phones. Simon begins to work in comparisons between the dealers and their clientele as well; "Old Cases" features two different scenes set on basketball courts. Avon Barksdale and Stringer discuss their plans for Omar inside a beautiful, private gymnasium. Later, in The Pit, several street kids play ball with an old milk crate tied to a rowhouse wall.

I've seen all these episodes at least once already; I'm glad to see that they feel just as authentic and as compelling as they did on first viewing. There are little things you forget too, which are nice to rediscover: the eloquent gibberish of Bunk and McNulty's bottle-fed conversations, the way Freamon derisively uses the term "Detective" when the others in the detail don't live up to his rigorous intellectual standards. I'm also especially enjoying rewatching the development of the Pryzbylewski character, one of the show's finest assets. First established as a boob (he accidentally fires his weapon in the detail's office) then as a thug (he brutally attacks a teenager for the hell of it, blinding the kid permanently in one eye), he ultimately becomes a valuable member of the unit, working in house as the go-to guy for code-cracking. Prez, as he's known, is emblematic of the way The Wire treats all its characters: with equal parts sympathy and scorn. Sort of like an understanding parent who'll always love you despite your flaws.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

YouTubeArt: "I'm F*cking Matt Damon"

One of the best Internet Videos ever, I reckon.


Monday, February 11, 2008

From Wire to Wire / EPISODE 3: The Buys

The Buys
Directed by: Peter Medak
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: David Simon

"The King stays the King." - D'Angelo

The title of this episode is "The Buys." That most obviously refers to purchasing drugs, which happens plenty in this episode. But then again, people buy drugs in every episode of The Wire. What makes this episode different is how much it focuses on the idea of "currency" on both sides of the law. It's a particularly complicated issue in the police department, where we learn how much of what gets done in law enforcement is based on offering of and cashing in of favors. Lt. Daniels doesn't throw Officer Pryzbylewski under the boss after his idiotic assault of a teenager, and that earns him favors from the Deputy of Operations and Major Valchek he can call in later. Detective McNulty is able to pry some equipment out of the FBI the unit needs because he helped someone over there build a major case against a drug dealer. Incidentally, that FBI man appeared in "The Target", in a scene that didn't seem to have a whole lot of importance to the overall show beyond establishing the state of surveillance technology. Two episodes later, the introduction finally pays off.

That happens a lot on the show. The Wire is paced more like a 13-hour movie with distinct chapters than an episodic series. In this episode we see Officer Freamon overhear a conversation about the unit's target, Avon Barksdale, and his past in the Golden Gloves. Without a word, Freamon leaves and heads to a boxing gym. What he finds there remains a mystery, for one episode at least. But Wire veterans know scenes like this will be resolved eventually.

The image I took from HBO's Wire site comes from this episode's most skillfully written scene. D'Angelo Barksdale teaches two of his employees how to play chess (previously they were using the pieces to play checkers) and equates each of the pieces to positions inside the Barksdale gang. Avon, is the king, "the kingpin" as D'Angelo puts it. "he move one space any direction he damn choose. Because he’s the king. Like this, this, this. But the rest of these motherfuckers on the team, they got his back and they run so deep he really ain’t gotta do shit." The Queen is Stringer Bell, Avon's right hand man. The rook is the stash, and so on.

Then he gets to the pawns. "They like the soldiers," D'Angelo says to his two soldiers. "They move like this. One space forward, only. 'Cept when they fight. Then like this. They be like the front line. Out in the field." He goes on to explain how if a pawn manages to get to the other end of the board, he can be exchanged for another, better piece. D'Angelo's pupils are confident they can do that, but the boss warns them, "Nah, yo. It ain’t like that. Pawns, man, in the game, they get capped quick. They be out the game early."

How much you want to be that scene will get paid off in a later episode too?


Wednesday, February 06, 2008



From Wire to Wire / EPISODE 2: The Detail

The Detail
Season 1, Episode 2
Directed by: Clark Johnson
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: David Simon

"You cannot lose if you do not play." - Marla Daniels

This W2W will be unavoidably brief because I've got to leave for a business trip tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM.

So just a brief addendum, then, to my first post. As I remarked, so much of "The Target" is about when it is or isn't acceptable to speak. So I shouldn't have been surprised when "The Detail"'s most moving scene, where Detectives McNulty and Moreland try to make D'Angelo Barksdale feel guilty over the death of the witness in his recent case, hinged on D'Angelo making a single statement: "I ain't got nothing to say."

But then of course he does. Laying the lies on thick (a picture of the dead man's children is, in fact, of Moreland's kids), the cops break D'Angelo down. Though he played no direct role in the man's death and has no knowledge of any details about his murder, he knows he is, in some way, culpable. Hearing about his kids especially hurts (this is a few scenes before we discover that D'Angelo, like the witness, and Moreland, and McNulty, has a child of his own). So he writes a letter to the children of the dead man. This action has more repercussions.

Also I forgot another important instance of this from "The Target." When Wee-Bey picks up D'Angelo from jail, D'Angelo, giddy from his unexpected release, begins gushing to Wee-Bay about the Barksdale gang's intimidation tactics in Wee-Bay's truck. Wee-Bay pulls the vehicle over, makes D'Angelo get out and recite their rules "Don't talk in the car, or on the phone, or in any place that isn't ours." It's really quite remarkable just how restricted speech is so far on The Wire.

And of course the gang will eventually get brought down by a wiretap, so they're right to be so paranoid. More next time.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008


I'm back in town - and the final IFC Rotterdam Dispatch is up. Read and find out about what exciting silver screen adventures took home the big prizes! Intrigue!

Anyway, with all the hullabaloo and writing and drinking and jury meetings and such, I only managed to see 33 films. If I had no encumberances I could have pushed 50. Oh that love of the written word and fermented drinks hadn't held me back! But I still think I managed to catch the best of the fest, while catching up with some festival films I'd missed previously, like The Man From London. Bela Tarr was at the screening, introducing London, and he was as you'd expect - dressed completely in black, with a greying short ponytail and a sad, soft-spoken gravelly voice. He swore a few times.

I should have a fuller breakdown of my adventures in the days to come, utilizing my favorite device, the list. Anyway, I had a fine time, chatted with many witty Euros, discovered that not all critics are humorless boobs, and ate some horrendous Dutch food. All in all a memorable time.


Monday, February 04, 2008

From Wire to Wire / EPISODE 1: The Target

I've always admired people who take on enormous blog projects ("blog-jects" perhaps?) for no apparent reason; Nathan Rabin's awe-inspiring and recently concluded My Year of Flops for instance. But I've never really had a subject that seemed worthy of that much discussion (or good enough to actually motivate me to write). When I got my fiance hooked on season 4 of The Wire and she demanded I go back and rewatch the entire series with her, I saw my chance for my very own blogger boondoggle ("blog-doggle" perhaps?).

So I make no promises on scheduling or post length but I will make this solemn vow. Anytime we watch another episode of
The Wire, I will write about it on Termite Art. At least until the Deputy Ops drags my ass into his office and chews me out over giving a fuck when it's not my turn to give a fuck.

And that brings us to...

The Target
Season 1, Episode 1
Directed by: Clark Johnson
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: David Simon

"When it's not your turn." - McNulty

The dialogue in The Wire is so dense. I remember the first time I watched this pilot episode I got about twenty minutes in and I was barely hanging on. By its nature, the series refuses to explain itself to its audience. Exposition is about as rare on The Wire as a character doing something with altruistic motives. But when you watch it for the first time, as I did several years ago — on the recommendation of a friend with very little background info or warning — it's easy to get lost or confused. I was so convinced I had missed something I actually restarted "The Target" about 20 minutes in, and rewatched the whole thing over, just to make sure I hadn't spaced out and missed a crucial scene or two. I hadn't. I just wasn't used to paying that much attention.

Watching "The Target" again with my fiance (who has seen all of season 4) and my brother (who hasn't watched any of it, and is coming to the series on my recommendation, just as I came to it on someone else's) I was reminded how tough this show can be to watch. Wire creator David Simon's book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets should practically be a prerequisite to watching, since it lays out the details of the Baltimore Police Department bureaucracy that the show does not. It assumes we understand why it's a big deal for Detective "Bunk" Moreland to answer the phone "when it's not his turn" or why Major Rawls is so steamed that Detective McNulty is dredging up cases from the previous calendar year.

In both instances, the reason is because working homicide in Baltimore (and, presumably, and most if not all major American cities) is a numbers game, and your success as a department is based on the number of arrests you make — which is directly related to the number of cases to take. The different homicide squads rotate being on call for periods of a few weeks at a time: when you're up, you go out and work crime scenes; when you're down, you try to solve the ones you've still got open. And each year's stats are their own entity; hence there is no reason for McNulty to be griping about something that happened last year. He should know that it bears no impact on how the department will rate his performance this year.

Anyway, all that technical stuff aside, this episode, like much of this season, and a good deal of the rest of the series, is about the parallels between the police and the drug dealers they're after. Most importantly and most obviously, the characters of McNulty (who's willing to talk out of school about a drug dealer that's been successfully beating cases in court by intimidating or buying witnesses) and D'Angelo Barksdale (one of these very dealers) are established as equivalents: both are disciplined by their superiors for doing something they weren't supposed to do, and both get stuck on shit details as a result. McNulty is tossed in with the group that will eventually come to be known on the show as the Major Crimes Unit, while D'Angelo gets demoted to running the drug operation in "The Pit," a big demotion from his previous gig working in "The Towers."

That much is obvious on a first viewing, but this time around, I was even more aware how writers Simon and Ed Burns were laying out the comparisons between the two factions. We see how both sides, for instance, react to who "snitch:" when McNulty blabs, everyone complains, but they also get off their ass and start to do their jobs a little. When a witness blabs about seeing D'Angelo murder someone, he gets murdered himself (the episode ends with the stark image of an angelic statue in the extreme foreground of a developing crime scene). "The Target"'s second-to-last scene kicks off a season-long thread about another kind of speech: when a junkie named Bubbles decides to turn confidential informant after the Barksdale gang beats up his friend.

Lastly, a brief mention of the first of The Wire's many beautiful metaphors. After a long night of drinking, Bunk and McNulty are trying to shake off their stupor down by the tracks before heading back to work. As McNulty declares that he will work the Barksdale detail properly — despite his orders not to — he defiantly pisses on the tracks, just as an oncoming train barrels down the line towards him. At the last minute, he zips up his fly, and stumbles out of the way.


Saturday, February 02, 2008


And it is for Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo!

Blog Link HERE

To get this BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO GYMKOMMENTARY FILE in your iTunes, open iTunes then go "Advanced" to "Subscribe to Podcast" and then enter this link:

As always, you can check Gymkommentary! The Blog for the very latest Gymkommentary news.


The Deuce

My second IFC dispatch is up, where I wax poetic about the lovely "The Sky, The Earth, and The Rain". I should have a final wrap-up next week sometime. Right now is the final day of the fest, and there are a few titles that will pass me by. I hear the Swedish coming-of-age/horror flick "Let The Right One In" is surprisingly good, and I unfortunately had to pass on James Benning's "Casting A Glance", as I thought I could catch it at Anthology Film Archives someday.

The award winners were announced last night, and I was delighted that "The Sky" won the FIPRESCI prize (for which I was a junior member of the jury). The Tiger Awards, for which the winner receives $15,000, are given to three titles, which are "Wonderful Town", "Flower in the Pocket", and "Go With Peace, Jamil." The latter film is quite terrible, but the first two are more than worthy. I talk about "Wonderful Town" on IFC, but "Flower in the Pocket" is a funny piece of work. It's about two schoolchildren not trying too hard to assimiliate into Malaysian culture.

I'm off to my penultimate screening, so there'll be more to come.