Tag Archives: The Wire

The Wire: Smacketology

I don’t normally post about TV stuff here on PPH, but I’m going to make an exception because I’ve stumbled across something quite stupendously brilliant, and it’s about my favourite TV show ever*: David Simon’s deep, dark, complex, funny, suspenseful and educational HBO drama The Wire.

The writers at US-based sports and culture website Grantland, tired of conjecturing over who is The Wire’s greatest character, have put a plan in motion to decide once and for all.  They’ve drawn up a basketball style set of ‘brackets’, divided the characters into regional sections, and pitted them against each other.

Obviously, Barack Obama’s Favourite Ever Wire Character™ Omar Little is the runaway favourite, but what about the shark-eyed nihilism of Marlo Stanfield, the deadpan militance of the underrated Brother Mouzone or even the androgynous, hair-trigger marauder Snoop (played by real-life ne’er-do-well Felecia Pearson)? Hell, what about Stringer Bell? It’s not all about violence either; how’s about fuck-up turned teacher-with-a-conscience cop Prezbo? The social revolutionary and Hamsterdam architect Bunny Colvin? Or even one of the tragic kids from Season 4? That’s the beauty of The Wire. Has there ever been a show with as many rich, unforgettable characters?

You can participate yourself over at their Facebook page, and read their opening article here. Furthermore, you can – and absolutely should – also follow Grantland on Twitter @Grantland33. It’s a great site.

The game’s already underway (it was ever thus, and “it done changed” etc…), and in what was a ridiculously high-calibre first-round tie, Marlo’s ice-cool yet vicious lieutenant Chris Partlow was vanquished by reformed hard-man and boxing gym owner Dennis Wise (no, not that one) aka ‘Cutty’.

In tribute to Partlow, who remains one of my own personal favourites, I’ll sign off here with the most disturbing Wire clip I could think of (from Season 4, Episode 10: Misgivings), but not just for shock value. I also happen to consider it one of the very best moments of the show’s near-faultless five season run. Directed with fearless precision from former Spike Lee collaborator (and Do The Right Thing DOP) Ernest Dickerson, the scene is a masterclass in creating suspense, and advancing character development through carefully judged use of violence; the explosion of brutality from the normally precise Partlow speaks for his past in a way that he’s never likely to be prepared to do through dialogue. It’s probably best not to watch it if a) you’re faint-hearted or b) haven’t got to Season 4 yet. *SPOILER ALERT* “Enjoy”:

*apart from Cheers.

Win Win

"You're ... Scott ... Templeton?"

Win Win is a complex, satisfying new comedy-drama from the multi-talented Thomas McCarthy, director of The Station Agent and The Visitor, writer of Up, and star of The Wire (he played the deplorable journalist Scott Templeton in the landmark show’s fifth and final season).

In Win Win, Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a stressed-out suburban attorney struggling with a failing practice in the midst of our recent economic depression; not only are clients drying up, but his office is falling to bits. In his spare time, he coaches the local high school’s wrestling team, but – quelle surprise – they are failing as well. One day, out of desperation, Mike takes the morally dubious decision to become the legal guardian of a wealthy yet ailing client Leo (played by Rocky’s Burt Young), guaranteeing him an extra $1500 per month carers fee. The issue is, to take Leo on, he must uproot the old man from the house which he wants to stay living in and transplant him into a care home.

McCarthy needed an actor who could pull off such a queasy act without earning the automatic revulsion of the audience, and nobody is better qualified than the wonderful Paul Giamatti. With his baggy eyes, sadsack demeanour and shambolic gait, Giamatti simply engenders sympathy. I have been a huge fan since the first time I saw him in 2003’s American Splendor, and he is on top form here, fully convincing as a fundamentally good man driven to extreme measures, but simultaneously able to convince himself that what he’s doing isn’t so bad.

Flaherty’s plan seems to be working OK until one day, without warning, Leo’s scruffy, cigarette-smoking 16-year-old grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer – looking disconcertingly like a young Fernando Torres) shows up looking for his Grandfather, having run away from his “druggy” mother. Flaherty takes Kyle in, soon to discover that he is the answer to his wrestling team’s problems. The exact details of Kyle’s backstory are cleverly withheld for a long time, thus creating a satisfying aura of suspense around his character. His black eye remains unexplained, and his behaviour jars with what we expect of him. He is polite in conversation and rigidly disciplined about his fitness regime. His youthful dedication and professionalism serve as an inspiration to Flaherty, who struggles on a daily basis to withhold his deception, while his life seems to be improving.

With a plot largely free of major twists and turns, Win Win is all about the characters, and each one is shaded beautifully, McCarthy coaxing fine performances from each and every member of his cast. Another Wire alumnus, Amy Ryan (as Giamatti’s Jon Bon Jovi-loving Jersey wife Jackie) is superb; tough, sensitive and very likeable.  Bobby Cannavale is a revelation as Mike’s recently divorced best friend Terry, a hyperactive, lovable manchild with ever-so-slightly homoerotic tendencies. In a less crucial supporting role, Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor is, as ever, amusingly bone-dry as Mike’s wrestling colleague.

Win Win is a movie for modern times, an ultimately cheering melange of Arthur Miller and Robert Altman. With an undercurrent of such desperation and sadness, McCarthy wisely layers the film with a light, positive sheen. The sleepy suburban milieu is calming, bromances abound, and the characters all feel real. Win Win certainly has the courage of its convictions, too. Just when you’re shaking your fist at the screen, worried that McCarthy, in the final moments, has succumbed to the temptation to tap out with a feelgood deus-ex-machina sweetener, he pulls the rug with a perfectly judged final shot that echoes Kyle’s wrestling mantra for success: “WHATEVER THE FUCK IT TAKES”.

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Looks like someone has been watching The Wire…

Here is a sequence from Poliss, a new French crime drama about the child protection services, presented yesterday in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

I’m pretty stoked about the film for a couple of reasons besides its realer-than-real trailer. Firstly, Maïwenn Le Besco (who usually goes by her first name only) is one the quirkiest film personalities in France. Formerly engaged to Luc Besson in her young and idle years (she’s in Leon: The Professional for a couple of seconds and plays the blue, bulbous-headed diva in The Fifth Element), she became a true polymath once he left her, writing and performing comedy stand-up, directing an auteurish film (the ferocious Le bal des actrices / The Actress’ Ball, a painfully honest autofiction on female thespians) and appearing in oddball B-movies, such as the homegrown lesbian slasher High Tension, by Alexandre “Pirahna 3D” Aja. Versatile, I’m telling you.

Maïwenn Le Besco

Secondly, the main part, Fred – a taciturn cop on whom a posh journalist (played by Maiwen) writes a profile piece – is performed by one of France’s most emblematic rappers, Joeystarr of NTM fame. Don’t laugh, France used to have good hip-hop, and he’s truly an icon, sort of the local Nas (speaking of which, they collaborated on a pretty awesome remix together). It’s a bit of an Ice-T move for him, as NTM (for Nique Ta Mere, “Fuck Your Mom”) were sued and fined in the 1990s for “inciting violence against the police”. But the man can really act; his turn in Maïwenn’s previous film Le bal des actrices earned him a nomination for the Best Newcomer Cesar. Moreover, he has a tremendous presence; an animalistic masculinity rivalled only by Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) in the country with 365 kind of cheeses.

I haven’t yet seen the film, but from what I can see on this teaser, Maïwenn, who’s neither trying to make Paris looks like New York nor delivering another Eurotrash action-thriller (yes Luc Besson, I’m looking at you again), may have got things right and the hype building around the film could well be worth it. We’ll see in a couple of months.


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Holy Shit!

Felecia ‘Snoop’ Pearson from The Wire has been arrested in a massive drug raid, The Washington Post reports. Ya heard!?

Art imitating life? Life imitating art? Life imitating blah blah blah… Or, just insert your own inane phrase to disguise the fact that this is merely a blogger posting a vaguely interesting news story in order to get some hits.