Archives for August 2015

TV Break: Show Me a Hero (HBO, 2015)

It used to be the case that the dogged days of summer brought with it a minimal level of televisual entertainment. But nowadays, I feel like between cable, premium and streaming services I am stumbling on enthralling show after enthralling show. So while I am currently eagerly awaiting the series premiere of AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead (this upcoming Sunday – yippee!), there is another show in the same time slot competing for my attention.

Actually it is a miniseries – the David Simon (The Wire, Treme) and William F. Zorzi scripted / Paul Haggis (Crash) directed Show Me a Hero. Taking its title from an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote and based on the book of the same name (written by former New York Times staffer Lisa Belkin), this six-parter dramatizes the battle between the federal court system and New York State’s second largest city, Yonkers. For years, the parties were at odds about the court-ordered allocation of low-income housing units in the predominantly white wards of East Yonkers. As the series’ action begins, the city is living under the constant threat of crippling fines and imprisonment of city officials for their refusal to comply with the court order. Add to the mix a close mayoral race, and with it the opportunity to exploit the political and emotional tension of recent events.

150709-show-me-a-hero-1024x374

The central figure in this saga is a newly-minted 28-year old (young) mayor of Yonkers – Nick Wasicsko (played by Oscar Isaac), who initially ran for mayor on the platform of opposing the desegregation plan, only later to reverse his position; the political fallout can be best described as savage and unrelenting.

In typical David Simon fashion, the overarching socio-political and socio-economic themes of the story are made personal. Presented at a slow, deliberate pace, this allows the audience to connect to and relate to the people on an intimate level, as opposed to a more simplified, generalized caricature often assigned to parties on opposing sides of such an argument.

Two episodes in, what makes the stories and individuals so accessible and engaging are the convincing of the cast – who from the top-down deliver honest, earnest performances.

And talk about the political being personal – while not directly impacted, I was a youngin’ growing up in a neighboring town during this dark mark in Westchester history. While this case and its surrounding politics led me to forever side-eye the city, the feeling was not allowed to fade into the annuls of history. Sadly, to this day, the county, as well as many others nationwide continue to find themselves battling over the same issues presented here – access to sites available for low income and affordable housing units.

The first two hours of Show Me a Hero aired this past Sunday and are currently available OnDemand. The remaining four episodes will air over the next two Sundays in two-hour blocks.

Show Me a Hero is a timely piece of storytelling well told and highly recommended by this blogger.

 

Photo credit: HBO

 

What Are They Playing At? Fox and the Fantastic Four

First off, hope everyone is having a happy Friday. Maybe the weekend means you will be headed to the cinema, maybe not. If it is the former, chances are it will not be to see the latest “reboot” of the Fantastic Four cinematic franchise. Not only do you have these kind of tweets floating around ….

trank

 (in case it is not clear, this is the director of the film)

… but early reports clearly show that the box office receipts are going to be anything but fantastic. Which begs me to ask, “Why is Fox continuing to do this?”

I guess I could go into detail about the dubious history of this Marvel-sourced property, but it’s been a long week so I will just point you in this direction.

f4

So even if the constant reboots/re-imaginings are simply for the reason of keeping the Fantastic Four a 20th Century Fox property, what is the end game here? The results since Fox has owned the rights have been mediocre at best. Why not produce a quality product and really invest in the storytelling, much in the way they have gone all-in with the X-Men universe? Maybe I am showing my source material naïveté here, but I am simply flummoxed and left with more questions than answers, as is evident.

Then the thought comes to me, maybe Fox is thinking long term and pulling a Sony Pictures and what they did with Spider-Man – after what many considered a recent and unnecessary reboot, the execs did the math and realized it was not worthwhile to keep the property. What DID make sense in this case was to cut their loses, turn good ole Spidey back over to a now very solvent Marvel Studios, and cash the check.

If Fox is attempting to make a similar play in seeking a cost-justified reason to dump the Fantastic Four franchise, they are going about it in a very curious way. Because as the poor reviews keep coming in and the box office tanks, there is a great deal of damage done to the Fantastic Four brand, which I would guess devalues it and ultimately places Marvel in the catbird’s seat, allowing them to reacquire the rights at a cost that will not allow Fox to recoup their loses. And then there is this. A curious business indeed.

I have been talking about this situation in personal correspondence with friends, family and my friends over at Super Hero Movie Talk. It has made for a very lively discussion. Now I am turning it over to you all – what do you think?

 

Summer of Darkness Recap.

I hope that everyone (well, at least some of you) had the opportunity to enjoy the special programming block shown on TCM during the months of June and July known as TCM’s Summer of Darkness. Every Friday during this period, the TCM schedule was jam-packed with key noir pieces (eg. Detour), as well as films that were great “influencers” – essential viewing that established the mood and essence of what would come to engender this film movement/genre (eg., Fritz Lang’s M). And not to be left out, there were a even a few contemporary pieces that had clearly had a noir DNA imprinted on them.

If, however, you did not have the privilege of catching any of these gems, here is a list of a few that whether I saw them for the 1st or 50th time, I feel are well worth seeing:

Double Indemnity05_01_front_image-compressed_2e668f

D.O.A.

The Letter

Detour

Gun Crazy

The Set-Up

Too Late for Tears

The Narrow Margin

L.A. Confidential

The Asphalt Jungle

The Hitch-hiker

(Image Credit: TCM)

As you read this you may be saying, “Well, it’s August so the moment is gone iluvcinema.” To that I say – you are in luck. You may have missed them on their initial TCM run, but have no fear, you can catch many of these (as well as other) titles using the Watch TCM application/website.

Gun Crazy (1949) aka Deadly is the Female Directed by Joseph H. Lewis Shown: Peggy Cummins (as Annie Laurie Starr), John Dall (as Bart Tare)

Gun Crazy (1949) aka Deadly is the Female
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Shown: Peggy Cummins (as Annie Laurie Starr), John Dall (as Bart Tare)


Side Note: My initial vigor for participating in the FREE companion course (TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir) offered in conjunction with Ball State University, was unfortunately dampened by life’s happenstance. So while an abrupt change in schedule meant I unable to engage in real time with my community of fellow cineastes, thanks to early enrollment, I have an archive and invaluable resource to call upon when discussing and referencing film noir. Here’s hoping that in the future TCM forms similar partnerships.

TOO LATE FOR TEARS, Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, 1949

TOO LATE FOR TEARS, Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, 1949