Archives for October 2015

David Simon’s latest TV series “Show Me A Hero”.

Winona Ryder, Oscar Isaac. photo credit: Paul Schiraldi/courtesy of HBO.

Winona Ryder, Oscar Isaac. photo credit: Paul Schiraldi/courtesy of HBO.

David Simon read Show Me A Hero by New York Times journalist Lisa Belkin in 2001, and immediately approached HBO about adapting it for television. But he got sidetracked with the phenomenally successful and justly lauded The Wire, and then by Generation Kill and Treme. So it’s only now that Show Me a Hero has finally made it to our screens.

As soon as he heard it was going ahead, Paul Haggis signed on as director without having to see any of the scripts beforehand. And it’s not hard to see what might have drawn him to it, apart of course from the obvious fact that it was Simon’s latest venture.

Haggis wrote and directed Crash in 2004, which explores the complexities of race and colour brilliantly, and could have been a masterpiece if only they’d held out against tacking happy endings on to three of its stories, those of the detective’s mother, the shop keeper and the TV director.

Crash.

Crash.

One of the first things that leaps out at you when you start watching Show Me A Hero is its apparent artlessness. A great deal of time and effort has been invested in rendering it entirely transparent. So that instead of using the medium to mirror the subject matter, as they did with the amphetamine fuelled fidgeting of The Wire, and the laid back languid southern rhythms of Treme, what we get here is Strindberg’s dream of being presented with something as if we were the fourth wall.

So the late 80s that the story is set in is seen not as the sort of stylized, immaculately dressed era that something like Mad Men would have presented it as. Rather, it looks and feels exactly as it did when you were actually living in it. Utterly, unforgivably vile, and cheap in a somehow expensive way. That hair, those shoulder pads, and the way that everything, even the architecture, all looks thin, insubstantial and devoid of any real depth.

The Wire.

The Wire.

The story centres around Nick Wasicsko who became the youngest mayor in America when taking up the reins at Yonkers, a suburb of New York City and a city in its own right within the larger state. For 5 or 6 years in the late 80s, its residents were up in arms over the social housing development that was being forced upon them against their wishes.

What’s so great about Simon is that he manages to keep his liberal sympathies in check without ever letting you lose sight of them. He focuses instead on showing us the multifaceted complexities that lie behind all apparently black and white issues.

There’s a reason the residents of Yonkers are so dead set against allowing public housing units allocated to black families into their area. Wherever that had been done before, the buildings that resulted all too quickly developed into Stygian centres for drugs and prostitution, and the organizational fulcrum for a network of petty, and not so petty crime.

Proponents of the scheme, which Wasiscko inadvertently came to front, said that that was only because of the way that those kinds of things had been handled in the past. That this scheme would be different (which, unusually, it was), and that in any case, they were only talking about a paltry 200 housing units.

Treme.

Treme.

I’ll not say anything more, other than that I just about managed to avoid looking up what the actual outcome was, so drawn in was I with the story, and so should you. But if you recognize the Fitzgerald quote, or know the book, you’ll know that the full quote is Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.

The one thing I can say is, and forgive me for sounding a little smug, but the whole sorry story is a dreadful reflection on that era and, dare I say it, America. Happily, the idea that the good people in the larger community might shun a minority to such a degree that they refuse to let them even live amongst them is, happily, not something that could possibly happen in this day and age. And certainly not in Ireland. Obviously.

You can see the trailer to Show Me A Hero here.

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Winter Sleep, the 2014 Cannes Film Festival winner.

Winter Sleep.

Winter Sleep.

Turkish film maker Nuri Bilge Ceylan made his international breakthrough with the powerful Once Upon A Time in Anatolia in 2011, reviewed earlier here. It won the Grand Prix, the runner up prize at Cannes that year, and his latest went one better, winning the Palme d’Or there last year.

As with Once Upon A Time, Winter Sleep was inspired by the short stories of Chekhov, and is in fact loosely based on two of them. But it doesn’t feel as obviously Chekhovian as the earlier film. Rather, it is the spirit of Ingmar Bergman that permeates his latest outing.

Bergman’s favourite film from his own body of work, not merely the one he was least dissatisfied with, but one of the few that he actually liked, was Winter Light. And it’s not hard to see what appealed to him about it. It’s his most unremittingly bleak film. And the only one of his mature films that he doesn’t saddle with a brief and unconvincing coda that tries to suggest some sense of reconciliation.

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Indeed, the up-beat beat that Wild Strawberries, Autumn Sonata and most glaringly Through A Glass Darkly end with are so fleeting and out of character, that you wonder whether you really saw them there.

Ceylan claims that his film is in no way inspired by Bergman. But given its subject matter mood and title, he clearly doth protesteth too much. You can see why he might. Who wants to be compared to Bergman? He needn’t have worried though. Winter Sleep comfortably justifies such lofty praise.

Winter Sleep.

Winter Sleep.

At the core of this intense, intimate and unforgiving character study are two quiet if monumental arguments. Aydin, a former actor, is now the owner of the only hotel in an isolated village in rural Turkey, making him the one fish in a non-existent pond. In the first of these rows he is confronted by his sister, who is living there with him having separated from her husband.

And in the second, he and his younger wife clash in a monumental show down that has clearly been building for months.

Melisa Sozen in Winter Sleep.

Melisa Sozen as the long suffering wife in Winter Sleep.

The stifling sense of suffocating claustrophobia, and the strong feeling that you are witnessing a family row that you really shouldn’t have heard any of are quintessentially Bergmanesque. But in contrast to some of Bergman’s, Ceylan’s images are as meticulously constructed as his characters are complex. And as with Once Upon A Time, the film comfortably justifies the three hours it unfolds over.

In short, another major film from one of the few serous film makers working today. You can see the trailer to Winter Sleep here.

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