Archives for October 2015

New David Simon 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 even bet­ter if only they’d held out against tack­ing hap­py end­ings on to a cou­ple of its storylines.



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 the audi­ence as 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 par­tic­u­lar­ly impres­sive is that Simon 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.



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.

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.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below and I shall keep you post­ed every month on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music.