"The Wire (Complete Second Season)" (HBO, 2003)
It's kind of lame that they pad out the package ( ...If they can fit three episodes on one disc, why do three out of the five discs only have two episodes on them? Couldn't this have been a four-DVD set?) and it's also a little weird that there are no bonus features (an index of episodes? Hold me back.) But then again, as Stringer and Avon would tell us, when you have a good product, it sells itself. And this is a great product. Season Two is every bit as engrossing as S1, with perhaps a bit more humor as we're allowed to indulge our affection for the cop characters, as the team is slowly pieced back together. The writing, filming and editing are all superb, as is the acting... and how cool is it that one great unknown actor after another fills the screen in this addictive TV series? Anyone who tells you that you "need" overpaid celebrities to sell a story should just be plunked down in front of this small-screen epic: Tom Cruise, look out! Your days are numbered, because the real actors of the world are stepping up to the plate.
"Maria Full Of Grace" (Warner, 2004)
Folks uniformly rave about the bravura performance by actor Catalina Sandino Moreno, in the film's title role. But really, it's a wonderful ensemble piece, filled with new faces and capable actors I hope to hear from again. Nice movie.
"Garden State" (2004)
Sigh. I think Alias is dead. Oh, well. It's just a TV show.
"Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse, v.2" (Buena Vista, 2004)
I was not raised on Walt Disney cartoons... Far from it: my mother actually loathed Walt Disney and forbade us (unsuccessfuly, of course...) to watch any of his stuff. Still, Mickey and Pluto always seemed a bit square to me, and that impression was amply confirmed on this 2-disc set of some of Mickey's later cartoon appearances (from 1940-53, and then some later cartoons from the 1980s, when the character saw a dramatic revival. The drawings are nice, but the gags are stale, repetitive and endlessly drawn out, and the plots are incredibly lame in comparison to the vivacious, imaginative Looney Tunes material I grew up on (and still love). Mickey is such a flimsy character, too, and that voice of his is, well, kind of annoying. But wait, there's more: I picked this volume up because I had read about how it contained several long-deleted cartoons that supposedly had offensive material (ethnic stereotypes, etc.) and as a student of pop culture, I wanted to check it out and see what all the fuss was about... The material is question is called out into sharp focus by a series of introductory mea culpas by host Leonard Maltin, who invariably says the same thing: "Oh, we certainly don;t condone this sort of thing now... But look at how far we've come as a society that we can now look down upon it..." Which is all very well and fine (except that we have to see Maltin's mug every ten minutes or so...) except for one thing... None of the material is really all that racy...! A stereotyped Italian accent? An Amos'n'Andy genie in the bottle? Mickey dresses up as a cigar store Indian for two seconds to elude a pursuer? Someone gets drunk in one cartoon? Someone uses a gun in another? The things that the Disney folks bent over backwards to apologize for are pretty paltry and absurd -- this is taking the confluence of political correctness and "family values" morality to ridiculous lengths, if you ask me. And if Disney is going to be so all-fired, touchie-feelie, super-sensitive about anything that could conceivably offend anyone in their audience, then why isn't there an apology for the broad Southern accent used in the cartoon called "R'Coon Dawg"? Apparently hicks 'n' hillbillies are still fair game, even now in this enlightened era of the 21th Century. Well, my land, honey chile!! Wut will them thar big-city slickers think uv next? Gol-durn.
Well, despite the fact that they mispronounce the name "Menelaus" throughout the entire film ( ...It's "Men-uh-LAY-uss," not "Men-uh-LOWSE," you sunbaked Hollywood airheads!! Just crack open a dictionary sometime, fercrissake...) and despite an inaccuracy or two here and there... (Didn't Ajax die after Achilles? Like, didn't he scoop his armor up off the beach, and all that...? ) and despite the fact that hardly anyone on this film looks even remotely Greek... and despite the film giving the impression that a torturous ten-year war took place in the span of a few weeks... Despite all that, this film was a lot of fun, about as good a sword-and-sandal epic as we're likely to get in this day and age. Brad Pitt, though buff as can be, perhaps isn't the greatest choice as Achilles, but Eric Bana is surprisingly moving as Hector, the champion of Troy, investing him with a tremendous pathos... The script is pretty tight, the sets look grand, the computer generated armies aren't too mechanical, the violence has heft. In short, it works as an action film. That being said, the screenwriters and producers should be ashamed or at least abashed at how they distorted the Greek legends and bent history to fit their narrative scope. The prime example of this is the melodramatic slaying of King Agamemnon at the film's climax: Agamemnon actually returned from the Trojan War and was later slain in a palace intrigue. His murder was the source of an entirely separate drama, and monkeying with the details of his death is a particularly egregious untruth. I weary of Hollywood writers who defend their despoiling of history by saying, "oh look, it's just a movie and I can write it any way I want to..." It's one thing to elide past peripheral events or omit facts that bog a story down, another thing altogether to willfully change the facts entirely. Not only is it simply evil and wrong to rewrite history, it's just plain lazy. They may claim that they are professionals who know how best to tell a story, but c'mon: if you can't figure out how to come up with a proper dramatic ending using the real story of "The Iliad," then you just aren't as skilled a craftsman as you'd like us to believe. You're just a hack with a tight deadline. And in the case of the Iliad in particular, it's not "just a movie." This is probably the only version of this story -- one of the world's most important historical narratives -- that most people in our demi-literate pop culture will ever learn: couldn't you at least make the effort to get the details straight? Is it really that hard? Do you really gain that much dramatically by screwing up our perception of history? Fie, a pox apon you lazy Hollywood twits. If you can't be bothered to present history accurately, then don't choose an historical story to tell.
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