Television Review: The Wire

Poot and Herc in the WireSo I spent Christmas Eve in a very non-traditional way: watching a marathon of the HBO’s the Wire with my enitre family. This isn’t just a strange way for my family to spend a holiday, it is a strange thing for us to ever do as a group; though there are many shows/movies my brothers and I are all fans of there is essentially no overlap between our media consumption interests and those of my mom and dad. My mom in particular watches very little TV at all. The Wire is different, because simply put it is the best television show ever. I invite you to netflix or rent it and try it out for yourself, though I think season 4 which just ended is the best so far.

The Wire is a story about life in Baltimore, where many of the characters are drug dealers and police officers. Life in urban Baltimore is presented fairly bleak with character on both sides of the equation facing hardships and conflict. The portrayal of the characters feels like a documentary in the lack of explanations, cops and politicians use jargon, dealers use street slang, there is never any exposition, and its up to you as the viewer to sort thing out. Though at first life in Baltimore is presented through the lens of several key characters, it eventually evolves into complex interweaving network of 20 characters each with their own trials and tribulations. By the time you reach season four you can go several episodes without seeing the “main characters.” The Wire builds upon the tropes of the drug dealers just trying to get by and the crooked cops of other crime dramas to build a word inhabited by actual people that evolve and change. Frequently it seems to be a story of redemption, but ultimatley I see it as being a story about institutions. Each character is conencted to some insititution, be it City Hall, the Police, the Schools, or the drug trade, and what makes them interesting is seeing how they navigate their relationship with the institution they’ve tied themsleves to.

Short Television Review: The Lost Room

The SCI FI channel continues its schizophrenic programming mentality by producing the excellent miniseries The Lost Room, which is probably the best in its format since SCI FI’s original Battlestar Galactica miniseries in 2003. The Lost Room is a well-plotted supernatural/science-fiction story with an all-star cast, anchored by Peter Krause (whose Detective Joe Miller is just reminiscent enough of his Sports Night character Casey McCall to make me nostalgic). The writing is an unexpected pleasure, from the dense mythology of the Objects to the quirky sense of humor. The handling of the mythology is particularly good: the premise is mysterious, but consistent and solid enough that you don’t question each new Object’s bizarre properties. Also refreshing is that, for the most part, Miller is smart in his behaviors and actions. There was, I think, only one point in the series when I seriously thought “why doesn’t he do that?” My only complaint, at the end, is that I wanted to see more, and as television programming goes, that’s a pretty good complaint.

Harry Potter and the what now?

The seventh (and as far as I know, final) Harry Potter book will be titled Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I have no idea what a Deathly Hallow is (any more than I guess I knew who the Half-Blood Prince was), but hey, it’s no Indiana Jones and the Opal of the Mer-Man Prince.

Short Movie Review: The Pursuit of Happyness

Despite feeling that I saw most of the standout scenes in the trailers and ads, I thought The Pursuit of Happyness was an excellent film. Will Smith’s performance as Chris Gardner is so far from the stereotypical Will Smith role that you just want to shake the man and say “Stop doing shite like I, Robot.” Smith has always been exceptionally likable and that’s an important part of Chris Gardner’s appeal as well: in the face of overwhelming odds, the man is unfailingly polite in his professional demeanor. That’s not to say that he doesn’t crack—the scenes where he yells at his son are cringe-worthy, but realistic.

The crux of The Pursuit of Happyness is in that relationship between Chris and his son Christopher—played in a fine debut by Smith’s son Jaden. So much is this the case that I didn’t realize that Thandie Newton, who plays Chris’s wife, was even in the movie until I saw the opening credits. But that’s fine: it’s Smith who buoys the movie, keeps it from descending into saccharine tearjerker territory. The result is a movie that’s uplifting without being sappy and made me, for the first time, consider someone who wants to become a stockbroker as not just a greedy bastard.

BAH! The New Exclamation of Glee

Once upon a time, a ragtag group of misfits banded together to play air hockey in the greater Boston area. Eleven months later, they are still going strong: darlings of the air hockey world, beloved by the infamous Michael Rosen (of the New York scene), and, as the president herself reports, getting blogged about in Spanish.

Seriously, we need to find a video camera so we can start shooting a documentary about this ASAP. I maintain that we can probably get away with stealing brief snippets of music from the Mighty Ducks, the Bad News Bears, and other movies about ragtag groups of misfits who go on to win at sports. We may not actually win anything, but still, forming an air hockey team is as good an excuse as any to take a trip to Vegas and get some custom hoodies.

Form, Function, and Fashion

Several people have told me that I should get glasses. This has been somewhat confusing to me, as I don’t need glasses. My eyes are so sharp that I can count the grains of rice in a bag from across the room before the bag is opened. No, people offer this compliment because they say I look good (or, at least, less goofy) in glasses. I appreciate this, but I have some concerns.

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God Mode

Want to get angry about video games but don’t really mind the ones that let you beat up hookers? Friends, there is something for everyone to protest. The BBC reports on how much some people hate the video game based on Left Behind, a series of books about the the years following the rapture, leading up to the second coming:

An alliance of liberal groups including the Christian Alliance for Progress, the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, and Talk2Action, have urged the giant retailer Wal-Mart, among others, to stop stocking the game, which was released last month.

The Campaign to Defend the Constitution is trying to silence a private company’s creative work? That’s pretty rich.

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What Makes a Good Comic Book Movie?

I ran into another Comm PhD student while at the San Diego Comic Con this past summer. She recently emailed me and a bunch of other comic book readers to ask us what makes a good comic-to-movie adaptation. My response got so ridiculously long that I thought it would be a waste not to put it somewhere, so here you go. Seriously, though, it’s as nerdy as it is wordy: proceed with caution.

This probably sounds like a cop-out answer, but I’m going to say it depends very much on the property in question and the people who handle it. Some characters/properties are so iconic that they practically beg to be made and remade at this point, such as Batman. I am just as interested in seeing Paul Pope’s sci-fi comic book take on the character as Christopher Nolan’s special FX movie take. Not all comics have such a long history, though, or really beg to leak beyond the borders of their original self-contained stories. I personally prefer comics that tell self-contained stories by a single creator, including those existing in a broader “world” of shared characters, including Busiek’s Astro City and Miller’s Sin City. Even with those, though, I think some changes are to be expected in the adaptation process. Before Rodriguez took on Sin City, I’d have said that there’s no point at all in being as faithful as possible. Before Del Toro took on Hellboy (and some other studio took on an animated feature), I’d have said that animation would provide a better route than live action for Mignola’s work. As I see it, comic book adaptations require two major considerations: how will the formal properties of media affect the product, and how will market realities affect the product?

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Ayúdame to Get a Shirt

I want to get this “Pi Rata” shirt pretty badly, but there is a catch (or maybe a few). For one thing, it’s kinda expensive, as it’s €20 (which I think is about $30, plus international shipping). For another thing, the whole web site is in Spanish, which I’m not confident I know how to read as well as I should. I tried checking their FAQ, but I didn’t recognize anything in there about international shipping (though I guess their order form doesn’t let you fill in “country”).

So, like the plucky polyglot that I wish I were, I composed an email to ask them whether they’d ship me a shirt and how much it would cost (taking care to apologize for being an ignorant gringo). I’m pretty sure they’d get the basic idea from this, but if you read Spanish, I’d very much appreciate any feedback so I don’t sound like a complete moron.

Subject: Pregunta de un gringo
Quiero comprar “Pi Rata,” pero hace muchos anos que he escribido o leido el español. Acarrean ustedes las camisetas a los Estados Unidos? Cuanto cuesta el embarque internacional?


Alternatively, let me know the likelihood that their English is way better than my Spanish.

MacUser: What if…Apple sold DRM-free music?

Most of my time writing over at MacUser and Gadgetbox is focused on short posts, often news or current events, but every once in a while—when the mood strikes me—I get to open the floodgates and work in the long form. Today, the subject that captured my fancy was the idea of the online music market, and its insistence on Digital Rights Management.

What does the music industry fear from DRM-free downloads? They fear file-sharing, of course—piracy. But that’s silly, because piracy is well-established by this point; we’ve had almost a solid decade of high volume media piracy. I’d say that the vast majority of the songs that you can find on iTunes and the other services are available through file-sharing networks, if you know where to look. Meanwhile, destroying piracy has proved to be emblematic of a phenomenon I like to call the “hydratic equation”—for every service you take out, two more sprout up in its place.

That’s just an excerpt, of course. The full piece is a bit longer. I hope to do a few more of these “What If?” pieces in the future, as long as I don’t get sued by Marvel.