Ray
What is The Wire?

The wire on the surface suggests the various tap lines that the weary police and seasoned detectives utilize to trap their canny targets – drug peddlers plying their trade in Baltimore- to stay one step ahead and achieve targets set by their bosses.

The wire is the study of the painstaking work that crime authorities put in year after year with no hope of textbook resolutions while being rendered impotent by political nexuses, bad bosses and the general humdrum that is part of police work.

The wire is the fabric of low cost housing societies(season 1) where gun-toting drug dealers tear out the threads with their illegal product distribution and anarchic harangue  but at the same time feel undone by an injust society that does not allow them to forget that they are African American and after all have descended from slaves.

The wire showcases at its heart the lives of men and women on the street, robbing, killing, people turning into informers for the cops, some running scared of the dealers and some just squatting to get by in life.


The wire is also how all of these characters, good, bad and grey walk on the edge in every moment of their lives carrying with them broken relationships, sexual discrimination, crooked politics, guilty consciences, ethics driven business decisions and just the whole-hearted basic sum requirement to stay alive.

In the end the wire is the mesh through which our entire sociological existence is interconnected. It is an epic labyrinth that politicizes, sympathizes and ultimately humanizes the systemic failure and the rapid chaotic integration of new identities either through laws or crime infestation that have shaped our cities. The story might be set in Baltimore but its vast narrative could be applied to any big city in this world.

With its linear direction, slow buildup and wide camera angles, The Wire is a grim, no-nonsense and realistic look at society. It has been lauded for the amount of research that has gone into its making. The caveat - the story is a buildup rather than instant gratification. The payoff comes a lot later. I have just finished the first season and highly recommend this to anyone who has the patience and attention span to tap into this astonishing drama. It is the closest thing that comes to a TV novel and hands down, the best crime show to be ever made on television.

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Survival of the fleetest  - An aging wrestler comes to terms with his life in this staid fantastic drama

A couple of minutes into the movie, we see a sweaty, muscled man with long hair hunched on a chair in a desolated room, taping his wounds, catching his breath and massaging his aches and swollen body. He looks battered and battle weary. This is just a couple of seconds after we are given a glimpse of sunnier days about this well-renowned athlete winning accolades, garnering adulation and generally glowing in the limelight. It is a masterful apposition of past and present and sets the stage for us investing in this character.

Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is a wrestler. Now well past his prime, in order to stay afloat he wrestles in small seemingly meaningless competitions and works in a remote NJ grocery store  where the puny store manager, half the wrestler’s size, aims sarcastic darts at him all the time. It is the sorry state of affairs for a man who climbs a height for his finishing move in the ring but muddles in the abyss for much of his daily social life. He finds solace in the dances and company of stripper Cassidy( a mostly nude but capable Marisa Tomei) and hopes to draw his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) in his ring of reconciliation. Detachment, despair, hope and grappling with reality compete in the survivor series to use a wrestling metaphor.

Director Darren Aronofsky(Pi, Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain) infuses real grit in what could have turned out to be bland linear drama. The show of broken relationships and aloofness is subtle and realistic with some stunning rugged close-ups. But the movie is especially terrific in the pre-grappling and bout scenes where we are first made a part of the back room discussion among the wrestlers about how they will proceed knocking each other and then see the subsequent brawl. It just changes your perspective about entertainment wrestling being “that big fake thing”

Almost paralleling his real life, Rourke is terrific with those expressive eyes and unspoken lament. His interactions with younger wrestlers say much about him than anything else. In an early scene, Cassidy compares him to Christ that he takes so much punishment and Randy casually admires that he must have been a tough dude. In the same way, Rourke greatly invokes in his performance, the sting he feels when ignored by the real world from his daughter to the kid next door in a way reflecting the wounds they inflict on him but he still stands up on his feet everywhere and especially in the ring taking the form of a crucified man, he jumps, arms wide open, locks spiriting, from the top rung to vanquish his fallen opponent. The character knows he is fading but clings on to that last inkling of fame that has kept him alive all these years and Rourke “pins” this down for a winner.

Rating : 4/5

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“You don’t cut Muralitharan through the offside, you are crap” I screamed at the skinny mustachioed youth. Ofcourse he didn’t listen to me, couldn’t hear me. He was on television, playing his first ODI against the rampaging Sri Lankans, high on talent and self-belief after their all-sweeping win at the World Cup in Lahore. 

The talented Karnataka batsman had been picked on strong domestic performances for an obscure tournament in Singapore. He looked confident enough when he walked in but Murali was in no mood to allow fledgling batsmen to dictate terms to him. Four balls was all it took and Rahul Dravid was back in the pavilion cutting a ball too close and straight into Kalu’s gloves. Failures followed in matches thereafter with strike rate complaints.  Career done and dusted, not quite?

Fifteen years later at the Oval in England, Dravid stood tall among the ruins carrying his bat, scoring his third century of the series and outshining his more illustrious teammates.

And he even went in style with his erudite Bradman oration and finally the quite announcement of hanging his boots without the fanfare and lust for a farewell test.

Thank you Rahul Dravid. You weren’t just the Wall, but a bastion of technique, integrity and pride.
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Took a three day trip to Florida to enjoy a warmer climate. It wasn’t much warmer but certainly comfortable. We spent the first day in a Spanish colonial town called St. Augustine. Some pretty amazing 18th and 19th century buildings including a very old chemist’s shop, the one that we get to see often in American westerns – a moustachioed septuagenarian with all his medical wisdom in a tousled hat operating a cash register with a mechanical lever with a constant expression of being wary of an outlaw. We weren't much of outlaw material but more like gullible tourists. The back of the shop however was an anachronism, it was selling ice-cream. There was an old fort too – Fort Matanzas(a US national monument!), similar to the ones that are littered all over the Goa coastline especially Fort Aguada. The difference is the building material. The bastion here is made of coquina – a rock made entirely of shells.Nothing much to see other than a few drab rooms and a funny speech by a soldier dressed in the colors of the Armada. The town of St. Augustine is a small quaintish charming enclave and worth a visit once.

Then came the main course. We headed for the place where childhood came gushing back – Disneyworld ofcourse!. And whoever visits the Disney parks for the first time must visit the Magic Kingdom. It was the Nu's first time. Now, it might not sound truly exciting, but it was puerile pleasure indeed to return to the multi-hued world of the Disney characters. Besides the omnipresent Mickey and Minnie, who can forget Pluto, Chip’n’dale and Goofy.  We even managed a dance with Humphrey the bear.We got a glimpse of the fairy-tale houses, the everlasting fearful expression on Snow-white's face(the dwarves were nowhere to be seen though), peter-pan and his cohorts, the desperate beast in the hands of the beauty(the Nu even cheekily made a comparison) and a smattering of other vivid creatures all under the watchful eyes of the iconic Cinderella castle that changed colors as evening approached. Just for a moment I missed those hard board books that contained sketches of cartoons , the color-me exercises at the end of the book that were must haves and in general the whole euphoria of being a kid. Why do we have to grow up? And then the answer....

FOR THIS(yeah baby) - Next day we were at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. The name says it all, from Superhero rides to Jurassic Park to the stunningly detailed Harry Potter’s wizarding world, IOA is a must-visit thrill junkie haven. Where on one side we get tricked by Bluto to ride his leaky raft(instead of Popeye’s boat) and was it wet, on the other side we almost get devoured by T-rex stealthily waiting famished(isn’t it always) jerking us out of our laguor on our mostly serene and a little subdued Jurassic boat ride. Dr. Doom is up to his usual tricks by suspending us from the air, feet dangling, mouths screaming and stomach experiencing negative Gs(similar to my grades) while the Incredible hulk coaster thinks exposing us to gamma radiation is going to keep us away. For Potterphiles and even for the “muggles”, the Hogwarts castle is a true delight. The trick of the moving portraits is applause worthy while the conclusive ride at the end was terrific and might I say – magical. The HP ride had a technical glitch in the middle and during the stoppage, I got to see the incredibly intricate set design. The village outside the Potter rides is authentic and if the queue outside Dervish and Banges wasn't long, I would have loved to dress as a wizard. Due to wait times, we could do every ride just once but what fun. The day was over in a jiffy and our legs were giving away.

As a state, Florida is a like a large-scale retirement home with 20% of its population being over 65. Houses are cheap, the weather is beautiful, rainy and the beaches are ace. For most part it is a flat-marshy land with broad roads and miles of coastline. Both the beaches and roads have a dearth of population and cars. It is said that the population of Florida triples during tourist season. So in one way the sunshine state as it is called might not have much in terms of history nor scenery but what is does have is Theme parks galore and if your adrenaline needs a boost, lets “coast” along.
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Last month’s flavor was Schwarzenegger and this month it is Anthony Weiner, democratic US Congressman who has been embroiled  in controversy in the wake of posting lewd pictures for his female followers on Twitter. The scandal called Weinergate was all over the telly from the last 3 weeks.

The usual politician’s drill took place. At first he denied, suggesting someone had hacked his account. Then this someone became a political opponent. Lots of boos and media coverage followed. But Wiener was not done. After everything was failing around him, he said the image might have been doctored. And finally when all avenues were exhausted then inevitably he had to admit to his wrongdoing by starting with the words

“I haven’t been completely honest with myself”

Ah now politician’s statement containing the word honest, irony that. His work records are mixed. And one of the funnier aspects is that he was critical of UN diplomats not paying NYC parking tickets while at the same time he ran up $2,180 in unpaid Washington DC parking violations even running with expired registration plates on his car at one time.

Despite this public admission he refused to resign. The American media had a field day. And they also held a poll to decide whether he should resign or not.  Just goes to show power can corrupt and politicians are headless gaffers irrespective of any country they are born. Anthony Wiener has since resigned.
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A small working class town in Ohio 1979 suddenly experiences strange phenomena of disappearing car engines, dogs fleeing town and humans vanishing. And all these seem to occur after a US Air force train carrying some top secret cargo derails in a remote part of town, the crash being witnessed by a teenage group who are making a film with their Super 8 camera.

Foremost of this child group is Joe(Joel Courtney) who it is revealed right in the very beginning to have lost his mother to an industrial accident and immediately garners our sympathy. He has his friends who have their own family interactions and tribulations to take care, small town values and youthful virtues et al. They spend the better part making a zombie film with their star performer Alice (a thoroughly remarkable Elle Fanning)

The movie is touted from the very beginning as director Abram’s tribute to the great Steven Spielberg and his films. So anyone familiar with ET immediately recognizes the Spielbergian set up - the character spread, the unrelenting imperil of something lurking whose face is always hidden and the general buildup of suspense rather than senseless action. This is where the film's strength is. All the child actors are universally charming.  Its astonishing that director Abrams manages to stuff a lot of genres into one film like the coming of age, action, mystery, creature feature and comedy.

On the flipside, the movie moves at a snail’s pace with nothing happening for large parts. And as the story moves on, things just seem more and more implausible. However , the earlier build up that leads us into believing that the climax will be worthy of our patient wait unfortunately lets us down in the last half an hour. Consider a child along at home with his toys spread around the room in a haphazard manner. As soon as he hears his parents at the front door he gathers all his toys up and stuffs them in his cupboard in a disorderly manner to avoid rebuke.

That’s how the ending feels in Super 8 , where all the ramping up goes to waste and sequences seem to be filmed for the sake of wrapping the movie up as if Steven Spielberg came knocking to check on its progress. It is spectacularly artificial. The movie and audience and Spielberg of all deserved better.

Rating : 3/5
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It always makes for an interesting narrative when prequels are made because it allows us to see a character evolve into the entity we already know. X Men First Class directed by Matthew Vaughn is one such that weaves the story of the two most powerful mutants Professor X and Magneto. 

The movie starts in a concentration camp in 1944 where a young Erik Lensherr’s magnetic powers are unleashed when he sees his mother getting murdered by a Nazi appointed scientist Schmidt (Kevin Bacon). On the other side of the world in a posh mansion in New York, young Xavier is introduced when he reads the mind of a homeless girl trying to steal something from his fridge. The girl is also revealed to be a mutant – a shape shifter. 

Years later, they have grown up and while Erik (Fassbender) has embarked on a vengeful journey to find his mother’s killer, Charles(McAvoy) has become a geneticist at Oxford accompanied by his foster sister Raven(Mystique played by the cute Jennifer Lawrence).Circumstances force them to reveal their powers to the CIA who hires them for a purpose and eventually when they meet, Xavier and Erik bond quickly. Their friendship is interspersed with entertaining scenes of  the recruitment of mutants of various kinds (features a great 5 second cameo ) from all over the world. In this, the story of how the various mutants come together feels like a cold war era bond adventure and we also have a megalomaniac to boot. Schmidt has now changed to Sebastian Shaw and whose machinations have brought the US and Russia to the brink of nuclear war, an alternate history platform derived from the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Shaw drives this conflict that will eliminate the human race while making the mutants the only surviving super species on the planet. 

The second half concentrates on the differing viewpoints of the two friends as we know with Xavier being the accommodator for coexisting and assimilating with humans while Erik getting increasingly disillusioned with the human race and its intentions for mutants. This is where the movie slightly loses its footing because we expect more drama in the two protagonist’s conflicts but poor McAvoy looks like a child in front of the imposing Fassbender and his magnetic personality (pun intended). It isn’t helped by the fact that one can feel that the movie is throbbing in its underbelly to jump to the next jaw dropping action set piece. For sheer jaw dropping though, one has to mention the submarine sequence, it is incredible. 

Overall the movie is First Class and one of the better comics to movies in recent time. From the actors , it is Michael Fassbender, the German-Irish actor who gets to exercise every acting muscle in his body, strain every thespian sinew and does a mighty good job of it. James McAvoy looks a shade immature but performs admirably. When it comes to playing megalomaniacs, Bacon nails it. Supporting characters don’t have much to do but special effects takes care of everything. Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique gives the most interesting and inscrutable character in the movie like her name. However the scene showing her brushing her teeth in the morning was a comical one, alas even superheroes or heroines can’t escape the mundane chores of life. 

Rating : 3.5/5 
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