Tag Archives: The Wire

Lights Out for Lights Out

FX, why do you do this to me?

You promote a series heavily and I watch it and get invested in its characters, and then you kill it. FX announced that it has cancelled the freshman boxing drama Lights Out, only two episodes away from the end of the first season (a new episode airs tonight). Bad ratings? I guess the judges’ cards will show that Patrick “Lights Out” Leary lost on points.

The cast has been almost uniformly excellent, featuring a breakout performance from Holt McCallany and strong support from Stacy Keach, Pablo Schreiber, Catherine McCormack and Billy Brown (as conflicted champ “Death Row” Reynolds). Reg E. Cathey (like Schreiber, an alum of The Wire) dazzles as Don King inspired promoter Barry Word, and guest roles have been showcases for powerful actors like Bill Irwin, Eamonn Walker and the great David Morse. Sure, the teenage girls are a bit annoying, but isn’t that also realistic?

If there was a weak point, perhaps it was the strong focus upon Leary’s drive to get another shot at the title, a plot element that has been accelerated to at such a rapid pace that we are almost upon it after eleven episodes. I don’t know if they planned to have the fight take place by the end of the season or planned to make the fight the centerpiece of the next season – I guess I’ll find out in a week – but after he either wins or loses, it would appear that the momentum would shift. Of course, if you don’t have a strong and fast pace you’ll get cancelled for that, too.

Unlike Terriers, which suffered from a ridiculous marketing campaign, people knew exactly what they were tuning in for. It’s just sad that there are so many more people who want to watch celebretards cat fight or try to dance.

Welcome to America, 2011.

At least FX picked up Justified and Louie for second seasons. Here’s hoping they don’t screw that up.

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I Knew It Was You

I don’t get HBO.

I mean, I get HBO – great concept – but I’m not a subscriber. I did, years ago, when I got everything, but as the cable company bill kept skyrocketing little by little things dropped off, until I was down to the skeletal, but still expensive, basic package. At the time I wasn’t missing much, since the home viewing market had transcended from VHS to DVD and the quality of the televisions got better. So by the time HBO started to really craft its signature programs like The Sopranos, I was so weaned off of pay cable that I still resisted. Only the advent of DVD recorders and the new market for TV on DVD box sets saved me, but shows like The Sopranos and The Wire were meant to be watched in six-hour gulps. I never would have survived the week in-between episodes.

I certainly can afford HBO now, but for some strange reason, I just haven’t bothered. Maybe it’s because basic cable channels like FX, AMC and USA have followed their lead and stolen their thunder? But the consequence is the same. Occasionally I still miss good programming, and I’ve conditioned myself to wait for the inevitable DVD, which likely will have bonus features and other amenities that would make it more than worthwhile.

And that’s my long-winded story about how I came across I Knew It Was You, the documentary about the great 70’s actor John Cazale. The title, of course, refers to the classic scene in The Godfather Part II between Al Pacino’s character and Cazale’s damaged brother Fredo. Of all the great moments in the first two films – and there were many – the last scenes between Michael and Fredo are the most haunting.

Pacino played Michael tight-lipped, private, superior. Cazale was palpable, he oozed defeat.

Cazale was only in five films, but every one was nominated for Best Picture; three of them took home the prize. He shared the screen with legends Robert Duvall and Marlon Brando as well as a Who’s Who of his generation in Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep and James Caan. He was never the lead, but The Conversation and The Deer Hunter and Dog Day Afternoon and both Godfathers would have been weaker without his presence.

I was captivated by the subject and by the film, but it had two major drawbacks. I didn’t really learn much about John Cazale, as the narration and the interviews basically echoed each other – an actor’s actor, found the heart of his characters, made his fellow actors better, always played true to the moment. I already knew that, having seen all of his films numerous times. Still, it was enjoyable to watch his co-stars as well as other craftsmen like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Rockwell and Steve Buscemi vouch for his impact as well as his directors Sidney Lumet and Francis Ford Coppola.

The other shortcoming – literally – was the forty minute length.  Again, I was honed in on every minute, so the quality was there. But even if they couldn’t have acquired rights to longer clips of the films, certainly there were more actors who could have been involved, or reflections from major critics who analyzed his work. As stated, I didn’t see this on HBO, but since there are no commercials other than their own promos…they couldn’t even hit an hour?

There are bonus features including extended interviews with Pacino and director Israel Horowitz (Cazale acted in several of his theatrical productions) as well as a commentary and two short film projects from the 60’s, so it’s not as if this DVD isn’t a good value. Despite my comments above, I’m thrilled to own it and will watch it again. But I guess when all is said and done, what I really wanted was more John Cazale…and maybe that’s the whole point of this portrait.

He was the perfect actor; he had no public persona that would  cloud your impression of the character he put on the screen. As good an actor as George Clooney or Morgan Freeman or Clint Eastwood are, when they first appear in a film, a little voice in your head says “there he is“. But when John Cazale entered a scene, you saw Fredo or Sal or Stan. John disappeared.

Cazale died in 1978 at the age of 42. For his friends and colleagues, there is a wealth of great personal experience and memories. For me, who never met him, there are but five timeless films…and now, this tribute.

No fish today, Fredo.

John Cazale Wiki page

Cazale on IMDB.

Oscilloscope Films

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New Album! Len Price 3

 

I direct you again to Bucketfull of Brains, a superior publication I am proud to have been associated with for over a decade. This review, written in January, is available in the current issue which hit the stands in early March… 

There is no “Len Price“, of course; this Medway trio is composed of Glenn Page on guitar and vocals, Steve Huggins on bass, and drummer Neil Fromow. But perhaps a better way to phrase it would be that the band is composed of The Who, The Kinks and The Jam. Because if any of those three bands make the hair on your…well, hairy areas stand up, this is the band for you. If two or more of those bands make you strap on an air guitar, I may have your new favorite record in my hands. 

Fromow counts off the opening track (the title song) by clicking his drumsticks before launching into Keith Moon mania, with Huggins right on his tail like a hyperactive Bruce Foxton. You can almost see Page windmilling his guitar in his best Townsend pose, dripping Medway accent into the microphone with the energy of a teenager. And that’s how it goes on this thirteen-song, thirty-minute workout – one great song after another. Stripped down, short sharp and pop, echoing the greats but not mimicking them. 

The Prisoners heritage is clear

Touchstones abound – “I Don’t Believe You” is the son of “She’s Got Everything”, and “Keep Your Eyes on Me” is cut from the cloth of The Who Sell Out. The infectious “After You’re Gone” will remind one of “So Sad About Us”, and even the title of “Mr. Grey” sounds like a Paul Weller tribute (albeit with a flourish of horns straight out of “Penny Lane”). This album has it all – ringing guitars, great vocals, and catchy songs fueled by power chords and muscular drumming. It reminded me of recent favorites by Muck and the Mires and Graham Day and the Gaolers – and sure enough, Graham Day was one of the producers on this record. 

This is the third album from The Len Price 3, and while the other two were very good, Pictures is flat-out brilliant;  the first great record of the year and a lock for my Best Of 2010 list. Get it now.  

Robin Williams' Emmy via David Mills' words

And another sad loss…writer David Mills died yesterday from a brain aneurysm. Mills wrote for some of my favorite television shows – NYPD Blue, The Wire, Homicide – as well as helming The Corner and collaborating with David Simon on the upcoming Treme for HBO. He was only 48 years old. 

“What I can bring is the sort of simple story stuff, the stuff I would feel like I can contribute to any show I happen to be on at any given time, which is just, ‘How do we get the most out of these characters.” 

Here’s a nice tribute from friend and TV critic Alan Sepinwall

And another from NOLA.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Wishes for 2010 Comebacks

 

Happy New Year! Many of us look upon January 1st as a fresh start, a chance to wipe the slate clean and start a new plan. For others, it’s an opportunity and a challenge to make a mark in life, to have a sense of purpose and accomplish a goal. And for pop culture freaks, it’s a chance to wonder what the year ahead has in store, as every year brings us some wonderful surprises, whether a great album or a new TV show. Who will occupy our thoughts in 2010? Certainly there will be some new breakout artists, but as always, some blasts from the past will knock us for a loop as well. 

All too often we take our cultural heroes for granted, expecting them to continually churn out yet another book or album or screenplay at the same pinnacle of quality. If they hibernate or quit, we pine that they walked away too early. Yet if they start to slip, we pounce upon them for overstaying their welcome and selling out. But our culture seems preoccupied with success and redemption, so we seem to be especially cognizant of those who recapture some past glory, especially if the road since then was paved with difficulty. 

I used to be among the camp that wanted to leave well enough alone – don’t tarnish a reputation with a comeback, but walk off on top and disappear into legend. With very few exceptions, no one does that voluntarily; it’s usually an untimely death that cements a legend. James Dean might have made as many horrible film choices as Robert DeNiro had he lived into his sixties. Had Elvis died while in the service, he’d still be larger than life, only not literally. But instead we usually witness a fall from grace – Willie Mays playing center for the Mets, Dick Clark still counting down New Year’s Eve. 

But after seeing Mott The Hoople reform in 2009, after watching Jim McCarty and Johnny Badanjek rocking like they were teenagers again, after having Dana Gould and Steven Wright release hilarious new albums years after I thought they were done with it all, I’ve jumped ship. Life is short – give me all I can handle. Not everyone will succeed, but I can swallow the moments of ineptitude for a calculated risk that there will be moments of pure magic that otherwise never would have happened. 

So with that caveat in mind, here are ten reunions, revivals and/or comebacks I’d like to see this year…a few of which might actually happen! 

Risk and Reward

The Faces – A test run happened late this year where Ian McLagan, Ronnie Wood and Kenney Jones finally gave up on Rod Stewart‘s false promises and played a gig without him. If only they would have done this while Ronnie Lane was still alive, but throw in Glen Matlock on bass and someone like Sulo of The Diamond Dogs on vocals and this could be magic. 

Arrested Development – Maybe line-for-line the funniest television comedy ever, and it’s a crime that something that great couldn’t find a strong audience let alone a network exec with a spine who would have kept it on the air for the sake of art. (Yeah, right) Rumors about a movie continue to swirl – please get it done before it’s too late! 

RockpileBilly Bremner is playing music in Europe, Nick Lowe is still great but sedate, and…well, where the hell is Dave Edmunds, anyway? Technically they only made one album although all those Lowe and Edmunds records were really Rockpile albums in disguise. Seconds of Pleasure turns thirty this year – how about a sequel? 

Eric RobertsMickey Rourke was right – if someone would just give Eric Roberts a chance, I think he’d knock the ball out of the park. After all these years tolerating his sister’s horrible movies, I think Hollywood owes me a film where Roberts has a great role to sink his teeth into. Tarantino, you listening? 

The Kinks – Come on, guys, even The Zombies have managed to get back together. Dave is recovering but back out on the stage, and Ray’s work over the past couple of years has been among his best. There’s an entire generation who hasn’t seen the band live on stage. Please guys…one for the road

Mel Brooks – I know he’s having great success reviving old hits on Broadway, and I know he’s in his eighties. But he’s still one of the quickest, sharpest wits around and perhaps five years after losing the great Anne Bancroft he will dig deep for one more devastating comedy film. 

The J. Geils Band – Peter Wolf still has the chops, and lord knows we need a band that doesn’t take itself so seriously. A kickass band with a guy who knew what being a front man was all about, their party atmosphere the antithesis to indie shoegazing. 

David Simon – The man gave us two of the finest television shows in history – Homicide and The Wire. Both scripted dramas were far more real than any of that reality TV crap that we drown in today. Save us, David. 

Tonio K. – I think I wish this every year. Not sure if he’s flying well under my radar or just involved in other projects (like assembling a blues compilation) but it’s been over a decade since Gadfly Records released his reissues and almost twenty since an album of new material. America needs all the cynics it can get.

Robert KleinGeorge Carlin might have been the one to make the most of the opportunity, but it was Robert Klein who helped put HBO on the map with his comedy specials. Whip-smart and multi-talented, I can’t believe that the events of the past several years haven’t inspired him to create a new hour of material. We need you, sir. 

"You start something this time, we all get a half-life, go figure it out on your own..."

Cover Me

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TV or not TV? Summertime…

Years ago I ran a nightclub, and like in most bars, Sunday night was death. Many places closed or suffered the losses. Me? I started Die Hard Happy Hour! Sure, the potential audience might have been smaller than a madhouse Friday or Saturday night, but since I was competing with no one else on Sundays I figured I’d nail my target demographic – music lovers who drank

Success? Let’s just say I underestimated the size of that fraternity.  By the second week there was a line out the door and a list of bands begging to play the new hot night in town. I reinvented the three day weekend. (You’re welcome!)

Well, it looks like some television executives learned this same lesson over the last few years, as the smaller cable networks now take advantage of the major network hiatus to air their programming to attract that hot new demographic – those of us too mature for Celebretard Programming who want something better. As in not reality television.

(Reality television?  Really? Don’t you encounter enough a-holes every day on your own? Why tune in to see more?)

Formerly known as Vast Wasteland, I now present TGIS  (Thank God It’s Summer). Three simple words: grill, beverage, DVR.

Bryan Cranston is awesome. Actually started late Spring but will re-run this Summer.

 

 Breaking Bad actually started late Spring but will re-run this Summer. Bryan Cranston is phenomenal.

 

 

rescue me

 

  I still like Denis Leary‘s earlier series  The Job better, but Rescue Me has yet to disappoint me.

 

 

the closer

 

  The Closer is not only one of the best shows on television, but the ensemble cast is loaded with wall-to-wall talent. G.W. Bailey and Anthony Denison could take their shtick on the road.

 

saving grace

 

  Saving Grace is also coming back to complete another round of episodes. Holly Hunter could kick my ass with one ripped bicep tied behind her back…or more likely one arm holding a beer.

 

 

 mad men

  I know AMC is supposed to be American Movie Classics – not new television dramas – but with Breaking Bad and Mad Men they are doing the job the majors are supposed to do. Kudos! 

 

 

sons of anarchy

  

Sons of Anarchy – FX deals an adult drama and helps fill the void of The Shield and The Wire.  The whole cast is great but Katey Sagal is fierce.

 

 

it's always sunny

 

 I pine for the return of the most irreverent show on television. FX strikes gold again!

 

 

jackie woodman

 

  But wherefore art thou, Jackie Woodman? Laura Kightlinger, you rule!

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