The Wire: The Complete Series (Season 1)

The Wire is a HBO original television series that was broadcast from June 2nd, 2002 to March 9th, 2008. The Wire was created by David Simon. David Simon is an extremely dedicated and talented journalist who has authored several non-fiction crime novels in addition to producing, creating, and writing television series. Simon worked as a police reporter for The Baltimore Sun from 1982 to 1995. He took a leave of absence in late 1987 after a change in ownership at The Sun caused his work “not to be fun anymore.” Simon had persuaded the Baltimore Police Department to grant him unlimited access to the Department’s Homicide Unit for the entire calendar year of 1988, during which time he shadowed detectives and observed their procedures and noted the unusual, sometimes absurd and unusual cases they investigated. Simon published Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets in 1991. It won acclaim and notoriety upon its release, and was the basis for the critically acclaimed procedural drama Homicide: Life on the Street, which ran on NBC from 1993 to 1999. Simon served as executive producer and writer on the series, with several characters being closely based on real law enforcement personnel. Homicide, unlike other police procedurals, was known for portraying realistic detective work and Baltimore street life. This came in very handy when Simon pitched The Wire to HBO following the end of Homicide. Over its five season run, The Wire received obscene amounts of critical acclaim from viewers and critics, with many noting the series’ realistic, uncompromising, cynical, yet sympathetic depiction of not only law enforcement but the criminal element as well, portraying urban street life with the same commitment to realism found in all other areas of the show. The series is also known for dealing with heavy themes such as the institutional failings of the corrupt and sometimes gleefully inept city government, the effects of the drug trade on the city at large as well as on an individual and personal level, and police surveillance, hence the title. The Wire, in addition to its unending commitment to realism, is also known for including very cutting, topical, cerebral, poetic, even sometimes humorous dialogue, and is a very well-written series in that aspect, as well. To this day, The Wire is considered by many to be the greatest TV show of all time. AMC’s Breaking Bad was once comically referred to as “the show that finally got TV snobs to shut up about The Wire.”

***

Season 1 follows series protagonist, Baltimore Homicide Detective Jimmy McNulty, played by English actor Dominic West. McNulty is a naturally gifted, intelligent, and talented detective with a multitude of personal and professional issues. He is extremely insubordinate, immature, has a drinking problem, and a major superiority complex. McNulty witnesses an open and shut case against D’Angelo Barksdale fall apart at the seams thanks to the very subtle influence of Stringer Bell, played by the now-famous Idris Elba. McNulty complains to the presiding Judge Phelan, a former prosecutor and friend of McNulty’s. McNulty explains that Avon Barksdale, D’Angelo’s uncle, is a major player in the Baltimore drug trade, has been operating for more than a year, has complete control of the Westside Terrace buildings in the Projects, and has been linked to more than a dozen murders. Despite this power and notoriety on the street, neither the Baltimore Police Department or any federal agencies have anything of note on the Barksdale Organization. Phelan lights a fire under the PD, causing major embarrassment for the Deputy Ops and other high-ranking officials. McNulty’s strict, vindictive, and angry unit commander Major Rawls, played by John Doman, grows to despise McNulty for causing this embarrassment and insubordination, and wants nothing more than to ruin our protagonist’s career.

In a move meant only to appease the judge, a special detail is formed to investigate the Barksdale Organization. Led by Lieutenant Cedric Daniels from Narcotics, the detail is composed of dead wood: two lazy drunken detectives nearing retirement, an incompetent detective from traffic, a laconic man from the Pawnshop Unit, McNulty, and another detective from Rawls’ Unit. The only saving graces are McNulty and three detectives from Daniels’ unit: Kima Greggs, “Herc,” and Ellis Carver. Stationed in the basement of the precinct, these men attempt to build a case against drug kingpin Avon Barksdale… a case that no one really cares about and which ends up causing political and social turmoil for the City of Baltimore.

The case hits major roadblocks and controversy, not the least of which is caused by drunken “field interviews” conducted by Herc, Carver, and Prez at 2AM.

***

Season 1 deals with the themes of police corruption and brutality very heavily, as you can see. As I see it, these scenes involving their “field interviews” do not paint Herc, Carver, or Daniels in a bad light for their actions. I should say, it doesn’t paint them as evil or inherently bad, though Prez is an idiot, that’s a given. In keeping with the realistic nature of the series, The Wire doesn’t view police brutality through any sort of biased lens, and more as just a regrettable thing that happens when cops do stupid stuff. There’s no secret cabal or extensive cover-up, Daniels doesn’t have Prez murdered because he’s worried he’ll screw up with IID. The Wire feels almost journalistic, in a sense; like I mentioned before, it is unbiased yet uncompromising. Granted, the show was the creation of a very talented investigative writer, so that makes sense.

The Wire paints cops as fallible human beings, with personal problems but an important job to do. There’s a lot of empathy in the series for McNulty, Daniels, and Kima. The series treats the other side of the coin in very much the same way. D’Angelo Barksdale, believe it or not, might be one of the most likeable characters on The Wire. Most TV shows treat their antagonists as wholeheartedly evil. There’s nothing wrong with that, and for most shows, it works out well. The Wire is not that type of show, though. D’Angelo, known by “D,” is a smart, cunning, emotional man who doesn’t really have the stomach for violence. He really isn’t big on the whole drug thing, either, as he later figures out. D, in my eyes, is a man who was born into the street life and, at first, accepts it wholeheartedly. As things start to get more and more hairy, though, he realizes he might want out. Nobody who knows how to play chess should be working the street corner like a low-rent banger.

The Wire received immense praise for this scene, and is, in fact, the reason The Wire’s first season won several awards. On the surface, it’s just a scene explaining chess to a bunch of street kids, but it’s actually a lot more than that upon further analysis. Peter Honig, a high school film teacher and The Wire fanatic, explains:

The chess lesson from “The Buys” has become one of The Wire’s most iconic scenes. It is a brilliantly-scripted and -acted scene, one that actually serves as a double metaphor. D’Angelo uses the familiar world of the drug hierarchy to explain an alien and complex game to Bodie and Wallace. At the same time, Simon and Burns use this scene to explain the (presumably) alien drug game to their audience using the (presumably) familiar rules of chess. Call it a meta-metaphor.

If you have HBO, let’s face it, you ain’t street, “street” is an alien concept to you. The audience needs to become acclimated to this foreign environment, and Simon and Company do that very well.

***

In addition to being a rather flawlessly written show, The Wire also has remarkable acting talent. When casting, big, household names were purposefully avoided to preserve the show’s realistic feel; big, well-known talent increases the audience’s need for suspension of disbelief. The casting is great here, with Lance Reddick’s Lieutenant Daniels being my favorite law enforcement member of the show. He has gone on to make somewhat of a name for himself playing mysterious, authoritative characters on other television series, though his talent as a leading man since the end of The Wire has been wasted, in my opinion. Idris Elba, now a household name after achieving notoriety with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the very good BBC crime drama Luther, and the controversy surrounding his completely hypothetical and imaginary casting as James Bond, is an amazing actor here in his role as the criminal genius Stringer Bell, and I am surprised his breakout into the mainstream didn’t occur until years after The Wire. Dominic West is great, and I was delighted to see him and Elba team up again for one of the most underrated roles in Finding Dory, playing a pair of laid-back, territorial sea otters. As I said before, D’Angelo Barksdale is the most empathetic drug dealer I have ever seen portrayed, played with amazing skill by Larry Gillard Jr. Notably, The Wire features future Creed star Michael B. Jordan as Wallace, an intelligent 13-year-old street kid and low-level member of the Barksdale Organization. Truthfully, all the acting in The Wire is excellent, and continuing on this subject would just be needlessly tedious, with me listing off every main cast member and telling you how good they are. So let’s just skip that, say they’re all great (they are) and move on. The Wire also features some good cinematography, as well. The Wire was remastered in HD relatively recently. The decision to remaster this classic in glorious 16:9 and Full HD is what spurred my interest in my binge-watch of this series.

***

Throughout this long and extensive review, I have done nothing but praise the first season of The Wire. I stand by all that praise, but this show is not for everyone. This is a hard concept to explain, but in keeping with the realism, there aren’t a lot of bombshells, twists, or assorted craziness. It is the diametric opposite of 24, which premiered around the same time, a high adrenaline show full of mind-blowing twists and great action (for the first five seasons, anyway). As someone who has a poster of Jack Bauer hung up behind him as he is writing a review of The Wire, I will say I love both, but the reasons I do could not be any more different. 24 is like my sweets addiction. You say you just need one, and a second after you say that to yourself, only the hollow bag of Hershey’s Bliss remains. The Wire is lobster. You have to savor it, to understand that it’s a Hell of a lot more expensive than Bliss. 24 is a show that invests itself in you, it hooks you in. The Wire is a show you have to invest yourself in. The Wire is a deliberately paced, realistic, painstakingly researched, accurate portrayal of not only law enforcement and the internal politics thereof, but of street life, as well. It is character-based and very dialogue-heavy, with little of what one would call “action.” If you can get into it, it is an excellent show. I first watched the first season of The Wire while on vacation at my aunt and uncle’s up in Wisconsin my Freshman Year of high school. It was a fishing vacation, and I rather despise fishing. Someone loaned my Aunt Martha Season 1 and 2 of The Wire on DVD. Anything’s better than fishing, and I was aware of The Wire‘s high status, so I figured I’d give it a shot. 14-year-old me rather enjoyed it. Martha and I were both surprised at that. “You like The Wire, Aaron?” “Yeah,  I know.” Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact The Wire was my only good option and it meant I could watch something from HBO (we all know what that means), I probably wouldn’t have invested myself into it as much as I did. It is rather slow, but purposefully slow; it is not a detriment to the show. The Wire is a great show for a lot of reasons, but it is understandable if you can’t get into it. My Mom turned it off after twenty minutes after I loosely recommended she try it after she asked for recommendations. It isn’t for everyone. I would, however, recommend everyone give it a fair shot and watch the show with intent to watch and invest up until the end of Episode 3. The Wire shows an extremely complex, well-written, dour, well-fleshed out, and entirely realistic side to law enforcement investigations and their criminal adversaries. If you do find yourself liking The Wire, be prepared to be treated to one of the most interesting, well-made series ever put to television.

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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a 1965 Cold War spy film starring directed by Martin Ritt, with a screenplay by Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper. It is based upon the bestselling 1963 novel of the same name by John Le Carré. The film stars Richard Burton as British Intelligence officer Alec Lemas and Claire Bloom as Nan Perry.

I have discussed le Carré’s career at length in my review of the recent miniseries The Night Manager. A valid criticism of that review is that I spent too much time focusing on Le Carré’s long and illustrious career, both as a British Intelligence officer and novelist, when I should have been focusing on the miniseries itself. As such, I will provide a brief summary on why le Carré’s work is so interesting, while at the same time complicated, and then move on to the film.

David Cromwell was an agent for military intelligence stationed in Austria briefly following World War II, acting as a German-language interrogator for defectors from the Iron Curtain. He returned to Britain and finished up his studies on foreign languages (his specialty) at Oxford University, where he covertly informed on radical/Communist groups for MI-5. He was an MI-5 officer from 1958 to 1960 before transferring to MI-6, AKA The Circus, where he returned to Germany under the official cover as “Second Secretary” at the British Embassy in the city of Bonn. He was later transferred to Hamburg as political counsel. It was there Cromwell wrote his second novel, A Murder of Quality, in 1962 and this novel the year after, both under the pen name John le Carré, which is French for “John the Square.” The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was a momentous success. Cromwell left the intelligence field in 1964 due to disastrous intelligence leaks caused by Soviet double agent Kim Philby. le Carré has since become known as one of the best spy fiction writers of all time.

le Carré is a brilliant writer, and the adaptations of his works have been known to be equally as brilliant. However, his work as well as their various adaptations can be difficult to recommend to the uninitiated; somewhat of an antithesis to James Bond, le Carré’s work is grounded in the real world. The majority of his novels are very cerebral and drenched in true-to-life tradecraft. le Carré presents the espionage world as it truly is. It is a world of moral gray areas, trenchcoats, secret meetings, back-door politics, and very little violence. There are no climactic shootouts, gadgets, or glamour. le Carré presents the real deal, with very little handholding. As such, his work, though excellent, is potentially inaccessible to a layman, either due to confusion or a feeling things are too slow. le Carré and films based of his works are great, but you have to know what you are getting into beforehand. Don’t expect Skyfall or Jason Bourne. Much like the stereotypical Dad with a weird fascination with American Civil War history, espionage is my weird fascination, so I enjoy both le Carré’s novels and films.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold follows MI-6 officer Alec Lemas, head of station in Berlin. Lemas, a seasoned and extremely cynical man who considers himself “an operational man,” becomes exceptionally disillusioned after a defector fails to bluff his way past security at the Berlin Wall and is subsequently shot down and killed. Lemas is returned to London and resigns rather than be put to a desk job. Lemas finds a bookkeeping job in London and falls in love with a naive but well-meaning Communist named Nan Perry. Lemas deals with his inner-turmoil by getting drunk. Lemas loses his job after causing trouble at a local grocery. He is then approached by agents of German Intelligence, having been singled out for defection for obvious reasons.

This decision sends Lemas down a dangerous path of treachery, lies, truth, and betrayal. Lemas has no delusions about what he is. The very cynical and somewhat nihilistic man does not believe in “God nor the words of Karl Marx.” That isn’t why he does what he does. The protagonist in this film is so nihlistic and cynical that he believes in nothing, except perhaps love. His leanings are so in contrast with his Communist girlfriend that everything finally comes to a head in the closing moments of the film.

What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the Word of God or Karl Marx? They’re not! They are just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me: Little men, drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing Cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives! Do you think they sit like monks in a cell, balancing right against wrong?

le Carré faced endless criticism from his former peers in the intelligence community after The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was published. Former spies who turn to writing often do, but for le Carré, it was not potential violation of the Official Secrets Act, but because his philosophy on the intelligence community angered them. Many of his peers saw espionage as fighting the good fight, a moral cause, the greater good. Not him. He portrayed the intelligence world as it is: a dirty, rotten business.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold benefits from a flawless screenplay on top of its excellent source material. The film does a great job at making people think, about making you care, about making you understand how this secret world works. The dialogue is poignant and masterfullly crafted. There is also some rather brilliant cinematography on display here by Oswald Morris and a pretty great score by Sol Kaplan, too. Richard Burton is a marvelous actor. He is much more than Elizabeth Taylor’s husband, that’s all I have to say on that subject.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was arguably even more of a massive success than the novel. The film won several awards at the 1966 British Academy Film Awards, winning Best Actor for Richard Burton, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best British Film. The film was nominated for Best Picture and Richard Burton was also nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards that same year.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a intelligent, cerebral spy film, executed to the highest standard. Inspired by a spy who really did come in from the cold, this film is a look into what being one really is like, the strain it takes on your morals, your health, and your relationships, both personal and professional. It is a great classic film that I would recommend to anyone looking for a cerebral film with great acting to go along with it.

Narcos: Season 2 (Spoilers)

Season 2 of Narcos premiered on September 2nd, 2016. Season 2 once again stars Boyd Holbrook, Wagner Moura, and Pedro Pascal, with the addition of new cast members Leynar Gomez, Martina Garcia, Eric Lange, Brett Cullen, and FlorencÍa Marzano. Season 2 follows immediately after Season 1, dealing with the fallout of Pablo’s escape from La Cathedral.

The changes that take place in the main characters’ lives are immense. Murphy’s wife heads back to Miami, feeling that Columbia is not safe and that Murphy’s obsession with hunting Pablo has changed him. She would be right. In this season, our protagonists are much more world-weary and cynical than before. They’ve spent the better part of four years hunting Pablo Escobar, a complete monster, and they were still no closer to catching him. This takes a toll on everybody. Peña and Escobar’s lives are both thrown into a tailspin by the emergence of Los Pepes, a vigilante group consisting of members of the Cali Cartel, with major assistance from anti-Communist guerilla forces and alleged assistance from Search Bloc, the CNP, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Los Pepes were ruthless in their hunt for Pablo, operating with no restrictions of any kind. Though they could never officially admit it, Los Pepes’ methods were attractive to many members of law enforcement at the time, including Javier Peña, who is probably my favorite character in this series. Peña’s association with this brutal group lands him in some very hot water, both from a moral and political perspective.

The most interesting thing about this season, however, is still Pablo Escobar. Continuing to be played by the brilliant Wagner Moura, Pablo is an extremely complex antagonist. He is something of an empathetic monster. He is remorseless in his pursuit of what he would call justice, and most of the violence that Escobar causes this season is an extreme way to force the Columbian government to protect his family. Escobar deserves to die, there is no doubt about that, but even so, one can’t help but feel for him at least a little bit. Pablo’s family takes up a much larger role this season, so the viewer is able to see what the dynamic of the Escobar Family was. Tata Escobar is the most understandable character in this series, when it comes to her actions. She, like Pablo, will do anything in her power to protect her family. The struggles that the Escobar Family face are really where the emotional meat of the show can be found.

Season 2 also focuses on the back-alley nature of law enforcement in Columbia. As it was in Season 1, some shady stuff went down in the hunt for Pablo Escobar. The CIA’s involvement with Los Pepes and the Cali Cartel only amplifies this matter, making for some very interesting storylines of subtle conspiracy and political intrigue.

Narcos has some excellent writing, but the show is also very well-done on a technical level, with Pedro Bromfman returning for the score and some interesting camera work on display cortousy of Mauricio Vidal. The sequence in episode six where the Escobar Family is ambushed by Los Pepes in the middle of the night is very well-done, though I feel compelled to mention that it is nothing compared to True Detective.

The acting by Boyd Holbrook as Murphy is very good, as always, and I can see this guy going places. He is the empathetic American that viewers can relate to, and he still serves as the narrator for the series.

Season 2 of Narcos is as addicting as the first, being a pitch perfect continuation of the previous season, complete with interesting writing, both in terms of events and characters, an excellent score, excellent acting, and some pretty good cinematography. Narcos has been renewed for both a third and fourth season by Netflix, with Season 3 set to air in 2017.

Narcos: Season 1

Narcos is a Netflix Original Series that first premiered on August 28th, 2015. It is a collaborative venture between Netflix and the Spanish television network Telemundo. Narcos is a semi-biographical crime serial concerning both the rise and fall of famed Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar as well as attempts by both the American DEA and Columbian officials and law enforcement officers to capture Escobar. Narcos was created by Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard, and Doug Miro, with the series primarily being written by Brancato. Famed Brazilian director José Padhila directed several episodes of the series, as well as serving as executive producer. The series stars award-winning Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar, and Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal as Steve Murphy and Javier Peña, respectively, two DEA agents embedded in Columbia with a mission to take down Escobar.

Wagner Moura is best known for starring in José Padhila’s Elite Squad films. The 2008 film was a critical and commercial success, becoming somewhat of a cultural phenomenon in Brazil. Its 2011 sequel holds industry records as the highest-grossing Brazilian film of all time. In an extremely ironic twist, the two films star Moura as an incorruptible and experienced captain in Brazil’s paramilitary police squad, BOPE, Brazil’s answer to Columbia’s Search Bloc.

Narcos has a disclaimer that the show is based upon real events, but some names have been changed and altered. It is true that Steve Murphy, Javier Peña, and several other characters are simply composites based on real people, but I was still surprised at how much of the events featured in the show were, in fact, accurate. Narcos opens with a title card:

Magical realism is defined as what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe. There’s a reason magical realism was born in Columbia.

Not to spoil it for you, but Pablo Escobar was a ruthless, borderline crazy guy. The things he did to get his way, to bend people to his will, they are quite literally too outlandish to believe, but they happened. Narcos is compelling based upon its source material alone, but it goes even further than that.

Narcos has a lot of talent behind it. The standout cast member has to be its most important one, Wagner Moura. As someone who speaks a laughable amount of Spanish, some of his acting skill feels a little lost in translation, as do the majority of the non-English speaking actors in this series, but there is no denying Moura is extremely effective in this role. Pablo Escobar, as he is portrayed in this series, is at times extremely empathetic, and at times a downright terrifying, reprehensible monster. Moura steals the show here. I should mention that this series is very much a bilingual production, with the majority of the actors speaking Spanish when appropriate while still being able to speak fluent and clear English when the need arises. I sincerely and non-sarcastically appreciate the fact that the series makes me feel like I accomplished something with my three years of high school Spanish and extensive knowledge of extremely basic pronouns, nouns, and adverbs.

That is not to say the rest of the cast does not do a great job, as well. Boyd Holbrook, who had small roles in film up until this point, is very convincing. Serving as both narrator and protagonist of this series, Steve Murphy’s quest to catch Escobar turns into a dangerous obsession, so much so that there are points in the series you feel he is losing a part of himself the deeper he goes to catch Escobar. The weird thing is, while binge-viewing this season, I personally didn’t ever see him as going too far until I took a step back and thought about it. Even though you cannot compare the two shows at all, like Elliot in Mr. Robot, you as an audience member are inclined to see events of the series from the narrator’s (in this case, Murphy’s) perspective, even though their perspective may not always be the best one.

A question that comes up in Narcos throughout the series is “How far are you willing to go?” Columbia in the late-80’s and early 90’s was a virtually lawless country that made the American Old West look like Candyland. It is described by some as being Hell on Earth, and in many ways, it was. Because of people like Pablo Escobar, the War On Drugs is no longer simply a forceful saying. Things in Columbia got so bad, the Search Bloc was formed. The Search Bloc was a real, public, officially sanctioned paramilitary organization that comprised Columbian military personnel with the express directive of taking out the Medellin  Cartel. The Search Bloc carried out operations with near impunity. I should also mention that capturing targets wasn’t really a thing with the Search Bloc, it was mainly a death squad. The series’ first episode opens in medias res with a raid carried out by the Search Bloc based upon intelligence provided by Murphy. The raid gets rather bloody and civilians are killed. The camera pans over the carnage as Murphy asserts that he has no regrets and calmly explains that he is not a bad man before the action turns back in time to show how this all began.

What I just described to you might seem jarring, and it is, but by the time the action gets back to the nightclub shootout, you understand that Columbia at the time needed extreme measures like the Search Bloc. Like I said, in Columbia, it’s clear that the War On Drugs wasn’t just a strong saying. Stuff hits the fan very, very, very quickly in Narcos; men, women, and children end up direct casualties of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, and at that point, you don’t have time nor the luxury to consider the political or moral ramifications of extreme actions against the men responsible. This all takes a rather dramatic toll on Murphy’s morality, his beliefs, and his relationship with his loving wife, Connie, who has gone to Columbia with her husband. This is where I feel Narcos shines. You are eased into the fight against Pablo slowly but progressively until you, like Murphy, find yourself “all in.”

Another interesting character in Narcos is Colonel Horacio Carillo, the fictionalized leader of the Search Bloc based upon real-life General Hugo Martinez, played by Maurice Compte. Carillo is first introduced as an associate of Javier Peña upon Murphy’s initial arrival in Columbia. Carillo is as incorruptible as he is ruthless in his pursuit of Escobar. Seemingly the only honest cop in Columbia, Carillo wastes no time in introducing the “fresh meat” to the harsh reality of Columbia. Relentless in his pursuit of justice, Carillo, who has seen too many people slain by the cartels, never seems to bother with morality in his pursuit of justice; under no circumstances will he stop until Escobar and his people are imprisoned or, preferably, dead.

Javier Peña, an experienced agent who has been stationed in Columbia for some time, and who long came to terms with the reality of the War On Drugs, serves as Murphy’s guide throughout the series. Played brilliantly by Pedro Pascal, the charming Peña provides some organic levity throughout the darkness of Narcos while also being nearly as dedicated to the job as Carillo is.

In addition to a rock solid narrative, Narcos also benefits from impressive cinematography by Mauricio Vidal and an excellent musical score by Pedro Bromfman. The score combines Spanish folk with what seems to me to be somewhat of a hard-boiled mystery feel. It is very good, and the theme song, Tuyo, will get stuck in your head. It is a forgone conclusion. I have no idea what the lyrics are saying but it hasn’t left my head since.

Narcos is an extremely addictive and very well-made biographical crime serial and another solid addition to Netflix’s ever-growing catalog of original content. Season 2 recently premiered on September 2nd, 2016 and was renewed for a third and fourth season soon after. With a total of 20 episodes now available, Narcos is definitely worth a weekend of your time. I have yet to start Season 2, but be assured you will have my thoughts on it ASAP.

Live By Night: Teaser Trailer

Live By Night is an upcoming American crime thriller film based upon the novel of the same name by Gone, Baby, Gone author Dennis Lehane. Live By Night is written and directed by Ben Affleck in his fourth directorial effort and stars Affleck, Chris Cooper, Ellie Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, and Zoe Saldana. Set in the 1920’s, Live By Night tells the story of Joe Coughlin, the prodigal son of a Boston police captain who, after moving to Tampa, becomes a bootlegger, gun-runner, and eventually a notorious gangster.

Gone, Baby, Gone was Affleck’s brilliant directorial debut. Dennis Lehane’s novels are clearly good works to adapt to film, with the Clint Eastwood-directed Mystic River being the best work the legendary badass has done as a director so far, in my opinion. Affleck is obviously a fan of Lehane’s work, as am I, so it makes sense to see the two team up again, as it were. I just began reading Live By Night today, coincidentally.

I will continue to say this whenever the subject comes up, Ben Affleck is a supremely talented director and writer. Gone, Baby, Gone remains one of my all-time favorites, and The Town and Argo are also brilliant and extremely well-made films. I have been anxiously awaiting news on Live By Night and, lo and behold, this trailer dropped yesterday right under my nose.

Affleck is possibly a better director than he is an actor, and I say that of the opinion he’s a great actor. It is clear here, as well as in his previous works, that he has an eye for the technical, as well as the emotional, aspects of filmmaking. I haven’t gotten too far into the novel, but it is clear to me, and clear to Affleck, that Joe is a good man who does bad things, the type of person that Affleck has become skillful at portraying, both on the screen and behind the camera. Joe isn’t conflicted about his life, and has no problem being a bad man, but does realize what it means for him and other people. The use of Hozier’s best song, Arsonist’s Lullaby, is appropriate, as the song concerns and arsonist who has no regrets about his compulsions, but realizes he can never allow himself to go too far.

All you have is your fire
And the place you need to reach
Don’t you ever tame your demons
But always keep ’em on a leash

When I was a man I thought it ended
When I knew love’s perfect ache
But my peace has always depended
On all the ashes in my wake

All you have is your fire,
And the place you need to reach
Don’t you ever tame your demons,
But always keep ’em on a leash…

Early on in the trailer, Zoe Saldana’s Graciella Corrales tells Joe, “I don’t know if you’re cruel enough,” to which he replies that men do not have to be cruel. I am not far enough into the novel to know the main conflict, but I would imagine Joe will learn just how wrong he is over the course of escalating criminal events.

Robert Richardson serves as cinematographer for this film. He has received three Academy Awards for his work on JFK, The Aviatorand Hugo. He has been nominated for that same award a total of nine times for various films. He frequently collaborates with Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino. Live By Night will certainly be a gorgeous film, and I see a hint of what may be a single take gunfight in the film, so hopefully that happens.

Live By Night premieres January 13th, 2017. Every director, even great ones like Affleck with a perfect track record, have to fail at some point, but I doubt Live By Night will be anything less than a great movie. It is probably my most anticipated movie coming out in the next six months and I can’t wait to see it.

Free Fire: Red Band Trailer

Free Fire is an upcoming action comedy crime film written and directed by Ben Wheatley. It stars Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, and Sharlto Copley. Set in the 1970s, the film follows two groups of criminals who meet up at a warehouse for a weapons deal. A disagreement turns the whole thing into a shootout between the two groups in the warehouse.

Ben Wheatley is an up and coming, but accomplished British director who has yet to make a big name for himself outside the UK, having yet to exit the independent film circle. He is known mostly for a rather disturbing horror film called Kill List about a group of mercenaries who end up entangled in a satanic cult. Kill List is now a cult classic horror film in the UK and won several awards and praise. His most recent work, High Rise, an adaptation of the dystopian science-fiction novel of the same name, starring big names like Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, and Luke Evans, has unfortunately failed to garner the same praise as Kill List.

Though I haven’t seen either Kill List (because I’m a wuss) or High Rise (from what I’ve heard, it’s very disappointing), I have nevertheless kept a close eye on Wheatley’s career, and Free Fire finally looks like my bag, not terrifying, and not disappointing (as far as I can tell). Though Free Fire is certainly not a horror film, he seems to be taking elements of the genre and working them to his advantage. Some may find it questionable to set an entire film in a singular location, but that can actually be extremely effective. Setting a film in a singular location for a horror film like the recent and acclaimed Don’t Breathe or an action film like Dredd or The Raid can ratchet up the tension and feeling of actual dread or add a feeling of claustrophobia. It is exceedingly simple and exceedingly effective. Indeed, the main goal of all the films I just mentioned boil down to “How the Hell do we get out of here alive?” This seems to be the general question Wheatley wants to answer, yet with a very comedic spin on things.

The film, which also has Martin Scorscese attached as executive producer, will premiere at the annual Toronto Film Festival, and will serve as the closing film at the London Film Festival on October 16th, 2016. The film has a UK release date of March 31st, 2017. Upon its international release, I don’t know if Free Fire will be playing in theaters in my area, seeing as it is an  independent, and not to mention foreign, release, and those usually only pop up in Chicago or L.A, not small-town Illinois. I do plan to get my hands on it, eventually, though.

This cast is perfect. I straight up love everyone in here. Cillian Murphy is my man crush for life, Allison Brie is a talented comedic actress who first came to light on the hilarious and beloved Community, which holds a special place in my heart, Armie Hammer is still trying to find his footing after The Lone Ranger, but in my opinion, proved himself with both The Social Network and The Man From U.N.C.L.E, and Sharlto Copley is… well… Sharlto freaking Copley. With a cast like this and an idea like this, with some genuinely raunchy and hilarious humor thrown in there, I don’t forsee anything going wrong; it looks like it’ll be great to me.