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One liner Wednesday…

Hell hath no fury like a fish that’s fallen off her bicycle.

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Stream of Consciousness Saturday…

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Stream of Consciousness Saturday again.
Today I’m going for a quickie, so to speak.

The prompt this week was “some/sum”, using either or both words.

I apologise in advance…

The bloke who answers the phone at my local Chinese takeaway tried adding up my order for six portions of dumplings, at £1.40 each.
His total came to £6.50.
That really is a perfect example of someone doing some dim dim sum sums.

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Down to The Wire: When TV drama got real…

David Simon was uniquely qualified to write an uncompromising, grittily realistic crime drama, serving as he did for over ten years as a journalist on the Baltimore Sun newspaper, much of which was spent reporting on the vicious wave of drug-related crime in the inner city.
Not that he was any newcomer to the genre, he’d already had a hit with the NBC drama Homicide: Life on the street and also with his book which inspired the series.

But when he came to his next project, he wanted to produce something completely original. A new way of watching television drama” was how he described the format at the time and, despite not receiving rave reviews from the critics when it was first aired, The Wire has now been widely acknowledged as one of, if not the, greatest crime series ever made.
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But that’s just the thing, The Wire is so much more than just another police procedural, it has so many levels, so much to say about society and it isn’t always easy to tell which side you’re supposed to be rooting for.
The usual goalposts of “Good” and “Evil” are constantly moving, the lines defining the characters’ ethical boundaries forever blurring and flexing, to accommodate the impossible, rock-and-a-hard-place situations in which they find themselves.

Simon said that, at the start of the series, he wanted you to feel as though you were eavesdropping on a conversation and that you would have to pay attention to find out what was going on.
In fact he said he didn’t think it mattered if couldn’t follow all the street slang and terminology at first, it was something that you would get the hang of over time.
And he was right, I didn’t have a clue what was going on for the first couple of episodes, but that didn’t matter one bit, because before too long it all just clicked into place in my head and I found myself following the story with ease.

But even bearing that in mind, from the very first episode, I was still hooked.

Here’s the opening scene, along with the first of five different versions of that fabulous theme, one for each season.

Simon’s Baltimore crime saga is a masterclass in long-arc storytelling, the interwoven strands of all five seasons making a cohesive and satisfying backdrop to the five distinct themes that the series follows and this is one of the things which makes The Wire so different from other “cop shows”, the way the apparently distinct and separate investigations in each season are tied together so seamlessly.

The series follows the work of Major Crimes, a unit set up in response to the violent crime wave connected to the drug gangs who control the housing projects, high rises and street corners on the west side of Baltimore.
Season one focuses solely on the case surrounding heroin dealer Avon Barksdale and his right hand man, Russell “Stringer” Bell, their lieutenants, hoppers, runners, various young wannabe gangsters and of course, their clientele.

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Bell and Barksdale.

We see the way the Barksdale gang rule their territory, the casual brutality with which they enforce their own private form of justice and the jockeying for position amongst the lower ranks, whilst at the same time we follow the seconded, disgraced, or demoted detectives who make up the hastily put together squad, in their attempt to bring down the organisation and incarcerate Barksdale, putting all their efforts into a wiretap on the gang’s phone pagers, the “wire” of the title.

It makes for riveting viewing.
And the clever thing is, after a while you genuinely don’t know where your loyalty lies, with the cops or the corner boys.

Surprisingly, for such an distinctly American show, two of the lead characters are played by British actors.
Dominic West plays the self destructive, heavy drinking detective, Jimmy McNulty, in pursuit of Idris Elba‘s smooth but menacing Stringer Bell.

The Wire’s strength is in its characters. McNulty’s long time partner, William “Bunk” Moreland, played by Wendell Pierce, is the perfect foil to Jimmy’s brilliant but damaged Irish rogue persona, coming across like some sort of foul mouthed, cigar-chomping Barry White in a sharp suit, tough and smart but with more respect for the system than his insubordinate drinking buddy.
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Bunk and McNulty.

One of my personal favourite members of the squad is Clarke Peters‘ character, the dapper and thoughtful Lester Freamon, who spends much of his time making carved miniatures of period doll house furniture at his desk, much to the initial bewilderment of his fellow detectives.
It’s only when Lester thinks he has something worth saying that he gives the team the benefit of his wisdom and it isn’t long before he becomes the mastermind behind the all-important wiretap.

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Freamon.

As the second season begins, the attention of Major Crimes shifts to the local dock workers’ union and a case taking in sex trafficking, prostitution, corruption and murder, while at the same time, staying connected to the original story, the primary target, Barksdale and his crew.

This is also when we get to see more of the pretender to the drug king’s throne, the cold eyed, highly intelligent and deceptively quietly spoken young sociopath, Marlo “Black” Stanfield, played with a frightening ruthlessness by Jamie Hector.
Stanfield rules his people with an iron fist, mercilessly dispatching anybody he sees as having disrespected his authority in even the smallest way and making serious inroads into Barksdale territory, all of which leads to escalating violence and extra complications for the police and their operation.

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Marlo (second left) and the Stanfield crew.

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Major Crimes.

With each new season, the corrupt “money trail” leads the investigators further into the Machiavellian world of city politics, with story lines set in city hall, the school system and, in a fitting fin de seicle, back to Simon’s old employer, the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

There are many side plots, involving the strained personal lives and relationships of players on both sides of the game; arguably the show’s most popular character, stick-up man Omar Little, played with evil charm by Michael K Williams; a serial killer of homeless people; a pair of amusingly chilled out contract killers and an awful lot of swearing, including liberal use of the oedipal compound noun and this scene, which consists entirely of variations on the word “fuck”.

You have been warned.

There is a lot of humour in the dialogue between the characters, on both sides of the law, most of whom we get to know well across the nearly sixty episodes, the sort of authentic, natural inter-personal relationships that ring true for groups that experience such intense and brutal daily lives.
Gallows humour maybe, mixed with much profanity and non-pc use of “the n-word”, but the way the show is scripted and the freedom given to actors to improvise parts of their own dialogue somehow makes the offensive seem everyday and usually unacceptable behaviour is portrayed in a sympathetic and non-judgemental way.

Although the world in which The Wire is set is a male-dominated one, that isn’t to say Simon didn’t provide us with some great strong female characters too, the main one being Sonja Sohn as Shakima “Kima” Greggs, a tough yet diminutive lesbian detective with a complicated personal life, who gives as good as she gets from her male colleagues and often acts as the squad’s moral compass during some of the more ethically ambiguous moments in the case.

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Kima.

Then there’s Deirdre Lovejoy‘s character, Rhonda Pearlman, the team’s appointed State Prosecutor. The feisty and ambitious lawyer doesn’t balk at going after corrupt politicians and state officials, but who occasionally gets frustrated by the squad, McNulty in particular, and their habit of bending the rules to breaking point, in pursuit of their continually adapting targets
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Pearlman.

And attempting, against all the odds, to hold the entire thing together is the team’s lieutenant, Cedric Daniels, played with a strait laced cowboy swagger by the excellent Lance Reddick.

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Daniels.

He seems to spend half his time fighting political battles within the department on behalf of his squad and the other half trying to keep the squad from tearing itself apart. It’s the loyalty and support he gives the detectives under his command, as well as the ability to turn a blind eye when necessary, that makes Daniels popular with his men and they in turn back him up when the bosses question his decisions.

The way that the series is written, the fact that it features cameos from real people who inspired the show’s characters, the way in which Simon manages to show us the vulnerabilities and insecurities in characters who are too often portrayed as two dimensional, it draws us in to a world that we would normally shy away from, a frightening and uncompromising world that we’re glad someone else has to deal with, but which ultimately is populated by human beings with the same frailties and imperfections as the rest of us.

If The Wire does anything but provide fantastic entertainment and impeccable storytelling, then it’s that it makes you realise that these people aren’t just statistics, soundbites and news stories, they have lives and families and all the things we all take for granted, it’s just that they are living them in what amounts to an urban war zone.
And that kind of environment will inevitably breed the sort of disenfranchised anger and unrest that Simon shows us in his groundbreaking series.

I got so much more out of watching The Wire second time round, maybe because I was already tuned in to the street slang and unfamiliar accents, maybe because I was paying more attention to the nuances of the brilliant cast, but I cannot recommend it highly enough, whether you are already a fan of hard edged police drama, or just searching for a brilliantly acted drama with plenty of heart, give The Wire a try, you won’t regret.

To finish this post and to give you a more in-depth background to the series, here’s Simon talking to president Obama himself, about the impact of The Wire and the US “war on drugs”

{Check out David Simon’s blog HERE.}

 

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Seasons on the sofa…

Seasons on the sofa…

imageThe era of binge viewing is well and truly upon us.
With DVD box sets and streaming services like Netflix popping up all over the internet, there’s no longer any need to wait a week to catch the next thrilling installment of whichever blockbuster TV series you are currently obsessed with, in fact if the temptation becomes too much you can watch all thirty episodes in one weekend.

In the same way that I’ve (more than once) enjoyed Twin Peaks, a total immersion experience.

Sometimes, because of the way shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad are hyped, with spoilers, speculation and fan theories on every culture and genre TV website, watching the entire season in one go is the only alternative to walking around with your fingers in your ears, going; “La La La La La I’m not listening.”

Regular readers of this blog will know that I don’t own a computer so, short of laboriously downloading episodes one at a time to watch on my phone or tablet, I’m limited to buying whole series on DVD or Blu-ray, which is how I’ve been watching the aforementioned Game of Thrones (accompanied by the “La La La…” method, to combat friends with satellite TV) and the highly entertaining, if slightly daft, Grimm.

But recently I’ve taken to trawling our local library’s collection of TV box sets and, since Rhonda was never much of a TV watcher in the States, I had no problem finding something she hadn’t seen before.
Although, as I’m sure you know, revisiting any type of entertainment, be it music, movies, or TV, in the company of someone who hasn’t experienced it before, can add a new perspective to something you previously thought you knew well, so I was perfectly happy to re-watch anything I’d enjoyed in the past.

Which is why we’ve spent most evenings for the last month or so, watching at least a couple of episodes of probably the best crime drama series ever made.
And the conclusion of this post will be my attempt to convince as many of you as possible to discover it for yourselves. Or rediscover it if, like me, you thought you’d had all you could get from it the first time round, because believe me, it’s well worth another watch.

I won’t keep you in suspense for long, I wonder how many of you will guess right…

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2015 in Arts, Personal anecdote, TV, Twin Peaks

 

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One liner Wednesday…

It’s never dull round at Jack’s place after work, an old wok and nailed ply makes Jack a dart board.

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Stream of Consciousness Saturday: The Field Trip…

imageIt’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday again and this week’s writing prompt is “bone”.

The Field Trip.

Hackney, London, 1986.

“I’ve told you already constable, Terry didn’t come home. I’m worried sick, the teachers said they didn’t notice he wasn’t on the coach until they got back to the school.”

PC Dixon sighed, looked skeptically over his glasses at the woman in front of him and tried to gauge whether her apparent distress was, in fact, fabricated.
She seemed to be genuinely upset that her little darling was missing, but he knew the score, the Job made you cynical and the Hackney Towers estate had a bit of a reputation, kids weren’t necessarily the angels their parents thought they were.

“So he went on a school trip into the City and you didn’t know he’d gone missing until you went to meet him this afternoon, is that right?”

“Yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for the last ten minutes, why’s that so hard for you to understand?”, said Gladys Baldwin, fussing with the belt on her floral dressing gown and glaring at PC Frank Dixon, as if the whole thing was his fault personally, “The last time anyone remembers seeing him was at the science museum. One of his friends said they saw him in the science fiction exhibition, but they don’t remember him getting back on the coach.”

This drew Frank’s attention straight away, “The Wells exhibit? That’s interesting, that’s why I’m here, we had a report from the museum that the exhibit has been tampered with and we’re talking to all the kids who were on the visit today.”

She looked shocked, taken aback,
“What do you mean? I thought you were here about my son. I rang the station as soon as I discovered him missing. And now what are you trying to say? You think my Terry pinched something, broke something? Terry’s a good boy, he wouldn’t do nothing like that.”

“I don’t know anything about any missing persons report Mrs Baldwin, I only know I was asked to speak to all the children who were at the museum today. If and when Terry returns, would you be so good as to let us know, thank you.” And with that, Dixon tucked his notebook into his pocket and made his way down the dingy hallway to the front door, only stopping in the doorway to ask one final question, almost an afterthought really.
“Does Terry have any special interests or hobbies? Archaeology, collecting old bones, that sort of thing?”

“He’s always been very bright, a clever boy is my Terry” she looked smug, “Didn’t get it from his dad’s side, that’s for sure, Ha! He’s always loved dinosaurs and stuff, yeah. Why d’you ask?”

Dixon paused, thinking, “Hmm, nothing, just a thought. We’ll let you know if we hear anything, good evening madam.”

Bound to turn up sooner or later, Frank thought, probably boasting to his mates about it right now.
Still, getting it inside the sealed case like that, he had to admit, it was bloody clever…

Science Museum, London, 2065.

“…and this is the world famous H.G. Wells’ time machine,” the guide had reached his favourite part of the tour now, he enjoyed telling the story, liked the fact it was still a mystery, “including, of course, the finger.”

Which was what they really wanted to hear about. Terry’s finger.
The rest was old news by now.

“The rest” was the discovery, ten years earlier, that old man Wells hadn’t in fact been writing a future sci-fi classic in 1895, more a sci-fact memoir.

His machine had been real.
Time travel was possible.

And it had taken 170 years of invention, ingenuity, creativity and sheer bloody-mindedness by some very clever scientists, to realise he’d already beaten them to it, before they, or even their grandfathers, were ever born.

But the finger, that was a different matter, nobody knew if it was true, that was the thing.
And everyone loves a mystery.

“…so the story goes that, back in the late twentieth, some kid gets separated from his class on a trip to this very museum,” the guide spread his arms to indicate the ornate marble hall that housed the Wells Machine, his audience gazed around them, presumably visualising the scene for themselves, not difficult since the building had changed little in the intervening years, “and what we think happened was, Terry, his name was Terry Baldwin, somehow managed to get into the sealed security case, possibly during routine maintenance by staff, and got himself locked in there.”

He waited, knowing a question wouldn’t be long coming and he wasn’t disappointed.

“So what happened to him then, how did he get out?”
It was a studious-looking teenager, his expression one of cynical disbelief, obviously ready to refute whatever explanation was offered for the allegedly unsolved mystery of Terry Baldwin’s disappearance.

“As far as we know, he didn’t. Not then anyway, not in 1986,” said the guide, noting with some satisfaction the look of confusion on the kid’s face, “in fact we have no real way of knowing exactly where or when Terry Baldwin ended up. All we do know, or can at least safely assume, is that Terry inadvertently managed to activate Wells’ machine, somehow trapping his finger in the controls.”
The tourists craned their necks to peer up at the complex series of control rods that bristled from what appeared to be the machine’s dashboard and, only visible if you knew what to look for, the narrow white bone from a child’s finger could be seen, firmly wedged between two levers.

“How do we know it’s his?” asked his teenage inquisitor in a sneering tone.

“That’s one thing we can definitely confirm, the digit was tissue-typed and DNA tested against material obtained from his family home, it was a 100% match for Terry Baldwin. As for the rest of Terry, nobody ever saw him again.
The most popular theory is that he eventually got free, wherever and whenever he ended up, at the cost of losing his finger, then the machine returned to its starting position, here and now. Or rather here and then, but you know what I mean, right?” The guide laughed, they were all having to get used to a lot of new grammar that came with time travel, he still hadn’t quite got his head round it.

But if old man Wells had managed to build that, he looked up once more at the gleaming, silent machine, he guessed he could make the effort and learn a few new tenses.

“Anyway ladies and gentlemen, if you follow me, we’ll move onto the Mars colony exhibit…”

South Kensington, London, 1899.

The boy sat in the room, staring blankly at the white wall.
Occasionally he would glance nervously around him, as if taking in his surroundings for the first time and when he became agitated, he would rub the rough stump of scarred skin where his middle finger should have been.

He barely registered the approaching sounds in the corridor outside his room and appeared not to notice when an observation hatch slid open in the door and after a few seconds somebody spoke.
“I say Wells, the boy doesn’t look right in the head if you ask me, you say you found him sitting in one of your machines? Where’s he from, who is he?”

“That’s just it, he hasn’t made a sound since that first day three years ago. I freed his hand, had to lose the finger of course, too badly damaged. Then, just after that, the machine malfunctioned and disappeared. Since then, not a word has passed his lips.”

The boy rubbed the scar on his hand and stared at the wall some more.
He had nothing else to do.
He had all the time in the world.

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Happy blogday to me…

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It always amazes me when I get these little reminders from the nice people at WordPress.com.
It still hasn’t really sunk in that I’ve been peddling my own brand of nonsense, opinion, ranting, musing and stories, all from the comfort of my trusty smartphone, for three years now.
And I have to say that, after over 42,000 hits, 400 followers and 300 posts, I feel honoured that so many of you have accompanied me on my journey up the learning curve.

So this is just a small thank you for sticking with it, when even I didn’t have a clue where I was heading, because no matter how much I love writing, mucking about with photography, music, video, animation and anything else that catches my fancy, it wouldn’t be nearly so much fun without you.

So to all my followers, the good folks at WordPress who have looked after me so wonderfully, to Ho for his fabulous artwork and to all of you, even if you’ve only read one post, I’d like to say a great big, heartfelt THANK YOU, I literally couldn’t have done it without you.

Here’s to three more years.

Cheers,
dalecooper57.

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2015 in Blogging

 

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