Mike Kueber's Blog

April 18, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #110 – The Wire, Dirty Dancing, and Talladega Nights

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 6:35 pm
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Although I never watched The Wire when it was an active TV series (2002-2008), I read about it in the book Difficult Men, which “chronicles the Third Golden Age of television, an age when a medium that has been characterized as a vast wasteland suddenly blossoms with shows of depth and nuance.” The book focused on six wonderful series and suggested that The Wire might have been the best, except for The Sopranos.

Based on the Difficult Men recommendation, The Wire was must-see TV for me, but because it is no longer available on HBO on-demand, I had to request DVDs from Netflix. Each season focuses on a single subject in Baltimore:

  • Season One – illegal drugs
  • Season Two – the seaport
  • Season Three – city government
  • Season Four – the public schools
  • Season Five – journalism

After watching the five discs for Season One, I decided I didn’t want to devote myself to all 23 discs, and instead shifted to the series-ending Season Five.

So what’s so special about The Wire? Although there are a few decent people, there seems to be an abundance of morally challenged individuals. It stars Dominic West as policeman Jimmy McNulty, who, consistent with the leading men described in Difficult Men, “is unhappy, morally compromised, complicated, deeply human…. badgered and bothered and thwarted by the modern world.”

I was struck by the dichotomy between the essential decency and honor of many of those persons who are not especially career ambitious as opposed to those who are willing to compromise their integrity to get ahead. A lot of the camaraderie of those who work in the trenches rang especially true to me.

I was also struck by the mayor of Baltimore’s focus on his quarterly crime rate and annual school test-scores. By contrast, the mayor of San Antonio has managed to avoid being held to any sort of objective evaluation. Instead he simply promises, long-term, to revive the downtown and initiate a pre-K program. As Obama knows, it helps to have the media in your pocket.  Watching The Wire was time well-spent, and I give it three and a half stars out of four.

I don’t know how I went 27 years without seeing Dirty Dancing (1987), but I corrected that oversight after noticing that it was available on Netflix streaming on a day when I didn’t have a DVD available. What a treat! This box-office smash hit is a coming-of-age romantic drama set in 1963. Patrick Swayze is perfect as a lowbrow dance instructor at an upstate NY resort, and Jennifer Grey is even better as a well-bred, sweet ingénue. Law & Order’s Jerry Orbach is excellent as Grey’s MD dad who, despite his progressive proclivities, isn’t happy to see his daughter associating with a working-class guy like Swayze. The storyline reminds me of Trisha Yearwood’s song, “She’s in Love with the Boy.” The song ends with the mother scolding a dad who sounds a lot like Orbach:

Her daddy’s waitin’ up ’til half past twelve

When they come sneakin’ up the walk

           He says young lady get on up to your room

           While me and Junior have a talk

           Mama breaks in, says don’t lose your temper

           It wasn’t very long ago

           When you yourself was just a hay-seed plowboy

           Who didn’t have a row to hoe

My daddy said you wasn’t worth a lick

           When it came to brains you got the short end of the stick

           But he was wrong and honey you are too

           Katie looks at Tommy like I still look at you

She’s in love with the boy

Awesome song; awesome movie. I would have bet that the Rotten Tomato audience liked this movie more than the critics, and I was right – critics scored it at 72%, while the audience scored it at 90%. I agree with the audience and give it four stars out of four.

I recently complimented a person for being able to insert interesting and sometimes esoteric pop-culture references into her conversation. By watching Dirty Dancing, I was able to fill a hole in my knowledge of iconic movies. Last weekend at my apartment pool, a friend suggested than an even bigger hole was left by my never having seen Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby, which he called his favorite comedy of all-time. Thanks to Netflix, a few days later, I have filled another hole.

Talladega Nights (2006) is a comedy starring Will Ferrell as a NASCAR racer, with sidekick John C. Reilly. I must be at a good point in my life because historically I don’t go much for comedies, but I found Ferrell and Reilly to be laugh-out-loud funny. And Ferrell’s two adolescent redneck boys (Walker and Texas Ranger) read some hilarious lines. The storyline was a bit thin, but the humorous characters were able to carry the two-hour movie. The Rotten Tomato critics scored it at a solid 72%, but I was surprised to see the audience scored it essentially the same at 73%. I can’t imagine 27% disappointed viewers. I give it three stars out of four.






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