The Look Back: The Wire’s “Middle Ground”

wire-middleground

In The Look Back I will be looking at movies and television series/episodes with fairly recent anniversaries and writing about why I love them so. Basically it’s a desperate attempt to write about things that would normally have very little relevance at all.

Nine years ago today the nominations for the 57th Primetime Emmy Awards were announced. 2005 was a simpler time; Everybody Loves Raymond led the pack with 10 nominations, Angela Lansbury received her 18th nomination, and Desperate Housewives became the second series ever to earn 3 nominations in a lead acting category (the other series? Golden Girls, of course). But not every nomination announced was as standard as expected. A small HBO drama well into its third year earned its first Emmy nomination ever in the Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series category. The series was The Wire, and the episode was “Middle Ground.”

For some reason, “Middle Ground” was The Wire‘s first Emmy nomination ever. (The show would only come to earn one more nomination, for its series finale “–30–” again in Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series.) How is it that the most talked about series of its time took 3 years to earn an Emmy nomination? Well, because the voters who decide the Emmy nominations are a group of asinine dumbfucks. Regardless, “Middle Ground” has good reason for being The Wire‘s first Emmy nomination. It’s a brilliant hour of storytelling (as most episodes of The Wire are) and stands out from every other episode of The Wires 5 year run. This is because “Middle Ground” is something all other episodes of The Wire are not: a stand-alone episode of television.

What makes “Middle Ground” a stand-alone episode is that all of the major stories of Season 3 start to come to a head. McNulty and co. have successfully sold the Barksdale crew tapped phones and are thisclose to catching Stringer Bell. Bunny has given a presentation revealing the existence of Hamsterdam and Rawls and Mayor Royce are scrambling in how to explain it before the story breaks. Cutty is nearing his redemptive end. And there’s Stinger and Avon, whose relationship is the heart of this episode. All of these stories are reaching their ends because “Middle Ground” is the penultimate episode of The Wire‘s 3rd season, but there’s something about the narrative propulsion that brings a unique energy to the episode.

Take “Middle Ground”‘s opening scene, for example, which is one of the greatest scenes in television history.

The scene is impeccably shot by episode director Joe Chappelle, whose blocking of the scene hearkens back to Sergio Leone westerns. But the scene works as well as it does not because of its incredible visual style, but because of the palpable energy that stems from a simple conversation between two characters, Omar and Brother Mouzone. (I’d love to show every Breaking Bad fan who thinks Gus Fring is the best television villain ever Brother Mouzone, who puts Fring to shame.) Every line crackles, and when watching the scene it feels like it’s the most thrilling thing you’ll ever see, even though it’s just two men talking to each other. Immediately, “Middle Ground” finds energy and propulsion by simply trusting its characters, which is something that carries on throughout the entire episode.

Another benchmark sequence in “Middle Ground” is the collection of scenes where Bunny shows off his precinct to Carcetti. The scenes are made up of, again, two men talking to each other, this time about the simplicities of daily life in Baltimore. Bunny’s precinct has turned into a “normal” neighborhood, something its residents haven’t been used to, and the sequence relishes in the beauty that comes from this newfound normalcy. One scene that particularly comes to mind is when Bunny and Carcetti attend a community meeting.

It’s a short scene that just features people talking, but the scene strikes a deeply emotional chord. It’s a meditation on human connection. The collection of these scenes between Bunny and Carcetti feel like if Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy was set in Baltimore, but that feeling comes to a crushing end once Carcetti reaches Hamsterdam. The close up of Carcetti’s face realizing what Hamsterdam is is a shattering moment in a series full of them, but that devastation could not be achieved without the beauty of the scenes that preceded it.

And speaking of devastation: Stringer and Avon. As mentioned before, Stringer and Avon’s relationship is the heart of “Middle Ground.” It’s been crumbling slowly, but in “Middle Ground” it reaches its breaking point. The last scene the two men share together is another hallmark one, as it is just Stringer and Avon reminiscing about where they’ve come from and where they stand now.

The scene is, again, filled with incredible dialogue, every line more loaded as the next. There’s “We ain’t gotta dream no more, man” the episode’s epigraph, and the ending line of “Us, motherfucker.” It’s one of the most rich and textured scenes of television I’ve ever seen in my life, and it’s only made possible by The Wire trusting its characters and believing in the small moments they’re able to produce.

And it’s made even more devastating by Stringer’s death. The act of killing off Stringer Bell is an incredibly shocking, ambitious, and devastating one (I’d also love to show every Game of Thrones fan who thinks that the show’s killing off of characters are the most ambitious in television history what The Wire did in 2004), but the most crushing thing about it is that it’s just a small moment in The Wire‘s gigantic universe. Sure, Stringer’s death causes serious complications for the Major Crimes Unit, but after the season finale The Wire just moves on.

Handling Stringer’s death in this way brings perspective and gravity to the episode and series as a whole in a way that is, in the macro, uncommon for The Wire. The series has been lauded continuously for its tactfulness in understanding why institutions fail us, and its sweeping weightiness when exhausting the subject. But for my money, The Wire is not recognized enough for its smaller moments and perspective. The most striking thing about the series is how it’s able to craft a gigantic and complex universe while still being able to deliver small and intimate character moments that feel just as weighty as its big picture ideas. This is readily apparent in “Middle Ground,” as the episode is built on small and unique character moments which bring perspective, and is ultimately why the episode works on its own. It’s what I love about The Wire, and it’s why “Middle Ground” is the series’ best episode.

Fargo is the Perfect Chaser to Breaking Bad

fargo-trailer

Last night, FX’s Fargo wrapped up its 10 episode run in a wholly satisfying way. The stakes were set against the show from the very beginning, being that it is “inspired by” one of the greatest movies of all time, but somehow, someway Fargo stuck the landing. In all actuality, Fargo really shouldn’t have been this good. Not just because it was working off the unassailable legacy of the Coen Brothers’ classic, but also because it has become increasingly difficult to end cable dramas of the antihero persuasion in ways that are actually good. A prime example of this is Breaking Bad (though I’m also looking at you, True Detective). AMC’s juggernaut drama wrapped up its final run last fall, and looking back at the finale, it feels largely unnecessary. (For those keeping track: my feelings on “Felina” have gone from “perfectly fine while somewhat masturbatory” to “full on masturbatory.”) After years of being badass, Walter White never faced his true punishment and got the last say in his own endgame, riding things out in a storm of bullets. Fargo, on the other hand, managed to craft an ending that wasn’t only satisfying, but also true to its world and characters. In the shadow of Breaking Bad, Fargo shows what a morally satisfying ending should look like, and just how far the antihero genre can be taken in 10 episodes.

The differences between Breaking Bad and Fargo extend further than their Southwest vs. Midwest settings. The main difference between the two shows is how they treat their characters, most importantly the ones who make bad decisions. Obviously, both shows have very complex and differing depictions of the distinction between good and evil. In Breaking Bad, there is no black or white, just gray. In Fargo, the universe is deeply rooted in mythology, spirituality, folklore, and legends that help us learn more about good and evil. But, the most significant difference between Fargo and Breaking Bad’s moral compasses is Fargo’s fundamental understanding of one thing: bad people who make bad decisions are idiots.

From the moment Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) kills his ball-busting wife with a hammer to her head, Fargo makes it clear that this is a very, very bad decision for Lester to make. Lester was introduced as a simple and mild-mannered man (like someone else we knew), but at the moment he decides to break bad, it’s clear that he’s an idiot. Lester calls for help from the ambiguous Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thorton) but ends up with a bigger problem than what he started with. Instead of helping Lester with his wife’s dead body, Malvo shoots and kills the Bemidji chief of police (who has already called for backup) and flees the scene. This leaves Lester to act on his own wits—which he has none of—so logically, he decides to run headfirst into a brick wall, leaving him unconscious for when the backup unit comes.

Instances like these became frequent throughout Fargo’s 10 episode run. Instead of depicting Lester as one step ahead of everyone else, Fargo showed him only making one bad decision after the next. Each lie that Lester told only made us hate him more, and nothing was left up to ambiguity. Where Breaking Bad showed us Walter White consistently getting away scot-free in that “Yeah science! Yeah Mr. White!” kind of way, Fargo made a point of always showing us Lester at peak horribleness. What feeds into this even more is the violence at the forefront of Fargo. While the excessive amount of violence that occurred throughout the show’s run might be a misread of the Coen Brothers’ film on creator Noah Hawley’s part, the violence at least served some purpose in showing us the countless innocent casualties of one man’s idiocy.

Fargo also helped make the case against Lester by making him one of the only living assholes in a world full of saints. What made Fargo bearable was how Hawley took the term “Minnesota Nice” to heart and filled his world with an overwhelmingly amount of goodness. There was Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), the Bemidji cop who was determined to serve justice, Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks), a good cop, even better father to his daughter Greta, and soon to be Molly’s husband, and Molly’s father Lou, a preserver of good throughout the ages. These characters put the good in good guys, and helped keep hope and justice alive in wasteland of Minnesota winters.

So, when Fargo came to close, justice was indeed served. While Lester didn’t suffer legal punishment or anything of the sort, he did suffer a horrible death only fit for the idiotic monster he had become. The show even hinted at Lester riding his fugitive status out, à la Walter White, but in the end consequences awaited him, and he drowned in a frozen lake. And even better, the good guys won! From what I’ve read, there seems to be a general dissatisfaction with Fargo’s finale. While recognizing that “Morton’s Fork” was at least satisfying, many have noted that it lacked payoff for Molly’s arc in the story. While I at least somewhat understand that dissatisfaction, I think it’s necessary to realize that Fargo was not Molly’s story. People seem to be confusing FX’s Fargo with the Coens’ Fargo, which truly is Marge Gunderson’s story. Since it was a 10 episode miniseries, I don’t think Fargo could just be one character’s story, because it instead built a rich tapestry of distinctive characters and unforgettable mysteries that created the general idea of Fargo.

I don’t want anyone who reads this to think that I am not a fan of Breaking Bad. Even though it suffered from having its weakest episode ever be its last, the whole of Breaking Bad is remarkable television that will undoubtably rank among my favorite shows of all time, (I’ve written nearly 7,000 words about it, for god’s sake!) I do, however, want anyone who reads this to think about what Fargo says about the antihero genre, and the radical changes it made to the genre in 10 episodes. The show was about good guys who prevailed until the very end and bad guys who made idiotic decisions, and it remained utterly compelling throughout. Fargo did the impossible: separated itself and became its own distinct entity from the Coen Brothers’ film, stuck the landing, and, most remarkably, found a new place to take television’s most tired genre.

The Look Back: In the Mood for Love is a Thing of Beauty

25-In-the-Mood-for-Love

In The Look Back I will be looking at movies and television series/episodes with fairly recent anniversaries and writing about why I love them so. Basically it’s a desperate attempt to write about things that would normally have very little relevance at all.

Fourteen years ago, Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love premiered at Cannes. In the Mood for Love did not go on to win the Palme d’Or, as that honor went to Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. It’s interesting that the film wasn’t awarded the festival’s most prestigious honor, because today, if you seek out a credible list ranking the best films of the 21st century, In the Mood for Love will be at its top. I don’t consider myself a slave to lists like Sight & Sound or TSPDT, but I would be very much inclined to agree with their placement of the film. (The only other option? Mulholland Drive, obviously.) This is because In the Mood for Love is clearly a thing of beauty.

In the Mood for Love is set in 1962 Hong Kong and focuses on the budding relationship between Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung, who did manage to win Cannes’ Best Actor award) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung). Both Chow and Su are married and live in neighboring apartments, which causes them to only interact in the day-to-day sense.

These everyday interactions (passing by each other in hallways, going out to get noodles) might seem mundane or unnecessary, but they are absolutely essential in In the Mood for Love. Exquisitely shot by cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Ping Bing Lee (who, along with editor William Chang won Cannes’ Technical Grand Prize), the sequences luxuriate every fleeting moment Chow and Su share together. In reality, they’re just scenes of characters walking, but in In the Mood for Love, the scenes are visually sumptuous filmmaking.

Working as writer and director, Wong puts so much emphasis on the little time Chow and Su share together for a reason. Wong often obscures our view when the characters share moments together, and in result we, the audience function more as a secret observer rather than a viewer. The camera is telling us something that the characters are not.

Once Chow and Su do spend actual time together talking, it’s under the worst of circumstances. They have realized that their spouses are cheating on them, with each other. Chow and Su are left on their own, and Su tells Chow “On your own, you are free to do lots of things.” Left to themselves Chow and Su recognize an attraction that they share for each other, but they soon realize they would be no better than their cheating spouses. So the camera explores their romance for them.

In the Mood for Love’s visual language speaks multitudes to Chow and Su’s romance. The sequences of the two together are often filmed in slow-motion, and they soon become a rumination on the nature of human connection. This also instills a sense of longing that neither Chow nor Su can express to each other. When they aren’t together, Chow and Su are in their cramped apartments and workplaces. When they are together, Chow and Su are in wide open places, and their time together becomes something of a separate, freeing reality.

Other formal elements of the film also inform Chow and Su’s romance. When together, almost every frame is flooded with color. Most often it’s red, the color of love and passion, and this warm, lush emotionality elevates every moment Chow and Su share together. There’s also the expressive, impactful use of music. The film’s score (by Michael Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi) is yearning and aching, and the film also makes great use of Nat King Cole’s “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” and “Aquellos Ojos Verdes.” It’s incredibly powerful, and perhaps the most successful use of music since Casablanca.

All of these formal elements bring Chow and Su together, even when as characters they explicitly do not. Every shot holds meaning, and the impact is never lost on the viewer thanks to Wong Kar-Wai’s evocative aesthetic artistry. In the Mood for Love is an emotionally expressive film in the grandest sense, and is entirely successful through pure filmmaking. That’s why it’s not only the greatest film of the 21st century, but is a thing of beauty.

The Look Back: David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is Experiential Filmmaking at its Finest

Mulholland-Drive-podcast-review

In The Look Back I will be looking at movies and television series/episodes with fairly recent anniversaries and writing about why I love them so. Basically it’s a desperate attempt to write about things that would normally have very little relevance at all.

The highest praise any given film can receive is that it’s an “experience.” When a film surpasses the ordinary expectations of storytelling what is remembered is not the experience of watching the film, but the actual experience the film becomes.

Thirteen years ago, when it premiered at Cannes, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive exhibited how pure of an experience a film could really be. Everything about the film works towards crafting a wholly unique experience that can only be described as Mulholland Drive.

The two characters who guide us through the film are “Rita,” an amnesiac, and Betty, a Hollywood newcomer who knows nothing about show business. At the film’s core is a mystery. “Rita” isn’t Rita, so Betty decides to help her find out who she really is.

What’s even more of mystery though, is how the film’s narrative develops. The film is a “mystery,” but rather than being a traditionally told one, the film’s plot functions more as a series of surreal events told through fragmented pieces. This adds a dreamlike quality to the film. Hollywood is where dreams come true, but in Mulholland Drive is it really just a dream?

On the outside, Hollywood is a place where up-and-coming actresses like Betty come and give auditions and sing doo-wop songs, but what lies beneath is much more darker than it seems. As Rita and Betty venture deeper into the mystery that encompasses their lives, more layers are peeled back, revealing things like terrifying dumpster monsters, secretive and controlling organizations, contract killers, dead women, deception, betrayal, heartbreak, and suicide. None of this is ever outright explained, and what becomes most mystifying is the unknown.

mulholland-drive-2

Because Lynch ventures so deep into the unknown, the audience doesn’t really ever understand what the “known” is. Our guides through the film’s world are blank slates, and experiencing everything they do is perplexing for even the most prepared viewer. We’re even faced with what Rita and Betty encounter on a literal level, through Lynch’s liberal use of hand-held and P.O.V. camera work. The audience is put in the place of the film’s characters constantly, and we can make as much sense of their incomprehensible world as they can.

Through Lynch’s experiential filmmaking, we become Rita and Betty. And just like Rita and Betty, we are so often confronted with the unknown, and it becomes the most terrifying thing you can think of. What’s scarier than not knowing your name, your world, and yourself?

mulholland

But as the unknown becomes known for Rita, but mainly Betty, it still remains unclear for the audience. Was Rita and Betty’s time together (spoiler alert for a 13 year old movie) really a dream? What does Diane’s transformation into Betty say about herself? What does it say about good and evil? What about truth and deception? What really is reality, and what are dreams?

Because this film leaves the audience with so much to think about, there’s no other way to describe Mulholland Drive than as an experience. But, being an experience, was the entirety of Mulholland Drive the audience’s own escape from reality?

Just listen to what the band leader of club Silencio says in the film’s most pivotal scene:

No hay banda. There is no band. Il n’est pas de orchestra. No hay banda. And yet we hear a band. It is an illusion.

tumblr_ma3lt72aql1re4uqoo1_1280

Mulholland Drive is as much as an escape for Diane to become Betty as it is for the audience to become an active participant in the experience. Through David Lynch’s experiential filmmaking, Mulholland Drive is the most fully formed escape cinema has to offer.

No hay película. There is no film. Il n’est pas de film. No hay película. And yet we see a film. Mulholland Drive is an illusion.

The Age of Louie

fx_louie_rose_0506

It takes a lot to start a new wave of television. You have to be expressive, influential, and most importantly, hold meaning and relevance for those watching. Our most recent wave of great TV has been the “golden age” of cable dramas with antiheroes at their forefront. However, the age of the antihero is over. Or at least is getting there. Instead of clinging to the past, it’s time for TV to move forward. And it already has.

FX’s Louie has sparked the next wave of great television. This might sound like a surprise because based on its description alone (Louis C.K. plays a fictional version of himself in this series that follows the comedian through the lows of being an awkward single dad in New York.), Louie sounds like a “normal” show. And it is! Louis C.K. is an ordinary everyman telling everyday stories in ways that are unusual for television. Because, at its core, Louie isn’t about plot, characters, or even being funny, but is instead about the nature of being human.

Humanity is an incredibly hard thing to explore in any medium, but Louie does it with thoughtfulness and sensitivity. Through its transformative ways of storytelling, Louie strips down everything we know about regular storytelling, and offers a revealing look at what it’s like to be human. In Louie you can find the raw truths about life, the bizarre experiences of being human, our fears of rejection, humiliation, and loneliness, what personal victories, fulfillment, and self-discovery feel like, and what human connection really is. All of this in one 21 minute episode of television.

That’s the thing about Louie. One five-minute segment can be the most loving and profound scene you’ve seen all year, and the next as strange as a David Lynch filmLouie has been transcending normal storytelling for years in a very low-key way. The show takes its time to explore the small ideas that really matter, and the end result is unbelievably meaningful television. This is our new wave of great television: Low Key-TV.

The most obvious example of Louie’s influence on TV is HBO’s new era of dramedies. Picking up Girls and having Lena Dunham in a creatively auteur-ish position (she writes most episodes but has a writing staff, also directs occasionally) was an obvious response to Louis C.K.’s creative control over Louie (he writes and directs every episode, has edited most, and sits in with the musicians). Each episode of Enlightened, HBO’s best (albeit cancelled) dramedy was written by creator Mike White. And HBO’s new dramedies, the so-so Getting On and the wonderful Looking, are creator driven shows that have distinct visions. More importantly, each of these shows embody Louie’s low-key type of storytelling. They all tell small stories that end up having big impact emotionally, and are all incredibly resonant.

But low-key TV isn’t just half hour shows. Orange is the New Black takes a step back in every episode to examine how humanity binds each character together in their community. Sundance’s first original series Rectify is a thoughtful examination of how we view our lives and why they matter to us. And Showtime’s Masters of Sex is, ironically, the most intimate show on TV outside of Louie, telling very small stories.

However, the argument can be made that low-key storytelling has been present in television for years. Mad Men has always been a short story show disguised as an anti-hero one. Showtime’s network defining dramedies have always been blurring the lines of genre and storytelling. Even Freaks and Geeks employed a certain type of storytelling that was small, yet emotionally rich.

Still, this type of storytelling has been crystalized by Louie. It’s the main reason Louie’s the most ambitious and distinctive show on TV. You won’t find any other show on television that devotes 21 minutes to a conversation between two friends, with one who says he’s going to kill himself. There will never be a show that has its protagonist unknowingly bring a duckling into Afghanistan. Or any other episode that details a man’s escape from depression which ends with him connecting with a random family in China.

Thanks to Louie’s sheer ambition and expressiveness we have our next great wave of television. And hopefully we’ll be able to feel thankful for years to come.

Review is the Funniest–and Saddest–Show on TV

1617596_651970931526044_1102797902_oEver since The Sopranos premiered cable television has been the home of dark and grim stories. The word “dark” has been the defining trait of cable television for years now, and it’s usually been associated with those ever-present antihero shows. However, the darkest show on television is indeed on (basic) cable and features a male lead, but it’s actually, in the strictest sense, a comedy. I am speaking of Comedy Central’s new series Review starring Andy Daly, which has featured some of the darkest and saddest television to air in years.

Every episode of Review starts with Forrest MacNeil, a man who reviews not movies, books, or food, but life experiences for his show within the show, stating, “Life, it’s literally all we have. But is it any good?” This quote embodies everything Review stands for. It frames Forrest as a hopelessly inquisitive man yearning to find out if life has any meaning at all. Yet Forrest almost answers his question himself, in that he acknowledges it’s really all we have. The meaning of life is what we make of it.

And what does Forrest make of life? Well, because of his current employment situation Forrest can’t really make any decisions whatsoever, and instead has to react to the situations that are forced upon him. And because Review (the show within the show) is supposed to be an informative television program, Forrest is expected to learn about his life.

A perfect example of this is the “Racist” segment from Review‘s second episode. (NOTE: ALL OF Review‘s FIRST SEASON IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE TO STREAM FOR FREE ON YOUTUBE, LINKED HERE. YOU NOW HAVE NO EXCUSE TO HAVE NOT WATCHED 2014’S BEST NEW SHOW.) At face value the segment serves as an incredibly hilarious take on contemporary racism, but it also shows how reviewing life experiences will come to affect Forrest’s personal life. After being a racist in daily life (putting up “White” and “Colored” signs in the office, bonding with a white supremacist) Forrest brings his work home with him, where his neighbors, one of whom is Black, are gathered. Forrest sees fit to shout the N-word at his neighbor, but he doesn’t seem too surprised by Forrest’s behavior. Instead, he’s more taken aback by Forrest’s decision to become an “overt racist.”

This is Review at its best. As Forrest’s work gets personal, his wife becomes embarrassed, and his neighbors grow more disillusioned by his behavior. (It’s worth nothing that everyone in Forrest’s life is unable to tell what he is doing for the show, and what Forrest is doing for himself). Best of all Forrest realizes that he was a racist all along. By making his work extremely personal, Review just barely scratches the surface of the deep dark depths it will take Forrest in its 9 episode run.

And yet the darkest episode of television in years airs the following week. It is the glorious “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes.” The episode is one of the most devastating pieces of television I have ever seen. First, Forrest sets out to see what it’s like to eat 15 pancakes. Then, he experiences what going through divorce is like. Finally, Forrest returns to the circumstances his first review, except in a wildly different state of mind. It’s a brilliant piece of storytelling, and you should see why:

The ramifications of this review are immediately recognized. Forrest has to end a 14 year marriage, the most successful in MacNeil family history, without any reason whatsoever. Forrest also has to somehow break it to his still unaware wife Suzanne, and their young son. Forrest has to do it for the show, because his Producer Grant (played brilliantly by James Urbaniak) reminds Forrest that he has to “commit to the standard” that he set for himself.

What plays out is outstanding cringe comedy. After a brutal initial argument, Suzanne meets with Forrest again only to tell him that his request of a divorce was right. Again, Forrest learns more about his life in the worst possible way, but he still views this realization as “a plus.” In the end, Forrest isn’t able to assign “Divorce” a star rating. This is coming from the man who gave being a racist half a star. The show has completely destroyed Forrest, but it isn’t done yet.

When returning to eat 30 more pancakes, Forrest is only able to feel a “vast, empty numbness.” When starting the challenge, courage eventually turns into nihilism. Forrest connects with the darkest corner of his soul and remarks, “Perhaps I simply understood that these pancakes couldn’t kill me. Because I was already dead.”

Screen-Shot-2014-03-06-at-2.30.53-PM

Instead of connecting with the profundity of life, Forrest continues to only learn about the worst. Forrest’s dark journey turns incredibly sad, and ultimately devastating. A man’s job has driven him to become addicted to cocaine, divorce his wife, kill a man through road rage, be institutionalized, and many other terribly sad things. This is what television was made for. Week to week we check in with Forrest, only to find his life even more devastating than the week before. And the worst/best part is that it’s incredibly funny.

Review makes us laugh at the most devastating aspects of Forrest’s life. We’re watching, and sometimes even enjoying, the slow disintegration of a seemingly normal man’s life. The show’s mockumentary style of filming makes us even complicit in doing so. By doing this, Review is pushing the medium of the television sitcom to its limits.

And thankfully, no other show on TV is doing anything like what Review is doing. The direction of Forrest’s character arc is something completely idiosyncratic to Review, and it’s utterly audacious television. There’s nothing darker, sadder, and funnier on TV right now other than Review. So, the only thing to say is 5 Stars!

Excess Makes The Wolf of Wall Street One of the Best Films in Years

img1

My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars as the head of my own brokerage firm, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.

If I had to describe The Wolf of Wall Street in one word, it would be excessive. Everything about the film embodies the term; Jordan Belfort and almost every other character’s behavior is consistently reprehensible, and the running time clocks in at nearly 3 hours long. These things, along with pretty much every other aspect of the film, make The Wolf of Wall Street a very hard sell, which has been reflected in the film’s C grade from Cinemascore, and the long drawn out firestorm of think pieces. But, the excess that The Wolf of Wall Street epitomizes is excess with reason, and reason that makes the film one of the best in years.

Richard Walter, co-chairman of UCLA’s graduate program in screenwriting and author of The Essentials of Screenwriting, coined the term “integration” and has cited it as one of the most important things in a successful screenplay. Walter’s definition of integration is when every part of a script has a purpose and meaning to the film’s core, and thus is “integrated.” Integration can apply to entire scenes, small bits of dialogue, or a character’s name, as Walter cites everything having importance in a film’s script. Utilize integration to its fullest, and according to Walter, you have a successful screenplay. Now, this idea of an integrated script is one that I haven’t intently payed attention to when analyzing any film’s success, but The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the most clear examples of integration lending to a film’s sheer success.

You wanna know what money sounds like? Go to a trading floor on Wall street. Fuck this, shit that, cunt, cock, asshole. I couldn’t believe how these guys talk to each other. I was hooked in seconds. It was like mainlining adrenaline.

The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the most successful movies I have seen in establishing the type of universe it’s set in. The film does this through the language that its characters use. Yes, you’ve probably heard a bit about the number of “F-Bombs” that are uttered throughout the film’s 3 hour runtime. Initially it was 414 utterances of the F-word. Then it was 506 F-Bombs, at 2.8 a minute. Next it was 544! Finally it was settled at 569. (For those of you who would prefer to count yourselves, there’s a handy video that allegedly includes them all.) The bottom line is that fuck is said a lot in this movie (the most ever in a wide-released mainstream studio picture) and it’s for a reason: integration. All of those fucks, motherfuckers, fuckfaces, and fuckheads are included to establish the nature of not only this world, but of the characters themselves. Excess isn’t just shown in behavior, but also through dialogue.

Good luck on that subway ride home to your miserable ugly fuckin’ wives. I’m gonna have Heidi lick some caviar off my balls in the meantime.

But this isn’t to say that integration isn’t utilized brilliantly in the behavior featured in The Wolf of Wall Street. Next to the film’s use of language, the film’s questionable use of nudity has been the second most publicized aspect of The Wolf Wall Street. In seemingly every other scene of the film, there is either a fully nude prostitute, a fully nude secretary, a fully nude spouse, or a full on orgy. The overflowing amount of nudity in the film is much more than your standard R-rated sex romp, as full-frontal nudity is a penchant of the film (which was originally rated NC-17, but has ben cut down to a barely passable R rating). The nudity could easily be deemed unnecessary or superfluous, but that’s exactly the point. Our characters are sex-crazed lunatics who are used to paying excessive amounts of money for excessive amounts of sex, because it’s their lifestyle, and the film helps us understand that through integration.

On a daily basis I consume enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Long Island, and Queens for a month. I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my “back pain,” Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, Pot to mellow me out, Cocaine to wake me back up again, and Morphine… well, because it’s awesome.

And what would these characters’ lifestyles be without drugs? The use of various narcotics at various times throughout the film crystallizes the utilization of integration through bad behavior in The Wolf of Wall Street. The film itself feels like a thoroughly coked-up version of your standard Wall Street movie, a quality that makes it much more than a film. The Wolf of Wall Street is an outright experience. Integration brings us deep into these characters’ lives, be it by language, visuals, or behavior, and we experience the exact same excessive type of lifestyle they do. The highs that the characters experience help us, the audience, experience everything they do, and their drugged-up nature only helps accomplish this better.

Integration that helps make The Wolf of Wall Street more of an experience isn’t just present in the film’s script. Perhaps the clearest example of this is the film’s editing. You might think that I’m referencing the film’s obscene 3 hour runtime, or how almost every scene in the film overstays its welcome, but I’m not (though these aspects do contribute greatly). Rather, I’m speaking to the direct continuity of the film. If you pay close enough attention, you might find that there’s very little continuity between shots. Director Martin Scorsese and Editor Thelma Schoonmaker have said that theses errors are intentional, as they help create a certain kind of atmosphere for the film. It’s an incredibly jarring effect that helps the atmosphere emulate Scorsese’s coke addict days, and help cement these characters’ lifestyle. When you’re only concerned with excess, nothing else really matters in life.

(Warning: Some vague plot specifics about the end of the film, which is based on a true story, follow from here on out.)

Was all this legal? Absolutely fuckin’ not!

In order to achieve a true sense of Jordan Belfort’s excessive lifestyle, it’s necessary to experience what “real” life is like outside of being the wolf of Wall Street. And boy, does Scorsese let us know what it’s like. After around 2 and a half hours of pure excess, there is a very, very hard pull back down to reality. There isn’t a single scene of “entertainment,” as Scorsese quite literally forces the audience to see the gravely serious moral complications of this lifestyle in gut-wrenching scenes. But for some reason, Belfort himself doesn’t recognize the complications as we do. He adapts to his circumstances, but still manages to live on excessively (see: the country club style prison he is placed in, or how after prison he makes a living by conning people). In a normal film, this type of character stasis would be out of the ordinary and outrageous, but because we’ve lived through this life filled with uncontrolled excess we get why Belfort is able to continue being such an asshole, because for a while we were Belfort.

This (and many more reasons including a bravura performance from Leonardo DiCapprio, who I somehow haven’t mentioned until now) is why The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the best films in years. The film transcends the normal and expected type of biopic and becomes something incredibly different: an experience. The obligations that might restrict a normal film akin to this one, such as the need to recognize real-life victims, don’t apply here because The Wolf of Wall Street is so much more than a “normal film.” The Wolf of Wall Street is immersive filmmaking at its best. The Wolf of Wall Street is excess at its finest.

The Wolf of Wall Street is out on DVD and Blu-ray March 25th, 2014.