Saturday, June 29, 2013

Movie Reviews-Compulsion, Snitch

directed by Egidio Coccimiglio
This weird sad little indie film is a remake of the South Korean film 301, 302. It stars Heather Graham, Carrie Anne Moss, Joe Mantegna and Kevin Dillon. It's something of a mix between a thriller, horror film and parody, although I'm not quite sure what it's parodying. As you might surmise from the cover Graham is seen in really tight form fitting cleavage bearing clothing complete with heels and stockings throughout the entire film. 

Amy (Graham) is an evidently independently wealthy dilettante whose primary indulgence is food. I don't mean just eating it. I mean creating it. She's right up there with Hannibal Lector in her obsession with choosing the exact right amount and type of food for her exquisite palate. She never eats out. She strongly prefers to do all of the cooking for herself and her businessman fiancee Fred (Kevin Dillon). Amy intends to be a television chef someday and may be working towards that goal. Or she may just be delusional. In any event Amy loves to cook. Unfortunately she also loves appreciation for her cooking. I mean a LOT of appreciation. She is one of those annoying people who will do something nice for you and then ask you over and over and over and over again if you appreciated it, how much did you appreciate it, did you appreciate it more than the last time she did it and so on. Food and sex are very connected for Amy. She can almost go to the Promised Land so to speak just from inhaling the aroma of the food she creates. The flip side of this is that even when she's engaged in intimate activities with Fred, anything that is even a little bit off about her food or the appreciation she craves can quickly ruin her mood and shut things down. Amy's constant hectoring of Fred for compliments and feedback gets on Fred's nerves. He starts looking for outside nookie and almost as unforgivably from Amy's POV, outside (fast) food.

Amy discovers that her next door neighbor is Saffron (Carrie-Anne Moss) a former child actress and next big thing, who now ekes out a living as a women's magazine sex/advice columnist while trying and so far failing to hang on to an acting career where she must compete against younger and more attractive women. Amy was a huge Saffron fan. Amy is a complete extrovert and is totally and at first hilariously oblivious to the fact that the decidedly INTROVERTED Saffron wants to be left alone and is rather obviously not finished processing some serious pain and sorrow in her life. This original source of this pain is shown in flashbacks from Saffron's pov. Saffron's eating disorders are one way of dealing with her pain. It also becomes apparent that Amy's interest in Saffron is well, romantic and physical. This is nowhere near as erotic or as exploitative as one might think, despite the images. Or at least I didn't think it was. YMMV. If you're expecting a version of Bound you shouldn't be. It's not that kind of party. Saffron and Amy are very damaged women indeed. This movie is much more about nihilism, cynicism and how things from our past hold us back than it is about Graham and Moss making out. There is no nudity.

Visually this film really pulls you in with bold bright primary colors and incredible outfits. It looks like something from the early sixties with Technicolor. I really liked the look. Imagine a live action comic-book. Well maybe not to that level but the lighting and colors really do heighten the sense of unreality. Graham's increasingly unhinged Amy is a pretty interesting character study. With the exception of one early warning the viewer may not know how loony this woman is until much later. Or maybe by her standards she's not loony. This was an okay movie but the thrills and horror are VERY understated, so much so you may miss them if you're not careful. Do not expect tons of action, violence or sex (with the exception of one unerotic scene and Amy's revealing clothing, sexy banter and general va-va-voom style). There is an understated shock ending which may come out of left field if you weren't paying attention. If you were taking notice then the ending makes sense. Joe Mantegna is a detective who is snooping around for reasons that become obvious as the movie moves forward. This movie was ok if you're looking for something off the beaten path.

directed by Ric Roman Waugh
I missed this film in theaters unfortunately, perhaps in part because I thought it would be another shoot-em up and surprisingly at the time I wasn't in the mood for that. Go figure. Well that's what I get for ASSuming. The most surprising thing about this film is that Dwayne Johnson isn't playing a tough talking bada$$ who's secretly a former Navy SEAL or Special Forces or Green Beret or Mob hitman or Covert Ops specialist who's gonna rip off his regular guy persona and show the bad guys that they messed with the wrong man this time! No. Not at all. Instead John Matthews (Johnson) is a law abiding hard working construction/trucking company owner who's living the dream.  He may be 6-4 and full of muscles but he's no criminal or tough guy and has no taste for violence. He's got a huge mansion, a young pretty wife Analisa (Nadine Velazquez) and a cute daughter. He's confident, cocky and verbally assertive (I mean this IS The Rock after all) and still reminds me of one of my cousins but it's not as if he's going to layeth the smacketh down on anyone who can't smell what he's cooking.

Nope, John Matthews stays busy being the boss man, writing checks, hustling up business and stopping by to pitch in and help lower level employees to show them he's the kind of boss who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty, successful though he might be. However he gets a call from his ex-wife Sylvie (Melina Kanakaredes) that sends his world to s*** and causes him to try to take a walk on the wild side. Evidently John and Sylvie's son Jason, (Rafi Gavron) who never quite got over his parents' divorce, has fallen in with a bad crowd. Jason's buddy sent him a package to hold for a few days. This package is a shipment of Ecstasy pills. But Jason did not know that his buddy had already been busted and agreed to set Jason up for a sentence reduction. So when Jason accepts the package he in turn is arrested by the DEA. Because this is a federal charge with mandatory minimum sentencing there really isn't much room for negotiation. As the politically ambitious and initially bored US Attorney Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) explains to John and Sylvie there's not much that anyone can do for Jason. If Jason makes her take the case to trial he might get as much as 30 years. Or he can save her team the work and plead out now to get 10 years. But she doesn't think her office will lose the case as they don't lose many, especially not with young punks like Jason on the other side. The only way she could see herself helping Jason, if she were interested, which she's really not, is if Jason could bring her another drug dealer.

However Jason doesn't know any other drug dealers as he was the lowest on the totem pole. And he won't set up any of his friends either. He's willing to take his chances at trial. This macho bravado sends both of his parents into tears and near hysterics, especially as it becomes evident thru their visits to see their son that Jason may not last much longer behind bars. He's getting daily beatings. He could end up permanently disabled,raped or even killed. So, in desperation John browbeats Keeghan into allowing that if John were to get her a conviction of an important drug kingpin she might be able to do something for Jason. And if her uncle had ovaries she'd be Keeghan's aunt. Keeghan doesn't think John can do anything. So she agrees thinking that this will just stop John from annoying her.

Unfortunately John doesn't know any drug dealers either. In a scene that reminds me of a similar set piece in Office Space, John starts searching on the internet for information about drug cartels and drugs. This, combined with a trip to a "bad part" of town, doesn't get John anywhere. So he starts searching his company's HR records for anyone who was convicted of narcotics crimes. This leads him to Daniel (Jon Bernthal from The Walking Dead), a former top hoodlum in local Hispanic organized crime circles. John initially approaches Daniel looking for an introduction to other criminals. Daniel has pretty much the same response that you or I might have if our boss did that. It's even more intense in Daniel's case as he already has two strikes. A third felony conviction leads to life imprisonment. Daniel has a wife and young son that he wants to provide for and protect. This means staying away from criminal activity no matter how much John will pay. And as the wily Daniel points out, even talking about such things is conspiracy. 

Obviously Daniel changes his mind. Eventually John is introduced to Daniel's former associate Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams from The Wire and Boardwalk Empire) a local drug bigshot who has links to the Mexican cartel overseen by El Topo (Benjamin Bratt). Now John is cooking with gas on and actually has Keeghan's attention. But DEA agent Cooper (Barry Pepper) is worried that John is getting in too deep. And even though he was out of the life, Daniel still has his street smarts. He's wary of John and his motives. He does some checking and finds some things that don't add up. And things proceed apace.

What I liked about this movie was the detailing of the seeming arbitrary manner in which a life can be turned upside down with just one mistake. Jason is guilty of course so I didn't have a whole lot of sympathy for him but his plight did make me think of a few things. Imagine if you were accused (falsely or not) of a crime. Do you have tens of thousands of dollars available to put the best lawyers on retainer? Can you afford $700/hr and up legal bills? How would you handle one day sleeping in your own bed, coming and leaving when you please and the very next day having every single decision being made by someone who not only doesn't like you but whose job it is not to like you? To prevent further hassles would you be ready to respond with extreme ultraviolence to someone in prison who simply looked at you the wrong way? Are you ready to take a beating and still come up swinging to show you're no punk? Could you remain polite and/or deferential when you're talking to a judge, warden or prosecutor who's obviously irritated that you're even in their office? Can you imagine looking at your own flesh and blood being hurt on a daily basis and being unable to do anything about it?

Although there are multiple shootouts and some action, John Matthews is just trying to survive. He's scared. He's not snarking off one liners. Often he doesn't even have a gun. The tension doesn't just come from the violence but from the threat of violence and John's not unreasonable worry that someone will discover what he's up to and harm (legally or otherwise) his family. Even though most of John's worst case scenarios don't pan out he certainly believes they might and so do you. And occasionally they do. So it's an emotionally involving movie. John's motives are understandable but at the same time he's totally willing to use Daniel and throw him away. So is John really a hero?

This movie does have a message, one that is skillfully woven around an intriguing story. The drug war has become a way for politicians to get campaign contributions and higher office. The drug war is a tool for prison investors and and the law enforcement superstructure to get higher profits and higher budgets. The drug war is a process by which sentencing power has shifted away from the jury and judge and to the prosecutor, who may or may not be interested in doing justice. Perversely the drug war provides methods by which the true drug kingpins, since they are at the top, always have a way to avoid prison by ratting out their numerous drug dealing underlings, while the schmuck selling vials in nightclubs or the street has nothing with which to bargain and thus gets long sentences. Though this film mostly avoided mentioning it, the drug war is unevenly waged against blacks and hispanics, who get longer sentences and disproportionately lose voting rights. So there was a lot here to think about. Unfortunately I didn't care that much about Jason. John might have been better off if he had just left his son to his fate. Still, this was a fun movie although Williams and especially Bratt don't get enough to do. Johnson continues to grow as an actor. You see different aspects of his abilities. He carried this film easily. It takes more than a slight suspension of disbelief to imagine that a strait-laced trucking/construction businessman can so quickly get next to major narcotics players, but this is a movie.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Honor and Pride in The Godfather and A Game of Thrones

The patriarchs of both the Corleone and Stark families make some very critical mistakes which bring each of their families to the brink of utter and complete destruction. Neither of them realizes that their world has changed in some very fundamental ways since they ascended to leadership. Therefore each leader is a little too secure in his authority and doesn't realize quickly enough that other people are playing by a different set of rules.

Ned Stark doesn't recognize that Queen Cersei or the relatively low-born Littlefinger can actually be threats. So he, from misguided mercy and possibly benevolent sexism, informs Cersei that he knows her secret and intends to act against her, never imagining that she will dare to harm him or the king, in order to keep her incest, adultery and cuckoldry secret. Ned makes his disgust with Littlefinger clear and contemptuously refuses to take or even pretend to consider Littlefinger's advice. Ned states that he will act in a manner which is clearly opposed to Littlefinger's best interests. He is nonetheless quite shocked that both Littlefinger and Cersei act in ways which, while dishonorable and underhanded, advance their own interests to Ned's fatal cost. Ned's pride in his status as Hand of the King, Warden of the North, and Lord of the oldest House makes him blind to the fact that he has a very weak position in King's Landing, especially after Robert's death. Ned has a very rigid stance on honor and rectitude, one that he's unwilling to part with even at the cost of his own life.  By the time he is willing to shelve his honor and perhaps even regret his extension of mercy to Cersei it's too late to save his life or spare his daughters from some very hard times indeed.  Ned thought people should have obeyed him because it was the right thing to do. That may have been true but in Ned's world and ours getting people to do the right thing may require an application of force, a realistic threat of the same and an appreciation of other people's self-interest. Ned lacked all of that.

Vito Corleone doesn't suffer from either mercy or honor (as least as Ned Stark would understand the term) but he does have Ned's pride. And it's this pride which makes Vito think he can impose his personal distaste for drugs onto the entire NY Mafia. It's pride which makes Vito overestimate Luca's abilities and his own craftiness, thus throwing away his most valuable asset even before the war begins. It's pride which makes him think that his primary businesses of loan sharking, gambling and extortion are more "respectable" than narcotics trafficking. It's pride (an unwillingness to look into details?) which leaves him unaware that Paulie is a traitor until it's too late. Similar to Ned's contempt for the pimp Littlefinger, Vito has contempt for the pimp Solozzo. In Vito's worldview, real men are not pimps so he dramatically underestimates Solozzo and his supposed patron Tattaglia. Like Ned with Cersei, Vito simply can't take Solozzo as seriously as he ought to, in part because Solozzo violates Vito's ideals of gender and masculinity. Vito was under the impression that a pimp meekly accepts dictates. He certainly doesn't murder your top enforcer, bribe your driver/bodyguard, kidnap your counselor and adopted son and almost succeed in knocking you off on two separate occasions. Vito doesn't pay the same price that Ned does but the initial impact is the same. Like Ned, Vito's oldest son has to take over family leadership a few years before he's ready.
Robb Stark is like his father in just about every way. He might even be a little more dangerous on the battlefield. He never loses a battle. Similar to how Sonny is described, Robb Stark is (literally) a relentless executioner who doesn't mind getting his hands bloody. But just like Sonny Corleone, he lacks the ability to see the big picture. His long string of tactical victories blinds him to his strategic weaknesses. Finally his enemies use his greatest assets (his honor and need to play by the rules) against him. Trying to make amends for a broken betrothal Robb is betrayed in a very ugly way. He never saw it coming. The Stark family power appears to be permanently broken.

Sonny possesses all of Vito's martial strengths and then some. Like Robb Stark, he's won numerous battles with his family's enemies. Although calling Sonny honorable might be a stretch he does very strongly believe in protecting the younger and weaker members of his family, a positive quality that much like Robb's honor is calculatedly turned against him and used to bring about his demise. Just like Robb, he is betrayed by someone very close to him as much for personally vindictive reasons as for business. Sonny's death forces Vito to sue for peace. The Corleones lose respect and power as the rival Barzini Family seizes the top spot in the NY Mafia. Robb marries for love and is murdered by his spurned putative father-in-law. Sonny tries to protect his baby sister and is set up to be murdered by his brother-in-law. Both Robb and Sonny take actions based on love. These things are totally understandable and even admirable but are strategically unwise and strictly speaking violations of expected protocol. The Corleones are "luckier" than the Starks in that Sonny's mistakes result in only Sonny's death. Both Sonny and Robb die in a case of literal overkill from which there was no possible escape. Both Sonny's and Robb's corpses are mocked and mutilated after their death as a sign that their power (and that of their family?) is at an end.  

In The Godfather the Corleones had Michael to step in after what looked like total disaster, get a satisfying revenge and make the Family even stronger than before. Michael was able to learn from his father's and brother's mistakes (and his own loss-the death of Apollonia) and get a crash course in being a boss from his father.
In the series A Song of Ice and Fire, it's an open question as to whether Martin even wants to venture down the Stark revenge path. He quite evidently enjoys subverting expectations, maybe too much so at times for my taste. As Lord Commander Mormont once told Jon Snow, the war in the South is completely meaningless compared to what's beyond the Wall. Martin may well feel the same way. He might have pulled the greatest bait and switch of all time, that is if you happen to be a Stark fan and/or were expecting some Stark payback. The Red Wedding could be Martin's way of beating into everyone's thick skulls for once and for all that the Starks are not central to his story-at least not in the way that we might have originally thought. His story is deeper and more grandiose than that.

The remaining Starks are still very young but they might not be out of the game just yet. Martin has not finished the series so no one except Martin and the HBO show runners know what his ultimate plans are. Martin has consistently said that he expects the ending to be bittersweet. Like Michael Corleone, the younger Starks are learning some hard lessons about how the world really works. Unlike Michael Corleone they lack any loving parental figure to give them advice and counsel. Even more so than Michael Corleone they will need to make their own way in the world. Honor and pride are no longer concepts the remaining Starks can use, or rather one might say these are not concepts which they can privilege above all others. They will need to be more realistic and flexible than either Ned or Robb were capable of being. Seeing the world as it is and not how you would want it to be is what they will have to do. Perhaps though, after all is said and done, the Starks will get some measure of justice/revenge/rebirth. Their totem animal is the direwolf. The initial (since dropped) title for the final book in the series was "A Time for Wolves". wink

Obviously if you've read all the books, please don't discuss things which haven't happened in the HBO series yet. That said, you really should read the books....

Paula Deen and her defenders

I think just about everything that can be said on the Paula Deen situation has been said already and I don't have a whole lot to add except for the following.
There seems to be some misunderstanding about what "free speech" is. All free speech means is that you have the right to say what you want or think what you want without being jailed or sued or fined by the federal or state or municipal governments. Of course I am sure some intelligent reader or lawyer can find a few exceptions as there are exceptions to almost everything but no prior restraint on speech is the essence of the First Amendment.

And if you've read this blog for any period of time you know that I am a stickler for abiding by the letter and the spirit of the Bill of Rights. It's important to remember however that the First Amendment is a restriction on the ability of governments to stop you from saying something or punishing you if you do. It says absolutely nothing however, about the ability of other citizens to criticize what you say or for private businesses or organizations to decide that they'd rather not be associated with you or set rules for their partners or employees.

For example, I don't believe that there is a state or federal law against a man going to the top floor of an office building, finding a good looking woman Executive VP and telling her how good looking he thinks she is in quite crude language. There is no law against walking up to a male Executive VP and telling him that I think he's an incompetent dolt who only has a job because his father-in-law and grandfather worked for the company. If I were stupid enough to do those things I would be immediately terminated from my company. In fact further job interviews in my industry and elsewhere would probably open with the interviewer telling me (before they asked me to leave)  "Oh you're the fellow who likes to tell the women he works with that they have nice ****. So look around buddy. Are there any women here that you think have nice ****? Are there any incompetents in this firm you think should be fired?". A company has the obligation to ensure that its employees/associates will add to its bottom line and not be disruptive.

Paula Deen used racist language to describe black people and pined for trappings of segregationist days long gone. As a result her employer/business partner The Food Network decided to sever ties with her. Some other companies are following suit. It's not good business for most corporations to have a blatant bigot representing them. The Food Network has that right. There is nothing new or surprising about this.

Another line of defense is that Paula Deen was born in a time when such ways of thinking were common. Well that's true. When she was born segregation was still a going concern. The people who point this out in order to defend Deen don't seem to 1) realize that there were other whites who were born in such times and rose above such beliefs and 2) such defenders never give the black people born in similar times any sort of pass. I mean if we can say that Deen didn't know any better and is just regurgitating the values of her times, then surely we must do the same for Reverend Wright, Minister Farrakhan, and any other black person who grew up in the bad old days and thus has excellent reason to have a generalized suspicion and distrust of whites. Yet when those people say something that may be out of line they don't get many people rushing to their defense. No one stops to ponder that maybe someone who grew up in a time where blacks were called "boy", "girl" or "auntie" or had to watch their parents submit to oppression in order to survive might have some resentments to vent from time to time.

So Paula Deen has her defenders and supporters. I am not surprised. It is important however to remember that all of this brouhaha came to light because one Lisa Jackson, another white woman, decided that she had had enough of a workplace atmosphere which allegedly included racial and sexual harassment and discrimination. Maybe Jackson is telling the truth, maybe she is not. But as Deen has already admitted to slurs the self-inflicted damage has been done. I never cared for Deen anyway so I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about the controversy. I am however angry that the nostalgia for the Old South is so powerful and defended by so many. I simply can't imagine anyone wanting to have a wedding with Jewish people dressed as concentration camp inmates. But that's just me. Deen has every right to use whatever language she pleases. And others have every right to disassociate from her.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Breaking News- Bobby Bland Dies

Bobby "Blue " Bland, who was one of the greatest singers all of time, just passed away at 83. Although he was primarily known as a "blues" singer, his singular style encompassed everything from soul, jazz, blues, funk and gospel , rock-n-roll, and occasionally a little country.  He was one of my favorite singers. I wrote on him here.  I first discovered his music when I was a young teen. It was miles apart from Muddy Waters or Jimi Hendrix which is what I was into at the time so I didn't pay him a lot of mind. It wasn't until I had grown up a bit, gone through some heartbreak of my own and gotten some bass in my voice that I went back to my parents' Bobby Bland records and really listened. I think I also got interested in his music when I learned that he was tight with BB King, who I've always been crazy about. In any event, he's passed on to his ancestors and left a lot of good music behind. In a lot of aspects Bobby Bland was the epitome of cool to me, along with people like Johnny Hartmann, Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding. He could scream if he had to but his crooning baritone voice was something I loved listening to and always tried to emulate. He showed that even in music that was called "blues" there were just a million and one different styles, sounds and approaches. If you weren't hip to him shame on you because you missed out but his music lives on.

Bobby (Blue) Bland, the debonair balladeer whose sophisticated, emotionally fraught performances helped modernize the blues, died on Sunday in Memphis. He was 83.The cause was complications from an ongoing illness, The Associated Press reported, quoting his son Rodd. Though he possessed gifts on a par with his most consummate peers, Mr. Bland never achieved the popular acclaim enjoyed by contemporaries like Ray Charles and B. B. King. His restrained vocals, punctuated by the occasional squalling shout, nevertheless made him a mainstay on the rhythm-and-blues charts and club circuit for decades. 
Exhibiting a delicacy of phrasing and command of dynamics akin to those of the most urbane pop and jazz crooners, his intimate pleading left its mark on everyone from the soul singers Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett to rock groups like the Allman Brothers and the Band. The rapper Jay-Z sampled Mr. Bland’s 1974 single “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” on his 2001 album, “The Blueprint.”Mr. Bland’s signature mix of blues, jazz, pop, gospel and country music was a good decade in the making. His first recordings, made in the early 1950s, found him working in the lean, unvarnished style of Mr. King, even to the point of employing falsetto vocal leaps patterned after Mr. King’s. Mr. Bland’s mid-50s singles were more accomplished; hits like “It’s My Life, Baby” and “Farther Up the Road” are now regarded as hard-blues classics, but they still featured the driving rhythms and stinging electric guitar favored by Mr. King and others.
It wasn’t until 1958’s “Little Boy Blue,” a record inspired by the homiletic delivery of the Rev. C. L. Franklin, that Mr. Bland arrived at his trademark vocal technique.“That’s where I got my squall from,” Mr. Bland said, referring to the sermons of Mr. Franklin — “Aretha’s daddy,” as he called him — in a 1979 interview with the author Peter Guralnick. “After I had that I lost the high falsetto. I had to get some other kind of gimmick, you know, to be identified with.” 
The corresponding softness in Mr. Bland’s voice, a refinement matched by the elegant formal wear in which he appeared onstage, came from listening to records by pop crooners like Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett and Perry Como.Just as crucial to the evolution of Mr. Bland’s sound was his affiliation with the trumpet player and arranger Joe Scott, for years the director of artists and repertory for Duke Records in Houston. Given to writing brass-rich arrangements that built dramatically to a climax, Mr. Scott, who died in 1979, supplied Mr. Bland with intricate musical backdrops that set his supple baritone in vivid emotional relief. The two men accounted for more than 30 Top 20 rhythm-and-blues singles for Duke from 1958 to 1968, including the No. 1 hits “I Pity the Fool” and “That’s the Way Love Is.” Steeped in feelings of vulnerability and regret, many of these performances were particularly enthralling to the female portion of Mr. Bland’s audience.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Movie Reviews-Hangin' With The Homeboys, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Hanging With the Homeboys
directed by Joseph B. Vasquez.
Joseph B. Vasquez was a Latino/Black filmmaker from The Bronx.
This 1991 film travels similar ground as Diner, Swingers, American Graffiti and maybe even Cooley High.  It didn't make as big of a cultural (or financial??) splash as any of those movies did but it did feature some actors who would later become relatively well known and in Leguizamo's case arguably a star. It details the adventures of four black and brown New York men in their late teens/early twenties, who on a Friday night like any other go hangout together as they normally do. They're just looking to have some fun, enjoy each other's company and perhaps meet some interesting people of the opposite gender. However this night is for some reason different. Change is upon the young men though not all of them realize it. Just about everything that can go wrong does go wrong on this night.
All four men are either versions of Vasquez at some point in his life, interpretations of Vasquez as other people saw him or based in part on Vasquez's close friends. It's amazing rewatching this movie to realize how young these actors were at the time and how old I am now. Time flies. It's also a shame that Vasquez died of AIDS from drug addiction a few years after this film was released. Black and Hispanic American film would have been much richer had he survived. His death was also bitterly ironic as both of his parents were drug addicts who met in recovery programs.

In some aspects this film has a very theater like or stage feel as the four men get close to 90% of the film lines and the camera stays very tight on them throughout the movie. They are quite well developed characters. All four of them are different people but with enough complementary similarities to hang out together at least once a week. But their friendships undergo some strains and by the end of the movie at least two of the men are entering new stages of life.
The men are:
So what are we doing tonight?
Johnny (John Leguizamo): He is a quiet virginal kid who tends to put women on a pedestal. Johnny is underemployed at a supermarket. He works hard but it's obvious he's wasting time and ought to be doing better things. A kind co-worker notices this and tries to get Johnny interested in applying for a college scholarship. Time is running out on this scholarship. Johnny lacks confidence in himself-something that is obvious to just about anyone who talks to him for longer than five minutes. He has a lot to say if he gets the chance but his shyness and social ineptness can prevent him from acting on opportunity, with women and with life. Johnny is quite proud of his ethnic background and does not take kindly to any jokes or snide comments about Latinos, even those delivered by his buddies in seeming jest. Johnny is pretty intelligent despite his lack of romantic success or street smarts. Johnny will need to get over his sensitivity about things one way or another. He has a very strong sense of right and wrong even though he's confused about his place in the world.

Willie tries to run game
Willie (Doug E. Doug): Willie is unemployed and collecting welfare. He is convinced that the world is out to get him because he's black. He's also extremely holier than thou and probably blacker than thou as well. He's politically aware, or so he says. Much like Johnny, he tends to sabotage himself at every opportunity. He can work himself into a righteous rage about racism, capitalism and every other -ism but these speeches normally end up with him asking his friends for money. Put me down (hook me up) is his constant refrain to his friends. Unlike Johnny, Willie finds work beneath him. He's in a bit of a crisis because his friends, and more importantly from Willie's POV, the welfare agency, are all losing patience with Willie's excuses. Willie has a fear of failing which translates into a fear of trying.  However Willie feels justified in his paranoid attitude towards life as the four buddies do indeed run into some real bigotry during the night, including but not limited to racially hostile transit cops and Italian-American Manhattan nightclub bouncers who take one look at their skin tones and imperiously demand three (!) pieces of id before allowing them entry. Needless to say even though Johnny actually has three pieces of id neither he nor his buddies are permitted into the club. For all of his other faults, Willie is a good friend to Johnny and actually has some useful advice about women. 

Heyyyy, it's Vinny!!!
Fernando aka Vinny (Nestor Serrano): On the surface Fernando Vinny has ten times the confidence that Johnny and Willie have combined. He would probably be a pimp if he had the ambition. A good looking Lothario, unlike Johnny Vinny doesn't have the problem of putting women on pedestals. If he ever did do that it would only be so he could look up their skirts. Vinny treats women as they want to be treated or so he thinks. In any event despite his callous nature and ability to lie convincingly about everything he never ever ever lacks for female companionship. Women bring him food and money, all day every day. However "Vinny" is not his real name. His real name is Fernando. He chose Vinny because it sounds more Italian and helps him pick up more women, including those of Italian or other Caucasian descent. There may also be some self-hatred involved as he is Puerto Rican and may not like that very much. Johnny is not afraid to call out Vinny about this. Johnny is not ashamed of being Puerto Rican. Vinny also lacks a job but looks down on Willie. Vinny's not overly fond of Johnny either, finding him a downer. Vinny also has contempt for Johnny's inexperience with women. He openly questions if Johnny even knows what to do with a woman. Vinny has the ability to run game on a woman and in the very middle of doing so switch seamlessly to doing the same on a better looking woman that he notices. He has no shame about this. He thinks he has good reason for his behavior. Vinny has no fear of rejection or humiliation. He will endure a thousand no's to get to one yes. As far as Vinny is concerned it's his world. Everyone else is just living in it. He's what you might call an honest hypocrite.

My car, my rules fellas!
Tom (Mario Joyner): Tom is a struggling but debonair actor who makes ends meet as a telemarketer while he's working towards his big break. Like Vinny Tom has plenty of confidence though he is not anywhere near as extroverted, domineering and flashy as Vinny. Although Tom's paid acting work is rare and likely to remain so as black actors are not exactly in high demand, he generally stays positive and has had just enough success to have purchased a car, something his three buddies lack and which makes him in demand for their weekly get togethers. He also organizes and directs street theater on subways and elsewhere in order to keep his acting chops sharp. Tom is proud of doing the right thing regardless of whether it brings him success. He's faithful to his girlfriend. He's college educated and loves to tell everyone about the time he almost got a part in Rain Man. Though he's a college grad, he doesn't think college was worth it, perhaps in part because in his chosen field, and life in general, his race limits him more than a college degree helps him. Tom is starting to wonder if some of the people he hangs out with are more of a hindrance than a help.

This film has some comedic moments (Willie's idea of a pickup line is to tell a woman she's perpetrating a racial fraud, Vinny runs away from anything even hinting at critical thinking, Johnny and surprisingly Tom each discover they know less about women than they think) but comedy is not necessarily the main focus of this movie. It's really just a slice of life coming of age drama about four men from the South Bronx looking for some fun and either trying to ignore or forget about their current circumstances. There aren't really what I would consider hamfisted messages here. A few sneak through near the end but as mentioned it's unclear as to whether all of the men will make changes. There's no great reveals. Nobody gets shot though there are a few tense confrontations and fights. I think the title really didn't do this movie justice. I didn't quite love this movie but I certainly liked it a lot. You might as well. If you are familiar with NY or remember it before the Disneyfication of much of Manhattan, you might enjoy the scenery.


Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
directed by Guy Ritchie
I don't want to talk too much in detail about what actually happens in this movie except for some very broad outlines. There are a lot of twists, some of which a viewer might see coming, some of which he wouldn't. If you haven't seen this film I think you ought to do so. Although this was hardly the first British crime movie of which I was aware it was something that opened my eyes to the fact that crime and caper movies didn't necessarily have to come in an American flavor, with Italian-American, African-American or Hispanic-American styles. The world was full of crime stories. Some of these stories came complete with British accents. This is a classic film. Although comparisons to Tarantino and Scorsese are obvious, what with the voiceovers, freeze-frames, and heroes of dubious moralities, this 1998 film managed to stand on its own two feet and ought to be enjoyed in its own right. It is a film which combines organized crime, street hoodlums and a bit of comedy into a pretty satisfying story. It also introduced the actors Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham (actually childhood buddies) to the world.

Four small time criminals, wait criminal might be too harsh of a word although it's technically correct, let's say hustlers, decide to pool their mostly ill gotten revenues together in order to get one of them, Eddy (Nick Moran) into a card game run by the fearsome crime lord Harry The Hatchet (P.H. Moriarty). Harry runs just about all of the local gambling, extortion, porn, prostitution etc. The game buy in is 100,000 pounds. But Bacon (Jason Statham), Soap (Dexter Fletcher), and Tom (Jason Flemyng) are all relatively confident because Eddy is the best card shark that ever lived. I say "relatively confident" because Soap tends to be a worrywart.

Desperation is not pretty
Unfortunately for the group Harry knows all about Eddy's skills and has taken steps to neutralize them by cheating. His top bodyguard and scary second-in-command/enforcer Barry the Baptist (Lenny McLean) helps Harry to cheat by revealing Eddy's cards to him. In short time Eddy has lost not only the initial 100,000 but another 400,000 that he chased trying to make up the loss. So at night's end he owes Harry 500,000. Harry also knows that Eddy didn't have all of the buy-in money on his own so in an effort to be both generous and sadistic he lets Eddy know that his friends are on the hook for the money as well. If they don't pay him back in full in one week, he will send Barry and one of his other vicious debt collectors Big Chris (Vinnie Jones) to start removing fingers and other body parts. McLean plays his part with suitable relish. He was actually a real life bare knuckles fighter and all around thug. He ran with some dangerous people in his day. McLean was described as a very hard man. He was once accused of murder and spent some time in prison. So the menace and testosterone increase dramatically when he's on screen. McLean died shortly before the film was released. The film was dedicated to his memory.
Do I look like I give a f***?
As an aside Vinnie Jones was also PERFECT for his role. He's a quiet, intimidating enforcer who gives off the feeling that he's just seething with barely constrained bloody urges. Evidently this role wasn't all that different from Jones' real life career as a soccer player who was quite in touch with his aggressive side. Big Chris is violent and nasty but he also has a very protective and nurturing nature. This flip side of his personality is ONLY expressed towards his son Little Chris (Peter McNicholl). Little Chris dresses just like his Daddy and idolizes him. They go on loan collections together. Don't swear around Little Chris. Big Chris doesn't like it. And God help you if you insult or lay hands on Little Chris in Big Chris' presence. Berserk doesn't even begin to describe the literal hell you will have unleashed on yourself.
Anyway there's history between Harry and Eddy's family. Eddy's father JD (Sting) is either a former gangster with bad blood towards Harry or a straight and narrow citizen who's not afraid of Harry. Either way he has a bar that Harry wants. JD bought it with money he won off Harry years ago. If JD will turn over the bar then his son will not be harmed or killed. Unfortunately for Eddy, his father takes the view that Eddy's problems aren't his problems. Eddy's grown.

Don't let the smooth taste fool you.
Fortuitously Eddy overhears his next door neighbors planning a heist of a drug dealer. Intrigued he arranges to have them taped and before long he knows all the details of the plan. With no other solution in sight and Barry getting eager to start chopping, Eddy and his friends decide to rob the robbers. However, these robbers, led by the brutal Dog (Frank Harper) won't exactly be easy to rob. The group of friends decide they will need guns. And they purchase some from some other shady characters. However these particular group of villains are also connected to Barry and Harry and sell something they weren't supposed to sell. Big Chris is sent to get it back. And the low level drug dealers, whose lack of security has attracted Dog's professional interest, work for Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood) a drug supplier whose "cute cuddly facade", 70s style afro and slight frame fool some people into overlooking his TERRIFYINGLY dangerous and violent nature. He's not happy about having his drugs stolen. And then a comedy of errors, missing information and mistaken identity really kicks into high gear. It's like a classic Three's Company episode except that people get shot.
Do I need to start taking fingers? Eh???
Everyone is after the money, drugs and guns. The four friends are in way over their head and they know it. But they have no choice but to try to make the best out of increasingly bad situations.
I really enjoyed the dialogue in this movie. Literally EVERYONE gets a snappy one liner or in some cases, several. Often times the characters don't know something that the viewer knows all along while occasionally the characters know something the viewer didn't realize until later. The film occasionally jumps back in forth in time to mess with your expectations. Again, the writing and dialogue in this movie is just so much fun. Whether it's Rory informing someone that no he will not turn the television down or Soap musing that guns are for show but knives are for pros or Barry telling someone that if he doesn't want to be counting the fingers he doesn't have he had better do what Barry says or Bacon explaining to his friends that Harry once beat a man to death with the first object he could find, which happened to be a woman's sex toy, the wordplay in this movie is a lot of fun.
TRAILER   Do you Understand?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Detroit's Last Stand?

You're surrounded and running low on ammo. You're outnumbered at least 20-1. The cavalry tried to come to your rescue but they all got mowed down in a hail of machine gun fire. Your erstwhile allies are the ones who set you up for what's turned into a massacre. Most of your best soldiers are dead or dying. You and your remaining ride or die loyalists are badly wounded and probably won't make it through the night. Your troops are telling each other "It's been an honor serving with you" and "See you on the other side". Your enemies are really not all that interested in accepting your surrender. Even if they were your pride certainly wouldn't allow you to stoop to offer it. In short there's nothing for it left but to ante up and kick in. You'll live on in stories. You drive into that roadblock. You go out hard and take as many of the SOB's with you as you can in a Bolivian Army ending.

That's the way it is in movies of course. Film often imitates real life. I haven't written about it for a while but my home city of Detroit is pretty much at that point. If you hadn't heard Detroit is under the control of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appointee Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who over the last week released his reports on Detroit's dire financial situation as well as some of his plans to potentially avoid bankruptcy, which he is publicly willing to state is a 50/50 proposition. Looking at some of the numbers I think that if Orr is okay with revealing that bankruptcy is that likely, I think it's even likelier than that.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Movie Reviews-The Purge, Parker, Luther Season One

The Purge
directed by James DeMonaco
I was born in, well never mind, but fortunately I missed the more explicit and violent eruptions of racism. One of my parents grew up under Southern segregation. Earlier generations had to watch their step very carefully because at any second the white Americans they lived around could with virtual impunity harm them or start a pogrom, riot or lynching. Law enforcement and the justice system would usually ignore any crimes committed against black people. Such actions weren't uncommon from the 1880s through the 1940s and only subsided recently, historically speaking. I tend to be a vibrant - some would say tiresome - defender of the right to keep and bear arms because of this history. But today the greatest danger doesn't come from a majority tyrannizing a despised minority but rather from individual criminals of all races, who, filled with self-hate, anger or greed don't mind taking their frustrations out on each other and any law abiding citizen, regardless of race, who either has something that they want or is unlucky enough to take a wrong turn in a bad neighborhood. If you ever read the comments on any Yahoo news story featuring a black subject, you will realize that the sort of eliminationist and supremacist rhetoric that  was once openly expressed in American society hasn't left. It's just not publicly acceptable. But if some had their way, we'd have death camps for criminals, particularly non-white ones. 

The Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson argued in his book Rituals of Blood, that the various atrocities which black people once endured had almost religious sacrificial overtones for the white racist community. Socially sanctioned violence gave them unity and provided a societal scapegoat. This was also true of the Jewish community in German and European society. Without such scapegoats, the majority society would turn on itself. Believe it or not this reasoning is not as far fetched as you might think. In a book I recently reviewed, The State of Jones, a postbellum southern white politician made a serious argument that without the ability to use black women as concubines, prostitutes or rape victims, white men would be forced to slake their lusts on white women, thus leading to more white prostitution, which would be a bad thing.

The Purge is not explicitly about race but it definitely makes some slight allusions to the sordid history I've referenced above. I think that it didn't want to make a specific "race" story but the undertones are all there just the same. The Purge would have been a stronger film had it fully embraced the racial/class underlying framework.

In 2022 America crime and unemployment have fallen dramatically. There seems to have been either a coup or new constitutional convention. People speak of "Our new Founding Fathers". A new law is that once a year, for exactly 12 hours, anyone can commit any otherwise illegal act, and not be arrested, sought after, convicted or sentenced. This called "The Purge". It is something looked forward to by those who seek to settle scores or just engage in morally dark behavior. The Purge is legally race and class neutral but in practice it may hurt the poor and non-white more than the rich and white as those who fall in the second group can more easily protect themselves with gated communities, top notch security systems and lots and lots of guns. There's a hint that The Purge is not designed so much as to release individual frustrations as it is to be a hunting season on undesirables. Perhaps the reason that crime and unemployment have fallen so much is that there are fewer undesirables. See Bill Bennett's comments.

James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is a happily apathetic home security salesman who has made a fortune selling home protection systems to his upscale neighbors. He has a wife Mary (Lena Headey) and two children Zoe (Adelaide Kane) and her younger brother Charlie (Max Burkholder). His children lack appreciation for the good life that James provides. I found each child somewhat annoying. Charlie is a creepy kid who constantly voyeuristically sends his automated camera throughout the house checking on everyone. Charlie, you're looking at your Mom's behind. You might have some issues, kiddo. Zoe is feeling her oats as a sexually liberated teen who thinks she's grown. Mary has noticed that their Stepford Wife looking neighbor Grace (Arija Bareikis) seems a little put out by James' success. Grace has the ability to threaten and insult while smiling. It's unsettling.

James and Mary reluctantly support The Purge as necessary though each says they would never kill anyone. Neither of their children agrees with The Purge. As they are each convinced they know better than Daddy each child makes a mistake that allows the family home to become compromised during The Purge. Charlie acts from moral concerns while Zoe acts out of lust but hell, good intentions and all that. The film then veers into Straw Dogs/Death Wish territory as the competent but hardly intimidating James is forced to deal with some Purge participants who are highly upset with him and by extension his family. He also must make some very hard moral decisions. The film gives a muddled critique of utilitarianism.

This is a pretty tight film running just around 85 minutes. The film works because of the short running length and limited location. It does a great job at ramping up the paranoia and fear. How hard is it for people to get into your home? How many entrances/exits are there? Are there any secret exits or panic rooms? What would you do were someone trying to get inside against your will?

You may think you know what you would do in dangerous times but the reality is unless you're a trained professional or have been through some serious stuff before you don't really know. Could you really kill someone to protect your family? If you were a non-Jew during the Holocaust would you really hide a Jewish person in your home? Would you risk your life to stop a lynching back in the 1890s? Would you put your life at risk to do the right thing? What about your family's lives? Well some of us would and some of us wouldn't. As I mentioned before, with the exception of a few hints (the man slated for termination is black while his white chief tormentor reeks of preppy privilege and speaks in Social Darwinian terms), the film avoids open race/class issues. By staying neutral The Purge can simultaneously appeal to both right and left fears of interventionist government and crime. It can also be enjoyed solely as a home invasion movie. Is James a class traitor liberal who needs to stick with his own people or is he a brave one man majority standing up against fascism?

If nothing else The Purge will make you check that your doors are locked, your guns are easily available and your kids do what the **** you tell them to do. Were I the sort of person who yelled at movie screens I would have yelled at the Sandin kids. If you are into conspiracy theories you might argue that the principles of The Purge are already being adhered to in the blase indifference to the slaughter that is going on in some inner cities. 


directed by Taylor Hackford
Okay, this is not a remake of Mel Gibson's Payback though you might be forgiven for thinking so. It is however an adaptation of a similar story featuring the same character in Payback by the author (Donald Westlake) who created the source material for Payback. I like Westlake though it looks like I haven't gotten around to sharing my impressions of his work here. Too many books to discuss and not enough time. Anyway he was a famous crime fiction novelist. If you're interested you can read more about Westlake here and here. Parker, the titular character and Westlake's most famous anti-hero is not really a nice guy. He robs and kills with no remorse. The one thing he doesn't normally do is kill for fun, unnecessarily or kill someone who doesn't have it coming. He has a code which he lives by and insists that anyone working with him does as well. This is emphasized slightly more in the Parker movie than it was in the Payback movie but in either version, you don't want to deal unfairly with Parker. Stick to the deal and you'll be okay. Break the deal and God help you. And Parker couldn't really give a flying f*** who you're related to, who your friends are or with what organization you're affiliated. If those people know what's good for them they'll stay out of his way. The best way not to get hurt and hurt badly is to stay out of Parker's way. Obviously if more people took that wise advice there wouldn't be much of a movie so here we are.
Parker (Jason Statham) has masterminded the robbery of an Ohio fair. The take is good, a little over a million dollars, but since the team included five guys who all get equal shares, it's not exactly going to put them all on easy street. Parker is also annoyed that one of his team members bungled an assignment and caused some people to get hurt and to die. Parker doesn't like it when things don't go according to plan. In flashback it's revealed that this robbery was a deal Parker undertook on behalf of his father figure Hurley (Nick Nolte). Parker is in a long term relationship with Hurley's daughter Claire (Emma Booth). Claire knows what Parker does and would prefer he didn't live that life. But she's long since given up trying to change Parker's mind about anything.

So Parker is ready to split the cash and say adieu to his erstwhile comrades. One of them, Melander (Michael Chiklis) says he has another heist planned but that he needs everyone's cut to invest in it. Evidently he's already spoken to the other goons and they've all agreed. They just need Parker's buy in. Showing the stubbornness which is both his greatest strength and greatest weakness, Parker declines. He does so even though he is sitting in the back seat of an SUV with armed men. He's just that tough you see. Parker doesn't break his code for anyone. Of course fireworks break out and even though Parker leaves some wounds for the group to remember him by he is shot multiple times and left for dead.
In something of a running gag throughout the movie it'll take more than being shot and jumping from a moving car to stop Parker. He survives. He leaves the hospital, robs some people to get some seed money and talks to Hurley to find out what happened. As it turns out the group that robbed Parker is planing a heist in Palm Beach. One of the group members is also connected to the Chicago Outfit, which sends some people looking for Parker AND anyone who likes or loves Parker. The Chicago Outfit doesn't play by the same rules as Parker. If kidnapping or killing his girlfriend is the most effective way to make Parker back off, or better yet, come in from the cold, then that is what they will do.

Undeterred, Parker heads for Palm Beach to track down the people who stole from him. There he is assisted, at first unwillingly and unwittingly but later enthusiastically by Leslie Rogers (Jennifer Lopez) a ditzy real estate agent who evidently is not a very good saleswoman. She is only a few weeks away from having her car repossessed. She's getting over a bad divorce. She lives with her mother. Lopez is comedy relief here. I thought her a little stereotypical as she does just about everything but scream "I don't know nothing bout birthin' no babies, Miz Scarlett!!!". I think Lopez and Booth should have switched roles. Anyway there is equal opportunity for male and female ogling as the camera lingers lovingly on Statham's musculature and Lopez's curves (which seem to have gotten fuller). The movie is violent, but mostly in a cartoonish way. I have never been shot but from what I understand, it hurts a LOT and can make a grown man scream in pain. Shooting Parker MIGHT slow him down a bit and grimace but that's about it. Shoot him, stab him, beat him, kick him but you'll never stop him or make him cry. He's like the Energizer Bunny with roid rage.

If you like Statham movies you know what you're going to get here, as I've described elsewhere. So it's consistent. If you like action movies, check this out but don't expect anything special. If you don't like action movies, then you won't watch this and won't miss much. Bobby Carnavale, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr. and Patti Lupone also star.

Luther Season One
created by Neil Cross
The most interesting thing about Luther is not that it's a detective procedural with a black man as the lead but rather that Idris Elba, who was probably initially known to many American television viewers -especially black ones- as the tall, dark, handsome and deadly Stringer Bell on The Wire, is indeed, despite his name and his unimpeachable American vocal stylings on The Wire, a thoroughly British man. Watching Luther, in which Elba presumably uses his natural accent to play the titular character, is to be amazed that Elba ever could have convincingly played Bell in the first place. But that's why they call it acting. It's a minor point to be sure but it blew my mind. The other difference between Luther and some American crime dramas is the seeming realness of the actors. With some exceptions (Elba and Indira Varma) the actors who make up the world of Luther are not super attractive. Most of them are average looking with a few who are outright unattractive, just like in real life. There are no gods or goddesses slumming in this series. Regular looking and even ugly people get laid too you know. That's why there's ugly people in the world in the first place. This adds to the show's verisimilitude in my opinion. Let's just be real here. Not everyone wins the genetic lottery. Also the "good guys" don't always win in Luther. Sometimes they can't stop a killer before he strikes again. Sometimes they miss things. It's a testament to Luther's actors and writers that they can take pretty old tropes and find new ways to make you care about the characters. Lastly race is not an issue at all. That would never be the case in an American series would it?

Anyhow Idris Elba plays Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) John Luther. Luther is a complicated man indeed and no one understands him but two women. One of these women is his beautiful but estranged wife Zoe (Indira Varma). Zoe used to be excited by and attracted to Luther's single mindedness and intensity but feels that his work has stolen all of the joy out of their marriage. Luther is introduced chasing a pedophile killer. In a season long theme which grows and expands in some intriguing ways Luther has the psychological gift of being able to think like a criminal and outsmart many criminals. Unfortunately the flip side of this gift is that he is in constant struggle to keep the darkness in himself under control. Given the opportunity he could very easily become a vigilante or death squad killer. He also has a bit of a temper. Oh yes, about that pedophile. Luther has physically maneuvered/defeated him so that the killer is hanging on for dear life to a beam roughly 40 feet above ground. But Luther won't help him up until the killer tells him where his latest victim is. The scumbag is slipping fast and gives up the info. Luther waits for confirmation that girl is where the killer said she was (where Luther also surmised she was) before starting to help the killer to safety. Or maybe not. Luther watches (and nudges?) as the killer falls to what should have been certain death. This is deliberately left ambiguous so that the viewer may make up his own mind. The criminal is in a coma after his fall. Luther is temporarily suspended from his unit but eventually welcomed back by his no nonsense boss Rose Teller (Saskia Reeves) who has thus put her own reputation on the line. Her role is minor but needed. She's kind of like Captain Dobey on Starksy and Hutch. She yells at Luther and tries to rein in his determined rule breaking but will occasionally turn a blind eye. Luther knows which orders to obey and which ones to pretend he didn't hear.
Shortly after his return Luther meets the other woman who understands and accepts him completely, the sociopathic Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson). Alice is similar to Luca Brasi, if Luca Brasi were a slight redheaded British woman with genius level understanding of physics. Alice's parents are brutally murdered, along with the family dog and it is no spoiler to reveal that Luther strongly suspects that Alice did it. It may be the perfect crime as there isn't any physical evidence on first glance. The two spar, bringing all of their considerable intelligence to bear on each other. Alice is like Luther in that she doesn't have a lot of respect for laws or rules, considering herself beyond them. But the same intelligence that allowed Alice to become one of the country's foremost astrophysicists at an impossibly young age, has made it out of the question for her to feel empathy or sympathy for people, with the possible exception of one John Luther. With a great deal of effort she can fake emotions but she'd rather not do so. To her people are just meat. This core difference both attracts and repels Alice and Luther to and from one another.

Brought back into his unit, Luther re-establishes his friendship and working relationship with DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) and DCI Ian Reed (Steven Mackintosh). Although these men are very different from Luther and each other, they are great friends with Luther. Ripley is younger and has more of a mentor relationship with Luther. But Ripley strongly prefers to operate aboveboard and by the book. He means to stay within the law where ever possible. Ripley doesn't appreciate some of Luther's actions which make him choose between friendship and the letter of the law. Reed is Luther's age or older. He also has a flexible approach to police work. He's been divorced on three separate occasions. Reed can usually be counted on to have Luther's back when the chips are down.
One person who does have a very strict approach to the law is DSU Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley) who has been given orders to watch over Teller's unit and investigate rumors of corruption or brutality. He is usually very quiet and polite. But don't lie to him and don't make him mad. As he tells Luther he thinks Luther is a good cop. But if Luther is brutal or dirty he'll put Luther away for decades and not miss any sleep because the law is the law. He may not be Inspector Javert but he's close enough. He notices things people other people don't. He's not a physically impressive man but his mind is relentless. He doesn't let things go.

Rounding out the major cast members is Mark North (Paul McGann), the new man in Zoe's life. Obviously he doesn't much care for Luther but confrontation and beating up people, let alone cops is just not his style. Luther is most definitely not ready to let Zoe go while Zoe herself might be willing to return. So North and Luther have tension throughout the season. 
Elba's Luther is a man viscerally sickened by major crimes and his ability to understand the people who commit them. He's eaten up by this. He may even be suicidal. His job obsesses him. This is not quite an action series though there is a normal amount of violence. It really is more about what violence does to people internally. The show's been nominated for and won a few Emmys/Golden Globes so there's that. If you decide to watch this though, please don't go in thinking there will be lots of shootouts and the like. Psychological drama. I was impressed with the story of failed love between an otherwise decent man who just happens to be a serial killer and his clueless but secretly adulterous wife. There's someone out there for everyone even if it may not be the person they're currently seeing. I really liked the theme music by Massive Attack. This only had six episodes but they are long.