Narcos (TV Review)

Narcos (TV Review)

Narcos is the TV series that we have all been secretly waiting for ever since Vincent Chase took the risk to make Medellin on Entourage.

Here we are provided with an excellent 10 episodes of historical drama that outlines the life and times of Pablo Escobar, perhaps the richest, and greatest, criminal of his time, if not all time, as told through the view of the DEA agent that helped play a role in his hunt and capture.

narcos4To put it mildly, Narcos is fantastic entertainment.

From the very beginning, the Netflix original show provides grit and drama, taking us from the humble beginnings of the man that would become the greatest, and most feared, man on the planet, the most wanted man on earth. It truly is an incredible story, how one man developed the idea of exporting cocaine, a relatively new drug at the time, to Miami, and how he was- for better or worse- able to change the world.

Escobar went through many changes in his life as a crime lord. He began humbly, but incredible vision allowed him to create the largest drug empire the world has ever seen, where he was making upwards of $60 million per day, actually having more money than he knew what to do with. It got to a point where he literally gave money away to the poor of Columbia, trying to improve their lives with the exorbitant amounts of cash that he knew he would be unable to launder. He even buried money all over the country, creating for himself millions of dollars in an actual treasure map, just trying to hide the endless flow of money that was coming in to him from the cocaine trafficking trade. Eventually, he craved more power, even taking a brief turn in the Colombian house of representatives as an elected official, starting off a time of butting heads with the government that would last for the rest of his life.

NARCOS S01E06 " Eplosivos"

The story of Pablo Escobar speaks for itself, and stories like that manage to just write themselves. Sometimes the truth really is more interesting than any fiction that can be invented. His story is unbelievable, but it is always thrilling to watch. We get to see as he becomes more paranoid, as the law closes in on him, yet we continually see his genius, especially when it comes to creating the deal that would lead to turning himself in. What other criminal in the history of the world got a deal where he could build his own prison for himself, and ensure that government officials weren’t allowed within three miles of the place? Only Escobar.

The story itself provides 10 hours of great entertainment.

Narcos is such a strong show, and not only for the reasons of the story that was already there, ready to be told. It is a show buoyed by strong acting performances throughout, starting with the portrayal of Escobar himself by Wagner Moura. He embodies the man, making him the likable monster that he was in real life. He manages to create a sympathetic character in Pablo, despite the numerous atrocities that he commits over the course of his life of crime. He brings out the man of the people, and the family man, behind the killer who would be willing to sacrifice hundreds of lives in blowing up a plane just to kill one man, or start an all-out civil war on the streets of Bogota, just to ensure his power is maintained, and the fear of him is constantly on the minds of all Colombians.

narcos5A successful element of Narcos is that we get to see the story from both sides. This is not a pro-American show, where the good guys from the States come riding in to save the day in a poor country gripped in the ravages of a drug war from an all-evil man. We see the views of the cops being run out of the US Embassy, the Colombian military, Escobar and his confidantes, his enemies, and his partners. Narcos provides us with many views, which helps us to understand the story that much better. It really does give us insight in to not only the characters of the story, but the story itself, by providing these alternate viewpoints.

This is a very well-written and well-directed series, from start to finish. It is also mostly in Spanish, which helps in not taking away from the dialogue by having actors struggle through a second language, or having American actors put on weak Spanish accents. It contributes to the grittiness, and the reality, of the story. And it never feels cumbersome, having to read a good portion of what is being said over the course of the series.

NARCOS S01E03 "The Men of Always"

I instantly fell in love with Narcos, and can’t wait for there to be a second season in order to conclude the story that they have started here. The story of Pablo Escobar is so unreal, that it warrants more than a fake movie from an HBO series: it warrants its own TV series, where it can take its time in developing all the intricacies of the plot, and the many characters who in reality, brought to life the story of Escobar, and his virtual ruling of the world during the 1980’s. I would say that Narcos goes beyond a strongly recommended series, to one that is basically a must see. One of the best that Netflix has produced.

Bachelorette (Film Review)

Bachelorette (Film Review)

Right off the bat, it is easy to tell that the majority of people will be comparing Bachelorette to two highly successful films of a similar nature: Bridesmaids and The Hangover.

In order to enjoy this movie, you might as well end the comparisons there. Sure, there are little bits of each of those films interspersed into this one, but it is a different movie, and does not really try to be either one of those, but something on it’s own. There is even a message in this movie, if you care to look for it.

The raunchy comedy stars a really strong cast of Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, James Mardsen, and Adam Scott. The women have been friends since high school, and are brought back together for the surprising wedding of Wilson, whom they all assumed was the least likely to be the one to get married first. Each of the bridesmaids are forced to look at their own lives, which are in various states of disrepair, and they each fill a archetypal role within their group of friends.

bachelorette2Dunst plays Regan, the alpha-female who thought she had done everything right in life, but was still not engaged to her never-present med school boyfriend. Regan is angry and terrifying, becoming the Bridezilla even though she was only the maid of honour in this wedding. She wants to ensure that everything is perfect for her friend, even though she has constant doubts about her own life, by seeing her friend get married first. She has a darker past, as do they all, and her perfect exterior hides secrets such as bulimia. Dunst is quite strong in this role, again showing the promise she had as an actress not so long ago. It seems like forever ago that she was one of the hottest actress on the planet, and seemed like she would be lined up for life with great roles and awards forever.

Caplan, always darkly humorous in whatever role she undertakes, plays a promiscuous party girl who never really sorted things out in the 15 years since high school. Her life is pretty rudderless, and she still pines for the boyfriend she had back in the day. This leads us to several scenes with her and Adam Scott, who are always great together. If you haven’t seen them in the great show Party Down, you are missing out. Caplan has her own issues, such as never getting over an abortion she had to have when she was 16, and a little bit too much love for cocaine.

Isla Fisher plays a role that is fairly similar to the one that she plays in Wedding Crashers, only more extreme. She is a hard partying girl, and as flighty as they come. Her air-headedness provides a good number of the laughs in the film.

The girls main purpose in the film is to try and fix their own lives, while trying to save the wedding dress that they ruined after the bachelorette party, where they indulged in a lot of champagne and a lot of cocaine. They are three hot messes, and they need to fix what could be the biggest mistake of their friendship. They are not good people, but don’t try and come across as such. They are mean to one another, mean to other people, but that is what makes them succeed as friends. They have bonded over their cruelty, and their us against the world mentality.

If you are expecting a comedy that is as slapstick or laugh-out-loud funny as Bridesmaids, you will be disappointed. Many of the other reviews of the film that I have read make this direct comparison, but because the subjects are similar, does not mean that the comparisons need to be made. Bachelorette is much darker than those films, and the humour comes across as such. It is less needing to use the bathroom in the middle of the street, and more insulting strippers and doing so much coke that putting two people in one of your best friend’s wedding dresses seems like a good idea. It is less attacking fountains, and more overdosing on Xanax. The lives of the girls are pretty grim, but that is the point of the film. It is having a dark past, and moving past it, to try and be a better, happier person.

The three main stars are what make this movie so enjoyable.
The three main stars are what make this movie so enjoyable.

I quite enjoyed this film, because of the darker humour, and because of the women in the three lead roles. They were all pretty great, in my opinion, even if you found it hard to like them because they are such messes, and because they are such bad people. But I liked them because they were deplorable people. It works, and Caplan, Dunst, and Fisher make them all work.

If you can forget about making the comparisons to the other pre-wedding films, there is something quite enjoyable about Bachelorette, and it is well worth a watch on Netflix. You may not laugh out loud, but there are definite humorous moments throughout the film. I’d say it is worthwhile.

The Wolf Of Wall Street (Film Review)

The Wolf Of Wall Street (Film Review)

With going to the theater a more rare thing for me, it often takes me a long time to see films that people have been raving about for months. And I am okay with that. I can wait to hear all the reviews about a movie, wait for the awards season to come and go, hear about who was robbed and who earned their statues, etc. And then I can finally sit back, and enjoy a film based on what I want to think of it, without any of the hype getting in the way. Waiting to see big movies has made me a lot more objective.

wolf-of-wall-street1The Wolf of Wall Street is typically the type of movie I would have rushed out to see back in the day. I love all films directed by Martin Scorcese, and I particularly enjoy those in which he has worked with Leonardo DiCaprio, who I believe has become the best actor of this generation, or perhaps tied with Daniel Day Lewis. The movies that these two have made together have all been excellent, and there isn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy.

In this film, I believe DiCaprio may have given his best performance to date. At least, in the first half of the three-hour movie he does. After the climactic events of the film, he regresses a little to the DiCaprio that we are more used to seeing, and he seems far more hinged and held back than the crazed, greedy, maniac he is in the first half.

The plot of the story is typical for a Scorcese film, and really isn’t that different from Goodfellas, set in a different locale. Man starts from nothing, rises up to be the best, and then the inevitable downfall. There is nothing new here when it comes to the story, but as with all Scorcese films, the best part is how he brings it all out.

For Wolf, he does it through the debauchery of the lead characters’ (Jordan Belfort) life. He loves drugs, and women, and money. He goes on major Qualuude benders, snorts tons of cocaine (from some pretty interesting locations, as well), drinks like a fish, and goes through hookers like candy. Jordan is an insatiable person, in all aspects of his life. He became a self-made, millionaire trader on Wall Street, and lived life in the finest lap of luxury. Before it all blows up in his face, as these things tend to do. But prior to his fall, he gets everything a human could want. The crazy mansion, an armada of impressive sports cars, the gorgeous wife (played impressively by Margot Robbie, who has an awesome Long Island accent, and a beauty that steals several scenes).

Margot-Robbie-Leonardo-Di-CaprioThe rest of the supporting cast in this film is strong as well. Even though I really don’t like Jonah Hill, he was pretty good in his role. The same goes for Matthew McConaughey, who doesn’t get much screen time, but creates a likable character pretty quickly.

I really enjoyed this movie. Even though it is very long, it is definitely entertaining. We like watching Belfort to terrible things to himself and to those around him, because a part of the film is about how he really is a good person, and helpful to those around him. There is a world-record amount of swearing in the film (because apparently people have counted the number of f-bombs in here, and all other movies), tons of drugs, and tons of nudity. A little something for everybody.

My biggest complaint about the transition of this book in to a film (I am currently reading the novel written by Belfort that served as the source material for the movie, I will write a review of the book when I complete it) is that there isn’t much explained about how Jordan managed to make all of his money and this leaves us not really understanding his true genius. Whenever the screen version of Belfort begins to explain how he is messing with the system in order to make millions, he cuts himself off, telling the audience that we either don’t really care about the details, or that we wouldn’t understand it. I believe this took  a lot away from him, because while we know he is clever, we don’t know how clever. Was a lot of his money a fluke? How good was he? For those of us who don’t really understand Wall Street, but want to know more, this movie missed an opportunity to detail a little bit more about the ins and outs of the business. Think of how Oliver Stone’s Wall Street educated us in the sneakiness of insider trading. I wanted some more of that. I didn’t want to be treated as a simple audience member who wouldn’t understand everything. Sure. perhaps I wouldn’t understand it all, but I wanted to at least be given the chance (this rings true in the novel, as Belfort brushes over a lot of the details on how his money was made, although he describes intensely how he went about moving it to the Swiss accounts). Maybe more explanation would have meant an even longer running time, but I would have sacrificed another twenty minutes to find out how the man called the Wolf became the man called the Wolf.

This is not Scorcese’s best movie. I think the story was too simple for it to be that. It misses out on some of the layers that his other work has provided us with, in films such as The Departed. The story is simple, and perhaps it leaves us wanting more. Because we know what is going to happen, perhaps he could have provided us with more insight into the characters. For example, there is a scene described in the novel where Belfort confesses all of his problems to Aunt Emma (or Patricia in the novel). This gives us insight in to him, and their relationship, and the reasons he does so much of what he does. In the film version, all we get is him wondering if she is hitting on him, and him confessing that he is a drug and sex addict. There could have been more here, so that we would care about Belfort in the way we cared about Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, or Robert DeNiro in Casino. For a movie that was this long, there could have been more about this man that we were watching, and loving, on screen. And we all know that DiCaprio has the chops to create a layered character that we can love, or even love to hate.

I truly enjoyed The Wolf of Wall Street. I probably believe that DiCaprio should have finally got his Oscar for this film. God knows he should have had three or four by now, but that is neither here nor there.

If you are on the fence about watching this movie, see it. It lives up to the hype that was created around it, and it will eventually be considered a quintessential part of the Scorcese/DiCaprio collection.

The Bad Guys Won! (Book Review)

The Bad Guys Won! (Book Review)

This book is a few years old already, so this review is definitely about a decade late, but I just finished reading it, and decided to write about it anyways.

First off, I love books about baseball. No other sport has created volumes of great work, created so many timeless stories, as baseball has. Perhaps it has something to do with the pace of the game being slower than other major sports, perhaps it is because it is easier to describe a one-on-one pitcher versus batter matchup, than it is to describe the actions of 22 men on a football field, or all of the insane action on the ice in a hockey game.

Books about baseball are the best. My bookshelves are packed with them. I find that I will read about anything, since the history of the game is so chalk full of great characters, heroes and villains, stories of the impossible, or improbable.

The story of the 1986 New York Mets is a great one. And it is put together extremely well in The Bad Guys Won!

badFrom the beginning, Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman paints the ’86 Mets as being a group of degenerate, hard-partying, self-obsessed, overly cocky jerks, who happen to, together, be one of the great teams in baseball history. People didn’t like them, other teams hated them, there was even a fair amount of self-loathing going on in the locker room. They knew that they were crazy, and they were mean to each other, but they won together.

Often, the ’86 World Series is remembered best because the Boston Red Sox blew the series, and Bill Buckner went down in infamy. The fact is, the Mets were the favorites to win it all (according to experts, and to the players themselves), and they were a team coming off a 108-win season, which is nothing to sneeze at. They were good. And they knew it.

Pearlman pieces together the season, including the lead-in years where the Mets were a league laughingstock. Smart moves, drafts, and trades created a team that was poised to dominate for years. With these Mets, and their hard living ways, they ended up having one great season, and then been broken apart, bit by bit. Some of their destruction was due to their own foolishness (just look at the nefarious careers of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry), others due to poor decisions after winning it all in ’86, and part was due to an organizational shift in philosophy, where ageing veterans were favored over youth. The fact is, the Mets were an incredible team, but they were only truly incredible once, which makes them that much more magical. Because it never happened again.

Rightfully, Pearlman laments the death of the fun ballplayer, of which the Mets had several. Today, people are trained on being politically correct, saying the right thing at the right time. The Mets were trash talking, rude, destructive. And they could back it all up on the field, by being a great team.

The narrative here is strung together well, and the book reads at a fast pace, much like the way the Mets lived. Pearlman doesn’t get too bogged down in unwanted details, instead focusing on what is important. He doesn’t spend too much time discussing the debauched evenings the Mets had (and I’m sure there would be a million more stories), as that can be saved for a Motley Crue biography. He talks about the partying, focuses on some of the major stories, and moves on. Even the cocaine problems that were rampant at the time are discussed, but not dwelt upon. If someone wanted to read a history of Darryl Strawberry and cocaine, there are plenty of other sources. The Bad Guys Won! is about the whole team, and for this, it is a very interesting read.

There is enough in here for baseball geeks to sink there teeth into, as there is no shortage of statistics or descriptions of games. For those who are not huge fans of the game, there is still much to savor here, mainly the rowdy off-field behavior and personalities of the players.

As a kid (I was 7 at the time), I remember these Mets, and I remember them winning that World Series. I thought Doc Gooden was the greatest pitcher even, and that Gary Carter was the best catcher I would ever see. Maybe I was partially right. Reading this book now, gave me insight into that team I never could have imagined as a kid, and I’m glad I did.

After reading The Bad Guys Won!, it is easy to wish for the athlete who spoke his mind, for the team that knew it was great, and was willing to tell the world about it.

But, at least for now, we are stuck with our heroes giving their tired cliches, trying not to offend anybody on the entire planet.

Makes us wish for those ’86 Mets again.

A great baseball read.