Sunday, 27 September 2015

Show Me A Hero

(Pic : Sky)
A political drama based on public housing in Yonkers – a small city a few miles north of New York City – sounds like a pretty dull proposition, doesn't it?

Maybe so, but David Simon (The Wire, Treme, Generation Kill) and Paul Haggis (perhaps most famous for Due South in the UK) have managed to perform alchemy by turning this story into one of the best mini-series I've seen in a long time.


Show Me A Hero
is an
adaption of a non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Lisa Balkin,  following the ups and downs of Nick Wascisko – played brilliantly by Oscar Issac – who, in 1987, became the youngest mayor in the city's history at the age of just 28.

Yonkers was facing a major crisis. At the time, it was one of the last cities left that practiced segregated public housing and schooling. The courts had ordered that the city reverse this by building hundreds of new public housing units in the predominantly white, lower middle class areas in the east of the city.

The council fought this and, in the face of widespread - borderline violent - public protests, Wascisko was elected on a ticket whereby he would appeal the courts decision. The courts took a much harder line and enforced crippling fines on both the city and individual councillors – even threatening them with prison.

In the end the city, by Wascisko's direction, relented and the homes were built.

There's an old adage that "All political careers end in failure", while the show takes its title name from a F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, "Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy". That's demonstrated to great effect as Nick's search for a public acceptance of his political decisions and personal life collide in a way that inevitably leads to a destructive downward spiral.

As is typical in a David Simon show, it's hard to tell who the hero is in this, while plenty of The Wire alumni make cameos – alongside Winona Ryder.

Although some of the personal stories of the public housing tenants weren't covered in enough detail – which would always be hard to do with just 6 hours to work with – the quality of the acting from everyone make you care about what happens to these people even if they were on screen for a very short time.

That's said to be a golden rule in any drama, but to manage to do it with rather dry subject matter available is extraordinary. If you like the third season of The Wire, you'll probably like this.

It was also very accurate, you can see old videos of Yonkers Council meetings on Youtube and Show Me A Hero captured the mood perfectly, while the actors and actresses captured the mannerisms perfectly too.

Although the show is very clearly (but subtly) set in a world before the internet and mobile phones, it has a resonance with the present, particularly with stories of police brutality against African-Americans, the present refugee crisis in Europe and general NIMBYism in the face of sky-high housing costs.

In situations like that, politicians like Nick Wascisko are caught in the middle between doing what voters want and doing what's good. Sometimes doing good doesn't make you a good person, while being populist and doing what voters want doesn't necessarily make you a good politician.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Up for the Rugby World Cup

(Pic : The Guardian)

The 2015 Rugby World Cup kicks off next Friday, providing the latest opportunity to humiliate myself by making stupid predictions.

Group A

The Group of Death. First thing is we can get Uruguay out of the way. They're toast. In their two appearances at previous Would Cups, they've conceded, on average, 176 points, or 44 points per game. Fiji have the potential to be competitive - as Wales know full well - but they're unlikely to finish anywhere other than fourth.

So that brings me to the three teams challenging for the two quarter final spots – the hosts England, Australia and Wales. Even before the loss of Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny, it was looking like a tough ask for Wales. Rhys was being built up as one of Wales' most potent attacking threats, while Leigh is worth 15-20 points by himself from outfield kicks.

As much as it pains me to say this, I don't see Wales getting out of the group. I think they'll probably go close to beating one of the other two big teams, but it'll just be too much. If they do get out of the group, it would be a bigger achievement than reaching the semis in 2011.

The teams that finish third qualify automatically for the next World Cup in 2019, so even if Wales don't quite make it out of the group, they'll still have to turn up against Fiji or they'll be looking at having to go through the European qualifiers, which would be a humiliation.

As for England and Australia, you've got to fancy Australia – the current southern hemisphere champions – to win the group. England haven't been 100% convincing in the warm up games and might be nervy as hosts. I suspect England v Australia on 3rd October could go down as a classic, as winning the group makes the difference between facing South Africa or Samoa/Scotland in the quarter finals.

Australia
England

=======
WALES
Fiji
Uruguay

Group B

It's easy enough to choose the group winner : South Africa by a canter.

The fight for second is between Samoa and Scotland. Scotland have been gradually improving over the last few years in the Six Nations and you've got to fancy them, but Samoa are no slouches and are only ranked two places behind Scotland in 12th.

The United States are perhaps one of the most rapidly improving sides in world rugby and gave Australia a game (for a half) in Chicago a few weeks ago, but – like Japan – it'll be a familiar finish.

South Africa
Scotland

=======
Samoa
United States
Japan


Group C

The Group of....Life? The easiest one to predict – a New Zealand, Argentina one-two. There could be record points on the board here as Namibia are the lowest-ranked side in the tournament and Georgia aren't that far off. You would expect Tonga to give the big boys a game, but there's not much to see here.

New Zealand
Argentina

=======
Tonga
Georgia
Namibia

Group D

There will be a scrap between France and Ireland to finish top as whoever does so is likely to avoid New Zealand in the quarter finals. France haven't done well in recent Six Nations, but they usually turn up to World Cups. Ireland are likely to be many people's dark horses to win the thing and I fancy them to steal the group.

Italy played a very physical game against Wales in their last warm up and could impact the latter stages of the tournament through injuries to key French and Irish players.

Ireland
France

=======
Italy
Canada
Romania

The Knock-Out Rounds

Quarter-finals
  • South Africa v England – At Twickenham, in front of a home crowd. I'd fancy England to do it.
  • New Zealand v France – A tie with a lot of history. New Zealand are no longer invincible, but you would expect them to do the job.
  • Ireland v Argentina – Ireland should win on paper.
  • Australia v Scotland – Plucky Scots as it ever was.

Semi-finals
  • England v New Zealand – It depends on which England turn up. I'd fancy NZ.
  • Ireland v Australia – A potential humdinger. Ireland are capable of winning if they play to their absolute best, so what the hell....

Final?
  • New Zealand v Ireland – I honestly don't know, but the head says New Zealand.

­