Monday, December 31, 2012

Man on Film: This Is 40

It seems as though with every new Judd Apatow film the story he is spinning is more personal than the last. This Is 40 certainly furthers this notion. Unfortunately, as Apatow's films have gotten more personal, they've also gotten less relatable. And less funny.

Oh, yeah. Megan Fox is in the movie, too.
Now I don't want to sound like I'm not allowing for a filmmaker to grow or evolve. Obviously Apatow is not going to be making the same films at 45 that he was at 38. In his case, though, it means that he has gone from making The 40-Year-Old Virgin to This Is 40--a film that would be more at home in James L. Brooks's oeuvre than Apatow's were it not for the odd descent into ribaldry that would be out of place in a Brooks film--over the course of seven years. That may seem like a denigration of the works of James L. Brooks, who is a damn fine comedic director. That is not the intention at all. As Good As It Gets, Broadcast News, and Terms of Endearment are all fine films. It's just that The 40-Year-Old Virgin seemed to signify a paradigm shift in comedy. Then everything that Apatow seemed to touch as a producer turned to gold--coarse, bawdy gold.

As Apatow's films have gotten to be of a more personal nature, they've gotten more insular. Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, in and of itself, but This Is 40 (and for that matter Funny People) doesn't really click. The laughs don't come. It meanders too much, as Apatow is wont to do. It runs long. And the laughs don't come.

All of this is too bad because it means the talents of Paul Rudd, Chris O'Dowd, Albert Brooks, Jason Segel, and Leslie Mann are misspent. Michael Ian Black and Lena Dunham aren't spent at all. Perhaps worse than all of that, it is more than hard to buy into the central conceit that Pete and Debbie actually still love each other.

At least Melissa McCarthy had two scenes and the fantastic bonus footage in the end credits.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Prick Tunes: Dirty Three's NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

I've spent much of this week catching up on the Man on Film entries in the hopes of having all of this year's entries done before the year ends. So far, so good. I really do want to get back in the habit of getting more music up here. In an effort to make good on that, here is an Tiny Desk Concert from NPR Music, something I used to throw up here on many Fridays. This Friday, you'll get 18 minutes of Dirty Three fun.

The three song set consists of "Rain Song" and "The Pier," both of which are found on their 2012 release Toward the Low Sun, and "Last Horse on the Sand" from the 1998 classic album Ocean Songs.

Man on Film: Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino is at his best when working in a man's world. His missteps (regardless of severity) occur when having his inherently masculine dialogue heavily funneled through female voices. It is through no fault of the females cast that these films are flawed; Tarantino simply doesn't write well in the female voice.

In Django Unchained, Tarantino is back walking through a man's world with men spouting his dialogue.

And it is superb.

The premise--freed-slave bounty hunter turns the Deep South at the end of antebellum upside-down with his German partner to free his wife--sets the stage for a deliciously bloody spectacle that Tarantino excels in--it was his panache in both the areas of hyper-stylized banter and over-the-top violence that arguably redirected the course of American cinema in the 1990s.

Using the superb Christoph Waltz, who is extremely likely to be getting at least another Best Supporting Actor nomination, and fellow Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, Tarantino has a pair whose cause is extremely easy to rally behind. Hell, Waltz was charismatic and likable as the bad guy in Inglourious Basterds. Here, their tête-à-tête is so effective and engaging that the 165 minute run-time flies by, never once letting the film feel long. Waltz is fucking fantastic, and Foxx fills the shoes of badass bounty hunter with a quiet but sure swagger.

In support, or more appropriately opposition, the adversarial cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Don Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Walton Goggins play up their roles with aplomb. With the rest of the slew of racists being cast and directed for the purpose of hilarity, Django Unchained is cast impeccably well.

Just as importantly, Django Unchained is blessed with a near-perfect script, and Tarantino's eye for the traditions of the genre (loosely, the Spaghetti Western) in relation to the mise-en-scene make for a fantastic film--probably his best since Pulp Fiction. It is a whole lot of fun, gleeful in its destruction and righteous in the vengeance exacted and bounties hunted. It also manages to deal with the subject of slavery in a manner that highlights the atrocities of the slave trade while not taking a Spielbergian heavy-handed preacher's tack. The slave traders and owners are mostly slaughtered, and rightfully so, but it still plays like an extremely violent Spaghetti Western, proving to be a disarmingly effective approach to addressing the issue.

All in all, it is hard to muster up anything negative to say about the film. Even with its length, Django Unchained is one of the most fun films of the year, consistently rewarding from beginning to end.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Man on Film: Jack Reacher

It is tempting to simply state that Jack Reacher is an unabridged love story doting on Rosamund Pike's chest--because, well, it sort of is--and just leave it at that, but once one is able to step back and attempt to extricate one's brain from such base thoughts it becomes clear that at the very least the new "Tom Cruise star vehicle"* is a completely engaging action-thriller, rife with intrigue, conspiracy, and crisp action sequences.

*The quotation marks are not meant to diminish Cruise in any way. It is clear, though, that the unintentional star of the film is Rosamund Pike's busom which is always featured prominently with an incontrovertibly intentional focus of the lens while being generously highlighted by smart er, calculating wardrobe choices. 

For screenwriter-by-trade Christopher McQuarrie, Jack Reacher marks just the second time he has stepped behind the camera (metaphorically, of course)--the first time being The Way of the Gun. While it has been so long since I saw The Way of the Gun that I can't even recall if it was good or not, I'll refrain from getting too far into his background. In his most recent project, he has crafted an effective action-thriller with a contemporary take on the great paranoia thrillers of the 1970s. Does Jack Reacher reach the lofty heights of being on par with Three Days of the Condor or The Conversation? Of course not. It is, however, an engaging journey as the titular retired military investigator pieces together a spree killing in which the evidence is wrapped up in entirely too nice a package.

For his part (and once you get through the personal baggage that is inevitable), Cruise still plays the part of the action star extremely well. Just as was clear in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Cruise inhabits these roles with a swagger and confidence that not many can muster. He has a preternatural ability to embody these stoic badasses. It may not be the coolest thing to say, but Cruise really is a hell of an action star. When paired with Rosamund Pike (I'll just leave it there), Cruise has produced another memorable if not spectacular action thriller that is, at the very least, a ride worth paying to go on.

Man on Film: Silver Linings Playbook

In spite of its grating name--a trait it shares with some of David O. Russell's other films, namely I Heart Huckabee's and Spanking the Monkey--Silver Linings Playbook stands out as one of the year's best films. This should come as no surprise, of course, as Three Kings, the aforementioned I Heart Huckabee's, and The Fighter were all amongst the best films released in the years they came out as well, but the fact remains that no matter the subject, David O. Russell's touch is a deft and sure one.

If you want an idea as to how good this film is, let us just start with the statement that David O. Russell restores hope in the form of the romantic comedy. After all, that's what Silver Linings Playbook is: a romantic comedy. Somehow, though, it doesn't fall into the trap that nearly every other film of the genre does, a trait that speaks to its director, who seems to be able to work within a genre while being entirely his own man each time out. Just as he did with The Fighter and Three Kings, Russell sets up shop in a genre only to make that genre his own.

Where Silver Linings Playbook sets itself apart is in having its romantic leads need each other to make them right. Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) had such emotional issues that he was institutionalized on orders of the court after beating the man with whom his wife was having an affair. Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) took to feeding her widow's grief with an endless string of self-destructive sex. The two are wrecks, but in each other's company, even though it is on a platonic basis, they work and begin to piece their  shattered lives back together. Each character is broken but outspoken, giving Cooper and Lawrence roles full of opportunity. That Lawrence kills it is hardly a shock. She's clearly one of the most (if not the most) promising young actresses working. Hell, she's probably looking at her second Academy Award nomination at the age of 22. It's Cooper whose performance is revelatory. Whether of his own choosing or not, Cooper's talents have been wasted for nearly a decade (Midnight Meat Train notwithstanding, obviously). Here, the untapped potential fucking geysers without ceasing. Cooper is great, putting his name in the mix for a Best Actor nomination while making us remember why we--at least those of us who watched Alias when it was still good--had hope for him in the first place.

While Cooper and Lawrence are at the film's center, the supporting cast augments the leads well. Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, and Shea Whigham are all great in small roles, and Robert DeNiro actually gets to play a role he hasn't played before, hearkening back to a time in which he was a top-notch actor. It's like the audience gets a taste of 1976. It is so nice to see DeNiro playing a role that isn't beneath him for once. We have to go back to Ronin or The Score to find a film in which DeNiro's talents aren't squandered. If you give him The Score, that's still over a decade in which he has floundered in substandard roles. In Silver Linings Playbook, he gets a chance to flash brilliance once again. It's fucking glorious.

Really, though, it's David O. Russell's vision, his ability to hand-craft screenplays with cherry roles for his actors, that make Silver Linings Playbook the fantastic film that it is. It is imbued with a working-class charm and a genuinely loving respect for the downtrodden. As always, Russell actually treats his subjects (at least most of them) with respect, rather than sneering down at them from a lofty perch. And when all is said and done, you'll be hard-pressed to think of a movie that's made you feel better this year.

Man on Film: Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly seemed to have all the ingredients for a great film. Starting with the writer/director of Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and adding a stellar cast featuring Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard B. Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and the criminally underrated Ben Mendelsohn should have meant Killing Them Softly would be damn near spectacular.

Instead, it was wrought with a heavy-handed approach and included a theme whose connectivity was strained at best, presumably losing a chunk of its pertinence in the hour that was reportedly cut from the first cut of the film. If you want an example of its hamfisted direction, look no further than Dominik's choice to have a heroin-shooting scene take place with the instrumental intro to The Velvet Underground's "Heroin" playing. Killing Them Softly also decided to employ audio from speeches occurring right around the 2008 election (when the film is set) regarding the mortgage crisis and ensuing market crash to drive home a point about how the robbery that set off everything collapsed the local criminal underworld financially, but the execution of this point is both crude and ineffective. Dominik gets points for trying, but these efforts come up short, much like most of the film does.

It is all really a shame because it feels like there was a great movie somewhere in there, but Dominik got lost along the way.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Man on Film: The Expendables 2

It's been a long damn time since I saw this one in the theater, but I can say without pause that The Expendables 2 was every bit the bombastic throw-back action flick it set out to be. Anyone who saw the first one knows what to expect. Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Couture, Crews, Li, Schwarzenegger, and Willis are back. Jean-Claude Van Damme, Liam Hemsworth, and Chuck Norris are added to the mix. It's just as huge as you are hoping and just as loving an homage to the films in its familial lineage.

Perhaps more importantly, Simon West directs this time around. I love Sylvester Stallone as much as the next guy, and he does have skills as a director. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the chops to really pull off films as bombastic as The Expendables films. His shortcomings were never more clear than in the final battle scene in Vilena in the first film. The intention for a huge finale was there, but much of the action was unintelligible because it takes place at night, in part to presumably cover up for a deficiency in being able to shoot these sequences cleanly. Simon West--who directed, amongst other things, the pinnacle of 1990s action films Con-Air--has these chops. The action sequences in The Expendables 2 are much cleaner and crisper than in its predecessor.

Really, though, you are going to watch The Expendables 2 for its knowing winks and nudges to the pasts of the huge actions stars of yore. You sign up to watch them chew on the charmingly clunky dialogue. You buy the ticket for the train to see all of these guys who you've loved in the past blow shit up and mow down faceless bad guys. And for all of these things, The Expendables 2 gives you what you want. It's not high art, but it's a whole helluva lot more fun than High Art.

Now if only we could get a huge Terry Crews star vehicle.

Man on Film: Skyfall

Just as with the Anna Karenina review, I'm putting this one out there in a most triumphantly half-assed manner. Enjoy if you can. 

For the most part, I think I get what they are trying to do with the rebooted Daniel Craig and beyond James Bond franchise. To their (in this case, "their" is a vague person/entity that I don't really care to look deeper into, but surely it's some genius at Sony Pictures) credit, I can sort of get behind the choice to try to make James Bond a more human character with a backstory that builds some emotional capital in the audience. The James Bond of old seemed content to peddle sex and gadgets with little concern for grounding the series in something resembling the real world.

In Skyfall, the powers that be brought in a bona fide director to man the helm of what one assumes (and again, maybe I'm wrong, as I don't care to get too bogged down in the details of what is going on with this franchise) to be the final of the origin trilogy for the character. I think it's safe to say that Sam Mendes is the most esteemed director* to take on the character, and there is definitely a visual sophistication here that was absent in Casino Royale or especially anything that preceded the most recent three films.

*Though Lewis Gilbert did direct the original Alfie, Roger Spottiswoode did Air America, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Turner & Hooch, and The Best of Times, Michael Apted was responsible for Gorillas in the Mist and The Coal Miner's Daughter, Lee Tamahori directed Next, and Marc Forster was the man behind the wheel for Finding Neverland and Monster's Ball.

Unfortunately, even when blessed with the presence of the inestimable Javier Bardem as the villain, Skyfall just doesn't quite accomplish what it seems to attempt. For starters, the film is overlong. I don't have a problem with a film running long if it doesn't feel long. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was 130 minutes and clipped right along. Skyfall felt long. It plodded along for much of the film's latter half. And while it does the admirable thing in trying to extricate the films from the gadget-fetishism that made them camp and thus relics from a bygone era and gives the franchise a new great Quartermaster in the form of Ben Whishaw,  it still feels just a little less contemporary than it's trying to be.

To its credit, Skyfall does spend much of its downtime building emotional backstory, giving weight to the third act and finally allowing Judi Dench to feel like her presence isn't merely a squandered luxury. I suppose it seems a bit two-faced to complain about the film's run-time while at the same time crediting Mendes & Co. for infusing an emotional weight largely absent from the previous incarnation of the franchise, but you can have a film with a little less wasted screen time.

I've already prattled on far longer than I had intended, so I'm going to wrap things up here. I will say that Skyfall was significantly better than Casino Royale, which was so bad that I refused to even bother with Quantum of Solace. It is very far from the best thing I've seen this year, but there were plenty of worse films. Mendes showed he could do the massive action film with Skyfall. Hopefully this gives him the latitude to be able to do whatever he wants after this, damn the consequences, even if it's a follow-up to the criminally underrated Away We Go.

Man on Film: Anna Karenina

In an effort to get all of the Man on Film entries taken care of within this calendar year, I'm going to sacrifice quality even more than usual (a terrifying notion, to be sure) on some of the films that are left that are not particularly notable. This is one of those films.

When walking into a Joe Wright film, you at least have the hope of seeing something unique. Whether it was his unique take on Pride & Prejudice or his quirky vision on display in Hanna, Wright has a knack for bringing more to the table from a visual standpoint than many of his contemporaries. 

Don't mind his ridiculous hair
Joe Wright's adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's classic Anna Karenina is no exception to this trend. 

Anna Karenina is often a marvel to behold, with its moving sets catching the audience up in a whirlwind of filmic motion. His choice for scene/setting transitions is a bold one without question; and from a sheer visual standpoint, Anna Karenina stands apart from much of its ilk. Unfortunately, these transitions wrap the audience up in the motion while undercutting any of the emotional ties one could have with most of the characters. 

Now it would seem that there is a symbolic importance to the choices Wright made, as the artificiality engendered in the sound stage/theater that much of the film takes place in would seem to serve a purpose in emphasizing an impurity in the lusty but improper romances afoot in those settings while the scenes set in the real world are scenes in which the characters' love is true. It is entirely possible that I could be misreading Wright's intentions, but I think I'm at least on the right track. While there would appear to be a deeper meaning to his choice, that doesn't excuse the fact that for all Wright's lofty goals and good intentions the choice falls flat and disengages the audience. Never mind the fact that his muse, Kiera Knightley, fails to win the audience over and has you wishing for her character's death by the film's coda, Anna Karenina simply drives away those wanting to emotionally invest in any of the characters. When you throw in the comically bad style and make-up choices for Aaron [Taylor-]Johnson's hair and Ruth Wilson's (Alice from Luther) incredibly distracting prosthetic eyebrows to name a few, it's hard not to fault the film for its serious shortcomings. 

Much like in the only other Wright film I've written up in this forum, Atonement, this means that Wright has an often beautiful film in which the sum of the parts comes far short of what it should be. Jude Law, Domhnall  Gleeson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew MacFayden, and Olivia Williams all turn in strong but ultimately wasted performances as the film actively tries to disconnect the audience from any emotional involvement. If this were a David Cronenberg film, such a choice might make a little sense. It doesn't here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Prick Tunes: Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band "Sure 'Nuff 'n Yes I Do"

Coming from their fucking fantastic debut 1967 LP Safe as Milk, the album opener "Sure 'Nuff 'n Yes I Do" takes the blues and puts the throttle down in one triumphantly brash blast. With then-20-year-old Ry Cooder getting an "arrangement by" credit for the tune and being a full-fledged member of The Magic Band at the time, this isn't just the debut for Don Van Vliet's sprawling, raucous brainchild.

Some of you whippersnappers may also recognize the song from having been covered twice on the Lawless soundtrack, once by Ralph Stanley and once by Mark Lanegan with Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, and Co. providing the backing band in the form of The Bootleggers. It's so good, Nick Cave decided it needed to be in the film twice. If ever you needed a stamp of approval, there you have it.

Man on Film: Smashed

Any review of Smashed, first-time director James Ponsoldt's alcoholism/recovery flick begins and ends with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who turns in a strong performance as Kate Hannah, an elementary school teacher who can barely crawl out of the bottle long enough to teach her students and when she does manage to make it to her desk there's a fair chance that she'll vomit in front of them. Winstead gets to take on a role with more meat to it than most parts out there for women. After she hits bottom and becomes sober, it begins to put a strain on her personal relationships while running from the lies that she told while she was drinking.

What follows is a pretty run-of-the-mill indie alcoholism drama. Its subject matter affords its actors a lot of emotional ground to cover, and Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer, Megan Mullally, Mary Kay Place, and Kyle Gallner all get to run with what they're given. It may not be the freshest film--its visual palette is a bit dull and Winstead's wardrobe is so unusually drab as to raise the question whether Kate Hannah grew up on a Mormon compound--but Smashed finds its strength in human drama.

And, really, Winstead is great. Her performance is exactly the kind that one would have expected to be recognized with an Independent Spirit Award nomination--it was--and gives one hope about her career going forward. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Prick Tunes: Nazi Gold A Message of Love

From time to time, I get the chance to point y'all toward the works of deserving compatriots of mine.

[L to R] Steen, Harris, and Galavis

Today, it is my pleasure to tell all y'all bastards to check out (and by all means buy it if you like it) Nazi Gold's recently released LP A Message of Love. Nazi Gold is a bit of an Austin supergroup, if such a thing can exist, comprised of the unholy triumvirate of guitarist Quin Galavis (of Dead Space, Quin Galavis, and other bands I'm sure I'm missing), bassist Jeremy Steen (of Flesh Lights and The Gospel Truth), and percussionist extraordinare Thor Harris (of Swans, Shearwater, Bill Callahan, Angels of Light, Devendra Banhart, and god knows how many other bands past and present). I've listened to this album a whole fucking lot. Do yourself a favor and get yourself some. In addition to being able to procure the album through their Bandcamp page, it is available through iTunes, and you can go ahead and like their asses on Facebook.

Unfortunately, there isn't a solid video to put up. If someone really wants to shoot one for the band, they should contact them. Then I can put it up here. Someone do that please.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Prick Tunes: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds "We No Who U R"

The first song available to listen to from the forthcoming Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album, Push the Sky Away--less than two months away, bitches--is up. As someone who already has tickets for the nearest show that the tour-hating Bad Seeds are playing to Austin (until of course they announce three fucking SXSW shows that no normal person will be able to go to), I'm excited for this record. This song does nothing to quell my excitement. Despite its title, the song is great. The effects on the organ are fantastic.

Color me pumped.

Man on Film: Beasts of the Southern Wild

There are few films that feel as completely and utterly unique as Beasts of the Southern Wild. Benh Zeitlin's feature-length directorial debut (as best I can tell, the lawyer Ben Zeitlin from Terriers is not named after Benh) is visually stunning. In and of itself, that should usually be enough to at least warrant one's precious time, but Beasts of the Southern Wild is much more than just arresting.

Zeitlin carves out a filmic niche that is unlike nearly anything you have seen. Rejoicing in the world of the contemporary primitive, living on the outside of the modern world, looking on with fear, superstition, and awe, Zeitlin brings us the story of Hushpuppy (played by the ferocious Quvenzhané Wallis), a strong six-year-old girl whose semi-present father, Wink, has fallen ill (with what seemed to me to be pleurisy, but I honestly can't remember if it was ever diagnosed) as a hurricane bears down on the Bathtub, a no man's land in the titular southern wilds of the Louisiana Gulf Coast. As their home is battered and beaten, Hushpuppy and Wink struggle through the wrecked terrain in an attempt to repiece their lives together.

Their perseverance and indomitable spirit are infectious. Their story, fantastic. Zeitlin infuses the film with magical realism that rivals the most successful entrants into the genre, feeling right at home with the best of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. What we are presented with is an outright triumph. It is undoubtedly one of the most original films to come out in years, and rather than tell you more of what happens, I recommend you just watch it. Though I saw it theatrically months ago, it is now available in nearly every way you would want it to be: on Blu-rayDVD, and Amazon Prime (for only $3.99). Do yourself a solid and take this one in as soon as humanly possible. Beasts of the Southern Wild is undoubtedly in the conversation for best film of the year. Watch it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reading Rainbow: Canada by Richard Ford

In an effort to catch up on things around here, I'm going to throw this quick entry up.

The first time I read Richard Ford, I was smitten. His prose was revelatory. The Sportswriter and Independence Day were breathtaking. Sure, one could fault Ford for being self-indulgent in his wallowing in the late-20th Century mid-life malaise that Frank Bascombe wades through in the Bascombe Trilogy, but the journey is completely arresting.

Ford's newest novel, Canada, is a fairly significant departure from his best-known series which contained a Pulitzer Prize Award winner and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. This time we follow Dell Parsons, a 15-year-old whose parents in a moment of desperation go across the Montana/North Dakota border to rob a bank to get out from under the debt from a black market meat deal gone bad. Split into halves, the first section of Canada centers on the home as the Parsons clan is torn apart by the robbery. The second takes the reader along as Dell is absconded away to stay with the mysterious brother of a family friend across the border in the Saskatchewan.

Taking place in the late summer and fall of 1960, the tale of Dell Parsons is set just as America is seeming to lose its innocence. As his mismatched parents make their erred final stab at keeping their nuclear family together, Dell is finding nearly everyone around him to be of dubious judgment and make-up. Dell, allegorically, is America.

While it might be lacking in the depth of color and flourish by way of Ford's feel for the English language that imbues particularly the Bascombe Trilogy, the less evolved prose makes sense from a stylistic and thematic standpoint. Even though the novel is written from a point much later in Dell's life, the powers of observation and insight that a 15-year-old can be capable of, even in retrospect, has to be a bit limited. It only makes sense that the voice of the narrator would be slightly less evolved than that of Frank Bascombe, modern man adrift.

Though this authorial choice makes sense, it is a shame that the force of Ford's prose is sacrificed, even if just a bit. The reader gets a fair trade-off in the form of a more action-driven plot, but the difference in prose is noticeable. In Canada, one is not swept awayawash in awe at the way Ford pieces words together in sequencing that fill me with equal parts envy and joy. It is still a fine novel, but one cannot help but wonder what could have been.

Man on Film: Killer Joe

It is strange that it has taken me this long to write this up because Killer Joe was one of my favorite movies of the year. I really do not want to say too much about it as to let the film speak for itself and avoid setting any expectations at all for the first-time viewer.

William Friedkin's latest adaptation of a Tracy Letts play (the two also collaborated on Bug) is insane. It's darkly and mercilessly funny, blessed with a brilliant cast and highlighted with perhaps the greatest performance of Matthew McConaughey's career. Having just spoken of how we're in the throes of the McConaussance (hat-tip to Jeremy again) when talking of his wonderful performance as District Attorney Danny Buck in Bernie, he takes on the role of Killer Joe Cooper with an elan so rarely seen committed to celluloid (or more likely digital video, but I digress). McConaughey is fucking brilliant in Killer Joe.

When complimented so well and fully by the rest of the cast--particularly Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon but Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple more than hold their own--it's hard not to marvel at the deliciously batshit crazy movie that the 77-year-old director churned out.

And if you needed any more reason to see this flick other than the fact that it's balls-to-the-wall insanity, this gem is featured prominently in the film. Clarence Carter, Clarence Carter, Clarence Carter, Clarence Carter, oooo shit, Clarence Carter.

Not unlike last night's Man on Film entry, Killer Joe is available on DVD and Blu-ray essentially right now. It gets released on December 21st. I cannot recommend it enough, though it is not for the faint of heart. And whatever you do, do not read anything more about this film. Hell, I wouldn't even watch the trailer if I were you. I'm not embedding it here just to try to discourage you from knowing anything about the film going into it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Man on Film: Bernie

It has grown pretty obvious that at this point I have gotten pretty bad at keep up with things around here. I've been far too inactive at Inconsiderate Prick, and I'm going to try to get caught up here in the next two weeks.

That means I might be spewing out some old Man on Film entries in an effort to get caught up on things. This is one of them.

I saw Bernie months ago. Richard Linklater's newest entry into the post-1990 indie cinema canon was a pleasant enough film. Unlike many films and television programs that focus their gaze on small-town America, Bernie actually treats its setting with a modicum of respect, finding a way to not condescend to small-town life. Sure, the events that transpire skew a bit towards the absurd, but Linklater doesn't use Bernie as a platform by which to treat small-town America with disdain. Instead, he infuses it with the appropriate amount of color while avoiding passing judgment altogether.

While Bernie presumably uses locals from the town in which the events are actually said to have taken place (a choice that has its plusses and minuses), what stands out about the film are the performances of Jack Black in the titular role and the actor who has perhaps had the most triumphant 2012 of anyone (more on that in the near future), Matthew McConaughey. As the four-string virtuoso Jeremy Steen has dubbed the age we now live in, the McConaussance is in full bloom, and his turn as the prosecuting attorney is just the tip of the iceberg. He is fucking fantastic, stealing the show at every opportunity he's given, dabbing his mouth with his tie and chewing on lines with the down-home sensibility he innately possesses. In a more surprising turn of events, Black is given the opportunity to spread his wings a bit, relishing a role with some flavor to it, and he actually nails it.

Is Bernie the greatest movie ever? Of course not. It's more than enough fun to queue up on Netflix, a platform on which it is available to stream, giving you an idea of just how behind I am around here. Nevertheless, there are worse ways to spend your time than watching Bernie. Have at it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Prick Tunes: Squeeze "Black Coffee In Bed"

I don't remember ever hearing this song until I caught it on an episode of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. Dylan kicked off the show with some vintage '40's tunes about coffee and in an odd leap from black and white to garish neon he played this:

For years after I began hearing the song everywhere.  I'd walk by a laundry mat and catch the chorus as someone walked out.  Flipping through channels it's there in the background on Cold Case or CSI or some damn thing. I became haunted by "Black Coffee in Bed."  I still wonder whether radio and tv programmers were that influenced by Dylan's TTRH or whether the song is always playing, a constant steady cosmic hum that can be tapped in and out of.

Brother Justin Crowe?

If you're at all surprised about the song's inclusion on TTRH, check this out.  It's kind of like Masked and Anonymous, but better plotted.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Three, Episode Twelve "Margate Sands"

Boardwalk Empire's third season comes to an explosive end as Nucky takes on Gyp's men while working back-channels to end up on top. Harrow liberates Tommy from the Artemis Club in the bloodiest way possible.

Old Man Duggan: It's pretty rare that a finale, season or series, gives me just about everything I want. While last season's finale brought to a close a season in which the conflict was a bit more personal, this one brought together each last outlying piece of an even more complex season. This season was fucking epic, and this finale made sure of it. Quite the fucking exclamation point, Terence. I'll start by saying, I have no idea how many people died in this episode, but it has to be right around 100. In. Sane.

The reporters laughing at Mayor Bader for insisting that he controlled Atlantic City was priceless.

Wordy Ginters: If only our press were as openly cynical today.  

OMD: Opening shot? Shots. Capone stepping forth with the single bullet to cap it off. Winter and Howard Korder (who penned last week's installment) really followed that fantastic close from "The Two Imposters" with what was promised, Capone offing a handful of Rosetti and Masseria's men. What follows is a gleeful slew of caps being placed indelicately in people's asses. To quote Shea Whigham's character in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, "Whoa." Bodies hit the floor.

WG: The symphony of violence throughout was beautiful. Ghastly, but beautiful. Perfect opening scene. The gangsta's silhouetted in the headlight beams and fog almost looked like they were dancing as they got dusted (Cheney reference) by machine gun fire. Definitely a harbinger of the carnage that followed.

OMD: I can't believe I liked what Mickey Doyle was spinning this week. If they get me in Mickey's corner, I'll be shocked.

WG: Was he operating rogue, or carrying out Nucky's orders? Regardless, it is the first time he's been allowed to demonstrate even a whiff of competence. Or likability for that matter. In that phone call scene, it was a largely unspoken, but effective back at Rothstein's place, showing his complete disdain for dealing with Mickey by reluctantly directing his goon to turn down the record player. 

OMD: It seemed like Nucky called that whole shot. "Big bait? Big rat."

How great was the repeated butting heads of Capone and Chalky? Sure, it was ultimately empty chest pounding, but it made their shared getting off on cutting down Masseria's caravan all the better. 31 down in one fell swoop. Still, the cockswinging was in full effect, and it worked.

WG: It was a nice twist. Of course there would be race issues between Capone and his crew and Chalky's guys. It was a nice way to keep the tension vibrating. Purnsley pissing on the car was great. Capone v. Chalky, who wins? I noticed Chalky immediately got into a traditional boxer stance, moving, feigning dancing. I think Wilfredo Benitez is high on his comp list. I sensed Capone was going to go more MMA style, with a bull-rush, probably try to get Chalky down and work on his ground game. It would be a toss up.

OMD: I'm sure Capone was a hybrid Brazilian jiu-jitsu/muay thai guy. His submission game was likely unparalleled for its time.

Man, I did not see Rothstein screwing over Lucky Luciano coming. I figured something was up, but that was not how I figured the arrest would go away. Looks like that heroin came into play in the big picture though. Just like everything else from this season did. You have to admire the juggling act Winter and crew pulled off this season. There may not have been many developments in the last two episodes that shocked me, but I have to say that for ten episodes there were a lot of strings out there that I never thought would get tied back in to this tapestry.

WG: Me neither. In surface ways, Rothstein has been a somewhat sympathetic character this season, as a partner to Nucky, pragmatic, honest, reasonable. They put the black hat on him in the last few episodes. I assume this might be positioning for Season Four, with him squared up against, rather than tentatively alongside Nucky. 

OMD: If I didn't see Rothstein screwing over Luciano, I definitely didn't see Nucky's whole play coming. He's nothing if not calculating, although that calculation seems to only play well for him in business.

WG: That Capone and Chalky wiped out Masseria's soldiers as they retreated from Atlantic City surely has to stir up a shitstorm that could definitely soil Nucky's fragile situation. 

Stay away from Needles
OMD: Maybe. he told Tonino to bring Gyp to Masseria and tell him they can either be squared up or keep things hostile and acrimonious. After all, Masseria did back a play against Nucky in Nucky's hood. Masseria could have justifiable been retaliated against even more.

Gillian, Gyp, the belt, the needle. All of those chickens came home to roost. Gyp's dirty talk got me going. Or at least it would have if I truly loathed every inch of my being. What a depraved sonuvabitch. I suppose Gillian's failure was inevitable. She stuck the needle in once and got everything she wanted in nefarious ways. Second time was not the charm, though she'll reportedly live to see another day.

WG: Gillian drawing out Gyp's particular brand of kink was compelling as hell. I didn't know whether I should be feeling uncomfortable, aroused, confused, aroused, or horny. The femdom/asphyxiation angle plays well as shock value, and as insight into Gyp's twisted soul. Maybe my favorite character on the show. It's rare to see a character who can exude menace and a loopy, goofy, charm. Usually it comes off like Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze. Gyp was just a shade too much cartoon, but for the most part he nailed it. Getting fragged by his main man was fitting. As was his off-kilter coda on the beach. Goo-Goo-Goo.

OMD: The entrance of Richard Harrow hit the precise beat that it needed to. Masseria's men withdraw. Only Gyp's men are left. Gyp storms downstairs after dosing Gillian, and I looked to the screen knowing what was coming brimming with sick glee. And how glorious was Harrow's precise gunning down of all but four of Gyp's men? Methodical. Detached. "Close your eyes, Tommy." I laughed so fucking hard when he sprayed that dickhead's brains across the window with the rifle he was setting down. Harrow's Taxi Driver Preservation of Innocence spree was even more fulfilling than Travis Bickle's. I loved that when Harrow started gunning fuckers down, Gyp ran for the hills, or more precisely the dunes. The beats of Harrow's delivery of Tommy from evil were spot on. If there's a bigger badass than Richard Harrow, I've not seen him. One can't help but imagine that Nucky knows Harrow did his dirty work for him and offers him a place at his side.

WG: Lots of Taxi Driver homage this season. The overhead shots. The endless supply of weapons in his coat. They should have had Harrow hold up his mask and engage in a "you looking at me" dialogue with it to really drive the point home. I hope he's around for Season Four.  I got the feeling he might be headed back to the woods with suicide on his mind. 

OMD: It would certainly be logical to have him join up with Nucky, especially with Owen having had his neck opened up.

It was a nice touch to have Gillian, in an opiate-fueled daze, confuse the Nucky in the house with the Nucky that delivered her up to the Commodore when she was but a wee lass. It was a poetic little reminder of what Nucky's actions have cost people around him.

WG: Maybe the creepiest cold jolt scene in the whole episode. 

OMD: There was an undercurrent of the elders schooling the younger generation in this episode. There were nice parallels between Mr. Sagorksy/Harrow, Joe Masseria/Gyp, and Rothstein/Luciano. The least likely of those playing out was Sagorsky telling Harrow that a soldier leaves the battle at the battlefield. Hell, it was weird just to see him sober. Masseria's clock correction was fucking great. Such a small gesture, yet it meant so much.

WG: Masseria was a nice addition to the end of the series. Has someone blankly looking at their watch and adjusting the time on a clock ever been more chilling? It was like Pacino kissing Fredo in Godfather 2.      

OMD: Cannavale's impression of Nucky was pretty hilarious. If he's gonna have a last moment, why not have it be as crazy as that? Barney Google. Talk about holding onto something. He's still pissed about Nucky telling him not to take things so personally? Even as he's pitching his vision of the Horatio Alger dream he'd been reading about in the book in Nucky's desk and singing the Barney Google song (a comic strip character), it's clear that he's batshit crazy. If he'd never bludgeoned Tonino's cousin to death, maybe Gyp would've survived, but he dug his own grave with those actions, at least as far as Tonino was concerned.

WG: I think you called that one too Carnac. I'm guessing Gyp was too unpredictable to be left upright. Nice insight on Gyp's Horatio Alger musings at the end as well. Gyp's gravestone:  "Killed pissing." 

OMD: I think it was Sepinwall (who I make sure not to read until I've already written what I've got to write) who noticed the book that Gyp was reading from Nucky's desk last week. It sure came back this week.

It'll be interesting to see where Nucky and Margaret's relationship goes from here. I gather that the character she's based on in real life sticks around, but given all that's happened, it'd be hard to see that playing out the same way. She won't take his money. She eschews her staunch Catholicism in favor of getting an abortion. I suppose all of the women's reproductive education plays its ultimate role here in the finale with the ending of Owen's line.

WG: I suspect she'll reluctantly return to the fold. And that Nucky's next bodyguard will be homely and communicate via grunts and hand gestures. 

OMD: So where do we think things go from here? My guess is New Year's Eve heading into 1924. O'Banion dies in November of '24, and it seems like they wouldn't have introduced his character in so central a way if they weren't going to have his demise play out on screen, though he doesn't fall on account of anything he did to Capone or Torrio. Esther Randolph exacts Nucky's revenge by way of Mellon's mandate that control of Old Overholt be seized from the criminal element that took hold there, blowing up his stake in the deal in the process. Van Alden will be in the mix somehow in Chicago. Harrow takes a place alongside Nucky. Margaret is seeing what St. Louis is all about. What think ye?

WG: At this rate, I would be foolish to offer up any alternatives. You've been pre-saging plot twists and character arcs like you worked on the set. I hope Chalky gets a little more screen time. I'm also hoping for more Mellon. I'm already looking forward to Season Four.

OMD: I'm guessing that with Owen out of the way and Harrow's likely coming into the fold that there will be room for more Chalky story. Mellon is a player through the decade. I guess we'll see how badly Nucky burned that bridge, although you got the sense that Mellon wasn't enamored with doing business with Nucky in the first place.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tube Steak: The Hour

With The Hour set to make its Series Two premiere on American airwaves Wednesday night on BBC America, now seems as good a time as any to sing its praises. The first series--a swift six hours that will re-air in its entirety on BBC America starting Wednesday at noon ET/11:00 am CT leading up to the 9 ET/8 CT Series Two premiere--is a clinic in taut, suspenseful storytelling in the realm of period drama.

Perhaps the best and certainly the laziest way for me to explain what is so great about The Hour is to tell you that if you were to build a show from the strongest elements of The Newsroom (The Hour had its first series run well before The Newsroom ever started airing) and Mad Men, both of which are extremely flawed to me, and inject an element of intrigue absent from either program, you would end up with Abi Morgan's spectacular program about a fledgling news program in mid-1950s England, running up against the powers that be as they try to hold their lens to a more truthful version of the story that the government wants them to tell in regards to the Suez Crisis. As the news program--led by female producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), fronted by Hector Madden (Dominic West), and fueled by Freddie Lyon's (Ben Whishaw) drive and insatiable journalistic hunger--works to fight censorship from the very arm of government that airs it, Morgan uses The Hour as a platform by which to also explore gender inequality, espionage, adultery, murder, and government conspiracy against the backdrop of the rapidly changing culture of mid-century England.

In terms of the show's mise-en-scene, the production design and art direction are top notch, and it is beautifully shot. 1950s England is unwaveringly brought to the screen. The fact that the storytelling is compelling could just be gravy if it didn't stand out so well on its own merits.

Basically, get your shit together and set your DVR to record BBC America's rebroadcast of the first season of The Hour, and then record each new episode. You won't regret it.

Series One Teaser

Series Two Teaser

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Three, Episode Eleven "Two Imposters"

In the penultimate episode of Season Three, Gyp Rosetti's men storm the Ritz Carlton. Nucky shoots his way out of there, but not before Eddie Kessler takes a bullet. With nowhere else to go, Nucky turns to Chalky for help. Gyp turns Atlantic City upside-down trying to find Nucky, offering $25,000 to any man who brings Thompson to him. Gyp's men take up home at the Artemis Club. Richard Harrow begins to prep Tommy for a departure that Gillian stumbles in upon, leading her to banish him. Harrow begins to ready his arsenal. Capone comes to A.C. thanks to Eli's efforts in Chicago. Nucky and Chalky agree to terms. The powder-keg is primed to blow sky-high.

OMD: More so than any other episode this season, "Two Imposters" flew by. I was actually surprised when the episode ended. The suspense was really amped up here. Nucky was on the run, not knowing who he could trust. There were, what, five times Nucky could have gotten got this week? I was on the edge of my seat for virtually the whole episode.

WG: Much of Season Three has been a brutal tease: a great scene here, a clever line there, an interesting sexual fetish or an unexpected moment of tenderness, but ultimately things just didn't quite add up. This episode brought that promise to fruition. I had the same thought when the credits rolled regarding the time, was it a full 60 minute episode? According to my DVR, it certainly was. It was tight. Like it had been left overnight in the fridge marinating in episode tightner.

OMD: It looks (at least for now) that my supposition that perhaps Nucky tipped off Joe Masseria himself was overstepping his cunning. They could still reveal that Nucky provided some of the backing on Lansky and Luciano's heroin deal, but I'm leaning toward my initial read of the situation being wrong--unless, of course, I'm second-guessing just how subject Nucky is to the sway of jealousy.

WG: I don't know if I'd give up on your initial sussing just yet. The Feds (apparently?) popping Luciano on the rooftop with the sheets blowing in the wind at least leaves the door open to Nucky's involvement. Masseria could have arranged it himself. Means? A corrupt favor called in from the Harding administration? We shall see.

Preserver of innocence
OMD: So fuck Gillian, right? Looks like if anything happens, Harrow will go down swinging--er, shooting. Can Richard really start a family from such prodigious bloodshed as would be unfurled across the Artemis Club if he does, in fact, walk out of there on his own power? I suppose for Tommy's sake, there can be only one. He'll either be resigned to a life of a whore's son, or an existence with a family haphazardly pieced together from remnants of people damaged by the war. For a split second, I worried that the sidearm flashed by Gyp's goon would be discharged in this episode. Thankfully, Harrow will not be departing us in nearly as anticlimactic a way as that. Perhaps more importantly, Gillian's presence on the show wouldn't seem to serve much of a purpose going forward, would it? All I know is that it's about to get all Taxi Driver all up in the Artemis Club. I hope Tommy's innocence can be saved.

WG: If Harrow is starting a militia, I'm in. I want a cot inside the compound. He's got to end up backing Nucky in some form or fashion doesn't he? Gillian might be the one to rub out Gyp. Preview scenes are notorious for setting false expectations, but it appears that eventually she'll end up on the leash holder end of Gyp's Fem Dom erotic asphyxiation fantasies. On the other hand, she's been on a death spiral since Jump Street, with each episode revealing a new repellent low. And her quality in benefactor front men has declined as well, from the Commodore, to Jimmy, to Luciano, to Leander, to Gyp. She's got a career arc like Barry Zito. Don't let that flash of playoff luster fool you, it only gets uglier from here on out.

OMD: I liked the way Nucky handled himself in the penthouse suite in this episode's open. He's a crafty bastard. His skills in self-preservation clearly extend past that of back rooms and the political sphere. I'm thinking I may have sold him short up until now. I'm guessing his foes did as well.

WG: Agreed. Buscemi was excellent. He walked a nice line between running scared and maintaining. Sometimes I have trouble buying him as the heavy. Jesus, he's mixing it up with the legends of the mob world, and seeing him grump his way through dealing with idiotic bit players or mundane love affairs makes him seem dainty by comparison. But not in this episode. What a great scene in the opening when he was grappling through a door with a would-be assassin. Great camera work. Despite being alarmingly on the run in his own town, you never really got the sense that he wasn't in control. He had his dark moment of despair in the canvas-covered truck. And really, what says despair more than canvas-covered trucks? But other than that, he was nails.

OMD: Lucky's dealing with the Mute from Buffalo just go to prove what my grandmother always told me: "Don't trust any Buffalo motherfuckers." It's too bad Lucky's grandmother didn't pound the same advice into his numb skull. It really does seem like there's more the the heroin score than the audience is aware of though, doesn't it?

WG: Is your Grams Anjelica Huston from Buffalo '66? Yeah, the writers have left some room to maneuver with the heroin plot. Leaving it vague makes me think they've created some space to tie up loose ends.

OMD: Anjelica Huston from The Grifters.

Chalky's got beachfront property in addition to his nice family home. He's the 1%. I, for one, hope that the show becomes The Nucky, Purnsley, and Chalky Hour, hijinks will surely ensue. Something is going to have to happen now that Owen is gone. Of course, if Harrow takes out Gillian and even perhaps Gyp, you'd have to think he'd have a place at Nucky's side.

WG: Nucky, Purnsley, and Chalky - the original Rat Pack. What the hell took so long for Nucky to give in on the Babette's redevelopment project? Maybe Sid Bechet will be all up in that piece during Season Four for reals.

OMD: All right, seriously, what is the point of lugging Nucky's desk all the way to the Artemis Club? Nevermind. There is ultimately no point in trying to figure out what crazy-ass shit drives Gyp Rosetti. He probably wants to have sex with a whore on it while getting his balls smashed in each of the top drawers.

WG: Human sexuality is a strange thing. Gyp has already hung dong. Time to bring the scrote and ball-play into the foreground. That desk though. None of those odd details happen just for fun. I'm guessing something crucial is within. Or it could be a ham-handed symbol of Gyp's ham-handed takeover.

OMD: How great was the tension that was ratcheted up while Samuel was operating on Eddie Kessler? The cutting back and forth between that wacko in the yard offering up $25,000 to anyone who will turn over Nucky Thompson and Kessler getting the bullet removed then getting stitched up was first-rate. The quipping between Chalky and Gyp was fucking great, too. It was nice to see Michael K. Williams get his time in the sun, especially since he's already "done cooking."

WG: Very glad to see Chalky get meaningful minutes. Another stellar scene to see Gyp and Chalky square up. How can you not have those two guys together on the screen more often?

OMD: So Winter & Co. dug pretty deep for the title of this episode. Kessler's poetry recitation is of Rudyard Kipling's poem, "If--" in which the two imposters are said to be "triumph and disaster" each of which the reader is supposed to treat the same. The promise at the end of the poem after a series of conditions that must be met is that "yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, / And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!" Kessler is a regular old sage, even while knocking on death's door.

The Queen of the Sur
WG: The poem was vaguely familiar. Nice get. I took a couple of semesters of German in college, but that didn't prepare me to decipher what Kessler was moaning over and over on the harried ride from hotel, to hospital, to Chalky's beach house. In real life, Louis "Kessel" was Nucky's main man. Personal protector, valued confidante, shaman, and partner. I hope he makes it.

OMD: I took enough Spanish to be able to understand roughly 35% of what's going on in a telenovela and to be able to order food at a Mexican restaurant while having a decent idea what I'll be getting.

More so than any other episode this season, I was laughing aloud pretty frequently. With the tension as high as it was, there was a lot more cutting of the tension with chuckle-worthy lines. The biggest laugh of the episode came at the end thankfully. A laugh before the war. Shit is about to get extremely fucking real, but there's nothing like Capone descending from a truck after eighteen hours on the road and dropping the line, "And then you and me sit down, and we talk about who dies. Huh?" Fucking priceless.

WG: Awesome closing scene. The way the sea of soldiers parted and that little bulldog came forward with the great line. It should have been cheezy as hell, but it worked. A fist pumper.

OMD: Holy shit, am I excited for this next episode. It certainly looks to be the most explosive episode of Boardwalk Empire yet.

WG: Let's hope it lives up to the promise created in this episode.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Three, Episode Ten "A Man, A Plan..."

In "A Man, A Plan..." Nucky sends Owen to try to off Joe Masseria. Margaret and Owen make plans to run off together. Harrow and Julia Sagorsky get cozier with one another. Nelson Van Alden gets caught selling Sigfrid's homemade aquavit in Capone's territory. Owen is shipped back to Atlantic City in a crate with his throat slit. Margaret is revealed to be with Owen's child. 

OMD: First off, I'll apologize for our absence last week. I was out of pocket, as was Wordy. I, for one, had no HBO until Wednesday night and was sure as shit not going to dump this on a weekend in which absolutely no one was on the interwebs.

So I guess I'll start with the obvious, my prediction that Owen was a dead man walking was proven to be on point. Owen was getting too cocksure. Margaret was getting happy and making plans for a future. Clearly all of this was going to get snatched away. These two can't have a happy ending; the only one that might be in the cards would be for Richard Harrow and Julia Sagorsky. Call me Karnak.

WG: Karnak, what's St. Louis like? Nice call. And like a cockroach twinkie, I could see Mickey Doyle surviving against all odds as well.

OMD: If there's one thing that has been established in our time on God's green Earth, it's that St. Louis is as close to Hell as we shall ever find.

The pregnancy angle was obvious. As soon as Margaret told Dr. French Stewart that it was all "nothing [she hadn't] been through before," the bastard son of Owen Slater being firmly set in her womb and his future of growing up without his father was set in stone. I thought for sure that Nucky was actually the one who served up Owen's head on a platter, but the look of surprise on his face when Margaret ran off crying makes me doubt my assumption. I have a feeling that without the audience being privy to any of this, Nucky has gone through Lansky and Luciano parlaying his control of the Old Overholt Distillery into a partnership that Joe Masseria doesn't know he's a part of yet. It is possible that I'm probably giving Nucky too much credit, though, and this presumption requires the belief that Lansky and Luciano are stepping out much further from under Rothstein's umbrella than they may be ready for. Still, Lansky and Luciano had to have known exactly where the attack was coming from and only Eli, Mickey, Nucky, Owen, and Agent Stan Sawicki could have known. Sure, it could have been Mickey, Sawicki, or maybe Eli, but the most calculated move would have been for Nucky himself to feed the information to Lansky and Luciano.

WG: Your fundamentals are solid. As you've deduced, the spanner in the works is Nucky's realization that Margaret was wounded much deeper than expected over the boxed corpse. You are tracking something though. The details of Owen's death were probably too open ended, which leaves the Lansky/Luciano plotting angle wide open. I don't think Sawicki was in the box, which may have something to do with shipping costs.

OMD: Back to the opening of the episode, the makeshift post-war nuclear unit of Harrow, Julia, and Tommy Darmody was quite the picture. Beach. Ice Cream. Neptune on stage before heading back into the sea. I really think Tommy's not long for the whore house, though it would be quite the bold move for Harrow to actually take Tommy without Gillian perishing in some extreme way. I hope Harrow surprises me and slinks off into the night with Tommy and Julia in tow. Perhaps to live amongst the Indians. At the very least, one hopes that Julia is done with her abusive father's bullshit. Walking out with Richard seemed to portend change in course.

WG: Is it just me, or does Julia look a lot like Gillian? Doppelganger a go-go. I'm wondering if Julia would be able to leave her father? He's an abusive half-mad shitheel, but he's got his reasons. Another plot thread that I'm looking forward to getting unspooled.

OMD: George Nelson Van Alden Mueller got too big for his britches and faced Capone in an interesting exchange. Getting too big for one's britches seemed to be a recurring motif in this episode. Really, this was the episode in which seemingly all of the chickens came home to roost--well, excepting Gyp and Nucky (at least not directly). Nelson, Owen, Margaret, the drunk Mr. Sagorsky, and to a lesser extent Nucky's operation, Gaston Bullock Means (though no one was there to see it), Women's Sexual Education: all got knocked down a peg or two.

WG: Great scene with Capone and Van Alden Mueller. That he fell back into his Calvinistic ways and starting reciting bible chapter and verse was a nice twist. It was odd to see him scared. He rarely shows emotion, other than anger, heartburn, or stunned acquiescence. Capone was fortunate that Sigfrid wasn't around. No one forks husband.

Emperor Palpa--er, David Glass
OMD: Stephen Root's performance was once again delicious. Holy shit, does he take the reins in every scene he's in. Means's machinations were a sight to behold, even if he was caught red-handed by Jess Smith. Of course, that was all immaterial because Jess was a basket-case. The best part of it all was Means got $80,000, half from each Nucky and Harry Daugherty to watch Smith pull the trigger himself.

WG: Means is fantastic. His eccentric flair reminds me a little bit of Langrishe from Deadwood. The look on his face when big faltering Jess took his own life was the definition of the cat that swallowed the canary. Shaking down both Nucky and Daugherty for $40K was smooth.  Reminds me of the larceny Royals owner David Glass pulls with MLB luxury tax proceeds and Jackson County taxpayers.

OMD: Chalky needs to be running a Cotton Club Atlantic City just to give him something to do. He has been so relegated to the background this season that it would only be recompense to the audience. Thompson will surely be turning to Chalky and his brethren for help to rise up against Gyp's men, but Chalky's central presence in just one episode and another three scenes thus far needs to be rectified.

Sidney Bechet
WG: Chalky should get the new Babette's gig just to showcase up and coming Jazz legends in Season Four. Duke Ellington. Louis Armstrong. Jelly Roll Morton. Kid Ory. Sidney Bechet. Fuck Ken Burns. I want to see Chalky lay it out.

OMD: In profile, young Sidney Bechet actually bears a striking resemblance to Erik LaRay Harvey, the actor who plays Dunn Purnsley. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to have them be kin for the sake of getting him to play there. It'll have to happen by September of 1925, though, as he heads to Europe with Josephine Baker & Co. in the Revue Nègre, and I think he stays abroad until 1929. I'm no jazz historian, though, so I could be mistaken. Regardless, I'm guessing Bechet brings the house down on many occasions.

So Gyp's bludgeoning of Franco with a shovel on the beach pretty much seals his fate, right? I'd be shocked if he didn't go down this season, and it would seem that he's likely to be given up by his right hand now, wouldn't it? Tonino has to see that it's only a matter of time before Gyp turns on him in a similar fashion, and he crushed the skull of his first cousin. Gyp's fate will be directly tied to that action.

WG: When he's on the screen, I get all tingly in my thighs, but Gyp is too crazy to be kept around. I'll call my shot and guess he gets got in the final episode.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Three, Episode Nine "The Milkmaid's Lot"

Nucky is in a post-concussive haze following the attempt on his (and Rothstein's and Luciano's and Lansky's) life. Owen, Margaret, and Eli attempt to minimize his interactions with others so as to hide his weakness. Gyp has set up shop in Tabor Heights, taking in shipments on its beaches. Nucky attempts to enlist the help of Rothstein, Lansky, Luciano, Waxey Gordon, Peg-Leg Lonergan, and Frankie Yale in the war he's about to wage against Gyp, but they all turn their backs on him.

Pain in the junk. The worst kind.
Old Man Duggan: This episode seemed very much akin to when Al Swearengen was knocking at death's door, doubled over with stones following the balls-out brawl with Seth Bullock in Season Two of Deadwood. Nucky's not right, his position is arguably weakened. Those around him look on with worry (at least in part informed by their concern for self-preservation) while trying to cover for him in his infirmed state.

Wordy Ginters: Gleets! Holy shit I loved me some Deadwood. Coincidentally or not, the director for this episode, Ed Bianchi, worked on Deadwood, the similarities may be more than accidental. I liked how he ginned up a jagged, fuzzed out and skittish vibe from scene one to the very end. Mirrored Nucky's concussed mental state nicely.

OMD: Chalky White sighting! It's been too long. If anyone has been underutilized this season, it has been Michael K. Williams. He had the one big episode and got to strong-arm an effete actor. Otherwise, not enough Chalky.

WG: I concur. I'm currently plowing through the book Boardwalk Empire is based on, and real life Nucky's recognition of how important keeping minority demographics properly coddled was a key to his long reign as AC power broker. But yeah, Michael K. is the man. Think about the cast up in this piece. Excellent acting. Phenomenal cinematography. Although it is very good, it still adds up less than the sum of its parts.    

OMD: Yes, unfortunately, it seems like the potential of the show seems destined to be not quite fully realized.

I'm a little surprised that Gyp allowed Sheriff Ramsey to live. Restraint isn't a character trait that he seems to be imbued with. Quite the little town hall meeting. The $200 a month that Gyp's giving the townsfolk of Tabor Heights equates to just over $2,700.00 in 2012 money. I'd have to say I'd gladly put up with a crazy mafioso in my backyard if it meant I was netting $32K per annum. You?

WG: The address requirement was a little disquieting. What are you gonna do? You take the money and keep your mouth shut. I was shocked to see Sheriff Ramsey still sheriffing at the best public meeting ever. I assumed he was ground into powder. Should have realized that for Gyp, without fire, there is no death. I also dug his little reassurances: "Barbers cut hair, cooks cook, librarians keep checking out books... Bible school is canceled."

OMD: I think the weirdest part of this episode was Manic Nucky. Seeing Nucky out of sorts is obviously all kinds of weird, but we've been treated to that throughout the season as he's been trying to manage his adolescent romance with Billie Kent. Manic Nucky was truly bizarre. His wishing of a happy day of birth to his step-daughter was something else.

WG: How much coke did Buscemi inhale as "prep" for that scene? Worst birthday party ever. Seeing Nucky off-kilter flatters Winter's choice of Buscemi as the lead. Would you buy Gandolfini hamming it up like that? On the same hand, when Nucky has to get physical, it doesn't work nearly as well. Regardless, I've always been a Buscemi fan, or at least a fan of the work he's been in. Trees Lounge.  

OMD: Trees Lounge was actually the reason I got into Hayden in the first place. But yes, he does lack the natural physicality to pull off scenes like the beating of Billie's actor friend in the last episode.

How much did you want to see Harrow take the smirking Legionnaires out behind the woodshed? Fuck those smug, grinning toolbags. Once he's worked those shitheads over, I hope Harrow takes Tommy and Julia Sagorsky off and starts a makeshift family with them.

WG: Seems like things are headed towards a twisted little family with Tommy and Sagorsky. That would be a happy resolution. Many monsters on this show, but Gillian may be the most ghastly. I wonder how many will end up surviving in the end? Did it surprise you that Harrow could handle himself on the dance floor? Me neither.  

OMD: I'm sure Harrow learned to dance with his sister back in Ohio or wherever the hell he's from.

Wick dipping
This was certainly the episode in which children were scared shitless. Nucky traumatizing Emily with his unorthodox cake-cutting. Teddy exposed to the Gypsy man of his nightmares on the phone. Tommy exposed to swinging middle-aged scrotum while poor man's Matthew Modine was dipping his wick in Josephine wax vat. These kids are sure to be well-adjusted positive contributors to society, right?

WG: Absolutely. Kids are resilient. They won't remember this stuff in a few years when they begin snorting bath salts and having sex with priests.

OMD: So Margaret promising to run away with Owen when the time is right pretty much seals his fate, eh? It probably does not mean that Nucky offs Owen himself, but Margaret can't have nice things, and Mr. Slater is an immigrant girl's dream come true, fresh from the glen. He'll surely fall for daring to fly so close to the sun, and the pyromaniac in the Continental Army-issued hat walking the beach in Tabor Heights is likely to be the one to melt those wings. After all, what is Margaret Schroeder-Thompson if not destined to waste away in a loveless marriage?

WG: Spot on. Margaret isn't the one who gets hurt in this scenario. The whole thing was a bit muddled. I foolishly thought Margaret's pre "going to war with Masseria speech" pep talk to Nucky signaled loyalty. Evidently not. Gyp in the hat. Perhaps may favorite scene this whole season was the disembodied hand smashing the glass, and reaching in to snatch that sweet colonial lid off the Pamuk-visaged replica of Mad Anthony Wayne. Meaningless aside: when I was courting Mrs. Ginters, she had a part time job at an upscale tchochtke joint called The Colonial Shop. Truth be told, it was my imagined witty repartee with an unrelenting and heavy dose of questions about their tri-cornered hat selection that won me a first date. They sold no hats. I have yet to hear a valid or logical explanation of the goods and wares actually sold by The Colonial Shop, other than artisanal candles and primitive furniture. They are out of business. Marriage creeping up on 15 years. Victory for Ginters and the symbolic tri-cornered hat.

OMD: Hard to imagine a colonial gewgaw shop not thriving in Athens of the Plains. I'm glad something came from such a brave business venture. I can only assume your house is littered with Yankee Candles.

It would seem that Nucky is backed into a corner, what with Gyp being insane and Rothstein, Yale, Lonergan, et al wishing him luck in his future endeavors. If one were to handicap his odds of taking on Gyp and coming out victorious without a little help from his friends, they would not be in his favor at this point. At this point, can we assume that the absence of Remus (Torrio's hooch connect for any who may have forgotten), the running of Old Overholt, and the old connection with Johnny Torrio--along with the continued presence of the Chicago storyline in the first place--would indicate that Nucky will get help from Torrio's crew and that Nucky will later be called upon to come to Torrio and Capone's aid when things on the O'Banion front heat up? Does this mean a Florentine holiday for Torrio and Nucky in which they walk arm in arm through the museums, taking in the finest the Renaissance had to offer?

WG: Another in a long-line of plausible spin-off series that I would definitely watch. Much better than Burt Wolf twaddling around Europe with a fanny pack. I was expecting a rah-rah, everybody joins Nucky's quest, pep rally type situation. I'm glad they turned shoulders. Makes for a much more interesting end of the season. Historically, Nucky did preside over the first "gangsta's convention" of sorts. There were many discussions about cutting out the rough stuff, making nice, and sharing the wealth. The end of prohibition made much of those Occupy Wall Street tenants moot, but I appreciate the sentiment. You've likely got it sussed just about right. Torrio to the rescue, or more likely, Capone. Winter has often talked of his fondness for the unexpected. As we hit the home stretch, I'm looking forward to seeing what he has up his sleeve.

OMD: I sure hope he surprises me. While being right about the way the season ends up would be all fine and dandy, I'd rather be shocked.
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