Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Man on Film: Dredd

First things first, I haven't seen The Raid: Redemption yet, and it's been said by some that Dredd is strikingly similar to The Raid. I was not coming into this film with that in the back of my mind. There is no standard of differentiation that I'm holding Dredd to that some others might. I can say that I've seen Judge Dredd, and while there's a certain charm to it, it is the charm of 90s action bloat and a misrepresentative dystopian vision that simply doesn't match with what the world is supposed to have become.

Dredd would appear to be everything that Judge Dredd, its predecessor in having come from the same source material only, was not. Where the first adaptation from the comic failed to capture the requisite dark tone of the post-nuclear holocaust world, director Pete Travis (Endgame, Vantage Point) and writer Alex Garland (novelist and screenwriter of 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Never Let Me Go) aptly capture the impoverishment, the filth, the violence, and the near-hopelessness. Mega-City One as realized by Travis and Co. is a dark fucking place, and what happens in this dark place is pretty goddamn sweet.

Perhaps most importantly for a film like this, the action sequences are tightly wound and crisply choreographed. The violence comes hard and fast and in such a way as to make me feel as though I had just seen the filmic realization of the best dream I have ever had. Karl Urban as Judge Dredd rumbles through this nasty hellscape stoically, not once bearing his entire face, blowing away elements of the criminal underbelly who have been ordered to take him and his ride-along trainee Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) out by overlady Ma-Ma.

Now the film's primary shortcoming is in its casting of the villain. Lena Headey simply lacks the gravitas to pull off the character, which happens to be one of my main complaints with Game of Thrones, but I digress. Luckily, there are so many thugs thrown Dredd's way that Headey's inadequacies aren't as magnified as they could have been were her character more front-and-center. Her proxies on the ground do her dirty work, her techie slave does her bidding while listening to Matt Berry's theme for Snuff Box (which at the very least means that the works of Matt Berry exist after the nuclear holocaust, making Mega-City One a place in which I'd be fine living), and her drugs breed dependency and an according mania in the people living in the tower.

Urban is perfectly serviceable, the updated performance of Peter Weller as RoboCop without the benefit of a backstory. Thirlby is the heart of the film, as Dredd is simply a conduit for law, order, and righteous destruction. Despite my hesitations about her following the abysmal Juno, Thirlby imbues the film with a vulnerability and humanity otherwise largely absent (I am not faulting the film for this, as it is due to post-apocalyptic circumstance for the most part). While supporters Wood Harris and Domhnall Gleeson stand out amongst the faces, it is Thirlby whose performance helps distinguish Dredd from the half-dozen stock post-apocalyptic tales graces the screens of the cineplexes every year.

Dredd is far from a perfect film, but it's perfectly enjoyable if you want to see body parts flying in the throes of a righteous rampage in the name of the law.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Three, Episode Seven "Sunday Best"

It's Easter time. Nucky and Eli bury the hatchet. Harrow and Tommy head to the Sagorsky household for a boisterous affair. Gillian has Proxy Jimmy over for dinner and a murder. Gyp gets in hot water with Joe Masseria. 

Wordy Ginters: Easter Sunday 1923. Various versions of death and rebirth. Sweet and sour Jesus. The Thompson, Sagorsky, and Gyp holiday celebrations featured a banal angst that most rubes can identify with. Trying to remember all the names of extended family you rarely see. Overbearing relatives and poorly concealed hostilities. Talent shows. Can anyone get under your skin better than family? On the flip side, the contentment, comfort, and peace that comes from breaking bread, and maybe hoisting a glass or two with your kith and kin is often well worth the aggravation.

Old Man Duggan: You hit the nail on the head there. Spring has definitely been turned on full-blast. This episode kept almost everything at home and in the family, which made for some nice moments, but were it not for the last five or ten minutes, this would have been the second straight episode in which very little happened. At time, the pacing seems glacial. Thankfully, Nucky's juggling livened up an otherwise slow first two acts. Old Man Sagorsky was definitely supping with Sour Jesus. I will say Howard Korder and Allen Coulter struck a nice chord with the push in on Nucky as Margaret was singing. Gave him a chance to fall back in love with her, even if it is, as she says when Nucky proffers a juggling tutorial, too late.

WG: I was definitely late to the scene, but I did recognize that Gillian was going tweak the traditional Easter message of death and rebirth to rebirth and death well before she sank Proxy Jimmy in the tub. As we've alluded to many times, Boardwalk Empire is a twisted motherfucker. That Gillian screwed that guy before she killed him was a total frat move.

OMD: I definitely wasn't sure what her plan for Jimmy Part Deux was until he was in the tub. I'm really not sure what her motivation for killing him was, but I guess she had to kill Jimmy to kill Jimmy's memory. Why she had to do this is beyond me, but she's a tough and batshit crazy nut to crack.

That meatloaf is horseshit, ma.
WG: Seeing Gyp with his family answered a lot of questions. The overbearing Mother. Obsessive suit cleaning. Remorseless brow-beating. Intentionally or not, that scene was total Saturday Night Fever. Watch the hair. Was one of those crones around the table Gyp's wife?

OMD: It was equal parts Saturday Night Fever and The Fighter. I got the sense that they were all sisters. Growing up in that hen house likely turned Gyp into the erotic asphyxia indulging unhinged psychopath he is now.

WG: Speaking of movies, I don't want to sound like Jamie Lee Curtis from A Fish Called Wanda, and I had no idea what the hell he said, but Gyp's Italian prayer made me swoon. The Thompson's went traditional. Harrow's elegant prayer was stellar: "Keep us mindful of the needs of others." Gillian and Proxy Jimmy in the middle of the sick little ritual, "Father, Son, Holy Ghost, he who eats fastest eats the most." Speaks for itself.

OMD: That, ladies and gentlefellows, was Wordy on Prayer.

He's a Socialist, not a Bolshevik.
WG: Julia Sagorsky. Nice. Thoughtful. A private plate for Harrow. Being the flaming lefty that I am, I appreciated the Gene Debs name check. Easter dinner got a little tense, but Harrow handled Old Man Sagorsky adroitly. When in doubt, pull the "I will kill you" gambit. I knew Tommy was sunk when he spied the dead son's army figurines. Hell, I wanted to spend some time in that room, maybe set up a sweet ambush from underneath the bed, or some rear flanking action. You know damn well I'm wailing on that bugle inside of five minutes.

OMD: I like that Julia seems genuinely concerned for Harrow and his happiness. I suppose she sees a bit of her brother and ruined father in him. I loved when he told her that she was leaving the house, too. She tried to resist at first, clinging to the prison of her home and situation, but then let go of it. Perhaps they can find salvation in one another's arms.

WG: Rumor has it that you sing like some mythical Irish God of music? I'm assuming you rock the vocals for the Duggan family Easter family entertainment portion of the holiday? Maybe a little "Sailing" by Christopher Cross? "Pusherman" by Curtis Mayfield? Bill Callahan's "Baby's Breath?"  Would that our rapidly crumbling society still engage in such wholesome pursuits. Instead, we retreat to our phones, the bottle, and for many, I suspect, our Japanese pornography. My talent would probably be sneaking into the kitchen at 2 am for another helping of ham and coleslaw. Provided were talking Aunt Nance's coleslaw of course.

OMD: There was a time in which I was known to warble for the masses. Most of my training was for choir, so it was of a classical nature. Private voice lessons. Qualifying for state solo and ensemble. Not very applicable to any sort of singing I was interested in doing past high school, so that's where it ended. I could probably still spin a song of love in a foreign language if called to duty, but these cords haven't been stretched in ages.

WG: What did you make of Nucky bringing Eli back into the fold? He's going to co-chair the warehouse with Mickey. Eli kills him next week, right?

OMD: I'm beginning to believe that Mickey is immortal. Kurgan couldn't even take him down. Nucky clearly got nostalgic for being part of a family. Promoting Eli to a position he's at least mentally capable of doing fed that urge, an urge that is a long way from being fed by the marriage he has ignored for almost two years.

WG: "Confession is for the people in steerage". Nice.

OMD: I liked the line about losing a fortune being the requirement to become a Knight of Columbus, too.

WG: Gyp in church = Keitel in Bad Lieutenant. Many of the characters in Boardwalk Empire are played with such restrained coolness and detachment, I appreciate a dude like Gyp who has some fucking fire. Sure, it's over the top CGI fire, but it speaks to me. I like to watch him rage. He may have bit off more than he can chew to keep himself alive, but I'm glad he's around for a future episode.

OMD: Letting Gyp be his general can't have been the smartest move for old Joe Masseria. I can't imagine this is going to bode well for his criminal enterprise. Masseria obviously stays above the fray for now, but unleashing a lunatic who he readily admits cannot be controlled is not the soundest of decisions. I will make for some explosive action, something that had to happen after two shows of resetting the chess board and the primary agent of carnage laying low whilst licking his wounds.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Man on Film: Seven Psychopaths

Much like writer/director Martin McDonagh's last film, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths is very much an existential, comedic take on the violent criminal underworld. Unlike In Bruges, however, this is a much more reflexive film, taking the Kaufmanesque approach at writing the film on the screen from within the film on the screen. McDonagh proves to be gymnastically adept at balancing the plot with the art of screenwriting as displayed on screen, knowingly toying with the characters and the audience alike in a cheeky but charming way. Not surprisingly (at least for any of us who saw his Oscar-winning feature-length debut), Seven Psychopaths is an extremely pleasing and exceedingly funny trip through madcap shoot-'em-up the likes of the best of the Elmore Leonard adaptations.

Much like those Elmore Leonard adaptations, Seven Psychopaths is blessed with a wonderful--I'm taking back the word "wonderful," Louis C.K.--cast, and I'm not just saying that because of the fella you see to the left in an atypically (but fully intentionally) large image here. Clearly, McDonagh feels a kinship with Colin Farrell, who in this film doesn't just play the surrogate of the screenwriter but actually plays the screenwriter himself, and Farrell doesn't disappoint. It's nice to see him have moved past trying to place the Hollywood game and playing interesting characters again. As the sane, normal person who stands amidst the chaos, documenting, Farrell is great--a straight man to all the insanity transpiring around him, not only acting as a stand-in for McDonagh, but also playing a bit of the Every Man and thusly a stand-in (albeit a drunk one) for each person in the audience. Around him are the brilliant Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and Tom Waits, all suitably nuts and all uniquely drawn. Walken is especially illuminating, his role one that plays against what he is typecast as in seemingly all of his other roles. It's refreshing to see Walken as a pacifist, even if he is off-kilter. There's no menace in his character, and the audience is treated to a role in which Walken is allowed to be *gasp* charming. Rockwell is Rockwell at his best, leaving one to wonder why he isn't in everything. Waits is deliciously batshit crazy, the bunny affectation a brilliant touch on [presumably] McDonagh's part. Harrelson is also great, though the role is less interesting than the three caballeros or Waits's character, whose background I do not want to spoil.

For its colorful cast of characters, the script is pretty damn smart, weaving subplots in and out of the narrative with an ease and dexterity that is hard not to marvel at. The humor offsets the violence, and the film is not so in love with itself as to not take potshots at itself, such as its hammering of Marty for not writing any female characters of any import. When all is said and done, you are left with a grin on your face and a desire to sit through the credits to see if there are any messages to strong hippie killing women.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Three, Episode Six "Ging Gang Goolie"

The greenhouse at the Thompson abode is set ablaze. Fucking vagrants ruin everything. Nucky get nicked for possession of a pint o' whiskey and thrown in the clink for more than a day, perpetuating the season that shall henceforth be known as The Waylaying of Nucky Thompson. Harrow may have found a new flame via a visit to the American Legion. Gillian scrounges up a Jimmy look-alike to schtupp. Margaret and Owen rekindle an exterminated flame.

Old Man Duggan: First things first: Fucking Mickey. That motherfucking cackling buffoon didn't get got after all. Sonuvabitch. I suppose it's all for the better, as that would have been an unfulfilling offing. My money's on Eli offing that fool.

Wordy Ginters: It makes sense in retrospect, his death would have merited some kind of commentary, or at least a good laugh, from the other characters. Glass half full: we'll get the pleasure of seeing him die again (right? Please tell me he'll die). Screw South Park, but maybe it could be a Kenny-like meme. Off him in every show.

OMD: As far as episodes this season are concerned, this one seemed to accomplish the least. Obviously, we got a pretty explosive midseason bit of catharsis last week, so a slower episode was all but a certainty, but aside from the Nucky/Daugherty conflict coming to a head and ultimately taking a step forward there wasn't much that happened here. Boardwalk is no Justified as far as pacing and action is concerned, but occasionally it does feel semi-glacial. It's an aesthetically pleasing glacier, but a glacier just the same.

WG: Other than the surrogate incest, I agree, a beautifully shot but bland chapter. Seems like I've heard grousing on those points regarding this show before?

OMD: So, Terence Winter's got to be a pyromaniac, right? Seriously. Gyp, Teddy, Nucky, smelly vagrants? All predisposed to tickling their fancies with flames. Flamers, if you will. He's surely big into cleaning by destroying.

Winter's muse
WG: Does Winter's toss and turn at night worried that he allows a full glance into his twisted inner soul? Pyromania. Incest. Erotic asphyxiation. And maybe most twisted of all, the debased mind capable of dreaming up Mickey? Winter must be getting triple-teamed by the muses of Henry Miller, William Burroughs, and Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca.

OMD: Jess Smith's breakdown in front of the Boy Scouts called forth memories of Jerry Sandusky. I think it was the sonic quality of his whimpering that screamed pederast to me. "How could we let it get this far?... We stole, Harry. We stole." Breaking down whilst looking out upon a sea of boys in uniform. Not feeling well because of bad sausage. The episode takes its name from the song the scouts sing, signifying an importance to the plot. Sure that importance is tangential, as it cements Means's decision to turn on Daugherty, Smith, and the rest of the crooked Harding administration. He dies shortly thereafter succumbing to a gunshot wound that is ruled a suicide but dubbed suspicious by Senator James Heflin from the Great State of Alabama. The subtext is there in the scene, even though I'm surely given a yard and taking a mile.

WG: Excellent insight on the impending Jess Smith demise. I also am particularly fond of throwing "Sandusky" and "bad sausage" into the fray with nary a smirk. And fuck the Boy Scouts. I'm currently reading the book that Boardwalk Empire was ostensibly built upon. Have you read it? What little research I have done on Means reveals him to be perhaps even more interesting than he is as portrayed by Stephen Root. To continue waxing historical, I did like the way Winter introduced the veterans at the Legion Club. The Veterans Administration scandal is one of the major black marks against Harding's administration. Forbes sold Government/Veterans Administration supplies to private contractors and received millions in kickbacks. Thank God nothing like that happens in today's world.

OMD: I've not read the book of the same name as the series. As for the Harding administration, there are so many major black marks that it would be easier to keep track of what they didn't do wrong.

"Ging Gang Goolie" was written by Robert Baden-Powell in 1920. It's gibberish but is thought to have been inspired by African languages Baden-Powell heard during his time in His Majesty's service in the Second Boer War. I'm sure he served right alongside Bates and Lord Grantham (we really will start getting caught up on those pieces soon, folks). Oh, another Downton tie-in: Esther Randolph opining, "Where are the snows of yesteryear?" whilst supping with Nucky. She surely hangs out with the Dowager Countess when abroad, right?

Clearly a Survivor
WG: Wouldn't it be cool to see some offshoot production where characters from different series mix with each other? Esther might be too radical for the Dowager, although it would be fun to see them rattle sabers. I'm guessing Esther is hanging with Sybil. Other pairings I'd like to see: Columbo and Fonzie open a Fro-Yo joint in Los Angeles, preparing delicious healthy treats by day, and solving mysteries and repairing jukeboxes by night. The three original Charlie's Angels and Schneider from One Day at a Time in Survivor: Grand Island, Nebraska. Louis C.K. moves in the with guys on The Big Bang Theory, and completely destroys them comedically, mentally, and spiritually.

OMD: I'd give anything to have that last one happen.

You'd let Kelly MacDonald spank you, right? If I were that kid actor that plays Teddy, I'd be ruined for the rest of my days.

WG: Kelly MacDonald would likely make want to be naughty on purpose. We very likely saw the birth of a debilitating life-long fetish for Teddy.

OMD: Looks like after being adrift in the wake of Jimmy's death, Harrow has something to live for again. Julia Sagorsky.

WG: Great scene when Harrow was tending to the bruised and bloodied old man Sagorsky. He's a tender assassin. I think it’s the vibe Rowdy Herrington was going for with Swayze in Road House. No nonsense tough guy on the outside. The tender heart of a warrior poet on the inside. Speaking of which, this is the best thing I've read on the internets in quite some time:

OMD: Gillian is one fucked up broad. Fucking the ghost of her son. I don't know whether or not that is more or less depraved than actually She surely has designs on grooming good ol' Rog to act as Jimmy's doppelganger where people will only know of him by name, right? I mean she's still putting on airs as though he were alive. She can't just be seeking out his doppelganger in the hopes of bagging a ghost, can she? And Roger humps like a hump, eh? And thanks, Ed Bianchi, for treating me to a backlit shot of Roger McAllister's hairy taint. That's an image I can't unsear from my brain.

WG: A fools game to suss out what might be going on inside Gillian's brain. Dollar signs and fucking family members tumbling over and over on a hamster wheel. I thought for a moment in the last episode, when she sat down to write a letter to Jimmy, it might be a suicide note. Obviously she's looking for a Jimmy Two. Roger (J2) seems like a dope she'll be able to manipulate, much like Jimmy ultimately was. Have these clowns been watching too much True Blood? I'll get my porn off the internet for free like everybody else. I can scarcely believe I'm saying this out loud, but a little less fetish, and a little less taint, would be a good thing.

OMD: It'll be interesting to see how Nucky's end of things shakes out on the D.O.J. front, as Gaston Bullock Means eventually gets ousted by Daugherty, who remains in office until 1924, when Silent Cal orders him to resign. The Ohio Gang is still about a year from getting tossed out of D.C. on their ears, Jess Smith excepted. At the very least, it is refreshing to see Nucky back to pulling the strings on the political marionette. Nucky the Manipulator is much more interesting than Nucky the Sex-Crazed.

WG: Agreed. I kind of enjoy seeing Nucky lost at sea in love with a barely caring Billie. There have been enough hints and foreshadowing that she'll be toast soon. I'd rather see Nucky mixing it up with Rothstein and Gyp, than running around with Eddie Cantor and making moon eyes at Billie. Billie though, damn. An attractive woman in an unconventional way. Props to casting for coming up with an actress who meets my completely ignorant stereotype of what a 20's showgirl would look like. She's got a bit of depth to her as well, which is a nice change of pace compared to the typical stunning cardboard mistress archetype.

OMD: Margaret and Owen back at it. Let's hope she's not overwrought with Catholic guilt like she was last time, which has derailed her arc for a strong seven or eight episodes. Granted, it was her actions--both with Owen and the ensuing tithing of the highway money--that drove Nucky to the bed of a mist--nay, actress, but I don't know if I can stomach another half-season-plus relapse into guilt-ridden compensation. Oh, and nice touch with "When You and I Were Young, Maggie" to close out the Irish greenhouse tryst. The song was originally penned by a Canadian school teacher George Washington Johnson, who wrote the poem in 1864 for a student of his that he fell for, married, and then watched her die as she'd fallen ill. At least all of this is the case if we're to believe YouTube user ILoveJenni47. It seems like a long ways to go to formulate that entirely.

WG: I'm guessing Margaret will be just fine. Partly slacking the reins on her naughty inner desires, and partly revenge for Nucky's disrespectfully public cadding about. Owen is the one who might end up in a pinch.

Ever see This Boy's Life with a young DiCaprio and Bobby DeNiro? "When You and I Were Young Maggie" is the song Leo is singing with his stereotypically gay buddy at the piano when they awkwardly share a kiss. That song serves as a backdrop for the only man-on-man kiss DiCaprio has blazed on the silver screen. I'm not nearly the authority that ILoveJenni47 is, obviously, but I’m putting it out there.

OMD: I've not seen it. Not really sure why. I will note that one of my friends was with another male friend of his and they were stopped by the border patrol while returning from a 20 minute trip of regret and disappointment into the Nuevo Laredo. Though he had no illegal goods in the car, he did have--and I'm pretty sure I'm remembering the story correctly--Leonardo DiCaprio book that was almost entirely pictures and geared to the tweener girl demographic. This was a gag gift he'd gotten for somebody, but if you asked those Border Patrollers, they'd say he blazed a man-on-man kiss that's been seared into their brains.

And you thought I was going to go with this, didn't you?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reading Rainbow: Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

After an eleven-year hiatus, our old friends Patrick Kenzie and Angie Kenzie (née Gennaro) are back, having last been seen patching things up in Dennis Lehane's 1999 novel Prayers for Rain. While the fifth novel in the series was integral in that it saw the two patch things up, Moonlight Mile--taking its name from what might be my favorite Stones tune--ties in much more to the best-known book in the series, Gone, Baby, Gone [commas dropped in the Affleck-directed film adaptation], as it follows up with Amanda McCready twelve years after she was returned to her woefully neglectful mother, Helene.

Unlike the rest of the novels in the series, Gone, Baby, Gone had plenty of room for a proper sequel, and given the opportunity to explore the ramifications of Patrick's choice at the end of that novel, the ground for a thematically interesting book is fertile. Thankfully (and predictably), Lehane does not disappoint, having the consequences of Patrick's actions a dozen years prior wreak havoc throughout the book.

What transpires is a mesmerizing exploration into the far-reaching consequences of a single act, one made in a no-win situation, and it is delivered by one of the most enthralling voices out there. Lehane's books are ones that get their claws in you and don't let you go until you've devoured them and are left still wanting more. Moonlight Mile is another in a long line of dark page-turners, that despite their best-seller status and focus on crime never quite feel low or pulpy. That isn't to say that pulp is bad, but somehow Lehane seems to transcend the mystery/crime genre, existing in a world all his own.

Or perhaps I'm trying to validate a genre that I really don't think needs validation, as I'd much rather read Lehane or Chandler or Cain or Jim Thompson than James Joyce.

Regardless, Moonlight Mile is a worthy [apparent] conclusion to the saga that is Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro's arc, the only book series I have read from front-to-back in at least a decade, and probably the only one I'd recommend to everyone out there.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Man on Film: Celeste and Jesse Forever

Full disclosure: I saw this and a bunch of other flicks that I'll roll brief reviews out for over the coming weeks over the summer. As you'll see here, this wasn't necessarily because I didn't like the films but rather was a byproduct of my busy schedule during the baseball season. Regardless, here is one of many backlogged Man on Film entries that will be heavily sprinkled in here.

Going into Celeste and Jesse Forever, I had trailer-fueled trepidations that had been at least in part alleviated by the myriad interviews that co-scribe and star Rashida Jones did leading up to its release. If there was one thing that worried me more than anything (other than my general doubt in Andy Samberg), it was the hand heart sign that Jones and Samberg exchange multiple times in the trailer and the iceberg of saccarine cuteness whose tip it conceivably shewed. 

Thankfully Celeste and Jesse Forever didn't fall into the pit that seemingly every indie rom-com over the past decade did, not revelling in its quirk, not falling in love with its own preciousness. Moreover, as Jones wrote the movie with herself in mind to star and co-wrote it with Will McCormack, the cast of characters are actually interesting and layered; the very fact that [apparently skilled] scribes of both sexes crafted the characters in consort with one another makes for a romantic comedy in which those characters are written with the insight of someone who actually knows how men and women think. All too often, this fare is one-dimensional, predictable, and out of touch with one of the two sexes. Even the better works within the genre have only the aspirations of being a modestly intelligent pastiche, self-referentially laying the genre conventions out on display, entirely too content with its self-awareness. 

Using Jones and McCormack's script that simply strives to be genuine while silently bucking convention, director Lee Toland Krieger follows up the stellar indie 2009 Adam Scott vehicle The Vicious Kind with another winner. This time working with a larger cast and canvas, he fills out the cast with a slew of gifted and hilarious supporting performers such as Ari Graynor, Rob Huebel, Eric Christian Olsen, Elijah Wood, and the aforementioned McCormack. He also gets a surprisingly strong performance from Emma Roberts as an ingenue pop star and a predictably outstanding performance from Chris Messina, who it seems I spend a lot of time lauding, both here and in the real world.

As for the leads, Jones is great, having given herself a role with some real meat to it and making one wish she were given more to do on Parks & Rec. At the very least, one can hope that she'll continue to write roles for herself that aren't the standard girlfriend/wife roles that wait for nearly all actresses in Hollywood. The surprise is that Andy Samberg is actually very good. By far the more sympathetic of the titular characters, he is vulnerable, likable, funny, and relatable, all traits that I cannot remember myself associating with Samberg in his past projects.

With nearly everything going for it, Celeste and Jesse Forever is the most pleasant of surprises. It trudges through the muck that the genre of rom-com and the equally suspect sub-genre of indie rom-com and comes out the other side exceptionally unsullied, unlike nearly all that went before it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Man on Film: Argo

As I mentioned in the Looper piece last week, Ben Affleck is one of the five directors whose work I most look forward to. If his first two forays into the world of film direction (Gone Baby Gone and The Town, if you've been living under a rock) showed us anything, it is that Ben Affleck is a natural at crafting taut action thrillers. With Argo, Affleck has stepped up his game and all but ensured himself and his film multiple Oscar nominations.

Argo is fucking fantastic. Bolstered by a brilliant Chris Terrio-penned script, Argo adeptly balances the elements of humor, suspense, personal drama, and satire within the story of CIA Agent Tony Mendez and the six escaped U.S. Embassy workers who needed exfiltrating when the Embassy in Tehran was stormed setting off the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979. Based on both Mendez's book, The Master of Disguise--which was horribly adapted the first time around in the synonymous 2002 Dana Carvey star vehicle--and Joshuah Bearman's 2007 article in Wired "The Great Escape," Affleck & Co. go back and forth seamlessly between the drama in Tehran, the behind the scenes Agency work in Langley and D.C., and the general ridiculousness of the mission's front in Hollywood.

As you should expect by this point, you'll not find me going into plot at length. As is always the point in these Man on Film columns, this is a reaction to the film, but I wouldn't want to spoil anything for you, even with a film where the ending is not a surprise to most of the audience. What I will say about the plot here is going to be extremely general. The storytelling is exceptionally taut. There are no wasted moments on screen. Everything (at least eventually) serves to advance the plot.

Perhaps more importantly, Affleck proves to be able to adroitly ratchet up the tension at each thriller beat, especially at the brilliantly directed climax. He proves to be among the best directors out there at crafting the intellectual action-thriller with an emotional core that never rings hollow or false.

From an artistic or filmic standpoint, Argo breathtaking. The mise-en-scene of the film seems to perfectly capture the world at the end of the Carter presidency. The film stock (or filtering) hearkens back to the political thrillers of the late 1970s or early '80s. The art direction, wardrobe, soundtrack, and production design brilliantly transport the audience to the era therein, demonstrating a painstaking attention to detail that to lesser directors would be afterthoughts but show Affleck's dedication to the art of film-making.

Then there is the cast. Three films into his directorial career, it is evident that actors are going to gladly step in for lesser roles just to be in Affleck's projects. This time around, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Philip Baker Hall, Adrienne Barbeau, Michael Parks, Richard Kind, and Titus Welliver join in for fairly small roles, complimenting a principle cast that already has Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Tate Donovan, and Victor Garber. Affleck also rounds out his cast with smaller character actors and '90s indie kids like Rory Cochrane (Dazed and Confused reunion) or Clea DuVall or Tom Lenk. And the cast is great. Goodman and Arkin chew up the scenery in their brilliantly acerbic scenes in Hollywood--a segment of the film that allows Affleck to satirically send up the fucked up machine that tried to devour him whole and summarily dispose of him in the early Aughts. The rest of the cast is perfectly suited for what they are called upon to do. Garber quietly plays the part of the Canadian Ambassador with such a penchant for subtlety and subduction that makes you wish he was cast in everything. Chandler, Cranston, Messina, Donovan, and Welliver all do exactly what any fan of their respective television work has come to appreciate and expect given their impressive body of work.

I could continue to heap praise on this film. I could talk about the nostalgia of seeing the McDonald's wrappers of my youth or the strange pride I feel at Affleck having validated the years and years of unmitigated and extremely vocal support of someone I do not know at all, but that would mean that you'd still be reading this and not heading out to the theater to see this film. I figured out that this was the 41st movie I've seen in this calendar year and while The Avengers and Looper and Killer Joe and Beasts of the Southern Wild (reviews to come on those last two) were great, I don't know that I've seen a film other than maybe The Master this year that comes close to being as great as Argo was.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Three, Episode Five "You'd Be Surprised"

Nucky and Rothstein meet to discuss the Tabor Heights situation. Capitol Hill takes aim at the Daugherty and Harding's crooked Justice Department. Nucky gets more careless and tied into Billie Kent's career. Nelson and Sigrid finish off Prohee Coughlin.

Old Man Duggan: Given Mickey's absence from the episode, it would seem that the concern I had that perhaps the dimly lit corpse in the truck in Tabor Heights at the end of "Blue Bell Boy" was unnecessary. Mickey Doyle did get got [I hope]. Since I'm in transit, I'll let you take the reins here, fella. Shoot away.

Wordy Ginters: Nice opening scene. Even better than seeing Tony Bennett sing "God Bless America" during the Seventh Inning Stretch of the Giants vs. Cards game. As the episode began, and the camera tracked down the hallway, I was certain Gyp would be in the room sawing some asthmatic prick in half. I was half right. Of course the only way Gyp can get off is via erotic asphyxiation. I wasn't quite sold that his character was a sick twisted remorseless monster, but now I get it. As we know from the history books, "safe words" weren't invented until the early 1960's, so Gyp was actually quite fortunate he didn't loose his mortal coil chasing an orgasm. Regardless of how odious, obvious, or ham-handed scenes with Gyp may hit you, he blows up the screen. The menace that dude brings is impressive. Sexual or otherwise.

On Liberty [and Spotters]
OMD: So I had to resort to watching the episode in fuzzy standard definition by way of coaxial cable plugged into the back of a HD TV in a Holiday Inn Express in Downtown El Paso. If there was a blessing in disguise in all that, it's that the depraved sex acts that Bobby Cannavale was called upon to perform for the role in this episode were grainy and bereft of the detail that you High-Def motherfuckers (of which I am usually card-carrying member) were subjected to. If Gyp Rosetti were temporally displaced into the present day and was to start a band, their name would be Sexual Menace. That saucy, belt-wielding minx is the very same waitress Gyp professed an interest in at the close of the last episode, right? While it's a long-established fact that the advent of the safe word wasn't established until after the Great Chicago Scarfing Death Epidemic of 1964, clearly spotters were in use before this, as we were first introduced to their necessity in J.S. Mill's On Liberty.

WG: Director Timmy Van Patten kept things cranked to 11 by transitioning directly to a long time coming dust up between Rothstein and Nucky--by the way, am I the last person in the world to realize that Van Patten played Salami on The White Shadow? Rothstein drops some unpleasant observations on Nucky's head, namely that he's not holding up his end of their business arrangement, and that he's playing the rube by chasing after Billie like he's been sprayed with Love Potion Number 9. Speaking of Van Patten, more than a subtle nod to his previous job on The Sopranos when Rothstein brought up the New York vs. New Jersey theme. Still, it was jarring to see Nucky put in his place or more accurately that he's merely a "convenience" in the broader world. Quite a change from when he had a direct hand in engineering Harding's nomination as the Presidential nominee at the Republican National Convention, or getting tangled up in the Irish War of Independence like he did in Season Two. Now, he's reduced to third nipple status in the relationship between Rothstein and Masseria.

OMD: I had no idea that Van Patten had been on The White Shadow, though my exposure to that show is extremely limited, and by limited I mean that I have seen roughly ten minutes in passing on ESPN Classic when they were re-airing it in what must have been the late 90s or early Aughts. The confrontation between Rothstein and Nucky was fulfilling. Someone needed to call out Nucky for letting himself be led around by his dick while not paying proper attention to the business operations. Early on, it seems like Season Three is arcing in such a way that this is could be known as The Transition of Nucky. Challenged by Jimmy when at the crossroads at the terminus of Season Two, he chose the path of being the thug, and his influence in the legitimate world has waned in accordance. Without real sway, without the immediate power of political office, Nucky only has his criminal enterprise and its successes/failures from which to measure his influence. His power is essentially tied to the geographical proximity of Atlantic City to New York and his Irish connect. The growing pains and slowness with which he is adjusting to his new place in the world are surely jeopardizing his future at least as much as Gyp Rosetti is.

WG: Old Man Duggan, I'd like to see you take a crack at cranking out some copy for Margaret's pre-natal night school. "Come discuss your Vagina" has a certain forthright authenticity, but it might draw the wrong type of crowd. Attendance is flagging.

OMD: Here goes:

Ladies, Women, Madames, Mademoiselles,
    St. Theresa wants to acquaint you with your PLEASURE BOXES, as the HEALTHY and WELL-OILED VAGINA is the pathway to a FULLER EXISTENCE. Kindred spirits have come from hither and yon to GAIN KNOWLEDGE both to ENSURE the WELL-BEING of the FAMILY. The WELL VAGINA is the GATEWAY to the WELL FAMILY.
    Brunch served with classes. Nun unfortunately present, but we shall overcome.
    French Stewart-looking cad, Dr. Mason knows your lady parts and will forbid you from drinking raw milk.

WG: "I believe your left shoelace is in a state of dishabille." Gaston Means, another great character. That syrupy, self-assured, no-place but every-place dialect could breath meaning into the most asinine text. I'd pay to hear him read David Brooks columns.

OMD: Thank Eric Hosmer (ca. 2011 and hopefully 2013 and beyond) for Stephen Root.

WG: Van Alden Mueller! Sigrid! A twisted little couple. When the unfortunate prohee Coughlin slid his card underneath the door, did you notice Van Alden Mueller was framed by the bars of the baby's crib in the foreground? Nice touch. Not sure if it foreshadows the crossbar hotel in Mueller's future, or just added to the growing sense of claustrophobia around his character's situation, but either way, I get a kick out of that kind of cinematic flourish when I notice it. I also thought the scene in which the Van Alden Mueller's snuffed out Coughlin had some parallel's to Gyp's opening scene. It would have been seamless if Gyp would have also said "avert your eyes."

OMD: The influence of German Expressionism rearing its head once again. Man, if there's something I did not see coming it was Sigrid clubbing the crooked Agent Coughlin to death. I also loved the reveal that Coughlin was there to complain about the shitty irons he purchased. His dogged pursuit of Van Alden over faulty irons is pretty fucking hilarious. Nelson/George has always been in his own personal prison, hence the violent self-flagellation. This development obviously would seem to put Van Alden not only in O'Banion's debt but also likely his employ. As for the parallels, this episode could just have easily been called "Stop Breathing."

Chalky and Purnell's Cup of Tea
WG: Even though Rothstein called out the error of his ways, Nucky keeps self-destructing over his fixation with Billie. Tellingly, the first words out of his mouth after the meeting with Rothstein were "when is rehearsal." Margaret busts him dress shopping with Billie at the Fashion Bug. Only after his mea culpa, does he appear to begin to get his footing. After Eddie Cantor brushes him aside, he flexes his muscle and has Purnell and Chalky pay Eddie a visit. Awesome. Nights at the speakeasy have left them immune to Eddie's brand of entertainment. They acted like they were at Branson.

OMD: Nucky should look to Rothstein as the paragon of self-neutered restraint and should attempt to emulate that. It would certainly seem that he has designs (at least in part) on rebuilding Rothstein's empire in his own image, but as long his dick is a divining rod to self-ruination, his designs are on the back burner. The weird thing about Nucky's struggles to readjust to his new place in the world would seem to have manifested themselves in his apparent loss of self-awareness. Hopefully for Nucky's case (though probably not for Billie Kent), Rothstein gave him a wake-up call. Can you imagine how horribly Eddie Cantor's brand of entertainment would play today?

WG: And although the planning and plotting happened off-screen, evidently Rothstein and Nucky conspired to have Gyp knocked off. I believe that was Benny Siegel, who earlier had been scolded by Meyer Lansky for slacking off on his gun registration number filing homework, who went with the old paper boy gambit and shot the shit out of the Kinneret Lodge. And the luckless paperboy, for the thrill of it. Maybe Lansky is acting on his own? Gyp taking over Tabor Heights fucking with his smack distribution as well? How did you read it?

OMD: Oh, it was Young Bugsy all right. I love it when a show plays with off-screen planning like Boardwalk did here. I definitely took this as Rothstein choosing Nucky over Gyp. For all of Nucky's dalliance-related shortcomings lately, he's still more useful to Rothstein as his Irish Connection than Gyp Rosetti. Even if Rothstein took that meeting in Tabor Heights in earnest, Gyp's interaction with the paperboy could well have been the final nail in the coffin of their potential business relationship. I definitely don't think Meyer Lansky would step out of line an make that play on his own. Rothstein is a pragmatist, and his scolding of Nucky was a pragmatic attempt to scare him straight, but there's no world in which Gyp is the better business partner, even if Gyp is in league with Joe Masseria.

WG: How great was the aftermath of that scene? Shot from overhead, with Gyp hanging dong and taking in the carnage with a belt still looped around his neck? You could splice that into a Mike Vick dog-fighting video and maintain narrative continuity, piece of cake. They should show those two scenes in high schools to combat erotic asphyxiation. It's gonna end up being the death of you Gyp!

OMD: I'd love a back-and-forth video cut of the two together. Given Gyp's constant craving for choking out while choking out, wouldn't it be great if after all this build-up that Gyp dies with a belt 'round his neck?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Man on Film: Looper

This past week was a big week for this filmgoer, as not only did I get to see the new Paul Thomas Anderson film--an event for which I typically mark my calendar--but I also got to see the new Rian Johnson film, who for my money is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. If a gun were pointed at my head, there are probably only four working directors whose work I anticipate with as comparable a fervor as I do Johnson's (for those wondering at home, the aforementioned Anderson, Malick, Cuarón, and my main man, Ben Affleck). Looper justified my anticipation while falling just a bit shy of my enormous expectations.

Any feelings about the film are chiefly informed by how enthralled one is by the world that Rian Johnson creates. Unlike perhaps any working director, Johnson has an ability to create a world around his characters that is informed by multiple genres, typically infusing the film with highly stylized dialogue reminiscent of masters like Chandler, Faulkner, and Wilder. In three times out, the end result has been captivating.

In the form of Looper, he infuses the post-apocalyptic time-travel subgenre with a healthy dose of noir styling, complete with the classic noir anti-hero living in the seamy criminal underworld. It's a winning combination, and with Johnson's panache and skills obscuring of  the ride is one filled with enough vim and vigor to distract the viewer from the various minor plot holes and foggy areas that typically lie just beneath the surface of his films.

The whole film works due in large part to the performance of the three leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt. All are great. Reportedly a risk of late, Willis is fully invested. Gordon-Levitt is great, just as anyone who has been paying attention would expect as he's turned in fantastic performances in role after role. Blunt, who doesn't always seamlessly pull off what is asked of her, ably inhabits the person of the guilty single mother. Jeff Daniels's turn as the temporally displaced mob boss is a stand-out performance, giving him the chance to play the bad guy, albeit an atypical one. Hell, there's even a kid, and he's not horrible.

While I'll refrain from getting into plot, as that's not what I do here, I will say that Johnson smartly avoids the pitfalls of getting too heavily invested in the larger ramifications and technicalities of time travel. Johnson uses time travel simply as a plot device, a way to explore themes while avoiding the often dull scientific exposition and overly convoluted storylines. He makes the conscious decision to go down the route of making an ultimately understandable film, forgoing the potential for massive confusion of a film like Primer, which while brilliant would never play to a large audience befitting the cast and budget at play in Looper. By and large, that decision is a good one, and Looper is the latest in the storied line of fantastic time-travel action flicks that we all know and love. With Johnson's latest film closing in on 150% return on its budget, Looper's success can only mean good things for whatever his next project ends up being.

Man on Film: The Imposter

Director/documentarian Bart Layton cut his teeth most notably as the creator and executive producer on National Geographic Channel's Locked Up Abroad. The Imposter feels very much like that style of show. That statement isn't meant to marginalize the film at all; but it was co-produced by A&E IndieFilms, and oen should prepare oneself for an according aesthetic.

Having put that preface out there, The Imposter is one crazy story. There are so many twists and turns--and really, so much of the enjoyment of the film relies on them--that getting into the plot is likely doing a disservice. The titular imposter is exactly that, but the story goes much further than that of a young Frenchman taking the place of a missing San Antonio boy. It's bizarre, upsetting, amusing, puzzling, and surprising. Most importantly, The Imposter is pretty goddamned entertaining. As it is a documentary, it will surely be on Netflix Instant soon. Go get some.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Series Three, Episode Two

Matthew and Mary return from their honeymoon, Matthew's eyes opened to the splendor of Mary's man-eating nether regions. Matthew tells Robert that, despite the fact that he may likely receive a sizeable fortune in Reggie Swire's will, he is honor-bound to turn down the money with which he could save Downton. Ethel pops up at Isobel Crawley's Rehabilitation Center for Wayward Women. Mrs. Hughes finds a lump. Lord Grantham instructs Sir Anthony Strallan that it would be best if he pushed Lady Edith away, much to her chagrin, but Edith perseveres. A block in the flue of the stove forces a party to turn to a makeshift picnic on the premises. Martha rebuffs Mary and the Dowager Countess's advances.

Old Man Duggan: Grantham: "How was the honeymoon?" Matthew: "My eyes have been opened." I see Fellowes is wasting no time in getting tawdry in this one. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the exchange between father- and son-in-law was Lord Grantham's response: "Don't I know it." I know it's not intended to be read the way I'm reading it, but it sure seems like Fellowes is playing fast and loose with that one, especially since one mention of a woman's nether regions sends Robert running for the hills with the first objects he can find that would serve as suitable earmuffs. Later on, whilst engaged in fully non-sexual pillow talk, Mary changes gears rapidly, instructing her new husband to "stop talking and kiss me before I get cross." Thankfully, Matthew does as he is told because we all know what happens when Mary gets cross: Turks die by way of Face-to-Face Anal.

CPS sufferers
Wordy Ginters: A discordant note hearing Lord Grantham get down in the mud and jostle about his daughter's sex life. Knowing his obvious affection for Matthew, he may have merely been relieved to see he survived the honeymoon. As we know now, the repetitive clenching and unclenching of F2FA can weaken tendons and damage blood vessels, leading to Carpal Penal Syndrome. How many episodes before we see Alfred tying the laces on Matthew's orthopedic penile brace? And you thought getting spots out of long dining jackets was a lost art.

OMD: Mrs. Martha Levinson's comment at the dinner table about Carson and Alfred "knowing more about life than [they] ever will" would certainly seem to ring true for Alfred, but it seems to me that Carson has likely lived just as sheltered a life as the nobles, if not more so. Carson was groomed to be a butler from the moment he dropped. Alfred, on the other hand, worked in a *gasp* hotel. The low things he must have encountered in such a public place of work would surely rattle both Lord Grantham, who despite his having seen combat has the most fragile sensibilities known to man, and his mother to their respective cores. I did like her joke about how they must keep the address of the Rehab Center from Alfred. Clearly his willingness to make out with the first lady to show him any interest (though her forward Americanness is appealing to me at the very least) shows that he should be kept away from the post-war prostitutes Isobel is counseling.

WG: I'm digging the brash stereotypical vibe that Mrs. Levinson brings to the show. I wonder how historically accurate those social tropes are? Brash American yahoos and the stodgy English. I can't imagine the swells on either side of the Atlantic being that different. Although Carson was nearly knocked off his pins by the idea of a buffet-styled meal. He'd be putty in a veteran Great War streetwalker's hands. Or vice-versa.

OMD: Cancer for the old stalwart Mrs. Hughes? Say it ain't so. If there's anyone I pull for, it's Hughes, who seems to have the firmest grip on the reality of each person in the house, upstairs and down. Hell, she takes the decidedly increased possibility of death in stride like no other. I loved her putting Patmore in her place. Hughes is a grown-ass woman; treat her as such, Mrs. Patmore. Let's just hope the spectre of cancer doesn't loom so large as to cause her to forget the glasses for the pudding wine again. The horror.

WG: She traversed the seven stages of grief over the course of one episode. Impressive. As someone who has seen loved ones wrestle the Big C, those scenes dredge up a hint of that black sky despair. Ultimately, as Hughes says to Patmore in the Hallway, we all die someday. It certainly grabs you by the scruff of your neck and forces you to recognize some cold realities that are much better left shimmering off in the periphery. Bless your heart Patmore, but shut your mincemeat hole.

OMD: Ethel. Goddammit. Seeing her face made me so fucking angry that I shat myself out of spite for her. Of course she's hooking, wayward as wayward can get. If it had been anyone other than Isobel seeing her, I'd have thought nothing of it, and it'd simply be a symbol of what happens when you roll in the hay with sons of pricks, but instead we'll surely be treated to yet another tiresome story arc for a wretched character.

WG: I hate spite-fueled pants-shitting. My sympathies. Ruined several slacks and a favorite pair of jeans from the same cause myself during the American League Divisional Series. Good point though, what the hell are they going to do here? Let's not be to quick to judge the victim. The dashing shit stain who got her preggers was wearing the black hat in my view. Still, the baby is gone with gramps and granny, right? Something is up Ethel's sleeve. Or maybe her woman's underpants.

OMD: Nah, Ethel foolishly elected to hold onto her child.

You just knew when Thomas gave Alfred a tip to fix Matthew's dinner jacket that it wouldn't end nicely. Burning a hole through the jacket was going to be the obvious outcome of Thomas's advice. And the look on Carson's face when he heard of the hole seared through the jacket. Indignation! So hot on the heels of the pudding wine faux pas, too. I keep waiting for Carson to have a heart attack, and the decorum lacking in Matthew not having a dinner jacket at the ready could just as well have been its cause. Back to Alfred, though, it's weird, but Fellowes actually has me siding with Thomas on this matter. I don't dislike the ginger beanpole, but he certainly doesn't deserve to be a valet with so little in the way of qualifications going for him. Of course, this only draws us nearer to a world in which O'Brien and Thomas have at it in metaphorical service fisticuffs. I will say I laughed heartily when the Dowager turned to Robert and asked for a drink, mistaking him for a waiter. Hi. Larious.

WG: With tradition and decorum exploding into irrelevancy all around Downton, I was hoping Lord Grantham and Matthew would hit the dinner sans shirts, with bow ties, setting the trend for the male stripper uniform popularized by The Chippendales. That Thomas was going to fuck with Alfred was telegraphed pretty hard. Off-screen he keeps taping "Thinks he's the Bee's Knee's but is really a moldy Rag-a-Muffin" signs to his back. Dips his pig tails in ink. Scares him with toads. I think the Thomas v. O'Brien fight is the big one we're all hoping for. The prelude with Alfred is training by proxy. Although the Dowager seems to befuddled by Mrs. Levinson's brass, it is funny to see her on her toes enough to get off on Grantham and his slovenly formal wear.

OMD: I liked that the Dowager Countess was unable to stick to the script and couldn't help but slam America before being corrected. The pandering to Martha was a bit tiresome, if you ask me. Honestly, her presence on the whole has sort of been a drag if you ask me. How feel you?

WG: She brings some grit to the proceedings. An interesting foil and/or ally. I don't mind her at all. I kind of enjoy her pecking and picking at the England's bloated traditions. She's like Toby Keith with a cinnamon wave.

President Cerrano
OMD: Lord Grantham's evolution is an interesting one. Ultimately he tries to hold fast to an honorable code of conduct, but as life throws him curveballs he whiffs mightly, a la [later President] Cerrano in Major League. He is a vexed man, emasculated over the course of The Great War. His worth vis-a-vis the family is mitigated by time and in the greater world by his utter lack of aptitude in business. Then he meddles with Edith's happiness, and to what end? To simply make her cry at his obvious tampering only to renege? Perhaps he should look to Jobu for help. He best load up with hats for bats. And asking Thomas, "Are you not popular downstairs?" That was the icing on the cake. Of course, he isn't. Get with the program, Lord Grantham. Hell, he can't even surmise what happens when the stove flue is clogged. The fact that he couldn't tell what Mary and his mother were up to was also absurd. How oblivious is he? That he believes himself to be unadaptable, that adaptability is some innate trait present in some but apparently not in himself is the biggest affront to my sensibilities.

WG: Spot on. An interesting recent angle in the show is the trip to flaccid town taken by two of the primary male leads, Lord Grantham and Bates. They used to righteously roar like lions. Not so much anymore. The women who prop them up provide the steel in the backbone. Downton Abbey is not so covertly running some pro-feminist game. Especially recently, the women characters are the prime movers. They have the money. They get what they want. Fellowes may be a nom de plume for Judith Butler.

OMD: Lady Edith and Sir Anthony Strallan tying the knot. I can gladly say I'm happy for the pair of them.

WG: Most definitely. But I don't want to see them cuddling post-carnal. That rictus grin/sneer/snarl that Strallan breaks out would have a hideous impact in that context.

OMD: While Lady Mary and the Dowager's advance is getting shot down, it seems like Martha Levinson gets to the heart of everything that I anticipate will happen going forward. She says, "The world has changed. These houses were built for another age." Given Robert's history of financial bungling, the dire straits Downton finds itself in, and the coming economic ruin into which the world is about to descend, the prospects of Downton Abbey are not exactly glowing.

Needles or Bust!
WG: I look forward to the episode when the Grantham clan piles all the belongings onto the old Grapes of Wrath truck, with the Dowager perched on a wooden rocking chair balanced precariously on top of everything, Mary and Matthew hanging off the back, and head for the citrus farms for honest work and honest pay.

OMD: Dark Bates is back with a vengeance. "Don't ever threaten me." Hand firmly across his dirty cellmate's throat. It is those moments right there that have me doubting Bates's actual innocence, not that my affection for the character hinges upon whether or not he killed the vile Vera Bates. Hell, I'd probably like him more. All right, I'm officially in the I-hope-Bates-did-it-and-skates camp.

WG: I've always liked a good heel. I could see Bates as the perp. He may have been kicking up a bit of bluster to keep that oaf off his ass with his big words, or to stall that simple knuckle-dragger's plotting. That face/neck hammer-lock Bates slapped on his cellmate was an advanced move. They've been watching WWE up in that piece. All in all though, for a relatively average episode, the show still shines. Downton Abbey, you are a goddamn treat to behold.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Three, Episode Four "Blue Bell Boy"

In this week's installment, "Blue Bell Boy," Nucky and Owen are trapped in a basement with the precocious thief Rowland Smith as Waxey Gordon's bought-and-paid-for Treasury Agents seize the booze that has been stolen from both Waxey and Nucky. Capone beats one of O'Banion's men to death for jumping a defenseless Guzik. Margaret begins promoting the Women's Health classes at St. Theresa's. Gyp and the Tabor Heights Sheriff's Department ambush Mickey Doyle's caravan of whiskey lorries as they foolishly pass through the town, despite Eli's best efforts to redirect the shipment.

Wordy Ginters: Before we dig in, how about a couple of random observations on the opening credits? This may be lingering after shocks from having just seen Bronson, but something about Nucky standing seaward in his bowler hat, with that grey ocean as a backdrop, reminds me very much of Magritte's The Son of Man. Some obvious parallels to be drawn between Nucky and The Son of Man; for example, the conflict between what is hidden from society's view and what isn't being one parallel, the green apple constantly floating in front of Nucky's face being another. Maybe I'm making that last one up. As the opening credits come to an end, Nucky is seen walking back up the beach to Atlantic City. His walk, his way of carrying himself, the inner Buscemi-ness which can never be fully contained, bleeds through the TV even in the opening credits. He looks like Kermit the Frog. The sensation of seeing Kermit gambol about on two feet is similar to the feeling I get when I see Nucky walking. Like it's something we shouldn't be seeing or isn't real. Certainly he does not possess the physical traits we've come to know and love from our anti-heroes. No boiling rage, bulging muscles, or wild palomino like sex appeal. He's a frail sharp with a fearsome mind. Whether or not you think Boardwalk Empire merits Hall of Fame status very likely comes down to the Buscemi question. Can you buy Buscemi's Nucky as a business mobster kingpin? Or does seeing his frail and pale visage soured and nonplussed bring down the whole artifice? I like it precisely because it is different. I don't think Winter had much choice than to go in a different direction after The Sopranos if he didn't want it to be The Sopranos II, Genesis USA: the Early Days down by the Shore. Which way do you lean on the Buscemi question?

Old Man Duggan: Bronson. Great family flick. Hardy sure hangs a lot of dong in that one. I'd imagine the similarities between The Son of Man and Nucky's appearance in the weekly introduction to the show is not coincidental. I know that when I first saw the credits they summoned that image from my memory. Then I jumped immediately to naked Rene Russo making the sex with Pierce Brosnan and down the rabbit hole I went. Back to thoughts in which lust do not enter, I buy Buscemi as mob boss. Historically many of the powerful figures in the criminal underworld were not especially attractive. Aside from maybe Dillinger and Bugsy Siegel, I can't think of many who weren't unappealing. As for his stature, I guess I just think of Meyer Lansky being reportedly a shade under five feet tall, and if someone that small can reach his level of power and influence, anyone can. Also, while I think about Boardwalk's place in the pantheon of hour-long dramas, I'd have to say its story is incomplete, but I'd shortlist it for inclusion upon its completion while reserving judgment until it has concluded.

WG: "Blue Bell Boy" started nicely enough. Nucky maybe less pissed at Owen for being late, than he was at the idea of someone else getting some carnal action. Mr. Poofles? Owen, you deserve better than that. Blowjobs as part of the mise-en-scene brought back fond memories of Al Swearengen plotting and planning by way of oral sex in Deadwood.

OMD: Goddammit, I miss that show. If you saw Bronson shortly before watching this episode, not only were you treated to a ton of Hardy cock, but you also got Cox ass and out-of-focus taint. Bully for you. Owen's little lady is a fetching lass. I guess I'd excuse the slightly emasculating phallic nickname if it were only uttered in that context. In other words, only if she were saying it, we were partaking in a bit of afternoon delight, and I was in 1924 New Jersey.

WG: The director of this particular episode was Kari Skogland, a woman, and the only reason I know is the style of the show was different enough that I was compelled to go back and look. Cut a little more cleverly, with an eye towards heightening tension, tighter in general, and some playful "feminine" angles that were most welcome and well done.

OMD: I suppose it's just in my character, but I look at the writer and director with all my favorite shows. It was a crafty ep. The tension was especially well crafted while Nucky, Owen, and young Rowland Smith were stuck in the basement for an incredibly long amount of time. Women's issues were certainly at the fore.

WG: I don't know what was a deeper shade of purple, lil' deaf Sonny Capone's shiner, or Owen's knob, but it was a deft woman's touch that brought some depth out of both of those early scenes. Part of the fun in Boardwalk Empire is that it's a show filled with famous historical figures like Capone, Rothstein, Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and Nucky Thompson. Seeing Capone, with a son who is picked on by day, and a slovenly compadre who gets picked on by night, finally blow a gasket and strike a deadly blow on both their behalf was satisfying. Things like this make a good show great. A monster like Capone attempting to toughen up his kid, and then both of them crumbling into wet tears because sonny ain't a fighter, he can't quite bring himself to hit his dad, or maybe the realization that he let his dad down, etc. whatever the case may be, you pretty much are pulling for Capone to kick someone's ass just because. Making Capone human,and a likable guy isn't a new trick, but it shouldn't be as easy to pull off as they do in Boardwalk Empire.

OMD: Ms. Skogland is skilled at drawing out hues to be sure. The moment Guzik turned around to see Capone gone I was grinning from ear to ear. Joe Miller was gonna get it. And get it he did. This was a great episode for humanizing Capone. It sucks that there are so many characters that for each one whose name isn't Nucky Thompson you just aren't sure they're going to pop up each week. Luckily when they are featured front and center, Winter & Co. waste no time adding layers of nuance and subtext to the characters. It's not unlike Justified wherein a character may only be in alternating episodes, but when they're present, their presence actually means something to the show.

WG: Margaret steamrolling the Catholic Hospital for the prenatal outreach was a hilarious. Sadly, I can imagine that some of those conversations don't sound all that dated. Found footage from a staff meeting of Missouri Senatorial candidate Todd Akin. You know, maybe Skogland isn't such a feminist after all, under her purview in this episode, the vagina was alternately compared with brussel sprouts and a sardine's twat. We need some Georgia O'Keeffe up in this piece to bring some of the true beauty, mystery, and majesty back to the vagina. It was also kind of fun to see Margaret hustling the boardwalk with her flyers, like she was ginning up numbers for a Minor Threat gig at the 9:30 Club in D.C.

OMD: To be fair, Guzik's unpleasant odor was likened to that of a "sardine's twat," but your point remains. There's very little vaginocentric art that pleases me (I'm not particularly fond of phallocentric art either, ladies and gents), but I do like O'Keeffe. You're really going fine art up in here this week. It's weird to see Margaret The Pamphleteer back at the fore. I definitely like that she's championing a cause that isn't Temperance. I'm a much bigger fan of Women's Health classes. I'll say it right now, and I know this is controversial, but all women should be healthy. They're better than men. Especially white men. White men are the worst.

WG: Rowland Smith. I thought for sure that you were too cute to kill. I thoroughly enjoyed his name dropping of 20's film stars as aliases when Owen first got the drop on him. Lon Chaney. Norma Talmadge. Baby Peggy. He was smooth. Wits about him and quick on his feet. Why do you think he ultimately got whacked?

OMD: You do not steal from Nucky. He knows that he cannot show weakness. He also needs to show Owen, whose sway in the matters of transport of illegal goods and generally violent acts feels challenging to Nucky. When Mickey looks to Owen in the warehouse after Nucky tells them to avoid Tabor Heights, Nucky sees that his absenteeism has had its cost and made him look weak. The first sign that he lets people skate, and he's a mark. He also needs to keep up appearances because Gyp is gunning for him, and he needs to exude strength in the face adversity so that his people continue to fight for him.

WG: Speaking of carnal, doesn't matter what Gyp says when he's on the screen, I love it. "Some day I'm going to take you in the back and show you how to make sauce." "But I don't cook." "It's easy. You stir, and I provide the heat." Best explanation for being a submissive bottom I've ever heard. And he kissed her open palm to seal the deal. Open Palm! Sensual mediterranean moves. Yeah, I'm saying Gyp is a submissive power bottom. He's so damn dominant during his day gig, you know the only way he can get off is to work it from underneath.

OMD: That open palm kiss showed panache, confidence, and total disregard for the threat of germs. The balls on that guy. Especially given the fact that Spanish influenza just ran roughshod over much of the Western World. What a brazen fool. But yes, Gyp is most definitely a power bottom, though I find his being drawn to the ginger waitress as a break from what I'd imagine his proclivities would have drawn him to in the objects of lust department.

WG: I'm ashamed to admit that I was caught off-guard by the double dealing Deputy Ramsey in Tabor Heights. I figured he was going to end up on the output end of a meat grinder after a foolhardy attempt to tangle with the Sicilians. But I guess after seeing your former boss being reduced to a shish kebab, you might think twice about crossing swords with Gyp. Better to listen to his reasoning. Listen only though, speaking can lead to death.

OMD: I, too, was surprised to find out that new Sheriff Ramsey had so little loyalty toward his predecessor. I guess I always suspect the worst in people, though, and I hardly thought that it'd be smooth sailing through Tabor Heights for the AC to NYC whiskey pipeline.

WG: Mickey's dead! Upside! Finally. He undercut Nucky's authority earlier in the show, and I thought, Jesus Christ, what does a guy have to do to get whacked on this show? Answer: Just keeping acting like Mickey. How hilarious was Rothstein on the phone to Mickey? "Why am I talking to you?" Is it possible to display complete contempt for another human, in such a mannered and decent way? Does Eli get back into the fold with his valiant pre-game sleuthing, or will Nucky be pissed that despite his instincts, he didn't get it stopped?

OMD: It would seem to me that Eli is primed to take over the distribution end, despite Nucky having told him jail was the last gift he'd give him. It also seems that with as many men as Nucky just lost, he'll probably have to enlist Harrow, who is simply adrift in a whorehouse right now. It seems like Harrow and Van Alden are both on the verge of getting involved in this whole mess again. The characters simply have too high a profile in the show to not end up back in the mix unless they meet an untimely end. I'm glad that Mickey finally got got, if that was in fact him in the car, dead. It was dark. Rothstein's dressing down and marginalization of Mickey was so thorough and swift that it was impossible not to admire. The more Rothstein the better as far as I'm concerned.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Man on Film: The Master

If there is a thread that ties Paul Thomas Anderson's rather diverse filmography together, it is that his works are all offbeat character studies. With each venture, the subject and subject matter may vary drastically, but that central characteristic remains.

As with the rest of his oeuvre, The Master marches to its own beat, and that beat is not set by anyone playing drums. Whether it was Daniel Plainfield in There Will Be Blood, Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love, Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights, or the two sides of the coin that Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman play in the forms of Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd in The Master, Anderson places the most importance on the journey of the character and not nearly as much on the journey itself. To those craving a conventional tale in which the action and events tell the audience everything they need to know, Anderson's careful but at time obtuse studies on character are going to be ultimately unfulfilling.

Even more than his previous works, The Master veers away from a brand of filmic storytelling adhering to conventions. To me, this makes him one of cinema's brightest and most unique working auteurs, with his deft hand and careful eye and maverick vision putting him in the rarified company of Terrence Malick as writer / directors whose vision is so singular and so complete as to leave me grateful just to have gotten to go along on their ride.

In The Master, that ride is one in which two polar opposites in virtually every way are drawn together despite or perhaps exactly because of their stark differences. The extreme contrast of the two is never clearer than when they're both arrested and thrown in jail. Freddie sits (or rather rages) at one end of the spectrum: the animalistic, uncontrollable, volatile, violent man; Lancaster stands at the other pole: civilized, controlled, calm, at peace. The scene is perhaps the most powerful of the film and is a microcosm of the film on the whole. Neither the greater mechanisms and institutions of society nor the man who represents his opposite can control him, and the longer he tries to conform himself to these externally constructed systems the more violent the recoil will be when the controlling grip is lost.

What this existential struggle between the two primarily means is that both the two leads, Phoenix and Hoffman, are served up meaty roles with which they can stretch their legs, crank their necks, loosen their jaws, and bite right into. Phoenix's return to dramatic acting* is a triumph. He loses himself in the role. It is one wrought with pathos, infused with a primal physicality, an overarching hyper-pubescent sexuality, and a mischievous spirit. His backstory is a bit murky. It's hard to tell if he was broken before the war or not. Regardless, it is breathtaking. Hoffman's role requires a command of self, a conveyance of confidence, that makes the audience believe in and want to follow him. That confidence has to be so prominent that even when Lancaster Dodd is clearly making up things he believes them to be true as soon as they are uttered.

*I'm Still Here was a lot of things, but I think we can all agree it wasn't a dramatic piece of fiction.

In support, Amy Adams is fantastic. The cold-hearted First Lady of a cult-leader crackpot with an eye on the prize and a believe in The Cause that drives her. Her icy stare, when employed, is startling. It's also nice to have Jesse Plemons in house, as there is never a time that I don't want to see him in something. Unfortunately, he kills no one here, so the Landry/Todd murderer jokes don't get extended to The Master.

And as for Anderson, The Master, a full realization of his very unique vision, is captivating, and in its 70mm glory is something to behold.

Trailer is NSFW

Monday, October 1, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Three, Episode Three "Bone for Tuna"

In "Bone for Tuna," Nucky returns to Atlantic City to be confronted with his conscience and the responsibilities that come along with being king. He attempts to come to an agreement with Gyp Rosetti. Nelson Van Alden struggles to adapt to his life in Cicero and gets caught in a raid. Mickey Doyle spouts off and says he killed Manny Horvitz, which gets around to Harrow. Mickey somehow still lives at the end of the episode. Things are heating up in New York with Joe Massaria making a move on Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. Margaret gets her way at the hospital and a pre-natal unit will be put in. Gyp reneges on his agreement, hating being wished good luck.

Old Man Duggan: Two episodes in the can and we're finally getting down to the internal (and to a degree external) emotional strife Nucky is experiencing that comes with the territory of having ascended to the throne. Terence Winter and scribe Chris Haddock waste little time in getting down to brass tacks. Haunted in his dreams at having to kill the boy he raised like a son. Haunted in his homelife at the consequences of having taken a queen. Haunted in business by trying to keep his kingdom in order. Those actions he took were not without their consequences. Is it good to be king?

Wordy Ginters: Mel Brooks was wrong? This casts History of the World: Part I in an entirely different light. Nucky has one foot on a nervous breakdown, and the other foot on a roller skate. The gnawing realization that his empire building has brought him riches, but no one to share it with, may get to him more than his guilt for killing Jimmy.

OMD: How long before Nucky walks into the confessional? He has to unburden his soul. It's either that or keep running to the side-action in the city, an endeavor wrought with its own pitfalls and stressors.

WG: Given his fragile state and Margaret's impressive manipulation skills, there is no limit to the hilarious shenanigans he could be manuevered into. Fuck confession. Selling "smoothness" shoulder to shoulder with Agent Van Alden Mueller is a real possibility. Or perhaps piloting a diving pony off a 30-foot platform into a baby pool, for a nickel-a-head down by the shore. He's vulnerable.

OMD: As I was watching Mickey Doyle taking credit for the murder of Manny Horvitz I thought this has to come back and bite him in the ass, right? Within fifteen minutes of screen time and no more than a couple hours of Boardwalk time, Harrow finds out Mickey is taking credit for the murder. Please [insert higher power you might subscribe to here] let Harrow off that putz. Of course, it didn't happen in "Bone for Tuna." That fucking shitbird has nine lives. I bet that dipshit ends up dying crossing the fucking street. Maybe by a trolley in Brooklyn.

WG: At the time, I said aloud to no one in particular, "Who dies first? Mickey or some random bastard at the hands of Gyp Rosetti?" I still can't quite get my head around the fact that Mickey remains upright. If for no other reason than how ridiculous he looked with his two sizes too small bowler hat at such a disheveled angle when Harrow marched him into Nucky's office. He could get aced, a la Omar, by a little kid in a convenience store. Or else he'll be the only one standing at the end. Laughing that irritating little affected laugh as the credits roll.

OMD: How great was the scene in Nucky's office after Mickey has been dismissed? Harrow's Code is clearly delineated: you can only take out people if they're in the game; you don't take credit for other people's work; you don't joke about killing men you didn't kill. Nucky looks for solace and guidance from a soul so troubled that he had a gun in his mouth in the woods in the recent past.

WG: The failed suicide attempt you reference came from one of the stronger Boardwalk Empire episodes in Season Two. I think tonight's episode was a step back in that direction.

OMD: Sometimes I wonder if part of the purpose of having Nelson Van Alden around is to show what piety, fundamentalism, and temperance get you: misery. That and hot immigrant sex. If only Norwegians weren't so fucking fertile. You know that late night sex-making has to lead to yet another Van Alden yoot. Also, what do you think Van Alden thought of to make him happy as Sigrid was kneading his junk? As for the invitation to the Herkmeyer's, holy shit did it look like his head was going to explode. Is there a more expressive face out there than Michael Shannon's? And the misery seemed to permeate his entire being while he was there. It seems odd to me that he'd give any shits about being one of the boys at Faraday's. Crooked Treasury Department Agent. Shite working situation. Likely re-knocked up wife. He's working for Dean O'Banion by Episode Six, right?

WG: I love the extreme characters on this show. Van Alden. Gyp. Harrow. They all peg the needle on weirdness. I'm speculating that Van Alden's happy thought was "baptizing" Sebso, or perhaps a neatly stacked pile of papers, or the tassles on a lampshade hanging straight, neat, and clean. He's not much of a mixer, is he? And with Sigrid, he's upgraded significantly in the comely wife department. Can you recall the pernicious brow beater he was formerly saddled with? Picture Wilfred Brimley with enormous breasts and a smart purse. Wifey #1/She-Brimley didn't dabble in soft core role playing with an intoxicating Scandinavian accent. The no sale woes, and the corruption he experienced when he got popped in Herk's place will surely send him running for dirty money via O'Banion. He's a wild card though. Wouldn't surprise me if he flips and whacks one of the merry pranksters from Faraday's either. You don't fuck with another man's dress shirt. You most surely do not fuck with Van Alden Mueller.

OMD: She-Brimley. Nice. Van Alden's first wife was about as fetching as Mary Todd Lincoln or Carrie Nation. Stern. If that stain doesn't come out, I'm sure there's a verse in Leviticus that calls for a stoning in a public square.

Poetry readings at the Artemis Club. It was the last two verses of co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Dream-Love" for those keeping track at home. I'm assuming when the men are away, it's fucking slam city up in there. I bet Saul Williams's grandfather went there when the crackers are away. Also, what's going to happen when Lucky Luciano figures out Gillian is lying about Jimmy still being alive?

WG: Awesome catch on the poem. List. Of. Demands. It's a classy joint. Art first, sweet release later. I'm eager to see Gillian's schemes take shape. She's almost as good at moving around the chess board as Margaret. Boardwalk Empire is about Prohibition Era gangsters on the surface, but peel back the label and it's about women who run game. Feminists Empire. A whole mess of plot arcs have been set in motion. Since Winter prides himself on being surprising, who knows how it will play out. Viewers will be frustrated. Which is fine, as long as Mickey ends up pushing up daisies.

OMD: How about the big fuck you to the hospital administrator? Way to go, Margaret. Dr. Landau was a sexist dick who clearly didn't know how effectively the former Mrs. Schroeder works back channels and manipulates people to do her bidding. Hell, she pissed away Nucky's fortune by way of highway money on a church donation.

WG: Particularly satisfying to see Margaret jam it all the way up there and twist it off inside that smug fuck. And with such a quaint little smile. I knew he was destined for a fragging when he patronized her about the hydrangea flower selection for the landscaping.

OMD: "Obviously I offended you in some way, but since you're a man who could find an insult in a bouquet of roses, I'm not sure quite how." What a line. Gyp Rosetti, the psychotic semi-literate with a chip on his shoulder the size of Denali, just will not view any act as anything other than a slight. Sure, the sheriff was a dick, but three episodes in and this maniac has taken a tire-iron to an innocent passerby's head and set a lawman ablaze in the middle of Tabor Heights. He may be subtarded and Cannavale's accent work might be inconsistent, but he makes things interesting.

WG: At this point in our relationship, I love Gyp unequivocally. He literally lights up the screen. He's got a bit of that Jim Thompson The Killer Inside Me vibe going on. Not as dumb as he purposefully appears. The scene where he worked himself into a lather over Nucky's "Bone For Tuna" send-off was fantastic. Nucky has climbed the heights by being smarter than everyone else and being pragmatic. That isn't always going to work with the animals he has nipping at his heels. They may be just as smart, in a way, and a lot less predictable and pragmatic. It's like playing poker with guys who don't play very often. They'll do crazy shit just because. The general unspoken rules of poker probabilities and decorum go straight out the window, with the tourists chasing every card on the flop, hoping to pair up that seven of clubs. It leads to chaos.

OMD: Tourists ruin everything. Or a lot of things. Or something. Gyp makes things far more interesting, that's for damn sure.

WG: Did you catch Gyp's driver talking about Nosferatu as they left with the last load of Nucky's sweet, sweet, whiskey? I'm telling you, Gyp's coat was influenced by Count Orlock's. The buttons. The length. The menace. The dread. Dread threads. Sometimes I see one scene of a movie and It allow me to peer straight into the soul of the costume wrangler.

OMD: Gyp's also growing his fingernails out to be just like Max Schreck's. We used to joke about an old friend of mine's newborn looking like Nosferatu. I don't think he took too kindly to that.

WG: My next hypothesis has to do with the rotund Police Chief in Tabor Heights being Emil Jannings, circa The Last Laugh.

OMD: I just looked over his filmography and shamefully have not seen any of his work. I have no idea how I've made it this far in life without having seen Blue Angel or Murnau's The Last Laugh. I also had no idea that F.W. Murnau died so young. He was only 41. I guess that answers the nagging question I'd always had about why his career never really transitioned to talkies, especially since his German Expressionist contemporaries made hay in Hollywood. Holy shit. Apparently Murnau was 6'9".

WG: There was also a nice bit of set work in an early scene back at the diner in Tabor Heights. Gyp and Nucky were breaking bread (I'm thinking about the pot roast) and hashing out the issues, and a moment of tension arose where you didn't know which way Gyp was going to roll (like pretty much all of his moments), the sign on the wall framed in tight right beside his head said "Red Hot Frankfurter." Nice.

OMD: Nice touch indeed. Angry. Dick.
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