Monday, December 30, 2013

Man on Film: Star Trek Into Darkness

The caution and hesitancy I had heading into Star Trek proved to be mostly unfounded. Unfortunately, that same caution and hesitancy I had for the first one ended up having been justified on J.J. Abrams's second time around as the man at the helm of the franchise. Star Trek Into Darkness (here on Blu-ray or to rent on demand) wasn't bad, exactly, but it had some major issues, something common in J.J. Abrams's works.

Honestly, the good in retrospect seems far outweighed by the bad. The things that stick out--Karl Urban's tone-deaf turn, the comically terrible opening that was basically a scene that belonged in the bastard step-child of an Avatar/Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls broken marriage, the meandering repurposing of the Wrath of Khan plot, Chris Pine just not quite having the gravitas to pull off Kirk (regardless of your actual feelings about the original Captain)--ring a lot more loudly in my mind than the good--Alice Eve, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Weller.

In the end, it just didn't quite work.

Man on Film: Oblivion

After the surprisingly effective and stylized Tron: Legacy, there was reason to be fairly excited for Joseph Kosinski's follow-up, Oblivion (on Blu-ray or streaming to buy). While it didn't break any ground in the dystopian post-apocalyptic sci-fi realm, it wasn't entirely disposable. Kosinski's vision of the dystopian future is fully realized--the contrast of the clean, futuristic tech-driven society against the quasi-stone age survivors plays quite well on screen.

It's been ages since I actually saw the film, but the distant memories tell me I felt like the climax was a bit underwhelming, a bit too much focus on the set and production design--which worked well on an aesthetic level--but too little on the emotional impact of the scene. Its coda worked, tying the film into a nice little bow, but it was far from a perfect film.

Man on Film: Salinger

Here is the first entry in an attempt to catch up on some of these Man on Film entries today and tomorrow. 

Salinger was a fairly engaging look at the titular recluse. Having somewhat embarrassingly written my senior paper on Catcher in the Rye (in part because I could read the book in a few hours), the author was already a pretty well-established subject for me, but the film follows him through the tumult of his life. Director Shane Salerno pieces together a relatively complete picture of his life, though most of the content was more or less public record. 

It may not have broken ground on the J.D. Salinger front, and the praise for the author may have been so glowing as to be comically hyperbolic, but Salinger was relatively entertaining.

It's on Netflix now.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Reading Rainbow: Lionel Asbo: State of England by Martin Amis

Having read Money: A Suicide Note and Time's Arrow: or The Nature of Offence previously and having been entirely enamored with the latter while not getting what all the hubbub about the former was about, I went into Martin Amis's latest novel Lionel Asbo: State of England in the hopes that it would strike a chord much more similar to the one that Time's Arrow struck. While Lionel Asbo was a mostly entertaining read, it wasn't the propulsive work of genius that Time's Arrow was, which I suppose shouldn't be the expectation for any book and is an unfair standard by which to judge Lionel Asbo (buy it here) against but is nonetheless what I found myself thinking when all was said and done.

Judged on its own merits, without prejudice from having read other Amis novels, Lionel Asbo: State of England is an enjoyable comic novel set on the wrong side of the British tracks following Desmond Pepperdine, a mixed race orphan being raised by his miscreant thug of an uncle who has chosen to take on the last name of Asbo, derived from the abbreviation for an Anti-Social Behaviour Order--a civil order handed down to a person shown to act out in anti-social ways. For all of Desmond's strong suits, Lionel stands at the opposite end of the spectrum, allowing for Amis to get laughs, and in some cases ratchet up the tension, using the sharp contrast between the pair to that end. For the most part, this works. There are, however, moments where the character of Lionel stops being interesting and is just irritating, and this is where the novel loses a bit of its luster.

Is Lionel Asbo: State of England Amis's best work? That's a decisive 'no,' but not every book can be Time's Arrow.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Man on Film: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

There is no denying that the second installment in The Hunger Games series looks better than its predecessor; the fact that second film's budget was nearly twice that of the first is apparent from Catching Fire's onset. When you add the change in directors from Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) to someone with a résumé that would at least suggest more comfortability in the genre, Francis Lawrence (Constantine--which, for all its flaws, looked good--and I Am Legend), the fact that the film looked better should come as little surprise to anyone. When grouped with the facts that Josh Hutcherson steps up his game (his performance in the first installment was more than a little lacking) and Wes Bentley is traded out for Philip Seymour Hoffman, and that Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, and Elizabeth Banks are as good as they were in The Hunger Games, it is not difficult to see how the product on the screen is going to be better than the one trotted out a year ago.

Unfortunately for the film Catching Fire, the source material is lacking in that it is basically just a bridge to the revolution. While one could certainly attempt to draw comparisons between The Empire Strikes Back and Catching Fire, the real reason that Empire was the best of the original Star Wars trilogy was that George Lucas's involvement was more limited than in the other two films. Where Catching Fire was darker (similarly) than the first film, the limitations of the original story hurt the film as a moviegoing experience. The primary shortcoming of Catching Fire is that with a few exceptions the viewer is taken along on Katniss's journey. This obviously makes sense for the most part. Unfortunately, nearly all of the action takes place outside of Katniss's purview, meaning nearly all of the deaths, large- and small-scale, happen off-screen. In other words because of the nature of the narrative, the bulk of the action happens out of frame. This. Is. A. Major. Problem.

When you combine that with a major anticlimax, you've got a film that just doesn't quite work. As a chapter in a longer series, perhaps one can move past the shortcomings inherent in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire; but when isolating the film on its own merits, it falls significantly short of where it could have gone.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Four, Episode Twelve "Farewell Daddy Blues"

This season comes to a conclusion with, well, not a bang, per se. Narcisse and Chalky meet. One should fall. Neither do, yet both do. Nucky leaves Eli to deal with Knoxiver on his own, and boy, does he. Having ensured that Tommy grows up a Sagorsky, Harrow gets off the train at the Elysian Fields.

Franz Nadorp's Goethe's Ankunft im Elysium
Old Man Duggan: I really don't know where to start on this one. It's odd having so few bodies dropping and so little ultimate resolution from a season finale of Boardwalk Empire. We open on a storm in the distance, and then a field at night. The storm has its obvious symbolic resonance, but the importance of the spot in the field over which the camera hovers is not clear until about fifteen minutes later when Jimmy Darmody's actual body is finally unearthed. With one exhumation, Gillian's life is effectively over. I think I speak for all of us when I say, thank fucking Christ.

Wordy Ginters: A Boardwalk Empire season with the Boardwalkiest kind of finale imaginable. I too was at full stature during the opening scenes. Thunder rumbles. Restless wheat (nice foreshadowing). Bell Buoys tolling. Unfortunately, the can of whoop ass that was clearly hinted at was only punctured, not completely opened.

OMD: Yeah, after last season's EXPLOSIVE finale, this one wasn't even remotely as big, though they did manage to keep Narcisse in the fold.

Now, of course, this does mean that there could well be an investigation into Jimmy's death now, but I doubt Nucky cuts the deal with Harrow unless he was sure that Jimmy's murder couldn't be pinned on him. Let's hope this officially puts Jimmy's death and its fallout in the rearview.

WG: Good riddance, Michael Pitt. For fuck's sake, let's make it permanent this time. I'll be surprised if the ghost of Darmody is able to get a mention in edgewise next season.

OMD: No shit. Michael Pitt was actually one of the hurdles I needed to jump over to fully embrace the show. He definitely lacked the gravitas of his fellow actors, Paz de la Huerta excluded, in the cast. I'm ready to move on.

Most of the conflict this season came from the corners of Chalky White and Dr. Valentin Narcisse, so it makes sense to go there next, I guess. Chalky sneaks back into town under the blanket of night, sets Nucky on the task of taking care of Narcisse, and meets with Narcisse at the Onyx Club--Havre de Grace posse in tow--where Maybelle ends up catching a bullet meant for Narcisse. On the Narcisse side of the things, at the meet he produces Maybelle in exchange for information on Daughter Maitland's whereabouts only to have Maybelle display the worst timing ever and step in the path of the bullet from Harrow's rifle, ensuring that each one loses a daughter on account of their feud. Hoover flips Narcisse, turning him into an informant on all matters Marcus Garvey; Chalky is left sitting on Oscar Boneau's porch, Maybelle dead, family--for all intents and purposes--lost, much worse off than when the season started. It would appear as though each man is worse off than when the season started. I guess there's a lesson somewhere in there about hubris and fidelity, especially since both men were often in the wrong this season--even within the skewed morality of this show. Both men got too wrapped up in their pride and vanity, and both came out at the end of this season stripped of much of their metaphorical virility. I suppose we'll find out Chalky is actually content to just have his bankroll in one pocket and his pistol in the other next season. We'll likely find out just how Narcisse likes answering to a master, too.

WG: Unconventional to have both Chalky and Narcisse survive, both wounded, both reduced, both nearly broken. It's almost as if the writers set out to present the perfect hell for each character: Narcisse in service to the man, dropping dimes on a personal hero; and Chalky bereft of his daughter, his business, and stuck on the porch back in Havre de Grace with Scrapper and the country cousins.

OMD: Definitely. I really have no idea what trajectory these two characters will be on next season. They've definitely both been effectively stripped of their independence.

I'd posit that the two strongest scenes of the episode revolved around Eli, understandably so given the character's internal conflict these past few episodes. In the first, Eli comes out to the Albatross to pick up Nucky for the meeting that will never happen, and the tension between the brothers hits a fever pitch with Nucky holding all the cards, or at least holding the gun to Eli's head. When Nucky seethed, "It's what you deserve," I thought for sure Eli was a goner. Bravo, Winter, Korder, and Van Patten. The resolution of that scene was fucking spectacular. "Nothing will fill that hole you got inside. Don't you know that yet?" For a second straight week, Eli shows that he understands Nucky better than Nucky does himself. In the second, Eli gets to--as Nucky put it--drown in his mess. I love that the saw-playing--much like the machete for the coconuts earlier in the season--something so innocent, was sullied so effectively with an act of violence. That, mon frere, was a knock-down, drag-out fight if ever there were one, the second epic one this season. Eli's rage worked in his favor this time, that's for sure. Once again, Shea Whigham is outstanding, as he has been all season. In a banner year of award-worthy performances on Boardwalk Empire, it really seems like Whigham's performance stands above them all.

WG: He was/is outstanding. As was Jeffy Wright. And Mike K. And Huston. Van Alden, of course. The dude who played Knoxiver [Brian Geraghty] imbued him with a glee club ruthlessness that was perfect. The show is fucking quality. I'd love to see what Milch would do with those guys and this story. The scene at the Albatross was great. Eli staring Nucky in the eyes, willing/daring/begging him to pull the trigger was intense. I wish the episode could have wrung more of that taut fucking drama out of other scenes. Definitely a good battle between an unhinged Knoxiver and a emotionally-amped Eli. The saw bit was great. As were the other accoutrements of family life that got summoned into deadly action. Vases. Decorations. Windows. A neck tie. Shades of Season Two, Gimcrack & Bunkum. You'll recall in that episode, Nucky made Eli kiss his shoes and beg for forgiveness. Shortly thereafter, Eli ended up beating a dude to death in his garage with a wrench. No one can push your buttons like family.

OMD: Holy hell, that vase. The shudder of Knoxiver's feet as Eli slammed the vase into his head one last time was huge. While we are on the subject of Eli, how about that shot of him waiting under the El for Capone's car only to have Van Alden driving? The bewilderment. The borderline incredulity. The hesitancy that gives way to resignation. I bet they'll have some catching up to do. That definitely adds a nice wrinkle to goings-on in Chicago, now that Torrio has handed the reins over to Al.

WG: Maybe a silver-lining to the tepid hand-job this finale proved to be is the promise of sexy action next season. Van Alden and Eli catching up on things is definitely one of them. Hoover interacting with Narcisse is another.

OMD: More so than in season's past, this finale definitely leaves a lot of strings left untied, ready to be taken into next season. The lack of resolution this season certainly could bode well for next season, as the stakes should be higher next year what with all this pent-up anger carrying over for so many characters.

Are those for us? We're going to need them.
The saddest part of the episode, obviously, was Harrow's demise. Clearly part of him felt like he was saying goodbye to Julia and Tommy at the train station, though that wasn't necessarily what he wanted. If only Harrow was still the ice-cold killing machine that he was before he finally recovered his humanity this season. Sure, within the constructs of this show there wasn't anywhere for his character to go at this point--with Tommy securely in a stable home and too many corpses in his past from which to possibly escape--but clearly we were all rooting for the image that he saw as he walked up the path to the house--his family, his life all put back into place. At least at the time of his death, he had pieced a life back together for himself. It's too bad soldiers such as himself don't get to simply walk away from the war.

WG: A cruel twist to make the new family man and morally re-born former assassin Harrow accidentally plug an innocent woman and fail his last job. Absolutely beautiful death scene though, from the moment he was riding the train, to the imagined homecoming, to the dirt nap by the sea. Harrow was easily one of my favorite characters. Let's tip a glass to the half-mask.

OMD: That was the bitch of it all, wasn't it? The chasm opened up in my heart is the size of the Grand Canyon. I'll miss you, old friend. You got the death scene chock-full of poesy that your tortured soul deserved. Oddly enough, it was hard for me to separate the scene with all its poignancy from the Steven Wright short film One Soldier, in which Wright's character heads to the afterlife in a train after being put to death.

It certainly appears as though Nucky isn't getting to head to Tampa after all, what with Sally Wheet drinking by herself while (I believe) we're to understand that Eli's family is heading out to the Albatross for the time being. Funnily enough, it certainly appears as though Nucky is, in fact, taking Eli's family from him, though at least mostly out of obligation.

I feel like I only scratched the surface. Any thoughts?

WG: Three thoughts. One, Truth is what those in power wish it to be. Two, why is Mickey still upright? Three, how great would Margaret and Rothstein be on House Hunters?

OMD: Three corresponding thoughts. Word. So Nucky can rap him with Eddie's cane again. Outstanding.

One Soldier by mrCham

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Four, Episode Eleven "Havre de Grace"

The penultimate episode of the season finds Chalky nursing his wounds in the Pennsylvania countryside while Nucky tries to ferret out who the skunk in his camp is following a midnight call from Gaston Bullock Means. Roy's play with Gillian comes to light.

Old Man Duggan: First off, sorry for the delay, folks. I was out of commission on the Texas Gulf Coast without HBO or a computer to put this together with, so I come to you all cap in hand begging your forgiveness.

Wordy Ginters: Me? I was healing the poor. Giving sight to the rich. Or perhaps blithely endorsing a mini-vacation from the immediate reaction after-episode deadline pressure cooker.

OMD: Moving on past the excuses for our tardiness, this episode seemed to be operating primarily as a set-up piece for what is to come in next week's season finale. The backstory calm before the epic storm. Focusing first on Havre de Grace, where we spent much of the episode, it may not have been the source of a lot of tension or conflict, but I liked a lot of what was going on alongside the banks of the Susquehanna. Oscar Boneau (Louis Gossett, Jr.) was the first time the show has given us a link back to the black side of pre-Civil War America. It happened only in passing, but Boneau's talk of young black girls being sold on Queen Street and skepticism as to what the Civil War was actually fought over provided a nice bridge and historical depth to the proceedings.

WG: Gossett Jr.'s Boneau brings ancient gravitas to Albert's backstory, as well as a little heft to the race issues that Boardwalk Empire addresses in a pretty sophisticated way. I'm basically a slice of white bread in blue jeans and black Converse, so what the fuck do I know? It's pretty obvious that Terence Winter loves him some Chalky. Anti-heroes are about as passe as zombie fucking wives of vampire county reality TV these days, so to me it says something when an adulterous, murdering, Uncle Tom-ish, hot-head like Chalky is so Goddamn lovable.

OMD: "Never trust no buckras, no matter what." Chalky invoking the old Southeastern black word for white man or boss, likely derived from the Efik word for master, mbakara. Oscar's quick response, "Never trust no browns, neither," probably had a bit more relevance to Chalky's traveling companion than Chalky was gleaning from the advice, lending credence to Oscar's preceding statement, "Well, I told you a lot. Don't know what you heard." They also fit in "ofay" at the dinner table scene, just for good measure, dusting off another arcane term of disparagement against white people. Just like Nucky last season when he was entangled with Billie Kent and was unable to hear Rothstein's advice, we find Chalky in the same position, unable to see what people with wisdom on the matter at hand can see.

WG: The heart wants what the heart wants. The scenes in Maryland were beautiful. I watched the episode twice, and the second time around I realized that whenever Daughter and Chalky shared the frame, they were always separated by a window frame, a car door, a stile on the porch railing, or whatever. The composition on this show is unreal.

OMD: Yeah, it's really crazy how deliberately shot each episode of the show is. I guess that's what HBO money affords you. Time.

I also liked getting a bit more of Chalky's origins. The knockdown with some corner boys that he described in the car in the open took me back to The Wire for a split second. More than anything, though, I think this episode served as a moment for Chalky to peer through the looking glass and glimpse his future. For a man cut from his cloth, there is no going quietly into the night. Of course, Oscar probably goes down differently if Chalky never shows up in Havre de Grace, but as Tupac said, when you "live by the gun, [you] die by the gun."

WG: All in the game, yo. All in the game. I had the same Wire vapor trails sensation during that scene. Had to be a sly nod from the writers. If anything, I wish they would have introduced some of that backstory sooner or spent more time with it. Gossett Jr. was fantastic.

OMD: On the Gillian front, I believe I called it, but let's start at the beginning. The scene with Leander and Mr. Ferry on the stairs was nicely set-up, Gillian torn between her desire to hold onto the past or step into the future, the realization that what she needs to do for Tommy is to simply let go and that she needs to sell the Commodore's house, thus becoming unanchored, whirling out of control. Nicely done, Allen Coulter. Her gift of Jimmy's war medals actually seemed to give her a little shred of dignity before the fall. And what a fall it was. It played out like a long con straight out of The Grifters, surely the intention as the sudden influx of cash by way of the sale of the house gave cause to wonder if Roy wasn't, in fact, simply running a con on her. In a sense, I suppose he was. A Pinkerton. Who'd have guessed? Oh, that's right. Me. You can't run from Roger's corpse, Gillian. Ron Livingston will see to it.

WG: Nice call. Old Man Duggan, Plot Hunter.

OMD: I have to say I really liked the framing and composition in the scene in the diner with Eli and Tolliver. Tolliver: the lawman, bathed in light, clarity of face equating to clarity of vision. Eli: the fallen lawman, face obscured in the shadows, the darkness symbolic of the position he finds himself in, no clear way out. Eli's assessment of Nucky showed that he knows Nucky better than Nucky knows himself. Nucky's constant talk of wanting out is just Nucky trying to run from the obvious fact that he is addressing an internal need in his quest for supremacy.

WG: I'm glad you mentioned that scene. I dug the smoke from the table behind Eli billowing over his shoulder on the close-ups. Poor bastard was stooped over his coffee, bent, broken, and smoking. Knoxiver looked like he was being lit for a 1950's toothpaste commercial. Speaking of smoking, have you had the pleasure of viewing Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast? The Beast looks like a cross between Sluggerrr and the Lion from The Wizard of Oz, but he literally emanates smoke in many of his scenes. I don't know how they worked that effect back in the 40's, nail a smoke pot to the back of the costume? Smoke. So versatile. So sexy. So deadly. So visually communicative. So fucking smokey.

OMD: I've seen none of Jean Cocteau's work. My minor in film studies fails me yet again. Damn you, University of Minnesota. Damn you straight to Hell.

Of course, Eli couldn't cover his tracks well enough at the dinner table after Tolliver's visit to Eli's house was inadvertently revealed while they supped. Nucky knows something wicked his way comes. There's no fucking way he's at that meeting with Masseria and Narcisse, right? He could certainly use the meeting to clear the way a bit, conveniently getting held up elsewhere. He's a cool, calculating sonuvabitch, and he clearly knows something is amiss with Eli. Of course, he could just have Harrow take out Narcisse and anyone else who stands in his way.

WG: I think you've probably bagged another plot twist for your trophy room. I'm guessing Willie and Nuck had time to suss out the queer "insurance salesman" anecdote, and Nucky has done the algebra required to solve Means's hilarious phone call. Harrow will have Narcisse in his crosshairs. If only because I don't think Winter can give history the finger. Got to be a denizen of the fictional world.

OMD: That was a fantastic phone call, wasn't it? I laughed so many times during that scene.

So just a few days to wait for this season's conclusion. Any predictions? I got Harrow snuffing out Narcisse, though I hope Leandor Sydnor takes over his Harlem Chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, running it on the up and up. I sure as hell hope Scrapper and Levi come back to the A.C. with Chalky as soon as they send Weems a-dirt-nappin'.

WG: I think one of the "good guys" gets whacked. Harrow or Chalky. Like Abraham offering his son Isaac. Winter has to let some blood to keep things fresh. Leandor administering a regular program of lectures and one-act plays for the Universal Negro Improvement Association is the Boardwalk Empire spin-off yin to Breaking Bad's Better Call Saul yang.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Four, Episode Ten "White Horse Pike"

This week's episode saw Chalky make a run at Dr. Narcisse, Nucky find out that Masseria was using his trucks to smuggle heroin, and Chalky barely escaping the episode with his life after Bader turned on Nucky.

Wordy Ginters: Does anything portend turmoil more definitively than clouds in your coffee? With the opening shot of a half-bearded Eli, his creamy cup of coffee, and a not so subtle nod to Carly Simon, you knew shit was going to get stirred up in White Horse Pike.
You had me several years ago when I was still naïve / Well you said that we made such a pretty pair and that you would never leave / But you gave away the things you loved and one of them was me / I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee / Clouds in my coffee… -Carly Simon
Fuck Warren Beatty. And his brother Ned. Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” will forever more serve as the coda for the Daughter Maitland and Dr. Narcisse in my mind.

Old Man Duggan: Indeed. That's at least two episodes this season that started on a close-up of a cup of coffee. I suppose this shot was intended to strike a chord about two disparate things mixing together. Different races working together. Men and women working together. Heroin and booze coming together more fully in the vice-peddling in organized crime. A lot of new political wrinkles getting worked in this week.

WG: The episode was primarily concerned with asymmetrical deal-making. Capone jamming a succession plan down Torrio’s throat. Knox with his hand up Eli’s ass (at the breakfast table! Is nothing sacred? Breakfast for fuck’s sake. The meal that projects the coziest Norman Rockwell vibe of all family feeding times). Rothstein using Margaret to get over on his Anaconda Realty investment. Nucky using the open grave gambit to claim a piece of the heroin pie via Lansky. But by far the most compelling storyline (other than the Harrow/Chalky hand-shake, which was nearly as iconic as seeing Armstrong walk on the moon) was the love triangle between Chalky, Nucky, and Narcisse. Did you think Chalky was going to get out of the episode alive?

OMD: For a second, I was worried, but then I realized there were two more episodes left, which leaves far too much time before the season's end to kill off a character as central to the show as Chalky. I'm not entirely sure how Nucky manages to extract Narcisse from the heroin dealings without infuriating Joe Masseria, however. I loved the alleyway handshake. I can't say I was expecting for Harrow's job to be dishwasher/wound-dresser. The scene I liked even more, though, was tea-time with Margaret and Rothstein. There was something sort of sweet about the whole thing. I, for one, was happy to see Margaret get a little bit of something for herself, and I loved that she saw her boss for the crook he is. Different shades of crooks, but it definitely seemed like there was a message about Wall Street hidden deftly between the lines there.

WG: How bad-ass was Chalky with a US flag for a sling?

OMD: Almost as bad-ass as him strangling that fucko deputy with it. Those shitbirds got what was coming to 'em. I loved that Chalky was concerned with whether or not using the red, white, and blue was gauche. Always concerned with social convention that Chalky.

WG: TV rarely gets more satisfying than the question Nucky levels at Narcisse: “There is something I’ve been meaning to ask you. Who the fuck do you think you are?” It was nice that Winter gave the audience a trail of bread crumbs--Willie with the nicely-timed info, telling Nucky that he saw Narcisse consorting with Bader--to reassure us that Nucky didn’t actually sell out Chalky like he appeared to in his deal with Masseria, Lansky, and Narcisse. Winter has allowed Nucky to be a stone-cold bastard before, namely by offing Jimmy Darmody at the end of Season Two. It would have been ballsy to allow Nucky to offload his relationship with Chalky for 1/3 of the heroin trade. Viewer anarchy. Other than Harrow, I’m not sure there is a more popular character.

OMD: Definitely. Unlike Darmody though, Chalky has always been loyal to Nucky, even if their relationship has been strained a few times. Darmody got too big for his britches and tried to make a move on Nucky. You come at the king, you best not miss. Given Jimmy's transgressions, he had to go. Chalky has had Nucky's back whenever he's needed it. I just hope Chalky doesn't think Nucky turned on him, something he could certainly ascertain from the deputies trying to off him. I'm just glad Chalky was paying attention to where they were going. Were he one of those passengers who simply sit in the car without paying how they're getting where they're going any mind, Chalky'd be taking a dirt nap right now.

WG: I admire Al Capone’s unconventional taste in prostitutes, Torrio set him up, right? I loved how Capone was trying to convince himself that Torrio’s timely exit was good luck rather than skeezy double-cross planning. Right? Right?

OMD: Yeah, I honestly don't know if that was Johnny Torrio's doing or if it was the Irish striking back. I guess given the presence of the Al's line about Torrio being lucky to have not been there, we must assume that the line has more significance than for Torrio to have not had anything to do with the HawthoRNe, sorry force of habit, Hawthorne getting lit up. I'm going to refrain from looking at Torrio's Wikipedia page so as to not spoil anything for myself. As for the prostitutes, different strokes, especially when it comes to Al Capone.

WG: The hotel that got shot to shit was the Hawthorne Inn. Capone’s home base is in Cicero. Cicero remains to this day the home of Hawthorne Park, the asshole of the Chicago horse racing circuit. As a degenerate horse racing fan, the only thing that would tickle me more than some horse racing angle on Boardwalk Empire is if Nucky asks Narcisse who the fuck he thinks he is one more time.

OMD: I know you still light your nightly prayer candle for Luck. I hope Nucky asks Narcisse who the fuck he is while he's capping him. Nucky doesn't get his hands dirty often, but he may make an exception for Narcisse. Speaking of Thompson's capping their aggravators, I wouldn't be surprised to see Eli putting a bullet in the back of Tolliver's head.

WG: Speaking of non-sequiturs, if the scenes from next week are to be believed, Lou Gossett Jr. makes an appearance as Chalkie’s old man. I hope it serves as a launching pad for you to wax poetic about Enemy Mine.

OMD: Now I'm not sure if you're yanking my chain or whether you knew that I had, in fact, written about Enemy Mine before. Sadly, I'm not sure how I can gracefully segue from this episode into a lengthy comparison between Enemy Mine and Brokeback Mountain.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Four, Episode Nine "Marriage and Hunting"

Van Alden trudges through a sea of emasculating shit only to come out on the other side smelling of roses--virile roses. In the process, bodies hit the floor. Narcisse reprimands Daughter Maitland with his tears and fists. Chalky calls Narcisse out at the Onyx Club. Rothstein comes a-beggin'. Harrow and Julia take a trip to the courthouse together.

Old Man Duggan: Lots to love about this episode. I'd have loved it more had it been simultaneously titled "How Nelson Got His Groove Back," though it's hard to complain about from whence the title came. The episode starts in Chicago, so let's go there first. Van Alden-Mueller is getting it six ways from Sunday. The wife is nagging. Chester's bawling left and right. O'Banion and Capone are both abusing him, verbally and physically. That worthless fat fuck whose face he melted in the most excellent iron-to-face scene ever comes back to get his revenge. The symbolism in that opening scene where he's working on the pipes and can't get it to budge because the nut is stripped was beautiful. A trio of rotting corpses in a through-way, O'Banion filled with lead, and a pilfering of the petty cash on his way out the door later, and Nelson Van Alden is fucking back. With. A. Vengeance.

WG: Van Alden unhinged. By Cream of Wheat. I thoroughly enjoyed the aftermath back home when he turned the Sears & Roebuck lean-to into the set of an ersatz rap video by "making it rain" (who has a thousand dollars in his hand?), and then all but asking Sigrid to say his name (Who built this house? Who pays the bills?). Personally, I prefer a more nuanced power-sharing arrangement for household management, but evidently Van Alden thirsts for control. And frankly, he deserves it.

OMD: I don't know which part had me smiling more: the menace on his face when he was telling O'Banion about drowning Sesbo, or the look of surprise on O'Banion's? I do wish Van Alden--and I think he'd insist that we drop the Mueller noise--had pulled the trigger himself, but alas, it wasn't in the cards. Still, the fact that he got his masculine swagger back at a flower shop is a tasty morsel.

WG: Mueller noise is so last episode. How does Michael Shannon express approximately 117 different emotions in every scene? Rage. Anxiety. Fearlessness. Desire. Heartburn. Guile. Guilelessness. Weirdo. It's amazing to watch. How bad is it for Van Alden that he wasn't the man to wipe out O'Banion? Did Capone lose faith in Van Alden, or did he get too coked up to wait around any longer? He may think Van Alden is still on the Irish side. I'll be hurting if Van Alden and Chalky both get dirt-napped off the show. I expect one or the other but am hoping it's not both of them.

OMD: We'll see how that plays out. I will note that O'Banion died in November of 1924. It seems like Winter & Co. are playing a little loose with history again, as there were still leaves on the trees in Chicago and kids on the beach in Atlantic City. I guess it's not a huge development in the greater scheme of the show. I was just surprised to see O'Banion fall this soon, figuring that was something that would happen as the season reached its fever pitch in the final two episodes.

The irony of Nucky telling Chalky
...when I'm conducting business, I mind it. It, and only it. Not some piece of ass with a sugary voice. Not my pride. My business. 
was not lost on me. Nucky must have really left Billie Kent in the past, huh? To be fair, he does appear to be reformed, in the more literal sense of the word.

WG: Is Nucky trying to forward hard-earned wisdom from his escapades with sweet, silly Billie Kent? Or his he still in a fog about who he is? Either way, it was interesting to see Winter bringing the dimension of power and race back into the Nucky/Chalky relationship, it's been too much "Ebony and Ivory" and not enough "Fuck tha Police".

OMD: Having said that, Chalky needs to get his shit together. If he makes a run at Narcisse in haste, he'll not be long for the world. I'm a bit curious to find out where the Maybelle development goes, as Chalky's dalliance must surely blow up in his face on the homefront. Narcisse heading to see Joe Masseria will surely add a new wrinkle to the story arc, as Masseria will likely back Narcisse in his attempt to exact revenge on Nucky Thompson.

WG: Chalky has been painted in the corner all season. If the kitchen cold-front Mrs. Chalky was laying down before the pre-nup-planning get-together is any indication, it's pretty obvious that someone has dropped a dime on Chalky's wandering ways. He appears to be in several cross-hairs, with no support in sight.

OMD: While we're on the subject of Masseria and New York, it's interesting to see Rothstein so down on his luck. Such is the plight of the high-stakes gambler, I suppose. If Van Alden had been effectively neutered, Rothstein is in the present-tense. Because right now it looks like the Anaconda is wrapped firmly around him, both literally, in terms of the Land Trust that bilked him, and figuratively, with Masseria having squeezed Rothstein out of the heroin game. I hope he uses that sweet Mickey Doyle money--by the way, how fucking great was that scene?--to fuck Margaret's boss up right and proper. Maybe he needs to head to Chicago to find his testes in a flower shop like Van Alden.

WG: It is weird to see Rothstein so pale, neutered, and acting like a flat-footed mark. Up until the this season, he was the one guy who you could count on to dope out all the angles. For gamblers, the line between winning and losing is pretty damn thin. Supposedly, pros need to hit around 35% of their horse-racing bets and maybe 53% of sports bets to turn a consistent profit. Sounds like a low-bar, but if you've ever gambled much and been honest with yourself, it's nigh fucking impossible. Funny that he thought a life-insurance policy on Mickey Doyle would provide leverage. You're right, it was a fantastic scene. Would Nucky so gleefully give up Mickey if the brassy Ms. Wheet hadn't taken at least a little bit of a shine to his folksy charm? Maybe it was just the hat. Women with huge breasts love hats.

OMD: I don't really know where to squeeze this in, so this is as good a place as any, but for the first time, I feel like maybe I might have an idea as to what Ron Livingston's Roy Phillips is up to. He was on the phone with someone that sounded like his wife, against whom he claims to have filed divorce papers. Yet that person to whom he said, "Me too," presumably in response to something on the other end of the line akin to "I love you/I miss you," would have been totally fine with the switch to being called "sir" when Gillian entered the room. I think he's got ties to faux Jimmy, who last went missing in her care in the precise scenario that she laid out for how her son left her. His whole angle seems to be that he wants to be her confidant, and that seems to be the biggest unsettled matter in her past. If we've learned anything, it's that chickens always come home to roost on Boardwalk Empire.

WG: That phone call threw me. Was it the supposedly soon to be ex-wife? Was it some mysterious confederate? Something unsavory is going on. You are likely right suspecting a faux-Jimmy connection. What's the saying? If a character packs a hammer in his bag before the climb, you can be damn sure the hammer will come out before he gets to the top of the mountain? Unless it was a total head fake, faux-Jimmy's acquaintance who recognized Gillian at the cafe a few episodes back had to be a placeholder for something. It will be interesting to see who turns on the other one first, Gillian on Roy or vice-versa. I got a big kick out of Gillian's boardwalk confession. Bathed in the light, cleansed and reformed. Or so I naively thought. Delicious to see her in the courtroom minutes later, realizing that her Boardwalk schtick was nothing more than a dress-rehearsal for her testimony.

OMD: So for the first time since Harrow was in the woods ready to end things, we get a moment that brought me to tears. Julia sits down beside Harrow on the bench seat in the bay window and proposes to him. The bewilderment in his eyes, the tremble in his chin, the stunned silence, her imploring him to cut the awkward silence before his ultimate acceptance. Fucking beautiful. Maybe theirs will never be the typical marriage, as they're both so broken, but I do hope that the broken pieces that are Julia, Tommy, and Harrow can come together a form that makeshift family that can somehow make them all whole, or as whole as any of those three can become.

WG: Awesome scene. Awkward. Authentic. With Old Man Sagorsky saying fuck-all to what's left of his liver and rough-housing with Tommy in the yard? Thank god for serial dramas. You rarely find that kind of depth and character development in most movies. It's damn near like reading a book. And I'm old enough to mean that as a compliment.

OMD: And of course, the development that might yield the most righteous bloodshed--or at least the most bloodshed in support of Nucky Thompson, the de facto hero of the show--is Richard Harrow coming to the Albatross in search of work. Sadly, this probably signals the end of steady TV work for the inimitable Shea Whigham, as I worry now that he won't be able to get out from under the thumb of Agent Tolliver without spelling doom for himself.

WG: Of course. Harrow showing up right on time. He'll help tilt the chess-board towards Atlantic City when shit goes down.

OMD: I guess we'll find out next week how screwed Eli really is. Until then, let's just bask in the glory that is the happy union of Richard Harrow and Julia Sagorsky.

WG: I'll toast to that.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Four, Episode Eight "The Old Ship of Zion"

Shit, well, shit hits the fan this week as Chalky addresses the influx of heroin to the community by way of Dunn Purnsley and Dr. Valentin Narcisse sans subtlety. Narcisse counters the public airing of dirty laundry with an attempted hit on Chalky. Tolliver/Knox moves his attentions to Eli. Nucky gets his first shipment of rum from Florida with Sally Wheet sitting shotgun when the trucks pull in.

Old Man Duggan: Normally I'd work up to this, but let's get down to brass tacks. Much as I surmised last week, Dunn wasn't long for this world. Of course, Daughter Maitland's lapside rendition of "The Old Ship of Zion" sure had me doubting myself for at least a minute or two--especially given the revelation of Chalky's relationship to the song--so bully for Cristine Chambers, Howard Korder, Timothy Van Patten, and Terence Winter for the misdirect.

Wordy Ginters: Some sweet and sour tension in that scene. Powerful. Did Daughter know that Chalky knew he was being double-crossed? Shit was complex. Chalky thinking about his own family, his father's funeral, his children, his infidelity, his problems. Daughter maybe actually loving Chalky and torn at the thought of aiding his demise. Who knows what was behind the pooling tears in those beautiful soulful eyes? Was Chalky able to put the puzzle together by the way she sang the song? I loved his line about Daughter's singing, "...that sound like you tying up a secret."

OMD: Also as predicted Daughter Maitland chose Chalky over her keeper, though the scene played out much better than I could have hoped. I loved the framing and the distance between Dunn and Chalky, pitted against each other in rooms opposite each other. As the distance between the two closed, the tension mounted spectacularly. It would have been anticlimactic for Chalky to go down this early in the season, especially at the hand of Dunn, not Narcisse, but when Dunn was choking the life out of Chalky, my heart was in my fucking throat. Luckily for Chalky, Daughter Maitland chose the potential for freedom that was behind Door Number Two and plunged that knife square into the middle of Purnsley's back. Something about his trying to reach to the knife that was just out of his grasp was humanizing in his last fateful moments. It was really quite a turn for Erik LaRay Harvey, who got to stretch his legs quite a bit more this season. In that final moment, the hope draining from his eyes was palpable.

WG: One of two centerpiece scenes in the episode. I really didn't have any idea which way it would break. For a moment, I thought Chalky was so depressed at the realization that he had been thoroughly undone by Narcisse's scheming that he preferred to let Daughter kill him softly with her song, so to speak. So satisfying to see Chalky fight back. Stabbed him in the mouth with a piece of splintered wood. Sweet revenge for Purnsley being a dick about Chalky's illiteracy way back when. He's been a shadow of his former bad-assed self for most of the season. White patrons patting him on the head. Narcisse making him look like a rube. His daughter's fiance's family thinks he's gauche. He's got everything he always wanted in the Onyx Club, but appears to have less clout than ever. With Purnsley out of the way, things get tight as a drum. What happens to Daughter?

OMD: I can't imagine she doesn't end up being collateral damage. Narcisse will likely see through her when she tries to lie about Dunn's demise.

While we'll likely have to wait until the finale before Narcisse actually dirties his own hands on Chalky White, it's safe to say at least part of him feels like maybe a re-evaluation is in order. It ultimately came down to Chalky's bond with Daughter Maitland, but he still came out on the other side, and all this while punking Narcisse out in front of his incredibly dull play. I can tell you this much: I enjoyed Harlem By Torchlight a whole helluva lot more than Ominira.

WG: I'm with you on that one. Loved watching Narcisse mouth his own dialogue with such sincere pride. "Its symbolism was beyond them." The failed playwright's lament.

OMD: By the way, the Harlem By Torchlight was standoff was fantastic. It really did a nice job of ratcheting the tension up, with Chalky's sneer driving me to maniacal laughter. It felt so good to have him one-up the Doctor.

WG: For me, the trash can lid heroin bonfire represented the best of what Boardwalk Empire can offer. TVP is the go-to guy when it comes to directing episodes that need to reel in plot pay-off. Chalky riffing on The Warriors "come out and play" bottle clinking by banging on the trash can, and then recouping his rep and tarnishing Narcisse in one monologue and a pile of burning smack was magic.

OMD: Moving to the other side of town, wouldn't you like to know what kind of arrangement Eli and Tolliver/Knox came to? Obviously Eli is pissed at Nucky for stepping over the line from uncle to father, but would Winter & Co. really go down the fraternal betrayal road again? I doubt it. My guess is Eli decided to play along with Tolliver/Knox to get a hold on what his angle is. We'll find out soon enough, and if Eli is, in fact, choosing to screw his brother over again, at least this time it will have been in an attempt to protect his son. Something tells me that maybe Tolliver/Knox ends up wrestling with the gators, coming out, well not coming out at all.

WG: It appears that Eli has chosen saving his son over protecting the family biz, but it most definitely could be a holding ploy. Maybe it does boil back down to the sibling rivalry thing. In retrospect, it's like a boil that has never been lanced.

OMD: I loved the look on Shea Whigham's face when Tolliver's compatriot tried to shove him in. Can we give him the Emmy for that? Hell, that whole scene, the intensity on his face followed by his non-verbal sussing out of his options? Fucking great. And the look on his face as Nucky and he come together, Nucky reassuring him--we're to assume that he's turned on Nucky given this expression, though again I wouldn't jump to that conclusion quite yet--and then watching his family have fun while only he knows what's to come, that look is brilliant.

WG: The acting on the show is fantastic. Buscemi may be the weak link, but he's not required to do much other than to look askance at the morons he's forced to tolerate. Shea Whigham is nails. Fucking Knox.

OMD: Perhaps the most shocking turn of events in the episode was the fact that somehow I felt bad for Mickey Doyle, if only for a moment. When Nucky cracked him in the forehead with Kessler's cane, I sort of felt bad for him. What the hell is going on here?

WG: Seeing Nucky get physical is like watching Billy Butler steal a base. Hard to believe on any level. I thought Mickey was pretty solid in the episode. Loved the mindless yammering anecdote about the twins (which may have been allegory about the prohee's, and the difference between Knox and his predecessor), and the stereotypical numbskull math that equates spending money on dates with sexual favors. His awkward reaction to literally getting caned by Nucky was pretty brilliant, too. I thought Sally Wheet was chatting up Mickey just to get Nucky jealous, but her brazen cleavage is as unpredictable as it is independent. Another great character. She was most definitely on top in that scene where the noisy sex woke up young Willie, right? Winter was involved with The Sopranos, so when I heard the heat and the clatter, I imagined Sally treating Nucky the same way Janice treated Ralph Cifaretto, i.e., femdom assplay.

OMD: Oh yeah. She was definitely in control.

We've now got three different times in which Ragged Dick has come up, if I'm not mistaken. Horatio Alger's rags-to-riches story was first used way back in Season One, when Nucky was saying that Jimmy Darmody once reminded him of Ragged Dick. Last season, Gyp took Nucky's copy of Ragged Dick from his desk after he'd run Nucky from the Ritz Carlton. Now [presumably] that same copy returns, this time with Nucky giving the book to his younger self, Willie, as Willie packs up to return home.

WG: Ooh, that's good. I had totally forgotten about the Darmody occurrence. I definitely remember when Gyp lifted it from his desk. I've never read Horatio Alger, but obviously Winter is trying to tell us something.

OMD: Lifting oneself up by the bootstraps. The American Dream (and perhaps a Pynchonian take on it). Roughly half a century after it was published, and the people trying to actualize the rags-to-riches fairy tale are dropping like flies because they're doing so on the wrong side of the law, the concern for the means by which it is achieved being less than an afterthought.

So the theme tying this episode together would certainly seem to have been betrayal by one's right hand. Dunn ends up dying on account of his attempted power play. Eli, painted into a corner by his brother and son, would seem to have been forced (again, not an entirely safe assumption, as a second betrayal would all but guarantee his death) to turn on the man whose side he has served at. Is the bond of blood thicker than the resentment that symbolic servitude breeds? I guess we'll find out soon enough.

WG: Way to put a bow on that mofo. How about some Lou Reed?

OMD: Picture that shit burning atop a garbage can for Sweet Lou.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Man on Film: Zero Dark Thirty

So I started this entry right after I saw the film last January. The next two paragraphs are what I had started way back then.

Coming off the phenomenally suspenseful 2009 Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow had some pretty lofty expectations to meet with her next film. Zero Dark Thirty exceeded any of those expectations.

While the two films dealt with the War on Terror, The Hurt Locker just takes place in Iraq and is an agnostic character study of a soldier who has no place in the world but where he is. Zero Dark Thirty is strangely also a very personal story, tracking a single lead for the most part, but its scope is much larger. Thankfully (and as usual), I do not need to delve too much into the plot. We all know where it was going.

Back to the present-day, this film has begun making the rounds on the premium cable movie networks, so that should give you an idea as to how long ago this should have been completed. Rather than extrapolate further on a film that's been out so long, I'll simply say that I remember quite liking the film, and I found the primary point of contention regarding the film doubling as torture-porn care of some mild detractors to be largely unfounded. It may have been rough at times, but at this point aren't most action films? Give me a visceral, graphically violent action film any day of the week, especially when it's as compelling and well-directed as Zero Dark Thirty.

Oh yeah, Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke were both particularly fantastic.

And this concludes your Friday night Man on Film entry dump.

Here's the Italian trailer:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Four, Episode Seven "William Wilson"

Welcome once again as Wordy Ginters and I lead you through this week's episode of Boardwalk Empire. Gillian gets clean. Willie drops out. Margaret has a run-in with Arnold Rothstein. Knox gets Hoover's backing, though Hoover steals the credit for his work. O'Banion swindles Johnny Torrio out of half a million. Chalky is too busy getting some strange to notice that the walls are closing in around him. 

Old Man Duggan: As sad as it was for both of us, this episode was unfortunately not about the former Royals speedster, Willie Wilson. Moving past the inevitable disappointment that arose when conclusion of the Edgar Allan Poe short story which this episode bore for a name was read in Willie Thompson's English class, there was quite a bit of maneuvering going on in this episode.

Wordy Ginters: Correct. I too had high hopes that inside-the-park home run fetishist Willie Wilson would somehow inform the episode. But alas, nevermore. Regarding the maneuvering, Boardwalk Empire is almost radical in it's deliberate and languid pacing. When the slow sensuous groove begins to pick up the pace, as it did in tonight's episode, and the plot pay-offs begin to reveal themselves, the erotic anticipation is enough to make me think Sting was onto something with his joyful boasting about tantric sex.

OMD: Much of what was going on revolved around the man with the monogrammed handkerchief. JMT. Agent Tolliver. Agent Knox. The largest favor that Knox brought the audience this week was that we got some more Gaston Bullock Means, though the added bonus of having J. Edgar Hoover prohibit George Remus from speaking in the third person had its value. Means, ever the opportunist and always operating in his own best self-interest, hiding Knox's true identity was a surprise to me, though it certainly makes sense. I love that Knoxiver was drowning his sorrows at a speak, an irony that surely was intended. Do we really think that Means isn't going to see to it that Jim Tolliver doesn't meet an untimely end to get out from under his thumb?

WG: Lots of fucking tonight. Ron and Gillian. Chalky and Daughter. Presumably Willie and Tits McNietzsche. But no one got screwed harder than Knoxiver. Who knows which way Means will twist, but I read him as the "weak link" in the Nucky chain that Knoxiver was working on. You are likely there too, and yes, it's hard to see the an eager little toe-head like Knoxiver getting one over on a veteran operator like Means.

OMD: At the very least, Willie and Tits McNietzsche were petting quite heavily without that pesky clothing getting in the way.

So Margaret is working at what would appear to be a shady land deal place. Can't say I saw that as her future. I'm glad that it brought her face to face with Arnold Rothstein--er, Abe Redstone. A cursory internet search shows me that the is an Anaconda Realty in Anaconda, Montana. Moving right on past the fact that there is a town called Anaconda in Montana, which has to be at least 4,000 miles from the nearest spot in which anacondas are indigenous, you have to think Anaconda Realty is getting the most web traffic they've ever seen. Back to the land trust, what the fuck is Rothstein's game there? He needs her discretion? Is it just that he's using it to launder money and avoid the IRS, or is he up to something a bit trickier?

WG: I have no idea how the Margaret/Rothstein pieces are supposed to fit, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter that much. I'm glad Rothstein is still around. I assumed he would be pushed all the way off the margins after Meyer elbowed him off the Florida gravy train. Hopefully at some point we see Sally and Margaret dressed in white undies having a pillow fight while a drunk Nucky looks on drunk on bourbon and eating fried peanut butter and banana sammiches. Which, by the way, isn't quite as sexist as what passes for a women's rightful place in society at the Eli Thompson household.

OMD: Yeah, Nucky snickering while Eli looked incredulously at his daughter who wanted to *gasp* learn was a little jarring. I bet Margaret and Rothstein coming into contact with one another matters more than we would think initially.

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop with Gillian and Roy (Ron Livingston). This show is far too dark for her to find a stand-up dude, even if he is divorcing his wife. Is "divorce" Prohibition era code for murder?

WG: Every time Ron kept winding the conversation around to "secrets," I was certain she would blurt out, "I had sex with my own child." Much like Means and Knoxiver, it's hard to imagine Ron coming out of that relationship with his limbs intact. I can't see a hint of darkness in that sweetly chubby face.

OMD: It sure seems like shit is about to hit the proverbial fan in Chalky's life. Daughter Maitland is setting him up. Dunn and Narcisse are lying in wait, well at least when Dunn isn't sticking a blade in deacons who are wise to his heroin trafficking.

WG: Narcisse's smooth moves at the church meeting reminded me of the "Hamsterdam" episode in The Wire. In Hamsterdam, the good people of the Western Precinct were pleading to the police about the many problems they had to deal with in their neighborhood. Bunny Colvin basically told them he couldn't do anything about it. In Boardwalk Empire's meeting however, Narcisse deftly twists the public outrcy to serve his interests. Unlike Bunny Colvin, who had no answers, Narcisse has all the answers. Not only will the neighborhood survive and thrive, but Deacon Cuffy (who looks a helluva lot like Bunny with a Red Sox play-off beard) is whacked, Purnsley grows stronger, and Narcisse sinks his fangs deep into Chalky White and Atlantic City.

OMD: That scene was the yin to "Hamsterdam's" yang.

Back to Daughter Maitland--her backstory--seeing who we later find out to be Narcisse murder her mother should have fucker her up a lot more. I wonder if maybe she isn't playing both sides of the fence hoping to get out from under the vampiric Dr. Valentin Narcisse.

WG: What a creepy scene to close the episode. She was praying not to God above, but to Narcisse. You may be onto something. Another thread that I'm looking forward to unspooling.

OMD: Unnerving to say the least. She's probably so Stockholm Syndromed that she doesn't have the urge to break free, but it could play out that way.

The Sieben Brewery Raid is essentially the final straw for Torrio. O'Banion takes him for $500,000 and sets Torrio up for the fall. It sure seems like O'Banion isn't long for this world. His Wikipedia page supports that assertion. I'm glad that storyline happens to line up pretty well with when this season should end.

WG: Capone is obviously stuck in the anger state of dealing with loss and grief. I love seeing him sniff, hiss, and spit like a bowed-up halloween cat. You're right, history tells us that O'Banion is soon headed for the great potting shed in the sky. The way Al has been bouncing off the walls with rage after Frank's death, I tremble for O'Banion. And he ain't even that likable. What are the chances Al finds out that Van Alden Mueller drew iron on his brother?

OMD: I don't know. I think maybe that's an out for Michael Shannon if he wants off the show, but it's possible that nothing comes of it past Van Alden Mueller coming to terms with who he is now. It does seem like there must be more in store for Van Alden Mueller than that, though, doesn't it?

I'd have loved to see Eli hit Willie with a closed fist. Would have been sweet. It definitely still feels like Willie is going to be Eddie Kessler II, though I'm not sure that I actually want to see that happen, as Willie isn't exactly interesting once you move past the similarities between he and Nucky.

WG: The only reason I like Willie is that it gives Terence Winter a window to playing around with 1920's college stereotypes.

OMD: Fair enough.

Is Dunn long for this world? The karmic balance almost needs to be struck, right? I'm guessing he falls in the attempted hit on Chalky that looks like it's about to go down per the preview for next week.

WG: Dunn has deserved the dirt nap for a long time. I'd love to see Chalky woo him back just to prove that Narcisse isn't supernatural.

Let's keep the real or imagine homage to Hitchcock alive. The show opened with a soon to be popped copper reading a newspaper headline about Leopold and Loeb, a famous Chicago homicide that involved two geniuses (literally) who attempted to carry out the perfect crime. Hitchcock's Rope was based on the real-life events of that case. I'm not as well-versed in Hitchcock as you are, but I've always loved Rope's creepy charm. The central conceit of the film, believing oneself too smart to be caught, a Nietzschean will to power, creative interpretations of morality, the idea of Ubermensch, and generally being King Shit of Fuck Mountain, pairs nicely with some of the egos in Boardwalk.

OMD: As long as I don't have to sit through Farley Granger "acting," I'm fine with Rope playing itself out on Boardwalk. It'll be a bit anti-climactic if a computer-animated Jimmy Stewart ends up putting away Nucky's interstate criminal network, but if that's the way Winter goes, I can't do anything to change it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Four, Episode Six "The North Star"

Old Man Duggan: The opening note of this week's installment certainly indicated that we'd be seeing a transitional episode. As goes Nucky's camp so goes the action, and with them trying to make sense of Eddie Kessler's suicide, there weren't likely to be a lot of earth-shattering things happening. I liked the opening shot of the quaking cup of coffee. Nucky's still feeling the aftershocks. It is a murky business he's engaged in. Tearing him from his thoughts, an offer for more coffee that sends him into existential contemplation.

Wordy Ginters: Nucky is usually 17 steps ahead of the game, so it's doubly jarring to see him disjointed and off his axis. The cool overhead shot of that opening scene helps establish Nucky's growing discombobulation. But really, if I'm honest with myself, the rippling concussion pools in the cup of joe made me think of Jurassic Park. I was half-expecting Gyp to come roaring and stomping into the station naked with a belt looped around his neck.

OMD: Six episodes in and we finally have a Margaret sighting. She works in Downtown Manhattan. I believe that she and the kids are in Brooklyn with her brother. I think it's safe to qualify their relationship as estranged. Nucky is alone, as implied by the overhead crane shot of him sitting back down at the table alone, after his other former confidant brusquely cuts the pleasantries as soon as she's reminded of the world she's left with his off-hand remark about not sending Teddy anything living in a box.

WG: Without Eddie and Margaret, Nucky no longer has a compadre in any sense of the word. The off-hand remark about not sending anything living in a box was a nice way to remind the audience of Owen Sleater's appearance in a box at the end of Season Three. Or was it boxes?

OMD: I think it was just one box.

I, for one, am glad that Winter & Co. went the route of showing that Hoover's Bureau of Investigation cares very little about the Prohibition-spawned criminal underworld that's burgeoning under their noses. Apparently Agent Knox is tilting at very real windmills without a Sancho Panza. I sure as hell hope that Eli still has Kessler's note. Something tells me there's a bit more going on than Knox let on. It would certainly appear that either the inaccurate and truncated translation or the embroidered letters "JTM" on the kerchief that Knox hands Eli will be his undoing.

WG: The scenes between Agent Knox and Eli provided some nice tension . Knox--A.K.A. Mr. Big Roundballs--brazenly sniffing around to see if anyone had caught on to Eddie's informing ways was the shit. Initially, I wasn't entirely clear whether Eli and Mickey knew what was going on, or if they were just tough-guy fronting. I feel bad for Eli. He's pretty much in the dark about his son's shenanigans at Temple, and he's inadvertently thrown some more red meat to Knox in the way of additional deposit boxes. We haven't seen the last of the kerchief. I hope Eli gets his head out of his ass in time to get it sussed out. I'm curious as hell to see what the note really says. It has to have Anti-Semitic undertones at the very least.

OMD: I'm still not sure that Eli's not trying to evaluate Knox, and I don't remember how damaging the information in the deposit boxes was (if this was established), though I'm sure we'll find out next week.

After a round of drinks at a speakeasy in which Mr. Sagorsky gets existential (existential crises are apparently the daily special at The North Star) and tells Harrow he came back for a reason, it looks like Harrow is back in the fold at the Sagorsky household. There is something that I find ultimately satisfying in seeing Richard Harrow, Julia Sagorsky, and Tommy Darmody together trying to form a nuclear family despite the fact that they're all damaged goods. Hopefully they can fit together in such a way as to make each other whole.

WG: Like Harrow's face, there is no whole to be made. Only a simulcra of normalcy. I can't imagine that Harrow's past plus Sagorsky's family history can equal anything but damage for Tommy. I'm definitely rooting for them though. Harrow is probably one of my all-time favorite TV characters. I'm a sucker for brown eyes and quiet dignity.

OMD: Daughter Maitland (who I've seen referred to as Narcisse's daughter elsewhere, but I don't think "Daughter" is anything other than a stage name) sure sunk her teeth into Chalky. He is standing in a field, the grass up to his chest, and snakes are fucking everywhere.

WG: Chalky is fucked. I was kind of bummed to see him cheating on his wife, but Narcisse knew exactly what he was doing when he tucked Daughter Maitland into the fold at the Black Onyx. Did you notice the way Chalky's face changed expressions when she was singing that mournful blues ballad? He went from white-hot carnal to pissed to wounded in the span of 60 seconds. Good stuff from Michael K. Williams. Between the adulterous strife, trying to mesh with his soon-to-be uppity in-laws, and Purnsley siphoning power out from underneath him via the smack trade, it's only a matter of time until Chalky gets got by a 12-year-old in a convenience store while trying to score a soft pack of menthols.

OMD: The Pierce/Petrucelli is a nice little bit of foreshadowing for the ultimate fate of Luciano's relationship with Joe Masseria. I doubt the series ever gets to that point, as Bennie Seigel doesn't off Masseria until 1931. Regardless, ratcheting up the tension between Lucky and Masseria is a good thing. I like that the business all went down at the weird-ass gator fight. They hash out the details with gators hissing in the background, working on two levels: first, showing how weird and lawless Florida was; and second, with gators taking each other out because higher powers pit them against each other.

WG: Nothing says lawless redneck savagery like a gator fight. The cultural contrast between the boys from up north, and the Duck Dynasty yahoos fighting gators is the kind of regional stereotyping that led Lynyrd Skynyrd to pen "Sweet Home Alabama."

OMD: Eli's existential break was also a nice touch. Shea Whigham's work is too often overlooked, but he really does have to cover more range than most in this series are called upon to, given that he has to balance his work-life with his family life. I liked him breaking down with Knox. I hope the weakness he showed in Kessler's room isn't the way in for Knox wedging himself in between the Thompson brothers.

WG: Eli has always seemed more vulnerable, breakable, and human than most characters on the show, primarily because of his family ties. You know Knox just realized he's found a weak spot he can push on.

OMD: While we got two standing-and-fucking sequences in the final 15 minutes, the one with Nucky and Miss Wheet definitely worked better for me. It may have borrowed a page from Californication, though the punching was before the fucking, not during, but Nucky needed his bell rung. Maybe he's not happy now that he's running a criminal enterprise, but the show needs him to stop wallowing for its momentum to go forward and if Patricia Arquette needs to punch Buscemi in the face to make that happen, so be it.

WG: Arquette landed a blow for the viewership. Nucky was whinging up a storm during his first visit. I was glad to see Sally knock the self-pity out of his head. I'm generally not a fan of punching between humans unless it's sanctioned by the World Boxing Association or other similar organizations, but I'm definitely a fan of standing-and-fucking. It screams of a desire that shan't be delayed. Just when I think Boardwalk Empire has exhausted the world of sexual fetishes, they go and find another dark corner to exploit. And of course, standing-and-fucking is exactly the kind of sexual fetish that led Lynyrd Skynrd to pen "Gimme Three Steps."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Four, Episode Five "Erlkonig"

Agent Knox takes Eddie Kessler to an abandoned chair-stacking center, while Gillian tries to get her fix, and Nucky is fixing Willie's boner.

Wordy Ginters: Boardwalk Empire borrows from Goethe for the episode title and for key dialogue that serves as the fulcrum upon which Knox breaks Eddie. What other series has the nards to trade in this kind of dusty English major territory?

Old Man Duggan: I wish that I could say that my degree in that field of study did me good here, but I did not study Goethe in college. I do love when literature rears its formidable but oft-ugly head in my programs.

WG: Goethe's "Erlkoning" is about a father who fails to believe and protect his son from a supernatural monster. Who are the fathers and who are the sons in this episode?

OMD: Well, it seems that Eddie was a father and a son. A father who strayed from his family, who then supplanted his family with a relationship that alternated between being the father and the son with Nucky. Obviously, he tended to Nucky as his valet and chauffeur--the nature of the care provided perhaps skewing a bit more towards the maternal than the paternal but still intrinsically parental--but when looking at the emotional elements of their relationship, Eddie yearns, or rather yearned, for the approval of Nucky--who was the provider of his security of a more pecuniary nature--and it isn't as though Nucky is simply his employer, as he was actually putting a roof over Mr. Kessler's head. Really, though, isn't Nucky everyone's father? At least everyone living on the Monopoly board. And while Nucky is off tending to another in his flock, the one who cared for him the most came into harm's way while he was absent, unable to protect him because another son (and the odds-on favorite to replace Kessler) got himself into trouble.

WG: Is Capone being a coke fiend historically accurate? Van Alden Mueller's face after the toot from Capone's spoon was almost too good. It was so funny it almost ruined everything. Too discordant for the character and the setting.

OMD: So apparently there is an Al Capone biography, Capone: The Man and the Era, by Laurence Bergreen, that asserts that Capone was a long-time cocaine abuser, an assertion that requires a level of speculation that causes some to bristle and one that has no eyewitness accounts to back up the corroborate it, though it is consistent with the perforated nasal septum and his erratic behavior. As for Nelson-George, the look on Michael Shannon's face was amazing. Most interesting actor out there. While funny, I do think it fit because we have seen the beast that lives deep within him. Even if it didn't tap the beast directly, there is an intensity to Van Alden that runs in the veins.

WG: Speaking of obscure references, did you catch Frank refer to Al as "Garibaldi?" If wikipedia is to be believed, and I can't think of a single reason why it shouldn't be, then Garibaldi was an Italian General and politician who kicked much ass, literally around the globe, back in the late 1800s. So yeah, the reference works. As long as we're at it, I'm pretty sure Gillian was name checking Captain Beefheart with her "Abba-Zaba" schtick, and not the taffy candy bar with the peanut butter center. What horrors did she have to commit to acquire that candy bar?

OMD: I caught the Garibaldi reference but had no idea who he was. Surely, they are talking of their fellow countryman. As for the Abba-Zaba, not only did it look like she'd been doing untoward things to that wrapper, but one has to think that Tommy will never be able to eat a candy bar for fear that he'll become a junky like his dear old Mima.

WG: Nice touch placing a rumpled flag in the background of Willie's dorm room as Nucky calmly explained that blood and family power trumps everything, and not to worry too much about a few innocent folks getting steamrolled along the way. It's ugly to see, but all too true. Apple pie and all that. Clayton Campbell, All-American rube. Welcome to the 99%.

OMD: So Clayton Campbell has to be related to Pete Campbell, right? Disgraced uncle? Father perhaps? Can we assume that Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire exist in the same world of historical fiction given Weiner and Winter's connection on The Sopranos? I'm going to go ahead and answer my rhetorical question in the affirmative. 99% indeed.

WG: Was there a male character in this episode that Gillian didn't offer herself too? Waiting for the man is such a bitch. I thought there was a chance she was going to hit up Tommy with a sexual offer in return for his milk monies. Considering her history, not out of the question. She has to be the most vile and least sympathetic character in the series. I'm curious to see how twisted Ron must be to display such understanding towards her at the end of the episode.

OMD: If she lives to see the day, I'm sure she'll throw herself at her grandson. She's so wretched. I hope that Livingston's character is a sadist, and she gets her just deserts.

WG: How bad-ass did Purnsley look getting his shoes shined? The man can convey some cool, evil menace. He's the black Lawrence Tierney. Is his kingly perch meant to convey his growing influence and power via the heroin trade, or does it show weakness that Gillian can so easily find him in the masculine holiness of the barbershop?

OMD: I would assume that King Sweetback, a man who doesn't even need a name to be recognized, is enjoying his newfound clout. I'm guessing he doesn't feel like he's vulnerable having been found by Gillian in what we presume are his new junk-slinging digs, but if Gillian can find him this easily, it can't be good in the long run. One has to assume that Dunn and Chalky's relationship is about to get strained.

WG: Lots of flashy cinematic camera work. The whole episode was shot in shadows or awash in a pale blue-grey patina. From Frank's epic death (shades of Miller's Crossing), to the newspaper rustling in the windows right before Eddie broke, like his last gasp, or the empty window after he jumped, Boardwalk Empire once again matches it's literary pretension with stunning visuals.

OMD: I'm glad I didn't do my due diligence on Frank Capone because, if I had, I'd have known he was about to get pumped full of lead. Regardless, your boy Van Patten brought it again. Hell, even the scene in the hallway in the school and all of the gauzy scenes while Gillian in a heroin-induced haze looked great. I liked the framing in the scenes with Knox interrogating Kessler. Knox occupies the left side of the screen in medium-close one-shots, while Kessler occupies the right in alternating medium-close one-shots, suggesting an oppositional relationship, one forcing against the other. When Kessler breaks and accepts his cane back from his BI captors, he sits on the left side of the frame, having flipped. I don't think it's insignificant that in the Eddie's final moments, he looks into the mirror, which is framed again on the right side of the screen, sees a reflection of himself back home on the other side of the fight, and knows that he has only one path he can take given his transgression. The shot of Kessler going out the window isn't one I'll soon forget. You'll be missed, Eddie.

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