Monday, October 27, 2014

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Five, Episode Eight "Eldorado"

"Eldorado," the series finale of the wonderful Boardwalk Empire was penned by creator Terence Winter and executive producer and Winter's right hand Howard Korder. The fantastic Tim Van Patten fittingly directed the last episode.

Old Man Duggan: With no benefit of the opening credits to which we have all become accustomed, we open on Nucky--stripped down, both figuratively and literally--wading into the ocean and swimming against the tide. The tide, of course, brought him his fortune. The oceanfront brought people and their money to Atlantic City, and to its shores came the booze to keep America drunk through the Prohibition. Obviously, the tide also represents the force of Nucky's past--his actions, their consequences--and as he later relates to Eli, he is unable to tell how far is far enough to never come back. The weight of a lifetime's worth of actions in pursuit of wealth and power cannot be counterbalanced. A quiet shot starting with the symbol of his material empire--clothing, shoes, cigarette case, lighter, and iconic hat from the credits, all clearly a nod to what we didn't get to start the episode--in the sand, stripped from his body just as his empire had just been wrested from his grip, and the man adrift attempts to head against the grand force of the ocean. Loaded, powerful opening shot, complete with underlying music that strangely made me think of the introductory measures of the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme, until it took its minor turn.

Wordy Ginters: Buscemi swimming naked against the tide. A nimble remix of the traditional opening credits, and a pretty apt coda for the series in general. Plus, Buscemi shirtless. Love it when Winter throws a bone to the ladies.

OMD: After Nucky's insistence that he could be of use to Commodore Kaestner, his palpable disgust at the Commodore's delight in having young girls recite Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Secrets of the Sea" to him. "Ah! what pleasant visions haunt me / As I gaze upon the sea! / All the old romantic legends, / All my dream, come back to me." After some cursory re-education on the subject of Longfellow, his first wife died after a miscarriage when he was just 28 years old, and it came while they were travelling abroad in a year-long voyage through Europe all for the purpose of furthering his career, so there are cursory similarities between the two men. While I cannot speak with certainty, I do not know that Longfellow procured underage tail for Josiah Quincy III, the man who brought Longfellow to Harvard.

WG: Don't fret, historians and English scholars alike have wrestled with the dark rumors of Longfellow's role in 19th century sex trafficking for decades. The theory that dactylic hexameter is the metre of the sexually deviant becomes more accepted each day. Even here in stodgy old Nebraska.

OMD: Definitely perv meter.

Margaret turning stock-manipulating mastermind, outwitting and playing Kennedy in the process, was beautiful. She even managed to rebuff his advances while securing him as a client. Cagey.

WG: Winter didn't spend much time constructing the female characters on the show, but he rebounded nicely with the way he wrapped up Margaret's thread. I especially loved the line she stuck on Kennedy, "Imagine all that you want in life and then picture yourself in a dress." Rumor has it that Winter and Scorcese are developing a prequel to The Wolf of Wall Street based on Margaret's ability to get filthy rich on morally questionable German stock positions during WWII. Jonah Hill co-stars as a Young Sergeant Schultz.

OMD: While I'd absolutely pay hard-earned cash to see that, my real desire is still to see Nelson and Eli hold down the fort in Cicero during the seven years we missed. I'd also like to state that I really wish I had the time to make that Wolf o' Wall Street artwork happen, but that would take me forever.

The last time we see Mabel, she is unable to tell Nucky that he doesn't disappoint her immediately after having a miscarriage.

WG: Kind of a bad day for Nucky, wasn't it? Punched Father? Check. Father points shotgun at his head? Check. Wife has miscarriage? Check. Fired from job? Check. Asked to aid and abet pedophile in return for career advancement? Check. Flat tire? Check. Forgot to pay cable bill and service disconnected? Check. With the broad strokes on Nucky's backstory finally all filled in, is it enough to make Nucky a sympathetic character? I don't know.

OMD: Good question. I think he clearly wants to repent but doesn't have the mechanism by which to make that happen. As he eventually finds out in a very hard and final way, money is not the answer to every question, though it's the best answer he knows.

Capone's scene with his son does a nice job of re-humanizing him. It's been a long time, and Stephen Graham has been relegated to playing the brazen, larger-than-life caricature of Capone for the past couple seasons, but there has always been a striking dichotomous nature to Capone on the series, and with his contemplative last shot in the back of the car before he puts on his game face, it's nice to see Winter, Korder, and Van Patten bringing this part of Capone back to the fore.

WG: Loved it. These types of pro moves are why I loved the show so much. How tricky would it be to write a show based on these larger than life historical figures? The mobster genre has been done to death. Boardwalk Empire was able to bring a fresh angle to the genre by having the balls to meander a little, and show these criminal icons as human from time to time. Sure, they were badasses, and brash, and cartoonish many times too, but taken all together it made for a sweet little nut roll. Jesus, Capone on the courthouse steps aping John Barrymore? Beautiful.

OMD: Weird note that only I would care about: as Margaret is walking into the open apartment in the Eldorado (its name having obvious significance, of course), the radio broadcast is talking about the market roller coaster ride and then breaks into talking about Jim Weaver and the Yankees having beaten the Philadelphia A's 3 - 2. Weaver faced the A's once in a Yankees uniform and the Yankees lost 16 - 4.

WG: Christ, what a couple of degenerates. I immediately paused the show and spent 15 minutes on baseball-reference searching for said game. I was kind of bummed I didn't find one that matched that score from 1931. I wonder what the significance was? You think someone on the production team was related to Jim Weaver or something? You notice that Yankee line-up in 1931? Ruth (+218 OPS with a .495 OBP). Gehrig. Chapman. And they finished 13.5 games back in 2nd place. To think our beloved Kansas City Royals will soon be taking their rightful place alongside past World Series champions, a notch above has been teams like the '31 Yankees, seems just.

OMD: I sure fucking hope that happens. I'm concerned now. Zero wiggle room for the Royals (who were responsible for the delay in this post, of course).

The framing in the opening of that scene was nice. Nucky started on the opposite side of the divided floor, a gray area if you will. He steps across the line on the floor and to the checkered floor, presumably a world that's more black-and-white. Coming over to Margaret's world, meaning to leave his old life behind, they dance, but they're ripped from the momentary fantasy by a happy couple looking at the suite. Their past is obviously too complex to leave behind. He's left to look at the ground, the other world into which he is trying to make the transition, and cannot help but feel out of place. Their silence speaks volumes.

WG: Nice catch. I'm convinced repeated viewings will be rewarded, especially for things like this. Fundamentals guaranteed to make film buffs weak in the groin.

OMD: I liked that there was just enough vagueness surrounding who they were killing to lead one to believe that maybe Nucky was going to get offed. A sly misdirect from Van Patten with the shot over the shoulder of two men wearing hats, seemingly walking together. Then he meets The Future. Into the darkness he heads, and inside he finds the television, the device that would change the world forever, highlighting an amusing reflexivity in that his story is being told on a device that shows him that he's a misplaced relic an antique ready to be left in the past.

WG: Probably my favorite scene of the season.

OMD: Nucky's father puts the shotgun to Nucky's head in their kerfuffle. The past that he's trying to leave behind, of course, will not let that happen.

It's interesting that Nucky, in his quest to break good, goes farther than he ever had as a kid in swimming against the tide. The power of the life he yearned for was always greater than his will to do good. The goodbye between Nucky and Eli is bittersweet. Of course, Nucky doesn't know why this is actually their farewell. Both men are torn down, but at least Eli, whose actions, at least of late, were borne out of necessity, may have a shot at a future and a fresh shave. Brother speeders / Let's Rehearse / All together / "Good morning Nurse!" / Burma Shave.

WG: Ahem. I think I called my shot by predicting Eli would shave in our last recap.

OMD: Indeed you did.

Narcisse? Done.

WG: And a pretty spectacular death scene by Jeffrey Wright. That was gratifying. The extended ongoing sermon/rhetoric he was spinning prior to his demise fit just as nicely as the kids reciting Longfellow for the Commodore.

OMD: Nucky's visit to Gillian in the nut house is loaded with double-meanings and subtext. His insistence that "the past is past" shows that he still doesn't know that he can't outrun his. When she gets up after he tries in his own way to get her to absolve him for misdeeds for which absolution are not possible, the true horror of what she's undergone is obvious. Thankfully we don't get to see the butchery up close. Jesus, Dr. Cotton was a fucking lunatic. He should've been in the loony bin himself.

WG: That was a powerful scene for me. Jesus. So rare for Nucky to show emotion. And he should have. If he wouldn't have steered Gillian to the Commodore, maybe she wouldn't have been so looney tunes. Gillian was just as dangerous as the gangsters, maybe even more so. Does she ever get out? Doubtful.

OMD: She's surely missing the bulk of her innards if she does make it out. I think it would take a fire to spring her. It wouldn't be a release on account of her being a good girl.

Nucky gets into his old quarters at the club, sees the postcard young Mabel sent him, and gets another call requesting his presence at the Ritz. The past is going nowhere.

"Mrs. Thompson said you want to be good. But you don't know how." That's the key to this whole show, isn't it? As he leaves Gillian on the boardwalk to answer the Commodore's call, a call to relieve him of his duties, only really to tear him down and have him do his bidding and cater to his every depraved whim. To get the Sheriff gig, he has to deliver Gillian, and in delivering her, he promises to take care of her. A loathsome act. Vile. Wretched in his own eyes, yet in the pursuit of power and wealth, he swallows that bitter pill.

WG: Absolutely the foundation the show was built on. He was willing to debase himself and others for wealth and power. And he never stopped. Of course he had to die in the end.

OMD: Back in the present, Nucky sees Neptune on the billboard atop the boardwalk, and then Princeton college boys--serving both as symbols of the privilege he never had and the surrogate son that he murdered in cold blood--confront him and one begins reciting Robert Service's poem "The Spell of the Yukon." "I wanted the gold, and I sought it; / I scrabbled and mucked like a slave. / Was it famine or scurvy--I fought it. / I wanted the gold, and I got it-- / Came out with a fortune last fall,-- / Yet somehow life's not what I thought it, / And somehow the gold isn't all." Setting aside the extreme improbability of this happening in the real world, the poem is clearly on the nose.

WG: And I lapped it up nonetheless.

OMD: Same here.

Back to the past, he weighs his options. Present, Tommy reveals himself. Past, he assures Gillian he'll look after her. Present, he pays for his misdeeds. IRS agents nab Tommy after the damage is done. Young Nucky grabs the coin in the water. His symbolic fate was sealed from jump street.

WG: Loved that final shot. Young Nucky floating innocently in the sea, snatching the coin. Some Cormac McCarthy type shit going on there. The simple act of playing footsie with greed sets in motion all kinds of horrible dominoes we can barely comprehend. Also nice homage to Nirvana's Nevermind album cover.

OMD: Thankfully no baby dick.

It feels like there's a lot still to talk about. I think it makes sense (to me at least) to flip the controls over to you here. What are your overall feelings about this all coming to an end?

WG: For me, Boardwalk Empire is in a trinity of all-time great serial dramas along with The Wire and Deadwood. It didn't have the breathless mayhem and corkscrew plot action of Breaking Bad. It's not as sexy as Mad Men. Not as balls out fun as The Sopranos.

OMD: I don't know where I'd put it. I'd say the artistry is on a level that I don't know another show has ever reached. I'd still defer to someone championing The Wire or Deadwood. I say without hesitation that I prefer it to any of the others mentioned, though I'd certainly have to add a handful of hour-longs to the mix, namely Justified, Terriers, Carnivale, Friday Night Lights and Veronica Mars, not to mention shows currently in production that have to be considered as potential contenders for such categorization like Broadchurch, HannibalMasters of Sex, and True Detective. Yes, I know I didn't list Game of Thrones, anyone lobbying for its inclusion in this list can start their own fucking blog.

WG: I don't think there has been a more cinematic show on television. Beautiful to look at. Lots of critics bag on Boardwalk for the multitude of threads and plots that moved too slow. To them I say: Bah. I hope there is always room for series that take their time. That allow productions to have a vision and follow it through, if nothing else for the entertainment derived from watching badass craftsmen do what they do.

OMD: I've seen every episode of the last three seasons at least twice, many of them more than that. The painstaking attention to detail, the incredible production design, the symbolism that runs rampant through each episode, hell, the fucking shot framing, all of it sets the show apart. I think nearly all of the criticism comes from people who either didn't find Nucky compelling enough or worse from people who were viewing each episode as its own thing, which a show like Boardwalk Empire was never going to be able to withstand as it is so serialized as to render such criticism pointless.

WG: I'll definitely be watching the series again. I think it's hard to grasp the towering scale and scope of what Winter created, especially fresh off a satisfying final episode that managed to finish some telegraphed final touches without being too hokey. Boardwalk Empire, it was good to know ye. I'll be seeing you again.

OMD: Indeed. We'll miss you, Nucky, Nelson, Margaret, Eli, Chalky, et al, but we'll probably rewatch you over and over.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Five, Episode Seven "Friendless Child"

The penultimate episode of Boardwalk Empire was written by "Riccardo DiLoreto & Cristine Chambers and Howard Korder"--oh, WGA--and directed by Allen Coulter.

Old Man Duggan: With most of the secondary plot lines having resolved themselves or come back to the central arc, we get a pretty damn streamlined episode this week. Winter, Korder, & Co. made the efficacious move to advance the war between the Mustache Petes and the Young Turks--it's a goddamn shame they've not been using these names, by the way--by way of montage and press clippings to its conclusion. While the denouement for Nucky is still a week away, the war to overthrow Maranzano is reaching its own denouement this week, thankfully.

Wordy Ginters: Surprised Timmy Van Patton wasn't manning the helm this episode. Surely he'll get the call in next week's finale. You suffering from some Maranzano fatigue? That's been fixed. His character arc seemed a little tacked on. I find the role of Torrio much more interesting.

OMD: I'd like to think that Nucky's extinguished cigarette in a glass of Bacardi is a grander statement upon the standing of rum amongst other almost universally superior liquors. Fuck that bat. Fuck rum.

WG: Fuck that bat. Fuck rum. Also a goddamn shame that nomenclature hasn't crept its way into the script.

OMD: The actress they got to play young Gillian did a shockingly good job of channeling Gretchen Mol's take on Gillian. Their casting in the origins timeline is really quite breathtaking.

WG: Look, this show is a fucking gem. All facets. Casting has been outstanding all the way around, with the most counter-intuitive home run being Buscemi as the lead. Only one episode left. I don't know if there has been a prettier show to watch. The writing is top notch, too. It's not sexy, it's just fucking solid. Speaking of the origins actors, I just realized the lady who plays Young Nuck's wife, also plays a wife on The Knick. On that show, she is on the receiving end of some rather drastic cutting edge for the time psychological assistance via John Hodgman. It's deviant, brilliant, and shocking at the same time.

OMD: I've still got the entirety of The Knick sitting on the DVR unwatched for no good reason other than not really knowing what it is. I should rectify that.

Nucky is never served well by indulging in impatience. The move to grab Bennie Siegel seems at first to be a way in which Nucky might be able to swing some momentum his way. So much for that. Willie getting kidnapped erased that advantage. Of course, Nucky should have been playing chess and figuring Luciano and Lansky had a counter to his move.

WG: I couldn't fathom how the kidnapping was going to work out in Nuck's favor. When Siegel queered the hand-off and ultimately painted Nucky in the corner, it just underlined, for the millionth time, that Nuck is a stranger in a strange land. Not born of the silver spoon, and not tough enough to roll with the real gangsters, it appears his only remaining moves are murder for hire and insider trading.

OMD: The smoke ring settling in over Willie's crown while Lucky was on the phone arranging for the meet with Nucky was a nice touch.

WG: I'm glad you mentioned that. Was it not badass?

OMD: So what in the hell is going on with Mabel? Is it merely her fear of what dear Enoch is going to become, or is something more at play here? She's scared of something, according to Gillian, and her distractions and midnight pie-making seem to allude to her later suicide. Somehow I doubt it's merely manic-depression given the tenor of everything that has preceded this.

WG: The Big C? Depression? I'm telling you, the parallel's between Maya Kazan's character on The Knick and Boardwalk Empire are many. The two shows could share their psych ward sets.

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OMD: I guess Sheriff Lindsay drew the line at the umpteenth adolescent girl returned to her parents, services rendered/agreement terminated. Charitable acts. "Schooling them in the domestic arts." Jesus, Leandor could have represented Michael Jackson astonishingly well.

WG: That shit was grim. Terence Winter isn't painting a pretty picture of those in power, is he? Not too hard to read that as a grand point of the show: revealing the seamy underbelly of the "American Way." Not that pedophilia is the American Way, though it does seem to rear its head with disturbing frequency. Boardwalk Empire tends to make a mockery of the kind of down-home bromides that are plastered on the billboards behind Eli as he leaves his disheveled street meeting with Willie. In other words, hard work, honesty, free enterprise, and democracy are much easier to swallow in theory than in practice.

OMD: Indeed. Power corrupts and the most corrupt were probably sexual deviants from the get-go.

Mickey finally got what he wanted. Then I got what I wanted. He was always such an annoying shitheel. Unfortunately, the totally badass Arquimedes went down too. I'd have loved to see one last ear trophy.

WG: Archie was another in a long line of unfortunate deaths on the show. Spin off? Archie and Gillian open a restaurant specializing in Cuban sandwiches and erotic massage. Archie's catch phrase? Shut you fuck up! I get it though, Nucky is isolated down to the last drop. Mickey was a classic shitheel, he lived so much longer than I ever thought he would, I was kind of hoping he'd be the last man standing. We also haven't seen the last of that creepy young buck who may or may not be Darmody Jr., have we?

OMD: Can't imagine that we have.

I liked the fake out from D'Angelo meeting with the federal judge to the IRS agents coming into Maranzano's office. I totally thought Nucky was screwed until they started stabbing Maranzano. Glad Eli was the trigger man if for no other reason than that it means the brothers Thompson might be riding again, if for ever so brief a time.

WG: So much stabbing.

OMD: Torrio can't be too excited about being thanked for his help and then dismissed. Of course he's a eunuch at this point, but still.

WG: Another cool scene. When Lansky and Luciano rebuffed his idea to arrange the "one big family" mob meeting, Bugsy and a gaggle of party people came bubbling in ready to celebrate. A deep focus shot showed old man Torrio standing solo on one side of a pillar, and the new turks cutting a rug on the other side. The chasm between old and new couldn't have been any chasmier.

OMD: Joe's curiosity about watching someone die would seem to have a larger purpose. I don't think it's as easy as him being the person in whom Nucky sees his younger self. I still don't know what his endgame would be if he were Jimmy's son, but it seems like it has to bring the story full circle, doesn't it?

WG: Absolutely. He's cooking up something. Mustering. Pro tip: It's in the eyes. Mustering is always in the eyes.

OMD: Take note of that pearl, kiddos.

What gets lost in the shuffle of all this is that Nucky still has the Mayflower play in place. If we've learned anything during Boardwalk Empire's five seasons, it is that no scene is wasted. Clearly this angle must come into play in the finale. Can he parlay that into showing that he still has value to Lucky and Meyer? Is it enough to keep Nucky alive?

WG: I'll be astounded if he lives. If Winter had any balls, he'd end this one ambiguously just like he and Chase did on The Sopranos. MAYBE, a different Journey tune with an abrupt fade to black. "Feeling That Way/Anytime."

OMD: It should be noted that Meyer isn't exactly pumped to hand over Atlantic City to Pinky. Mightn't this play into Nucky getting a reprieve from them? After all, Meyer is the calm, measured one of the two. All that character work is unlikely to be for naught.

WG: They're telegraphing Pinky and wide-eyed virtuous milquetoast maybe Darmody Jr. pretty hard. I'd have to agree with you.

OMD: There were some surprises in Gillian's letter. I honestly thought that Nucky hand-delivered her to the Commodore, but it surely appears as though she made the decision on her own, though she shouldn't be held responsible for such decisions. Will helping Gillian be the redemptive salve for which he has been longing all season long?

WG: I'm eager to see how that connection gets made. Their was a montage scene that worked, so fuck off Trey Stone and Matt Parker. You fucking cowards. Bush takes us to war in Iraq for reasons still unclear to me, and you make a movie that picks on Alec Baldwin and Sean Penn? Goddamn it. Ummn. Where was I? Oh yeah, that montage was a great way to encapsulate Gillian's descent in the maelstrom - - which also happens to be a great Radio Birdman song.

OMD: While I hesitate to make predictions in general, this is the last Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire before the series finale. Do you have any?

WG: Nucky dies from a cleaver to the head. Eli shaves. Gillian seduces and kills her psychologist. Royals in 4.

OMD: All of that would be wodnerful. I'm thinking Meyer convinces Lucky to keep Nucky in place in Atlantic City only to have Joe off him as revenge for Jimmy's murder. Oh, and Dr. Giggles has gutted Gillian, who is a shell of her letter-writing self and basically a vegetable, because it's far too late for Nucky to have rescued her.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Five, Episode Six "Devil You Know"

This week's antepenultimate episode penned by Howard Korder and directed by Jeremy Podeswa features a couple of conclusions to character arcs in a very Boardwalk Empire kind of way.

Old Man Duggan: Anyone wondering how so many storylines were going to get wrapped up in just six episodes got some answers tonight. And all this happened while Nucky was playing hooky and Chalky moved all of maybe four feet.

Wordy Ginters: It began on the gallop with Chalky at the Harlem Cathouse. Kind of unusual for Boardwalk to get rolling so quickly. I made a mental note that fucking around was apparently not going to be tolerated.

OMD: We pick back up with Daughter Maitland, Chalky, and Althea, right where last week left off. Clearly Althea is Chalky's. It must have been a rough seven years for Daughter, as her gift went without professional implementation thanks to being blackballed by Narcisse.

WG: Hey, I get the pushback against those who fetishize vinyl culture. The sound is warm. The cover art was integral to the experience. You have to listen to the whole damn album. I know, I know. But I'll be damned if Daughter's voice didn't sound fantastic coming out of that vintage turntable. Even better was seeing it saw Chalky in half.

OMD: Indeed. The look on his face was tragic.

In the flashback, we have perhaps the first inkling that Mabel may be a bit moody, as she's up in the middle of the night making pies. She seemed to have just a slight undercurrent of emotional fragility that she'd then underplay by speaking in that faux Southern accent.

WG: Homage to Crispin Glover in Wild at Heart. "I'm making sandwiches!"

OMD: While we're in pre-WWI Atlantic City, we may as well talk about Sheriff Lindsay delivering young girls to the Commodore with their mother's in reluctant tow. The look on that mother's face. What the fuck was she thinking? And how the hell does Sheriff Lindsay sleep at night?

WG: On piles of memory-numbing cash. You can't be a cog in the cynical wonderland that is Atlantic City without viewing those not in on the take as less than human.

OMD: As for Gillian, apparently she was always a fucking handful. Around the World in 72 Days. This is where Nellie Bly comes into Nucky and Gillian's story. Funny since she also did that expose on the treatment of the patients at the Women's Lunatics Asylum on Blackwell's Island.

WG: Nothing happens without a reason on this show. The details are on point.

OMD: I guess the Depression made hard, crass broads with a knack for rolling Missourians in the alley with the draw of dirty, back-alley threesomes. Those women also apparently enjoy making men recite Longfellow. I have to wonder if Irene, the near-King Neptune's consort, was one of the Commodore's pedophiliac casualties.

WG: Who didn't see that one coming? Interesting to hear Nucky finally put words to the sentiment he's been carrying around from jump street. He can't escape his prole roots. He can hang at the Ritz, but it doesn't suit him. Drunk on rot-gut whiskey, winning a fist fight, and fucking two women in an alley. Three-fiths of my bucket list. The remainders? Royals World Series Champs. Scott McKinney reinstated at Royals Review.

OMD: That old piece of shit should've apologized to the nice--er, breathing--ladies.

WG: Hey, Nucky may be a piney from the sticks, but he's no mouthbreather. A little respect for the ladies shouldn't be too much to ask.

OMD: Man, Van Alden and Eli's plan that was foisted upon them was a shit one. Ralph is boning in the count room. Agent D'Angelo is asked to take care of them only to have Al come back with Paul Muni and George Raft with him. Timing went wrong in nearly every possible way. "We're having trouble at home." "I can vouch for that." Even when their lives hang in the balance, Michael Shannon and Shea Whigham deliver the funny.

WG: Those two were magic when they found themselves in the same scenes. Too bad it didn't happen earlier and oftener.

OMD: In his final moments at least Van Alden got to be himself again. Crazy, invoking Jesus, insisting wrath would reign down on the man he was strangling.

WG: It was interesting for no other reason than I've always kind of wondered how Van Alden could stray so far from his extreme straight-edge religious vibe. Did he cotton to the dark side, or just get swept along in the tumult that was his story arc? I don't remember if it was this week, or last, but I was glad to see a pre-episode " previously on Boardwalk Empire" clip of Van Alden drowning the crooked prohee from way back in Season One. That batshit brutal baptism/drowning revealed to me how fucking awesome this show is. Shannon was fantastic in this series, it was good to see him going out in a blaze of biblical righteousness.

OMD: Yeah, if he's got to go out, it was nice to see him revisit his roots en route.

Eli says it's Ness gunning for him, and Al unwittingly hands the damning evidence to D'Angelo. Eli is released to return east, presumably to eventually help Nucky.

WG: A little too tidy. But what the hell. Sets up some interesting possibilities for the last two episodes. Shea Whigham was awesome as per usual. Right after Van Alden got popped, and Eli thought he was next, he began nervously mumbling and apologizing over and over to his wife? That was powerful.

OMD: I guess Narcisse's being neutered at least made him amenable to releasing Daughter Maitland. Chalky clearly knew what his fate would be, but he got to hear her voice again, and that was all that mattered. As he stepped into the light of day, he knew what fate awaited him. He still got to do right by his daughter and Daughter, who Althea confirmed did love her father.

WG: Chalky went out with some dignity. It was cool that he knew what was up. What a great character. I don't think that Winter quite new what to do with him. Tough episode when you have popular series icons like Chalky and Van Alden both get whacked.

OMD: "You think I don't know who you are?" I'm really starting to think that there has to be more to Joe Harper's story. If he is Tommy Darmody, though, I've got no idea what his endgame is, as revenge could have been taken in the alley.

WG: It's either a head feint to keep us guessing, or something is up with that dude. Towards the end of the episode there was a split second cut where they flashed to Joe Harper's face. Struck me as odd for a rando extra type guy. He's undoubtedly set up for a bigger role down the stretch.

OMD: Regardless, it looks like Nucky is getting his army ready for a war. Unfortunately his legion of allies seems to be dwindling. I can't imagine how he gets out from under this.

WG: With Mickey Doyle serving as his right-hand man? He's screwed.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Five, Episode Five "King of Norway"

This week's installment, courtesy of scribe Steve Kornacki and director Ed Bianchi, treats us to a time jump in the story of Young Enoch Thompson--1897, to be exact--where we find him courting Mabel while trying to work his way into the Commodore's inner circle. In the present day, Nucky and Chalky are reunited, June visits Eli in Chicago, dinner is had at the Van Alden/Muellers, and the Young Turks take a shot at the Mustache Petes.

Old Man Duggan: Let's focus on the Young Nucky stuff first. There seem to be some viewer complaints about this aspect of the show. I guess if you don't think the show is about Nucky and/or that he's a dull character then this part of the show would stand still. I don't understand either of those points of view, but it seemed like maybe they should be acknowledged. I, for one, am very interested to see from whence Nucky Thompson came. This bookending works for me.

Wordy Ginters: I've got a small issue with the novelty teeth used by the actor playing Young Man Nuck. The eerie physical resemblance was sufficient to hammer home the flashback vibe without that hornblast grill leaping of the screen. To those faint hearts wounded by the looks back, let's join together and say pshaw. For me, the examination of the boy who became the man is a fresh fucking twist.

OMD: Once again, this time in the flashbacks, we get a Ragged Dick reference for Nucky. This is not the first time that Nucky has been compared against Horatio Alger's protagonist. Of course, that middle-class respectability is something that is likely to elude Nucky, given the choices that he's made. Of course, there's an element of damned if you do, damned if you don't in his tale. He comes from such abject poverty that it's hard to fathom the future he desired without cutting some corners.

WG: Therein lies the rub. He wants it so bad, the ends always justify the means.

OMD: Adult Mabel is played by Maya Kazan, Zoe's sister. The courtship of Mabel Jeffries includes a scene at the table straight out of any classist father-suitor tale. This, of course, plays into the class issues endemic in Nucky's greater story. The life he wants, the woman he wants, all of these are things which the boot black Nucky Thompson is perhaps too bold to want.

WG: Is Buscemi the shit or what? How does he make Nucky a sympathetic character? The flashbacks help establish a patina of empathy, but ultimately he's a loathsome protagonist. Despite his wormy ways, I typically find myself pulling for him. He's got zero charisma. Physically, he's unlike 99% of what we see in male leads. His character is a schemer, a murderer, a womanizer, a liar, a cheat, a lawbreaker, and all of this is carried out with the low-grade menace of a high school principal. He operates with an offhand disdain that burns too cool to be openly hostile. You can feel his patronizing contempt for the majority of the characters around him, who are two beats too slow to keep up with his thinking. The look on his face is best described as lemon-wedge constipated. Yet, at almost every step along the way, I'm pulling for his schemes to succeed. Perhaps this says more about me than the necromancy Buscemi is able to beam through the character.

OMD: I definitely don't feel like I should be rooting for him, yet I am at every turn.

It seems likely that the Commodore wants Nucky's handling of the corpse of Mr. Halligan to be his trial. Though he seems to regard Nucky unfavorably--"mooncalf" is an abortive fetus of a cow but came to mean either a monstrous/grotesque thing (Shakespeare refers to Caliban as such in The Tempest) or later a dullard or fool; one must figure that the Commodore means to apply the latter usage in this situation, though it's hard to see how either really fits here--this must be the Commodore's means by which to evaluate Nucky's ability to do his dirty work.

WG: "Mooncalf" struck me as a little harsh. Nucky had already demonstrated veteran leadership skills by nonchalantly laying out strategy to keep rivals out of Atlantic City. And he showed plus-plus cigar-handling skills. Obviously, the Commodore wasn't hip to his charms. I think the corpse de Halligan is most certainly intended as an acid test.

OMD: I'd watch Stephen Graham clench the Tribune in hand while parked on the shitter any day. Judging by the fact that Agent D'Angelo is hep to Capone's plan to move the whole operation to Cicero posthaste, I'd posit that it's highly unlikely that his rash decision to enlist Eli and Nelson to nab Capone's ledger goes off without a hitch.

WG: Having Capone refer to his own stubborn shit as "fucker" was inspired.

OMD: Looks like Al is going to be taking Owney Madden and presumably George Raft (who was Madden's lifelong friend and actor in Scarface). Raft later made sex on Betty Grable, Marlene Dietrich, and Mae West.

WG: Raft makes Derek Jeter look like an amateur. I'd love to see them go balls deep with the Hollywood angle. I want to see someone playing your boy Edward G. Robinson, slamming shots with Capone and pouring over a Daily Racing Form trying to suss out the feature at Hawthorne Park.

OMD: Joe Harper, that fresh-faced lad who Mickey Doyle grabbed from the hobo fire in the alley, looks like he'd make a great Mr. Bates. He's got the suit-coat-hold down pat.

WG: Bates! Great series cross over idea. Downton Abbey gets Nucky's Cuban muscle and Boardwalk Empire gets Bates and a footmen to be named later. Hilarity and ear loss ensues.

OMD: I saw someone hypothesize that Joe Harper could also by Jimmy's scion, which would make sense.

With Chalky White so hellbent on revenge against Narcisse, it's too bad that coming to Nucky's aid one last time probably isn't in the cards.

WG: I'm just glad he's around for another episodes. I felt a pang of doom when Chalky rashly showed up at the Harlem brothel.

OMD: Eli's drunken fever dreams are answered. The only man on the show who loves his wife fucked the bitter shrew Mrs. Van Alden Mueller in his seven-year drunken stupor and didn't even know he'd done it until the titular man showed his mustachioed face. Before the key to his nightmares was revealed, that dinner scene was a pretty great snapshot of the shit home life of George Nelson Van Alden Mueller. Their sex scene, whoa. The look on her face. Harpy.

WG: I'm not going to lie. I'm a sucker for the beautiful cruelty. I'm down with Mrs. Van Alden Mueller, for no other reason than her habit of barking out "Husband" to her man like she was trying to get the attention of a pet. That dinner scene was hilarious. How do you create a scene as cliched as the henpecked husband and marital strife without sinking into the threadbare depths of banality? You turn it up to 11.

OMD: "The event you're thinking about? That was an accident. Plain and simple." "You mean like a streetcar hitting a horse? A man getting his head crushed in a metal press? A gas explosion in which bystanders are literally torn limb from limb? That's what your having sexual relations with my wife was like?" "Look, I don't know about you, but my life is a fucking shipwreck." "Well, land ho." Honestly, I could just transcribe that scene and leave it at that. We need a fucking Michael Shannon and Shea Whigham series. It'd be great if it was Eli and Nelson these past few years, but anything. The scene while the waited for D'Angelo was transcendent.

WG: The Chicago scenes in general have stood out with a different type of electricity than the rest of the locales on the show. Looney Tunes. A joy to watch.

OMD: Gillian's future is looking bleak. Dr. Cotton seems quite the kook. Cutting the crazy out like a loony-bin Mengele. Not from the brain either. Jesus.

WG: I'm more worried for Dr. Cotton than I am for Gillian.

OMD: Daughter Maitland and daughter. Methinks Chalky's got another, younger Maybelle.

WG: I didn't even think about that! You might be onto something. I hope so.

OMD: Torrio makes it out of all this unscathed. So do Lansky, Luciano, and Siegel. In Maranzano, it looks like Nucky is betting on a losing horse. And by looks like, I mean he is. It's hard to imagine a peaceful resolution between Nucky and the Mustache Petes. Knowing the fates of the others, it's hard not to assume the worst for Nucky.

WG: I hope Winter has the courage to flout history, and the skills to end the series with the flair it deserves.

Monday, September 29, 2014

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

Nucky and Margaret share a wine-soaked afternoon, loaded with all the historical subtext one would expect. Luciano visits Capone making for an interesting run-in with Van Alden. Sally makes the rounds for Nucky in Cuba as unrest festers. Having been laid off at the end of the summer, Young Nucky shows Eli the life they're missing. This week's installment is brought to you by writers Howard Korder, Cristine Chambers, and Terence Winter and is directed by Jake Paltrow.

Wordy Ginters: Young Nuck in horny sway to lifestyles of the rich and famous. Reduced to wandering around the hotel fondling the plumbing with his brother. Mick Jagger said it best, “you’re just a poor girl in a rich man’s house. Oohew whoe who ew ew ew.” Flash forward, and Contemporary Nuck hasn’t changed. He’s wrapped himself in the lifestyle, but it doesn’t quite fit. He can’t run with Joe P and the Vanderbilts because he’s too dirty. He’s not as visceral and Mediterranean as Luciano and Capone. The existential angst. You could cut it with a statue of the Empire State Building. What does this motherfucker need to be happy? A real dad? Hang on Nuck, Sartre publishes Nausea in eight years.

Old Man Duggan: I wonder how many hours Robin Leach dedicated to pipe-and-fixture fondling. Big Pfister man. It was interesting to see Young Nucky see the life he wanted--and the dodgy pedo who could give it to him--blowing away in the breeze of the Indian Summer. It's clear at that early age that the nose-down grunt work of his father would not suffice. I don't think anyone knows what would have actually made Nucky happy, and that especially includes Nucky. For all of this desire for success, nothing is going to fill that hole that he dug up inside when he got in bed with the Commodore. It's strange, though. Nucky's real desire seems to have been for a proper family. He cries at the table at seeing a proper family, complete with recitations of Keats at the table. His choices rendered that impossible.

WG: Scotch and Rum don’t mix is the smuggest god damn line I’ve ever heard.

OMD: That's those County Wexford fucks for you.

WG: The reunion with Margaret hit me odd. Relegating her to second team plot status last season meant that we lost some of the punch, immediacy, and history of their relationship. At least I did. The apparent return to the varsity line-up didn’t mean as much to me as it should have.

OMD: I actually dug it. She cut loose a bit. Even she, at this point is at ease drinking. I mean it has certainly been a while, but they slipped back into familiarity pretty damn quickly, and with drink came a looser rapport with Nucky, freely calling him a bastard but without malice. Her "why does everyone assume?" bit when Nucky asked if she'd been sleeping with Rothstein was funny. The "Partners in crime" toast was a nice touch. I like that he saw in Margaret what he'd wanted in himself. Self-made success story, even if she got into a bit of trouble.

WG: Evidently the Kennedy’s have game? Straight up PUA. Only took a few minutes chit chatting in the sitting room for Joe P to work it. Did you see the way Margaret was suggestively bobbing her leg? They were swapping Irish landmarks and talking in Gaelic like long lost lovers. Could Nucky be any more on the outside looking in?

OMD: It's sort of where he lives, isn't it?

WG: If you haven’t figured it out yet, Capone is a goddamn loose cannon. Real loose. Watching his own press clippings. Big mistake, if I’m to believe everything I read in the sprots media. I love how the Capone scenes are a completely different world. Barnyard, Animal House, and abattoir.

OMD: Goddamn Italian Wallace Beery, who of course was Noah Beery Jr.'s similarly amiable uncle. I don't know if Capone--Stephen Graham or real-life Capone--could have pulled off being Jim Rockford's rig-obsessed pop. Obviously, Capone's game is for a different time than the one Luciano is ushering in. They're old friends, but clearly Capone's loyalties lie with Nucky, and why wouldn't they given their history?

WG: Thank God Van Alden Mueller escaped Capone’s impromptu execution. Isn’t it about time we get all slack-jawed and goofy about how awesome Michael Shannon is? Mumbling with Capone’s .45 in his mouth. Coolly finding the right words to defuse the situation. And then stiffly walking out, calm but somehow rattled--how can you tell when Van Alden Mueller is rattled? something in the eyes? the usual look on his face like he’s just taken a big swig of sour milk gets slightly more aggrieved?--admitting very politely that he may have soiled his sensible pants? How many series can pull off a scene like that?

OMD: "I get the feeling my boss doesn't like me." Using Al's vanity, even in a possible blackout, was pretty fucking brilliant. That scene was outstanding. I do wonder if Van Alden Mueller doesn't become the key for the case for the prosecution.

WG: Sally Wheet, what a bad ass. She may have been a good match for Joe P. I got tired on her behalf. The bank clown hitting on her with the purple prose. Doyle trying a similar shtick over the phone. I thought for sure she’d talk her way out of that situation with the soldiers. Of course she created a skirmish and ends up with one of the soldier’s guns. Remember when she ruffed up Nucky last season? I hated to see her dead along the roadside. She deserved a more glorious send off. Put her in a boat, point it towards the Florida Keys, and set it alight with Molotov cocktails lobbed from the dock.

OMD: Apparently Mickey Doyle is into Quaker poetry in the style of John Greenleaf Whittier. Wouldn't have pegged him for that. As for Sally, a drunk's Viking funeral would be the appropriate send-off according to Miss Manners. That banker was a putz. So the soldiers were putting down the Gibara Rebellion of 1931 where 40 revolutionaries thought that they could overthrow Machado from Holguin. It at least looked like the officer who stopped Sally may have been one of the three army guys outside of the bank president's office. With the Bacardi family having to go into exile roughly thirty years later on account of Castro nationalizing the company, the resentment amongst The People should probably come as no surprise. I guess all it takes is one dipshit with a twitch in his trigger finger. I would posit that since the officer only chided the dunce for shooting an American out in the open, not necessarily for shooting her, that it was probably in the cards to begin with, what with the Army in the wings at the bank. I don't know, however, how they would have known precisely where she'd have been at that hour. My guess is Don Maxime Ronis is pissing off the wrong people in Cuba.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Five, Episode Three "What Jesus Said"

This week's episode was penned by Cristine Chambers (who wrote last season's "The Old Ship of Zion") and Terence Winter's right hand Howard Korder. It was directed by the steady hand of Ed Bianchi. This week, we're back to Chalky's escape, the heat coming down on Margaret, the Young Turks go to Dr. Narcisse as representatives for Maranzano, and Nucky trying to make inroads with Joe Kennedy.

Old Man Duggan: In the Young Nuck in the A.C. flashbacks, we are introduced to Nucky's future wife, Mabel. Nucky finds himself thinking back to the innocent woman who first received his love. Chalky in the meantime is forced to think back to his Mabel, Maybelle, the daughter that he lost. I would wager a guess that these two tortured souls--whose journeys simultaneously bring a flood of memories of the deceased treasures of their lives--both lost their Mabels/Maybelles on account of the lives they chose to lead. The symmetry here is clearly not coincidental.

Wordy Ginters: With friend and foe alike coldly cast aside over the course of Boardwalk Empire's impressive run, one way to look at what we're left with is the parallel stories of two anti-heroes, Chalky and Nucky. They've got a lot in common. Overcoming poverty. Trying to maintain some semblance of family life despite the occupational hazards of making a living a la Wise Guy. I can only assume they both like to drink their eggs the same way: neat.

OMD: Looks like her dealings with Arnold Rothstein are going to get Margaret in a heap of trouble. The Widow Rothstein seemed to have little patience for Margaret's protestations and explanations. At least it gets her back in the room with Nucky. "Mabel?"

WG: I hope the Margaret thread gets woven back in more interestingly than we've seen so far, Its unclear to me how she still fits. The connection via Rothstein is strained. As far as reunion tours go, I'm much more inclined to firm up over Nucky and Chalkie taking on Narcisse, although it appears that Luciano is attempting to solve that one himself.

OMD: There's very little truth being spoken in the bottle episode within the episode. Or at least if there is truth being told, it's hard to tell from whom it's originating. The daughter, Fern, seems a particularly adept fabricator. Of course, it damn near gets her got, but such is life when you're living on the edge. Chambers and Korder's play on whether or not Milton's remembrance of the past can be trusted is nice, as we the audience are essentially put in Chalky's shoes left to suss out who is actually telling the truth and never really getting a great answer to that question, though that was hardly the point for the greater purpose of the story.

WG: Those scenes crackled because of the uncertainty. I was fairly sure Chalky was going to waste sweet, silly, Milton, but I damn sure didn't have any idea what carnage Milton was going to unleash prior to that. I still don't have any idea what most of the head feints (why did the dress make Mom crack?) and half truths meant, and like you've astutely pointed out, it's irrelevant on the surface. Underneath the exterior, perhaps it serves as a crude mirror of Nucky trying to work with Joe Kennedy, or the statement made by one of the Colonel's cronies (a young Leander?) in an A.C. flashback post murdered white rose aficianado, which in so many words was the idea that you never really know what another person is thinking.

OMD: As far as the dress making Mom crack, I'm pretty sure she saw the dark path that this whole ordeal was heading down with her daughter stripping down to try on her party dress at Milton's behest and had to remove Fern from harm's way at all costs.

Lucky and Bugsy head to Dr. Narcisse as emissaries for Maranzano. Or at least that's the story they're selling Dr. Narcisse. Given their long play on the Mustache Petes, I'm guessing all is not as it seems. Something tells me they're likely stirring shit up trying to get Maranzano off-guard for when they take him down. Whether or not Narcisse is a casualty of this play remains to be seen, though I'd imagine that the piece of unfinished business between Chalky and Narcisse plays itself out.

WG: Agreed. It would be a shame if we don't get some Narcisse vs. Chalky resolution. Terence Winter doesn't get off on denying viewer expectations as much as his Soprano's partner David Chase, so I hope to see them squared up rather than battle by proxy. I'm not asking for a Deadwood Dan vs The Captain street brawl, but something similarly epic would be fitting.

OMD: In the early years, Nucky was looking to the Commodore to see how the game is played. In 1931, he looks to Joe Kennedy, who claims to have made his fortune without breaking any laws. This is, of course, what Nucky aspires to be in a post-Volstead age.

WG: I'm not familiar enough with history to know if they did cross paths, or if it merely a genius plot twist to tangle Nucky up with the American Royal Family, but either way I dig it. I hope it's not over before the writers have a chance to weave more historical fiction goodness. Nucky is so enthralled by the fat cats that he would literally kiss a pony for a dime. Knowing this, I was surprised he more or less told Joe P. to get bent when Kennedy couldn't see his own hypocrisy. I was also surprised Joe P didn't ask Nucky to kiss a pony. As a horseplayer, I can honestly say I would have kissed several ponies given the opportunity and a green light from said pony. No means No, Josh. At the track, on the beach, wherever. Respect.

OMD: Respect indeed.

Milton, that crazy fucker, I was damn near certain--and it sure seems like Marie was, too--that shit was going to get rapey. Dude was no good. Guess that's why he got a hammer driven into his fucking skull. Nothing says Boardwalk Empire like a crude implement being driven deep into some dumbfuck's skull. Still, Chalky's answer to Fern's question regarding whether Maybelle knows what he is is the key here. "She knew what I was." She and Mabel both, I would presume.

WG: Milton fits nicely in the Boardwalk Empire batshit crazy bad guy Hall of Fame. I know he had a short run, but he deserves a plaque. I thought he was too religious to get all up in that. He chastely closed his eyes during the run up to the big fashion show. If you told me that the character of Milton walked right off the set of Being There, I wouldn't quite understand what you were trying to say, but then again I would.

OMD: The first proper introduction to the future Mrs. Mabel Thompson is a nice one. "'Enoch walked with God and he was no more.' . . . It means he didn't die." Somehow I wonder if that line mightn't be foreshadowing for how the season/series plays out. Regardless, it was a cute scene. Young love, the beach, and a horse. That has the makings of a much more lurid tale.

WG: Pony kissin! History tell us that Nuck does indeed live, It wouldn't bug me to see him get whacked, but that might be a little stretchy. I definitely got a kick out of young Nuck's sharp take on Mabel's lightweight bible verse interpretation. "It's going in circles". If he wasn't a bootlegger, he'd have a future as a Philosophy professor. Young Nuck looked like he was just sweeping sand off the porch and generally steppin' lively, but his mind was running game on paradoxical thinking.

OMD: Before the cart is placed ahead of the horse, Winter has said that Nucky won't necessarily make it out of this season. That Enoch Johnson and Enoch Thompson's fates aren't necessarily intertwined.

Back to the lurid, that GM tool who couldn't help from j-ing off under the table at a burlesque show, what do you think came of him? As for Kitty, that's one missile-twister with a special set of skills. I'm guessing she rescues teenage girls from sex trafficking rings in Europe on the side.

WG: I was ashamed for mankind. Men are animals. Ultimately, it's Mickey Doyle's fault. What the fuck happened to the respectable joint Chalky used to run? And why hasn't he had some blunt instrument planted in his head yet?

OMD: "I want to leave something behind." An answer which leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

WG: You can't buy happiness Nuck. However, according to David Lee Roth, you can park your yacht right next to it.

OMD: The Kid. He's gonna give Mickey half his pay? I'm assuming it's a young Paul Ryan and that's why he became such an advocate of objectivism. There's no way that kid doesn't suffer a horrible fate. He's got red shirt written all over him--unless, of course, he offs Mickey, granting me my wish.

WG: Our wish.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Five, Episode Two "The Good Listener"

Nucky attempts to figure out who tried to off him in Havana. We catch up with Nelson Van Alden, Eli and Willie Thompson, Gillian Darmody, and Al Capone. Eliot Ness is closing in on Capone. Nucky tries to make inroads towards a legitimate empire.

Old Man Duggan: So it would appear that given the eight episode final season, Terence Winter--who penned this episode--and his buds are not going to waste any time in moving this plot along.

We get to go to Chicago this week. The IRS raids George Nelson Van Alden Mueller's warehouse which is under Eli's watch. Eli's separation-related depression and ensuing seven-year drunk complete with crying jags is tragically beautiful. The only man on the show who loves his wife, and he can't see her. The scene between him and Mueller while they laid in wait was priceless. "Sometimes I find it easier to despise someone than to love them." The look on Whigham's face spoke a thousand words.

Wordy Ginters: Eli is definitely the most human character on the show. Mueller's words are a nice fit for Eli. He's obviously despising himself a lot these days, per the unshaven face and the rumpled threads. Seeing him crack listening to the family oriented radio drama at the end of the show was one of many great scenes in this episodes. It underlined Eli's longing for his family, all facets, very nicely.

OMD: Nucky goes to see Johnny Torrio, who was pushed into retirement at the end of last season, to look into who tried to take him out in Havana. Easy to lose in the shuffle of Nucky's suss job is the fact that Meyer goes to Cuba all the time. This furthers the postulation that Meyer Lansky is in bed with Don Maxime Ronis. One can't help but wonder if perhaps Torrio's retirement advice should go heeded, given what we know about the success of Lansky, Luciano, and Siegel's gambit.

WG: How can you do business with people you can't trust?

OMD: At the end of Nucky's afternoon tea with Torrio, Nucky's gaze (and director Allen Coulter's lens) drifts to Christ on the cross before kicking back to his sister's deathbed. It would seem that perhaps this is a symbol--not to infer that Nucky is Christ here--past a simple mechanism of instigation for a flashback to 1884.

WG: Agreed. Foreshadows the line that the sister is "with Jesus now", but you could also tease all kinds of meaning out of the infrequent but too persistent to be happenstance religious iconography in this show. But I'm in no mood for teasing.

OMD: I liked how in the past young Nucky kept his emotions close to the chest while Eli was more openly emotional. Sure, Eli was younger, but he's always been the one to let loose emotion in extreme ways.

WG: What is Winter trying to tell us about Nucky via these flashbacks? Is Nucky's quest for cash, one that he is "this close" to securing, some Rosebud type journey meant to reclaim a lost childhood, a lost sister, or out of an extreme distaste of poverty?

OMD: I think it's primarily to show who he was and in the waning days of his power his introspection as his journey comes to a close.

Since nothing in Boardwalk Empire happens without intent, I'll be curious to see what comes of Willie's interview with the U.S. Attorney of New York.

WG: Cloudy whether or not he's working at the behest of Nucky, or simply trying to get a square type square job, untainted by blood and whatnot.

OMD: Our first glimpse of Al Capone, complete with new scar, has him holding court while congratulating himself on his fame. You got your wish with his acknowledgement of the comedies Public Enemy and Little Caesar as he's getting interviewed by Variety. Then Mike D'Angelo shows up after Capone calls for him--though the reasons for that escape him, likely owing to the syphilis driving him mad--and delivers the news of the bust. Of course, we later find out that D'Angelo is a fed.

WG: Those Capone scenes buzzed with a different vibe, didn't they? Intended comedy? A play on the ravages of the Syph? Completely over the top scene chomping by Stephen Graham as Capone, laughing a little too hard, a little too coked up, a little too everything. I liked it and was irritated by it at the same time.

OMD: That's sort of how I feel with a lot of the Capone scenes. They've always played a little broader than the rest of the show. There's a barbed appreciation of them.

That elevator scene was fantastic. The pheasant feathers in the cap were so goddamn funny. And of course, it fed Eli the idea to hit Guzik on his collection run.

WG: Great scene. I thought Van Alden Mueller might crush that poor dog. And I wasn't sold on the idea of those two society ladies getting out of the elevator alive. The vintage dialogue by the bellboy was a nice touch, too. Homage to movies of the era for sure.

OMD: I had to double-check to make sure he wasn't the bellhop-cum-clerk at the hotel in Masters of Sex.

Gillian's stay in the nut house looks like tons of fun. What the hell does she think she's going to do with a pen and paper?

WG: The Booby Hatch Diaries, coming soon to a book store near you.

OMD: Nucky's quest to transition into being a legitimate liquor man once Prohibition ends brings him into contact with Joe Kennedy. I'm looking forward to the course this will take.

WG: Absolutely. Just when the series begins its final run, it starts to run in some James Ellroy territory. I'd love to see it continue indefinitely into the early 80s.

OMD: "Why do clouds just float in the sky?" Mueller's home life gave me at least four chuckles. Beleaguered with the Battle-axe. I'd watch a spin-off of that.

WG: Don't fuck with Sigrid. I can't listen to her speak without seeing the chef from The Muppet Show.

OMD: Gyp's right hand Tonino was serving at the pleasure of Maranzano. Or rather playing all sides, helping Luciano take down Masseria. Of course, Nucky's man saw to it that Billie Kent was avenged.

WG: How about the dope track that closed out the episode? Nice earhole symmetry as well.

OMD: So Nucky's dad hated the Commodore because he thought he got a raw deal when he sold off their land, presumably on the ocean from whence he could fish. A nice wrinkle to their personal history. Choosing the man who screwed his father over his father, both of whom were bastards, but in their own special ways.

WG: So Eli, ostensibly a family guy? Nucky, a family guy as long as it doesn't interfere with adding to the piles of cash?

OMD: Pretty much.

Nucky's man, who to my knowledge still doesn't have a name but is played by Paul Calderon, sits while Nucky waxes philosophical existentially. He doesn't say much, but when he does, it's awesome. When proffered a drink and asked if he has anything to add to the conversation, he simply states, "I kill them, I don't kill them. Whatever you say." Unfortunately for Nucky, he's not much of a confidante. One has to worry about a man whose loyalty is bought, too.

WG: I got a kick out of how his mere presence freaked out Tonino. Much like Yasiel Puig striking terror in the hearts of mortal MLB players.

OMD: Puig! I wish he hadn't gone ice cold since the break. Really screwed me in fantasy baseball this year.

The Young Turks are clearly gunning to take everything over. It does look like Tonino's fate was sealed with whichever side he chose. Luciano's eyes spoke pretty clearly to me at least. Tonino, the schnorrer (Yiddish for beggar), was not to be trusted. Unluckily for Luciano, they didn't knock off Tonino before he could talk to Nucky. With Luciano's distrust of Tonino, perhaps Nucky having him killed (and left down an ear) will be a point from which the two can gain common ground?

Though you saw him for a second in the warehouse at the beginning, we get our first glimpse of Jim True-Frost as Eliot Ness. Who's going to play Sean Connery?

WG: Roger Moore?

OMD: I wonder if the ledger for the cathouse on Huron that Wilson handed off to D'Angelo after the reveal wasn't the same cathouse that Jimmy met Harrow in?

WG: Nice catch, I had completely forgot about that. Probably. Knowing how they craft the seams on this show.

OMD: "She was a lovely girl, Billie Kent." Eat shit, Tonino. The "Greetings from Havana" postcard was a nice touch.

Eli sobbing alone while listening to America's favorite family on the radio. Quite the shot, leaving us right where he started the episode. It seems like the episode playing out over the airwaves wasn't much different from one that would've played out at Eli's house eight years earlier.

WG: Kind of odd to get a subtle emotional pull for a character who clipped two nobodies via bullets to the brain a few minutes earlier. Great scene.

OMD: Just as season is bookending the beginning and end of Nucky's journey through the criminal enterprise, the episode is bookended by shots of ears--or at least where ears should be in the case of the second shot. Great work from Coulter. I'm guessing he and Van Patten are sharing directing duties this season, since they'd each just have four episodes to shoot. If so, fantastic. They're both so fucking good.

WG: It's going to be interesting to see if the compressed episode schedule amps up the drama. I couldn't agree more though. The show doesn't have the busty sexual pull of hairpin plot twists, heart-pounding cliffhangers, and the like a la Breaking Bad. However, you can't beat the cinematography and the storytelling.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Man on Film: Catching up on the backlog

I don't really like to do this because I'd rather have each movie have its own self-contained entry, but I don't have the time for that right now. There's a backlog of entries, most of which are Man on Film entries. I'm just going to dump them all in here because I don't have the time to write up more than 30 movies. Make of them what you will.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Fucking loved it. So much fun. Probably my favorite Marvel movie. Maybe my favorite comic book movie. It was obvious to anyone paying attention beforehand, but Chris Pratt is going to be a fucking star.

Calvary - Just saw it. Brendan Gleeson was great. The supporting cast featuring Chris O'Dowd, Aiden Gillen, Dylan Moran, Kelly Reilly, Isaach de Bankole, and Killian Scott was really great. It's weird to say, but I think I might prefer writer/director John Michael McDonagh's works (this and The Guard) thus far to his brother's (Martin, who directed In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths).

Her - Liked it. Probably short of loving it.

22 Jump Street - Really funny. Not quite as good as the first one, but still a ton of fun.

The Lego Movie - Loved it.

Veronica Mars - Stayed true to the series. Great to have old friends back. It's been on the heavy rotation on HBO, and I watch it pretty much every time I see that it's on.

12 O'Clock Boys - Went to this months and months ago. Great little documentary about kids on motorcycles in Baltimore.

Joe - David Gordon Green getting the good stuff out of Nicolas Cage. Strong turns by the supporting cast. Weird seeing people from around town in the flick.

Prince Avalanche - See, I told you I was way behind. David Gordon Green's modern homage to Waiting for Godot. I dug it. Last time I checked it was available on Netflix Instant.

Don Jon - I thought Joseph Gordon-Levitt's first foray into the world of directing was a strong one. Not perfect, but worth the watch on Netflix if you haven't seen it.

To the Wonder - It took me well over a year to write a word about it. I think I liked it more than most, though it's definitely Malick's worst film. Interesting thematic notes on modern man and his inability to adequately address the needs of woman. Not great, but with Malick, the beauty of the cinematography make it worth at least a cursory glance. A Sonic has never looked so beautiful.

This is the End - No idea why I never got around to writing about this one. I fucking loved it. Really funny. Loved each character's send up of the celebrity therein.

Before Midnight - Hard to watch those two in the throes of such an argument, but it was the real world version of what their lives would have been ten years after Before Sunset. Three films that work superbly together.

Boyhood - While we're on the subject of Richard Linklater, Boyhood seemed to me to be a film that's impossible not to like and admire. I don't know that it's the masterpiece that the reviews would have you believe. Conceptually it's brilliant and completely unique. The experience of seeing the film is powerful. Some of the philosophical wanking that Mason gets into in his teenage years borders on being irritating, though this could be because it hit closer to home than I'd like to have hit. We all have our baggage.

The Expendables 3 - I really liked Antonio Banderas in it. He was surprisingly funny. Ronda Rousey worked as well. Of the three, it's the least memorable. It was what it was trying to be, though.

Much Ado About Nothing - Totally pleasant movie-going experience.

Inside Llewyn Davis - A lot denser than I thought it was going to be. Had to go back and watch it a second time because the ending threw me for a complete loop. Mythology was playing a much larger part than I ever expected. Oscar Isaac was great. Hardly the best film of last year, but really damn good.

Upstream Color - Not for everyone by any means, but Shane Carruth is a director with VISION. Beautiful. Mad. Pig fetuses.

Chef - Nice passion project for Jon Favreau. It was refreshing to see him get back to his more independent roots.

Begin Again - I do like seeing music being made in a film. Obviously, it feels very similar to Once, which I loved but felt more organic than Begin Again did.

The Fault in Our Stars - Now I see what TSLF dug so much about the book. Very good. Very sad.

Edge of Tomorrow - You get to watch Tom Cruise die like 100 times.

Snowpiercer - Liked it. Didn't love it. Solid action flick.

The Great Beauty (La Grande Belleza) - Winner of this past year's best foreign film. Beautiful film-making. Cannot recommend this highly enough.

Only Lovers Left Alive - Liked it. Didn't love it.

X-Men: Days of Future Past - I wish Disney/Marvel could get these books back. Not terrible, but not that good either.

Captain America: Winter Soldier - Liked it significantly more than the first one. Of the standalone Avengers movies, it was better than all but maybe Iron Man and Iron Man 3 (which I think I'm in the minority on, but whatever).

Neighbors - Funny. Expected a bit more. Really liked Rose Byrne in it. Dave Franco and Zac Efron were funny.

The Grand Budapest Hotel - The most I've liked a Wes Anderson movie since Tenenbaums. The first time since then that it didn't seem like he was desperately seeking his father's approval. Wonderful.

Mistaken for Strangers - What, I'm not going to love a documentary about The National?

Walk of Shame - I like Elizabeth Banks. It was totally watchable though not entirely memorable.

The Act of Killing - Haunting. Powerful. Amazing.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Five, Episode One "Golden Days for Boys and Girls"

Terence Winter jumps past the boring last half of the 1920s straight to 1931. Nucky is trying to set himself up to be a legitimate business man when Prohibition is inevitably repealed. He is in Havana meeting trying to secure a distribution deal with Bacardi. Chalky breaks out from a prison work detail. Margaret bears witness to her boss's suicide. Luciano makes his move on Masseria.

Old Man Duggan: The first of eight episodes is brought to us by scribe Howard Korder and the always wonderful Tim Van Patten of White Shadow fame. This is the 19th episode that Korder has had a hand in writing. Van Patten has been at the helm for 17 episodes now, and as usual it's a visually compelling episode from the opening sequence. We open underwater with boys swimming for change being ceremoniously thrown from the pier by the Commodore while Elenore Thompson reads a poem extolling the virtues of honesty. Of course Nucky the Younger comes up coinless, as continues through the episode, showing the paradoxical nature of trying to live one's life striving to always be honest.

It starts in Atlantic City of 1884, and then we join Nucky in the "present day" Havana 1931. The Depression has hit. Hoover's presidency is about to wheeze its last dying breath and with it will go the asinine foray into Prohibition that the Temperance Movement foisted upon America. Nucky brings fictional Senator (unless my Google searching skills fail me) Wendell Lloyd to Cuba to help him broker an exclusive distribution deal with Bacardi.

Wordy Ginters: Fate threw everything at the Bacardi family.

OMD: Nucky and Lloyd talk about a report from Wilkerson laying out the failure of the Volstead Act. The federal judge presiding over Capone's tax evasion case was James Wilkerson. I can't imagine it's the Wilkerson mentioned in conversation, but Wilkerson took the seat vacated by Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

WG: The image of hard-ass Landis swatting flies in Eight Men Out is forever seared in my brain.

OMD: "Wendell, if America's not about starting over, where's the hope for any of us?" Nucky's plea, though tongue-in-cheek contextually, gets to the heart of what this episode and presumably this season will likely be about, especially given the flashbacks showing the end of the innocence.

WG: Bromides about the land of opportunity are built on second chances, hard work, and honesty. The grimy flip side, if you want to be a well-heeled swell, is that it also requires some ruthlessness, luck, and that your character can shift from straight-and-narrow to bent, angled, and winding.

OMD: Chalky White's wearing stripes. I have to admit, this isn't where I figured he would be to start the season. His scowl is right where I thought it'd be, though. It would appear as though Nucky is somewhere in eastern Maryland, and Nucky and his new friend--the man who doesn't understand "how they fit a body's voice inside that little box"--are off to Thurmont, which lies smack dab between Hagerstown and Taneytown, to split money in a house.

WG: I'm curious to see how Chalky's tracks from the end of Season Four to the first episode of Season Five get filled in. If memory serves, Harrow's botched attempt at making Narcisse un-alive ended up in Chalky's daughter's accidental un-aliveness. Nuck ultimately was on Chalky's side, despite the Masseria/Luciano/Narcisse heroin three-way power play. Any chance Chalky is taking on a different identity to protect himself? Considering Narcisse's connections, the safest place for Chalky may have been a Maryland chain gang.

OMD: You are correct on Chalky's daughter falling before Chalky's eyes. That shot of him sitting on the porch by himself in Havre de Grace and his reaction to the shooting itself certainly implied that he believed he was on his own, in large part because he thought Nucky didn't have his back anymore. I would guess he's in the clink on account of his own misdeeds, after all it seems that making tracks to Havre de Grace is as good as removing yourself from the game. Anything's possible though.

The Front Page, the movie that Mr. Bennett saw before offing himself in front of Margaret and the rest of the office was the first film adaptation of the play that was later turned into His Girl Friday. The More You Know. I loved the bizarre meeting with Mr. Conors. The Crash is not treating him well.

WG: You can't have a period piece about the Depression without some hotshot broker leaping out a window or otherwise making himself un-alive. The turtle swam away. I was mildly surprised the writers didn't have him commit the deed via machete to head. How many poor bastards in this series have been felled by way of edged weapon to the skull?

His Girl Friday. One of my all-time faves. The Coen bros' attempts at aping that rapid-fire dialogue in The Hudsucker Proxy were noble but ultimately flaccid. Top movies of 1931? Frankenstein. Dracula. The Public Enemy. One thing Boardwalk Empire doesn't get across is how some of these guys were already celebrities by 1931. The Public Enemy was written by a couple of former Capone gunsels who witnessed some of that hot mob action first hand.

OMD: Good point on the celebrity, though there's time in this season for that to be incorporated.

Your old pal, Ian Hart of Luck, has been getting some work. First The Bridge and now as Nucky's bastard of a dad.

WG: Goddammit that show was going to be so good. RIP Dennis Farina.

*both pour one out*

OMD: Speaking of old friends, Jim Neary is the kid Nucky fights with. For those not looking shit up on the internet, Jim Neary was the alderman who double-crossed Nucky and succeeded him as County Treasurer only to get offed by Jimmy and Harrow. Clearly he was a pissant through and through.

WG: Beautiful symmetry there. I dug the flashback scenes. If previews of upcoming episodes are to be trusted, and they most surely can't, the flashbacks may continue. Two things I liked about those scenes: the subtle difference in the way they were shot. They had a marginally different lighting or camera effect to let you know we were back in the 19th Century, but it was a very delicate touch. I also liked how young Nuck scenes typically showed him physically below the swells. Whether he was looking up from the ocean shallows to the dock begging for coins, or literally on the beach below the Commodore's porch, it was a nice visual way to hammer home his early station in life and his ambitions. "You are a fisherman's son, and you are trying to catch what?"

OMD: As always, Van Patten bringing power dynamics into shot framing. I listened to Winter on the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast, and it sure sounds like the flashbacks will persist at least for a while. They seem interested in showing from whence Nucky came. Given the apparent thrust of the season, it makes sense.

Running into Meyer Lansky in Havana with the "wife" is obviously significant. There are no coincidences in the carefully crafted world of Boardwalk Empire, and one could logically conclude that the attack on Nucky was Lansky's doing. Given Don Maxime Ronis's interest in Nucky's bodyguard, might they be in cahoots?

WG: No doubt they are cahooting. Conspiring. Gallivanting unwholesomely. Nucky stumbling over the beard who played Lansky's "wife" at the end of the episode nails it down.

OMD: While Lansky's trying to take out Nucky, Luciano and Siegel take out Joe Masseria. For those needing a briefing on history, this is the height of the fifteen month Castellammarese War between Joe Masseria's faction and Salvatore Maranzano's. Maranzano is really doing the bidding of Sicilian capo Don Vito Ferro, who wanted to take control of the American Mafia. Beneath it all, though, Luciano and the Young Turks are wanting to forcibly change the guard and ouster the Mustache Petes who were too beholden to tradition. With that going on in New York, it isn't hard to see why Luciano and Lansky might want to topple Nucky as well, though I'd hardly say that Nucky is anything other than forward-thinking, one of their primary issues with the old guard.

WG: You had me at Moustache Petes. The fact that Nucky isn't from Sicily or Italy is probably enough to put him on the wrong side of the fence.

OMD: Some of the friction between the Mustache Petes and the Young Turks apparently came from the Mustache Petes not being willing to work with non-Italians/-Sicilians. Mustache Petes.

The blood brothers scene wouldn't happen in the Age of AIDS, would it?

WG: How many of those guys ended up with tetanus or gangrene? 90% ? I instinctively reached for a bottle of hand sanitizer.

OMD: Capone ultimately died from complications from syphilis, didn't he? The distant bongos in the hit scene really struck a Touch of Evil chord. I was hoping that we'd get a single tracking shot from when Arquimedes dropped them off to the ear getting lopped off. I will gladly point out that this is twice that a machete has been implemented by Terence Winter & Co.

WG: Gotta be more than twice. The ear souvenir was badass. Dude took care of that threat without so much as wrinkling his suit.

OMD: "Where's the sense in looking back? It never does any good." "'Be honest and true, boys.'" Feels like this exchange between Sally and Nucky is significant, doesn't it?

WG: It most certainly does. Somehow, they are sideways. Or perhaps Sally is wired, straight through her ample bosom, to be comfortable with means and ends.

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