Boardwalk Empire: Cuanto

Boardwalk Empire 5.4

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Cuanto

Season Five: Episode Four

Directed by:  Jake Paltrow

Written by:  Christine Chambers, Howard Korder and Terence Winter

The Spin:  There’s been a melancholic pall hanging over Boardwalk Empire’s fifth season.  Yes, it’s the last, which is sad enough alone, but it’s also strangely fitting that in the real world the actual current Atlantic City is on a generational decline with the closing of multiple casinos (most notably the lavish Revel) and nothing seeming to go the city’s way.  Watching the flashbacks to “The Education of Nucky Thompson” where the city was but one resort and a modest boardwalk before the turn of the 20th century reminds those localized to its current perils just how far the city has come and how long the way down is (I fear in the real world we ain’t seen nothing yet about how down and out AC can get).  You see this mirrored in the lethargy of 1930’s Nucky, a man who’s gonna have to wake up.  And could Capone’s warning call to Nucky about Luciano’s insinuation that the Italians should cut out Nucky from their empire at the end of tonight’s episode be that wake up call?  Nucky is a man who’s come so far (from Dickensian beginnings so painstakingly tailored in the flashbacks) and runs the risk of falling ever harder.

The episode oozed a calming dread in almost every scene.

Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: What Jesus Said

Boardwalk Empire 5.3_1

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – What Jesus Said

Season Five: Episode Three

Directed by:  Ed Bianchi

Written by:  Christine Chambers and Howard Korder

The Spin:  Plots thickened and women showed their cunning nature during crisis situations in this Chambers and Korder penned hour.  Early in the episode, Nucky and Sally (Patricia Arquette) share over the phone “Happy Days are Here Again” playing on the radio after he tells her about the presumed Kennedy deal, but are they counting chickens before they hatch?  On the run, our old friend Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) and his volatile chain gang compatriot pull off a sloppy home invasion of a mother and her teenage daughter.  Chalky shows his true colors as he’s still clearly ravaged by the brutal death of his own teenage daughter, Maybelle, years ago, but these ladies prove to be more resilient than either foolish man could know.   Out in Harlem, Luciano and Siegel begin to systematically threaten Narcisse’s operations in no uncertain terms.  Meanwhile, Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) is forced to pay a visit to the Rothstein widow (Shae D’lyn in a pitch perfect cameo) who has her own plot to hatch that involves the blackmail of…you guessed it…the Nuckster.

Continue reading

The L’s Have It

It’s official, when it comes to the music on my iPhone, “L” is the best letter of the alphabet.

The Letter L

Not only do three of my favorite songs EVER (the Goodfella‘s inspiring Derek & the Dominos version of “Layla”, Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and The Eagles “Lyin’ Eyes”) begin with the letter “L”, but my “L’s” are also a completely stress-reducing mix of weirdly juxtaposed but oddly complimentary tracks that make any traffic jam, jam.  It also makes me realize I am very, very tragically white.

Here’s the complete song list: Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: The Good Listener

Boardwalk Empire 5.2

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – The Good Listener

Season Five: Episode Two

Directed by:  Allen Coulter

Written by:  Terence Winter

The Spin:  Director Coulter takes advantage of this being the last season by adding some compelling directorial flourishes, and was that a nod to Twin Peaks and Lynch in the opening “through an ear” dissonant audio-visual cross-cuts, which were bookended nicely in the end with an all-too noticeable missing ear?  It’s nice to see the regular series directors give it their all, but it has me worried that Winter felt the need for such a ho-hum filler episode when the there’s only six left to go after this.  This week we got (mis)treated to some bizarre sequences in a women’s sanatorium where Gillian (Gretchen) has been spending her days that played with our prurient-minded expectations, continued grim flashbacks to Nucky’s childhood, Nucky turning to Torrio to see who tried to nab him last week in Cuba, Lansky still plotting with Luciano and Siegel to up their game (at the Nuckster’s expense?), the Muller formerly known as Van Alden still making a mess of things at home and at work (with no help from a drunk-as-a-skunk Eli), Capone getting all Capone-y (seriously his character has become a clichéd bore after some shining moments in seasons’ past), young Will Thompson vying for an Assistant DA spot, and some distracting Look, Ma, who it is! guest-appearances by Joe Kennedy Sr. (Matt Letscher) and Eliot Ness.

Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Golden Days for Boys and Girls (Season Five Premiere)

Boardwalk Empire - 5.1

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Golden Days for Boys and Girls

Season Five: Episode One

Directed by:  Tim Van Patten

Written by:  Howard Korder

The Spin:  The final season opens with the haunting Gretchen Mol reading a voice-over from the children’s periodical “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” where she’s seemingly telling the young lads we see diving into ocean after coins, “Be honest and true boys!  Whatever you do boys, let this be your motto through life.”  A moving flashback to Nucky’s hardscrabble childhood in 1884 Atlantic City (which was merely a pier and one Corner Hotel on a tiny boardwalk) is expertly interwoven into a flash forward to 1931, where will the help of the effervescent and ever-saucy Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette, all bosoms and moxy), the Nuckster has become Our Man in Havana, using a screwy senator as his pawn to talk a Rum King into hatching a deal to get Bacardi into the States as soon as Prohibition is inevitably repealed.  But trouble always seems to find our anti-hero, and Havana might be too hot to handle for the aging kingpin, who for the first time in his life is placing his biggest bet on a legal operation. Continue reading

Richard Linklater’s Ordinary Boyhood

Boyhood

There have been those who have proclaimed Boyhood the greatest film of the 21st century.  And there’s a huge faction that believe it’s Richard Linklater’s magnum opus.  Though surely a 2014 Top Ten contender, I’m not even sure it’s the best film of the year thus far, and the Before- trilogy is still Linklater’s crowning achievement in my mind.   I suspect there’s been a bit of the old Group Think at work in delivering this hyperbolic praise.

But Boyhood is still a uniquely constructed film full of winning moments, performances…and flaws.

Filmed over the course of twelve years with the same four leads (two adults – Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, and two children – Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater) meeting with the writer/director to riff for a few weeks at a time in his sprawling Texas homeland, Boyhood is wholly original in its depiction of the passage of time and aging in the context of a singular work of cinema.

The early years of Mason’s life are depicted with an easy flow and are full of humor and charm.  The kids are naturally cute and precocious, and the director obviously had a blast letting his own daughter cut loose, gifting her classic sassy little girl lines and mannerisms that seemed organic.  I’ve heard him joke in interviews that Lorelei cast herself as soon as she found out her dad had written the role, and based on what is seen on screen in these early scenes, I reckon it’s a true story.  Meanwhile, Mom and Dad aren’t together from the onset, and while they have their own sets of problems, both Hawke and Arquette are so effortlessly likable, you instantly root for them to get their shit together…not so much for the kids’ sake, but for their own.

As the film moves into middle childhood and the teen years, it starts to plod a bit, and some of the clichéd and overwrought plot mechanics Linklater uses (Doh! Mom marries not one, but two alcoholics!) take away from the film’s realism.  It seems to get stuck there in middle school, but before we know it, Mason is a moody, mumbling high schooler…until he starts to drink and try soft drugs where Linklater attempts to recapture some of the old rambling magic that made the aimless philosophy of Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and Waking Life so enjoyable.  There are times, though, Mason comes across as so lackadaisical you want to shake him to wake him up.  He never really stands up for anything, though he does lash out eventually at stepdad number two to get off his back, and he does take a shining to the art of photography.  Linklater comically channels this feeling of wanting to shake (perhaps shape?) his protagonist through pep talks from his photography teacher and first boss (at least the kid gets a job much like I did at that age as a busboy/dishwasher with fry-cook aspirations). Continue reading

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

These damn apes outsmarted me again!  When Rise of the Planet of the Apes burst onto the scene three summers ago, I had grave misgivings. The concept was always inherently silly, and it was hard to imagine any kind of re-imagining of the cult/camp classics from the 1960’s and 1970’s making any kind of sense.  But, lo and behold, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a finely crafted piece of entertainment with amazing effects, an emotionally involving story, a stupendous lead performance from Andy Serkis as super ape Caesar, and confident direction from maestro Rupert Wyatt.  When the film’s surprise success guaranteed sequels, I was crushed to learn Wyatt would not be returning in the director’s chair.  In whose hands could a sequel make any kind of sense?  This thing would be a debacle or at the very least have a bad case of sequel-itis, right?

Well, here I am, dear readers, admitting I was wrong…again.  Apparently Matt Reeves (who for far too long, lived under the thumb of the overrated Hollywood demigod J.J. Abrams) can direct the heck out of an Apes flick.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes capitalizes with expert precision on the goodwill from the first film, once again putting Serkis as Caesar and the other apes front and center, ups the emotional ante, ups the action, and mines the very best elements from uber-popular TV shows to be massively appealing to a broad audience without ever seeming to kowtow to the masses.

Ten years following the events of the first film, the human race has been nearly wiped out by the simian flu, and Caesar and pals have set up a peaceful little society in the redwood forests outside of San Francisco.  But behold, there are some humans still struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic community downtown, and they come up into Caesar’s territory to get a dam running again that will bring power back to the city.  The film opens from the apes’ point of view, and for nearly twenty minutes they are the only characters on-screen.  It’s a big gamble to start the film this way, but the amazing effects make the apes seem more human and relatable than ever, with Serkis and Toby Kebbell as Koba giving Oscar-worthy performances.  The humans contain a sympathetic makeshift family (made up of Jason Clarke, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Reeves’ very own Felicity alum and muse Keri Russell) and a questionable leader played by Gary Oldman.  Quickly we learn the apes, like the humans, are divided into two factions: those hoping for peaceful coexistence, and those who are far too trigger-happy and untrustworthy. Continue reading

Movies are Life Itself

Thumbs Up! says Roger Ebert for Benji the Hunted

Thumbs Up! says Roger Ebert for Benji the Hunted

Throughout the touching and surprisingly heavier than expected bio-doc of Roger Ebert, the editors intersplice narrated snippets from some of his most potent reviews along with the inevitable scenes of arguments with Gene Siskel from their classic TV show I grew up watching.  One great sparring was from an episode where they reviewed Full Metal Jacket and Benji the Hunted.  Siskel was appalled that Ebert was giving the Kubrick film a thumbs down while recommending the Benji flick.  Ebert expertly argued (and even went as far as shaming Siskel) that you can’t compare the two.  They have to be reviewed in their own context…Benji the Hunted as a kid’s film and Full Metal Jacket as a KUBRICK (for crying out loud, one that he thought wasn’t up to snuff with the master’s best output).  I remember going to see Benji the Hunted in the theaters as a kid, and you know what…Ebert was right about the context.  I liked the Benji movie back then.  And later in life when I watched Full Metal Jacket, I loved it, but I will admit…it might be a lesser Kubrick, and I respect those who may not have connected it with it as a work of art.

And that’s what was great about Ebert and Siskel – they could argue and disagree, and it was okay…in fact, it was hoped for.  The point of going to the movies was not just to be entertained, but to get a glimpse into another person’s point of view (a director’s, a character’s, a place and moment in time alien to your own) and to find those moments of empathy…and hopefully give you something to talk about with other people.  Whether through blogging or in person with the people I experience the films with in the movie theater, talking about films (and sometimes passionately disagreeing about them) is a favorite pastime.  It’s a way to connect…to get to know yourself and hopefully someone else. Continue reading

Godzilla vs Great Expectations

Godzilla 2014

I grew up watching Toho’s many incarnations of Godzilla.  I loved Godzilla – especially the 1989 Godzilla: Monster of Monsters Nintendo video game.  I loved all of the films too, from the iconic 1954 Gojira original to the ridiculousness of “Baby Godzilla” blowing bubbles to the overly melodramatic Godzilla 1985 to the righteously badass Marv Newland animated student film Bambi Meets Godzilla (for the love of god, Youtube it) – still my favorite in the canon, and in that one we only ever see the monster’s foot, so quit your whining about his 2014 screen time!  Because of its Japanese origins stemming from real nuclear horrors, it was an inherently silly franchise that somehow always carried some weight, or the illusion of weight…as if it was far more serious or important than it really was.  Also our fond memories of watching it as children fogged the reality of its natural stupidity.  For some ungodly reason, fans still reeling from the rape of Godzilla in 1998 placed insanely lofty expectations on this latest film incarnation thinking that this Godzilla had to be something more – it had to match our fantasies…it had to be everything we ever dreamed of.

In steps Gareth Edwards, indie director of the silly emo but shockingly effective character drama, Monsters, that had two unlikely people falling in love while trying to get out of Mexico – a Mexico that just happened to be under quarantine due to some rampaging giant walking…squids?  It was a fun little genre mash-up.  Continue reading

Book to Film Adaptations I Would Love to See

2014 marks the year two of my favorite novels will finally reach the silver screen:  the oddly still kept under wraps adaptation of Ron Rash’s Serena (from Oscar-winning director Susanne Bier and staring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper), and Saul Dibb’s Oscar-baiting adaptation of Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise (well- cast with Michelle Williams and Kristen Scott Thomas).  Which made me think…what other recent or favorite reads are ripe for cinematic plucking?

Heart of a Tiger by Herschel Cobb -

Ty Cobb Sliding

A young boy in the 1950’s struggles to find hope and happiness under the harsh shadows of his rage-fueled father and alcoholic mother.  In his loving grandfather he finds refuge and meaning in life.

Sounds like a trite, sachrine, run-of-the-mill, triumph over child abuse tale…except for one thing.  That loving grandfather was none other than Tyrus R. Cobb – statistically speaking the greatest baseball player of all time; American myth; and generally regarded as a world-class mean-spirited son-of-a-bitch who drove his baseball spikes into opponents, beat up fans in the stands, and was a racist, alcoholic hell-raiser.  Part of his scandal are the tall-tales that have been taken as fact, and most people seem to forget that his savvy business mind (he was a great investor in the early days of Coca-Cola) allowed him to, in old age, be a great benefactor to many good causes – from giving no-strings-attached monetary gifts to down-and-out former teammates to a scholarship fund for impoverished Georgian kids that to this day continues to fund higher education for thousands of children.  He also apparently took a shining to the children of his loose-cannon son after the son died of a heart-attack.

Herschel’s Cobb memoir is colored through the lens of a kid who loved his grandfather, so yeah, there’s a bias, but a clever screenwriter could intertwine the uplift of the book with the more colorful moments from Cobb’s legendary playing days, maybe even glimpses into Ty’s own childhood – layers upon layers, flashbacks upon flashbacks – that could weave an epic character arc of a multi-faceted man who saw the darkness in himself, recognized the cruelty of others, and attempted to rescue his grandchildren from it all and stop the cycle of abuse.  Baseball, nostalgia, dysfunctional families, tortured childhoods and redemption – it’s the stuff of great drama.  Take an up-and-coming director like Jeff Nichols who is no stranger to the themes, put some make-up and a Southern accent on Michael Shannon so he can take the lead role, and voila…you could have a gritty, sentimental barn-burner on your hands.

I mean, c’mon, wouldn’t you love to see Michael Shannon utter this famous Cobb quote to his grandson?

“I had to fight all my life to survive. They were all against me… but I beat them and left them in the ditch.”

Continue reading