The Spin: Is there a more tortured and twisted character on television right now than Gillian Darmody? And is there a more heartbreaking and fascinating character to watch than Richard Harrow? Gretchen Mol and Jack Huston sealed the deal tonight…and if there is any justice in this cruel world, their Emmys are being mailed to them right now. Oh, the peformances…the looks on their (half) faces! The two thespians shined again tonight in this Korder penned episode that proves the trend on the boardwalk that all the best episodes focus on family. On Easter Sunday, Harrow and little Tommy venture off to the Sagorsky house (for some of the best dinner table talk you’ll find all year) while Gillian stays at the empty Commodore Manor to perpetrate the most heinous act any character on this show has ever committed (and that’s saying a lot for a show full of murderous and sometimes perverted gangsters). Harrow’s unshakable committment to protecting Jimmy’s son while trying earnestly to start a romance with the lovely Julia Sagorsky (who carries her own baggage) foiled against Gillian’s demented obsession with Jimmy and his death while running a whore house is by far the most interesting plot thread running through this misshapen season. Meanwhile, the Thompson brood reunites at Eli’s house where Nucky and Eli (Shea Whigham) make up and Margaret bonds with the super sweet June. Up in NYC, Gyp (Bobby Cannavale) is hilariously put in his place at the Easter table by his overbearing female relatives, beats up a priest, and is almost killed by Boss Joe’s gang – saved only by his offer to bring them the heads of Nucky and Rothstein. Continue reading →
It’s like Metropolis meets The Matrix meets Magnolia meets The Road meets Star Trek meets Leprechaun meets yadda yadda yadda…ya dig?
Ahhhh…remember 1999? It was sooooo cool to be a sophomore in college and watching movies, man…movies that spoke to my generation. The old people just didn’t get it. This was our time, and film was right there with us at the turn of the millennium saying, “Hey, ma! Look at us! We’re the first people to ever have these cool ideas!” Of all the trailblazing films that came out that year, there are two that stick out in my mind the most as having been born of the moment – the Wachowskis’ The Matrix and Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run. Both played with film convention while waxing about alternate realities and parallel lives, and at the time….THEY BLEW MY MIND. Unfortunately The Matrix begat two mind-bogglingly awful sequels that tarnished the legacy of the original, and as gimmicky fun as Run Lola Run was, it just never really held up all that well. Though I liked some of Tykwer’s later work (Perfume still has to be one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen and I was one of the few who liked The International), the Wachowskis completely imploded. And as it turns out, all of those cool ideas were just rehashed from previous cool ideas.
Now thirteen years later after they appeared to be the second-coming of cinema only to crash and burn, the three have teamed up and concocted a dazzlingly ambitious adaptation of David Mitchell’s self-proclaimed unfilmable novel, Cloud Atlas – a nearly indescribable film that will infuriate those who allow it to while it should please those desiring to return to the bygone days of 1999. So what do we talk about when we talk about Cloud Atlas? Continue reading →
Currently in cinemas across the nation two films take on the old “film within a film” schtick – one going absurd while the other playing it straight. Both have garnered critical acclaim but only one has seen box office success and is being bandied about with awards buzz. Seven Psychopaths and Argo couldn’t be more different in style, substance and intent – yet they both hang (and in one case, hang themself) on the central conceit of a film within a film.
First up is Seven Psychopaths. Boring title and lousy marketing aside, I had high hopes for award-winning playwright Martin McDonagh’s second feature film as his first, In Bruges, is one of my favorite films from the past five years. The plot of Seven Psychopaths sounded darkly madcap enough – a hapless bunch of dog thieves (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) kidnap the dog of a gangster (Woody Harrelson) and hilarious melee ensues. Sadly, what might have made a good short-story is trapped amongst other not-so-good stories as one of the friends of these dog-nappers is a struggling, alcoholic writer (Colin Farrell) working on a terrible screenplay called Seven Psychopaths that he intends to use to eschew the typical psychopathic thriller. We get introduced to these psychopaths as he makes them up and some are more interesting than the rest, though as Walken’s character puts it so succinctly at one point, “It all gets a little tiresome after a while.” Continue reading →
The Spin: After last’s week depraved hour, there was somewhat of a return to normalcy in this episode of reunions and introductions that featured the return of one of last season’s strongest female characters, Esther Randolph (Julianne Nicholson), the former Assistant US District Attorney now regulated to night court after taking the fall for the botched federal case against Nucky. It’s in that night court where she “reunites” with Nucky, who’s been brought in on a petty charge of buying a pint of liquor in Washington D.C. after threatening the Attorney General (Christopher McDonald) that he would bring him down with him if anyone came after him again. After some barbed banter, Esther agrees to let Nucky buy her breakfast where he claims he can help her fry the corrupt big fish all the way at the top. Back home in AC, Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) can’t figure out if Teddy is setting fires and telling tall tales about a gypsy threat, a vagrant is doing it, or Gyp Rosetti is stalking them. The suspense and mixed emotions lead to a “reunion” with Slater (Charlie Cox). Meanwhile, in the land of interesting subplots featuring top-notch acting and psychosexual melodrama – Harrow (Jack Huston) meets a potential love interest while missing his sister, and Gillian (Gretchen Mol) finds a Jimmy substitute and acts out her deranged fantasies. Continue reading →
The Spin: If last week’s episode was meant to show the softer side to these tough guys, tonight’s episode existed to remind us of the deep-seeded depravity of the male characters as manifested through their misogyny and repeated degradation, oppression and violence against women. Out in Cicero, the Muller formerly known as Van Alden (Michael Shannon), can try as he might to be a simple family man, but his violent past is infecting his sweet Swedish wife’s emotional well-being, leading to a shocking turn of events that has Muller running back to the Irish mob-run flower shop. Back in AC, Poor Gillian (Gretchen Mol) still can’t come to terms with Jimmy’s fate and refuses to have him declared dead – the only action that will leave her with any title or credit to fix-up her house of ill repute in ill repair. Nuckster, meanwhile reeling from a breakup with Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) over the incompetence of the Jersey operation, can’t help but meddle in Billie’s career, desiring to control her destiny even while he tells his wife, Margaret (who learns tonight of the affair), that the young lady seems more than capable of taking care of herself. Then there’s Gyp (Bobby Cannavale – revealing way too much tonight), taking the cake for most disturbing fetish (a title previously held by Van Alden), making a new deal with Rothstein that leads to a bloodbath leaving a nameless red-headed waitress naked and dead. And all of this makes what had been Margaret’s previously boring story-arc concerning the opening of a women’s clinic finally carry some weight. Continue reading →
A few months back I was asked to participate in the Top Comedy Films of All Time polling at the world’s premier independently run film blog, Wonders in the Dark. While Fargo placed far higher on my own list, it finished 51st in the official polling. I then had the pleasure of being asked to provide an essay extolling the many virtues of Fargo, which apart from being such an ingenious dark comedy, is one of my personal favorite films – a state of mind I find myself returning to at least once a year. Apparently I’ll never get enough of those accents.
Here’s an excerpt from my essay –
But it’s those small moments that make it undeniably funny – Marge’s interview of the goofy gum-smacking truck-stop hookers, the idiotic zombified niceness of the cashier at the diner where Jerry convinces his father-in-law to pay a ransom on a kidnapping Jerry arranged, and the complete disinterest of the call girl Carl tries to impress by taking her to the Carlton Celebrity Room to see Jose Feliciano.
The Coens also displayed a hilarious knack for sucking the seriousness out of dire situations, like when Jerry tries to comfort his son Scotty after Scotty’s mother is kidnapped and on the back of the kid’s bedroom door is a poster for “The Accordion King” – a fat smiling idiot in the Alps looking down on this hot mess in the Twin Cities.
Saul and Carrie – mentor and protege – sane and insane?
In the middle of its first season, I successfully turned key players in my family and several coworkers. Homeland was not a show to watch half-heartedly – you had to commit to the cause. I extolled the series’ virtues in the midst of season one when I presented Five Reasons Why You Should Be Watching Homeland. And people, once introduced to its brilliance, were willing to take up the banners in support. The show recently moved from cult status to mainstream success with its bevy of Emmy wins.
And as spectacular as that first season was, I had this feeling in my gut that this could become another Dexter. Like Homeland, Dexter was near genius in its inaugural season, wholly unlike anything else on television at the time, and shockingly entertaining. Yet I knew then eventually someone would catch Dexter Morgan, the serial killer who killed serial killers while working for the Miami PD as a blood-spatter expert. I mean how many serial killers could there be in one city and how dumb could the Miami PD be, right? And now that show is a parody of itself, ridiculous beyond belief, and limping through another ill-advised season far past its prime. Homeland, too, faces a similar conundrum. How long can Brody (Damian Lewis) keep this up? Won’t he eventually get caught? Won’t Carrie eventually remember “Isa!” or won’t someone in the government or someone in his family catch on that he’s working for terrorist mastermind numero uno, Abu Nazir?
But I forgot a key difference between these two shows. Homeland has balls. Continue reading →
The Spin: It was a tense hour as two oncoming “showdowns” ran parallel in this David Stenn penned episode. First, Nucky joins Slater (Charlie Cox) on a run to finally take out Roland Smith – the last guy Manny was supposed to have taken care of. Turns out Roland Smith is just a kid – a charming chap with plenty of moxy who was also being trailed by the Feds who come crashing down on his hideout forcing Nucky, Slater and the kid to bond in the cellar and wait things out. There Nucky tests Slater’s loyalty, and once free and clear, comes to terms with his new nature, making it clear to Slater who is boss. Secondly, idiot extraordinaire Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks) decides to run Rothstein’s shipment through Tabor Heights (which is increasingly becoming like a Middle East occupied territory) despite Nucky’s clear orders and the wise protest of Eli (Shea Whigham) leading to a Gyp-ordered massacre that at the end of the episode throws Eli back into Nucky’s confidence.
Meanwhile, there was nice little side-story in Chicago where the writers finally found something interesting to do with Al Capone (Stephen Graham, whom I’ve slighted before but pulled off a nice performance tonight). We get to see Al’s softer side as he comes to the defense of his deaf son and the fat slob of a collector working for Torrio. Seems he’s becoming a champion of the defenseless, even if it involves beating a man to death. The closing rendition of Capone playing “My Buddy” on the mandolin while his little boy “listens” by touching his father’s throat was another sweet, melancholy moment in an increasingly melancholy season. I couldn’t help getting misty as it transitioned into playing over the scene of Eli “reuniting” with Nucky at night in the cold on the boardwalk – the pretty lights strung up over the damp wooden planks – the Empire quietly lying down for a winter’s nap…for now. For there’s a war brewing. Continue reading →
I’m 60 years-old. I’m retired and living in Sri Lanka on a tea farm I purchased for my long-lost love with whom I recently reunited. Don’t ask…just go with this fantasy, okay? She’s lying in bed next to me with her back against mine. A balmy midnight breeze blows in through the window and the white curtains scale up the walls and then billow down. My mind is similarly rising and falling in humidified thought. I can’t sleep. I saw something today that reminded me of a film I once saw a long time ago but I can’t quite place the moment or the film. She’s half-awake, too. She turns over to face me and runs her hand through my hair. I whisper to her, “Were you there with me? Do you remember that movie? It was soooo good. You know, the one about time travel where the guy was on the run from his future self and he hid out on that farm in Kansas with that beautiful woman and her little kid who could…”
…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Behold the litany of reasons Rian Johnson’s Looper is an instant genre classic I will fondly recall when I’m 60 years-old: Continue reading →