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.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Prick Tunes: Sturgill Simpson NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

It's been a while. Let's dust this thing off.

I don't see any better way to do that than to let Sturgill Simpson blow the fucking house down.


If you aren't familiar with Simpson, he's released an album in each of the past two years. While High Top Mountain was an emphatic yowl in the mold of Waylon Jennings. His newest release, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, is even bolder, with his marvelous cover of When in Rome's new wave hit "The Promise" a glimpse at the vision with which he's imbued.

The concert embedded below features songs from both albums, starting with the lead single from Metamodern Sounds, "Turtles All the Way Down."



Do yourself a favor and either swing by his site or go to your local record store and pick up his two albums. Neither of these albums are single listen experiences. You'll listen to them on a goddamn loop.

To give you a sense of how he sounds with a full band, here is the aforementioned re-imagination of "The Promise."

Sunday, March 9, 2014

True Detective Season One, Episodes Seven and Eight

The last two episodes of True Detective bring us the setup in the penultimate episode, in which Woody and Mac become one again, and the finale, in which all hell breaks loose, a journey straight into the creepiest hell on earth.

Stan Earnest: The plane takes off like a rocket, wobbles a bit…(will it crash?)…NO, sticks the fucking landing!

Craig Scholes: The last 10 minutes sucked

SE: I know you have never smoked weed, but are you fucking high?

Where the fuck were you last week?
CS: Meh, the ending existentialism was pointless for me.

SE: Spoken like a true existentialist.

CS: Burn.

SE: First, should we touch on last week just a bit? I completely fucked the dog last week. My apologies. Crazy family drama.

CS: By crazy family drama, I’m assuming you went sundress shopping. Did you get yourself a pretty yellow one?

SE: It was a little closer to Woody getting booted out of his house. I may have caused that with a little too much boozing and gambling. I tried to explain that I was just searching for the Yellow King. Didn't work.

CS: So, last week. I have a bunch of incoherent notes. Basically "Gayer John Waters... a.ka. Johnny Joanie Waters, and McConaughey parkour'd his way into the Osteen mansion.

SE: We are totally doing a disservice to our fan base by rehashing this shit before we get to the goods, but I'm not sure we have a fun base, so fuck it. All I have is that great line by Woody, "High praise from a bartender."

CS: I have the line "I should buy one of my kids paintings if I can afford it," which is ironic as he is driving a new Cadillac.

SE: Before you go all splattering green paint on the last ten minutes, let's dabble into the basis of this season. So the season was based on a couple of old time literary works: a short story called "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" by Ambrose Bierce (1891) and The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers (1895). Let me propose a theory: Cohle is the unspeakable man, the man that wants to convince the world he doesn't exist, the enabler, Lucifer. He has been turned, flipped into the role.

CS: Okay.

SE: In The King in Yellow, those that read the story are so affected by it that they slip into madness. Seeing the aftermath, Woody can't bear to think about what he has seen. Cohle, on the other hand, can't be killed. He is the one with yellow hair. There were no other mentions of the yellow king in this episode, just the green ears. I mean, I don't want to go off the rails and say it is literal, but Cohle saying the light is winning at the end of the season would be his version of slipping into insanity.

CS: How would he be becoming insane, when it justified everything he had done up to that point?

SE: He slipped and let go to see his family in the dark underworld, and it was only a ploy. What he has seen has turned him. I think the dark hole he saw before getting gutted was supposed to be his reality, not a hallucination. I just explain it the way I explain things I see on the internet: "Well shit, I can't unsee that."

I hope my dreams don't have shitty bands in them.
CS: I saw it as, he was going insane, and him nearly dying brought him back to reality.

SE: That statement itself is sweet irony, dying to live, like Inception on LSD. Cohle is rounding the black circle only to have his face shown like he was meant to play this game over and over again.

CS: Inception on LCD... it was all a dream?

SE: Inception on LCD Soundsystem: it was all just a ploy for the new record release. Fucking HBO, nothing but cash grabbers!

CS: Lord Jesus, we are spiraling. Flux capacitor must be broken.

SE: Besides, the last ten minutes were worth it just to see Woody sipping his drink, looking like Woody (because no one else has that look), as Cohle wakes up.

CS: So the sketchy dude they shot at on the boat, he was a cop or a sheriff right? HOW IN THE FUCK DOES HE OWN A MASERATI!?

SE: Joe fucking Walsh himself was giggling somewhere, if he even knows where he is at.

George Remus sans yellow.
CS: Two things about the Yellow King: 1) He didn't look Asian at all, and 2) Even Buffalo Bill thinks those guys are gross assholes.

SE: George Remus likes yellow. George Remus doesn't like to clean. Remus likes little girls though.

CS: The Backwater hillbilly bayou Forrest Gump.

SE: I don't think I'm ever traveling to Louisiana ever after that. I think Carcosa is the place in hell where Rob Zombie is going to jam for all eternity.

CS: I once ate at a Denny's in Shreveport that was out of ketchup. True story.

SE: When they were pulling up to the place, I was having flashbacks from Seven. "What's in the box! What's in the box!" I thought for sure that it was going to be Woody's daughter in that shed, but it was way creepier.

CS: I honestly thought I had called it with Woody's daughter. I knew that wasn't the case though when Woody met with his ex wife.

SE: This may be a rapid reaction, but as far as seasons of television shows, where does this season rank for you?

CS: I don't think it makes my top five, top ten probably.

SE: I’m throwing it in my top three alongside seasons three and four of Breaking Bad. No other show has stuck the dialogue, the acting, and story so completely. They trimmed the fat, chunked it into eight episodes of art layered on top of art. It was like a 90s Weezer album.

CS: With less references to KISS and Dungeons & Dragons.

SE: With that said, I can't decide if it should get point deductions or additions for the short season. Boardwalk Empire, as good as it is, would be even better if they cut it down to eight eps.

CS: Always leaving them wanting more. Having said that though, I don't know where else this story could go. It didn't leave any loose ends.

SE: What are you talking about? The Woody & Mac PI show is going to kill. Maybe they can hire Saul Goodman for good measure.

CS: I just meant this story line is complete, anything else would be a new story.

SE: Before we go, throw around some #TrueDetectiveSeason2 predictions.

CS: Jean Ralphio and Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec start a PI service and go on adventures and become best friends.

SE: I'm thinking Bill Murray and Robin Williams. Carrot Top will be the killer.

CS: I'd rather Carrot Top as the victim.

SE: If I were to guess an actual prediction as to what HBO will actually do, let's see, who is the latest washed up actor trying to blaze a comeback trail? Let's go Ben Affleck and…Jim Carrey. Sounds just looney enough.


CS: Batman?

SE: Oh, fuck me.

CS: I would imagine there is a female in season two, so I'll go with Frances McDormand and Sean Penn.

SE: All I can say is that this show stuck the landing, and no one should be disappointed in the ending.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Man on Film: The Wolf of Wall Street

Much like fellow Best Picture nominee American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street is a helluva fun ride that ultimately lacks the staying power that some of the other more serious Oscar contenders have. In other words, 12 Years a Slave The Wolf of Wall Street is not.

While much of the negative response to The Wolf of Wall Street has centered around the perception that the film celebrates greed, it seems like much of the point of the film was lost on those people. Martin Scorcese masterfully captures the grotesque excess by indulging in it. A lesser director would have maintained a measured detachment from the greed, using the distance to preach--I'm looking at you Steven Spielberg--against the actions of the characters.

In The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorcese lets the audience get taken in by Jordan Belfort only to crank up the excess leading to a repulsion to contrast more meaningfully against that urge to like the charismatic lead. In the role of rich asshole, Leonardo DiCaprio once again kills it for Scorcese. While one could certainly wonder if Leo is actually having to stretch much to play a role like Belfort, the fact remains that he excels in this immorality tale.

That isn't to say DiCaprio is alone in his greatness. Predictably, Scorsese gets great turns from the supporting cast. Kyle Chandler and Matthew McConaughey are both fantastic is smaller roles, as Jordan's foil and mentor, respectively. In addition to being stunning, Australian Pan-Am and Neighbours alum Margot Robbie is wonderful as the other half in a very mercurial relationship. Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Cristin Milioti, and Jean Dujardin round out the rest of the strong supporting cast; but it is Jonah Hill who gets the most screen time of the rest of the cast, and he absolutely earns his second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor with a blisteringly hilarious and debaucherous turn as Donnie Azoff, Jordan's right hand and enthusiastic co-conspirator.

Now one could levy claims that Scorcese and screenwriter Terence Winter--Boardwalk Empire in the house--don't punish Belfort enough, but do any of the Wall Street bilkers get any significant punishment? His life is in shambles after his self-destruction, but anyone hoping for Scorcese to do a morality tale is barking up the wrong tree.

The real issues with the film lie with the fact that despite its three-hour runtime--a runtime usually reserved for historical epics or dramas with grave import--The Wolf of Wall Street falls a bit on the forgettable side of things. It's a full-blown debaucherous ride, but somehow a three-hour Martin Scorcese film seems to lack the significance that the rest of his fare has in spades.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Man on Film: Live Action Oscar Shorts

Since this is an atypical subject here, I'll just do a quick breakdown on each of the nominees.

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)

Far and away the worst of the nominees. Obvious.

Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just before Losing Everything)

A little slow to get moving, but ultimately engaging. Ratchets up the tension well. Effective glimpse into a terrible episode of family drama.

Helium

It was a little schmaltzy, but I'll be damned if I didn't tear up. The zeppelin effects were a little weak (an understandable byproduct of a limited budget), but the performances of the three principle cast members, especially Casper Crump, were very strong. A cute, emotionally involving story set against a depressing situation.

Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)

Very Scandinavian. Very funny. Sure, it was lighter than the rest of these entrants, but it was definitely the most fun.

The Voorman Problem

Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander get to chew on some great dialogue. Clever. Wickedly funny. It's available here. In my mind, this one is the class of the category.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Man on Film: Nebraska

Alexander Payne's follow-up to The Descendants is another film about family, this time returning to his Midwestern roots. An interstate road movie about a senile-leaning father and his reluctant chauffeur son, Nebraska springs forth from the fertile ground of a son trying to do right by his father despite a strained relationship.

It is fantastic.

Perhaps my feelings on the film are too heavily informed by my roots, but Nebraska magnificently captured every nuance of small-town Midwestern life. The stoicism of the pre-Baby Boom male. The tried and true topics of conversation of the peoples of largely agrarian, shrinking small towns of the plains. The simple pleasures. The age old grudges. The general kindness and interest in personal minutiae. Bob Nelson's screenplay felt as though it could have been written directly from afternoons in my childhood. It was equal parts knowingly detached and lovingly attached, dancing brilliantly between the two, striking a wonderful balance.

And Alexander Payne pressed all the right buttons. The tone--from the performances to the black-and-white stock--is pitch perfect. Bob Odenkirk and the sublime June Squibb hit every note, but Will Forte and Bruce Dern play the parts of beleaguered but faithful son and father teetering on the edge of senility with perfection. The support, particularly the cast employed in Hawthorne, is also spot on, with the football watching scene being one of the highlights of the last year in cinema.

Seemingly every decision Payne makes works out wonderfully. The dynamic between Forte and Dern is particularly fruitful, but the casting of the relatively little-known character actress June Squibb really sets the movie apart. Nebraska is wildly funny but retains a poignancy and heart that endear it so much more than nearly every other film of the past year. On the heels of The Descendants, it was hard to imagine Alexander Payne making a film as outstanding as it, but in Nebraska he exceeds expectations.

Man on Film: American Hustle

Coming after The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook in David O. Russell's body of work, it was hard to not have high expectations for American Hustle. As a result (and the subsequent innumerable accolades and nominations heaped upon it cannot help for those who have yet to see American Hustle), American Hustle was at least a little disappointing.

That isn't to say American Hustle wasn't good. It is just a victim of its high expectations.

In essence, American Hustle is an acting showcase. From the principal cast to supporting cast members like Robert DeNiro, Elisabeth Rohm, Michael Pena, Louis C.K., and the Boardwalk Empire cameo crew (Jack Huston and the inimitable Shea Whigham), this was an opportunity for actors to shine, regardless of their line count. And as Russell's films virtually guarantee, shine they do.

And while the supporting cast is rock solid, the principle cast is outstanding. Jeremy Renner gets to shine as a faithful family man and politician who actually wants to provide for his constituents. Bradley Cooper turns in a wonderfully complex role, imbuing Richie DiMaso with every bit of obsessiveness, self-pity, egotism, and volatility that it required. Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence are both fantastic and get to make themselves comfortable in these wildly unpredictable and wholly colorful roles. And Christian Bale? Holy shit. Once again, Bale shows that he belongs in that very short list of actors who turn in must-watch performances every damn time. He is brilliant once again, and his brilliance goes far past his physical commitment to the role. Bale disappears into the role of Irving Rosenfeld. He was given a role wrought with pathos, a duality of supreme confidence and insecurity that is thrilling to behold.

After all of this discussion of the stellar acting, it would be a disservice to those working behind the scenes to fail to talk about the production design, wardrobe, and art direction. The painstaking attention to detail that went into realizing the world of this film was obvious in every frame of the film. The uniformity in style and full realization of late-'70s New York/New Jersey is special.

As usual, David O. Russell has crafted a well-directed film. It is hard to argue with the performances or the mise-en-scene. The narrative, however, was just a little lacking in the oomph that his recent films have had. The story in American Hustle was fun but ultimately insubstantial. The richness of characters goes a long way towards helping to remedy this shortcoming, but American Hustle is not a movie that stays with you for more than an hour or so after you walk out of the theater. With a David O. Russell film, this is sort of something that I had come to expect.

Man on Film: 12 Years A Slave

Once again, we republish this as the Oscars draw nearer.

Before you read any further, see 12 Years A Slave. Drop what you're doing. Cancel your plans. Oh, you're supposed to fly home for Christmas, but haven't seen it? Reschedule your flight.

12 Years A Slave is fucking phenomenal.

This is the time of year that theaters are flooded with Oscar trash. The important film: the stodgy period piece, usually adapted from a classic novel; the adaptation of a heavy-handed, award-winning contemporary novel [preferably the Pulitzer] usually neatly packaged with some larger message about sexual repression or religion, with a careful eye toward production design; or the biopic of someone who overcame some personal struggle to achieve something or lead a people. If the film can prey on liberal white guilt, all the better.

12 Years A Slave is definitely a biopic about someone overcoming a struggle, and any white person who doesn't feel horrible about what happened to Solomon Northup is at least 99% likely to be a horrible racist, but holy shit is it amazing. It is brutal--visually and emotionally. The situation Solomon finds himself in is so awful that it is impossible not to feel his pain. And there is a lot of pain. He is stripped of his dignity, his hope, and his humanity and is powerless to do anything about it.

What makes the film is director Steve McQueen's unwavering dedication to his vision. There are so many bold choices, so many shots that linger for far longer than one would expect, so many that drive key turning points. In a less confident hand, these scenes would feel heavy handed. In 12 Years A Slave, the decisions take your feet out from under you.

Of course, all would be for naught were it not for sterling performances, first and foremost being that of Chiwetel Ejiofor. There are other strong performances--Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, and Brad Pitt are all good, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong'o particularly are great--but Ejoifor's is the performance of a lifetime. Ejiofor is always a captivating performer, but McQueen uses Ejiofor's face as a canvas, his eyes as a channel to the film's emotive center. There is no better example of this than the scene in which they bury Uncle Abram (pretty sure that's the character). While the slaves sing "Roll Jordan Roll" around the fresh grave, McQueen holds a tight shot on Ejiofor's face, as at first he stands there, numb, any hope that this cruel twist of fate will be miraculously reversed draining from his face, the last shred of belief that he was a free man fading. Then he starts in with his brethren. A slave, but hope of a different sort taking root within him. The scene tears at you, and McQueen's choice to hold on Ejiofor's face and let all these emotions play out over the almost uncomfortably long shot proves to be inspired.

In short, 12 Years A Slave is brilliant, bold, soul-crushing, brutal, and vital. It must be seen.

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