After the central story of Nucky Thompson's conflicted enmity with protegee Jimmy Darmody was set to an ill-conceived rest, the show seemed to have set in place a new "villain of the season" formula - a phenomenon we could more or less guess was set to become tradition even in its first incarnation, Season 3's Gyp Rosetti, played by Bobby Cannavale. Already upping the ante in both quality and quantity, Season 4 seems to be presenting a dichotomy of danger in its two newest and most interesting characters. First, we have the way-younger-than-he-looks Brian Geraghty as Prohibition Agent Warren Knox, a character who puts on a dopey shtick (think Woody Harrelson in Cheers) to cover up his sinister, corrupt internality (think Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers). A fun watch in the contrast of his doe-eyed demeanor and his sociopathic machinations, Knox's introduction into the life of Nucky this week gives us hope for Boardwalk's fourth season. Whereas Gyp Rosetti was a firecracker who just kept acting loonier, dissolving his actions of any real surprise or emotional impact, Knox seems far more unpredictable. We don't know his angle. We just know he has one.
Also creeping his way into Nucky Thompson's life is one Dr. Valentin Narcisse, who takes a more sophisticated, almost Bond villain-like approach to criminality. Narcisse represents Cora Pastor — the woman who entangled Dunn Purnsley in a perverse act of sadomasochism that provoked him to kill her husband — not to mention an impassioned albeit slow-cooking movement for the progression of blacks in America. Narcisse views himself, and Nucky, as a king, bent on seizing the coveted Atlantic throne. Again, Narcisse is already proving to be a good deal more fun than Rosetti was. Sure, we've seen the eloquent and poised evil mastermind explored time and time again in film and television, but there's an added bonus here: Jeffrey Wright. A cinematic vet who could very well make the stoic, soft-spoken Narcisse into something more than a rehashed trope.
Another perk of this week's episode: its reunion with one of the series' best characters and performers: Nelson Van Alden/Harold Muller, played consistently charmingly by Michael Shannon. The disgraced lawman has become a glorified thug for Chicago's Irish mobster O'Banion... but succumbs to the threats and calls of Chicago's Italian crook Al Capone. Wading between two crime kingpins is not exactly an ideal lot, especially for the psychologically rattled Van Alden, who has got two children and a wife to care for. And ugh, that apartment does need a good wall papering.
Which of this season's new baddies are you gearing up to enjoy the most? The dopey crooked cop or the affluent, poised crime genius?
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Over 80 years after the Belgian artist Herge first conceived him Tintin the plucky journalist-adventurer whose stories have sold over 350 million books worldwide has finally got his own big-budget Hollywood movie. The Adventures of Tintin is already a runaway hit in Europe where it opened in late October (some eight weeks ahead of its U.S. release) and where the character enjoys the bulk of his popularity. But while most Americans have never heard of Tintin they’re undoubtedly familiar with the name of Steven Spielberg who after directing 24 live-action features makes his 3D-animation debut with the rollicking action-adventure.
The film is set in the early-middle 20th century in an unnamed European town. Though his spiked widow’s peak and baby-faced visage peg him at no older than 16 the titular Tintin (Jamie Bell) is already a respected newspaper reporter and something of a neighborhood celebrity. (He also lives alone and owns a handgun -- quite an accomplished young lad indeed.) The chance purchase of a model boat leads him to a mystery involving a treasure-laden ship that was lost at sea over three centuries prior. Together with his trusty dog Snowy and a drunken sea captain named Haddock (Andy Serkis) he embarks on a globe-trotting adventure that pits him against a nefarious figure named Sakharine (Daniel Craig).
Like the Indiana Jones blockbusters it’s so clearly crafted to evoke The Adventures of Tintin is cutting-edge filmmaking with an old-fashioned ethos. Spielberg’s gift for spectacle hasn’t diminished one iota with his transition to animation. The inexorable march of technology and the constant bar-raising of the 3D-animated genre has schooled us to expect dazzling color and detail and Tintin dutifully delivers on that front but what impressed me most about the film is the cinematography which is nothing short of astounding. Liberated from the physical constraints of the live-action realm Spielberg and his longtime director of photography Janusz Kaminski deliver shot after shot of breathtaking scope and complexity.
Such freedom of imagination has its drawbacks of course. I grew tired of the filmmakers’ fondness for reflected images. They’re found everywhere in the film -- on mirrors windows eyeglasses bottles and anything else translucent or shiny. Moreover story is reduced to a secondary role in service of the film’s elaborate set pieces. And Tintin himself for all his exploits is an unremarkable protagonist his only distinguishing features a determined optimism and a MacGuyer-like ingenuity.
The Adventures of Tintin was made using a “performance-capture” approach of the type pioneered by Robert Zemeckis which might bring alarm to those who recall the infamously dead-eyed characters of Polar Express with disdain. The technology has come quite a long way since those rueful early days. The characters in Spielberg’s film possess a vitality and expressiveness that signal the much-maligned “uncanny valley” could soon be a thing of the past.
Even if you’re one of the 19 other people in a competitive internship at Dean Witter with Chris Gardner (Will Smith) you gotta root for the guy. Life’s beaten him up but not got him down. He lugs his computer-monitor-sized bone density scanner all over San Francisco hoping to sell just one to make ends meet for his family—but nobody’s buying. As his wife’s (Thandie Newton) discontentment nears a boiling point Chris accepts an internship at financial institution Dean Witter—six months without pay and only one of the 20 applicants will ultimately get a job out of it. This sends her packing. She leaves Chris and their son Christopher (Jaden Smith) to fend for themselves at which point they get evicted. It’s the tip of the iceberg because over the course of Chris’ penniless pursuit of the Dean Witter job (and “happyness”) he and Christopher will get by sleeping in homeless shelter--and even in train-station bathrooms. Chris had always vowed to never leave his son and he keeps his promise but there’s no guarantee that his perseverance will pay off. Except for the fact that Happyness is “INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY”! Will Smith is getting all the awards buzz but it’s his real-life son Jaden who transcends all expectations in Happyness. Jaden’s never acted in a movie before and it’s safe to assume that because of his father's long-running movie stardom he could not have grown up in a more different environment than that of his character. Which makes it all the more amazing for this 8-year-old Hollywood tyke to grasp even if coincidentally the plight of a nomadic urban child. The best part about little Jaden is that his performance doesn’t seem robotic like so many child actors who are already too "seasoned" for their own good. Aside from the expected cutesy laughs there’s genuine spontaneity in Jaden’s performance obviously thanks to the fact that he’s acting opposite his dad. Papa Smith gives what’s probably his best performance to date although he's had a career of primarily action roles that weren't exactly conducive to a skills showcase. He delivers the goods here—as seen in the tear-rific trailer—as a man whose whole life is his child but frankly the tears evoked might be too few for Oscar’s liking. Newton (Crash) in a small role is terribly miscast but Mr. and Mr. Smith dominate the screen anyway. Even with the studio flaunting the movie’s "Inspired by a true story..." tagline like a badge of honor—as studios tend to do—and this being the holiday season and all Italian director Gabriele Muccino expends way too much effort into the crowd-pleasing/feel-good aspects of Happyness. The happy ending everyone already knows about should be saccharine enough. Granted this is why a studio loves true stories—one that begins on a low note ends on a really high note and fluctuates all over the radar in between—and it may make the film more pleasing to its targeted mainstream audiences but Muccino and writer Steve Conrad (The Weather Man) really take the gloss factor much too far. In this case they essentially try to tell us a mostly sad story but will not let us feel sad. For instance during what could be very dark reflective scenes potentially connecting with viewers who have struggled through similar problems music befitting a children’s tale overtakes the would-be drama so we don’t ever feel too badly for Chris. It’s nice that the director cares so much for us but oftentimes the best directors are the ones who show an audience tough love.
Running Scared is a few plots shy of being well-thought out. It starts with Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) a low-level employee of an Italian mob family who over the course of 18 hours has one hell of a time. First he has to get rid of a gun that killed a crooked cop in a drug deal gone bad. Instead of disposing of it however Joey goes home and hides it in a panel in the basement as future collateral only to have his 10 year-old son’s best friend Oleg (Cameron Bright) discover and abscond with the weapon so he can shoot his abusive Russian stepfather (Karel Rodan) who is also mob connected. Then we get to follow young Oleg now on the run as he encounters all manner of nocturnal miscreants. I mean seriously this is the kind of night that should permanently screw the kid up. Meanwhile Joey--aided by both his wife Teresa (Vera Farmiga) and son--is trying desperately to get to the boy and the gun before the mob factions find out. Not one of your more stellar evenings. What is cutie-pie Paul Walker doing shooting people having sex on a dryer and saying the f-word over and over after he just saved a pack of Huskies from freezing to death in the Antarctic? Kind of bad timing for Walker to have his feel-good family movie Eight Below released a week before this R-rated bloodbath. Running Scared definitely shows an edgier Walker but the outdoorsy movies just work better for him. The young Bright on the other hand has made a short career of playing creepy sullen kids. First he disturbed us out as a cloned child in Godsend; then he made us really uncomfortable as a kid who claims he’s Nicole Kidman’s reincarnated husband in Birth. So playing a boy who goes through one of the more nightmarish evenings ever isn’t really a stretch. As a side note Farmiga (The Manchurian Candidate) does a nice job as Joey’s wife who has just as much chutzpah as any of those testosterone-pumped mob guys. This is how writer/director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) describes Running Scared “It’s like a Grimm’s Fairy tale nightmare but taking place in the Mob world…” Well no kidding. Kramer uses familiar gritty crime drama techniques such as framing the film in that grainy washed out look and doing slo-mos of people getting plastered by shotguns. You know the drill. It’s effective but the problem is while Kramer bombards the audience with one Grimm situation after another--from pedophiles to crazed pimps to ear-biting gangsters--he forgets to create a cohesive film. Of course the director nearly redeems himself with a clever twist near the end but it’s just not enough to make up for the many times you’re sitting there cringing and thinking “What the…?”