Captain America: The Winter Soldier is filled — and I mean jam-packed — with genre-bending, action-heavy, sportily tense and relentlessly sinuous, sky-high-concept and maniacally bonkers stuff. Polygonal mayhem that aims, and impressively so, to top the Marvel lot in ideas, deconstructing every thriller staple from government corruption to talking computers to odd couple agents gone rogue. But oddly enough, the moment in the Cap sequel that I find most arresting several weeks after seeing the film is our peaceful reunion with Steve Rogers, trotting merrily around the Washington Monument as the sun rises on our nation's capital.
The scene is shot from far overhead, a low pulse/high spirits Chris Evans reduced to a shapeless blur as he repeatedly (but politely!) laps fellow jogger and veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)... and yet it might be the closest we feel to Cap throughout the movie.
The Winter Soldier has a lot to worry about in the delivery of its content. Managing a plot as ambitious and multifaceted as its own, with themes as grand as the scope of the American mentality — as represented by Steve Rogers, raised in the good old days of gee-golly-jingoism — it doesn't always have the faculties to devote to humanizing its central troupe. Cap isn't left hollow, but his battles with the dark cloud of contemporary skepticism play more like an intriguing Socratic discussion than an emotional arc. Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, a character who ran circles around her Avengers co-players in flavor, feels a bit shortchanged in that department here (in her closest thing to a starring role yet, no less).
Mackie's Falcon, a regular joe who is roped into the calamity thanks largely to his willingness to chat with a fellow runner — a rare skill, honestly — is less of a problem. He doesn't have much to do, but he does it all well enough. Dynamic though he may be, Mackie keeps things bridled as Cap's ad-hoc sidekick, playing up the along-for-the-ride shtick rather than going full (or even half) superhero. We might want more from him, knowing just how fun he can be, but it's a sating dose. The real hunger is for more in the way of Black Widow, Cap, and — perhaps most of all — the titular villain.
Still, these palpable holes pierce through a film that gets plenty right. As elegantly as Joe Johnston did the Spielberg thing back in 2011, Joe and Anthony Russo take on the ballots of post-innocence. They aren't afraid to get wild and weird, taking The Winter Soldier through valleys that feel unprecedented in superhero cinema. We're grateful for the invention here — for Robert Redford's buttoned-up Tom Clancy villain, for the directors' aggressive tunneling through a wide underworld of subterranean corruption, and especially for one scene in an army bunker that amounts to the most charmingly bats**t crazy reveal in any Marvel movie yet. We might be most grateful, though, for a new take on Nick Fury; here, the franchise gives Samuel L. Jackson his best material by a mile.
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But in the absence of definitive work done in our heroing couple, a pair rich in fibers but relegated to broad strokes and easy quips in this turn, most of it amounts to a fairly good spy thriller, not an ace-in-the-whole neo-superhero masterpiece... which, justly or otherwise, is what we've come to expect and demand from these things.
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That Bobby Cannavale was so much nicer on Will & Grace.
When the last season of Boardwalk Empire closed out with a bullet to the head of Jimmy Darmody — the character whom many considered to be the backbone of the HBO series — fans felt more or less unconvinced that the show could carry on with the same weight or emotional investment it had managed through its first two years on air. Season 2 especially lent its primary focus to Jimmy, shifting away from Nucky for entire episodes to lend development and examination to Michael Pitt’s tortured war veteran, absent father and husband, criminal protégée to the Atlantic County treasurer, and incestuous son to Gretchen Mol’s Gillian Darmody. Boardwalk seemed like Jimmy’s show, where it had begun under the premise that it was Nucky’s alone. The mentality behind this strategy — shifting gears only to drop Jimmy in the end of the season, thus reverting back to Nucky as the central antihero — was perplexing. The aftermath does seem to bear evidence to its birth from this confusion.
Nucky’s story kicks off, on the eve of 1923, with Steve Buscemi’s master crook conducting business — with partners Munya “Manny” Horvitz (William Forsythe), Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks), and right-hand-man Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox, now a cast regular — and instituting a new procedure for the distribution of alcohol. Nucky will sell exclusively to Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), a fact that disappoints the likes of George Remus (Glenn Fleshler), et al, but particularly enrages season newcomer Gyp Rosetti (Cannavale).
We meet Rosetti in the episode’s introductory scene. Automotive complications land him roadside, taking a favor from a passing dog owner with a case of oil in his car. An innocuous remark from the good Samaritan sends Rosetti into enough of a rage to bash the man’s head in with a crowbar; later on, this rage (albeit not exacted) is apparent in Rosetti’s conversation with Nucky about the latter’s decision to cut off his distribution of alcohol. Nucky’s decision is sparked by the advice of his politician “friend” Harry Daugherty (Christopher McDonald), who wants Nucky to be more careful lest he find himself (and his allies — Daugherty included) the subject of a news story for illicit business. Thus, Nucky tidies up his act to the point of dealing only with Rothstein. But obviously, Rosetti was not introduced into this series to be the kind of guy who takes news like this calmly.
So what’s the angle here? A rougher, more unpredictable enemy? That seems to be the sell: Rosetti’s actions are meant to shock us, to suggest that he’s the exception to this organized game. As if most of Nucky’s would-be assailants so far have maintained spotless records of calculation or professionalism. Detective Van Alden (Michael Shannon) is a venerable psychopath. Al Capone (Stephen Graham) is a childlike hothead. We’re reminded of the latter in this very episode. This show has never had its deficit of unbalanced foes, so what makes Rosetti so compelling or unique that he should be able to lead the peril (for Nucky) in Season 3? And if he isn’t meant to do so, then who or what is?
I suppose Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) might provide Nucky with a fair share of enmity, although of a different sort. In the premiere, we see a refresh of her feministic values — she celebrates female pilot Carrie Duncan’s pioneering of the breakdown of gender barriers, and looks toward the institution of a program for the hospital (of which she and Nucky are benefactors) that would help teach pregnant women about prenatal care. Her ambitions get in the way of Nucky’s business; this disparity in interests will undoubtedly escalate toward the crumbling of their marriage this season. Nucky is already seen enjoying extramarital encounters. The question is, how significant will the destruction of Nucky’s and Margaret’s relationship become? Will she also pose a threat to his career? Will his love for and investment in her children become the real issue for Buscemi’s character? Or will he prove entirely heartless and risk or discard everything in the name of success and glory?
The memory of the fallen Darmodys is more present over in an Atlantic City brothel run by Gillian, although it is not Jimmy’s mother who is holding onto the spirit of her son or his wife Angela (Aleksa Palladino, who was murdered by Horvitz last season) — it’s Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), the series’ breakout character with a hopeless devotion to both deceased parties (Angela especially). While Gillian is bent on erasing all recollection of Jimmy and Angela in the mind of their son Tommy — her son now, as far as she’s concerned — Richard makes it a point to teach young Tommy about his beautiful, golden-hearted mother... until Gillian catches an earful and demands ever-so-manipulatively that he keep his mouth shut. “Look to the future,” she suggests. He’s not really into that. Instead, he heads out for the night and shoots Manny Horvitz dead right in the man’s doorway.
As interesting a character as Richard is, it seems unpromising to think that Huston will be shafted alongside young Tommy this season. The murder of Manny might suggest that Richard will be out on the warpath of revenge, maybe hunting down the likes of Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham), Mickey, and Nucky himself. Of course, then the show would really be over, so we shouldn’t actually expect that.
Meanwhile, over in Illinois, Al Capone is still a hot-blooded gangster, but another old friend has turned over a new leaf: Van Alden, who is now going by alter ego George Mueller, working as a door-to-door salesman, and living in a cramped apartment with an unhappy Sigrid (Christiane Seideil) and his daughter Abigail. But Van Alden is pulled back into the game by chance, when he happens upon a run-in between Capone and Irish gangster Dean O’Banion (Arron Shiver). Helping O’Banion out of a jam with an improvised performance as the man’s hired gun, Van Alden earns the crook’s favor and a job offer. He might be getting his first full-fledged step onto the criminal side of the prohibition deal… and perhaps might see his first shine of financial fortune since we met him.
Of the stories introduced in the premiere, Van Alden’s is the most interesting, if only to see where the depths of his psycho character will fall next. The man has no discernible sense of reality. His staunch appreciation of right and wrong cannot be defined, as he is so far gone from a sane mind that any viewer would be hard pressed to identify what he deems appropriate. All this, delivered expertly by Shannon, makes for an undoubtedly exciting story to come this year.
Unfortunately, Nucky’s case does not hold the same luster. Sure, Cannavale might be a fun addition to the series. But is he really anything new? Just another egomaniacal crook with his finger perpetually on the trigger? Jimmy’s absence is palpable in this premiere, as you can’t forge the kind of relationship that he and Nucky had between any other two characters on this show. Their mutual broken-hearted hatred, sorrow, distrust, sense of betrayal, it was the show’s lifeblood. And now all we have is another angry mobster who wants his rum. Hopefully, Van Alden’s adventures to come are strong enough to carry both stories. Maybe with a little help from Richard?
Episode Body Count: 4
Season Body Count: 4
[Photo Credit: HBO]
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S2E7: “Peg of Old” is, in theory, just about the perfect example of what I understand Boardwalk Empire aims to be. In one of the most enjoyable episodes of the season so far (I’d put it second to Richard’s woods outing, although this one is a better archetypal representation of Boardwalk Empire’s true and intended form), we see both the internal minefields of the three biggest non-Nucky characters on the show, and some series plot advancement involving each of their stories—all cases surrounding issues that very directly affect Nucky (to varying, but all outstandingly negative, degrees). Nucky is featured only minimally this week—as seems to be a growing trend—but this could not possibly have been a less fortunate turn of events for the poor guy. And what did he ever do to anyone?
“You’ll go now. Back to your own place, and leave us be. There’s no one here who knows you.” – Maggie’s brother
If you’ve been paying attention to Maggie lately—even passing attention—you know that she’s feeling a bit lost. We have gotten hints that she has not spoken to her family in years, but we aren’t quite sure why—until this week’s episode, that is. Maggie pays a visit to Brooklyn—a 1920s Brooklyn complete with clothesline, bustling market places, cramped apartments…this is the real treat of watching period dramas—to reunite with her brother and various younger sisters, some of whom are too young to know her. Maggie wishes only to make amends for her departure and to “be among those who know her.” Her sisters try and cater to her wishes, greeting her kindly. But her brother, the only one aware of her reason for absence, is less welcoming. The two recollect on a memory from their youth: apparently, Maggie had an affair with a young man in Ireland and, from what it seems, had an abortion. This, coupled with her absence during their mother’s passing, and her new morally grey means of sustenance, keeps her brother none too willing to rekindle sibling bonds. Maggie returns home, distraught, and—probably out of grief—succumbs to her lust for Owen Slater, who has had his own bad day. Instead of doing his job (which proved quite more a significant choice than it normally might have*), Owen spent his day on the prowl for someone he considered a “traitor” to Ireland (an old acquaintance for whom he has apparently kept some hostility). Both are feeling lonesome and isolated, without anything of familiarity, and take to one another in a physical way. And everyone who watches Boardwalk shouts, in unison, “Finally!”
“This is your baby. You bought it. The kid doesn’t even have a name.” – Lucy
Among everything else that it does, van Alden’s storyline introduces us to someone who just might turn out to be one of the most entertaining characters on the show, if tonight’s episode is a fair indication: Esther Randolph, the new prosecutor assigned to Nucky’s case—and one hell-bent on doing her job to the utmost proficiency. Esther has commandeered Nelson’s work station, with which he obviously takes issue. But, of course, he has more important matters to deal with: 1) his new baby, and 2) the mother of his new baby, who is demanding the $3,000 he promised her. Seeing as Nelson cannot pay Lucy, she retreats to her old treasure trove: Nucky, who is at first frustrated at her presence, but then warms up when he sees how earnest she…seems…about motherhood. Additionally, this new compromising position for van Alden gives Nucky an idea: Nucky will agree to support van Alden and the child in return for information on every aspect of Randolph’s case. This is clearly a deal that holds a lot of weight with Nelson.
Some time after this discussion, Nelson returns to his apartment to find the still nameless baby being cared for by a neighbor. She informs him that Lucy stepped out to get formula over twenty minutes ago, which arouses suspicion in Nelson. He then finds a goodbye note of sorts inside the symbolic record player: the cover of the script that Nelson forbade Lucy from reading pinned to the baby’s dirty diaper.
Alone with the baby, Nelson begins flipping through the Bible for an inspiration on names. He lands on Abigail, which inspires a joyful coo in the young baby—something that provokes a rare smile from the stalwart detective. It is this connection to his daughter that makes Nelson realize that no matter what his monetary situation, he needs to be an honest man for her. Thus, he visits Esther Randolph with all of the information he has compiled on Nucky over the past two seasons—specifically, all of the crimes he is aware that Nucky has committed (not excluding murder). He may go broke, but Nelson keeps his honor for his daughter. It’s kind of sweet…even though we know he’s a twisted nut.
“It doesn’t make a difference if you’re right or wrong. You just have to make a decision.” – Jimmy
Jimmy has one concurrent internal conflict this season (aside from his ever increasingly bizarre relationship with his mother): he is tormented over his betrayal of Nucky. He has come to terms, more or less, with turning on him. But in this episode, the stakes are raised. He meets with Lucky, Meyer, Capone, Mickey Doyle and Richard to discuss the overthrow of their respective bosses. Jimmy suggests that Nucky be put in jail while he seize control of Atlantic City, for the benefit of all. Latecomer Eli Thompson combats this with the idea that they kill Nucky instead, about which all of the men (aside from Richard, the only noble figure in the show) are more enthusiastic. Pressured, Jimmy gives the okay to kill Nucky, which plagues him for the rest of the episode. He considers taking his command back, but his mother convinces him that this will make him seem week. Thus, at a fundraising event for Nucky, Jimmy approaches his old father figure and offers him the following statement: “It doesn’t make a difference if you’re right or wrong. You just have to make a decision,” before one of his men shoots Nucky*…non-fatally, of course. But still. Big stuff.
Needless to say, eventful episode. Nucky gets cheated on, loses a great deal of headway in his legal case, and the whole bullet-to-the-torso thing, propagated by the man he raised as a son. On top of these developments, we get to see the darknesses plaguing Maggie and Jimmy in closer lights, and a spiritual step-up for Nelson, who has been on a pretty consistent losing streak. All this and a great new character? I’d call this week as good as Boardwalk gets.