Anyone who caught this week's episode of Boardwalk Empire is probably only talking about one thing: that ending. And that's really saying something, because even without its shocking final moment, this latest installment of the HBO series stands out as what might be the season's best episode. Perhaps even one of the series' altogether. Thanks to its playful but sincere tone, some intriguing stylistic choices (reminiscent of the early days of the highly experimental The Sopranos) and a wholehearted devotion to the personal and professional plagues of one Nucky Thompson, "The Pony" makes itself remarkable as one of Boardwalk's most impressive feats in a long while.
And following the bulk of this Tim Van Patten-directed ep (which, alongside Nucky, features primarily Margaret, Nelson Van Alden, Al Capone, Billie Kent, and Gillian Darmody — each armed with a gripping display of growth and development) is Boardwalk's first true "Holy s***!" moment since the killing off of our beloved Jimmy.
The late Mr. Darmody's death hangs heavy over the episode. We discover that the innocent young man — the Jimmy doppelgänger — who met his end at the hands of Gillian last week was part of Gillian's ploy to declare her son dead and inherit his properties: i.e., the brothel, and her grandson Tommy. Upon hearing the news that Jimmy allegedly "died in his mother's bathtub," Nucky is disarmed, and uncomfortable with what Gillian might be planning. This is the storyline through which Nucky enters this explorative episode, and rightfully so: his relationship to Jimmy was, and is, among the most important components of his decaying character. Even long after Jimmy's death is he still enduring qualms regarding his former protégée. In fact, it seems that Nucky accosts Gillian for her dishonest reports not only out of suspicion for what she might be up to, but out of some remnant of love and respect for Jimmy. Just as Richard and Leander Whitlock do, Nucky seems to feel that Jimmy deserves better than this. But he cannot save him anymore.
Nucky's desire to play the hero, the protective father, has been an anchor on the conflicted man since we first met him, back in the days when he'd tend amicably to a then timid Margaret Schroeder. A new object of his complex seems to be U.S. attorney Esther Randolph, perhaps brought in to replace Bille Kent, whom he has gradually begun to realize is not interested in adopting him as her savior. Teamed with Esther and Stephen Root's Tennessee Williams knockoff, Nucky approaches U.S. Secretary of Treasury Andrew Mellon (James Cromwell) with a ploy to take down George Remus and, by extension, Harry Daugherty, and in turn to make themselves a healthy profit on the operation of a secret distillery. When Nucky presents this plan in Mellon's country club, Mellon has him ousted publicly, calling him an "interloper" and marring Nucky's pride... later on, however, the Secretary phones Nucky to agree to the transaction. But it's that interim period that really charges a few coarse actions for Nucky.
Hurt and angry by the interaction, Nucky visits Billie at an unfortunate time: finding her engaged in some kooky tomfoolery with some mixed gender company. After some unkind words tossed both ways (Nucky rehashes the term "interloper," while he in turn is referred to, quite derogatorily, as "sir"), Billie and Nucky come to the understanding that she doesn't need him to look over her. He finally accepts this, and bids her a loose farewell, insisting still that she take a steady income from him, but that he will no longer provide the father figure motif that she resents so much. It appears that the pair's relationship is over, and then this is cemented. In that final scene.
Angry with Nucky for the whole killing-her-son thing, Gillian forms a relationship with a mutual Thompson-hater Gyp Rosetti, informing him as to where Nucky, Arnold Rothstein, and Lucky Luciano will be dining that night (sort of the 1920s version of an inadvertent Facebook check-in). To satisfy her desires and his own, Rosetti sets up an explosive in the restaurant to do away with his three nemeses. Unfortunately for his plan, Nucky and co. are detained by a talkative boardwalk urchin... the bomb goes off before they even enter the establishment. But Billie Kent, who was accompanying Nucky in a kind of bittersweet peacekeeping of their camaraderie, is ostensibly killed.
Although Billie's death won't be nearly the game changer of many of those to precede her, the hike in stakes is enough to charge the next few episodes. Some serious blood has been drawn, and Nucky can no longer ignore the nuisance that is Gyp.
Nucky's story might lead the action, but the Chicago side of the series has a good deal of riveting stuff going on as well. Following his decision to beat to death a business associate who bullied his friend, Al Capone receives what would ordinarily be an earful from boss Johnny Torrio, fresh back in town from a trip to Italy. But the vacation seems to have changed Torrio. His journey to Pompeii has instilled a zen appreciation for life, and for the decisions of his protégée. As Capone's story thus far has dealt with his shift from boyhood to manhood, this seems to be a pivotal step in that process. He has earned the identity of responsibility in his boss' eyes. Al might start becoming the Al Capone we know historically any day now. But in the kind of connection that would have occurred in a pre-island Lost flashback, Capone finds himself in a meeting with one Nelson Van Alden, who is working for florist/gangster Dean O'Banion following Van Adlen's request for O'Banion's assistance in disposing of a dead body he just happened to have in his living room. Now, Van Alden is a bootlegger... a job he is none too pleased with. But it's better than his regular job. His job where all of the other salesman mock and laugh at him, driving him to a point of madness wherein he actually attacks one of them with a hot iron. Oh yeah, that happens this week. In an amalgamation of Carrie- and The Incredible Hulk-like rage, Van Alden tears apart his office after being incessantly teased by how coworkers, running home and insisting that he and his wife hightail it out of Illinois. But Sigrid has a different idea: why Nelson was at work, she took the time to brew a whole bunch of liquor. Enough to satisfy O'Banion and to sell on their own and rake in the cash they need to live comfortably.
Sigrid is an interesting component to this world. She seems unconcerned with Nelson's wrongdoings. She is loyal to him, for no discernible reason. But she provides him with something he has never had before: support. Even as he enters the crime world full swing, Van Alden is, for the first time, secure. He has someone on his side.
Finally, Margaret, who all but admits to losing her sense of morality, her ideas of "right" and "wrong." The once impeccably conservative Margaret is now willing to help a woman obtain contraceptives. A woman, no less, who had an ad hoc abortion (something the old Margaret would have deemed evil and unholy). And beyond that, she engages unabashedly in a continuation of her romantic tryst with Owen Slater. It's not as though she has a sanct marriage to protect; she and her husband are barely a couple. But she is no longer bothered by this. She is driven by her desires and by her identity of strength... which is why Nucky can no longer be what he once was for her. Ditto Billie. Well, that and the whole she-just-exploded thing.
[Photo Credit: HBO (2)]
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At the moment there are few greater clichés in the media than the freaking out single woman on the cusp of 30. Of course clichés are clichés for a reason worth exploring even through the lens of just one or two women as in Lola Versus. Unfortunately while the intention behind Lola Versus isn't that we should all be happily married by the age of 30 it still fits into the same rubric of all those "Why You're Not Married" books.
Lola (Greta Gerwig) has a gorgeous fiancé Luke (Joel Kinnaman) and they live in a giant loft together the kind of dreamy NYC real estate that seems to exist primarily in the movies. Just as they're planning their gluten-free wedding cake with a non-GMO rice milk-based frosting Luke dumps her. It's cruelly sudden — although Luke isn't a cruel man. Lola finds little comfort in the acerbic wit of her best friend the eternally single Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones) who is probably delighted to see her perfectly blonde best friend taken down a peg and into the murky world of New York coupling. Lola and Luke share a best friend Henry (Hamish Linklater) a messy-haired rumpled sweetheart who is kind and safe and the inevitable shelter for Lola's fallout. Her parents well-meaning and well-to-do hippie types feed her kombucha and try to figure out their iPads and give her irrelevant advice.
Lola Versus is slippery. Its tone careens between broad TV comedy and earnest dramedy almost as if Alice is in charge of the dirty zingers and Lola's job is to make supposedly introspective statements. Alice's vulgar non-sequiturs are tossed off without much relish and Lola's dialogue comes off too often as expository and plaintive. We don't need Lola to tell Henry "I'm vulnerable I'm not myself I'm easily persuaded" or "I'm slutty but I'm a good person!" (Which is by the way an asinine statement to make. One might even say she's not even that "slutty " she's just making dumb decisions that hurt those around her just as much as she's hurting herself.)
We know that she's a mess — that's the point of the story! It's not so much that a particularly acerbic woman wouldn't say to her best friend "Find your spirit animal and ride it until its d**k falls off " but that she wouldn't say it in the context of this movie. It's from some other movie over there one where everyone is as snarky and bitter as Alice. You can't have your black-hearted comedy and your introspective yoga classes. Is it really a stride forward for feminism that the clueless single woman has taken the place of the stoner man-child in media today? When Lola tells Luke "I'm taken by myself. I've gotta just do me for a while " it's true. But it doesn't sound true and it doesn't feel true.
In one scene Lola stumbles on the sidewalk and falls to the ground. No one asks her if she's okay or needs help; she simply gets up on her own and goes on her way. It's a moment that has happened to so many people. It's humiliating and so very public but of course you just gotta pick yourself up and get where you're going. In this movie it's a head-smackingly obvious metaphor. In one of the biggest missteps of the movie Jay Pharoah plays a bartender that makes the occasional joke while Lola is waiting tables at her mom's restaurant. His big line at the end is "And I'm your friend who's black!" It would have been better to leave his entire character on the cutting room floor than attempt such a half-hearted wink at the audience.
Lister-Jones and director Daryl Wein co-wrote the screenplay for Lola Versus as they did with 2009's Breaking Upwards. Both films deal with the ins and outs of their own romantic relationship in one way or another. Breaking Upwards a micro-budget indie about a rough patch in their relationship was much more successful in tone and direction. Lola Versus has its seeds in Lister-Jones' experience as a single woman in New York and is a little bit farther removed from their experiences. Lola Versus feels like a wasted opportunity. Relatively speaking there are so few movies getting made with a female writer or co-writer that it almost feels like a betrayal to see such a tone-deaf portrayal of women onscreen. What makes it even more disappointing is how smart and likable everyone involved is and knowing that they could have made a better movie.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.