“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: Top Five Favorite Season Two (2011) Episodes

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Two (2011) of HBO’s “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”

 

“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON TWO (2011) EPISODES

1. (2.11) “Under God’s Power She Flourishes” – Following his wife Angela’s death, Jimmy Darmody recalls his school days at Princeton and a fateful visit from his mother, Gillian. Nucky stumbles across a discovery that ends Agent Van Alden’s career as a Federal lawman. And a confrontation between Jimmy and Gillian over Angela ends with the death of the Commodore.

2. (2.12) “To the Lost” – In this season finale, the Federal charges against Nucky are dropped after he weds Margaret. Van Alden flees Atlantic City for Cicero, Illinois. And Jimmy seeks to regain Nucky’s forgiveness, after his betrayal against the political boss falls apart.

3. (2.10) “Georgia Peaches” – While Jimmy deals with the workers’ strike and Nucky’s new supply of Irish whiskey, Philadelphia mobster Manny Horvitz seeks revenge for Jimmy’s failed attempt on his life.

4. (2.07) “Peg of Old” – Margaret visits her brother’s home in Brooklyn and makes a choice that endangers her relationship with Nucky. The latter’s life is in danger, when Jimmy sanctions a hit on his former mentor.

5. (2.04) “What Does the Bees Do?” – In this episode, Nucky fortifies his alliances with Arnold Rothstein and new bodyguard, Owen Sleater. The Commodore suffers a massive stroke and Chalky White faces problems with the black community and at home.

Advertisements

“TRUMBO” (2015) Review

trumbo-tr_10824_r_rgbsmall_wide-6b897da6ba838b0d0d2435f72a0f1d59e53e0460-s900-c85

“TRUMBO” (2015) Review

I tried to think of a number of movies about the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and the Hollywood Blacklist I have seen. And to be honest, I can only think of two of which I have never finished and two of which I did. One of those movies I did finish was the 2015 biopic about Hollywood screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo.

Based upon Bruce Alexander Cook’s 1977 biography, the movie covered fourteen years of the screenwriter’s life – from being subpoenaed to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 to 1960, when he was able to openly write movies and receive screen credit after nine to ten years of being blacklisted by the Motion Picture Alliance for the Protection of American Ideals. Due to this time period, it was up to production designer Mark Rickler to visually convey fourteen years in Southern California – from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. I must say that he, along with cinematographer Jim Denault and art directors Lisa Marinaccio and Jesse Rosenthal did an excellent job by taking advantage of the New Orleans locations. That is correct. Certain areas around New Orleans, Louisiana stood for mid-century Los Angeles, California. But the movie also utilized a few locations in Southern California; including a residential house in northeastern Los Angeles, and the famous Roosevelt Hotel in the heart of Hollywood. And thanks to Denault’s cinematography, Rickler’s production designs not only made director Jay Roach’s “Southern California” look colorful, but nearly realistic. But one of my minor joys of “TRUMBO” came from the costume designs. Not only do I admire how designer Daniel Orlandi re-created mid-20th century fashion for the film industry figures in Southern California, as shown in the images below:

image5

566b26005248f-e1d2eq2ng8

I was especially impressed by Orlandi’s re-creation of . . . you guessed it! Columnist Hedda Hopper‘s famous hats, as shown in the following images:

image7 Women-of-Trumbo14-e1458032178821

I have read two reviews for “TRUMBO”. Both reviewers seemed to like the movie, yet both were not completely impressed by it. I probably liked it a lot more than the two. “TRUMBO” proved to be the second movie I actually paid attention to about the Blacklist. I think it has to do with the movie’s presentation. “TRUMBO” seemed to be divided into three acts. The first act introduced the characters and Trumbo’s problems with the House Committee on Un-American Activities, leading to his being imprisoned for eleven months on charges of contempt of Congress, for his refusal to answer questions from HUAC. The second act focused on those years in which Trumbo struggled to remain employed as a writer for the low-budget King Brothers Productions, despite being blacklisted by the major studios. And the last act focused upon Trumbo’s emergence from the long shadow of the blacklist, thanks to his work on “SPARTACUS” and “EXODUS”.

I have only one real complaint about “TRUMBO”. Someone once complained that the movie came off as uneven. And I must admit that the reviewer might have a point. I noticed that the film’s first act seemed to have a light tone – despite Trumbo’s clashes with Hollywood conservatives and HUAC. Even those eleven months he had spent in prison seemed to have an unusual light tone, despite the situation. But once the movie shifted toward Trumbo’s struggles trying to stay employed, despite the blacklist, the movie’s tone became somewhat bleaker. This was especially apparent in those scenes that featured the screenwriter’s clashes with his family over his self-absorbed and strident behavior towards them and his dealings with fellow (and fictional) screenwriter Arlen Hird. But once actor Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger expressed interest in ignoring the Blacklist and hiring Trumbo for their respective movies, the movie shifted toward a lighter, almost sugarcoated tone again. Now, there is nothing wrong with a movie shifting from one tone to another in accordance to the script. My problem with these shifts is that they struck me as rather extreme and jarring. There were moments when I found myself wondering if I was watching a movie directed by two different men.

Another problem I had with “TRUMBO” centered around one particular scene that featured Hedda Hopper and MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer. In this scene, Hopper forces Mayer to fire any of his employees who are suspected Communists, including Trumbo. The columnist did this by bringing up Mayer’s Jewish ancestry and status as an immigrant from Eastern Europe. This scene struck me as a blatant copy of one featured in the 1999 HBO movie, “RKO 281”. In that movie, Hopper’s rival, Louella Parsons (portrayed by Brenda Blethyn) utilized the same method to coerce – you guess it – Mayer (portrayed by David Suchet) to convince other studio bosses to withhold their support of the 1941 movie, “CITIZEN KANE”. Perhaps the filmmakers for “TRUMBO” felt that no one would remember the HBO film. I did. Watching that scene made me wonder if I had just witnessed a case of plagiarism. And I felt rather disappointed.

Despite these jarring shifts in tone, I still ended up enjoying “TRUMBO” very much. Instead of making an attempt to cover Dalton Trumbo’s life from childhood to death, the movie focused upon a very important part in the screenwriter’s life – the period in which his career in Hollywood suffered a major decline, due to his political beliefs. And thanks to Jay Roach’s direction and John McNamara’s screenplay, the movie did so with a straightforward narrative. Some of the film’s critics had complained about its sympathetic portrayal of Trumbo, complaining that the movie had failed to touch upon Trumbo’s admiration of the Soviet Union. Personally, what would be the point of that? A lot of American Communists did the same, rather naively and stupidly in my opinion. But considering that this movie mainly focused upon Trumbo’s experiences as a blacklisted writer, what would have been the point? Trumbo was not professionally and politically condemned for regarding the Soviet Union as the epitome of Communism at work. He was blacklisted for failing to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Also, the movie did not completely whitewash Trumbo. McNamara’s screenplay did not hesitate to condemn how Trumbo’s obsession with continuing his profession as a screenwriter had a negative impact upon his relationship with his family – especially his children. It also had a negative impact with his relationship with fellow screenwriter (the fictional) Arlen Hird, who wanted Trumbo to use his work for the King Brothers to express their liberal politics. Trumbo seemed more interested in staying employed and eventually ending the Blacklist. I came away with the feeling that the movie was criticizing the screenwriter for being more interested in regaining his successful Hollywood career than in maintaining his politics.

“TRUMBO” also scared me. The movie scared me in a way that the 2010 movie, “THE CONSPIRATOR” did. It reminded me that I may disagree with the political or social beliefs of another individual; society’s power over individuals – whether that society came in the form of a government (national, state or local) or any kind of corporation or business industry – can be a frightening thing to behold. It can be not only frightening, but also corruptive. Watching the U.S. government ignore the constitutional rights of this country’s citizens (including Trumbo) via the House Committee on Un-American Activities scared the hell out of me. Watching HUAC coerce and frighten actor Edward G. Robinson into exposing people that he knew as Communists scared me. What frightened me the most is that it can happen again. Especially when I consider how increasingly rigid the world’s political climate has become.

I cannot talk about “TRUMBO” without focusing on the performances. Bryan Cranston earned a slew of acting nominations for his portrayal of Dalton Trumbo. I have heard that the screenwriter was known for being a very colorful personality. What is great about Cranston’s performance is that he captured this trait of Trumbo’s without resorting to hammy acting. Actually, I could say the same about the rest of the cast. Helen Mirren portrayed the movie’s villain, Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper with a charm and charisma that I personally found both subtle and very scary. Diane Lane gave a subtle and very convincing performance as Trumbo’s wife Cleo, who not only stood by her husband throughout his travails, but also proved to be strong-willed when his self-absorption threatened to upset the family dynamics. Louis C.K., the comic actor gave a poignant and emotional performance as the fictional and tragic screenwriter, Arden Hird.

Other memorable performances caught my attention as well. Elle Fanning did an excellent job portraying Trumbo’s politically passionate daughter, who grew to occasionally resent her father’s pre-occupation with maintaining his career. Michael Stuhlbarg did a superb job in conveying the political and emotional trap that legendary actor Edward G. Robinson found himself, thanks to HUAC. Both John Goodman and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje gave colorful and entertaining performances as studio head Frank King and Trumbo’s fellow convict Virgil Brooks, respectively. Stephen Root was equally effective as the cautious and occasionally paranoid studio boss, Hymie King. Roger Bart gave an excellent performance as fictional Hollywood producer Buddy Ross, a venal personality who seemed to lack Robinson’s sense of guilt for turning his back on the blacklisted Trumbo and other writers. David James Elliot gave a very interesting performance as Hollywood icon John Wayne, conveying the actor’s fervent anti-Communist beliefs and willingness to protect Robinson from Hedda Hopper’s continuing hostility toward the latter. And in their different ways, both Dean O’Gorman and Christian Berkel gave very entertaining performances as the two men interested in employing Trumbo by the end of the 1950s – Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger.

I noticed that “TRUMBO” managed to garner only acting nominations for the 2015-2016 award season. Considering that the Academy Award tends to nominate at least 10 movies for Best Picture, I found it odd that the organization was willing to nominate the likes of “THE MARTIAN” (an unoriginal, yet entertaining feel-good movie) and “MAD MAX: FURY ROAD” (for which I honestly do not have a high regard) in that category. “TRUMBO” was not perfect. But I do not see why it was ignored for the Best Picture category, if movies like “THE MARTIAN” can be nominated. I think director Jay Roach, screenwriter John McNamara and a cast led by the always talented Bryan Cranston did an excellent job in conveying a poisonous period in both the histories of Hollywood and this country.

“STEVE JOBS” (2015) Review

“STEVE JOBS” (2015) Review

I might as well say it up front. “STEVE JOBS” is a strange film. At least to me. It is probably the oddest film I have ever seen in 2015. There are a good number of aspects about this film that makes it so odd to me.

Judging from the title of this film, it is not hard to surmise that “STEVE JOBS” is a biography about the late co-founder of Apple, Inc. Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin, the movie was inspired by Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography. Sorkin’s screnplay was also inspired by a series of interviews he had conducted with people who had known Steve Jobs. So far . . . there seemed to be nothing odd about this film. And it is not the first biopic about Jobs. But what made this movie so odd? Well, I will tell you.

The movie is divided into three acts. Each act is set during an event in which Jobs launches one of his computer products. Act One is set in 1984 in which Jobs and marketing executive Joanna Hoffman deal with problems before the Apple Macintosh launch. Act Two features Jobs preparing for the NeXT Computer launch at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall in 1988. The final act is set in 1998, in which Jobs, who has been named CEO of Apple, Inc., prepares to launch the iMac, the computer that restored the company’s fortunes. All three acts also feature Jobs interacting with the following people:

*Joanna Hoffman – Jobs’ marketing executive and confidant
*Steve Wozniak – Apple, Inc. co-founder and creator of the Apple II
*John Sculley – CEO of Apple from 1983 to 1993
*Chrisann Brennan – Jobs’ former girlfriend
*Andy Hertzfeld – Member of the original AppleMacintosh team
*Joel Pforzheimer – GQ Magazine journalist, who interviews Jobs throughout the film
*Lisa Brennan-Jobs – the daughter of Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan

By now, many would realize that the movie really is not about those new products being launched by Jobs throughout the film. It seemed to be about his relationships with the other major characters featured in this movie. However, by the time I watched the movie’s final frame, it occurred to me that “STEVE JOBS” was really about his relationship with his oldest offspring, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, who aged from six to twenty years old in this film. What was so special about this particular relationship? Well, according to Sorkin’s screenplay, Jobs and Brennan had a brief fling toward the end of the 1970s, which resulted in Lisa’s conception. However, Jobs had refused to acknowledge Lisa as his daughter for several years. Once he did, their relationship continued to be fraught with tensions, due to Jobs’ suspicions that Lisa’s mother was an erratic parent who was using the girl to acquire a lot more money from him. By the time Lisa is a twenty year-old college student, father and daughter have a spat over her apparent failure to prevent her mother from selling the house he had given them and his threat to withhold her college tuition.

And this is the problem I had with “STEVE JOBS”. Do not get me wrong. Most of the performances in this movie were excellent – including those by Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg and Perla Haney-Jardine, who portrayed the 19-20 year-old Lisa. Michael Fassbender, in my opinion, gave a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. In fact, I feel he really deserves one. So does Kate Winslet, whom I thought was brilliant as the pragmatic and loyal Joanna Hoffman. Fortunately, the Motion Picture Academy and the Hollywood community did remember Fassbender and Winslet’s performances and rewarded them with Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress nominations for both of them.

I also felt that the subject of this movie was interesting. I also found the various products launched by Jobs, along with his impact or lack thereof on Apple, Inc. throughout this period rather interesting, as well. And Jobs’ relationships with Hoffman, Wozniak, Sculley and Hertzfeld were also interesting. But I eventually realized these topics were minor in compare to Jobs’ relationship with Lisa. Even during his conversations with the other characters, the topics of Lisa, Chrisann and his own complicated childhood were brought up by the other characters. This movie was really about Jobs’ role as a father. And that is why it ended in such an abrupt manner, when he and Lisa finally managed to reconcile right before the iMac launch. And honestly, I feel this was a mistake.

Despite the fine performances and the interesting topics featured in this film, I left the theaters feeling somewhat gypped. I thought I was going to see a biographical movie about Steve Jobs and his impact upon the high tech community and the people he knew. To a certain extent, that is what Boyle and Sorkin gave the audiences. But this movie was really about Jobs’ relationship with his daughter Lisa. And instead of admitting it outright, I feel that Boyle and Sorkin manipulated the audiences into realizing this. No wonder everyone else kept bringing up the topic of Lisa. No wonder the movie was only set between 1984 and 1998. No wonder it ended so abruptly, following his reconciliation with Lisa. And no wonder this movie failed to make a profit at the box office. For a movie with such potential, I found it rather disappointing in the end.

Favorite ALIEN INVASION Movies

cover

Below is a list of my favorite movies about alien invasions: 

FAVORITE ALIEN INVASION MOVIES

1-The Avengers

1. “The Avengers” (2012) – In what probably is one of my favorite movies of all time, various Marvel Comics heroes band together to battle an alien invasion led by Thor’s stepbrother, Loki. The movie featured superb writing and direction by Joss Whedon.

2-Avatar

2. “Avatar” (2009) – In this twist on the alien invasion genre, James Cameron produced, wrote and directed this visually stunning tale about a paraplegic ex-marine who becomes part of a unique science program on the moon of another planet and ends up helping the inhabitants of Pandora protect their world from human invaders. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana star.

3-Independence Day

3. “Independence Day” (1996) – Dean Devlin produced and Roland Emmerich directed this blockbuster about humanity facing an alien invasion during the Fourth of July weekend. Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman starred.

4-Battle - Los Angeles

4. “Battle: Los Angeles” (2011) – Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez star in this surprisingly satisfying science-fiction thriller about a platoon of U.S. Marines battling invading aliens in Los Angeles.

5-War of the Worlds 2005

5. “War of the Worlds” (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this excellent adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel about a New Jersey man who tries to keep his family intact during an alien invasion. Tom Cruise starred.

6-Men in Black 3

6. “Men in Black 3” (2012) – Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin starred in this entertaining third entry in the MEN IN BLACK franchise about Agent J’s effort to prevent an alien assassin from killing his partner in the past . . . and act that will allow the assassin’s species to invade Earth. Barry Sonnenfeld directed.

7-Cowboys and Aliens

7. “Cowboys and Aliens” (2011) – Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford starred in this entertaining adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s graphic novel about a New Mexico community in the 1870s, staving off an alien invasion. Jon Favreau directed.

8-Star Trek - First Contact

8. “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996) – Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E travel to Earth’s past to prevent the Borg from assimilating Earth. Jonathan Frakes directed.

9-War of the Worlds 1953

9. “The War of the Worlds” (1953) – Gene Barry and Ann Robinson starred in this solid (and first) adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel about Martians invading Earth. Byron Haskin directed.

“MEN IN BLACK 3” (2012) Review

 

“MEN IN BLACK 3” (2012) Review

After 2002’s “MEN IN BLACK II”, I never thought I would ever see another movie from the franchise based upon Lowell Cunningham’s The Men in Black comic book series. Never. After all, it was not exactly a critical success and was barely a commercial hit. And yet . . . the team from the first two movies went ahead and created a third one for the franchise. 

“MEN IN BLACK 3” picks up ten years after the last movie. Boris the Animal, the last surviving member of the Boglodite species, escapes from the LunarMax prison on Earth’s moon with the intention of seeking revenge against the MIB agent responsible for his arrest and loss of arm – Agent K. The latter discovers during a skirmish he and Agent J experience at a local Chinese restaurant that Boris has escaped. Unfortunately for Agent K, Boris arrives in Manhattan and seeks Jeffrey Price, the son of a fellow prisoner who had possession of a few time-jump mechanisms. Not much time passes before Agent K disappears from existence and Agent J is the only one who remembers his partner.

Agent O, who is MIB’s new Chief following Zed’s passing, deduces from Agent J’s statements that a fracture has occurred in the space-time continuum. The two realize Boris must have time-jumped to 1969 and killed K. And now an imminent Boglodite invasion threatens Earth, due to the absence of the protective ArcNet that K had installed in 1969. J acquires a similar time-jump mechanism from Price, jumps off the Chrysler Building in order to reach time-travel velocity, and arrives in July 1969, a day before Boris kills K.

When I learned that Steven Spielberg, director Barry Sonnenfeld, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones planned to do a third MEN IN BLACK movie; I could only shake my head in disbelief. Mind you, I did not dislike the second film. But it seemed a disappointment in compare to the quality of 1997 original movie. But in the end, I could not say no to a MEN IN BLACKmovie. And thank God I did go see it.

Now, “MEN IN BLACK 3” was not perfect. There were a few aspects about Etan Cohen’s screenplay that left me scratching my head. If Boris the Animal (oops! I mean Boris) had been imprisoned in the LunarMax prison for over 40 years, how on earth did Boris’ girlfriend Lily, who helped him escape, learn about his existence in the first place? I am also a little confused about Agent J and Agent K’s ages. According to 1997’s “MEN IN BLACK”, Agent k was a teenager in New Jersey when he experienced his first alien encounter before becoming a member of the Men in Black agency in 1961 or 1962. Yet, according to Cohen’s script, Agent K was a Texas native born in 1940. As for Agent J, he was at least four years old in July 1969. Which makes him at least 46 or 47 years old in this story. I could have sworn he was at least three or four years younger. Oh well.

However, by the time I became deeply engrossed in the story, I managed to forget these questionable aspects of “MEN IN BLACK 3”. I believe that “MEN IN BLACK” is the funnier movie. I cannot deny this. However, I feel that “MEN IN BLACK 3” had the best plot of the three films. Time travel tends to be a hit-or-miss topic when it comes to the science-fiction genre. Aside from the questionable aspects of Agents K and J’s ages, I feel that “MEN IN BLACK 3” provided a first-rate time travel story. One, Agent J proved to be the right character chosen for a time travel mission. Being over twenty years younger than his partner, he was the right person to see New York City and Cape Canaveral in 1969. Boris’ reasons for time travel proved to be a heady mixture of personal vengeance and the successful completion of his original mission to kill a refugee alien named Griffin, who possessed the ArcNet, a satellite device that would prevent Boris’ species, the Boglodites, from invading Earth and destroying mankind. Agent J’s time travel adventures gave audiences two peaks into what it must have been like for an African-American in the 1960s New York – something that the TV series “MAD MEN” more or less failed to do after five seasons. Kudos to director Barry Sonnenfeld for keeping this fascinating tale hilarious, poignant and on track.

Not only did “MEN IN BLACK 3” provided a first-rate time travel story, it also possessed some memorable scenes that I will never forget. My favorite scenes include the brief, yet bizarre memorial service for the recently dead Agent Zed; Agents K and J’s skirmish with some truly bizarre agents at a Chinese restaurant that I would not recommend to humans; Agent J’s initial time jump to 1969; J’s hilarious elevator encounter with a bigot fearful of being in close proximity with a black man; Agent J and young Agent K’s very funny and surprising meeting with “Andy Warhol” at the latter’s factory; the two agents’ meeting with Griffin at Shea Stadium; the meeting between old and young Boris in 1969; and Agent J’s discovery at Cape Canaveral of the true reason behind K’s strange behavior at the beginning of the story. But my favorite moment featured Agent J’s discovery that Agent K’s habit of ordering pie was just as frustrating in the past as it was in the present.

The production for “MEN IN BLACK 3” was also first-rate. Danny Elfman continued his outstanding work in providing a score similar to the franchise’s signature theme. I found Bill Pope’s photography to be rather sharp and colorful – especially the 1969 segments. Don Zimmerman did outstanding work as the film’s editor. I was especially impressed by his work in the time jump sequence and the showdown between the MIB agents and Boris at Cape Canaveral. And both Mary E. Vogt’s costume designs and Bo Welch’s production designs perfectly recaptured the end of the 1960s.

As for the performances . . . what can I say? The cast gave some truly outstanding performances in this film. Will Smith was absolutely marvelous as the time traveling Agent J. I thought he gave one of his best performances in a role that required him to be funny and poignant at the same time. I suspect that he more or less carried the movie on his shoulders. But he had fine support from a wonderful Tommy Lee Jones, who allowed audiences another peek into a personality who hid his emotions behind a stoic mask. I just never thought his emotions would be directed at Smith’s Agent J. And I never thought Spielberg and Sonnenfeld would find someone who not only could perfectly portray a younger Agent K, but create a similar screen dynamic with Smith. And Josh Brolin proved to be the man who did the job. He was fantastic.

Emma Thompson portrayed Agent O, the new leader of the Men in Black agency. And I adored her performance, especially the scene that required her to give a eulogy for Zed at his memorial . . . in an alien language. Alice Eve was charming as the younger Agent O. She and Brolin had a nice chemistry going as two MIB agents attracted to one another. What can I say about Michael Stuhlbarg’s performance as the precognitive alien, Griffin? Oh God, he was so wonderful. He portrayed Griffin with a delicious mixture of wisdom and naivety. I wanted to gather him in my arms and squeeze him like a teddy bear. Someone once commented (or complained) that New Zealand comic Jemaine Clement as the movie’s main villain, Boris the Animal, was not funny. Frankly, Clement was a lot more scary than funny. But he did have one scene that left me rolling in the aisles with laughter – namely Boris’ encounter with his younger self in 1969. Even more important, Clement portrayed Boris as one scary and resourceful villain.

What else can I say about “MEN IN BLACK 3”? Sure, it had a few glitches regarding the plot and the two main characters’ ages. But thanks to Etan Cohen’s script that featured an outstanding time travel story, outstanding performances from a cast led by Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin; the movie turned out to be a first-rate addition to the franchise and one of my favorite movies of the summer of 2012. Thank you Barry Sonnenfeld! You have not lost your touch.

“HUGO” (2011) Review

 

“HUGO” (2011) Review

To the surprise of many, the top two contenders for Best Picture of 2011 featured on the history of film in the early 20th century. One of them was the Oscar winning “silent” film, “THE ARTIST”. The other turned out to be Martin Scorsese’s latest endeavor called “HUGO”

Based upon Brian Selznick’s 2008 novel, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”“HUGO” told the story of a 12 year-old boy named Hugo Cabret, who lives with his widowed father, a clockmaker in 1931 Paris. Hugo’s father, who is a fan of Georges Méliès’s films, takes him to the theater on many occasions. When Hugo’s father dies in a museum fire, the boy is forced to live with his alcoholic Uncle Claude, who is also a watchmaker at the railway station, Gare Montparnasse. After teaching Hugo to maintain clocks, Claude disappears. His body is later found in the Seine River, drowned. Hugo lives between the walls of the railway station, maintaining clocks, stealing food and doing his best to avoid the attention of the tough stationmaster to avoid being shipped to a local orphanage.

He also becomes obsessed with repairing his father’s broken automaton – a mechanical man that writes with a pen. Convinced the automaton contains a message from his father, Hugo steals mechanical parts in order to repair the automaton. However, he is caught by a toy store owner, Papa Georges, who takes Hugo’s notebook from him, with notes and drawings for fixing the automaton. Hugo follows Georges home and befriends a girl close to his age named Isabelle and the latter’s goddaughter. When Hugo is finally able to repair the automaton, it produces a drawing straight from a Georges Méliès film. Thanks to the drawing and a film historian, Hugo and Isabelle discover that the latter’s godfather is the famous filmmaker, now financially strapped and forgotten.

When I first learned about “HUGO”, I heard that it was based upon a children’s book. And I found it unusual that Martin Scorsese would make a film for children. As it turned out, “HUGO” is more than just a story for children. It eventually turned out to be a peek into another chapter in film history, slowly focusing on the work of Georges Méliès, who was responsible for early silent films such as “A TRIP TO THE MOON” (1902) and “THE IMPOSSIBLE VOYAGE” (1904). I noticed that Scorsese utilized his usual formula in unfolding the movie’s plot. As in most of his other movies, he slowly introduced the characters – both major and minor – before setting up his plot. And while this formula worked in such films as “GOODFELLAS”“THE AGE OF INNOCENCE” and “CASINO”, it did not quite work for “HUGO”.

For me, “HUGO” suffered from two problems. One, the movie lingered just a bit too long on the introduction of all the characters – especially those who did not have any effect on Hugo’s situation or with the discovery . And because of this, the pacing in its first half dragged incredibly long. In fact, it dragged so long that I almost lost interest in finishing the film. It was not until Hugo managed to repair the automaton and continue his and his father’s love of films when life finally breathed into the film. From the moment the automaton produced the drawing of the moon from “A TRIP TO THE MOON”, I became increasingly interested in the film. “HUGO” soon became a interesting trip into the world of early Frenchfilmmaking. And it ended as a poignant story about how a boy’s love for his father and movies allowed a forgotten artist to be remembered by a new generation of filmgoers. I found myself practically on the verge of tears by the last frame.

If there was one aspect of “HUGO” that truly impressed me was the movie’s production design. Thanks to the legendary Dante Ferretti, it is truly one of the most beautiful looking films I have seen in the past few years. The movie’s visual style was enhanced by David Warren’s supervision of the movie’s art direction, and cinematographer Robert Richardson’s recreation of the Multicolor process – which he also used in the first half of “THE AVIATOR”. Although I was mildly impressed by Sandy Powell’s costume designs, it was Francesca Lo Schiavo’s set decorations, especially for the re-creation of the Gare Montparnasse station circa 1931, which really impressed me. In the end, the movie almost conveyed a Jules Verne visual style that I suspect seemed appropriate for a film about Georges Méliès. I could comment on Howard Shore’s score. But if I must be honest, I have no memories of it.

The film’s other real strength came from the cast led by young Asa Butterfield’s poignant portrayal of Hugo Calvert. He was ably supported by Chloë Grace Moretz, who gave a charming performance as Hugo’s friend Isabelle, and Helen McCrory’s skillful portrayal of Méliès’s supportive wife. Performers such as Ray Winstone, Jude Law, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths gave solid, yet brief performances. But aside from Butterfield, the most impressive performance came from Ben Kingsley, who was superb as Méliès. Kingsley conveyed every aspect of Méliès’s personality and life experiences. I am still astounded that he was never given any kind of acting nomination for his performance.

I cannot deny that “HUGO” is a very beautiful looking film. And I also cannot deny that I was mesmerized by the film’s second half – especially when it focused on Hugo and Isabelle’s discovery of Méliès’ past as a filmmaker. The movie also benefited from a first-rate cast and especially from superb performances from Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley. But Martin Scorsese tried to create a small epic out of a story that was part children’s tale/part film history. Which is why I believe“HUGO” fell short of becoming – at least in my eyes – one of the better movies of 2011.

Controversial Finale: “BOARDWALK EMPIRE” (2.12) “To the Lost”

CONTROVERSIAL FINALE: “BOARDWALK EMPIRE” (2.12) “To the Lost”

The Season Two finale of “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”(2.12) “To the Lost” has been viewed as an end of an era for a good number of the series’ viewers and television critics. It marked an event that left some fans satisfied and others in a state of anger and resentment. But one cannot deny that this event – along with a few others – allowed the series to enter a new phase for its third season, which premiered last Sunday. 

One of the changes that materialized in “To the Lost” turned out to be the marriage between Atlantic City’s re-installed political boss, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson and his Irish-born mistress, the widowed Margaret Schroeder. Although both harbored feelings for each other, their marriage obviously seemed like one of convenience. Margaret had received a summons from Federal prosecutor Esther Randolph as a possible witness against Nucky for her husband’s murder back in Season One. By “To the Lost”, Margaret had embraced religion as a reaction to her daughter becoming a victim of the polio outbreak. When Nucky learned about her summons, he asked her to marry him in order to prevent her from testifying against him and to avoid serving time inprison. Margaret agreed. But she had also hoped to convince Nucky to do the same – before and after the charges against him were dropped. To her disappointment, Nucky revealed no interest in embracing religion. Worse, he had signed over a piece of valuable property to Margaret, when he feared that the Federal government might confiscate his possessions.

When Margaret learned about the murder of Alderman James Neary – an enemy of Nucky’s – she immediately assumed he was behind the crime. As it turned out, she was wrong. Nucky’s former protégée, Jimmy Darmody, committed the deed with friend Richard Harrow’s help, in an effort to win the political boss’ forgiveness for his betrayal. However, Margaret went ahead and signed over Nucky’s land to the Catholic Church. The ironic aspect of Margaret’s reasoning behind her actions was that she harbored a secret of her own. In the season’s seventh episode, (2.07) “Peg of Old”, she had sex with Owen Sleater, Nucky’s new bodyguard. This happened at a time when Nucky was facing an assassination attempt arranged by Jimmy. Margaret eventually found the nerve to confess her infidelity to the local priest and to God. Margaret seemed willing to judge Nucky for his lies – real and imagined. Yet, she failed to find the courage to confess her sin of infidelity to Nucky.

Albert “Chalky” White, the unofficial leader of Atlantic City’s African-American community, had to endure numerous difficulties during Season Two. The Ku Klux Klan attacked his bootleg operation in the season’s premiere episode, (2.01) “21”, resulting in the deaths of several of his men. Chalky managed to kill one of the Klansmen during the attack. He ended up being charged with murder. Nucky’s attorney managed to get him out of jail on bail, but Chalky still faced a trial. This ended when Jimmy managed to get the State Attorney’s office to drop the murder charges. Jimmy, along with Richard’s help, attacked a Klan gathering at gunpoint, shot two men and demanded the men who had attacked Chalky’s warehouse in “21”. After delivering the men to Chalky and the latter’s new right-hand man, former jail cell nemesis Dunn Purnsley, Jimmy asked the former to contact Nucky on his behalf. This arrest would lead to the first of two meetings between Jimmy and Nucky and the former’s controversial death that ended Season Two.

Like many other fans of “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”, I had made the mistake of assuming that Nucky would eventually forgive Jimmy for his Season Two transgressions. After all, the Jimmy Darmody character was the second lead in the series. After watching “To the Lost”, I realize that I had been living in a fantasy. So had Jimmy. The deaths of his wife Angela and father, the Commodore, in(2.11) “Under God’s Power She Flourishes” had left him shaken to his core. I suspect this also led him to realize it would be in his best interest to seek forgiveness from Nucky. Jimmy engaged in a campaign to make up for his past transgressions – which included a murder attempt on Nucky. With Richard’s help, he nabbed the Klansmen who was responsible for the attack on Chalky’s bootlegging operation; set up both Alderman Jim Neary and Eli Thompson for election fraud, before faking Neary’s death as a suicide; and claimed that Eli was responsible for introducing the idea of a hit on Nucky. But all of this did not work. It was Richard who pointed out that no matter what Jimmy did, Nucky would never forgive him.

Now that I think about it, I found myself wondering why Jimmy never considered the possibility that Nucky was not the forgiving type . . . until it was too late. Surely he must have remembered Nucky’s reaction when he and Al Capone had stolen Arnold Rothstein’s whiskey shipment in the series’ premiere, (1.01) “Boardwalk Empire”. Nucky had been so angry that he fired Jimmy as his driver and demanded that the World War I veteran pay $3,000 as compensation for committing the robbery in his town and without his consent. Jimmy was forced to flee from Atlantic City to Chicago, when a witness to the heist reappeared. And even though Nucky asked Jimmy to return to help him deal with his war against Rothstein, he remained angry over the heist. Now if Nucky was unable to completely forgive Jimmy for the whiskey heist in Season One; his chances of forgiving the younger man for an attempted murder seemed pretty moot. And no one – including myself – seemed to realize this.

I am not condoning Nucky’s murder of Jimmy. I believe that what he had done was wrong. But I must admit that I found some of the outraged reactions against the crime rather puzzling. Although some had expressed disappointment over Jimmy’s sanction of the murder attempt on Nucky in “Peg of Old”, the level of anger toward Jimmy seemed particularly mute in comparison to their anger toward Nucky for his actions in “To the Lost”. This same television season also saw the death of lead actor Sean Bean in another HBO series, “GAME OF THRONE”. Some had expressed surprise at the turn of events, but not anger.

Some fans might point out that it was Nucky’s younger brother and Atlantic City’s sheriff, the resentful Eli Thompson, who had initiated the idea of killing Nucky. Jimmy even told Nucky of Eli’s participation in the hit. I suspect that Nucky suspected that Jimmy had told the truth. But he had considered two things. One, Eli was his brother. And two, it was Jimmy who gave the final decision to have Nucky killed. In the end, even Eli failed to completely escape Nucky’s wrath. Although his life was spared, the political boss forced him to plead guilty to the corruption charges and face at least two years in prison (or less with parole). Something tells me that Eli’s career as Sheriff of Atlantic County had ended permanently.

Jimmy had also been wrong to order the hit on Nucky. Yet, the level of anger toward his act was barely minimal. Were these fans upset that Nucky had succeeded, where Jimmy had failed? Or was their anger due to the loss of the younger and good-looking Michael Pitt, who had NOT been the series’ lead? Because no one had expressed similar sentiments over the older Bean’s departure from “GAME OF THRONES”. Was this major outrage over Jimmy’s death had more to do with superficial preference than moral outrage? It is beginning to seem so to me.

I had enjoyed Michael Pitt’s portrayal of the troubled Jimmy Darmody, during his two-year stint on “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”. But unlike many other fans, I cannot accept the views of some that the series had jumped the shark with his character’s death. I refuse to claim that the series’ quality will remain the same, or get better or worse. I can only make that judgment after Series Three has aired. But the very talented Steve Buscemi remains at the lead as Enoch “Lucky” Thompson. And creator Terence Winter continues to guide the series. Considering the number of changes that marked “To the Lost”, I am curious to see how the story will continue.