“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.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1970s

1970-films-initials-and-graphics

Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1920s: 


FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1970s

1 - American Gangster

1. American Gangster (2007) – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe starred in this biopic about former Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the Newark police detective who finally caught him. Ridley Scott directed this energetic tale.



2 - Munich

2. Munich (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this tense drama about Israel’s retaliation against the men who committed the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Ciarán Hinds starred.



3 - Rush

3. Rush (2013) – Ron Howard directed this account of the sports rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One auto racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred.



4 - Casino

4. Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese directed this crime drama about rise and downfall of a gambler and enforcer sent West to run a Mob-owned Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.



5 - Super 8

5. Super 8 (2011) – J.J. Abrams directed this science-fiction thriller about a group of young teens who stumble across a dangerous presence in their town, after witnessing a train accident, while shooting their own 8mm film. Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler starred.



6 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) – Gary Oldman starred as George Smiley in this recent adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel about the hunt for a Soviet mole in MI-6. Tomas Alfredson directed.



7 - Apollo 13

7. Apollo 13(1995) – Ron Howard directed this dramatic account about the failed Apollo 13 mission in April 1970. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon starred.



8 - Nixon

8. Nixon (1995) – Oliver Stone directed this biopic about President Richard M. Nixon. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen.



9 - Starsky and Hutch

9. Starsky and Hutch (2004) – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starred in this comedic movie adaptation of the 70s television series about two street cops hunting down a drug kingpin. Directed by Todd Phillips, the movie also starred Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Snoop Dogg.



10 - Frost-Nixon

10. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Ron Howard directed this adaptation of the stage play about David Frost’s interviews with former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen starred.

“TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” (2011) Review

“TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” (2011) Review

Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, author John le Carré wrote a series of popular novels called The Karla Trilogy that featured MI-6 officer George Smiley as the leading character. At least two versions of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” had been made The most recent is the 2011 movie in which Gary Oldman starred as Smiley. 

Set in 1973, “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” has George Smiley, who was recently forced to retire, recalled to hunt down a Soviet mole named “Gerald” in MI-6 (a.k.a. the “Circus”), the highest echelon of the Secret Intelligence Service. The movie began with “Control” – the head of MI-6 – sending agent Jim Prideaux to Hungary to meet a Hungarian general who wishes to sell information. The operation is blown and the fleeing Prideaux is shot in the back by Hungarian intelligence. After the international incident that followed, Control and his right-hand man, Smiley were forced into retirement. Control, already ill, died soon afterwards. When field agent Rikki Tarr learned through his affair with the wife of a Moscow Centre intelligence officer in Turkey that the Soviets have a mole within the higher echelon of MI-6, Civil Service officer Oliver Lacon recalled Smiley from retirement to find the mole known as “Gerald”. Smiley discovered that Control suspected five senior intelligence officers:

*Smiley
*Percy Alleline (new MI-6 chief)
*Bill Haydon (one of Alleline’s deputies)
*Roy Bland (another Alleline deputy and the only one from a working-class
background)
*Toby Esterhase (Alleline’s Hungarian-born deputy, recruited by Smiley)

I have never seen the 1979 television version of le Carré’s 1974 novel, which starred Alec Guinness. In fact, I have never been inclined to watch it. Until now. My interest in seeing the television adaptation has a lot to do with my appreciation of this new film version. I enjoyed it very much. I did not love it. After all, it did not make my Ten Favorite Movies of 2011 list. It nearly did, but . . . not quite.

Why did “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” fail to make my favorite 2011 movies list? Overall, Tomas Alfredson did an excellentjob in translating le Carré’s story to the screen. However . . . the pacing was slow. In fact, it crawled at the speed of a snail. It was so slow that in the end, I fell asleep some fifteen to twenty minutes before the movie ending, missing the very moment when Smiley exposed “Gerald” at the safe. However, I did wake up in time to learn the identity of “Gerald” and the tragic consequences of that revelation. I have one more problem with the film. Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed Peter Guillam, a former division head recruited to assist Smiley in the latter’s mole hunt. There was a brief scene featuring “DOWNTON ABBEY” regular, Laura Carmichael, in which Guillam revealed his homosexuality. Cumberbatch did an excellent job in conveying this revelation with very little dialogue and a great deal of facial expressions. And yet . . . this revelation seemed to have very little or no bearing, whatsoever, in the movie’s main plot. Even Smiley’s marital problems ended up being relevant to the main narrative. End in the end, I found the revelation of Guillam’s sexuality a wasted opportunity.

But there is a great deal to admire about “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY”. One, it is a fascinating tale about one of the time-honored plot lines used in more espionage – namely the mole hunt. I suppose one could credit le Carré for creating such a first-rate story. But I have seen too many mediocre or bad adaptations of excellent novels to solely credit le Carré for this movie. It would not have worked without great direction from Alfredson; or Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan’s superb script. I found Maria Djurkovic’s production designs for the film rather interesting. She injected an austere and slightly cold aura into her designs for 1973 London that suited the movie perfectly. And she was ably assisted by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, and art designers Tom Brown and Zsuzsa Kismarty-Lechner.

The heart and soul of “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” was its cast led by Gary Oldman, as George Smiley. The cast almost seemed to be a who’s who of British actors living in the United Kingdom. Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Ciarán Hinds and David Dencik portrayed the four men suspects being investigated by Smiley. All four did an excellent and kept the audience on their toes on who might be “Gerald”. However, I do have one minor complaint. Hinds’ character, Roy Bland, seemed to have received less screen time than the other three. Very little screen time, as a matter of fact. Mark Strong gave one of the movie’s better performances as the MI-6 agent, Jim Prideaux, who was betrayed by “Gerald” and eventually forced to leave “the Circus” following his return to Britain.

Both Simon McBurney and Kathy Burke gave solid performances as Civil Service officer Oliver Lecon and former MI-6 analyst Connie Sachs. However, Roger Lloyd-Pack seemed to be a bit wasted as another of Smiley’s assistants, Mendel. I have already commented on Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Peter Guillam. However, I must admit that I found his 1970s hairstyle to look a bit artificial. I can also say the same about the blond “locks” Tom Hardy used for his role as MI-6 agent Rikki Tarr. Fortunately, there was a good deal to admire about the actor’s emotional, yet controlled performance as Tarr. I really enjoyed John Hurt’s portrayal of Smiley’s former superior, the gregarious Control. I thought it was one of his more colorful roles in recent years.

However, the man of the hour is Gary Oldman and his portrayal of MI-6 officer, George Smiley. Many found the selection of Oldman to portray Smiley a rather curious one. The actor has built a reputation for portraying characters a lot more extroverted than the mild-mannered Smiley. His minimalist performance in “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” took a great deal of people by surprise. So much so that Oldman ended up earning an Academy Award nomination for his performance. And he deserved it, as far as I am concerned. I consider George Smiley to be one of Oldman’s best screen performances during his 30 odd years in movies. In fact, I suspect that the actor has made George Smiley his own, just as much as Alec Guinness did over thirty years ago.

As I had stated earlier, “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” is not perfect. Its pacing is as slow as molasses. I thought actor Ciarán Hinds and the plot revelation regarding Peter Gulliam’s homosexuality was vastly underused. But thanks to Tomas Alfredson’s direction, Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan’s Oscar nominated screenplay, and an excellent cast led by the superb Gary Oldman; the movie turned out to be a surprising treat and has ignited my interst in the world of George Smiley.

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.

“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: Echoing John Webster

 

“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: ECHOING JOHN WEBSTER

One of the flashbacks in the most recent episode of “BOARDWALK EMPIRE” featured a scene with the future Atlantic City crime lord, Jimmy Darmody, discussing the English dramatist John Webster’s 1612 play, “The White Devil” with his class at Princeton University. After watching the entire episode, it occurred to me that another one of Webster’s plays could have served as a reference. 

I have never posted an article about an episode of “BOARDWALK EMPIRE” during these last two seasons. I have posted a gallery featuring images and a list of favorite episodes from Season One. But after watching (2.11) “Under God’s Power She Flourishes”, I realized that I could not keep my mouth shut. Or at least refrain from writing something about it. What can I say? It blew my mind. Even more so than the previous episode, (2.10) “Georgia Peaches”.

“Under God’s Power She Flourishes” featured the deterioration of the relationship between former Atlantic City political boss Nucky Thompson and his Irish-born mistress, Margaret Schroeder. Margaret has been sagging under the belief that her sins – both past and recent – led to divine retribution in the form of her daughter Emily being struck down by polio. Margaret had hoped that a financial contribution to the Catholic Church would lead God to alleviate her daughter’s pain. When that failed, she decided that the only way to satisfy God would be to consider testifying against Nucky, regarding the murder of her late husband, Hans Schroeder. Naturally, Nucky is both disturbed and greatly peeved by Margaret’s suggestion. He thought he had finally nipped in the bud the possibility of being convicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for Schroeder’s murder. Nucky and his attorney had learned from the former’s servant about Treasury Agent Nelson Van Alden’s murder of fellow colleague Agent Sebso back in Season One.

Like Margaret, Van Alden had hoped that his recent actions – turning over his files on Nucky to Federal prosecutor Esther Randolph, granting his wife a divorce and resisting Mickey Doyle’s suggestion that he raid a bootlegging operation ran by Charlie Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Al Capone in exchange for a bribe – would lead God to prevent him from any further suffering or encountering further retribution for his crimes and sins. Instead, Esther Randolph reminded him of Agent Sebso’s murder and Van Alden found himself a fugitive from Federal justice. Looking at Margaret and Van Alden’s hopes and disappointments, I cannot help but wonder if their idea of embracing God called for some kind of business deal for their safety or the safety of loved ones.

But the meat of “Under God’s Power She Flourishes” picked up several hours after “Georgia Peaches” ended. Angela Darmody, who had been murdered by Philadelphia mobster/butcher Manny Horvitz in retaliation for a murder attempt, was being carried away by a coroner’s truck. A sheriff deputy questioned mother-in-law Gillian Darmody and Richard Harrow on the whereabouts of Angela’s missing husband, Jimmy. Jimmy had traveled to Princeton to unload a supply of bootleg whiskey he was unable to sell in Atlantic City. The news of Angela’s death, some booze and Luciano’s sample of heroin led to Jimmy recalling his last days at Princeton, before he joined the U.S. Army to fight World War I.

I tried to recall other “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”episodes that had relied on flashbacks, but none came to mind. I have no opinion on the use of flashbacks one way or the other, as long as they manage to serve the episode or movie in question. The Princeton flashbacks certainly served this latest “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”episode, as far as I am concerned. The flashbacks explained a great deal about Jimmy’s character and especially his relationships with both his mother Gillian and Angela, who had been a waitress at a local cafe when she and Jimmy first became involved. Jimmy and Angela’s pre-marital affair led to son Tommy’s conception. The flashbacks also featured Gillian’s visit to Princeton, where she met Angela for the first time. It seemed pretty obvious that Gillian did not care for her son’s new lady love. I can only wonder if Gillian’s feelings toward Jimmy’s romance with Angela led her to do what she did that evening. It was bad enough that she had briefly become involved with Jimmy’s professor – the one with whom he discussed John Webster. But what she did later – seduce Jimmy into having sex with her – left my head spinning and the Internet buzzing over the incident. The night of incest between mother and son also led the latter to join the Army to escape facing their deed.

But Jimmy could not avoid facing Gillian forever. He eventually returned home to Atlantic City in order to work for Nucky and raise Tommy with Angela by his side. Jimmy also renewed his relationship with Gillian – without any sex being involved, thank goodness. Unfortunately, I suspect that incestuous night at Princeton had left its mark on Jimmy. It may have damaged his psyche considerably. And it may have also led him to make major mistakes such as joining Gillian and his father, former political boss Louis “the Commodore” Kaestner, to betray Nucky, his mentor. It led him to join forces with Luciano, Lansky and Capone, to form their own criminal organization. It, along with pressure from both Eli Thompson and Gillian, led him to organize an unsuccessful hit on Nucky. And it may have led him to commit his two biggest mistakes – welch on a $5,000 payment to Manny Horvitz and suggest that another gangster named Waxy Gordon kill the Philadelphia mobster/butcher. In the end, Angela ended up dead, Tommy motherless and Jimmy finally unable to hold back the memories of the Darmodys’ Princeton sexcapade.

But it got worse. Upon his return to Atlantic City in the present, Jimmy found Gillian crowing over Angela’s death. With her “rival” gone, I can only assume Gillian saw no need to hide her true feelings about the former “underweight waitress”. But her crowing only ignited rage within Jimmy and led him to strangle her. The timely and rather surprising intervention by the recovering Commodore saved Gillian’s life. But after stabbing Jimmy’s shoulder with an antique spear, Jimmy stabbed his father with a trench knife. Another surprise appeared out of the blue when Gillian, with flashing eyes and a sharp tone, barked at Jimmy to finish the job and kill his father. Which he did. Many fans have compared Jimmy to the mythical Greek tragic hero, Oedipus. But the latter never knew that the man he had killed and woman he married were his parents. Jimmy, probably to his everlasting regret, did not possess such a luxury. But the sight of Gillian carrying Tommy upstairs, while stating that the latter will grow someday, and reminding him of the location of her bedroom, seemed to have left Jimmy wondering if his life had made an even uglier turn.

As for poor Angela . . . did anyone mourn her? Gillian certainly did not. I believe Jimmy did. But his grief seemed to be entwined with guilt over the suspicion that he became involved with Angela for the wrong reasons. Tommy is not even aware that his mother is dead, thanks to Gillian’s lie about Angela departing for Paris for a bit of fun. The only one left is hitman Richard Harrow, whose brief and silent regard of Angela’s blood made it obviously clear – at least to me – that he will miss her friendship very much. She was the only one who was able to face his disfigurement and situation with an open mind that not even Jimmy completely possessed. But Richard proved that he still had Jimmy’s back, when he got rid of the Commodore’s body on behalf of his friend.

Jimmy and Gillian’s night of incest was shocking, but not really surprising. The series has hinted an incestuous vibe between them since the series’ second episode, (1.02) “The Ivory Tower”. In this episode, Jimmy finally revealed his return from the Army to Gillian, when he greeted her with a present, backstage at the at the Cafe Beaux-Arts nightclub. I still recall that moment when the two first laid eyes upon each other. A scantily-clad Gillian jumped into his arms and rained kisses on his face before admonishing him for not writing. Jimmy eventually asked her to put some clothes on and handed her a present – a necklace. At first, I thought Gillian was another girlfriend that he kept a secret from Angela. But when he called her “Mom”, I found myself in complete shock. What mother would greet her grown son in a scantily-clad costume, by jumping into his arms before wrapping her legs around him? That was the first of many weird moments between Jimmy and Gillian that eventually escalated into that mind-blowing flashback. Some viewers and critics are complaining that the incest came unexpectedly and out of right field. Frankly, I believe they were not paying close attention to the relationship between mother and son.

One of the ironies about the episode is that “Under God’s Power She Flourishes” is the motto of Princeton University, the site of Jimmy and Gillian’s night of infamy. However, the biggest irony for me turned out to be the Commodore’s death. I found it interesting that his death came from his attempt to act as an aging knight-in-armor for Gillian, the very woman he had raped when she was 12 or 13 years-old. In a twisted way, the Commodore’s necrophiliac tendencies ended up costing him his life, a quarter of a century later. I did find myself wondering why the Commodore had attempted to save Gillian’s life in the first place. Had he grown fond of her during those last months with her and Jimmy in his home? Or did Gillian’s bitter recollection of the rape finally brought forth some form of guilt on his mind? I guess we will never know.

And how did John Webster fit into all of this? Jimmy’s discussion with his professor about the dramatist’s “The White Devil” and the latter’s drunken entanglements with the visiting Gillian led to a declaration that Jimmy’s life was one Jacobean saga. Webster’s tales involved a great deal of tragedy, corruption, murder . . . well, you get the picture. Even the topic of incest had made its way into Webster’s works – especially in his 1612-13 play, “The Duchess of Malfi”. In that story, the female lead, the Duchess of Malfi, was murdered by her two brothers – in which one of them harbored incestuous feelings for her – after she married beneath her class. Well, the only person Jimmy murdered was the Commodore. But I find it rather interesting that Jimmy and Gillian’s incestuous tryst inadvertently led to the Commodore’s death.

Some people have expressed fears that the Season Two finale will never be able to top this episode. Frankly, I also rather doubt it will. “Under God’s Power She Flourishes” struck me as one of those episodes that many will remember for years to come. I really do not see how (2.12) “To the Lost” will be able even better. I do not see how any episode could top “Under God’s Power She Flourishes” so soon. Then again, I had no idea that Terence Winter and his writers would top a first-rate episode like “Georgia Peaches” with the next one. In the end, I can only hope that the Season Two finale would end up being entertaining and interesting in the long run.

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: On Stranger Tides” (2011) Review

 

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES” (2011) Review

When the Disney Studios and producer Jerry Bruckheimer had first released news of their intention to make sequels to their 2003 hit movie, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl”, I reacted to the news with a greatdeal of wariness. In fact, I was against the idea. But after seeing 2006’s “Dead Man’s Chest” and 2007’s “At World’s End”, my opinion had changed. I ended up enjoying the two movies just as much as I had enjoyed “Curse of the Black Pearl” . . . especially the second film. 

About two years after “At World’s End” hit the theaters, the Disney people and Bruckheimer had released news of their intention to make a fourth film. Again, I expressed wariness at the idea. I thought the three movies released between 2003and 2007 made a neat little trilogy. There was no need for a fourth movie. But Disney and Bruckheimer went ahead with their plans and a fourth movie was recently released. But unlike “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”, I found it difficult to enjoy “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: On Stranger Tides”.

I cannot say that I disliked the film. There were aspects of it that I genuinely enjoyed. Both Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush were in top form as Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Hector Barbossa. But I noticed something odd about their characters in this movie. For once, Jack did not have a particular goal to attain in this film. In “Curse of the Black Pearl”, he was after the Black Pearl. He was after the chest that contained Davy Jones’ heart in “Dead Man’s Chest” to be used to avoid a debt that he owned. And in “At World’s End”, he was still after Jones’ heart in order to gain the opportunity to become master of the Flying Dutchman and immortality. In this fourth movie, Jack seemed to have become swept up in Blackbeard and the British Crown’s agendas. And Barbossa seemed out of place as a privateer for His Majesty King George II and the Royal Navy. There was a scene that featured him eating slices of fruit arranged on a plate. He seemed to be doing his best to project the image of an officer and a gentleman . . . only he looked rather odd. However, both actors gave top notch performances and I could find nothing to complain about.

I could also say the same about the performances of Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and Stephen Graham as Angelica, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and a sailor named Scrum, respectively. All three were perfectly cast in their respective roles. Cruz did an excellent job in portraying the complex Angelica, who happened to be the daughter of Blackbeard. Although it is obvious that she is attracted to Jack – a former lover, she seemed to have this . . . need for her father’s love that made her into some kind of twisted Daddy’s girl wannabe. Unfortunately, McShane’s Blackbeard seemed like poor father material. There were times when he conveyed the image of a concerned and loving father. And yet, he proved to be nothing more than an emotional vampire who would easily kill his daughter if she got in the way of his goal – the Fountain of Youth. And I must admit that not only did McShane made a witty and terrifying Blackbeard, he handled his character’s twisted relationship with Angelica beautifully. Graham’s Scrum almost struck me as a younger version of Jack’s old friend, Joshamee Gibbs. And considering that the latter’s appearance in this film seemed somewhat limited, it seemed just as well that Graham received more screen time.

There were other aspects of “On Stranger Tides” that I enjoyed. Or should I say, scenes? The mermaids’ attacks upon Blackbeard’s men and upon the H.M.S. Providence were among the most terrifying scenes I have seen in the franchise since the Kracken’s attacks in “Dead Man’s Chest”. I also enjoyed the scene that featured Jack’s mutinous meeting with members of Blackbeard’s crew. Personally, I found it very funny and it brought back memories of former characters such as Pintel, Ragetti, Marty and Cotton. Jack’s meeting with King George II proved to be somewhat entertaining. And it led to an equally entertaining chase sequence through the streets of mid-18th century London. But my favorite scene featured Jack marooning Angelica on a deserted island, following the death of Blackbeard. The humor not only permeated strongly in their verbal exchange, but also in director Rob Marshall’s visual style. And I must admit that I also enjoyed the photography featured in the London scenes and the “island” where the Fountain of Youth was located. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski did justice to the lush Hawaii jungle that served as one of the movie’s settings.

So, if I had so much to enjoy about “On Stranger Tides”, why did it fail to resonate within me in the end? What went wrong? At least for me? My main problem with the movie is that I felt it tried to repeat many aspects of the first film,“Curse of the Black Pearl”. This is odd, considering that “On Stranger Tides” was allegedly inspired by Tim Powers’ 1987 novel, “On Stranger Tides”. The fourth film did not come off as a remake or anything of such. But there were too many aspects of the first film that seemed to be repeated in “On Stranger Tides”. One, Jack’s reunion with Angelica in a London tavern almost seemed like a remake of his first meeting with Will Turner in “Curse of the Black Pearl”. Scrum almost seemed like a remake of Joshamee Gibbs. This is not surprising, since he had more scenes with Jack that Gibbs and the latter (along with actor Kevin McNally) seemed wasted in the movie. Two of Blackbeard’s crew turned out to be zombies (if you can call them that). And they seemed like remakes (physical and otherwise) of Barbossa’s first mate from the first film, Bo’sun. More importantly, the romance between missionary Philip Swift and the mermaid Syrena almost seemed like a remake of the Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann romance . . . but without the character developments. If I must be honest, Philip and Syrena’s romance nearly put me to sleep on several occasions. I feel sorry for actors Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. They seemed like two decent actors forced to work with a pair of boring and undeveloped characters.

There were other problems I had with “On Stranger Tides”. The movie saw the return of Royal Navy officers Theodore Groves (from the first and third film) and Gillette (from the first film). What on earth did Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot did to their roles? Both characters almost seemed lobotomized. Well, Gillette did. Groves seemed to have lost his sense of humor. I recalled that he was a big fan boy of Jack in the first and third films. Yet, when he finally met Jack . . . nothing happened. He was too busy being a rather boring and stiff character. What happened to Jack and Barbossa’s own quests for the Fountain of Youth, which was first introduced in “At World’s End”? After a few years of failure, the audience is led to believe that Jack simply lost interest. And Barbossa’s earlier encounter with Blackbeard and the latter’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, led to the loss of one leg and the Black Pearl. And how did Barbossa managed to survive the loss of his leg. Apparently, Barbossa had to cut off his leg to free from Blackbeard’s enchanted ship lines. So, how did he manage to keep himself from bleeding to death in the ocean? How did he manage to swim to safety with one leg?

And then we come to the mermaids. How did the mermaids manage to destroy Barbossa’s ship, the H.M.S. Providence? It was one thing to lure men from small boats or smash said boats. It was another to do the same to a large frigate. I have never heard of such a thing in the mermaid mythology. One last major problem I had with the movie dealt with the presence of the Spanish. Like the British, they were after the Fountain of Youth. Only their leader, known as the Spaniard (portrayed by Óscar Jaenada), called himself destroying the Fountain in the name of his king and the Catholic Church, as some kind of stance against paganism. Worse, he possessed the very chalices that needed to be used to drink the Fountain’s water. Yet, he did not bother to smash them, until he was at the Fountain’s location. Why? And what in the hell were Elliot and Rossio thinking? Why include such a storyline that proved to be irrelevant, epsecially since Jack was able to use the Fountain’s water after its so-called destruction?

I hear that Disney Studios and Bruckheimer are planning a fifth movie. I can understand this decision, considering that“On Stranger Tides” raked up a great deal of profit at the box office. Frankly, I wish they would change their minds. I honestly do not care how much money the movie had made. After watching it, I realized that a fourth movie should not have been made . . . at least from an artistic point of view. It featured too much sloppy writing and characterizations for me to truly enjoy. “On Stranger Tides” might prove to be the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie that I cannot consider as a favorite.

“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: Top Five Favorite Season One Episodes

 

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In September 2010, a new series based upon Nelson Johnson’s book about the famous New Jersey coastal city during the Prohibition Era, “Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City”, premiered on HBO. Created by Terence Winter and produced by him, Mark Walhberg, and Martin Scorcese; “BOARDWALK EMPIRE” starred Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Pitt and Michael Shannon. Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from the series’ first season: 

 

“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON ONE EPISODES

1. (1.09) “Belle Femme” – This episode about Enoch “Nucky” Johnson’s efforts to deal with the threat of a Democratic mayoral candidate screaming corruption and the D’Alessio gang; his mistress Margaret Schroeder promises to help a former employer; and Jimmy Darmody’s return from Chicago proved to be my favorite episode this season.

 

2. (1.10) “The Emerald City” – Nucky asks for Margaret’s assistance in backing his mayoral candidate with the passage of women’s right to vote, leaving her conflicted about her role as his mistress. He, along with Chalky White and Jimmy confront Meyer Lansky and two of the D’Alessio brothers. Jimmy’s common-law wife, Angela Darmody, witnesses his violent side against her photographer friend, and Federal agent Nelson Van Alden grapples with his emotions and has forceful encounters with both Margaret and Lucy.

 

3. (1.01) “Boardwalk Empire” – The ninety (90) minute series’ premiere episode introduced Atlantic City treasurer, Enoch “Nucky” Johnson at the dawn of Prohibition in January, 1920; and his plans to make himself and his associates very rich from the bootlegging business.

 

4. (1.04) “Anastasia” – Michael Kenneth Williams has a field day in this episode in which his character, Chalky White extracts vengeance from a local Ku Klux Klan leader for lynching one of his men. And in Chicago, Jimmy and Al Capone expand their business operations by taking over territories from a local Irish gangster, resulting in vicious consequences for a prostitute that Jimmy was fond of.

 

5. (1.11) “Paris Green” – This episode featured many shake-ups in the relationships of Nucky and Margaret; Van Alden and his assistant, Agent Sebso; Jimmy and his relationships with his real father, the Commodore, Nucky, and Angela.

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Two “Day of Days” Commentary

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Two “Day of Days” Commentary

The last episode, ”Currahee” ended with Easy Company leaving England by air on June 5, 1944 to participate in the Allies’ invasion of Normandy. This second episode, ”Day of Days” re-counts Lieutenant Richard Winters and some members of Easy Company’s experiences during the drop into France on June 5 and during their assault of the German guns at Brécourt Manor on D-Day. 

Although the episode occasionally shifted to different viewpoints, the episode mainly focused upon Bill Guarnere, Donald Malarkey and especially Richard Winters. Winters became Easy Company’s new commander following the death of Lieutenant Thomas Meehan during the flight to Northern France. Before learning of Meehan’s death, Winters had to contend with the chaos and confusion that followed the airborne units’ drop into nighttime Normandy. Winters also had to deal with a hostile Guarnere, who was still angry over his older brother’s death. As for Malarkey, his first 24 hours in France proved to be interesting. He met a German prisoner-of-war who was born and raised nearly a hundred miles from him in Oregon. And he may have witnessed (or heard) the massacre of German prisoners-of-war by one Lieutenant Ronald Spiers of Dog Company. Or not. The following morning on D-Day, Winters assumed command of Easy Company and led a famous assault (which included Guarnere, Malarkey and Spiers with a few members of Dog Company) on the German artillery battery at Brécourt Manor, which was delaying the Allies’ assault upon Utah Beach.

This was a pretty good episode that featured two exciting combat sequences. The longest, of course, featured the assault upon Brécourt Manor. And I must admit that I found it very exciting. The way director Richard Loncraine shot the sequence almost made it feel as if I had been watching it in real time with very little editing. Ironically, the one action sequence that really impressed me was Easy Company’s jump into France the previous night. The sequence, which started the episode, began with the viewpoints of various characters – even Easy Company’s doomed commander, Thomas Meehan. But when the sequence focused upon Winters’ time to jump, the camera followed him from his departure from the plane to his landing on French soil. The photography and special effects used for Winters’ jump was very effective. But I found myself really impressed by those opening moments featuring the German flak that the planes conveying Easy Company to their drop zones. It struck me as exciting and terrifying and it effectively conveyed the dangerous and claustrophobic situation that Easy Company and the planes’ pilots found themselves.

The acting in ”Day of Days” proved to be solid. But I must admit that I cannot recall any exceptional performances. Damian Lewis continued his excellent performance as Easy Company’s premiere commander, Richard D. Winters. He handled both the dramatic and action sequences with ease. Frank John Hughes was just as effective handling William “Wild Bill” Guarnere’s emotional state during those first 24 hours of the D-Day Campaign, which varied from anger and aggression to grudging acceptance of Winters as a leader and a return to his sense of humor. And Scott Grimes was marvelous as Easy Company trooper, Donald Malarkey. Although I must admit that I found his determination to find a Luger for his younger brother a bit silly in one scene. Matthew Settle made his first appearance as Ronald Spiers, the junior officer from Dog Company, who will become Easy Company’s last commander by the end of the series. Although his appearance was minor, he gave a memorable performance as the young officer, whose aggressiveness will prove to be the talk of the 506th regiment. Actors such as Neal McDonough, Donnie Walhberg and Andrew Scott also gave solid support.

I have a few quibbles about ”Day of Days”. One, I thought the episode was a bit too short. I realize that the following episode, ”Carentan”, will also focus on the Normandy invasion. But I think that this episode could have stretched at least another 10 to 15 minutes by focusing a little more on Guarnere and Malarkey’s experiences before they and Carwood Lipton encountered Winters on the night after they dropped into France. And I must admit that I found some of the dialogue rather cheesy. I also feel that screenwriter Loncraine could have left out Winters’ narration in the episode’s last five minutes. I found it unnecessary and a little clichéd. In conclusion, ”Day of Days” turned out to be a pretty solid episode. I would never consider it as one of my favorite episodes of the miniseries. But it did feature two top-notch action sequences and good performances, especially by Damian Lewis.

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode One “Currahee” Commentary

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – EPISODE ONE “CURRAHEE” COMMENTARY

After spending the last six months or so watching and re-watching my taped copies of the recent HBO miniseries, ”THE PACIFIC”, my family and I decided to re-watch the first television collaboration between Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Of course I am speaking of the 2001 Golden Globe and Emmy winning miniseries, ”BAND OF BROTHERS”

Based upon Stephen Ambrose historical book , ”BAND OF BROTHERS” centered around the experiences of “Easy” Company, one company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. The miniseries was divided into ten episodes and starred Damian Lewis and Ron Livingston. The first episode, titled ”Curahee”, told the story of Easy Company’s two years of training at Toccoa, Georgia; North Carolina; and later in England under the command of Herbert Sobel.

”Currahee” basically served as an introduction of the main characters featured throughout the miniseries. However, not all of the characters made an impact in this episode. Albert Blythe, David Webster and several others were occasionally seen, but not heard. But one did have characters like William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, Carwood Lipton, George Luz, John Martin, Joe Liebgott, and Harry Welsh certainly made their impacts. More importantly, the two lead characters were featured – namely Richard Winters and Lewis Nixon. But I might as well be frank. This episode truly belonged to the man who had served as Easy Company’s first commander, Herbert Sobel.

The acting in ”Currahee” struck me as pretty solid. At least 70% of the cast featured British or Irish actors portraying American servicemen. Some of the actors did pretty good jobs in maintaining an American accent – including Damian Lewis. However, there were times when it seemed that the basic American accents that most of the British cast seemed capable of using were either Southern, a flat trans-Atlantic accent or an accent from one of the five boroughs of New York City. I found it disconcerting to find some British actors using the latter, despite their characters coming from another part of the country. For example, actor Ross McCall did a great New York accent. Unfortunately, his character Joe Liebgott was born in Michigan, and moved to San Francisco sometime before the war. Even some of the American actors used the wrong accent for their characters. I enjoyed James Madio’s performance as Frank Perconte. However, Madio, who hailed from New York City (the Bronx), used his natural accent to portray Illinois native, Perconte.

I have to be honest. I never found the basic training sequences featured in some war movies to be interesting. In fact, the only war movies that featured interesting training sequences were about the Vietnam War – ”THE BOYS OF COMPANY ‘C’” (1978) and”FULL METAL JACKET” (1987). As I had stated earlier, the episode ”Currahee” truly belonged to the Herbert Sobel character and David Schwimmer’s memorable and complex performance. Despite Ambrose’s portrayal of Sobel as a tyrannical company commander that was deeply disliked by his men, many veterans of Easy Company cannot deny that he made the company. His tough training methods helped the men endure the horrors of war that faced them in future battles. If it were not for his character and Schwimmer’s performance, I would barely consider ”Currahee” as an interesting episode.

Once Sobel was removed from the scene, the last 15 to 20 minutes of ”Currahee” featured Easy Company’s preparation for their jump into Normandy, France and their participation of the famous June 5-6 invasion. Those last minutes also set future storylines in the next episode and in future ones – including Easy Company’s experiences in France, Guarnere’s anger over his brother’s death, and Lynn “Buck” Compton’s relationship with the men in his platoon. It was not a bad episode. In fact, it was pretty interesting, thanks to David Schwimmer’s portrayal of Easy Company’s first commander, Herbert Sobel. But if it were not for the presence of Sobel’s character, I would almost find this episode rather dull.

“PUBLIC ENEMIES” (2009) Review

Below is my review of “PUBLIC ENEMIES”, a recent movie on the last year of Dillinger’s life: 

”PUBLIC ENEMIES” (2009) Review

I must admit that when I first heard about Michael Mann’s plans to film a movie about Depression-era bank robber, John Dillinger, I became excited. It was not the subject that roused my interest. But I found the idea of Mann shooting a movie set during the height of the Great Depression – 1933 to 1934 – rather interesting. It has become a period in U.S. history that has caught my interest in the past five years. And the fact that Johnny Depp and Christian Bale had been cast in the leads as Dillinger and his nemesis, FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, merely increased my interest.

At first, I had assumed that I would love ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”. I assumed that Mann could do no wrong. Then to my surprise, I discovered that the film had received mixed reviews from film critics. From that moment on, I began to harbor doubts about the film’s quality. I never learn. Never. I had forgotten my most important rule about approaching a movie – the only opinion that should count for me is my own. And when I finally saw ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, I realized that I had to learn that particular lesson all over again.

I want to point out that ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” is not perfect. This does not bother me one bit. Perfect movies are extremely rare. And I suspect . . . not know, but suspect I may have seen one or two in my lifetime. However, ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”is not one of those rare examples of cinematic perfection. First of all, the movie – especially its first hour – seemed to be marred by an uncomfortable number of close-ups by cinematographer Dante Spinotti. This discomfort was especially apparent in action scenes like the prison escape from the Indiana State Prison featured in the film’s opening scene , “Pretty Boy” Floyd’s death at the hands of FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, and John Dillinger’s first bank robbery featured in the film. These close-ups brought back memories of the ones featured in Disney’s ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”.

But at the least the close-ups in the 2003 film were not further marred by quick editing done by Paul Rubell and Jeffrey Ford for this film. Watching their zip fast editing reminded me of those featured in movies like the last two ”BOURNE”films, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, both ”TRANSFORMERS” movies, ”THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3” and ”STAR TREK”. I suspect that this new editing style is fast becoming the new thing in the film industry. Personally, I hate it. I find it cheap and confusing.

I have one last complaint about the film and it has to do with David Wenham’s appearance in the film. The Australian actor portrayed Harry Pierpont, one of Dillinger’s closest friends and a mentor. Yet, he barely spoke a few words in the movie. In fact, he seemed more like a background character than a supporting one. Giovanni Ribisi had more lines in the film and his character, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, had no real close ties with Dillinger. Why did Mann and the two other screenwriters, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman, bothered to include the Pierpont character in the first place? Instead of at least a minor exploration of the Dillinger-Pierpont relationship, the screenwriters reduced Pierpont – Dillinger’s mentor – to a minor character with a few lines.

Now that I have put all of that negativity behind me, it is time to discuss why I had enjoyed ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” so much. Perhaps I am being a bit too subtle. I did not merely enjoy ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, I loved it. It has easily become my favorite movie this summer. So far. Fast editing and close-ups aside, I must admit that I admire how director Michael Mann handled the movie’s pacing. I was surprised to learn about the criticisms leveled at the movie’s running time (two hours and nineteen minutes) and especially its alleged running time. Personally, I was impressed by Mann’s steady pace. Expecting the movie to be over two hours long, I was surprised to discover that amount of time had passed when the end credits finally began to roll. Perhaps I had been so caught up in the story that I failed to notice the time. Which is a compliment to Mann’s direction . . . at least from me.

Many scenes directed by Man left me spellbound. They include Baby Face Nelson’s murder of a FBI Agent at a hotel ambush set up by Purvis; Dillinger’s press conference inside the warden’s office at the Crown Point Prison in Indiana; his escape from said prison; the FBI ‘s capture of Dillinger’s girlfriend, Billie Frichette; Frichette’s interrogation and beating at the hands of a FBI agent; and Purvis’ conversation with prostitute and brothel madam, Anna Sage.

But there were four scenes . . . actually, two scenes and two sequences that truly impressed me. The first one featured Purvis’ telephone conversation with his boss, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. In it, Purvis tries to convince the irate Hoover that many of their agents are not experienced enough to hunt down the likes of Dillinger and Nelson and that they need to recruit more experienced men . . . like Texas Rangers. Despite the fact that the two actors portraying Purvis and Hoover do not share the screen, the emotion between their characters crackled like flames, thanks to their performances and Mann’s direction. The other scene featured Dillinger’s arrival in Indiana by plane, after being arrested by Federal agents in Tucson, Arizona. Although brief, it struck a surreal note within me, thanks to Spinott’s photography. The cinematographer shot the entire scene with colors that projected a soft iron, mingled with a reddish-orange tint from the sun. Very beautiful.

Although I found the scenes mentioned above very memorable, I was rendered speechless by the following sequences. The first centered around the violent shootout at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin in April 1934. I am certain that many critics and moviegoers had ended up comparing this sequence with the famous Downtown Los Angeles shootout in Mann’s 1995 movie, ”HEAT”. Granted, the latter turned out longer and was filmed in the daytime, but this Little Bohemia shootout turned out to be just as effective and exciting, despite being filmed at night. But if there is one sequence that filled me with great satisfaction, it was the one that featured the last night of Dillinger’s life. Mann, along with Spinotti, production designer Nathan Crowley, Rosemary Brandenburg’s set designs, Patrick Lumb, William Ladd Skinner’s art direction, the screenwriters and the cast did a superb job in conveying the director’s own detailed account of that hot, July night in 1934. I, for one, was glad that Mann took his time in leading to that moment when Texas Ranger Charles Winstead shot Dillinger dead. The director gave movie audiences a glimpse of street life in Depression-era Chicago during the summertime. He also allowed the audience to experience Dillinger’s pleasure in viewing Clark Gable’s spunk and Myrna Loy’s beauty in the 1934 MGM movie, ”MANHATTAN MELODRAMA”. With the camera, the audience waited nervously along with Purvis, Winstead and the other lawmen who waited outside the Biograph Theater for Dillinger. This is one of the most detailed and marvelously shot sequences I have ever seen on film in the past decade or two.

Another aspect of ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” that struck me as unique was its style. Past movies about Depression-era criminals from the Midwest and the South like (1967) “BONNIE AND CLYDE”(1974) “MELVIN PURVIS, G-MAN”, and (1975) “THE KANSAS CITY MASSACRE” tend to have this rural or “good ‘ole boy” style, similar to movies and television shows like (1977) “SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT” and (1979-85) “THE DUKES OF HAZZARD”. These films were usually filled with a great deal of wild car chases, over-the-top acting and a Country-Western tune emphasizing the action. ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” seemed to go against this rural style. Instead, most of Mann’s Midwestern criminals are not some wild, country boys that went on a crime spree as some reaction against the Depression’s economic woes. His criminals – especially Dillinger – are professional criminals, whose experiences go back long before the first impact of the Depression. Nor is Mann’s Melvin Purvis is some long experienced “good ‘ole boy” lawman with a Mississippi Valley or Southwestern accent like Ben Johnson in (1973) “DILLINGER” or Dale Robertson in his two TV movies about the FBI agent. His Purvis is a lot closer to the real one, a South Carolinian gentleman in his early thirties, who happened to be a trained lawyer and an excellent shot. Both Dillinger and Purvis come off as more sophisticated than their portrayals featured in earlier movies. And the characters’ sophistication certainly reflected the movie’s more serious tone. Something I certainly had no problems with.

John Dillinger may turn out to be one of my favorite characters portrayed by Johnny Depp. Much has been made of Dillinger’s charm and joie de vivre . . . and Depp certainly did not hesitate to replicate it in front of the camera. One prime example of this charm was featured in Dillinger’s press conference inside the warden’s office at the Crown Point Prison in Indiana. I have seen the original 1934 newsreel featuring the famous press conference and I must say that Depp did a beautiful job of recapturing Dillinger’s actions – from the bank robber’s attitude, right down to his body language.

But there were other aspects of Dillinger’s personality that Depp did not hesitate to portray – his romantic charm that won Billie Frichette’s heart and cynical sense of humor. Most importantly, Depp’s performance reminded the audience that Dillinger had been capable of being a cold-blooded criminal. After all, he had drifted into crime long before the economic upheaval of the Depression. And Depp’s performance made that clear, whether his Dillinger was expressing fury at one colleague, whose beating of a prison guard led to the death of an old friend in the film’s opening prison break; his lack of remorse toward his many crimes, his connection to the Chicago mob; and his willingness to murder anyone who got in his way. Depp not only perfectly portrayed Dillinger as a charming and extroverted rogue, but also as a tender lover, a hardened criminal unwilling to give up his profession and if need be, a killer.

I have noticed that in the past two or three years, Christian Bale has found himself in the thankless task of portraying characters less flamboyant than his co-stars. This certainly seemed to be the case in the 2006 Victorian melodrama ”THE PRESTIGE” with the more outgoing Hugh Jackman; in the 2008 Batman sequel, ”THE DARK KNIGHT”, in which his performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman contrasted sharply with Heath Ledger’s wildly chaotic Joker; and in the recent”TERMINATOR SALVATION”, in which he seemed to be overshadowed in the eyes of many by the more overtly masculine Sam Worthington. Mind you, Bale gave superb performances in all of these films. Yet, his co-stars seemed to be grabbing most of the glory. This also seemed to be the case in ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, in which he portrays Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent assigned to capture Dillinger, one way or the other. Whereas Depp’s Dillinger is all charm and flash, Bale’s Purvis is a resolute and educated South Carolina gentleman, who also happened to be a somewhat competent lawman determined to hunt down the bank robber by any means possible. And that included following Director Hoover’s insistence on ”taking the white gloves off” or insisting that the FBI recruit experienced Texas Rangers for the manhunt. Bale not only did an excellent job in conveying Purvis’ quiet determination in hunting down Dillinger, but the agent’s anxious fear that he may never capture the bank robber on a permanent basis. Bale also effectively portrayed Purvis’ ruthlessness in dealing with those who stood between him and Dillinger. Melvin Purvis is not a splashy role for Bale, but the latter certainly did an excellent job of portraying the lawman’s many personality facets.

Before I saw ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, I had feared that the addition of Billie Frichette (Dillinger’s girlfriend) into the story would make her presence irrelevant and threaten to drag the film. Fortunately, Mann and the other two screenwriters – Bennett and Biderman – along with Oscar winner Marion Cotillard did justice to the Frichette character. Cotillard gave an excellent performance as a hatcheck woman who captured Dillinger’s heart. She portrayed Frichette as a slightly melancholy woman who not only resented society’s bigotry against her ancestry (her mother was half French, half –Menominee), but also feared that her relationship with Dillinger may not last very long. One of Cotillard’s best moments featured the hatcheck woman being interrogated and beaten by one of Purvis’ agents, who is determined to learn Dillinger’s whereabouts. And despite being French-born and raised, Cotillard proved that she could use a Midwestern accent circa 1933, just as well as an American actress.

”PUBLIC ENEMIES” seemed to be filled with some memorable supporting roles. And a handful of performances stood out for me. I enjoyed Jason Clarke’s quiet and subtle performance as Dillinger’s close friend and colleague, the dependable John “Red” Hamilton, who seemed convinced that he and the bank robber were doomed to live short lives. Clarke especially shone in an emotional scene in which a badly wounded Hamilton tried to convince Dillinger to stop clinging fervently to all people and things that mattered too much to him. And there was Billy Crudup (a face I have been seeing with great frequency over the past few years), who gave an entertaining and sharp performance as FBI Director and publicity hound, J. Edgar Hoover. Crudup managed to capture a great deal of the legendary director’s personality as much as possible – especially Hoover’s staccato-style speech pattern. And his scenes with Bale brimmed with a layer of emotion that made their on-screen relationship one of the more interesting ones in the movie.

Another performance that caught my attention belonged to Stephen Graham as the trigger-happy Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis. I have to give Graham kudos for effectively projecting a certain facet of Nelson’s persona from both Dillinger and Purvis’ points-of-view. In Dillinger’s eyes, Graham portrayed Nelson as a trigger happy clown and bad Cagney impersonator, whose criminal skills seemed to belong to an amateur. In his major scene with Purvis, Graham portrayed Nelson as a dangerous criminal, quite capable of efficiently killing Federal agents in cold blood. And it was a pleasant surprise to see the always competent Stephen Lang as Charles Winstead, one of the Texas Rangers recruited by Purvis to assist in the FBI manhunt for Dillinger. Lang first worked for Mann in 1986’s ”MANHUNTER” and the television series, ”CRIME STORY”. Since then, he has portrayed a vast array of memorable characters over the years. In”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, he gave another excellent performance as the stoic and intimidating Winstead, whose vast experience with criminal manhunts allowed him to act as a de facto mentor for the less experienced Purvis. One last performance that caught my attention belonged to Branka Katić’s portrayal of Anna Sage, the so-called ”Woman in Red”who had betrayed Dillinger to the FBI in Chicago. Actually, Sage never wore red on the night she led the FBI to the Biograph Theater and Dillinger. But that is beside the point. Katić gave an intelligent performance as the world-weary, Romanian-born madam that found herself forced to help the FBI ambush the bank robber.

Every now and then, I eventually come across some comparisons between ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” and ”HEAT” in some of the articles I have read about the former. And the comparison usually ends in the 1995 movie’s favor. Do I agree with this assessment? Honestly, I have no answer. Both movies are superb crime dramas with a few flaws. Whereas ”HEAT”managed to capture the miasma of late 20th century Los Angeles, ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” reeked with the slightly gray aura of the Depression-era Midwest . . . especially Chicago. And whereas the pacing for ”HEAT” threatened to drag in its last hour, the quick editing and constant close-ups nearly marred the first hour of ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”. But you know what? I love both movies. And ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” proved to be another example of why Michael Mann continues to be one of my favorite movie directors.