Monday, October 28, 2013
Below are images from "NORTHANGER ABBEY", the 2007 adaptation of Jane Austen's 1817 novel. Directed by Jon Jones and adapted by Andrew Davies, the television movie starred Felicity Jones and J.J. Feild:
"NORTHANGER ABBEY" (2007) Photo Gallery
Thursday, October 24, 2013
"VALKYRIE" (2008) Review
When I had first learned that ”VALKYRIE”, a movie about the final assassination attempt upon Adolf Hitler, would be released on Christmas Day . . . I was surprised. Honestly. And my response had nothing to do any opinion I have about the film. Let me explain.
One has to understand that ”VALKYRIE” had gone through a great deal of turmoil to get made. Whatever problems the movie’s production had encountered, its biggest obstacle turned out to be the casting of Tom Cruise in the lead role of Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the architect of this last assassination attempt that occurred on July 20, 1944. Many German politicians had protested against the idea of a practicing Scientologist like Cruise portraying someone who has become regarded as a hero for his opposition against Hitler. Even members of von Stauffenberg’s family had joined in the protest. The filmmakers of ”VALKYRIE” initially had difficulty setting up filming locations in Germany due to the controversy, but they were later given leeway to film in locations pertaining to the film's story, such as Berlin's historic Bendlerblock. Also, Cruise’s popularity with the American public has sunk over the past three years. Considering that many of the negative comments about the actor seemed to have stemmed from his Scientology beliefs, it seemed to me that religious bigotry had played a large role in the hard feelings against him.
Early in 2008, MGM/United Artists released trailers of ”VALKYRIE”. Personally, I found them impressive and I was happy to learn that the movie was scheduled June 2008 theater release. But due to the poor response to the trailers and MGM/United Artists's initial marketing campaign, the studio executives moved the movie’s release date from June 2008 to February 2009. I was surprised to learn that ”VALKYRIE” had another black mark against it – namely director Bryan Singer. He had built a reputation as a first-rate director with movies such as ”THE USUAL SUSPECTS” and the first two films from the ”X-MEN” franchise. Unfortunately, his reputation hit a snag when the release of the over-budgeted ”SUPERMAN RETURNS” failed to impress the critics and make a profit for the studio that released it. I figured that MGM/United Artists was simply going to allow ”VALKYRIE” languish in the theaters during the off season following Christmas, never to be heard of until its DVD release. Thankfully, MGM/United Artists proved me wrong. A few months ago, the studio executives announced that ”VALKYRIE” would be released on Christmas Day for the movies holiday season. When the film was finally released, I rushed out to see it as soon as I possibly could.
As I had earlier stated, ”VALKYRIE” told the story of the July 20, 1944 plot by German army officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Ever since the years before World War II, there had been a growing number of dissidents that viewed Hitler as the wrong man to be Germany’s leader. This opposition; which included German officers like Ludwig Beck, Henning von Tresckow and Claus von Stauffenberg; led to a series of assassination attempts on Hitler – including one plotted by von Tresckow in March 1943. By September 1943, one of the dissidents, General Friedrich Olbricht, recruited Lieutenant-Colonel von Stauffenberg into their ranks. It was his plan – code name ”Valkyrie” - that led to the last attempt to kill Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. Directed by Bryan Singer, the movie stars Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg. The cast also includes Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Kenneth Branagh, Jamie Parker, Eddie Izzard, Christian Berkel, David Schofield, Kevin McNally, Thomas Kretschmann and Tom Wilkinson. Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander wrote the screenplay.
I might as well get around to it and reveal my opinion of ”VALKYRIE”. In a nutshell . . . I loved it. Which surprised me a great deal. I had expected to like ”VALKYRIE”, considering the cast, the director and the subject matter. Or at least find it interesting. I had no idea that I would end up experiencing a gauntlet of emotions while watching it. Mere curiosity was the only emotion I had felt while the movie introduced the main characters and revealed the incidents that led to von Stauffenberg’s decision to join the conspiracy against Hitler. By the time the movie focused upon the assassination attempt and the coup against the S.S., I felt myself growing tense with anxiety and anticipation. By the time the conspirators’ plot began to unravel, the tension I felt had been replaced by dread. And when von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were being captured and executed, I watched the scenes unfold with tears in my eyes. Curious.
The excellent performances by the cast happened to be one of the reasons why ”VALKYRIE” struck such an emotional chord within me. This is one of the reasons why I like Bryan Singer as a director. He knows how to utilize his cast – whether each performer has a major role or not. And Singer made the best of what proved to be a first-rate cast. I could go into details about every actor or actress in the cast, but I must admit that a handful managed to catch my attention. One member of the cast turned out to be Thomas Kretschmann, who portrayed Major Otto Ernst Remer, head of a Reserve Army battalion. The actor’s sardonic portrayal of Remer amused me to no end. Tom Wilkinson gave a top-notch performance as General Friedrich Fromm, head of Germany's Reserve Army in Berlin. Wilkinson did an excellent job of portraying the treacherous general with a slight touch of sympathy. Another actor that caught my attention was Jamie Parker. He portrayed Lieutenant Werner von Haeften, an adjutant to von Stauffenberg who helped the latter carry out the plot. Parker did a great job in portraying von Haeften’s intense loyalty to von Stauffenberg. In fact, he and Cruise managed to create a strong screen chemistry together. Terence Stamp was excellent as the reserved, yet strong-willed Ludwig Beck, a former Army general whose opposition against Hitler began in the late 1930s and served as the conspirators’ figurehead. Bill Nighy portrayed General Friedrich Olbricht, Chief of the Armed Forces Replacement Office (Wehrersatzamt) at the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and the original architect of the plan, Operation Valkyrie. It was Olbricht who had recruited von Stauffenberg into the conspiracy. For the past five to six years, I have always regarded Nighy as some kind of chameleon. And with his performance, he did an excellent job of revealing at both the vacillating and stalwart sides of Olbricht’s nature.
But the true focus of ”VALKYRIE” was Claus von Stauffenberg and it was Tom Cruise’s job to make this man believable to the audience. Some critics have complained that Cruise had failed to capture the essence of von Stauffenberg’s character as an aristocrat. Many of them blamed this on the actor’s American accent. Personally, I find this criticism to be a load of crap. After all, the 1988 version of ”DANGEROUS LIAISONS” featured American actors portraying French aristocrats . . . with American accents. And I do not recall any complaints about their performances. I especially find the criticisms against Cruise ludicrous, considering that most of the cast featured British actors – using accents from all over the British Isles. What was my view of Cruise’s performance as Claus von Stauffenberg? I thought he was excellent. His portrayal of the German Army officer was that of a hero – and a very stalwart one at that. On the other hand, Cruise also did a first-rate job of capturing von Stauffenberg’s arrogance – a trait that was probably a by-product of his aristocratic background. This trait also managed to get the officer into a great deal of trouble even before his participation in the assassination attempt. But . . . most of the critics were too busy being distracted by Cruise’s American accent, while paying scant attention to the British accents of many of the other actors. Go figure.
Anyone familiar with Claus von Stauffenberg or the July 20, 1944 plot to kill Adolf Hitler would have known the outcome of the movie’s story. I certainly did. But despite my knowledge of the outcome, I found myself being caught up in the suspense of the story, thanks to Bryan Singer’s direction and the screenplay written by Christopher MacQuarrie and Nathan Alexander. I had assumed that most of the story would center on the conspirators’ plotting and set up of the assassination attempt. I had no idea there was more to the story surrounding the incident – namely the coup perpetrated by von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators against Hitler and the S.S. Nor did I have any idea that knowing how the story would end, I would find myself rooting . . . hoping that the conspirators would succeed in their plans. Or escape Hitler’s wrath. The only hiccup in the movie – at least for me – was the introduction of Major General Erich Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard) into the story. I found it confusing. Was he already part of the conspiracy when von Stauffenberg first approached? Or what? For me, it was only misstep in an otherwise superb script.
With a first-rate cast led by Tom Cruise, along with Christopher MacQuarrie and Nathan Alexander’s script, Bryan Singer directed an exciting and suspenseful tale that managed to tap into a great deal of emotions for me. From my personal view, I believe that ”VALKYRIE” is one of the better movies of 2008.
Monday, October 21, 2013
"STAR TREK VOYAGER": Unfit For Command?
Do many STAR TREK fans consider most Vulcan characters unfit for command? I wonder. I came across this ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” fan fiction story about the letters written to the Alpha Quadrant by Voyager’s crew in the Season 1 episode, ”Eye of the Needle”. The author of this particular fan fiction story seemed to believe that because of their emotional distance, Vulcans are basically unfit for command. Personally, I disagree.
This belief that Vulcans were unfit for command certainly seemed supported by Lisa Klink’s screenplay for the Season 2 episode,(2.25) ”Resolutions”. I am sure that many recall this episode. In it, the Voyager crew is forced to leave Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) behind on a planet after the pair found themselves infected by an incurable disease. Lieutenant Tuvok (Tim Russ) assumes command of the ship and ends up facing a possible mutiny led by a very distraught Ensign Kim (Garrett Wang). Klink’s screenplay portrayed Tuvok as a cold by-the-book officer, incapable of noticing or understanding the crew’s uneasiness of leaving behind the captain and first officer. Quite frankly, not only did I dislike this one-dimensional portrayal of the ship’s highest ranking Vulcan, I found it slightly inaccurate.
As a Vulcan, Tuvok has made it a practice to keep his emotions to himself and lead his life in a very logical manner. But this does not mean that he was exactly how Klink had described him in ”Resolutions”. Underneath the cool exterior laid a very emotional and passionate man who loved his wife and family a great deal and considered Kathryn Janeway a great friend. He also possessed a temper that he obviously must have struggled to contain all of his life.
Tuvok did possess a problem with interacting with others. This stemmed from a tendency to be a loner. This trait of his was specifically pointed out in the Season 3 episode, (3.14) ”Alter Ego”. In it, Harry Kim became infatuated with a hologram (a tall and leggy blonde named Marayna). To deal with his infatuation, he turned to Tuvok to help him recover from it. Tuvok did more than that. He became friendly with the hologram. But the hologram proved to be a lonely alien at a space station who used superior technology to prevent Voyager from leaving a particular area of space. When Tuvok pointed out her loneliness, she returned the favor:
MARAYNA: I don't believe you.
TUVOK: I beg your pardon.
MARAYNA: I think you're tying to isolate yourself and make a public protest at the same time.
MARAYNA: You didn't want to be here in the first place. Being the only one without a lei sets you apart from the others, allowing you to symbolically maintain your solitude. And since everybody can see that you're the only one without a lei, you're letting them know that you'd rather be somewhere else.
TUVOK: Your logic is impeccable.
But Tuvok’s loner tendencies did not mean that he lacked an ability to understand the emotional needs of others. Even before”Resolutions” had aired, Tuvok managed to display this trait on a few occasions. He was the first member of the crew to sense that Seska might prove to be a dangerous problem for the crew . . . even if he did not know about her being a Cardassian spy. Instinct told him that Tom Paris may have been innocent of the murder of a Banean scientist in (1.08) ”Ex-Post Facto”. In (2.04) ”Elogium”, he expressed compassion for Neelix’s fear at becoming a parent and helped the latter come to a decision about starting a family with Kes. He was the only one who did not allow his fear or paranoia to get the best of him and realized that fighting the entity that was rearranging Voyager’s structure might prove to be the best thing in (2.06) ”Twisted”. He managed to befriend Kes. In (2.22) ”Innocence”, he managed to offer comfort to a dying Voyager crewman and a group of alien children who had been abandoned to die by their kind. And for a man who was supposed to be an incompetent leader, he sure as hell managed to avoid any problems with leading the Security/Tactical Division.
If there is one scene before ”Resolutions” that provided an excellent example of how compassionate Tuvok can be, one might as well return to his scene with the dying Ensign Bennet in ”Innocence”:
TUVOK: Tuvok to Voyager. Voyager, do you read? You must lie still.
BENNET: I can't, I can't feel my legs.
TUVOK: Several of the vertebrae have been fractured.
BENNET: Isn't there anything you can do?
TUVOK: I'm afraid the shuttle's medical supplies are inadequate. We must wait for Voyager to find us.
BENNET: It's getting worse. My whole body feels numb.
TUVOK: I want you to slow your breathing, relax your muscles. Try not to move.
BENNET: All this time I thought I was so lucky with no family back home. Nobody to miss. Now it seems kind of sad not to leave anybody behind.
TUVOK: I believe Ensign McCormick would miss you a great deal.
I realize that Lisa Klink wanted to create some kind of conflict between Tuvok and some of the crew in ”Resolutions”. But in painting Tuvok as an emotional iceberg incapable of compassion or seeing to the needs of others, I feel that she had went too far. This is quite evident in that the mutinous and obviously immature Harry Kim had been written with far more sympathy than Tuvok. It is no wonder that ”Resolutions” has become one of my least favorite ”VOYAGER” episodes.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Below is a gallery from the 2000 science-fiction thriller called "FREQUENCY". This time travel movie starred Dennis Quaid, James Caviezel, Elizabeth Mitchell, Shawn Doyle and Andre Braugher:
"FREQUENCY" (2000) Photo Gallery
Monday, October 14, 2013
"THE DARK KNIGHT" (2008) Review
In 2005, director/writer Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise with the highly successful movie, ”BATMAN BEGINS” that starred Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader. Both men have reunited three years later for a new story centered around Batman’s conflict with his greatest nemesis, Joker in this sequel called ”THE DARK KNIGHT”.
There has been a great deal of attention surrounding this movie. Many have not only praised it, claiming that it is better than the 2005 movie. But most of the word-of-mouth have centered around Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, especially after his tragic death some six months ago. When ”THE DARK KNIGHT” was finally released, many critics and fans expressed the belief that the positive word-of-mouth had been justified. Not only have many judged Ledger’s performance as the best in his career, others have claimed that the movie is probably the best Comic Book Hero movie ever made. I do not know if the Joker featured Heath Ledger’s best performance. As for the claim about ”THE DARK KNIGHT” being the best comic book hero movie . . . I do not agree.
I am not saying that ”THE DARK KNIGHT” was a terrible or mediocre film. Frankly, I believe that it was one of the better movies I have seen this summer. Most of the movie featured an excellent story scripted by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer, in which Gotham’s organized criminal element has found itself threatened by the law ever since the end of the Falsone family in ”BATMAN BEGINS”, thanks to Batman (Bale). A former inmate of Arkham Asylum named the Joker (Ledger) approaches the crime bosses, which include Salvatore "Sal" Maroni (Eric Roberts), with an offer to kill Batman for pay. At the same time, Batman and Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) consider including the new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) in their plan to eradicate the mob. Both feel that he could be the public hero that Batman cannot be. Harvey Dent happens to be dating Wayne's childhood friend and object of romantic desire, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). This conflict between Batman, the Joker and their allies escalates to a tragic and well-directed dénouement that leads to Rachel’s death. And it is here where I believe that the movie truly faltered.
”THE DARK KNIGHT” could have ended with Rachel’s death, followed by the Joker’s manipulation of a grieving Harvey Dent into madness and his eventual capture or death. Instead, the Nolan brothers and Goyer allowed the Joker to escape and continued the story with Dent’s vengeful hunt for those he considered responsible for Rachel’s death; and the Joker resorting to a Green Goblin scenario involving two ferryboats packed with explosives. The Joker informed the passengers on each boat that the only way to save themselves was to trigger the explosives on the other ferry; otherwise, at midnight he will destroy them both by remote control. All of this occurred during the movie’s last half hour and quite frankly, it was a half hour I could have done without. I found the entire ferryboats sequence so unbelievable and contrived. It seemed as if Nolan teased us with the possibility of seeing the darker side of the average citizen . . . and wimped out in the end, because he would rather stroke the moviegoers' egos with some "nobility of man" bullshit by allowing the passengers to resist blowing each other to kingdom come, instead of telling the truth about human nature. Very disappointing. It would have been more interesting or darker if both ferryboats had been destroyed, or . . . have Batman prevent the passengers from blowing up each other at the last minute. With this last scenario, Batman would have saved the people, but the Joker would have proven a point.
A fan had pointed out that Nolan used the ferryboat sequence to leave a sliver of hope to the audience about humanity's capacity to do good. If this was Nolan's aim, it was a message that has been done to death by moviemakers and television writers for eons. The problem is that screenwriters and moviemakers have developed a habit of giving the public this so-called "sliver of hope". They call themselves pointing out humanity's inner darkness and then they pervert the message by allowing them to come out of the mouths from villains like the Joker, before the latter is eventually proven wrong. It just seems like a cop out to me. Which was why I found the whole ferryboat sequence something of a joke. Sure, human beings are capable of doing some good. But in that particular situation? I rather doubt it. If there is one trait that humanity possess, it is a talent for self-preservation. It would have been more realistic to me if the boats had detonated or Batman had prevented this before anyone on one or both of those boats and activated the bombs. Granted, Batman/Bruce Wayne would have been disappointed in Gotham’s citizens, but he would have learned a valuable lesson about the very people he called himself protecting. Even better, I would have preferred if Nolan had never added that sequence in the first place.
As for Harvey Dent’s hunt for those he deemed responsible for Rachel’s death . . . I would have been more satisfied if Nolan and his co-writers had ended the movie with Dent’s eventual slide into darkness in that hospital room and saved his transformation into a twisted vigilante and arch villain in a third Batman film. This would have prevented the movie from being unnecessarily a half hour long. And it would have saved the talented Aaron Eckhart for the third film as “Two-Faced” Harvey. It would have also spared moviegoers from that ludicrous ending in which Batman and Gordon decided to allow the former assume blame of Dent's crimes in order to save the reputation of the D.A. I am still stunned by this little plot development. What were the Nolan brothers thinking? Why was it so necessary to save Dent's reputation in the first place? Did Batman and Gordon harbored such a low opinion of Gotham's citizens that they had to treat the latter like children?
The performances in ”THE DARK KNIGHT” were basically superb. Christian Bale beautifully captured the growing dilemma of Bruce Wayne’s desire for a normal life with Rachel Dawes, juxtaposed with his role as Gotham’s costumed vigilante and his growing power over the city’s criminal element, thanks to his alliance with police lieutenant James Gordon and the new District Attorney, Harvey Dent. There is one aspect of Bale’s performance I did not like – namely the growling tone he used, while in the Batman persona. I did not care for it in ”BATMAN BEGINS”. I cared for it even less in this film.
I have noticed how many have expressed the view that Maggie Gyllenhaal's portrayal of Rachel Dawes was better than Katie Holmes in the 2005 film. Personally, I did not see much of a difference in the quality of their performances. Both actresses gave good, solid performances. But . . . the screenwriters’ portrayal of Rachel in this film disappointed me. They had turned her characters into an object. She was Bruce Wayne's prize for giving up the Batman persona, as soon as he could get Dent to assume the role of Gotham's "hero". She was Dent’s love interest, Girl Friday and reason to go on a vengeful rampage. And for the Joker, she was a means to get at Batman, once he realized how the latter felt about her. There were times when Rachel's character seemed almost irrelevant and a sad decline from the legal and moral dynamo that Holmes had portrayed in ”BATMAN BEGINS”.
Heath Ledger as the Joker. What can I say? The man was brilliant. He made Jack Nicholson’s Joker look like chump change. Honestly. One of the reasons why I have never care for the Joker character in the past was due to his over-the-top persona. Cesar Romero’s Joker has never impressed me, regardless of the numerous insane clown laughs he had utilized. Nicholson’s Joker was too over-the-top for my tastes. As one can see, I do not have a love for overly theatrical characters, unless they are done right. Granted, Ledger portrayed the Joker as over-the-top. But somehow . . . I really do not know how to describe it. Somehow, he managed to infuse some kind of control in the character’s insanity – not only with his behavior, but also with a talent for emotional manipulation and the views he had spouted to Batman and other characters. Do I believe that the Joker was Ledger’s best performance? No. I believe that the character was one of his two best performances, the other being Ennis DelMar from 2005’s ”BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN”. Do I believe that Ledger deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance, despite his death? Hmmmm . . . yes. He was that good. I do have one quibble with Nolan's treatment of the Joker. Where was the character's backstory? The Joker spent most of the movie spouting false stories about his scars and background. I supposed this was Nolan's way of trying to make the character mysterious. I simply found it frustrating.
The other truly superb performance came from Aaron Eckhart as Gotham’s new District Attorney, Harvey Dent. One of Eckhart’s virtues was that he managed to form an excellent screen chemistry with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Frankly, I found Dent and Rachel's romance more believable than her relationship with Bruce Wayne. Eckhart projected a great deal of magnetism, charm and intensity into his portrayal of Dent. But I was more impressed by the way he expressed Dent’s descent into vengeful madness, following Rachel’s death. Granted, this turn of his character occurred in the movie’s last half hour. Although I disliked the movie’s last half hour, Eckhart’s performance in it almost made it bearable. Almost.
Gary Oldman, Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) and Cillian Murphy (Dr. Jonathan Crane/the Scarecrow) all reprised their roles from the first film. All four gave solid performances, but only Oldman’s role as James Gordon seemed bigger. I found Gordon’s fake death somewhat contrived and manipulative. Aside from the creation of the Rachel Dawes character, everything about the two Batman movies directed by Nolan have adhered to the Batman canon. Which is why I found it difficult to believe that Gordon was dead. Alfred’s role seemed to have diminished from the first film. Freeman’s Lucius Fox is now quite aware that Bruce is Batman and seemed to be acting as the latter’s armourer, as well as Wayne Enterprises’ CEO. The only problem I had with the Fox character was his opposition against Wayne/Batman’s development an advanced surveillance system that can listen in and track the movement of any of the thousands of cell phones in the city. I found the whole scenario contrived. As much as I had enjoyed Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of Dr. Crane/the Scarecrow in ”BATMAN BEGINS”, I found his less than ten minutes appearance in ”THE DARK KNIGHT” a waste of the actor’s time . . . and mine.
Composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard returned to score the sequel. I must admit that I had been impressed by their work in ”BATMAN BEGINS” and had expected another exceptional score by them. Unfortunately, I barely remembered the score. I understand that they had rehashed the original score for this movie and added a new theme or two. But it all came off as unmemorable for me.
”THE DARK KNIGHT” had the potential to be this summer’s best film. But there were some aspects – the portrayal of Rachel Dawes’ character, Zimmer and Newton Howard’s score, the portrayal of some of the minor characters and the contrived writing that dominated the movie’s last half hour – that I believe had ruined the movie’s chances of achieving this potential. Fortunately, the virtues outweighed the flaws and in the end, ”THE DARK KNIGHT” managed to remain first-rate and become – in my view – one of the better films from the summer of 2008.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
"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 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 had expressed fears that the Season Two finale will never be able to top this episode. Frankly, I also harbored doubts that it would. "Under God's Power She Flourishes" struck me as one of those episodes that many will remember for years to come. I really did not see how (2.12) "To the Lost" would be able even better. I did not see how any episode could top"Under God's Power She Flourishes" so soon. I proved to be right. Although, I was surprised at how Terence Winter and his writers topped a first-rate episode like "Georgia Peaches" with "Under God's Power She Flourishes", I was not surprised that "To the Lost" did not prove to be better . . . despite its high quality.
Monday, October 7, 2013
Below is a gallery featuring photos from the 1936 classic movie called "SAN FRANCISCO". Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, it starred Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy:
"SAN FRANCISCO" (1936) Photo Gallery