Now 8 episodes into its 12-episode run, HBO's Boardwalk Empire (created by Terence Wintner, a writer on The Sopranos), is an unfocused mess. Telling the story of Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson, king of
in the 1920s, Boardwalk Empire tries to embrace both the mantles of The Sopranos coupled with the period cool surrounding another Soprano alum's show, Matthew Weiner's Mad Men. But it just doesn't work for an untold number of reasons. Thompson was a real person who was simultaneously a crook and a politician (better crook than politician). Well, he's almost real. Based on Eunuch 'Nucky' Johnson, Thompson is not the problem with the show. As played by perennial supporting player, Steve Buscemi, 'Nucky' is actually a compelling character to have at a show's centre, and Buscemi is quite wonderful in the role. Buscemi has made a career out of playing second-banana weasels in innumerable movies, but this is his first legit lead and he makes the absolute most of it. You can actually believe that, because of his power, a man as unattractive as 'Nucky' can and does have innumerable women throwing themselves at him. Atlantic City
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
It doesn’t end well. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, the third adaptation of the famous Stieg Larsson trilogy, is probably the least of the three movies, which is a big disappointment considering that its predecessor, The Girl Who Played With Fire, finished on a high note.
The last film in the series, begins like the book, immediately after the events of The Girl Who Played With Fire, with a grievously wounded Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) in the hospital and her friend, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), getting ready to expose the Swedish higher-ups who subjected the mohawk-wearing punk hacker, both directly and indirectly, to all manner of abuse over the years. As Blomkvist and his allies tighten the net around the rogue government agency behind Salander's tribulations, the subject herself, set to go on trial for attempted murder of her abusive father, tries to cope with her injuries. She’s also seeking revenge on her tormenters. Larsson’s final novel upped the ante in all the themes that had gone before in a nail biting fashion but the film version, directed by Daniel Alfredson, who also helmed the previous movie, plods where it should move and concludes on a decidedly underwhelming note.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
For Jason Moran, Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits, the unity is almost fully developed which comes as a surprise considering the leader’s age of 35 years. But the band has had 10 years honing their chops playing together, off and on, since the release of their Moran's second record, Facing Left (2000).
Ten offers a mix of original music and a couple pulled from the jazz songbook. "Crepuscule with Nellie" is one of Thelonious Monk's most eloquent ballads dedicated to his wife. It's not intended to be a tune a band can riff on; it's meant to be played straight without soloing. But this trio has the skill to change the song anyway they like and they succeed. It's a very bold interpretation of the music, but it works because of the great inter-play by the band and Moran's arrangement. It's still Monk but with a little extra.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
For a few years, I flogged the proposal to various publishers but many were worried that there were too many people from different backgrounds (i.e. Margaret Atwood sitting alongside Oliver Stone). Another publisher curiously chose to reject it because, to them, it appeared to be a book about me promoting my interviews (as if I was trying to be a low-rent Larry King) rather than seeing it as a commentary on the decade through the eyes of the guests. All told, the book soon faded away and I turned to other projects. However, when recently uncovering the original proposal and sample interviews, I felt that maybe some of them could find a new life on Critics at Large.
Jerzy Kosinski was a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust by living under a false identity. He wrote about that experience in The Painted Bird (1965). Many of his books took up the theme of anonymity and invisibility which, ironically, came to a head in the late eighties when he was being accused of plagiarizing some of his work. He ultimately committed suicide in 1991. His final note read: "I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual. Call it Eternity." Before Eternity knocked, we discussed the subject of anonymity and visibility.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
I would have loved to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on October 30th in Washington, D.C. Glued to my TV for three hours, it seemed clear that Comedy Central’s extravaganza on the National Mall was a truly delightful experience for those 150,000 or so ardent fans of civil discourse.
The crowd’s signs were clever, evidence of the intellect and wit that energizes viewers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. “I doubt this sign will change your opinion” is one I spotted. “Death to nobody!” read another. Pop culture references abounded with absurdist placards such as “Soylent Green is people” and “Mr. Obama, what are you doing about Twilight?” My personal favorite: “Ruly Mob.”
Monday, November 1, 2010
|William S. Burroughs|
Unquestionably, the Beat Generation of the 1950s blazed a trail for hippies to follow a decade or two later. So we’ve essentially got the idiosyncratic subject of William S. Burroughs: A Man Within to thank for the dangerously unbridled youngsters of My Queen Karo, a Dutch feature set in Amsterdam during the early 1970s. In both films, the zeitgeist involves questioning authority, resisting conformity, criticizing the establishment and expressing a sometimes forced a joie de vivre.
Burroughs comes across as a contrarian whose dour demeanor does not indicate much joy in a life plagued by heroin addiction. More happily, he is heralded as the godfather of the post-World War II movement that witnessed legendary figures such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Gregory Corso busily expanding the boundaries of American culture. But first-time director Yony Leyser layers on one too many talking heads: Patti Smith, John Waters, Iggy Pop, Laurie Anderson, Jello Biafra, Diane DiPrima, Gus Van Sant and a number of biographers, among others. Some, but not all, offer valuable insights into an enigmatic person few really seem to have known very well. Also on hand is David Cronenberg, whose 1991 big-screen version of Burrrough’s Naked Lunch stars Peter Weller, who serves as narrator of the 90-minute documentary.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
While Marcus shapes the arc of Dylan's work, as one would untangle a long, convoluted mystery, we also witness how Dylan has equally shaped him as a writer. "I was never interested in figuring out what the song's meant," Marcus writes in the introduction. "I was interested in figuring out my response to them, and other people's responses. I wanted to get closer to the music than I could by listening to it - I wanted to get inside of it, behind it, and writing about it, through it, inside of it, behind it was my way of doing that."
Although Bob Dylan: Writings 1968-2010 bears some resemblance to Marcus's last book When That Rough God Goes Riding (see Critics at Large review here), which took us through the equally uneven career of Van Morrison, that book shifted back and forth through time as if Marcus was randomly picking Morrison's albums from the shelf to see if they still added up. By contrast, Bob Dylan is a more linear tale. Yet the very nature of Dylan's art has a way of pulling the rug out from any assumptions concerning what happens next, so Marcus's book becomes (to invert the title of one Dylan album) a mind out of time.