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Boardwalk Empire: Hot, New TV Series
The new HBO TV show Boardwalk Empire comes with a prestigious pedigree. Its creator Terence Winter was a prolific writer for the gangster classic The Sopranos. Martin Scorsese produced the TV series with full control over the show’s look and tone. He also handpicked the cast and directed the bombastic pilot episode. Add character actor Steve Buscemi to the mix; and you have a perfect formula for excellence.
The TV series is set in Atlantic City, New Jersey during the roaring twenties, just as prohibition laws are about to take effect. Nucky Thompson (Buscemi) is a leading political figure that also runs the seedy underbelly of the city. As prohibition laws are implemented, he takes advantage of his strategic proximity to Canada and starts illegally importing booze to nearby areas in order to prevent them from running dry.
Nucky is cut from the same anti-hero cloth as Tony Soprano; his character operates under an umbrella of moral ambiguity, but he also adheres to a strict code of honour. Nucky’s demeanour may not be as theatrical as that of Soprano’s– not to say that he’s not equally compelling– but his appeal is rooted in rich complexity rather than charisma.
As the show moves forward, the plot is unveiled to reveala love story at its centre. At one end sits Nucky, whose one and only weapon is his composure; and at the other is Margaret Schroeder (Macdonald), a town resident with a deadbeat husband and two children. The two secretly yearn for each other in ways that they can’t understand, compelling them to commit actions that compromise their lives.
Boardwalk Empire hails from a long history of crowd-pleasing mobster drama. The only criticism is that it’s giving people exactly what they want; it’s too tightly constructed for its own good. However, dwelling on Boardwalk’s lack of ingenuity would be missing out on everything else that the show has to offer.
Boardwalk Empire doesn’t break any new ground but it perfects the art form. Characters are all well-developed; unveiling a new layer with each episode. With every instalment, there is an engaging drama at the core; both on a dramatic and an emotional level.
Given the nature of the TV format, Boardwalk Empire gets to explore its world with both the lushness of cinema, and the reflective keenness of episodic television.
The Scorsese-directed pilot is a great gateway into the world of Nucky and it does an exceptional job of keeping tabs on all the players, while giving a good sense of who they are. With glimpses of familiar mobster faces such as Al Capone as a low-level Chicago gangster with unbridled ambition, characters come into focus.
The mobster world has always served as a ripe backdrop for human drama. Think Godfather, The Man With No Name trilogy, and the many films that Scorsese made. The attraction to these films is not the blood or violence– of which there is plenty in Boardwalk– it’s how these film project characters stripped from everything but their strongest and most urgent desires.
The interplay of power and humanity becomes paramount, and Boardwalk takes a closer look at the foggy world where everything comes at an often ugly price.
Winner of Best Documentary at the 2009 Academy Awards, The Cove is the latest in a growing series of environmentally conscious documentaries using state-of the-art equipment to create a thriller framework.
The film exposes Japan’s gruesome slaughter of dolphins and its government’s policies of aquatic horror. It features the efforts of one team of activists in the Japanese town of Taiji where this cove exists. The cove is a beautiful sea shore where the marine horrors take place.
Fishermen use loud noises to corner the dolphins into nets close to the shore – dolphins’s primary sense is hearing (sonar) and loud noises scare them – where they would be caught in nets and killed shortly afterwards.
Meanwhile, it is prohibited to record these ghastly and cruel killings; photographers and cameramen are harassed by the fishermen and the police; so the horror cannot be recorded.
The team includes activist Richard O'Barry the dolphin trainer who was behind the hit show Flipper . O’Barry became a dolphin activist after Kathy, the dolphin that played Flipper in the show, allegedly died in his arms because she refused to be in captivity.
The team uses high-tech cameras and microphones, in addition to military and industrial light and camera equipment to record the never-before-seen graphic abuse of the smart and majestic animals. What follows is a series of thrilling, heart-racing action that you certainly don’t expect from a documentary, proving that real men’s atrocities exceed all fiction.
The result is bone-chilling footage of cruelty that may be tough to watch at some points. The film is not only an open call for activism, but a great manifestation of the new wave of conscious eco-documentary series.
The Cove is visually compelling, and doesn’t deliver its message in a dry documentary tone; it tells a story in a gripping manner that forces the viewer to acknowledge that these acts of cruelty are being committed every day. It is a moving and well-constructed documentary that will force you to reconsider human cruelty and value the importance of activism.
Paul Thomas Anderson is the man behind cinematic gems like Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that The Master is unquestionably one of the director’s most dazzling and mesmerising visual compositions to date.
The narrative is centred on Freddie Quell (Phoenix); an emotionally and mentally disturbed WWII naval veteran who is having difficulty adjusting to post-war life. After spending some time in a veteran's hospital, being treated for what appears to be a posttraumatic stress disorder, Freddie is released into the wild. Not really knowing his place in the world, he moves from one tedious job to another; alcoholism and his violent and volatile outbursts – which erupt at the slightest provocation – get the better of him and holding onto a job and finding peace of mind eludes him.
One night, on a scavenge for more booze, Freddie sneaks onboard a party boat. After awakening from a drunken coma, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman); an unconventional and alluring man who claims to be a doctor, philosopher, physicist and, above all, ‘a man’. A man who alongside his devoted wife, Peggy (Adams), has fathered semi-religious organisation, 'The Cause'. Built on radical concepts of rigorous mental analysis, the movement aims to discover some kind of a deeper truth about the origin of human beings. Dodd preaches that everyone is capable of abolishing their 'animalistic' ways and only by reconstructing themselves back into 'perfect human specimens' will they be able to live a free and a fulfilled life. Taking an instant liking to Freddie, and his unsound mental state, Dodd takes him under his wing and Freddie soon becomes the 'pet' project for the self proclaimed 'master'.
It's been a long time since a film this engrossing and captivating has found its way onto the silver screen. Working on multiple levels and focusing primarily on the dynamic between Freddie and Dodd, The Master demands unwavering attention. Each layer of the plot holds its own meaning and subtle metaphors; ones that pose a lot of unanswered questions – it leaves it up to the viewer to digest.
Shot entirely in the rarely used 65mm format, Anderson, alongside cinematographer, Robert Elswit, really pushes the envelope, visually; the dreamlike water scenes and the impeccable portrayal of the 1950's come to life and contribute to the aura of the film.
The towering performances from both of its leads are something special; Phoenix in particular, hangs in limbo, between sanity and partial madness, and delivers a performance of a lifetime. From the slouchy posture to the sunken eyes, he's never looked more haunting. The same can be said for the ever-charming Hoffman, whose portrayal of the enigmatic leader is just as electric, while Adams' quiet presence is eerie and captivating at the same time, as the dutiful wife.
The Master possesses a presence that can't be denied and if you don't 'get it' from the first viewing, its okay, give it another try – it will get you. There is no escaping its hypnotic charm.
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The Wire, The Sopranos, Band of Brothers