Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Boardwalk Empire

The following is a review for Boardwalk Empire (2010-2015).

Set in the Prohibition era of the 1920s, Boardwalk Empire tells the story of Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, the treasurer of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Due to his relationships with mobsters as well as political contacts, the Federal Government starts to take an interest in him. The show focuses on the crime syndicates of Atlantic City, New York, and Chicago.

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The show blends factual characters with fictional elements. Nucky Thompson is based on Nucky Johnson, the real life boss who controlled Atlantic City. Real characters include Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, Johnny Torrio, and Meyer Lansky among others. In addition to the real characters, other fictional characters (or loose interpretations) are added to make the narrative work. This creates a fascinating criminal underworld dealing with bootlegging, corruption and murder. We really get to experience how ruthless these mobsters could be.

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From a production standpoint, the show's beauty remains unmatched. From the sets, costumes, design, music, and atmosphere, it truly feels like we're experiencing life in the 1920s. The show genuinely feels like a work of art.

Boardwalk Empire premiered with massive expectations. After all, Terrance Winter created the show and Martin Scorsese served as executive producer (while also directing the pilot). Winter also was a writer and executive producer on The Sopranos. Many other writers and directors from The Sopranos joined Winter to work on Boardwalk Empire. So the comparisons to The Sopranos seem inevitable, albeit unfair (after all The Sopranos is widely regarded as the best television show of all-time).

With a reported budget of nearly 50 million for the first season alone, the scale is massive as anything to ever appear on television.

 Boardwalk Empire NuckyWhile these expectations may have been impossible to match, Boardwalk Empire will always feel like a missed opportunity to me. With such a big scope, it sometimes feels like too much time is wasted on meaningless story lines for minor characters we don't really care about. The death of a certain character a few seasons in also dramatically changed the arc of several characters and significantly altered the show's structure.

Don't get me wrong, Boardwalk Empire still proved to be a great show. Through great storytelling, the show remained strong for the next few seasons. But I don't think it was ever able to reach the heights of the early seasons again (which were among the best on television). Consistency was a problem as a certain dynamic that made the show so successful was lost.

 Boardwalk Empire JimmyHowever, the biggest problem with Boardwalk Empire ended up being its premature cancellation. With a decline in ratings and budget concerns, HBO surprisingly announced that a shortened final season would be its last.

This final season will be most damaging to Boardwalk Empire's legacy. Based on how things ended in Season 4, it was clear they had no intentions of ending the show just yet (they were setting up new story lines instead of wrapping them up). Instead of the usual 12 episodes, the final season only featured 8.

Boardwalk Empire Al CaponeNot only that, but the final season features a time jump of 7 years from where we left off. 7 years is a long time. It feels like we skipped 5 chapters are placed right at the end of the story. It just feels off.

The final season also features an ongoing flashback sequence that proves pointless and doesn't add anything to the story we didn't know already. We spent so much time we these characters, it's a shame we didn't get to experience their full journey.

The whole season feels rushed because they are trying to wrap everything up in a measly 8 episodes. With so many characters and story lines, it proves to be an impossibility. The signature tension and suspense the show usually displays isn't as prevalent because they didn't have the time to build the stories like the previous seasons.

Boardwalk Empire had so much potential. It's a shame HBO had to ruin it by canceling it too soon. Even though it was never able to live up to the impossible expectations, Boardwalk Empire was one of the better shows on television, providing great entertainment and insight into life in the 1920s.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Top 10 Films of the 1990s

Best of the decade (1990-1999).

1. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese)
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2. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino)
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3. L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson)
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4. Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg)
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5. American Beauty (Sam Mendes)
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6. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme)
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7. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont)
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8. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson)
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9. Titanic (James Cameron)
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10. Se7en (David Fincher)
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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gone Girl (2014)

On the day of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne reports that his wife, Amy, has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick's portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

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David Fincher, the master of this genre, delivers another gem. Gone Girl may very well be his most entertaining film. For a director who has given us such greats as Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that's saying something. With wit and humor not typically displayed in his films, it adds another dimension to his signature style.

 Gone Girl 2014, Best Fincher movies, Gone Girl sceneFor an actor who has been so prominently portrayed in the media throughout his career, Ben Affleck proves to be perfect for the role of Nick Dunne. I admit, I had my doubts going in, but Fincher always seems to get the very best out of his actors, even when we do question them.

(Most notably Oscar nominated performances by Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network and Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

Affleck has the ability to maintain a certain level of innocence and likability yet he keeps us doubting him with each bad decision he continues to make. This complexity makes the film work so well since we ourselves start to question his true motives.

 Gone Girl marriage, Gone Girl sceneIn a star making performance, Rosamund Pike delivers one of the darkest, most haunting performances in years, rivaling the likes of Natalie Portman in Black Swan and Kathy Bates in Misery. It's a performance that's sure to garner her some Oscar attention.

Throughout all the tension and suspense, Gone Girl also provides a dark and depressing look at marriage.

 Gone Girl Fincher Affleck PikeCraziness aside, Nick and Amy suffer from the same martial problems any of us might have. The film examines these issues of unfulfilled expectations as we see just how far someone might go when they are pushed the peak of desperation.

When things get tough, how much can two people really compromise to make things work? That's the essence of marriage, and essentially, that's the essence of this film.

Gone Girl is not your typical thriller. It's utterly complex in its storytelling as it presents itself as a classic mystery but hints at something deeper. Not only does it work as fascinating crime story, but it offers much more with its satirical take on the media, complex characters, and relevant themes.

Creepy, twisted, and completely fascinating, Gone Girl is one of the absolute best films of the year, one that will keep you thinking far after the credits roll.

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