Wednesday, November 30, 2011
No easy resolutions, but one spectacular performance
By Edward Copeland
It's always difficult to comprehend the sick and twisted minds that would sexually abuse, molest or rape children, whether a disgusting Penn State or Catholic Church scandal is in the news or not. In the movie Trust, which came out earlier this year, it attempts to tackle the particularly sleazy world of Internet predators, but does so in a way that challenges a black-and-white approach to the subject — an attempt that sometimes comes perilously close to crossing lines — not so much into inappropriateness but retreats to formula. Fortunately, it avoids most of those traps, thanks mainly to the magnificent work of the teen actress Liana Liberato whose character the movie revolves around.
Trust marks the second feature film directed by actor David Schwimmer (though I haven't seen his first effort, the Simon Pegg comedy Run, Fatboy, Run) and Schwimmer performs adequately at preventing the screenplay by Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger from veering too far into melodrama and ratcheting up plot points from countless other movies by keeping most of the film's focus on its provocative and complicated nature.
The film stars two of my most welcome screen presences in recent years, Clive Owen and Catherine Keener, as Will and Lynn Cameron, suburban Chicago parents of three — two daughters, 14-year-old Annie (Liberato) and little sister Katie (Aislinn DeButch), and oldest brother Peter (Spencer Curnutt), who has left for his first year at college.
There's hardly a dysfunction to be found in the family as British transplant Will earns kudos for his work in the advertising and marketing field and Lynn serves dutifully as a loving earth mother to the clan. Their lives seem to be ideal except for the part of Annie's life that her parents don't know about, a life taking place in another world that exists within the walls of the Camerons' own home.
Annie has a boyfriend, albeit a virtual one at first, named Charlie that she has met online and grown very attached to through their computer chats. Those chats eventually lead to actual phone conversations. It bothers Annie slightly that Charlie's story keeps changing. When they first talk online, he's 16, though he ups it to 20 soon after. Later, he admits he's actually 25. Annie quizzes him about the lies, but every fabrication that Charlie explains, the teen she chooses to buy the reason he gives for having lied. Why? It's not that Annie is a particularly dumb 14-year-old girl, but she's vulnerable, enjoying the attention she gets from the virtual Charlie that the real boys at school don't give her.
Inevitably, Charlie talks her into a face-to-face meeting, claiming that it might be their only chance since he's told her that he lives on the West Coast and might not be in Chicago again soon. Of course, 25 was a lie as well and Annie feels betrayed, but Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey) charms her enough despite being at least in his mid-30s (if not older) to get her to stay and before Annie knows it, Charlie has taken her to a motel and what he views as seduction, anyone else would call forcible rape. The surprise comes that since Annie denies so much of the truth about Charlie, she claims it was consensual as well even though she fought him as it happened. Her personality changes and she all but brags about experience, which is part of what makes Trust more challenging than you'd expect.
Despite Annie's outward attitude, her best friend Brittany (Zoe Levin) realizes that something bad occurred and she tells school officials, who report it to the police. The film really takes its unusual turn at this point. Her parents, understandably, can't believe this happened without their knowledge. The FBI, in the form of Agent Doug Tate (Jason Clarke), gets in on the case since the assumption is that Charlie, whomever he might be, probably crossed state lines. It's Annie's reaction that proves to be shocking. She feels utterly betrayed — not by Charlie but by Brittany for reporting the incident and getting Charlie in trouble because she's "in love" with him. Then her anger turns on her parents who become overprotective (a bit too late), so she resents them for preventing her from being able to contact him and when she agrees to try with the FBI setting up a trap to try to locate, the cover gets blown and he never calls again. The interference of her ex-friend, her parents and the police have cost her the only person she feels found her special and beautiful.
Liberato, who was 14 when she made the film, gives a phenomenal performance that overpowers everyone else in the film, no minor achievement when the cast not only includes Clive Owen and Catherine Keener but also Viola Davis in the small role as a psychiatrist that Annie is forced to see. The film in no way argues that Charlie and Annie should be allowed to pursue their "love" and eventually Annie gets wise and her breakdown when realizing it is both heartbreaking and harrowing to watch. Liberato truly amazes, giving one of the best performances by an actress that age that I've seen in quite some time.
On the downside of Trust, while it makes Annie so complex and interesting, the screenplay doesn't flesh out her parents or any other characters in the same way, especially poor Keener whose gets a terribly underwritten role. Owen comes off better, especially when he gets some quiet moments toward the end of the film. Unfortunately before he gets there, he's stuck with not one but two clichéd reactions: First, he almost turns into a potential vigilante in the mold of a an infinite number of parents (or siblings or friends, etc.) in an infinite number of films (abetted by yet another portrayal of an inept FBI agent who lets Will steal his computer and files on potential pedophile suspects) that threatens to turn Owen into Liam Neeson in that godawful movie Taken. Second, he gets the ideal career so that he can reassess how he makes his living when he sees how his firm's latest ad campaign peddles young teen girls as sex objects. (The script even gives him a lecherous jerk of a co-worker played by Noah Emmerich to represent the evils of the ad industry.)
Those reservations aside, Trust contains enough thought-provoking material and its avoidance of easy and pat resolutions make up for the parts that border on silly and melodramatic. The credit for smoothing those bumps fall almost entirely on Liberato's young shoulders. I look forward to seeing where this young actress's career goes in the future.
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Monday, November 28, 2011
Ken Russell (1927-2011)
As a director, Ken Russell always has been a mixed bag to me. To say that he had a tendency to go over-the-top would be an understatement and I found very few of his films satisfying as a whole though he did produce many fine performances in his films even if the films themselves were so-so.
Glenda Jackson (who won her first her Oscar), Alan Bates and Oliver Reed in his adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love; Twiggy in the musical The Boy Friend (perhaps his most enjoyable and mainstream outing); the spectacle of Tommy bringing the landmark album by The Who to cinematic life with its eclectic cast including Oscar-nominee Ann-Margret as the deaf-dumb-and-blind boy's mom (covered in beans at one point), a brief bit by Jack Nicholson as The Specialist, Tina Turner's Acid Queen and the band's late drummer Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie, to name but a few; William Hurt's experimentations with mind-altering drugs and isolation chambers to a devolved consciousness in Altered States, based ion the novel by Paddy Chayefsky who wrote the screenplay as well, but hated the film so much that he disowned it and the film credits the script to his given first and middle name, Sidney Aaron; and the loony Crimes of Passion which contains a brave but great Kathleen Turner performance. However, what I remember the most about Russell was one of his many performances as an actor (check out his filmography), particularly his supporting role as Walter in Tom Stoppard's adaptation of John Le Carre's The Russia House starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, an incredibly underrated Fred Schepisi film from 1990. Russell gave an entertaining and compelling turn in his rather small role. For someone whose reputation mainly is that of a director, surprisingly, that might be what I remember about him most. To read the full New York Times obit, click here.
RIP Mr. Russell.
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Sunday, November 27, 2011
Boardwalk Empire No. 22: Georgia Peaches
By Edward Copeland
NOTE TO READERS: This Boardwalk Empire recap will be the final one I'll be able to post as the show finishes airing in the Eastern and Central time zones. Because of fears that spoilers will leak out, HBO isn't sending out advance screeners for the final two episodes of the second season airing Dec. 4 and 11. Because of my physical limitations and the extensive and detailed recaps I do, the recaps for those two episodes won't be completed until at least a day or two after those episodes premiere. Sorry for the inconvenience.
In a way, I'm surprised that they didn't hold back tonight's episode as well because it does have a shocker of an ending. I always put my spoiler warning up top, but I mean it this time. The only hint I'll give you in this introduction is that I've been surprised that we've gone through almost two seasons without a major character being killed (and by that, I mean someone listed in the opening credits). That changes tonight — and I certainly was surprised by who ends up wearing the toe tag, but it definitely promises some big changes for other characters and storylines in the future. Aside from that twist, tonight's episode, with a teleplay by Dave Flebotte, whose previous writing credits have been almost exclusively on comedic series such as Desperate Housewives, Will & Grace, 8 Simple Rules and Ellen as well as one of the weaker episodes of The Sopranos (season 4's "Calling All Cars"), does a great job on his first Boardwalk Empire script, building on the momentum that's been growing in the past two weeks. Though "Georgia Peaches" runs nearly 10 minutes longer than last week's installment, director Jeremy Podeswa moves it along at a pace that makes it seem that it ends even more quickly. Since Podeswa helmed this season's good "The Age of Reason" and last year's "Anastasia," which remains one of the best episodes in the series' history, he may be second only to Tim Van Patten in the show's regular stable of directors that you can depend on turning in a quality effort.
We ended last week's episode at an Irish port while a mournful tune in the style of traditional Irish music played. Tonight, we open at the Port of Hoboken and the song "Strut, Miss Lizzie" provides a much jauntier start to the mini-montage that opens the show. The song originally was recorded in 1920 by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, but the version on the show is a cover by David Johansen (and my link goes to a 1930 cover of the song). Netting sets many boxes of Feeney's Irish Oats from Belfast onto the docks. Sleater supervises the arrival and checks his watch. Trucks carry the boxes of oats elsewhere where a man in a tux greets their arrival. Workers haul the crates down basement steps and open them — not surprisingly to find bottles of Irish whiskey. Babette smokes on a cigarette and watches. We begin to hear a preacher quoting from the Bible as the song slips into the background and more boxes of "oats" are wheeled into a tavern. "From The Book of Deuteronomy 24:14, Thou shalt not oppress a hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers — " The scene switches to the Boardwalk where the pastor's words can be heard more clearly, though we don't see him yet. A bored operator sits next to his empty rolling chair. "that are in thy land within thy gates," the preacher finishes the verse. We then see Owen carrying a box of those Irish oats. As he walks along, we see that the pastor (Helmar Augustus Cooper) preaches to the striking black workers on the Boardwalk, bearing picket signs that read "ON STRIKE," "UNFAIR" and "HONEST PAY FOR AN HONEST DAY." "Brothers, the Lord knew that fairness was not something to be tossed out by those in power like so many crusts of bread. The Lord knew that decency and fairness were a commitment, a promise to those who serve faithfully that they too will be served in turn. Amen. And the strong and the weak have no color, and they shall know the truth," the preacher continues. Leaning against a bench by the railing next to the beach is Deputy Raymond Halloran and another member of the Sheriff's Department. "The strong are not as mighty as they think and the weak have mercy," his sermon begins to be drowned out by the music and the crowd's chants. Sleater walks through the strikers toward the Ritz Carlton, but two men block his path. The men look to Dunn Purnsley who gives a nod and then they let Owen proceed.
Owen carries his box into the dark, empty kitchen of the Ritz where its manager sits by himself. "Are you the man to see?" he asks. "Unless there's someone else in here with his thumb in his ass?" the kitchen manager replies. Sleater tells the morose man that Nucky Thompson sent him. "Thought they hung him up," the manager says. Owen opens the box and shows the man what it really contains. "Is that real?" the manager asks. "Straight from the old girl's tit," Owen tells him. The manager quickly finishes what remains in his coffee cup and then holds it out for Owen to pour a sample of the whiskey into and starts to sip. "Thirty dollars a case — that's less than half the going rate," Owen tells him as he drinks. "Who's going to serve it?" the manager wonders out loud. "Someday this strike will end sir — and so will this deal on this fine — Irish — whiskey," Sleater tells him, stretching out the words. The manager nods in contemplation before agreeing to buy 400 cases.
Sigrid rocks and feeds Baby Abigail as Van Alden drinks his morning coffee. He compliments her for how natural she seems to be at her job and she tells him that she’s the oldest of seven children. She also shares the story that her mother told her about when Sigrid was 6-years-old and tried to feed her baby sister from her bosom. Nelson puts his cup in the sink and leaves some money for groceries when he spots a letter addressed to him from Rose. “When did this come? Why didn’t I get this?” he asks. “Yesterday. I leave it for you there,” Sigrid replies. Nelson’s aggravation bursts out. “I am to receive all correspondence from Mrs. Van Alden immediately,” he emphasizes as he rips open the envelope. “Ya. I thought you’d see it,” Sigrid says. The envelope contains a Petition for Divorce from the U.S. District Court of New York, Westchester County. Rose Van Alden vs. Nelson Van Alden. Rose also inserted a handwritten note that reads, "Nelson, Please attend to this as soon as your activities allow. Rose."
Dr. Holt exits Emily's room as Margaret. Nucky and Teddy arrive. Margaret asks Holt how Emily is doing. "She's sleeping — a bit of a rough patch, nausea and such," he tells her. "Why did no one ring me? I would've stayed the night," Margaret says. "I know how hard this is for you, but she's in good hands here. She'll need your love and patience later on," Holt assures Margaret. "Later when?" she inquires. The doctor gives a half-hearted smile and let's Nucky and Teddy know that they can go in and see Emily if they like. FYI: I couldn't find a direct link to this information, so I typed it. Patients infected with the poliovirus can pass the virus on seven to 10 days before the onset of disease. In addition, they can continue to shed the virus in their stool for three to six weeks. "Come on son — be very quiet. Like cat feet," Nucky instructs Teddy as the two enter Emily's room and leave Margaret to talk to Dr. Holt. "Her lungs are sound, nerves to the heart and upper limbs seem unaffected, but the damage to her legs could be extensive," Holt informs Margaret. "Will she be crippled?" Margaret asks. "At this stage, it's impossible to say. I've seen children worse than her make a complete recovery," Holt answers. "Mr. Thompson is a man of means. If there's anything to be done — " Holt cuts Margaret off so she doesn't think that money will solve the problem. "I wish it were simple as money. There are things that are out of our control, much as I want to tell you otherwise," the doctor says. Margaret looks in Emily's room and watches Nucky speak to her and tenderly pat the girl on the head while Teddy sits in a chair fiddling with his cap in his hands. "I have a little girl — she's 9. She says a prayer for these kids every night. She doesn't know them. I never taught her to do it," Holt shares with Margaret. “You’re meant to ask God to intercede for others," Margaret says quietly. "We'll get the results from the latest tests by Friday. We'll have an answer then. Go in and see your daughter," he adds. "Good morning, my darling. How are you feelin'?" she asks Emily. "Alright," Emily responds weakly. "We've missed you so much," Nucky tells the girl. "And look what I brought," Margaret announces, holding up a doll. "What happened to Miss Wheatley?" Emily wants to know. Margaret chooses not to tell Emily that Miss Wheatley went up in flames in a pile of her things they burned in the yard. "This is Miss Wheatley's sister. She's here to visit and she insisted on seeing you," she tells Emily. The girl takes the doll and holds her while her mom comments that the doll's hair resembles Emily's and Nucky makes a point of saying Emily's hair is prettier. As the adults tend to Emily, the camera pulls away to look at a sad-looking Teddy, though you can tell he isn't sad about Emily. His expression betrays a combination of boredom and jealousy at the attention Emily is getting. The subtle camera move is very good and since Teddy is played by twins Declan and Rory McTigue, I'm not sure who gets the credit for saying so much without saying a word or whether whichever McTigue brother is in that shot received really good direction to achieve that moment.
The size of the warehouse in which Mickey Doyle mixes and bottles his brew has grown since Jimmy became upwardly mobile in Atlantic City, but even with more breathing room the stacks of crates nearly reach the ceiling. Jimmy marches onto the scene with Capone, Lansky and Luciano. "Hi ya, boys. Checkin' up on your investment?" Mickey greets the quartet. "Yeah — try not to lose this batch," Jimmy tells him. Capone places his arm on one of the crates that reads:
PROPERTY OF THE
"Property of the U.S. government," Capone cackles. "Not anymore, it ain't," Luciano declares. Lansky dips a ladle into the vat and spoons up some of the brew. "To George Remus," Meyer says before sipping the sample. Jimmy quizzes Mickey for an estimate on when the product will be ready to ship. "We're half-way done. A week round-the-clock'll take care of the rest," Doyle answers. "That's too long," Jimmy tells him. Mickey points out that he only has 10 guys working for him. "Hire fifty," Jimmy orders. Capone mentions his need to unload his portion and get back to Chicago. "Fuckin' Torrio's on my ass," Al complains. "Rothstein's been sniffin' around too. He knows something's up," Luciano adds. "There's Manny Horvitz too," Mickey tosses into the conversation. "What about him?" Jimmy asks, clearly not caring. "He's running a special on lips and assholes this week — what do you think?" Mickey states. "Fuckin' pay him already," Jimmy orders. "Cash?" Mickey asks, extending his hand for the green. "Booze, whatever. He's Waxey Gordon's problem now, not mine," Jimmy proclaims as he begins to walk off with Al. Lucky calls out to Jimmy to hold up. When he catches up, he removes from his jacket a small envelope containing some white powder. "You can sniff it, smoke it or inject it," Luciano sells with a smile. "Nice Sal, you movin' Chink drugs now?" Capone comments. "It's not hop — it's heroin — and I wouldn't expect a whoremeister to pass judgment," Luciano explains. "Heroin delivers a higher dose of opium to the brain than opium does which makes for a happier customer," Lansky elaborates. "No bottles, no barrels — two million bucks in a suitcase," Lucky plugs the drug. "What's the bank? Who's going to buy it?" Jimmy asks. "You've got your artist types, people uptown," Lucky answers. Jimmy wants numbers. "Their numbers may be very small right now but they're very enthusiastic," Meyer insists. Luciano sticks some envelopes into Jimmy's suit and urges him to get some samples out to the locals. "Great, but before you start squawkin' again, how about gettin' this out to the locals," Jimmy suggests, patting the crates.
An exasperated Ginsburg shakes his head. "I don't know what to tell you, Nucky. I'm extremely disappointed," the lawyer admits. "OK, try that again — only this time leave out the part where you sound like my mother," Nucky growls. "Esther Randolph — she's relentless. The trial will be in Camden. I've made calls," Ginsburg says. "You've made calls. Worth every penny. Daugherty?" an increasingly flustered Thompson asks in reference to the President Harding's attorney general, who selected Randolph as the replacement prosecutor when Nucky's old enemy Sen. Walter Edge blackmailed him into picking someone who would try to nail Nucky's balls to the wall. "He says he did what he could and you two were square," Ginsburg relays Daugherty's words. Eddie enters and informs Nucky that his desk is ready for use. During this meeting, Eddie has been supervising the setup of a makeshift office for Nucky at his Margate estate. "My desk — which used to be in my suite when I ran the fuckin' city — is ready for use," Nucky shouts at Ginsburg. "Will there be anything else?" Eddie asks. "No!" Nucky responds, doing his best not to sound pissed off at Kessler. Ginsburg stands up once Nucky takes his place behind the relocated desk. "So why don't you tell me what you have in mind to keep this trial in Atlantic County where I can work the judge and jury?" Nucky inquires. Ginsburg floats the idea of medical hardship. "You mean this?" Nucky asks, holding up his wounded right hand in an even tone. "This wouldn't even stop me from jacking off!" he yells. "You'll get five years — you'll be out in two," Ginsburg says, for the first time talking as if prison were a certainty. "Eddie, call those two guinea anarchists from Massachusetts — tell them to relax — I've found them a new lawyer," Nucky bellows into another part of the house. "The difference being — with Sacco and Vanzetti, innocence is still a possibility," Ginsburg tells Nucky, with a tone that implies he's had enough of his shit. "Did you want something?" Eddie inquires, rushing into the room because he heard Nucky's joking call. "Get the fuck out," Nucky says, but his voice isn't raised anymore. Eddie makes a hasty retreat. "I was talking to you," Nucky tells Ginsburg. "I realize that," he responds. "Good. You should also realize you're fired," Nucky stands as he proclaims it. Ginsburg just sighs, picks up his briefcase and leaves. Nucky reaches for his cigarette case when the headline on the sports section of the newspaper catches his eye: BLACK SOX TRIAL BEGINS We've dated the series again. The Black Sox trial began on July 18, 1921. Since we're presumably still early in the day and that's not an afternoon newspaper, I'm betting that makes it July 19, 1921. On another note, though I'm surprised he hadn't fired Ginsburg earlier, I'll miss the scenes between Steve Buscemi and Peter Van Wagner. The two actors developed a nice rapport.
"Three hundred empty rooms, five hundred peaches darker than the help and a tourist season that's slipping through my fingers — and why? Because no one here can get the colored situation under control," an Atlantic City businessman (Scott Robertson) complains at a crowded meeting at the Commodore's about the strike. Attending are three local businessmen, Jimmy, Eli, interim County Treasurer Neary, Leander, Mayor Bader and the Commodore himself. Probably the most uncomfortable man present is Langston, the Commodore's black butler, who must stand and listen to these assholes badmouth his race in case any of them needs something. Noticeably absent, since the gathering isn't in the grand living room, is the Commodore's still unnamed stuffed bear. This scene probably feels longer than it really is, but no matter how many times I revised it, the whole section ate up a tremendous amount of space. So, for this scene, I'm hitting the highlights on tossing out the rest, which means eliminating a lot of the dialogue I'd usually include. Here are the main points: 1. The three businessmen we've never met before (the other seated one who Bader actually calls Dan at one point is played by Craig Bockhorn; the one who stands is played by Jimmy Palumbo) all want the strike settled and suggest using the Klan again. 2. Eli opposes this idea and Jimmy reminds them that got them into this mess and suggests settling, saying a small raise would be cheaper. 3. The Commodore starts thumping on the floor with his cane and making noises, so they send the businessmen home. 4. Eli suggests 50 men with billy clubs and Neary reminisces about a 1909 incident where they threw black protesters off a pier, but Jimmy fears riots. 5. Neary tells Eli that Deputy Halloran was talking to Esther Randolph and Eli doesn't like it. While overall this is a very good episode, I'm beginning to wonder if there's a curse on long scenes with multiple characters at the Commodore's mansion. They used to be quite good but lately, they just drag on and on. Why didn't they have a character we know such as Leander summarize the business community's thoughts and get to the debate over what to do? They would get to the Halloran plot point and the scene's climax (still to come) a lot faster, which I will play out now. Trying to steer things back to the subject at hand, Leander asks Jimmy if he intends to follow this strategy. "Which one? The billy clubs or throwing them off the pier? I can't choose," Jimmy replies sarcastically. "Your predecessor knew how to keep the coloreds happy," Whitlock reminds him. Jimmy stands up. "Alright, I'm not Nucky, OK. Now that we've got that part out of the way, let's figure out how to end this peacefully — " The Commodore interrupts again. "Why don't you just show them your cunt?" he manages to say fairly coherently. The room seems mostly shocked by his words except for Jimmy, who looks hurt. The room really gets bowled over when the Commodore, using his thought-to-be paralyzed right side, manages to lift himself to a standing position and take a couple of steps. "You heard me. Why don't you lift up your dress and let yourself get fucked?" the old man asks his son. Leander Whitlock has a hard time suppressing a smile at the sight of his old friend's signs of recovery. Needless to say, Jimmy doesn't take the abuse well, drooping his head and staying silent. The Commodore turns to Neary. “You. Get me a fuckin' drink,” he orders. "Yes sir, Commodore," Neary complies. Eli looks deep in thought.
Teddy's bedtime recital of the prayer "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" begins while we still watch Eli contemplating his many problems at the Commodore's. When Teddy reaches the line "If I should die before I wake," we see him in his bed with Margaret at his side as he says the prayer. "You should say a special prayer for Emily," his mother tells him. Teddy looks less than enthused, but closes his eyes, puts his hands together and says, "Will you please make my sister Emily get better?" anyway. Margaret smiles and kisses Teddy on the forehead. "Good night, sweet prince," she tells him. As Margaret walks toward the door, Teddy calls, "Mama." She turns back around. "Yes dear, what is it?" she asks. "I can't move my legs," Teddy declares without an ounce of panic. Margaret, however, does, rushing back and pulling back his covers. She presses on his legs. "Can you feel that?" she asks. "No, he replies. Margaret again starts testing his feet and apparently hits a ticklish spot, making her devilish little son laugh. When she takes her hands away, Teddy continues laughing. Margaret slaps the little brat hard across the face and Teddy stops laughing and begins crying, A puzzled Nucky wanders in to see what's going on. "You were just praying?" he says. Margaret dashes past Nucky and into her bedroom. "God help me, but he's got his father's cruelty," she tells Nucky when he goes to her. "He just wants attention," Nucky explains. "His sister is lying crippled in a hospital. He knows that," Margaret says. "Not the same as understanding," Nucky tells her. "What am I to do — abandon my sick baby girl to attend to my healthy son?" Margaret asks. "Before anything else, you're to stop running yourself ragged," Nucky declares. Nucky informs her that he has to be in New York the next day just for the day and suggests that he take Teddy with him to let Margaret rest. She asks him why he's going and he tells her he's hiring a new lawyer. "You can't leave him alone," Margaret warns. "I won't," Nucky promises. "Make sure to keep his fingers from his nose — it's a revolting habit," Margaret says.
The striking workers sing "There Is a Balm in Gilead" as picketing continues on the Boardwalk. We join the protesters in the middle of the spiritual. "But then the Holy Spirit/Revives my soul again," they sing. While the chorus raises their voice in song, another group — pissed-off looking white guys — round the corner raising something else — namely bats and pieces of wood. "There is a balm in Gilead/To make the wounded whole/There is a balm in Gilead/To heal the sin-sick soul — " The hymn gets interrupted when Purnsley, spotting the intruders, shouts, "Hold the line!" A melee ensues as the whites beat and punch the strikers, though the strikers get some blows in. The two members of the Sheriff's Department watching the violence with Deputy Halloran quietly slip away, leaving Halloran by himself. Two of the white men strike the deputy from behind and proceed to pummel him without mercy. It almost looks as if Halloran receives a more severe beating than any of the strikers do.
In New York, Nucky (with Teddy tagging along and Arnold Rothstein following behind) enters the office of infamous criminal defense attorney Bill Fallon (David Aaron Baker), the man who helped Rothstein escape charges in the Black Sox scandal. "Mr. Thompson, I've heard only good things," Fallon says as he greets Nucky and shakes his hand. "Not from me, of course," Rothstein jokes. "That certainly narrows down the list of suspects," Nucky replies. Teddy wanders to the corner of Fallon's desk where a baseball sits in prominent display. "You like baseball?" Fallon asks the boy, noticing his interest. "Yes," Teddy answers. "Ty Cobb signed this — now it's yours," Fallon tells Teddy as he gives the ball to him. "What do you say, Teddy?" Nucky inquires, trying to coax gratitude from the boy. "Ty Cobb was a bad man," Hans Schroeder's son answers. "He doesn't like to be crossed, that's for sure, but if your team's down, he's the one you want at bat," Nucky tells him before sending him out of the office with Fallon's secretary. Fallon opens a desk drawer where three baseballs rest and places one of them in the spot where the Ty Cobb-signed-ball used to rest. "So your case. Arnold tells me you'd like to go in a new direction," Fallon addresses Nucky. "Preferably away from jail," Nucky replies. "This Ginsburg you had defending you — Is law his main focus or just something he does when he’s not shoeing horses?" Fallon asks sarcastically. "I hope the meter's not running. I'd hate to think I'm paying you to hear what a fool I am," Nucky says. "That part's on the house," Fallon offers. "Once you get past Mr. Fallon's charm, I think you'll find him quite effective," Rothstein counsels Nucky. "Can you get the venue changed back to Atlantic City?" Nucky inquires as he takes a seat with his drink. "Probably not," Fallon admits, "but if there's a seed of doubt to be sown on your behalf, I am quite effective with juries." "And all this farming will set me back what?" Thompson seeks the dollar amount. "Eighty dollars per hour, which also buys my uncanny ability to make friends with judges," Fallon adds it up for Nucky. Nucky doesn't look happy and you can tell he's running the figures in his head. "And if I told you I had no money for bribes," Nucky posits. "Then you'd be relying solely on my legal acumen," Fallon says. "What would you do, Arnold?" Nucky asks Rothstein, who has been staring out the window, sipping his milk. "No one likes a long shot more than a gambler," Rothstein smiles.
We're in a room we've not been in before and there's a knock at the door. A muffled voice says, "Come in." Eli opens the door and we see lying in bed, looking like hell, Deputy Halloran. Bandages wrap his head from the top of his skull to the bottom of his chin. His right arm dangles in a sling and his jaw appears to be wired. "Fresh peas — from June's garden," Eli tells him as he holds up a paper bag. "What do I do with 'em?" Halloran asks, given that he can barely open his mouth to speak. Eli suggests he have his landlady boil the peas for him. Then the sheriff gets around to asking his deputy how he's feeling, as if the sight of him didn't already answer that question. "How do ya zink?" Halloran says. "What happened out there?" Eli inquires as if he didn't already know the answer. "Two of 'em came up behind me," Halloran replies. "Sons-a-bitches," Eli curses. "I was standin' off by the railings," Halloran tells his boss. "You know what we're gonna do — when you're back on your feet? We drive around the Northside — you point out these black bastards," Eli pledges. Halloran informs Eli that the black protesters weren't responsible. "They were the breakers. Normal white men," Eli's deputy scowls. "Really?" Eli says, not even pretending to act surprised. "I couldn't believe it," Halloran declares. "They think you were someone else?" Eli suggests. "Who else would I be — I'm wearing the brown," Halloran responds. "Well there's a puzzlement," Eli replies without an ounce of emotion. "Look at me — I can hardly fucking talk," Halloran moans. "Well, it isn't like there's anything else you want to say, is there?" Eli makes it painfully clear even to a dimwit like Halloran what he's talking about now and why he's in the physical state he's in. "I think Ray, when things go wrong, 'What did I do? Why do I deserve this?'" Eli tells him. "I don't deserve it," Halloran insists. "My philosophy — it goes in here," Eli points to his gut, "it comes out somewhere else. God, fate — I don't know what you call it — 'What did I do? What should I make sure I never, ever do again'" Eli has crossed the room to Halloran's bedside to make his not-so-veiled threat. Halloran stares at him, vacantly and frightened at the same time. "Good time to reflect about it," Eli proposes as he hands him the bag of peas. "Butter, salt — delicious." Deputy Raymond Halloran doesn't need much time to reflect because as soon as Eli has left, he fights his pain to get to the phone on his bedside table. "Give me the Post Office over on Illinois," he speaks into the mouthpiece.
Father Brennan comes upon Margaret in kneeling in prayer in one of the pews of his otherwise empty church. "Is something wrong?" he asks. "My youngest, Emily, she has polio," she informs the priest. "I'm sorry," Brennan says. "She's frightened, Father. It's killin' me," Margaret admits. Brennan sits in the pew in front of Margaret and leans on its back. "God is with her, my child," he insists. Podewsa films that line of Brennan's in a far shot from the back of the sanctuary, essentially turning Margaret and the priest into specks. He moves back around to the front of two so we can see Margaret, "As he was when he let it happen," Margaret replies with a tone of bitterness toward her deity. Podewsa moves the camera slightly again so we see Michael Cumpsty's face straight on while Kelly MacDonald is in profile. "There are things I tell children, Mrs. Schroeder, because that's all they can grasp. You're an adult and you came here in your need," Brennan tells her. "I've nowhere else to turn," Margaret says, looking straight ahead as if she's in a state of shock or has just gone numb. "You confessed something to me not long ago — about temptation. Is that still a burden?" Brennan inquires. "I'd rather not discuss that," she replies. "Don't you see the problem? You ask of God, but what do you offer in return?" the priest asks. "My devotion," Margaret answers. Father Brennan explains to her that devotion is an act, something you demonstrate. Margaret doesn't understand how she can display that devotion. "That's for you to decide," Father Brennan tells her.
The next scene begins with a man's hand lifting his suit jacket to give him quicker access to the gun sticking out of his pants. The camera goes wide and we realize that the gun belongs to Jimmy who is meeting with Chalky inside the same church where Chalky held his community meeting following his release from jail. Jimmy has brought Richard along with him, Chalky's backup is Dunn Purnsley. Two other black men stand quietly in separate corners. "Mr. White," Jimmy greets Chalky, "Young James," Chalky replies as the two shake hands. "How's that new set of shoes be fittin' these days?" Chalky asks Jimmy. "A little tighter than I expected," Jimmy admits. "Needs some breakin' in, that all," Chalky tells him. "So what can I do for y'all?" Chalky asks as he and Jimmy sit. "The strike — it needs to end. I came here to work somethin' out," Jimmy says. "Oh — now y'all come. What ya think about that, Mr. Purnsley?" Chalky asks Dunn who stands behind him. "I think that ball team he sent around swingin' those bats struck out," Purnsley declares. "That wasn't my idea, Chalky," Jimmy tells him. "Klan boys shootin' up my warehouse," Chalky reminds him. "Wasn't my idea either," Jimmy adds. "Jesus boy — ain't you got any notion at all?" Chalky quizzes Jimmy. "Yeah," Jimmy says, leaning forward on his chair. "I plan to make your murder charge go away," Chalky lets out a little cough and looks to the side. "How you gonna do that?" Chalky wants to know. Jimmy announces his plan to talk with Gov. Edwards. Chalky spins in his chair to look at Purnsley, then turns back to Jimmy. "What else you got?" he asks. "What else you want?" Jimmy inquires. "Justice," Chalky replies, which when he elaborates breaks down to $3,000 to each of the families of the men killed in the Klan raid. "OK," Jimmy agrees. "And those three hooded crackers who did the shootin' — I want them delivered to me personally," Chalky demands, Jimmy shakes his head and looks at Richard. "It's not gonna happen, Chalky," Darmody tells him. Chalky smirks, then stands. "Well buck, that's the deal. There'll always be next tourist season," Chalky says with a wink as he and Purnsley leave.
In the Manhattan hotel room with Nucky, Teddy talks to his mom on the phone. We only hear his side of the conversation which consists of many promises to do things and the news about the signed baseball, though Margaret has no idea who Ty Cobb is. "OK champ, time to say goodnight," Nucky tells him. Teddy does what he's told and hands the phone off to Nucky who says they'll see her tomorrow and explains that Cobb is "a very famous ball player." "Your mom sounded in good spirits, eh," Nucky declares, but Teddy just shrugs. Nucky sits down on his bed with a drink. "You know, I had a kid sister. Her name was Susan. She was sick too — consumption — and my mother, just like your mother with Emily, spent every waking moment taking care of her. My brother and I, we'd get pretty jealous," Nucky admits to Teddy. "You did?" Teddy acts surprised, as if his reaction is unusual. "Sure — who wouldn't want all that attention? Still, we knew our mother loved us just the same," Nucky illustrates for the kid. Buscemi always excels in these scenes illuminating Nucky's past, even when played at different tones and for different purposes. Once again, I must give kudos to whichever McTigue kid plays Teddy here or if it were particularly fine direction that got this performance out of him in this episode. It also illustrates how good Nucky must have been with Jimmy when he was a kid and how he really misses the chance he didn't have with his own child who died so young. "How about your dad?" Teddy asks, nearly causing Thompson to do a spit take with his drink, "Sure, of course, he loved us too," he lies to the boy. Doing that took enough out of Nucky to cause him to fix himself another drink. As he prepares it, Teddy asks him if he's in trouble. "No. Well, a little. Some people say I did something wrong, but it's not true," Nucky speaks more or less truthfully to Teddy. "That you burned your dad's house down," Teddy says. Now it's out — the source of Teddy's fascination with fire finally becomes clear to Nucky. "What? No. What makes you thinks that?" Nucky wants to know. "I saw you," Teddy tells him. "No Teddy. What you saw — that was an accident," Nucky insists. "Don't worry, Dad — I won't tell," Teddy promises.
The young would-be bootleggers have gathered together at the warehouse again — and the trio of out-of state partner aren't happy with what they're finding. "How'd you do?" Lucky asks Al when he comes in. "I couldn't sell a drop. The whole city's fucking drenched," Capone reports. "Irish whiskey," Luciano says. "But they're cheaper than what we're selling," Mickey adds. "Way cheaper," Lucky complains. "Who's behind it then? Al wants to know. "Nucky," Jimmy declares. "You know that?" Meyer asks. "In my bones," Jimmy replies. "So much for steppin' down," Mickey comments. "There's a reason you cut a snake's head clean off," Capone asserts. "Well, whose fault is that, Al?" Jimmy asks. "This whiskey — where's it from? You said you had the Coast Guard in your pocket," Lansky inquires. "Nucky's man — he's from Ireland. They import it," Richard speaks up. Capone gets in Harrow's face. "So let's pop the fuckin' mick," Capone yells. "Yeah, that's great for tomorrow. What do we do for today?" Jimmy seeks suggestions from his partners. "I thought you were runnin' this town," Luciano yells at Darmody as he approaches him. "Yeah, that's right," Jimmy confirms. "I thought you were supposed to be givin' us the answers," Lucky replies. Capone complains that first came the black workers' strike, now this. Mickey tells everyone there are more strikers out there now than before. "So this stuff could be sittin' here for months," Capone speculates. "I said I would take care of it, goddammit!" Jimmy shouts in Al's face. "You should put that to fuckin' music," Luciano suggests. "Fuck you Sal or Charlie whatever the fuck your name is," Jimmy yells. "It's Charlie," Luciano answers quietly. "Is that the issue? There's a fortune at stake, gentlemen, This alcohol needs to be sold," Lansky interjects, attempting to be the voice of reason as always. "Thanks, genius. Where?" Al asks. Meyer proposes splitting up and selling it in their respective towns. "This is my town," Jimmy sighs. Luciano suggest that Jimmy go to Philadelphia, but Mickey warns him to stay away from there because of Manny. "Alright, you take Philly," Jimmy tells Mickey, "I'll head north." Then he kicks over a crate in frustration. "Look — let's just sell this shit," Jimmy says.
The camera begins the next scene tight on the face of Nelson Van Alden in the middle of a sentence. "…at which point Enoch Thompson left the premises with Mr. White," Van Alden says. "Albert White, known as Chalky," we hear Esther Randolph's voice clarify off screen. "That's correct," Nelson confirms. "Please tell the jury what happened next," Randolph's voice instructs. "Presumably, they completed the deal for the alcohol — " "Objection," this time it's Lathrop's voice we hear doing the interrupting and the shot widens so we see that they're rehearsing Van Alden's future trial testimony in their office. "Your presumptions, scintillating though they be, do not help us. You're testifying as to direct knowledge of Thompson's bootlegging," Esther tells him. Nelson apologizes and Lathrop advises him to stick to what he knows. "Agent Van Alden, what can you tell us about a Hans Schroeder?" Randolph asks. "I beg your pardon," Nelson replies. "Hans Schroeder — his name is mentioned in your file quite extensively as is his widow's," Randolph repeats. From the look on Van Alden's face, you might forget that he's testifying for the prosecution. "Are you baiting me, Miss Randolph?" Van Alden accuses. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean. In your file, it says that Nucky Thompson ordered Schroeder murdered," she responds as he crosses in front of him. "I have no direct proof of that," Van Alden admits. "Well you certainly spent enough time on it," Esther comments. "It was a theory. I was told by my supervisor to focus on alcohol as you've directed yourself in regard to my testimony," he tells her. Randolph sidles up to Nelson. "Off the record? Do you think he did it? Thompson — order Schroeder's murder," she queries. "I have no doubt whatsoever," Van Alden declares. Randolph suggest that they break for lunch and Nelson walks briskly out of the office. "What do you think? Have we got enough?" Lathrop asks Randolph. "Let's bring him in," she says. Lathrop and Halsey grab their hats and head off.
Someone knocks on the door to Manny Horvitz's home. Manny must be playing it safe after the attempt on his life because he treads carefully inside, dressed in only a T-shirt and suspenders, using a handgun to part the curtains to look outside. He sees that it's Mickey Doyle on his doorstep, so Horvitz feels secure enough to let him inside (but not enough to do so without giving Mickey a patdown for weapons). "Better safe than sorry," Manny tells him. Mickey starts to sit a particular chair, but Horvitz stops him. "Not there — my wife'll kill ya," he says. Whether that's true or not, Mickey takes a seat across from Manny. "So — the two of us — the walking wounded, courtesy of Mr. Darmody," Manny comments, referencing his shoulder and Mickey's neck. "I don't follow," Mickey, unable to turn his head, says. "My shoulder, your neck," Horvitz spells it out for him. "Jimmy ain't have nothin' to do with that," Mickey claims. Granted, you can't believe a word that comes out of Mickey's mouth, but I wonder if he was aware that Jimmy did set that botched hit up through his talk with Waxey. He heard his comment earlier in this episode about Manny being Waxey's problem now and warned Jimmy not to go to Philadelphia, so he probably suspects, but given that rat's survival instincts, he probably figures that what he doesn't know can't hurt him. "You landed at my feet," Manny reminds him. "Your shoulder I mean. That was Waxey all the way," Doyle insists. Horvitz removes the bandage from his shoulder and reveals the ugly, bloody wound. "What have you brought me?" he asks. Mickey makes a pleasant humming sound and removes a bottle from a paper bag and hands it Manny. "I give you five grand worth to settle Jimmy's debt," Mickey says. Manny questions whether it's from Jimmy and Mickey confirms it again. Manny stares at the bottle. "Yet he doesn't bring it himself," Horvitz notes as he opens it. "He's busy, Munya," Mickey tells him. "Yes. He’s a macher now who sends you to do his bidding," Manny says as he takes a drink. Horvitz puts the bottle down on the table beside him and picks something small up. He removes a toothpick from it (and then viewers know what it is) and tosses the box to Mickey. "Somethin' in my teeth?" Doyle asks. "I took it from the man who tried to kill me. Heilig's Chop House," Manny informs Mickey as he takes a toothpick and starts scraping at his shoulder wound. "So?" Mickey says. Whatever Horvitz was trying to clean out of his wound, he transferred into a bowl and looks as if it brought him some kind of relief. "Atlantic City — Mr. Darmody's town. He tries to kill me and fails. Now he sends five thousand dollars worth of piss for a ticket out of it," Manny sneers. "He's payin' his debt is all," Mickey insists. "He who dies pays all his debts," Manny proclaims. "The Bible, right? Lot of wisdom there. Look — you're still in business, ain't ya? And you don't have to deal with him — ever. Just me," Mickey responds, trying to cool Horvitz down. I wonder if it was luck of the draw or planning that assigned Jeremy Podewsa to direct the two episodes this season (this and "The Age of Reason") loaded with the most religious and biblical references, except in this case Mickey is an idiot and confuses The Bible and Shakespeare. Manny stands, looking like the gregarious butcher we first met, almost as if he's about to hug Mickey. "Ah, I take the payback," Manny proclaims. "My old pal, Munya," Mickey smiles and starts to get up, but Horvitz pushes him back down and places his hand under Mickey's chin. "Then you tell me where I find Mr. Darmody — for a quiet chat," Manny demands in a whisper. "We're partners, me and him. I've got an investment to protect," Mickey replies nervously. Horvitz shoves Mickey against further into his chair, both of his hands gripping Doyle's neck brace and slamming the back of his head into the windowsill. "What the hell are you doing?" Mickey pleads. "Changing your mind," Manny growls.
The camera pans slowly from the hall of jail cells to look through the bars of a particular cell where we see Eli sitting on the lower bunk smoking a cigarette. Esther Randolph comes walking by and stops to say, "Sheriff Thompson, good morning." Eli's gaze could burn holes through Randolph. "I asked for a lawyer," he tells her. "I am a lawyer — just not yours," she replies. Randolph introduces and identifies herself to Eli. "At my house, you come arrest me," Eli growls in disbelief. "Sorry Sheriff but my professional courtesy does not extend to murder suspects," Randolph explains with a "that's-the-breaks" nod of her head. Again, this show makes me conflicted over the vast expansion of its cast this season. It ends up slighting some of its regulars and some additions prove needless, but then you get someone such as Julianne Nicholson playing Esther Randolph and you're grateful almost every time you get to see her at work. "You're graspin' at straws, lady," Eli declares. "Actually, I think I've got one. Your deputy — Raymond Halloran. He's got a lot to say about you and a man named Hans Schroeder. If you have anything to say — about your brother, for instance — please have your lawyer get in touch. I'm sure he'll be along any minute," Randolph smiles, nods and walks away. What I love about this show — which I've mentioned many times — its long-term memory. When this season started, we knew that a coup was planned and in the first episode, it seemed to revolve around Nucky's election chicanery. Who could have predicted then that the tangled legal mess eventually would ensnare some of the coup plotters themselves and lead back to the murder of Margaret's husband in the very first episode of the series?
As Franz Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" plays on the soundtrack, Margaret removes all the contents of her jewelry box — the jewels as well as the envelope of cash hidden in the secret compartment. She places all of it in her handbag and leaves. At Father Brennan's residence, the priest relaxes, listening to that same piece of music on his phonograph player. His housekeeper (Connie Watkins) knocks and enters. "Sorry to bother you, Father. A Mrs. Schroeder is here to see you," she tells him. "What does she want?" Brennan asks. "She didn't say. Should I let her in?" the housekeeper inquires. Brennan hides his glass of wine, adjusts his collar and says to show her in. He turns off the record as Margaret comes in. "I'm disturbing you," Margaret says as she sees Brennan place the record back on the shelf. "Not at all. They can very easily get out of order and there's no finding them," Brennan explains. "How is your little one?" he asks. "The doctor's reluctant to make any prediction," Margaret replies. "He doesn't wish to give you false hope," the priest says. "Would that be so bad? It would at least be something for now," Margaret admits. "Wouldn't you rather believe in something real?" Brennan challenges her. Believe in something real — what kind of talk is that coming from a priest? "I want to believe she'll recover," Margaret declares. "Are you looking for a miracle?" he inquires. "Yes, I am. I want my daughter to be made whole. I want her to live and grow. I want her to run in the grass and swim in the sea and not suffer for this — for no reason," Margaret comes close to blaming her indiscretion with Owen as the reason for Emily's polio, but she stops herself. "Do you recall what we discussed earlier?" Brennan asks. "An act of devotion," Margaret answers as she reaches into her purse and places the money and jewelry upon the table. "What is this?" he questions. "For the church — a donation," she replies. "I'm not usually handed cash directly, let alone jewels," Father Brennan admits. "Then tell me the proper method," Margaret requests. "Why are you doing this, Mrs. Schroeder?" he asks. "There's a weight on me, Father, on my soul. I want to be free of it and show that I'm willing." Father Brennan picks up the envelopes and looks at the pile of bills. "Shall we pray?"
Jimmy drinks a cup of coffee and looks at his home's magnificent view, noting one particular sunbather, an overweight man of indeterminate age with his back to the ocean. "What's so fascinating?" Angela asks as she comes in and sees her husband gazing. "That fella," Jimmy replies and his wife joins him at the window. "Not a care in the world," he says. "Certainly doesn't care what he looks like," Angela comments. In a way, Jimmy is dressed here like Manny was earlier — wearing a T-shirt with suspenders over them holding up his pants. In the background, you can hear playing "The Whippoorwill Dance," a ragtime composition by Joe Jordan, performed here by pianist Rick Benjamin and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra on their salute to Jordan called From Barrelhouse to Broadway: The Musical Odyssey of Joe Jordan. Tellingly, the same version of this music was used in the season one episode "Family Limitation" as Jimmy sat alone mourning Pearl's suicide. Angela returns to what she was doing and places some flowers in a vase when Jimmy asks about Tommy's whereabouts. She tells him that he's with Gillian. "I have to leave town for a few days," Jimmy informs her, then asks why she doesn't ask him why. "If you want me to know, you'll tell me. I trust you," Angela replies. "You don't mean that," Jimmy says. "That's not fair," Angela responds, barely completing the word fair. "Well, then try to," Jimmy requests. He puts down his coffee cup and walks closer to her. "I know you're not happy, Angela. I know there are things you think about me that you're afraid to say. I'm gonna make it up to you, get everything settled, once and for all. You'll see, I can be the person you want me to be," Jimmy pledges. Angela smiles. "I heard a joke today. A man goes into a hotel and he says, 'I'd like a room with a bath.' The clerk says, 'I can give you a room but you'll have to take the bath yourself,'" she laughs. "Did I tell it wrong?" she asks since Jimmy didn't laugh. "No, it's funny," he assures her, then repeats the punchline and laughs. Angela wraps her arms around his neck and they kiss. "You sure you have to leave right away?" she asks. "I'm not sure of anything." They kiss again and she leads him away, presumably to their bedroom.
When Nucky and Margaret meet with Dr. Holt to hear the latest test results, the report isn't promising. "Unfortunately, we didn't get the results we'd hoped for. It's spinal polio. The virus invades nerve cells causing damage to the muscles and the limbs. The cells are completely destroyed and, as in Emily's case, the paralysis will most likely be permanent. You understand what I'm saying?" Holt asks Margaret who just stares into space. Nucky takes her hand and calls her name. "Did your daughter pray?" Margaret inquires of Holt. "I'm sorry," he replies. "Last night, you said she prays for all the rest of us," Margaret says. "I'm sure she did," Holt tells her. "Then bless her soul," Margaret declares. "What do we know?" Nucky asks. "Measure Emily for braces. You'll take her home. When she's ready, we'll try therapy and hope for the best," Holt explains. "I'd say that's good advice," Nucky concurs. Margaret turns to Nucky and looks helpless. Kelly Macdonald, as always, is great, but I wonder if Margaret is sliding off the rails into cuckoo land. Will this be particularly bad timing should Esther Randolph bring anyone, let alone Nucky, up on murder charges in Hans' death?
Back at the Margate Estate that the Schroeders share with Nucky, Teddy sits on the floor by the foot of his bed going through a box. In it, he finds an old photo of Hans and Margaret when he was younger and Emily was a baby. He looks closely at his dead father's face for a moment before putting the photo back in the box and adding the Ty Cobb-autographed baseball to its contents.
You can hear the waves at the Darmody beachhouse as Angela sleeps. A shadow wearing a hat passes by the curtains of her bedroom. Manny Horvitz opens the front door, his gun already drawn, dressed in suit and tie. Honestly, if you're sneaking into someone's house at night to kill them, why on earth would you get dressed up for the occasion? Was there a dress code for murder in the 1920s?
As Manny stalks around the house, he finally finds the bedroom where Angela sleeps and hears the shower running in the adjacent bathroom. Horvitz goes to the bed and places his hand over Angela's mouth. She wakes up and tries to scream, but can't. Manny drags her to her feet, holding her up with one hand still over her mouth and the other still holding the gun waiting for the shower to end.
The knob squeaks as the water stops inside the bathroom. Angela keeps trying to make a noise loud enough to serve as a warning. Manny sees a person's shape in the distorted glass on the bathroom door, aims and fires as soon as it opens. Both Louise and the towel covering her nakedness fall to the floor. "What the fuck?" Manny says as a naked woman's body falls dead to the floor instead of that of his anticipated victim, James Darmody.
The surprise shocks Horvitz enough that Angela escapes his grasp and runs to Louise, who already is dead. Angela cries over her body as Manny approaches, gun still drawn. "Where's Darmody?" he asks. "He isn't here," Angela sobs. "You're his wife?" Manny seeks confirmation.
"Please. I have a child. Please. Do you want money? He can get it. Lots of it. I can make him," Angela pleads through her tears. "The most important thing in life, darling — your health. Your husband did this to you," Manny tells Angela before shooting her in the head.
Horvitz puts an extra bullet in each of the women, just for good measure, then leaves the scene, actually looking sad. In fact, in an odd way, his facial expression reminds me of the clown Emmett Kelly. Meanwhile, unaware that he has just become a widower, Jimmy drives a load of booze on a back road and is about to enter Princeton, home of the college Nucky got him into but that he opted not to attend, choosing the war instead. REMINDER: I won't see the final two episodes of the season early, so my recaps won't come any earlier than the Tuesday after the episode airs. This is an interesting twist though, isn't it? We now have two single fathers on the show in Jimmy and Van Alden. It also sets up, depending how long Jimmy hangs on to power, which path he takes as the town's boss. Will he follow that of the Commodore, who said he was too busy running the city to raise his own child? Or will he learn from Nucky, who took Jimmy on as a surrogate son and then ran the town as well? By the way, in case readers aren't familiar with the famous clown Emmett Kelly, I though I'd put up a painting of his face and a closeup of Manny's expression in that last scene so you could compare. I don't think it was intentional, but interesting nonetheless. Killing Angela was planned well to surprise the audience by setting up the new girlfriend storyline as a red herring at the same time they put in subtle clues in her scenes with Jimmy that doom was near. The sad part was that those final scenes with Jimmy finally gave Aleksa Palladino some good scenes to play and now she won't get any more. I wonder how long Jimmy will play the field of if by season three, he already will have a new serious partner. Playing the same music that followed Pearl's death in Chicago in Jimmy and Angela's final scene together was very clever. I only caught that by accident when doublechecking that the musical piece was the one it was supposed to be and a Google search led to the HBO site listing it as being played in that particular first season episode. I played it on HBO GO and compared them and, sure enough, it was the same piece. Sneaky.
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"My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. It's what it was really like. It was crazy. We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane." — Francis Ford Coppola
By Damian Arlyn
Apocalypse Now is one of my all-time favorite movies. In adapting Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness for the big screen, but setting it in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, director Francis Ford Coppola created one of the most ambitious, absorbing and awe-inspiring examples of what I refer to as "immersive" (and sometimes "meditative") cinema I've ever seen. Some call it the greatest war film ever made but I think, like all masterpieces, it transcends the genre in which it resides and becomes something wholly other: something deeper, more profound. It is about a man surrounded by madness, trying to hold onto his sanity as he goes to kill another man who has lost his. The protagonist's journey into the depths of the jungle actually is a journey into the darker regions of his own soul. Coppola's film was a landmark in motion picture history (winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes and receiving multiple Oscar and Golden Globe nominations) and his achievement is all the more impressive when one learns of what really was involved to make it. Although newspapers reported many of the difficulties encountered in shooting Apocalypse Now in the latter half of the '70s, it wasn't until 1991, when the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, was released, that the full story behind Coppola's Vietnam film became known. I actually watched the doc before I ever saw Apocalypse Now and it gave me an appreciation for the film that I doubt I would have had otherwise. To this day no other documentary (besides perhaps Burden of Dreams) more compellingly chronicles the aspirations, obsessions, insecurities and ultimate triumph of a young filmmaker tackling his biggest and most challenging project.
Hearts of Darkness was directed by George Hickenlooper (who died late last year) and Fax Bahr, but the majority of its footage was shot by Coppola's wife Eleanor during the filming of Apocalypse Now. As the director's wife, Eleanor had access to the troubled filmmaker that few other documentarians would. In addition to recording candid interviews with her husband as well as on-set interactions between him and his crew and actors, Eleanor recorded talks that they had alone in which Coppola revealed his fears about the project as well as his own career. After Eleanor turned her footage over to Bahr and Hickenlooper, they shot new interviews with Coppola, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, writer John Milius and even George Lucas. They then enlisted Eleanor to provide the film's narration (except for some passages from Conrad's novella Orson Welles read on an old radio broadcast) and premiered it at Cannes to great critical acclaim. In the U.S., it premiered on Showtime before being released theatrically 20 years ago today.
The film depicts Apocalypse Now's tumultuous shoot in a very honest and forthright manner. It didn't escape Coppola's notice, as he said in the now famous quote shown above this post, how much the story being filmed mirrored his own experience trying to tell it. Originally, Harvey Keitel was cast in the lead role of Capt. Ben Willard, but after seeing the dailies, Coppola was dissatisfied and replaced him with Martin Sheen. During the shooting of the now iconic "Ride of the Valkyries" helicopter scene, several copters suddenly were pulled away by the Philippines government to battle rebels. At one point, Martin Sheen had a heart attack and needed to be flown out of the country in order to have surgery. Marlon Brando, who was being paid the astronomical sum of a million dollars a week, showed up severely overweight and not having read the Conrad novella as Coppola had requested. Dennis Hopper's brain was so fried from drugs that he couldn't remember his lines. Eventually, Coppola was forced to abandon the script and make up a lot of it (including the ending) as he went along. What initially was slated as a five-month shoot lasted more than two years and the budget ballooned from $14 million to more than $30 million. In some very revealing audio tracks, Coppola confesses to his wife that he's certain the film is awful, will fail, that he'll become a laughingstock, etc. It is somewhat ironic that Coppola was correct that his career has fallen way short of its early promise while his contemporaries (Spielberg, Lucas and Scorsese) have, for the most part, continued to create films that are financially and/or critical successes. It did not, however, have anything to do with Apocalypse Now which, in spite of the incredible trials and tribulations faced during its production, was (and still is) considered one of his great accomplishments.
In an era where "making-of" documentaries are common features on DVDs (the best ones usually made by Laurent Bouzerau), it's difficult to appreciate what a rare glimpse behind the curtain Hearts of Darkness provided. Even today, most "behind-the-scenes" specials are puff pieces where the actors all are "thrilled" to be on the project, the director "couldn't be happier" with the work being done and the producer "loves everyone involved." Occasionally you get one like the Dangerous Days doc on the Blade Runner DVD/Blu-ray that has the courage to admit that the director wasn't easy to work with, that the studio was making things much harder than it had to be and the overall shoot was a bitch. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse put all of that out there. Although the film's place in cinematic history is secure, one almost wouldn't be surprised to see Coppola characterizing his experience working on the film by uttering the immortal last words of Kurtz as he lay dying, in both Coppola's film and Conrad's novella:
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Saturday, November 26, 2011
"It's a miracle these people ever got out of the 20th century"
By Edward Copeland
Conventional wisdom about the Star Trek films considers Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan the movie franchise's best offering. While Wrath of Khan certainly remains a very good film (and what wouldn't have looked great following that bore called Star Trek: The Motion Picture?), I've long held that finest film featuring the original crew happens to be Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which was released 25 years ago today. It may be my general bias toward genre series: I gravitate toward the installments packed with humor and Star Trek IV is damn funny. If you disagree, well — double dumb ass on you!
By no means could you ever call me a Trekkie (or Trekker, if you prefer). When I was in my earliest years of grade school, I would watch reruns of the original Star Trek, but I doubt I've seen every episode. I do remember standing in a line with my parents at a Toys 'R' Us when I was in first grade, waiting to briefly shake hands with "Captain Kirk" William Shatner. I think I watched two complete episodes of the Next Generation series and none of its spinoffs. (Though, to be truthful, of all the Star Trek movies I've seen — and I skipped Insurrection and Nemesis — I think the best of the films actually is Star Trek: First Contact with the Next Generation cast.) On the commentary track for the Star Trek IV DVD, Leonard Nimoy, who directed the film and helped come up with its story in addition to playing Spock, says, "The idea going in was to do an adventure film that was funny. We had just finished a couple of films where a lot of people died…there was a lot of pain and suffering. We decided it was time to lighten up…There was to be no heavy in this movie…" For some reason, when sci-fi, horror or fantasy series go the humor route, those end up being my favorite episodes or seasons. That's why season six was my favorite of The X-Files and I loved seasons three and six of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer the most. That's also why Star Trek IV, which starts firing one-liners and gags almost from the first frame, still cracks me up today. Actually, The Voyage Home doesn't immediately start out on a farcical level and while it doesn't present a villain per se, the story still requires a conflict to resolve. First, and unintentionally, the movie ended up being the final chapter in a trilogy they never set out to make. Nimoy talks on the commentary, which he shares with Shatner, that it had never been planned that way, but had developed naturally. In fact, sets that were destroyed after Star Trek III had to be rebuilt but, as Nimoy says, "We were used to being canceled." Wrath of Khan developed the Genesis Project story that leads to Spock's resurrection in Part III as well as the destruction of the Enterprise, whose crew takes over a Klingon bird of prey vessel, killing a Klingon crew that beams over to the Enterprise as it self-destructs. Part IV picks up with a new plot — a mysterious probe that sends out signals no one can translate and saps all the power from any ship in its path. Meanwhile, a Klingon ambassador (John Schuck) goes before the Federation Council and, standing before an enlarged photo of Kirk, demands his head for "war crimes" related to those events in Star Trek III. Spock's father, Ambassador Sarek (Mark Lester), arrives to defend Kirk's actions. "Vulcans are well known as the intellectual puppets of the Federation," the Klingon ambassador insists. Sarek reminds the Klingon that one of his vessels destroyed a Federation starship and his men killed Kirk's son. "Do you deny this?" Sarek asks. "We deny nothing. We have the right to preserve our race," the Klingon replies. Later, the Klingon ambassador threatens the body, telling them, "Remember this well — there shall be no peace as long as Kirk lives."
Meanwhile, the crew of the Enterprise has been exiled on the planet Vulcan for three months, trying to repair the Klingon ship so they can return to Earth to face court-martial charges and to get Spock re-energized back to his old self. It's really once we get to Vulcan and meet up with the regulars, that the comedy takes over. Even the Oscar-nominated score by Leonard Rosenman, with its bouncy, vibrant rhythm, seems to have been composed for a screwball farce. As most episodes of the series began, we get Kirk recording a captain's log, catching us up, including the fact that McCoy (the late, great De Forest Kelley, who always managed to get laughs whether they were embarking on a comic story or not) had given the Klingon ship an "appropriate name" and we see spray-painted on its side the words "H.M.S. Bounty." Kirk, who has been promoted to an admiral by now in the movie series, assembles his crew, which consists only of the regulars since they stole the Enterprise in the last film (one of the Federation's main charges against them for which they are facing court-martial) to find Spock's physical essence and restore his mind which he conveniently implanted in McCoy's brain before he sacrificed his life (for a little while at least) in Wrath of Khan. The only extra character along for the ride was the Star Trek movies' creation — the Vulcan Lt. Saavik (played by Robin Curtis here and in Part III but created by Kirstie Alley in Wrath of Khan). Kirk quizzes Scotty (the late James Doohan) on how much long it will be until the Klingon ship can fly again. When he tells Kirk that it shouldn't take more than another day or so, the admiral wants to know why it is taking so long. Scotty replies, "Damage control is easy — reading Klingon, that's hard." As everyone gets to work, McCoy takes Kirk aside and starts bitching that they have to return to Earth in the Klingon ship — he thinks the Federation should have sent a ship for them. "It's bad enough to be court-martialed and spend the rest of our lives mining borite, but to have to go home in this Klingon flea trap," Bones complains. "We could learn a thing or two from this flea trap. It's got a cloaking device that cost us a lot," Jim argues. "Just wish we could cloak the stench," McCoy replies.
Spock isn't pitching in with his crewmates yet, as he still is getting up to speed, wearing Vulcan robes and spending time with a computer that's testing his brain. He has no difficulty answering questions relating to history or scientific knowledge. (As an example, the computer asks, "What was Kiri-Kin-Tha's first law of metaphysics?" to which Spock answers, "Nothing unreal exists.") Where Spock runs into trouble is when his human side gets tested and the computer asks, "How do you feel?" and Spock can't conceive of a possible response. As Spock puzzles over the question, he's surprised by his human mother Amanda (the late veteran actress Jane Wyatt), who tries to explain that the half of him comes from her will return as well. Since only the all-logical Vulcan side has developed at this point, both the question and his mother's words remain incomprehensible. (I know the recent Star Trek movie starts with the fabled original characters at younger ages, but it still boggles my mind to see poor Winona Ryder, who just turned 40 a month or so ago, cast as Amanda and then knocked off in a muddled resolution that destroys the planet Vulcan.) Echoing the question that was asked repeatedly both ways in Wrath of Khan, his mother inquires, "Spock, does the good of the many outweigh the good of the one?" He tells her that he "would accept that as an axiom." His mother tries to break through by explaining, "Then you stand here alive because of a mistake made by your flawed, feeling, human friends. They have sacrificed their futures because they believed that the good of the one — you — was more important to them." Spock replies, "Humans make illogical decisions." "They do indeed," Amanda says. (I've always wondered, not being a serious Star Trek aficionado how an all-logic, emotionless Vulcan such as Sarek and a human such as Amanda would have hooked up in the first place.) That scene really is about as serious as Star Trek IV gets. Thankfully, Spock doesn't instantly find his human side because the fact that he isn't all there provides a great many of the laughs in the film. In the DVD commentary, Nimoy shares an interesting fact about the making of the film and Wyatt's longevity in Hollywood. One of her earliest films was Frank Capra's 1937 movie Lost Horizon. Working on the set as a second assistant director the day Wyatt's scenes were shot was his grandson, Frank Capra III.
The Klingon ship finally has been restored to a condition that allows the crew to leave Vulcan and fly back to Earth for their trial. Spock rejoins them but since there aren't any extra uniforms lying around, he remains cloaked in Vulcan robes. One person who doesn't come along is Lt. Saavik, who stays behind on Vulcan. On the commentary, Nimoy says there had been plans that, since Saavik had helped Spock through the rapid aging process of his regeneration, she would turn up pregnant with Spock's child from his second adolescence, but that plot never was pursued. Even if you're not an obsessive fan of Star Trek, it's always nice to see the entire cast when they're assembled on the bridge, even if it's a Klingon bridge as in this case, which might as well be the stage of a comedy club. "Cloaking device available on all flight modes," Chekov (Walter Koenig) reports to Kirk. "I'm impressed. That's a lot of work for a short journey," Kirk compliments him. "We are in an enemy wessel. I did not wish to be shot down on our way to our own funeral," Chekov replies. It would be a funny line, even if it didn't have the added laugh that comes from Chekov's supposed Russian accent that makes vessel come out as "wessel," a running gag throughout the film. McCoy tries to engage Spock in conversation and immediately notices that the Spock they knew literally is not all there. He tries to warn Kirk. "I don't know if you've got the whole picture, but he's not exactly working on all thrusters," Bones tells him, but Kirk isn't concerned since the scientific side of Spock seems to be functional. Of course, they have no idea about the probe that has claimed more ships and now threatens Earth. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) gets the first clue about the problem as she hears overlapping distress calls and the probe's strange signals. The crew gets a message from the Federation Council president (Robert Ellenstein) urging all ships to avoid Earth and informing those listening that the mystery probe has ionized almost all of Earth's atmosphere and vaporized two-thirds of its oceans. Spock shows that his mind definitely fires on all thrusters, having Uhura isolate the signal from the probe. From his memory, he believes it is making the sound of the humpback whale, a species native to Earth that went extinct in the 21st century. Kirk hits upon an idea: They will take the ship back in time when the sea mammals did exist, bring two back to the 23rd century so they can speak with the probe and begin to repopulate. Admittedly, the mission would be a long shot, but it might be the only hope Earth has for survival. McCoy thinks Kirk has gone bonkers.
McCOY: You're going to try time traveling in this rust bucket?
KIRK: Well, we've done it before.
McCOY: Sure, you slingshot around the sun, pick up enough speed — you're in time warp. If you don't, you're fried.
KIRK:I prefer it to nothing.
McCOY: I prefer a dose of common sense. You're proposing that we go backwards in time, find humpback whales, then bring them forward in time, drop 'em off and hope to hell they tell this probe what to do with itself.
KIRK: That's the general idea.
McCOY: Well, that's crazy!
KIRK: You've got a better idea? Now's the time.
Kirk sends a garbled signal to the Federation about their plan and they set a course for the late 20th century — and that's when the fun really begins. Parts of the DVD back-and-forth between Shatner and Nimoy comes off nearly as funny as the scenes set in "the past," particularly the exchange where Shatner tells how he hated the idea for Star Trek IV when Nimoy and producer Harve Bennett, who shared the story credit with Nimoy and was one of the film's four credited screenwriters, brought it to him. "I never abided time travel — it was too easy to solve things by time travel. You could get out of the deus ex machina by saying, 'Oh well, we corrected that,'" Shatner says on the DVD. "The alarm clock rings and the hero wakes up and it's all been a bad dream. So I said to Leonard and to Harve that I didn't think time travel was a good idea and was quite adamant in my opinion. Luckily, they paid no attention to me whatsoever." That prompts Nimoy to interject, "We actually said that to each other, 'Let's not pay him any attention whatsoever.'" Shatner reminds Nimoy, "And add the word 'again.' Let's not pay him any attention whatsoever again." Nimoy then explains a general principle, "If Bill says, 'Don't do it,' you just do it." Given how Star Trek V: The Final Frontier turned out when they allowed Shatner to direct, you can't help feeling that Nimoy wasn't necessarily joking. With two people credited with the story on Star Trek IV and four with the screenplay, the movie provides a rare example of a film with multiple names credited with its script that doesn't turn out to be a disaster.
After the disorientation that comes with a time warp, Kirk awaits confirmation as to whether or not they arrived in the past. "Judging by the pollution content of the atmosphere, I believe we have arrived at the late 20th century," Spock reports. Almost immediately, Uhura picks up whale songs. Once they enter the 20th century atmosphere, Spock suggests tracking devices might detect them so, thanks to Klingon technology, they turn on the cloaking device. When they hone in on where the whale songs are strongest, it leads them to San Francisco, which puzzles them at first wondering why whales would be in a city, speculating that the whales could be in captivity. Scotty calls to the bridge with a bigger problem — those damn dilithium crystals! They're breaking up and Scotty doesn't think they can keep the ship cloaked for more than a day and certainly won't have enough power left to get them out of orbit, let alone back to the 23rd century. Kirk asks if there is any way to recrystallize dilithium crystals, but Scotty doesn't know any, but Spock has a suggestion available in the 20th century. "If memory serves, there was a dubious flirtation with nuclear fission reactors resulting in toxic side effects. By the beginning of the fusion era, these reactors had been replaced, but at this time, we should be able to find some," Spock suggests, theorizing they could rig a device to collect the high energy protons safely and inject them into the dilithium chamber, hopefully causing recrystallization. Kirk asks where they would find them and Spock recalls nuclear-powered Naval vessels. As they descend into San Francisco, Sulu (George Takei) mentions that he was born there. That's the last remnant of a story they had to scratch because they ran out of time shooting in San Francisco. Nimoy says on the DVD that originally Sulu was to aid a young Japanese boy in trouble only to discover that the kid was his own great great grandfather. That might explain why of all the crew members, Sulu seems to have the least San Francisco story of the 23rd century visitors. Kirk gives his crew what amounts to a coach's halftime speech, warning them about what they'll encounter in 1986. "Many of their customs will doubtless take us by surprise," Kirk tells the crew. "This is an extremely primitive and paranoid culture." When Star Trek was on TV, Gene Roddenberry incorporated topical issues but framed them within the sci-fi format. The movies had avoided this approach so far, but not only was The Voyage Home funny, it was satirical, taking pot shots at the year it came out without being specific, and adding an environmental message as well. Kirk also realizes that no one in 1986 would have encountered an extra-terrestrial before so Spock tears off part of his robe, fashions it into a headband and wraps it around his skull to mask those distinctive ears. "We talked endlessly about should these people change clothes when they get out on the streets of San Francisco," Nimoy says on the commentary. "After a couple of location scouting trips, I saw people wearing such outlandish things I said, 'Forget it — they'll go as they are.'" When they venture out of the ship for the first time, Kirk says, "Everybody remember where we parked." They are divided into three teams: Uhura and Chekov will try to find the uranium, Sulu, McCoy and Scotty will construct a whale tank and Kirk and Spock will find those humpbacks.
When daytime comes and they hit the streets, The Voyage Home practically becomes bedroom farce without the bedroom, even with horndog Kirk leading the way. The crew assembles in busy downtown San Francisco to discuss their plans of action. Kirk notes a newspaper machine where the headline reads Nuclear Arms Talks Stalled, which prompts Kirk to speak the title of this post, "It's a miracle these people ever got out of the 20th century." He also sees a man inserting coins to get the paper out and realizes that they still use money. He tells the rest to wait when he spots an antique store with a sign that says it buys and sells. It starts the movie's premier running gag on profanity as Kirk darts in front of a cab (Spock tagging along), nearly getting run over and the driver yells, "Watch where you're going, you dumb ass!" A flustered Kirk responds with "And double dumb ass on you!" Kirk gets to the antique shop and sells a pair of 18th century spectacles for $200. Spock asks Kirk if those weren't a present from Dr. McCoy. "And they will be again, Spock. That's the beauty of it," Kirk tells him. They return to their shipmates, divide the money and go on their separate adventures. While Spock tries to use his logical mind and massive internal warehouse of information to transfer the coordinates for those whale signs to a street map they find at a bus stop, Kirk stumps the Vulcan by finding the answer when the bus shows up bearing an ad for humpback whales named George and Gracie on display at the Cetacean Institute in Sausalito (once they conquer the problem of exact change). A sign helps McCoy and Scotty as well as they see one for yellow pages to find a manufacturer to help construct the 20th century equivalent of transparent aluminum, which won't exist for 150 years. The biggest comedy comes from Uhura and Chekov, who also use a phone book to find the location of a Naval station, but have less luck getting people to explain to them where it is. The funniest encounter comes when they ask a stoic motorcycle cop how to get to the Naval base in Alameda. "Where they keep the nuclear wessels," Chekov adds, forgetting he's in a time where Russians looking for nuclear anything don't go over well. The sequence goes on as everyone they ask tell them the same information they asked.
Perhaps the funniest extended sequence of the film comes once Kirk and Spock get that exact change for the bus and take it out to Sausalito to meet George and Gracie. First, they try to talk on the bus but an obnoxious teen (Kirk Thatcher) blasting his punk rock makes it impossible. Kirk tries being polite, asking him to please turn it down, but the kid ignores him. Kirk tries a second time and the punk turns it up, Finally, Kirk yells, "Excuse me! Would you mind stopping that damn noise?" The punk flips Kirk off. Without much fanfare, Spock leans across and gives him the Vulcan nerve-pinch, rendering him unconscious to the applause of the entire bus. Now that they can talk, Spock seeks permission to ask Admiral Kirk a question, which annoys him. "Spock, don't call me Admiral. You used to call me Jim. Don't you remember?" The blank look convinces Kirk this isn't worth going into so he let's Spock proceed with his question. "Your use of language has altered since our arrival. It is currently laced with, shall we say, more colorful metaphors, 'double dumb ass on you' and so forth," Spock says. "Oh, you mean the profanity…Well that's simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays any attention to you unless you swear every other word. You'll find it in all the literature of the period," Kirk explains. Spock seeks examples. "Oh, the collected works of Jacqueline Susann, the novels of Harold Robbins," Kirk cites. Then Spock brings it home for the final punchline: "Ah, the giants." In a way, Star Trek IV reminds me of Airplane!, not that it tosses something that might earn a laugh against the wall every second just to see if it sticks, but that you never know where it will veer off for a joke next. It could have simply limited itself to the fish (or, more accurately, whale)-out-of-water style of comedy, but it's ready to go everywhere. It has jokes at the expense of the 20th century and with the Star Trek characters as the targets. The film may not have a villain, but Earth's future is at stake, yet the light tone in which most everything is played makes the whole probe-may-wipe-out-the-human-race backstory seem as if it's merely a MacGuffin. They never bother to explain where the probe comes from or what it needed to hear from the whales. In its simpler, less mysterious, more accessible way, it almost can be viewed like the monolith in 2001, though we get that the monolith shows up at significant moments in man's history. Why the probe shows up — who knows? If it's merely to save the whales, it sure took its sweet time (two centuries) to do it.
As tempting as it is to detail the entire film or give away every gag or joke (what Spock would call "a story with a humorous climax"), it would eat up too much space and perhaps some haven't seen it. Not that it will come as a shock that they succeed in their mission — after all, this is a series that subtitled Star Trek III: The Search for Spock as if they weren't going to find him. Nimoy succeeds at every role he attempts in this film. His direction proves sharp and clever as does his new take on Spock, especially when Spock tries to start integrating those "colorful metaphors" into his language and doesn't quite have a handle on them yet. The one major character introduced in the film is Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks), the whale expert at the aquarium who doesn't understand what these strange men are up to and eventually helps them in their plan to take George and Gracie to the future. She first meets up with Kirk and Spock when they come see her show and she delivers all the sad facts about the species' fight for survival against whalers and how they are being hunted to extinction. "To hunt a species to extinction is illogical," Spock says. "Who ever said the human race is logical?" Gillian responds. Later, Spock dives into their tank to talk to George and Gracie personally. When he gets back out, she wants to know what he's doing with "her whales." Spock replies, "They like you very much, but they are not the hell 'your' whales." Kirk, excited being near a female, tries to assure her that Spock is no one to fear, but he can't get his words quite right either. "He's harmless. Part of the free speech movement at Berkeley in the '60s. I think he did a little too much LDS." When Kirk and Gillian have dinner, she jokingly says to him, "Don't tell me, you're from outer space." Kirk answers, "No, I'm from Iowa. I only work in outer space."
Of the other crew members, Scotty, Chekov and especially McCoy all get their moments. McCoy and Scotty go to a plastics manufacturer and Scotty describes to the boss there what he would think of a substance with the attributes of his transparent aluminum. The man thinks it would be impossible, but Scotty asks for a computer so he could show him. "Computer! Computer?" Scotty talks at it. Trying to be helpful, McCoy hands him the mouse and Scotty speaks into it, "Hello, computer." The man suggests that Scotty just use the keyboard. "Keyboard? How quaint," he responds, but for not using one, he types out a three-dimensional diagram for the formula pretty damn fast, astounding the man. Bones takes Scotty aside while the man looks at his work. "You realize that by giving him the formula you're altering the future," McCoy warns. "Why? How do we know he didn't invent the thing?" Scotty says. Uhura and Chekov find the nuclear "wessel" (appropriately, the Enterprise) and beam aboard and grab their protons, but Scotty's losing power fast, so he only can beam back one at a time. They decide to let Uhura go back with the protons. Unfortunately, before they can get power restored and get a read on Chekov, he's captured, leading to some hysterical interrogation scenes by officials wanting to know how a Russian breached security and a man from the 23rd century completely puzzled by their inquiries. When Chekov finally gets a clue that he might be in real trouble, he tries to use his phaser, but the radiation affects it and he makese a run for it, taking a huge fall that leaves him seriously injured. When word gets back to the crew, McCoy yells, "Don't leave him in the hands of 20th century medicine!" That leads to a wild set piece where they disguise themselves as doctors to get into the hospital and save him.
Having endured 21st century medicine myself, McCoy's prejudices hit home to me even more now. The entire sequence showcases Kelley's finesse at playing the grumpy doc. As he walks down the hall and notices an elderly woman (Eve Smith) groaning on a gurney, he stops to ask what's wrong. "Kidney. Dialysis," she answers weakly. "Dialysis? What is this, the Dark Ages?" he asks and starts to move along, but he turns back and gives her a big pill. "Here. You swallow that, and if you have any more problems, just call me!" he tells her, giving her a pat on the cheek. As subterfuge, he and Kirk put Gillian on a gurney to try to get to Chekov. On the way, he overhears doctors joking about treatments such as chemotherapy, horrifying McCoy. When they get to where Chekov is, he's being guarded. Kirk tries to force their way in and Gillian moans, but the guard insists he has orders. Finally, Bones tells him, "My God, man. Do you want an acute case on your hands? This woman has immediate postprandial, upper-abdominal distention. Now, out of the way! Get out of the way!" and the guard lets them pass. Kirk asks what he said she had. "Cramps." Inside, he has to fight with the doctor who wants to relieve the cranial pressure on Chekov's brain by drilling holes. "My God, man. Drilling holes in his head isn't the answer," McCoy insists. Kirk takes the medical team aside, pretending he's on their side and needs to talk with them, but instead uses his phaser to lock them in an adjoining room until McCoy can work his magic. As they wheel Chekov out, the guard asks how the patient is doing. "He's gonna make it," Kirk tells him. "He? You came in with a she," the guard says, sounding the alarm. "One little mistake," Kirk quips as the chase begins. As they flee, they pass the elderly woman who is telling everyone, "The doctor gave me a pill, and I grew a new kidney!"
When I decided at the beginning of the year what anniversary tributes I wanted to write, I hesitated about Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I had not seen the film almost since its original release and this was the fourth film in a series, after all, based on a TV show. Could it possibly hold up? I was prepared to chunk this piece if once I re-watched it, my memories turned out to be more glowing than the reality. (It also glows literally thanks to Donald Peterman's luscious cinematography which managed to snag an Oscar nomination.) Thankfully, that wasn't the case and it even included an entertaining and informative commentary track as well. If anything, I appreciate Star Trek IV more now than I did then. I remembered how funny it was, but I'd forgotten how many levels it played on. There are two parts I haven't squeezed in that I must. The classic Scotty line when he successfully beams George and Gracie onto the Klingon ship, "Admiral, there be whales here!" Also, the resolution of the court-martial where pretty much all is forgiven except that no one likes calling him Admiral Kirk, so they demote him to Captain Kirk again and then they get that moment when the crew sees their new starship for the first time. So, I end with two photos: George and Gracie free in the 23rd century and the sight of the crew's new starship.
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