Tuesday, January 31, 2012
That's how you fictionalize your life
By Edward Copeland
While watching 50/50, screenwriter Will Reiser's fictionalized account of being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer when he was in his late 20s, I thought of Godard's famous quote about the best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie. Now, I don't think that Reiser and director Jonathan Levine set out to do this, but 50/50 displays an exceptional example of how not to get so locked in by one's life that your movie can't breathe as was the case with Beginners.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Adam Learner, an NPR employee who has been complaining of back pain for quite some time. When he finally gets it checked out, it turns out to be a malignant tumor on his spine. Doing the modern research technique — Adam turns to the Internet to learn what he can and finds that if the cancer hasn't metastasized, the online information gives the person with his type of cancer a 50 percent chance of surviving. When he shares that information with his best friend and NPR co-worker Kyle (Seth Rogen), Kyle likes the odds, telling Adam they are better than he'd get in a casino.
Adam's overbearing mom Diane (Anjelica Huston, in her best role in a long time) eagerly offers to take over and care for Adam despite the fact that she's already dealing with his father Richard (Serge Houde), who has Alzheimer's disease. However, Adam's live-in girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) steps up and says she'll stand by Adam through his treatment. Given the turn his young life takes, Learner understandably sinks into depression, prompting his doctor (Andrew Airlie) to refer Adam to a therapist (Anna Kendrick), only she still has her training wheels on, so to speak, as she hasn't completed her doctorate and Adam is only her third patient.
50/50 contains a lot of laughs, but it's more dramatic than I was expecting. In fact, given that Rogen basically plays a fictionalized version of himself (and when isn't Seth Rogen playing a fictionalized version of himself. Keep in mind, I never saw The Green Hornet.), I can't help but wonder if Will Reiser's story inspired Judd Apatow when he came up with Funny People where Rogen becomes best friends with Adam Sandler's comic character with cancer. Of course, 50/50 contains many major differences from Funny People, the most important being that we care what happens to Gordon-Levitt's character while I suffered some disappointment that they didn't kill Sandler off.
Gordon-Levitt continues to have one of the most amazing careers for actors who began plying their craft at an early age, dating back to TV sitcom work on the short-lived The Powers That Be from Norman Lear when he was 11 and a recurring role on Roseanne a year later. At 14 or 15, he gave the best performance in the wretched film The Juror starring Demi Moore, Alec Baldwin and James Gandolfini. Then he more than held his own as part of the comic ensemble of 3rd Rock From the Sun for six seasons.
Since he's grown into adulthood, he's completely missed the curse that often afflicts child actors, giving good to great performances in films such as Mysterious Skin, Brick, The Lookout, (500) Days of Summer, Inception and now 50/50. Reiser's screenplay delicately blends comedy and pathos and Gordon-Levitt has shown that he's adept at both forms with his previous choices, but 50/50 may be his first vehicle that allows him to display his range realistically within the same film.
Rogen, with the exception of the creepy and defiantly unfunny Observe and Report always plays himself more or less. The Rogen you see in Knocked Up simply is an R-rated version of Seth Rogen the talk show guest or Seth Rogen, award show presenter. In most circumstances, an actor like this would drive me up the wall, but I never hold it against Rogen because from the moment I first saw him on the great TV show Freaks and Geeks, he so strongly reminded me of a friend of mine from high school that each time I see him it's like seeing that friend again.
Huston, as you'd expect, turns in a great performance, even if you don't get that much of her. Howard also does the best job I've seen her do, though she never seems to look the same from one film to the next.
The other real bright spot of 50/50 belongs to Kendrick. She was so good (and Oscar-nominated) in Up in the Air. She also popped up in the fun Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World ss Scott's sister and I first noticed her in her film debut, the underrated and underseen musical Camp.
From all the praise that 50/50 received, it didn't turn out to be quite the movie I was expecting. It's good, but not in the ways it had been sold to me.
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Monday, January 30, 2012
When radio was at its most beautiful
By Jonathan Pacheco
Roger Ebert once pointed out that Robert Altman kept track of time by the films he’d made. Similarly, I imagine the average cinephile has a mental timeline for his own life’s events based on the movies he’s seen and when he saw them. (I know that my first kiss came in late 1999 because it was with a girl I’d met earlier in the year through our mutual love for The Phantom Menace.) For the narrator of Radio Days (Woody Allen), childhood’s milestones are marked by memories of radio shows, newscasts and tunes.
As the film opens, he sets the scene of his youth — Rockaway Beach, N.Y., late 1930s — by first asking us to forgive him for his tendency to romanticize the past. Speaking of the rain-swept streets of his neighborhood, the overcast beaches a stone’s throw away and the peeling paint of the massive walls surrounding a nearby amusement park, he says, “I remember it that way because that was it at its most beautiful.” The same applies for the many personal memories he recounts throughout Radio Days, which turns 25 years old today.
Refreshingly, Woody leaves much of his trademark pessimism and sarcasm out of Radio Days, allowing Allen to spend less time trying to be funny and more time simply gushing with affection for Joe, his on-screen childhood persona (played by a young and tiny Seth Green), and his working-class family of parents, aunts, uncles and cousins all living beneath one roof. Sure, Joe’s mother (Julie Kavner) and father (Michael Tucker) still have their share of pointless fights typical of Allen’s autobiographical portrayals of his family life (arguing, for example, about which ocean is superior: the Pacific or the Atlantic), but there’s an endearment that still shows through the animosity, a sweetness that’s absent in some of his other films. In Radio Days, Allen depicts parents capable of simultaneously insulting and expressing love. After arguing in front of a radio relationship counselor and being told they “deserve each other,” the couple is taken aback, the mother saying, “I love him, but what did I do to deserve him?”
Sprinkled throughout the film are memories unadulterated by Allen’s wit or sarcasm, such as Joe’s remembrance of his parents’ anniversary, significant for being the only time he can recall them sharing a kiss. Or when he wakes up late one evening to find his aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest), permanently on an unsuccessful quest to find love, returning home with a date who, as she soon learns, still hasn’t recovered from the recent death of his fiancé, who also happened to be a man. Bea is crushed by this revelation, but she hides her emotions in favor of supporting a man still dealing with a lot of pain.
Allen ingeniously integrates stories of the actual radio personalities as tangential anecdotes to Joe’s childhood memories. His recollections of his family members’ favorite radio programs leads to memories of the programs themselves, leading to accounts of the personalities behind the microphones. Allen smartly resists the temptation to portray them as the “movie stars of their day,” instead depicting them as he imagined them as a child: earnest and sincere entertainers and newsmen, somehow already aware of how quickly their time in the spotlight will fade.
Having Joe’s family anchor the stories brings a cohesion to Radio Days’ many vignettes; no matter how far off topic the stories get, they all lead back to the core group, to the film’s heart. That’s why the subplot of Mia Farrow’s Sally White stands out as the film’s weakest element. It doesn’t really stem from the family’s experiences with radio the way the other stories do. Instead, the narrator’s recollections of Sally are presented as secondhand gossip, “insider” stories of how this aspiring radio star slept and lucked her way into the industry. Though her stories provide some vintage Woody Allen scenes (she escapes execution at the hands of a mob hit man when he discovers that they grew up in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn), they feel emotionally detached from Allen’s other wonderfully personal recollections.
In The Purple Rose of Cairo, Allen warns us of the dangers of escaping into the mediums we love, and in Midnight in Paris, he recognizes the folly of being too engrossed in the past. However, the director seems to have little desire in drawing any such lessons from Radio Days. In this film, he simply wants to hold on to his nostalgia, to cherish the highs and lows radio provided him. As Radio Days closes, our narrator worries that the ghosts of the radio era fade more and more with each passing year, but by making this film, Allen chooses not to let them go without a fight.
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Sunday, January 29, 2012
Luck Episode No. 1: Pilot Part I
By Edward Copeland
So begins the recapping of another series at ECOF. As you can imagine, even though the pilot only runs an hour, I had to split this recap into two because of all the exposition. As I wrote in the preview Friday, the Luck recaps will evolve as I write them. Be patient. Each show finds its own style of recap. Reminder: My comments are in italics and parentheses. Luck opens with the release of the series' main character, Chester "Ace" Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), from FCI Victorville Medium II in Adelanto, Calif., which lies a bit away from the fictionalized version of Santa Anita Park where most of the series' action will take place. We won't learn exactly why Bernstein was incarcerated for three years in the first episode, but that information will be parceled out as the show develops. Once Ace exits the prison, he finds his faithful bodyguard/driver Gus "The Greek" Demitriou (Dennis Farina) behind the wheel of his car, ready to take him home. "How you doin', Ace?" Gus asks his boss as Bernstein climbs into the back seat and sighs. "We should get me a tape recorder," Bernstein says. "Meaning what?" Gus inquires. "Meaning what? Meaning we should get me a recorder," Ace replies. Two of the series' best-known executive producers, Michael Mann and David Milch, take hands-on roles in the premiere, with Mann directing and the cast speaking that unmistakable sound of Milchian dialogue. "Your trees. How are your trees in the back yard?" Ace asks. "Good. Good. Thanks for asking. You know, just this morning I was thinkin' that it's probably time to take the wraps off the figs," Gus replies. Much like Gus' figs, many things that have been concealed will be unwrapped during the course of Luck's inaugural season.
"Alright, let me see your horse owner's license," Ace requests of Gus, who hands the card back to his boss. "I'm surprised the camera guy didn't ask me who I thought I was kiddin'," Gus laughs. Bernstein leans over the seat to address his driver. "Hey — hey — no ifs, ands or buts — you're that horse's owner," Bernstein emphasizes. "Yes. I got it. I understand. Understood," Gus replies. "You think you're the first front in history?" Ace asks rhetorically with a slight grin as the car continues to speed down the two-lane mountain highway. Farina is great from the start of Luck, but it takes Hoffman some time to get into Bernstein's skin, especially in the pilot, which apparently was filmed long in advance of the rest of the episodes. He starts out, as in the scene in the car, as if he's supposed to be some kind of tough guy, a role he's never been that convincing at such as when he played Dutch Schultz in the film Billy Bathgate. As the show develops, he gets better as both Hoffman and the viewer get a better sense of who Chester "Ace" Bernstein is. One thing that's unmistakable from the beginning is the language could only spring from the mind of Milch. His unique rhythms, while not 19th century period prosaic, still stand out in a modern idiom from other writers' work.
Recurring throughout Luck, especially in the premiere, shots focus on horses' eyes. Those beautiful creatures' orbs captivate you, even more than the majesty the animals project when seen standing in full glory. (Of course, part of me thinks that if horses's brains were slightly larger, they'd hate our fucking guts.) That thoroughbred leads us to the horse barns and shedrow of Santa Anita Park itself. A rooster crows, a groom washes one horse, an exercise girl leads another on a walk while still others perform morning workouts on the track. Gamblers begin filling in Pick Six cards for the day as a large monitor in the median the track surrounds announces that today's Pick Six winners pays "at least $2,250,540." Our view shifts to a different pair of equine eyes: Pint of Plain, the Irish thoroughbred "owned" by Gus Demitriou. The track's head veterinarian, Jo Carter (Jill Hennessy), currently checks Pint of Plain over. "His gut sounds a little slow," she informs his trainer, a semi-legend at the track, Turo Escalante (John Ortiz). "So see what's what," Escalante, who emigrated from Peru, responds. Jo puts on a glove and adds some lube. "Don't you wish this was you?" she asks him jokingly before she goes exploring. "Loquita. A mental case," Turo replies before being distracted. He walks over to Leon Micheaux (Tom Payne), an apprentice jockey from Louisiana referred to as "Bug Boy" as most apprentice jockeys are. Escalante grabs Leon's crop. "You don't need no stick," Escalante tells him. "Yes sir, Mr. Escalante," Leon says politely. Escalante instructs Bug Boy to jog the horse once the wrong way around the track to loosen him up for the afternoon's race. "I was telling Joey before how psyched I am getting to ride for you," Leon declares enthusiastically, referring to his agent as Escalante helps him mount Mon Gateau. "We'll run big with this horse today." Bug Boy's statement puts Escalante in a foul mood. "Is this morning today or this afternoon?" Escalante asks him. The question puzzles Leon. "Pinhead — is today this morning so far?" Escalante rephrases. "I guess, sir," Leon answers. "Then jog him once the wrong way around and shut up on what you don't know before I call Porky Pig on you," Escalante threatens, using his derogatory nickname for Leon's agent Joey. "Yes sir, Mr. Escalante," Leon replies as he's led out of the shedrow. Escalante returns to the stable where Jo is removing her glove. "I can't believe you got that one in a race," Jo says of Mon Gateau. "I can't believe where you put your hands," Escalante replies. "No displacement, no obstructions or entrapments. Pretty sure it's just a gas colic," Jo reports. "Leche (Spanish slang for Milk of Magnesia) I can give him?" he asks. "Yeah. Give him some Milk of Mag. Once he's alert, just get him walking," she replies before switching subjects. "You met the limo driver yet? The one who broke the bank in Vegas?" Escalante seems skeptical about who really owns Pint of Plain. "And bought this horse for two million? Probably, too. Think they really landed on the moon," Escalante answers. "What? Monkey business?" Jo inquires. "For three years, he's a limo driver. Who he work for before that these three years is in jail?" he queries. Jo guesses Michael Vick, but Turo informs her it was Chester Bernstein. "Gorilla business," Jo says. "A long trip from Ireland. The quarantine — this guy's entitled to a touch of colic, Turo," she declares. He requests she check the horse again that afternoon. As Jo gathers her equipment, she asks Escalante if he's been to Ireland. "No," the Peruvian replies. "You have a heavy brogue," Jo tells him as she exits shedrow. As Escalante speaks Spanish with another worker, we hear Etta James singing, "I'd Rather Go Blind." "Whoo, I would rather, I would rather go blind, boy/Than to see you walk away from me, child, no/Whoo, so you see, I love you so much/That I don't wanna watch you leave me, baby" Escalante gingerly pats the sides of Pint of Plain's head. "For two million dollars, you got some plain head on you," he tells the horse.
At another set of stables on the park grounds, an older man (Nick Nolte) dressed in beige from his pants to his hat steps up on the deck with his dog and doughnuts for his night watchman (Mario Roccuzzo) who sits outside one of the stables. "That's frosted. They said the chocolate covereds weren't fresh. How'd it go?" he asks the man. "The Big Horse got down. He slept all night, Mr. Walter. Even licked his tub clean," the night watchman replies before asking if "Mr. Walter" plans to bet that Pick Six that afternoon. He may refer to him as Mr. Walter as an old-fashioned courtesy, but his boss's name actually is Walter Smith, a longtime horse trainer who came to California by way of Kentucky. Smith not only trains but owns the animals as well now. The "Big Horse" the man referenced is Walter's prized colt Gettn'up Morning. There's a backstory involving both Smith and Gettn'up Morning's history that we'll learn about as the season unfolds. Smith's mind isn't focused on the Pick Six question, so his reply is less than definitive. His life focuses almost exclusively on Gettn'up Morning, to the exclusion of such extraneous matters. "I was wondering if in the last quarter the girl should loosen up and let him stretch the hell out," Smith says as his night watchman continues to talk about possible Pick Six payouts. "Yeah, let the big man show his stuff today," the man concurs with Smith. "Did I tell you that's frosted?" Smith, also known as "The Old Man," asks. "You did," his night guy replies. Smith gives him a pat and tells him to get some sleep. With a whistle and a click of his tongue, Walter gets the Big Horse's attention. "How ya doin' bub? Yeah, you know what I got," Smith says to the horse and we get another close look at one of those marvelous eyes. "What do you think? Do ya feel like stretchin' out?" Walter asks the colt. "Hey bruiser," Rosie Shanahan, the Irish exercise girl (Kerry Condon), says as she blows a kiss at Gettn'up Morning and puts down her gear. "About like last time?" Rosie asks Smith. "About like last time, but maybe you let him stretch out a bit in the lane," Walter tells her. "Great. 'Cause he's been pullin' my arms off," she responds. "He wants to run," The Old Man declares as he helps Rosie take her mount. Smith takes a seat in the bleachers with binoculars. "You're just hobby-horsing him," he comments.
Back in the shedrow, Escalante makes good on his promise and phones jockey's agent Joey Rathburn (Richard Kind) to complain about Bug Boy. "Why are you giving me a jockey who's running his lips about my business?" Escalante demands to know. "You're kidding, Turo," Joey says, expressing surprise from his spot by the track's rail. "I don't kid, you Porky Pig son of a bitch. He's chirping how he's gonna run him big when I told you that horse had no chance," the trainer responds. "A trainer like you throws us a bone, gives this kid a chance to ride for you and then — and then he's — he's gonna run his mouth on you?" an agitated Rathburn gets out, showing how he got his nickname. "Just tell him to shut the fuck up and loose lips sink boats," Turo tells Joey. "I'm gonna take him to the woodshed. Believe me," Rathburn promises as he stands beneath the entrance to Clockers' Corner. Meanwhile, Walter watches from the stands through his binoculars as Rosie begins getting Gettn'up Morning up to a good gallop.
Every track has them and Santa Anita is no exception: The serious gambler. Marcus Becker (Kevin Dunn) sits at one of the tables on the outside patio of Clockers' Corner, lots of forms and tip sheets spread about as he contemplates the day's betting plans. Marcus has to use a wheelchair and, periodically, take in oxygen from the mask that's attached to a tank on his wheelchair. Marcus currently eyes the day's 4th race when a member of his betting syndicate (not a crime syndicate as usually associated with the term, but a group of people who pool their money to make larger bets that cover more possibilities), Jerry Boyle (Jason Gedrick), joins him at the table. "I'm tapped," Jerry says as he sits. "You're what?" Marcus asks, removing the oxygen mask. "I'm tapped out. I'm tapioca," Jerry replies. "Yesterday you left the grounds a 390 dollar winner," Marcus declares. "Yeah, then I hit the Commerce Casino for a little poker fun after dark," Jerry explains. "With three days' worth of Pick Six carryovers worth several million dollars and you hand your bankroll to the ricers?" Marcus says, anger and disdain welling up in his voice. "Here's my picks," Jerry responds, sliding a napkin across the small table selecting horse Nos. 1,4,7 for the 3rd race; 5 for the 4th; 1,3,6,7 for the 5th; 2,3,5,7,8 for the 6th; 1,4,7 for the 7th and ALL for the 8th. "Fuck your picks, you degenerate prick — where's your money?" an openly pissed off Marcus demands to know. "Don't wind yourself up. Your face is going all different colors," Jerry says in his tranquil tone. "Fuck my face," Marcus responds, only to be interrupted by a coughing fit and the need to return the oxygen mask to his mouth.
In the stands, Walter continues to watch Rosie ride Gettn'up Morning around the track through his binoculars. "Oh, you're runnin' him around," Smith mutters as Rosie takes the colt to greater strides. Another member of the syndicate, Renzo Calagari (Ritchie Coster), shuffles on to the patio for the group's morning meeting. "Oh good. Now here comes the brain surgeon," a still pissy Marcus comments. Renzo holds up some cash. "Got my disability. Two hundred and fifty-five simoleons," Renzo announces as he hands the money over to Marcus. "Meaning against the Social Security he's gonna get, which is the mumbo jumbo these joints use to get around the usury laws," Marcus teaches his class. Gettn'up Morning's workout has captured the attention of eyes other than Walter Smith's. Joey Rathburn, pacing along the rail, and Jerry, still sitting with Marcus and Renzo, have noticed Rosie's ride on the Big Horse. Marcus pushes the napkin to Renzo. "That napkin's Jerry's whole contribution. Sick degenerate," Marcus tells Renzo. he took out a payday advance Walter puts his binoculars down and brings out a stopwatch. Rosie's ride continues to captivate Jerry. As she brings Gettn'up Morning to the theoretical finish line, Smith stops the clock and looks pleased. "Guess I still know a peach when I see one," Walter mumbles to himself. "You single the Fourth," Renzo says to Jerry, referring to his selection of only horse No. 5 in the 4th Race for the group's Pick Six plan. "I've got the Fourth semi-spread." Marcus examines Jerry's choice more closely. "A triple-bug apprentice hasn't won ten races in his life. He's gonna single a horse that's been — that hasn't run in two years," Marcus notes. From the racing form, we see that apprentice jockey's name is L. Micheaux and the horse that hasn't run in two years happens to be Mon Gateau, whose morning-line odds are 12-1. No wonder Escalante wanted Bug Boy to keep his mouth shut, but that's the reason behind the bet. "Yeah, but Escalante's the trainer," Renzo tells Marcus, who emits a sarcastic, "Oooh."
Leon slow rides Mon Gateau back and spots Joey. "I met Mr. Escalante in his barn," he tells his agent. "Oh yeah. How — How'd that go?" Rathburn asks as if he doesn't know. "Good. You know he's foreign. He's a little hard to understand," Leon replies, his Louisiana accent clear. One problem that will crop up throughout the series is that Tom Payne, the actor who plays Leon, hails from England and often that accent creeps out and he speaks in an unidentifiable dialect. Joey walks along the rail as the slow ride continues. "Well, you — you did some job," Joey tells his jockey. "I did?" Bug Boy responds with surprise. "P—Pissing him off with your wise-ass chirping about how good you thought this horse was gonna run today," Joey informs him. "I was just sayin' somethin' to say somethin'," Leon offers in defense. "That's what — that's what 'How's the weather?' is for," Rathburn suggests. "With a great trainer, I wanted to have somethin' to say," Leon insists. "Suppose he is making a bet, you — you think he wants some big mouth riding his horse?" Joey theorizes. Bug Boy asks if Escalante could be placing a bet, but the question only aggravates Joey more. "I—I—I don't know and if you want to know, I don't want to represent you. You're a bug. You ride everything hard and you don't chirp about what ain't your business," Joey instructs his client. "He could be on go, Joey," Leon whispers to his agent about Mon Gateau. "Moves like shine on a Saturday night." Rathburn makes another appeal, asking Leon to keep his mind right. As Leon rides on, Joey looks down the track as Walter greets the return of Rosie and Gettn'up Morning. Out of Joey's earshot, Walter says to Rosie, "11 and 2. He pulled up (stopped) at 23 and change." (23 and change is the time in seconds that it took the horse to breeze, or lightly run, the distance. Typically, horses are timed at intervals, in races or workouts — generally in ⅛ or ¼ mile increments. “11 and 2” would be the distance the horse ran, the 11 referring to furlongs. ⅛ mile equals one furlong. In the U.S., the classic distance is 1¼ miles. In Europe, it’s 1½ miles. Santa Anita's main dirt track is 1 mile long. Thanks to horse trainer Samantha Harvey of Alternative Horsekeeping With Samantha Harvey at The Equestrian Center in Yuma, Ariz., for helping explain that bit of dialogue for me.) As both the colt and Rosie pant, Rosie tells Smith, "Walter, listen, this guy's got nine more gears." Joey gets on his cell phone. "Ronnie, whereever it is you've flopped, find your coat, find your keys, find your car, get to the gym," Joey says into his phone. We don't see the person he's calling, but we do see his place, which has walls adorned with images of a victorious jockey, though we see Ronnie's wireless phone standing upright on a charger, its screen showing "12 new messages." Joey goes on, "Because if I didn't just see a Derby horse work, I'm a Chinese dentist. Plus the mount is open for you, Ronnie. An exercise girl was up. Yeah — yeah, call me back. Remember me — I'm y—your fucking agent, y—you drunken prick." I haven't spoken much about Mann's direction of this episode. It's been fine, but has been heavy on quick cuts after the initial Ace and Gus scene. However, I thought this sequence involving the various players noticing Gettn'up Morning that leads in to the great Joey-Leon talk that's filmed in a single walking/riding take shows Mann's most exceptional touch so far.
Jerry turns his attention back to his partners now that Gettn'up Morning has left the track. A hefty track security guard (Peter Appel) comes out of Top-O-The-Stretch (Top-O-The-Stretch is the name given to the betting area, either at self-service terminals that open even before the gates, and some manned ones later after the track opens for admissions) at a good gait. "Anyone seeking admission, please clear the grounds before the gates open at 10:30 unless you're a credentialed track employee," the guard announces as Marcus spins his wheelchair around to face the man. "Anyone morbidly fat? Anyone order a heart attack?" Marcus ridicules the guard (as if he has room to talk). "Yeah well, I wouldn't hold my breath. Oh, I forgot — you can't," the guard retorts. "When's the last time you saw your prick without a mirror?" Marcus shoots back. Jerry focuses the day's races instead of the insults. "Got the Pick Six in your crosshairs, Kagle?" Jerry asks the guard. "Yeah, I hold a few opinions," Kagle replies before getting a call on his walkie-talkie. Before Kagle leaves, he asks Jerry if he's going to "step up," but Boyle stays mum though Marcus looks suspiciously on the glances traded between Jerry and the guard. Renzo grabs Marcus' attention, telling him, "There may be more development at the coffee shop." Marcus seeks further explanation of said development, but Renzo prefers not to say. "A development of what type?" Marcus rephrases. "No. So if it doesn't happen," Renzo responds. "You're a moron," Marcus tells him, but he starts his chair moving when he sees Jerry leaving the table. "Hey — do not reach out to that three percent-a-week-charging bloodsucker," he warns Jerry about Kagle.
The drive from Ace's temporary Victorville residence ends as Gus pulls the car up in front of The Beverly Hilton, where Ace uses a suite as his home. When Chester exits the vehicle, he looks up and stares for a moment at his former stomping grounds. The hotel's executive manager (Spencer Garrett) greets Ace and shakes his hand. "Welcome home, Mr. Bernstein," he says. "If you've been partying up at my place, Maurice, they better all be out," Ace responds good-naturedly. "Oh if I missed one or two, you just send them down the fire escape," Maurice replies, adding that they've been preparing Bernstein's suite all week. "How about this guy?" Bernstein comments, indicating Gus. Maurice calls him "The Man With the Golden Arm," though he's referring to neither heroin addiction nor the Frank Sinatra movie. "I leave town. He hits a slot for five million dollars," Ace says. "I only do this for fun now," Gus offers since it would be unusual for millionaires to continue to serve as chauffeur/bodyguards. "I graduated, Mr. Bernstein," the young doorman tells Ace. "Good for you, kid," Bernstein says to the young man, patting him on the shoulder as he and Gus go inside. "So did I." (In a smoothly edited and executed segue, the glass doors of Ace's building turn into the glass doors where you enter the interior of the track's Clockers' Corner where they serve breakfast, seemingly without a cut.)
"There he is," Renzo exclaims as he, Marcus and Jerry enter the inside dining area. "Why do you sound so surprised?" asks a man in a yellow shirt and a light brown hat with his back to the camera. "I'm not. Because I never guaranteed you'd be here," Renzo replies as the man (Ian Hart) stands to greet the group. Jerry slides into a booth. "You gonna sit at the counter, you mind if I get by?" Marcus asks the guy obstructing his path. "That's Lonnie, Marcus. You met him once before," Renzo informs him as he moves into the booth. "And you're Jerry. We've met also, but I don't expect you to remember," Lonnie McHinery tells Boyle as he climbs in next to Renzo who suggests they all sit together there. Marcus wheels to the table's end. "You know what I still call you when I ask them how you are doing?" Lonnie asks Marcus. "Asshole?" he guesses. "The brains housing department," Lonnie answers. "Is it handicapped accessible?" Marcus inquires. Lonnie reminds Marcus where they met — a race day at Hollywood Park with Renzo. "You gave me a triple which I had to leave before I could play it," Lonnie recalls. "Does this story end sad?" Marcus asks in a tone indicating he could care less as he writes in a notebook. "No. No. No. I played it on TVG. 117 bucks it paid," Lonnie tells him. Lonnie's reminiscing gets halted temporarily by a waitress seeking breakfast orders. Once she finishes her business, the men resume theirs. "Now what would I always say to you?" Lonnie asks Renzo. "Let me once make half a score, I'll bankroll that genius gimp," Renzo replies. "Define — I'm afraid to ask — define 'half a score,'" Marcus seems slightly intrigued. "Off two women insurance agents paying me to fuck them senseless," Lonnie answers, a stack of bills in his hand wrapped by a rubberband.
Ace fiddles with a necktie in the bathroom of his suite before abandoning the effort. Gus calls from another room, asking if he's ready. "How'd you leave it with Escalante?" Bernstein asks. "That I'd call him from a few minutes out," Gus replies. "Your attitude with him — business. One hundred percent," Ace instructs Gus. Demitriou admits to being nervous about his planned meeting with Pint of Plain's trainer. Bernstein notices of pile of envelopes on a dresser that Gus explains are three years' worth of letters and notes wishing Ace well. "I wrote or called all of them back," Gus tells him. "You're friendly with Escalante, but you've got all the friends you need," Ace says, holding up his new microcassette recorder. "Spare me the hat dance," Gus pleads. "Just train my horse," Ace orders as they exit the suite.
Jerry dashes through the growing crowd at the betting windows until he finally spots Kagle and starts shouting the guard's name to get his attention. "Hey, would you loan you a thousand dollars?" Kagle asks Jerry. "What are you talking about? I'm not asking for a thousand," Jerry says. "Well. One policy fits all and from now on it's a thousand dollars minimum," the guard/loan shark informs him. "Why one policy? You're your own boss," Jerry points out. "Do I look self-employed in this uniform?" Kagle asks him. "As a shylock, you're self-employed. Does one pant size fit all?" Jerry says, sounding as if spending time with Marcus has rubbed off on him. "Yeah. Yeah. Good. Insult my weight," Kagle bristles. "Hat size, I said," Jerry insists, trying to erase his slur from the air. "It's a thousand minimum. Three points a week on the balance and I ain't chasin' you anymore for vig on a lousy three hundred dollars," Kagle makes clear. "Look, just let me take the fucking thousand then," Jerry says. "You do not qualify," Kagle declares. "Fuck you then and the Goodyear Blimp," Jerry spits as he storms off, but Kagle calls him back, holding cash in his right hand. "Mark my Pick Six," Kagle requests. A disgusted Jerry takes the money and starts filling in Kagle's betting card. Kagle thanks Jerry when he slaps the picks back at him, Playing in the background during the last part of the scene is part of Gil Scott-Heron's cover of Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil Blues." "Early this morning/he knocked on my door/I said "Hello, Satan,/I believe it's time to go" Of course, if Jerry gave Kagle the same Pick Six selections that the syndicate has and they should pull off the win, the jackpot would be split — and you could count on Marcus being pissed. (Many thanks to Tony Dayoub for uncovering which artist was performing the cover for me. Check out his blog Cinema Viewfinder.)
The other three members of Jerry's group take spots behind the grandstand's last row since Marcus' wheelchair limits options. "I'll illustrate this degenerate's mind — why his vote's for singling the Fourth," Marcus says, referring to Jerry's picks. "Jerry, he's saying," Renzo tells Lonnie, in case he wasn't clear as to whom Marcus referred. Becker brings out the napkin as a visual aid. "Off form, it's completely open. He should really use every horse, but he ain't handicapping the horses, he's handicapping Escalante," Marcus elaborates. "Jerry's thinking, Marcus feels," Renzo conveys to Lonnie, as if he has to translate every word Marcus utters. "Escalante enters a horse away two years, all slow workouts, and he gives the mount to a triple-bug apprentice. The horse jumps up, who does that make the hero?" Marcus asks rhetorically. "Escalante, Jerry's thinking," Renzo answers, addressing Marcus this time. "We bet four deep in the Fifth and we're five deep in the Sixth. But you single Escalante. You bet only Escalante's horse and he wins, we just knocked out three-quarters of everybody else's bets. We're perfectly protected in the three races subsequent. And if we make it to the last, the Eighth race in which we bet every horse, we're in to a two million dollar jackpot," Marcus concludes, so excited by the strategy that his cough returns and it's oxygen time again. "Brains housing," Lonnie comments. "So where is Jerry? He feels bad because he tapped out in poker. He's probably got that fat fuck's fangs in his neck," Marcus guesses correctly about Kagle. Can't you hear Milch in that dialogue? "perfectly protected in the three races subsequent" "fat fuck's fangs" I love it. I miss being able to go to the track, not that I knew anything about horse betting. If I ever won, it was pure luck.
Ace enters the glass doors of another building and a woman steps out behind a desk in front of a case displaying wine bottles. She asks Bernstein how he is and if he's there to meet Mr. DiRossi. Ace confirms that he is and Nick DiRossi (Alan Rosenberg) spins on his seat at the lobby bar. "Oh. There he is. We're back to full strength," DiRossi says as he gets up to greet Ace and take him to his office, "So how you doin', Ace?" Nick asks, keeping his arms around Bernstein to guide him. "Great. You're doing real well," Ace comments, surveying the surroundings. This sequence is short, but Mann directs it in an interesting fashion. Though Nick and Ace walk and talk at a normal pace, the camera whizzes by unusually fast, giving the viewer blurry glimpses of the many bottles stacked in the display case. As I said earlier that Dustin Hoffman doesn't really get a handle on who Ace is right away, one thing he does do well is establish the physical side of Ace. Note at the beginning of this scene, if you re-watch it, the way Bernstein adjusts his cuffs and collar before he enters DiRossi's building. "The club is still strong. Last year we opened Atlantic City and Miami but the jewel in the crown is a club in Macau. That club is a real draw, Ace," DiRossi tells him.
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Luck Episode No. 1: Pilot Part II
By Edward Copeland
The next sequence is one of my two favorites of this entire episode, which surprises me since my anticipation for the series stemmed mainly from Milch's involvement and eagerness to hear his words again and neither sequence involves much dialogue. Actually, this sequence doesn't come in one complete chunk — though I adore the separate pieces. However, I bet it would've been even greater as one continuous piece. In case you started reading the recap with this post, you should click here to read about the first half of Luck's premiere first. The sequence begins with a tight close-up on Leon, perhaps the closest shot of a human face we've had yet on this show. He looks as if he's in a trance, although almost imperceptible movement of his lips indicates a count or a chant. The camera moves to a profile shot and we see that he's in the jockeys' locker room. A quick insert shows another jockey tossing a piece of fruit in his right hand before returning to Leon's profile, only this time we move past it and see that he's staring at what looks like a small shrine, one that would seem to indicate that the Louisiana lad practices Catholicism. The fleeting glimpse and the size of the objects make positive identification impossible, but not all the items that Leon prays to or holds dear can be considered strictly religious ones. The framed picture appears to be of an ascendant Jesus, but I can't be certain if that's a crucifix on the right wall since hanging off it are an upside-down horseshoe and a rabbit's foot. The white plaster praying hands aren't an uncommon sight, but I'm not sure what they used to make the figurine that I presume represents Mary and the Christ child. Leon also has some personal photos in the display as well as an opened package of chewing gum, Tums and what appears to be his own bottle of Milk of Magnesia. We get a brief close-up of the faces on the figurine and the musical score (I assume that was composed by the episode's credited composer, Dickon Hinchcliffe) takes on more prominence as Leon stands and grabs his helmet.
Leon marches through the locker room then stops by the water cooler, placing his helmet and crop on top of it while holding the horse's saddle and colors. The clerk of scales then weighs out Leon. Bug Boy steps off the scale, retrieves his helmet and crop and begins his walk to the paddock in a smooth tracking shot around corners and through the tunnel until he emerges into the sunlight of the open-air track. Outside, Rosie calls Leon's name from behind the fence, "Chicas. Bon temps roullez," Leon says to her. (Treme fans should recognize that phrase from my recaps of that show. Why he's mixing Spanish and French and using the plural for girl, I have no idea.) "Go get em, Jock," she tells him. He continues his walk stepping into the grass of the paddock area until he finds Escalante. "Listen to me. You keep him covered up so he don't go. When you ask him, you take him wide to don't get a stop," Escalante instructs the bug. "Yes, sir. I hope this is the first of a lot of races I get to ride for you, Mr. Escalante," Leon says as Escalante helps him mount Mon Gateau. "Get on the horse, Jock," Joey, who has been watching and within earshot, speaks in a conversation that only he can hear. Leon asks Escalante for a fist bump and the trainer stares at him as if he's lost his mind. "He gonna finish for you. Get him wide. Don't get him fucking stopped," Escalante emphasizes.
"Now this is why the country is in the shitter. Stand-up guys go away while the mugs steer us straight for the falls," DiRossi says to Ace. This is what I meant before. I have complained about this on other series. You can justify the division of the race scene at the track. I just happen to think it would have played better as one continuous piece. However, what is the point of having that tiny scene of Ace meeting DiRossi in his lobby and heading toward Nick's office, interrupting it for the great scene at the track and then stopping the track scene to go back to Ace and DiRossi, now in DiRossi's office. It couldn't have taken that long to get from the lobby to the office. "Far as The Greek, I appreciate the trouble people went to," Ace tells Nick. "He beat a slot. God bless him," DiRossi responds. Bernstein elaborates on how he wanted to make sure Gus showed income and paid taxes when he bought Pint of Plain. "They needed the exercise, those people you put through some hoops. Who we hope that horse gives pleasure to is you, Ace," Nick comments. "Yeah, but I've got to keep my distance from the track…until I feel out my supervised release to see if there's any give on the leash," Ace explains. DiRossi brings up the subject of taking over Santa Anita. Ace seems surprised that Nick expresses interested in the race track now. "Supposed to be close to belly-up, but you knew that," Nick says. "Oh, it's patience and a bankroll," Bernstein responds. "Brains and balls is what I'd say," DiRossi counters. "They're tapped in Sacramento. The local tax base has shrunk in half. If ever there was a time for a casino to get through…" Ace speculates. "Right on the grounds you're saying," Nick seeks to clarify. "There's hundreds and hundreds of beautiful acres with how many tens of millions of people thirty minutes or less? But I can't get in the middle of that yet," Ace spells out the pluses. "No. No no no. No one wants you to," Nick insists. Bernstein sighs. "Sometimes I wonder if I'm still an asset." DiRossi assures him that he not only remains an asset, he's the architect. Bernstein tells Nick that he's "short of temper" and can't keep his thoughts as well as he used to and shows DiRossi the tape recorder that he had Gus get him. When the machine appears, DiRossi looks stricken. "What's the matter?" Ace asks. "Nothing. No," Nick replies uneasily. "It's a memory aid," Ace says. "It's like a good work-around," Nick states. "After I do three years, you suspect me? I take a fall protecting how many people? I've got a tape recorder, you've got qualms. Absolutely not!" Ace shouts and stands, tipping over his chair and ripping his shirt open. "You want to fucking toss me?" Ace yells. "Ace, basta," Nick says. "Basta? What? Are you watching old movies? Don't basta me you fucking guinea prick! Three years! Getting forgetful in everything else," Bernstein rages. "Everyone appreciates what you did, Ace," DiRossi tells him, trying to calm the situation. Ace sets his chair upright. "I tore the buttons off my goddamn shirt. I make a fool out of myself the first day out," Ace declares. "A: You didn't. B: You're with a friend," Nick insists. One of his employees comes in and Nick tells him to pull around back and drive Ace to the Beverly Hilton. DiRossi agrees to delay any talk about Santa Anita Park until Bernstein feels he is ready, but reminds him that having Gus as the horse's owner will offer them an inside view. "I shrunk," Ace blurts out suddenly. "I got to get new shirts." (When Hoffman does the off-the-wall Ace stuff such as complaining about his buttons or he suddenly shrunk, he makes Bernstein more interesting. When he tries to go the tough guy route standing and yelling, he sort of looks foolish.)
The 4th race with the group's single pick, Mon Gateau, inches closer to post time. Joey and Escalante both have taken seats in the grandstand to watch the race. The horses are being loaded into the gate — but Mon Gateau and a couple of the other thoroughbreds prove to be feisty. A man's voice asks Leon if he's OK. "I'm good," he responds. (This is the second half of my favorite sequence that I think they should have played as a single long one. The major difference between the two halves is that the bulk of the first half works almost as if it's an unbroken take, a tracking shot that took Leon from the locker room to his spot atop Mon Gateau. This sequence, which really captures the excitement of a race from the perspective of the spectator with money on the outcome, also adds what common racegoers don't see or hear: the perspectives of the trainer and the jockeys, including words exchanged between the riders, something that I never considered could occur over the hoofbeats or would occur just on the basis of sportsmanship. It's achieved with so many quick cuts, it's nearly impossible to capture everything in one viewing.) The bell rings, the gates open and they're off, It looks from above as if Leon and Mon Gateau got off to a good start — you recognize Leon by his green silks with the big star on the front and back of his shirt. The shots came at you in a barrage as the race starts — above the horses, then in front, as if they're riding toward the camera. A sudden switch briefly shows us the view from the inside rail before taking us behind the jockeys' and their horses' backsides. A thoroughbred's proud mane fills the frame for a split second. We look head-on at a determined Leon before there's an over-the-back shot of two jockeys running neck and neck, side-by-side. Below, we view the rapid movement of the horses' legs on the dirt track. The camera keys in on Bug Boy's face again and he almost appears to be grinding his teeth. The sequence offers us our first shot of the stands as we observe Escalante. "Calmate, pinhead," the trainer says. Now, Mann gives us the first view of the race as someone not in it would see it, with five of the horses in the same shot, a bit further away but close enough that we might conceivably be watching from the outer rail. It stops moving for the first time for the other entries to catch up which, unfortunately, include Mon Gateau. When Leon and Mon Gateau reappear, we go in close again until they ride by and the horse's tail exits the frame. "How's he running?" Lonnie asks. "How's he running, Jerry?" Renzo passes along the question. "Fourth or fifth," Jerry answers distractedly. "Yeah, but how's he running?" Renzo inquires. "Would you please shut the fuck up?" Marcus tells them. Leon has risen to a partial standing position on the horse, but though Escalante told him to go wide he appears at risk for getting pinned against the inside rail. On the bright side, Mon Gateau has moved up in the running order. Escalante watches through binoculars. "Come on, number fucking five," Lonnie shouts. Leon looks as if he's trying to steer Mon Gateau away from the rail but the No. 4 horse and his jockey aren't cooperating. Escalante can see what's happening. "Fucking stupid baby pinhead. You got him trapped on the rail," Turo says with disgust, tossing down his binoculars. "Scooch over. Let me out!" Leon yells to the jockey on No. 4. "Do I look like your fucking daddy?" Leon must have brought Mon Gateau too close to No. 4 because his jockey warns, "Watch it, man!" Escalante has picked up his binoculars again, but removes them. "Conyo," he mutters. "Come on, baby. Come on," Joey roots for his client. "Where is he?" Renzo asks. Leon barely avoids bumping Mon Gateau into the inside rail. Jerry stands up. "Go inside! Go inside!" he yells. Miraculously, though he couldn't have heard Jerry's advice, by switching to that plan and dropping Escalante's, Leon manages to move Mon Gateau past No. 4 and into a challenge with horse No. 2 for the lead. "Come on!" "Come on!" "Go!" The cheering comes from all the faces in the stand with an interest in seeing Mon Gateau and Leon win. "Take it home!" "Oh God! Oh my — yes!" After all that fast-paced cutting, we switch to slow motion and then a freeze frame as Mon Gateau clearly crosses the finish line first. "Oh my God! He won!" Renzo exclaims as he stands and slaps hands with Jerry in celebration. Marcus needs his oxygen mask after the win and exchanges a fluttery finger signal with Jerry to mark victory. "That Cajun can pump," Rosie comments to her friend Lizzie (Chantal Sutherland) about Leon. Escalante stands, looking stunned, but he sits. "Holy cow. That horse run very good," the trainer says as if even he can't believe it. Joey beams like a proud new papa. An announcer in the track's broadcast booth declares, "What an exciting finish for the Number Five horse Mon Gateau. Whoever is the patron saint of long shots, executives all over the track are busy lighting candles to." The track's public face (Don Harvey) enters the booth and looks at a monitor showing the gigantic possible Pick Six payoff of $2,859,540. "Multimillion dollar Pick Six payout distracts schmuck gamblers from track's insolvency," he confides to the announcer. Escalante joins Leon and Mon Gateau in the winner's circle. "Hey Mr. Escalante, we did good," Leon smiles. A win doesn't stop Escalante from criticizing Bug Boy, though he does it while grinning since cameras are taking his photo. "I told you to take him wide," he tells the kid. An offscreen reporter asks the trainer for a comment. "What a surprise," Turo replies before exiting the scene. (If you've never been to a horse race, I don't think the excitement of one ever has been captured better than in this scene. Even coverage of The Kentucky Derby or other real races don't come close. It's really a triumph of direction, writing and editing (the team of Michael Brown, Hank Corwin and Kelley Dixon) and having built the various characters involved up enough to involve us beyond the race itself — and this race didn't even involve either of the show's two marquee name actors, Dustin Hoffman or Nick Nolte. I do wonder how they'll manage to keep the races fresh over the long haul. In the races run in the first nine episodes, they do utilize several of things that can go right or wrong in the running of pari-mutuel horse racing, but I have to wonder if that aspect might get repetitive.)
"I am on some roll," Lonnie declares as the four gamblers enter Top-O-The-Stretch. "Hey, Kagle's got the ticket," Jerry reveals quietly to Marcus. Lonnie has been rambling about how he got the cash from the female insurance agents, though no one pays attention. "They call my prick The Emperor," he announces to no one in particular. "What the fuck?" Marcus responds to Jerry's revelation as the bell goes off and they see on a monitor that the 5th Race has started. "I said Kagle might have our same pick," Jerry rephrases. "I want to gouge your eyes out," Marcus tells Jerry. "I was going for juice. He tells me I don't qualify," Jerry starts to explain. "I'd like to watch you hit by a bus," Marcus says. "I'm walkin' away, he offers fifty for my figures. I figure take the fifty, bet Escalante straight. I wanted to pull my weight in the syndicate," Boyle concludes, handing cash to Becker. "Yeah, and if we win, his ticket cuts the win in half. Do you know Kagle bought the ticket?" Marcus asks. "No," Jerry admits. "Do you know that he did and you're a weak-willed degenerate afraid to admit?" Marcus presses. "No. I don't know if he bought the ticket, Dr. Phil," Jerry replies as Marcus goes for his oxygen. Lonnie and Renzo's eyes have stayed glued to the race on the monitor, so they've missed Jerry and Marcus' entire exchange. Renzo looks at the napkin. "Six horse won. We won the Fifth," Renzo says. "Yeah. Yeah. It's a big hurdle we just crossed," Marcus announces.
At one of the Screen Activated Machines, someone else had bet big on Mon Gateau, though not as part of the Pick Six. Escalante looks around to see if anyone's watching then inserts a ticket representing a $1,000 bet on Mon Gateau to win in the slot. He presses finish on the monitor and from another slot pops a cash voucher worth $13,200. The voucher's date reads April 30, 2010 and sets an expiration date for July 18, 2011. Escalante then puts a #2,000 to win ticket for Mon Gateau in the machine and repeats the steps. This cash voucher reads $26,400. Not bad. The horse's trainer cleared $36,600 for Mon Gateau winning — and Leon didn't even follow Escalante's race plan. As Turo walks away from the terminal, his phone rings. "Who is this?" Escalante asks. "We had an appointment. This is Mr. Demitriou. I'm at Gate A," Gus says. "Oh good. OK. I mean. I come and pick you up, señor," Escalante tells him. When Turo gets Gus back to the shedrow where he can meet Pint of Plain, he's already explained the horse's colic problem. "So is there a more crucial time the horse should shit?" Gus asks. "He better or sometimes even they bite into their stomachs. But your horse ain't walking uncomfortable or looking behind himself," Escalante explains. "So all of that is good stuff?" The Greek queries. "That's all good. I wish that he would take a shit, but I think he's OK," the Peruvian says. "When do we race him?" Gus wants to know. "Not now. He tell us when he's ready," Escalante informs Gus before taking him down to Mon Gateau's stable. "This horse won the Fourth Race," Turo tells him. "No kiddin'," Gus comments. "Twelve to one. What a surprise," Escalante says again. "I wish I'd have known," Gus laments. "That makes you and me both. Believe me," Turo lies. The sight of a small goat staggering around shedrow with sizable testicles distracts Gus for a moment. Escalante hands Gus a carrot. "Give him a carrot, el ganador," Turo says to Gus. "Nah, I don't want to fuck him up," Demitriou replies. "How you gonna fuck him up? That's what they eat," Turo responds, dropping the subservient tone he's been showing Gus so far. "That's his name, this horse, el ganador?" Gus asks. "El ganador means winner in Spanish. His name is Mon Gateau," Turo informs him. Gus holds out his hand with the carrot, flinching slightly when Mon Gateau gobbles it up. "Acting like you don't know," Escalante comments. "No, I never did it before. Swear to God," Gus insists. "I'm gonna call you El Natural," Escalante smiles. "Spare me the hat dance. I'll call you El Bullshitter," Gus retorts, darkening his tone for the first time. "Like many other people," Turo replies. (For the second time, Gus has used this phrase, "Spare me the hat dance." I've asked people and looked everywhere online but can't find a reference to the phrase and hat dance always leads me to the Mexican folk dance of romance. My best guess then is that Gus tells Ace earlier and Turo here to stop trying to win him over.) A man exits Pint of Plain's stable with a shovel indicating the horse's bowels have moved at last. Escalante laughs. "We come out from the woods. You can tell whoever would care."
Joey walks somewhere on the grounds of the track, talking on his phone to Ronnie's voicemail yet again. "Ronnie, I—I'm about to put our hand in on that horse. Walter Smith. Barn Nineteen. If you're on your way. I hope you ain't — ain't pickin' up the phone because you ain't there, ya prick. The kid won. Last race," Joey tells the recording device again. Walter himself sits in a chair in a grassy area with Gettn'up Morning standing in front of him. "You want to go racin' in a couple of week? Huh boy?" Walter asks the horse as Joey comes close enough to overhear him. "You don't know how special you are, do you?" Smith tells the horse. (It's an interesting framing as we don't see Nolte's face yet. Mann holds at a medium shot with Walter's back to the camera but the horse facing it, taking Joey's POV more or less. Then he switches to what could be the horse's perspective, seeing Walter's face close while Joey lurks in the background.) "How you can run. Who your daddy was," Walter continues, making Joey smile. "How they killed him," Smith adds. Joey thinks better of approaching Walter then and exits without detection. "Two thousand miles ain't gonna make any difference, Why didn't I do this? Why did I do that? Why didn't I hear it going on?" Walter asks the horse. Along with why Ace was in prison, what happened to Gettn'up Morning's father provides the other major mystery of the first season, but by next week, both answers should be clear though repercussions will continue.
The syndicate huddles around a monitor watching the 7th Race — the second-to-last race of the day's Pick Six and they've picked every horse in the 8th. Jerry shouts for horse No. 7. "We've got Four. Four's in front right now," Lonnie says. Renzo bites his nails and calls for No. 7. Marcus consults the napkin and sees they can win this race with the No. 1, No. 4 or No. 7 horse, but 7 has the biggest odds. No. 7 pulls it off and wins. "We're gonna win the Pick Six," Renzo whispers in Marcus' ear. Kagle makes a beeline across the floor to the group. "Anyone want to stay low profile with the IRS? Any tax delinquencies, warrants, garnishments, liens, judgments, anything they'll claim? I'll steer you to a beard, He'll claim the take on any tax liability for a small fee," the crooked guard offers. Marcus almost smiles. "You didn't bet?" Marcus says in disbelief. Kagle shakes his head no. "What I don't understand is you had all of Jerry's picks. You could have bought a whole ticket by yourself and you didn't bet," Marcus declares dumbfounded. "Who's going to spend eight hundred and sixty-four dollars for a single to win in the Fourth, especially on that spic Escalante's horse?" Kagle uses as a defense while showing that he's not only stupid and a bloodsucker but racist to boot. "So here we are, with every horse in the last, right? So we cannot lose the Pick Six and it's just a matter of how big the win is in the final race and you, as the saying goes, with the Morning Courier Express," Marcus heckles Kagle. (My best interpretation of what Marcus is saying to Kagle here is that Kagle had the information but he didn't know it, so he just gets to read it in the next day's newspaper. I don't think the name of the newspaper is significant.) "See — he always has to humiliate me," Kagle complains. "No one's trying to humiliate you," Jerry claims. "Yeah, well tell that to whoever put me in this body," the loan shark whines. "Someone called Ronald McDonald," Marcus tells him. Lonnie points to the monitor, which shows the possible payouts ranging from $48,860 to $2,687,632. Renzo would be happy splitting the low amount. "I'd prefer two-point-seven million. It's less an adjustment," Marcus says.
The horses for the Eighth Race start their march toward the gate. Leon rides one of the entries. Rosie watches again from the rail with her friend Lizzie. "You won't get to ride the Old Man's horse," Lizzie tells her. "I'm gonna ask him anyway. Sure, once he tells me no, I'll stop trying to make weight," Rosie says. Leon asks his escort if he's been with the filly he's riding before, but he hasn't. Her name is Tattered Flag and she wears No. 8. It's Leon's first time riding her. "Tie yourself on Bug, he's gonna pop that shit," someone says to Leon and the bell rings and they're off. The oft-called Ronnie Jenkins (Gary Stevens, the last regular to make his appearance) finally shows up taking a seat behind Joey. "Jesus Christ, Ronnie, you stink of reefer and booze. I've been calling you all fucking day," Joey tells him. The group watches and the perpetually confused Lonnie admits he doesn't get it. "We bet every horse. Who do we want?" he asks. "The long shot. The long shot's the biggest score," Jerry replies. Tattered Flag happens to be the long shot, but she's way back in the pack. "Did you get us on the Old Man's horse?" Ronnie asks Joey. "The horse was sired by Delphi. And with you in your present mode, I held off from raising our hand because I didn't think it would be responsible," Joey answers. Jerry recognizes that Tattered Flag's jockey is the one who rode Escalante's horse to victory for them in the Fourth as No. 8 starts moving up fast. "Outside's the upside, Bug," Ronnie yells. As Leon keeps Tattered Flag moving, something snaps and Rosie lets out a small scream and covers her mouth as Tattered Flag stops and whimpers. Ronnie looks sick. "Easy. Easy does it, cher," Leon says to the filly as he dismounts her. The group doesn't seem too concerned about the injured horse — they've moved on to rooting for No. 2, which holds as long as odds as 8 did. "Two's the whole pot," Jerry declares. From the monitor, it appears to Marcus that No. 2 is drifting out, but Jerry corrects him that it's the chalk (term for betting favorite) that is drifting out. Renzo claps and roots for No. 2. Lonnie has no idea what's happening. "Is the Two drifting out or the chalk now?" Renzo asks. "Will someone please tell me what's happening?" Lonnie begs. As No. 2 clearly crosses the finish line first, Jerry grabs his head. "We win. It's over. We won," Jerry exclaims. Lonnie leaps from his seat and begins dancing and laughing in the middle of the wagering floor. Renzo appears frozen solid. "Two-point-eight million and some plus thirty-three percent of the withholding plus fifteen percent consolation (a pool created for bettors who might have had some kind of bet on Tattered Flag, I think)," Marcus calculates out loud. "Humor me," Jerry requests. Marcus removes the actual winning slip from his coat pocket. Jerry reaches out to hold it. "No, no. I don't want to get it all crinkled," Marcus says. Jerry stands and quietly sings "America, the Beautiful" to himself. In an office at the track, a woman hands the phone to the manager who tells someone they've alerted all the tellers to contact them if they find the winner. "Shame on us if we don't make the six o'clock news," the track manager tells the person on the phone. (From this point on, this sequence becomes my other favorite of the episode. It's just so sad each time I see it.)
Tattered Flag lies on her side on the track and Leon gently strokes the injured horse. "You're good right here for now," he tells the horse. A woman arrives and asks Leon how he is and he just tells the doctor to hurry. "Shhh. Look here girl," he says. (The close-ups on equine eyes that Mann has gone to throughout this episode were building to this payoff. I don't know how they accomplished this scene, but this horse's eye does look scared and in pain unless it's one helluva mockup.) Other workers put up green screens to shield the sight from the spectators in the stands. "Look at Leon, cher. Easy girl. Easy girl," he continues to try to soothe the horse. The doctor brings out a large needle. The horse snorts and her eye looks back toward what's going on. "Easy. Good girl," Leon repeats. As the doctor inserts the hypodermic into Tattered Flag's neck, Joey asks the filly to look at him. There's another close-up of that beautiful eye with Leon's hand stroking her below it. Her eye starts fluttering after the needle gets removed and soon it's clear that she's gone. The beautiful untitled track 7 (aka Dauðalagið) by the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós from the band's album () starts playing as Leon gets up and begins his long, sad walk. He passes Rosie but says nothing. Ronnie and Joey meet him. "She was moving good, Ronnie. I wouldn't have been asking her," Leon says with a crack in his voice. "She was movin' great. I was watchin'," Ronnie tells him. "Did you ever have that? The light go out of their eyes?" Leon asks the veteran jockey. "You never get used to it. That's why they make Jim Beam," Ronnie replies. "Go — go on and get — get changed, kid," Joey suggests. "OK, Joey," Leon says and heads to the locker room. "Where do you get off, Ronnie?…Telling that kid to go get drunk," Joey lashes out. "You've got no fuckin' clue. You've never been there," Ronnie gives it back to his agent.
Smith's night watchman returns to the stables as the day comes to a close. "Did you let the girl loosen her hands, Mr. Walter?" he asks. "Yeah, He's a good one," Smith replies as he looks at Gettn'up Morning.
The TV stations turn on their cameras and the track's P.R. flack holds a giant check representing the Pick Six payout in his hands. While he tells the TV viewers about it being the biggest payout in quite some time for some lucky patron, the four who share custody of that lucky ticket discuss their plans behind him. "Do we admit we're the winners?" Renzo asks. "We come forward when we're good and ready and we cash in our own good time. Tomorrow. When we get this IRS shit figured out," Marcus declares. Lonnie suggests that the quartet get hotel rooms with connecting doors so they can watch each other.
What appears to be the signature ending for Luck (much like most Boston Legal episodes ended with Denny Crane and Alan Shore having drinks and cigars on the firm's balcony) finds Ace getting ready to turn in for the night in his suite and going over the day's events with Gus. "Fuckers didn't do nothing. We were in the back room, putting things together from the ground up, learning from those that came before them that had a lot of blood on their hands," Ace says. The camera turns during his speech and we realize that no one else is in the room. "Ace, you want anything from the kitchen?" Gus shouts. Bernstein tells him to check the thermostat and make sure it's set on 67 degrees. "So how did it go?" Ace asks Gus, "Good. The horse moved his bowels. Took that as a positive," Gus replies as he sits in a chair across from Ace's bed. "But generally, how'd he look?" Ace presses. "What do I know, Ace? All four of his legs reached the ground," Gus responds. "Escalante was satisfied?" Bernstein wants to know. "Yeah, Escalante was satisfied. He was grinning, pinching his cheek," Gus reports. "Those screws at Victorville, they could buy Cadillacs what I paid to let his race tapes through the mail room. That horse is all heart. He gets by you, forget about getting by him," Ace tells him. "Roosters and birds, Ace. And goats. You take yourself for being on a farm out there," Gus says. Bernstein lets Gus know that he already knew about this aspect of horse racing. "I saw a goat out there that had nuts the size of pumpkins," Gus shares. "I hope to Christ he was bowlegged," Ace says. "He was bowlegged. How the hell did you know that?" Gus asks. "How else would he walk around," Bernstein guesses. He looks at the clock. "7:45 and I'm falling asleep here," Ace admits. "You had a full day," Gus tells him. "As far as them that did what they — they did to me," Ace switches subjects. "Are they moving the way you want?" Gus asks. "Yes. They are gonna move on that race track," he informs The Greek. "You don't often peg that shit wrong," Gus says. "I think I played it OK. You're the new favorite, Greek," Ace announces. Gus admits that's good, but expresses nervousness since he's working past his own depth. "You don't know your own depth," Bernstein decrees. Ace suggests that he needs to get a girlfriend to see if they reach out. "One we trust or one we don't?" Gus asks. "I don't trust anyone, not even myself," Ace declares. "You I give a pass." (Having this as a semi-set ending works well because Hoffman and Farina have such great chemistry. This could develop into a great show or fade quickly. While most of the actors are good, none of the characters capture my attention as Al Swearengen and many of the other Deadwood denizens did. John Ortiz's Escalante probably comes closest. They need to get to a second season fast to build on these characters.)
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