Saturday, September 18, 2010
Boardwalk Empire: A Huge New TV Hit
Get set for Boardwalk Empire the best new TV series of the fall.
The series might just as well be called Prohibition. It begins in 1920 with passage of the Volstead Act that outlawed the sale of liquor and spawned a vicious new breed of American gangster.
The opener on HBO Canada Sunday night at 9 is virtually a must see.
If it looks and sounds like a Martin Scorsese movie then guess what? It was directed by Scorsese who also serves as executive producer of the series.
Steve Buscemi moves from his lauded status as a great supporting actor to front and center star of this rambling, violent saga. He persuasively plays Atlantic City treasurer Nucky Thompson who gets a kickback from everyone from cops to liquor salesmen.
Buscemi predictably captures all the weasel-like attributes of Nucky but he's also suprisingly funny, wisecracking his way through situations that might defeat a lesser hood.
The first scene shows him addressing a ladies Tenperance Union meeting and reducing his captive audience to tears with tales of how as a young boy he fed his family by shooting rats for dinner.
But competition is threatening to hone in.
There's the suave fixer of the 1919 World Series Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his depraved sidekick Lucy Luciano (Vincent Piazza).
Watching his every move is his protege ex-doughboy Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitts) whose first heist results in five bloody corpses and the immediate attention of the newly formed FBI led by a Christian chain smoking agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon).
The opening 70-minute installment directed by Scorsese is chock full of artmosphere. The whole boardwalk gets recreated complete with shops and beer halls. And Biuscemi's Nucky inhabits a whole floor of a grand hotel that positively reeks of Twenties overindulgence.
But Nucky also has a softer side. When an indigent admirer Margaret Schroeder drops by to plead for a good job for her German immigrant husband Nucky goes all out --and her husband suspects somehing is going on.
There's corruption at every level --Nucky passed off his old job as sheriff to another brother who obligingly dumps one of Nucky's enemies right into the ocean.
At times the plot will remind you of such classic crime movies as Public Enemy, Scarface and The Roaring Twenties. But Scorsese's vision is far more fierce: in one midnight rendezvous out on a rural road there's a cacophony of shootings accompanies by deer from the forest bouncing through the images.
In another scene a crime boss is shot in the head in his own restaurant and as he slumps to the floor pools of blood clash with the white tiles.
HBO is clearly culling this historical crime scene for a possible follow up to The Sopranos. But will a contemporary audience be fascinated by events now 90 years in the past?
If you think the first episode is violent be forewarned the next two segments are even more vicious. A young punk named Al Capone (Stephen Graham) enters the scene as one of Darmody's hired thugs and beats and maims his way up the crime ladder.
The similarities to The Sopranos are very evident. Sopranos was now, Boardwalk was then. Terence Winter, creator and executive producer of Boardwalk Empire, was also an executive producer on The Sopranos.
He knows a new series has to instantly grab its viewers and hold them. And he does so with brilliant dialogue, snatches of nudity, and a completely brilliant recreation of a former era that closely ressembles contemporary life.
Boardwalk Empire is must see TV, believe me.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE PREMIERES ON HBO CANADA SUNDAY SEPT. 19 AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ****
ALSO ON: Congratulations to OMNI for running a new Canadian made documentary on one of the most competitive nights of the year --just as the new U.S. TV season comes trickling on.
It's called For The Love Of Horses and is very well made, the saga of the Allard family who are completely dedicated to the art of horse racing.
We see them at Woodbine racetrack --there are four brothers Joe, Tino, Sid, Larry and they are persevering at a time when horse racing is under competitive pressures --the disappearance of Greenwood racetrack says it all about the business. we learn what makes them tick and how they acquired their impressive skills. Their strong ties to the Maltese community are shown as well as all the steps taken for their present command of horses.
And the program is worthwhile --I watched the English version --Maltese language dates follow.
And it seems to me OMNI does a lot of this worthwhile programming which the mainstream media completely ignores.
Although I'd like to see OMNI get back into production with a second season of Metropia. How about that. folks?
FOR THE LOVE OF HORSES PREMIERES SUN. SEPT. 19 AT 9 P.M. ON OMNI.1.
MY RATING: ***.