Taboo – New Series on FX Begins January 10th

While Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and the brand new TV Series on cable channel FX called Taboo are both set in 19th Century London, they are in different time frames. But they do share a similar foundation.

In Sweeney Todd, a judge sentences a man, who is innocent of a crime to a penal colony in Australia in the mid 1840’s. 15 years later the man returns and he is revenge-minded.

Taboo begins with a man, long thought to have perished in the sinking of a slave ship off the coast of Africa years ago, now returns to London after apparently 10 years. He is James Keziah Delaney. He is played by Tom Hardy, and the series is set in the era of Regency London of 1814.

The entire story of Taboo has already been hinted at strongly in the first hour. But I’ll label the four numbered paragraphs below with the term MILD SPOILERS.

1) James Keziah Delaney (Hardy) likely had sex with his half-sister who is married and known as Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin) – which may be why he was forced to ship off to Africa years back. We see no flash backs (at least not in Episode One) to make it a certainty, so I am going off the title of the series plus the contents of a letter she penned to Hardy’s Delaney in which she asks that the past remain the past.

2) The East India Company headed by Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) and his partners want that parcel of land (a part of Vancouver Island) bequeathed to Delaney by his recently departed Dad. They obviously know prime real estate when they see it. They even call it the gateway to China.

3) Delaney will seek revenge (against some one as yet still undisclosed) as he’s learned (after arranging an illegal post-burial autopsy) that his Dad was poisoned.

4) The first guy to die could be the half sister’s husband. His name is Thorne Geary – a vile name if there ever was one. He is played by Jefferson Hall.  He’s already displayed a strong temper, he’s maltreated his wife (I again am assuming) and he ‘s already threatened to kill Delaney. Again for reasons not made clear.


Yes this is London circa 1814. Dark and gloomy all over town. The rich had many more candles than did the poor, who mostly are dirty with rotted teeth, and are candle poor. Hardy’s Delaney strides about in a top hat and black long coat.

Delaney arrives at Dad's Funeral

Delaney arrives at Dad’s Funeral

He’s more than a bit shadowy and things that go on a round him are often strange and inexplicable. For example, somehow, there an elegant white horse waiting for him (maybe a rental) when he makes land from the ship that came in from Africa. He buries something or is he digging something up – it is hard to tell.

He’s a man of mystery, who is more than intriguing, and you can tell that he’s got stuff swirling around within him, that will make the entire East India Company Board of Directors wish they hadn’t antagonized him. Delaney never even opened the envelope that contained what the EIC considered a fair price for the pile of rocks – that parcel of land off Nootka Channel now owned by Delaney.

I don’t think I am wrong to expect that what we will see in the upcoming episode will be more violent and bloody. After all the show is rated as MA (Mature), L (Language) and V (Violent).

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Peaky Blinders (New Series on Netflix)

Have you a fondness for period gangster films like me? It must be true that many people feel the same as I do. Certainly many of the best crime and gangster films are set up as period films. Amongst the greatest are The Godfather Parts I & II, Bonnie and Clyde, Millers Crossing, The Road to Perdition, Public Enemy, Lawless, The Gangs of New York, and Last Man Standing.

Produced by the BBC, The Weinstein Company has secured the US rights and have made the series available in the US via Netflix. The series came online on September 30th. Season One has six one hour episodes. Season Two will be rolled out on Netflix in November.

Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby, the middle son, of the Shelby family. The story begins in Birmingham in the UK, circa 1919. The Shelby’s run a street gang called the Peaky Blinders. It is a strange name, but once you realize that razor blades are sewn into their tweed newsboy hats, which were stylish for the period, the meaning becomes a lot clearer.

They hang out at the Garrison Pub at the far end of Garrison Lane. This is a street deep in the center of an industrial area. What with fires burning, and factories right there in the heart of the neighborhood; it seems a strange place to live. You could call it a mean street or you could call a vision of hell.

Aunt Polly: She ran the Shelby Operations while the men were off to Flanders Fields and WWI. She was in charge for five years. Helen McCrory has the role.

Aunt Polly: She ran the Shelby Operations while the men were off to Flanders Fields and WWI. She was in charge for five years. Helen McCrory has the role.

At this time (1919) those that hadn’t perished in WWI have returned home and for many life is a struggle. Tommy has nightmares of his war experiences, and has become addicted to smoking opium, Some have turned to communism because they feel that the government has not treated them well. Of course there were robber barons and captains of industry reaping grand rewards, but here in Garrison Lane, conditions were harsh – low wages, long hours, terrible working conditions, and a wage cut to boot. Indeed, these were hard times.

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The Drop


Most of the attention given to the new Brooklyn gangster film called The Drop has been given to the fact that this was the last performance by the late and great James Gandolfini. But from the jump I must state that this film belongs to the British actor Tom Hardy. Tom has shelved his UK accents and has submerged into the role of Bob Saginowsky, a neighborhood bartender in Brooklyn.

He’s quiet, slow of speech, and he seems to be not so quick on the uptake. He’s a neighborhood guy, working in a neighborhood bar. He goes to church regularly, and knows to keep his head down, even in church as he doesn’t take communion. There’s no glitz in this film at all, and no one, other than the Russian mob guys, including the lead, Tom Hardy, shows any kind of fancy clothes, fancy cars, bling, or high-tech weapons.

This is blue-collar Brooklyn. The mob guys are not Irish or Italians, they’re Chechens. But don’t let that fool you. They are as scary as any film villains you’ve ever seen.

The screen play was written by Dennis Lehane, who adapted his own short story Animal Rescue, into this film. The milieu has changed from Boston to Brooklyn. For those of you who may not know, and I was one of them, a description of what a drop bar is given by Hardy as Saginowsky in the opening minutes. Mob activities like numbers, bookmaking, shylock, or drug trade all produce cash. This dirty money needs to be someplace – so on any particular night, a bar serves as a temporary holding area for this cash.

They use time release safes which means the ‘vendors’ drop their cash off at the bar, and it ends up in the safe, rather than the cash register, and then the mob guys come by and pick it up later. The drop bar changes on a regular basis.

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I was expecting something like the neighborhood where we might find films like Public Enemy, or Miller’s Crossing, or even something a few blocks from a few of the biggest homes in the area – like where Bonnie & Clyde and The Untouchables reside. But I didn’t find that. What I got was a bit closer to the outskirts of the neighborhood, where you might find the Last Man Standing.

As Lawless opens, it is 1931, and we find we are in Franklin County, Virgina. We are in the period of Prohibition. The tale is of moonshiners struggling to keep their hold on Franklin County’s thriving liquor business. Folks may not have much going for them, in that place, at that time, but a taste of ‘white lightning’ made their lives easier.

The Bondurant family (Forrest, Howard, and Jack) pretty much had things their way in supplying the county with liquor made from corn, until competition, and some corrupt cops tried to get the Bondurants to share some of the swag. I almost called it wealth – but this is the Depression era, as well as the era of Prohibition, so these backwoods folks, living in the foothills to the Blue Ridge Mountains; so even the Bondurants, despite the successful illegal liquor business, weren’t living all that well.

The three Bondurants were fair, honest in their way, and protective of their ‘business’. If not quite respected, at least they were feared. As Forrest Bondurant, played by Tom Hardy might say – We control the fear, and without the fear, we’d be as good as dead.

Hardy is making quite a name for himself these days – and this film can only add to his allure. Soon he’s going to be the kind of actor that gets billing above the title. In Lawless, he’s laconic throughout the whole film. He’s like a John Wayne kind of guy – speak low, speak slow, and don’t say a whole lot.

An example of that would be when he has to discuss terms with a coalition of local bootleggers and moonshine still operators who want his cooperation. Forrest simply said, I’m a Bondurant. We don’t lay down for nobody.

Yes, the two elder Bondurants were a tough group. The middle brother Howard, played by Jason Clarke, didn’t have a whole lot to say either. But he was tough as nails, and fearless.

You might see a resemblance (above) between the Australian Clark and the long time character actor, John Vernon, who 40 years ago played the San Francisco Mayor to a rather famous San Francisco detective known as Dirty Harry.

The third Bondurant brother was Jack Bondurant. He was called the runt of the litter, and as the youngest, it seemed he was forever in the shadow of his older siblings. Shia LaBoeuf has the role.  Jack is not only the youngest of the brothers, he is also the smallest. What he wants most is to prove himself as worthy to his older brothers. Jack also desires the daughter of a local preacher, Bertha Minnix, played by Mia Wasikowska.

Jack begins by looking like a young man, boyish, and sincere. But by the end of the film, he will have matured into a rough and tumble hombre, to say the least.

As you might imagine, there are women in the film. With speaking parts that matter. Mia Wasikowska resembles a youthful Mia Farrow. In Lawless, she is the preacher’s daughter, and the object of Jack’s affections. Above is a nice shot of her in closeup. There’s another woman who has an important role. The character is called Maggie Beauford. She’s down in Franklin County to get away from a tawdry past in Chicago. One day, she simply shows up at Blackwater Station, where the Bondurants live and own a combo gasoline filling station/saloon. Maggie is looking for work.

Well Mr. Bondurant, do I get the job?

Jessica Chastain has the role of this woman who was beaten by the fast life in the city, but emerged unscathed. She believed that life in Franklin County would suit her better. As is turned out, life in this backwoods town wasn’t all that safe either.

Guy Pearce as Charlie Rakes. Rakes is not someone you’d want to cross.

Then there’s the bad guys. First is Guy Pearce who plays Special Deputy Charlie Rakes. He’s corrupt Continue reading

This Means War

So here I am on Valentine’s Day at the movies. There’s only film to see on this day that fits the day – and that would mean This Means War. Sorry about that sentence construction.

I showed up early for the 7:00 PM showing at the AMC multiplex. I felt that since this was a preview showing in advance of the standard opening on Friday the 17th, and it is Valentine’s Day – that this rom/com might even sell out the theater. Well it wasn’t a sell-out but the theater was pretty full.

Strange title for a romantic comedy, no? This Means War – does it mean that blood will flow? Actually it does as the film opens with a great shootout action sequence in Hong Kong. So says the graphic on the screen. They tell you it is Hong Kong but that wasn’t the case at all. Don’t believe everything you read. Call it a cinematic head-feint.Or maybe it was just imagination – or said another way: ‘Producer’s Conceit’. The two male leads – Chris Pine and Tom Hardy both play men employed by ‘The Company’ as field agents. This involves lots of ‘wet work’, chases, shootouts, and explosions. Just another day on the job for these two.

As it happens, they’re both soon back in their HQ. Only it’s not Langley, Va. – they tell us it is the LA CIA field office. Only it’s not LA either. The production was shot entirely in British Columbia in Canada. Both FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are looking at an image of their girl friends on their laptops. Well, what do you know? They’re dating the same woman – a certain Lauren – nicely played by Reese Witherspoon. So that’s the root cause of the title’s ‘War’. The two lads are going to wage war to win her affections.

Let her make the decision. Handshakes all around – after all, they’re gentlemen. Only it’s not that easy. They spy on each other, play tricks on each other. In short instead of steering clear – it’s every man for himself and all’s fair in love and war.

Meanwhile, from Witherspoon’s perspective, it is a dream come true. Two great guys vying for her attention, her favor, and her body. What’s a girl to do? That why there’s a gal pal for her. The pal is played by Chelsea Handler, and she’s something of a potty-mouth in lieu of giving ‘advice’, as a friend should. All in good fun of course.

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