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Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 7

As in creator David Milch’s previous HBO shows, one of Luck’s central themes concerns the building of a community.



Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 7
Photo: HBO

As in creator David Milch’s previous HBO shows, Deadwood and the short-lived John from Cincinnati, one of Luck’s central themes concerns the building of a community. This comes to the fore in episode seven, written by Amanda Ferguson and helmed by returning director Brian Kirk, which emphasizes the growing interaction between the denizens of the Santa Anita Race Track. It reinforces that the most successful of them rely on others, and those that don’t are destined to fail.

This is most obvious in the plotlines involving the guys at Foray Stables. Jerry’s success at poker takes an unexpected turn for the better because he allows an attractive woman to tag along, giving him a reason to curb his foolish indulgences, at least for now. In contrast, Lonnie (Ian Hart) makes a foolhardy decision to go it alone in his quest to claim a horse of his own. Curiously, it’s Marcus (Kevin Dunn), the man with the most difficulty letting others get close, who points out, “Foray stands for ’four amigos,’ not ’three amigos and one I’m-entitled-to-a-life.’” The outcome? Lonnie’s new horse loses the claiming race, blows a tendon, and must be retired to become a “brood mare.” Jerry (Jason Gedrick), on the other hand, gets the girl. Both conclusions are open-ended enough, however, that there’s still the potential for reversals, ones that can change either of the Foray’s railbirds for better or worse.

For Walter (Nick Nolte), who’s deciding who Gettn’up Morning’s jockey should be, there’s an even more definite chance of such a reversal. That’s because he ill-advisedly chooses “recovering” drug addict Ronnie (Gary Stevens) over Rosie (Kerry Condon), after her lapse in judgment last week. But the very thing that seems to be motivating Walter, shared past experiences that haunt the trainer and his veteran jockey, might be their undoing. Walter’s all-encompassing love for his colt, whose previous owners are trying to wrest away, are crowding out any room for making new personal connections. Rosie may be green, but she’s obviously as talented a competitor as Walter’s colt. By going for expediency, choosing the old reliable Ronnie over the raw Rosie, Walter may be shooting himself in the foot. By the episode’s final act, Ronnie is using again, an ominous portent of further misfortune for Walter down the road.

Ace (Dustin Hoffman) and Turo (John Ortiz), themselves linked by their past (unbeknownst to Turo, his career began as a result of some minor meddling by Ace), are also connected by the fact that, atypically for them, they’re both presently indulging in romances. Ace is having a much easier time of it allowing himself to enjoy the tentative relationship developing between him and Claire (Joan Allen) as she gives him a tour of the ranch he’s financing. Though Ace is no slouch when it comes to biting wit, sarcasm never enters into his conversations with Claire. And we see him beginning to visibly relax around the horses the convicts will be working with at the ranch, letting go of the very institutionalization that Claire has set up this facility to deal with.

Turo, however, seems incapable of demonstrating love to anyone but his horses. This might explain Jo’s reluctance to reveal her pregnancy to him. The acerbic trainer seems to play up his accent when he wants to be left alone. And he’s even more snarkier when he deals with Jo than he already is with his clients. Turo’s behaving true to form at the start of this week’s entry, annoyed by the installation of a security cam in front of Pint of Plain’s stall at the request of the horse’s owners, Ace and Gus (Dennis Farina). But an unexpected encounter with a poor Latino kid who’s virtually abandoned at the track by his deadbeat dad provides Jo (Jill Hennessy) with the opportunity to test Turo. Though his initial bluster forces Jo to take command of the child, Turo is shown to be more than capable of taking over when she must attend to Lonnie’s injured horse. He takes the boy under his wing and gets him back home safely, giving Jo the impetus to tell Turo that they’re expecting.

A small grace note at the conclusion of the episode, a pan to a black-and-white photo of Turo as a child, poor, wearing raggedy clothes looking much like the kid he and Jo helped earlier on the mantle in Turo’s home, is rather revelatory. Like Turo, many of the characters in Luck harbor a secret shame, and it’s becoming clear that only through the ensemble’s growing interactions that they have a chance at overcoming the pasts that haunt them.

Quick Takes:

• Veteran actor Bruce Davison plays the unnamed lawyer and fellow horse trainer who Walter enlists to help him keep Gettn’up Morning. Davison’s credits stretch out for more than a mile, but, in recent times, he’s best known as the anti-mutant Senator Kelly who himself becomes a mutant in X-Men.
• Also making an impression is the relatively new Polish actress, Weronika Rosati. After appearing briefly in episode four, she returns for a recurring role as Naomi, the hot poker dealer who takes up with Jerry.
• It looks like Mike will be a thorn in Ace’s side for quite a while. Actor Michael Gambon was upgraded to series regular this week.
• The song playing over the episode’s final montage is “All Misery/Flowers” by the Gutter Twins.


• Ace, getting dressed in the morning, asks his driver, Gus, “What the fuck is this? I asked you to go out and get me a windbreaker.” “No, no, no, Ace. I saw this in a magazine. This is what them horse people wear around them horses,” Gus responds. “Yeah? They wear it as a prank.”
• Marcus, speaking to his maker, I guess, about Lonnie’s misfortune with the horse he claimed, says, “That’s right. The guy shows a little ass, and bam, if you’re not going to jab your fucking nightstick up there and give it a twist.”
• While touring the ranch with Claire, Ace jokes, “I hate to ask, but any of these inmates ever try to ride off into the sunset?”
• Anyone know their Three Stooges? Lonnie tries to rationalize his misguided attempt to claim his own horse, saying, “Plus, if I had my wits or brains about me, the warning signal was Niagara’s Fall.” “What does Niagara’s Fall got to do with it?” asks Marcus. “The horse’s name itself, Niagara’s Fall…slowly I turn.” “Well, if you’re referring to The Three Stooges, first off, it’s Niagara Falls, slowly I turned…and secondly, so what?” “As fuck-ups,” says Lonnie. “As fuckups, what?” asks Marcus. “To not buy a horse connected with them.” “Look, the horse you claimed has nothing to do with The Three Stooges in any way,” Marcus says emphatically. “Your horse was Niagara’s Fall. Their story is ’Niagara Falls, and slowly turned,’ and so forth.”
• Ronnie tells Walter he shouldn’t feel bad about having a beer in front of him. In response, Walter impresses on Ronnie the importance of living in the moment (a cornerstone of recovery): “If I had wanted one, I’d a had one. And I don’t mean to scratch the other goddamn scab off first. Or talk about the colt’s father. Or go on about that night. Or was or wasn’t I dreaming? And did they do what the hell I thought they did, murder the horse, my colt’s father? None of that does justice to this colt or who the hell is to get on him…Today is the only day we’ve got. And now is when I’m making up my mind.”
• Renzo (Ritchie Coster) on Naomi: “She seemed nice. She wore quite a bit of makeup.”
• Poor Nathan Israel (Patrick J. Adams), we hardly knew you. Secretly spying for Ace, he tries to reassure a distrustful Mike and his associates: “[Ace] never told me to deceive you. He always told me to give you accurate information. Haven’t you found that to be so?” Mike responds by asking, “What makes you think I’m so simple as to be able to be deceived by Ace Bernstein and you in the first place?” Unfortunately, Nathan patterns his next smart-aleck answer after a familiar refrain Ace shared with him a few times after they first met: “Answers a question with a question.” Mike snarls as he brains Nathan with a crystal ashtray, “You think I’m to be played for a cunt?” Turning to his associates, Mike explains, “100% solidarity with Ace. Syntax is how I know, syntax!” It may be the first case of Milch-speak getting a character killed.

For more Luck recaps, click here.



Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Actress

Sometimes it’s important to just step back and pay your respects to a remarkable actress.



Glenn Close
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Sometimes it’s important to just step back and pay your respects to a remarkable actress for having given a performance that, while not your, um, favourite nominated one, is still deserving of an Oscar victory lap. Now, if only others felt the same. Very early on in the awards season, there was already a sense that this award could become a career-achievement coronation for the six-time losing Glenn Close—and that people were going to have a problem squaring that with the fact that her Oscar would be tied to a film perceived to be a piffle. That’s not an inaccurate perception, but it’s difficult to remember a time when critics have used that as an excuse to not do their homework.

In short, have you seen The Wife? Indeed, until the awards-media system’s attention shifted full time into covering AMPAS’s A Series of Unfortunate Oscar Decisions, it seemed as if every day brought us a new article by some pundit about the Oscar race in which it strangely sounded as if the The Wife was still a blind spot for the writer. Which is shame, because Close gives good face throughout the film. Certainly, few Oscar-nominated films this year are as absurd as The Wife, but I’ll do battle with anyone who thinks Close is getting by on her legend alone. Close’s triumph is recognizing The Wife’s inherent ludicrousness and elevating it, and without condescension, with a kabuki-like verve that seeks to speak to the experiences of all women who’ve been oppressed by their men. It’s a turn worthy of Norma Desmond.

Today, the most reliable Oscar narrative is the overdue performer. And if you take stock in that narrative, then you’ll understand why I texted Eric, my fellow Oscar guru, the following on the morning of November 29: “I think Close is going to Still Alice at the Oscars.” After that morning, when the New York Film Critics Circle officially kick-started the Oscar season (and gave their award for best actress to Regina Hall in Support the Girls), no actress ran the table with the critics and guilds, but most of the cards that matter did fall into place for Close, and much as they did for Julianne Moore ahead of her winning the Oscar for Still Alice.

This was a done deal when Close won the Golden Globe, received a standing ovation, and gave the night’s most impassioned speech, immediately after which Eric conceded that my instincts had been right. Of course, that was no doubt easy for him to admit given that, by that point, the oxygen had already seeped out of A Star Is Born’s awards campaign, leaving only Olivia Colman in Close’s way. Colman has worked the campaign trail in spectacular ways, giving speeches that have been every bit as droll as this, but in the end, she doesn’t have the SAG, and as bold and subversive as her performance certainly is, it isn’t sufficiently big enough to convince enough AMPAS members that Close should continue waiting for Oscar.

Will Win: Glenn Close, The Wife

Could Win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Should Win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite

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Berlinale 2019: A Dog Called Money, Lemebel, & Searching Eva

Alongside fiction films depicting emerging voices, nine of the Panorma sidebar’s 45 features are documentaries about creative talents.



A Dog Called Money
Photo: Berlinale

The ostensible goal of the Berlinale’s Panorama sidebar is to offer a 360-degree snapshot of the current state of world cinema, but this year its curators seem inordinately concerned with the pursuit of artistry. Alongside fiction films depicting emerging voices—Honor Swinton Byrne as a fledgling filmmaker in Joanna Hogg’s sublime The Souvenir, and Mei Kayama as a cartoonist with cerebral palsy in Hikari’s sweet-natured 37 Seconds—nine of the section’s 45 features are documentaries about creative talents.

Among these, A Dog Called Money is perhaps the most fascinating, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Directed by photographer Seamus Murphy, it charts the making of PJ Harvey’s 2016 album The Hope Six Demolition Project, which was directly inspired by trips the pair took to Afghanistan, Kosovo, and deprived neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. The famously publicity-shy Harvey then took the unlikely step of turning the recording process into an art installation, setting up a pop-up studio in London’s opulent Somerset House, and inviting members of the public to observe her at work through a one-way mirror.

Though the project appears to have been a noble attempt on Harvey’s part to broaden her political and cultural horizons, A Dog Called Money demystifies her creative process in a manner that proves extremely unflattering. Murphy presents the overseas excursions solely as material-gathering missions: We see Harvey exposed to human suffering in various guises, and hear her recite song lyrics that matter-of-factly recount her observations, but are offered no insight into her overarching aims for The Hope Six Demolition Project, and no sense of how these experiences may have affected her worldview.

There’s something strangely distasteful about the way Murphy juxtaposes haunting footage of Middle Eastern warzones and American ghettos with scenes of Harvey, safely cocooned in her sleek studio, joking around with her overwhelmingly white band as they endeavor to distill the world’s misery into a whimsical art project. And frustratingly, the film fails to address the controversy surrounding album opener “Community of Hope,” which describes Washington D.C.’s predominantly black Ward 7 as a “drug town” full of “zombies,” and which led to a local official ridiculously saying that Harvey is “to music what Piers Morgan is to cable news.”

Joanna Reposi Garibaldi’s Lemebel, which just won the Teddy Award for best queer-themed documentary, does a far better job of representing the aspirations and achievements of a politically motivated artist. The film explores the career of late Chilean writer and activist Pedro Lemebel, who spearheaded a public LGBT rights movement amid the hostile environment of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Weaving together evocative archive footage, intimate talking-head interviews, and grainy home movies, Garibaldi charts the formation of Lemebel’s provocative queer collective dubbed the Mares of the Apocalypse, his flair for attention-grabbing performance art, and his masterly manipulation of Chile’s mainstream media.

An erudite raconteur, Lemebel is fascinating when discussing the intersection of LGBT and working-class communities, and appears remarkably ahead of his time when explaining his rejection of the word “gay” and his reclamation of derogatory terms like “maricón.” Occasionally it seems that Garibaldi, who befriended Lemebel years before attempting to make the film, is a little too close to her subject to offer an objective portrait. She fails, for example, to interrogate Lemebel’s conspiratorial views about the origins of AIDS. But given the fearless, trailblazing nature of his work, a somewhat hagiographic approach can be forgiven.

Many would surely balk at the description of Eva Collè, an obscure twentysomething blogger and Instagrammer, as an “artist.” But her scattershot, disarmingly frank musings on Tumblr have inspired a formally ambitious documentary feature, Pia Hellenthal’s Searching Eva. The film delivers an impressionistic account of this nomadic young woman’s compellingly chaotic existence, encompassing her move from conservative small-town Italy to hedonistic Berlin, her professional experiences as a sex worker and fashion model, her embrace of sexual fluidity, and her struggles with drug use and mental illness.

To underscore the fact that Collè elects to live out her daily dramas before an enthralled online audience, the film is narrated by anonymous comments lifted directly from her blogs. But while said comments tend to be either blindly sycophantic or scathingly judgmental, Hellenthal delivers a refreshingly even-handed assessment of the benefits and drawbacks of online culture. Eva seems to derive much of her self-worth from the knowledge that she inspires others to be their authentic selves. And there’s a sense that the barrage of criticism she faces only strengthens her resolve to carve her own path through life.

Hellenthal’s perspective becomes much harder to fathom when she’s exploring Collè’s life philosophy, which seems to boil down to a flat rejection of any label you might try and attach to her. At one point, Eva states her intention never to work a conventional job, on the grounds that the working class must refuse to be defined primarily as a workforce in order to make its mark. But it’s unclear whether Hellenthal regards this as a bold political statement or the pseudointellectual ramblings of a self-involved millennial attempting to justify her decadent existence. Those who suspect the latter will likely have a hard time fully embracing Searching Eva, but its assured approach to nonlinear storytelling makes the journey worthwhile.

Berlinale runs from February 7—17.

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Berlinale 2019: I Was at Home, But, So Long, My Son, and Ghost Town Anthology

These films depict in distinctive ways the process of coping with and even accepting the dead’s presence in our lives.



I Was Home, But
Photo: Berlinale

The dead haunt Berlin. The Martin-Gropius-Bau, the museum building in which the Berlinale’s European Film Market is hosted, is still pockmarked with bullet holes from the Battle of Berlin—as are many other buildings in the center of the city. A 10-minute walk north of Potsdamer Platz, the center of the film festival, is the powerful Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and a 10-minute walk in the opposite direction down Stresemannstraße and you’ll see the bombed-out façade of Anhalter Bahnhof, once one of Europe’s most resplendent train stations. And all over Berlin, you trip over Stolpersteine (or “stumble-stones”), small, square, brass plaques laid into the sidewalk bearing the names of former residents of that street, dispossessed and killed by the Nazis.

Like any city, Berlin is many things, and it’s certainly most known today for much more than its tragic past. But the history of the 20th century is in particular written across its face, and while it can be easy to turn your gaze away from the dead, they remain a part of life in Germany’s capital. Several of the best films up for the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale contemplate the persistence of the dead in the lives of the living, depicting in distinctive ways the process of coping with and even accepting this presence in our lives.

Set in Berlin, Angela Schanelec’s I Was at Home, But opens with an anomalous prologue that foreshadows the film’s equal-parts mix of despair and world weariness, of tragedy and banality. A dog excitedly chases a rabbit; the camera catches the rabbit initially running, and then seeming to give up, panting on a rock. In the next shot, the dog is greedily pulling apart the rabbit carcass in its den, a dilapidated building it appears to share with a donkey. It’s a potentially fruitful odd-couple scenario: You can almost read subdued exasperation in the donkey’s face as it ignores its roommate’s greedy consumption of a fellow herbivore.

What does this prologue have to do with the remainder of the film, which concerns a woman, Astrid (Maren Eggert), and her children’s flailing attempts to process the grief of losing their husband and father? This quietly masterful film never even comes close to connecting these threads for its audience, requiring us to make connections on our own. We’ll see a foot being bandaged, but not the event that caused the injury, and characters dancing to entertain someone in a hospital bed, but not the person in the bed. Elsewhere, a needlessly obstinate Astrid demands money back for a perfectly reparable bicycle she bought on the cheap, and middle-school kids perform Hamlet in the most neutral of ways.

These still, vignette-like scenes elliptically narrate Phillip’s (Jakob Lassalle) week-long disappearance and return. Infused with the profound pain of grief and with the consciousness that such pain is both inescapable and futile, a universal tragedy that has played out innumerable times, each scene in I Was at Home, But could stand on its own. Assembled together, they comprise a story told between the lines. When Astrid theatrically collapses in front of a headstone, lying silent and immobile like a stage corpse, we don’t need the camera to show us the name on the grave to let us know which tragedy she’s currently performing.

Wang Xiaoshuai’s So Long, My Son is a pointed critique of China’s one-child policy, which was relaxed in 2013. Cutting between at least four different periods in the life of a couple, Liyun and Yaojun (Mei Yong and Wang Jingchun), whose family is shattered over and over again—first with a forced abortion, then with the drowning death of their biological son, and finally when their adopted son absconds from their home—the film is a stark condemnation of an inhuman measure undertaken for the sake of the ultimately abandoned dream of a workers’ utopia. Surprising for a film produced in a country with heavy censorship, the story is explicit in its political and ethical concerns, demonstrating how China’s strict rules in the 1980s imposed unjust sacrifices on the country’s people only so, as one shot set in today’s Beijing suggests, shopping malls could be erected behind statues of Mao Zedong.

Mixing around the story’s timeline, Wang opens with the death of Liyun and Yaojun’s son, and flashes forward to their adopted son, also named Xingxing, fleeing home, so that Liyun’s coerced abortion feels like a third loss, even though it actually comes first. This captures something of the temporality of regret: The abortion, which Liyun was pressured into having by Haiyan (Haiyan Li), a close friend and local communist party functionary, is the decisive tragedy of their lives. Having been denied the choice of having a second child, Yaojun and Liyun’s repressed grief and self-imposed exile away from the pain of their old relations has excluded them from sharing in the winnings wrought by China’s rise.

The unhappy accidents, betrayals, and suppressed resentment that make up the story could easily lend themselves to overwrought, melodramatic treatment, but Wang’s dedication to the details of Chinese working-class life grounds the film in a reality unmarked by melodrama’s hazy-eyed stylizations. Fine leading performances by Wang and Yong capture the simmering sadness of a life whose fulfillment was precluded by an overbearing ideology. So Long, My Son runs a bit long, piling a few too many poetic parallelisms into a protracted conclusion, but it’s a precisely constructed, deeply felt, and humane drama.

The wackiest of the competition’s films that contemplate loss is Denis Côté’s Ghost Town Anthology, which sees the Quebecois director returning to his favored rural Canadian terrain with an ensemble cast. Shot on grainy 16mm, and somewhat resembling a ‘70s-era drive-in cheapie, the film remixes the iconography of ghost stories and post-apocalyptic thrillers to narrate its characters’ collective confrontation with death.

A town of 215 residents somewhere in Francophone Canada is rocked by what their imperious mayor calls “our first death in a long time,” the presumed suicide-by-car-crash of the 21-year-old Simon Dubé. That Simon’s death is the first in a long time raises a couple of questions about the dreary and desolate village: Where are the old people and, for that matter, where are the children? Côté shows us some children, but they’re strange, impish creatures who wear clay masks and heavy ponchos, and they appear to live in the surrounding woods. When Simon’s car crashes, they play amid the wreckage; later, they chase the frightful, innocent Adele (Larissa Corriveau) into an abandoned garage, backed this time by a group of adults who stand silently behind them in the snow, simply staring forward.

It turns out that the dead are returning but not exactly back to life; this isn’t George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and the ghostly figures who begin sprouting from the snowy landscape don’t do much of anything but stand and blankly stare. The villagers, accustomed to a life close to outsiders—Côté makes his point clear when a hijab-draped official sent by the government to consult with the mayor elicits cool, suspicious stares from the denizens—are forced by the dead’s mere presence to confront what lies beyond their provincial life. “They’re like us, in a way,” one character muses toward the end of Ghost Town Anthology, a belated realization that the radical difference of death is also a commonality.

Berlinale runs from February 7—17.

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