Friday, May 30, 2014

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
Boardwalk Empire was the winner of eight 2011 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Martin Scorsese), and the 2011 Golden Globe for Best Drama Series and Best Actor (Steve Buscemi).  In season two, Nucky and his lieutenants appear to have solidified their hold on power by rigging an election and getting a crony elected mayor.  However, after a bloody KKK attack at Chalky White’s bootleg warehouse, Nucky finds his hold on Atlantic City weakened, first by state agents who arrest him for election fraud, then by members of his own inner circle and even his family, who align against him.  Meanwhile, mobsters like Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Al Capone wait in the wings, looking for the chance to grab a bigger piece of Nucky’s pie.  Though his fortunes have soared in the wake of Prohibition, Nucky Thompson is paying a steep price for wielding ultimate power in “the world’s playground.”  Following the ’20 election, Nucky finds himself the target of an investigation for voter fraud and faces not only jail, but insurrection by some of those he considered his closest allies.

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

If you’re not familiar with Boardwalk Empire, I strongly suggest that you start with season one. This show has a ridiculous number of stars and recurring characters and it’s too hard to jump into this cold.  Even having watched the first season, it’s still sometimes hard to keep up.  If you have the time, I would re-watch season one and then head straight in to season two.
Season two of Boardwalk Empire picks up right where season one left off.  Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), Eli Thompson (Shea Wigham) and Jimmy’s father the Commodore (Dabney Coleman) are attempting to remove Nucky (Steve Buscemi) from power.  Chalky White’s operation is attacked my the KKK, leaving four men dead and both men and women wounded.  Everyone is trying to position themselves to run Atlantic City, and a hit is placed on Nucky.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s surprising who suggests the hit and whose conscience wrestles with the thought.
Nucky is also brought up on charges, which he tries to call in favors to make go away.  A female prosecutor, Esther Randoplh (Julianne Nicholson) is appointed to the case and cannot be bribed or bought.  At home, Nucky has problems as well when Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) reunites with her family, and has an attraction to a young Irishman who works for Nucky.  In addition, her daughter Emily has a terrible medical affliction.  Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) plays a significant role this season keeping the pregnant Lucy isolated while he awaits the birth of a daughter.  His vendetta against Nucky continues and intensifies after his wife discovers Lucy and files for divorce.
In season two, we learn a lot about Jimmy’s history and see more details of his creepy relationship with his mother (Gretchen Mol).  The season also contains many unexpected deaths of major characters and plot twists that will change the course of everyone’s lives.  In season two, no one is safe and no one is who you think they are.  I’m not sure if I can put my finger on why I prefer season one over season two.  Perhaps, it’s just because I just enjoyed being introduced to all the principal characters and learning about them instead of just watching a lot of them get killed and removed from the show.  It doesn’t help that there are a lot of characters and it can be hard to keep track of who they are and what each  of them has done to the other.
HBO does a superb job putting together Blu-ray sets.  The shows always look and sound great.  But beyond that, the cases are much nicer than any of the season sets put together by other companies.  Boardwalk Empire season two is no exception.  I still do not like the actress who plays Lucy Danziger, Paz De La Huerta.  The fact that so much of the season had to do with her did not please me as I had hoped she would have been removed in some fashion by now. Everything I loved about season one holds true in season two.  The attention to detail is incredible and I was constantly noticing how much effort is spent maintaining the attention to detail to everything from clothing to bandages.  The writing and the acting are impressive, particularly how Steve Buscemi has managed to humanize and show the charming side of Nucky Thompson despite his murderous tendencies.

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

From start to finish the video quality is more than impressive.  I didn’t watch the show on HBO but it looks amazing on Blu ray.  The 1080p High Definition presentation draws in the viewer with great detail and clarity.  The color palette of the entire show is very muted and warm.  The viewer has no problem being transported to the 1920s in any lighting condition, indoors or outdoors.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Boardwalk Empire excels with its DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.  The sounds of crowds of people partying is immersive.  The environmental sound of leaves crunching under foot and waves crashing are more than sufficient to transport the listener to Atlantic City.  Both dialogue and gun fire are at appropriate levels.  The only audio issue I had was being able to always understand the Irish accents of Mrs. Schroder and Owen, who seems to mumble when they talk fast.

Special Features (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

HBO makes it seem as though the features are not an afterthought. They are as detailed as the show itself, with similarly production value and quality.
The following special features are spread out amongst the season’s Blu ray discs:
  • Character Dossier – A very helpful feature for such a complex show with so many characters.
  • Audio Commentaries – Six audio commentaries with not just filmmakers, but actors as well, including one with Steve Buscemi.
  • Back to the Boardwalk – Creator/Executive Producer Terence Winter takes you through a 15 minute recap of season one. I should have checked the special features to realize this was available before I started season two.
  • Secrets of the Past: Storytelling in Episode 11 – A discussion of how the secrets come back to haunt the characters in episode 11.  Picture in a picture comments by filmmakers are shown over the episode.
  • Living in 1921 – An interactive look at 1920 including videos archival images and in-depth facts in five categories – history, people, culture, trends and the arts.
  • New Characters – An introduction to the two new major characters – Owen Sleater and Manny Horvitz.
  • Updates to the Boardwalk – A discussion of the new sets for season two with the Production Designer and the shows creator/executive producer.
  • The Money Decade – A look at how the roaring twenties got their name with interviews and historical footage.

Final Thoughts (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Boardwalk Empire Season Two does not let down the viewers that loved Season One. The review was insanely hard to write because I was forced to leave out most of the good details in an effort to avoid spoilers. I never expected to be so interested in the 1920′s. The video and audio presentations are exceptional. The special features are as good and as detailed as the show. This is one season set I wouldn’t hesitate to spend my money on and would absolutely recommend seeing on Blu-ray.
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