Category Archives: sopranos

All Bad Things Must Come to an End…

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t write at least something about the end of “Breaking Bad” last night. I had tried to watch the opening episode when it first aired, and just couldn’t get into it. A man running around the desert in his tighty whities? Come on. A couple years later, at the urging of friends and other folks online whose opinions I respect, I tried again. Once I got through that first episode, I was hooked, and from there I stripped the rest of the series, watching the final two seasons as they aired.

The show ended last night, and mighty props go to creator Vince Gilligan and his staff of writers for molding an ending that was precise and complete in tying up loose ends and completing the story begun five seasons ago. Justice is served in an anti-hero kinda way, good and evil balanced, and in a way, the good guys win and the bad guys pay. Brilliance.

Comparatively, it doesn’t let the viewers decide as “The Sopranos” did, and it didn’t do what “Dexter” did much to the sour reprisal of fans. It’s ironic that when “Dexter” ended last week, it was almost at the same point as “Breaking Bad” was last week. Maybe “Dexter” just needed one more episode? In my opinion however, if that last scene with Dexter alive had been cut, that ending would have pleased me. Dexter alive ruins the symmetry. And getting back on subject, symmetry is what “Breaking Bad” was all about.

I was really pleased with the ending. If you want to hear more about the show, my friend and podcast partner Ray Cornwall did a pre-finale episode about “Breaking Bad” last week. You can hear it here.

Random Tater Pic of the Day #109

James Gandolfini Dead at 51

Actor James Gandolfini died today in Italy from a massive heart attack, he was 51. The three time Lead Actor in a Drama Emmy winner was best known for playing bipolar modern gangster and family man Tony Soprano in HBO’s “The Sopranos.” He was also a producer, and a star of stage and screen, besides his television work.

I first became aware of the man when he played a very evil piece of work in Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance. His menacing presence made him perfect for the complex character of Tony Soprano in my opinion.

“The Sopranos” first entered my wheelhouse during its second season. I had written a still unpublished novel with hyper-violent overtones. Two beta-readers told me I needed a balance between the violence and the drama of everyday life, and both, separately suggested that I had to see “The Sopranos” so I could see how it’s supposed to be done. I got HBO, and was blown away. I quickly caught up, and was addicted to the show until its end.

Most of the reason the show was so successful was Gandolfini’s talent and presence. If we did not believe Gandolfini as Tony, the show falls apart. He was the show in many ways.

The man was perhaps the best lead in perhaps the best show ever made for TV.   It is so sad to lose such a talent so young. Who knows what might have been in his future. James Gandolfini will be missed.

Luck

I’ll watch any drama on HBO. There is simply a level of quality that is always present. And it doesn’t matter what a given television series is about, there is always amazing writing, direction, and performance, always.

My mother-in-law notoriously dislikes science fiction, fantasy, and horror. That genre stuff just turns her off. It’s too ‘creepy’ to use her word. Yet last summer she was sucked into the fantasy world of George R.R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones.” She even watched several episodes one right after the other to catch up. That is the magic of HBO drama. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, it matters how it’s done, and the quality and care with which it is done.

That brings us to “Luck.” I really couldn’t care less about horse racing. It does less for me than genre television does for the mom-in-law, but the HBO drama rule pulled me in. The sneak peek of the pilot back in December hooked me and made me wait with baited breath for the series debut a few weeks back. This show is fabulous.

The HBO drama rule is not all it has going for it though. Oh there is a slight “Sopranos” vibe going on, but that’s not the kicker. What drives this show is the acting. You’ve got some heavy hitters here with Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, and Dennis Farina, as well as an ensemble of some of the best character actors around. Most notable are Kevin Dunn, Richard Kind, and one of my faves, from the much missed “Dirt,” Ian Hart.

The series, created by writer David Milch who also worked on the network’s terrific and also missed “Deadwood,” follows the events and characters tied to a particular race track, and it’s all done with class and in the slick style of executive producer Michael Mann. These two allow the big three actors to be as big as they want on the small screen and it’s a good thing – all are at their best here.

There are only nine episodes in this first season, and with the fourth coming this Sunday, there’s plenty of time to catch up. This is yet another HBO show you should not miss.

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Just a reminder, The Virtual Book Tour for THE HUNGRY HEART STORIES is featured today at Shelley Szajner’s blog with an interview with the author Fran Metzman, and continues tomorrow on Becca Butcher’s blog. Don’t miss it!

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At War with Comcast

Dear Comcast, recently you introduced your new Interactive Program Guide for cable television service in our area. Now if it were merely a matter of me not liking the aesthetics of it, or the readability, I can understand that I’m just be picky. Change happens, sometimes not for the better. And just for the record, the aesthetics and the readability suck, in my far less than humble opinion.

Functionality may be where the problem(s) lie. But let’s talk positive first. The Program Guide can now DVR programs more than a week into the future. Closed captioning is now available on our HD television and it was not before. These are both good things, and I thank you and praise you.

As I implied earlier, the Guide is extremely difficult to navigate, and the website and instructional videos are really not much help if I’m being honest. The sleep timer is gone, so no more watching TV ’til I fall asleep. And it takes four steps to DVR something now where it used to take two. After a few days, by hit and miss, I got the gist of how things worked. But things began to go downhill, and out of my control, very quickly.

The DVR began to only record just a few minutes of a program the first night the Guide was installed. The first attack took out three programs recorded in one hour – one one hour show and two half-hour shows back to back at the same time. It did it to those same shows the next week. In the week between various programs suffered the same fate.

And then there were the other ‘fun’ things that occurred since the Program Guide was installed. On Demand has been intermittently working. Occasionally some channels would say that we’re not authorized to watch them. For instance, we would get the same message for The Cooking Channel, Cartoon Network and G4 that we get for a pay channel like Cinemax that we do not subscribe to.

I did not sit and take this by the way. I am a complete evil bastard when it comes to talking with customer service. However, since The Bride used to work for Comcast, I tried my damnedest to be polite and calm, just in case I was speaking to someone we/she knew or used to work with. Just for the record, since June 7th, I have logged fourteen total calls to Comcast for various problems.

Sunday night, the shit hit the fan, as they say. The season finales of “Game of Thrones” and “The Killing” did not record at all. There were other programs that didn’t record or only recorded a few minutes of that night, but those two hurt me. When I tried to calm down, and watch them OnDemand, my blood pressure shot into the sky. OnDemand wasn’t working either.

I was on the phone to Comcast immediately. I had had enough of this crap. Through gritted teeth I carefully explained the problems to the customer service representative, and a technician visit was planned for the next day. This was last Tuesday. Long story short, Comcast sent a guy who looked like a Russian mobster from “The Sopranos,” with a very thick (almost to the point of hysteria) accent to match, to my house to change out the cable boxes. I was told, and after he said it several times I understood, that the problem was fixed.

That night, and the next three nights, the problem reoccurred. I called the cable company again, all calm out of the question. I was no longer polite, I was no longer understanding – I was what is probably gently referred to as ‘the irate customer.’ Yet another customer service representative talked to me slowly and softly, as if I was on the ledge of a tall building and threatening to jump. I was told that I wouldn’t being paying for the service calls, I would receive a discount on the DVR bill and that a technician would be at my home on Monday.

After a weekend of the intermittently functional DVR giving us incomplete recordings if at all, the technician arrived Monday. He asked a lot of questions, fiddled with some wires and then went outside to call his supervisor. You want to know what the bottom line was? “It’s a software problem, and they are working out the bugs. Yeah, it sucks, but there it is.”

The technician left. Unharmed. And about a dozen more blood vessels in my forehead popped. The problem continues. And I’m looking into TIVO.

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Boardwalk Empire

HBO does it again. Do they ever make programming that is not the best out there? No, and how can someone not like a television series that film god Martin Scorsese has his hands in? He actually directed the pilot episode, the one that got this series renewed after only one airing, if that tells you anything about its quality. It was fabulous. For me, Scorsese working on the small screen is the equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci doing a comic book – lower rent yes, but the hand of a genius on a format smaller than their mind – a spectacular effect.

“Boardwalk Empire” takes place in 1920 Atlantic City and follows the exploits of Nucky Thompson as played by Steve Buscemi. Again, Buscemi is someone suited for the big screen and therefore rules the small one. It is good to see him finally in a role that matches his abilities. His character is based loosely (or closely, depending on your perspective) of Nucky Johnson who was treasurer of Atlantic City of the time, a famously generous and equally infamously corrupt personage whose work behind the scenes has become legend.

While Nucky’s name is altered to protect both the innocent and the guilty, there are other real life folks floating around “Boardwalk Empire.” Stephen Graham’s Al Capone and certainly Vincent Piazza as Lucky Luciano are notable for their appearances here, but the real real life tour de force is Michael K. Williams as African-American gangster Chalky White. You might remember him from his role as Omar in “The Wire.”

And speaking of fantastic performances, serious props go to Kelly MacDonald, Gretchen Mol and especially to Michael Pitt as Jimmy. The latter is the real star here in my opinion, and will walk from here to much bigger and better things, if that’s possible. And Michael Shannon is particularly scary as the IRS agent pursuing Thompson.

Final word, this is damn good television, right up there with other HBO alum like “The Sopranos” and the aforementioned “The Wire” as well as stuff like “Mad Men” and “Dexter.” “Boardwalk Empire” is do-not-miss television.

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True Blood: Beautifully Broken

There is so much going on, so many plots, subplots and plot twists happening all at once. “True Blood” is the perfect melding of the modern quick cut drama like “The Sopranos” and old school soap opera camp craziness of “Dark Shadows” with just a touch of “Twin Peaks.” Yeah, it’s that good.

Our main cliffhanger from last week has Bill going custerfluck crazy on those werewolves, eviscerating them. Yeah, vampires are definitely superior to werewolves in this world – and almost in answer to this revelation, we learn that the wolf pack actually serves the Vampire King of Mississippi, who has plans for Bill.

Our other cliffhanger thankfully ends with Tara not taking her own life, but leads to some great acting by Rutina Wesley and Nelsan Ellis as Tara and Lafayette. There are actually more than a few spotlight performances in this episode. Debra Ann Woll’s Jessica also gets some good stage time. Surprisingly, Eric and Sookie, who are in a real life relationship as Alexander Skarsgard and Anna Paquin, manage very little passion or emotion in their scenes together.

The episode’s title bears out in the various plots, showing the broken relationships in this large web of characters, whether it’s Sam trying to find his family, Lafayette and Tara sticking together, or Jason and Sookie finally making amends – it is all broken.

We learn the nature of the werewolves. They are not just any werewolves. The silliness of that line alone had me giggling. And they’re not just Nazi werewolves either. Yeah, I know. I’m still giggling. There were lots of lines like that in this episode, as well as a cameo by Christine, and it made an otherwise uneventful episode better. From the unintentional one-liners from Eric to the intentional ones from Jason to the various ways to devour blood Bill is presented with – “Beautifully Broken” was a lot of fun.

So until next time… make sure you know where all the bodies in your crawlspace are…

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Nurse Jackie

Showtime has been promoting this for a long time and it finally premiered last night. For the most part, “Nurse Jackie” lived up to the hype.

Edie Falco is no-nonsense, pill-popping, adulterous, know-it-all nurse Jackie Peyton as she fights her way through work at a New York City hospital. She deftly shows off that quirky dark comedic side we all knew was lurking beneath Carmela Soprano and was easily the star last night. She’s mean and abrasive, but I found myself rooting for her.

The dark and sarcastic tone of the show bothered me only because I frequent hospitals due to some health issues. I really don’t want to think of my doctors and nurses doing drugs, having sex and being otherwise apathetic while they are supposed to be caring for me – even though I know it happens. It does make for an entertaining show however.

I think the main problem with the show though is that everything outside of Falco was interchangeable with any run of the mill episode of “ER” or “St. Elsewhere,” only the main character stood out as unique and exciting. While I found (and surely will continue to find) Edie Falco amazing in this role, it will be a test of the actress’ abilities how well this series goes.

It’s dark, it’s silly, it’s got some clever twists and Falco is great. For the moment, I enjoyed last night’s episode and I’m along for the ride.

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Fallen and Others


Fallen ~ I’ve never gotten around to seeing this until recently and was surprised at how good it was. Denzel Washington is not just one of our finest actors, but he also has tremendous skill in choosing roles. Even when he stars in action flicks, or like here, borderline horror, he maintains his integrity by playing thinking protagonists as opposed to those who shoot or punch first and thinks later. Fallen also features some great locations in and around Philadelphia, excellent sidekick work from John Goodman and a very chilling performance from Elias Koteas. It’s also interesting to see “Sopranos” brother and sister James Gandolfini and Aida Turturro together pre-“Sopranos.” Definitely recommended.

3:10 to Yuma (2007) ~ I really wanted to like this, especially because folks whose opinions I respect loved this version, but it just couldn’t overcome the original Glenn Ford/Van Heflin flick. In my opinion, while the performances are first class, the story was only made unnecessarily violent and complicated. Just not as good as it could been – this one was a missed opportunity.

Domino ~ Director Tony Scott brings us this sharp and clever bounty hunter flick starring Keira Knightley very against type. Think Quentin Tarantino meets Shoot ‘Em Up meets reality TV. Great fun.

Vanilla Sky ~ This remake of the Spanish Open Your Eyes was a surprise, not just because I never expect much from Tom Cruise flicks, but because folks told me that this was the Cameron Crowe film that Cameron Crowe fans hate. Honestly, as a CC fan, I don’t see his touch, but considering he didn’t write this one I didn’t need to. I liked the twists and turns in the story, although I figured it out early. If I hadn’t this would have been a lot better. Acting-wise, no one is bad but no one stands out either – Cameron Diaz is suitably creepy though.

Sopranos Finale

Yeah, it just ended. The series finale of “The Sopranos” just ended and I’m left conflicted. Sure, when the screen went black and “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey ended mid-line, I did say out loud, “What the f—?” But you know, and I know, and anyone out there who’s been paying attention also knows – what is going to happen next. More of the same of what we’ve been seeing for seven years. And if we’ve been paying attention we know it is fitting for it to end that way. An odd creative choice for television genius David Chase? Yes. Does it work? Yes. But are we satisfied? Good question. The answer? Only if we have a good imagination. Good show, Mr. Chase. I would have rather had a… different choice for the ending, but bravo for sticking to your guns, and going out your way.