Tag Archives: The Sopranos

Lights Out!

It appears that FX has done it again.

Lights Out is a 13-episode story about Patrick “Lights Out” Leary, a former heavyweight champ who retired five years before but still has the itch. Not the itch an Evander Holyfield feels, a twitch in a man who doesn’t know when to quit, but a guy who walked away from it all after a controversial split decision stalled his career. His corner, including his trainer father, urged him to back off in the final round and win on points instead of going for the knockout. His med student wife, stitching him up in the dressing room after one too many beatings, tells him to make a choice between the ring and the family.  

He followed his family’s advice on both counts, but the decisions haunt him daily. Outwardly he tries to play the happily retired guy, cooking breakfast for his daughters and helping out at the gym, and you can see that he has talked himself into accepting this. But his world starts to crash – finances are not what they seem, his family lives far beyond their means, and by the time he realizes that the slope is slippery, it’s too late. No longer the champ, suffering the slight but initial effects of brain damage, he’s a square peg outside the ring. And the offers he’s getting to generate a little cash are anything but above-board. (Yes, he lives in Bayonne, New Jersey…)

Lights is played by Holt McCallany, whose very name infers toughness. One article compared his performance to the first time you saw James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano or Jon Hamm as Don Draper. A bit early for canonization, but I don’t think even the most ebullient is trying to place this show on a mantle alongside The Sopranos or Mad Men. Rather they are correctly noting that the lead actor has that instant charisma and natural charm; a presence that exudes mystery, power and secrets. Even if he might not literally be a good guy, you are (ahem) in his corner from the first scene. Like the aforementioned famous actors, McCallany has been banging around for a while, but seemingly has stumbled into the role of a lifetime. He is pitch-perfect as the man lost outside his comfort zone; juggling debt, health issues, self-doubt and the undesirable elements that circle that world.

I have rarely seen as many online ads for a new TV show as I have for Lights Out this week; perhaps FX is trying to make up for the disastrous campaign for Terriers. That show – almost universally recognized as excellent – had to build from almost nothing thanks to the symbolic but misleading promos.

I’ve only seen the pilot episode – I’m not the “A-list” guy who gets an advance 5-pack from the network – but it’s clearly way deeper than “a boxing series”. If it stays this good, you can file it alongside Justified, Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy as another edgy, daring television show made for adults. Adults who are approached as intelligent viewers who can follow the threads and nuances of the characters and the plot. I hope enough viewers return the favor and step up to the challenge.

Or you can always Live To Dance.

Episode Guide at TV.COM

Official website at FX watch the excellent backstory video

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I Knew It Was You

I don’t get HBO.

I mean, I get HBO – great concept – but I’m not a subscriber. I did, years ago, when I got everything, but as the cable company bill kept skyrocketing little by little things dropped off, until I was down to the skeletal, but still expensive, basic package. At the time I wasn’t missing much, since the home viewing market had transcended from VHS to DVD and the quality of the televisions got better. So by the time HBO started to really craft its signature programs like The Sopranos, I was so weaned off of pay cable that I still resisted. Only the advent of DVD recorders and the new market for TV on DVD box sets saved me, but shows like The Sopranos and The Wire were meant to be watched in six-hour gulps. I never would have survived the week in-between episodes.

I certainly can afford HBO now, but for some strange reason, I just haven’t bothered. Maybe it’s because basic cable channels like FX, AMC and USA have followed their lead and stolen their thunder? But the consequence is the same. Occasionally I still miss good programming, and I’ve conditioned myself to wait for the inevitable DVD, which likely will have bonus features and other amenities that would make it more than worthwhile.

And that’s my long-winded story about how I came across I Knew It Was You, the documentary about the great 70’s actor John Cazale. The title, of course, refers to the classic scene in The Godfather Part II between Al Pacino’s character and Cazale’s damaged brother Fredo. Of all the great moments in the first two films – and there were many – the last scenes between Michael and Fredo are the most haunting.

Pacino played Michael tight-lipped, private, superior. Cazale was palpable, he oozed defeat.

Cazale was only in five films, but every one was nominated for Best Picture; three of them took home the prize. He shared the screen with legends Robert Duvall and Marlon Brando as well as a Who’s Who of his generation in Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep and James Caan. He was never the lead, but The Conversation and The Deer Hunter and Dog Day Afternoon and both Godfathers would have been weaker without his presence.

I was captivated by the subject and by the film, but it had two major drawbacks. I didn’t really learn much about John Cazale, as the narration and the interviews basically echoed each other – an actor’s actor, found the heart of his characters, made his fellow actors better, always played true to the moment. I already knew that, having seen all of his films numerous times. Still, it was enjoyable to watch his co-stars as well as other craftsmen like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Rockwell and Steve Buscemi vouch for his impact as well as his directors Sidney Lumet and Francis Ford Coppola.

The other shortcoming – literally – was the forty minute length.  Again, I was honed in on every minute, so the quality was there. But even if they couldn’t have acquired rights to longer clips of the films, certainly there were more actors who could have been involved, or reflections from major critics who analyzed his work. As stated, I didn’t see this on HBO, but since there are no commercials other than their own promos…they couldn’t even hit an hour?

There are bonus features including extended interviews with Pacino and director Israel Horowitz (Cazale acted in several of his theatrical productions) as well as a commentary and two short film projects from the 60’s, so it’s not as if this DVD isn’t a good value. Despite my comments above, I’m thrilled to own it and will watch it again. But I guess when all is said and done, what I really wanted was more John Cazale…and maybe that’s the whole point of this portrait.

He was the perfect actor; he had no public persona that would  cloud your impression of the character he put on the screen. As good an actor as George Clooney or Morgan Freeman or Clint Eastwood are, when they first appear in a film, a little voice in your head says “there he is“. But when John Cazale entered a scene, you saw Fredo or Sal or Stan. John disappeared.

Cazale died in 1978 at the age of 42. For his friends and colleagues, there is a wealth of great personal experience and memories. For me, who never met him, there are but five timeless films…and now, this tribute.

No fish today, Fredo.

John Cazale Wiki page

Cazale on IMDB.

Oscilloscope Films

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R.I.P. Jose Lima

R.I.P. Jose Lima.

No, I don’t usually talk sports here, but as a lifelong Astros fan I was shocked and saddened to hear that he died this weekend – and only 37! Lima was an average major league pitcher who had one spectacular year for the team, but it was what he did outside the lines that struck me.

The dude loved the game, but he loved the fans more, and I’ve rarely seen a professional athlete light up a kid’s face like Lima Time could. He made my kids feel like they were the most important people in the world. Everyone reminiscing about him are centering on the same thing – he milked every day for everything it was worth.

I think the ideal game for Lima would have been the ability to simultaneously pitch the game and sit in the stands with the fans, cheering and high-fiving and just having fun. I don’t know what happens when we die – and after last night’s Lost finale I’m even more confused – but wherever he is now, there’s a party going on.

Some people light up a room. Lima lit up a ballpark.

R.I.P., Lima Time.

***

Living is easy with eyes closed

I am still trying to digest the finale of Lost from last night. People seem to love it or hate it with very little middle ground. I’m disappointed that so much of the mythology seemed to go out with the bathwater – maybe down that mystical island drain – to reward those who wanted the feel-good ending for their characters.

There was some great action and some surprising moments, and as always, a healthy dose of humor. But parts of the very end seemed like a wrap party in character. And there are already people violently disagreeing with the final images over the closing credits. And of course, Darlton aren’t talking.

Hey, at least they didn’t fade to black. My thoughts on this soon.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten from Cop Land

While spinning the TV dial last night I stumbled across Cop Land, and as I always do when this happens, I stopped searching and settled in to watch. I’ve seen it a dozen times, I know exactly what’s going to happen, but any movie with this cast is worth watching again regardless. While there are plot points that are a bit preposterous, several of the actors in the film give understated performances, especially Sylvester Stallone…although there is (Robert DeNiro) a wee bit (Ray Liotta) of scenery chewing going on.

Watch the trailer for Cop Land.

Frankly, Stallone’s portrayal of Freddy Heflin might be the best work Sly has ever done, especially considering the caliber of actors he’s playing against and with. Heflin is a guy who life has left behind; a hangdog middle-aged Sheriff who has given up on success and just wants to get through the day without any problems. Ironically, a moment of actual heroism left him deaf in one ear and cost hin a chance at the NYPD and the girl whose life he saved. There’s a quiet scene between Sly and Annabella Sciorra as the girl who got away where she asks him why he never got married; the pain and heartbreak in his expression is the antithesis of one of his Rambo grunt-fests.

James Mangold wrote and directed this gem, in which you’ll spot half the cast of The Sopranos as well as other familiar faces, including Paul Calderon, Frank Vincent, Tony Sirico, Bruce Altman, John Ventimiglia, Debbie Harry, Malik Yorba and even Method Man!

So many of the people in this film are known for iconic characters from television and/or movies, but they also have some gems that might not be as well-known. So today I thought I’d pick ten Cop Land cast members and offer a viewing tip for each. And, of course, see this movie.

* Harvey Keitel in The Border, as Jack Nicholson‘s corrupt partner. A forgotten gem for both actors.

* Robert Patrick in The Sopranos, in a short but memorable arc as gambling addict who gets in over his head.

* Ray Liotta in Phoenix, playing a cop with a gambling problem who tries to take the easy way out.

* Peter Berg in The Last Seduction, as the ultimate tool of Linda Fiorentino (not that I blame him!)

* Annabella Sciorra in Whispers in the Dark. Not great, but a decent suspense flick with twists and turns and a shocking performance from Alan Alda.

* John Spencer in Presumed Innocent, as a Detective who tries to help Harrison Ford out of a jam. Also one of Ford’s best roles.

* Michael Rappaport in Kiss of Death, where he plays David Caruso‘s slimy weasel of a cousin.

* Cathy Moriarity in Soapdish. An underrated movie with a great cast and her comic performance is a standout.

* Noah Emmerich in The Truman Show. Everyone remembers Jim Carrey and Ed Harris but often forget Emmerich as Truman’s “best friend”.

* Edie Falco in Sunshine State, sadly one of John Sayles’ lesser known pictures but a great character study.

(I think you can research that DeNiro guy on your own.)

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Get LOST, Again

The Lost Supper

It’s about time. 

It’s time for LOST to put up or shut up, and hopefully it will be the former not the latter. The creators have insisted that they have had the endgame in place since the very first season, and with a negotiated timeline for these past couple of seasons, they have had the opportunity to structure the final path with great precision. Rarely has an episodic show been given that kind of leverage, but I will be the first to admit that they have earned the shot. 

I’m a bit skeptical that the endgame was that specificBen Linus, after all, was initially written as a marginal character. But Michael Emerson’s dynamic performance led to Ben not only getting more screen time but ultimately becoming arguably the central character on the show. So unless the creators simply transferred another character’s storyline onto Ben’s shoulders, an audible was clearly called somewhere in process. 

And I’m fine with that. After suffering through what happened on The X-Files, I’ve been far more skeptical when labyrinthine plots and conspiracy theories are at the center of a program, but it appears that Lost has weaved a pretty airtight mosaic of people and events. It’s amazing to watch early episodes and notice something in the background that resurfaces several episodes (or years later). The X-Files once had a brilliant alien conspiracy theory in place but didn’t invest in the continuity with the same diligence as the fans did, and eventually the logic contradicted itself. The show ultimately backed itself into a corner by presenting two scenarios that could not co-exist, and a loyal fan base was justifiably frustrated and disappointed when no resolution or explanation was delivered. You don’t want to invest that kind of time into anything and be left hanging. 

(Chicago Tribune’s three-part interview with the creators; Maureen Ryan was kind enough to also include a summary of information for those of you with short attention spans.)

And that’s what’s so fascinating about this show. There are people (like me) who have been in deep since the first episode, and others who bailed during the show’s mid-life who have comeback into the fold when the announcement was made that the full story would get to be aired to its conclusion. The excitement for the last season is palpable, from the fan blogs with simple theory posts to incredible websites dedicated to in-depth psychological character evaluations and doctorate-level theses on the symbolism and meaning of the show. The writers and creators of LOST have had the gauntlet thrown down, and they have eighteen hours to pull it off. 

Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have gleefully dispensed tiny clues and hints over the years but are already throwing the caveat out there for the endgame.  Lindelof suggests that “Some people will think it’s enormously satisfying. Other people will think it’s not satisfying enough. It all depends on the way that you watch the show”. Hmmm… 

Will it be frustrating like The Sopranos, or perfect like The Shield? We’ll find out soon enough, but first things first. And don’t forget to tune in tomorrow as the final season starts. 

Wikipedia of Lost episodes. 

Lostpedia  

The Season Premiere is certain to cook up some Big Numbers

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