Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Thousand Acres and 2 Angelinas.

A Thousand Acres

“When the aging patriarch of a rich, thriving farm in Iowa decides to retire, he offers his land to his three daughters. For Ginny and Rose, who live on the farm with their husbands, the gift makes sense---a reward for years of hard work, a challenge to make the farm even more successful. But the youngest, Caroline, a Des Moines lawyer, flatly rejects the idea, and in anger her father cuts her out--setting off an explosive series of events that will leave none of them unchanged.“

I really hadn’t plan on liking this; I think I saw the film when it first came out and don’t really remember anything about it other than the farm stuff. But sometimes ten years can feel like a million; I’m older now and stories like these carry a lot more weight (I grew up on the farm my mother’s parents had though my dad was not an official “farmer.”). And I really loved reading this. It was very well done and always interesting but also very much like something unpleasant you can’t look away from (like I don’t know, Jersey Shore or something but worse because there is no joy at all in this story, like, none).

Like I said, my parents weren’t farmers, but they lived on a farm and did a hell of a lot of farm work there; it's part of my earliest memories. Once a rat found its way into the horse’s feed box and my dad killed it by shooting it with his shotgun; after it was dead he yanked it out of the box and carried it off into the field by its tail using a pliers.

Anyway: some passages:

“My mother died before I knew her, before I liked her, before I was old enough for her to be herself with me . . . I have noticed that a mother left eternally young through death comes to seem as remote as your own young self. It’s easy to judge her misapprehensions and mistakes as it is to judge your own, and to fall into a habit of disrespect, as if all her feelings must have been as shallow and jejune as you think yours used to be.”

“I looked him square in the eye. It was my choice, to keep him waiting or to fail to give him his eggs. His gaze was flat, brassily reflective. Not only wasn’t he going to help me decide, my decision was a test. I could push past him, give him toast and cereal and bacon, a breakfast without a center of gravity, or I could run home and get the eggs. My choice would show him something about me, either that I was selfish and inconsiderate (no eggs) or that I was incompetent (a flurry of activity where there should be organized procedure). I did it. I smiled foolishly, said I would be right back, and ran out the door and back down the road.”

“ . . . I experienced, for the first conscious time, the peaceful self-regard of early grief, when the fact that you are still alive and functioning is so strangely similar to your previous life that you think you are okay. It is in that state of mind that people answer when you see them at funerals, and ask how they are doing. They say, “I’m fine. I’m okay, really,” and they really mean, I’m not unrecognizable to myself.”

Wow. And accurate.

Two Angies:

Salt, 2010, directed by Philip Noyce.Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber.

A CIA agent goes on the run after a defector accuses her of being a Russian spy.” (IMDB).

Tricky, tricky. This was fun. Mostly it was fun because of the chases over ledges, buses, and trucks, but I just find Angie kind of fun to watch in general. And I was completely caught off guard by the twists, well, probably only the first ten. After that? Silly, but still fun if you can relax and just be entertained.

The Tourist, 2010, 

directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
starring: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Steven Berkoff.

Revolves around Frank, an American tourist visiting Italy to mend a broken heart. Elise is an extraordinary woman who deliberately crosses his path.” (IMDB).

There are people out there, many of them friends of mine, who would have seen *everything* coming and probably would say this was overly predictable. I am luckily someone who is surprised pretty easily, and this was no exception. I thought the trickery was good and I was absolutely clueless until the very last scene, although I said (very distantly) to myself, “it would be pretty cool if . . .” and then, well it happened. I had a good time.

And WTF is with Steven Berkoff? He’s gotta be at least 120 by now and looking every bit as much. Yikes. I could honestly only tell it was Victor Maitland from the voice; the rest of his appearance was almost unrecognizable. But, you know, way to keep giving it your all, I guess.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tony, Tony, Tony . . .

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Sopranos, season 5, proper.

Sums everything up perfectly.
Season 5 is cruel, that's all I can say. I think the only positive event that happens the entire time is the Marco Polo game in the pool, everything else is seriously depressing.

Tony, while never making any real secret of this in any season previous, is basically an insecure, reactionary, horribly violent man-child. And while it's tempting to do so, you can't blame old lady Livia for all of it; many of the events that went down (that I really don't even care to remember) were done out of angry cruelty. At this point in his life, he should know better. It's difficult to witness all this because despite everything we've seen, we still want to like these guys! I honestly had love only for Christopher, freshly sprung from rehab, and Tony Blundetto, (STEVE BUSCEMI!), and even those two were dicks to each other. And look how things ended with them! Also, Phil Leotardo is a goddamned psychopath, it's like he's seeking retribution from Tommy in Goodfellas from every single gangster now and until the end of time; what a lunatic. "It's the guy's mother, Phil, come on. It's the guy's mother."

Heading right into that gutter now, aren't they?

You were better off in the clink, Tony B.
There were some really good things, too, of course. The cameos (Robert Loggia, Buscemi, Anabella Sciorra, ANNETTE BENING!) Carmela's taste of adultry with Mitch McDeer's brother from The Firm; the blow job incident at the construction site with Meadow's boyfriend, Finn; and almost best of all, the DVD Menu images with all the black and red? Killer. And I have to say that Gandolfini's acting this season was probably the best it's ever been---those glimpses of emotion over Tony B. when he knows he's got to take him out, in the middle of really the most tyrannical, monstrous time in his life? Nicely played.

Also (and this is just a silly aside): during the scene where Tony B. and his girlfriend (who is none other than Dr. Gina from SESAME STREET!) find the bag of cash and drugs, she says, "Honey, you're doubly blessed!" A friend of mine (after hearing this) asked deadpan, "What, you were barely seventeen and barely dressed?" And I laugh every time I think of it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On Stranger Tides.

My review of On Stranger Tides is on Examiner.com; it's not the worst review ever, but, I suppose it's kind of negative. So far it's one of the least popular ones I've done. I actually loved the first and third, and was okay with the second, so I just naturally assumed that I'd be fine with this one, too, but it wasn't great.

In other news, I read a few film reviews on City Pages today: nothing like the feeling of total inadequacy to boost your day . . . but I did get the feeling that many of the authors probably don't laugh very much and wrap themselves in saran before fornicating. Yee.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


(that's the sound of me trying to write on Vicodin after trying to walk normally for a week off steroids with messed up hips). HIPS! God, just start calling me Sarah Goldfarb instead of Television Lady. And get me a walker.

My review of Bridesmaids is up on Examiner if you're interested.

I posited some personal thoughts about the film on my personal blog if you're interested in that.

In other news, I've got very little cooking for the summer, a few recommendations from friends and a LOST rewatch with my oldest two kids but that's really it. I'm really excited for True Blood, Breaking Bad, and the final season of Rescue Me, (I dreamed about GARRITY a few weeks back, of all people) but that's not for quite a while. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Also, I have to say thanks (again) for everyone who reads, follows, and comments over here. It's taken a hell of a long time, but somehow you guys are getting me in monthly revenue what it used to take me an entire year to accumulate; it's a far cry from having my name just under Ebert's on IMDB, but it's progress and I'm grateful. XOXO.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Miscellaneous Items

In between Sopranos I've hit a few other things that have been good:

1. Bossypants, 2011 by Tina Fey.

Synopsis? Chapters about her life, I guess. It's interesting, well written, and very funny. I have to be completely honest, though; I never used to think she was that funny until she started doing Sarah Palin. Clever, extremely, but she and Amy Poehler on SNL (while obviously intelligent) just didn't ever blow my skirt up, if you get me. This did, probably because she could swear and be a little vulgar, which is very much something I like. Oh, and also because she wrote:  "I have a uniquely German capacity to vacillate between sentimentality and coldness." This, too, is something I unfortunately can relate to, along with having a father that everyone was scared of . . .

2. The Catcher in the Rye, 1945, by J.D. Salinger.

"The majority of the novel takes place in December 1949. The story commences with Holden Caulfield describing encounters he has had with students and faculty of Pencey Prep in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. He criticizes them for being superficial, or, as he would say, "phony." After being expelled from the school for his poor academic performance, Holden packs up and leaves the school in the middle of the night after a physical altercation with his roommate. He takes a train to New York but does not want to return to his family. . ." and so on. (Wikipedia)

This was kind of hard to read, not because of the style of prose or anything technical but mostly because of all the smoking, depression, and nausea. I would read it in the bath and then start feeling really unpleasant about things in general, but it's still a great story. I loved how it was told and the way Caufield explained things, even though it really went on and on a lot:

"It's a funny thing about girls. Every time you mention some guy that's strictly a bastard---very mean, or very conceited and all---and when you mention it to the girl, she'll tell you he has an inferiority complex. Maybe he has, but that still doesn't keep him from being a bastard, in my opinion."

"When I got him on the phone, he said he couldn't make it for dinner but that he'd meet me for a drink at ten o'clock at the Wicker Bar, on 54th. I think he was pretty surprised to hear from me. I once called him a fat-assed phony."

"Old Luce. He was strictly a pain in the ass, but he certainly had a good vocabulary. He had the largest vocabulary of any boy at Whooton when I was there. They gave us a test."

As you page through this story, it gets more and more claustrophobic and awkward, and many, many times you will wonder what the holy hell this kid's beef really is . . . aside from the wealth, and the phonies, and his parents' unavailability and anxiety (well, that's kind of a lot, actually) but then, in one line, it's very simply and casually explained, toward the end, and everything all of a sudden is pretty much cleared up. Sad, but very much worth reading.

3. Fellini's Roma, 1972, directed by Federico Fellini.

"A virtually plotless, gaudy, impressionistic portrait of Rome through the eyes of one of its most famous citizens." (IMDB).

While this is definitely not for everyone (you have to be content with a hell of a lot of wandering), it was really excellent as a window into Fellini's personal history, which I think is fun. Honestly, I like his black and white stuff better, though, especially the pictures that starred his wife (Guiletta Masina). This sort of felt a bit like a docu-drama, but the FOOD! (Damn!) That alone made it worth watching.

4. The Bourne Identity, 2002, directed by Doug Liman.
starring: Franka Potente, Matt Damon.

"A man is picked up by a fishing boat, bullet-riddled and without memory, then races to elude assassins and recover from amnesia." (IMDB).

I love pretty much every single person involved with this film, most of all the stars. Matt Damon, literally, can do ANYTHING well. It's almost annoying. But even without him, the film would still have been well paced, well written, and really fun because Doug Liman knows what he's doing. I loved the car chase, subtle techno, and all the trickery. And for the record, the love scene after Bourne chops Lola's hair off is very captivating; check out the bend in his arm over there . . . (eeeeeee!) Yum.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Happy Friday! (For the Losties)

What's been up with Blogger, lately? It completely ate the post I did yesterday of Matt's creepy redhead with gyrating limbs, COME ON! Anyway, here's a good one, a really good one: (nice work, LOSTonanIsland815) Try to catch: Richard Alpert coming out of the tent (wicked!), Eko getting close to the light (red flowers!), and Juliet completely flipping Kate on her ass. Also, that opening gives me goosebumps, every time.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Courtesy of Matt Adams . . .

This is the sort of thing I deal with regularly. There's a vimeo link to other, less disturbing projects if you're interested: www.guerillagraphics.net

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Sopranos, season 4, proper.

Maybe Livia was right?
What a dark, sociopathic mess. Seriously, if it wasn't so brilliantly written, I may have just had to, you know, quit watching because it's really hard seeing everyone literally hurl themselves directly into the gutter. What I think Season 4 accomplishes best is a concrete link to the gangster film genre and its theme of decline (or self-destruction). Emptiness and despair. Where we all may have idolized Tony Soprano et al in the past, the events in these episodes serve to pretty much neutralize that sentiment and to leave us backing away slowly. Christ, what a downer.

---Bobby Bacala's wife suddenly dies; his kids are traumatized by AJ and a ouiga board.
---Gloria Trillo commits suicide.
---Ralph Cifaretto's young son takes an archery arrow through the chest.
---Paulie betrays Tony to Johnny Sac.
---Ralph burns down the stables; Tony reacts by killing him.
---Paulie's mother is pathetic and unable to make friends at Green Grove.
---Christopher is addicted to heroin.
---Adriana meets regularly with the Feds.
---Tony cheats. (Again). (A lot). Carmela finds out. (Again).
---Carmela and Furio are in love but cannot act on their feelings.
---Tony quits therapy.
---Johnny Sac wants Carmine clipped; Tony first agrees and then backs out.

It's all very disheartening. Also, there is a scene, near the end of the episode "Calling All Cars," where Tony dreams he is a masonry worker at an old house. He knocks at the door and starts to open it when suddenly, slowly, a dark figure comes down the stairway just in front of him. You never see the figure's face, but it's clearly a woman. It just sort of hovers down the stairs, silently, while he watches from the door. And it's goddamned terrifying, almost in a Mother-Bates kind of way. What does it mean? Is it Tony's depression? Livia, from the grave? A warning of events to come? THE DEVIL? Who knows, but seriously, gross. I very nearly didn't even include the clip because I really didn't want to revisit it, but if this has to be in my head, I figure it can be in yours, too. Enjoy.

Lastly, there are two positive things I can include, but they're pretty minor considering the rest of the season's (unfortunate) events:

1. COUSIN BRIAN CAMARATTA (Matt Del Negro). Wow. Like a tall, Italian Doctor Carter. Definitely captured my interest. Unfortunately I was not able to find any action shots of his drunken vomiting or snorting coke off the stripper's rack, which is a shame.

2. Carmela's (Edie Falco's) performance in "Whitecaps," the season finale. Double-wow. That was some seriously heavy acting. Nice work.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sopranos. Books.

Here are a few more:

1. The Sopranos Family Cookbook, 2002, by Allen Rucker. Recipes by Michele Scicolone.

Fun. Half actual recipes, half "interviews" with various characters from the show; fans of the show will dig this, a lot. Great photography, too (opening inside cover is Livia burning the mushrooms). I've honestly only made two things from this cookbook, the Sunday Gravy recipe and Totoni (almond cream dessert) but they were both amazing. Next time I need to blackmail someone I may just look up the Ricott Pie Carmela used, that looked pretty good, too.

2. The Sopranos, A Family History, 2000, by Allen Rucker.

Mostly this is good because of the photography, but there's a nice interview with David Chase toward the back as well as a complete episode list and synopsis, but the volume I have is only current through the second season. There is some interesting "history" included, stuff you won't really get from the show, about Livia and Junior, but some of the other material (FBI office memos, journal entries, Meadow's chat transcriptions, etc.) seems a little . . . cheesy. I don't know, you can keep the attitude light when it comes to food, but the rest of this subject is very dark and sinister. I'm not saying it needs to be more Godfather-ish or anything, but, actually, yes. This needed to be more God-fatherish and less, I don't know, flighty and Jenny McCarthy.

3. A Sitdown With The Sopranos, 2002, edited by Regina Barreca.

This was heavy. Less so than the Lavery (This Thing of Ours) but nice, interesting reading. The best things about it were that all the essays were written by Italian Americans (Berreca, Flamini, Parini, Pestana, and so on)---it was awesome hearing what they had to say about a narrative that has caused some riffs within the culture, and secondly, only about half of the contributing authors were professors. As a result, the essays were much more fun to read and less of a downer than the critical essays in the Lavery. More personal stories + hardly any mention of post-modern = WINNER. I liked it. Jay Parini's essay, The Cultural Work of The Sopranos was easily my favorite:

"In general, The Sopranos holds up a mirror to American middle-class life, and the distortions viewed in the mirror seem exaggerated for the sake of narrative effect. But these effects are not nearly as distorted as we like to imagine. Though comprising less than twenty-five percent of the global village, we consume over seventy percent of the world's resources. Our gaudy lifestyle, with its insatiable thirst for resources, presupposes a level of violence: against nature, against our world neighbors, against each other. In The Sopranos, this violence is normalized, made to appear casual, unremarkable."

You said it, man. The more I watch (well, re-watch) the more I realize: The Mafia obviously isn't very nice, but capitalism honestly isn't very nice, either.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hobo With A Shotgun.

My review is up on Examiner; I really liked it.

How could I not?

In other news, I want your recommendations, films and books. Once I'm done with Anthony Soprano, it's all about you and what YOU think is cool. Go.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Sopranos, season 3, proper.

Every show has a golden season, usually right in the middle of its run, where the writers, actors, and producers just really seem to be on . . . Season 3 of The Sopranos is the golden one; nothing can or will ever top it. If you don't see any other episodes of the show, see these, because they are A-number one, y'all. Ready?

The FBI takes almost an entire episode to plant a microphone in Tony's basement (nice sound mixing, The Police/Peter Gunn Theme); Adriana bends over in the world's shortest tennis dress. Livia and Tony are back on speaking terms ("don't wave your hanky at me!"), but only briefly, as she kicks the proverbial bucket in episode two. Carmella speaks the truth about Livia during a memorial at the house; everyone uncomfortably agrees that the woman was basically horrible. Christopher gets made; Meadow dates a young man who happens to be African-American. Dr. Melfi is raped, and while her ex-husband fumes over her assailant's Italian surname, Jennifer yearns for Tony to seek revenge. Junior has cancer; his chemotherapy causes him much discomfort. Ralph Cifaretto impregnates a young stripper whom he later beats to death. Tony takes up with Mercedes saleswoman Gloria Trillo, Carmella gets lots of guilt-jewelry. There is tension with the Russians, first the man who assaulted Janice and later the six-foot ex-commando whose universal remote Paulie shattered; Paulie and Chris spend an unpleasant evening in the middle of the Blair-Witch forest in January as they try (unsuccessfully) to hunt the guy down. Anthony Junior is a fuck-up, but less so than Jackie Junior. Jackie Junior gives Meadow ecstasy, bangs her, lies to Tony, carries a gun, shows up at crew gambling parties, gets lap dances, is worthless at Scrabble, cheats on Meadow, does crank, shoots up one of Ralphie's card games, is beaten in chess by a six-year-old, and basically proves he is without a doubt the dumbest man to walk the earth. The season ends at Jackie's funeral.

New Characters:

Bobby "Bacala" Baccalieri (Steven R. Schirripa), assistant to Junior Soprano, reluctant wearer of Santa Suit for Bada Bing family Christmas party. He made appearances in the last season but got a lot more screen time this time around. Unfortunately takes a lot of abuse, mostly because of his weight, but is probably the kindest man of any crew.

Gloria Trillo (Annabella Sciorra). Mix between Glenn Close's Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction and ("Oh! Poor You!") you guessed it, Livia Soprano. Extremely unstable. Patsy Parisi cautions her to stay away from Tony, stating: "The last thing you see (on this Earth) will be my face. It won't be cinematic." Uncomfortable, but nicely played. We'll see how that one pans out in season 4, yeah?

Jackie Aprile, Junior (Jason Cerbone). This entire character *slays* me. WHAT. DID YOU. THINK. WOULD. HAPPEN. YOU. IDIOT? But again, extremely well played. If I wanted to get philosophical, I'd say that the Mafia's decline can be attributed to generational ("army of one?") issues such as with this guy right here. I think Dirty Harry said it best, "You don't listen, do you, asshole." (Statement, not question), and that was in the seventies.

Johnny "Sack" Sacramoni (Vincent Curatola). Underboss of Carmine Lupertazzi's New York crew, relocated with his wife, Ginny, to New Jersey. Good at stirring up controversy and playing guys against each other, despite assurances of not wanting to stick his beak in. I love that they call him Johnny Sack. And that he hides from his wife to smoke, "Ginny thinks I quit."

Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano). Man, what a nut job. And the hair is really difficult to handle. But also, a very instrumental character in the season's crazy, exciting events. He's just smarmy and unpleasant. Yuck.

The focus on Season Three was obviously big on story and less so on style and film technique, although there are some really nice thematic things going on and the music was killer as always. Steve Buscemi directed the outstanding, "Pine Barrens," where Paulie and Chris hunt the Russian in the snow, and it was extremely visceral and well done. The foreshadowing of Jackie Junior's demise during the chess game was nice, too: Michael K. Williams (OMAR from The Wire!) says, "I think you're done for," as his young daughter makes her move, "look at the way she's developing her knights," just as Tony and Ralph have carefully developed knights of their own to move in on Jackie.

It's all really, really well done; definitely my favorite season.