Sopranos Second Season

Superb Sopranos Second Season: Bad For Binging. That was almost the title of this post, but it’s better as the TLDR.

The show is superb, as many have said before. It’s bad for binging because it’s annoying in excessive doses. By that I of course mean that it annoyed me.

In a sense, it’s meant to be annoying. Most of the main characters are preening man-children. It’s in some ways a compliment to the show and to the acting that most of the characters are annoying. It’s an even bigger compliment to James Gandolfini that I still enjoyed his performance, even though he’s the main man-child.

The biggest disappointment of the season concerns Christopher, who is shot, and whose life is in danger. The disappointment is that the whining little narcissist survives. This is not a criticism of Michael Imperioli, who is all too convincing as Chris.

There are a couple of characters who are a lot more annoying than they need to be. One is Silvio: I’m not sure that Steven Van Zandt is an actor. The other is Dr Melfi. I’m sure that Lorraine Bracco can act. What I’m not sure about is that robotic bleat of a voice, which I find almost unbearable.

Again, the show is great. The way it evokes the world and the life, the dialog, most of the performances…

I will watch seasons 3-6. I just won’t binge them.

Cage in a Pig: Rhyming Review

To summarize this post about the 2021 movie, Pig, in two four-letter words: poem; Cage.

He lives in the woods, finding truffles.
Steal his pig? Oh, his feathers you’ll ruffle.
No, it’s not like John Wick;
No Keanu, it’s Nic!
Cage is great, full of love ‘midst kerfuffle.

Yes, Nicolas Cage is indeed great in Pig. I believe that actors should be judged on their best work, rather than their worst. Pig and Leaving Las Vegas, almost thirty years apart, are sufficient to declare him a great actor. If you consider some of the other movies he’s been in terrible, I don’t care, and I hope that Nic doesn’t either.

What do you think? About Pig? About Nic?

The Sopranos: More on Season One

I previously discussed three aspects of The Sopranos, based on my decades-late watching of the first season. I want to discuss two more aspects: one that I know will change through the seasons, the other that I am sure will not change.

Let’s start with the constant: food. In this world, if you arrive somewhere, you bring food, if someone visits you, you offer food, if you’re meeting, there will be eating… And what better place to whack someone than a restaurant, as when Junior decides that the best place to kill “Little Pussy” is the restaurant run by Artie, one of Tony’s oldest friends.

What will change is technology, particularly communication technology. In the first season, a telephone is something with a cable connecting it to a wall, or to a phone box. In the first episode of the second season, we see a relatively slim cellphone.

I’ll be back soon with comments on the second season. Is it as good as the first?

Rhyming Reviews: Dune Movie Example

There is no shortage of reviews on the internet: movie reviews; book reviews, videos on YouTube and elsewhere; written review on media, mainstream and otherwise,… So if I want to post reviews in a distinctive form, what should I post?

Rhyming Reviews! I’ll post a few, and see how they do. I like writing, and I like limericks, so I’ll start with that format. I’ll also start with my favorite current movie, Dune. Here goes…

Is Dune an unfilmable book?
In ’21, let’s take a look.
According to me
It’s well made by Denis,
Or that might be the spice that I took.

Have you seen the new movie of Dune?
If not, I hope you do soon.
An incredible cast!
The amazement will last.
The world built on screen made me swoon.

On Dune, vital spice drug is made.
But Paul’s noble house is betrayed.
He’ll survive giant worms
And then it’s his turn
To build desert power that will not fade.

Please consider the following questions, and consider answering at least one of them.

  • Which of the three limericks do you prefer? Why?
  • Do you think that reviews of two or more limericks would be better than single-limerick reviews?
  • Do you think that anyone would ever read rhyming reviews?
  • Would rhyming reviews be better on a video or podcast platform?

The Sopranos

Has it taken me more than 20 years to watch the greatest TV show of all time? Maybe: I’ve only watched the first season of The Sopranos. Now, in December 2021, it’ll be hard to find anything new to say about the show.

I’ll discuss various aspects of the show, putting each aspect in the contexts of time and of other highly-praised shows.

First, it’s more like the movies than the TV of its time (late 1990s in to the 2000s) in terms of cinematography, production values, and so on. In this, it reminds me of an earlier show: The X-Files. In some ways, each episode is more like a (half-length) movie than it is like an episode of a TV show. These shows have established a tradition: for example, each episode of Breaking Bad is like a well-produced movie.

Second, let’s consider the question: is this a show about its central character, or about an ensemble? My favorite answer to this question is: yes! Tony Soprano is of course the central character, superbly played by James Gandolfini, and his role is surrounded and enhanced by many other well-written and well-performed roles: his wife, his uncle Junior,… (I am yet to be as impressed by his psychotherapist, Dr Melfi, but that’s for another post, after watching more seasons.)

My favorite example of a central/ensemble show is Breaking Bad. Brian Cranston’s performance as Walter White deserves mention the same breath as James Gandolfini’s as Tony. The ensemble around Walter is similarly impressive. The Breaking Bad team have been effusive about their debt to The Sopranos. You can do central/ensemble well without live action: take a bow, Bojack Horseman!

Third, let’s recognize that the show deals in stereotypes. It’s about Italian-American mobsters who know and love The Godfather and similar movies. A Jewish character, Hesh, can be considered part of the ensemble. A rapper, Massive Genius, is central to episode 10 of the season; he has a collection of people and weapons as stereotypical as it is striking. MG demands that Hesh pay what he owes to the families of African-American musicians he used to manage.

So, the Sopranos is stereotype soup. I think it’s a very well-made stereotype soup. I wonder if it could be made as well, or in the same way, in the “woke” 2020s.

Talking of soup, food is prominent and vital in the Sopranos… but that, along with technology, belongs in another post. This one is long enough already. Thanks for reading this far.

Movie Theater Musings: From Scotland to Korea

On the day I was due to be born, I went to the movies instead. My parents, having been credibly informed that I was not going to appear on December 11, went to see Treasure Island in Thurso, Scotland. They enjoyed the movie (not sure whether I did), and I remained in the womb until December 22.

As this century unfolds, movie theaters (or theatres, depending on where you live) are in trouble. That was the case even before Covid. Do I want to have to travel to a theater that I may have to share with inconsiderate people and their cellphones? Do I really need to see that particular movie when I can watch thousands of movies at home?

It depends. It depends on many things. I’ll focus here on the movie itself. I recently tried to watch the much-praised Korean movie The Handmaiden at home: to be specific, on an iPad. I couldn’t, for reasons including: it’s very slow; there are many other things I could be doing (e.g., YouTube, Kindle, faster-paced movies); I don’t understand Korean…

I think I would enjoy The Handmaiden if I saw it at the movies. It would probably be in an arthouse with an attentive audience.

What sort of movies do you particularly want to see at the movies, rather than at home?

Dune at the Movies

More than month late, I saw Dune, aka Dune Part 1 or Dune (2021). I wanted to see it on a big screen, more than I’ve wanted to see any movie in a theater for many years. I’m glad I saw it on IMAX and with Max, my teen son.

I’ve read the book a few times, but not for many years. Max hasn’t read the book yet, but I hope that he’s about to start it. I suspect that I was in the sweet spot to see Villeneuve’s movie: if I’d read the book recently, I’d have been frustrated at some of the things left out of the film; on the other hand, I remembered some of the exposition that’s in the books but not the movie.

My overall impression and comment is that it would be hard to do a much better job of filming this notoriously unfilmable novel. I still find Frank Herbert’s world fascinating, about 60 years after he wrote the novel. Villeneuve brings it to the screen wonderfully, mixing huge shots of ships, buildings, and the desert with intimate close-ups of the characters.

My only reservation bigger than a quibble concerns the sound. When I asked Max how he liked the movie, his first comment was that his ears hurt. Mine hadn’t been comfortable either. I mainly blame the theater and its wish to show off its sound system: my ears were assaulted from the start of the preview for Top Gun: Maverick.

That said, I’m not sure that Hans Zimmer’s score is entirely innocent. It’s about as subtle as a Top Gun preview.

I’m about to go over to my Letterboxd account and give Dune the full five stars. My reservations are tiny compared with Villeneuve’s achievement in bringing Herbert’s huge fiction to the big screen.

Getting Back Into Movies

I haven’t been a regular movie-watcher for far too long. There have been many reasons for this, including parenthood, Covid, and attention span problems. Now, as my attention span returns, I’m returning to movies, mostly through the internet rather than movie theaters.

You can see what I’m watching by visiting me on Letterboxd. I mean to keep logging the films I watch, rating most of them, and reviewing some of them.

My favorite source of movie reviews is the YouTube channel deepfocuslens. Maggie is my favorite kind of YouTuber: what I term an ELK, one who is Enthusiastic, Likeable, and Knowledgeable.

I must get to a theater soon to see Dune, which I have been looking forward to seeing on a big screen for years. My most regular movie-going years were during graduate school, when the theaters in the mostly-dead malls between Amherst and Northampton (Massachusetts) used to have “twilight shows” for $2.50. That was cheaper than renting a videotape. (That comparison will illustrate how long ago I was in grad school.)

What is your current view of movies? Eclipsed by TV shows? Products for the dying institution of the movie theater? In a golden age made possible by new technologies of production and consumption?

Beeswing: Richard Thompson’s Memoir

Richard Thompson is my favorite musician. Between 1967 to 1975 he was involved with some of my all-time favorite music.

So I read his memoir, Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967-1975, as soon as it was published (on April 6, 2021). If you need a sample of RT’s work, you could do worse than the song “Beeswing” (which is set during and after “the summer of love”).

Beeswing the book was well worth reading, especially for the painful passages related to Fairport Convention. If you don’t find painful stuff worthwhile, then you’re probably not a fan of RT’s music, and won’t enjoy this book. One of those passages describes the 1969 road accident that took the life of Martin Lamble, Fairport’s drummer: an excerpt is available at Rolling Stone.

Other passages are wrenching without being deadly, such as the sacking of Sandy Denny, and Richard’s decision to leave Fairport.

RT’s book, like his music, made me laugh amidst the darkness. I loved the scene in which he and Nick Drake were on the same Tube platform. RT “had to strike up a conversation, or what would pass for one, between two socially inept introverts.”

I loved Beeswing because I love RT. I think I love it more than it deserves: towards the end, RT seems uncertain about what to include and how to cover it. Joe Boyd’s White Bicycles is in many ways a better account of the same scene. To use the Goodreads 5-star systems, White Bicycles is a 5, whereas Beeswing is “only” a 4. But I’m very glad to have bought it, and will re-read it at least once.

Rick the Musical ELK

An ELK is a content creator who is enthusiastic, likeable, and knowledgeable. One such is Rick Beato: musician, teacher, and much more. Rick has just posted to his YouTube channel the 100th entry in his series, “What Makes This Song Great?”

In each entry, Rick demonstrates how the different parts contribute to the whole track. My favorite example is the third in the series, on Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne”, with a great account of Larry Carlton’s guitar solos.

Who are your favorite MusicTubers?