Sopranos: Seasons 3-5

The problem with writing about The Sopranos after all these years is that so much has been said (in writing, on YouTube, etc.). So I’m following in a lot of footsteps when I say that the snowy “Pine Barrens” (season 3, episode 11) is a great hour of television. I think I’m on fresher ground when I say that my favorite moments are Paulie complaining that he lost a shoe in the snow, apparently more horrified about fashion than about frostbite.

Joining “Pine Barrens” among my very favorite episodes, and heading my list of underrated episodes, is the season 3 opener: “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood”. The FBI plant a listening device in Tony’s basement. This takes some time, what with having to keep track of where each family member is while the agents are trying to make the plant. The agents refer to the young Sopranos as “Princess Bing” and “Baby Bing”.

Neither of these season 3 favorites is does much to advance the big story of the show. Each is sharply written and well acted, and tells us a lot about the world and the people in it.

They are joined among my firm favorites by “Whitecaps”, the last episode of season 4. Tony tries to make Carmela happy by buying a house on the shore, rather than by, for example, being faithful.

I binged season 4, and that worked very well. In this it contrasts with season 2, which I should not have binged. My problem with season 2 was that so many of the characters were so annoying. Some became less annoying, and some died; Tony’s mother had the decency to do both.

Season 5 is, on my first viewing, the “waste of the greats Steve Buscemi” season. His character, Tony Blundetto, gets out of prison determined to go straight. That’s an interesting premise, but it’s badly executed. At the end of the season, Blundetto is executed.

Am I being too harsh on season 5?

Oscars 2022

I haven’t seen enough movies from 2021 to do a “should win” post, and I haven’t paid enough attention to Oscars past to do a “will win post”. But two of my favorite YouTubers have each posted an Oscar-focused video recently, and the contrast between the two is interesting.

Marianna at Impression Blend posted her reactions to the announcement of nominations for the 2022 awards. Marianna is very engaged with the announcement, starting with the very first nomination: Jessie Buckley for best supporting actress, which she and I both applauded. She has mixed, but mostly positive, reactions for a while. Then we get to best director…

In contrast, Maggie at Deep Focus Lens posted about why the Oscars don’t matter. Don’t let that put you off: Maggie starts with reasons why the Oscars do matter. She goes on to give reasons why the Oscars aren’t an indicator of quality.

I’m not pitting these two excellent MovieTubers against each other. Each is my favorite type of YouTuber: an ELK, one who is Enthusiastic, Likeable, and Knowledgeable. I believe that they know and respect one another.

I am more of a Maggie than a Marianna. My favorite piece of evidence in the case against taking the Oscars seriously is the Best Picture category in the 49th awards. One 0f the worst movies I’ve ever seen won, pitted against at least two of the best movies I’ve ever seen. And… but let me skip over Jake G in Nightcrawler, and return to the present.

As for this year, I understand Marianna’s outrage that Denis Villeneuve was not nominated for directing Dune. But I’m less surprised then she was.

What are your views on the Oscars, and on the 2022 nominations?

Three Things I Liked About Dallas

I like exploring places new to me. The thing I liked most about my recent trip to Dallas was that, for the first time in over two years, I was able to travel to and explore a new place.

The second, and most Dallas-specific thing, was the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. Its website is jfk.org. It is in the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy. The museum gives great insight into the early 1960s, Kennedy, the assassination, and the many theories about the assassination.

I also enjoyed visits to the Dallas Museum of Art and to other art museums. But if you have to visit just one of the city’s many museums, I recommend heading to Dealey Plaza.

The third thing was the food, and in particular, barbeque. Maybe bbq should have been the first thing! They cook bbq slow and serve it fast (I lunched early, avoiding peak times). The beef at the famous Pecan Lodge was particularly tasty, although I’ll never be able to resist pulled pork.

I was also impressed by Tex-Mex, Chinese, and Indian food in the Dallas area.

I really enjoyed my few days in Dallas. But what did I miss?

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.