Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Television Page 2 of 15

“The Big Conn” Premieres at SXSW; Streams on Apple TV May 6th

The log line for the Apple TV documentary “The Big Conn” is as follows: “Eric C. Conn was a lawyer living a little too large in eastern Kentucky…until two whistleblowers realized he was at the center of government fraud worth over half a billion dollars, one of the largest in U.S. history. And that was just the beginning.” The investigative documentary series is helmed by James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte.

The four-part investigative series had its World Premiere at SXSW and it will launch, globally, on May 6th. It is a fascinating look at a man who is described as “an evil Robin Hood” for securing Social Security Disability payments for his Kentucky and West Virginia clients in 30 days, at a time when the Social Security Administration was backlogged for 18 months. In the process, Eric Christopher Conn made big bucks and spent the money just as fast as he got it. His office employees document a globe-trotting habit of traveling for one week of every month to exotic ports of call such as Thailand, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Las Vegas. In many instances (16, at least) Eric would return to Pikesville, Kentucky with a brand-new bride.

The mind boggles merely at the concept of someone loony enough to marry 16 times. He can’t even keep his wives’ nationalities straight, but managed to list 5 United States citizens, 5 from Columbia, 1 from Vietnam, 1 from the Philippines, 1 from Ecuador and 1 from the Dominican Republic. (Later, he admitted that he might have forgotten one or two of his wives from foreign countries). The first thought that pops into your head is, “Who does that?”

The answer to that rhetorical question is given by one attorney involved in the case, who says: “You’re dealing with a guy who doesn’t have a moral compass. You can’t get mad at a snake for being a snake.” Trey Alford, an Assistant District Attorney who ultimately refused to give up on the case, described it as “the ultimate trifecta: bad lawyers, bad judges and bad doctors.”

Despite the heroic and persistent efforts of two honest Master Docket Clerks to blow the whistle on Eric’s high, wide and handsome shenanigans, it took over 6 years for anything to be done. Conn had made himself a Big Name in Appalachia, better-known than Ali or Elvis, with extensive use of billboards, television and other forms of advertising, and, even after he was accused of graft and corruption, clients flocked to his offices for his services because he guaranteed he’d get them a check within 30 days, and he usually did.

Con handled 1800 cases between 2006 and 2010 and the amount of fraud for the government that they would need to recover to break even was estimated at $2.62 billion, when you factor in the payments to applicants who were unqualified to receive them, over years of their dependence on the $900 a month to (in one case) $2,000 a month disability payments. The problem after the fall of Conn is that there were 1500 applicants, some of whom were genuinely deserving, but the Social Security Administration now had to solve the mess they had created for themselves by being completely indifferent to the reports that the whistle blowers, Sarah Carver and Jennifer Griffith, had been making for years.

The lid was blown off the corrupt scheme when a “Wall Street Journal” reporter named Damian Paletta, who is now the economics reporter for the “Wall Street Journal” (and the author of a book about Donald Trump’s time in office entitled “Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History”) journeyed to Appalachia and did a story on the situation. Paletta is not unsympathetic to the legitimate disabled and was, himself, disabled as a youngster.

The message that comes through, loud and clear, is that the Social Security Administration did an extremely poor job of policing its own. Shame on them!

Secondly, the true heroes and heroines of the story are not recognized at all. They include whistle-blowers Sarah Carver and Jennifer Griffith, various attorneys, including Ned Pillersdorf, Trey Aldorf, and  “Wall Street Journal” journalist Damian Paletta.

Meanwhile, we can all ask whether the corrupt Judge Daugherty, whose alcoholism and arrest of his daughter set off the scheme in the first place was properly punished, when he ended up serving only a few months of a short (4 year) sentence.

The only one of the three (Dr. Atkins), characterized as a “whore doctor” during Congressional testimony, who refused to take a deal and went for a jury trial did worse than those who copped a plea. But did any of the three principals receive adequate punishment for such large-scale fraud?

To find out how they ended up, watch the four-part series premiering globally on May 6th with  sections entitled: “Mr. Social Security” (#1); “United We Stand; Divided We Fall” (#2); “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” (#3) and the finale, which will spell out the sad end of this story of greed, corruption, incompetence and stasis.

Stay Tuned Here for SXSW From March 11-20th!

Rosario Dawson in new series “DMZ” at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

I’m here at SXSW 2022 and preparing to travel down to the Convention Center on Thursday to collect my badge, get my Nikon tagged, and prove I’ve been vaccinated—3 times.

This is not my first rodeo, but it is one of the most screwed-up, pandemic or no pandemic, mostly because of my own computer  shortcomings.  My computer was hacked, which ended up costing me close to $200 to fix AND an important announcement regarding things in general got lost in my SPAM folder, I had surgery on 1/27 and missed some important deadlines because we were driving to get here. Probably just as well that I won’t be standing in as many lines for as long as usual, since I’m not yet 6 weeks post-surgery until tomorrow.

Also, one year ago in Austin we had the infamous freeze and had to melt down Frosty the Snowman in order to flush our toilets. (Yikes!) Remember that? We went without water for about 5 days, but did not lose our power–although our son and wife, 3.3 miles away, lost both for about a week. Ah, the golden memories.

Armie Hammer. at SXSW in 2018 (my photo at the Stateside Theater.)

I’m just so pleased that SXSW seems to be emerging from the pandemic stronger than ever because, as you may remember, they were one of the first Big Events to cancel that year and go all online, (whereas Mardi Gras just went ahead and exposed a bunch of party-goers in the Big Easy.) Not all of the celebrities of past years will be there this year, as evidenced by THAT guy!

I’m going to be taking in a lot of the films on my home television set, because, due to recent surgery and being on the road when the deadlines occurred, I seem to have missed the deadline for signing up for Red Carpet photo ops. I’m still invited to chat with the stars of a variety of new streaming shows one-on-one, including the new “DMZ” (a fictional new Civil War with Rosario Dawson and Benjamin Bratt, where Rosario is searching for her missing son).

Another big new sci-fi offering that Steven Spielberg has a hand in will be “Halo,” which is being touted and the entire working group behind Ben Stiller’s “Severance” (minus Stiller, himself, or Adam Scott) will be meeting with registered press who wish to ask questions about that intriguing series (I’ve seen 3 episodes, so far).

All together, there are 99 features, 76 World Premieres, 4 International Premieres, 4 North American premieres, 2 U.S. premieres, 13 Texas premieres and 111 short films.

I’m torn between attending the up-close-and-personal meeting with the stars of the new “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” since I remember the original with David Bowie, or participating in a Lizzo promotional event that sounds really fun. I almost certainly will be the oldest person at any of these get-togethers, and I will often opt for the really interesting documentary over the so-so feature. (How many reviewers have been at this non-stop since 1970?)

Pick up a copy of my book on 70s movies, “It Came from the 79s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now” on Amazon to celebrate SXSW and prove that I’ve been at this a looong time.

Who can choose between “Linoleum,” a Jim Gaffigan-starring light comedy (also sci-fi-ish) and Ethan Hawke’s examination of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward entitled “The Last Movie Stars?”

Stay tuned to this page as I share with you, my faithful readers, the upcoming SXSW offerings that I’ll be seeing from March 11 to March 20th.

“Station Eleven:” Futuristic Series Set in Chicago

We’re watching “Station Eleven,” a 10-part mini series that Patrick Somerville adapted for the screen. Somerville was the show runner (and writer) for “The Bridge,” (2013-2014) followed by two years on “The Leftovers” (2015-2017) and “Maniac” in 2018.

When I first obtained my condo in Chicago in 2003, I took an evening class in Writing the Novel at the University of Chicago. Patrick Somerville was the instructor. He was, at that time, a noted “metrosexual” serious fiction writer.

The class had been meeting for some time, so I had to have permission to join the already-assembled group. When I entered, I was asked to tell the group something about myself. The group was largely female and consisted of very highly-educated women— doctors and lawyers who, apparently, wanted to write a novel. (I had already written a novel at that time, “Out of Time,” so I had a bit of an idea what I was in for.)

Looking around at the assembled group, I decided to hit them with my best shot. I told them that I was “an active, voting member of the HWA,” which stands for the Horror Writers’ Association. I figured that would get their attention, although not necessarily in a good way. It was true at that time, although I have moved on to ITW (International Thriller Writers) since then.

Patrick Somerville was very interested in hearing about HWA.  I think that, even then, he was planning his escape to L.A. to write for Hollywood. He was never very chummy with me. He would hang out with the women who were always smoking and, sometimes, someone would bring a bottle of wine to class. I still remember there was a woman doctor in the class who was writing a novel set in a nudist colony in pre World War I. Odd. We would have to read parts of our writing to the class and there did not seem to be any “real” writers in the class—unless you count me, and I’ll leave that up to you. We read and discussed “The Plague” by Albert Camus and it was a totally worthless exercise in learning (or teaching) someone how to write a novel.

Now, Patrick Somerville is involved in a partnership with David Eisenberg called Tractor Beam productions for film and TV production.

Right now I’m watching actors act out a scene in a high rise that could well be the Hancock Building in Chicago. “We gotta make moves. Never, ever, ever can we fake moves.” Rapping. This sudden deterioration into rap music is but one of many signs that this series has jumped the shark for me. I think the vast array of writers responsible may be part of the issue, but the biggest crime is the jumping around in time that leaves you wondering if the dead character is supposed to be a “flashback” or “imaginary” (see the new “Dexter”) or what, exactly, is going on. (Where is Ridley Scott’s linear approach when you need him?)

It was going along swimmingly with this log line:“A post apocalyptic saga spanning multiple timelines, telling the stories of survivors of a devastating flu as they attempt to rebuild and reimagine the world anew, while holding onto the best of what’s been lost.”

Well, class, I think we can all relate to that theme, at this point, 3 years into Covid-19.

The early episodes of the series, sketching the arriving pandemic were good. “What would you have done, if you knew the flu was coming?” asks the small girl.  The character says he would have come home earlier and spent time with his mother, who died from the flu. “I would have made the choice I wanted to make—you know?”

The little girl who asked the question said she would have said good bye to Arthur Leander, (portrayed  by Gael Garcia Bernal, who appears in only 4 episodes) and notes, “I didn’t get to say good-bye to anyone.”

I had a passing ships-that-pass-in-the-night relationship with Gael Garcia Bernal, who showed up at the premiere of a film he had directed and starred in. I had never seen such a huge crowd for any celebrity in Chicago before or since! The largely Spanish-speaking audience packed the theater to the point that they were seated on the steps leading down to the stage. I finally got up and left so that the audience would have an extra “real” seat.

Himish Patel, who was so good in “Yesterday,” plays Jeevan Chaudry in “Station Eleven.” He and his brother Nabhaan Rizwan as Frank Chaudry, and a young woman (Mackenzie Davis as Kirsten Raymonde) and a small girl (Matilda Lawler as Young Kirsten) are fighting for the apartment in what may be the Hancock Building. The group was re-enacting a play written by Young Kirsten, before going out to see if there is anything left of Chicago. They are either going to starve to death in 90 days or freeze to death in what looks like a very cold Chicago winter.

I wonder if the Chicago location was chosen by Patrick Somerville because of his past association with the Windy City? I’m even more surprised to read in the credits that principal shooting was in New York City, but there definitely are some real Chicago exteriors, as well.

Like most of the things I’ve mentioned, there was a lot of jumping around in time, which made it very difficult to figure out what was going on. Still, the use of the Cubs stocking hat and the exterior Chicago locations is welcome to a Chicago quasi-native.

Frank has just been dispatched in the plot by an intruder. But young Kirsten is being told to go forth with Jeevan and that look like what is going to happen.  They are leaving the high rise for the first time in a long time.The music is ponderous and moody, but the exterior shots of Chicago, with “The Present” typed on the screen, are what remains in my mind. The female lead has apparently stayed behind (Kim Steele wrote this episode based, as all episodes are, on the book by Emily St. John Mandeville).

The biggest thing about the future after the Apocalypse is preserving respect for the Bard, apparently. Odd that Shakespeare is so cherished when it is possible to graduate from a Big Ten university these days with an English degree, but without having taken a single Shakespeare class, I’m told.

“I stood looking over the damage, trying to remember the sweetness of life on Earth, but I couldn’t remember.” (oft repeated in several episodes)

“We don’t even know if it’s like it was before.”

“There is no before. Or after. The past is safe; everything else changes.”

And from that post-Apocalyptic scene, the dead character Arthur Leander (as King Lear) enters the dressing room to be with Clark (David Wilmot). This makes it really difficult to know where we are in time, since Arthur has been dead.

“You say I only hear what I want to” by Alanis Morrissette is playing in the background. This is part of a traveling troupe of actors who keep culture alive by traveling the countryside performing Shakespeare (and other plays).

Sarah, as portrayed by a truly ravaged-looking Lori Petty, is a composer.

Elizabeth Colton, as portrayed by Caitlin Fitzgerald, is one of the better-known actresses in the series, as she played Libby Masters in “Masters of Sex” (2013-2016).

 

 

 

Katie Couric’s “Going There” Autobiography Entertains

 

Katie Couric autobiography.

I just finished reading Katie Couric’s autobiography, “Going There.”

I had read that she “burned a lot of bridges” but now, at 64, maybe that doesn’t matter to her.

The NBC “Today” show years with co-anchor Matt Lauer come off as her “best” times, and the move to CBS to become the first solo female anchor of an evening newscast seems to have been a mistake. She was not welcomed with open arms and the deal for her to do pieces on “Sixty Minutes” was especially problematic.  Oprah Winfrey came and went in a nano-second on “Sixty Minutes.” You can sort of figure out why when you hear about the lack of a warm, collegial feeling amongst the staff. A direct quote from Lesley Stahl to  the Hollywood Reporter is, “I just wanted to be a survivor.”

Couric’s stint as the global news anchor of Yahoo News sounds the least productive, among those jobs where she was employed by a large organization. When Yahoo hired Katie for a pretty penny, they fired the staff of veteran journalists around the country, of which I was one. We didn’t make a lot of money reporting on the news in our local areas, but many of the journalists nationwide, like me, were as well-qualified as Ms. Couric to report on our particular neck of the woods. Our money went to Katie, so we were all summarily fired, without even enough time to get our stories down from the Associated Content website. I must admit that this impacted my opinion of Katie Couric, at the time.

I’ve mellowed some since that abrupt uprooting, and it did lead to two books on the 2008 Obama campaign (“Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House”), which, otherwise, would have remained blog ramblings from the field that took place over 24 months of time. After I learned, unexpectedly and with no warning, that none of our writing would be preserved, I hired two teachers who were off for the summer and we split up the areas by topic.

Katie Couric’s current “job,” supported/organized by her second husband John Molner, is something known as Katie Couric Media. She admits, in the book’s closing chapter that, “It’s an adjustment when the white-hot spotlight moves on.” That seems to be true. She founded KCM in 2017, after a short-lived stint with Yahoo, usurping local reporters.

She also wrote this autobiography. Katie’s second husband, John Molner, told her, “If you’re not going to be honest, don’t write a book.”

That certainly seems like sound advice. Katie seems to have been honest even past the point of no return. She shares that she had breast reduction surgery, and she endured a colonoscopy on live TV, following the death of her husband Jay Monahan from colon cancer at the age of 43. She was certainly giving viewers an in-depth look into Katie Couric.

Katie is also very up front about her dating life before and after Jay. We learn how Larry King hit on her when she was an unknown. (He accepted her rejection of him in a gentlemanly fashion.) She talks about her cougar romance with a young swain, Brooks Perlin. One admirer who got away (and broke up with her) was Tom Werner, one-half of the powerhouse producing team Carsey-Werner, responsible for such hits as “The Cosby Show” and “Roseanne.” Werner comes off as a moneyed narcissist with all the sensitivity of Donald Trump.

Speaking of which DJT does make an appearance in the book, in ways both positive and negative. She is able to secure permission for filming in Central Park from Trump, but they have a falling out and he bad-mouths her to the press as a “third-rate journalist.” Even though she had attended the Donald’s marriage to Melania, when their paths cross in a restaurant, he pointedly ignores her.

She mentions an attempt to fix her up with Michael Jackson, an ill-fated attempt that goes nowhere. Her 50th birthday bash is described in some detail, as is the going away party when Katie leaves NBC. We should all be so lucky as to have Tony Bennett serenading us on our birthday(s).

The plot of Jennifer Anniston’s “The Morning Show” is pretty much limned in Katie’s many remarks about her on-air partnership with Matt Lauer. You definitely get the feeling that she liked the Matt she knew and—-just like Jennifer Anniston’s character on the television show—-she says she never saw the seamy side of Matt Lauer. After his fall from grace, sadly, they basically never speak again in any meaningful fashion.

The name-dropping of journalistic names is non-stop—Charlie Rose, Sarah Palin, Tom Brokaw, Bob Schieffer, Scott Pelley— but the down-to-earth tributes to her mom and dad and two sisters are just as omnipresent. We learn of her brave struggle alongside husband Jay Monahan, who died at only 43, leaving Couric as the single mother of two little girls. Later, as she explores her husband’s Southern roots and his love of Civil War re-enactments, Couric gets in a plug for racial equality as revealed by her now-grown daughters’ insights. (They are horrified by what their father’s obsession with the Old South represented.)

It’s a snapshot of the historic times that Couric covered as a reporter and, while her profile as a broadcaster doesn’t seem to be extending as far into the senior years with as much pizzazz as Barbara Walters’ career did, she still has had one hell of a ride.

Films of 2021

 

I’m still “on the trail” of the Best Movies of 2021, trying to catch up on any I might have missed at a variety of film festivals.

So far, my favorite films of the year that have Oscar potential include some that have done well at the box office (“No Time to Die”) and some that haven’t, so far. (“West Side Story” reboot).

I really liked “Nightmare Alley,” but audiences are not responding with ticket sales. I thought it was a beautifully done, interesting film, but could have been half an hour shorter—which has been my reaction to nearly every good film this year. See “Power of the Dog” with Benedict Cumberbatch, if you haven’t.

I enjoyed “Licorice Pizza” primarily for the introduction to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s young son, Cooper Hoffman, who portrayed the lead. I also laughed uproariously at Bradley Cooper’s turn portraying Jon Peters, the hairdresser who became a film producer as a result of his romance with Barbra Streisand. (And was the model for Warren Beatty’s character in “Shampoo”).

We watched “The Lost Daughter” (trailer, above) and, as usual, Olivia Colman turned in a fine tour de force performance. It was a film aimed more at mothers than fathers, exploring the remorse a career-driven mother experiences late in life, as she is thrust into a multi-generational group of vacationers in Greece? Italy? [I actually read that the lovely vacation spot was both Greece and Italy in a variety of reviews, but that is far from the most important thing about this film.] It is a character study that really addresses the way mothers who are torn between their love of their children and their desire to succeed professionally are, indeed, torn. It was actress Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut. Critics have been raving about her debut as a director. For me, I can’t remember a film that dove into the reality of mothering and treated it so realistically since Charlize Theron took a crack at it in “Tully,” (scripted by Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate Diablo Cody of “Juno” fame).

I’m eagerly awaiting “The Tender Bar,” which begins streaming on January 7th (Ben Affleck, George Clooney), and “Coda” is another I will be seeking in the days before Oscar nominations come out.

Meanwhile, I would recommend “Nightmare Alley,” “No Time to Die,” “West Side Story,” and “Last Night in Soho.” I also enjoyed “Cruella,” primarily for the costuming.

I did not like “The French Dispatch,” but I understand that the set pieces are Oscar-worthy in their intricate detail. For me, it was a total waste of time. I’m not a big Wes Anderson fan. I liked “Rushmore” and thought “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was mildly entertaining, but this one jumped the shark, for me.

I thought that “King Richard” was well-acted. However, I enjoyed the documentary about Arthur Ashe more than that tennis movie. Likewise, I appreciated the acting in “The Lost Daughter,” but Olivia Colman could read the phone book and make it compelling; here she got to really dig into the psyche of conflicted American working women who are torn between motherhood and career.

While I liked “Licorice Pizza,” I can understand those who felt it lacked much of a cohesive story, but the Bradley Cooper cameo was so hilarious that the people seated next to me got a bigger kick out of me laughing at it than they did from the actual film, itself.

More updates on this year’s best offerings as I “catch up”

“Broadcast Signal Intrusion” Is Noir Chicago at 57th Chicago International Film Festival

Harry Shum, Jr. who appeared in “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Glee,” appears as James in the 57th Chicago International Film Festival offering “Broadcast Signal Intrusion.” Billed as a blend of “Blow-Up” and 70s paranoid cinema, the film is directed by Jacob Gentry and the cinematography is expertly handled by Scott Thiele. The film premiered at SXSW 2021 and was released October 22nd.

In this film noir offering, James (Harry Shum, Jr.)  is a video archivist. He is also a grieving husband whose wife was either murdered or simply disappeared. James investigates the intrusion into broadcasts in Chicago that occurred, first, on November 22, 1987, with two later episodes where a broadcast to the general public was interrupted by a strange masked figure who appears to be roaring. The appearances of the masked figure are creepy, throwing this mystery into the horror category.

James, who works as a video archivist with analog films and cameras in a one-man shop, becomes obsessed with the episodes of video piracy. His relationship with his employer is strange. They never see each other face-to-face, but notes are left for James, the employee, concerning his duties. He is eventually fired by memo. Or, as he mutters upon reading the message, “Fired by a fucking haiku.”

James’ wife disappeared or died (not sure which). The date of her demise is tattooed on James’ wrist. For reasons that escape me, James comes to the conclusion that the various dates of the broadcast signal intrusions are related to the disappearance/death of his wife, and he sets out to see if his theory is correct. For roughly half the length of the one hour and forty-four minute film, James is assisted by Kelly Mack, who shows up in a bar and offers her assistance, but only after insisting that James down numerous drinks in exchange for information that she can provide relevant to his search.

The screenplay was written by Phil Drinkwater and Tim Goodall, but it’s not really the sketchy plot that deserves praise; it’s the moody setting of the entire film and the way the actors, including Shum, Mack, Michael B. Woods and Anthony E. Cabral pull off this Illinois project.

Using Chicago’s skyline and alleyways and moody, gloomy lighting, our inscrutable hero’s investigation takes him to a storage unit in Peoria, to the Tower Inn and Suites, to LaGrange, with shots of the city skyline and trains and references to a post office box in Joliet. This is definitely a slice of Chicago, Illinois movie.

The set decorating and noirish mood are Top-Notch. The sound is also good, including “Make the world go away” in one scene, and the cinematography and lighting are stellar.  But the plot, when it finally resolves in its entirety, is not up to the standard of all the excellent acting, moody vibe, and great cinematography that has gone before.

When the film finally reveals its denouement, as the script put it, “Some threads aren’t worth picking at.”

While James is investigating whatever connection there may have been between the 3 instances of broadcast signal intrusion and the disappearance of his wife, he is warned, “Never attribute conspiracy to what is more appropriately termed coincidence.” I’d add, never accept great moody lighting and sound and excellent acting as a satisfactory substitute for a coherent plot that hangs together when revealed.

It’s available on Prime Video.

“The Many Saints of Newark” Strolls Down “Sopranos” Memory Lane

“The Many Saints of Newark” is a prequel to the well-loved television series “The Sopranos.” We could justifiably expect to learn all about the early years that shaped young Anthony Soprano, played in his youth by Michael Gandolfini, the son of James Gandolfini. The elementary-school-aged Tony is played by William Ludwig, who is also good in the role.

The Big Come-on in this David Chase-directed drama is that the biological son of James Gandolfini—Michael Gandolfini—-a young actor with 10 professional credits who played Joey Dwyer on “The Deuce” in 2017—is going to provide the Gandolfini vibe, in the same way that Liza Minelli’s channeled her mother, Judy Garland.

There is a resemblance in Gandolfini’s eyes, although they are far from “dead ringers” for each other, as Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kaia Gerber is for her famous model Mom in the new “American Horror Story” series.

Writer/Director David Chase has commented on the Gandolfini eyes:  [on James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano] “His (Gandolfini’s) eyes are very expressive. There’s something about him that’s very caring, which you see in him no matter what he’s doing. There’s a sadness there. As cynical, bullying, vulgar and overbearing as he could be, there’s still a little boy in there. He did a lot of mean things, and he enjoyed vengeance, but he didn’t seem mean. Somewhere he believed that people are good. There were some roads he was not going to go down, because there was no coming back.”

So we were all drawn to this prequel to “The Sopranos” to see if the Gandolfini “eyes” have it. They do, but we don’t get to see as much of young Tony Soprano’s eyes as we do of the other stock characters that we remember from the television series. And some of them—since Silvio and Big Pussy and the boys are played by other actors here—are not that recognizable. Nancy Marchand, who played Livia Soprano, has now shuffled off to that theater in the sky and has been replaced here by Vera Farmiga, who does a great job as the reincarnation of David Chase’s real mother, Norma, whom he described as “abusive.”

Chase has been mining his family pain for years (he is now 76) and is described as so depressed when in college that he had panic attacks and slept 18 hours a day. I remember him onstage in Chicago shilling for the only film he has directed in the past decade since “The Sopranos,” “Not Fade Away” (which did fade away). He would have been voted the person you would least like to be trapped in an elevator with. He was withdrawn, taciturn and spoke very little. His nickname is  Cylinder Machine.

In 2012, David Chase (real surname DeCesare) directed a movie, “Not Fade Away,” set in the sixties about a young boy who wants to be in a successful rock band. This, too, is autobiographical from Chase’s youth in the sixties, when he really did want to play drums and bass in a rock band. His parents were not supportive of that career choice, nor of his desire to make movies.  His success came about writing for television for “The Rockford Files” in the early seventies. It was his real-life therapy that he wove into Tony Soprano’s story on “The Sopranos.” The huge success of the series surprised many people, including Chase.

Chase has a fairly low opinion of television and Hollywood, historically, seems to have had a fairly low opinion of him. As he has said, “I wrote many, many, many a script and they never got made. I could not get arrested, as they say. Nothing started to click movie-wise for me. All the scripts were either too dark or too this or that. Their appetite for me didn’t get whetted until The Sopranos (1999), and once they see you are someone who can make a billion dollars, they let you do anything. That’s all it comes down to.”

Since “The Sopranos” went off the air, Chase has made just one feature film (“Not Fade Away,” 2012) and created one additional television series (“Altindagli,”2013). Now he has returned to television with this star-studded vehicle, with voice-over by Michael Imperioli, who portrayed Christopher Moltisanti on “The Sopranos” series. (“Moltisanti” translates to “many saints” and explains the title of the film.)

This time out, Chase is the producer. The writer is Lawrence Konner, based on Chase’s “Sopranos” characters. The directing is by “Game of Thrones” alumnus Alan Taylor. I enjoyed the stroll down memory lane, although the disjointed plot with emphasis on everyone except Tony drove many of my friends into critical carping territory. It was a fairly entertaining, if non-linear, look into the past.

 

 

“Good Girls” Leaves the Air After 4 Years: What Happened to the Promised Season #5 ?

Christia Fredericks, Mae Whitman and Retta (l to r), (NBC Photo)

Weeks before the official cancellation of “Good Girls,” TV Line reported that “Good Girls” was being renewed for a season #5 that would wrap up the plot of the three female friends who had become suburban criminals.

The show involved, principally, Christina Hendricks, (who was also Executive Producer) as Beth Boland and her two female partners in crime. Hendricks, last of “Mad Men” as the buxom secretary Joan Holloway, played Beth Boland in all 50 episodes, ably supported by Retta as her Black best friend Ruby Hill and Mae Whitman as her divorced younger sister Annie Marks.

Annie is the mother of a young son, Ben (who started the series as a young girl named Sadie, just as the actor Isaiah Stannard began on the show as Sadie, but morphed into Ben).

I remember being confused on the show in its first season (2018). I asked my husband whether the character was male or female. I had heard the character being addressed as “Sadie,” so I was initially convinced of the truth of that name, but, as the series progressed, Sadie morphed into Ben. a budding lacrosse player with a ding-bat Mom who doesn’t know how to cook and acts impulsively.

Reno Wilson, who was Mike’s best friend and partner on “Mike & Molly,” plays Retta’s husband and they are coping with a daughter who has undergone a kidney transplant. Matthew Lillard played Dean Boland, Beth (Christina Hendrick’s) husband and depicts him as a bit of a lightweight. Dean doesn’t seem too bright, and he definitely is not very successful in his career as a salesman.

Beth and Rio on “Good Girls” (NBC Photo).

Annie is divorced, but strikes up a romance with a homeless man, Kevin, in the final episodes, while helping her sister, Beth, and Ruby (Retta) rob a grocery store. The three do this because each has a pressing need for money and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Over the course of the four seasons, this led to the trio printing counterfeit money for a sinister criminal overlord, Rio, portrayed by Manny Montana.

Experience Counts

Old-timers like Jessica Walters (2 episodes), who died on March 24, 2021, at age 80; Ione Skye (Donovan’s daughter, who starred in “Say Anything”); Andrew McCarthy (who, in addition to being part of the Brat Pack, directed several episodes); June Squibb, who was Oscar-nominated for her role opposite Bruce Dern in “Nebraska” and is 91; and Jonathan Silverman (“Weekend at Bernie’s) made appearances throughout the run of the show. McCarthy played a hitman who couldn’t deliver (in addition to his directorial duties).

What Made the Show “Work”?

Manny Montana as Rio in “Good Girls.” (NBC Photo)

But the real interest in the show came about because of the heat generated between Christina Hendricks’ character and Manny Montana’s character of Rio, the tattooed crime boss—this despite rumors that the two did not get along in real life. The scenes with these two were hot and rife with tension, but we wanted the story arc to take Beth through the paces and decide if she was going to stay with her boring doofus of a husband, Dean (Matthew Lillard) or potentially dump Dean for either Rio (Manny Montana) or his cousin Nick, portrayed by Ignacio Serraccio.

Supposedly, this was to have been settled in a final Season #5. Even though the female leads offered to take pay cuts to allow the story to wind down, it is said that Manny Montana did not follow suit. I would add, as others have, that his character could easily have been written out of the show, since his life of crime was bound to catch up with him sooner or later, and the writers would have had another season to finish the show properly. The ending tonight was disappointing. We did get to see Rio’s tattoo (no, it’s not real and only takes about 5 minutes to apply) one more time and there were questions aplenty about who went where and why.

Questions I have (SPOILER ALERT):

  • Beth gets shot while pulling a job in Arizona or wherever they all have relocated. Are we to assume she dies? She was also shot in her old home and then was just fine again, although the gun that was left with her prints on it supposedly had been used to “off” the young print-maker who helped them in earlier episodes. If she IS alive, why isn’t SHE heading to jail, as her sister seems to be by episode’s end?
  • Why did the young female print-maker have to be killed? Yes, it shows us that Rio means business, but couldn’t he have shot someone we hadn’t gotten to know? Maybe he could have shot Nick while tussling playfully in that “mano-a-mano” way they seemed born to.
  • Why are 2 men supposedly panting after Christina Hendricks’ character (Beth) when she has shown no indication that she intends to ever leave her husband Dean? Rio and Nick are both vying for her hand, it seems, when her hand seems pretty firmly tied up with her family and her suburban life.
  • Did the scene with Dean in their bedroom, with Beth packing his clothes, simply mean that he was reporting to prison for the crimes he has already been found guilty of (ankle monitor, etc.) or does that mean that Dean and Beth are through?
  • What is going to happen to Nick now that dirt on his illegal activities in his Grandmother’s name have surfaced?
  • Does Rio really “want” Beth, or does he simply want a little strange on the side?
  • Were Annie and Kevin a “thing” now? Are they really living in a mobile home somewhere in the Southwest for good? What happens to Ben if Annie’s in jail and if Christina is—?
  • What’s up with Ruby and her husband and her daughter? Is their marriage still intact? Is their daughter okay?
  • Did this Finale seem as though the writers were told to do the best they could in the time they had, so that’s why it didn’t “gel?” Because that is my current opinion. I’m still trying to figure out whether Ruby’s daughter is okay and what relevance the mean cosmetics maestro and his bitchy wife and child had to do with anything. I would have liked to have seen an entire season built around Rio and Beth and Nick and Dean and the final decision about Beth’s “life after Dean goes to prison.” (for the crimes she committed) and after she has had a taste of being the Boss Lady, which she obviously craved and misses.
  • Did Manny Montana get fired, and that’s why the series ended abruptly? (Because that is one rumor that is circulating.) I’m hoping he is cast in something gritty where he can play the hell out of it in this strong/silent man fashio. [But I’ve seen pictures of Manny with log hair and someone should tell him to forgetaboutit on the long locks.]

Beth and Rio in the finale on July 22nd.

Whether Manny Montana’s departure from the series caused its demise is true or not, this has to be considered a break-through role for him, much like the much-discussed character in “Bridgerton” (Simon Basset) who has set female hearts aflutter.

We can all use some Eastwood-like Strong and Silent in a male lead, since Clint just turned 90, so bring it on!

Experience Counts

Old-timers like Jessica Walters (2 episodes), who died on March 24, 2021, at age 80; Ione Skye (Donovan’s daughter, who starred in “Say Anything”); Andrew McCarthy (who, in addition to being part of the Brat Pack, directed several episodes); June Squibb, who was Oscar-nominated for her role opposite Bruce Dern in “Nebraska” and is 91; and Jonathan Silverman (“Weekend at Bernie’s) made appearances throughout the run of the show. McCarthy played a hitman who couldn’t deliver (in addition to his directorial duties).

What Made the Show “Work”?

But the real interest in the show came about because of the heat generated between Christina Hendricks’ character and Manny Montana’s character of Rio, the tattooed crime boss—this despite rumors that the two did not get along in real life. The scenes with these two were hot and rife with tension, but we wanted the story arc to take Beth through the paces and decide if she was going to stay with her boring doofus of a husband, Dean (Matthew Lillard) or potentially dump Dean for either Rio (Manny Montana) or his cousin Nick, portrayed by Ignacio Serraccio.

Supposedly, this was to have been settled in a final Season #5. Even though the female leads offered to take pay cuts to allow the story to wind down, it is said that Manny Montana did not follow suit. I would add, as others have, that his character could easily have been written out of the show, since his life of crime was bound to catch up with him sooner or later, and the writers would have had another season to finish the show properly. The ending tonight was disappointing. We did get to see Rio’s tattoo (no, it’s not real and only takes about 5

Whether Manny Montana’s departure from the series caused its demise is true or not, this has to be considered a break-through role for him, much like the much-discussed character in “Bridgerton” (Simon Basset) who has set female hearts aflutter.

We can all use some Eastwood-like Strong and Silent in a male lead, since Clint just turned 90, so bring it on!

James Corden, on January 19th, Salutes the Inauguration with “One More Day” from Les Mis

Some Humor for these Troubled Times

And now, for some much-needed humor….

“Looks like someone started listening to the reasonable voices in her head,” Trevor Noah said after Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene said she regretted endorsing QAnon conspiracy theories.Credit…Comedy Central

From Trish Bendix

Greene House Effect

House Democrats voted on Thursday to strip Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments, while House Republicans chose to stick by her after she expressed remorse for past comments about 9/11 and school shootings. She blamed her past support for QAnon on misinformation that she found on the internet.

“Wow, I’ve never seen someone try to delete their browser history in real life,” Trevor Noah remarked.

“Yes, people: Marjorie Taylor Greene has been kicked off her committees. But if you think about it, this is a pretty sweet deal for Greene. Basically, her punishment for acting insane was to do less work for the same amount of money.” — TREVOR NOAH

“But if she’s not in charge of education, who’s going to tell all those students that there never really was a shooting?” — STEPHEN COLBERT

“And, honestly, I think kicking her off these committees could actually backfire. The last thing you want to do with a crazy person is give them time to be crazy. That’s why they should put her on all the committees — then you’ll never hear from her again.” — TREVOR NOAH

“Online, Greene also has endorsed the idea of executing Democratic leaders. Kind of a bad look when you’re OK with your new co-workers getting murdered: ‘Hey guys, I cannot wait to join the team. Tell you what, I’m going to cut your hamstring and give you a 30-minute head start before I hunt you with a crossbow.’” — STEPHEN COLBERT

The worst part of this, she has still not been reprimanded in any official way by fellow Republicans in the House. In fact, they gave her a standing ovation yesterday. Some of them, not all of them. Some of them didn’t want to stand up for fear they could be targeted by Jewish space lasers.” — JIMMY KIMMEL

“Now, look, man, Marjorie Taylor Greene isn’t the first person to believe things that she read on the internet. But her defense isn’t really reassuring because, basically, what she’s saying is, ‘Yes, up until now, I believed that school shootings were fake, 9/11 didn’t happen and that Jewish space lasers blew up California. But that’s only because I am incapable of separating fantasy from reality. So let’s do the right thing and let me go back to making laws.” — TREVOR NOAH

“That’s right, the woman who started impeachment proceedings against Joe Biden the day he took office is calling for unity now. The congresswoman who wants to execute Nancy Pelosi is right. We need to come together, and the media is just as guilty as QAnon! That’s like saying Jell-O is just as guilty as Bill Cosby.” — JIMMY KIMMEL

“Looks like someone started listening to the reasonable voices in her head. Although, this woman is so crazy that her saying that 9/11 happened makes me go, ‘Wait, did it?’” — TREVOR NOAH

“You know what? This may come as a surprise to you, but those of us who watched those buildings burn with our bare eyes here in the New York City area are not that impressed with your willingness to admit that it happened. I believe we as a nation promised to ‘always remember’ it happened. What’s her bumper sticker say, ‘9/11 — oops, I forgot’”?— STEPHEN COLBERT

“All right, well, at least now we know 9/11 happened. Can you imagine having to go in front of the House of Representatives to say 9/11 happened? Yeah, we know. We know it happened. You’re the crazy one, not us.” — JIMMY KIMMEL

“Oh, my God, thank you, it is so big of you to admit that. What else would you like to clarify? ‘[Imitating Greene] I would also like to make clear that “Inception” is just a movie, “RoboCop” is not real, and the giant glowing orb in the sky is, in fact, the moon and not a secret sky bank where Bill Gates keeps all his gold bars.’” — SETH MEYERS

“But, hey, I’m glad that she’s come around to the standard Republican belief that school shootings are real and that nothing should be done to stop them.” — TREVOR NOAH

“But, yes, you see, it’s all Facebook’s fault for ‘allowing’ her to believe in those things. So don’t blame her — blame Mark Zuckerberg, with his social media lies and his space lasers.” — TREVOR NOAH

“That’s right, the woman who started impeachment proceedings against Joe Biden the day he took office is calling for unity now. The congresswoman who wants to execute Nancy Pelosi is right. We need to come together, and the media is just as guilty as QAnon! That’s like saying Jell-O is just as guilty as Bill Cosby.” — JIMMY KIMMEL

“The worst part of this, she has still not been reprimanded in any official way by fellow Republicans in the House. In fact, they gave her a standing ovation yesterday. Some of them, not all of them. Some of them didn’t want to stand up for fear they could be targeted by Jewish space lasers.” — JIMMY KIMMEL

“Now, look, man, Marjorie Taylor Greene isn’t the first person to believe things that she read on the internet. But her defense isn’t really reassuring because, basically, what she’s saying is, ‘Yes, up until now, I believed that school shootings were fake, 9/11 didn’t happen and that Jewish space lasers blew up California. But that’s only because I am incapable of separating fantasy from reality. So let’s do the right thing and let me go back to making laws.” — TREVOR NOAH

The Punchiest Punchlines (You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit Edition)

“After the Screen Actors Guild criticized Trump last month, today he sent a letter saying that he’s quitting the union. Trump’s out of work and just quit his union — even worse, now if he wants medical coverage, he’s got to sign up for Obamacare.” — JIMMY FALLON

“He sent them a scathingly stupid letter that begins, ‘I write to you regarding the so-called disciplinary committee hearing aimed at revoking my union membership. Who cares?’ Oh, I know! The guy who took the time to write a letter, who also has skin so thin it makes phyllo dough like Kevlar?” — STEPHEN COLBERT

“So he’s now out of the actors’ union. That’s too bad — I was positive he was going to be the next James Bond.” — JIMMY KIMMEL

“Meanwhile, Melania heard and was like, ‘Um, Donald, while we’re on the subject of leaving unions.’” — JIMMY FALLON

“One day you’re the most powerful man on earth, the next you’re bragging about your one line in ‘Home Alone 2.’” — JIMMY FALLON

 

Page 2 of 15

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén