Archives for June 2013

Tony Soprano Is Definitely Dead

With the very sad, untimely death of James Gandolfini last week, Tony Soprano is definitely, for sure, no fooling, unambiguously dead. 

The actor’s passing has kicked off a great many well-deserved tributes to his work, on The Sopranos in particular, which in turn has renewed the debate on that series’ controversial cut-to-black ending — specifically, whether Tony was killed in the final scene.

The people who feel that Tony died — specifically, that he was shot in the head by the guy in the Members Only jacket coming out of the bathroom — have a pretty strong case, best summed up by the “Master Of Sopranos” essay that picks it apart shot by shot. Cliff Notes version: it’s clearly set up that the scene is alternating between closeups of Tony and Tony’s point of view, so when he looks up and the scene then cuts to black, it’s cutting to his point of view, which, in death, is nothing.

There is another, less vocal camp that feels that the ending is meant to show that after everything, Tony’s punishment is to live life with one eye forever on the door, waiting for the murder that he knows will someday come, and yet, as Steve Perry would have it, “paying anything to roll the dice just one more time.” As the song also says, “The movie never ends, it goes on and on and on,” but as that was not the language in David Chase’s contract, he had to end somewhere so he picked an arbitrary spot and ended it.

Those are both very interesting arguments and I don’t particularly disagree with either of them, but my reading of that ending was a little different.

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Mad Men Was Breaking Bad First

Master of the universe in season 1

Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, heading into its final stretch of episodes later this summer (52 days from now, but who’s counting?), is an amazing show, arguably the very best on television, largely because of its groundbreaking organizing principle: in numerous interviews, Gilligan has stated that his idea for the series was to turn his main character from a hero into a villain, or as he put it, “turn Mr. Chips into Scarface.” Television, he’s explained (and I’m paraphrasing), is geared toward stasis, keeping its characters and relationships and situations the same so that, assuming a show is a ratings hit, it can go on forever.

So by taking an ineffectual, milquetoast science teacher and gradually turning him into a lying, murdering drug kingpin, Gilligan is upending the traditional model for a TV series, and it has been fascinating to watch and highly deserving of the many awards it’s won. But it’s not the first show to do what it’s doing.

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3/4 Excited For Half The Replacements

My first reaction was unambiguous: Yes! Finally! Only three dates? Denver, Chicago, and Toronto? That’s only 1,500 to 2,200 miles away, maybe I can make it!

Yes, the Replacements, my favorite band ever, are reuniting to headline three dates of the traveling RIOT Festival, 22 years after their last show.

Now look, my favorite band ever is always subject to change depending on the weather and what I had for breakfast. But the Replacements are definitely the most important. They were funny and silly and deeply touching all at the same time, and got to the 15-year old me like no other band has before or since. They showed me that I didn’t have to be able to sing like Robert Plant or play like Jimi Hendrix to make music, which inspired and emboldened me to write songs of my own and play them out. To this day, fronting my 9-piece funk band, I still catch myself sounding more like Paul Westerberg than James Brown.

And oh my god, those lyrics:

“Income tax deduction, one hell of a function, it beats picking cotton and waiting to be forgotten”

“The ones who love us best are the ones we’ll lay to rest, we visit their graves on holidays at best… The ones who love us least are the ones we’ll die to please”

“A person can work up a mean, mean thirst after a hard day of nothing much at all”

“Pretty girls keep growing up playing makeup and wearing guitar, growing old in a bar…”

“I can live without your touch, I’ll die within your reach”

“A dream too tired to come true left the rebel without a clue, now I’m searching for something to do”

“All you ever wanted was someone to take care of ya, all you’re losing is a little mascara.”

“If it’s a temporary lull, why’m I bored right out of my skull, dressing sharp and feeling dull?”

I did not look any of those up. They are burned into my brain like a cattle brand.

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Kanye West Is Even Worse Than I Thought

Remember those Magic Eye posters that were all the rage in the ’90s? They looked like an especially busy wallpaper pattern but when you unfocused your eyes, a picture of a spaceship or a puppy or whatever would supposedly emerge. I say supposedly because I was never able to make those images work for me — while everybody else was oohing and aahing about how cool they were, all I ever got out of them was the wallpaper pattern and a headache.

I have felt much the same way the last several years as everyone has spoken in increasingly reverent tones of the musical genius of Kanye West. <

Admittedly, I am a little underinformed. I never sat down and listened to any of his albums. I think the first time I ever heard of him was when he said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” a sentiment I found little fault with. After that I think the next I heard of him was when he stole Taylor Swift’s MTV award.

As for his music, I am familiar with the big club hits, because I work in a bar that plays club hits: “Flashing Lights,” “Stronger,” “Gold Digger,” and “All Of the Lights.” Long before I knew who its author was, I found “Flashing Lights” totally annoying, because of the lazy, singsongy delivery of the verses. I also didn’t know who recorded “Stronger” but I knew it was basically someone else’s song (who I have since learned to be Daft Punk) with more stupid, lazily delivered verses grafted onto it; “Gold Digger” made me hate both “Gold Digger” and Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman,” which I had liked enough to make my ringtone for when my wife called; and while I can admit that “All Of The Lights” has some redeeming qualities as an effective club tune, at least until the voice comes in to crap rap all over it.

Eventually I figured out all these tunes were by Kanye West, and that’s when I started scratching my head. This is the guy everyone’s calling a genius? This is the guy who’s revolutionizing rap music? This is the best producer in the game?

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Mad Men, Sharon Tate, and Game of Thrones

We don’t just watch great TV shows anymore: we also read about them. The online TV recapping community, a tail that is increasingly wagging the dog at entertainment sites like The A.V. Club, Grantland, HitFix, Vulture, and even higher-brow publications like The New Yorker and Slate and Salon, dedicates itself to writing English major-style close readings of each episode of the growing ranks of “quality” shows, including (but not remotely limited to) Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Breaking Bad. (Comedies and reality shows also get the overnight recap treatment, but those pieces are recaps in the more literal “Chris Farley Show” sense.)

Mad Men has always particularly lent itself to this kind of scrutiny, layered as it is with subtext and literary themes and parallels, and this season has been no exception. The pieces that perceptive TV critics like Matt Zoller Seitz and Heather Havrilesky and Alan Sepinwall post on Mad Men have taught me how to appreciate the show the same way I appreciated The Great Gatsby (not the movie) in college, and have become the way I wind down after each episode: I collect my thoughts on what I just saw, and then read these pieces (and, as importantly, their insanely lively comments sections) to compare with and expand on them.

Two Sundays ago, Don Draper shared a scene with his second wife, comely Canadian soap actress Megan, on his Upper East Side balcony, in which they each admitted that their marriage was in trouble and they each recommitted to try and make it work. The unsubtle device of having Megan’s half of the dialogue — and only Megan’s half — drowned out by police sirens, indicating that Don can’t even hear her anymore, went totally unremarked upon in the Mad Men Analytical Community. I found this a little disappointing, because it was one of the few times I’ve felt I was smelling exactly what show creator Matt Weiner was cooking without having it explained to me. It’s certainly possible that either a) my interpretation of the scene is totally wrong, or b) my interpretation of the scene is so obvious as to be unremarkable. In any case, once some 60’s fashion scholar piped up in a comments section somewhere to point out that Megan wore a t-shirt in the scene with a red star on it identical to one that actress Sharon Tate, infamously murdered by the Manson Family in 1969, had been photographed in, virtually all Mad Men-related discussion pivoted to the idea that “Megan Is Sharon Tate” — that Megan is secretly pregnant and about to be murdered. (Tate was 8 ½ months pregnant at the time of her death.)
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Justin Bieber Finally Made Me Hate Him

There I was last night, watching Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, rooting for drama, when the camera began its traditional inventory of famous faces in the audience. Oh look! It’s David Beckham! So handsome, so dreamy!

(SFX: needle dragging across record like in every movie trailer made since 1997)

Oh my god this f’ing guy. It’s bad enough that he’s running around with a monkey and showing up way late for shows and getting all petulant when he gets booed at awards shows and trying to make the Anne Frank House all about him and scaring the shit out of his neighborhood with his Ferrari, but this outfit is beyond the pale.

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