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The Sopranos: The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti (Review)

The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti begins with a dream sequence. We’re not yet at the point where The Sopranos would spend an entire episode inside the head of one of its characters (okay, not literally, at any rate), but it sets a tone for the rest of the episode. The Sopranos attracts attention as an exploration of the American Dream, a look at what life is like in the shadow of all those expectations and aspirations, but it also feels like a black absurdist comedy.

The Sopranos could be one of the funniest shows on the air, and that grim sense of humour is pushed to the fore with The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti, where the unfunniest thing in the episode is the stand-up comedian working an ageing crowd.

It's a laugh...

It’s a laugh…

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Non-Review Review: The Red Riding Trilogy

The Red Riding trilogy is a triumph of British television drama, and proof that the British channels are capable of producing home-grown drama that is of the highest possible quality. Demonstrating that HBO doesn’t hold complete dominion over quality drama, the Red Riding films were of enough quality to earn a limited theatrical release in the United States. I know that a high profile and commercial success isn’t a universal guarantee of quality, but it is certainly worth noting when discussing these three films exploring crime and corruption in the three “Riding” administrative zones. (For the record, the three zones are “North”, “East” and “West.” There is no “South”, which feels appropriate given the themes of the trilogy.)

Mingling fact and fiction into a head noir-ish cocktail, Red Riding is highly recommended for those who like bleak and sophisticated drama.

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Tomb of Dracula Omnibus, Vol. III (Review/Retrospective)

Darkness spreads across the land like a bone-chilling evening mist. It swirls, boils and froths.

Then, at the moment when midnight madness is at its greatest, the darkness takes form and substance and becomes a thing of hell-born horror.

This is… THE TOMB OF DRACULA.

Pray you can avoid its deadly embrace…

Sometimes classic movie monsters just look better in black and white, eh? Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan told pretty much a complete Tomb of Dracula epic in the seventy issues of the main title produced in the previous two omnibus collections. This third gigantic tome collects a lot of what might be considered “a Tomb of Dracula miscellany”, collecting various odds and ends from Marvel’s Draculacomics during the seventies to sort of expand and enhance the story told in the main title. It isn’t as consistent as that seventy-issue run, with a variety of weaving story threads, one-shots, text stories and a variety of artistic and authorial talent, but it’s still an interesting look at Marvel’s horror comics during the seventies.

Feed your Dracula addiction!

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The Death of the Author: The Impact of Off-Screen Behaviour on On-Screen Antics…

The rather convolutedly-titled Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho will be arriving soon, the director’s Vertigo was recently named by Sight & Sound as the best film of all time and the British Film Institute is running a season of the director’s films. (There’s even a nice blu ray box set being released in October.) However, this focus on Alfred Hitchcock has, naturally, brought some focus on to the less pleasant aspects of his character. October, for example, will also see HBO airing The Girl, a documentary exploring his relationship with Tippi Hedren. She has some choice words on his character.

“I think he was an extremely sad character,” she said during a panel discussion of HBO’s upcoming The Girl, which recounts her troubled relationship with the director. “We are dealing with a brain here that was an unusual genius, and evil, and deviant, almost to the point of dangerous, because of the effect that he could have on people that were totally unsuspecting.”

Of course, such accusations and allegations are by no means new, but it does raise an interesting question about those masters of cinema. Even for those of us who resist the supermarket tabloid gossip about engagements and break-ups and cute-sounding-couple-nicknames, is it ever possible to divorce filmmaking from the person either in front or behind the camera?

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Non-Review Review: Broadcast News

Broadcast News feels like it has lost a bit of its bite as the years went on. Originally released fifteen years ago, it undoubtedly seemed like a prophetic commentary on trends in news media, voicing an understandable unease at the line blurring between merely reporting the news and “selling” it to an eager and unquestioning population. Back then, these trends were undeniably present and one could sense a none-too-subtle shift in the approach to news. Unfortunately, it looks like those trends are to stay, and I think that has aged Broadcast News considerably. It doesn’t feel like James L. Brooks’ telling media satire is attacking a coming change so much as it is making one last stand against it. It’s still a very clever, very powerful and very well put together piece of film, but it sadly feels like it’s fighting a battle lost long ago.

That, perhaps, makes Broadcast News the most depressing comedy I’ve seen in quite some time.

They let an Tom, Dick or Harry host the news…

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The Sopranos: Pax Soprana (Review)

I think it’s possible to make the argument that The Sopranos can be read as that illusive “great American novel”, just handily divided into eighty-six chapters and televised as opposed to written. Sure, it’s a show about the mob, but it’s also a compelling examination of the disillusionment festering at the heart of the American psyche. Tony might be a New Jersey mob boss, but most of his problems aren’t too far disconnected from those eating away at the American middle class. (Hell, I’d argue that it speaks volumes to the Irish psyche and probably many other nationalities as well.) As such, across the crucial first season, Chase and his team of writers seem to lay down and establish the core themes, allowing Tony to confront and explore just one of the many gnawing insecurities eating away at any middle-class father. In College, Tony wrestled with the idea that his daughter might discover who he truly is, while Pax Soprana explores the notion of impotence and insecurity – some times literally.

Psyche!

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The Sopranos: College (Review)

College is interesting because it perfectly captures a lot of the themes at the heart of The Sopranos, effortlessly blending Tony’s upper-middle-class concerns with his familial obligations (both to his nuclear family and to the mob). At the same time, it explores many of the inherently contradictory aspects of modern living, including the implied acquiesce to a culture of greed and corruption. College is the first time that we really see Tony get his own hands dirty, and it’s the point at which we explore how complicit Carmela is in his shady dealings and illegal activities. I think it’s a show that really pins down what the show is going to be – and it’s no surprise that the episode won Chase his first writing Emmy for the show, and is reportedly his favourite episode of the series.

Driving the conversation...

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Game of Thrones: Season 1 (Review)

In many ways, Game of Thrones feels like a fitting successor to Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Undoubtedly fans of either work are getting a bit tired of the comparisons, understandably feeling that such a point of reference is a crutch for writers or reviews with little knowledge of the fantasy genre outside those tent poles. Still, it has been a while since an adaptation of such a well-received literary work has managed to make such an impact on popular culture. A decade after the release of the first film in Jackson’s trilogy, I think that G.R.R. Martin’s work builds upon the conventions Jackson taught us to embrace so easily. In fact, the celebrated HBO series works so very well because it so radically and gleefully subverts the audience expectations that were so firmly entrenched by Peter Jackson’s fantasy landmarks.

It’s really Throne me…

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Trailer for Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom…

This has been doing the rounds for a few days, but I’m still quite excited for Aaron Sorkin’s upcoming HBO drama, The Newsroom. While I’m not quite as fond of The West Wing as most are, I’ll concede that the dialogue and characterisation of the first four seasons were almost flawless, and I’m a huge fan of Sorkin’s work on both The Social Network and Moneyball. Taking place inside a network news show, The Newsroom should allow Sorkin to explore the culture of news broadcasting, and should provide ample fodder for his superb cast. Seriously, look at it – you’ve got Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Alison Pill and Dev Patel. It’s starting on HBO in June, and I can only hope it’ll be coming to Sky Atlantic shortly thereafter for us Irish and UK television junkies.

This is getting added to the planner, even though I’m already well behind on the other shows I’m following (and trying to catch up on retroactively). Check out the trailer below.

The Thick of It – Series III (Review)

The wonderful folks at the BBC have given me access to their BBC Global iPlayer for a month to give the service a go and trawl through the archives. I’ll have some thoughts on the service at the end of the month, but I thought I’d also take the opportunity to enjoy some of the fantastic content.

No one forgot their first carpeting from Tucker – it was like a red hot poker.

– the BBC’s career retrospective on Malcolm Tucker

The first two seasons of The Thick of It proved to be quite the success for BBC4. Critics were raving about, the politicians it sought to ridicule were loving it. Creator Armando Iannucci even got to produce a movie with HBO using characters from the series (In The Loop) and plans were underway for a US adaptation. (In fairness, the adaptation was killed very quickly, which might be for the best given Iannucci’s opinion of it, but he’s currently working on Veep for HBO with Julie Louis Dreyfus.) So it seems fitting that the series came back to television in a big way. Fresh off two specials, with a new minister and a new slot on BBC2, the show was commissioned for eight glorious episodes. And it was great. The decision to re-focus the series on Malcolm Tucker, the Prime Minister’s advisor who thinks of himself”as a thin, white Mugabe.”

It's Party (Conference) time...

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