The Young Pope – New HBO Limited Series

HBO rolled out its new limited series The Young Pope on Sunday night (January 15th). Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, the series opening episode is nothing if not shocking.

Sorrentino, as we saw in both The Great Beauty (2013) and Youth (2015), is a master of both the beautiful as well as the grotesque. His compositional skills have produced some of the most visually arresting and stunning scenes in both of the above named films. Be sure and confident that this will continue in this limited TV series.

To simplify the story we have Lenny Belardo (played by Jude Law) as the just elected new Pope, and the first ever American Pope and is about to be introduced to the world. Or as the Italian press and media must have gushed out again and again – Habemus Papam – which is Latin for We Have a Pope. This is usually uttered by the Cardinal Protodeacon, who is the most senior of the Cardinal Deacons. This is announced from the Central Balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, and what follows is the new Pope gives his Urbi et Orbi – To the City [of Rome] and to the World address.

While that may be how a new Pope is introduced to the world, along with the white smoke. it is not how the series begins. Rather we see Judy Law emerging from under a huge pile of sleeping babies. But it is only a dream.

Law, as Pius XIII, then proceeds to shower and dress (yes, there’s a back view quick shot of a nude Pope about to enter his shower). What follows is a long sequence of the Pope heading to the Central Balcony. Think of Scorsese’s classic Goodfellas scene when Henry Hill and his date make their way through the underbelly of New York’s Copacabana Club. Only this time it is not a continuous or single tracking take. We have a number of cuts to the reactions of the Cardinals, and Monsignors, and other Vatican staff, as well as the faces of many in the huge throng below in St. Peter’s Square who blissfully await their first view of the new Pope.

To be certain as well as specific,  it was splendidly shot and edited.

Sorrentino still has more than a few cards left to play. The day of the new Pope’s introduction is  in the midst of a rain shower. We see literally thousands of umbrellas in the huge crowd. Before saying even a single word, Lenny opens his arms wide and leans back gazing to the heavens – and, as if on cue, the rains stop.

He then launches his Urbi et Orbi speech, and for a while it sounds like the standard Pope speak (aside from the English). But then midway, Sorrentino turns the speech inside out, and instead of papal good wishes and niceties, we get the complete opposite.

This Pope is winging it, and making it up as he goes. He has no intention of following the rules or traditions. He’s like no other Pope of all that came before him.

He’s a conservative and he is going to bring the Church into line with what he wants rather than the way it has always been. He will later say, And this is only the beginning.

He has a one on one conference with Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando above) who is in charge of Finances, Politics, and almost everything that isn’t theological. When he tells the new Pope that he is basically going to run the business and political side of the Church, the new Pope demurs and announces that his Senior Advisor will be Sister Mary, who rescued the young Lenny from an orphanage in California when he was just a boy. Diane Keaton has the role.

Humbled and despondent, Cardinal Voiello has been placed in a position of having to slink away. Lenny has already pressed the secret and silent buzzer beneath the desk that will summon a nun who will spin a lie (example – your 2:30 appointment is waiting in the anteroom).  How obliterating for this Cardinal to be dismissed so easily, and this is only their first meeting.

This new Pope is going shake things up, change the rules as he sees fit, and he could not care less about traditions of being nice to the staff. There was a terrific scene when Cardinal Voiello attempts to challenge the new Pope.

Voiello: Pardon me Holy Father, but you may not smoke in this room.

Belardo: Who made that rule?

Voielle: Your predecessor…

Belardo: Well, there’s a new Pope in town.

That’s our boy Lenny Belardo. He’s not concerned about being nice to anyone for any reason. He doesn’t tweet – he says it right to someone’s face. He doesn’t say it, but you can see the similarities between this Pope and the new President Elect.

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Taboo – New Series on FX Begins January 10th

While Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and the brand new TV Series on cable channel FX called Taboo are both set in 19th Century London, they are in different time frames. But they do share a similar foundation.

In Sweeney Todd, a judge sentences a man, who is innocent of a crime to a penal colony in Australia in the mid 1840’s. 15 years later the man returns and he is revenge-minded.

Taboo begins with a man, long thought to have perished in the sinking of a slave ship off the coast of Africa years ago, now returns to London after apparently 10 years. He is James Keziah Delaney. He is played by Tom Hardy, and the series is set in the era of Regency London of 1814.

The entire story of Taboo has already been hinted at strongly in the first hour. But I’ll label the four numbered paragraphs below with the term MILD SPOILERS.

1) James Keziah Delaney (Hardy) likely had sex with his half-sister who is married and known as Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin) – which may be why he was forced to ship off to Africa years back. We see no flash backs (at least not in Episode One) to make it a certainty, so I am going off the title of the series plus the contents of a letter she penned to Hardy’s Delaney in which she asks that the past remain the past.

2) The East India Company headed by Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) and his partners want that parcel of land (a part of Vancouver Island) bequeathed to Delaney by his recently departed Dad. They obviously know prime real estate when they see it. They even call it the gateway to China.

3) Delaney will seek revenge (against some one as yet still undisclosed) as he’s learned (after arranging an illegal post-burial autopsy) that his Dad was poisoned.

4) The first guy to die could be the half sister’s husband. His name is Thorne Geary – a vile name if there ever was one. He is played by Jefferson Hall.  He’s already displayed a strong temper, he’s maltreated his wife (I again am assuming) and he ‘s already threatened to kill Delaney. Again for reasons not made clear.

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Yes this is London circa 1814. Dark and gloomy all over town. The rich had many more candles than did the poor, who mostly are dirty with rotted teeth, and are candle poor. Hardy’s Delaney strides about in a top hat and black long coat.

Delaney arrives at Dad's Funeral

Delaney arrives at Dad’s Funeral

He’s more than a bit shadowy and things that go on a round him are often strange and inexplicable. For example, somehow, there an elegant white horse waiting for him (maybe a rental) when he makes land from the ship that came in from Africa. He buries something or is he digging something up – it is hard to tell.

He’s a man of mystery, who is more than intriguing, and you can tell that he’s got stuff swirling around within him, that will make the entire East India Company Board of Directors wish they hadn’t antagonized him. Delaney never even opened the envelope that contained what the EIC considered a fair price for the pile of rocks – that parcel of land off Nootka Channel now owned by Delaney.

I don’t think I am wrong to expect that what we will see in the upcoming episode will be more violent and bloody. After all the show is rated as MA (Mature), L (Language) and V (Violent).

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Emerald City – The New NBC Series

First takeaways from the brand new NBC Series called Emerald City.

Yes, it is a re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz, the beloved 1939 version of the Frank L. Baum story that starred Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, and Margaret Hamilton.

The story starts up so quickly with Dorothy, as a nurse working in a hospital in Lucas, Kansas. It is the present day. First she steals some medication, (for someone else – Dorothy is no druggie). Then she turns down an offer a dinner with a doctor and rushes home.

Or it may have happened in the reverse order.  By the time she gets home. the dark skies have become quite threatening.

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As the tornado touches down, Dorothy takes shelter in a parked police cruiser, not realizing that there is a German Shepherd K-9 police dog in the back seat. Of course this car is swept up into the vortex of the tornado. There are no knitting grannies or cows sailing by in this tornado to be seen.

As expected the police cruiser crashes down and kills a witch. No, this is not Munchkinland. And there are no Ruby slippers – instead there are a pair of ruby gloves. Rather we’ve arrived in the territories of the Tribal Freelanders, likely a nomadic tribe living off the land.

Dorothy is led by a pack of scruffy children (a mild reference to the 1939 Munchkins) to an encampment.

There she’s given her marching orders. Rather than being killed by these warlike people, she will be walked to the border of the Tribal Free Lands by a guy. Then she will cross the border and proceed on her own, with the new Toto – the K9 police dog, to Emerald City. She’s told that the Wizard there might be able to get her home.

The yellow brick road is still there but only now it appears as an unpaved roadway, or a plain dirt and dusty road if you like.. Of course the first person she meets is the new Scarecrow. He’s not just hung up on a pole, with the crows totally indifferent to him. No, this time, he been strapped down and barbed-wired onto a cross. And the crows are still totally indifferent towards him.

Dorothy gets him down off the cross and though he’s in bad shape physically and mentally, she gets him up and on his feet. He can’t remember his name, so Dorothy calls him Lucas.

And off they go.

At this point I should tell you that (at least in the first two episodes) there’s less of the Baum tale of Dorothy’s Odyssey to Oz than you might have expected or hoped for. Things seem to go off on different  directions and tangents, and many of those story threads that we see are either unexplained or lack coherence with what we’ve seen so far.

First let’s talk about the titular Wizard of Oz. Here the wizard is played by Vincent D’Onofrio. But to issue fair warning – when we first see him, he looks more like Robbie Coltrane‘s Hagrid from the Harry Potter films.

The Wiz has his hands up and Hagrid has his hands down

The Wiz has his hands up and Hagrid has his hands down

However before the first episode is over, we see the Wizard, when he’s back in his private chambers, he will remove his wig (the one atop his head). At first sight of him, I thought that he was wearing a wig as a character contrivance. Which is indeed the case. And I will also cast my ballot toward the beard being a fake as well.

Glinda the ‘Good Witch’ is portrayed by Joely Richardson, but she’s involved in some sort of sisterly warfare with her sister, the Black Witch  (um…the Margaret Hamilton role), played by Ana Ularu. I can’t give you more details about this as it seems both extraneous and of little interest for we viewers.

Now you might be thinking of the famous flying monkeys from the 1939 film. I did notice one monkey like image but he was some sort of mechanical image projector (maybe this is a stand-in for a crystal ball) – think of something like a movie projector.

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