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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Murder in the First: Season Finale – Blunt the Edge

So Murder in the First wrapped the cases and the season tonight. The final episode was called Blunt the Edge. I’ve got two questions – did you notice that the po-po interviewed Salter (once) and Mrs. Harbach (twice) in this episode, but they did not show us any interview with Bill Wilkerson. That’s the first question. The second question is bit easier to answer. The phone that was used to capture Blunt’s confession to Wilkerson, belonged to who?

I’ll answer that one myself – Wilkerson. But considering that we did not see Wilkerson hand the phone off to the police, it seemed a bit underhanded. Enjoyable? Of course. But still it was a bit of dramatic sleight of hand. Conceived in such a way, that we could not have seen it coming, whereas the fake bug in Wilkerson watch was easy to expect. Of course that woman standing on the steps as Blunt walked in to police HQ had the phone. If they hadn’t had made a point of showing her to us, I wouldn’t have wondered who she was. That is, until she handed the phone to Hildy Mulligan. Then again maybe it was simply a micro-recorder as there is a likelihood that the voice recording could have been overheard, captured and then downloaded to a recorder rather than a cell phone. Then again, the warrant did specify that a cell-phone would be in play.

Okay, we already knew that a) Blunt killed Strauss as he had admitted it to English and Mulligan. We also knew that English had told Blunt that he would get him for the Nyers murder. As I watched the dominoes marched in like a processional, it was clear that the script would end with Blunt in the police lockup. If any one was going to kill him it would have happened early on.

Right off the bat, the episode opened with Blunt and the lawyer Hertzberg giving Mrs. Harbach the half million. So I knew that would be one of the fatal flaws. I just didn’t expect the police to get on to that so fast. And talk about dollar wise and penny foolish. Blunt is giving Mrs. Harbach a half million – did they have to make the Harbachs pay for the medication (and the entry was dated before the Nyers murder) and well before Mrs. Harbach got the money.

Second – the business about the gun. Didn’t that seem far too easy? The gun was traced back to a detective who gave it to Salter who gave it to Blunt who gave it to Wilkerson who gave it to old man Harbach. I can hear the dominoes falling.

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Murder in the First: Episode Seven – Suck My Alibi

Murder in the First aired its 7th episode tonight. The title was Suck My Alibi, which was a bit too obvious for me, like a writer’s gimmick rather than something someone might actually say to the police. Aside from an intriguing turn by Bess Rous as Ivana West, and Kathleen Robertson as Inspector Hildy Mulligan, this wasn’t much of an episode as it offered little in the way of great writing, or suspense, yet it was a distinct improvement over the previous week’s debacle, and that was due to the actors.

Bess Rous as Ivana West

Bess Rous as Ivana West

While this episode again featured some egregiously stupid courtroom scenes, this episode was more about evidence. As in no evidence, or made up evidence, or disappearing evidence. It’s not often you have a show where the cops break the rules,

This is Captain Kono - who said - There was no laptop

This is Captain Kono – who said – There was no laptop

and the DA spins her way out of an awkward situation, and the ADA is a bungler. Beyond that, tell me when you have seen a show about a murder trial and in one of the episodes, the defendant does not speak even a single word.

ADA Mario Siletti twice broke a cardinal rule in courtroom behavior. I mean even Tom Cruise as the lawyer in A Few Good Men knew enough to NOT show disappointment when something didn’t go his way. But Siletti looked forlorn after Warren Daniels hung Wilkerson out to dry in cross. That was the first time.

As long as I mentioned Wilkinson, I have to ask – why did Siletti put Wilkinson on the stand? To introduce into evidence an SMS message that Wilkinson received at 9:02 purportedly sent by the deceased Cindy Strauss? This after Siletti’s forensic specialist had stated the time of death was 8:30 PM.

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Murder in the First: Episode Six – Punch Drunk

Murder in the First had Episode Six called Punch Drunk on Monday Night. It was easily the worst episode of the show so far. Let me count the ways.

Not enough Hildy Mulligan. We all know that Mulligan, played by Kathleen Robertson is the glue that holds the show together. She appeared in just three quick scenes and one longer scene. The first two quick scenes were with Inspector English in the homicide inspectors coffee-room, then with Inspector English in a bar. The longer scene was with her ex-husband, then she appeared briefly when she and English answered a radio call for a DOA, who turned out to be Mark Strauss, who at one time they believed was a person of interest as he was the husband of the murdered Cindy Strauss.

Not enough Erich Blunt. Aside from the drive to the courthouse, in which Blunt was a nervous Nelly, and got a dressing down by his attorney Warren Daniels, for the rest of the episode, Blunt sat silent in the courtroom. And how did he get away with wearing a striped jersey to court on the second day of the trial?

You think Mr. Blunt had something to do with both deaths?

You think Mr. Blunt had something to do with both deaths?

Speaking of which, I didn’t much care for Daniels opening statement. ADA Mario Siletti’s remarks were better but not by much. Blunt asked his attorney about his choice of a suit – a rather dull brown, but I understood that. Daniels didn’t want to turn the jury off by appearing in a flashy and expensive suit. We got a good look at Daniels when he crossed examined Inspector English, the arresting officer.

Mr. Blunt is the common denominator in both deaths

Mr. Blunt is the common denominator in both deaths

Once again, I felt manipulated.

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Murder in the First – Episodes 2 & 3

TNT Drama – Boom

Do you think that’s catchy? When Ari Gold used that term (Boom!) on Entourage a few years back, I liked it. Now, not so much. But it’s only the network tag, and has nothing to do with TNT’s new series named Murder In The First. *** Recaps with some spoilers ahead ***. If you read further, it will because you’ve seen all three episodes.

As you may recall from my first post about this show – two seemingly unrelated murders took place in San Francisco. SFPD Homicide Detectives Hildy Mulligan (Kathleen Robertson) and Terry English (Taye Diggs) caught the case. Before long the common denominator was revealed. It turned out to be Erich Blunt, a Silicon Valley wunderkind worth billions.

The vics were an older man found killed in the Tenderloin district, and a beautiful stewardess. The older man was – surprise, surprise – the biological father of Mr. Blunt. The cabin attendant worked on Blunt’s private jet, and on the day she was killed, Blunt had fired her for spilling a drink on him.

We later found out the death of the blonde stewardess was actually a double homicide as she was two months pregnant.

In Last week’s Episode Two, called The City of Sisterly Love, a few things happened. One – Detective Mulligan was able to get DNA samples from three different men without them being aware of it. The first was the suspect in the murder of the older man. The second was the pilot of the Blunt jet, and the third man was Blunt himself.

Mulligan kind of flirted with Blunt in the police interview room, and like darkness eventually follows the setting of the sun, he was turned on and asked for a dinner date. She went along, and ratcheted up the teasing. So much so, that she and Blunt began some PDA (Public Display of Affection) on the water front esplanade. When Blunt asked her if she was wearing a wire, Mulligan placed his hands on her breasts – you don’t see that with an SFPD detective very often. Finally, Mulligan and Blunt kissed, with Mulligan surreptitiously spitting the kiss saliva into a sample jar as she walked off. That was quite a surprise, and I’ve never seen that kind of a goodnight kiss before. And it ended the episode.  Great stuff – but was it legal? We’ll see.

In an unlikely happenstance, the blonde victim was found to have semen in her mouth, and in the police corridors the case became known as The Blow Job Murder – again a first.

Finally, out of nowhere, the suspect in the old man murder case suddenly, after profusely denying he had any role in that killing, decided to sign a confession and accept a plea bargain.

Which brings us to Episode Three called Who’s Your Daddy? which aired last night. The biggest news came after the earlier third of the show, which began with Blunt having a sex and drug session with a woman in his apartment, which was followed by another police interview with a woman who told them that Blunt had raped her some years back. She had brought charges but couldn’t go through with it, and settled out of court. She also had signed a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), which apparently she had just violated by telling the cop her story. The police are going to try to use this – but I think she is a plant. Like the situation in Witness for the Prosecution, the Billy Wilder/Agatha Christie film from 1957 where damaging evidence against the defendant was intentionally introduced, was false, and had no other purpose but to get the defendant acquitted.

Blunt now changed his mind and decided to hire the expensive lawyer Warren Daniels (James Cromwell has the part) who immediately laid it out for Blunt.

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Still Mine – Day Three of the Sarasota Film Festival

stillDay 3 of the Sarasota Film Festival – Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Today I had the good fortune to see a marvelous film down from Canada. Now this film entitled Still Mine is not just some indie looking for exposure and making the rounds of film festivals. No sir. This film is already a big time film. It already has a deal and will be our theaters in June.

James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold are the leads and they portray an elderly couple who own 2000 acres of farm land in St. Martin, New Brunswick, Canada. Cromwell’s character is Craig Morrison. He’s an 87-year-old farmer who still has plenty of go-power. Bujold as Irene Morrison, is still sharp but to be honest, she has good days and bad days. You see, she’s dealing with the encroaching and debilitating disease of dementia.

They’ve been married for 61 years, and have raised 7 children. Their home is not in the best of shape, it’s far closer to ramshackle than saleable, and dealing with the New Brunswick winters is difficult. Beyond that, they now need a single story home because of Irene’s disease.

Only they haven’t enough money to hire a builder and a construction crew and the requisite sub-contractors.. They already have the land, so Craig decides to build the house himself. He refuses any and all help from his children.

Craig's Son: Pop, You're 87 years oldCraig: Age is an abstraction not a strait-jacket

Craig’s Son: Pop, You’re 87 years old
Craig: Age is just an abstraction not a strait-jacket

His fierce independence is matched only by his stubbornness, and that is matched by his devotion to his wife. Make no mistake, this idea, to put up the house himself, is not the least bit foolhardy or ill-conceived. Not only does he have the tools, and the equipment, he also has the know how.

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The Artist

I guess I had a built in resentment towards The Artist. The intellectual side of me said that there was a definite reason why silent films gave way to ‘talkies’ so many years ago. People prefer to listen rather than read or even imagine . It is still true today, as films that require you to read subtitles are not always a first choice of the movie going public.

In my own experience (referencing the change over from silent films to talkies – as an example, I preferred the Laurel & Hardy short comedy reels with spoken dialogues to the silent Charlie Chaplins. Of course my experience with these comedies was through the medium of television rather than a movie house. I guess I felt that watching people emote and tell you how they felt through their facial expressions or body language was more work, which would require me to do more imagining, and they also denied me the beauty of the spoken words.

But silent films were made, exhibited, and enjoyed. Yet, they went away.

When I first heard of The Artist directed by Michel Hazanavicius, I immediately went in search of a trailer. The trailer showed me that the leads, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, along with the supporting players like Penelope Ann Miller, John Goodman, and James Cromwell – all looked good, and that there was a certain joy to them despite the fact that Dujardin’s role was that of George Valentin, a silent films movie star, whose career would hit the skids with the advent of talkies. Not because he wasn’t talented, but instead, because he couldn’t see the future, and because of that he wouldn’t even try. As he said, ‘if this is the future, then you can have it‘.

In my mind, this was a variation of Singing in the Rain – the classic Hollywood musical. But it is not just that simple. This film was a period drama taking place in Hollywood the between the years 1927 and 1932. I wasn’t around in those days, but I know that in the contemporary times the Oscar voters love period pieces. I also resented that the NY Film Critics Circle came out very early and called The Artist their choice of Best Picture before they had even seen some other films that would also be called contenders for Best Picture.

Well yesterday I was in chilly Eastern Connecticut and today I am back home in chilly Sarasota, Florida. When the temps are in thirties and forties, and the beach isn’t an option, the locals flock to the movies. So today, finally, yours truly met … The Artist.

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