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James Gandolfini has died, and fans are in mourning, but in this hard moment, it's worth noting that Gandolfini wasn't simply a mobster in one of the great series of TV history: "The Sopranos." He was also a documentarian -- a fancy word he would never approve of, but he was one nonetheless. He produced a deeply felt and reported film in 2010 about veterans who were severely wounded. Here's the first 15 minutes followed by my review in Newsday...for a different perspective on this great talent...
THE DOCUMENTARY "Wartorn: 1861-2010"
WHEN | WHERE Thursday night at 9 on HBO
REASON TO WATCH Powerful Veterans Day documentary on post-traumatic stress disorder.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Correspondent and producer James Gandolfini explores the crippling emotional trauma of battle fatigue. Suicide rates among active military are rising, according to this 75-minute film, directed by Jon Alpert.
This particularly dark and harrowing look into the minds of vets seeks to explain why. These vets speak of recurring nightmares, sleeplessness and images that are permanently fixed in their minds; some have unfathomable guilt, too.
Gandolfini interviews many of these men or their devastated families, but most often he is a silent witness. There are many profiles here -- including World War II veterans who speak on-camera of psychic wounds that have lingered six decades -- and closes with Pfc. William Fraas Jr., who says, "I've seen humanity at its worst.
And I struggle with that on a daily basis."
MY SAY It probably bears pointing out that "Wartorn" isn't the indulgence of some Hollywood bigshot and his latest pet cause or crusade. Gandolfini is barely on film -- maybe a minute, total -- and when he asks a question, it almost comes out as a disinterested grunt. He's a nearly invisible presence, overwhelmed -- or reduced -- by the stories these men tell. There is nothing in this film that feels frivolous or out of place, and Gandolfini had the good sense to stand down -- even though you suspect HBO wanted him to stand a little more front and center, if only to get you to watch. In fact, "Wartorn" is a difficult film to watch. It demands an emotional level of engagement from viewers. But Thursday is Veterans Day. These are the people who fought for their country, survived and now can't quite shake the demons that hound them day and (mostly) night. Once engaged, you won't easily shake their stories, or this film. You probably won't want to.
BOTTOM LINE Uniformly excellent -- although some additional reporting devoted to the treatment of PTSD would have made this a more complete package.
James Gandolfini, certainly one of the greatest actors in TV history, captured a character so complete and so alive and so vivid — Tony Soprano — that it's hard for most of us to accept the fact that the man who portrayed him is gone.
Yup, Tony Soprano was the role — and not just a role, but a cultural force so profound and powerful that for a moment early in the last decade it even seemed to warp the creative process of the entire television business, as if a massive gravitational force was acting upon it. The big commercial networks tried to copy "The Sopranos'" alchemy and by association, Gandolfini, reasoning that audiences suddenly, inexplicably yearned for conflicted mob bosses who struggled with their daily family crises as much as they did their illegal — and lethal — pursuits.
The networks, of course, failed and HBO's classic emerged from its six-season run — from 1999 to 2007 — as a stand-alone triumph, and by critical consent, the finest series in television history, with its leading man TV's greatest protagonist.
But the effect lingered and we feel it to this day, in series as diverse as FX's "Sons of Anarchy" and "Breaking Bad" and even "Mad Men," with their conflicted — deeply sordidly conflicted — leading men.
"He was a genius," said series creator David Chase in a statement. "Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. I remember telling him many times, 'You don't get it. You're like Mozart" There would be silence at the other end of the phone. For Deborah and Michael and Lilliana this is crushing [his family.]. And it's bad for the rest of the world. He wasn't easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can't explain and never will be able to explain."
How to define that "alchemy?" On man, who knows, really. Art isn't exactly something that can be reduced to a few words written on a blog in the press of a deadline. It's worth I suppose noting - redundantly perhaps - that television is a collaborative medium. Chase, and Terence Winter, and Mitchell Burgess and Frank Renzulli (in the early going) and many others wrote the words while superlative directors like Timothy Van Patten and John Patterson blocked out the scenes and structured the episodes...and of course that incredible supporting cast, lead by the first among equals, Edie Falco....All of them enriched his performance, all of them added to his artistry (a word he would despise but I use anyway.) But I think at the end of the day, this terribly sad day, it all comes down to something that was inside him, something that was fundamentally, elementally who he was. A fine actor who summoned that "something" and yet had a healthy, even repugnant, disregard for that "something." Hence, conflict.
Of course we are all heartbroken and shocked, but sometimes the best way to deal with that (and sometimes not, but what the hell, let's forge ahead anyway) are the clips. They are out there and these precious few will remind you — however briefly — what the world has lost: A transcendently gifted actor. You may have loved Tony, may have loathed him — an exemplar of the cruelty that one man can inflict upon another. But we can all agree on one thing: The actor who portrayed him created one of the most unforgettable characters of our lives; to say this talent will be missed beggars the very meaning of the sentiment.
"Princesses: Long Island" suddenly has a new critic - this time a powerful one. Rep. Steve Israel, the Huntington Democrat who represents the 3rd District, covering a swath of the North Shore, from Great Neck to East Northport, has come down hard on Bravo's reality series, saying in a tough commentary on Huffington Post that the series denigrates Jewish women and perpetrates harmful...Read more »
Hard to say who won the fourth season of "The Voice" Tuesday night — Blake Shelton or 16-year-old future country star Danielle Bradbery — so may as well go ahead and say both won. For the third time out of four seasons, Blake Shelton pulled down a winner, and it now appears that TV's best music competition series is a country music competition series. (He not only had Bradbery, but the Swon Brothers as finalists; and just to be fair, while Blake now dominates, he did win the second season with an R&B singer — Jermaine Paul — not a country one, and last season's winner was Cassadee Pope, so this "'Voice''-is-going-to-the-sticks" theory certainly has evidence to the contrary...
There's a touch of sour grapes on my part here, too. I called for a Michelle Chamuel victory yesterday, and confidentially predicted one, assuming — or perhaps hoping — that all those iTunes downloads and "Voice"-generated singles on the country charts by Bradbery wouldn't be enough to overcome the passionate fan base Chamuel and her coach Usher had built up over this season. It was clear Bradbery was going to win, but I held out in the naive and vain belief that surprises can still happen on big competition series like this one.
Bradbery was and is terrific — a clear, clean voice that hits notes with clarity and strength — while her tearful crowning was a nice moment last night. The "Voice's" youngest ever winner — from Cypress, Texas, closed the show with the song that helped her win it Monday — "Born to Fly."
The two-hour finale was packed with energetic finalist performances, and a diverse enough array of guest star appearances to indicate that viewers hadn't accidentally stumbled upon the CMA Awards: From Pitbull to Cher (Cher! Oh that hair! Oh that look of deep puzzlement on Blake's face when she sang some new song . . . Priceless!) and Bruno Mars and Christina Aguilera, and OneRepublic, and Nelly . . .
But the fact remains that "The Voice" now has a country problem, and by association so does NBC. Certainly nothing wrong with country, but as the show and King Blake more clearly establish a claim on country, that drives other viewers and fans away. The calculus then becomes starkly simple: As they depart (and viewership was indeed down slightly this season) that automatically expands the voting base of those who support country. A snowball effect then sets in, making it virtually impossible for the show to crown anyone other than someone with a country twang.
"Idol" has vainly battled such voter bias for years, to the point now where it's effectively conceded that those who do most of the watching and voting — middle-aged viewers who live in the south — will control the show's outcome, and not the judges. Kids and teens have largely abandoned “Idol,” which is now grasping at straws and the future.
Does the same fate await "The Voice?" Well . . . as productions go, "The Voice" is superior in too many ways to count here, so it has that advantage at least. But country has clearly taken over and NBC now has to think hard and deep about what that means for the future of the franchise.
"Princesses: Long Island" sank a bit further Sunday night, and far be it for me to make any predictions or judgements here, but I do think these numbers are going in the wrong direction...
Yes, that's Sunday's number, and just to take a glass-half-full approach here: Hey! Seven-hundred and eighty thousand is a lot of people, people.
To...Read more »
The Charlie Sheen dispute with Selma Blair at FX's middling comedy has resulted in a casualty, and it wasn't Charlie. FX, via an outside public relations firm, has issued a statement saying Blair (Kate Wales) is leaving the series:
“We are confirming that Selma Blair will not be returning to Anger Management and we wish her the very best.”
This strange -- OK, maybe not so strange, but definitely ironic (right?!) -- fracas entered public view on TMZ a couple of days ago, with Sheen reportedly demanding her ouster from the series. TMZ via a post earlier this afternoon said that Sheen would quit the series by day's end if she didn't go. (Per TMZ, he claims she was bad-mouthing his work ethic.)
Needless to say, this is am embarrassment for FX which runs -- or appears to run -- a very tight ship; and for Sheen, still recovering from the "winning" phase; and for Blair.
At least she's still got a career -- she's a part of the "Hellboy" franchise. One wonders if FX still has a show after this fiasco, however.
"Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston is just now wrapping a Reddit AMA ("...ask me anything") and while an AMA isn't exactly the Rolling Stone or Playboy interview, it can still be a lively, engaging and vaguely anarchic affair. (But, hey, he's doing this for charity - via Omaze.com, it's all part of a benefit to raise money for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children...Read more »
This clip of Howard Stern and Jimmy Fallon from last night's show has pretty much been everywhere today but on the off-chance you may have missed, and have a few minutes to kill...It's definitely amusing and Stern offers some not-bad advice about the "Tonight Show" move...
And now this: Valerie Harper's battle with cancer will be chronicled in an hour-long documentary to air on NBC; time and date are to be determined. Here's the description, via NBC News, which will produce:
A recurrence of Harper's 2009 lung cancer, the disease spread into the membrane surrounding her brain and she was diagnosed with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis on March 6, 2013. Since then, she has allowed camera crews unprecedented access into her life to help tell her story -- every step of the way. From the revelation that she had an incurable disease, to doctor’s visits, second and third opinions, surgeries and reunions with family and friends, the documentary, airing on NBC in primetime, takes an intimate look inside Harper’s reality.
Showtime's "Ray Donovan" -- one of the network's biggest launches of the year if not the biggest launch -- has just launched.
Right here. At TV Zone. Aren't you clever to wander by at this very moment? If you have nothing better to do, take a look. (Series officially begins June 30.)
It stars the brilliant Liev Schreiber, who's certainly one of my favorite actors in his first lead TV role, and Jon Voight . . . and Peter Jacobson . . . and Elliott Gould and . . .
Well, now you have to watch, with a crazy-good cast like this. Be your own TV critic. Don't wait for me or anyone else to make a call on this extremely promising newcomer. Go for it! What have you got to lose, except maybe a lunch hour.