Goodnight to the “Bad Guy”… RIP James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini died at age 51 of a heart attack while on vacation in Rome. Best known for his iconic role as the modern mobster Tony Soprano, I first saw him as a gentle giant, a stuntman turned heavy in GET SHORTY. He played Bear, a quiet big guy who only cared about his daughter, and made some bad decisions while trying to support her.

Our Fadda, who art in Holsten’s

Mr. Gandolfini actually had great range, if a voice as recognizable as Tony Curtis’s. He said he enjoyed playing blue collar roles because they are largely invisible, and when you have a blue collar accent, we are allowed to make fun of you (as in the mocking, “Da Castle of my Fadda,” which Curtis never actually said). He played one of the monsters in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. He sang WELL in ROMANCE & CIGARETTES (full review here). I didn’t recognize Gandolfini without his beard when he played the killer in TRUE ROMANCE, in a great scene in a movie full of great scenes. 

James Gandolfini in TRUE ROMANCE

He was the best part of the recent adaptation of George V. Higgins’ Cogan’s Trade, the middling KILLING THEM SOFTLY, which was good, but confused. His scenes were solid and focused, a hit man falling apart. Like with his Tony Soprano, he brought humanity to a monster from our cultural mythology, brought life to a character type we visualize in shadows and silhouettes. I don’t think he reached his potential. I regret not going to see him onstage in GOD OF CARNAGE and hope a show was filmed. His latest project with David Chase, NOT FADE AWAY, about kids starting a rock band in the ’60s, fizzled away. I haven’t seen it, but that always happens when artists defy expectations.

James Gandofini and Delroy Lindo in GET SHORTY

I never met James Gandolfini. I spent a half dozen years watching him in my home, on the Sopranos. He made me feel like I knew him. He inhabited the character in total. I recently ate ice cream at Holsten’s, where the final episode of the Sopranos was filmed. The house they filmed in is not far from where I live. The Bada-Bing is a few miles up the highway from where I work.  I’m sure Sopranos Tours will see a boost, but I’ll wait until that dies down and embark on a brief pilgrimage to Tony. You can argue that Tony wasn’t whacked in the final scene, but you can’t deny that he’s truly gone now.

kate winslet romance cigarettes
Kate Winslet in Romance & Cigarettes

My heartfelt condolences to Mr. Gandolfini’s friends and family. He is survived by his wife and teenage son, and millions of fans who rooted for his greatest creation to murder everyone who stood in his way.

The “Sopranos” booth at Holsten’s. They serve the best ice cream in our area. I still haven’t had the onion rings. I’d probably cry.

holstens booth

Romance & Cigarettes

Romance & Cigarettes
We watched this overlooked musical by John Turturro last night. Ebert had given it four stars, but then again he gave “Across the Universe” four stars. I guess he’s a sucker for musicals. It’s pretty good and very original, sort of like a Sopranos musical- without the mob. Its set in the Jersey-NYC area, with at least one scene in Linden.

James Gandolfini is an ironworker on the Manhattan bridge with his buddy Steve Buscemi, who is sort of a pervert philosopher. James is cheating on hs wife Susan Sarandon, with redhead Kate Winslet (it is specifically mentioned that the curtains match the drapes) who looks better than ever, a curvy Brit broad shaking her goodies all over the place every chance she gets. They break into song now and then, classic rock, doo wop, American standards, James Brown. There are a few great set pieces, such as when Gandolfini is a fireman having to put out Winslet’s flame, and they are very entertaining. Turturro leans into artsy territory now and then, as men in the street howl Bukowski-esque ballads to the female pudenda, but it is always leavened with heaping spoonfuls of Italian-American, Brooklyn-style humor.
My favorite is when Sarandon confronts the mistress and uses the childhood joke, “‘twat did you say? I cunt hear you!” Things liven up when her cousin Bo, played by Christopher Walken with a black patois, bowling shirt and chinos up to his neck, shows up to help her set her marriage in order. He of course gets his dance scene, no point in having Walken in a musical without showing his chops.
Things lean toward melodrama near the end as they patch things up, but it’s a unique take on an old story, with lots of good laughs at the jokes and chuckles at Turturro’s deranged imagination.
I’d give it a solid 3 out of 4 menthols for reaching for the stars and making a unique musical that is very funny, and might be better on Broadway.
You know, especially after Gary Gygax’s death, “Gandolfini” sounds like an Italian wizard. “You gotta problem widdat Sauron? Take it up with the union, ya jamook.”