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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Man with a Harmonica

I first heard Apollo 440’s remix of Ennio Morricone’s classic “Man with a Harmonica” over the end credits of a great Sopranos episode, “Whoever Did This,” when we begin to see Tony’s veneer of humanity begin to crack.
The original song is the theme to one of the best westerns ever made, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. I was thinking about it after reading Wayne Dundee’s excellent review of the film. It is Leone at the top of his form, and Harmonica is one of the great characters of cinema, and perhaps Charles Bronson’s greatest role. Frank, the evil sonofabitch played by Peter Fonda, may be one of Fonda’s best as well. It’s certainly the one that plays against type.
The film is over two hours long, but worth every second. Each time you hear this theme play, Leone teases us with a blurry memory of a young boy faced with pure evil. Seeing who this young man becomes, and how he finally puts an end to a lifetime of pain, is one of the great catharses in western storytelling.

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And this song is stuck in my head this week. The mournful tone evokes an inner sadness at the red-claw brutality of life on this Earth, and our endless struggle to rise above it. It speaks of the sadness of a young boy who feels responsible for his older brother’s agonizing death, and his long road to vengeance.
All with a harmonica and a lungful of air.

Manhood in a Bottle

Listening to This Guy is Like Taking Business Advice from Fredo.

Would you buy tequila from this guy?I like Michael Imperioli as an actor, but they have him playing Christopher Moltisanti from the Sopranos for these commercials. And “Christophuh” was the worst kind of psychopath, the wishy-washy, whiny kind. It’s like buying pasta sauce from Fredo in the Godfather.

Maybe he should play Spider from Goodfellas instead, and Joe Pesci can wander in and shoot him in the foot. “Tequila so good, you’ll crawl for it!”

Part of me is chafing at these ad campaigns for old booze because they attempt to make men of my age feel somewhat lacking in manhood, compared to our fathers. Not to disparage a generation, but ever since Hemingway, we’ve decided that Manhood means shooting wild animals, climbing mountains, and drinking copious amounts of hard liquor (which is especially amusing, since Hemingway popularized the daiquiri). The Canadian Club ads state “Damn right your Dad drank it,” playing into the bullshit that it is somehow difficult or less enjoyable to be a man these days.

Your Dad May Have Never Said He Loved You, But He Banged Lots of Chicks.

You know what? The easiest thing in the world is to be a white middle to upper class man. Let John Scalzi put it more eloquently than I can: If life’s a game, it’s the easiest difficulty setting. We all got troubles. But you know what? Your DAD wouldn’t whine about them, and wax poetic about the ’60s, when we had free rein to be assholes. You want to be a man? You don’t need to run a triathlon, or flip giant truck tires, or climb a mountain that 3,100 other people have climbed,*

Try this:

Stand up to bullies. Respect women. Respect others. Be this guy:

August Landmesser. No, he was not executed.

If August Landmesser hawked schnapps, I’d buy a bottle. And no, you don’t need to stand up to the Nazi regime to be a stand-up human being. How about this guy, who saw his neighbor whipping his son for not being good at playing catch, and not only recorded it to show authorities, but yelled and got him to stop, and told him to come over and whip him if he was such a tough guy. And the abuser wasn’t just a neighbor, but a powerful board member.

Unfortunately, you can’t buy principles like that in a bottle of booze. You have to practice them, each and every day.

*Everest. There are unclimbed peaks in the Himalayas, either avalanche-prone or sacred to the people of the region.

C gets acquitted

Lillo Brancato, best known as “C,” the star of Robert De Niro’s movie A Bronx Tale, has been acquitted of his role in the murder of a NYC police officer. The stupid little shit was burglarizing a home with an accomplice that he claims he did not know was armed; when an off-duty cop who lived next door investigated, he was shot and killed. Brancato was convicted of attempted burglary.
The murderer is serving life in prison. Brancato claims he was high and trying to “let himself in” to his drug dealer’s apartment as he had in the past. So apparently he wouldn’t even confess to burglary. I’m not sure how the jury believed him, because he’s not that good an actor, either. His last stint was on “The Sopranos,” as one of the mooks working at Tony’s poker game; he was the guy sweeping the grated cheese from the floor in front of Silvio. Not exactly a great career, after De Niro handed him a choice starring role in his movie.
Maybe Lillo and “A.J.” Robert Iler- another idiot who got probation for strongarm robbery- can take a lesson from Tony “Palue Walnuts” Sirico, who did time in the ’70s for sticking up after hours clubs- to stay on the straight and narrow, and stick to acting. Then again, maybe for our sake, they should stick to crime.