Category: The Sopranos

Steven Van Zandt goes from 'The Sopranos' to 'Lilyhammer'

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Just when Steven Van Zandt thinks he's out, they pull him back in.

Van Zandt, who played mobster Silvio "Sil" Dante on "The Sopranos" is back on the wrong side of the law with "Lilyhammer," a new series premiering on Netflix next month.

The actor, who is also a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, will play Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano, who enters the witness protection program after ratting out his boss. Tagliano, who is a sports fan, wants to make his new life in Lillehammer, the Norwegian town that hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics. He calls the town "Lilyhammer" and has visions of "a paradise of clean air, fresh white snow and gorgeous broads" that will be the total opposite of his wayward New York criminal lifestyle.

The first eight episodes of the series will be available Feb. 6 on Netflix.

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Photo: Steven Van Zandt, left, with James Gandolfini in "The Sopranos" Credit: Craig Blankenhorn / HBO

Q&A: Transmedia guru Henry Jenkins on 'Lost,' negative capability and that 'Sopranos' ending

Jenkins Furious crosstown rivals USC and UCLA made peace for a day last week to jointly present a symposium entitled "Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story," co-hosted by USC Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts Henry Jenkins and Denise Mann, an associate professor in UCLA's Producers Program.

Too simply put, "transmedia" means telling a story across different platforms, each element of which may or may not stand on its own but contributes to an enriched, dynamic, more participatory and "lifelike" experience. The sense I got from the three packed panels I attended, which featured an array of academics, game designers, content creators and brand managers, is that the term itself, which is gaining industrial currency, can mean a lot of things at the moment, from creating a clever website to sell your movie to the sprawling media empire/alternate universe that is "Star Wars."

Increasing Internet bandwidth -- and the cultural (and economic) validation of science-fiction, still the genre most likely to play in this sandbox -- has lately pushed these concepts to the fore. But they are nothing new, as even Jenkins, the learned voice most  associated with the term transmedia, is quick to point out. ("Batman," for example, lived in comic books, on radio, in Big Little Books, as a movie serial and a TV show before Tim Burton got a hold of Frank Miller's graphic-novel remake -- and that was only another beginning.)

As the program's title indicated, much of what currently might be described as transmedia is driven by commerce, designed to build a brand, multiply revenue streams, or drive eyes toward a central moneymaking mothership. But now and again, as with, say, "The Lost Experience," or the matrix built around "The Matrix," it does approach Jenkins' vision of a new kind of integrated, multi-pronged storytelling.

I spoke with Jenkins over lunch between panels. The author of the books "Convergence Culture Where Old and New Media Collide" and "The Wow Climax: Tracing the Emotional Impact of Popular Culture" and the director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies program before he moved west, he's no ivory-tower observer of pop culture, but an avid consumer -- the academic as total fanboy.

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'The Sopranos': Fade to black

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It was an ending that, if nothing else, had millions on their feet. In what may be the first case of finalus interruptus, David Chase, faced with deciding between a bang and a whimper, chose neither. Instead the creator of “The Sopranos” decided to fool millions of Americans into believing their cable had gone out for possibly the most important moment in the history of televised drama.

The final scene of the final episode of “The Sopranos” had all the elements of traditional climax down to the benign plate of onion rings Tony “ordered for the table.” As the Soprano family gathered in a diner, the light was mellow, the talk was mundane and Tony (James Gandolfini) kept one eye on the door, watching any number of possible assassins or smug federal agents as they poured sugar in their coffee or visited the men’s room (possibly to retrieve, à la “The Godfather,” their weapons cache). Then, just as Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) joined the group, and the tension became virtually unbearable — szzzz. Blank screen.

For several agonizing moments, America was united ... in uttering every profanity known to man as millions of hands reached for millions of remotes, while partners and friends yelled, “No, no, don’t touch it!”

Then, silently, the credits began to roll and somewhere Chase was, no doubt, having a pretty good laugh.

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'The Sopranos': One to go

Sopranostp2 When “The Sopranos” debuted, no one knew quite how to describe it, and everybody has spent the last eight years trying. A struggling mob boss enters therapy to deal with his mother issues and spends the years vacillating between what seems to be the private search for mental health and the public actions of a sociopath. A post-modern mob story, “The Sopranos” sometimes seemed a sardonic, often hilarious treatise on love, death, family and self-help; and sometimes like an epic battle for the American soul, as embodied by Tony Soprano.

But if the second-to-last episode is to be believed, if it isn’t some fever dream of Tony’s, some vestige of last season’s post-shooting hallucinations, “The Sopranos” was, at its heart, just a really great gangster drama.

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'The Sopranos': Tony's lament: 'Why me?'

Sopranos A.J. Soprano’s suicide attempt was very A.J.: He tied a plastic bag over his head and attached a concrete block to his foot before dropping himself into the family pool.

Depression has long been A.J.’s curse, but ineffectualness is a close second; the plastic bag wasn’t tied properly and he appeared to over-estimate the length of rope for the block. A cry for help that was, finally, sweet, like the time A.J. brought a sword into the psychiatric hospital to get revenge on Uncle Junior for shooting his father.

“On some level he may have known that the rope was too long to keep him submerged,” Dr. Melfi tells Tony. “Or he could just be...[an idiot],” says the father. “Historically that’s been the case.”

A.J. had his imagery right — the mob’s “cement shoes,” not to mention that pool. The pool is where it all began on “The Sopranos” — Tony with his ducks and his depression. In the throes of his child’s desperate act, it was not difficult to discern whom Tony thought was affected the most.
“Why me, huh?” he says to Melfi. “Doesn’t every parent make mistakes? … I’m a good guy. Basically.”

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'The Sopranos': Did Tony go too far?

Sopranostonytp Former HBO chief Chris Albrecht reportedly had a problem with a scene in the first season of "The Sopranos" where Tony Soprano kills a guy while touring colleges in Maine with his daughter Meadow.

Albrecht worried viewers would be turned off, witnessing the show’s protagonist murder a man in cold blood. But the episode is widely regarded as a turning point in the success of "The Sopranos," emblematic of the series’ ongoing allure -- the Machiavellian brutality of the mob on the one hand, and the more quotidian aspects of upper-middle-class immigrant striving on the other.

That cocktail is on its last fizz: Last night, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) offed his nephew Christopher (Michael Imperioli), and in the nephew’s dying eyes our beloved protagonist became, finally, despicable and lost, beyond empathy. If it once seemed stretched to begin a series in which the main character commits murder, what shocked Sunday night was that Tony kills and we don’t sympathize.

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'The Sopranos': The sons of Tony Soprano

Ajsoprano Seemed like old times last night on “The Sopranos.” 

Bullet to the head, check (Hey, Tim Daly, sayonara and God speed on your “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-off).

Mob pals engaged in conflict-resolution, check (Christopher throws Paulie’s cousin out a window, so Paulie does doughnuts on Christopher’s front yard. Call it a push).

Tony and Carmela wondering what to do about morose A.J., check (what percentage of the kid’s scenes, over the years, have featured him spaced out in front of the TV?).

There have been rumblings that “The Sopranos” isn’t so much hurtling toward a conclusion as jogging there, at its own pace, with coffee breaks. But a major thing happened Sunday night — A.J. Soprano went on Lexapro.

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'The Sopranos': You'd need a crystal ball to bet on this ending

Sopranostony300 Of all of Tony Soprano’s uncontrolled appetites, gambling has tended to take a back seat to food and sex. But last night’s episode of “The Sopranos” was about Tony the degenerate gambler.

Pro football, harness racing, roulette; in the episode, the impulse bets, and losses, accrue to something like 200 grand, or roughly his debt to old Jewish pal Hesh Rabkin (Jerry Adler), whose attempts to collect turn Tony cranky and Hesh to wondering whether the boss is just riding him or going to have him clipped to get rid of a nuisance debt.

“Bad” Tony was out in force in other ways — getting into an ugly, shades-of-Season-4 fight with wife Carmella over his cut of the sale of her spec house. Meanwhile, the widow of his best earner, the outed gay mobster Vito, comes to Tony asking for a hundred grand to relocate her family to Maine. Son Vito Jr., it seems, is going through a Goth phase, and cousin Phil Leotardo, the man who had Vito killed, isn’t apt to help out financially (What did the mobster say to the Goth kid? “You look like a Puerto Rican hoore.”)

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'The Sopranos': Wistful memories for Tony, Uncle June

Junior Sunday night’s episode of “The Sopranos” featured a captivating guest performance by Ken Leung, playing a protégé of “Junior” Soprano in the mental health facility where Junior is incarcerated.

Leung is Carter, the overachieving rich-kid son of a disgraced, tyrannical father. “The Sopranos” hasn’t focused on Uncle Junior’s world in a while; since being arrested for shooting Tony, he’s been more glimpsed than examined.

But last night he kind of got the “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” treatment, Junior and Carter causing merriment and mayhem (and urination) at the Wycoff Therapeutic Center. The two of them run an illegal card game and they scheme so that Junior won’t have to take his meds. For Junior, it’s just like the old days-only with buttons as poker chips and orderlies needing to be bought off.

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'The Sopranos': The perils of Paulie?

Tony If my mobster movie arithmetic is right—inadequately discarded body, plus spur-of-the-moment fishing trip with the boss, I’m going to miss Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico).

In the trailer for next week’s episode, it appears Paulie and Tony go to Florida after the feds discover a corpse that could implicate Tony and his crew in the murder (HBO ain’t sending out any more press screeners, so I’m just as in the dark as you).

"Has he ever really been put to the test?” we hear Tony say of Paulie.

Cut to: Paulie feverishly doing bicep curls. Cut to: Tony and Paulie lounging near a dock, Tony saying, “Thinkin’ maybe we do some sport fishing. We’ll rent a boat.”

Cut to: The end of Paulie Walnuts? No doubt, Paulie’s left behind his share of messes (i.e. that hard-nosed ex-Russian army commando last seen getting away in the snowy South Jersey Pine Barrens in season three). But as a character he’s been comedy gold, his bizarre empathy (wasn’t it Paulie who, when Tony announced he was in therapy, admitted he too had been to a shrink?) self-absorption and hypochondria at once as preposterous and irresistible as the sweat suits and the wing-tips of sliver on the sides of his head.

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'The Sopranos': Since that stuff

Sopranosfamily_jfxp06ncNever mind the brawl last night between Tony Soprano and his brother-in-law Bobby; the real action was between Tony (James Gandolfini) and sister Janice (Aida Turturro).

He can’t take a compliment from her, which is apt, since she can’t give one without an ulterior motive.  So when she praised him for the close relationship they have (“You’re different,” she said, “since that stuff last year. The shooting”), Tony seized upon the perceived slight.

“I’m different how? How am I different?” he snapped.

They were in upstate New York, at the lakeside house of Tony’s brother-in-law Bobby. Tony looked around, saw Janice’s 3-year-old daughter playing with her nanny. He prompted Carmela to tell that story about the 3-year-old they’d heard about, the one who’d been left brain dead after drowning in plain sight of adults at a pool party.

“I can’t get that story out of my mind,” Tony said. “I don’t know why.”

Was he screwing with Janice’s smothering maternal instincts, or was this a metaphor for a mob boss who senses he’s drowning in plain view? Discuss.

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