Archive for June, 2006

It’s Christmas in June for fans of ‘The Sopranos’

If you’re a regular of the season finales of “The Sopranos,” you probably were more surprised Sunday that it was Christmastime in June than that no one died.

The big moments usually are handled in the semifinal episode, which two weeks ago included two murders. The most notable was of gay mobster Vito, whose treatment by the mob was examined all season.

However, the artistic Christmas episode didn’t lack suspense and presented some interesting scenarios for the show’s return in January for the final eight episodes.

At various times Sunday, viewers might have suspected that Christopher (Michael Imperioli) was going to get whacked on the order of Tony’s nemesis, Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent), and that Phil was going to die either from a bombing, a heart attack or a bedside warning from Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) that turned mushy instead.

That’s one of the beauties of “The Sopranos” – it often toys with expectations. In the end, this finale was like many of the previous ones that had been directed by the late former Buffalonian, John Patterson. It ended with a family scene that reminded viewers about how complicated Tony Soprano is as a character. He does some horrible, violent things, but he loves his family. Of course, the complications are the reason we love watching him.

The episode was dedicated to Patterson, who was the best friend of series creator David Chase. Chase now has the near impossible task of meeting viewers’ expectations for the final episodes.

It was difficult to completely buy Christopher’s relationship with the sexy real estate agent that Tony was interested in, a drug addict played by Julianna Margulies. That seemed the kind of stretch you expect from network dramas. But it is a minor quibble.

For the next six months, viewers will have to contemplate which member of the Soprano crime family has been targeted by Leotardo’s bunch and whether Tony can use the Christmas present tip he received from a federal agent to prevent it.

Will Christopher, who is playing with fire, be the target? Tony? Will son A.J. (Robert Iler) find himself and find happiness with his new girlfriend? Will Carmela (Edie Falco) find out what happened to Adrianna? Will Tony finally find any success in therapy?

Of course, we know the answer to the last question. It is about as likely as Tony wearing that French beret ever again. From the looks of things, “The Sopranos” is headed for a compelling conclusion.

The Last Christmas #1

’Twas the night before Christmas, and World War III broke out — or something like that. Most of humanity mutated because of the radiation, and those that didn’t became Marauders — like you do. But Santa, safe with his missus at the North Pole, tried to keep the spirit of Christmas alive. At least, until Marauders hit the Pole and killed the missus. Now Santa’s trying to kill himself, but for some reason he just can’t seem to die.

Sound a bit distasteful, does it? Well, this synopsis doesn’t quite do justice to the festively gory gross-out that is The Last Christmas — as if the cover, strewn with dead elves with candy canes and dolls’ legs sticking out of them wouldn’t have tipped you off. Some books make a success of spoofs such as this by either not crossing the line of good taste or crossing so far over it that the very over-the-top quality of the thing sells it. But this one never finds the balance — instead, it hops merrily back and forth across the line of good taste like a red-nosed reindeer in heat.

Because of this, Gerry Dugan and Brian Posehn’s script tends more towards stomach churners than belly laughs — which is a shame, as some of the jokes that make their way up through the radioactive, blood-soaked murk are actually very funny. To save Santa’s life after the Marauder attack, for instance, the elves try to push him inside the carcass of a dead reindeer — “We saw it in a movie once,” they explain when he wakes up. And, astonishingly enough, Santa’s suicide attempts are howlers. By the time he tries to immolate himself, the elves are so used to the attempts that they’re playing cards to pass the time waiting for the next one. Had the entire book tried for this sort of quirky, self-knowing humor, it just might have worked.

Instead, the book is carried on scenes such as Santa’s giving a baseball bat to a kid so he can fight off zombies, or an elf threatening to shove a candy cane up a Marauder’s… well, you get it. Oh, my aching sides! Speaking of zombies, they seem to be the main reason that penciler Rick Remender was chosen to do art for this kind of book, as he seems to do nothing for Image but books with some form of the undead in them. He and inker Hillary Barta go for a larger-than-life storybook kind of imagery, but it just doesn’t fit. Had this book been done, say, with a cleaner artistic style, something approximating the old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, or even if it had been done by cover artist Geof Darrow it would’ve made the horrific bits funny and the funny bits even more hilarious. But it’s not. And guess what, boys and girls? There’s four more issues to come of this stuff! Ho, ho, horrible. D

Christmas lights to make return

With construction on Branson Hills Plaza complete, the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce announced on Thursday at a press conference that the Branson Area Festival of Lights drive-through would be making a return after a one-year hiatus.

The BAFOL committee, which is a committee of the Chamber, decided in August of last year to do away with the light display. Construction at the cruise’s home since 1990, Branson Hills Parkway. made the roadway unavaliable.

Despite looking, the Chamber could not find another acceptable location, meeting space and electrical requirements for the display. The hundreds of light displays instead were scattered throughout the city and put up at various businesses.

The construction of Branson Hills Plaza, a 140-acre development featuring a Target, a Home Depot and a T.J. Maxx, was finished earlier this year, freeing up the road for the lights once again.

Chamber President and CEO Ross Summers said the committee and Chamber made the decision to bring the drive-through back after construction on Branson Hills Parkway was complete.

“Our customers let us know they missed it, so we’re happy to bring it back,” Summers said.

Summers said although the display will be “essentially the same” the route will be a little different.

“It will loop around behind Target and Home Depot, then continue west on Branson Hills Parkway and then loop in the RecPlex parking lot,” Summers said.

Jerry Adams, Branson communications director, said the city is happy to see the return of the lights.

“Christmas in Branson has become a major tourist attraction in itself,” Adams said. “As a city, we have seen more people in town and the tax revenues increase due to BAFOL.

“So, obviously, we are happy to team with the chamber and BAFOL to reinstall the colorful drive-through.”

Are we going to switch out the lights?

One of the highlights of Biggleswade’s social calendar could become a thing of the past.

Biggleswade’s Christmas lights, funded by the chamber of trade, have illuminated the town for more than 40 years – but that could all change unless more businesses put their hands in their pockets.

And if no more donations have been found by August the chamber of trade says it will have no choice but to pull the plug on the lights and popular switch-on event.

Martin Thomas, who chaired this week’s chamber of trade AGM, said it had been increasingly difficult to raise the £10,000 needed over the last two or three years, thanks to rising costs of insurance, replacement lights and wiring, electricity bills and health and safety issues.

And while independent traders stump up the cash to make sure the event goes ahead the majority of Biggleswade’s larger chains do not.

Horace Dilley, who was at the meeting, said: “Biggleswade Christmas lights must go on. They’ve lit up the town since 1962 and they’ve brought tremendous pleasure, not only to the people of Biggleswade but people have come from far and wide to enjoy the lights.

“I hope that other businesses who have not donated in the past will come to our aid.”

Mayor of Biggleswade, Wendy Smith, added: “From a community point of view it’s like Armistice Day and the carnival, it’s one of the events of the year. To see its demise would be heartbreaking, especially for the children. The town would be much poorer at Christmas without them.”

The town council donates £3,000 to the lights, and recently paid for additional lights.

Public gives seal of approval

CHARD’S efforts to improve on last year’s Christmas lights display have been given overwhelming support from the community, according to young researchers.

As part of a media studies project, students from Holyrood Community School took to the streets to find out how people felt about the campaign to give Chard the festivity it lacked last year.

The survey found that many people felt last year’s display was a disappointment, and most thought the council was to blame.

This year’s Christmas lights campaign, led by members of the community, was fully backed by those questioned. who are also hopeful that Chard will be able to put on a respectable display this year.

Earlier this month an auction was held to raise money for the project, and many said they felt proud that such an effort is being made to help the town out.

The auction raised over £1,500 and was supported by companies like Numatic, Warner Holidays, Yeovil Town Football Club and others who donated items to be auctioned off.

This support was echoed throughout the research, with everyone who was questioned saying it was a good idea for the community to raise the money for the lights and not the council, so that local people could have a sense of achievement.

2005’s ‘Bah humbug!’ display was seen by many as an embarrassment, and many said that it affected the way they felt, due to the lack of Christmas spirit in the town.

One of students involved in the research, Ryan Peasland, said “One man we spoke to said they felt embarrassed when driving from Ilminster back into Chard around the festive period.

“They said you can see what a difference there is between the two towns when it comes to switching on the lights, but they’re hopeful this year is going to be different.”

People are still needed to help fundraise and organise, and many said they would love to be part of the money-raising efforts.

The renewed efforts to light up the town came after the News highlighted last year’s dismal display.

The Sopranos: Christmas in June, and Other Delusions

Everyone is now so intoxicated with The Sopranos (including me) that the producers think they can do anything they want with us. It’s not a good spot, for us or them.

Last night’s season finale (which precedes a final season) offered one benediction after another, and just about every one felt unearned. The show played with the viewer. It hinted two or three times at climactic violence and each time delivered hugs-and-kisses instead. Notably, in the subplot where Christopher begins boinking the real estate agent whom his boss Tony Soprano had declared his interest in—then Christopher confesses the betrayal and his earlier lies about it to Tony without consequences. Or Tony squeezing his rival boss’s hand in the hospital. On it went. The last scene was a happy united family at Christmas. In June.

I guess a drama is allowed to go on lofty jet-stream tangents when it has established the kind of success Sopranos has. (Seinfeld did it, and suffered.) Sopranos seems utterly removed from the reality that gave it life. Take the theme song of last night’s show, the Stones’ Moonlight Mile, a narcotic-delusion ballad. What’s the connection? Maybe the producers used to get high on that, in college. But who can forgive them the greatest misrepresentation in the show: when a member of the federal organized crime task force in the US Attorney’s office shows up at Tony’s club to inform him that the Brooklyn family plans to knock off someone close to him, thus spurring Tony to reach out. Does that kind of thing happen? I doubt it. This feels like story heaven, the place stories go when they die.

Or maybe it’s a dream sequence, with the producers (and writers, and actors) all snoozing on their laurels, resting up for what by every indication will be a bloodbath in the last real season. Then how will we feel about this false winter?