My Favorite TV Episode of All Time

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The Sopranos
Episode 26 – Funhouse (Season 2 Final)

Directed by
John Patterson

Written by
David Chase & Todd A. Kessler

Regular Cast
James Gandolfini … Tony Soprano
Lorraine Bracco … Dr. Jennifer Melfi
Edie Falco … Carmela soprano
Michael Imperioli … Christopher Moltisanti
Dominic Chianese … Corrado ‘Junior’ Soprano
Vincent Pastore … Salvatore ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero
Steven Van Zandt … Silvio Dante
Tony Sirico … Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri
Robert Iler … Anthony ‘A.J.’ Soprano
Jamie-Lynn Sigler … Meadow Soprano
Nancy Marchand … Livia Soprano

Guest Players
Jerry Adler … Herman ‘Hesh’ Rapkin
Federico Castelluccio … Furio Guinta
John Ventimiglia … Artie Bucco
Dan Grimaldi … Patsy Parisi
Frank Pellegrino … Frank Cubitoso
Robert Patrick … David Scatino
Louis Lombardi, Jr. … Skip Lipari
Matt Servitto … Agent Harris
Sofia Milos … Anna Lisa
Maureen Van Zandt … Gabriella Dante
Toni Kalem … Angie Bonpensiero
David Margulies … Neil Mink
Nicole Burdette … Barbara Giglione
Tom Aldredge … Hugh DeAngelis
Suzanne Shepherd … Mary DeAngelis
John Fiore … Gigi Cestone
Robert Lupone … Bruce Cusamano
Barbara Andres … Quintina
Sig Libowitz … Hillel
David Anzuelo … Flight Attendant
Kathleen Fasolino … Meadow’s friend
Ray Garvey … Airport Guard
David Healy … Vice Principal
Ajay Mehta … Sundeep Kumar
Jay Palit … Indian Man

Wrap Up
Tony is feeling pretty good, despite his mother busting his chops after Janice left. He solves it by giving her airline tickets of the Scatino bust-out, so she can go and visit an old aunt (aunt Quinn, the other miserabile). He’s earning good enough money with a prepaid phone card scheme to buy Carmela a mink coat and he’s not so depressed anymore. Another reason for Tony’s untroubled state-of-mind is the demise of Richie, ‘All my enemies are smoked’, Tony tells his crew optimistically during a diner. But it is too good to be true, his unconsciousness tries to tell him. He gets food poisoning the day after. And in a fever dream Silvio tells him, ‘our true enemy has yet to reveal himself’, in true Al Pacino style. Silvio is even wearing the maroon vest Pacino wore in The Godfather III.

Pussy’s not feeling so well. He has to give his phone card earnings straight to FBI Agent Skip Lipari. He didn’t get food poisoning though, even though he ate at the same restaurants; an Indian place and Artie Bucco’s. Tony suspects Artie’s shellfish, but when Artie calls Pussy they find out he doesn’t have any symptoms, while they had different courses at the Indian place. Tony starts dreaming again, about him at the boardwalks. First he dreams that he sets himself on fire in front of his friends because he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer (‘what if they’re wrong?’). Then he dreams that he shoots Paulie Walnuts during a card game. He discusses the meaning with Dr. Melfi in a dream therapy session, while he also talks about Pussy. ‘Pussy’ in multiple ways.

Tony knows something is not feeling right about Big Pussy. He also knows someone has to get whacked, because of the Paulie dream. In another dream sequence, a fish who looks and talks like Big Pussy tells Tony he has been working with the federal government. Tony still doesn’t want to believe it, but when he wakes up he knows what has to be done. A little later, Tony and Silvio come by Big Pussy’s house to pick him up to help them buy a boat. Tony, still sick, pretends to get another attack and goes into the upstairs bathroom. While Silvio keeps Big Pussy downstairs with Angie, drinking coffee, Tony searches the bedroom. He finds what he was looking for; wiring equipment and tapes. When Tony comes downstairs he says, ‘who’s ready to buy a boat?’

Paulie Walnuts is waiting by the boat and Pussy is getting nervous. The boat departs and when open water is reached, Pussy is taken below deck, where Tony confronts him with his betrayal. After denying it, Big Pussy has no choice but to confess. He knows his number is up. And after a last round of tequila with his friends, the inevitable happens, Tony, Paulie and Silvio shoot Pussy and he drops dead in the cabin. His body is placed in a bag with weights and entrusted to the Atlantic Ocean.

When Tony comes home, his mother calls to tell him that she is being held by airport security for the Scatino tickets. Not much later the FBI comes by with a warrant. Just when Tony is handcuffed, Meadow comes in with her friends, one day before her graduation. Luckily Tony gets off easy but he is still concerned. The season ends the way it started, with a montage of all the Soprano crew’s businesses, such as Barone Sanitation, the Jewish owned hotel, the phone card scam and David Scatino who’s divorced, broke and leaving town. The scene is scored by The Rolling Stones with ‘Thru and Thru’, an insanely great choice.

At Meadows graduation party the whole Soprano cast is present and it’s one big happy family again. Tony stands alone in the living room, smoking a cigar and reflecting on recent times. The final shot is from the ocean, where Pussy sleeps forever.

Why Great?
This final episode of the second season is extremely well written and directed. It is a powerful and surprising final episode that reminds of a Greek tragedy. Tony has to make his hardest decision yet. This is totally necessary in his leadership position, but he was also the one who loved Big Pussy most whose death is therefore a great loss for him. And for the viewer as well. Pussy’s passing and the dream sequences leading up to it are so far the most exciting and memorable moments of the Soprano saga.

When I first watched ‘Funhouse’, I just couldn’t believe it. I was hoping for a terrific episode to wrap up the season, like season 1 did with ‘I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano’. A conventional finale that neatly ties up the remaining storylines, although The Sopranos was never conventional. ‘Funhouse’ did something else entirely. By adding twenty minutes of dreamtime I got much closer to Twin Peaks than to the mob films it originally seemed to be based on. It does resolve the main remaining story – that Big Pussy is indeed ‘singing’ for the feds – but it does so in a brilliantly surprising way. By delving into the main character’s subconscious and making him realise the ugly truth his conscious self couldn’t accept.

Michael Imperioli (who plays Christopher) has a theory*1 about the episode. That Tony didn’t have food poisoning at all, but that it was the knowledge that he had to kill his friend that made him so sick. And killing his friend he does. The scene on the boat, of which the interior scenes were shot in a studio, is a dramatic highlight of the show. Brilliant acting by the cast, especially James Gandolfini and Vincent Pastore as Pussy. It’s ridiculous that season 2 didn’t win the major Emmy Awards that year, but they weren’t ready for The Sopranos yet. The show has been groundbreaking from the beginning, and this episode really took it to another level again.

Finest Moment: Pussy on the Brain
Tony is having fever dreams while suffering from bad food poisoning. All dreams have certain elements in common; danger, cancer (destruction from inside out) and Pussy. It all leads up to this final dream; the dream in which Pussy – in fish shape, but it really looks like Pussy! – reveals to Tony that he is working for the government. It is in moments like this that The Sopranos is at its most powerful; using a dream as a method to really push the plot forward. In the first season, when his mother wanted him whacked, Tony was in denial and started fantasising about a Madonna. But he didn’t acknowledge the truth until he heard his mother speak on the FBI tapes. Now, Tony has learned to listen to his subconscious. He has been having a strange feeling about Pussy for a long time and now he is open to the ultimate truth. When he wakes up he knows. The fish is also a brilliant find. In a macho gang like the Sopranos, it is considered unmanly to betray your friends. Therefore, it is Pussy – the guy with the feminine name – who’s a rat. There is also a pussy joke in there, pussy smells like… you get the picture. The reference is also to death, as in ‘sleeps with the fishes’, and it foreshadows Pussy’s ultimate resting place, the ocean. This dream is the perfect crossover between the series’ essentials; the mob and psychiatry.

*1 Talking Sopranos Podcast, episode 26 – Funhouse.

Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (recensie)

——– let op: spoilers ——–

Een nieuwe Tarantino film is een event. Dat begint al met de aankondiging: ‘de negende film van… ‘ De man beheerst marketing al net zo goed als filmmaken.

Op het eerste gezicht is Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood een typische Tarantino-film. Een liefdesverklaring aan het Hollywood uit zijn jeugd in 1969. En met sterren die eerder in zijn films hebben gespeeld, zoals Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained) en Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds). Toch zijn er een aantal verschillen met zijn eerdere werk. Zo is het kenmerkende ultrageweld gereserveerd voor de laatste vijftien minuten. En heeft de film in feite geen plot…

Dat laatste is te verklaren door het feit dat Tarantino het ‘verhaal’ eerst vijf jaar lang heeft geprobeerd als roman te ontwikkelen. Voordat het uiteindelijk “werd wat het wilde worden”, aldus de schrijver-regisseur in een interview met Esquire. Het is vooral een karakterstudie en tijdsbeeld geworden. Drie personages (twee fictieve en één echte) staan centraal die de drie sociale lagen van Hollywood vertegenwoordigen.

DiCaprio speelt Rick Dalton, een oude western televisiester die nooit succesvol de stap naar films heeft gezet. Brad Pitt is zijn stunt double Cliff Booth, iemand wel in Hollywood werkt, maar geen noemenswaardige carrière – en dus sociale status – heeft. En tot slot, Margot Robbie als up-and-coming actrice Sharon Tate die naast Dalton woont. Als verloofde van de hotste regisseur van dat moment, Roman Polanski, is zij op weg het helemaal te maken in Tinseltown.

Net als in Pulp Fiction volgt de film de gebeurtenissen die de personages gedurende een aantal dagen meemaken. Maar anders dan in Tarantino’s doorbraakfilm zijn deze dagen niet heel veelbewogen. Op de eerste dag heeft Dalton een meeting met Hollywood-agent Marvin Schwarz (fijne bijrol van Al Pacino) die hem probeert te verleiden naar Italië te gaan om in spaghettiwesterns te spelen. De onzekere acteur is ervan overtuigt dat zijn carrière voorbij is en zijn positief ingestelde vriend Cliff troost hem. Sharon Tate bezoekt ‘s avonds een feestje in de Playboy Mansion waar de echte sterren van dat moment aanwezig zijn.

Op dag 2 speelt Dalton een slechterik in een western en volgen we de ups en downs van een vrij gewone draaidag. Wie denkt dat Hollywood alleen maar glamour is, krijgt hier wel even een reality check van de regisseur. Ondertussen onderzoekt de werkloze Cliff een oude film ranch aan de rand van Hollywood waar de Manson familie zich schuilhoudt. Deze doorgeslagen hippies zullen zoals verwacht een bepalende rol in de climax van de film spelen (maar ook zoals verwacht, zal dat op een hele andere manier gaan dan in het echt).

Sharon Tate rijdt tijdens deze dag rond door de stad en bezoekt een film waar ze in speelt: The Wrecking Crew. Ze lijkt een soort droomkarakter te zijn die rondzweeft tussen de ‘echte’ personages Rick en Cliff. In Hollywood wordt fictie realiteit en omgekeerd. Dat wordt helemaal duidelijk in deel 3 (en dag 3) van de film: 8 augustus 1969, de dag dat Hollywood haar onschuld verloor. Enige kennis van de Manson-moorden is hier wel nodig, want Tarantino legt bijna niks uit over de sekteleider en zijn intenties. Manson is zelfs slechts een edelfigurant in de film. En het plan van zijn volgelingen wordt in twee zinnen uit de doeken gedaan: Het huis van Tate binnendringen en iedereen vermoorden. Het op het werk van de duivel laten lijken…

Van Inglourious Basterds weten we dat Tarantino in staat is de geschiedenis (ten goede) te veranderen in zijn scripts. In die film werden Hitler en de volledige SS vermorzeld. In OUATIH haalt hij dezelfde truc uit, want – de grote verrassing – de moordzuchtige hippies lopen het huis van Dalton binnen in plaats van dat van Tate. Dit loopt slecht voor ze af. Cliff beheerst de kunst van geweld heeft hij eerder tijdens een matpartij met Bruce Lee gedemonstreerd. En Dalton veracht hippies die ‘zijn’ Hollywood aan het transformeren zijn. Bovendien heeft hij nog een souvenir uit één van zijn vroegere B-films in zijn schuurtje hangen. En zo eindigt OUATIH niet met het horrorbeeld van een vermoorde zwangere Tate, maar met de eerste ontmoeting tussen haar en Dalton. De bloedmooie actrice leeft en de B-acteur krijgt misschien kans op een carrière-doorstart. ‘Het gebeurde in Hollywood’.

Tarantino heeft duidelijk enorm veel plezier gehad in het uitdenken van Rick’s fictieve filmcarrière. Evenals in het schitterend hercreëren van het Hollywood uit zijn jeugd. Er liggen vast en zeker Oscarnominaties in het verschiet voor productie-ontwerp, kostuums, geluid en camerawerk. Voor kijkers met minder affiniteit met filmgeschiedenis zal dit ongetwijfeld geen favoriete Tarantino-film zijn. Hier heeft de maestro lak aan: hij doet wat hij leuk vindt. Dat blijkt ook uit de bizarre keuze voor zijn tiende, en naar verluidt laatste, film: een Star Trek Motion Picture. Zo gaf hij onlangs te kennen in een interview met Algemeen Dagblad.

We zullen de man en zijn culturele bijdragen enorm missen. Net als in Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, is de filmindustrie opnieuw drastisch aan het veranderen. Met de opkomst van streaming services worden de klassieke filmproducties, zoals Tarantino ze maakt, een bedreigde diersoort. Daarom een les, zoals die van Cliff zou kunnen komen: geniet van wat je hebt zolang het er nog is. Voordat je het weet is het voor altijd verloren.

5 Reasons ‘Scarface’ Rarely Makes it to Critics’ Favorite Lists

Me, I want what's coming to me.

‘Me, I want what’s coming to me.’

Although Brian De Palma’s 1983 gangster movie ‘Scarface’ is legendary within the popular culture domain, it is hardly considered a masterpiece, such as ‘The Godfather’, ‘The Godfather Part II’ and ‘GoodFellas’. Should it?

Yes, I definitely think so. There is no other movie that shows the rise and fall of a gangster more effectively than Scarface. Okay, the high is pretty brief – and consists mostly of a musical number (‘Push it to the limit’), during which Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is buying tigers and snorting lot’s of cocaine. But I guess that is what a gangster’s high would ultimately feel like; empty, shallow and unsatisfying. Even the kick of having the desirable Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t last more than five minutes screentime.

The late film critic Roger Ebert – who awarded ‘Scarface’ a maximum of four stars – said it very poignantly. ‘The movie has been borrowed from so often that it’s difficult to understand how original it seemed in 1983, when Latino heroes were rare, when cocaine was not a cliché, when sequences at the pitch of the final gun battle were not commonplace. Just as a generation raised on ‘The Sopranos’ may never understand how original ‘The Godfather’ was, so ‘Scarface’ has been absorbed into its imitators.’

‘Scarface’ is listed in IMDb’s Top 250 (position 117), but that list is put together by users’ votes. On critic lists, such as the AFI 100 Best American Films, the All Time 100 (by Time) or Rotten Tomatoes’ 100 highest ranked films, it doesn’t appear. So what is it about ‘Scarface’ that obstructs it from being seen as a masterpiece, like the before mentioned gangster classics? Here are the five most probable reasons:

1.  The chainsaw scene
Scarface 1 - The chainsaw scene
Gangster films are violent, that is accepted. But Coppola and Scorsese have a way of turning even the most off-putting bit of violence into something really stylish and cinematic. The way De Palma handles the chainsaw scene, 24 minutes within the movie, is just plain ugly. ‘Now the leg huh’, remarks the sadistic Hector as he puts the saw in Tony Montana’s friend. This scene alone puts ‘Scarface’ in the extreme cinema league. And films that are extreme in this sense are rarely considered as Academy Award contenders.

2. The general ugliness
Scarface 2 - Ugly Car
Most of it is done deliberately, but the look and feel of ‘Scarface’ is just ugly dugly. That shirt that Montana is wearing, holy Christ! Also look at the sets. Miami in the eighties is just terrible. From the refugee camp where Montana and his partners murder the communist Rebenga, to the Miami Beach area where they start their careers as drug runners, these locations are just god awful. The language doesn’t help either: ‘Why don’t you try sticking your head up your ass, see if it fits’, Montana tells Hector. Can you hear Vito Corleone utter such a line? Or how about this one: ‘This town is like a great big pussy just waiting to get fucked.’ That doesn’t sound like ‘Casablanca’ does it? Last but not least: the music. From the cringe worthy synthesizer sounds to eighties hits like ‘She’s on Fire’. It is so wrong, it’s right.

3. The general foulness
Scarface 3 - The Clown
‘Scarface’ is in the end a very cynical movie in which the American Dream can only be achieved through extreme violence and corruption. Tony’s quest for power leads to ton’s of dead bodies: even a clown is whacked for god’s sake! A world in which a vile assassin like Tony Montana is the ultimate hero, is just very hard to accept. And the film gets uglier and uglier as it progresses. Tony’s drunken diner speech is the ultimate example of the repellent worldview on display. ‘Is this it? That’s what it’s all about, Manny? Eating, drinking, fucking, sucking? Snorting? Then what? You’re 50. You got a bag for a belly. You got tits, you need a bra. They got hair on them. You got a liver, they got spots on it, and you’re eating this fucking shit, looking like these rich fucking mummies in here… Look at that. A junkie. I got a fucking junkie for a wife. She don’t eat nothing. Sleeps all day with them black shades on. Wakes up with a Quaalude, and who won’t fuck me ‘cause she’s in a coma. I can’t even have a kid with her, Manny. Her womb is so polluted; I can’t even have a fucking little baby with her!’ It is kind of depressing when he puts it like that.

4. The sister storyline
Scarface 4 - Sister Shooting at Tony
Incest is never a pleasant topic, and even though nothing actually happens sexually between Tony and his sister Gina, it still raises some controversy. It also adds further to the already unpleasant vibe that the movie creates. Tony’s sickening jealousy of every man who even looks at his sister, let alone touches her, leads to aggression and eventually the murder on his best friend Manny. One of the hardest parts to watch involves Gina walking into Tony’s study, undressed, asking him to fuck her while shooting at him.

5. The over-the-top climax
Scarface 5 - Climax
The climax of ‘Scarface’ is so over the top that it is hard to comprehend during the first viewing. Many gangster films end with a massacre, but this is Rambo on cocaine. Fitting how this ending may be, it is so much of everything, that it may affect the judgment of its more critical audience.

None of this really matters though. ‘Scarface’ is a true classic. And though it may not always be appreciated as it should, ‘every dog has its day.’ ‘Scarface’ could go right to the top.