Friday, March 18, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Darker, scarier, more compelling than ever!

Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
by Liz Smith

"The Americans" return — darker, scarier, more compelling than ever!  Also — How else can you say "I don't give a damn"? ... Liza, Madonna and Hillary Clinton (Keep smiling, ladies!)

"EVIL HIDING among us is an ancient theme," says director John Carpenter.
EVIL concealing itself is certainly the theme of the terrifically creepy FX series "The Americans," which returned on Wednesday for its fourth season.

As fans know, the show revolves around Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, who pose as a typical all-American family (with two kids) in the early 1980s. They are really Soviet spies, and are — especially Elizabeth (Keri Russell) — very, very bad people. The hubby (played with eloquent conflict by Matthew Rhys) displays somewhat more compassion, before, during and after the willy-nilly killings, kidnappings and general skullduggery, but he does it anyway, and pulls innocents in with him.

(Such as the comic/tragic/hapless Martha, his "other" wife, to whom he finally revealed himself, somewhat, last season. Martha, painfully clueless and desperate, seems like a potential dead duck, to me.)
Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell aka Philip and Elizabeth Jennings.
Elizabeth also has no issue with planning to turn their daughter, who has gotten wise to her parents, into a spy for the Russians. (The training for such a covert task is brutal, but mother knows best!)

Many things about the show remain absurd — because it's TV, folks! The wigs and disguises, the fact that the clearly shady couple hasn't been discovered yet, the sheer volume of the body count they've racked up. Eh, nitpicking.
Under deep cover.
"The Americans" is actually a darker, more insidiously depressing series than "House of Cards." Frank and Claire Underwood are caricatures of power-mad politicians, but Philip and Elizabeth ring true in a shivery way. It's compulsively bleak and endlessly nerve-wracking.

I don't know if the new season of "The Americans" is available to binge watch on Netflix. Even if it is, I don't think I could take it. This one I prefer waiting a week for. I need time to recover!
FOR a while I've had a copy of The Hollywood Reporter on my desk that contains a story about the history of some of moviedom's most famous onscreen lines. The cover of THR replicates an original studio memo with suggestions on how to avoid Clark Gable having to utter Rhett Butler's final remark to a suddenly repentant Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With The Wind": "Quite frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!"
Here are some of the hilarious/lame alternatives:

"It has become of no concern to me" ... "I've withdrawn from the battle" ... "I am completely indifferent" ... "I don't give a whoop!" ... "The whole thing is stench in my nostrils" ... "My indifference is boundless" ... "It makes my gorge rise" ... "I've come to the end" ... "It's all the same to me" ... "The devil may care — I don't" ... "It is of no consequence."

Good sense finally prevailed, and Gable was allowed to utter Rhett's stinging rebuke to a tearful — if still determined — Katie Scarlett. "It is of no consequence?" Seriously?
Seth sings Liza! Photos: Bill Goulding.
MAIL! We have received so many kind and thoughtful notes and e-mails about our recent columns celebrating Liza Minnelli's 70th birthday and our attempt to reason out the media beat-down Madonna has been taking in regard to her Australian shows. Both these ladies have deeply devoted and highly astute admirers. Of course, the very best Happy Birthday to Liza, came in the form of Seth Sikes' triumphant homage to the star at 54 Below last Saturday.

Seth's set included some of the "big hits" but he mostly confined himself to poignant, not as well-know Liza numbers that captured the star's (and Seth's own) sensitivity. "Plenty of Time," "Sing Happy" and "Sorry I Asked" were particularly moving. The place was packed and the crowd went wild. Just like, well — a Liza Minnelli concert!

Big Madonna fan! Chris Tanasoff (right) at the Rebel Heart Tour.
As for Madonna, many chimed in, and I was pleased to not receive even one missive that asked me "How much is she paying you?" (I should be so lucky.) Or use foul language in denouncing her. One fan, Chris Tanasoff, is either from Australia, or traveled a hell of a long way to see Madonna, sent off a detailed account of her controversial "Tears of a Clown" concert. It reads, in part:

"Thank you for the article on Madonna. Finally someone in the media is writing truth instead of out of context nonsense. I was at the 'Tears of a Clown' show (and both of her Melbourne shows.)

"She was 3 hours late. However, her manager, Guy Oseary (and other management staff) came and spoke to us, apologized and explained ... something about the sound and lighting not working properly, and told us quite clearly what time we would be let in and that she still needed to rehearse — we could hear her rehearsing which was a pleasure! At that point, we were told anyone who was unhappy was free to abandon their free ticket and leave, needless to say that not a single person did.
"I don't think she had a wobbly moment. It was intentional. She was playing a clown and was doing a funny walk. She was talking about how those clown shoes are so difficult to walk in. It's true there was an emotional moment where she spoke about Rocco but it wasn't at any stage an 'alcohol fuelled rant.' It was actually heartbreaking to watch.

"She had two (SMALL) drinks on stage but that was the point of 'Tears of a Clown.' She has said many times she wanted to do intimate shows where she could sit down and have a few drinks, sing a few songs and tell a few stories. At no point was she drunk.
"I was lucky enough to take a friend to 'Tears of a Clown.' He isn't a super fan like myself but his reaction to the negative media after the show was disbelief! Thank you. It's always a pleasure to read what you write."

Well, Chris, it's always a pleasure to receive such a pleasant, well-informed note. Thank you!
ENDQUOTE: "I never smile unless I mean it," said Donny Osmond. I'm with Donny. There is nothing more grotesque than a fake smile. (Please, folks, check all your selfies!) But Hillary Clinton has been advised to "smile more" and "don't talk so loud." Of course, it's men (like MSNBC's Joe Scarborough) who get on Clinton's case the most. Because, running for president is such a smiley, cheerful thing to do, right? Can you think of anything more amusing? Especially now, with what this country is facing. (Riots, perhaps, if certain nominees don't get their way.)
Smile, Joe!
Hillary Clinton smiles enough. A phony grin and a practiced dulcet tone won't solve our problems. Bernie Sanders seems like a nice guy, but I haven't seen him grinning from ear to ear much, and he hardly speaks in a whisper. What about his fly-away hair and those rumpled suits? Are any of the male pundits out there giving him pointers on presentation? Nope.

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.