Tuesday, August 30, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Oversight

A terrified deer in the headlights — Riz Ahmed as Nasir Khan in HBO's "The Night Of."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

HBO Delivers A Deeply Intense Finale to "The Night Of." MTV Delivers Rihanna and Beyonce. (Come now, are we really talking about anybody else from that music awards show?)

“IN YOUR rantings your column forgot to mention AGAIN Hillary Clinton robbing America blind and selling her office to foreigners. Just thought I would AGAIN mention your oversight.”

That note came last week from a lady who took umbrage to our re-printing portions of Paul Rudnick’s fictional piece in The New Yorker about Melania Trump’s diary.

I do not, needless to say, agree with her assessment of Hillary Clinton’s actions. Although I have said here repeatedly, mistakes have been made and by no means do I think the former First Lady, United States Senator and Secretary of State will have an easy time defeating a man who puts his name on buildings. 
However, this is the USA, still, and we must work hard to keep it recognizably the USA.  (I do heartily approve of Clinton’s critical take on Donald’s campaign slogan: “Make America Hate Again.”)

Another reader said I should be ashamed, making fun of our “probable first lady” (Mrs. Trump.)   Aside from remarking that I found the article amusing — am I not allowed this opinion? — I had no harsh words for Melania at all.  I am sure she is charming. In fact, I’ve met her and she is charming. (I wonder if this reader took the New York Post to task for running, two days straight, old modeling pix of scantily-clad Melania?)
I’d love to repeat the things I’ve read online for eight years about Michelle Obama and her daughters, but our editors don’t allow that sort of language.
WOW! HBO’s “The Night Of” went out with a dazzling, intense, mournful bang Sunday night. The show began with two of the greatest episodes ever, then seemed to veer off and smudge some focus, but came back, finished with a one hour, 45 minute finale that redeemed what viewers felt they’d lost a bit during the ten-week series.

As the almost-dead-beat, cat-allergic, eczema-tormented defense attorney, John Turturro delivered a fantastic performance, one in which he was unafraid to revolt and alienate his audience. His emotional, pain-wracked summation to the jury screams “Emmy nomination!”
Kudos also to Riz Ahmed as Nasir Khan, accused of a horrible crime, panicked, jailed dumbstruck at Rikers, the very picture of a terrified deer in the headlights.  His transition from a foolish student to an increasingly hardened (and hunky) prisoner was hauntingly handled and acted. (Riz is already pretty well known for the most recent Jason Bourne film and last year’s “Nightcrawler.”  But he needs to be more than “pretty well known.”  Perhaps his role in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” will do the trick.)
Everybody was great, including Jeanne Berlin (so hilarious in Woody Allen’s recent “CafĂ© Society’) and Bill Camp. She as a prosecutor, and he as a cop, both too cynical to move mountains anymore.
Also powerful was Michael Kenneth Williams who took Naz under his protective wing at Rikers, but given the environment, not to the long-term benefit of the accused.
There’s talk of another “The Night Of” season — either a continuation with the current characters, or a new tale, a la “True Detective.”  I’d prefer the former.  Notice I haven’t spoiled anything.  Suffice to say, it wasn’t an entirely neatly-tied-in-a-bow finale. 
TRIED TO watch all of the MTV Video Music Awards.  But who am I kidding?  Do I know most of these people?  Can I hum the songs?

I did see some truly striking staging (Beyonce and Rihanna — Rihanna four times, baby!) some effortful performing by Britney, a lot of Kanye West talking (I just blank this guy out), a powerful Alicia Keys reciting a poem about Martin Luther King, two of the un-funniest “hosts” of an awards event I’ve ever seen (I honestly don’t think it’s my great age reacting — these guys were pathetic.)
And in the only old-fashioned kind of “pop” number I could identify (as much as an expert I am NOT on such matters) there was Nick Jonas looking almost as good as the slab of bacon he handled briefly before he and Ty Dollar $ign took to the open air outside Madison Square Garden to perform “Bacon.” (No, I haven’t the slightest idea what the song meant or even if the word “bacon” was part of the lyric.  Nick looked attractive, energetic and happy. That seemed enough.)
It was what it was, and I’m sure a lot of young people adored it.  I did notice during Beyonce’s long “Lemonade” number, many fans who were close to her weren’t shaking their bodies to her rhythm, rather they were standing still, trying to focus their iPhones. It annoyed me. I wonder how Bey felt?  Probably nothing.  That’s the way it is now.
Also, and it’s no shame in a place the size of MSG, but with the exception of Alicia Keys, it seemed to me everybody relied on at least a little bit of lip-syncing at certain moments. But, you try dancing up a storm, maintain breath control and try to be heard in a place the size of an aircraft hangar. 

I thought the dramatic spectacle of many of the numbers made up for any “help” performers required on their vocals. (Rihanna’s song — one of her songs! — in which she appeared to have brought 500 people onstage with her, was really rather epic.)
OVERHEARD: At the “Truth or Dare ” screening last week at MoMA.  Madonna, in a surprise move, attended with her daughter Lola, who seemed to enjoy the film very much. (Much to the pleasure of Madonna, who is only human and would like her children to appreciate certain aspects of her long, legendary career.)

Having a kiki with Lola after 25th Anniversary Screening of Truth Or Dare at the MOMA!
Lola admired several of Mom’s get-ups, too. Particularly a black number that appeared to be in danger of falling off (fans know this as the “when she screams at Warren Beatty” outfit).

Also getting Lola’s nod of approval were the killer short-shorts, platform heels and a tight Pucci top La Ciccone wears hoping to seduce Antonio Banderas at a gala given in her honor. Alas, Antonio’s un-amused wife was present; no seducing occurred. Still, the meeting eventually led to “Evita” so all was not lost. 

Madonna really was thrilled that her no-longer-little-girl had admiring things to say about her mother’s fabulous career, captured at one of its high points, in the documentary.   (You know how kids are.)

Oh, a slight correction, Joe Berger, who put the event together, does not work for MoMA, he simply managed that screening.  He is a film and theater producer and from what I hear, is still in shock that Madonna showed up!
YESTERDAY: Forgive us for going blank here. Came down with what can only be described as a three day FLU! Body aches, fever, the works. Passed as quickly as it came. I think it’s too much air-conditioning.
TOMORROW: Received a marvelous note from playwright Tony Kushner, who answered me fully when I asked here, “Whatever happened to Joe Pitt?” from Kushner’s great work “Angels in America.” (We were carrying on about actor/singer Patrick Wilson who played Joe in the HBO version of the show.)  I love all my intelligent readers. When they are famous and so obliging, I am duty bound to quote them. Stay tuned.

Contact Liz here.