Tuesday, August 1, 2017

LIZ SMITH: The Last Word!

There’s a dance in this old dame, yet.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

No Fun for Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as They Launder Money and Misery in "Ozark." Diana Rigg has the Last Word!  And, We're Still Here — And in quite a few other places, too! 

“YA KNOW, a lot of shit has happened around here since you showed up.”

That’s what at least two (perhaps three) characters remark to Jason Bateman, during the course of his ten-episode Netflix drama, “Ozark.”  And, truer words have rarely been spoken to and about a TV character!

In case you don’t keep up, and because “Ozark” hasn’t had quite the attention of, say, the vastly less interesting “Stranger Things” — this show is about a finance advisor-turned-money launderer (Bateman).
Jason Bateman in “Ozark.” 
His illegal activities are humming along just fine until one of his partners skims money from a violent drug cartel.  Bateman is spared, but he, his wife (the transcendent Laura Linney) and their two typically tiresome children have to high-tail it to — literally — the Ozarks.  There, he still has to somehow launder cash for the drug lord (a fantastic Esai Morales). Bateman is also in the investigative headlights of the FBI. (The chief investigator — played by Jason Butler Harner — is as nasty and twisted a piece of work as any of the “real” criminals populating this series.)
 Laura Linney and Jason Bateman in "Ozark." Photograph: Jackson Davis/AP
Is it original?  No.  Many comparisons have already been made to “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad.”  Moral compromises and hypocrisies abound.  What it has, what hooked me, is a sparseness and almost utter lack of humor.  Don’t ask me why, but I found this appealing.  It is dark and relentless.  It is also, as these familiar stories go, rife with implausibility and utterly stupid decisions.  One must suspend disbelief.

Jason Bateman is known for rather sarcastic straight-faced comic roles.  Here he does his usual Jason Bateman amongst heads blown off, guttings, and various other acts of violence.  I’m not sure if it’s acting, or simply the shock of Bateman in these circumstances, his aging boy-face showing few signs of emotion.  To top it off, the decisions his character makes, cause such havoc, I came to decide that was the missing humor.  At a certain point, one has to laugh; every time he has an “idea” you know the bell is going to be tolling for somebody. 
As for Laura Linney, she need only stand still in a scene and somehow she dominates it.  The quality of her voice, every fleeting expression, is so perfect.  She is an actor of the highest quality.  Ten years ago I thought, how can she get any better?  Now I think — what miracles will she produce ten years from now?  Linney transforms and transcends her material.
Changes need to be made if there is a season two of “Ozark.” Perhaps a drop in the body count, a few more facial expressions from Mr. Bateman, and maybe some rethinking on the way the people of the Ozarks are portrayed.  If another season doesn’t happen, these ten episodes were quite good enough and we can use our imaginations to decide on everybody’s eventual fate.  (Yes, remember imagination?)

Particular shout-outs to Julia Garner as Ruth, who struggles mightily with her good/bad  impulses.  As well as Peter Mullan and Lisa Emery as a married couple — the Snells — who understand each other very well indeed.  A warning, if Mrs. Snell goes for lemonade, hit the road! 
Peter Mullan as Jacob Snell.
KUDOS, brava and every other accolade to Dame Diana Rigg, whose big scene in Sunday night’s “Game of Thrones” dominated the episode, which was excellent in every other particular as well. 

Rigg, whose scene closed the episode, simply owned the hour. I won’t spoil it, but her “Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me,” was a delivery that Emmy nominations are made of. 
WELL, the reaction to the profile on little ole me in The New York Times last week, has resulted in a very interesting and varied set of responses and emails.  Some loved it.  Some didn’t.  I received a lot of “I don’t care what anyone says, you’re not old!”  (Ah, but I essentially said it myself, so ...)  

My longtime friend and collaborator, Denis Ferrara (not “Dennis” as the Times wrote it) said, “Darling, please pop an anti-depressant the next time you decide to speak to the press! Or slip the writer a roofie.”

My close-up. Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times
No matter what anybody thought of the tone of the piece (and/or my tone) everyone seemed impressed that a person of my great age received such coverage — and SUCH a big, very close-up photo — in the Times. 

I would however, like to add to and redress several points.  Despite the fact that the Liz Smith column no longer appears in a print outlet in New York City, it is still syndicated.  Yes, I can accurately jot it down in my bios — “syndicated columnist, Liz Smith.”  And this includes the important Palm Beach Post.  Also, I do not still write “a column of sorts.”  This is not a “sort” of column.  It may not be a breaking news column, but it is still a column.  It would be as if I referred to the author of the Times piece on me as a gentleman who writes articles "of a sort."

As for my column appearing “in a website called The New York Social Diary” I must laud the work of David Patrick Columbia and Jeff Hirsch who pour so much passion, dedication, wit and finesse into this site.  This is more than a website to its considerable audience, and I know for a fact that the way David and Jeff have handled my column has breathed a fresh new perspective into it, via a brilliant choice of photos, illustrations and original visual concoctions.

(Denis also has a hand in illustrating our words. Back in the day, he wanted more words and didn’t even think a photo was necessary.  Now he wants the same amount of words and more pictures. “I just like giving people a choice,” he says.) 
Liz and Den.
Times and celebrity culture have changed and this column has changed, inevitably.  But from what I can glean from daily mail, my audience accepts and understands and many prefer the historical context, opinion and even forays into non-show biz matters. (Those who don’t like our political ruminations, certainly let us know it!) 

But then, this column has never been about just one thing. Ever.  We’ve written here always what we find amusing, important, interesting, and we assume — perhaps sometimes presumptuously — that our readers will find it interesting as well.  Or at least find our interest, interesting.

I’ve heard from so many people in the last few days, exhorting me to “carry on.”  No problem.  There’s a dance in this old dame, yet.
Contact Liz here.