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Focus on the Family: What “The Sopranos” & “Big Love” Have in Common

posted by ellen leventry

The long-awaited opener to the sixth season of “The Sopranos” started out more Beatnik than Bayonne. Viewers were treated to a surreal roundup of what’s happened since we last checked in the Sopranos, some 18 months ago, with William S. Burrough’s recitation of “The Western Lands”–as featured in the song “Seven Souls” by Material–guiding the editors’ cuts and splices.

In Ancient Egyptian mythology, souls traveled to the Western Lands to find eternal rest. Burroughs explains in the opening lines of his novel that each body possessed not just one, but seven souls. As each of these seven souls is described, corresponding Soprano souls–searching for their own rest, their own immortality–are reintroduced to the viewer.

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“Adriana was on screen while viewers learned about ‘the Shadow, Memory, your whole past conditioning from this and other lives,'” writes MSNBC.com’s Andy Denhart. “The Guardian Angel” was described as Meadow danced seductively in her underwear for fiancé Finn; Carmela was dreaming about Adriana as Burroughs described “The Double… the only reliable guide through the land of the dead”; and Janice and her new baby daughter were on screen as the narrator described “the Secret Name” who “directs the film of your life from conception to death.”

Slate.com’s Troy Patterson took a broader, less literal, view of Burrough’s narrative: “Perhaps the particulars of this view of the afterlife were less important than the timbre of Burroughs’ voice, a noise at once world-weary and otherworldly. Maybe this was meant as a lens for viewing the signs that followed in the episode–people wondering what would be possible if the underboss passed on; Tony’s telling his shrink that, were he losing his mind like Uncle Junior, he would hope for his family to euthanize him. Was this just a tip-off that the coming season–which makes room for Jesus, Buddha, theories of universal oneness, and meditations on Indian proverbs–will up the metaphysical ante?”

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In addition to the big numinous questions, there were other more subtle allusions to faith, such as Christopher’s devotion to AA and Vito’s zealous conversion to a healthy lifestyle.

From metaphysical to Mormons, viewers were introduced to the Soprano’s new neighbors last night, the Henricksons of “Big Love.” Bill Henrickson is a polygamist married to three wives–each with financial and physical needs all her own–with whom he has seven children, each with his or her own particluar needs. Meanwhile, Bill is trying to expand a successful hardware business while being “shaken down” by the religious leader of the rogue Mormon sect he grew up in. (While the Mormon church has outlawed polygamy for more than a century now, breakaway sects, which consider themselves Mormon, continue the practice. The Henricksons belong to such a group.) And, on top of all that, Bill’s trying to determine whether his mother has been attempting to kill his father by slipping him small doses of arsenic.

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You can be forgiven for thinking that Tony Soprano’s problems–multiple paramours, issues with his kids, difficulties with the family business, and family members killing each other–have simply been transported out West. Especially when it seems like the writers of the two shows are sharing notes: Tony tells A.J. at one point in Sunday’s episode that, “In the end, your friends are going to let you down. Family, they’re the ones you can depend on.” While Bill’s mother, Lois, similarly declares that only family will always love you.

What is interesting about both of these episodes is that family consumes the souls of both protagonists, even if they (especially Tony) don’t always live up to their own ideals, and both men head atypical families coping with some very typical problems. As Denhart points out, “Those seven souls inhabit [Tony]; his family is his very being.” The same could be said of Bill Henrickson, although, he has a few more family members to pack into his soul.

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Dufour. That’s Spelled ‘B-i-n L-a-d-e-n’

posted by burb

You’re an up-and-coming pop star. You finally got an agent. You look fabulous. Then your uncle, who you don’t even talk to, totally masterminds a plan to fly jetliners into the World Trade Center! How uncool is that? Well, maybe not so uncool. Wafah Dufour, a niece of Al-Qaeda kingpin Osama Bin Laden, is about to get her own reality show, about the trials of being a fledgling pop star, thanks to Judith Regan, the publisher and media heavy who signed Dufour last week to do the show, apparently out of sympathy for the young woman’s plight: “She wants to be recognized as a serious artist, and in the middle of all this, suddenly her uncle does something so terrifying and horrifying, and she has to deal with that,” says Regan, who was not asked, apparently, whether she had ever heard of Dufour before her uncle became notorious.

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Wafah isn’t the first in her family to capitalize on the tragedy of 9/11. Her mother, Carmen Dufour bin Laden, is the author of the bestseller “Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia,” published in 2004. Wafah, an American who also has Swiss nationality, was born in Santa Monica but grew up in Saudi Arabia and Geneva. She says she no longer speaks to her father, and has little to do with the bin Laden clan, even dropping the name to distance herself from the family’s terrorist black sheep. Surely, her recent signing is, if anything is, irrefutable proof that there is no bad publicity.

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Damian Marley Walks to Zion–and My Play List

Damian “Jr Gong” Marley (Bob’s youngest son) plans to keep on walking the “Road to Zion,” as one of his songs repeats. And with his latest album, “Welcome to JamRock,” released in September 2005, he has walked his way somewhere else too: the top of my play list.

“Welcome to Jamrock” is reminiscent of the music that is born from deep within long, sweeping dreadlocks and the smoke that curls around them. But what Marley has done to create this masterpiece is combine the sounds his father would approve of with the current splashiness of the American R&B/hip-hop wave. His song “Road to Zion” features Nas and “Beautiful” features bad-boy Bobby Brown.

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Not only is this album blatantly and shamelessly political–Marley explains the reality of poverty and drug-addictions in Jamaica and comments liberally on war–but also it is deeply spiritual. In “Confrontation,” Marley touts the importance of having faith:

You see, you gave precious life to me
So I live my life for you… You…
You see, you’ve always been there for me
And so I’ll be there for you… You…
…Bless your eyes and may your days be long
May you rise on the morning when His kingdom come.

Like all Rastas, Marley believes that with Jah (the Rastafari word for God), everything is gonna be all right.

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Will I seh, “Baby you’re the cleanest
The true definition of what my queen is
Nothing coulda ever really come between us
Share the same room and Jah will feed us.”

Though religion isn’t usually thought of as arousing, who said being spiritual can’t be sexy?
In “Beautiful,” Marley toasts to that and outlines the kind of passion that is all encompassing:

Now it typically became an everyday thing
Regularly, physically communicating sexually, scientifically penetrating
Until she start spiritually resonating
Ah so mi know she real and seh she ah nuh play thing.

Whether he’s wailing in a raspy reggae that’s as buoyant as a Jamaican breeze or crooning in strong, defined dancehall style, Marley proves his ability to reconcile his heritage with the direction mainstream music is moving.

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But perhaps his most recognizable creed is also his most powerful. In “Road to Zion” Marley tempts us with a call of redemption and reconnection to his Creator:

Clean and pure meditation without a doubt
Don’t mek dem take you like who dem took out
Jah will be waiting there we a shout
Jah will be waiting there!

Until we get there, Marley’s reflective, free-spirited nature promises not only a successful career but also the lightness that is evoked through listening to his precision.

And who doesn’t fall for someone who spouts truths as often as he honors humanity? “Just walk the narrow pavement/And of love not hatred,” Marley says in “For the Babies.” He continues: “And if you can’t be good, at least be honest to your babies / The strength of Ras Tafari I’m hoping someday maybe / They don’t obey their parents maybe they will [obey me].”

And let’s face it, who wouldn’t?

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“Illusion” Is Almost Magical

posted by kris rasmussen

What if someone made a movie of your life? Would you want to watch? And if you did, what would be the highlights? What would you change? The independent film “Illusion,” currently in limited theatrical release, ponders these questions and more through the eyes of a legendary but ailing film director, played by legendary but ailing actor Kirk Douglas in perhaps his last big screen performance.

The movie begins with director Donald Baines waking up in the middle of the night to find that he has been magically transported to an old film house, where he is reunited with a deceased film editor Baines once worked with. The film editor gives Baines the chance to look at three film clips from Baines’s life The talented but lonely director has always regretted abandoning his only son, Christopher, and chooses to see three different moments from Christopher’s life as a way of reassuring himself that Christopher’s life turned out okay. The three film clips show Christopher in his teens, his 20s, and in his 30s, and all the clips center around a thwarted romance between Christopher and a woman he has admired from a distance, Isabelle. When Donald sees that Christopher’s life is about to take a dangerous turn for the worse, he hopes that he can still make a difference in Christopher’s life before it is too late.

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While “Illusion” is very sweet and charming at certain moments, more often than not the movie tends to be a little too heavy-handed for me in its treatment of life, death, and reconciliation. And while the gimmick of having Baines on his deathbed in a movie theater as he observes Christopher’s life is clever at first, in the end, I felt that, as a storytelling device, it eventually gets old. Still, Douglas gives an unsettling performance, though perhaps not his best, as he fearlessly uses his own age and infirmities (he suffered a stroke a few years back) to portray an ambitious man who wasted much of his life on work that was ultimately not important. One can’t help but wonder while watching the movie if perhaps Douglas is, in some way, reflecting on his own successes and failures as an actor and a father. So for some movie buffs, his performance will be a spell-binding enough reason to watch “Illusion.”

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