Tag Archives: Paul Giamatti

A mostly TV post, starring the awesome “Billions” and the really great “Better Call Saul.” And John Oliver brings us Eminem vs. New Zealand

Not going to sit here and complain about that awful performance by my New York Rangers last night, a season-ending awful performance. Nope, they’re not worth my time or aggravation.

So let’s start today with a TV post; I haven’t done one of these in a while but just about every show I’m watching these days is in the middle of a fantastic season, so I want to talk about two of them.

First off, it’s pretty rare that a series gets better from Season 1 to Season 2. “Breaking Bad” did it, “The West Wing” did, and maybe a couple others, but usually, quality either stays the same or regresses significantly (see: “The Wire,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Homeland,” etc.)

But man oh man has “Billions” been sensational in Season 2, far and away better than a really good Season 1 (Don’t worry, no spoilers about the season finale here, I know it’s only been a couple days.)

Damien Lewis has been so, so good this season, as billionaire Bobby Axelrod, going from cocky-as-hell to scared, from sympathetic to “oh man he’s such an ass,” often in the course of the same episode. Paul Giamatti as U.S. district attorney-turned-governor candidate Chuck Rhoades, has also been fabulous this year.

The show has been hilarious this year (Wags gets the best lines, from his “this deal stinks worse than Billy Batts in a trunk” to his “you mean the petting zoo?”), it’s been a little heartbreaking, and the supporting cast, with new characters like Taylor (whose gender is unknown), and SEC investigator Dake (smarmy and awesome)  being so solid alongside returnees like Wendy Rhoades and Cafferty, has been sensational as well.

The penultimate episode last week was pure perfection, as we got to see a half hour of Axe celebrating, thinking his dirty tricks have ruined Rhoades and his father, to the final 10 minutes when we learn Chuck has been playing Axe the whole time, and the whole situation blew up in Axe’s face.

I cannot, cannot recommend “Billions” enough. It has taken a giant leap forward this season. If you need a new show to binge-watch, this is the one for you.

**Next up, wanted to talk about another show that has been awesome this season (no, not ‘The Americans,” which I worship but hasn’t been quite up to its usual standards), “Better Call Saul.” I had high hopes for this show when it started, given it was a “Breaking Bad” spinoff, though I feared it wouldn’t be able to sustain itself.

But we’re early in Season 3 and it’s still fantastic, and getting better. The two separate, parallel shows, featuring Jimmy McGill on his way toward becoming shyster lawyer Saul Goodman, and ultimate fixer Mike Ehrmantrout trying to figure out the New Mexico drug war and one of its key players, Gus Fring (it is SO damn good to have him back in my life) have both been fascinating so far this year.

Jimmy so much would like to be a good man and a good, honest lawyer, but circumstances and the worst angels of his nature keep getting in the way, and in the way of fellow attorney Kim Wexler truly falling in love with him.

“Better Call Saul” has had a great slow build, such a great slow build that as brilliant TV critic Alan Sepinwall points out, you want them to hurry up and get to Jimmy becoming Saul, but you don’t want that because the leadup has been so measured and great.

“Better Call Saul” is getting better and better. Can’t wait to see how good it will be next week.

**Finally today, this cracked me up, as “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” almost always does. It’s a short video about a ridiculous court case in New Zealand, involving Eminem, a campaign song, and some fantastic, shocked looks from politicians.

I’m with John, I totally would watch this trial.


“Billions” a new show I’m excited about. Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, hilarious again. And the supermarket freezer that can read your facial expression (seriously)

Damian Lewis as Bobby "Axe" Axelrod and Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades in Billions (Season 1, Episode 1). - Photo: JoJo Whilden/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: Billions_101_5107.R

I’m a little hesitant to get too excited about TV shows too early in their run, because a lot of times they run out of steam pretty quickly (see, “Homeland,” “New Girl,” and “Nurse Jackie,” just to name a few).

But I had extremely high hopes for the new “Billions” show on Showtime that premiered two weeks ago, simply because of the two leads: Damian Lewis, so fantastic as Brody on “Homeland,” and Paul Giamatti, who’s been awesome in every movie I’ve ever seen him in, from “Cinderella Man,” to “Sideways” to “Private Parts.”

After two episodes, my verdict is this: Watch. This. Show. It’s damn good.

The plot is this: Chuck Rhoades (Giamatti) is the U.S attorney in Manhattan who prosecutes white-collar Wall Street crimes by day, and enjoys a little S&M with his wife at night (so far just one scene of that, but … man.) Bobby Axelrod (Lewis) is a billionaire hedge fund manager who rose up from nothing to become one of the richest men in the world. He’s smug, he’s arrogant, he’s charming, and Lewis plays him with just the right amount of likability.

Right away it’s established that Chuck is going to try to take down Axelrod, by any means necessary, and score his biggest criminal conviction yet. One possible complication? Chuck’s wife is Axelrod’s closest confidant, a sort-of “life coach meets problem-solver) for Axelrod’s firm.

The show is smartly written, really well acted by everyone (David Costabile, a great “That Guy” who played Gale on “Breaking Bad,” is also great as Axelrod’s consigliere at the firm) and has a lot of room to grow. I was fully hooked at the end of last week’s second episode, when Axelrod tells a great story about why he’s so determined to buy naming rights to an old NYC building from a family that’s owned it for decades.

I don’t know if “Billions” is going to stay this good, but we’re hooked. Sunday nights at 10 on Showtime.

Brody, it’s like we hardly knew ye.  Watch the trailer below.

**Next up, I meant to put this in the blog on Monday but it was running long already and I figured it’d still be funny two days later

And it is. Tina Fey, who really should win an Emmy or a Nobel Prize or something for playing Sarah Palin all these years, was back at it last week on “Saturday Night Live” since the former Governor of Alaska was in the news for endorsing The Donald. (By the way, a scary but pretty fantastic analysis of why Trump is likely to be the nominee was written by Josh Marshall of TPM on Tuesday; I still don’t think Trump will be the nominee in the end, but Marshall makes some excellent points, the best being: All these GOP leaders think they can mold him into whatever they want, since he has no principles of his own.)

From the opening line of the skit, Fey has me in hysterics. Enjoy.

**Finally today, I love stories about robots and machines taking over the world, and this is one I hadn’t heard before.

At the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York City last week, a  mind-blowing product was revealed: A grocery store freezer case that can help you decide what you want to buy by reading your facial expression through cameras installed on top of it. It makes suggestions and shares ingredients and product information by using the glass door in front as a screen.

There’s a camera on it that gives data on your facial expressions back to the companies whose products are inside, it analyzes who walks by by their gender and feeds real-time stats back to companies.

I, of course, have lots of questions: First, will people feel shame reaching for the Tombstone pizzas they know they shouldn’t eat, if a camera is watching? If enough people make sad faces at the brussels sprouts, will we finally be rid of them?
And most importantly, isn’t this just a little too creepy, even for 2016? I know we’re being watched everywhere, but a man (or woman) should be able to pig out and not have anyone notice.

Except, you know, the cashier in aisle 7, who’s totally judging you.

“Saving Mr. Banks:” Good, but way too dark. An epic Chiefs collapse, and more NFL thoughts. And a “funny old white guy” dancing video.


So in my continued quest to see the huge number of quality movies released in the last few weeks (seriously, why does every good movie have to get released in December? I mean, I know why, but I just wish the quality was spread out), my wife and I caught “Saving Mr. Banks” this weekend.

And what I kept thinking as I watched this pretty good, but could’ve been great, flick, was this: I have totally been sold a bill of goods on this one.

I’m not naive in the ways of Hollywood marketing. I understand that sometimes the promotions and PR people at movie studios have to “sell” a movie a certain way, to appeal to as large an audience as possible. But man, you could NOT mislead potential filmgoers any more than the “Saving Mr. Banks” people did. All the trailers, all the commercials, tout this puppy as a feel-good, light, crowd-pleasing movie about Walt Disney’s quest to convince a stuffy British author to allow her fabulous “Mary Poppins” series to be made into a film.

And yet, this is SO not what the movie is. I mean, yes, that is the premise, but the movie is SO much darker, and so much grimmer and mirth-less (is that a word?) than I expected.

First, the stuff I liked: Emma Thompson plays Travers brilliantly, acerbic and hilarious in her awful treatment of others. Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks, charming and graceful. And Paul Giamatti is always a delight, and here you’re reminded of how good an actor he is.

But this movie had problems. Biggest among them was the huge amount of flashbacks to Travers’ childhood, and how every single thing in the movie was symbolic of something else. There must’ve been 25 flashback scenes, no joke, when a half-dozen would’ve conveyed the same point: Travers has some scars from her childhood relationship with her parents. We get it.

I also thought they made some of the supporting players a little too cartoonish, and the movie went on 15-20 minutes too long.

Still, the acting of Hanks and Thompson is so good, that in the end I recommend seeing it if you haven’t yet.
But do NOT go in thinking it’s going to be a light comedy. Bring a flashlight, there’s some darkness up there on the screen.

**Next up, these videos always crack me up, when an athletic team made up mostly of young black men get their stodgy old white coach to dance in the locker room after a big win.

Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel, you get down with your bad self…


**Finally, what a terrific sports weekend it was. Three of four NFL playoff games were stellar (thanks for showing up, Andy Dalton), I saw a few awesome college hoops games (my Dukies got upset at Notre Dame and looked really weak inside, but I’m not panicking yet), and even my Rangers got a big-time win.

Some thoughts from the gridiron action:
— Life as a Kansas City Chiefs fan: Not fun. To blow a 38-10 second-half lead is unthinkable. But Andrew Luck and the Colts were fantastic in the final 2 quarters, they got a big-time break on that fumble/touchdown by Luck, and KC’s defense, in the words of Bart Scott, couldn’t stop a nosebleed. Just an all-time brutal loss. Poor Chiefs fans; we Jets feel your pain (my favorite reaction was from e-migo Matt R., who Tweeted me: “Gonna go watch “Schindler’s List” to try to cheer up.”)

— Eagles should have won Saturday night; they’re the better team. But good for Drew Brees to finally shut up his critics about his record in outdoor playoff games.

— Man that was fun, watching Green Bay and San Fran beat the snot out of each other in sub-zero Lambeau. Those players going sleeve-less? Insane. Mucho respect to Frank Gore and the Niners for pulling out that win.

–Next weekend could give us two classic games: I think Carolina-San Francisco will be terrific, and Indy-New England will be lots of fun. I see Denver and Seattle easily winning their games, though.