Features

Tuesday: Think 'Sopranos' with a rum chaser

Jamie Gumbrecht
Cane - CBS - 10 p.m.
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

CBS takes a giant leap from its usual crime procedural, solved-in-an-hour lawyer routine with Cane.

Oh, how we mourned The Sopranos.

Never again, we whined, would we have a family so odd yet so relatable. Never again would we see conspiracy with the morning cappuccino and crime with the family business.

Time to wake up and smell the cafe Cubano.

CBS takes a giant leap from its usual crime procedural, solved-in-an-hour lawyer routine with Cane.

The family drama, featuring an experienced cast led by Jimmy Smits, follows a colorful Cuban-American family in charge of a vast rum and sugar empire.

Their long, dark tale bounces between two countries and among three generations, several families and millions of dollars.

Aside from shady history, the show follows current news. Sugar isn't just about alcohol and sweets anymore; it's ethanol.

A Cuban-American child doesn't just join the family business; he joins the military.

And depending on what happens in Cuba in the coming years, this family's business could change dramatically.

Tony who?

NEW SHOWS

ABC: Cavemen, 8 p.m.; premieres Oct. 2

What: Cavemen -- the sensitive, underappreciated Neanderthals from the Geico commercials -- get their own show.

Who: Bill English, Nick Kroll, Sam Huntington, Kaitlin Doubleday, Stephanie Lemelin, Julie White.

Why: I just can't explain this one.

How: Cavemen, yes, the guys from the commercials, try to exist in the modern world as a population .oppressed for 750,000 years. They wear cardigans and own iPods and go to country clubs with their fiances. But they're still fuzzy and flat-faced and fighting the negative stereotype that comes with being a caveman. Western-themed barbecues and golfing? Not so great for them, when everyone around them is looking for a scapegoat or a reason to blame them for their troubles.

It's a weird commentary on racism, stereotypes and cultural differences. Possibly too weird. Even more weird than having a show based on characters from a commercial. (In the pilot, there was no obvious hawking of insurance.) And unfortunately, it just doesn't seem that funny.

ABC: Carpoolers, 8:30 p.m., Oct. 2

What: Four guys survive on the strength of their carpool.

Who: Faith Ford, Fred Goss, T.J. Miller, Jerry O'Connell, Allison Munn, Jerry Minor, Tim Peper.

Why: Desperate Housewives gets a lot of viewers. Let's make it for men!

How: A new guy (Peper) enters the carpool, and his fellow road warriors aren't so sure he fits in. He's always talking about a partnership with his wife and seems reluctant to throw himself in front of another carpool when it's about to steal their pool's rightful parking space. Jeez. And the rest of the pool members have their own problems, including wives who make more money than they do, wives who are bleeding their bank accounts after divorce, and wives and children who won't give them any peace. (Noticing a theme?)

Funny moments abound, but the show needs more personality to keep propelling it forward. In the pilot, it's just four funny guys in a carpool. Four women who live in the `burbs seemed like relatable fantasy. This just might be too real.

CBS: Cane, 10 p.m., Sept. 25

What: A Cuban-American family of rum makers and sugar producers tries to survive with business and politics intact.

Who: Jimmy Smits, Hector Elizondo, Nestor Carbonell, Rita Moreno, Paola Turbay, Eddie Matos, Michael Trevino, Lina Esco, Sam Carman, Alona Tal, Polly Walker.

Why: The Sopranos is gone. Smits was looking for work. Why not create a new family drama and attach a big star to it?

How: Alex Vega (Smits) inherits the Duque family sugar and rum empire, and all the historic scandals, shady deals and family feuding that comes with it. In this colorful drama, there are generations trying to balance their history and heritage with their tremendous fortune and modern business. It takes place in today's Florida, which means we can expect news out of Cuba to play a huge role in the show's trajectory. Even in the pilot, major plot points hinge on the use of sugar in fuel production.

This is one of the better dramas of the season, putting together a truly stunning cast in a story line thick with possibility. It's also one of the more diverse casts on television, sometimes relying on subtitles for scenes spoken in Spanish. This makes it stand out in a season filled with stories of wealthy white men.

CW: Reaper, 9 p.m., Sept. 25

What: A 21-year-old guy discovers he's the reaper, as in the devil's indentured servant. Rough life.

Who: Bret Harrison, Tyler Labine, Ray Wise, Missy Peregrym, Rick Gonzalez, Valarie Rae Mills.

Why: It's a delicate balance between Supernatural and Veronica Mars.

How: A long time ago, Sam's dad was sick. So before Sam (Harrison) was born, his parents sold the soul of their firstborn to the devil, thinking they'd never have kids. Oops. Twenty-one years later, the devil (Wise) comes to collect on Sam's parents' debt. Sam becomes the devil's bounty hunter, recapturing, with the help of a hyper-powered Dirt Devil hand vacuum, evil souls that escaped from Hell. With the help of his overzealous friends and the surprisingly motivational dark lord, he manages to get the job done in an anti-hero kind of way.

This is surprisingly funny, if a little twisted. Because really, if a guy is the devil's bounty hunter, how is he ever supposed to get the girl?

SELECT RETURNING SHOWS

NCIS, 8 p.m.; premieres Sept. 25, CBS: As all the "NCIS"-ers' secrets were about to be revealed through Homeland Security polygraph tests, there was a particularly gruesome scene involving cocaine being sniffed out of a dead man's intestines. There might have been other plot points in the fourth-season finale, but that's the dominant image. Yum.

House, 9 p.m., Sept. 25, Fox: In the third-season finale, the brilliant-but-crabby doctor saved a Cuban woman but fired or alienated his entire team. The question now is whether he can get them back or whether a new team of young docs will help him out.

Law & Order: SVU, 10 p.m., Sept. 25, NBC: During a rape-murder trial, several old story lines came back to haunt the characters. Now, the jobs of the main characters are on the line. It's resolution time.

VIEWING STRATEGY

Suggestions for how to plan your night of couch potato-ing:

Watch: Bones, House, Cane.

Record: NCIS, Reaper, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Forget: Cavemen, Carpoolers, The Singing Bee.

Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

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8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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