Tag Archives: White Collar

HBO’s Normal Heart beats strong and true

'The Normal Heart' on HBO.

Matt Bomer and Mark Ruffalo (from left) head a stellar cast in ‘The Normal Heart,’ a devastating HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer’s play about the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York.

Larry Kramer’s shattering play The Normal Heart opened Off-Broadway nearly 30 years ago, yet this blistering indictment of public and bureaucratic indifference during the early years of the AIDS crisis had to wait until this Sunday to make its transition to the screen, via HBO’s star-studded new TV movie.
Maybe Kramer’s play – part poignant personal drama, part furious polemic – was deemed too hot to handle by most film and TV producers, although some power players including Barbra Streisand tried to get Kramer’s Heart transplanted long before now.
At any rate, HBO’s stunning adaptation – directed by Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story) from a screenplay by Kramer himself – was worth the wait. To some degree, watching this story at such a remove from the actual events of the play diminishes some of the piece’s power and urgency, but the human drama that remains is riveting in its own right.
Drawn primarily from Kramer’s own personal experiences, The Normal Heart opens in 1981 as gay writer Ned Weeks (Kramer’s alter ego, played by a very fine Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers) and his best friend, Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights), arrive on Fire Island, a gay vacation mecca, for a weekend of partying. Although spirits are running high among most of the participants, we quickly notice that Ned is odd man out, his presence evoking outright hostility from several visitors. Turns out Ned recently wrote a very controversial book that was, among other things, a scathing denunciation of the promiscuity that was embraced by many gay men in those early days of gay liberation.
Ned, a schlubby, socially awkward 40-something who never has had a successful relationship, is regarded as a sour party-pooper by many of his gay peers, so when he starts trying to call attention to a mysterious new disease that seems to target homosexuals, much eye-rolling ensues.
His curiosity piqued, Ned turns to Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts), a flinty physician who is one of the few doctors treating most of this syndrome’s early victims. She admits that, while she suspects the disease is contracted during sex, she can’t prove it.
Taylor Kitsch, Jonathan Groff and Joe Mantello

Closeted gay New Yorker Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch, left) and his friend Mickey Marcus (Joe Mantello, right) desperately seek medical help for Bruce’s critically ill boyfriend (Jonathan Groff) in ‘The Normal Heart.’

After Bruce’s current boyfriend (Jonathan Groff, Glee) falls ill, Ned persuades Bruce and several other closeted gay men in the upper echelons of New York society to help him form the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, but Ned is dumbfounded to discover that many of these “discreetly gay” gentlemen are so paranoid about their personal lives being made public that they don’t even want the name of their new organization to appear on the outside of fund-raising envelopes.
As Emma struggles in vain to raise public awareness and receive more – or, indeed, any – financial support to study what is starting to look terrifyingly like an epidemic, Ned, Bruce and their stressed-out inner circle are chronically at odds over how to be most effective, exacerbated by Ned’s tactless, confrontational style. It’s here that The Normal Heart really soars, making tangible all these years later how chaotic and acrimonious the early ‘80s were for the New York gay community, as a dearth of reliable medical information and a surfeit of public and governmental callousness left those at ground zero to fight relentlessly among themselves, when they weren’t attending memorial services for young, talented friends cut down in their prime.
“We’re losing an entire generation,” sighs GMHC executive director and hospital worker Tommy Boatright (Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory, in the TV movie’s most endearing performance). “Young men, at the beginning, just gone. Choreographers, playwrights, dancers, actors: all those plays that won’t get written now, all those dances never to be danced. … I keep screaming inside, ‘Why are they letting us die? Why is no one helping us?’ “
The seamless ensemble contributes one remarkable performance after another. Ruffalo, best known as a romantic leading man in other movies, doesn’t shy away from Ned’s often abrasive, in-your-face personal style, while Matt Bomer (White Collar) reveals new depths as Felix Turner, the patient New York Times reporter who falls in love with Ned. Roberts, strenuously glammed-down, gives an appropriately testy and vanity-free performance as Dr. Brookner. Kitsch also shows unexpected range as a golden boy and former Green Beret forced by fate to become a completely different kind of hero, and Joe Mantello – who played Ruffalo’s role in a recent Tony-winning Broadway revival of Kramer’s play – has an unforgettable scene in which his character, GMHC board member Mickey Marcus, suffers a complete breakdown from the relentless pressure he and his peers are enduring.
If you were lucky enough to see The Normal Heart during its original 1985 theatrical run in New York or, as I did, in one of the many regional theater productions that quickly followed, you probably remember feeling that you were witnessing something historic, an artistic event firmly plugged into a chilling and still-unfolding real-life crisis that had no resolution on the horizon.
Watching the same story at home, three decades later, with AIDS now regarded as a somewhat manageable health condition, The Normal Heart no longer screams with quite the same unfettered rage. As a time capsule of a truly harrowing time in recent American history, however, it’s close to perfect.
Julia Roberts

Oscar winner Julia Roberts stars as the beleaguered Dr. Emma Brookner in ‘The Normal Heart’ on HBO.

House of lies

Aaron Tveit
“There are no secrets in Graceland,” one of FBI newbie Mike Warren’s (Aaron Tveit) undercover colleagues tells him in tonight’s premiere of USA Network’s provocative new drama. The agent in question, Catherine “Charlie” DeMarco (Vanessa Ferlito, CSI: NY), probably isn’t willfully lying – she’s mainly talking about how close-knit the diverse folks who share a luxurious California beach house are – but she’s definitely stretching the truth.
If you’ve seen any of the gazillion promos USA has been running for the show, you’d be forgiven if you were tempted to dismiss Graceland as a contrived and ludicrous hybrid of Baywatch and a gritty cop drama such as The Shield. In fact, however, series creator Jeff Eastin (White Collar) based this new series on an actual beachfront property the U.S. Government seized in 1992 and really did use as an undercover residence for federal agents of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Customs until 2001.
In the series, Graceland – which got its nickname from the Elvis-obsessed drug kingpin who previously owned the property – is where Mike is assigned fresh out of graduating top of his class at Quantico. He’s a little stunned to be here, having expected a position in Washington, D.C., but he’s here to train with Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata, Rescue Me), a senior FBI agent with a formidable track record (and, he notes smugly, even higher test scores than Mike got). In addition to Paul, Mike and the aforementioned Charlie, Graceland’s other current residents include Johnny Tuturro (Manny Montana), a fun-loving prankster with Navy SEAL training; Dale “DJ” Jakes (Brandon Jay McLaren), a hot-headed U.S. Customs agent who hates it when his roommates touch his “stuff”; and Paige Arkin (Serinda Small), a DEA undercover agent who views Mike warily, since he’s moving into the room previously occupied by her regular partner, currently sidelined after a drug deal gone wrong.
As Paul is quick to remind Mike, they are all in a career that calls on them to lie for a living, keeping their activities a secret from their friends and loved ones. Viewers soon discover, however, just about everyone in Graceland is harboring secrets of their own – including Mike, who will discover at the end of his first day why his FBI bosses really sent him to Southern California.
Tveit, a Broadway musical star who played the student revolutionary Enjolras in the big-screen Les Miserables, is being touted as USA Networks’ next great white hottie, but he’s got a lot more going for him than superficial good looks. Maybe it’s partly because he starred as celebrated con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. in the Broadway musical Catch Me If You Can, but the actor makes an uncommonly polished TV series debut in this demanding role as a guy whose life depends on getting others to believe he is someone he is not. He also has a relaxed chemistry with Sunjata, which helps keep their characters from falling into the stereotypes of by-the-book rookie and more pragmatic veteran. Among the other players, Ferlito is a knockout as the chameleon-like Charlie.
Based on the three episodes I’ve seen, Graceland looks like one of the most interesting shows USA has fielded to date. It’s also a bit darker than most of the rest of the USA lineup, but that’s a good thing, as far as I am concerned.
Airing immediately before Graceland, Burn Notice, one of USA’s first major success stories in the scripted drama genre, begins its 7th and final season in somber style. Out of respect for a show that has given fans a lot of pleasure over the years with its intricate, action-packed episodes, let me just say that tonight’s premiere – and next week’s episode, the show’s 100th – suggest that it’s time to say goodbye.
Up to now, Burn Notice has managed to hold our attention despite following a fairly standard formula each season: Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) chases a Very Bad Person who is somehow linked to Michael’s current career crisis as a “burned” (discredited) spy, only to discover, as a rule, that someone even worse is waiting behind the next door. Last season, Michael shot and killed an unspeakably vile U.S. official (guest star John C. McGinley) who was responsible for the murder of Michael’s kid brother, landing Michael and his friends in such hot water that, this season, he is forced to do off-the-books undercover work for the CIA to keep them all out of prison.
Unfortunately, that new premise keeps Michael segregated from the rest of his extended family – former fiancée Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), best friend Sam (Bruce Campbell), tech wizard Jesse (Coby Bell), and mom Maddie (Sharon Gless), a once-feisty character who now spends most of her time dithering and whining. I’m sure the writers probably have contrived a way to bring all these characters back together as this final season unfolds, but the delightfully snappy interplay among these once-vivid characters feels as if it’s been irretrievably broken. That’s sad, because while it was firing on all cylinders, Burn Notice almost always was a blast – one that didn’t rely entirely on Fiona’s penchant for C-4.
Jeffrey Donovan