My Brilliant Friend is an addictive saga of class, gender, crime, and Latin: EW review

I spent a happy month this year living in thrall to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, a four-part saga following two women across the back half of the 20th century. Ferrante addiction is a global pandemic, of course. Since the 2012 publication of the first volume, My Brilliant Friend, the series has sold an estimated kamillion copies in an estimated bazillion countries. Their sweep is epic, moving with mathematical precision from a particularly memorable school competition, through long days in a working class neighborhood, into great political upheavals and greater personal tragedies. In macro, the mind races for heavy comparisons: Woolf, Tolstoy, Eliot, the other Eliot. And Ferrante’s style is intimate, confessional, very funny. It has the unputdownable quality of one of those Twitter stories that used to go viral before Twitter was an all-consuming virus, a cheerful personal anecdote spiraling toward almost psychedelic rage.

Now My Brilliant Friend has been adapted into a series, with an eight-episode debut season rolling out on HBO starting Nov. 18. (Further seasons would, theoretically, adapt the later books.) The six episodes I’ve seen are a graceful adaptation of Ferrante’s first volume, brought to life by a talented young cast of mostly unknown performers. Director Saverio Costanzo films this coming-of-age story with admirable fluency. The show can’t compete with the book for sheer hallucinatory artistry. But by the third episode, you’re successful invested in a large cast, multiple local families all blessed with what you could call a classically Catholic amount of children.

It’s a whole community brought to fearful life. More simply, this is the story of a woman remembering her youth. We meet elderly Elena (Elisabetta De Palo) in the present-ish day. Her childhood friend Lila has just disappeared. This absence sends her back through memories of postwar Naples. Here we meet young Elena (Elisa Del Genio), a quiet and thoughtful child. She falls under the spell of Lila (Ludovica Nasti), charismatically tough in a manner her society might describe as “willful.”

Costanzo films these performers on their level, letting us join these tiny beings staring upward at a strange society. There’s a dreamy quality to the first two episodes. Lila and Elena develop a fantastical understanding of the real terror lingering all around. One local powermonger looks, to the girls, like a monster out of fairy tales. Violence is a constant: husbands beating wives, fathers beating children, one man physically throwing another halfway across a street.

An earlier generation of showbiz would’ve turned My Brilliant Friend into a movie — or, possibly, redacted the Neapolitan epic into a decade-crushing feature. Working with a writing staff that includes the mysterious Ferrante herself, Costanzo adeptly paces this long story. There’s an early misadventure where Lila and Elena set out on a long walk toward a sea, a Tom-and-Huck tall tale that builds from leisure into eerie tension. Del Genio is quite a find, her searching eyes a near-perfect expression of Book Elena’s watchful narrative gaze. (The show’s narration itself is, unfortunately, the least successful element here, shortcutting epiphanies the performers are already expressing with subtlety.) And Nasti’s a T-shirt icon of precocious toughness. Her brazen confidence makes Lila invigorating, and a bit freaky. You want to be on her side.

The complex friendship between Elena and Lila is the titular heart of the series, but the focus expands as the series moves forward in time. Teenage Elena (now played by Margherita Mazzucco) and Lila (Gaia Girace) don’t believe in fairy-tale monsters, but that just means the horrors around them are more terribly real.

Consider the malicious Solara brothers (Elvis Esposito and Alessio Gallo), who patrol the neighborhood in their fancy car. There’s a scene in the third episode in which they drive up to the square and forcefully convince Ada (Ulrike Migliaresi) — a girl Lila and Elena’s age — to get into the car for “a spin.” It’s the visual subject of a thousand midcentury memories — the young dudes, the sweet car, the innocent girl, the ride. But Costanzo captures an essential quality of Ferrante’s fiction, a kind of weary anger, a feminist exhaustion with the cudgel of male nostalgia. Here, that sequence (with its direct implications of sexual assault) becomes a collective violation, adults looking on offering no help, the other girls aware it could’ve been them.

It’s all even more complicated than that, of course. The teen episodes of My Brilliant Friend tap the characters’ political awakening, learning about fascists, learning about communists, understanding what it means to be working-class. And then there are the everyday matters of being young: romance, school, ambitions to change the world. Lila seems to be a child prodigy, but her parents need her to work alongside her older brother, Rino (Gennaro De Stefano), in her father’s shoe store. Elena’s studies continue, and carry her in unexpected directions: The series maintains the book’s pinpoint fixation on her education, with Latin test scores as a key subplot.

Both roles are tricky. Girace shines as Lila. There’s a rawness to her performance that reminds me of the younger days of Toshiro Mifune, that daring willingness to play fierce confidence on the edge of parody. Mazzucco has to play a more internal, anxiously adolescent Elena. It took a few hours, but I grooved onto her energy. Her performance reminds you that most teen introverts spend their waking life simmering with rage at their own shyness. Teenage Elena, man, sono io.

Around the lead characters, we start to see a whole generation come of age. I mean it as a compliment when I say that My Brilliant Friend is the year’s best teen drama, drawing you into the lives, loves, and struggles of a group of children cusping on adulthood. A swooning dance sequence sparks a local love quadrangle. An island getaway becomes the stage for an endearingly nerdish flirtation — which gives way to an almost unbearable sequence of bedroom horror. A rooftop fireworks celebration sparkles with all the innocent possibilities of youth. Enemies become friends, maybe more, or maybe not. There’s a stretch when the main narrative engine is watching Lila juggle various suitors, the stuff of romcom subplots and internet fandoms. You watch with fascination — and with horror. My Brilliant Friend is very fun, but it’s also a vivid depiction of history as a nightmare from which two women are trying to awake. A-

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My Brilliant Friend (TV series)

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Fundies rise in stature as Hearts and Minds LIC takes flight

A new generation of fund managers are leaning on fearless activism and finely tuned ideas to assert themselves as the market’s sharpest minds and deliver index-beating returns in defiance of a sinking equity market.

From VGI Partners’ war with Corporate Travel Management, to Merlon Capital’s challenge of stricken AMP’s strategy, investment managers are embracing their informal role as the market’s watchdog.

That extends to the third Sohn Australia Hearts and Minds Investment Leaders Conference in Melbourne on Friday, which celebrates managers’ best ideas and has underpinned a listed investment company that puts those within the reach of any investor.

Hearts and Minds Investments Limited raised $500 million and closed at $2.54 on Thursday, above its $2.50-a-share offer price. It is backed by some of Australia’s most prominent wealthy investors and philanthropists. Because the underlying managers declined to charge fees for their investment skill, the LIC will support Australian medical research in perpetuity.

“[At Sohn] you get a dozen hand-picked fund mangers pitching their own ideas and I don’t think they take it lightly. I personally walked out of the first conference and got on the phone to my stockbroker,” said Chris Cuffe, the chairman of the LIC who is known for his role in building Colonial First State into one of Australia’s largest institutional managers.


“If you want to network, it’s a who’s who of the investment world. The first two conferences had quite high-profile outside speakers, too. Everyone loves Paul [Keating] and we had Malcolm Turnbull last year. It’s a high-profile event.”

The Hearts and Minds conference has a track record of providing strong investment ideas. At the 2017 event, held in November in Sydney, Regal Funds Management chief investment officer Phil King declared his top pick was tech darling Appen, which went on to storm the ASX before correcting in the growth rout. (Appen issued an earnings upgrade on Thursday.)

At the time, the machine learning company was trading at $5.69 a share. A year later it is trading at $11.17 a share, an increase of 96.31 per cent. That’s despite the company’s share price contracting close to 30 per cent since September 3. Mr King’s idea was the second-best rewarding pick from the 2017 event as of the August performance rule-off.

“We basically bought Appen in the IPO when no one else really liked it,” Mr King said. “Originally the main negative in people’s eyes was it was too small and too insignificant. We’ve always very much liked the company, liked the management and very importantly liked the position the company’s in.”

Other strong investment picks from 2017’s conference included US-based mobile food-ordering company GrubHub, which grew 130 per cent in the 10 months following the conference, and media holding company InterActiveCorp – pitched by Angelo Martorell – which grew 77 per cent over the same period.

A number of local and foreign investors will be speaking at this year’s conference including Cooper Investors chairman Peter Cooper, Wilson Asset Management chairman Geoff Wilson and Caledonia executive chairman Mark Nelson.

Mr Wilson, who is also on the Hearts and Minds Investments board, said Sohn was a great opportunity to hear some of the best ideas in the investment community.

“I think it’s an incredible opportunity for investors to see and hear a fund manager that spends 365 days of the year trying to work out the best way to invest money,” he said.

“Effectively, they have to distil that into an eight-minute pitch of their best idea. It’s an audience of their peers, too, which puts another level of pressure on them.”

The listed investment company will use the ideas presented at the conference create a concentrated long portfolio with approximately 25 local and internationally listed securities, based on input from two separate groups.

Forty per cent of the portfolio will be based on the annual recommendations of fund managers presenting at the conference and the remaining 60 per cent of the portfolio will be based on the quarterly recommendations of five leading fund managers.

The company’s investment committee, along with the chief executive officer, will be responsible for implementing the investment strategy and managing the portfolio.

Over the year to September 30, the median manager ranked by Mercer’s Australian share survey was just ahead of the index with a return of 14.6 per cent versus 14 per cent. The S&P/ASX 200 Index has fallen 5.4 per cent year to date.

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J.K. Simmons getting his hands dirty for Veronica Mars revival on Hulu

Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas recently shared the first cast photo for the upcoming revival series on Hulu, but he made it clear those weren’t the only actors we should expect. Now an Oscar winner has joined the ranks.

J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Starz’s Counterpart) has landed a spot alongside the Mars Investigations gang for the eight-episode limited season coming in 2019, EW has learned.

Simmons will play Clyde Prickett, an ex-con who served 10 years for racketeering. Now he’s a fixer for Big Dick Casablancas (David Starzyk), the richest real estate developer in the town of Neptune, California. The two apparently go way back. In prison, Clyde was the first to offer protection to Big Dick on his first day in the slammer. Clyde is described as “smarter and more dangerous” than Big Dick with “a network of fellow ex-cons he can count on to keep his own hands clean.”

Joe Scarnici/Getty Images; Everett Collection

As if there weren’t enough going on in Neptune.

The new seasons sees Veronica (Kristen Bell) investigating a serial killer plaguing the town during Spring Break. It’s a mystery that will pit the wealthy and working class divisions against each other.

Jason Dohring, Percy Daggs III, Daran Norris, Enrico Colantoni, Ryan Hansen, Francis Capra, and Max Greenfield return for the revival with newcomers Dawnn Lewis (new police chief Marcia Langdon), Patton Oswalt (“best pizza delivery guy in Neptune” Penn Epner), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Neptune nightclub operator Nicole), Clifton Collins Jr. (mid-level cartel hitman Alonzo Lozano), and Izabela Vidovic (the troubled Matty Ross).

Veronica Mars won’t return until 2019, but the first table read has already commenced. Plus, seasons 1-3 and the 2014 fan-funded film will also arrive on Hulu during the summer for some binge recapping sessions.

Buckle up, because it’s gonna be a “much darker” next run.

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Hee Haw host Roy Clark dies at 85

Country music trailblazer and Hee Haw host Roy Clark has died at his home in Tulsa, Okla., his publicist confirmed to the Associated Press on Thursday. The cause of death was reportedly complications from pneumonia. He was 85.

Clark was best known for his comedy and country music show Hee Haw, which he hosted for its entire 24-year run until the show ended in 1993. His most notable co-host was fellow country musician Buck Owens, but while Owens left the show in 1986, Clark stayed on until the end. In addition to corny jokes and recurring sketches, the show was also an important feature for country music performers. Clark also frequently guest-hosted The Tonight Show for Jonny Carson in the ’70s, a rare opportunity for a country performer.

In addition to being an affable TV host, Clark was also a skilled country musician himself. He started playing guitar at age 14, and a year later was performing in his father’s square dance band. He became skilled in all manner of stringed instruments, including the banjo, fiddle, and mandolin. Clark was a trailblazer, becoming one of the first country performers to open a theater in Branson, Missouri. Many others would follow the example of Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre. Clark even headlined a tour in the Soviet Union in 1976, when that was still a rare opportunity for American performers.

His biggest hit was 1969’s “Yesterday When I Was Young.” New York Yankees icon Mickey Mantle loved the song so much he implored Clark to play it as his funeral, a request which the musician honored when the time came in 1995.

After news of Clark’s death broke, several musicians and celebrities offered up tributes to his influence on them.

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Report: DJ Durkin Assisted Maryland Coaches During Suspension, Approved by AD

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 30:  Head Coach DJ Durkin of the Maryland Terrapins watches the teams warm up before the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCFBank Stadium on September 30, 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images)

G Fiume/Getty Images

Former University of Maryland football coach DJ Durkin reportedly advised assistant coaches and helped create game plans during his time on administrative leave during the 2018 season.

According to Jeff Barker of the Baltimore Sun, a task force was informed that assistants sent Durkin game film and received feedback during his absence.

Maryland’s Board of Regents reportedly knew about Durkin’s role with the team, and the now-former coach told the board that his involvement was approved by athletic director Damon Evans.

The Board of Regents cleared Durkin to return as head coach on Oct. 30, but university president Wallace Loh fired Durkin the following day amid public backlash.

Durkin was head coach of the team when offensive lineman Jordan McNair died from a heatstroke suffered during a team workout in May, and several players later told ESPN of “a coaching environment based on fear and intimidation.”

Maryland placed Durkin on administrative leave following the report, which also saw strength and conditioning coach Rick Court leave the school permanently.

Loh later announced that the University of Maryland accepted “legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes” made by the training staff that led to McNair’s death, per ESPN’s Heather Dinich.

In addition to Durkin and Court, Maryland parted ways with trainers Steve Nordwall and Wes Robinson.

While Durkin reportedly said that Evans allowed him to speak with the coaching staff during his leave, a university spokeswoman told Barker on Wednesday that Durkin “was not to perform coaching duties while on administrative leave” and that neither Evans nor Loh cleared him to do so.

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has served as the interim head coach throughout the 2018 season.

The 5-5 Terrapins will look to make themselves bowl eligible Saturday when they host the No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes.

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Black Mirror episode ‘Nosedive’ becomes a board game for our social media-obsessed times

Got what it takes to be a 4.2? A new Black Mirror-inspired board game will test you out.

Nosedive: A Social Game is based on that social media satire episode starring Bryce Dallas Howard. The whole purpose of the game is the whole purpose of Lacie in the season 3 premiere: get the highest Social Score possible.

With 3-6 players, your goal is to create the perfect life by collecting Lifestyle cards. Though, your fellow players can also rate their experiences, which could have an impact on your Social Score. If you don’t have a high Social Score, what are you even doing?

Appropriately, there’s a smartphone component to the game. Players must download the free Nosedive Game App on their phones that offers more than 1,000 experiences to potentially put your social image at risk or impress your friends.

It’s “light social & strategic gameplay,” the product description reads. Black Mirror fans know better. This is clique-clashing material in a box.

“‘Nosedive’ is a satire on acceptance and the image of ourselves we like to portray and project to others,” Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker said of the episode.

In it, Lacie lives in a world where everyone can score everyone else, which yields a Social Score that impacts their purchasing options, entrance to events, and the like.

“Everyone is a little heightened and false because everyone is terrified of being marked down because the consequences of that are unpleasant,” Brooker added. “So it’s basically the world we live in.”

As if the holidays weren’t volatile enough, you too can join the fun for just $19.99 (retail).

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Glen Taylor: Wolves ‘Wasted Some Time’ Trying to Prevent Jimmy Butler Trade

Philadelphia 76ers' Jimmy Butler moves the ball against the Orlando Magic during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

John Raoux/Associated Press

Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor likes the haul his team received from the Philadelphia 76ers for Jimmy Butler, but he also has some regrets about how the process played out.

According to Jace Frederick of the Pioneer Press, Taylor said Wednesday that he believes the T-Wolves “wasted some time” trying to convince Butler to stay for the entire 2018-19 season.

Taylor added that head coach Tom Thibodeau “did everything under his power” to keep Butler in the fold.

Ultimately, though, Minnesota shipped him and forward Justin Patton to the Sixers for forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric, guard Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round draft pick.

Rather than getting a deal done during the offseason and removing any potential distractions from the equation, the saga spilled over into the regular season and wasn’t resolved until Monday’s trade.

With regard to the drawn-out nature of the situation, Taylor said, “It consumed too much of my time on things that were negative.”

Taylor also noted the organization “probably would’ve done some things differently” in retrospect.

Despite the fact that some mistakes were made along the way, Minnesota seemingly did well in the trade by landing two immediate impact players.

Covington is an excellent defensive player and a quality three-point shooter who is averaging 11.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game this season.

Meanwhile, Saric is a supremely talented 24-year-old who is putting up 10.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest.

Taylor explained the rationale behind accepting Philadelphia’s offer despite the lack of a first-round draft pick: “I thought [acquiring starting-caliber players] was better than some of the other [proposals] that might have included a pick or something like that. Of course, we love picks, but I thought that we immediately probably better bring a group together and these two guys seem to fit in.”

The trade paid immediate dividends Wednesday as Minnesota beat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-100.

Covington and Saric combined for 22 points, 10 rebounds and four steals, while Karl-Anthony Towns was the clear top dog with 25 points and 16 boards in the victory.

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