Sunday, 19 September 2010 04:09
 
Most people whose lives become fodder for television shows end up on the myriad of reality shows. But Las Vegas attorneys Michael Cristalli and Marc Saggese aren’t survivors, unless you consider their jobs a matter of surviving the legal system. And they certainly aren’t any real housewives, though they see plenty of drama in their work.

Cristalli and Saggese are the real Defenders whose courtroom exploits are the inspiration for the new CBS drama that debuts at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST on Wednesday, September 22. The Defenders will star Jim Belushi as Nick Morelli and Jerry O’Connell as Pete Kaczmarek as leaders of the Las Vegas law firm Morelli & Kaczmarek, which has a reputation of taking on the toughest, most difficult to defend clients.

Jim Belushi’s role as Nick Morelli is the onscreen version of Marc Saggese while Jerry O’Connell’s Pete Kaczmarek is the renamed Michael Cristalli.

Cristalli and Saggese’s partnership – and friendship – seems predestined. Their mothers grew up across the street from one another in a tightly knit upstate New York Italian community.  Michael’s grandfather and Marc’s great-grandfather were close friends. In fact, look for a picture of the two men taken in 1931 that will be on the Nick
Morelli’s office wall in the pilot. Although Cristalli and Saggese grew up near each other, they never met until they were newly minted attorneys just starting out.

Cristalli and Saggese moved from Utica, N.Y., to Las Vegas in 1995 to launch his legal career as an intern before joining a firm. In 1999, Saggese left Utica for Las Vegas to launch his career. They quickly became friends, united by their background and became law partners four years after they met.

The two lawyers became known as taking on high-profile cases, including the murder trail for Sandy Murphy, accused with her lover, of murdering her former boyfriend Ted Binion, a member of the family-owned Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas. The also defended bodybuilder Craig Titus and his wife Kelly Ryan who were charged with the 2005 murder of their personal assistant, Melissa James. 

Both cases generated national headlines and the two attorneys appeared on Larry King, 48 Hours, Court TV, CNN and Good Morning America. Producers Joe and Harry Gantz decided Cristalli and Saggese were fodder for a docudrama, which became the basis for the CBS series.
title

Somehow, Cristalli and Saggese managed to squeeze in between court dates answers to Mystery Scene’s questions about the show.

Here’s part one of that interview. Look for part two in a couple of weeks.
 
Q: Did you ever think your lives would be fodder for a TV show?
Marc: This show kind of found us — never thought in my wildest dreams that what I do professionally and personally would be featured in such a way. I never thought in a million years that a show would stumble into our office.
Michael: Certainly, this has been a surreal experience; we’ve never thought our lives would be the basis of a CBS drama! However, through The Defenders, we are fortunate to be able to project our message -- a view of the justice system through the lives of the defendant and the defense lawyer. To highlight the injustices of the justice system and how these two lawyers fight to protect the interest of their clients -- this is what law always meant to us, and its great to have a TV show as a platform.
 
Q: What’s it like to have your lives turned into a TV series? Are the characters’ personality quirks, private lives on the series as you are in real life?
Marc:
The Defenders is very accurate personality wise. Jim and Jerry have us down to a tee. Our personality and interaction with each other are very real.
Michael: The Defenders takes certain dramatic liberties. Marc and I are both married. However, Pete is single and a ladies man, and Nick is on the outs with his own wife…but this represents the majority of dramatic liberties the show takes with our lives.  Otherwise, it has been consistent with the theme of the documentary. 
 
Q: TV is filled with strong series about the law, both now and in the past – The Good Wife, Law & Order, etc. How is your show different?
Marc:
Our show is different because it is real. It’s based on real cases – we check in daily on the show’s legal accuracy. We make sure that this show is unique in virtue of its basis in reality. I don’t know of any other show that is so honest in its portrayal of what defense attorneys experience each day. It’s the one show that shines a light on
what it is to be a defense council.
Michael: Our show is a break away from that type of legal drama. Most of these are black and white – they are about the police and the prosecution getting the bad guy.  There’s never a real development of the defendant in most courtroom shows. In real life, the law is grey.  The defender’s develop the character of these two lawyers and
highlights the plight of a defendant facing overwhelming charges by the State.  It is about the personal lives of these two lawyers and how they work to overcome those challenges. 
 
Q: The previews show The Defenders with a streak of humor in it; will this be in the series?
Marc:
This show is real life – what I really love about it is its sense of humor. Humor is essential. We have a sense of humor in order not to take ourselves too seriously and in an effort to cope. When you walk into a courtroom and you have a defendant looking at you, and his wife is in the front and his children are in the hallway crying, you know
the stakes are high. Imagine carrying a weight like that on your back everyday. Without having a sense of humor, you would crumble under that pressure.
Michael: Definitely a drama that has comedic value – but that’s truer to life.

Q: Are you pleased with the way Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell portray you?
Marc:
They are both a lot funnier than I will ever be. Their depiction of how we care. There’s a scene in the first show where Jim is giving his closing argument. He puts his elbows on the rail and speaks to the jury, saying “what would you do?” You can tell in his face as an actor that he’s portraying someone who is involved emotionally and morally with the case. So much of what it means to be a good defense attorney is captured in the series.
Michael: Obviously, there’s dramatic liberties that enhance or magnify our lives to make it more fun or comedic. In reality, they definitely capture our essence – our care for the client, our care for the cause. They’ve done a tremendous job of portraying the realities, while keeping it entertaining. 
 
Photo: Marc Saggese, Jim Belushi, Michael Cristalli, Jerry O’Connell. CBS photo
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
Most people whose lives become fodder for television shows end up on the myriad of reality shows. But Las Vegas attorneys Michael Cristalli and Marc Saggese aren’t survivors, unless you consider their jobs a matter of surviving the legal system. And they certainly aren’t any real housewives, though they see plenty of drama in their work.

Cristalli and Saggese are the real Defenders whose courtroom exploits are the inspiration for the new CBS drama that debuts at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST on Wednesday, September 22. The Defenders will star Jim Belushi as Nick Morelli and Jerry O’Connell as Pete Kaczmarek as leaders of the Las Vegas law firm Morelli & Kaczmarek, which has a reputation of taking on the toughest, most difficult to defend clients.

Jim Belushi’s role as Nick Morelli is the onscreen version of Marc Saggese while Jerry O’Connell’s Pete Kaczmarek is the renamed Michael Cristalli.

Cristalli and Saggese’s partnership – and friendship – seems predestined. Their mothers grew up across the street from one another in a tightly knit upstate New York Italian community.  Michael’s grandfather and Marc’s great-grandfather were close friends. In fact, look for a picture of the two men taken in 1931 that will be on the Nick
Morelli’s office wall in the pilot. Although Cristalli and Saggese grew up near each other, they never met until they were newly minted attorneys just starting out.

Cristalli and Saggese moved from Utica, N.Y., to Las Vegas in 1995 to launch his legal career as an intern before joining a firm. In 1999, Saggese left Utica for Las Vegas to launch his career. They quickly became friends, united by their background and became law partners four years after they met.

The two lawyers became known as taking on high-profile cases, including the murder trail for Sandy Murphy, accused with her lover, of murdering her former boyfriend Ted Binion, a member of the family-owned Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas. The also defended bodybuilder Craig Titus and his wife Kelly Ryan who were charged with the 2005 murder of their personal assistant, Melissa James. 

Both cases generated national headlines and the two attorneys appeared on Larry King, 48 Hours, Court TV, CNN and Good Morning America. Producers Joe and Harry Gantz decided Cristalli and Saggese were fodder for a docudrama, which became the basis for the CBS series.
title

Somehow, Cristalli and Saggese managed to squeeze in between court dates answers to Mystery Scene’s questions about the show.

Here’s part one of that interview. Look for part two in a couple of weeks.
 
Q: Did you ever think your lives would be fodder for a TV show?
Marc: This show kind of found us — never thought in my wildest dreams that what I do professionally and personally would be featured in such a way. I never thought in a million years that a show would stumble into our office.
Michael: Certainly, this has been a surreal experience; we’ve never thought our lives would be the basis of a CBS drama! However, through The Defenders, we are fortunate to be able to project our message -- a view of the justice system through the lives of the defendant and the defense lawyer. To highlight the injustices of the justice system and how these two lawyers fight to protect the interest of their clients -- this is what law always meant to us, and its great to have a TV show as a platform.
 
Q: What’s it like to have your lives turned into a TV series? Are the characters’ personality quirks, private lives on the series as you are in real life?
Marc:
The Defenders is very accurate personality wise. Jim and Jerry have us down to a tee. Our personality and interaction with each other are very real.
Michael: The Defenders takes certain dramatic liberties. Marc and I are both married. However, Pete is single and a ladies man, and Nick is on the outs with his own wife…but this represents the majority of dramatic liberties the show takes with our lives.  Otherwise, it has been consistent with the theme of the documentary. 
 
Q: TV is filled with strong series about the law, both now and in the past – The Good Wife, Law & Order, etc. How is your show different?
Marc:
Our show is different because it is real. It’s based on real cases – we check in daily on the show’s legal accuracy. We make sure that this show is unique in virtue of its basis in reality. I don’t know of any other show that is so honest in its portrayal of what defense attorneys experience each day. It’s the one show that shines a light on
what it is to be a defense council.
Michael: Our show is a break away from that type of legal drama. Most of these are black and white – they are about the police and the prosecution getting the bad guy.  There’s never a real development of the defendant in most courtroom shows. In real life, the law is grey.  The defender’s develop the character of these two lawyers and
highlights the plight of a defendant facing overwhelming charges by the State.  It is about the personal lives of these two lawyers and how they work to overcome those challenges. 
 
Q: The previews show The Defenders with a streak of humor in it; will this be in the series?
Marc:
This show is real life – what I really love about it is its sense of humor. Humor is essential. We have a sense of humor in order not to take ourselves too seriously and in an effort to cope. When you walk into a courtroom and you have a defendant looking at you, and his wife is in the front and his children are in the hallway crying, you know
the stakes are high. Imagine carrying a weight like that on your back everyday. Without having a sense of humor, you would crumble under that pressure.
Michael: Definitely a drama that has comedic value – but that’s truer to life.

Q: Are you pleased with the way Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell portray you?
Marc:
They are both a lot funnier than I will ever be. Their depiction of how we care. There’s a scene in the first show where Jim is giving his closing argument. He puts his elbows on the rail and speaks to the jury, saying “what would you do?” You can tell in his face as an actor that he’s portraying someone who is involved emotionally and morally with the case. So much of what it means to be a good defense attorney is captured in the series.
Michael: Obviously, there’s dramatic liberties that enhance or magnify our lives to make it more fun or comedic. In reality, they definitely capture our essence – our care for the client, our care for the cause. They’ve done a tremendous job of portraying the realities, while keeping it entertaining. 
 
Photo: Marc Saggese, Jim Belushi, Michael Cristalli, Jerry O’Connell. CBS photo
 
 
 
 
 
  
Tuesday, 14 September 2010 08:09
The mystery community -- authors, agents, publishers, readers, critics -- is actually a small one and each time there is a death, we collectively mourn.
The death of bookseller and publisher David Thompson on Sept. 13 hit especially hard. David was only 38 years old, yet it seemed as if he had been a part of the mystery community forever.
And he had. He began working more than 21 years ago at Houston's landmark bookstore Murder by the Book, one of the nation's oldest and largest mystery bookstores. He was a major supporter of the authors and delighted in working with authors who came to the bookstore.
David also was the publisher of the crime imprint Busted Flush, which had recently been sold to Tyrus Books. With Busted Flush, David's mission was simple: "The intent of the press is to reprint fine thrillers and hard-boiled crime fiction."
altAnd that he did, showcasing authors he admired, and giving a second life to works of authors such as Daniel Woodrell. While everyone is geared up for the San Francisco Bouchercon, David was working on the 2011 Bouchercon in St. Louis.
Everyone who met David liked him and respected him. He always had a smile on his face and a kind word for authors and readers.
David's death is a shock to all of us and many Facebook postings and tributes mentioned speaking with him or exchanging e-mails with him in the past week. Sarah Weinman has gathered many of the tributes in one place.
All of his friends at Mystery Scene send our deepest sympathy to his wife, McKenna Jordan, his friends and family. We wish them well and hope they find strength in their wonderful memories of this kind, compassionate man.
"The mystery community has not only lost a gifted publisher and dedicated bookseller, it has lost a good man. He will be missed," said Mystery Scene publisher Kate Stine, speaking for all of us.
One of the best tributes we can give our departed friend is to read a book in his honor and remember how short our time is with each other.
A memorial service will be planned and Murder by the Book will share details as soon as they are available. David's wife, McKenna Jordan, asks that no tributes be sent to the bookstore for now.
We offer our deepest sympathies.
The mystery community -- authors, agents, publishers, readers, critics -- is actually a small one and each time there is a death, we collectively mourn.
The death of bookseller and publisher David Thompson on Sept. 13 hit especially hard. David was only 38 years old, yet it seemed as if he had been a part of the mystery community forever.
And he had. He began working more than 21 years ago at Houston's landmark bookstore Murder by the Book, one of the nation's oldest and largest mystery bookstores. He was a major supporter of the authors and delighted in working with authors who came to the bookstore.
David also was the publisher of the crime imprint Busted Flush, which had recently been sold to Tyrus Books. With Busted Flush, David's mission was simple: "The intent of the press is to reprint fine thrillers and hard-boiled crime fiction."
altAnd that he did, showcasing authors he admired, and giving a second life to works of authors such as Daniel Woodrell. While everyone is geared up for the San Francisco Bouchercon, David was working on the 2011 Bouchercon in St. Louis.
Everyone who met David liked him and respected him. He always had a smile on his face and a kind word for authors and readers.
David's death is a shock to all of us and many Facebook postings and tributes mentioned speaking with him or exchanging e-mails with him in the past week. Sarah Weinman has gathered many of the tributes in one place.
All of his friends at Mystery Scene send our deepest sympathy to his wife, McKenna Jordan, his friends and family. We wish them well and hope they find strength in their wonderful memories of this kind, compassionate man.
"The mystery community has not only lost a gifted publisher and dedicated bookseller, it has lost a good man. He will be missed," said Mystery Scene publisher Kate Stine, speaking for all of us.
One of the best tributes we can give our departed friend is to read a book in his honor and remember how short our time is with each other.
A memorial service will be planned and Murder by the Book will share details as soon as they are available. David's wife, McKenna Jordan, asks that no tributes be sent to the bookstore for now.
We offer our deepest sympathies.
Tuesday, 14 September 2010 10:09
When a crime fiction novel makes it to the big (or little screen), there's always the fear, for those of us who care about these things, that what made the novel so good will be lost in translation.
The Town, directed by and starring Ben Affleck as a bank robber, proves that capturing the spirit of a novel is more important than following a crime fiction book to the letter.
altAnd The Town, based Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, does just that. Hogan's excellent 2004 novel about friends moonlighting as bank robbers featured a gripping sub-plot about their neighborhood changing from blue-collar to upscale. The men could barely control their anger, prejudice and anxiety as wealthier, more educated yuppies moved in, making rents higher and turning corner bars into martini bars.
In the Hammett Prize-winning Prince of Thieves, their life of crime had an undertone of rebellion based on classism, their way of showing that they were just as good as those with more money and more education -- and still in control.
The Town works so well because it remains faithful to the essence of Hogan's solid novel. The movie never wavers in showing how a person's background influences who he becomes, and the strength and inner resolve a person must have to rise above that background.
Affleck, who co-wrote the script, does Hogan's novel proud.
Both The Town and Prince of Thieves share energetic story-telling, characters worth caring about, a faithful sense of place, and neither resorted to the cliche of honor among thieves.
Charlestown, the blue-collar Boston neighborhood that Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his friends grew up in, has produced more bank and armored-car robbers in one square mile than anywhere in the U.S. Doug and his crew are just following the family business in their planned-to-the-second robberies. The men have an air of futility about them, stuck in the same kinds of lives that their parents endured. This is further driven home when a local crime boss says, while prepping them for the next big robbery, that he sees their fathers' faces in each of theirs.
altDuring a robbery, Doug and his buddies take a hostage -- bank manager Claire Keesey (the excellent Rebecca Hall from Vicky Christina Barcelona) whom they later release. When the gang later learns that Claire lives about four blocks away, Doug offers to find out how much she remembers about the robbers. But for Doug, this is not just another job. He falls for Claire and wants a real relationship with her. Dating her without giving himself away is one problem; the other is leaving his life of crime without betraying his friends.
Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley (Mad Men's square-jawed Jon Hamm), relentlessly gathers evidence to arrest Doug and his crew. Looking scruffy with days'-old beards, Hamm proves his acting skills convert well to the big screen.
Affleck's direction is flawless as he depicts Doug and crew following the only career path they believe they are capable of. He pulls first-class turns from each actor, making each a part of Boston streets. A Boston boy himself, Affleck's affection and affinity for the area shine as he did directing the excellent 2007 Gone Baby Gone, based on fellow Bostonian Dennis Lehane. Affleck shows the neighborhood's nuances and how it fits into the bigger scheme of Boston.

The Town reaffirms what a good actor Affleck is, best at playing off-kilter characters. The man once proclaimed America's sexiest by People magazine tamps down his looks for a gritty, world-weary view. Doug is a man of action and his angst never seems cliched. Affleck's Doug once had a chance to leave the neighborhood when he was recruited to play pro hockey but self-destructed during his first season. He knows that Claire is his second -- and only -- chance left to change his life or he may end up killed or in prison like his father. Oscar-winner Chris Cooper steals his one breath-taking scene as Doug's father serving several life sentences.
The chemistry between Hall and Affleck is realistic and we understand why Doug will do anything to be with this centered, intelligent woman. An even more intriguing relationship is between Doug and his ex-con friend Jem skillfully played by Jeremy Renner. An Oscar nominee for The Hurt Locker, Renner portrays the seething violence his character carries, full of rage, even when he is simply watching TV. Raised together, Jem and Doug are as close to brothers as either has had in their lives and they depend on each other. But that doesn't mean that Jem will forgive any hint of betrayal.
Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use.

Captions: Rebecca Hall as Claire Keesey and Ben Affleck as Doug MacRay; Up against the wall are, from left, Slaine as Albert "Gloansy" Magloan, Ben Affleck as Doug MacRay, Jeremy Renner as Jem Coughlin and Owen Burke as Desmond Elden. Photos courtesy Warner Bros.
Bros. Pictures.

alt

The Town, directed by and starring Ben Affleck as a bank robber, proves that capturing the spirit of a novel is more important than following a crime fiction book to the letter.