The Many Saints of Newark Review

The Sopranos richly earned its reputation as a game changer that kickstarted a golden era of TV drama over two decades ago. James Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony Soprano certainly deserves all the praise it got. The late actor’s work influenced so many antiheroes that followed on the small screen. You loved to hate him and kind of hated to love him, but he was a fully realized character that played out over six celebrated HBO seasons.

The main problem with The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel set in the late 1960s and early 70s, is that it’s difficult to fully realize those that populate it in just two hours. The hook drawing fans in is viewing Tony in his formative years. I couldn’t help but think of Star Wars episodes I-III (particularly The Phantom Menace). Did we really need to see Darth Vader as a precocious youngster? We catch glimpses of Tony’s journey to the dark side as he begins to abandon thoughts of a pro football career in favor of a Mafioso life. Yet the players around him don’t have time to breathe and that makes for a disappointing watch.

Many Saints (which translates to Moltisanti in Italian) begins in the tumultuous year of 1967 when Newark is in the midst of race riots. For the DiMeo crime family, they’re hoping for business as usual but the political strife keeps interfering. Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) welcomes his gregarious father (Ray Liotta) and his gorgeous Italian bride (Michela De Rossi) back to the mainland. The organization’s enforcers include some familiar names from the show with more youthful faces: Junior (Corey Stoll), Sil (John Magaro), Paulie (Billy Magnussen) and Pussy (Samson Moeakiola). And there’s Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal), who’s nefarious activities are about to land him behind bars for a chunk of son Tony’s upbringing.

Played by William Ludwig in the ’67 portion and Michael Gandolfini (James’s real-life offspring) in the 70s, Tony is drawn to Dickie’s magnetism. With his father away and his deeply troubled mother Livia (Vera Farmiga, impressively adopting Nancy Marchand’s voice and mannerisms) not making life easy, we witness the seeds sown for Tony entering that thing of theirs.

Well… we kind of do. The screenplay (from show creator David Chase and Lawrence Konner) often focuses on Harold (Leslie Odom Jr.). He’s a low-level African-American employee of Dickie’s. The racial upheaval of the era causes him to develop his own little empire and that puts him at odds with the boss. Harold’s subplot is a fine example of one that could be fascinating given more time and context. Here it seems rushed and that includes an out of nowhere love triangle that seems forced to move plot points along.

Just as the older Tony housed multiple contradictions, so does Dickie. He fancies himself a good person, but his actions keep getting in the way. If Tony had mom issues, Dickie is chockfull of stepmom ones. And daddy ones. His most confessional relationship is with his dad’s identical brother Sally (also Liotta) who’s been locked up for years. Sally, in many ways, serves in the Dr. Melfi role from The Sopranos. He gets to hear the angst ridden thoughts of a crime leader who struggles with virtuous ideas while also being a madman.

Nivola gives an impressive performance as a character I ultimately didn’t care much about. As for Gandolfini, he’s the spitting image of his father and there are moments of wistful recognition in that (as well as short peeks at the rage). The script is littered with winking nods to the series past (or future I guess). Some are mildly fun while others come off as unneeded. The latter includes a surprise narrative structure that I won’t spoil. I left Newark appreciative of the rich experience that The Sopranos provided in its six course meal. The power dynamic of Dickie Moltisanti and Harold would be familiar in any Mafia tale. It’s just not as appetizing and it wasn’t enough to pull this viewer back in.

** (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: The Many Saints of Newark

During its acclaimed eight year run on HBO, The Sopranos picked up 21 Emmys, 5 Golden Globe honors, and was named by Rolling Stone in 2016 as the greatest TV series of all time (a designation I wouldn’t argue with).

It has been 14 years since the show abruptly faded to black, but The Many Saints of Newark (out October 1 in theaters and HBO Max) serves as a prequel to the action. Set three decades before the New Jersey crime family made their way to the airwaves, Newark casts the late James Gandolini’s son Michael as Tony Soprano. Alan Taylor (a series vet) directs with creator David Chase cowriting. Costars include Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Billy Magnussen, John Magaro, Ray Liotta, and Vera Farmiga as Tony’s complicated mother Livia.

The film has screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and the review embargo is lifted. Based on its small number of write-ups, Newark stands at 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics are highlighting the performances of Nivola (as Tony’s mentor Dickie Moltisanti) and Gandolfini. However, I don’t believe what I’ve seen reaction wise indicates this will be an Oscar player in any category.

Bottom line: The Sopranos awards love will continue to rest with the TV branches of the Emmys and Globes. Don’t expect the Academy to make Newark a factor. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: The Survivor

For about a decade starting in the early 80s, the films of Barry Levinson were a magnet for awards nominations. 1988’s Rain Man won Best Picture and Levinson took directing honors. 1991’s Bugsy scored numerous nods including the aforementioned big races. The Natural and Good Morning, Vietnam earned acting mentions. Levinson received screenplay nominations for Diner and Avalon.

Over the past decade or so, the filmmaker’s most acclaimed titles have come on the small screen with several HBO movies. His previous big screen offering was the panned 2015 Bill Murray vehicle Rock the Kasbah. 

Those fortunes could change with The Survivor, which has screened in Toronto. The black and white Holocaust drama tells the true life story of Harry Haft (Ben Foster). During his captivity at Auschwitz, he was forced to box fellow prisoners in order to survive. Costars include Billy Magnussen, Danny DeVito, Vicky Krieps, Peter Sarsgaard, and John Leguizamo.

Reviews from our neighbor up north have resulted in an 88% Rotten Tomatoes score. Not all the generally positive reaction are raves, but there’s one consistency. Foster is being heralded for his role. Despite praised performances in Hell or High Water and Leave No Trace, Foster has yet to capture the attention of Oscar voters. The actor reportedly lost a tremendous amount of weight for the part. That has been a recipe for making the ballot for plenty of winners and contenders including Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) to name just two. The Best Actor race probably has two slots filled already with Will Smith (King Richard) and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog). Hopefuls are waiting in the wings like Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth), Bradley Cooper (Nightmare Alley), and Leonardo DiCaprio (Don’t Look Up). There’s other performances from the fest circuit such as Phoenix (C’Mon C’Mon), Peter Dinklage (Cyrano), and Clifton Collins Jr. (Jockey) in the mix.

First things first. The Survivor needs to find a distributor and a 2021 release date to qualify. It will likely do so. The next question is how hard its eventual studio/streamer pushes for Foster. The Survivor is also a possibility in Cinematography, Makeup and Hairstyling, and maybe even Picture and Director if its gets the right push.

Bottom line: I’ve yet to even mention The Survivor in my weekly Oscar predictions. I doubt I’ll be projecting it yet for inclusion in the aforementioned categories, but I do suspect it will bubble up for the first time in other possibilities. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Watch: Malcolm & Marie

As if Netflix doesn’t have enough competitors this Oscar season, a new one comes into the fold in the form of Malcolm & Marie. The drama comes from director Sam Levinson, who’s best known for creating the acclaimed HBO series Euphoria. Shot this year in COVID-19 times and hitting Netflix on February 5, the title characters are played by John David Washington and Euphoria star Zendaya (who earned a surprise Emmy last year for the series).

While the official review embargo is not up, social media reactions are out and they’re encouraging. Most of all, the buzz suggests a first Oscar nod could be coming for Zendaya. The general feeling (and one I concur with at press time) is that four slots could be filled already: Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman), Frances McDormand (Nomadland), and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman). We now have another strong contender in the mix. I had yet to list her even in my top ten thus far and that will certainly change when my new estimates hit on Monday.

As for Washington, I’m far less certain. It all depends on just how hard Academy voters fall for the picture as a whole. If they do, Picture, Director, and especially Original Screenplay could be possibilities. If they don’t, the attention could focus solely on Zendaya. And there’s time for the chatter to increase with the extra two months before nominations are revealed.

Bottom line: Malcolm & Marie has immediately established itself as a player in Best Actress and maybe more. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Sound of Metal

Riz Ahmed has seen his profile rise in recent years with roles in Nightcrawler, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Venom. On the small screen, he is an Emmy winner for his work on HBO’s The Night Of. And now he could receive the attention of Academy voters with Darius Marder’s upcoming Sound of Metal.

The film casts Ahmed as the drummer of a band who begins to lose his hearing. Costars include Olivia Cooke and Mathieu Amalric. Metal first screened at the Toronto Film Festival over a year ago. Critics responded favorably with a 91% Rotten Tomatoes score with most of the reviews heaping praise on its lead.

It was recently announced that Amazon had picked up distribution rights. After a short theatrical run in November, it will be available for streaming in early December. Translation: expect an Oscar push for Ahmed. And it could work. At the moment, Best Actor appears less crowded than Actress. Beyond Anthony Hopkins in The Father (surefire nominee) and Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods (likely nominee), the race looks wide open. Ahmed is an up and comer and with the right campaign, he could find himself in the mix. Two weeks ago, I had him listed 15th of 15 Actor hopefuls. Last week, that rose to 12th. On Thursday, I will whittle my contenders down to ten and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s listed.

Furthermore, the storyline to Metal could lend itself to a Best Sound nomination. This is the first year where Sound Editing and Sound Mixing are being combined into one race. While this category is normally reserved for big budget blockbusters and sci-fi material, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this make a legit play. Bottom line: Ahmed’s work and the sound techs have a shot here. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Concrete Cowboy

Unique and formulaic are two terms mentioned in the descriptions for Concrete Cowboy, which has screened at the Toronto Film Festival. The drama marks the directorial debut of Ricky Staub. It casts Caleb McLaughlin of Stranger Things fame as a troubled teen sent to live with his father (Idris Elba), who’s part of a group of urban cowboys outside of Philadelphia. This is based on the Greg Neri novel Ghetto Cowboy. Costars include Lorraine Toussaint (who’s said to be a highlight), Jharrel Jerome (Emmy winner for HBO’s lauded When They See Us), and Method Man.

Some early reviews are very positive while others say it’s a familiar tale in an unfamiliar setting. Concrete is seeking U.S. distribution at the festival and it should have no trouble finding it. Finding awards chatter is another story as this doesn’t immediately jump out as a major contender. Stranger things have happened, but I don’t foresee it being much of a factor with Academy voters. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: One Night in Miami

When it comes to picking up hardware at awards shows for her acting, Regina King has been killing it lately. She’s won three Emmys for two different TV shows in the past half decade and may well win a fourth in a couple of weeks for HBO’s Watchmen. In 2019, King took Supporting Actress at the Oscars for If Beale Street Could Talk.

And now the Venice Film Festival has opened up real possibilities for her feature film directorial debut. One Night in Miami is based on the 2013 stage play by Kemp Powers, who adapted his own work here. It tells the fictionalized story of a real historical meeting involving Cassius Clay (before the name change to Ali) on the night he defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title. The champ met with some other familiar names – Malcolm X, football star Jim Brown, and soul crooner Sam Cooke.

Reviews are out based on the Venice screening and Miami will be traveling to the Toronto  Film Festival later this week. The verdict is strong so far with a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Simply put, this feels like a legitimate contender for Oscar attention.

The acting placements will be interesting to watch. Of the four leading characters, conventional wisdom is that all four will contend in Supporting Actor. They are Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcom X, Eli Goree as Clay, Aldis Hodge as Brown, and Leslie Odom, Jr. as Cooke. The whole quartet is receiving raves, but I’d give it a slight edge for Ben-Adir to emerge out of the pack. If he does so, he would be the second performer nominated for playing X behind Denzel Washington for Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. If Goree were to emerge, he would also be the second actor recognized for playing Ali after Will Smith portrayed him in Michael Mann’s Ali. 

Furthermore, a directing nod for King would make its own history as she would be the first African-American female to make the final cut (only five women have been nominated total in the Academy’s history). Powers could in the mix for his Adapted Screenplay and a Best Picture nod seems possible. Also of note: Odom performs a closing credits song titled “Speak Now” which is being mentioned as a probable contender in Original Song.

Bottom line: one night in Venice has upped the visibility for One Night in Miami to be a player on the circuit. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Broken Hearts Gallery Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (09/08): I am downgrading my original estimate from $4.3 million down to just $2.3 million. Simply put, this probably would have been better off going the streaming route.

Sony Pictures is hoping that a young audience will turn out for next weekend’s The Broken Hearts Gallery. The romantic comedy comes from first time director Natalie Krinsky and was originally scheduled for a July release before the COVID-19 pandemic altered the plans. Executive produced by Selena Gomez, it stars Geraldine Viswanathan (best known for Blockers and HBO’s Bad Education) and Dacre Montgomery (Billy from Netflix’s Stranger Things). Costars include Utkarsh Ambudkar, Molly Gordon, and Bernadette Peters.

I’m a bit skeptical that this has any breakout potential. Many similar pics in this genre are based on novels with a hoped for built-in audience. Gallery doesn’t have that advantage or much star power to lure its intended demographic into the multiplex. The best hope for Sony is that this crowd is simply starved for anything to go see.

I don’t believe that’ll be enough to get this over $3 million.

The Broken Hearts Gallery opening weekend prediction: $2.3 million

Oscar Watch: An American Pickle

In another case of a comedic release going the streaming route due to the COVID-19 pandemic, An American Pickle starring Seth Rogen hits HBO Max tomorrow. The pic finds its lead as immigrant Herschel Greenbaum in 1920, who falls into a vat of pickle juice that perfectly preserves him until he snaps out of his slumber in 2020. Rogen also plays the dual role of Greenbaum’s great grandson in the fish out of water flick.

Some of these Oscar Watch posts over the summer could better be termed as Golden Globe Watch. Pickle currently sports a 72% Rotten Tomatoes score. That’s not bad, but a number of the reviews are lukewarm with others downright non-complimentary. In other words, any Oscar consideration for this is wishful thinking. Yet the 2020 experience could open up the door for unexpected comedies to contend at the Globes in their separate Musical/Comedy categorization.

The odds are long for that as well. Based on the critical reaction, I would list the film and Rogen’s performance as behind that of two other streaming comedies released this year: The King of Staten Island with Pete Davidson and Palm Springs starring Andy Samberg.

Bottom line: it would be quite a jarring development to see An American Pickle in any sort of awards contention. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Summer 2010: The Top 10 Hits and More

Today on the blog, we come to the third and final replay of the cinematic summers from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. If you missed my posts covering 1990 and 2000, you may find them right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/18/summer-1990-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/25/summer-2000-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

This brings us to 2010 where sequels ruled the top 3 slots and a couple of other significant franchises were born. We also all had our collective minds blown by Christopher Nolan’s brand of time shifting sci-fi action.

As I have with previous entries, I’ll recount the top ten hits, some other notable titles, and the flops of the season. Let’s get at it!

10. The Other Guys

Domestic Gross: $119 million

The buddy cop comedy marked the fourth collaboration in six years between director Adam McKay and his lead Will Ferrell after Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Step Brothers. It also marks Ferrell’s first teaming with Mark Wahlberg and the pair would go on to make two successful and family friendlier Daddy’s Home pics.

9. The Last Airbender

Domestic Gross: $131 million

Based on the Nickelodeon animated series, the fantasy adventure marked a departure from M. Night Shyamalan’s twisty suspense thrillers. It did, however, maintain the filmmaker’s recent trend of critically savaged titles (arriving two years behind the lambasted The Happening). It couldn’t match its reported $150 million budget stateside.

8. Grown Ups

Domestic Gross: $162 million

Adam Sandler continued to prove himself review proof with this comedy where he recruited buddies Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider for another sizable hit. A sequel followed three years later.

7. The Karate Kid

Domestic Gross: $176 million

Produced by his parents Will and Jada, this retooling of the 1984 blockbuster starred Jaden Smith with Jackie Chan as his mentor. Shot for just about $40 million, it grossed over $300 million worldwide. Surprisingly, a planned sequel never materialized.

6. Shrek Forever After

Domestic Gross: $238 million

Typically a gross of $238 million is quite an achievement, but not necessarily in this case for the Dreamworks animated franchise. Forever grossed less than its three predecessors and generated mixed critical reaction.

5. Despicable Me

Domestic Gross: $251 million

At the start of summer 2010, not many would have have projected this original Illumination Entertainment animated tale would outdo Shrek. Yet that’s exactly what occurred and two sequels and the Minions spin-off franchise have followed.

4. Inception

Domestic Gross: $292 million

Coming hot off the heels of 2008’s The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan had another huge earner in his collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio. It might have been a challenge to follow the plot, but audiences gave it their best and a worldwide take over $800 million occurred. Multiple Oscar nominations, including Best Picture (though not Nolan’s direction), resulted.

3. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Domestic Gross: $300 million

2010 found audiences still enraptured by the Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner vampire romance. The third entry in the series set a midnight earnings ($30 million) opening record that stood for a year before Harry Potter swept it away.

2. Iron Man 2

Domestic Gross: $312 million

The Marvel Cinematic Universe was still in its infancy a decade ago as this was the third pic of the bunch. Part 2 posted fine numbers, but was considered a bit of a letdown compared to the first edition. It did mark the first appearance of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and a buff and whip cracking Mickey Rourke as the main villain.

1. Toy Story 3

Domestic Gross: $415 million

Pixar easily ruled the season with the third flick in the studio’s startup series. Arriving 15 years after the original, the return of Woody and Buzz was a critical darling that earned a Best Picture nomination and lots of love from all ages. Part 4 would follow in 2019.

And now for some other noteworthy pictures from the time frame:

Salt

Domestic Gross: $118 million

Arriving two years after her action hit Wanted, this spy thriller hovered just outside the top 10 and managed to just outgross its $110 million budget in North America.

The Expendables

Domestic Gross: $105 million

Sylvester Stallone led a band of action heroes in this early August title that tapped the nostalgia of moviegoers. A pair of sequels followed that would bring in more genre heavy hitters like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Wesley Snipes, Chuck Norris, and Harrison Ford.

Eat Pray Love

Domestic Gross: $80 million

This adaptation of a 2006 bestseller starring Julia Roberts brought in a sizable female audience and hit just over $200 million worldwide against a $60 million budget.

Dinner for Schmucks

Domestic Gross: $73 million

Steve Carell and Paul Rudd headlined this midsize hit that got mixed reviews. It has since turned into a bit of a cult favorite in subsequent years.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Domestic Gross: $31 million

There’s no question that I could have put this teen action romance in the misfires column as it made just a fraction of its $85 million price tag. However, the Edgar Wright title has since achieved significant status as an impressive original work with a major following.

The Kids Are All Right

Domestic Gross: $20 million

This domestic dramedy became a major awards player and was nominated for Best Picture with acting nods going to Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo.

MacGruber

Domestic Gross: $8 million

Just as with Pilgrim, this SNL spin-off with Will Forte was a financial bomb. Yet it has also turned into a cult classic and there’s a rumored sequel or TV spin-off in the making.

Winter’s Bone

Domestic Gross: $6 million

This indie mystery is notable for introducing Jennifer Lawrence to critics, if not a wide audience. Bone would earn the star her first Oscar nomination in addition to a Best Picture nod. Of course, Ms. Lawrence would break out in the next two years with the X-Men and Hunger Games series and her Oscar victory happened in 2012 with Silver Linings Playbook. 

And now for some movies that didn’t match their expectations:

Robin Hood

Domestic Gross: $105 million

With a budget that may have been as high as $200 million, Robin Hood reunited Russell Crowe with Ridley Scott. A decade earlier, they made Gladiator which was a giant hit that won Best Picture. As for this version of the oft told saga, it’s largely forgotten.

Sex and the City 2

Domestic Gross: $95 million

The second installment cinematically of the beloved HBO series, part 2 made more than $50 million below its predecessor from 2008. Critics also savaged it.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Domestic Gross: $90 million

A hoped for franchise for Disney, the $150 million fantasy pic couldn’t hit the century mark in North America. Lead Jake Gyllenhaal has since expressed his regret for doing it.

The A-Team

Domestic Gross: $77 million

A year after his breakthrough in The Hangover, this action pic based on the 1980s TV series didn’t quite turn Bradley Cooper (alongside Liam Neeson) into an action star. Audience mostly found it, well, expendable.

Knight and Day

Domestic Gross: $76 million

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz couldn’t provide enough star power for this action comedy to get near its budget north of $100 million.

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

Domestic Gross: $43 million

Perhaps nine years was too long a break between sequels. The original family tale was an unexpected hit at $93 million in 2001, but the long gestating sequel didn’t gross half that number.

Jonah Hex

Domestic Gross: $10 million

This DC Comics based title with Josh Brolin in the title role and Megan Fox was an instant flop, barely making eight figures against a $47 million budget. It also held a sad 12% Rotten Tomatoes rating.

And that wraps up my looks at the summers of decades past, folks! I’ll have 1991, 2001, and 2011 recaps up in a year’s time…