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)

The Many Saints of Newark Box Office Prediction

Making its way to theaters and HBO Max on October 1 is The Many Saints of Newark, which follows the teen years of Tony Soprano in the 1960s and 70s. Series vet Alan Taylor directs with show creator David Chase cowriting. In a bit of bittersweet casting, the late James Gandolfini’s son Michael is Tony. The cast also features Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom, Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Billy Magnussen, John Magaro, Ray Liotta, and Vera Farmiga.

The crime drama arrives 14 years after the celebrated HBO program faded to black. Early reviews are decent as it stands at 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. Devotees of the series will no doubt be curious. However, the big question for me is whether many of them will wake up on the morning of the 1st and realize they’ve got themself the opportunity to view it on HBO Max.

I suspect many will. It stands to reason that plenty of Sopranos fans may have a subscription to the streamer. This could limit its potential at multiplexes. My gut says the number on Max could be impressive, but Newark could struggle to reach double digits in its theatrical premiere.

The Many Saints of Newark opening weekend prediction: $8.5 million

For my Venom: Let There Be Carnage prediction, click here:

Venom: Let There Be Carnage Box Office Prediction

For my The Addams Family 2 prediction, click here:

The Addams Family 2 Box Office Prediction

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…

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Review

Remember those Brady Bunch episodes when they went to Hawaii and Bobby found the evil tiki that ruined part of their vacation? Similar happenings occur in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It to the Warren bunch – our happily married demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga). It involves a satanic totem that wreaks even more havoc than Greg wiping out while surfing or Alice throwing her back out during a hula lesson. The latest Conjuring franchise pic delves deeper into the occult than previous entries and it is again based loosely on a true story.

This centers on the 1981 case of Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), who was the first American to claim demonic possession as a defense during trial. As we learn in the pretty effective opening sequence, his curse was passed like a hot potato from 8-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard). That little boy is exorcised by the Warrens and church officials in a body twisting procedure, but his malady is transferred to his sister’s boyfriend. That results in Arne returning home from work and his dogs are barking. His feet are fine. Arne works in a boarding kennel and those pups know something is off with him. The rest of Connecticut figures it out shortly after when he brutally stabs his boss.

Ed and Lorraine are naturally sympathetic to Arne’s forthcoming legal proceedings and seek to discover the backstory of how this came to be. Lorraine’s clairvoyant abilities unveils a tale of witchcraft. Meanwhile, Ed is hampered by heart problems. In fact, he experiences more ticker palpitations than you might as a viewer.

In 2013, the original Conjuring emerged as one of the finest horror pics in recent years. None of the official sequels or spinoffs have come too close to matching it and that holds. Michael Chaves takes over directorial duties from James Wan. Like the first two, this is well-made and doesn’t suffer from the cheap knockoff vibe that, say, Annabelle had. To be fair, even the Annabelle follow-ups improved. The last time we saw the Warrens was in 2019’s Annabelle Comes Home and I would say it had more pure entertainment value than this.

That’s not to say Devil is bad. It’s just another so-so example of creaking sound effects and jump scares that intermittently possesses a genuine scare. This even gets a little gooey towards the conclusion with its love conquers all theme. You can’t blame the filmmakers. Ed and Lorraine, in real life apparently and certainly on screen, have been through a lot. It’s too bad they weren’t in Hawaii back in the seventies. Maybe Alice would have had a far more pleasant hula lesson.

**1/2 (out of four)

Annabelle Comes Home Review

The first Annabelle spinoff in 2014 felt like a cheap and quick money grab after the success of The Conjuring the year before and I’d say it stands as the worst experience in this cinematic universe. Three years later, Annabelle: Creation managed to slightly improve on its predecessor as it told the 1950s set backstory of the demonic doll. Some horror aficionados felt it was a significant improvement, but I wouldn’t go that far. Annabelle Comes Home, which takes place about a year after the events of The Conjuring, accomplishes what very few trilogies can. I think this is the best of the trio and about on the level with The Conjuring 2 as far as effectiveness. That means it’s nowhere near the quality of the film that kicked the whole shebang off, but it’s well-crafted and feels like some effort got put into it.

Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are back and they basically bookend this latest haunting. The real focus is their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) as she deals with that supremely creepy looking title doll. Her parents have recently acquired Annabelle and locked her in a case that explicitly warns others to keep it closed. When the Warrens go off somewhere investigating what will probably be a Conjuring flick someday, Judy is left in the care of high school babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Her friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) joins the party and is curious if there are evil spirits lurking in the Warren household. She’s also desperate to connect with her recently deceased father.

As we know, Daniela has found the right house to do just that. Her actions unlock a whole lotta spirited occurrences which come with the franchise’s now well-known and precise sound effects editing. Home marks the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who wrote the first two Annabelle‘s and The Nun (he also penned both It pics). This walks a sometimes pleasurable line between the terrorized babysitter premise while being steeped in Conjuring lore. We briefly see several other spirits awakened and that includes a dog who’s a bad boy and a board game with a mind of its own.

Yet Annabelle Comes Home never turns into Ouija or Cujo. Most of the focus is on Annabelle. And despite her still scary appearance, no Conjuring sequel/spinoff has quite nailed the key objective: being consistently scary itself. With the exception of Annabelle’s first 2014 starring role, they look good and sound really good. They’re also far cries from what started it all.

**1/2 (out of four)

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Box Office Prediction

America’s favorite paranormal investigating peeps The Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) are back in theaters and on HBO Max next week in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. This is the second sequel to the 2013 horror hit and the eighth overall entry in the Conjuring Universe. Michael Chaves (who made the previous series effort The Curse of la Llorona) takes over directorial duties from James Wan, who produces and shares a story credit. Costars include Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, and Julian Hilliard.

Originally scheduled for a September 2020 premiere before its COVID delay, Devil will attempt to reach an opening weekend gross commensurate with its predecessors. That could be a helluva task. Both pics with Conjuring in the title made just over $40 million for their starts. The first two Annabelle spin-offs took in over $30 million out of the gate. Another spin-off, The Nun, actually holds the series record with $53 million. Yet the past two flicks couldn’t match up. The third Annabelle made just over $20 million while the aforementioned la Llorona hit $26 million.

Those dwindling earnings could continue here. I’m a bit surprised that Warner Bros is releasing this just one week after A Quiet Place Part II, which should still be making loud noises at multiplexes. Furthermore, some fans with Max subscriptions will opt to view it in the comfort of their home. This franchise, on the other hand, has often shown an ability to over perform (The Nun hitting $50 million plus was not anticipated). Yet for the reasons described, I believe Devil could end up having the lowest domestic debut of the whole bunch.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It opening weekend prediction: $19.8 million

For my Spirit Untamed prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/27/spirit-untamed-box-office-prediction/

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Review

Looking back on my Godzilla review from 2014, I spoke of how it felt like a party where the main character (that would be the fire breathing title one) wasn’t invited until halfway through. You expected Godzilla to be there the whole time. That left a level of disappointment, but the Gareth Edwards reboot of the franchise was worth the wait in the end. The sequel Godzilla: King of the Monsters RSVP’s the main attraction early on and he brings some familiar friends to the shindig. That doesn’t make the party better.

Michael Dougherty takes over directorial duties in a follow-up that feels bigger with its sprawling cast and action sequences. It also feels more cluttered and more like a prelude to what’s coming next in the MonsterVerse (Godzilla vs. Kong). That’s not an issue shared by 2014’s predecessor. Monsters picks up five years after the events of Godzilla when the creature managed to save the world and leave some collateral damage. That includes the young son of biologist Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and animal behavioralist Mark (Kyle Chandler). The parents have reacted differently and separately from the tragedy. Dr. Emma still believes in Godzilla’s global saving abilities, but in a dangerous way that teams her with an ecoterrorist (Charles Dance). Mark’s grief is directed toward Godzilla. Daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) is caught in the middle.

The family drama pits the estranged couple on opposites ends of the battle. More monsters are awoken from their slumber in various Monarch stations to wreak havoc. It results in the destruction of monuments in quite familiar Independence Day/Transformers style fashion. Toho stalwarts Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah are the aforementioned party dwellers joining the fray. The big fights are shot in destinations where the forecast is either a downpour or so dark that it’s often frustratingly hard to tell what is happening.

In addition to the Russell family, lots of recognizable actors are left to mostly stand and gawk at the monstrous activity. The film does have the distinction of adding another performer to the trifecta of prominent N.W.A. members (speaking of monster verses!) from Straight Outta Compton. In Kong: Skull Island, we had Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins). Now we have O’Shea Jackson Jr. (who played his dad Ice Cube in Compton) as a soldier. David Strathairn, Sally Hawkins, and Ken Watanabe reprise their 2014 roles while Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch, and Zhang Ziyi are fresh gawkers. There’s not really a human performance to highlight. Just as Bryan Cranston earned some rightful criticism for his wild overacting in Godzilla, here we have Kyle Chandler often speaking in an intense and earnest hoarse whisper that is perhaps more annoying.

There’s a brief middle section where Godzilla is given a unique wakeup call. It transpires underwater where we discover the iconic radioactive creature’s original habitat. I found this to be the most well-constructed and engaging sequence. It hints at ancient stories that would probably be cool to explore. This doesn’t last long and before we know it, we are back to the dimly lit and rain soaked above ground CG brawls. They’re occasionally fun, but they will fall straight outta mind in short order. Maybe King Kong getting in on this will brighten things up.

** (out of four)

For my Godzilla (2014) review, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/09/20/godzilla-2014-movie-review/

For my Kong: Skull Island review, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/04/11/kong-skull-island-movie-review/

The Nun Movie Review

We aren’t exactly blessed with a new horror classic in The Nun, the latest entry in the seemingly endless possibilities for spinoffs in the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. It does, however, manage to rise above the Annabelle creations before it with some style points and an occasional identity of its own. While both Annabelle and its sequel often felt like unnecessary cash grabs, I’ll give director Corin Hardy a bit of credit for creating something a little different. Let’s call it maybe a B- for trying.

The title character here first appeared in The Conjuring 2. She’s a demonic nun possessed by evil spirit Valak. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) had to put up with her sister acts of violence in that picture. This prequel and spin-off (preoff?… spinquel??) takes it back two decades earlier to the 1950s in Romania. A nun has committed suicide in a monastery after making the acquaintance of Valak and the Vatican enlists Father Burke (Demian Bechir) to look into it. He’s paired up with Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who’s still in the novitiate (or training) stage before taking her vows.

Once they reach the scene of the death, Father and Sister are subject to lots of shadowy lurking, visions of terror, and charming local Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) who provides a couple moments of genuine comic relief. That’s not something often found in this particular Universe and it’s welcome because these pics aren’t worth taking seriously.

2013’s The Conjuring was a very entertaining and scary genre exercise. The direct sequel and the offshoots haven’t come close to its power. And The Nun is nowhere near as entertaining or scary. Yet I wouldn’t classify this one as lazy. The monastery setting creates a sometimes effective claustrophobic feel. We know this franchise is all about jump scares and they’re in bountiful supply. I’ll give Taissa Farmiga props for her ability to act as terrified as her big sister Vera in the main series flicks. Calling this the best spin-off thus far isn’t praise of the highest power, but I’ll confess to it holding my interest better than the doll.

**1/2 (out of four)

Annabelle Comes Home Box Office Prediction

2019 has seen a number of franchises stumble hard with their sequels and reboots. Yet Warner Bros has one of the sturdiest series in recent memory with the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. Next week brings the third edition of the Annabelle entries and I don’t see fatigue among horror fans happening here.

Annabelle Comes Home marks the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who penned both predecessors and last fall’s spin-off The Nun. Mckenna Grace and Madison Iseman star and this time Conjuring leads Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga join the doll party.

As mentioned, this has been a mighty profitable franchise for its studio. After five pictures, the lowest opening belongs to Annabelle: Creation at $35 million two summers ago. However, it legged out better than 2014’s Annabelle ($102 million vs. $84 million). Any thought of the series dwindling was dispelled last fall when The Nun took in $53 million for the best premiere of all.

What might give this Annabelle the lowest debut yet is a matter of logistics. This one opens on Wednesday and that will certainly eat into its traditional weekend haul. I still foresee a high 20s Friday to Sunday gross and high 40s when factoring in the extra two days.

Annabelle Comes Home opening weekend prediction: $27.4 million (Friday to Sunday); $38 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Yesterday prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/06/21/yesterday-box-office-prediction/

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Box Office Prediction

Continuing its own cinematic universe that will lead to two monstrous creatures facing off next spring, Godzilla: King of the Monsters stomps into multiplexes next weekend. The reported $200 million dollar film is a sequel to 2014’s Godzilla reboot from Gareth Edwards. Michael Dougherty takes over directorial duties with a cast including Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown of “Stranger Things” fame, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. Returnees from part one are Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Ken Watanabe.

As mentioned, Monsters is part of a larger Warner Bros scheme to get the giant green nuclear waste creation to grapple with the world’s best known giant ape. Godzilla vs. Kong  will hit screens in March of 2020. Five summers ago, Godzilla debuted to a cool $91 million on its way to $200 million domestically. In 2017, Kong: Skull Island made $61 million out of the gate and $168 million total.

I would anticipate we’ll see Kong money and not Godzilla cash here and perhaps a bit less. Mid to high 50s seems probable with overseas earnings expected to be anything but toxic.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters opening weekend prediction: $58.7 million

For my Rocketman prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/23/rocketman-box-office-prediction/

For my Ma prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/24/ma-box-office-prediction/