Tag Archives: the sopranos

Movie Review – The Many Saints of Newark (2021)

Woke up this morning, 3.5 readers.

BQB here with a review of the long awaited Sopranos prequel.

Being the fan of an HBO series is a lot like being the kid of an estranged father. When you were younger, Dear Old Dad was always around, and you loved every minute of it, from playing catch to riding all the rides at the carnival together. Ahh but alas, much like the showrunners, actors and everyone behind these shows, Dad got distracted by some shiny new thing and went off to chase it, leaving us wondering for years why we weren’t good enough for Pops to stick around.

And then…so many years later, when finally, we gave up, moved on, and accepted that we’ll never get any closure to the longstanding questions that loomed over our relationship, the Old Man returns, now as a geezer, asking for us to love him again, no questions asked, and we can’t help but think this is probably a desperate ploy to shake us down in one last cash grab because God knows, the up and coming next generation doesn’t give a crap about him.

In all seriousness though, if you were a sentient adult in the late 90s-early 2000s, you either watched this show religiously or heard all the yammering from the people who did. It essentially gave rise to the so-called new golden age of TV that we are experiencing today (though I wonder if it might be in decline as of late). When I was a young man, I watched the show and just thought it was funny there was a show on TV that showed a lot of boobs and butts and people saying and doing horrible things and certainly such taboo material would never be seen on NBC, so it felt like it was almost subversive to watch it. The rest of Hollywood took note and realized that cable was the way to go for long form series storytelling where the characters could be allowed to say and do much more naughtier things.

Alas, HBO has a tendency to cash in and cash out on these shows. Although there are some who think the Sopranos’ fade to black finale was brilliant (for those uninitiated, the show that posed a ton of questions about mobster Tony Soprano’s life – will he get killed by rivals? will he end up in jail? will his marriage fail? will his kids stand by him or realize he’s a scumbag and abandon him?) – decided to answer these questions with a non-answer, i.e. a do it yourself ending where the family goes to dinner at a restaurant, an ominous man goes to the bathroom, and maybe said individual comes out blasting or maybe he’s just a random diner who needed to take a dump. The choice is yours.

Personally, I was one of the many, many viewers who jumped up and smacked my TV, thinking a cable went loose at the worst possible moment.

Thus, I wasn’t surprised when Game of Thrones wowed us throughout the 2010s, only to rush through the last season. They did it with the Sopranos in the 00s and GOT in the 2010s. It’s the 2020s now and Home Box Office is due to give us the series of the decade that will leave us captivated in awe, only to one day decide that they’ve snatched up enough cash, that dumping more cash into the series is not cost effective, and to send us on our way with a lackluster rushed final season and lame finale.

Where was I? Oh right. Now that I got my rant out, let’s move on to the review.

There are so many reasons why it was a tragedy that James Gandolfini died young in his early fifties, but as a Sopranos fan, and looking at how Hollywood, thanks to streaming services, has become obsessed with bringing back old stuff, it makes me think that HBO might have finally ponied up the dough necessary to make a new Sopranos season, one that tells us where the New Jersey crime family is today and what happened after the fade to black moment. Such a show would probably bring so many fans to HBO Max that the service would time out, but alas, it was not meant to be.

Instead, veteran producer and great storyteller David Chase brings us a prequel, the Many Saints of Newark. Originally, I thought this title was a tongue in cheek way to refer to all the mobsters in young Tony Soprano’s life, but it actually is in reference to the name Moltisanti, fans remembering that Michael Imperioli’s Christopher was the tragic comic relief of the show, unable to free himself of his addictions, at war with himself over how he could win his Uncle Tony’s approval and how he could make enough money to strike out on his own.

The prequel movie focuses on Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola finally getting the recognition he deserves so many years after humorously dining on Tiramisu as one half of Nic Cage’s villainous brother duo in the classic so bad it’s good sci-fi flick Face/Off).

Dick and young Tony Soprano (played aptly by James Gandolfini’s son Michael, in many respects, the face, the voice, the gestures, you are convinced this is young Tony) have a relationship similar to that of Tony and Christopher in the show. Dickie is a rising star in the New Jersey mob. Young Tony thinks his uncle is pretty cool, but is too young to understand that the car, the clothes, the babes, all the things that make Dickie cool come from blood money.

The film focuses on a friendship between Dickie and African-American gangster Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.) The 1960s, as students of history know, were a turbulent time, when civil rights were demanded and injustices often led to riots and violent, civil unrest. In all walks of life and professions, African Americans stood up and demanded more and well, though crime isn’t exactly a noble profession by any means, McBrayer demands more, pushing away from his role as Dickie’s henchman and striking out in illegal moneymaking schemes of his own, which eventually sets Dickie and Harold on a path to war.

To the movie’s credit (or discredit, whatever your opinion may be) it revels in fan service, fan service, and more fan service. We see young versions of the show’s characters. Though these performances are largely caricatures, one might argue that the whole series was one great big caricature of the mob to begin with. At any rate, we see a youthful Paulie Walnuts (Billy Magnussen) worried about getting blood on his suit and a spry Big Pussy Bonpensiero (Samson Moeakiola) before he digged too deep into the lasagna tray. We see a young Silvio (John Magaro) combatting hair loss with a variety of wigs. We see characters say and do things that were talked about in the series.

You might have to re-watch it to get some of the jokes and nods. The casual fan will still enjoy it, though it takes a re-watch to truly sit in anticipation of Corey Stall’s youthful rendition of Uncle Junior, just waiting for him to harangue Young Tony with his constant criticism of how Tony “doesn’t have the makings of a Varsity Athlete.”

Vera Farmiga, who I admit I have a longstanding crush on ever since her turn in The Departed) doesn’t just steal the show as a young version of Tony’s overbearing, aggressively passive-aggressive mother who would go on to force middle-aged Tony to spend a mint on psychotherapy with Dr. Melfi. It mad me sad to see that the beautiful Farmiga had to undergo all kinds of makeup to ugly her up and one might say she’s doing a caricature of the incomparable Nancy Marchand, the late actress who played Tony’s elderly mother in the series. At any rate, those of us who have gone through the not so fun experience of having parents who get old, who demand that we take over and just handle everything for them because they are too old to handle it now, yet they still want to be in charge because damn it, they’ve got more years than you do, can relate to Tony’s suffering. All in all, it’s equally eerie and funny when we sit in anticipation of Farmiga’s rendition of Livia’s “Oh, poor you!”

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. The movie has its moments. Lots of action. Plot twists. In many ways it does feel like an extended Sopranos episode, though with a star studded cast of actors and actresses who lend their talents to it largely because they probably wanted to be attached to such a well known property. Sidenote: Ray Liotta does an interesting turn as twin brothers, the gross old pervy Moltisanti patriarch who marries a younger woman and the twin brother who went to jail as a young man but somehow found wisdom wasting his life away in jail, wisdom he can never use to benefit himself but can impart it to Dickie if he’ll listen.

It’s worth a watch for fans, though in many ways, it does feel like we’re that 40-year old adult child who finally figured out how to move on from our beloved estranged father/series who left us too soon because they felt the time and resources were better spent on other things (like the middle aged dad who abandons his kids and buys a Ferrari and chases 20 something babes, showrunners and actors often leave popular series to chase after movie roles that rarely are as memorable as their series) and now the show has come back to us as a withered old 70 year old man, begging to take us to Coney Island and we have to decide whether we want to go because we’ll never get another chance to go or say no thanks, because we aren’t kids anymore and we can buy popcorn and cotton candy and ride tickets on our own, so no thanks, Pops. We hope those hot babes and Ferraris were worth it.

Double sidnote: As I watch the trailer, I can see how a viewer might be tricked into thinking this show is very Tony centric. Unfortunately, it’s all Dickie with occasional Tony. Going into it, I thought maybe we’d see Young Tony being called on to commit crimes, perhaps he wanted to steer clear of the crooked life, only for some big reason that draws him into it. It’s more a focus on the life of Dicki Moltisanti with a meditation on him not being sure how to help his nephew in his formative years, debating on whether he should be a bigger part of his life because the kid needs an adult to advise him, or to steer clear because the more involved he is in the kid’s life, the more he might pick up his uncle’s bad habits.

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Now Would Have Been a Great Time for a New Sopranos Season

James Gandolfini passed way, way too soon and among the many, many reasons why this was tragic is that with the roll out of HBO MAX, now would have been a good time for a new season of The Sopranos, one to wrap all the lingering questions that were never fully answered.

Like most 2000s era people, I was glued to this show back in the day. Lately, I’ve been watching it over on HBO MAX and I have to say, it’s a strange experience, comparing how I felt when I watched it when I was young and now that I am old. In other words, when I first watched it, I was around the age of Tony’s kids and now I’m watching it again around the same age as Tony himself. Wow, time moves fast.

So many questions were left unresolved by that series finale which left most of America wacking their TV sets, thinking they’d gone on the fritz when a potential hit on the Soprano clan (or maybe it was just a guy going to the bathroom) was set up only for the screen to go straight to black.

In David Chase’s defense, I’m not sure there was a finale that could have ever made everyone happy. The weird thing about the show is that on one level, nearly every character was either a degenerate scumbag, or a friend or family member suffering due to their loved one’s scumbaggery. On another level, it was about family and yet on another level, it was about strategic planning.

Ergo, there was a lot strange water cooler talk in the 2000s. “Hey, I think Tony should wack Johnny Sack.” and “Really? I think that would just start a war with New York.” Kind of how like the water talk of the 2010s was about dragons and fantasy worlds and crap thanks to Game of Thrones.

Right about now, Tony would be an older man about 60. His kids would be (wow) roughly middle-aged or about there. Some questions that could be answered:

#1 – As the show progressed, Carmella moved from dutiful mob wife to a strong woman who yearned for independence. For years, she blamed Tony and wished he would end his philandering, crooked ways. Then, she eventually wised up and realized in this world, people treat you with the level of respect that you accept. She stuck around through the philandering, so Tony didn’t stop philandering. She looked the other way on the mob debauchery because the proceeds allowed her to live in a nice house and have nice things. Ultimately, she sought to get away from all of this. She got her real estate broker’s license. Began making her own income. Kicked Tony out. I think they got back together but I dpn’t remember for sure how it went down, if Tony mended at least his pervy ways or not. At any rate, it would have been interesting to see if Carmella ever achieved her dream of supporting herself through legit means while having a man who loved her and felt she was enough and wouldn’t cheat and so on.

#2 – Same thing with the kids. The older they got, the more they wised up. Their dad was a crook and all the fancy stuff they got was from the proceeds of mafia crookery. If they wanted legit lives, they’d have to distance themselves from their old man. Meadow was motivated and looked like she was on the way to becoming a lawyer. Maybe in a new season, she’d end up as a Congresswoman or something, dogged by her dad’s evil doings and needing to put distance between herself and him. Meanwhile, AJ was left in the lurch. There was good in him and he had the capacity to succeed but he was also kind of a lazy little prick, too comfortable living off his dad’s money and there was a danger he might eventually either become a wiseguy himself (unlikely as he lacked the toughness) or maybe he’d just become like, a jerk who sat around all day.

#3 – I could go on and on. I always felt like the last season was rushed. Christopher and Adriana going on the run would have been more interesting than the way they resolved the whole situation with Adriana turning state’s witness. Maybe their deaths could turn out to be dreams and it turns out they moved to Vermont to start a bed and breakfast. Christopher finally beat his substance addiction. Then again, it’s hard to watch these episodes where Christopher beats Adriana senseless and it makes me wonder why she doesn’t leave him except I guess money is so hard to come by that sometimes spouses and/or significant others talk themselves into putting up with a lot of shit as long as they are provided for financially.

Anyway, I started watching all the old episodes because of the news of “The Many Saints of Newark” movie, due later this year, a prequel starring Gandolfini’s son about how a young Tony Soprano got into organized crime.

I’m no mind reader, but this new movie makes me wonder if Chase wouldn’t have been open to the idea of a wrap up season to help boost HBO MAX. Does Tony end up on trial? In jail? Does he beat everyone? Does he get killed? Who knows?

As I watch the old shows, I notice Tony has a fear of ending up old and alone like his Uncle Junior, or busted and he notes elderly 80 something NYC crime boss Carmine Lupertazzi reigned till an old age because he gave orders through his son, i.e. his blood and so Tony was grooming Christopher to be his mouthpiece so that it would be Christopher who got pinched instead of him.

Anyway, I could talk Sopranos all day and my last observation is that it really did usher in a new golden age of television. I read that Chase first pitched the idea to network television and I’m glad they turned it down because there’s no way the show could have had the impact it did if it weren’t on paid cable. Here, you saw the mob life in all its gritty horror – people being murdered as a business decision, people being chopped up, men pretending to be good husbands and fathers while grabbing any side pieces they could. Funny, I remember back then their were concerns that the show glorified the mob life but if you watch it, then if anything you realize this isn’t any kind of a life at all. These guys are nuts, paranoid, constantly looking over their shoulder, never enjoying a minute of relaxation or security, always wondering when the hit will be called on them. Money is truly the root of all evil and you get the impression that if Tony could do it all over again, he’d probably become a used car salesman or something.

I do wonder though if the show could make it in today’s woke age. The characters said and did horrible things….constantly…and back then context was understood i.e. the shows creators weren’t endorsing what the Sopranos and co. did or said but rather, where putting the mob life on full display, with all of the dirty, disgusting warts and all.

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