The Many Saints of Newark

Written by Alexander Reams

85/100

14 years ago one of the most acclaimed TV shows of all time ended. A time when all TV audiences expected catharsis for the characters they’d grown to know before the end. David Chase instead decided to fade to black not giving that final closure to Tony Soprano. Something that has haunted audiences since its air date. Chase returns to the Soprano’s world 30 years prior to it’s first season. Focusing on who was in power before Tony Soprano ever took over.

Dickie Moltisanti. Moltisanti, translates to Many Saints in English, of Newark. While also attempting to tackle the 1967 Newark race riots, and provide a backstory for Tony Soprano. Sounds like a lot to cover in a 120-minute film? That’s because it is. 

Rarely will a film fall into the issue of being too short, more often than not it’s an issue of being too long. Many Saints is too short. The film has so much it wants to cover and gives itself far too little time to cover each of these events. This could have easily been a 150-165-minute film and it likely would’ve worked even better and been decidedly more effective. Unfortunately, David Chase’s hubris wouldn’t let him make a longer film. A tragedy for sure, because once the film began I never wanted it to end. 

Chase’s new leading man is an actor that I have long loved, and have waited for him to get his big break. Something Chase and I have a shared sentiment about. The brilliant Alessandro Nivola. He has not only been good for years, he is frequently the standout in films where he is relegated to supporting roles. In The Many Saints of Newark Nivola is leading the biggest film of his career and he takes advantage of it. He embodies this mythological god that is Gentlemen Dickie Moltisanti (the father of future Tony Soprano victim Christopher Moltisanti) with such class and brutality that even Tony Soprano would be frightened. 

Filling out the rest of this world is Corey Stoll as a hilarious Uncle Junior, Vera Farmiga as the wonderful asshole Livia Soprano, Jon Bernthal as a somewhat forgettable Johnny Boy Soprano, Leslie Odom Jr. as a gleefully angered Harold McBrayer, Ray Liotta pulling double duty as Hollywood Dick Moltisanti and Salvatore Moltisanti (I was just as surprised as you when I saw this for the first time.), Michaela de Rossi as Giuseppina Moltisanti, Hollywood Dick’s wife, and Gentlemen Dickie’s “goomar” (don’t ask, it just makes it even weirder.). Billy Magnussen as a pitch-perfect Paulie Walnuts, John Magaro doing his best Steven Van Zandt impression with Silvio Dante, and Samson Moeakiokla as Big Pussy. Finally, Michael Gandolfini, son of James Gandolfini, is a younger version of his father’s iconic turn as Tony Soprano.

From the get-go, we are introduced to this world with a level of respect to the audience. Chase expects you to have seen at least part of the show, if not all of it. While it is difficult to talk about the film without spoiling some fantastic reveals, I will say that watching Nivola chew up every scene he is in is a great pleasure to watch, and his, brief bits with Gandolfini are nothing short of electric, though rushed. An issue that hangs over this film like the FBI watching Tony’s house. Calling it “the formative years of Tony Soprano” is more than a bit misleading. The film treats it as an afterthought, instead of the main plot. For which the blame falls on Chase. 

The time jumps in the film are not surprising but continue this overarching issue of being rushed. However in those time jumps we still are gifted with wonderful dialogue between everyone, something Chase can do brilliantly along with strong cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau. Even with all of these strengths in the film, I can’t let go of the fact that it is just too short. It needed to be longer, I think somewhere in Chase’s head he knew that, and if we get another film in this time period, he will hopefully rectify it. The final note he leaves us with is a perfect way to set up another film, while also being a great ending if he doesn’t wish to return to this world, something Christopher Moltisanti wished he could do before it was too late, but Chase will have to do it for him.

The Many Saints of Newark Trailer

The Many Saints of Newark is currently streaming on HBO Max and in wide theatrical release.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Written by Alexander Reams

59/100

Some will always say that the third film in a trilogy is the weakest, sometimes that is true, and sometimes it isn’t. This is the unfortunate instance where that rule is true. In the past 10 years the horror genre has had a resurgence, a fall, and another resurgence. Starting in 2013, after an abysmal year for the genre, in walks James Wan with his newest horror project, The Conjuring. One of the most notable and recent entries in the “serious horror” genre, the film focused more on characters and their relationships with one another than the scares. Characters have always led to the best scares in horror films. This is a lesson that the Conjuring-verse films forgot about after the first film, but were reminded with the second. With one film in particular applying this, Annabelle Creation (2017). However, after the critical failures that were The Nun (2018), The Curse of La Llorona (2019), and Annabelle Comes Home (2019). The Conjuring was due for a resuscitation in quality, and to a degree that happens in this film. However this is also the first time in the trilogy that the film begins to care more about the scares than it’s characters. 

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson have been playing these characters for over 8 years now, and with that comes good and bad. What’s good and borderline great about their performances is that over the time of these films you can see their relationship grow, just like in a marriage. Their flow on screen together gets better and better with each film. With their relationship being the best aspect of this movie. According to the films, they met 30 years ago, and it’s been 10 years in this universe since our introduction to this couple, according to the dates given. Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona), clearly let these actors do whatever they felt was right and trusted them to keep with the tone and style of relationship as the previous films. I definitely view this as a positive mark on the film because the last film Chaves made had very poor acting and direction. This time it is only in the direction that he stumbles. Valuing jump scares and set pieces over character development caused it to blend into numerous other generic horror films that audiences have grown accustomed to rather than a distinctive piece unto itself. 

One of his few saving graces is the way he shoots this film with DP Michael Burgess. Particularly in the last half hour of the film, the wide shots are beautifully captured on the Arri Alexa and Alexa Mini with Panavision lenses. Scenes in the medical bay of the prison are beautifully lit to create very macabre images which in turn make this film visually stand out in a way that the previous films hadn’t. While this film does not live up to the original films in the trilogy and is disappointing in terms of quality, I am not surprised that it was what it was. The direction is not even close to the level of James Wan’s and strays too far from the path that was laid before it. Despite this, it still stands very tall over the other various unwanted and poorly made spinoffs that this universe birthed along the way.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Trailer

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is currently in Theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.