Film Review: The Many Saints of Newark (2021)

Also known as: Newark (working title)
Release Date: September 22nd, 2021 (UK, Ireland)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Chase, Lawrence Konner
Based on: The Sopranos by David Chase
Music by: Peter Nashel
Cast: Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Michael Gandolfini, Billy Magnussen, Michela De Rossi, John Magaro, Ray Liotta, Vera Farmiga, Michela De Rossi, Joey Diaz, Michael Imperioli (narrator)

Chase Films, HBO Films, 120 Minutes

Review:

“[to Tony] Look, you want to be a civilian, I appreciate that. I’m all for it. But pay attention to me for once, okay? You take the speakers, right? At the same time, you promise yourself these speakers are it. Now, you say to yourself, “This is the last time I’m ever gonna steal something.” And you stick to it. It’s that simple.” – Richard ‘Dickie’ Moltisanti

Well, the wait is over. And it was a long wait, as talk of a prequel film (or series) to The Sopranos kicked off as soon as the show ended its lengthy run in 2007.

I’m not really sure whether or not this should’ve been a theatrical movie or just relegated to HBO like the Deadwood film was. Reason being, this feels like a television movie and plays more like a two-part pilot to a series than it does a standalone picture.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like it, I mostly did. However, it felt kind of small and contained and it just looked like a high end television production, which despite all the talent and effort of those involved, it just didn’t have that cinematic quality it needed to deserve a spot on the theatrical big screen.

Everyone was pretty excited to see James Gandolfini’s son Michael step into his late father’s most iconic role of Tony Soprano. I think that he did a pretty good job as the young Soprano. He actually doesn’t pop up until the midpoint of the movie, though, as an even younger actor played the even younger Tony Soprano in the first half. I also feel like the production was mindful in not overusing Michael Gandolfini, as this was his first big test in acting. He has a presence, sure, but this also isn’t really his story.

The film primarily follows the life of Christopher Moltisanti’s father, Richard ‘Dickie’ Moltisanti, played by Alessandro Nivola. Overall, it’s a pretty good tale and it helps to setup things for the television series. Most importantly, through the events that happen in and around Dickie’s life, you learn the real story about what happened, as opposed to the events that were told to us in The Sopranos, many of which were never given full context because some details, as we know now, were secrets certain characters took to their graves.

I guess the one big thing that this movie does, is that it will now give you a different lens to look through when you revisit The Sopranos and see certain characters or hear the family history.

In the end, this was good but it didn’t quite live up to the hype. But then again, that’s a hard thing to live up to when fans have been begging for more stories for nearly a decade and a half and the source material was so good that it transformed television forever.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Jurassic Park III (2001)

Also known as: Return to the Island: Jurassic Park 3, Jurassic Park 3: The Extinction, Jurassic Park: Breakout (working titles), JP3 (abbreviated title)
Release Date: July 16th, 2001 (premiere)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Based on: characters by Michael Crichton
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, Laura Dern, John Diehl, Mark Harelik

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I read both of your books. I liked the first one more. Before you were on the island. You liked dinosaurs back then.” – Erik, “Back then, they hadn’t tried to eat me yet.” – Dr. Grant

Well, this is the film that killed off the franchise. Well, at least for more than a dozen years until the Jurassic World series of films started in 2015.

I should preface this by saying that on its own, this isn’t a bad movie. However, when compared to the two before it, it’s a pretty big disappointment. 

The story, given the circumstances of this movie’s universe, seems plausible and I can buy into people returning to the island for the third time.

Granted, this isn’t the same island, it’s a neighboring island. I have to assume that they did that because recreating the Jurassic Park sets, once again, would’ve been really costly. So most of this actually takes place outside, in a dense jungle with only a few scenes on the island actually going indoors.

Narrative setup aside, this has okay action and a new dinosaur threat that is sold to the audience as being more threatening than a T-Rex. Was it really more threatening? Probably not but by the time you get to the third film in a series, you need to up the ante. They could’ve just added a third T-Rex like the previous movie added a second but whatever. Most people know what a T-Rex is; most people don’t know what the hell a spinosaurus is and if they do, they probably never thought, “Oh, I bet that fella can take a T-Rex!”

The only really cool dino addition to the film franchise is the inclusion of the pteranodons. While we got a glimpse of them in The Lost World, we didn’t get to see them in action, fighting with humans. The sequence that features them is the highlight of the film for me and much better than anything with that doofus spinosaurus.

Sam Neill returns and is in the whole movie, Laura Dern shows up for two scenes but Jeff Goldblum was nowhere to be found because I honestly can’t believe that he’d go back to dino-land a third time. But what do I know, I guess, as he’s actually going to be fully involved in the third Jurassic World movie, which I believe comes out in 2021 but who knows with all the COVID bullshit.

Anyway, Neill is good as Dr. Grant, once again. Unfortunately, he’s surrounded by imbeciles that make you want to throw an Amazon Echo at the TV screen. I generally like William H. Macy and Tea Leoni but they were absolute idiots in this. It’s not their fault, it’s just the characters they played.

Ultimately, this is just more of the same with half the passion and enthusiasm of the two films before it.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Jurassic Park/World films.

Film Review: The Neon Demon (2016)

Release Date: May 20th, 2016 (Cannes)
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Stenham
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola, Charles Baker

Gaumont Film Company, Wild Bunch, Space Rocket Nation, Vendian Entertainment, Bold Films, Amazon Studios, Broad Green Pictures, Scanbox Entertainment, The Jokers, 117 Minutes

the_neon_demonReview:

The Neon Demon is one of those films where I didn’t know what to think when I got to the end of it. I had to sit back and really process a lot of it.

Initially, I was impressed by it from a visual and technical standpoint but from the narrative side of things, it was hard to emotionally connect with anything in the picture.

I love watching Nicolas Winding Refn’s work because at its very least a Refn film will be a visual masterpiece. He has an eye for creating stunning visuals that stimulate an emotional drive that connects his surreal works with his characters and the audience. But while his surreal visuals get more impressive from film to film, his stories are also becoming surreal to the point that they feel like a dream sequence, as opposed to an actual cohesive story.

The Neon Demon doesn’t go as far off of the rails as his previous movie Only God Forgives. However, I do like the previous film better, overall. Maybe because Only God Forgives was a testosterone festival where The Neon Demon is the flip side of that, a film full of catty women obsessed with physical beauty to the point of committing atrocities.

The subject matter isn’t something that I care that much about. We’ve also seen variations of this story since the beginning of time. Refn still does enough to make this tale original and it crosses over certain lines that I haven’t seen yet but the impact of the actual horror was minimal, as not a single character in this film, except for Karl Glusman’s Dean, is even remotely likable. Then again, he’s an adult trying to hook up with a sixteen year-old.

Elle Fanning’s Jesse is a natural beauty and is initially innocent. However, she quickly becomes a monster, just like the other girls in the film. I can’t feel bad when she faces the wrath of the other women.

Everyone in this picture, except for one person, is so superficial and plastic that it’s like watching a violent and colorful play of animatronic Barbie dolls pretending to be psychotic vampires. And while Jesse is all-natural and the film puts a heavy emphasis on other girls filling themselves with plastic and having surgeries just to compete with her natural beauty, Jesse is probably the most plastic underneath her skin, after her transformation.

Also, I can’t take Elle Fanning seriously as a girl who is supposed to be so beautiful that she is just steamrolling over other top supermodels. Sure, she’s cute and I would say she’s a bridge between the girl next door and a model. I certainly wouldn’t put her anywhere near Abbey Lee or Bella Heathcote’s level of beauty. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

The acting is pretty solid and despite not buying into the Jesse character, Elle Fanning still did a great job in this picture. Everyone else put in a good performance but Jena Malone, Karl Glusman and Keanu Reeves really shine.

The film’s score by Cliff Martinez is fantastic but he has never disappointed. Having worked with Refn on several films now, his musical style is able to perfectly meld with Refn’s colorful visual surrealism. For those who may only know of Refn’s Drive, you should be well aware of how greatly the music drove the film alongside the cinematography.

The Neon Demon provides some of the most magnificent eye candy to be filmed since the last Refn picture. And while the film is certainly a memorable experience, it just doesn’t resonate like Refn’s DriveBronson or Pusher. The story is more fluid and less confusing than Only God Forgives but at least that film had characters one could relate to on some level.

I do like The Neon Demon but I don’t know if I would have the urge to see it again, other than to bask in its remarkable cinematography.

Rating: 6/10