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: Malcolm X (1992)

Also known as: X (poster title)
Release Date: November 18th, 1992
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Arnold Perl, Spike Lee
Based on: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X, Alex Haley
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cast: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo, Spike Lee, Theresa Randle, Kate Vernon, Christopher Plummer, Lonette McKee, Giancarlo Esposito, Wendell Pierce, Roger Guenveur Smith, Debi Mazar, Karen Allen, Peter Boyle, David Patrick Kelly, Mary Alice, Nicholas Turturro, Michael Imperioli, John David Washington, Ossie Davis

Largo International, JVC Entertainment Networks, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Warner Bros., 202 Minutes

Review:

“[Witnessing Malcolm’s control over a mob] That’s too much power for one man to have.” – Captain Green

Every great director has their magnum opus and this is Spike Lee’s.

Malcolm X is pretty perfect from top-to-bottom and for a film that is nearly three and a half hours, it mostly moves at a really good pace. I thought that the first act was too drawn out but it takes up less than an hour of running time and the film really finds its groove once Malcolm goes to prison and first encounters the lessons and ideas around The Nation of Islam.

From that point forward, this is a truly exceptional motion picture that is bolstered by the legendary performance of Denzel Washington. In fact, despite him winning the Academy Award for Training Day, I would say that this is the best performance of his career.

Beyond Washington, everyone else in this film is superb from the smallest parts to the largest. There really isn’t a weak link in the entire cast and Lee did a phenomenal job in picking who he did for each role.

This also boasts the best cinematography out of all of Spike Lee’s movies. Sure, he has a stupendous eye and employs wonderful visuals in every film but this felt so genuine and rich. It was like a true time capsule back to the 1940s through 1960s and nothing about it felt staged or inauthentic.

Having read the book, years ago, I’ve always seen this as the most perfect interpretation of it. In fact, if anyone were to try and attempt a Malcolm X biopic in the future, I don’t know how they could really make anything better or even as close to great as this is. As far as I know, it’s never been attempted and frankly, it shouldn’t be.

Watching this, it was hard not having my mind try to compare the incidents and the social climate in the 1960s to today. A lot of people love quoting Malcom X and for good reason. However, I think that a lot of people who cite him don’t fully grasp the context and cherry pick what fits their narrative. I think it’s important to understand the man’s full journey and to see what he went through, what he learned and how he applied all of that to his actions and his message.

Unfortunately, Malcolm was gunned down in the prime of his life and we never got to see how he would’ve continue to evolve and how he would’ve worked together with other black leaders and leaders of all races in the following decades.

Malcolm’s death was an absolute tragedy but his life is certainly worth knowing and celebrating. With that, this film is really special in how it captured the man, his personal struggles and growth. Spike Lee and Denzel Washington made a biographical picture that is as good as they get.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Spike Lee’s other films of the late ’80s and into the ’90s.

Film Review: Bad Boys (1995)

Also known as: Bulletproof Hearts (original script title)
Release Date: April 6th, 1995 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Michael Barrie, Jim Mulholland, Doug Richardson, George Gallo
Music by: Mark Mancina
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Tea Leoni, Tcheky Karyo, Theresa Randle, Joe Pantoliano, Nestor Serrano, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Imperioli, John Salley, Chris Mitchum, Kim Coates, Anna Thomson

Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films, 119 Minutes

Review:

“He steals our shit, kidnaps Julie, shoots at my wife. Oh, we beatin’ him down. We beatin’ him down!” – Marcus Burnett

I always liked the Bad Boys movies but I haven’t watched any of them since they were in the theater. I also haven’t seen the recent, third picture and I wanted to refresh my memory with the old ones before checking it out.

So going way back to 1995 was kind of cool. It was a turning point year in my personal life, as I moved from one parent’s house to another’s and with that, got to experience my later teenage years with more freedom and greater experiences.

The pairing of Martin Lawrence and Will Smith was just money, especially back then. And frankly, it worked so well, they’re still making these movies two and a half decades later, even if they take too damn long to actually make sequels. We could’ve been up to Bad Boys 9 by now and honestly, with these two, each film would’ve probably still been enjoyable. I mean, they are the second greatest buddy cop duo after Riggs and Murtaugh from the Lethal Weapon film series.

I also like all the other characters in these guys’ orbit from Joe Pantoliano, Theresa Randle and the two other detectives that they have a professional rivalry with.

In this film, we also get Tea Leoni and I liked her so much with these guys that it was kind of a let down that she wasn’t in the second film, even in a cameo role. I’m not sure if she’s in the third but she was such a big part of this original film, I find it weird that she’s not even mentioned after it. Well, as far as I know, as I haven’t seen the third one yet.

The story is pretty cookie cutter, buddy cop stuff. The villain is a European shithead, which was also common with the action flicks of the ’80s and ’90s. The baddie is fairly generic and his acting skills aren’t all that up to par but he serves his purpose and gives these two awesome cops a target to take out.

This film has very strong Lethal Weapons and Beverly Hills Cop vibes about it. That’s a very good thing, as it kept cool buddy cop movies going into another decade, especially after the incredibly weak and disappointing misfire that was Beverly Hills Cop III in 1994.

Being that this is an early Michael Bay picture, it isn’t completely over the top and the action all feels plausible and real. I remember the second film in the series getting really insane and it felt less grounded in reality. This one keeps things pretty straightforward, pretty simple and very badass and cool.

Seeing this now, this is a film series I probably should’ve revisited since its chapters were released. It’s good, it’s fun, I love the two leads, their allies and the total package. While I can’t put it on the same level as the early Lethal Weapon movies, it successfully borrows the formula and creates something unique and special.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Bad Boys films, as well as the Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop movies.

TV Review: Californication (2007-2014)

Original Run: August 13th, 2007 – June 29th, 2014
Created by: Tom Kapinos
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Tree Adams, Tyler Bates
Cast: David Duchovny, Natascha McElhone, Madeleine Martin, Evan Handler, Pamela Adlon, Madeline Zima, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jason Beghe, Bill Lewis, Judy Greer, Tim Minchin, Mädchen Amick, Ezra Miller, Justine Bateman, Peter Gallagher, Kathleen Turner, James Frain, Carla Gugino, Rob Lowe, Zoë Kravitz, Meagan Good, Rza, Maggie Grace, Michael Imperioli, Heather Graham

Totally Commercial Films, Aggressive Mediocrity, Twilight Time Films, And Then…, Showtime, 84 Episodes, 29 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I heard a lot of good things while Californication was on the air. I held off on checking it out until it was over, recently binge watching it on Netflix.

The story follows novelist Hank Moody (David Duchovny) as he tries to win back his long time baby mama Karen (Natascha McElhone) and balance a life of sex addiction, drugs, booze and his daughter (Madeleine Martin). Also, early in the series, he gets caught up in having sex with the underage daughter (Madeline Zima) of his baby mama’s new fiance. The show is accented by Hank’s manager and best friend, Charlie (Evan Handler) and his wife, Marcy (Pamela Adlon).

The show starts out really strong and each season is actually pretty good before it runs off the rails in the final season of its seven season run.

Duchovny is lovable as the childish and womanizing novelist but ultimately, he constantly does questionable things and always finds himself in trouble or making situations much worse. Sometimes, it is just the result of unforeseen circumstances but typically it is the result of a myriad of bad or careless decisions.

The constant back and forth between Hank and Karen is enjoyable for the first few seasons but it eventually grows tiresome about midway through the series’ run. Maybe that is because I binge watched it and didn’t see their relationship grow, evolve and fall apart over the course of several years time.

Hank’s daughter started out as a decent enough character but after a season or two, she becomes completely unlikable and doesn’t recognize that her father isn’t really all that bad and that despite his pitfalls has genuinely tried to put her first.

The best overall story during the run of the show was the up and down relationship of secondary characters Charlie and Marcy. They go through more real world problems and drama than Hank and Karen do and in the end, they reconnect and find each other, ending off better than they ever were throughout their tumultuous relationship. And Stu, who becomes Marcy’s husband over a season or two, was hysterical. The love triangle between Charlie, Marcy and Stu was the highlight of this entire show. And honestly, this relationship makes Hank and Karen’s look like bullshit high school level drama.

By the time I got to the end, I really didn’t care about where Hank and Karen ended up because based off of their track record, I knew it had the possibility to go in the opposite direction five minutes after the final credits rolled.

The show was pretty solid for most of its run but the final goodbye was long overdue by the time I got to the end.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Shameless, Weeds, Entourage and Aquarius.

Film Review: Oldboy (2013)

Release Date: November 27th, 2013
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Mark Protosevich
Based on: Oldboy by Park Chan-wook, Im Joon-hyeong, Hwang Jo-yoon
Music by: Roque Banos
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, Max Casella, Pom Klementieff, Rami Malek,

40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Good Universe, Vertigo Entertainment, FilmDistrict, 104 Minutes

Review:

“I swear, I don’t know nothin’! I swear before God and eight motherfuckin’ white people!” – Chaney

The original Oldboy might be my favorite South Korean film of all-time. Its director, Park Chan-wook made an almost flawless film. It was an instant classic, has stood the test of time and become more than just a cult film in the United States and around the world.

Spike Lee is one of my favorite directors. I’ve been a fan since seeing Do The Right Thing as a kid. He’s got a unique visual style and a great gift for storytelling. While I respect his work, I’m a bit puzzled as to why he wanted to remake Oldboy, as it was pretty unnecessary.

I guess Hollywood always wants English language versions of foreign hits but the fact that Spike Lee stepped up is a bit strange. Although, the combination of Lee’s skill and style mixed with this violent Asian tale motivated me to check it out.

I’ve heard this film being slammed by many critics and fans of the original. I get it, as some things should be sacred and all that. However, after seeing the film, I think a lot of the bitching is just bitching for the sake of bitching. This film is not as good as the original but looking at it as a completely separate entity, it’s still a pretty good film.

Josh Brolin was fantastic, as he usually is. On top of that, Elizabeth Olsen and Samuel Jackson were really good. I also enjoyed the performances of Michael Imperioli and Sharlto Copley. Max Casella even shows up for a bit.

Action-wise, the epic fight from the first film was recreated but not as well. It was still a damn good sequence all on its own but if we are going to compare them, the original was superior. Again, the original, as a whole, was a superior film.

The cinematography in this movie was beautiful. Spike Lee and his art department really did their job in creating specific emotional vibes from scene-to-scene. The “hotel room” was eerie and haunting and really became its own character within the film.

If you were to see this film without being a big fan of the original, you’d probably enjoy it more. It’s not as bad as people say and Spike Lee did some great work, fattening his already amazing portfolio.

But again, after seeing it, I still have to question why this remake was necessary. And in retrospect, this was a project destined to piss off fans and critics alike.

Rating: 6/10