I Made a ‘Decision to Leave’ My Apartment and Go See ‘The Woman King’ and ‘Amsterdam’

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2 Women, 1 King (CREDIT: Sony Pictures Entertainment)

The Woman King:

Starring: Thuso Mbedu, Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Jordan Bolger, Johyn Boyega, Hero Fiennes Tiffin

Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: September 16, 2022 (Theaters)


Movie Review Catch-Up: ‘Fall,’ ‘Spin Me Round,’ ‘Orphan: First Kill’

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What’s going to Fall? (CREDIT: Lionsgate)


Starring: Grace Caroline Currey, Virginia Gardner, Mason Gooding, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Director: Thomas Mann

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: August 12, 2022 (Theaters)


I Woke Up This Morning, Reviewed ‘The Many Saints of Newark’


The Many Saints of Newark (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/Screenshot)

Starring: Alessandro Nivola, Ray Liotta, Michael Gandolfini, Leslie Odom Jr., Vera Farmiga, Jon Bernthal, Michela De Rossi, Corey Stoll, Billy Magnussen, John Magaro, William Ludwig, Michael Imperioli

Director: Alan Taylor

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R for The Typical Vices of Mobsters

Release Date: October 1, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

Watching The Many Saints of Newark mostly just made me want to finally get around to watching The Sopranos. I’m a noted TV buff, so it’s been on my to-watch list for quite a while, but in this case the experience was a little more Pavlovian. As the end credits started rolling, they were accompanied by the familiar bass-and-drum intro of Alabama 3’s “Woke Up This Morning,” aka one of the best TV theme songs of all time. It was as if this movie were just one long cold opening for the TV series it serves as a prequel for, and the only appropriate next step would be pressing play on the first episode. If the point of The Many Saints of Newark is indeed to get everyone who doesn’t already consider The Sopranos one of the greatest shows of all time to finally get around to checking it out, well, then, it kind of did its job.

But that’s a rather small-scale ambition for a two-hour movie. And I think it’s safe to assume that Sopranos creator David Chase had a lot more on his mind than that when co-penning this screenplay with Lawrence Konner. Essentially, this works as a sort of “Expanded Universe” addition to the Sopranos lore. Fans of the show get to discover the backstories of what their favorite characters were up to decades earlier in the midst of the 1967 Newark race riots. People will be pointing at their screens declaring things like, “Hey look, it’s Corey Stoll as a handsome young Uncle Junior!” And they’ll be wondering just how Vera Farmiga rounds out our understanding of Tony’s mom Livia. (Spoiler alert: she gets upset a lot at the men in her family.) And speaking of Tony, who can resist seeing if James Gandolfini’s son Michael can pull off the polo shirts just as iconically as his dad did? I know I can’t, and I only know about all this via pop culture osmosis.

As for how Many Saints stands by itself as its own particular story, it’s perfectly fine. It explores plenty of similar themes covered in countless other Italian-American mafia sagas, delivered with adequately convincing panache. The focus is not primarily on Tony, but rather Alessandro Nivola’s Dickie Moltisanti (father of Christopher, played in The Sopranos by Michael Imperioli, who narrates the film). Dickie is basically a model for manhood to a teenage Tony, which is a running concern in the midst of a whole lot of plot involving turf wars, mistresses, and stolen Mr. Softee trucks.

The most compelling moments are between Nivola and Ray Liotta as Dickie’s Uncle Sal (he also pulls double duty as Dickie’s hotheaded dad). Sal is the designated reformed mobster, dispensing Buddhist-informed advice to Dickie about “the Wanting” of life that leads to pain and suffering. Liotta’s casting of course calls back to his lead role in Goodfellas (in much the same way that Lorraine Bracco’s portrayal of Dr. Melfi did the same in The Sopranos). It’s during these conversations that Many Saints‘ reckoning with a long and inescapable tradition is most resonant. That tradition is basically impossible to escape, both for the characters living them and the pop culture creators and consumers drowning in them. We’re still stuck in this paradigm.

The Many Saints of Newark is Recommended If You Like: Sixtysomething actors inverting their most iconic roles, Accents as thick as gabagool, Violence punctuated by hairpiece-based comedy

Grade: 3 out of 5 Whackings

This Is a Movie Review: With ‘Disobedience,’ the Rachels Weisz and McAdams Seek Love in an Orthodox Place

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CREDIT: Bleecker Street

This review was originally posted on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola

Director: Sebastián Lelio

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for Bodily Fluid Swapping

Release Date: April 27, 2018 (Limited)

It’s nice when a movie like Disobedience, which looks like it is on a one-way track to a depressing conclusion, actually manages to have a happy ending. Now, “happy ending” might be a bit of a stretch, as it does not wrap up with the most joyous of notes, but the main characters do have decent prospects for the future, thus managing a note of hope I was nowhere near expecting.

Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) is a photographer living in New York who returns to the insular Orthodox Jewish community in London where she grew up to attend the funeral of her rabbi father, a pillar of the community. While there, sparks re-emerge between her and Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams), a childhood friend and clearly much more. Disobedience then is a close relative to Brokeback Mountain, as it is a gay love story negotiated within an oppressively culturally conservative community, but whereas Brokeback’s arc is tragic, Disobedience manages to be about resolution and compromise.

While the Orthodox Judaism of this film is hardly open-minded to the prospect of a lesbian couple, there are other traditional ideas that manage to be more insidiously oppressive. It feels like a bigger scandal that a woman would choose to be childless or abandon her home than for her to fall in love with another woman. Thus, Ronit bears the brunt of the ostracization, whereas Esti, who has married a man and made a steady living as a schoolteacher, maintains cordiality and respect despite her orientation being something close to an open secret. Esti’s husband Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) knows the truth about her, and he embodies the idea implied by the community that if you are a woman and you have an affair with another woman, it will be more or less ignored so long as you get married and have sex once a week and at least try to have a baby. Disobedience is smart about recognizing that while romance and its attendant passions are important, there are other fundamentals to life that are worth focusing on.

This is a drab film, with characters endlessly dressed in black or other dark tones. Surely that is partly to due with mourning the loss of a loved one, but you get the sense that this is how this community always dresses. Perhaps they are taking a cue from the perpetually rainy weather of their hometown. Even the brunette Esti wears a wig of a darker shade. While these outfits strike me as painfully passionless, much of the community wear them well. Esti can make them work to a certain extent, while Ronit is clearly uncomfortable throughout. This is a story about whether the two of them can meet in the middle, and being surprisingly okay with it when they cannot quite get there.

Disobedience is Recommended If You Like: Brokeback Mountain, Doomed (But Not That Doomed) Romances, Portrayals of Orthodox Life

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Orthodoxies