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

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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

We Need Some Candy on October 31. Do We Also Need ‘Hubie Halloween’?

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Hubie Halloween (CREDIT: Netflix)

Starring: Adam Sandler, Julie Bowen, June Squibb, Kevin James, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, Maya Rudolph, Tim Meadows, Kenan Thompson, Rob Schneider, Michael Chiklis, Karan Brar, Noah Schnapp, Paris Berelc, Sadie Sandler, Sunny Sandler, George Wallace, Colin Quinn, Kym Whitley, Mikey Day

Director: Steven Brill

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Release Date: October 7, 2020 (Netflix)

I decided that I simply must have something to say about Hubie Halloween, since I hold so dearly Adam Sandler’s last-minute Halloween costume ideas on Weekend Update from back in the day. So the big question is: did this tale of Salem’s official Halloween monitor give me those same warm, sugary feelings?

The Sandman has busted that old Shabadoo-voice, so that certainly helps. But what’s up with all the kids in town (and some adults) pelting him with candy whatever chance they get? Hubie wants you to have a happy Halloween! It’s hard to do that when you’re sacrificing your own candy! Furthermore, in addition to all the mischief, there’s several attempted felonies, a fair degree of mental instability, and pretty much no attempt to reconcile that darkness with the purely comical tone.

Ultimately, in a weird way this is all in keeping with the spirit of last-minute costume ideas. Hubie Halloween feels like a last-minute movie that was quickly cobbled together from a bunch of silly Halloween-related ideas bouncing around in Sandler’s head. In conclusion, I found myself in a good mood after watching, and I’m happy to declare, once again, “Now give me some candy!”

Grade: 3 out of 5 Crazy Protractor Beards