The Many Saints of Newark

It woke up this morning and got itself some popcorn.

“The Sopranos” is the next live-action series to get a movie, following “The X-Files,” “Sex & The City,” “Veronica Mars,” and “Downton Abbey,” but this one is a prequel known as “The Many Saints of Newark.” I went to the world premiere of it in NYC and audiences were clapping at the iconic places and dialogue.

There’s so many TV shows and movies in this world, so I haven’t watched “The Sopranos” yet (sorry about that), but I did enjoy “The Many Saints of Newark” for giving the prequel a strong attitude and something for fans (my dad’s one of them) to look forward to. Matter of fact, before you tell me to, I’m gonna start binge-watching the show on my HBO Max account and see what I’ve been missing out on.

Michael Gandolfini is the 22-year-old son of the late James Gandolfini, the original actor to play Tony Soprano on the show, created by David Chase. It’s amazing that the fruit of his loins is following in his footsteps, even though we all miss the old man.

The movie, set in Newark, NJ, is narrated by Tony’s cousin Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), who introduces fans to his mean grandfather Hollywood Dick (Ray Liotta), and it opens with him marrying a woman named Joanne (Gabriella Piazza), whom he later abuses. Chris’ father Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) kills him for hurting Joanne, and marries her, thus conceiving you know who. He often visits his uncle (also Liotta) in prison, telling him he wants to do start doing good deeds.

Little does he know that he has started a war with his former associate Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom, Jr.), who decides to form his own gang. I’m told the story also takes place during and after the Newark riots, which sets a tension for Italian-Americans and African-American communities.

Then there’s little Tony stealing ice cream trucks and school tests. His father Johnny Boy (Jon Bernthal) is a jailbird, while his mother Livia (Vera Farmiga) needs an attitude adjustment. So, at this point his only role model would be his uncle Dickie, who ultimately teaches him to be his own man.

The all-star supporting cast also includes Billy Magnessum as Pauline Walnuts, Corey Stoll as Tony’s Uncle Junior, and John Magaro as Tony’s future right-hand man Silvio Dante.

It’s quite a coincidence that in a year when Warner Bros. and HBO Max would join forces and release their movies simultaneously in theaters and online, “The Many Saints of Newark” would find a spot there as well. I don’t know how fans will watch it, given the circumstances, but I’ve talked to a buddy of mine who would like to see it in theaters. And I’m even going to let my folks use my HBO Max account to watch it.

Nivola has the attitude to play the saint, who’s done some very bad things. Odom, Jr. has the poetic values. Farmiga gives a searing performance as Livia. Piazza is a natural actress as the foreigner, who keeps getting into bed with other men. Liotta has the nerves of steel in the double roles. And James Gandolfini would be proud of his son Michael for trying to live up to his full potential.

Director Alan Taylor gives the show-turned-movie a “Goodfellas” and “Godfather” tone that fans already saw in the original series, and Chase has a passion for organized crime and its gangsters. It uses timely themes in regards to its African-American side, and it also sneaks in some humor at the right moments.

I can’t call the movie great, because of how the story gets a little complicated at times and there’s a torture scene that a bit too much. But I was able to catch on to various things, and I was able to see how well the new cast is able to live up to the original’s standards without being so pigheaded about it.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

In Theaters and Streaming on HBO Max This Friday

Categories: Crime, Drama, Prequel

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