Richard joins NewsTalk 1010 host Jim Richards on the coast-to-coast-to-coast late night “Showgram” to play the game “Did Richard Crouse like these movies?” This week we talk about to talk about the much anticipated “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark,” the latest adventures of the Gomez, Morticia and Company in the animated “The Addams Family 2” and the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller “The Guilty.”
“The Many Saints of Newark,” the sprawling big-screen prequel to the iconic television series “The Sopranos,” feels more like a pilot for a new show than the origin story of one of television’s most famous families.
Broken into three parts, “The Many Saints of Newark,” uses narration, courtesy of Tony Soprano’s late associate Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), to break down the movie’s interconnected story shards.
Firstly, there is Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), Soprano Family soldier, father of Christopher, cousin to Carmela Soprano, uncle to Tony. He’s hooked up, wily and impulsive but also treacherous. When his father, the slick sociopath ‘Hollywood Dick’ (Ray Liotta), returns from Italy with a new bride (Michela De Rossi), it triggers chaos in the Moltisanti family.
In Dickie’s orbit is Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.), an African-American numbers runner for the Mob, galvanized by the 1967 Newark race riots to go out on his own and, finally, Tony Soprano, played by William Ludwig as a youngster, Michael Gandolfini, the late James Gandolfini’s son, as a teenager. As Dickie’s thirst for power spins out of control, he becomes a surrogate father to Tony, hoping to pass along something good to the impressionable younger man as a way to atone for his sins.
“The Many Saints of Newark” is vivid in its portrayal of the period. Covering roughly four years, from 1967 to 1971, it uses the turmoil of that time in American life as a backdrop for the explosive nature of Dickie’s world. That atmosphere of uncertainty makes up for a story that, despite some glorious moments, often feels rushed as it careens toward an ending that doesn’t mine the rich psychological landscape of these characters, which is what we expect from David Chase and “The Sopranos.”
The actors are game.
Nivola brings equal parts charisma, danger and depth to a flawed character who is the ringmaster to the action. Unlike many of the other characters, like the conniving Junior Soprano (Corey Stoll), henchman Paulie Walnuts (Blly Magnussen) or consigliere Silvio Dante (John Magaro), who come with eighty-six episodes of baggage, Dickie is new and can be viewed through fresh eyes.
Michael Gandolfini takes on the Herculean task of revisiting a character his father made one of the most famous in television history and brings it home by showcasing the character’s volatility and, more importantly, his vulnerability. He’s a troubled kid, on the edge of turning one way or the other, and even though we know how the story goes, Gandolfini’s performance suggests there is more to know about Tony Soprano.
If there is a complaint, it’s that both Tony and McBrayer, two of the main cogs that keep this engine running, get lost in “The Many Saints of Newark’s” elaborate plotting. Ditto for the female characters. Despite tremendous work from Vera Farmiga as Tony’s poisonous mother Livia and De Rossi as Dickie’s step-mom, the women often feel peripheral to the tale, in service only to the men’s stories.
“The Many Saints of Newark” brings with it high expectations but falls short of coming close to the greatness of its source material. “The Sopranos” broke new ground, changing the way gangster stories (and all sorts of other stories) were told on television. “The Many Saints of Newark” settles for less as an exercise in nostalgia.
Like everyone with a television on June 10, 2007 I had a meltdown just before 10 pm. My TV fritzed out in the closing moments of the most anticipated series finale since the bar at “Cheers” shut its doors almost fifteen years before.
As Tony Soprano and family sat in Holsten’s diner in Bloomfield, N.J., surely about to put a cap on the years of mind games, mayhem and mafia drama, the screen went dead.
Before I could pick up the phone to complain to the INSERT MAJOR CABLE PROVIDER HERE the music of Journey filled the screen and I realized that the show’s creator had given us an anti ending. Nothing wrapped in a bow.
The series finale of “The Sopranos” made the internet explode. Many people were confused and angry because they wanted tangible closure on the people they had been watching for 86 episodes.
I was upset as well. The ending was audacious, but in moment, not very satisfying. Did Tony and family get whacked, sent back to the primordial ooze, never to be heard from again? Did they enjoy their risotto and go home? Debate ensued, and became quite heated.
I was reminded of the uproar after watching the series finale of “Dexter.”
Seven seasons in, the serial killer with a coconscious show had become stale, but a marvelous turn by Charlotte Rampling as Dexter’s mentor livened things up as the show wound down to its final moments.
Would Dexter find happiness with his serial killer girlfriend? Would Deb survive the bullet that prevented her from arresting murderer Oliver Saxon? Would hurricane Laura throw a wrench into Hannah and Dexter’s escape plan, or would the relentless bounty hunter Jacob Elway find them before the heavy winds blew in?
That’s lots of plot questions to be answered, but more importantly there were larger themes to deal with. Is it possible for a psychopath to ditch his “dark passenger” and embrace life over death?
By and large the show answered these questions, mostly in very predictable ways, and frequently with no regard for reality. SPOILERS! How are we to believe that Dexter could walk undetected through a crowded parking lot with a dead body in tow? How did Dexter survive sailing directly into a hurricane?
It felt safe, and as someone on twitter wrote, “Meh.”
The internet didn’t explode after at 10:01 pm on Sunday. Instead a show that ran for 84 episodes took the easy way out, wrapped up storylines in unbelievable ways and feeling like a letdown.
But it also made me think about the simple beauty of “The Sopranos” finale.
“Dexter’s” sign off reminded me that when you try and please everyone the result is middle of the road pap. In its early years “Dexter” pushed the envelope in terms of violence and dark themes, but the ending was pure Hollywood. No nuance or ambiguity. Just giving the audience what they want.
Except I think we should be more interested in what the filmmakers, writers and actors want. That’s how David Chase ran “The Sopranos.” He respected the audience enough to allow them to bring their own interpretations to the end of the series.
“There’s more than one way of looking at the ending,” he said. “That’s all I’ll say.”
There’s an old saying that goes, “If you can remember the 1960s… you weren’t really there.” That may be true. Ask Grace Slick about 1968 and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare. Luckily for us “Not Fade Away,” the feature debut from “The Sopranos” creator David Chase, is a spot on time capsule of the era. Too bad Chase didn’t write a story to go along with it.
The core of the story revolves around rock ‘n’ blues music, Doug (John Magaro) and the repercussions of living in a turbulent decade. Doug is invisible in high school—particularly to his crush Grace (Bella Heathcoat)—until he discovers a fundamental truth, girls like guys in bands. Playing drums in a Stones-influenced band gives him a taste of the life, but when he switches to lead sing he finds his vocation, much to his father’s (James Gandolfini) dismay. As the Summer of Love approaches so does interest from a recording industry big shot just as Doug contemplates a move to the West Coast to pursue his dream of solo success.
“Not Fade Away” is at least partly autobiographical. Chase was a New Jersey drummer with a Stones fixation, which explains the level of care placed on the details, but it is hard to whip up excitement for a movie that tips its hand in the opening narration.
We’re told off the bat that this is the story of a band that never made it. It’s an anticlimactic way to start a film, and doesn’t get any grabbier from there. It is interesting to watch Chase establish the time and place. The film is a cornucopia of 60s pop culture. The song “Satisfaction” blends effortlessly with the old-school Emergency Broadcast System alarm off the top, heralding a greatest hits of 60s cultural icons like “The twilight Zone,” Archie comics, JFK’s assassination, even a sneering Dean Martin rolling his eyes after a Stones’s performance on “The Hollywood Palace,” with the words “They’re leaving right after the show for London—they’re challenging the Beatles to a hair-pulling contest.”
All that nicely sets up the decade and the anti-establishment stance personified by the soundtrack’s music, but is let down by episodic storytelling and the lack of really compelling characters or situations. From the opening moments the story builds to an anti-climax, and on that score it delivers, providing one of the oddest and least satisfying conclusions to a movie in recent memory.
As an exercise in nostalgia “Not fade Away” mostly works, but like many trips down memory lane, the people you meet aren’t always as interesting as you remember them.
David Chase, the mastermind behind The Sopranos, says his new film is not strictly autobiographical.
Chase, who came of age in 1960s New Jersey, was the Rolling Stones obsessed drummer of a garage band, a career choice his father didn’t approve of.
In Not Fade Away John Magaro plays Doug, a New Jersey teen who earns the disdain of his father as he becomes caught up in the musical culture of the 1960s.
Still Chase says, “You don’t really see a lot of me. The stuff between Douglas and his father, that’s kind of me and my father.”
When I suggest that people will inevitably make a connection between Chase and the film’s New Jersey teen musician he says, “A lot of people were musicians then. Everybody was to a certain extent.”
His experience behind the drum kit may not have shaped Not Fade Away, but it have helped mold his professional life.
“We had this half-assed rock and roll band,” he says, “and somewhere around 1967 a band mate of mine, who was the lead guitar player, a great guitar player, and I were in a car in Greenwich Village. I was thinking about getting married and going to California. We were talking about the future. I said I was thinking about going to film school. He said, ‘Really? Go ahead man, but frankly I don’t think you’ll ever be anything but the drummer in my band.’ That filled me with determination.”
He tells the story, then pauses for a moment. “I don’t know why it’s not in the movie. But it’s not.”
Determination wasn’t the only thing he learned in those days.
“I think I first learned about show business in that garage band—people with agendas and ego. That was my first foray into all that. I think I realized early on that you had to really go for it. To take something so seriously that you would hurt someone’s feelings would be considered uncool. Still, I realized that you really have to do that in quote, unquote show business.”
Wrapping up, I ask Chase if there is more to Doug’s story after the final credits roll.
“It doesn’t stop,” he says. “It doesn’t stop there.”
I ask, jokingly, if Doug becomes the creator of a very popular television show, maybe a gangster series set in New Jersey.
“I’ve never thought about it that much,” he says, straight-faced.