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Robert Vincent Montano, Michael Gandolfini, Gabriella Piazza and Alessandro Nivola in The Many Saints of Newark
By Anne Brodie
The Many Saints of Newark, the origins story of HBO’s long-running classic mob series The Sopranos is finally here. Alessandro Nivola is young up and comer Dickie Moltisanti – running the family business while his brother the Boss “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti (Ray Liotta) cools his heels in jail. Leslie Odom Jr is dynamic as Harold McBrayer, the lone Black member who turns his back on the family to create his own family and he’s fearsome. Police detentions of Black men and boys, fiery riots and awakening Black Power are reshaping the streets the Italians have ruled for a hundred years. Corrado “Junior” Soprano Jr– (Corey Stoll) is comically evil as a young, incompetent devil foreshadowing the old man to come. James Gandolfini – the series’ imposing lead Tony Soprano – is played as a young boy by Gandolfini’s real-life son Michael. Tony’s a sensitive boy with a high IQ and kind heart, who tests high for management skills when his school investigates his prospects in light of repeat absenteeism. Teenage Tony’s repressed by his mad mother, Vera Farmiga in a juicy turn, and his father’s in prison so his nephew Dickie is his psychopathic guide. A word about Gandolfini – his soft voice and easy manner belie his future; he’s the heart of the story, effortlessly charismatic like his father and he does him proud. Mucho macho mayhem, betrayal, awakening, addiction to violence and crime and the simmering rise of the Black Power movement define this gritty, profane take that isn’t up to the series but fills in the DiMeo family background. Directed by Alan Taylor and written by Lawrence Konner, based on David Chase’ characters. In theatres and later on HBO.
Karen Cinorre’ s Mayday is a stark, dark fable of women soldiers, forced to take drastic measures in the forever war against men. It begins in a restaurant; Ana (Grace Van Patten)a waitress prepares a wedding breakfast and chats with the busboy – things appear normal but Cinorre conveys a keen sense of dread. The bride and groom arrive and it’s clear he’s abusing her. Marsha (Mia Goth), the bride who seems to be in trance, finds Ana in the washroom and whispers “Can you help me?” as a bathroom attendant (Juliette Lewis) looks on; the groom barges in. Ana goes to the oven and opens it as a storm strikes, and is transported to a rocky cliff overlooking an ocean. Warrior women (Goth, Havana Rose Liu and Soko) take her in and train her to be a warrior, swimmer and athlete. They’re under constant attack by young men in WWII uniforms. But they’re no match for our heroines – sharpshooters and strategists all, they take no prisoners, luring soldiers via radio Mayday alarms. The “rescuers” approach and they’re wiped out. It’s a radical strident feminist fable, the women’s sole purpose is to their oppressors, and they’re cool with it. Sam Levy’s magical cinematography is warm and practical, and strangely romanticises the war and the dead soldiers and the women’s murderous victories. That is its harsh radicalism and its beauty. Cinorre’s unforgettable fable expresses millennia of female rage. Theatres.
Rage has put Jake Gyllenhaal’s Joe Baylor in a spot of bother in Antoine Fuqua’s intense and claustrophobic The Guilty, in theatres and on Netflix. He’s Joe, an LA police officer, demoted to the 911 emergency call centre and takes one that rocks his already teetering world. The hills around LA are on fire, tensions are high and his trial is the next day. Adding to Joe’s unease are the upsetting calls he receives that morning. A sobbing woman (voiced by Riley Keough) says she’s been abducted, the man has a knife and he’s driving them out of the city. Joe advises her to pretend she’s speaking to her children – a girl and an infant boy and he’ll use a code system to find and rescue her. Missed signals and interruptions dog his efforts, then he discovers her baby boy is alone at home, something’s fishy. Meanwhile, Joe’s sole defence witness is on a drinking binge and due in court in a few hours. Joe has a hard time managing his anger and anxieties, but powers through to a gut punch conclusion. How hard it must have been for Gyllenhaal to hold that headspace for the length of the shoot in two claustrophobic rooms, but he did it. Based on the 2018 Danish film of the same name.
Another kind of guilt goes under the microscope in HBO‘s 15 Minutes of Shame from executive producers Max Joseph (Catfish) and Monica Lewinsky. She also narrates this exhaustive and learned documentary on the tremendous, culture-changing impact of social media and reputation. She knows well first hand how that works as the once infamous intern whose affair with Bill Clinton led to his impeachment. She says she was the first victim of online cancel culture, back in 1998. Even nice guy Jay Leno made egregious jokes about her on late night TV, Lewinsky went from private citizen one night to worldwide humiliation the next. They don’t dwell on her story but visit infamous others shunned by an act that went viral, the guy who hoarded17K bottles of hand sanitiser at the beginning of the pandemic and sold it for 700x its value. He was shamed online, his address was posted, he lost his job, has no money and struggles with mental health issues. From tarring and feathering in Britain in the Middle Ages, the pillory, the printing press, stoning and death by mob, all tools of cancellation, today the internet, according to experts, is an historic expression of public outrage and sadism against a lone offender. The word “cancel” first appeared in Wesley Snipes’ 1991 film New Jack City and we follow it to where it is today, raging, flash mobbing people with little nuance or understanding. Experts describe how it works and the price paid in fascinating detail. From Buffalo politics to Silicon Valley, from Neo-Nazis to revenge porn, an Australian TV anchor suicide death on being trolled, this alarming and well-made extremely well-made doc is essential viewing for social media users. As the filmmakers ask “what kind of world do you want?”. Thorough and illuminating.
And then there’s the cancellation of Pharma Bro, detailed in a gripping doc on pharmaceutical entrepreneur Martin Shkreli, the guy who raised the price of the prescription drug Daraprim by 5500% and lost patents their chance for the life-saving AIDS drug back in 2015. He became the Most Hated Man in America, an alleged sociopath, narcissist and provocateur currently cooling his jets in prison serving twenty years. Asked if he’d do it again, he smiled and said he’d raise the price higher. Filmmaker Brent Hodge’s obsession with Shkreli, his study of bro culture, American greed, infamy and conscience make for a helluva ride. An interesting array of Shkreli associates including Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, rapper Billy The Fridge, journalists, including Christie Smythe who fell in love with him, defend him, but the most compelling interview subject is Hodge who stalked Pharma Bro online then moved into his building. There was the corollary scandal, Shkreli’s purchase of the only copy ever made of Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin for $2M resulting in his arrest on securities fraud. This is a wild ride and a stellar example of our schadenfreude watching him go down. In select theatres in Ottawa, Toronto, Kingston, and London, Ontario.
Australian actor Danielle Macdonald – so memorable in Patti Cake$ and Dumplin’ – hops the Atlantic to star as Millie, an American hedge fund manager, a rising star in her company with a loving boyfriend (Shazad Latif) who walks away from it all. She’s bound for Dumbarton in the Scottish Highlands to study opera in Ben Lewin’s charming rom-com Falling for Figaro. MIllie’s determined to enter the prestigious annual Singer of Renown competition and former diva Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (Joanna Lumley) an intimidating, blunt and difficult woman, agrees to coach her with conditions. She’s also coaching Max a local waiter/singer threatened by this confident American woman. The local community’s watching her with interest, as she navigates the coach’ “innovative” methods and finds her voice; a very good voice. She charms the cattle! The contest is coming up, Max’ fifth attempt to win and Millie’s London beau will be in the audience. Endearing, clever and funny, with stirring acting and singing, Falling for Figaro is heartwarming fodder for a cold fall night. TVOD.
We’ve been waiting for this day. Even after decades of watching and re-watching Seinfeld, the second greatest sitcom after I Love Lucy, an entire generation can’t seem to get enough of Jer and the gang. Netflix has given the entire series a home so all 180 episodes from every season featuring Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer can be found in one place. Seinfeld plays a version of himself, a semi-grown comedian living in an apartment in New York City whose adventures and observations inspire roars of laughter – they are us, only wittier, they say what we would like to have said, they have everyday problems like the rest of us and make it all feel so good. The “show about nothing” the minutiae of daily life changed the comedy landscape and our culture for all time – we all speak Seinfeld, our common language.