*MOVIE RECAP: 8-BIT CHRISTMAS

I’m a sucker for nostalgia-driven movies and TV shows, especially 70s, 80s, and 90s stuff. So this movie is right on my side of the street.  

8-Bit Christmas is based on a book of the same name by Kevin Jakubowski, who also wrote the screenplay. It follows a father, Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris), telling his young daughter, Annie (Sophia Reid-Gantzert), a story about his obsessive quest to get his hands on a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) during the 1988 Christmas season. 

The story is set around a working-class family in the suburbs of Chicago. Young Jake Doyle (Winslow Fegley) tells his parents that he wants a Nintendo for Christmas. But, unfortunately, his parents feel that video games are bad for kids. As a result, young Jake, along with his group of misfit friends, has to develop a plan to convince his parents to buy him an NES or find a way to get one on his own.

Jake and his group of friends are a hilarious and diverse bunch. Most notably, Jeff, the liar (Max Malas) who makes up wild stories and cannot stop lying about anything and everything. In addition, little Conor Stump (Jacob Laval) is a scene-stealer, this young actor was remarkable in the HBO limited series The Plot Against America (2020), and he is great here again. 

The egotistical Timmy Keane (Chandler Dean) is hysterical as the richest kid in the neighborhood who owns the only NES in town. Timmy makes all the kids jump through insane hurdles while selecting only a handful of them for the privilege of playing Nintendo with him. Also, the school bully Jagorsk (Cyrus Arnold) is pretty notable.

As the town parents come together to push for the banning of video games in their community, the kids have to pool all of their resources together and figure out creative ways to get a Nintendo console for Christmas. And at the same time, setting themselves free from Timmy Keane’s tyrannical hold on the one and only Nintendo in town. 

The adults hold their own amongst the little scene stealers here. Steve Zahn (John Doyle) delivers a convincing and heartfelt performance. Jake’s mother, Kathy Doyle (June Diane Raphael), is solid, and her comedic timing is excellent. David Cross is brilliant as this shady but lovable dealer of black market goods. 

Yes, the premise is similar to A Christmas Story (1983), and it borrows some elements from other similar holiday movies. However, it still manages to feel fresh and original. All of the nostalgic throwbacks hit on the mark — Like the infamy of the NES Power Glove, the scarcity and popularity of Cabbage Patch dolls, and other 80s pop culture stuff. But, it all comes together nicely.

Personally, I related to this movie in many ways. First, it rang true to me because for a short time, I was the only kid in my neighborhood who owned an NES, and my friends would come over and play with me. But I wasn’t a little prick about it like Timmy Keane was. Second, Nintendo dominated the late 80s and early 90s — Games like Mega-Man, Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Tetris, and The Legend of Zelda, among many others, were the obsession of kids from my generation as well as mine. So all of that resonated with me.

8-Bit Christmas is a fun and charming holiday movie, one of the best in recent years, and it belongs amongst the classics. It’s a good throwback to the 80s in the spirit of the Goonies and Stranger Things. It hit home for me; it brought back many memories growing up. I will definitely be adding this movie to my favorite holiday movies list.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

8-Bit Christmas (2021). Streaming on HBO MAX

*TV SERIES RECAP: ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING

First, I have to get something off my chest. I think that it should not be allowed for streaming platforms to release episodes of their shows on a week-to-week basis…… Okay, there I said it.

After watching the first two episodes, I really wanted to binge the fuck out of this series in one or two sittings, but I made the mistake of starting this series right smack in the middle of its initial week-to-week release back in September. As a result, I had to suffer and wait every week for a new episode to drop.

Anyhow, this is a charming murder-crime mystery type of show with lots of whimsical comedy. Two great comedy legends, Steve Martin and Martin Short reunite for some brilliant stuff here. The chemistry between Steve Martin and Martin Short has always been pure fire, case in point, the Father of the Bride series, Three Amigos, Broadway shows, and a few other things along the way.

The story takes place at the Arconia apartment building, an upscale NYC co-op in the Upper West Side. Steve Martin is Charles Haden-Savage, an actor best known for playing a TV detective in the 90s. Charles lives alone; he seems lonely and bored. Martin Short is Oliver Putnam, a washed-up broadway director, and producer— Oliver is struggling to keep up with his UWS lifestyle and is in desperate need of money. Also, Selena Gomez joins our legendary duo as Mabel Mora, a mysterious young girl living in the same building.

The central premise here surrounds the murder of Tim Kono (Julian Cihi), a resident of the Arconia who is found dead in his apartment. The circumstances of his murder are highly suspicious. At the same time, Charles, Oliver, and Mabel share an interest and passion for true crime podcasts, and they decide to join forces to solve the murder of their fellow neighbor.

Armed with a handful of clues, the three of them start their own investigation and their own podcast chronicling their investigation. There are layers and layers of intrigue sprinkled throughout the entire 10 episodes of the first season.

Sometimes, the performances are a bit over the top — somewhat typical of Martin and Short, but it all works nicely. Surprisingly, Selena Gomez steps into this already established chemistry and holds her own. The generational gap between them is what drives things here. There is a sense of sadness and loneliness from these three characters — which pulls them towards each other.

The Arconia building is a crucial component of the series; it is a character by itself with many moving parts. The building residents are also important characters; they are all pretty weird and eccentric. Nathan Lane is outstanding here; his scenes with Martin and Short are remarkable. Sting playing a fictionalized version of himself is hilarious.

I liked how the show focused on the recent growth of true-crime podcast culture and made it part of the actual amateur crime-solving storyline. Even the Hardy Boys young adult mystery series is featured prominently in the show.

Only Murders in the Building is a delightful and entertaining show. It is a very New York-driven show, especially if you live in NYC. It is diverse, progressive, and although exaggerated at times, it still comes off as realistic enough. You can’t help rooting for these characters and their delusional detective skills. I cannot wait for season 2 — spoiler alert, the final episode sets up next season’s murder mystery. It is definitely one of the best and most satisfying shows of 2021.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

Only Murders in the Building (2021). Streaming on HULU.

*MOVIE RECAP: MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

Here is another film I completely missed when it was initially released back in 2019. and it took me this long to finally watch it.

Motherless Brooklyn was a passion project for Edward Norton that took almost two decades to bring to life. Norton directed this movie and wrote the adaptation — a loose adaption that is, from the Jonathan Lethem 1999 novel of the same name.

The story is set in 1950s NYC, during a time when the city was run by a non-elected official Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin). This character was inspired by real-life New York city planner Robert Moses who from 1930-1968 had uncontested authoritarian power over NYC and NY state—and made every significant decision about infrastructure in New York. Like where the roads went, where bridges were built, which buildings were torn down to make way for developing projects, and so on. Moses used shady tactics masquerading as “community improvement” programs to displace poor and minority communities. Using “Slum Clearing” programs to condemn whole sections of the city—evict everyone who lived there and turn those empty neighborhoods over to his private developers to build whatever he wanted.

The housing policies created and enforced by Moses were based on racist principles. Even today, in our current timeline, there is a direct connection in most of the gentrification policies and practices plaguing Black and minority communities throughout New York City with some of the same methods that Moses implemented.

and by the way…. Moses was also responsible for the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn. 

All of that makes for a pretty compelling story; however, the movie suffers from the plot’s ambitiousness.

Lionel (Edward Norton) is a private detective who witnesses his boss Frank (Bruce Willis) getting murdered. Frank was Lionel’s mentor, a father figure, and closest friend. Lionel suffers from Tourette syndrome, which made life pretty tough for Lionel, considering this movie is set during a time when doctors had not yet diagnosed the condition by name. Norton’s portrayal of Lionel’s Tourette syndrome outbursts reminded me of how he delivered similar outbursts in the movie The Score (2003).

As Lionel digs deeper, he discovers more dark truths about conspiracies and sinister plots involving high-level officials in city government. The story moves pretty slow, but it works because it allows the audience to follow along with Lionel’s detective work, discovering things at the same time as Lionel does.

They tried hard to recreate the look and vibe of New York city of the 50s, but I never really felt like I was in the era while watching it. Many of the location settings felt contemporary and did not capture the essence of the 50s. The soundtrack, however, is terrific, and the Cinematography by Dick Pope is remarkable.

The all-star ensemble cast is incredible. Alec Baldwin delivers a powerful performance; his lines and dialogue are some of this movie’s best moments. Willem Dafoe (Paul Randolph) is brilliant, adding some background to the Moses Randolph character. There is a memorable scene at a diner between Dafoe and Norton that stands out to me.

I always enjoy watching Bobby Cannavale (Tony) in this type of role, but I felt like his character needed more screen time. The late great Michael k. Williams (Trumpet Man) is solid as usual. Coincidentally, both Cannavale and Williams were two of my favorites on Boardwalk Empire.

I really wanted to like this movie, and in a way, I kinda did. But I came out feeling a bit underwhelmed. Many things work pretty well here, and a few things did not work for me.

In any case, Motherless Brooklyn is an entertaining and ambitious film that merits some attention.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

Motherless Brooklyn (2019).

*MOVIE RECAP: DUNE — Part One

Embarrassingly enough, I went into this movie not having read the book. My knowledge of Frank Herbert’s Dune can be best summarized to a simple cliff notes overview of the story. And my other familiarity with the novel is that I used to sell hundreds of copies per year, back when I was a bookseller slash bookstore manager. It was a constant bestseller, so I always kept it in stock.

At the same time, I have to admit that I’m a bit biased when it comes to this movie. Full disclaimer, a few weeks before the official cast of Dune was announced, I got the chance to meet and exchange words with Timothee Chalamet briefly — Oscar Isaac made the introduction. Yes, THAT Oscar Isaac.

All told, I have been dealing with Mr. Isaac for a while now through my day job. He is a normal and down-to-earth dude — extremely likable and personable. Unlike some of those entitled Hollywood types, acting pretentious and asking to be treated special…ahem, Jeremy Strong…. I had an awkward conversation with Jeremy Strong on the phone once. But that is another story for a different time.

Anyhow, meeting Timothee Chalamet was a pretty awesome experience, and even though it was a brief encounter, it was a pretty memorable encounter; He shook my hand and said, “Hi, it is cool to meet you”….It made my day, week, month, and so on… and I haven’t shut up about it ever since.

So yes, it was my own personal “Hollywood moment.” One of many unique Hollywood moments — meeting celebrities is one of the cool perks of working in New York City.

Ok, about the movie. 

So this movie is officially named DUNE: Part One — because it is based on the first half of Frank Herbert’s 1965 Dune novel. And I assume that the next Dune movie will be based on the second half of the book — unless they decide to turn the entire first book into a trilogy, which I doubt.

I read in different pieces that Frank Herbert was heavily influenced by the 1926 book Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E Lawrence — which was the basis for the epic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia directed by David Lean……One of my favorite films of all time.

In any case, the story of Dune takes place on a desert planet called Arrakis. The native people of this planet are called the Fremen — The Fremen are nomadic, Arab-looking tribes. They are ruled and oppressed by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) of the House Harkonnen; He is like a feudalistic planetary overlord of sorts.

The other power player here is the House of Atreides; Rule by Duke Leto Atreides (my boy, Oscar Isaac). Duke Leto’s young son Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), heir to House Atreides.

The Emperor and supreme ruler of the known universe assigns Duke Leto to replace House Harkonnen as overlords of Arrakis and all of the “spice” mining operations there. Spice is a precious asset; it is the equivalent to oil in terms of power for fuel — You need this Spice for interstellar travel.

And here is where the fuckery starts…

There is a conspiracy between the Emperor and House Harkonnen to wipe out House Atreides from existence. So not long after arriving in Arrakis, there is a surprise attack by the combined forces of the Emperor and House Harkonnen to kill off House Atreides.

Young Paul Atreides and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), escape, and the journey between boy and mother begin.

What pleasantly surprised me the most here was the solid screenwriting — primarily in how the knots and bolts of the story are explained to the audience. Mainly the opening scenes and the introduction of the Houses and the whole space mining concept, plus how the movie’s beginning gave us a quick background to the never-ending conflict between the ruling overlords and the Fremen. All of that was written and directed brilliantly, and it was very engaging.

Not having read the book, I was impressed with this adaptation because they did not try to force-feed the entire first book into one movie. Instead, they opted to split the books into parts and thus remain faithful to the source material. Therefore, it doesn’t feel like it was dumb down for the audience like some other adaptations out there.

Brilliant screenwriting work from Denis Villeneuve and his writing partners, Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Passenger) and Eric Roth (Munich, The Good Shepherd, Forrest Gump, and The Insider).

Dune, the novel, is a complex and spectacular story that many consider unfilmable. But director Denis Villeneuve has created an exceptional experience here, adding a visual depth and dimension that I’m sure the book does not have — Villeneuve’s filmography is extraordinary with films like Blade Runner 2049 (2017) and The Arrival (2016), among others. So I’m not surprised by this achievement.

The scope and scale of this movie are epic and breathtaking. The combination of location shooting and special effects is outstanding. Bringing this world to life both digitally and physically is remarkable. The natural environment and the power of the desert felt real, which is something CGI or green screens cannot truly capture.

The atmospheric elements and the middle eastern imagery are well done. There is also a sense of spirituality and mysticism slowly being developed, which I’m sure will be further explored in upcoming films. On top of all that, Hans Zimmer’s score is superb.

The performances are excellent. Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgard, and David Dastmalchia are all fantastic. There is an air of Marlon Brando from Apocalypse Now to Stellan Skarsgard’s character — No CGI, only prosthetics for Skarsgard — pretty cool.

Additionally, Rebecca Ferguson is noteworthy here; Lady Jessica is at the epicenter of the story, and Ferguson conveys such a powerful presence in every scene that she is in.

But objectively, Timothee Chalamet is the heart and soul here; he is perfect for this role. At first, he seems flat, stoic, and almost emotionless. But as the story evolves, you see him maturing and embracing his messianic destiny. There is a sense of vulnerability from Chalamet’s performance that merits praise.

And sure, this is another white savior story; however, it gets a pass from me, mainly because the source material is over 55 years old. My other issue is that they did not make time early enough in the story to explain to the audience about the whole aspect of sword-fighting with shields and how those personal shield devices can protect you. I hope there will be a director’s cut available at some point addressing some of the technology, like the whole thing with the lack of computers and Artificial Intelligence in this world.

Lastly, I find it interesting how they went out of their way to exaggerate Zendaya’s contribution here. The advertising was misleading — she was all over the promotion materials, hyping up her performance. Yet, she was in the movie for roughly 10 minutes, but it is evident that she will play a significant role in the second part.

All in all, Dune: Part One is a major cinematic achievement. Here is an adaptation that Hollywood got right, and I have not been this excited about a sci/fi slash fantasy series since the original Lord of the Rings trilogy back in the early 2000s.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

DUNE: Part One (2021).

*FOO FIGHTERS — MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT (Album Recap)

It is refreshing to see bands and musicians that came into the music scene during my teenage years continue to remain musically relevant after all of these years, especially when those same idols from my misspent youth can still Rock.

The Foo Fighters have been a big part of my life’s soundtrack. The mid to late 90s was a vibrant time for Rock music. In the 90s, bands like Foo Fighters, Oasis, Green Day, The Verve, Bush, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Rage Against the Machine, Radiohead, and Korn put out some of my all-time favorite albums. Admittedly and proudly, I still listen to those albums frequently.

This is why I’m beyond static to see how well Foo Fighters, the Band, is aging. Dave Grohl’s voice remains virtually intact in terms of energy and power — and the band, as a collective unit, continues to evolve while at the same time still making creative and impactful music.

Medicine At Midnight is Foo Fighters’ 10th studio album; It was completed in early 2020, and they were supposed to go on tour during the summer of the same year, but we all know what happened….

It took me about 3 to 4 listens, and I was all in.

I love this album from start to finish; It is the shortest and fastest full-length studio album in the entire Foo Fighters discography; it’s a quick listen — I really dig the short length of it, just 9 tracks and coming in at 37 minutes. Somewhat similar to Green Day’s 2020 Father of All Motherfuckers (10 tracks, 26 minutes).

Medicine At Midnight was supposed to be their version of Bowie’s Lets Dance album — and although this is supposed to be a dance, party album, and somewhat of a departure from the Foo Fighters sound we all know and love, it still feels very much like a Foo Fighters album. It is fun, groovy, and energetic with plenty of 80s Rock dance vibes. I liked how all those elements blended well with the unique sound of the Foo. I think this will be a perfect album for future live shows — if I ever get to go to live shows again.

In general, this is an excellent Rock album — there is no doubt that I’ll be spinning Medicine At Midnight on my turntable at home for the foreseeable future. Additionally, this album has constantly been streaming on my Apple Music during my Subway work commute this year.

Here is my track by track breakdown…

Track List:

1 — MAKING A FIRE:

This opening track sets the party mood of this album — It starts with lots of firepower. The energetic background vocals are great, which tells you that this is a different type of album.

2 — SHAME SHAME:

First single. It feels like an experimental track that actually works well as a first single.

3 — CLOUDSPOTTER:

Fun track, no idea what a Cloudspotter is, but this song grew on me after a few listening sessions, and I really like the chorus. It is a classic Foo Fighter-sounding type of song.

4 — WAITING ON A WAR:

Upon first listen, I was not much into it; however, it has grown on me. Solid vocals.

5 — MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT:

Title track, full of David Bowie vibes — good beat, and probably my favorite track from this album. Refreshing, fun, and the most danceable beat from the entire record.

6 — NO SON OF MINE:

I heard that this track was a tribute to the late Lemmy from Motorhead. I Love the tempo; it is definitely a head-banging song.

7 — HOLDING POISON:

The intro rocks pretty hard, and it just keeps up the pace from thereon. 

8 — CHASING BIRDS:

I fucking love this track. It is by far the most mellow song here. It is the lone ballad of this album. I think that every great record should include a ballad.

9 — LOVE DIES YOUNG:

Interesting how this song is full of sad lyrics but with an upbeat tempo. It brilliantly wraps up the whole dance/rock concept, blending most of those elements from the entire album into this final track.

*TV SERIES RECAP: RATCHED

I genuinely appreciate the type of shows Ryan Murphy puts together. He is at the forefront of a powerful movement happening right now in the creative fields of show business. I see him as a crucial part of this new creative force that seems fully committed to reinventing Hollywood as an industry—and reinventing how entertainment is being produced and presented to the world.

Ratchet is an origin story, told in a Ryan Murphy way, adding a modern sensibility to a period piece, along the same lines as Murphy’s Hollywood Netflix series. It is a highly stylized TV show with extensive uses of colors and fantastic location shots. It is a very visual show, with excellent production quality, set designs, costumes, and cinematography. There are many Hitchcock and David Lynch influences in it — Simply put, it is visually a beautiful show to watch.

The character of Nurse Mildred Ratchet (Sara Paulson) was Introduced to audiences in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey. This nurse Ratched character was originally played by Louise Fletcher, a performance for which she won an Academy Award for best actress. Interestingly enough, I heard Louise Fletcher was never approached regarding the revival of her character.

Nurse Ratchet is portrayed as a mysterious and psychologically damaged person trying to save her adopted brother Edmund (Finn Wittrock) from execution after murdering a bunch of priests. She manipulates her way into a mental facility where Edmund is being held to determine his mental capacity. Once inside the hospital, nurse Ratched will devise a plan to free her stepbrother.

The mental facility is run by Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), an eccentric doctor who believes in unconventional mental rehabilitation methods. For example, he believes lesbianism is a mental disorder and can be cured by extreme methods like putting women in a boiling hot bath, followed by a freezing cold bath. He also puts patients under lobotomy procedures to cure them of whatever he perceives to be mental disorders.

There are many compelling and redeeming qualities to nurse Ratched, more so than in the 1975 film. I started viewing her as this monster in the making, and as I finished binge-watching the show, I unexpectantly began rooting for her. We explore things from her past that allow us to become more empathetic to her. We see how sexual abuse and mental illness can be linked together. The character Gwendolyn (Cynthia Nixon) comes off as the most believable real-life character here; Gwendolyn allows nurse Ratched to appear a lot more relatable and human.

The supporting cast is incredible. Nurse Bucket (Judy Davis) delivers a magnetic performance. Lenore (Sharon Stone) is great as this bizarre, super-rich diva, hell-bent on revenge on Dr. Hanover. Corey Stoll plays a 1940s Humprey Bogart type of private detective, hired by Lenore to hunt down Dr. Hanover. Amanda Plummer is a scene-stealer as this weird and possibly deranged motel receptionist. Nurse Dolly (Alice Englert) delivers a seductive and captivating performance.

As I finished binge-watching this first 8 episode season, I realized that Paulson is exploring something psychologically profound with this role. It seems to me that she is approaching this character in a unique and sophisticated way.

All in all, Ratchet is an extravagant, outrageous, and at times ridiculously insane show to watch, but it is incredibly entertaining, and I could not get enough of it. I’m looking forward to season 2.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

RATCHED (2020). Streaming on NETFLIX.

*MOVIE RECAP: THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK

Mob movies will always capture my attention, especially over the top, cartoonish, bumbling New Jersey mafia guys like the characters from The Sopranos. 

Many Saints means Moltisanti in Italian, which pretty much tells you that this movie is really all about Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) and indirectly about a young Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini).

Nonetheless, we still get to see a younger version of Anthony Soprano growing up in Newark, New Jersey, idolizing his uncle Dickie and becoming a man. As we slowly see young Tony picking up some street smarts — I found similar Michael Corleone overtones here, where both characters don’t want anything to do with their family businesses at first.

The casting is impressive across the board. It was fun recognizing the younger characters, and while some of the actors are obviously doing straight-up impressions, they all did an excellent job.

Vera Farmiga captures Livia Soprano brilliantly. Finally, we get to briefly see some of the early toxic relationship dynamics between Livia and Tony from the first season of the Sopranos. Further exploring the relationship between Livia and Tony in the next movie will be crucial — of course, if there is a sequel to this prequel — there should definitely be another movie.

Corey Stoll is outstanding here — he nails all of the Maneurismns from Junior Soprano. We get to see how petty and insecure Junior can be even as a younger man. And how Junior schemes and manipulates his way into more positions of power.

Ray Liotta delivers a convincing performance playing dual roles as twin brothers “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti and Salvatore “Sally” Moltisanti. Liotta makes both parts stand out; Hollywood Moltisanti is mean and abusive towards the women in his life. In contrast, twin brother Sally Moltisanti is more philosophical and reflective. Ray Liotta is mobster movie royalty, so having him involved in this movie gives it a sense of gangster movie legitimacy.

The power structure of the DiMeo crime family is not fully explained or broken down like I wanted to, but we still get to see early versions of Paulie Walnuts (Billy Magnussen), Pussy Bonpensiero (Samson Moeakiola), and Silvio Dante (John Magaro). The backstory of Silvio’s hair and eventual toupee is hilarious.

I wanted to see more of Tony’s father, Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal); he was relegated to more of a background character here. Hopefully, the next film will feature Johnny Soprano in a more prominent role.

Plus, we have a pre-teen and a teenage version of young Artie Bucco. Also, teenage versions of Carmela Soprano (Lauren Di Mario) and Jackie Aprile (Chase Vacnin), all of these three characters, provide some memorable scenes. The teenage version of Janice Soprano (Alexandra Intrator) stands out as a fascinating character to explore further as the Soprano extended universe moves along in other movies or TV projects.

However, the performance by Alessandro Nivola is exceptional — I think that this is an Academy Award-worthy performance. Dickie Moltisanti was always a present memory throughout the series, and Nivola’s performance cements Dickie’s importance and legacy in the general scope of all things Sopranos.

Dickie is a highly conflicted man, wrestling with inner demons, extremely menacing and out of control, while at the same time trying to do the right thing for the people in his life. Alexandro Nivola brings this character to life beautifully.

The women in Dickie’s life are remarkable; His wife, Joanne Moltisanti (Gabriella Piazza), his mistress, Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi), and even Livia Soprano — all of them assert a particular type of influence on Dickie.

On top of all that, we have a racial component that serves as the backdrop of the whole story. Harold (Leslie Odom Jr) runs numbers, collects money, and works as a street enforcer for Dickie. Through Harold’s eye, we begin to see the cultural and social changes starting to take place in New Jersey and the brewing racial tensions between the established communities living in Newark. Additionally, the 1967 Newark riots are a crucial plotline here, which is a pretty remarkable thing, considering that I cannot recall this historical event ever featured anywhere in cinematic history.

Anyhow, there is plenty of things to dissect here. There is lots of fan service with plenty of references to the TV series sprinkled throughout the movie, so you have to pay close attention — It is a lot more enjoyable if you are familiar with the show.

The voiceover of Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) at the start of the movie was cool. I know it is weird because he is dead, but don’t think about it too much or try to make sense of it — let it take you along for the ride. After all, there were many esoteric and supernatural themes throughout the series. So the movie opening this way and being narrated by Christopher throughout parts of the movie is right on brand.

Oh, and there is this brilliant scene of baby Christopher’s reaction to meeting his young uncle Tony for the first time.

Anyway, liking or not liking a movie is a concept pretty hard for me to put together in simple terms of like or dislike. So my measuring stick has always been based on whether a movie or TV series is engaging or not engaging. And whether it is memorable or unmemorable.

The Many Saints of Newark meets all those requirements; it is a fascinating and pretty memorable movie. In essence, it is a fascinating story as it relates to the Sopranos TV series.

So, yes, this Soprano story holds up as a standalone movie. It feels like an origins story; it is a film aimed at fans of the series, as it spends time setting up, putting pieces in place for things to make sense, primarily for fans of the show. It does not taint the legacy of the show, but it actually manages to extend specific themes and storylines from the series

This movie serves as the perfect setup for more Soprano movies and content, especially the impending rise of Tony Soprano within the DiMeo crime family. And the inevitable confrontation between Harold and Tony.

For one, there is tons of space between the end of this movie and the first episode of the Sopranos TV series, which is why David Chase should continue to make more prequels and more Sopranos-driven content.

In any case, I didn’t realize how deep and invested I got into this movie, that when the opening theme song from the series started playing, I was like, fuck, they got me!

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Many Saints of Newark (2021).

*DOCUMENTARY RECAP: THE DEVIL AND FATHER AMORTH

When William Friedkin set out to direct The Exorcist back in the 70s, he had never personally witnessed an exorcism before the shooting of this iconic 1972 film; however, more than 40 years later, he would witness an Exorcism for the first time and document it for the world to see.

The demonic realm has always intrigued and fascinated me — I try to read and research the subject whenever I stumble upon articles regarding demonic possessions cases. The 2009 book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio: is an excellent read, and it is one of my favorite non-fiction books on the subject of Exorcisms. There was a 2011 movie with Anthony Hopkins based on this book; It was well received, but it wasn’t a faithful adaptation of Matt Baglio’s work, and it wasn’t as thought-provoking as, say, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005). 

Father Gabriele Amorth (1925-2016) has been on my radar for many years now, as I’ve been closely studying his work. He was the Catholic church’s most respected Exorcist. He founded the International Association of Exorcists, a training institution for priests’ training in Exorcism rites. He also wrote several highly acclaimed memoirs; The Devil is Afraid of Me: The Life and Work of the World’s Most Famous Exorcist and My Battle Against Satan

Friedkin is allowed unprecedented access by the Vatican to witness and record an Exorcism by Father Amorth. We meet Cristina, who is believed to be possessed by a demon or some dark entity. By the time we meet her, she has been through 8 Exorcisms, and they are about to perform the 9th. As father Amorth begins the Roman rituals of Exorcism, we see Cristina become violent, aggressive, and this unnatural, terrifying voice comes from inside of her. She screams and grunts — it all seems over the top, but it does feel genuine and straight out of some strange dark realm.

Perhaps the most significant thing this documentary attempts to do is bringing this evidence to medical professionals, scientists, scholars, and neuroscience experts to examine. All of them can’t articulate or properly diagnose what Cristina or other victims of so-called possessions are experiencing in medical terms. They all seem to agree that there is something entirely out of logical explanation happening to these people.

It is exceptionally fascinating to realize that even now, in 2021 the best weapon we have to combat these types of cases is not a medical doctor but Exorcism-trained priests.

Reading serious non-fiction works by Authors like Matt Baglio or Father Malachi Martin and even watching documentaries like The Devil and Father Amorth will challenge your views on spirituality to some degree. However, this documentary does little to satisfy any skeptics of demonic possessions; it instead leaves you with more questions than answers. Additionally, it establishes no concrete medical, psychological, or scientific explanations for this phenomenon. So, yes, this documentary is a must-see.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

The Devil and Father Amorth (2017)

*MOVIE RECAP: THE SUICIDE SQUAD

I went into this movie feeling pretty skeptical and not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. However, I get the sense that the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is finally beginning to find its way. 

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) was an exceptional achievement. Birds of Prey (2020) was pretty fucking enjoyable. And now we have The Suicide Squad (2021), which is not really a sequel or a reboot of the 2016 Suicide Squad movie, but more of a fixer-upper slash relaunch of the series — Will Smith is out, and Margot Robbie is in; she is now the heart and soul of this franchise.

The original 2016 Suicide Squad movie wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t very memorable. I could tell that some editing issues plague the final theatrical cut. But, surprisingly, Will Smith was actually good in it, playing Deadshot — he was not as annoying as he usually is. And of course, Margot Robbie was excellent. She came to this role well prepared — she took this Harley Quinn character seriously and did some solid research before taking on this role. 

Here, what stands out the most is how director James Gunn uses many of the same elements from his Guardian of the Galaxy movies and how well those same elements work.

The premise is generally the same as the 2016 movie; the Suicide Squad is again comprised of a bunch of imprisoned super-villains who the US government recruits to fulfill a suicide mission. Some of these villains have unique superpowers, and some are just highly skilled at killing people and blowing shit up. 

The members of this new Suicide Squad are quirky characters with some very unique and odd qualities. Most notably, Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), King Shark (Sylvester Stallone ), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior), Savant (Michael Rooker), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), and Weasel (Sean Gunn). All of these new characters get a nice and quick backstory slash introduction at the start of the movie.

We also have newcomer Bloodsport (Idris Elba), who is essentially the same character as Will Smith’s Deadshot. Additionally, the main star of this franchise, Harley Quinn, is back along with Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney). 

Our anti-heroes are sent to a fictional Latin American island nation in a seek and destroy mission to kill an alien creature being kept in a lab. And of course, unexpected things go down, and no one is safe — everyone is expandable.

Spoiler alert! We have a few characters played by big-name actors who get killed almost immediately — that was surprising but also pretty cool.

The casting of super-criminals is solid. John Cena is hilarious, especially when making dick jokes — Cena is finding his niche as a muscle-bound action-comedy actor. 

Polka-Dot Man was a weird-ass character, but a pretty compelling one. He has this sad and tragic backstory with big-time mommy issues. Sylvester Stallone is outstanding voicing King Shark — This character is a more interesting version of Groot. Taika Waititi showing up as Ratcatcher’s father was an exceptional choice.

Rick Flagg was developed better here and was a lot more likable than in the 2016 movie. Amanda Waller is the most consistent character from both Suicide Squad movies. She continues to be a sinister force behind the scenes. 

But unquestionably, Harley Quinn is better as the lead character and not as a side character like she kinda was in the 2016 movie. Margot Robbie embodies this character beautifully, as we all got to see in Birds of Prey. 

I liked the whole thing of Harley getting kidnapped by dictator Silvio Luna (Juan Diego Botto). This plotline was crucial to develop Harley Quinn further as a character. Not to mention how lucky Juan Diego Botto was on having an on-screen hookup scene with Margot Robbie — Every geek in the universe was dying with envy.

My only issue with this movie is in the same old Hollywood-style representation of Latin American stereotypes.

First of all, whoever wrote the Spanish language dialogue and characters is a clueless asshole. Or maybe it wasn’t one person, and instead, it was a group of clueless assholes. It doesn’t really matter — the whole thing was beyond insensitive; it was dumb and irresponsibly stupid. Hollywood still doesn’t “get it” when it comes to writing Hispanic characters. They don’t really care to reach out to writers like myself or others like myself with real-life experiences and who can actually write legit Spanish language dialogue and write more believable and less cartoonish Hispanic characters.

In any case, Besides all the poorly written Spanish-speaking characters, The Suicide squad is a shockingly fun and wild ride, full of over-the-top, gruesome violence, with some cool and unexpected twists and turns. There is solid chemistry between all of these new characters. They are all bad guys but with some slight redeeming qualities, similar to Deadpool in terms of sarcastic tone. James Gunn needs to make more of these movies.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

The Suicide Squad (2021).

*MOVIE RECAP: ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (SNYDER CUT)

There is this unique pleasure for movie nerds like myself to watch a director’s cut of a movie — you know, watching a movie as originally intended to be seen.

My measuring stick determining how good a movie or a TV show is — has always been based on how memorable or unmemorable the movie or show ends up being.

Having said that, by my own personal metric, the theatrical cut of Justice League directed by Josh Whedon, or also known as the Whedon cut, was not a memorable movie. It was way over the top, cheesy, and unfocused in terms of storytelling, with plot holes all over the place. Nevertheless, the Whedon cut wasn’t as awful as most fans have expressed; it was actually pretty watchable and, at times, somewhat entertaining, but it was far from what it was expected from this ensemble cast of superheroes. It was very forgettable, to say the least.

I blame the studio for this meh version of the Justice League. First, they jumped the gun and rushed to make their own version of an Avengers type of movie. And, unfortunately, it was way too soon — Because they were still introducing and developing movies featuring the characters that make up the core team of the Justice League members.

Everybody reading this blog probably knows by now that Zack Snyder had to drop out of Justice League in the middle of the shooting of this movie due to a family tragedy. Josh Whedon stepped in, and the rest of the story lives on perpetually in motion picture infamy.

The controversy between the two versions of this movie prompted an online campaign to release the director’s cut, or the Snyder cut as it is now officially known.

There are people out there who are disgusted by the fandom for pushing Warner bros. hard to release the Snyder Cut. Calling these hardcore fans toxic and such. However, I don’t see it this way; Fans should absolutely have a say in how things are being presented and sold to them. We, the fans, spend our money on movies, toys, merchandise, and all kinds of media entertainment products. Mediocrity will not be easily accepted anymore. This is a lesson for movie studios to pay close attention and to learn from all the outrage this Whedon Cut created.

This version is 4 hours long; I watched the whole thing in 2 seatings — and I was very much engaged in it throughout the 4 hours. It is more than a Director’s cut; it is an entirely different movie. It is leaps and bounds better than the theatrical cut. I think this version could’ve worked in theaters as a two-part movie, just like the Avengers two-parts Infinity war and Endgame movies.

Although my comic book knowledge of the DC Extended Universe is far from being encyclopedic, this movie is the best and the closest thing you will ever get to a superhero comic book slash graphic novel on film. Sin City (2005), 300 (2006), and Watchmen (2009) are my favorite graphic novels adapted into films. Coincidentally, Zack Snyder directed both 300 and Watchmen. I have some issues with 300, but for the most part, I thought Watchmen was actually a pretty damn good adaptation (except for changing the ending from the graphic novel).

This Snyder Cut has epic vibes to it — the CGI looks clean and pretty. It is beautifully shot, a gorgeous movie to watch. And, it is darker, grittier than anything Marvel has released. Dark superhero stories are what I like to see.

Here are the main differences from the theatrical version:

Aquaman is way more involved in the story, and his character has Godlike vibes here, similar to the way Thor was presented in the Marvel universe.

The cyborg plotline here is another vast improvement from the Whedon Cut. Unlike the theatrical version, Cyborg here is an integral part of this movie. We got to see how Cyborg is a God amongst men in terms of his powers and how those powers are unique within the modern technological world.

The Flash is more compelling here and funnier. But I still don’t know much about him and his powers. So I’m looking forward to The Flash stand-alone movie.

Superman kicked ass. I loved seeing this version of angry, pissed-off Superman — and the black suit made things even more extraordinary.

Wonder Woman is also better here than in the theatrical cut; she is presented as an old God in terms of her level of strength and power. But there is zero continuity with the events of Wonder Woman 84. I have no clue how they are planning to make WW84 fit into the larger scope of things.

We get a much better version of Batman and Bruce Wayne. This is the version of Batman the fandom wanted to see or close enough to it. The nightmare scene between Batman and the Joker was incredible. — it teased us on what happened with Robin (it seems like Joker killed Robin). This version of Jared Leto’s Joker was impressive.

We finally get to see Darkseid and how powerful, menacing, and evil he really is. The fighting sequence between the old heroes and gods against Darkseid was terrific. Watching Zeus, Artemis, Ares, King Arthur, and even a Green Lantern in battle was fucking awesome.

The whole premise of the Mother Boxes was better presented. There was also more depth to Steppenwolf. Introducing Granny Goodness on film was an outstanding idea. Let’s remember that both Darkseid and Granny Goodness were original Jack Kirby creations.

The Snyder Cut was an excellent movie-watching experience. I was fine the 4 hours; it didn’t feel like it dragged too long. I think the 4 hours were just about right to move the story forward for the sake of storytelling and character development. This type of long format should be the standard from now on — Maybe even breaking them down in parts might be the way to go. It just feels like it is meant to be consumed that way.

Zack Snyder has pulled off something awe-inspiring here. As movie and superhero fans, we are fortunate to have seen a 4 hour never before seen version of all these unique comic book characters. The next online fan campaign should be for Warner to restore the Snyder verse.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021). Streaming on HBO MAX.

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