Too many saints in Newark: Reviewing the Sopranos movie

From left: Paulie Walnuts (Billy Magnussen), Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal), “Junior” Soprano (Corey Stoll), Silvio Dante (John Magaro), “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti (Ray Liotta), and Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) watch as downtown Newark burns. This one frame encapsulates the crammed nature of the film’s story. Photo: Warner Bros.

The Sopranos changed American media forever, launching us into a Golden Age of Television that no one’s really sure we’ve left in the 22 years since the show first premiered in 1999. It redefined what compelling, relatable and sympathetic characters could look like and the sort of personal issues they could share with audiences on screen. It is well worthy of the title of the greatest television series of all time.

With The Many Saints of Newark, showrunner David Chase brings his opus back to life, this time on the big screen while collaborating with returning cohorts director Alan Taylor and co-writer Lawrence Konner. The result is a film filled with fan fodder, but one that is ultimately unnecessary and inert. Spoilers below:

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The Green Knight: An old tale, retold for modern times

Early in their studies, fledgling archaeologists are often confronted by this classic dilemma: in a world of finite resources and where time’s arrow only marches forward, what use is there in preserving the past?

Answers to the quandary vary, but the most common would be something like this: to learn more about who we are presently, and who we may very well become. In this similar vein, A24’sThe Green Knight resurfaces an artifact of yore, appropriating its characters and devices for moral lessons more relevant to today. It’s an overall satisfying reimagining, rife with apt performances and impressive production, though it can at times fall victim to the “arthouse powerhouse” studio’s worst instincts.

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Living Free Under Fascism: The Existential Nightmare of The Conformist

Born in Northern Italy in 1941, it would not be unfair to say that Bernardo Bertolucci’s first-hand experiences with fascism were likely indistinct and inoffensive to his young mind. Mussolini’s regime had fallen when Bernardo was only two, and the future director had only just turned four when the Salò Republic puppet state had finally disintegrated in 1945.

Raised in what he described as a “Marxist context” by intellectual parents in the city of Parma, the young Bernardo came of age during the fledgling days of the First Italian Republic. Though there would be echoes of nationalist extremism, the more apparent political crises of this time (and thus, far more impressionable upon Bertolucci) would have been the severe disparities in wealth between any and all sorts of Italian communities during the so-called “Economic Miracle.”

Given all of this, it is no wonder that Bertolucci admits that his 1970 classic The Conformist, in spite of its fascist setting and aesthetic, is first and foremost a film about the middle-class. It is a gorgeous and oftentimes hilarious critique on the self-preserving but ultimately unfulfilling nature of the affluent, rife with striking visual metaphors (our protagonist at one point, while practicing his aim, mindlessly points a pistol to his head, only to ask: “where is my hat?”). 

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COVID-1984? Examining Accusations of Authoritarianism in Pandemic Safety Measures

Black Lives Matters protestors marching in Pleasanton, CA in June of 2020. All are wearing face-masks—are all sheeple to a new Big Brother? Photo: Jose Carlos Fajardo

“You fucking Nazi,” the young man said to me.

He was about my height, skinny, and wore a backwards billed cap over his shoulder-length hair. In another world, maybe we could have been friends—but not now, not at this moment in history. For, in the middle of a deadly pandemic, the young man had gone against my store’s policy and refused to properly wear his mask.

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Mortal Kombat: a flawed, but nonfatal affair

Video game film adaptations are famous for their lack of high quality, and with every new release there is some hope of among anxious fans that they are at least “somewhat decent.” The more offensive of these adaptations, like Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, seem to take conceptual issue with the work that they are based on, and vary greatly (often to anemic effect) from their source material.

Joe Taslim as Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat. The third live-action adaptation of the beloved franchise recreates its iconic moments and characters to middling success. Photo: Warner Bros.

But a lot of the others, while staying true to their origins, always seem to… not understand how storytelling in film is supposed to work. Corners are cut, budgets are stunted, and in the end producers and audiences both are left with a final product that should by its nature be something of blockbuster quality – but is instead a subpar failure on all parts.

2021’s Mortal Kombat will more often than not fall into that latter camp. For film fans such as myself, it’s not very good. But for hardcore Mortal Kombat franchise fans (also such as myself), there is plenty to appreciate in its action-packed 110 minutes. Spoilers below:

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Six years after #OscarsSoWhite, the 93rd Academy Awards nominations are record-setting

On January 15, 2015, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its full list of nominees for its 87th Academy Awards ceremony. The announcements were made early, shuffled to an at-dawn time slot for what the Academy likely guessed would be an uneventful lead-up procedure for the big night.

This year’s nominations were announced by power couple Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas, live from a studio in London. The films and performers honored compose a list that is the most diverse ever in the ceremony’s history.

They were wrong.

Audience reproach, largely based in Black Twitter, came swiftly and resolutely. They criticized the Academy for a failure to acknowledge the full breadth of achievement among film professionals of color for that year, namely in the “big six” categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

Not a single person of color was nominated for any of the individual awards (Alejandro González Iñárritu, nominee and Best Director winner for Birdman, while Latino, is white), and though Selma, a Black-oriented film, was among the nominees for Best Picture (losing to Birdman), none of its cast or crew were recognized for their efforts in any of the other five prestigious categories (“Glory,” featured in Selma, would go on to win Best Original Song).

Frustrations were especially compounded given the context of the previous year, where Black-oriented film 12 Years a Slave was nominated for and won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Additionally, Lupita Nyong’o won for Best Supporting Actress for her turn in the film, being the first Black African woman to win an Academy Award ever. Star of 12 Years Chiwetel Ejiofor was nominated in the male lead counterpart, and in Best Supporting Actor Barkhad Abdi would make history as the first Somali to be nominated for an Oscar.

So then, for a certain set of Oscar-lovers, it was as though the ceremony had regressed. The Academy, in the words of U.S. Congressman Tony Cárdenas, “failed to reflect the nation” or the racial- and gender-diverse talent of 2014 (Ava DuVernay, director of Selma, would have been only the fourth woman ever in Oscar history up for an award if nominated).

Thus is the origin of #OscarsSoWhite, a social movement that bubbles up year after year to serve as the Academy’s reckoning, holding it accountable for any further lapses in representation.

The Academy, to its credit, has promised to do better. In 2016 they assured the public that they would double their female and minority membership by some time last year (in 2012, 94 percent of Academy members were reported to be white, 77 percent male). And in a more drastic measure, the organization will also be implementing “diversity quotas,” standards of representation that will determine if submissions are eligible for nomination. These are set to go into effect by next year.

This push seems to have paid off, for today on March 15, six years after the birth of an enduring hashtag, the 93rd Academy Award nominations were announced – and they are set to make history for their efforts in representation.

The nominees for Best Actor are: Riz Ahmed, Chadwick Boseman, Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, and Steven Yeun. It is the first time that three actors of color have been nominated together for this award, and the first time that nominees of color have outnumbered white nominees. Additionally, Yeun and Ahmed break barriers with their nominations. Yeun is the first actor of Korean descent to be nominated for this award, and Ahmed is both the first Muslim and actor of Pakistani descent to be nominated for this award.

The nominees for Best Director are: Thomas Vinterberg, David Fincher, Lee Isaac Chung, Chloé Zhao, and Emerald Fennell. This marks the first time in the award’s existence that there is more than one female nominee for any given year. Additionally, Zhao makes history as the first woman of color to be nominated for this award, and Chung as its first Korean American.

With the nominations of Judas and the Black Messiah, Promising Young Woman, Minari, Sound of Metal, and The Trial of the Chicago 7, this is the first time in the history of the Best Original Screenplay award where scripts focused on white male subjects were not in the majority.

And for her role in Minari, Yuh-jung Youn is first Korean woman to be nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category.

There is far more to celebrate in each and every one of the awards. The 2020-2021 extended Oscar season was an incredible year for film. It shared with the world a range of talents and stories that for too have gone ignored or underexplored. Good on the Academy for realizing that.

The Problem with Piers

Piers Morgan loves to hear himself talk. So much so that on a Monday broadcast of Good Morning Britain the 55-year-old news presenter and media personality made certain that he was first to speak on the controversial “Harry & Meghan” interview, wherein, among other things, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex accused the Royal Family of racist indiscretions.

Piers Morgan has left his position at Good Morning Britain after a series of dramatic rebukes against the Oprah Winfrey interviews with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

“I’m sickened by what I just had to watch,” he says, not because of the Queen but because of Markle.

“Okay,” co-host Susanna Reid butts in, obviously uncomfortable. “People might be upset, and moved, by what they heard.”

Her tone is pleading, de-escalating, but her halting attempt at damage control is incessantly interrupted by Morgan:

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Minari: as American as agwi-jjim

There’s an old saying on the nature of stories: at their best, they should simultaneously be as old tales told as new, and new ones defined as classics. Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari is an exemplar of the adage, recontextualizing the age-old American Dream for an underrepresented subject. The film is a thoughtful work of art, and is necessary viewing for a full understanding of what some claim to be the greatest nation on Earth. Spoilers below:

Jacob (Steven Yeun) prospects for water with his son David (Alan Kim). Photo: A24
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Nomadland: a beautifully dark light on America

There’s a black hole in every van,” says David to Fern, reflecting on the nature of itinerants like themselves to collect and hoard. The remark, though nonchalant in its delivery, has super-massive implications of its own, suggesting an intricate, unknowable deepness to the lives of others.

But rather than trap light itself, Chloe Zhao’s Oscar frontrunner Nomadland reflects it, illuminating for its audiences a world that they are both a part of and hidden from, all with staggering observations.

Fern (Frances McDormand) carries a lantern through a “nomad” rendezvous. McDormand’s performance is yet another signal that she is one of the greatest actors of all time. Photo: Searchlight Pictures
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Cruz Needs a Vacation: Texans must make it permanent

Get him outta here!

On Wednesday, February 17, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was spotted en route to a family vacation to Cancún, Mexico, while millions of his constituents were stuck at home suffering from power outages and extreme cold in the face of a “once-in-a-lifetime” weather event that overwhelmed the Lone Star State. Public outcry to Cruz’s actions was swift and decisively critical, and as a result of the backlash the Senator was quick to schedule a return trip for the following day.

While Cruz’s condemnation has been nigh universal, the Senator’s faux pas has not been without apologists. Notable among them is Dinesh D’Souza, convicted felon and conservative provocateur.

“What could [Cruz] do if he were here in Texas?” D’Souza tweeted, “If he’s in Cancun, that means he’s not using up valuable resources of energy, food and water that can now be used by someone else. This is probably the best thing he could do for the state right now.”

Though based in awfully faulty premises, I do actually agree with D’Souza’s conclusion. The best thing Ted Cruz can do for Texas, and all of America, is if he abandoned it—its people and its politics—forever. He does not serve them well.

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