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Review: The Many Saints of Newark (2021)

The Many Saints of Newark (2021)

Directed by: Alan Taylor | 120 minutes | crime, drama | Actors: Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Vera Farmiga, Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Ray Liotta, Michela De Rossi, Michael Gandolfini, Billy Magnussen, John Magaro, Michael Imperioli, Samson Moeakiola, Joey Diaz, Germar Terrell Gardner, Alexandra Intrator Gabriella Piazza, Mason Bleu, Aaron Joshua, Lesli Margherita, Talia Balsam, Kathryn Kates

Even before ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ was even written on paper, it was compared to one of the most acclaimed television series of the twenty-first century, ‘The Sopranos’ (David Chase, 1999-2007). This could not be otherwise, because the spiritual father of this TV series wanted to tell a story about Tony Soprano’s adolescence with partly the same crew. Later, as witnessed in more than eighty hours of television, Tony became a rising star within the Italian-American mafia in New Jersey. Without the great James Gandolfini, who almost became identified with the character Tony, but with his son Michael (yes, they look eerily similar) this prequel film just ticks the two-hour mark. A comparison based on quality between the film and series makes no sense. They play in separate leagues. Nevertheless, “The Many Saints of Newark” is a nice addition to the iconic HBO series and is an entertaining mafia drama for those who have never heard of “The Sopranos” before.

So ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ revolves around how young Tony becomes that monstrous fatherly crime king. Not completely, or at least not alone. Here Tony, played reluctantly by the young Gandolfini, is an almost innocent passer-by, a silent witness to a family that has been involved in serious crime for decades. Even though father Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal) is in jail, Tony, mother and sisters don’t come up short. In addition, Tony can always get premium beer for his friends and occasionally gets a special gift from a family member, such as a regal hi-fi set. Fallen off the truck, says his favorite uncle Dickie Moltisanti, played with heart by the underappreciated Alessandro Nivola. The young Soprano looks up to Dickie. Even when Tony causes problems at school again, it is this uncle who still manages to keep him on the right track. In addition, Tony is Dickie’s favorite and this nephew must emerge from the shadows of the family and not follow in their footsteps. Ultimately, Dickie and his souls are at the heart of ‘The Many Saints of Newark’.

It sounds like a dime-a-dozen movie, to some extent. Renowned helmsmen like ‘Goodfellas’ (Martin Scorsese, 1990) and ‘The Godfather’ (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) do this well-known crime tune much better and tighter. However, ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ is the prelude to a six-season television story in which not only the soul of a saint and sinner is plucked to the centimeter, but also that of his cradle, the United States. This morning country has always had an obsession with the underworld. More and more often the question arises: to what extent can these two worlds actually be distinguished from each other? While films about the mafia often still draw a clear line, spiritual children of “The Sopranos”, such as “Breaking Bad” (Vince Gilligan, 2008-2013) and “Ozark” (Jason Bateman, 2017-…), are significantly less so. sure of. But what does ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ add to this? Not very much news, not even what you might have suspected in “The Sopranos”.

Although the film is brimming with talent, Chase’s production appears to be mostly unbalanced on the big picture. It takes too many side paths, paths that deserve a TV series in its own right. Race riots in Newark; a young, ambitious immigrant bride (what if Michael Corleone’s Sicilian wife hadn’t been murdered in ‘The Godfather II’?); systematic racism in the United States; and much more. The world chased by Chase and director Alan Taylor is truly overflowing with ideas. Nevertheless, enjoying all these trails and the fan service in ‘The Many Saints of Newark’, it seems like the Star Wars universe. This mosaic approach still makes a lot of good and more ambitious beaches than another ‘Goodfellas’ clone, doesn’t it?

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English Reviews

Review: Desert Paradise (2021)

Desert Paradise (2021)

Directed by: Ike Bertels | 87 minutes | documentary

What do you do as the community of an idyllic and remote desert town when the largest employer in the region decides to withdraw? The inhabitants of Oranjemund, Namibia, are faced with this dilemma. Now that the nearby diamond mine is becoming exhausted, the Namdeb company, which is also considered the founder and economic cornerstone of the town, decides to lay off a large part of its employees. The harmonious community fears for its future and decides to join forces to map out a new economic future for the diamond town. Will Oranjemund become a ghost town swallowed by the vast expanses of sand or will the inhabitants succeed in reinventing themselves and their hometown?

‘Desert Paradise’ is above all a film about change and the challenges that people face. Thanks to Namdeb’s presence, Oranjemund was for a long time a secluded oasis in a wild landscape. The company provided job security, decent housing, educational facilities and an above-average standard of living for the region. Crime and racism were and are virtually non-existent in the close-knit community, while the gemsbok (large antelopes with impressive horns) just leisurely walk the streets, the highways and the gardens of the people. An anecdote from a young resident, who tells about her first encounter with crime after a visit to the big city, shows nicely what kind of protected life most residents of Oranjemund lead.

But Namdeb’s intention to leave Oranjemund causes unrest and reconsideration in the remote desert town. How do people provide their place of residence with a new economic base without eroding the sense of community? The film is primarily an intimate portrait of a number of people (a manager of the local Spar, a travel guide, a farmer looking for fertile farmland and a number of young people) who try to answer this question.

Many residents see tourism as the solution (the town is close to some nature reserves, the sea and the famous Namibian sand dunes), while other residents want to transform Oranjemund into an agricultural hotspot or natural retreat for wealthy retirees. At the same time, we see that those ideas are a long-term issue. Tourism and agriculture are still in their infancy in Oranjemund. In addition, there is little start-up capital, as most of the money raised from the diamond mine did not flow back into the community.

The discussion between members of the younger generation is also interesting. Many of them barely see a future for themselves in Oranjemund and fear that their hometown is doomed to turn into a desolate ghost town from a B-western. For them, the more job-rich capital Windhoek or the neighboring country South Africa beckons. However, a boy disagrees and criticizes the fatalistic attitude of his contemporaries. According to him, smart and well-educated young people from Oranjemund have a duty to guarantee the future of their hometown and to steer the transition to new economic revenue models.

Although director Ike Bertels does spin some scenes in ‘Desert Paradise’ very long and the narration of the film is quite slow, the carefully chosen compositions and wide panoramas make up for it. What is especially striking is the contrast between all the (sprayed) greenery in the town and the bone-dry landscape that surrounds Oranjemund. An excellent visualization of the presented theme: postcolonial tragedy with a glimmer of hope and positivism.

English Reviews FilmiTips

Review: Under Suspicion (2000)

Director: Stephen Hopkins | 110 minutes | drama, thriller, crime | Actors: Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Monica Bellucci, Nydia Caro, Miguel Ángel Suárez, Pablo Cunqueiro, Isabel Algaze, Jacqueline Duprey, Luis Caballero, Patricia Beato, Sahyly Yamile, Hector Travieso, Marisol Calero, Vanessa Shenk

Some movies seem to make sense from the first minute. The atmosphere, the sounds and the intro make you surrender with confidence to what the makers have in store for you. Awareness of structure and story development then fade into the background. ‘Under Suspicion’ is a good example of this. The beginning, middle part and plot fade in this psychological thriller, which Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman act together in a fascinating way. Under Suspicion was not an in-between project for either man. For some time they tried to get hold of the rights of ‘Garde à vue’. The novel ‘Brainwash’ by John Wainwright, together with this French production, is the great source of inspiration for ‘Under Suspicion’.

The screenplay of ‘Under Suspicion’ offers a lot of perspective for good actors. It’s the dialogues and non-verbal acting that carry the film and make it so interesting. They relate to human actions in stuffy and uncomfortable situations. Hackman and Freeman probably knew what they had to offer. Hiding behind grand film locations and noisy action scenes is not an option. Lots of close-ups and an ingenious construction to integrate flashbacks act like a magnifying glass on the acting talent. With its limited film locations, ‘Under Suspicion’ is pleasantly organized, but that makes it all the more impressive with its storyline. When wealthy judge Henry Hearst (Gene Hackman) is about to leave for a benefit gala for hurricane victims, Police Detective Victor Benezet (Morgan Freeman) calls him. When Hearst is asked to stop by the police station, it marks the beginning of a long warm and sweaty evening in Port San Juan, Puerto Rico. While the locals celebrate South American Carnival in the streets, the tension in the police station can be cut. A nice cinematic contrast that gives the film an ominous edge.

Thomas Jane (Detective Felix Owens) brings some refreshing counterbalance to the life of the two main characters. With his young dog mentality, the character brings some venom and a smile to the place. Because you will not encounter much humor in this film. ‘Under Suspicion’ is not a film in which the plot is forced to be contrived just as quickly. No all-ending car chases here and no stunt work to take the film to its directed peak. The film ends quietly, but exciting. The psychological in this thriller therefore mainly applies to the viewer. Because he or she will have to put a few things straight in his or her head.