Friday, October 1, 2021

'Many Saints' finds a younger Soprano and more; 'Titane' defines madness

Stoll and Farmiga give new life to Uncle Junior and Livia Soprano
There's seriously a lot to embrace in "The Many Saints of Newark," even without the heft of the late, great James Gandolfini carrying the load in a big-screen prequel about "The Sopranos" crime family he hauled into heavy Emmy territory from 1999-2007 on HBO.

Of course, the big guy is missed as Tony Soprano, but plenty remains in a loaded screenplay from series creator David Chase and episodic contributor Lawrence Konner. The show's common themes -- anger management, mommy issues, infidelity, racism, greed --all remain, and so do younger versions of other iconic characters from -- it says here -- the most influential cable series of all time.

Most notable in that department are Tony's mom, Livia Soprano (played now by a terrific Vera Farmiga), his whiny Uncle Junior (Corey Stoll) and right-hand man Silvio Dante (Akron's own John Magaro). Michael Gandolfini, the son of James, carries himself well, too, and at times, quite spookily, as the teen-age Tony, whose scene at Holsten's eatery might seem like the most meaningful of many homages to the series for diehard fans and followers.

Two guys named Moltisanti -- Dickie (Alessandro Nivola) and dad Dick (Ray Liotta) -- become the main men in this movie, though, and it's another family name those same fans surely will recognize since Tony and the boys mentioned it especially glowingly on TV. 

"Many Saints" attempts to show everyone why, while also introducing another key player, Black gangster Harold McBrayer. As slyly portrayed by Leslie Odom Jr., expect to run into him again somewhere down the road. Until then, Harold and company can be seen in theaters everywhere, as well as on HBO Max. 

Rated "R" by MPAA: strong violence, pervasive language, sexual content, and some nudity; 2:00; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Opening today in fewer theaters (only four in northeast Ohio) is “Titane," the daring and daunting tale from French director and writer Julia Ducournau.

Before one of three public showings at last month's 46th annual Toronto International Film Festival, programmer Peter Kuplowsky called “it a midnight masterpiece,” and a Cannes Film Festival jury (headed by Spike Lee) went one further last May in giving the bewildering story its Palme d’Or top prize. 

Surely deserving credit, too, is the performance of newcomer Agathe Rousselle, as a pregnant, serial-killing showroom model who, while on the lam, starts looking like a young man and becomes a firefighter. Hey, it’s a strange, occasionally funny brew, folks and, in fact, the aforementioned Kuplowsky (who heads TIFF's "Midnight Madness" section) also rightly called it "a movie that defies description."

"There are certain scenes where you'll cover your eyes," he added, "yet, it does have a tender side, too."

And, did I forget to mention that Rousselle's character literally loves cars? See it to believe it at the Atlas (in Mentor), Cedar Lee (Cleveland Heights), Cinemark (Valley View), or Nightlife (Akron).

Rated "R" by MPAA: strong violence and disturbing material, graphic nudity, sexual content, and language; 1:44; $ $ $ out of $5

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