A hit is a hit

A hit is a hit
The Many Saints of Newark, directed by Alan Taylor (HBO Films)

Fans of The Sopranos were undoubtedly much too excited to see the first-ever series-spinoff feature-length film, The Many Saints of Newark, released simultaneously to theatres and HBO Max on Oct. 1. But the first reviews were not good. Never had an audience so eagerly and so long awaited something they knew universally would prove to be so reliably disappointing.

James Gandolfini’s absence, both as principal on-screen character and larger-than-life offscreen persona, haunted this picture since its inception. No one could fill Tony’s wingtips. But by going back in time, focusing instead on Soprano’s forerunner Dickie Moltisanti, creator David Chase discovered a clever workaround for the dilemma of making a film without him. Billed as “A Sopranos Story”, Chase passed the George Lucas masterclass of prequels-as-sequels and offered an acceptable reason for Sopranos enthusiasts to watch.

Still, even if Chase had recruited A-listers across the board — Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Julia Roberts, Penélope Cruz and Charlize Theron, with Francis Coppola and Marty Scorsese directing — it would never have satisfied viewers hoping to rekindle the spark that made The Sopranos special. Nothing could.

Fortunately, Many Saints offers another, unexpected nostalgic pleasure: a throwback to the days of HBO before The Sopranos, before the network effectively created prestige TV. This film harkens back to the late 1990s, when HBO was at its best, producing pulpy, straight-to-cable and video-store fare like Gotti, Gia, and The Rat Pack — the latter of which also featured an over-the-top Ray Liotta turn.

These were objectively B-movies, not worthy of theatrical release. But that didn’t make them any less entertaining. Many Saints is a solid B-movie. I’m glad that Chase had the bravery to make it and hopefully there will be more cheap-and-fearful “Sopranos Stories” in store, motherfuck the critics.

To read Cult MTL’s review of The Many Saints of Newark, please click here.

Soundwalk Collective with Charlotte Gainsbourg, feat. Lyra Pramuk, “Empower and Enhance,” Lovotic (Analogue Foundation)

One thing they don’t teach you in school is how to live next door to someone you don’t like. You can read all the Shakespeare and do all the algebra and still never understand how to get along with someone you don’t much care for, someone who doesn’t much care for you. You can subscribe to all the world’s religions and scour the sacred texts and meditate for days on end and drink ayahuasca in the Andes and still find yourself at wits’ end trying to compose an email to a person who actively despises seeing your name in their inbox but whom you must email nonetheless. Where are the courses, the departments, the degrees for the simple practice of getting along?

For more on Soundwalk Collective, please visit their website.

Nico Muhly, “Gift of Fire,” Gift of Fire (Bedroom Community)

Gift Of Fire by Nico Muhly

I miss Donald Trump. Not in the official sense, mind you; I do not miss him as president. But I miss his character. I miss him like I miss a bad TV show that I guiltily watched, that went away. I miss him like I miss Beauty and the Beast or Xena: Warrior Princess. 

I think that Donald Trump’s danger stemmed not solely from his character per-se, unhinged as it might have been. We are only now hearing bizarre accounts of, for instance, his aversion to vegetarianism, his outsize fear of cognitive decline, of staffers playing the Cats soundtrack to subdue him from episodes of violent rage. I suppose that is dangerous, but no more so than the average Hollywood movie producer. If Trump aspired to Napoleon, he only made it to Nixon.

What was truly dangerous about Trump is that he disproved democracy. The assumption until that time was that most people would collectively act in their own best interests and vote for stability. Of course, this has not been the case for some time, if ever. But the 2016 US election was radically different. A collective of Americans democratically voted not so much for Donald Trump to be their President — that would be foolish — but against Hillary Clinton and her administrative ilk. Cold warriors and career politicians, they were on their way out.

Today, though, Trump seems like a distant memory. Biden would gladly go vegetarian for a month, no doubt. And like almost every other American president, he’s a dog man. The Trump show was cancelled. I have to admit, there was a shard in time that it made for fascinating TV.

Clara Engle, “Heart of Rags,” Dressed in Borrowed Light (self-released)

Dressed in Borrowed Light by Clara Engel

There is something romantic about a nice hotel bar. A crowd consisting solely of people coming or going. The drinks are usually good, not great. But you’re bound to go unrecognized. My favourite hotel bar in the world was at The Carlton (not the Ritz-Carlton, just The Carlton) on Madison and 28th in Manhattan. In Montreal, I used to like the bar at the Ritz on Sherbrooke. It was dark and reassuringly expensive. I went there once with a beautiful woman. We sank into a booth and drank bourbon and smoked Nat Shermans. It was one of the best bar experiences I’ve had. Imagine meeting a stranger in a hotel bar for a noirish tryst now. That kind of happy accident won’t happen for a very long time, maybe never again. Add that to the long list of lost experiences for which to pine in a post-covid world.

Jerusalem in My Heart, “Qalaq 5” (w​/​Oiseaux​-​Tempête), Qalaq (Constellation Records)

Qalaq by Jerusalem In My Heart

The last email I received from Joni Sadler was a thank-you for playing something Constellation-related on the radio and a confirmation that a physical Godspeed LP was winging its way to me via Canada Post. Nobody does that anymore. Joni was a shooting star. She was great at her job. Her drumming kicked ass. She was a friend. I’ll miss her. ■

This column originally appeared in the October issue of Cult MTL. To see previous editions of Play Recent, please click here.
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