REVIEW: “MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN” (2019) Warner Bros. // Post Q & A: Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw

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Set in a tough but glamorous moment in time, “MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN” follows Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) after the murder of his closest friend and colleague Frank Minna (Bruce Willis).  Lionel is hellbent on unraveling the reason and discovering why Frank was killed and who is the killer.  He finds himself on a paper trail across Brooklyn, never giving up on his plan. Being that Lionel is someone someone who also happens to suffer from Tourettes or Tertz Syndrome, and other verbal and motor tics, yet is endowed with perfect pitch of a memory that forgets nothing, makes him a true asset in the world of being part of Minna’s boys – the team of the Private Investigation office of Frank Minna.  He is a character that has a lot of depth to get behind, and being one that needs a great performance in order to be authentic.  And we are given that performance in spades, not only by Norton, but the fantastic entire ensemble cast of this film.

The script that is taken from the book of the same title by Jonathan Lethem, is directed and written by Norton as well, and is where this film truly shines the most in film noir context.  Norton has written it to set in Brooklyn in the 1950’s – in a New York that power-hungry people like Robert Moses are transforming, a New York that feeds his autocratic inclination, as the power behind the throne. The indiscriminate use by the city power brokers of the time of ’eminent domain’ in what is subjectively, the ethnic cleansing of the working poor, the blacks and the Puerto Ricans, who are all subject to losing their homes on a whim, to the pretending to ever provide them with places to relocate. The villain here is Moses “Moe” Randolph, a not so thinly-veiled character that is modeled on Robert Moses, and played well by Alec Baldwin. But pay attention as it can seem a bit overwhelming and convoluted in the beginning, giving the feeling that if you miss even one moment, you will lose track of the story line and seemingly every singular piece is of importance as each scene details in the telling of this tale.

Murder, greed, sibling rivalry and treachery, mafia-like tactics, along with adultery, corruption, jazz, taut racial relations, and resistance from below and the stone-willed determination of Norton to put together and solve the disparate pieces of this puzzle that is ‘Homeless Brooklyn’.  A sure fire cast of supporting characters starting with Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Laura Rose, who is not just a woman of mixed race here, but playing an educated, strong African American women of the time period, a role written in by Norton specifically to shine through to help those in the thresholds of despair facing eviction. Willem Dafoe as Paul Randolph, the brilliant engineer brother of the King Moe himself, yet who couldn’t be more of a polar opposite of his brother. The always spectacular Cherry Jones who gives grit & spit to her portrayal of Gabby Horowitz, Bobby Cannavale, who has been stepping up his game in good supporting characters in films this year is Tony Vermonte, the guy who wants to take over leading the agency here – but has a second play in motion being he’s side-stepping out with Julia Minna, (Leslie Mann), Frank’s wife.  And how can you not enjoy seeing Michael Kenneth Williams as a mellow jazz musician (even if I always secretly wish he would reprise his Omar character in The Wire).  Ethan Suplee, Dallas Roberts, Josh Pais, Fisher Stevens, and Peter Lewis help round out this ensemble cast that seemingly are all so far apart at the beginning of this film, as we watch only to see that all the pieces slowly fall into place one by one, showing how really very connected they are and making 144 minutes fly by at a fast clip. And what would this film be if not with it’s many street scenes, as even the city – Brooklyn – ably stars as itself.

‘Homeless Brooklyn’ speaks to the politics of our day, nonetheless the moral of justice is frayed in a jagged pattern. It’s perfect film noir fodder: power and corruption, progress vs. community, race and a bit of sex, all with a jazz score in the background.  And sometimes it’s just funny.

Grade: A

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Media Review Screening: Monday, November 11, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN” IS NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS // WORLDWIDE RELEASE TO FOLLOW

 

Post Q & A with Ed Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw:

It’s always a wonderful experience to have post Q & A’s with the actor/directors etc.. as they can provide a completely different view into a film that we might never get the chance to know about. Everything from costuming to the music to budgeting, productions shoots and insights of the characters and those that make those characters come to life.  This one was just exactly that.

The Q & A started off with questioning Ed Norton about changing the book from what it was to a completely different setting of Brooklyn in the 1950’s and the challenges that gave him. Norton, followed through that it took him years to create this and accepting the challenge to make it what he truly wanted in film noir, was one he really worked hard for as so many didn’t take it seriously in financing etc.

Asking Gugu Mbatha-Raw about her character which wasn’t even in the book and was it harder to shape her by not having a book to read like the others did on their characters. – She liked that her character was a strong, educated woman in the 50’s where things like that were rare occurrences. Gugu also noted she was the only Brit actor and being around these top notch terrific theater actors helped make her in so many ways with accent, dress, etc in helping shape her character

Norton spoke about how due to the small 26 million dollar budget, all the actors took deferred salaries in order to make the film possible. Almost all of them being top NYC theater actors that Norton has known for years, such as Peter Lewis with whom he’d been in plays with since his 20’s and was his scene study actor here. Due to the detailed speeches and the short 46 day shoot, Norton needed to know that they could do it. No mistakes, no time for rehearsals etc..had to be able to walk in and do it.  So as Norton noted, he is forever in their debt and if you see him in the coming years in something that you are wondering ‘why is he even in this movie – take for instance a bit role as the mayor in Die Hard 8 – well he is paying off his debt. – to much laughter from the audience.

REVIEW: “THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART (2019) Warner Bros.

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The Lego Movie took the much-loved plastic childhood toy and built it into meta-comedy franchise that played equally well for kids and adults. Already spawning a more than one spin-off, including the truly not for kids The Lego Batman Movie, now comes the sequel to the original, The Lego Movie 2, which is fast & frenetic in it’s pacing, even if not exactly fresh.

In truth, this “THE LEGO MOVIE 2” doesn’t stray too far from the original, picking up briefly where its predecessor ended, when the Duplo toys arrived to cause havoc. The story then moves on five years; Bricksburg is no more and now our Lego friends live in Apocalypseburg, a Mad Max-style nightmare, complete with a half-buried Statue of Liberty (nod to Planet of the Apes??!!). Only Emmet (Chris Pratt), our orange-vest-wearing construction worker hero, is his same almost annoying, upbeat self. He’s even built a house for his love, the Goth-clothed Lucy (Elizabeth Banks). But then along comes an alien, General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), capturing all Emmet’s friends and shipping them off to the Syster System to do the bidding of Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), who wants to get married and zeroes in on Lego Batman (Will Arnett).

Emmet sets out on a rescue mission, but it’s only when he meets Rex Dangervest (also Pratt) – a future version of himself – that he learns to toughen up in this mean world. Once again there is plenty of fourth wall-breaking, plus more pop culture references than you can shake a stick at with everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Twilight, to Back to the Future. The cameos even get really weird, with Bruce Willis turning up as a sort of Lego John McClane from Die Hard at one point. The problem with all that, while it might be entertaining for some adults, kids have no idea what these references are and the plot is lost on them, hence they then get bored.

With some cute styled like musical scenes, there are show tunes galore – the best being Catchy Song, which also gets plenty of airtime here. Repetition does weigh it down, with the breakneck pacing ironically causing the film to drag at times, again especially draining for the kids, with Mitchell’s insistence on wham-bam action almost as tiring as Haddish’s talkative shape-shifting Queen.

So all in all, The Lego Movie 2’s insistence on never slowing things down to take a breath can be almost tiring as at times it felt as though there were too many events and gags crammed into a scene. But with Richard Ayoade voicing a talking ice cream, the inventive humour that made the first film special, can still shine through at times. Just probably more for adults than for kids.
Grade: C
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Saturday, February 2. 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.
“THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART” IS OUT WORLDWIDE AS OF FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2019

REVIEW: “SIN CITY 2 ~ A DAME TO KILL FOR” (PREMIERE 2014)

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Ohhhh Robert Rodriguez..what happened to you since the days of “El Mariachi?” I loved that movie and the sheer basic-ness of it.  Even “Desperado” though somewhat amped up with bigger stars and all, showed you still had spirit.  “Spy Kids” was fun!! Then,..well somehow it became all green screen & well..’film noir’ if that’s what you would like to call it.  “Sin City”  a movie with so much art direction, enough decapitations to make the Roman’s say WOW! yet so very dull and uninvolving.

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” seeks to pay homage to the graphic novel  by re-imagining it as a feature film; unfortunately, the big screen and the 3D merely call attention to the aspects of the book that either don’t work or don’t translate easily from one to another because I got lost & a bit bored somewhere in there.  First of all, there’s the narration..ohhhhh so, so much narration, with so many monologues laid over soooo many scenes of people drinking, driving, grimacing or stripping without taking their bras off. (The latter being “Nancy” (Jessica Alba).  Add to all this a ridiculously thick layer of sexism, with every woman in the film portrayed as a prostitute, stripper or man-trap. There’s a policeman’s wife who dares to be over the age of 40, and is well then of course cheated on because ya know..that’s what happens to all women at that age (yawn),  a vengeance-driven dancer who has to mutilate herself to get a man to help her carry out her vendetta. Heaven forbid she do it on her own in a story like this. It seems to try to be a bit self-parody, but completely lacks the sense of humour required.

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As with its the first “Sin City”, which was a whole (gasp!) 9 years ago, this sequel sees directors Frank Miller, who also wrote the novels, and previously mentioned Rodriguez shooting their actors on green-screen and surrounding them with so much animation, hyper-stylized lighting and art direction to make the movie look as much like a comic book as possible.  It’s a clever gimmick for about 10 minutes, but then you start noticing how the actors have been directed not to move their faces much, so that they’ll look more characters on a page.  The blank expressions (and again!! that crushing narration) merely point out the fact that lines like “She didn’t deserve a second thought — and I couldn’t get her out of my mind,” probably work much better on the page than they do when said out loud as they don’t work well.

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The new hero is gambler “Johnny” (Joseph Gordon Levitt) beats corrupt politician “Senator Rourke” (Powers Boothe) in a big game at the poker table but comes to regret it. Rourke becomes a target for Nancy, because the senator killed her lover “Hartigan”(Bruce Willis) who appears periodically as a kinda passive-aggressive ghost, private eye “Dwight” (Josh Brolin) finds himself trapped by the over dramatic manipulation of his ex “Ava” (Eva Green), a femme fatale with a rich husband and a wicked soul.  While I’ve still yet to figure out what makes some think Green is so wonderful all of a sudden in the acting world because I’ve only seen some very mediocre acting, I will give it that she is the only female in this movie who seems to see through this movie’s ludicrousness and dares to one-up it. Her and Brolin’s nudity feels like it should be and they show a lot more skin than any of the strippers (thank you Josh!!:))  and she turns Ava’s greed into one of the few tangible objects in this movie made up principally of special effects. “Marv” (Mickey Rourke) brings a bit of soul to his role, a bit tough-guy with a heart.

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This being Rodriguez’s second sequel in a row now, Machete Kills being the first, in which he turns sex, violence and general exploitation into a rather dull movies at best with yes, stars galore in it.  All either movie had to be was entertaining, but neither accomplished that task; so for a film loaded with decapitations and gun-toting ladies in bondage gear, Sin City 2 gets really tedious really quickly. But this genre definitely has it’s fans and they will probably love it whether it was good or bad.  On a side note: Did anyone else notice or be a bit well..skeeved out by the fact that Rodriguez once cast 13-year-old Alexa PenaVega as a spunky little Spy Kid but now gives the 26-year-old actress roles as a stripper or a whore…hmmm..maybe that’s just weird to me and yes I know. we all grow up..but this..I dunno..was just weird for me.  So as my friend Fisher said to me when I invited him to the premiere on Tuesday…”nah..the premiere party will be a blast with all those different people showing up, but the movie won’t be” and that my friends summed it up completely. Premiere party where I got to meet Demian Bichir who happened to be there and I am such a fan though he’s not even in the movie, was my most exciting moment, the movie…was not.

Grade: C-

 

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Grading Scale: A = Oscar worthy;  B = Above average – must see;  C =  Average  D = Don’t waste time or money  F = Just don’t see  (+ or – gives it a edge up or down)