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.

COUNTDOWN TO THE OSCARS ~ BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR/ACTRESS

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Continuing with the Oscar countdown ~ we are moving along to Best Supporting Actor/Actress.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Mark Ruffalo
“Foxcatcher”
One of my least favourite performances in this category

Edward Norton
“Birdman”
i won’t be mad if Norton wins this.. not in the slightest as this was my favourite performance and I would’ve called Norton the winner…until…

J.K. Simmons
“Whiplash”
Until..I saw this performance of Simmons. Long been a favourite of mine since the HBO series “OZ” – he blew us all away with this..

Robert Duvall
“The Judge”
How do you not like Duvall.. he’s truly an acting icon.

Ethan Hawke
“Boyhood”
Love Ethan.. not my fav. movie or performance.

My Pick: J.K. Simmons
Will Win: J.K. Simmons
Possible Win: Edward Norton

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
I will be upfront here.. none of these performances WOWED me. Jessica Chastain for ‘A Most Violent Year’ was whom I would’ve picked, but yeah..not nominated. So if I have to pick…

Emma Stone
“Birdman”
It’s not Emma for me.

Patricia Arquette
“Boyhood”
Truly not Patricia for me either though she’s been sweeping everything and walking up with her lengthy piece of tacky paper to read off of letting everyone know she knew she was winning.

Meryl Streep
“Into the Woods”
Love Meryl.. but I do think they ran short of people and put her in because she IS Meryl Streep.

Laura Dern
“Wild”
I didn’t love this movie.. but Dern moved me some with her performance here, she was definitely the best part of this movie.

Keira Knightley
“The Imitation Game”
While Knightley didn’t annoy the complete bejesus out of me this go round.. she usually does and she did Laggies & Begin Again, both awful films that she should just be punished for that and all the others.

My Pick: Laura Dern
Will Win: Patricia Arquette
Possible Win: Emma Stone

REVIEW: “BIRDMAN” (2014) ~ Fox Searchlight

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Ok.. I will admit, I’m rather breathless right now.. I was fortunate enough to see a special screening (thank you EVER so much Jason Watters) of this movie and to simply say it’s fucking BRILLIANT feels like I’m almost understating it.. To say I’ve never seen anything like it and I’m going to venture out on a limb here and say I don’t think most have either..But I’m pretty sure in my stating that fact. It’s almost to difficult to put into words what exactly this movie is about, because it’s that different and special, but when you see, trust me, you will get it, and that gettin is oh so good of a film.  From the 4th or 5th minute in this movie..YOU ARE IN IT..it feels that way..and as they say..’in it to win it’.. And you don’t want to leave it.

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To sum it up as best I can without ruining or revealing to much of the plot of this SUPERBLY acted play within a movie, within a play, yes you read that correctly, starting with a simply superb performance as “Riggin Thomson” is Michael Keaton, playing a washed up actor who in a twist of fate that could possibly be based on a bit of real life (hmmm), once played an iconic superhero character named ‘Birdman’, got pigeon-holed by sequels and has been type-cast ever since.  He is attempting to mount a ‘comeback’ of sorts by doing a Raymond Carver play which he wrote. is directing and starring in and what entails during the 3 preview showings of the play is what this somewhat fantastical, oh so cherry-red, dark comedy takes us through. All the while ‘Birdman’ seems to be a voice in his head telling him things, but is it just a voice and are all the fantastical things he can do all real?  This is all part of the wonderfully different ride you will be on while watching the film feeling you are on the rollercoaster right along with him,  birdman 3

Stealing the show and his play within a movie within a play..ha! I just love saying that..is Riggin’s co-star in both “Mike Shiner” (Edward Norton), who really does a fantastic job here of making us think or believe his character is either completely insane or completely normal. You get to decide while you either shriek with laughter or dis-belief at this guy.  While some of the supporting cast here is so-so for me in this movie. as I’m not fond of either character of “Lesley” (Naomi Watts), who is the rather neurotic lead of the play  or “Sam” (Emma Stone), who plays Riggin’s re-habbed daughter/theatre assistant/stoner/ends up sleeping with Mike role, I did however love Andrea Riseborough as “Laura” who plays quite comically, Riggin’s girlfriend, and “Brandon” (Zach Galifianakis) his agent/lawyer/comic best friend.

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I will sum this up for you very simply, this is probably one of the best films I’ve seen, this year for sure. It’s so original, well thought out and If anything, you must give a huge shout-out to not only the director, Alejandro González Iñárritu for his amazing vision and what he accomplishes in this film with it, but the WHOLE film crew from the producers and most especially the camera crew as noting they did in the Q & A afterwards with producer John Lesher & the film’s star, Michael Keaton, what a great job was done by all in a very short period of time on a very low budget, you will be amazed by what you see and hear as the soundtrack is just as good as the film itself.  This movie has you giving knee-jerk reactions in some scenes that parlay into completely different situations than you thought possible, it will make you think, it will entertain you and end with a scene which is one you will not soon forget, Lastly you will talk about this movie for a long time afterwards. Is this what you might call a “comeback” for Michael Keaton, yeah..it is, and we all know how much not only Hollywood, but we ALL love comebacks, My suggestion to all is run..don’t walk..do not pass go, just get to the theatre and see this very very good movie when it’s released. For me, this would get Oscar nods for film, lead actor Michael Keaton, and supporting actor, Edward Norton.  I’m going to bet on this one that I am right..:)   

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Producer Josh Lesher & Michael Keaton

Producer Josh Lesher & Michael Keaton

Grade:  A (Oscar-worthy)

(see grading scale)

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