Wednesday, January 15, 2020

JUST MERCY (2020)



Rated:  PG-13

STARS: Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson
DIRECTOR: Destin Daniel Cretton
GENRE: Drama

A young black man is railroaded by the criminal justice system and locked away for a crime he didn't commit. Doesn't sound that unusual anymore, does it?  Because as we all should know by now, it's not.

Just Mercy is based on the true story of Walter McMillan, who was wrongly convicted of the murder of a young woman in Alabama in 1988. The only alleged evidence against him was the testimony of a convicted felon who claimed to have witnessed the crime. McMillan spent six years on death row. 

Director Destin Daniel Cretton spins an inspirational yet appalling tale of how young Harvard law school graduate Bryan Stevenson worked tirelessly to prove his client innocent--based upon Stevenson's 2014 memoir. Four appeals were denied by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals from 1990 to !993. But attorney Stevenson never gave up.

The movie spills over into melodrama in one of the courtroom scenes, and Just Mercy suffers from some mediocre acting performances, with the notable exceptions of Jamie Foxx as McMillan, and Tim Blake Nelson as the criminal whose testimony (which he later recanted) put McMillan behind bars. And at two and a half hours, this tale could have been told in  more economical fashion. 

But in my view, the quality of the film is almost irrelevant. It's the story it tells and what it reveals about racial prejudice, collusion among law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges that indicts the whole lot of them--not only in this case in Alabama, but assuredly in many other instances as well. As the film reveals at the end, for every nine people executed in the United States, one innocent person has been exonerated. We'll never know how many innocent individuals went to their deaths at the hands of the state due to inadequate or incompetent legal representation. (Did you know that the barbaric electric chair was employed in the U.S. until 2008, when the last state where it was still in use dropped it?) 

For the sobering reality it reveals, Just Mercy should be required viewing for everyone. 

It's not a particularly great film, but it's an important film. It's a stinging indictment of capital punishment, as well as our flawed and too often corrupt criminal justice system.

Grade:  B -


JILL'S TAKE

Just Mercy is an uncomfortable film to watch. It is unrelenting when it comes to showing just how unjust the world can be. Especially if you're black. Forget the Harvard education, the JD after his name, our idealistic hero still must suffer through a strip search before he can interview his client. Yes, the film was a bit too long but so was the agonizing process of obtaining Walter McMillan's freedom.

I was unfamiliar with the actor who played the lawyer. But thanks to IMDb, I now know his name is Michael B. Jordan (the B stands for Bakari which means "noble promise" in Swahili) and he's no relation to the basketball legend. I felt he did a credible job and when they showed the real Bryan Stevenson during the end credits, I could see a definite physical resemblance. Whenever a movie is based on a true story, I love how they show the "real" people at the end.

The story is so horrifyingly gripping that the musical score is hardly noticeable. But I noticed it. And I agree wholehearted-ly with the description I read of the music "showing great emotional nuance."

The only thing that didn't ring true for me—although in real life it happened that way—was the sudden change of heart by the prosecuting attorney. Maybe it's the fault of Rafe Spall for playing the part of a smarmy southern bigot so convincingly. (Ironic that Spall is English.)

Not since that unforgettable scene in "The Green Mile" (where they forgot to dampen the sponge) has the sight of an electric chair been so....er....electrifying. (God, we can be such inhuman humans!)

The lady I saw this movie with said the book by the same name was "absolutely brilliant." Well I say the movie is, too!


B +




Wednesday, January 1, 2020

UNCUT GEMS (2019)



Rated:  R

STARS: Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian
DIRECTOR: Josh and Benny Safdie
GENRE: Drama

The new Adam Sandler vehicle, Uncut Gems, is so...New York! Meaning it's loud. Meaning it's crass. And in the first five minutes we find ourselves gazing up the main character's ass (a live colonoscopy!).Some things you just have to look away. So I'm thinking oh boy--what's next?  

What's next is a first half of a film that can only be truly appreciated by east coast denizens who are used to hearing New Jersey pronounced as "Joizy." It's a constant barrage of the F word...and the N word. The reason certain individuals communicate in this manner is because they don't have the education, the intelligence, or sufficient command of the English language to communicate in a more creatively appropriate style. And frankly it gets tiresome to observe, amidst the spiritually bankrupt rap culture (money, bling, and twerking hoes) that's taken over and become standard fare in even mainstream entertainment programming now. (Rant finished.)

Howard Ratner  (Adam Sandler) is a shady Manhattan jewelry dealer--a compulsive gambler who can't keep up with his debts, so he robs Peter to pay Paul and ends up being chased and getting the shit beat out of him by thugs who feel that a responsible person should pay back what he owes in a timely manner. 

Howard has obtained an uncut stone with black opals from Ethiopia that he thinks might be worth at least a million at auction. Enter retired NBA superstar Kevin Garnett (playing himself) who gets a look at the stone and becomes enamored of it. He wants it for himself. Here is where Howard does the kind of stupid thing that is the hallmark of horror films (and this is a horror film of sorts) that is required to provide the plot complication that will move the action forward. He loans the stone to Garnett overnight so the athlete can sleep with it, or whatever he's going to do. But getting it back won't be that easy. 

The movie careens along like a jolting New York cab ride with a wild-eyed Iranian at the wheel. And I'm starting to wonder if this isn't going to be another Little Nicky--one of Sandler's early films that was the most insanely out of control and messed up movie I've ever seen. Fortunately, Uncut Gems settles down midpoint, and Howard becomes humanized to a degree. He has a wife (Idina Menzel) who's ready to leave him because she doesn't like his antics with his mistress (Julia Fox). There is a poignant scene where he tries to cajole her into giving him another chance, and we see some of the affable Adam Sandler to which we've grown accustomed.

The film is set in 2012 when Kevin Garnett was still playing in the NBA--and as the tense, skillfully building drama leading to the film's explosive climax plays out, Howard Ratner has wagered his life on Garnett's performance in a big game. It's an uncut gem of a movie that doesn't reach its full potential, as the ending feels like a morality play.

Sandler is superb. And the film itself is just brilliant enough--despite its drawbacks--to avoid a Little Nicky type report card. 

Grade:  B


JILL'S TAKE

I want to take back the "F" I gave Last Christmas and give it to Uncut Gems instead. I have never walked out of a movie in my entire life. But this one had me seriously tempted. I lived in New York for years and this film is an insult to that city. Yes, The Big Apple is loud. Brassy. And yes, it houses some pretty nasty people. (What city doesn't?) But this twisted, hard to follow, screamfest was not only hard on the ears, it seemed almost criminally slapstick at times. (Tony Soprano meets The Marx Brothers.)

I'm an Adam Sandler fan, especially a recent comedy on Netflix he did with JenniferAniston. ("Murder Mystery") But the brothers Benny and Josh Safdie, who wrote and directed this travesty, are light on shading. I'm sure their goal was to outdo The Coen Brothers. They failed with flying bullets.

What did I like? Oy. If I have to say something positive about Uncut Gems, it would be the face of Eric Bogosian who played Arno, one of the three thugs (AKA Three Stooges) and also attended the superfluous and tasteless Seder.

Billed as a 'Crime-Drama-Mystery,' it was a kitchen sink of a movie. It touched on myriad subjects and didn't deliver on any of them. The ending—which I won't reveal—was, in my humble opinion, the only good thing about it.


Grade: D- (only because I can't be too flagrant with my Fs)












Sunday, December 22, 2019

BOMBSHELL (2019)



Rated:  R

STARS: Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow
DIRECTOR: Jay Roach
GENRE: Drama


I've been a tad critical of some of the #MeToo movies that have come out--notably The Favourite, The Wife, and Late Night--all reviewed here previously. I felt they either came off as preachy, or exhibited pre-conceived notions about men, a la the tongue-in-cheek meme at the top of this review! 

Didn't get that feeling with Bombshell. It was straightforward and fast paced--and ironically, because it's subject was Fox News--it wasn't trying to put a spin on the events as they were unfolding! The film is "based upon actual events"--that nebulous phrase that's come to mean that they made some of the stuff up. And to their credit, the filmmakers placed that advisory right up front at the beginning (whereas Clint Eastwood stuck--or snuck--a similar notice in with the closing credits in Richard Jewell).

Most of us know the basic story of how Roger Ailes--CEO of Fox News and the guy who built it into the empire it is today, was taken down by courageous news anchor Gretchen Carlson when she sued him for sexual harassment. Others, including Megyn Kelly, eventually backed her up with their own corroborating evidence of his pervy transgressions. The film title refers to the impact the story made when it broke, as well as the three blonde-tressed barbies who are central to the tale.

Here there is no gray area. No insinuating that all men are kinda like that. This is a story about power more than perversion, and how absolute power in any position of life corrupts. And how those subjected to it feel powerless to do anything about it. 

There are three parallel narratives--with Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly and Margot Robbie as a composite character: a naive new hire named Kayla. Theron completely inhabits her character, and is a dead ringer appearance wise for the real Megyn Kelly. Nicole Kidman is always a treat to watch. But it is Robbie who brings it in spades this time, in one of the most powerful scenes I've seen in a long time, as the tearful Kayla recounts what she felt pressured into doing with Ailes. Heart breaking to watch. Kate McKinnon, as an in-the-closet lesbian Fox producer, provides some occasional relief from all the blonde-ness. John Lithgow, in all his puffy Roger Ailes-ness, has perv down pat when he utters something to the effect of "boys will be boys" in his own defense.

Impressive cast. Impressive work. I don't think you'll see the likes of them all together like that again. Unless it's at The Oscars.

Grade:  B +


JILL'S TAKE

With all the advanced publicity about Bombshell, I was expecting a bonanza of a film. Unfortunately, I had watched the same tale being told on Showtime. Russell Crowe played Ayles in this made-for-cable-TV version titled "The Loudest Voice." It had some definite advantages: mainly time. Whereas Bombshell had to cram the entire sequence of events on screen in an hour and 48 minutes. Too little time for such a public undoing.

Tim has pretty much covered the outstanding performances by these veteran actors. But as far as my take on 'the most powerful scene,' it would have to be the initial meeting between Roger Ailes, smarmily played by John Lithgow, and Kayla, his latest victim-in-training. To say it made me squirm would be a gross understatement. I asked the guy I saw the movie with how he had reacted to that scene? He said he felt both sorry for the girl and a bit titillated. (Therein lies the difference between the sexes!)

I've been a long time fan of John Lithgow since... forever. Whether he plays a classic psycho (e.g. his recurring role in the TV series "Dexter") or an alien dad ("Third Rock From The Sun"), his work always rings true. And that distinctive voice is unforgettable. But in the case of portraying Roger Ailes, I'd have to give Russell Crowe top honors.

For me, there were just too damn many characters. No doubt the screenwriter Charles Randolph (The Big Short) felt it was necessary to include all the players in this modern day drama. Keeping track of them, however, was a detractor. And the whole lesbian sub-story was totally unnecessary.

My advice? Get Showtime's "The Loudest Voice" from your local library.

Grade: B-







  

  

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

RICHARD JEWELL (2019)




Rated:  R

STARS: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
GENRE: Docudrama

There is no denying that Clint Eastwood is a master filmmaker, and in Richard Jewell he has crafted a riveting drama with clearly defined good guys and bad guys that will push all of your buttons. Clearly defined, that is, if you want to buy into Eastwood's right-eous vision of the world.

Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser)--as you may or may not recall--was the security guard who discovered a bomb in an abandoned backpack in Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He alerted police on the premises and saved lives by helping to get people cleared away from the scene before the blast went off--resulting in two deaths and injuring over a hundred unsuspecting souls attending an outdoor concert. 

Initially hailed as a hero, Jewell then came under suspicion as a suspect in the bombing. He is portrayed as a dimwitted loose cannon, who had a habit of getting fired from his law enforcement and security guard jobs. Jon Hamm, as FBI agent Tom Shaw, leads a team of overzealous and unscrupulous investigators bent upon fingering Jewell as the culprit. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution breaks the story--and as we see so often today, another individual is convicted in the court of public opinion long before due process has run its course. Jewell was eventually cleared of any involvement in the bombing that was engineered by Eric Rudolph 

Outstanding turns from Hauser, who seems born for this role, and the reliably excellent Sam Rockwell as Jewell's feisty lawyer, make this as compelling a drama as you'll find. But the integrity of Clint Eastwood's art is compromised by his insistence on making a political statement in essentially everything he does. In this case it's an obvious and heavy-handed one--demonizing two of today's popular targets of the right (and that originates straight from the top of the McDonald's eating political food chain), the free press and the FBI. 

Eastwood saw his chance to hop on the bandwagon. He plays fast and loose with the truth, as in the portrayal of newspaper reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who broke the story about Jewell coming under suspicion, as being an amoral opportunist who would do whatever--including trading sexual favors to get a news scoop. Scruggs' former colleagues, family and friends reportedly were not contacted by the filmmakers to get the scoop on who she really was and what she was about. 

Eastwood apparently felt it was okay to besmirch a deceased person's reputation to serve his own agenda as tit-for-tat because of what happened to poor hapless Richard Jewell. But the film going public may be better equipped to smell a rat than Eastwood gives them credit for.

Richard Jewell is bombing at the box office.

Grade:  C -


JILL'S TAKE

As one of my unbendable rules, I never read reviews before seeing a film. I don't want any preprogrammed opinions sneaking into my thought processes. Alas, with Richard Jewel, Yahoo couldn't wait to plaster "worst box office opening in four generations of film-making" across my unsuspecting monitor. So I went in, ready to dump all kinds of vitriol on old Clint's latest offering.... How relieved I was not to have to do that to one of the all time great film-makers.

Richard Jewell was terrific. Engrossing. Brilliantly acted (I'll get to that later). And wrongly crucified by some, not all, film critics.

I get so (friggin') tired of people judging artistic endeavors by disagreeing politically. Just like I get pissed off with celebrities who use their public clout to endorse a political candidate. (Better they put their money where their mouth shouldn't be.) But I digress....

If Katy Bates doesn't get nominated for Best Supporting Actor for her role as Richard Jewell's mom—a hapless victim of the FBI's over zealous behavior—I will run naked down Del Mar's main thoroughfare. When Bates goes in front of the cameras, pleading for privacy and defending her son's innocence, it's cinematic magic. Pure and simple.

So what did I find fault with in this film? Very little. I wasn't bored. I didn't feel preached to. I know it was very unflattering to the press and the FBI but the story called for that. If I had to criticize anything it would be Jon Hamm's wooden performance. (And I loved him in "Mad Men.") Perhaps I should blame the screenwriter Billy Ray instead. No character deserves to be so one-dimensional.

As the movie ended, one man insisted on clapping. I wanted to join him but lost my nerve.

Grade: B+





Wednesday, November 20, 2019

FORD v FERRARI (2019)



Rated:  PG-13

STARS:  Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Tracy Letts, Caitriona Balfe
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
GENRE: Action-Adventure/ Drama


It's The Little Old Lady From Pasadena! Go granny...go granny...go granny go! I thought I saw her in the audience on the edge of her seat, enjoying this one immensely. She's part of the target audience, along with teenage boys who love anything that is loud and fast (which explains some of the poor choices we make in choosing mates later on in life). For the rest of us good citizens who fall somewhere in the middle, driving defensively and observing the rules of the road, the testosterone fueled Ford v Ferrari is just a wild fantasy about what it would be like to be a high profile race car driver--where you're not even obligated to flash the middle finger while driving like a maniac, an everyday scenario out on the roadways of every city. A (mostly) true story of big rich boys and their toys. 

We all like an underdog, and this is your classic underdog tale, focusing on the 1966 Twenty-Four Hours Of Le Mans where Ford had employed all of its ingenuity and technical know how to develop a car that would challenge the long standing dominance of Ferrari. 

The principal players are Carrol Shelby (Matt Damon), the only American to that point to win at LeMans, now retired from active racing. And hotheaded Brit Ken Miles (Christian Bale), the best race driver around, but he comes with lots of baggage in the trunk. The familiar talented rebel versus the corporate suits scenario. Shelby becomes the intermediary between Miles and the corporate stiffs--headed by Henry Ford II, played with icy disdain by Tracy Letts-- in his efforts to get Miles accepted as Ford's lead driver at LeMans.

This is Christian Bale's movie. He nails his tough-as- nails character. On the other hand, Matt Damon is always going to have that baby-faced boy next door look even when he's ninety. It's a problem, because his mug doesn't show the depth of character required for playing some of these tough (physically or mentally) guy roles. 

Irish born former model Caitriona Balfe (with a name like that she's got to be good), who plays Ken Miles' wife, gets to shine in a scene where she is driving her husband in the family wagon and decides to show him a thing or two about taking chances at the wheel. (She's really pissed off!) Ironically, it's the most harrowing scene in the movie.

Ford v Ferrari is LOUD! The screech of the tires...the roar of the engines...the smell of the crowd (I saw the IMAX version). I sat there with my thumbs in my ears for 90 percent of the film, and it's two and a half hours long. But the adrenaline rush you'll get may be worth it. The racing scenes are among the most breathtaking that I've seen on film.  

Back in the day, there was always some semi-knowledgeable gear head who would stand there with a cig dangling from his lips who would tell you that Fords were crap. Ford v Ferrari seems to disprove that notion. At least for one magical moment in time.

Grade:  B +

JILL'S TAKE


This movie proves one thing to me: I can be wrong. Before seeing Ford v Ferrari, I had serious misgivings. How was I going to stand watching fast cars whir around hairpin turns for 2½ hours? Since I've always been partial to Christian Bale – except as Dick Cheney in Vice and Michael Burry in The Big Short – figured I could suffer through the racing bits.

That was my first wrong assumption: those 'racing bits' were mesmerizing! Even for an anti Nascar person like me (who assumes anyone who's into that sort of nonsense is brain dead), I was hooked. Every time that speedometer needle went into the red zone, my heart stopped. I don't know how director James Mangold filmed those racing sequences but they made me—and everybody else in the audience—feel like I was behind the wheel. Truly great cinematography!

My second wrong assumption was about Matt Damon who has never turned my crank. (I figure a motor metaphor is apt here.) His asymmetrical nose bothers me for some reason. But in this movie, I bought his character's love of racing, his commitment to the sport, and his total respect for Ken Miles. He seemed totally authentic. I would've preferred fewer yes men around Henry Ford II. And fewer shots of mechanics changing tires. But on the whole this is one helluva movie. (I was glad they showed the real people it was based on at the end.)

The fellow I went with is a fan of car racing. He felt there was too much personal stuff in the movie (i.e. the fight between the two main characters, the family subplot, etc.). For him, it took away from the action. For me, it added to it. But to paraphrase an old saying, "That's what makes car races!"

I don't think Bale or Damon will be nominated for Oscars but I do think Tracy Letts (who also wrote August: Osage County) could be.

Grade: B+






 




Thursday, November 14, 2019

LAST CHRISTMAS (2019)



Rated:  PG-13

STARS: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson
DIRECTOR: Paul Feig
GENRE: Romantic Comedy

When I saw the previews for Last Christmas I thought great, here's a perfectly timed romantic comedy for the holidays inspired by the songs of George Michael! I like the holidays and I like George Michael--especially the now classic song from whence the movie takes its name. So I was looking forward to seeing it. I even thought it might have a Love Actually vibe to it (one of my all-time favorite films). But any similarity between Last Christmas and Love Actually was strictly the product of my overly optimistic and misguided imagination.

Last Christmas is a Lifetime channel movie all the way--except instead of being on your TV it's up on the big screen and you get to pay for the pleasure of luxuriating in its vacuous millennial-ness.

Emilia Clarke is Kate, who works as a Christmas elf in a year-round holiday themed shop in London. She's estranged from her family, and is homeless by choice, crashing wherever she can wangle a place for the night--male accompaniment (but not batteries) sometimes included. It gets her (and her wicket) in some sticky situations. She's spinning her wheels, much like the go-nowhere plot during most of this movie.

Then along comes Tom (Henry Golding) who takes a persistent interest in her. Before long he has broken down her wary resistance, imploring her to always LOOK UP! When she does, a bird craps on her face, much to the delight of the sniggering adolescent who lives on inside of me.

There is something off about Tom. He shows up, then repeatedly disappears, much to the chagrin and frustration of Kate. That's tied in with the BIG TWIST near the end, which I didn't see coming because I nodded off a couple of times and missed a few things. 

Clarke is just eye candy here, she's not going to win any acting awards. Emma Thompson, however, who co-wrote the screenplay, is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards. So you wonder why she'd want this stinker on her resume. She plays Kate's mother, with a sincere but not terribly convincing Balkan accent (the family are immigrants from the former Yugoslavia).

In the numerous ways that Last Christmas is disappointing, the biggest is that we only hear a snippet of the title song by George Michael over the opening credits. It returns near the end, performed in heartwarming fashion by Clarke and a cadre of "lovable" bums and eccentrics who frequent the homeless shelter where she volunteers. It's all warm and fuzzy, and it's the high point of the film, inspiring me to raise my rating one notch above what I could have given the movie. Because hey...it's Christmas!

Grade:  D


JILL'S TAKE

In all six years that I've been contributing to this blog, I don't believe I've ever graded a movie with an "F." Until now. Emma Thompson – a fine actress who has won 2 Oscars: Best Actress, Howards End, 1993; Best Writing, Screenplay based on Material Previously Produced or Published, Sense and Sensibility, 1996) –should be dipped in a vat of Christmas pudding for her involvement in this 'badbuster' bomb. Not only did she act (overact, really), she co-created the story (such as it was), co-wrote the script (such as that was) and produced the bloody film.

Inspired by George Michael's lyrics from Last Christmas, the words are worth quoting: Last Christmas...I gave you my heart...But the very next day you gave it away...This year...To save me from tears...I'll give it to someone special

Clearly Ms. Thompson and her English cronies thought taking those words literally would make an instant hit. (In cardiac circles, maybe.) But give me a break. Just for the hell of it, I looked up "Movies Based On Song Titles." Would you like to take a guess how many have hit the big screen? 138! That's right. Here are a few that built their film foundation on Christmas ditties: White Christmas (1954), Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (1964), All I Want For Christmas (1991), I'll Be Home for Christmas (1998), Deck the Halls (2006), to name a few.

My advice? If you're looking for a mistletoe high, rent White Christmas. You sure as snowballs won't get it from Last Christmas!

Grade: F

Thursday, November 7, 2019

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (2019)



Rated:  R 

STARS: Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe
DIRECTOR: Edward Norton
GENRE: Drama

When you write the screenplay and direct yourself as the star along with the rest of the cast in a film, as Edward Norton does in Motherless Brooklyn, the success or failure of the project falls squarely upon your shoulders. It's enough to drive you to sudden outbursts of shouting nonsensical shit at no one in particular--which is what Norton's character, Lionel Essrog, does as a private dick with Tourette's Syndrome-- investigating greed, corruption, and racial discrimination at the highest levels of municipal government in 1950s New York. The Tourette's does nothing to advance the plot, but it humanizes and makes Lionel a more sympathetic character. 

It's clear that in making Motherless Brooklyn it was more important for Norton to create a credible looking milieu and a mesmerizing noir mood than it was to move the plot forward at anything faster than a geriatric snail's pace--thus we have the two and a half hour running time. Yes, scenes go on too long to placate the average attention span these days, but within that framework there is extra time to immerse oneself in the languid authenticity and nuance of the richly textured world that Norton has created, aided and abetted by a velvety jazz soundtrack from Daniel Pemberton.

 And it's one of those involved plots that if you don't pay razor sharp attention, you'll only have a sketchy idea of who's who and what kind of skulduggery they are up to. Toward the end, though, I was able to tie up most of the loose ends when several aha! moments were revealed. 

Interesting cameos from Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, and Willem Dafoe, all of whom could carry a film on their own. But Willis--as Lionel's boss and mentor--gets whacked early on when he gets too close to some closely guarded secrets. He appears in a couple of flashback scenes later on.

The most "forceful" take of these three comes from Baldwin as an unscrupulous urban developer. Whether he's forcing minorities from their homes in the name of sweeping progress, or forcing himself on a woman of color, an incident from his deep dark past that is at the heart of the central mystery of the film, he is sneeringly ruthless.  

Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays a young, pretty housing activist who serves as the black cup of java to Lionel's non-dairy creamer--the two of them getting mixed up with each other and becoming romantically involved. Perhaps this interracial affair is portrayed too casually for the times in which it occurs.

In the end, I'm a mood guy...and a fall-under-the-spell-of-the-music guy...and a look-at-all-them-cool-vintage-cars guy...and that stuff can win me over because I'm easy (as Keith Carradine once said) and I'll forgive a lot of stuff if there's other stuff that really makes me smile. 

Grade:  A -


JILL'S TAKE

I'm far less tolerant than my co-reviewer. But I agree that Motherless Brooklyn was long, languidly-paced and cinematically dark. My problem was credibility.  Would you give a driver's license to somebody who twitches involuntarily and has little control over when these spasms occur? I realize the film is based on a book, a "novel" by Jonathan Lethem. (I put novel in quotes to emphasis that it wasn't autobiographical.) But I never bought into the premise that the main character's ability to remember every little detail would override his physical limitations.  Bruce Willis' character obviously did.

For me, sitting through a film I feel is totally unbelievable is a challenge. What kept me watching was the totally believable acting. Edward Norton (who appeared in one of my all time favorite movies, American History X) was superb.  Same with the rest of the cast. I couldn't help making comparisons between the unscrupulous character Alec Baldwin plays in this film and the part he has so beautifully perfected on SNL. (I'd love to ask him if he used Trump as a role model here!)

Having absolute control of all aspects of a film—the script, the directing, playing the lead—has to be a thankless task in the end. Something's got to suffer. In Norton's case?  I seriously question his editing skills.

Still, Motherless Brooklyn sheds light on a disorder I'd never really thought about. And if I ever run into someone with Tourette's now, I will be a lot more understanding -- and less uncomfortable.

Grade: C +