With ‘Motherless Brooklyn,’ Edward Norton Takes Us Back to the Era of Mid-Century Urban Gumshoes, with a Purpose

1 Comment

CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, Michael K. Williams, Ethan Suplee, Dallas Roberts, Leslie Mann, Josh Pais, Robert Wisdom, Fisher Stevens

Director: Edward Norton

Running Time: 144 Minutes

Rating: R for Involuntary and Voluntary Profanity, and a Classic Mix of Guns, Knives, and Fists

Release Date: November 1, 2019

Motherless Brooklyn is basically Chinatown but if the lead character had Tourette syndrome. You’ve got a bigwig public official trying to control the city’s municipalities, a woman with surprising and controversial parentage, and a protagonist who gets his face roughed up when he starts to get involved way over his head. Comparisons to one of the most acclaimed crime films of all time can make for impossible-to-meet expectations, but this directorial effort from Edward Norton proves that there is plenty of room to play around in this sandbox. The mysteries come hard and intriguingly as private investigator Lionel Essrog (Norton) uncovers a web of power and corruption in 1950s New York City. What was his mentor Frank (Bruce Willis) getting involved with when he got himself killed? Why is city planner Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin) the most powerful man in the city? Why do people within the orbit of young activist Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) keep finding themselves in deadly trouble? These are all compelling questions, and reason enough to give Motherless Brooklyn a go.

What might give some viewers pause, however, are Norton’s more unique directing and acting flourishes. Casting himself as someone who involuntarily spouts out a string of profanity and general word salad could certainly be controversial. But I think he handles it empathetically and sensitively, suggesting that we are all messed up in the head and that so much (or perhaps all) of life is the struggle to either keep that noise at bay or let it be part of who we are. Possibly even more controversial is the generally affected milieu embodied in the performances, music, and production design that basically shouts, “This is the 1950s!” It could play as indulgent nostalgia, but it avoids that pitfall by serving an essential thematic purpose, as Motherless explores what is lost when poor and minority neighborhoods are pushed aside in the name of urban beautification. Moses Randolph is a person who has somehow made himself a hero to the people while brushing away all the inconveniences that stand in his way of unmitigated power, while Lionel Essrog is forced to have his inconveniences be a constant part of his daily life. Take a wild guess which one of them is better company.

Motherless Brooklyn is Recommended If You Like: Chinatown, Mid-20th Century New York City

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Fedoras

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 9/13/19

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Amazon Prime Video/YouTube Screenshot

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
Hustlers (Theatrically Nationwide)

TV
Undone Season 1 (September 13 on Amazon Prime) – A new animated wonder from BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg.
-Comedy Central Roast of Alec Baldwin (September 15 on Comedy Central)
-Ken Burns’ Country Music (Premieres September 15 on PBS)
The Masked Singer: Super Sneak Peek (September 15 on FOX) – There’s an “Egg” costume this season.
CONAN Without Borders: Ghana (September 17 on TBS) Looks like this has been rescheduled!

Music
-Charli XCX, Charli – One of today’s best pop hitmakers.

This Is a Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is to Ethan Hunt what Spectre is to James Bond, but not that (transparently) insane and mostly successful. But what I really want to talk about is this idea that Hunt is irreplaceable. The conjecture that there is only person for the most dangerous jobs in the world is certainly compelling, but is it healthy? If we’re talking about how it applies to reality, certainly not. For the sake of the world and for the sake of their personal lives, experts and superheroes should have backups and successors in place. But when we’re talking about the cinematic medium, the calculus is a little different … or is it?

M:I isn’t the only spy and/or insane stunt franchise that has been killing it in the past 20 years, which means we’ve got our backups. And when Tom Cruise finally calls it quits (in a billion years or so), maybe a worthy Ethan Hunt successor will somehow run into our hearts. In the universe where the IMF exists, Hunt really shouldn’t place the entire weight of the world on his shoulders. But since this world is a fictional place, it’s working as it’s supposed to.

I give Mission: Impossible – Fallout 4 Cliffhangs out of 5 Shifting Allegiances.

This Is a Movie Review: A Wild Real-Life KKK Infiltration Makes ‘BlacKkKlansman’ an Essential Spike Lee Joint

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Focus Features

This review was originally published on News Cult in August 2018.

Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Jasper Pääkönen, Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Robert John Burke, Corey Hawkins

Director: Spike Lee

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: R for Incendiary Language and Images, Plus a Few Outbursts of Violence

Release Date: August 10, 2018

Going undercover is the most nerve-wracking work I can possibly imagine. Living in a constant state of dishonesty causes so many problems. Maybe this is one type of lying that can be justified morally, but that does not mean it is without consequences. It warps your sense of self and tears at the seams of all your close relationships. I have never had to go undercover myself, and thank God, because watching it in movies is stressful enough. The undercover experiences of Jewish Colorado Springs detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) only serve to confirm this perception. But the approach of his black partner, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), reveals that at least one person is built to handle the cognitive dissonance of going undercover.

Stallworth and Zimmerman’s infiltration into the Ku Klux Klan is the electrifying and infuriatingly relevant story of BlacKkKlansman, one of the most crowd-pleasing and just plain best joints in Spike Lee’s career. My main reaction to this flick is that if the real Stallworth is anything like the way Washington plays him, then he is one of the most righteously insane people who has ever lived. This is the first black officer in the history of the Colorado Springs police department, and his instinct when he sees a classified ad in the newspaper for the KKK is to contact them for more information. Furthermore, he treats his phone conversations with David Duke (Topher Grace) as an opportunity to pull off a long con to prove to the notorious grand wizard that he is not so adept at telling apart the races as he thinks he is. Stallworth’s actions may put himself and his fellow officers in the line of cross-burning fire, and Zimmerman calls him out for treating what should be a job as a crusade. But when unabashed racism is still delivering deadly violence to its targets, bold action is required to keep people safe.

Lee, of course, does not shy away from the rotting, anti-humanist message at the core of the KKK, but directly calling it out for what it is can still be a lot of fun. The entirety of Stallworth’s dialogue seems designed to inspire the dual reactions of “Can you believe what he’s saying?” and “That’s probably exactly what we need to hear, though.” “With the right white man, we can do anything” might very well be the slogan of American as filtered through the lens of Spike Lee. The KKK members are also a hoot without hiding their despicableness, with Grace seamlessly capturing the banality of evil and Alec Baldwin cameoing as a bumbling propagandist. Laura Harrier is just as essential as a Black Student Union leader who Ron becomes romantically involved with. Their discussions about blaxploitation and where the soul of fighting for justice should lie are the stuff of geeky film buffs’ delight. If you’re looking to have a fun time, seeing BlacKkKlansman is a great option, but Lee makes sure to unequivocally remind us of what we’re fighting for by including a coda of real-life footage from the 2017 Charlottesville riots. The historical passage of time in America is in many ways not so linear, and Lee is doing his best to capture it like lightning.

BlacKkKlansman is Recommended If You Like: Malcolm X, Chi-Raq, American Hustle

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Crank Calls

SNL Review February 11, 2017: Alec Baldwin/Ed Sheeran

Leave a comment

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Alec Baldwin" Episode 1718 -- Pictured: (l-r) Sasheer Zamata and Alex Moffat during the "Russell Stover" sketch on February 10, 2017 -- (Photo by: Caroline De Quesada/NBC)

My letter grades for each sketch and segment is below. My in-depth review is on NewsCult: http://newscult.com/snl-love-itkeep-itleave-it-alec-baldwined-sheeran/

White House Press Briefing – B

Alec Baldwin’s Monologue – C+

Russell Stover Black History Heart Shaped Box (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Cheeto’s – B+

Jake Tapper and Keyllanne Conway – B+

C Company – C+

Ed Sheeran performs “Shape of You” – B-

Weekend Update
Michael and Colin – B
Elizabeth Warren – B
Guy Who Just Bought a Boat – C
Greg and Shelly Duncan – C

The People’s Court – B+

Beyoncé’s Womb – C

Leslie Wants to Play Trump – B+

Ed Sheeran performs “Castle on the Hill” – C

Sit-Ups – B-