‘The Irishman’ Is What an Irishman Does

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CREDIT: Netflix

I would venture to say that the most essential moment of The Irishman is when Frank Sheeran is trying to tell Jimmy Hoffa that it has been decided it’s high time for his ambitions to come to an end, and their conversation consists almost entirely of tautologies like “It is what it is.” If you don’t know the context, this discussion is essentially meaningless. If you do know the context, the implications are clear, but it is still striking how much these guys are slaves to a thick, suffocating tangle of codes. That point is made abundantly clear in those few minutes. In just a few seconds, even. So does The Irishman, then, really need to be three and a half hours long? Well, other points are made throughout, but that length also underscores this major point. The guys who paint houses and their associates are imprisoned in a ceaselessly brutish life that can feel mightily oppressive, and we start to feel that, too. So I enjoyed The Irishman in much the same contemplative way I enjoyed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I’m not so excited that I’m screaming about it, but I can imagine that it’ll stick with me in the ceaseless time to come.

I give The Irishman My Radical Empathy.

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

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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

This Is a Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

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CREDIT: Disney/Marvel Films

I give Ant-Man and the Wasp 3.5 out of 5 Quantum Realms: http://newscult.com/movie-review-ant-man-wasp-keeps-cool-summer/

This Is a Movie Review: Ferdinand

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

I give Ferdinand 2.5 out of 5 “Macarena”-Playing Flowerpots: http://newscult.com/movie-review-ferdinand-is-not-your-typical-bull-but-ferdinand-is-your-typical-cg-animated-kids-movie/