Motherless Brooklyn; an orphan in this year’s films

I love Ed Norton. My admiration began in 1996 with “Primal Fear”, where his performance and shockingly cool twist ending made me say, ‘Wow’. From there, in Spike Lee’s super hip “25th Hour” with Philip Seymour Hoffman, moving on to his many Wes Anderson film performances.

But the real affection began watching his roast speech for Bruce Willis, when after many funny jokes, he teared up thanking him for his help in financing Motherless Brooklyn. On recent podcast appearances, I wanted to jump through my lap top and give him a hug for his sincere commentary of the giant harm cell phone distraction does to humanistic values.

So I skipped into Motherless Brooklyn, loving Ed, though somewhat warily having been non-plussed with the trailer I had seen.

Here’s the deal: Motherless Brooklyn is a good movie and is validation or should I say incrimination of Robert Moses’s hand (and shovels) in tearing down African-American residences to build his sanitized white people parks and highways. Bravo for that indictment.

And a usual, Ed Norton as the Tourette’s syndrome lackey turned private eye was perfection. As was his stellar cast: Alec Baldwin as “Moses”, my G.O.A.T. Willem Dafoe, and a Sarasota grad Dallas Roberts who had strong presence as one of the other lackeys. To round out the cast: two fine women: a newbie actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Cherry Jones all contributing to a solid story.

The cinematography was amazing in certain sections: jazz club, pool scenes, Brooklyn Bridge scenes.

You’re waiting for my ‘but’ and here it is: BUT, the movie overall was too dark and bleak both in color and tone. I hate to be the one to say, the book is better, but there, I said it. Only because in the novel by Jonathan Lethem, the Ed’s Tourette’s sufferer has a beautiful back story of being taken in as a tormented orphan by Bruce Willis (not in the movie long enough to stand out) AND in a related novel subplot point, Ed attempts painstakingly to call all the names in the 1950’s phone book thinking he wants to reconnect with the parents who abandoned him. If these two super poignant parts plus another which would have involved more Leslie Mann into nearly seducing Ed’s vulnerable character would have added light and spice to the film.

Instead we are left with a neo-noir which is just too flat and run of the mill. I still love Ed Norton and totally understand his need to make this more historical fiction. Not a failure in any measure.

INT. Oscars 2020 Awards- Night “The Lighthouse”

February 9, 2020 Oscars Night, No Host as Usual. The Best Actor Category is about to be given.

INT. Oscars 2020 Awards Theater- Night
Regina King announces the Best Actor for 2020. The audience applauds. As the actor approaches the stage, ROXANNE, a lithe blonde woman in a satin black jumpsuit she borrowed from Jenny Slate’s Netflix stand up, runs ahead of the actor to grab the statue and microphone.

ROXANNE
Ok, I don’t mean to pull a Kanye, and (looks at actor)
I’m really happy for you, I’m going to let you finish,
but Willem DaFoe’s had one of the best performances in The
Lighthouse of ALL TIME!
(She takes a deep breath)
In fact, no, no, Willem, get up here
I can not let this happen again.
(The audience gasps. Willem starts to get up at the urging
of Robert Pattinson).

ROXANNE (Cont’d)
(to Willem as he approaches stage)
You were ripped off on The Florida Project, At Eternity’s Gate…

(Willem makes it to the stage, chagrined, but hugs Roxanne in gratitude. Audience gives standing ovation. Willem takes the microphone. Crowd cheers louder.)

FADE OUT.

Academy, got the message?

My vow to no spoilers remains intact. Go. See. “The Lighthouse”. A movie written and directed by Robert Eggers. A man so cool, he realizes our best stories are in the past when people had creativity and personalities unglued from cell phones like zombies. Robert’s brother Max had the original Lighthouse idea, and Robert asked to use it once his brother had moved on. Hence, it could be the year of the Brothers: Eggers and Safdie’s (“Uncut Gems”).

I have only had the urge to shout out hurrah to a stage (in this case screen) two times in my life. The first time was on Broadway to “On the Mountain Top” when Angela Bassett gave an impassioned rap version of the entire Civil Rights Movement. I literally couldn’t control myself and uttered a quiet, “Holy Sh$%”. The second time was yesterday at AMC Sarasota when Willem Dafoe had two of these masterwork speeches in “The Lighthouse”.

In addition, the cinematography was off the charts profound. Robert Pattinson, also ripped off without a nomination for Good Time (ARE YOU SERIOUS?) is amazing as well.

Again: Go. See. “The Lighthouse”.
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Where’d the Van Gogh? At Eternity’s Gate

Ever since The Florida Project, I’ve devoted myself to be a life long Willem Dafoe fan, so unless the guy’s in an untra-violent film, I’ll be at his cinematic door step. And At Eternity’s Gate proves again that his acting talent should be rewarded in the industry. He won’t win the Golden Globe for which he’s nominated and if it’s anyone else but Rami Malek, popcorn will be flung at the tv. If Bradley Cooper wins, I may throw the entire bag.

Speaking of Golden Globes, former winner Julian Schnaebel (for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly-probably one of my top 20 of all time) directed At Eternity’s Gate and while it didn’t affect me as greatly as shortened title “The Bell” did in 2007, At Eternity’s Gate evokes the true spirit of a a sensitive and misunderstood painter.

If the French teenagers were portrayed accurately, there were some mean kids back in the 1890’s bullying poor Vincent. The French are stereotypically not your friendliest group, and this movie certainly further contributes to that idea. Additionally, like Mike Meyers did in Bohemian Rhapsody as Joe Record Producer (have to get to my Christmas retail job, otherwise I’d look that up), many a man and woman questioned and discouraged poor Vincent, going as far as calling his work ugly and disturbing.

The film makes me want to look up more about his demise and I will do so once the holiday mayhem slows down. At Eternity’s Gate is another acting ‘masterpiece’ for Willem. Oscar Isaac, while I’m not a fan, does well as a self-absorbed Gaugin and in a Mike Meyeresque semi-caemo, former The Diving Bell and the Butterfly star, Mathieu Amalric plays bemused VanGogh’s doctor.

At Eternity’s Gate might garner Dafoe a Golden Globe in an alternate intellectual society and is definitely worth appreciating for its philosophical age old question; what is art? Likewise, just as it was mesmerizing to watch Day-Lewis as a living breathing Lincoln, watching Dafoe walk, paint, run and even urinate (yes you read that right) as a living VanGogh is highly entertaining.

Two Semi Oldies: Both Blue in Language and History

I recently watched two PPLL (Pre-Pension Library Loaners) and was surprised at their similarity regarding a legion of f-bombs. The two films also both have either a sad back or front story.

I took out Object of My Affection after starting a play reading class in which we started with one act by Wendy Wasserstein. While I had heard of her Pulitzer and Tony Award winning play The Heidi Chronicles, I didn’t know much abut her. She wrote the screenplay for The Object of My Affection (directed by Nicholas Hytner, who these days directs mostly National Theater Live productions). Wendy Wasserstein had a sad ending to her brief life (died of cancer at age 55 after having a baby late in life (49)).

In her honor I watched The Object of My Affection which despite it’s Rotten Tomatoes 49% was very real and well written. The only negatives I saw was the hacky saxophone music (like it was stuck in the 80’s still) and the acting. Both Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd meant well, but their performances were no match for the script’s verisimilitude. Which I think is rare, believing the words, but not the people speaking them. Again, a tribute to Wendy W. I will say something about solid acting in the film, too, and that was by John Pankow who has done mostly tv work as of late.

The second f-bomb laden film I watched was for totally different reasons. My favorite co-worker, Barry, and I are on a constant conversation about film. He has suggested mostly great films for me to watch. This latest, Auto Focus, directed by Paul Schrader (coming out next week with what looks like a blockbuster with called First Reformed), had its pluses and minuses. The sad front story here was the move’s focus of Bob Crane’s sad descent into drinking and sex addiction after hitting it big with Hogan Heroes.

The actors Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe were terrific, yet the movie felt a bit clunky. A little cliche in the beginning and downright uncomfortably cloying as far as their characters fascination with sex. Ironically, I realize what they did back in the early 70’s was nothing compared to the probable rampant porn addiction happening today.

I forgot to mention that Barry’s recommendation was partly due to our common fascination and admiration with Richard Dawson and how he is the person who introduced (unknowingly) Bob Crane to his future assassin, John Carpenter.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a few rainy afternoons in Sarasota.

Excuse Me, Golden Globes Judges, May I Have a Word?

I don’t swear as much now that I live in Florida. Something about not having to scrape ice or shovel snow takes the f bomb right out of me.

HOWEVER, I am a bit ticked at the morons who chose Three Billboards as best screenplay. Are you F’n kidding me? There is NO WAY this violent, downer of a movie was in anyway shape or form, better than The Shape of Water Or probably Call Me By Your Name which I haven’t seen yet. Even Dunkirk would have been a more noble choice. LUDICROUS!

I also only slightly forgive you for choosing Sam Rockwell over Wiilem Dafoe. The only reason I accept this, is that Sam Rockwell has done some incredible acting in other films (two notably) Moon and Conviction. If it had not been for that, swearing would have been essential.

All I can say is, come on Screen Actors Guild and the Academy, let’s get the screenplay award straight, and it ‘ain’t’ Three Billboards.