MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

.MOTHERLESS BROOKLYNby Alan Yudman

What determines power? Is it how much money you make or how much influence you wield? That argument is the heart of MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN. But the soul is Roman Polanski’s CHINATOWN. Edward Norton’s passion project is to New York what Polanski’s movie is to Los Angeles.

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN details how the building of New York City in the 1950’s was not based solely on some American dream philosophy. It was built on Robert Moses’ (wonderfully portrayed as Moses Randolph in the film my Alec Baldwin) quest for power based on influence and control and unapologetic racism. But that racism is belied by revelations about the parentage of one of the main characters. Even that relationship is revealed to be about exerting power.

Norton is a private detective named Lionel Essrog who is try8ing to find out who killed his boss Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). Lionel has Tourette’s syndrome which manifests itself as a kind of verbal riffing and mild tics. Lionel is somewhat affectionately called “freak show” by his fellow detectives, but he uses it to lower expectations because he is the most competent investigator in the firm. He has a perfect memory and while he is constantly apologizing for it, he knows it is his advantage.

Lionel’s investigation leads him to Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a lawyer employed by an organization trying to keep the corrupt New York government from displacing minorities from their homes so Randolph can build highways, bridges and tunnels.

Every relationship and discovery connects each character to the larger story. I never found myself asking, “why is this person important to the story?” That is saying something because there are intertwining storylines and plots. A lesser talent would have trouble keeping all these plates spinner, but Norton pulls it off. I find it kind of remarkable he wrote such a good screenplay, directed it and does such a wonderful job as Lionel. Norton does a great job slowly peeling the onion until we, along with Lionel, discover what is really going on here. Norton set the movie in the 1950’s so he could tell the story of the unseemly history of how New York was built.

The parallels to CHINATOWN are unmistakable. While the hidden story in that film is more demented, this one nods to a more familiar and pervasive racism which more audiences may recognize.

The acting is first rate. Mbatha-Raw is strong, yet vulnerable as Laura. Bobby Canavale is always good at playing the guy you know is going to betray someone. Michael Kenneth Williams plays a jazz trumpeter who identifies with Lionel’s broken brain because he sees himself in the same way. And speaking of Jazz, this film has an outstanding soundtrack that seamlessly combines known pieces with Daniel Pemberton’s score.

Norton’s commentary on power, how it corrupts everything it touches and how the powerful can be undone by their own faults and failings is right on topic for our current politics. And when a film can take a story set in a certain time and make it relevant to today’s reality, I view it as a monumental success

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE

terminator dark fate 1

by Alan Yudman

 

Can you believe there have been 6 Terminator movies? The original, plus 5 sequels. While the original remains a classic of science fiction and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY is considered to be a great sequel (David Foster Wallace being the exception), all the other sequels were terrible. I sort of liked TERMINATOR: GENISYS at the time, but the film has not aged well. Frankly I was wrong. It is bad. A mess. But re-reading that review I stumbled across a truth I will repeat here. The Terminator franchise is nothing without Sarah Connor. So, hearing that she is here, and that Linda Hamilton is playing her… well my inner nerd was giddy.

 

And TERMINATOR: DARK FATE absolutely delivers the goods. James Cameron had a hand in this as producer and he gets a partial writing credit. That means the DNA of the franchise is not being ignored. Skynet is gone, but there is a new computer villain called Legion. As Sarah points out, humans never learn. Legion does what Skynet did, became sentient and tried to wipe out humanity. Here a new enhanced human named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is sent back to protect the future by saving one person. That person is a young Mexican girl named Dani (Natalia Reyes). Her role is kept secret from her and the audience for a long time before it is explained and is a bit of a surprise.

 

There is a new Terminator, the Rev-9. It has the abilities of the T-1000 from Judgement Day with some noticeable improvements. It can “split” or “clone” itself in a battle. It can make complex machines like a gun and it can access computer systems and control them. Gabriel Luna does a great job bringing the same menace that Robert Patrick played so well in Judgement Day. Sarah hooks up with Grace and Dani just as they are about to be wiped out by the Terminator. Her appearance in the film left the crowd in my theater applauding and cheering. Director Tim Miller (Deadpool) completely nailed that shot. It is a textbook example of the “hero shot”.

 

The themes are the same. As Sarah says, “The future is not written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” Grace, Sarah and Dani have to find the mysterious person who is alerting Sarah to the appearance of every new Terminator. That’s where they hit the road and finally find Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is great. He slips into this role as the T-800 with complete ease and it feels like he enjoys it. His part in the chase would reveal too many spoilers, so I’ll just leave it there.

 

The team has to kill the unkillable Terminator. There are a ton of wonderful set pieces. It just all worked on me so well. I loved diving back into this world and was more than satisfied with the results. Is this a perfect film? No. Are any of them? The point is to go and have 2 hours of fun in a world that most of us know. On that level this was a total win.

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME

by Alan Yudman

On my list of great disappointments of the past 30 years (and there are many) one is that Eddie Murphy has not worked more. Oh, he’s done stuff. Donkey in the Shrek movies. The Nutty Professor showed off his ability to create characters (better than Tyler Perry). Other middling comedies here and there. Dramas like Mr. Church, that no one remembers (at least I don’t). Murphy’s last role that seared into my brain was his Oscar nominated performance as James “Thunder” Early in DREAMGIRLS. That is a void in our lives because Murphy is so incredibly good and versatile. I was pleasantly reminded of how much I’ve missed Murphy while watching DOLEMITE IS MY NAME.

This is the story about entertainer Rudy Ray Moore. A struggling comic who discovered success when he created the character Dolemite… a raunchy, rhyming, pimp-dressing spectacle. He’d swagger onto the stage and deliver jokes in a rhythmic patter that is obviously a forbear of rap. That launched a string of successful comedy albums, but Moore wanted something bigger. He saw a market for his brand of comedy in movies. So, he decided to make a one that would sort of fall in the “blaxploitaion” genre, but really was its own thing.

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is Moore’s story of success… how he created the character, then through sheer force of will got a movie made. Or maybe it was stubbornness. Genius has a tendency toward blind faith. He borrows against future record royalties. It’s an arrangement that would leave him beholden to his record company for eternity. He begged, borrowed, schemed and lied to get his movie made and it was more successful than anyone could have imagined.

The script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewki is good. The Craig Brewer’s direction is solid because it’s barely noticeable. He knows Murphy is the star and sets up a few “hero” shots that show off his star’s incredible presence.

This would have been a decent movie without Eddie Murphy. With him, it’s great. Murphy is simply a fabulous actor. The projects he chooses may not show that often enough, but when he has material equal to his gift he is a big bright shining star. His timing is impeccable (not surprising considering he is a fabulous comedian). He knows when he needs to “put his weight behind it” (an instruction he gives a drummer and several others in the movie). He is empathetic. You cannot help but root for the man he has brought to life. In case I haven’t made it clear yet, I absolutely loved this performance.

Everyone fills their supporting roles well. Wesley Snipes turn as the exasperated actor/director D’Urville Martin is nothing but fun. One quibble is with Keegan-Michael Key, who plays the screenwriter Rudy employs to write the film. I got the distinct impression he was acting. That is not usual for Key. While FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE was meh, he was very good in it. So this was a little disappointing.

Biopics can be a mess. Racing from event to event, feeling more like a chronicle than an actual story. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME does not suffer from that problem at all. This is a compelling story about a unique character. It doesn’t dwell on unnecessary back story. You get just enough of Rudy’s history to get what he’s about. It’s great to see Eddie Murphy in a great, meaty role. I hope we see more of him in films like this. It’s certainly is an early holiday present.

JOJO RABBIT

by Alan Yudman

One of the most unique voices in Hollywood belongs to Taika Waititi. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, BOY, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE. And I believe he actually saved Marvel’s Thor franchise by making the Norse God comically self-serious and lightening the character’s tone. So a comedy about Nazi’s? Sure, why not? Well, apparently a lot of people said no. Waititi says it has taken years to get this made. But it so worth the wait.

JOJO RABBIT is a masterful look at one boy’s life in Berlin as World War II is coming to an end and the Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler is being torn down. JoJo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a 10-year-old wannabe Nazi. He says all the right things and wears the right clothes. But as one character points out in the film Jojo isn’t a Nazi, he dresses up in a funny uniform because he wants to be part of a club. His brain says Nazi.. his heart isn’t in it. Jojo lives alone with his mother (Scarlet Johansson). At the start of the film he is off to Nazi youth camp where it is proven that he is more frightened rabbit than killer wolf. He is wounded by a grenade and while at home recovering, he discovers his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in the walls of their house.

That is where the story really takes off. Jojo is faced with having to get to know a Jew and his only frame of reference is the stereotypes he has learned from Nazi propaganda. His mother tries to teach him that life is about more than Hitler’s hate filled rhetoric. You have to dance, listen to music and live. But it is through his relationship with Elsa that he learns the Nazi philosophy is complete bull.

Now that sounds pretty rote. The basic themes are certainly, well, basic. But it is way Waititi tells the story that makes this an absolutely wonderful journey. One reviewer said this is very silly until it isn’t. I think that is correct. Waititi’s humor is big and broad. The opening credit sequence is done to a German version of The Beatles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and is shot and edited of a piece with A HARD DAYS NIGHT. Madcap wouldn’t be a wrong description. Waititi himself plays Jojo’s imaginary friend Adolph… as in Hitler. His performance is pure comic genius. I couldn’t stop laughing at everything he says and does. But Adolph is the evil voice on Jojo’s shoulder. His worst angel. When Jojo wavers on his beliefs, Adolph drags him back.

That is just one of several marvelous performances. Sam Rockwell as a German Captain who is in charge of the Hitler Youth camp is just fantastic. His welcome speech should earn him a supporting actor nomination. Rebel Wilson is genius as female camp counselor. Johansson is touching in the role of Jojo’s mother. And Stephen Merchant as an SS officer is spectacular.

But the two people who have to carry this movie are Davis and McKenzie. And they are both absolutely stellar. McKenzie proved her bona fides in last year’s marvelous LEAVE NO TRACE. So she knows how to command a scene and a movie. The 11-year-old Davis is remarkable. He is in just about every scene and you cannot take your eyes off of him. It’s an incredible performance. Subtly human, funny and heartfelt at the right moments.

The film takes a sad and dark turn near the end, but it is not shocking or out of left field. It is one of several times while watching where you may pull out a handkerchief to dab your eyes. Speaking of eyes… Waititi uses the eaves of homes in a town square where “traitors” are hanged to simulate eyes. Like the town is watching the wrong that is being done. Shoes are also big in the movie. Johansson has very unique footwear that Waititi trains his camera on several times because it will be important later. Jojo hasn’t learned to tie his own shoes and while it could be bit of an eye roll, you know he’s come to the end of a journey because he ties someone else’s shoes. It all worked on me.

History has taught us Hitler and his followers were foolish, evil men. So, every Nazi in is portrayed as a fool. Is Waititi commenting on the growth of Neo Nazis in 2019? Maybe. They are dangerous fools. But JOJO RABBIT is about more than that. It’s about friendship, growth and a young boy learning what life is really all about.

PARASITE

by Alan Yudman

One of the big themes of the Democratic Presidential primary is the income or wealth gap. Candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yank point out that it continues to grow wider. A few billionaires control an inordinate amount of wealth in the United States. It is an idea that started with the Occupy movement and has now gone mainstream. It has also been the subject of some art but none more successfully connects the issue with entertainment than Bong Joon Ho’s PARASITE.

A family living in Seoul is so poor their phones and internet get turned off. They resort to anything to make money, including folding pizza boxes for a nearby restaurant. The parents seem beaten down by failure. The son is too nice. The daughter always seems to be looking for an angle to play. They seem to be four lost souls looking for an opportunity to make easy money. Then it comes their way. A friend of the son gets him a tutoring job for a wealthy family even though he’s not really qualified. They counterfeit papers and he lies to get the job. The son sees it may be possible to bring in the rest of his family. He lies to get his sister in as an art tutor for the wealthy family’s younger son. They set up the family’s chauffeur to get him fired and move the father into that job. Then they scheme to get the family maid fired and create an opening for the mother. But that’s where it all goes sideways.

That’s about all I’m willing to reveal about the plot. Anything else would spoil the surprises that make this movie so special. Bong has told this story of those with less fighting against the establishment (see Snowpiercer). But this isn’t a bleak vision of a dystopian future. This is a plausible portrayal of a family struggling against the class structure. It’s not like they aren’t trying. They have had jobs that have gone away. They cannot catch a break. Failure begets failure. Society is structured to prevent them from becoming successful. Now before you think this is a sullen, depressing slog… it’s not. This is a very funny movie. Bong uses humor to create empathy with the central characters. The wealthy family is portrayed as pleasantly clueless about their place in the world. PARASITE is at times a raucous farce of a film. Kind of a Korean version of Charlie Chaplain.

The movie is subtitled. I feared the humor would be lost by having to read the jokes, but it works. The actors are fantastic. Bong’s script is smart, funny and moving. The cinematography is fabulous. The camera placement is everything and where Bong places the actors in those scenes is just brilliant.

But when it all goes to shit, it becomes disturbingly and surprisingly violent. The violence fits. You can see how the desperation escalates into a bloodbath. In the end, no one is really happy. Some aren’t even alive. Initially I believed the title PARASITE referred to the central family since they worm their way into the wealthy family’s lives. But after giving it some thought I believe income inequality is the PARASITE Bong is talking about. If you have a society built on a wage gap, it is a PARASITE festering that either needs to be eliminated or it will wind up killing things you love.

JOKER

joker

by Alan Yudman

JOKER is either the best movie ever made, or an overrated piece of crap. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between. It is a film that starts dark and just keeps getting darker. It is unrelentingly bleak. Every time you believe that maybe, just maybe Arthur Fleck has found a way out from under his own mental illness, the world turns on him.

There are undeniable parallels to KING OF COMEDY. A struggling comedian becomes obsessed with a beloved pro. As the fandom turns to obsession the main character falls prey to his own psychosis. To further the parallel in King of Comedy Robert De Niro is the fan… in JOKER he is the target.

The commentary on society is undeniable. The mentally ill are ignored or given the least amount of attention possible. The wealthy present themselves as entitled jerks who don’t care a whit about most people. In interviews around the release of the movie Director Todd Phillips commented he no longer can make comedies because of “woke culture”, people are too easily offended. Explaining how silly that is seems beside the point. Phillips just can’t make the bro comedies (The Hangover movies for example) that he did when he was younger. Whatever Todd. But he seems to be taking a shot at all the wokeness. De Niro’s Murray Franklin makes fun of Arthur which sends him spiraling deeper into madness. A sort of, “see what happens when people become too offended, they go nuts!” Again, whatever Todd.

Joaquin Phoenix is unbelievable. As an actor he is willing to transform himself emotionally and physically, much like his co-star De Niro. He lost a ton of weight for this role. He is emaciated and gaunt. His physicality as an actor is something to behold. He just doesn’t “act” crazy, he moves crazy. Watching him run you think to yourself, “yup… dude is not well.” It’s such a wonderful performance that at points you really feel for Arthur even as he falls deeper into madness. Is what we are seeing real? Or are we so deep inside Arthur’s insanity that even the audience can’t even tell what is real or what is not. The audience is on board the crazy train right next to your main character. It’s a powerful and unique way to build a connection with your main character.

The music cues are either on point or eye rolling. I’ll leave that to you to decide but I didn’t even notice it. The visuals of the movie are mostly grey and dirty which adds to the bleakness. The only real color enters when Arthur fully embraces his transformation to Joker.

This is a depressing take on an origin story. Some have lumped it into the Superhero genre. While that is clearly what Phillips is counting on that connection to draw you in, it is not at all of a piece with a Marvel or DC film. This is a drama about someone losing their mind. It is powerful and disturbing. It took me weeks to come to terms with its themes and now that I have, I am all in. JOKER is definitely worth your time.

DOWNTON ABBEY

DOWNTON ABBEY

by Alan Yudman

 

A bell chimes, the music swells and eventually a drone camera flies over the familiar manor. It’s at that point less than 5 minutes into the movie that I knew I was going to adore DOWNTON ABBEY.

 

This is an entire movie of fan service. Nearly every character from the show’s 6 seasons who didn’t die in a war, from eclampsia or in a car wreck returns just as you remember them. The Dowager Countess and Isobel, Robert and Cora, Ladies Mary and Edith, Tom Branson, the downstairs staff… are all back though some have more to do than others. No Lily James as Lady Rose (guess she couldn’t make it back from America. That’s what happened, right?)

 

The story revolves around a visit from King George V and Queen Mary. That is the through line upon which other plots are hung. The preparations, the visit itself and a ball at Princess Mary’s castle nearby are just background for everything else. As a result, there is no real story arc other than pulling off the Royal visit. But that’s ok. Because all anyone wants to see is our favorite characters doing that with which we are familiar. Tom Branson has more nobility than any nobleman. Lady Mary has a killer bob and worries about the future of Downton. Lady Edith pushes away from tradition and yearns for a more modern existence. And most joyously, Violet trades quips with Cousin Isobel. I was there for all of it.

 

The downstairs staff has to deal with the truly horrible members of the Royal household. The King’s Page of the Backstairs, the head housekeeper and an assistant seamstress are simply awful. They dismiss the staff as incapable of serving the King and Queen and the Crawley family as insignificant leaders of a minor house. That unites the staff (lead by Mr. and Mrs. Bates and over the objections of Carson) in hatching a scheme to take back their house and their dignity. Mr. Carson returns to take over Butler duties for a seemingly overwhelmed Barrow. Barrow, feeling shoved aside, takes up with an assistant royal valet. Daisy remains a revolutionary who wants to grow beyond her role as assistant cook.

 

I know. That’s a lot. And I am barely scratching the surface. The whole movie feels like it could have been another couple of episodes to open a seventh season that never came. That’s smart if you just want to please fans. And DOWNTON ABBEY is all about pleasing fans. Julian Fellowes keeps it simple. He stays faithful to each character and doesn’t invent some elaborate story that would have felt out of place. So, if you were expecting some grand political statements that portend a future that includes Brexit and the irrelevancy of the Royal Family, well you don’t know Downton.

 

You may be asking, why make a movie and not just another short season? Only Lord Fellowes (yes, he’s a member of Parliament) can answer that, but here’s a few guesses. They couldn’t get the cast to commit to another full season. The show started feeling tired toward the end. I still loved it, but it was starting to crumble around the edges like an ignored estate. A new platform means the opportunity to make piles of money. While all that may be true, here’s my number one reason. This all just felt grander on the big screen. The cinematography was spectacular. Downton never looked better or more regal than it does here. High sweeping drone shots of Highclere Castle set against the English countryside are enough to make an Anglophile swoon. The music is bigger. The familiar theme from the TV show was played mostly on a piano. Here employing a full orchestra makes John Lunn’s score feel immense and powerful. Fellowes’ screenplay is perfectly familiar.

 

Maybe there are too many subplots… I lost track at about the “F” plot… but it is far from annoying and I loved nearly every minute. One quibble is with the plot that sees Barrow going to an underground gay club in York and being arrested. In case you forgot, being gay in the United Kingdom was a crime well into the 1970’s. It sort of worked until nearly the end of that thread which felt a little preachy and eye-rolly.

 

DOWNTON ABBEY is far from a perfect movie. I doubt it will win any awards. But it felt like lighting a fire in the drawing room and curling up with a familiar book while your family is gathered around you. It’s comfort food. And we could all use a little comfort food these days.

HUSTLERS

HUSTLERS

by Alan Yudman

 

Here is a pro tip for anyone who reads reviews before going to see a movie. Don’t.

Sometimes I find it difficult to follow my own advice. Such was the case with HUSTLERS. I heard the buzz, read a couple of reviews and was ready to see the best movie of my life. Ok, I’m exaggerating. But the buzz on this film was incredible. The movie, not so incredible. Yes, I feel like I was Hustled.

 

Don’t get me wrong, this is a very enjoyable movie. But it is a flawed one. Depending on how you want to look at it, it’s either a revenge movie with the dancers getting back at the Wall Street hustlers who swindled people during the 2008 crash or a psychological drama about how a vulnerable person can be manipulated by a psychopath. Here’s a spoiler… it’s both.

 

The film is based on a 2015 article by Jessica Pressler for The Cut, “The Hustlers at Scores”. It’s the true story of how these dancers ran up hundreds of thousands of dollars in charges on clients’ credit cards after slipping each of them a mickey. Lopez’s Ramona is the leader of the crew and takes Constance Wu’s Destiny into her fur coat and under her wing. Ramona is the

Queen Bee of this hive. She is the best dancer, the most in demand by guys and she knows how to use her gifts to make money. She just takes it to the next level with her scheme to rip off the guys. Destiiny appears to be inexperienced and desperate to learn the tricks of the trade from Ramona. And it all works great. The girls are making money like crazy until they are finally caught and arrested.

 

The reviews have lauded Lopez’s performance. Mostly that’s deserved. She is tough and uncompromising. But she is also a bit of a manipulative psychopath. She wants to make money, to make the guys “pay” at all costs. She doesn’t see how they are becoming vulnerable. And when Destiny questions her leadership she tosses her aside. Wu’s character has an arc. Lopez’s has a purpose. Ramona is the real villain of this story. She takes advantage of Destiny’s vulnerability for her own gain. She hustles her. How Wu works through that is the heart of this story.

 

There are a lot of noteworthy performances. Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart are great as members of the crew. Cardi B and Lizzo have fun, yet small parts as strippers in the club.

 

Lorene Scafaria does a fine job as both director and screenwriter. She really nailed the atmosphere of a gentleman’s club. The women are portrayed as strong and powerful, not just nude playthings for the men. The scheme is fun and funny. You find yourself rooting for the crew as they target each guy and take them for all they can.

 

The psychological drama is disturbing as Destiny falls deeper into the web spun by Ramona. I actually enjoyed that part of the film more than the “hustle”. That is where Wu shines. She is vulnerable even when she is trying to project power and strength. Wu always looks to Lopez for approval until she is pushed aside for a newer model. Then she is desperate to figure out why and what happened. But Wu also sees what is happening because Lopez is hiring dicey characters it makes the crew vulnerable. It all comes crashing down when they are arrested in a sting that comes to fruition because of one of those dicey hires. And despite all that, Wu still seeks approval and the friendship of Lopez. It is a tough and vulnerable performance and Wu’s star continues to shine bright.

 

The theme of the hustle is threaded throughout the story. The dancers are hustling the guys. Ramona is hustling Destiny. And Destiny is hustling the journalist who is interviewing her (a very small but important role for Julia Stiles). Is it all a metaphor for America? Ramona as much says so in one scene. If it is, that is a pathetic commentary on society.

 

 

 

CITY ON A HILL

CITY ON A HILLBy Alan Yudman

 

Showtime’s CITY ON A HILL is a lot. A lot of story, a lot of corruption, a lot of cast and a lot of “chowdah”. Set in Boston in the late 1980’s, the show features a corrupt FBI Agent (Kevin Bacon), and an ambitious and idealistic young prosecutor (Aldis Hodge) who team up with the goal of getting rid of corruption in Boston. Then there is a crew of robbers who are ripping off armored cars lead by Frankie Ryan (Jonathan Tucker) who is trying to keep his family together while “taking care of it”(his signature response when a problem arises).

 

The Matt Damon/Ben Affleck produced show is well acted and has a lot of potential for exploring the DEPARTED/BLACK MASS territory in more depth. But instead of going deep on a couple of storylines, the show casts a wide net. At times it feels a mile wide and an inch deep.  The cast is enormous and talented. In addition to Bacon, Hodge and Tucker there are (deep breath).. Jill Hennessy, Mark O’Brien, Lauren E. Banks, Kevin Dunn, Amanda Clayton, Sarah Shahi, Jere Shea, Cathy Moriarty, James Remar. All have significant roles, so as you can see if you have that many mouths to feed someone will go hungry. In this case it’s the audience.

 

Surrounding the main plot of the heist and investigation are Bacon’s family drama, Hodge’s wife’s career, and Tucker’s family drama. And there are subplots piled on subplots. It never gets confusing because nothing is explored in any depth. For example, Tucker’s oldest daughter has obviously witnessed some type of trauma that is giving her nightmares. We sort of find out what it’s connected to but never explicitly learn what happened. Hennessy is Bacon’s aggrieved and tormented wife who has to deal with his attitude and infidelity. We find out she’s been abused as a child, but so late in the series it’s treated more as a bombshell than a piece of a larger story. Shahi is a state police detective who references her Persian heritage and how she tries to pass as one of Boston’s Aqua Netted natives. She has a wonderfully honest and well-acted scene where she admits she’ll never be one of “them”. But once that threat is pulled, it is cut and disposed of. Plus, that stated goal at the beginning of the series, cleaning up the corrupt Boston and Suffolk County system, is never really explored or fulfilled.

 

Those are just a few examples. What keeps this from being an unwatchable mess are Bacon and Hodge (and in a smaller role, Shahi). Their working tension and scheming behind each other’s backs is the heart of the series. Bacon puts on his tough FBI agent façade but is tormented by his mother-in-law and his reputation. He buries himself in cocaine and drowns his sorrows in booze. He is a bastard and hard to like. Hodge’s ambition is thwarted by Bacon’s hubris and his own idealism. But he plays the calm, calculating prosecutor very well.

 

If Showtime decides on a second season for CITY ON A HILL, here’s hoping they decide to drop some of the B, C and D plots and give more time and depth to whatever the main story will be. Thatwould be bet ter for the actors and the audience.

INGRID GOES WEST

by Alan Yudman

Swipe up. Double tap. Swipe up. Double tap. If you have ever opened Instagram on your phone you recognize those gestures. Browsing through the people you follow looking at food, selfies, vacation venues and booping the noses of dogs. Apparently it can also be quite a dark place. A place where lonely people live through the experiences of others or only know what is cool because an “influencer” tells them so. While that’s not especially healthy, INGRID GOES WEST takes it to the next level.

The damaged psyche of Aubrey Plaza’s Ingrid is apparent from the first scene where we see her sweating and crying in a car while looking at her Instagram friend Cindy’s feed and doing the “swipe, double tap”. And the crazy is confirmed when she barges into Cindy’s wedding to mace her and call her a bitch for not inviting her.

It is both a critique and affirmation of our culture, where social media is great for making connections but all too often replaces human interaction. If your mental state is fragile enough, as Ingrid’s is, you can believe a like is an opening to deeper understanding. Ingrid stares at her phone her thumb swiping, desperate for her new “friend” Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) to like a comment Ingrid made on a post. When she not only likes it but comments back, Ingrid takes this as an invitation to move to California so they can be friends.

Ingrid appears to crave connections like this because she is alone in the world. Her mother has died and left her enough money to make the move to Venice. She “accidentally” runs into Taylor, she gets her hair done like hers, she buys the same clutch as Taylor because that is the way they can be alike. The crazy keeps ramping up. Stealing Taylor’s dog and returning it to seem like a hero and deepen their connection. Buying a piece of art by Taylor’s husband. Ingrid continues to spiral down a rabbit hole that is filled with killer bunnies.

But, the film also points out how Taylor is a phony. Her husband reveals that books she posts about are really his favorites. Taylor was just a nerdy young woman before she started down her own rabbit hole of phony. So who is sicker? The person living the lie or the person trying to adopt the life of that person. A question you, or your psychotherapist will have to figure out.

The movie works because of Plaza and Olsen. While you recognize Plaza’s crazy, you feel more sorry for her than scared of her. She does things with her eyes and smile that any fan of PARKS AND RECREATION will recognize. Plaza can make crazy seem endearing. Olsen has a chameleon-like ability to fully become the person she portrays whether it’s Taylor or the Red Witch in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The only real “fun” performance is from O’Shea Jackson, Jr. who plays Ingrid’s landlord/love interest.

INGRID GOES WEST hits some very dark themes. But there is a twist at the end which seems to torpedo the whole message the filmmakers (Director and Co-writer Matt Spicer and writer David Branson Smith) had been telegraphing the whole movie. It’s almost like they couldn’t fully commit to a dark ending that the story seems to demand. Even so, INGRID GOES WEST says something that people need to hear and should make you think twice the next time you mindlessly pick up your phone to Tweet or Insta (god I hate that term). Don’t pick up the phone. Go and interact with real people. If you don’t you could be Ingrid.