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.