Film Review: MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (USA 2019) ***1/2

Motherless Brooklyn Poster
Trailer

Set against the backdrop of 1950s New York, Motherless Brooklyn follows Lionel Essrog, a lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome, as he ventures to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, Frank Minna.

Director:

Edward Norton

Writers:

Jonathan Lethem (based on the novel by), Edward Norton (screenplay)

Acclaimed actor Edward Norton returns to the director’s chair (this is his second directorial effort) with his passionate MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN based on the book which he read way back when, when he was starring in AMERICAN HISTORY X.  It was his long time goal to bring it to the screen and this 140 minute effort often displays his passion in the making of it.  Though by no means flawless, the 140-minute long haul moves pretty fast, thanks to the strength of the film’s source, the multiple award winning 1999 novel by Jonathan Lethem of the same name.

Norton who also penned the script made several changes to the book.  As he thought the film’s theme lent to more of a noir setting, he moved the 1999 modern setting to a 1959 one, move obviously requiring greater effort in filmmaking, because of not only period atmosphere, pros and sets. but in dialogue as well.  The cinematography by Mike Leigh’s favourite, Oscar nominated Dick Pope is to be commended.  His best scene is the one where the water on the sidewalk reflects a beautiful picture similar to the one where the refection of water reflects a plane flying overhead in Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA.

The film follows a private investigator with Tourette’s syndrome, Lionel Essrog nicknamed MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (played by Norton himself) who must solve the murder of his mentor.  Lionel Essrog, has Tourette’s, a disorder marked by involuntary tics. Essrog works for Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), a small-time neighbourhood owner of a “seedy and makeshift” detective agency, who is shot (stabbed to death in the novel) to death.  Together, Essrog and three other characters—Tony, Danny, and Gilbert— solve the case.  The reason for the deduction is that Frank looked after these 4 in the orphanage when they were kids.

It is best to know about the Tourette’s (tics) syndrome as the protagonist has the affliction and director/actor Norton makes sure his audience does not forget it.  It is a nerve disorder with onset in childhood, characterized by multiple motor tics and at least one vocal (phonic) tic. These tics characteristically wax and wane, can be suppressed temporarily, and are typically preceded by an unwanted urge or sensation in the affected muscles. Some common tics are eye blinking, coughing, throat clearing, sniffing, and facial movements. Tourette’s does not adversely affect intelligence or life expectancy.  In the film, Lionel is supposed to have heightened memory capabilities because of the syndrome.  Another fact is that adults suffering from this syndrome is a rarity, as they go away with adolescence.

The draw of he story is both the solving of the murder and the subplot involving the corruption of power.  Norton introduces the new character of Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin) a city planner who is so obsessed with port ta he would do anything to gain it.  Baldwin has a field day with this role, that includes a long speech of what power is, and what it can do for people and how he craves and has it.  No one can stop me…. he boasts.  All this brings the more reason for Lionel to take the man down.

Because of the setting, the film looks and borrows from Roman Polanski’s CHINATOWN though understandably never reaching the heights of that classic.  But MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN is a totally enjoyable watch, with Norton giving full respect to his source material while never downplaying the syndrome for cheap laughs, but offering his audience intelligent look at the rare disease.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fru8IkuDp_k

Film Review: FRAMING JOHN DELOREAN (USA 2019)

Framing John DeLorean Poster
Trailer

Who was the real John DeLorean? To some, he was a renegade visionary who revolutionized the automobile industry. To others, he was the ultimate con man.

FRAMING JOHN DELOREAN is a documentary directed by Don Argott and Sheena M Joyce, written by Dan Greeney and Alexandrea Orton (good combination of both sexes) fused with narrative scenes.  This portrait of John Z. DeLorean covers the enigmatic automaker’s rise to stardom and his shocking fall from grace.  Interviews with colleagues, employees, lawyers, friends and family who knew him best are interspersed with dramatized vignettes, including a performance by Alec Baldwin – as they all endeavour in their own ways to uncover the real DeLorean.

The doc examines how far one can go to achieve ones dream.

The doc is interesting in the way it infuses re-enactments with Baldwin as DeLorean to archive footage of the real DeLorean.  Baldwin is made up to look like DeLorean.  So what is missing in continuity in footage to propel the narrative is provided by the reenactments.  Whether the tactic works, or whether the reenactments are distracting is subjective.

At the beginning of the documentary on John DeLorean, the voiceover proudly informs that there has never been a film made about the famous car maker John Delorean.  In the words of President Trump: “Fake News”.  There has been a recently made one, I cannot recall the title of that movie, but certain incidents in this doc, I already know about from that film, like the drug exchange meeting presided by John DeLorean in a hotel room.

The voiceover also goes to describe DeLorean as a winner, a loser, a champion or perhaps  the greatest con-man in the history of man.  The draw of this doc and also the draw of the man as a personality is not from the good he has done (though he has a few up his sleeve) but his outrageousness and uncanny rise to fame that eventually led to his downfall.  

DeLorean took on the car companies like Pontiac and General Motors to design his sports car, to chase his dream hopefully to become a legend forever.  The doc highlights both the achievements and failures of the man.

One of DeLorean’s main achievements was the opening of his successful car assembly plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  The doc is quick to point this out.  At a time when the Catholics were fighting the protestants and the Irish economy was in ruins, DeLoeran got the two fighting groups to work together in the same factory with his common goal.  The cars were made and shipped to the United States,

Unfortunately not much of the background of DeLorean is provided of his childhood, upbringing or the influences.  The missing information would have provided clues to DeLorean’s character.

FRAMING JOHN DELOREAN emphasizes and glorifies the events surrounding the man.  Though this makes the doc more watchable, it lacks a fuller picture.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIa1gn9wVNo

Film Review: GORDON LIGHTFOOT: IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND (Canada 2019) ***

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind Poster
Musician Gordon Lightfoot reflects on his life and career.

“If you Could Read My Mind”, the only Gordon Lightfoot song that made it into the dance clubs that demonstrated the wide appeal of this gifted Canadian singer songwriter is arguably the most loved of all his songs and thus selected as the title of this comprehensive doc on the man.  The film arrives after a very successful world premiere at this year’s Hot Docs.

The film begins with the song heard on the soundtrack “That’s what you Get for Loving Me,” followed by shots of other famous singers like Peter, Paul and Mary and Johnny Cash also performing this song.  It is a chauvinistic song, as Lightfoot himself admits, which he wrote while he was married to Kim (also shown on camera later on).  But it is a beautiful song, followed then by many of other famous works including “If You Could Read My Mind”.

It is the best time to make a doc on a subject when the subject is still alive and able to be interviewed and talk about his own life and work.  Audiences are fortunate as there is plenty of Lighfoot insight.  Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni have unprecedented access to the artist and his work.

The film takes the audience from high school auditoriums in straight-laced small town Ontario in the ’50s, to coffee houses of Yorkville and Greenwich Village in ’60s Toronto, through the turbulent substance-fueled arena shows of the ’70s, to present day.  With an intimate and emotional examination (with his accompanying songs) of the artist’s profound relationship to his music and Canadian roots, IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND chronicles Lightfoot’s evolution from Christian choirboy in Orilla to troubled troubadour to international star (starting work in a bank when first moved to Toronto) and beloved Canadian icon.

On docs on singer celebrities, there is always a  considerable portion that tracks he subject’s downfall be it drugs or drink and perhaps coming back.  For this doc, Lightfoot’s only vice happens to be his drinking and partying.  But though he drinks to some excess, it made him fun to be with while going into a drunken rage occasionally. As the film reveals, Lightfoot would drink a bottle a day.  But all things considered, Lightfoot could handle the stress through his drink and it did not destroy his career though he did hit a bit of a low point.  But Lightfoot finally realizes that he was not in a good place, especially when his girl walked out with his kid, and quit drinking cold turkey.  And he went on to his canoe trips (10 trips in the bush) while rehabilitating.

Even if you are not a truly a Lightfoot fan, this film will have a strong lasting effect.  It is a relaxing easy-going doc, with lots of yes, wonderful Gordon Lightfoot songs.

  The film will also be broadcast on CBC and doc Channel in late 2019.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQneUY7od-c

Film Review: THE PUBLIC (USA) ***

The Public Poster
Trailer

An act of civil disobedience turns into a standoff with police when homeless people in Cincinnati take over the public library to seek shelter from the bitter cold.

Director:

Emilio Estevez

THE PUBLIC is Emilio Estevez’s ambitious little movie that tackles a few key social issues while being commercially entertaining.  Estevez gives himself the title role as a thankless, sensitive but realistic librarian.

After instilling to the audience the oddness and importance of the librarian in the American society with voiceover over archive black and white footage, the film opens with head librarian of downtown Cincinnati, Stuart Goodson (Estevez) heading to work one very cold morning.  He encounters  people who greet him on the way and it becomes obvious he is setting himself up as the sympathetic hero of the piece.  He meets an old lady who accuses Jews of meaningless deeds, while the homeless wait for the library to open so that they can wash up in the toilets.  He is also realistic as he answers back rationally to a female librarian under him who accuses him of leaving his carbon footprint behind.  It is obvious he likes her though she appears a bit too radical for him..  All these incidents are the prologue to a lawsuit undertaken by a public prosecutor (Christian Slater), again a too obvious villain of the piece.  The prosecutor is also running for the office for mayor.  It is seldom one gets to see Slater snarling and growling as a villain.

One quarter through the film, a new character, a police negotiator (Alec Baldwin) whose son is missing because of a drug addiction problem is introduced into the story.

One feels that Estevez is too manipulative in his sardonic humour and tackling of too many issues – from the homeless to mental health to the city’s opiate addiction to the environment and yes, politics.  “Try not to kill any of my friends,” says the female librarian to the cops at one point.

The film opens a few insightful possibilities.  Do the homeless protect and look after other homeless?  The film seems to think so.  Estevez takes the notion one step further when they take down the library after a cold Arctic blast hits the city resulting in -10C. 

To Estevez’s credit, a few bits of his script are quite good.  His film also propagates the main worthy cause of the homeless, despite looking too ambitious.  The film has a twist in the story despite an Hollywood happy ending.

Estevez and Slater are both good but it is Baldwin who steals the show, showing he can play serious as well as comedy (Saturday Night Live’s Donald Trump).

The film was shot in the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.  The story was inspired and a little glamourized by the moving 2007 essay “Written Off” by Chip Ward, a now-retired assistant director of the Salt Lake City Public Library System.

This is a film that presents problems with no solutions leaving it somewhat disappointing.  One might argue however, that these problems can never be solved, but Estevez should provide some ray of hope.  THE PUBLIC is a not half bad mix comedy/drama relevant social issues that seems too obvious in pleasing the audience.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJXikN1kOqQ

Film Review: THE KING (USA 2018) ***

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The King Poster
Trailer

Forty years after the death of Elvis Presley, a musical road trip across America in his 1963 Rolls Royce explores how a country boy lost his authenticity and became a king while his country lost her democracy and became an empire.

Director:

Eugene Jarecki

Writers:

Eugene JareckiChristopher St. John (co-writer)

 

It is about time a documentary surfaced on Elvis Priestly – aka The King.

Why is Elvis nicknamed The King?  In Kevin Smith’s DOGMA, Satan claimed that he does not believe in fighting in God’s army and was therefore banished from God’s Kingdom.  A character goes to say, Elvis served in the army and that is why he is The King!  But the most appropriate reason would be that Elvis is the King of Rock and Roll.

“How does it feel to be right up there on top?” is a question asked at the start of the movie.  As much as Elvis represents the American Dream – (anyone can be what he wants if one works for it), the film accurately reveals the truth that it should be peace, love and the pursuit of happiness that one poor black woman in the film confesses.

But THE KING the movie is not so much a biography of Elvis but a history of Elvis tied  to America and its politics.  Writer/director Melecki devotes a fair amount of scene time to the debate of Elvis’ appropriation of black music.  One black interviewed says that he stole black music and never did anything for the black man.  But another says that music should not be segregated.  There are two sides to each story.

As Elvis was such a famous star, there exists much archive footage available for Melecki to choose.   Included are clips from his many films. 

A good impressive cast of stars that include Ethan Hawke have their say.  Hawke speaks with authority about Elvis as if he knew the king personally.  Other interviewees include Elvis’ best teen friend but one wonders the reason Melecki includes the folks that used to stay in the original house where Elvis grew up.  These people did not even know that it was Elvis’ house they lived in.  Melecki also includes himself in the doc as he is driven around asking questions.

It is hilarious how all documentaries include clips of President Donald Trump and very unflattering ones at that.   THE KING is no exception with Trump displayed at his lower common denominator.  The film contains a neat look at America from Canadian Mike Myers’ perspective.  Melecki puts American down at many points in his documentary.

Director Melecki’s last third of the film covers the reason why American is not great again.  Despite what Trump had said: Make America great again!”  America can only be great if it cares again.  Melecki also contrasts Elvis loyalty to the country and military to Mohammed Ali’s refusal to join the army.  “Going to jail is better than killing innocent Chinese and Vietnamese,” says Ali in the film.  Then there is the Alec Baldwin bit degrading Trump again.  It is an excellent debate.  The only problem is the film going completely off-track with the downside of America, though Melecki ties it to Elvis at the end.

The film ends sadly with the death of THE KING, sadly at the young age of 42.  THE KING is as much a story of the downfall of Elvis as it is of America.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csXtdjsqYLM

 

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Film Review: PARIS CAN WAIT (USA 2017) Directed by Eleanor Coppola

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paris_can_waitAnne is at a crossroads in her life. Long married to a successful, driven but inattentive movie producer, she unexpectedly finds herself taking a car trip from Cannes to Paris with a business associate of her husband. What should be a seven-hour drive turns into a carefree two-day adventure replete with diversions involving picturesque sights, fine food and wine, humor, wisdom and romance, reawakening Anne’s senses and giving her a new lust for life.

Director: Eleanor Coppola
Writer: Eleanor Coppola
Stars: Diane Lane, Alec Baldwin, Arnaud Viard

Review by Gilbert Seah

 PARIS CAN WAIT opens at the Cannes Film Festival (where the film was shot). (Nothing is seen of the Cannes film festival or of any stars though, so one assumes that it was not shot during that time.) Anne (Diane Lane) is here with her producer husband Michael (Alec Baldwin) who can be observed as loving his wife yet too busy to pay her much attention. When she thinks he is answering her questions, he is actually speaking to the person on the other side of his phone. When an earache prevents Anne from flying to Budapest with Michael, Michael’s film associate Jacques (Arnaud Viard) offers to drive her to Paris, while Michael heads to Budapest for a film.

But Jacques diverts on the trip, and hence the title PARIS CAN WAIT. Anne filly arrives in Paris at the end of the film, delayed while her husband grows suspicious. In the mean time, Jacques plays on his charm to woo Anne – and finally makes his move.

PARIS CAN WAIT is a light comedy that is neither very funny nor amusing. The characters are superficially pleasant, but only to each other. If one looks deeper, each one is selfish to each one end.

Coppola’s film is full of little observations. She uses her characters nuances to point out flaws and strengths in their personalities. But the three characters are the idle rich who probably have lived all their lives in luxurious decadence. As a result, the audience can hardly feel for any of the three – whether they cheat or remain faithful. They just come across as three annoying people unconnected to the real world.

In the film, Coppola takes her audience to see the France only the fortunate see. Thee are no scene of poverty or minorities or any of the hardship that is taking place in the E.U. The characters wine and dine in luxury, always complaining about the ridiculous. Anne complains a great deal about how she cannot get cheese at room service that she had to order a cheeseburger to get some. It is a haughty and selfish behaviour with that spirit prevailing throughout the film. The two principal characters are travelling around in a gorgeous Peugeot convertible.

It is surprising the this is the same director that made the insightful documentary HEART OF DARKNESS that revealed the insides of her husband’s APOCALYPSE NOW. Where did all the talent and insight disappear to?
The film is shot in English and French without any subtitles for the French portion. The dialogue is mostly inconsequential which means that is no need for any translation.

The climax of the film is the scene where Anne ends up putting a clip to tidy up her hair behind her head, as if tidying up all the ends that have taken place, a clever subtle metaphor in the film. It is an odd way to end the film, as it is an odd film – indulgent, insufferable and impossible.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTrT6QSqnGs

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Film Review: HARRY BENSON: SHOOT FIRST (USA 2016) ***

harry_benson_shoot_first_movie_posterDirectors: Justin Bare, Matthew Miele
Writers: Justin Bare, Matthew Miele
Stars: Harry Benson, Alec Baldwin, Gigi Benson

Review by Gilbert Seah

Directors Matthew Miele and Justin Bare are the co-founders of Quixotic Endeavors, a multimedia production company focusing on subjects with an iconic theme. In their new documentary, their subject is Scottish photographer Harry Benson, now 86. The documentary charts the illustrious career of the renowned photographer who initially rose to fame alongside The Beatles, having been assigned to cover their inaugural trip to the United States in 1964. With unprecedented behind the scenes access, Benson captured some of the most vibrant and intimate portraits ever taken of the most popular band in history.

The two most famous of these is the pillow fight in their hotel and the one in a gym with Muhammed Ali.

Miele and Bare’s film is quite plain in terms of narrative and research. They let the fame and photographs of Benson speak for themselves. And this is a good thing. It also helps that Benson is still alive and able to give a perspective of both his work and life as he is present from the start to end of the film. Among the interviewed are his wife (behind every successful man is a woman), his assistant and various famous icons in the publishing and fashion world.

The film also charts his background back to Scotland. There is a segment where Benson visits his old house and school. The interviewed are asked what they thought was the secret of Benson’s success. The answer is hard work. Benson would leave everything at any moment if there is an opportunity for a good photograph. He had to be at the right place at the right time. Then comes the part of creating art out of his work. Benson hated posing and wanted his subjects to be shot candidly.

The paparazzi side of Benson is also mentioned. He captured a private shot of ageing star Greta Garbo to her chagrin. Other private shots, however, he was given permission like to shoot the shaved head of Elizabeth Taylor right after her surgery.

The film is fascinating for all the celebrities Benson has shot during his career. These included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Charles De Gaulle, Michael Jackson in his private ranch and even Sir Winston Churchill.

The question arises as to which of his photographs are the best. The one on the cover of Vanity fair with Ronald and Nancy Reagan dancing is one of them. The two with the Beatles are another two. There is also a great one with Bill Clinton kissing his wife. The photographs speak for themselves and illustrate Benson’s talent. Directors Miele and Bare ensures that the audience see the talent as well.

HARRY BENSON: SHOOT FIRST is a very easy-going watchable film. All one needs to do is sit back and enjoy Benson’s work, travelling through time and observing candid shots of celebrities through the years. There is as a bonus, Benson’s work in areas of war and famine that show human suffering.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8o-RC4YWkWg

 

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