July 20th, 2020

I like Edward Norton, always have from the moment he burst onto the scene in his breakout performance in 1996 with Richard Gere in Primal Fear.  It earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee.   Now at 50yo, he has had some hits and misses.   I wish he would work more.   He has decided in 2019 to write, direct and star in Motherless Brooklyn.   Set in the 50s, it begins with Bruce Willis portraying a private detective who is looking for backup in an upcoming business meeting.   The backup are his two underlings in his detective agency, one played by Norton, who has an excellent memory for detail but also a version of Tourette Syndrome.  Now Norton has played a character with a challenge before, notably in the excellent and underviewed The Score with Robert De Niro.   Here Norton has this affliction, which he can’t control.   It adds some humour every now and then (like with the waitress at a bar) but generally becomes a distraction as it pops up randomly.  The plot deals with corruption at a municipal level with New York City.  Alec Baldwin plays the head of the Bridge Authority who is head of Parks and Bridges, but also given a new appointment as the cleaner of “slums”.   You must pay attention to the plot, but it is also predictable with some characters, like Willis’ wife.   In the end, this is longer than it should be (about 20 minutes).  Other characters like Willem Dafoe add some intrigue, as well as the presence of the female lead looking into the “relocation” aspects but there are various other tangents.   Have we seen other stories about corruption in a city?  Absolutely.   Baldwin plays the bad guy well as he usually does.   He has a group of cronies around him strong arming those who put up a battle against his plans.   There is a speech late by Baldwin where you hear about the building of Central Park back in the day.   He translates this into the activities that he is currently taking.   I can’t recommend this, even though I like the cast (save Willis).

I also watched Harriet, and this stars the ever-rising Cynthia Erivo (who excelled in The Outsider.)   Harriet Tubman was one of the few women involved in the freedom of slaves from the South to the North, like she had freed herself earlier.   With assistance, she managed to walk from her home in South Carolina.   The fact that she decided to turn around and make run after run getting hundreds out.   The true story is compelling and an extraordinary tale of someone committed to freedom.   Her freedom, and the lives of others like her.   This movie resonates more now than it did at the time of its initial release (2019).   Everything really has changed (in truth to be determined), and the hope is that the country which regards itself as the home of freedom (even though it allowed slavery to continue in its Declaration of Independence in 1776, written by slave owner Thomas Jefferson) can find ways to make strides towards true “equal treatment under the law”.   But disregarding the wider big picture for the moment in present day, the movie is a quality performance from an actress who garnered an Oscar nomination for this role.   Sadly Renee Zellwegger won the award, but this is a worthy performance.   Erivo is English, and that may have raised some eyebrows, but it shouldn’t.   She provided an excellent performance of the woman who deserves to have more recognition and notoriety.   People like her, I think, would applaud the efforts now 150 years later to find that freedom the founding fathers were seeking to begin with.

I have begun watching the Starz series Manhattan (2014) which dramatizes the race to build the atomic bomb.  Manhattan refers to the Manhattan Project led by Dr Oppenheimer.   The bombs created and dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan to end the war in the Pacific.   The bombs themselves were nicknamed “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”.   I had not realized that these were two different types of bombs; one was an implosion bomb, the other was uranium gun-type bomb.  The two types were created by different teams within the Manhattan campus.  There is plenty of drama surrounding the people within this campus.  Think of it like The Imitation Game with much personal drama and relationships along with the challenges of creating new under the veil of secrecy.   Rachel Brosnahan stars (before her memorable time in House of Cards, and then The Marvelous Mrs Maisel) and she is really good in all the roles that I have seen her.   Also starring a much older looking Daniel Stern (from Home Alone, and voiceover in Wonder Years).   It is longer than it should be at times (I am on episode 11 of season 1) and there is more to come.  They haven’t even made a bomb yet, as they are still trying to figure out how implosion works.  Issues like being gay, lesbianism, espionage, Jewish etc are all covered.   I will continue to watch.   It’s not as good as The Imitation Game but then again not many things really are.

 

February 13th – Post Oscar Alison posting

Unlike Elizabeth I am no longer the queen…of the Oscar pool…long live the king!
I did a last push to try and take in a few more nominated films before the big show and will share my insights.  First, Honeyland was nominated for both best documentary and best foreign language film.  Already I was intrigued intrigued.  The story follows a woman who seems to live in the middle of barren land alone with her mother.  She spends her days covering a vast territory tending to her bees who provide for her well being.  She lives an impoverished life caring for her bees and elderly bedridden mother with one simple rule, when taking from the bees always leave half for them.  Half for me, half for you; a symbiotic relationship for equal sustainment of life.  One day a family moves in next door.  I never did tally up the number of children they had but they could not be more different from our bee keeper.  Nonetheless she affords them kindness and shares her knowledge of bee keeping when they express an interest.  If I hadn’t read that this was I documentary I would have never known.  It plays like a well scripted film and is non-typical of a documentary in that there is no narrative, no presentation of the subject and position of the documentary maker up front.  Even when the credits roll  it leaves you to draw your own conclusion of their story.  It will not take you long to get the message of this film but I’m not going to ruin one second of it for you.  Brilliantly done in a year of Parasite and the Obama’s documentary, Honeyland was winless but well worth you time.
The other foreign language film nominee that I watched was Corpus Christi.  This is a film from my honorary Polish homeland and marks the first time their Oscar entry featured someone smiling; but just one person, everyone else had the scowl (Oscar nominees The Nun and Cold War both featured miserable people beautifully shot in black and white).  Corpus Christi features a young man about to be released from a juvenile detention centre.  He sings like an angel and wants to be a priest but is told that he would never be accepted to the seminary due to his criminal past.  The priest at the centre arranges for him to report for work in a mill.  For what ever reason, our young hero steals the priest’s collar and by a trick of fate ends up being mistaken for a priest and decides to go with it.  He was not like any priest the townsfolk had seen – he swore, admitted failings, called a thing a thing but most of all he found joy in it.  And the pews filled.  But every hero has to have a foe and well, scowlers gonna scowl.  This film sucks you in and has you rooting for young Daniel and also for the townspeople he was trying to reach.  I liken its tone to Waking Ned Devine and St. Vincent but with Polish sensibilities. If I didn’t have to vote for Parasite I would have given Corpus Christi the win.
Harriet was a pleasant surprise and I had hoped it would have won best song.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this film but was curious because it was an unexpected surprise at the box office and because Cynthia Erivo was nominated for bestie.  I knew little of the extent of Harriet Tubman’s extraordinary life and bravery and this was my primary take away.  Who escapes slavery to the safety of the north and goes back time after time to rescue others?  Harriet Tubman.  She rescued some 700+ people.  She served in the civil war and was the only woman to ever lead an infantry.  Quite a remarkable person.  The cast that surrounded Cynthia just couldn’t match her performance and was the weakest part of the film.  Cynthia is currently starring in a supporting role in the Outsider (mentioned by Rob below) and as in Harriet has a scene stealing intensity I’ve only ever seen from Viola Davis.  See both so you can jump on the Cynthia bandwagon.
Lastly I watched Richard Jewel as Kathy Bates was nominated for best supporting.  Honestly it was just awful.  Somehow Clint managed to coax out the worst performances from Kathy and my boy Sam Rockwell. Don’t bother.
Unlike me, Rob reviews on a weekly basis. Catch up at https://mondayswithrobbie.com/