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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Thursday June 20th 2024

Movie Corner December 2019/January 2020

By Howard McQuitter

“Motherless Brooklyn” (2019) 
Warner Bros. Rated R
4/5 Stars

 “Motherless Brooklyn” is a novel by Jonathan Lethem, the adaptation a movie by Edward Norton, though the setting is originally in the 1990s, Norton skillfully rolls back to the 1950s. Mind you, Norton worked on the script, of course, with changes, for 20 years. I”™m glad he decides to capture New York City””Brooklyn in particular””at a time when the mob and the mayor are often inseparable. All in all, “Motherless Brooklyn” is a detective movie, a good one, in which Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) is like a precursor to Peter Falk”™s “Columbo.” Lionel”™s boss, Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) and Lionel were raised together as boys in a Catholic orphanage. Frank started his own detective business. Both men search for corruption such as insurance scams and other illegal doings.

When trouble smacks Frank in the face taking on what maybe linked to the city, Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), a big-time “friend” of the mob, things get nasty. Frank has Lionel and Gilbert (Ethan Suplee) wait outside a building while he goes inside to find out things from some shady men. But by the time shots are fired by the bad men, Frank is badly wounded.

Lionel is the one most interested in who killed his boss. And before we know it Lionel is faced with the underbelly of New York”™s skullduggery. Lionel”™s journey leads him to the black woman, Laura Rose (Guga Mbatha-Raw), who works for fair housing for African Americans. The two people find more corruption around white developers with an insidious plan to uproot African Americans from tenant houses. (To this day, adequate and good housing is a big issue for poor and people of color.) 

One of the pluses of “Motherless Brooklyn” is men dressed in fedoras and women in their best outfits sitting around sometimes in cramped clubs to bebop jazz. It is likely in those days most of the jazz clubs in Brooklyn were black owned. Lionel”™s problem is not so much he”™s in a black establishment but because he has Tourette”™s syndrome which may be misinterpreted by someone in the club. Laura takes Lionel to Harlem jazz club owned by her father (Robert Wisdom) featuring a Miles Davis-type trumpet player (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Paul (Willem Dafoe), the eccentric one who, like a prophet without the robe, issues warnings to Lionel and anyone else.

And most cities today haven”™t learned from the greed and bigotry that”™s aptly depicted in Norton”™s movie. Baldwin”™s character seems to be fine with building in an area where there are no buses, that is, a way to keep out blacks and poor people in general. Lionel finds himself in danger from goons trying to preclude him from finding any evidence of city corruption. He never shied away from trying to find the killers of his boss and boyhood friend. There are little hints of Roman Polanski”™s “Chinatown”(1974) in Norton”™s “Motherless Brooklyn.” I enjoyed Norton”™s work here. A film; worthwhile.

Cast: Edward Norton (Lionel Essrog), Guga Mbatha-Raw (Laura Rose), Alec Baldwin (Moses Randolph), Bruce Willis (Frank Minna), Willem Dafoe (Paul), Bobby Cannavle (Tony Vermonte), Ethan Suplee (Gilbert Coney), Robert Wisdom (Billy Rose), Peter Gray Lewis (Mayor), Michael Kenneth Williams (Trumpet Player). Director: Edward Norton. Writer: Edward Norton. Novel by Jonathan Lethem. Running time: 144 minutes. (R)

“Ford v Ferrari” (2019) 
20th Century Fox Pg-13
5/5 Stars

My interest in car racing of any kind is mediocre at best, however, director James Mangold (“Walk the Line” [2005], “3:10 to Yuma” [2007], “Identity” [2003], “Girl Interrupted” [1999]) has created such an atmosphere in “Ford v Ferrari” as to hang on every scene like glue. It”™s not simply the action with the racing which is exciting, but the drama of a real life British car racer Ken Miles, played immaculately by Christian Bale, sets the tone (along with) legendary American race driver, retired from the sport because of health issues, named Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon. The setting of the period piece is the 1960s when Henry Ford II, played aptly by Tracy Letts (“Lady Bird” [2017]), bluntly tells his subordinates at a meeting that we must improve sales or fail. For such a huge automobile company like Ford that spells a disaster for the American customers if Ford goes in the tank. Mr. Ford gets the idea to buy the Italian automobile company Ferrari. Ferrari turns Ford down only to be nabbed by FIAT, well, the latter acquired 50 percent of Ferrari in 1969.

Now that Ferrari snubbed Ford, Lee Iacocca, played by Jon Iacocca (“Lady Bird” [2007]) and Leo Bebe, played by Josh Lucas, to hire Shelby, a former winner of the Le Mans to design a race car to be the fastest one in the world. In recent years, Ferrari, owned by Enzo Ferrari, played by Remo Girone, has won the Le Mans and Ford is set out to win the race back. In a sense, the Le Mans (and perhaps, to a lesser extent, the Daytona), at the time, at least, America verses Europe. 

One of the problems to the top men at Ford, including Ford himself, rejects Shelby”™s choice for big times car racing British top car racer, Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale, as one top executive calls Miles a “beatnik”. After a while Ford agrees to include the stubborn Miles, Roy Lunn (J.J.Field), Charles Agapiou (Jack McMullen) and Phil Remington (Ray McKinnon) to do battle with the confident Italians and other Europeans.

But it must be said the movie just doesn”™t begin and end with car racing, Mangold richly shows Miles”™ nice family, his wife Mollie Miles, played by Caitrione Balfe, and his young son, Peter Miles, played by Noah Jupe. Both his wife and son are completely behind Ken”™s efforts. By radio or by the rabbit ears of a television they are rooting for him like a baseball player hitting a home run in the World Series.

In 1963, Ford”™s ambitions for tackling Ferrari at Le Mans would be realized at the Le Mans in 1965 and 1966. The Le Mans race is 24 hours, a brutal affair where serious accidents are always possible””and even death.

Back in the 1960s, the Le Mans race is about as important as the Super Bowl today (maybe I”™m exaggerating somewhat).

It”™s the richness of the performances by Bale, Damon, Letts, Balfe and Jupe, and others that make “Ford v Ferrari” not just another racing movie.

As such, the movie “Ford v Ferrari”, not unlike Quentin Tarantino”™s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (earlier in the year)””I seem to have been at least partially nostalgic because I went from boyhood-to-adolescence-manhood all in that turbulent and often amazing decade.

Cast: Matt Damon (Carroll Shelby), Christian Bale (Ken Miles), Jon Bernthal (Lee Iacocca), Caitrione Balfe (Mollie Miles), Tracy Letts (Henry Ford II), Josh Lucas (Leo Bebe), Noah Jupe (Peter Miles), Remo Girone (Enzo Ferrari), Ray McKinnon (Phil Remington), .J.J. Field (Roy Lunn), Wallace Langham (Dr. Grannger), Ian Harding (Jimmy), Jonathan La Paglia (Eddie),

Marisa Petroro (Mrs. Henry Ford). Director: James Mangold. Running time: 152 minutes. Writers: Jez Butterworth and John Henry Butterworth.

Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael. Music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. (PG-13)

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