FlixChatter Review: Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

Edward Norton is one of the best actors working today, but I feel like it’s been a while since I saw him as a proper leading man. This time he also takes the helm in his passion project, based on Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel of the same name. Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a lonesome private detective with Tourette Syndrome attempting to solve the murder of his mentor.

One thing I noticed right away was the stellar cast, so I was quite dumbfounded when I read on IMDb trivia that the principal major stars worked for free here. Bruce Willis payed his mentor Frank Minna whom we learn later has taken Lionel and his colleagues who worked for his detective agency under his wing. It’s clear that Lionel loved Frank, perhaps even idolized him. The film is set up like a whodunnit classic noir of the Hollywood Golden age, but it’s actually not hugely unpredictable. Lionel’s constant voiceover provides so much info to the audience that initially it was overwhelming. Thankfully over time I was fine with it and actually enjoyed the way the story unfolds. There’s kind of an unhurried pace the way Norton tells the story, hence the nearly 2.5-hour running time.

At a council meeting, Lionel’s investigation reveals a bigger connection to the city than he originally thought. I have to say that it’s not until Lionel meets a black community lawyer Laura Rose (played by the sublime Gugu Mbatha-Raw) that things started to get really interesting. Laura and her boss Gaby (Cherry Jones) are fighting gentrification in NYC where the poor and minorities are being driven out of the city by a development tycoon Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin). Baldwin relishes in playing a callous, unapologetically-corrupt, racist power broker (modeled after a real life ‘master builder’ Robert Moses) who utters lines like “Power is feeling, knowing, that you can do whatever you want, and not one fucking person can stop you,” Meanwhile, Willem Dafoe plays a rather beaten-down sort of a man who’s backed into a corner. This has been quite a year for Mr. Dafoe – his performance here might not be as memorable as the one in The Lighthouse, but he’s always fascinating to watch on screen.

As the lone female figure in a largely male cast, I absolutely adore Mbatha-Raw. I always lights up whenever I see her on screen, she’s so criminally underrated. The tentative bond between Lionel and Laura feels natural as they share something in common. Lionel friends call him ‘Freakshow’ though he’s a brilliant investigator and Laura, as a woman of color with a law degree, each have their own struggles about where they fit in. I particularly love the scene in a jazz club where Lionel slowly dances with Laura, as Michael Kenneth Williams as the Trumpet man performed on stage. It’s a sweet moment that gives us a respite from all the puzzle-solving scenarios, and it’s perhaps the first time Lionel feels ‘safe’ in the arms of a woman.

But there’s no argument that this is Norton’s film… a vehicle for his acting chops and directing endeavor. He’s in virtually every single scene… if he’s not visually on screen, his voice would be, narrating it. I find it interesting that two recent films by acclaimed actors feature characters suffering from neurological conditions. While Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck aka Joker suffers from the Pseudobulbar Affect that caused him to laugh/cry uncontrollably, Norton’s Lionel suffers from a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary tics and vocalizations where he’d compulsively utters inappropriate words like ‘tits’ in public. I can’t comment whether his portrayal of the syndrome is accurate (I read that the Tourette’s Association of America approved of the film), but his performance at times invites laughter from the audience, and I can’t help feeling guilty every time I chuckle.

Now, as for his directing chops, I think he’s a promising filmmaker, but I think this story could’ve been much more gripping when done by a veteran director. For one, a tighter editing and more dynamic pacing would make the film feels less sluggish. But considering this is his sophomore effort, I suppose it takes time for someone to hone their craft. At least this movie isn’t boring, not to me anyway. Norton has said in many interviews that he learned from past visionary directors, the likes of Milos Forman, Spike Lee, David Fincher which eventually inspired him to direct.

It’s hard not to notice some of the timely parallel of what’s going on today… the commentary about insatiable power and that the Moses character has that Trump-like, big-bully mannerism and cockiness. According to NPR, Norton actually finished writing the script before Trump came into power, when he was just a game-show host. “I would say President Trump is a game-show host also — it’s just a more damaging game that he’s playing. …” The film is also a love letter to New York, a city Norton clearly loved. The production design, set pieces, costumes, etc. are meticulously-crafted to reflect 1950s NYC, shot beautifully by Dick Pope (whom Norton worked with in The Illusionist). The scene in the train station (apparently Norton’s crew recreated the Penn Station) look magnificent, and I love the night scenes, particularly the foggy night on the Brooklyn bridge, which shows just how dramatic and atmospheric NYC nights are depicted in the movies.

I love a good mystery film that isn’t overly grim and violent, and Motherless Brooklyn certainly fits the bill. It’s not quite as riveting nor utterly brilliant as L.A. Confidential, a 1950s neo-noir that Norton reportedly admire, but this one is still an enjoyable ride. It helps that I immediately sympathizes with Lionel, which makes me invested in his quest to solve his mentor’s murder. The revelation of what the title means is memorably poignant moment, I like that Norton isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. So despite the overlong running time, I still highly recommend this film, and I hope Norton would continue to make films in the future.

– Review by Ruth Maramis


Have you seen Motherless Brooklyn? I’d love to hear what you think.

2019 TWIN CITIES FILM FEST – What to see the rest of TCFF

We’ve past the halfway point of the film fest… but we still have three full days filled with GREAT films! S0 here are the Daily Schedule for the rest of the film fest, but before that, here’s a fun recap video from yesterday:


Thursday, October 24

12:15p.m.: Science Fair, Cristina Costantini & Darren Foster

Nine high school students from disparate corners of the globe navigate rivalries, setbacks, and hormones on their quest to win the international science fair. Only one can be named “Best in Fair.”

12:30p.m.: Wade in the Water, Mark Wilson

Our man receives a mis-delivered package that tears open old wounds sending him down a dark path that will change his life forever.

 

2:45p.m.: The Truth About Marriage, Roger Nygaard

Why is marriage so difficult? Filmmaker Roger Nygard (TREKKIES) seeks to answer that question as he follows three unusual couples, who were filmed at their weddings, then many years later to see what happened after the honeymoon stage.

This is the second screening of the doc, read our review.

5:00p.m.: The Short History of the Long Road, Ani Simon-Kennedy

When tragedy strikes, teenage Nola must confront the reality of life on the road alone, learning to own her grief, her past and her new destination.

5:30p.m.: Gay Chorus Deep South, David Charles Rodrigues

In response to a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws and the divisive 2016 election, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus embarks on a tour of the American Deep South.

7:25p.m.: Leona, Isaac Cherem

“Leona” is an intimate, insightful, and moving film that tells the story of a young Jewish woman from Mexico City who finds herself torn between her family and her forbidden love. Ripe with all the drama and interpersonal conflicts of a Jane Austen novel, watching her negotiate the labyrinth of familial pressure, religious precedent, and her own burgeoning sentiment is both painful and beautiful there are no easy choices to be made and the viewer travels back and forth with her as she struggles with her heart to take the best path.

8:00p.m.: Motherless Brooklyn, Edward Norton

Ed Norton’s directing debut. 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.

Motherless Brooklyn

9:45p.m.: Fireflies, Pranjal Deka

Fireflies’ is the story of resilience of Jahnu’s jounery to being Jahnavi, a transwoman, standing against the tide to be herself in a remote village in Assam of India.


Friday, October 25

12:15p.m.: Nighthawks, Grant S. Johnson

Wide-eyed Midwest transplant Stan (Chace Crawford) agrees to play wingman to his calculating and privileged roommate Chad (Kevin Zegers) as they embark upon an exploration of glittering New York nightlife, whose darkest secrets are held captive by an elite band of millennials known as Nighthawks.

5:00p.m.: CRSHD, Emily Cohn

End-of-the-year celebrations are underway at a small liberal arts college in Ohio. The night’s main event? A CRUSH PARTY. The rules? Submit your crush and they get an invite.

5:10p.m.: Amplify Her, Nicole Sorochan & Ian MacKenzie

Amplify Her explores the rise of female artists against the backdrop of the global electronic music festival scene from Burning Man (Nevada) to Rainbow Serpent (Australia). Imagined and brought to life by more than 21 female creators across North America, this lush and visually dynamic world blurs the line between fiction and reality while demonstrating the power of letting women tell their own stories.

7:10p.m.: Raising Buchanan, Bruce Dellis

In suburban Phoenix, 40-year-old Ruth Kiesling is not exactly living the dream. She’s a donut shop employee with anger issues. Ever the opportunist and desperate for money, she “steals” the body of President James Buchanan hoping to ransom him for a nice windfall but she’s surprised to discover that no one seems particularly interested in getting him back.

7:30p.m.: Olympic Dreams, Jeremy Teicher

In the highly exclusive Athlete Village at the Olympic Winter Games, Penelope (Alexi Pappas, “Tracktown”), a young cross-country skier, befriends Ezra (Nick Kroll, “The League,” “Kroll Show,” “I Love You, Man”), a volunteer dentist, after a disappointing finish in her competition. Penelope and Ezra share a special but limited time together.

9:30p.m.: Blind, Marcel Walz

Faye (Sarah French), a former actress that lost her vision due to botched laser eye, struggles to put her life back together while living alone in her dream house in the Hollywood Hills. Supported by her friend Sophia (Caroline Williams), she starts opening up to Luke (Tyler Gallant), a personal trainer who is mute and can only communicate through his cell phone. When a masked stranger named “Pretty Boy” (Jed Rowen) shows up, Faye will realize that she isn`t as alone as she thinks.

9:45p.m.: In Fabric, Peter Strickland


Saturday, October 26

9:40a.m.: Mary Jane: The Woman of Weed, Windy Borman

MARY JANES: THE WOMEN OF WEED follows female ‘ganjapreneurs’, who we call Puffragettes (as in Pot + Suffragette), as they navigate the highs and lows of the legal US cannabis industry.

10:00a.m.: Netizens, Cynthia Lowen

After their lives are overturned by vicious online harassment, three women seek justice from the internet.

11:50a.m.: We Are Gathered Here, Joanna Bowzer

When groom-to-be Ben’s wild ex-girlfriend Jules bursts into his home to declare her love for him on the eve of his wedding to Lisa, Ben is suddenly faced with a decision he didn’t realize he had to make. What appears to be an easy choice on the surface is anything but, as Ben grapples with the fact that this night will determine the course of his life.

12:30p.m.: Speed of Life, Liz Manashil

In 2016, June and Edward are in the midst of an argument when Edward suddenly falls into a wormhole created by David Bowie’s death. In 2040, June continues to mourn the loss of Edward while facing the dark reality of being locked away along with the rest of society’s senior citizens. Unwilling to disappear, June begins to plan her escape when Edward suddenly reappears in her life.

2:00p.m.: Well Groomed, Rebecca Stern

WELL GROOMED travels a year in the humorous and visually stunning world of competitive creative dog grooming alongside the women transforming their beloved poodles into living sculptures. Check out our review.

2:40p.m.: The Chunta, Genevieve Roudané

In a small town in Mexico, once a year, men transform into women and become the Chuntá. Follow two gender-bending gangs of dancers as they face off in a struggle between queer identity and powerful traditions.

4:15p.m.: Waves, Trey Edwards Shults

Two young couples navigate through the emotional minefield of growing up and falling in love.

4:30p.m.: Saint Frances, Alex Thompson

After her decision to end an unwanted pregnancy, 34-year-old Bridget reluctantly agrees to nanny the bright and rambunctious Frances, forming an unexpected bond with her and her parents.

7:00p.m.: Premature, Rashaad Ernesto Green

On a summer night in Harlem during her last months at home before starting college, 17-year-old poet Ayanna (Zora Howard) meets Isaiah (Joshua Boone), a charming music producer who has just moved to the city. It’s not long before these two artistic souls are drawn together in a passionate summer romance. But as the highs of young love give way to jealousy, suspicion, and all-too-real consequences, Ayanna must confront the complexities of the adult world whether she is ready or not. Emotionally raw, intimate, and honest, “Premature” is at once timeless and bracingly contemporary in its portrait of a young woman navigating the difficult choices that can shape a life.

7:15p.m.: The Kill Team, Dan Krauss

A young American soldier in Afghanistan is disturbed by his commanding officer’s behavior and is faced with a moral dilemma.

9:25p.m.: Swallow, Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Hunter (Haley Bennett) is a newly pregnant woman, living an idyllic, stay-at-home life with her picture-perfect husband (Austin Stowell). But when she finds herself compelled to eat a small marble, she is catapulted down the path of a new obsession for consuming dangerous objects that threatens her seemingly have-it-all life. Her husband and his mother (Elizabeth Marvel) notice the change, and begin to tighten their control over Hunter, forcing her to confront the dark secret behind her strange compulsion.

A unique and unpredictable journey from Carlo Mirabella-Davis, “Swallow” is a compelling blend of domestic thriller, medical mystery, and satire. It plays as a warped fairy tale that uses its style and tension to pose real questions about women’s bodies, guilt, repression, and agency.


Download 2019 TCFF Schedule Grid


FREE EDUCATIONAL EVENTS!!

How many film festival offers FREE educational events!! Well TCFF does, and there are also a variety of fantastic panels featuring acclaimed filmmakers!

Saturday, October 26th, 1-2pm “HER” Panel – Unique Voice of Women Filmmaker

Every year more and more women enter the film industry and stand up to have their voices heard. Come hear from the local filmmakers who are changing the game for themselves and all women in film.


Saturday, October 26th, 3-4pm   FROM THE TRENCHES – Minnesota Film Ecosystem from Below-the-Line

Our local crew members work tirelessly to make our films into reality. Come hear from our MN-based crew members as they discuss the current landscape of filmmaking in Minnesota and present a positive and constructive way forward towards industry growth.


TWIN CITIES FILM FEST unveils 2019 lineup! 100+ Premieres + Critically-acclaimed award season favorites

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, TCFF pulls out all the stops in presenting a phenomenal lineup this year. I have been covering TCFF since its inception year and so to me, every year is truly special, but I have to say that this year’s lineup is absolutely phenomenal!!!

Featuring 100+ premieres and award season favorites (many of TCFF spotlight/opening night films went on to win Oscars!), it’s no hyperbole to say this is going to be the best TCFF year yet!!

OPENING NIGHT TO CELEBRATE LAUDED TORONTO WINNER JOJO RABBIT & ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE TALIA SHIRE

More than 60 percent of 2019 program driven by female filmmakers; other top festival darlings set to debut in Minnesota include Marriage Story, Waves, Honey Boy, Motherless Brooklyn, Just Mercy, A Hidden Life, The Aeronauts, Premature and Saint Frances


Minneapolis, Minnesota (September 19, 2019) — Twin Cities Film Fest (TCFF) announces its full schedule for their 2019 festival, set to take place October 16-26 at the Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres at The Shops at West End. Coming off an electrifying September gala that celebrated filmmaker and Minnesota native Jim Burke, the producer behind Green Book which took home both this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture and last year’s top festival prize, TCFF 2019 marks the organization’s 10th anniversary and arrives with a special focus on both female filmmakers and films that advance this year’s social justice cause: environmental sustainability.

Taika Waititi in JOJO RABBIT

Among the top awards contenders from the festival circuit set to land at TCFF next month are Taika Waititi’s Holocaust dramedy Jojo Rabbit (Oct. 16) which last weekend took home the top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival — often considered an early harbinger of what could contend for Best Picture in the winter — as well as Noah Baumbach’s marital drama Marriage Story, headlined by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson and recognized as this year’s TCFF Breakthrough Vision (Oct. 19), and Trey Edward Shults’s lauded family drama Waves, starring Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Lucas Hedges and honored as this year’s Virtuoso Selection (Oct. 26).

Other notable studio entries include the new Eddie Redmayne-Felicity Jones hot air balloon adventure The Aeronauts (Oct. 17); Terrence Malick’s war epic A Hidden Life (Oct. 20); the star-studded Edward Norton-directed crime drama Motherless Brooklyn (Oct. 24); and the stunning Shia LaBeouf-penned biopic Honey Boy with Director Alma Har’el in attendance (Oct. 21).

This year’s kickoff double feature on Oct. 16 will spotlight both the lauded Jojo Rabbit and Robert Jury’s Working Man, the official 2019 Opening Night Selection. A humble and heartfelt independent feature about a Rust Belt town coping with the closure of its last factory and the emergence of an unlikely hero who partners with his neighbors to break his way back into the shuttered shop, the film stars Peter Gerety from The Wire and two-time Academy Award nominee Talia Shire (The Godfather: Part II and Rocky), who will both be in attendance.

TCFF’s 2019 Centerpiece is Inside the Rain, Aaron Fisher’s autobiographical directing debut about a bipolar college student facing expulsion over conduct violations who hatches a madcap scheme to prove his innocence. The film co-stars Rosie Perez and Eric Roberts. Both Roberts and Fisher will be in attendance Oct. 18.

The festival closes Oct. 26 with Premature, Rashaad Ernesto Green’s electrifying coming-of-age drama about a teenager in New York City navigating her last summer — and an unexpected romance — before heading to college.  The film has earned rave reviews on the festival circuit, particularly for its vulnerable and hypnotic lead performance from Zora Howard; the Hollywood Reporter hailed the film as “a stirring coming-of-ager with a knockout lead turn.”

A still from ‘Premature’

Howard will be present for the closing night festivities, marking the culmination of a program that has prioritized projects made by female filmmakers. More than 60 percent of this year’s TCFF selections were directed or produced by women, continuing the organization’s push to create a home for works from a more diverse range of artists.

“When I founded this festival, I said it would be a home for all visions, all audiences and all artists — and to see us cross the mark in our tenth year, of having the majority of our selections created by female filmmakers, is to see our original mission fulfilled,” said Jatin Setia, TCFF’s Executive Director. “What’s even more powerful, and what has kept us going through the decade, is hearing how our big tent of filmmakers has inspired and motivated the next generation of Minnesota artists, who tell us that they thought a film career might be impossible. To now see those high schoolers come of age, and to see them return to our festival as debut directors…it’s everything an arts organization can hope for. It fills my soul.”

Special 35th anniversary celebration of Purple Rain to headline festival on Wednesday, Oct. 23

October 23 will feature Purple Rain night at the festival, with a special free 35th anniversary screening of the Prince rock musical at 6:45 p.m. and a Prince-themed afterparty to follow. Albert Magnoli, the director of the 1984 hit, will be making a rare appearance after the screening to discuss the film. Although the screening is free, tickets are still required for the reserved seats and can be obtained at ShowplaceIcon.com.

Every year Twin Cities Film Fest identifies a Social Justice Cause and programs a special series of films to call attention to a specific social issue. This year’s cause is “environmental responsibility” and the film series kicks off Oct. 17 with Roger Sorkin’s documentary Current Revolution, which envisions the next generation of America’s aging electrical grid. The series continues with Juice: How Electricity Explains the World (Oct. 18); Youth Unstoppable (Oct. 19); Food Coop (Oct. 19); Salvage (Oct. 23); and Sustainable Nation (Oct. 23).  TCFF Changemaker Partner for 2019 is the St. Louis Park Non Profit, Matter.

A still from ‘International Falls’

Among this year’s slate of “Minnesota-connected” premieres are International Falls (Oct. 19), a look at the fragile life of a touring comic and his chance connection with a hotel worker in a dead-end marriage. The film was shot in northern Minnesota and stars comedienne Rachel Harris (Natural SelectionSuits). On the lighter side, Raising Buchanan (Oct. 25) is a caper-driven comedy about two working women trying to profit from stealing the dead body of President Buchanan, played by notable character actor Rene Auberjonois (Star TrekMadame Secretary). Rounding out the 18 titles in this year’s Minnesota-connected program is The Truth About Marriage (Oct. 18), the latest thought-provoking documentary from director Roger Nygard (Trekkies).


I’ll post the complete schedule later with some of my most-anticipated selections!

Tickets will be on-sale September 21, 2019 for TCFF Members and Pass holders and to the public beginning September 27, 2019.

Ticket prices are $13 for General Admission & $20 for Spotlight Films. Festival Passes can also be purchased as follows: Silver Pass – $55 (5 pack of non-Gala tickets); Gold Pass – $90 (10 pack of non-Gala tickets); Platinum Pass – $130 (12 pack of non-Gala tickets + 2 Gala tickets); Spotlight Pass – $100 (6 tickets to any Spotlight Film).

The passes are such an incredible deal!! Get it soon so you can order your tickets right away. Trust me, it’s SO worth it!!

PLUS… All tickets guarantee admission to that evening’s afterparty in the TCFF Lounge located onsite at The Shops at West End.


To learn more about TCFF, events, film submissions or to donate, visit twincitiesfilmfest.org


So yeah, TCFF 2019. BRING. IT ON!