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Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Willis’

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Edward Norton

“MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN” My rating: C+

144 minutes | MPAA rating: R

It’s easy enough to understand why an actor of Edward Norton’s capabilities — or even an actor of lesser capabilities — would jump at the chance to portray Lionel Essrog,  the central character of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn.

Lionel lives in NYC and works in private investigations. He has a photographic memory. He’s smart.

And, oh yeah, he’s got Tourette’s syndrome, which leads to involuntary squawking, head jerking and explosions of inappropriate language. Not to mention a sense of social isolation. The poor schlub has never been in a love affair.

In other word’s, Lionel is an actor’s feast.

Wish Norton had left it at that.  For “Motherless Brooklyn” he also serves as scriptwriter and director (only his second behind-the-camera outing since 2000’s”Keeping the Faith”) and one cannot help but feel he was pulled too many ways, that his first love here is a character that he can really chow down on and that most everything else is an afterthought.

It’s not exactly a vanity project — too many big names and skilled artists are involved for that — but one can only wonder what would have happened with someone else calling the shots.

As screenwriter Norton has worked some major changes…for starters he sets the story in the early 1950s rather than the 1999 of the novel (the better to milk the yarn’s noir elements).  The tale still pivots on the murder early on of Lionel’s boss, legendary private eye Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), but in this retelling solving the crime leads not to underworld heavyweights but to governmental malfeasance.

You see, though it’s set 60 years ago, “Motherless” has a very contemporary view of politics.

Radiating arrogant malevolence, Alec Baldwin co-stars as Moses Randolph, a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker inspired by  Robert Moses, the real-life New York public official who for decades served as the powerful “master builder” of the modern city despite never having been elected to any office.

Our twitching hero’s investigation leads him to Laura, a beautiful African American lawyer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), her thuggish nightclub-owner stepfather (Robert Wisdom), and a cool-blowing jazz trumpeter (Michael Kenneth Williams) rather obviously inspired by Miles Davis.

We also meet Lionel’s gumshoe co-workers, portrayed by Bobby Canavale, Ethan Suplee, and Dallas Roberts.

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Kate Hudson, Bill Murray

Kate Hudson, Bill Murray

“ROCK THE KASBAH” My rating: C 

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Rock the Kasbah” is what the Brits call a “toss off.”

Director Barry Levinson’s latest is so lightweight that one comes away wondering if the whole project wasn’t just an excuse to hang out with some amusing people in an exotic location.

Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) is a former rock ‘n’ roll tour manager whose best years are long behind him. Now he runs scams on hopelessly untalented “singers” looking for their big break.

He lucks into a USO tour of Afghanistan using his Girl Friday (Zoe Deschenel) as the “star,” but the young lady is so appalled by Kabul’s chaos and violence that she bails, taking Richie’s passport and money with her.

Stranded in a strange world, Richie is adopted by a couple of stoner gun runners (Danny McBride, Scott Caan) who recruit him to make a delivery of ammo to a remote village.

There Richie discovers a great talent, a beautiful girl named Salima (Leem Lubany) who defies tradition and religious edict by retreating to a cave and singing her heart out. (All she knows are Cat Stevens tunes, but it’s a start.)

Richie comes up with a plan to get Salima on Afghanistan’s version of “American Idol.” Except that in doing so he will  be outraging half the nation — the male half — and putting both their lives in danger.

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Bruce Willis, Jai and

Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney and Sebastian Koch

“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” My rating: D (Opening wide on Feb. 15)

97 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“A Good Day to Die Hard” hits the trifecta.

Bad writing.

Bad directing.

Bad acting.

Actually, I was looking forward to the latest in the perennial series about NYC cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) who seems always to find himself in over his head with one crisis or another.

His last outing, 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard,“ was a superior action film, thanks to the effective direction of Len Wiseman (of the “Underworld” franchise).

But “A Good Day…” finds the suddenly-ham-fisted John Moore in charge, and the thing is so goshawful from the first frame that I was tempted to get up after 10 minutes and call it a night. Alas, professional responsibility kept me seated.

At least this “Die Hard” is relatively short.

Skip Woods’ screenplay (his previous credits include the execrable “A-Team” and the barely better “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) begins with John McClane saying goodbye to his daughter at an airport. Apparently his estranged son Jack has  gotten into some legal problems in Russia.

Once in Moscow John witnesses a terrorist attack on a courtroom where Jack (Aussie actor Jai Courtney) and the billionaire Russian dissident Komarov (Sebastian Koch), are on trial.  Turns out that far from being a criminal, Jack is a CIA agent assigned to rescue Komarov from the inside. (Why Komarov is important to the US is never explained. Get used to it.)

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