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Posts Tagged ‘Gugu Mbatha-Raw’

Gemma Arterton, Lucas Bond

“SUMMERLAND” My rating: B (Available July 31 on Amazon Prime and various cable/streaming services)

99 minutes | MPAA rating:PG

One of literature’s more enduring themes — that of a misanthrope redeemed by the love of a child (Silas Marner, anyone?) — gets a clever reworking in Jessica Swale’s “Summerland.”

In her quaint cottage on the Dover seashore, Alice (Gemma Arterton) has pretty much managed to avoid the  unpleasantries of the world war taking place on the other side of the channel. A middle-aged recluse regarded by the local kids as some sort of witch (they stuff dirt and sticks into her mail slot), Alice immerses herself in her scholarly study of British folklore. She just wants to be left alone.

So she’s more than a little miffed when told that like many other residents of this rural area, she is expected to take in a child evacuated from London and its nightly air raids. Frank (Lucas Bond) is already traumatized at being separated from his soldier father and government-worker mother; things aren’t improved when Alice gives him a chilly reception and immediately launches an effort with the local schoolmaster (the venerable Tom Courtenay) to have the youngster reassigned to another home.

Swale’s screenplay follows one familiar trajectory, but manages to change things up with a couple of novel twists.

The cranky woman and the innocent child eventually will warm to one another.  This goes without saying.

Frank’s relationship with a another displaced child (Dixie Egerickx) feels fairly predictable as well.

But in a series of flashbacks we see young Alice  having an affair — her only sexual encounter, apparently — with a fellow university student, Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Their idyllic flapper-era romance ends when Vera opts for conventional marriage and children over a mixed-race lesbian relationship (which, in  late 1920s Britain, was a far dicier premise than it is today).

This soul-shattering disappointment explains Alice’s intervening years of surly solitude. Having been badly burned, she’s not keen on forming relationships of any depth.  Which makes the presence of curly-haired Frank all the more problematic.

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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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Matthew McConaghy

Matthew McConaughey

“THE FREE STATE OF JONES”  My rating: C+

139 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A little-known and thought-provoking slice of Civil War arcana gets the full Hollywood treatment in “The Free State of Jones.”

Too bad it rarely rises above the level of a well-staged history lesson.

Written and directed by Gary Ross and starring Matthew McConaughey, this long (2 hours 20 minutes) epic is a Southern-fried melding of “Robin Hood” and “Spartacus.”

McConaughey plays Newton Knight, a real-life Mississippian who comes to believe he and his fellow poor whites are dying in the war for a system that only enriches wealthy slave owners.

Going AWOL from the Confederate army, Newton returns to his native Jones County, joining other fugitives — escaped slaves and army deserters — in an impregnable swamp.

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