Liberty Heights Reviews
Set in 1954 Baltimore, this is a coming of age story involving two Jewish boys, one in high school, one in college, both going after girls and dealing with the changing in times and issues of race, class, and religion.
Ben Foster is the younger of the two, he plays Ben Kurtzman. His story revolves around his attraction to a fellow black girl in his class. The two hit it off, but there are various obstacles in the way of them hanging out together.
Adrien Brody is the older brother, Van. He is basically the simplest character in the movie. All he wants to do is find a girl he met one night at a party, although this does provide the setup for a number of entertaining scenes involving he and his friends hanging in the "non-jewish" neighborhoods.
You also have their parents played by Bebe Neuwirth and Joe Mantegna. This plot is the least entertaining, mainly cause it drags in another character. Mantegna runs a burlesque house and an illegal numbers operation. He gets into some trouble when a lottery game they have going needs to pay off much more than they can. This part leads to a character played by Orlando Jones that really doesn't help the movie much, besides give way to some story developments.
Besides this character, the movie works very well. Foster is very good, as he is basically the main protagonist. Mantegna is just a cool guy in general, so he works. The chemistry between the friends is all very good.
Director Barry Levinson, who has made a number of comedy-dramas, knows how to keep things pretty balanced and entertaining. He also gets a number of 50s elements present and has some hints of satire.
The issues involving jews, blacks, and the rich white crowd are handled well enough, but this isn't a film about providing deep answers to these things or anything like that. It just serves as a setting.
The film takes that setting, and uses it to make a fine coming of age story.
Ben Kurtzman: In the event of a bombing, do you think this book will save my life?...First it was the Atom bomb, how its the hydrogen bomb...no hydrogen is getting through this book.
Written and directed by Barry Levinson, he creates a charming and brilliantly written story. Backed by brilliant performances by Adrian Brody and Ben Foster makes for a really humour and entertaiing film. Adrian Brody is without a doubt one of my favourite actors and adds a certain charm I haven't seen him do before. Ben Foster plays the more humour role, especially in the scene where he dresses as Hitler for Halloween, I was howling.
Other strong performances bv Joe Mantegna, Rebekah Johnson and Bebe Neuwirth as their father, Nate, African American girl, Sylvia and their mother, Ada respectively. All adding sufficient depth to all of the characters.
While the film is quite a funny one, I find there its there trying to mask other the serious aspect of the film. Which is without a doubt racial segregation and themes of racism. While the film doesn't provoke any sort of major racist themes, it deals mainly with familys perceptions rather than director discrimination which is a very subtle and touching way to deal with a strong subject which even 50 years later, is still extremely prominent.
Liberty Heights is a very enjoyable film, brilliantly written and very well acted. I'd recommend this to anyone who wants a film with some depth and humour.
Specifically, it deals with brothers Ben (Foster) and Van (Brody), as they grow up in 1950s Baltimore. Ben is a senior in high school (at a time when there was much speculation about things such as sex and drugs, and much less participation) while Van attends the University of Baltimore (and appears to live at home). Both brothers encounter forbidden objects of romance: Ben favors a Negro girl at his school named Sylvia (Rebekah Johnson) while Van becomes obsessed by Dubbie (Carolyn Murphy), a rich WASP who shouldn't be associating with Jews. Some of the most interesting scenes in the movie are about the different ways the brothers express their love, and how these storylines spin out.
However, the funniest and most purely entertaining sequences occur around the events following the boys' father (Joe Mantegna), a burlesque theater owner who runs a numbers business on the sly. Mantegna's performance is commanding as a Jewish "gangster" who is simply running a business; but business isn't good. Luckily, family matters to him more than profits.
The Jewish family rings true in their reactions and mannerisms, from the overbearing mother to the modern-world-uncomprehending grandmother to the sardonic Van.
Overall, there is a genuine feeling of nostalgia in the picture. The director is from Baltimore, and the implication is that the movie is semi-autobiographical; it feels like it.
Performances: Ben Foster and Adrian Brody put in some very good performances, as well as the covey of actors who portrayed their best friends, enemies, and other assorted youths. Orlando Jones and Anthony Anderson, on the other hand, seemed a bit hackneyed and overdone...more like caricatures of black thugs in the 1950s than fully realized characters. In fact, the whole sequence between Jones and Foster (I won't spoil it) seemed a bit too fantastical for a movie otherwise grounded in the realities, both fun and brutal of life in Jewish Baltimore. Mantegna's performance is undoubtedly the best of the bunch, especially in the final, bittersweet sequence of the film.
A very good movie, that just misses greatness for the subplot between Jones and Foster.
Liberty - Saw this a while ago, but still remember a little of it, so that is a good sign.
Bourne - Half-ass action movie, that is only a little interesting.
Clearing - I was stoned, but I rated it a 8 on IMDB, so let's hope I was right.
Riddick - Horrible! It only gets this high of a grade because of the production value, and I like these type of movies Sci-Fi movies, at least usually.