Although the classic car chase in "The
French Connection" remains the most indelible Brooklyn moment
on film, the astonishing ride through Greenpoint by Gary Oldman
and Lena Olin in the stylish and bloody "Romeo Is Bleeding"
runs a close second.
In the 1994 gangster saga, Jack Grimaldi (Oldman), a corrupt Queens cop, is having an especially sordid affair with ruthless Russian gangster Mona Demarkov (Olin). After a brutal meeting on a Brooklyn pier, Grimaldi handcuffs Mona and tosses her into the back seat of his car. He thinks she’s out cold, but when he starts driving, her legs suddenly appear and take hold of his head.
The resulting "chase" down Kent Street ends spectacularly when they crash into a utility pole, the cop barely able to see with Mona’s lethal gams draped around him. With Grimaldi unconscious, Mona kicks out the front windshield and escapes, bloody but unbowed.
Such improbably memorable moments pepper Peter Medak’s cold-hearted and dark-humored movie - out on DVD from MGM Home Entertainment - helping make "Romeo Is Bleeding" one of the most entertaining gangster pictures in years.
Also memorable are the vivid performances from an unusually energetic cast. Oldman and Olin are superb, as always, as are Annabella Sciorra as Grimaldi’s perfect wife and Roy Scheider as a suave Mafia Don. Only Juliette Lewis, mired in a dopey subplot as Grimaldi’s trashy mistress, is not up to their level.
But Medak uses his Brooklyn locations to such authentic effect - including a nightmarish burial alive right at the north foot of the Brooklyn Bridge (on the opposite side of the River Cafe, to be sure!) - that "Romeo Is Bleeding" ends as a bitter, bleak but immensely entertaining trip through the underworld.
Authenticity can also be achieved in the movies artificially, as a trio of other recent video releases, at least partly set in Brooklyn, show.
Brooklyn’s streets seem slightly off-kilter in the World War II-era "Focus," based on a 1947 Arthur Miller novel and starring William H. Macy as Lawrence Newman, a mild-mannered, ordinary man whose new spectacles make his bigoted neighbors think he and his wife Gertrude (Laura Dern) are Jews.
If Brooklyn looks strange in "Focus," it’s not merely because we’re back in the 1940s, which director Neal Slavin presents as Norman Rockwell territory on the surface, while unsubtly hinting that, like in David Lynch’s "Blue Velvet," nastiness festers below.
No, a larger culprit looms: Canada.
"Focus" (Paramount Home Video) was largely shot in Toronto (a very clean city, by the way); but don’t blame Toronto for the antiseptic look of "Focus." Like many directors before him, Slavin obviously chose Toronto as a cheap substitute for New York City, but he could have shot his movie in a studio for all the good it does.
Important themes like bigotry, identity and responsibility are touched upon but never truly explored. (Later in his career, Miller would more successfully take on such heady material.)
Macy is good in what’s a skimpily fleshed-out role; Dern does nothing with a nothing part. In the pivotal role of the head bigot, Meat Loaf Aday (yes, that Meat Loaf) shows signs of life. But "Focus" is too bleary-eyed to make an impression.
In Steven Spielberg’s "A.I." (Dreamworks Home Entertainment), the statue of the Blue Fairy that the robot hero David (Haley Joel Osment) finds beneath the waters covering what used to be New York City is located in what remains of Coney Island.
Although frustrating to watch because no attempt is made to connect the movie’s disparate sections - the beginning domestic drama, the "Mad Max"-style mayhem, the "Waterworld"-like visuals, then the climactic, unfathomable creatures appearing to David 2,000 years in the future, all with no rhyme or reason - "A.I." is filled with wondrous effects, including the vivid re-creation of a waterlogged Coney Island.
As the DVD’s extra features show in myriad detail, Spielberg’s technicians have fashioned a plausible underwater New York City. Watching behind-the-scenes footage of the FX wizards creating miniatures of several Coney Island attractions is far more entertaining than sloshing through the entire 150-minute behemoth that is "A.I."
Similarly, the silly time-travel romance "Kate & Leopold" (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) uses state-of-the-art visual effects to help recreate the majesty of a Brooklyn icon - only instead of years in the future, it returns to 1883, when the Brooklyn Bridge was first being constructed.
The bridge figures prominently in this sappy romantic comedy, a Meg Ryan vehicle carjacked by Hugh Jackman as the 19th-century gentleman who steals her jaded 21st-century heart. The portal where characters move between the two centuries is on the bridge itself. (Don’t ask!)
When we first meet Leopold, he’s at the foot of the bridge during its construction. It’s a superbly realistic-looking special-effects shot. There’s a wonderful scene later on, after his arrival in 2001 New York City, when Leopold sees the finished bridge in all its breathtaking splendor for the first time. "It’s a miracle!" he exclaims to a garbage collector nearby, who harrumphs in response, "It’s a bridge."
The DVD of "Kate & Leopold" includes an "on the set" featurette, where one of the technicians talks about the large set they built at the foot of the bridge, coincidentally, near where that gruesome burial occurs in "Romeo Is Bleeding." Several of the matte shots that seamlessly blend the partially completed bridge with the surrounding neighborhoods are shown.
On his audio commentary, director James Mangold doesn’t hold back his awe of the structure. "We exploited it as much as somebody could," he admits, then, sounding remarkably like Leopold, says, "The bridge is really a glorious and beautiful structure, an icon of New York."
At least our Brooklyn icons emerge unscathed from "Kate & Leopold" and "A.I."