A Jewish farce brimming with humanity is full of lessons and life. What else can be said about Joseph Cedar’s “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Downfall of a New York Fixer” could fill a Saul Bellow novel. See this film to watch napkin jottings of socio-grams  become high drama.

Richard Gere is Norman Oppenheimer, a little man to whom ” attention must be paid” Arthur Miller style. Gere inhabits the role of a jabbering wheeler-dealer as effortlessly as he has in more stereotyped cute lover roles. This is a great character study that reminds viewers not to be too judgmental. We have character growth and a transcending of self-actualization Maslow-style.

Cedar’s tale is structured into four acts: ” A Foot In The Door”, “The Right Horse” and ” Anonymous Donor”, and ” The Price of Peace”. Gere morphs before our eyes from “macher” into “mensch”. At first questions like, ” How much money could you make if you knew ” put us off. We see Norman flummoxed at the treatment he receives from affluent Mr. Town ( Josh Charles ). Isn’t he just trying to link people up and be appreciated for it ? His nephew played beautifully by Michael Sheen tells Norman that he is like a drowning man waving at an ocean liner. Norman optimistically replies with a smile, ” but I’m a good swimmer.” Good things come in surprising ways to be sure in this film. Continue reading “Norman”

“The Dinner”

This operatic film structured on a dinner from aperitif through digestif will take you on a morality ride close to Dante’s Inferno. Terrifically acted, scripted and choreographed from the 2009 Dutch novel, ” The Dinner” by Herman Koch, was first translated in English in 2012. The film, directed by Oren Moverman, centers on psychopathic teens, and it ignites all 311 pages of Koch’s psychological thriller cum satire.

The film begins with a cracking sound, like a glass slowly splintering. Images of plated food, cemetery graves, more plated food, and delinquent teenaged boys in a pool hall set up an outline of sorts. We see Steve Coogan looking down from a second story porch, and he becomes an Oscar contender with his portrayal of a mentally disturbed former history teacher with a tons of emotional baggage.

While the upscale restaurant server overly explains the “crayfish dressed in a vinaigrette of tarragon and baby green onions and chanterelles”, Paul looks at the small portions and chides ” drizzle of famine”.

At first, we are inclined to identify with Coogan’s Paul Lohman. His brother Stan is a charmer, a Senaor, who portrays himself as a man of the people~ only better! He is Paul’s older, more successful brother, and a hard act to follow. Paul’s bitter resentment and ascerbic tongue soon becomes more than gentle mockery. This is not a healthy man.

Paul’s brother Stan has parlayed a table at a restaurant with a six to eight month waiting list. It is here that the two with their current wives are to hash out what to do about their 16-year-old sons and the horrifying act they have committed. There is a manhunt for the evil-doers, but the cousins remain unidentified. Who knows what, and who does what becomes the film’s central focus.

Director and writer Oren Moverman’s words are as caustically modern and brutal as any put to screen.  The themes of delusion and self-interest hold a warning here. Inchoate prejudice and class priviledge rise to the surface. Mental health and family negotiations are sub-themes. This is a film which may be better than the book in guiding the viewer to disgust and outrage. Ironically, the privileged Senator Lohman, played remarkably by Richard Gere may be the only moral person in the bunch.

Marketed with the come-on, “How far would you go to protect your child?” “The Dinner” delves into the terrain of deviant children and their aftermath. Told in flashback and with unreliable narration, this doesn’t feel like an American film. Artful frames of mind-crazed visuals are both starkly colored and sometimes muted and triple-focused. If you haven’t read the book, you will have to work here. Listen carefully to the well-paced script, and beware of the crazy step-moms. Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall will chill your blood as much as their callous killer stepsons do. I found “The Dinner” an art film with deplorable characters creating a cinematic tension that is not to be missed.

When the words, ” the system will fail them, we won’t” , and ” you are making someone else’s tragedy ours” are spoken, we feel like we understand what is wrong with the world. The final scene with the family members all in cell phone chorus throws ” The Dinner” into a farce for the twenty-first century.

“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

On occasion when I am not particularly looking forward to a sequel,I will let a few weeks pass and let others see it first. I remember enjoying the 2012 “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel For The Elderly and The Beautiful” all the while knowing that the film was capitalizing on my age group and beyond. The characters were well drawn and the pace was delightful in its introductions and comminglings. Friends varied in their feelings for “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” 2015. Three friends raved ,two did not like it and one actually reviewed it with a theater worker’s comment, “a Marvel action film for senior citizens”. I saw it with my husband this afternoon because I had to see for myself,and it was a rainy Monday. We both felt the sequel fell short of our low expectations.

Three years is a long time to remember the circumstances of all the varied players.I can’t imagine seeing the sequel without having seen the original. I will flatly state don’t try it. You are immediately thrown into a California scene where Maggie Smith and Dev Patel are in a convertible driving down Route 66. They magically end up in San Diego, not in L.A. The fast-talking Sonny (Dev Patel) is seeking financing for his second hotel. We guess that Muriel Donlevy (Maggie Smith) is brought along for her “economy of expression”. We later learn her part in the second enterprise is more critically important.

After suffering through some weak lines about weak tea,we are back in India at the local ex-pat. club learning that the boarders all have part-time jobs be it watering down the wine,guiding tours badly,or buying pashminas and fabric for a retail company. The hotel is home of the “happy hunters”, many looking for sex and companionship. Madge(Celia Imrie)has one of the worst lines. On seeing Guy Chambers (Richard Gere)register, she yelps “Lordy,Lordy, have mercy on my ovaries”.

Other banalities ensue. “It takes teamwork to make a dream work” and “We can still shake it,you know”. “Good things don’t come on their own,one must make them.” “Water doesn’t flow until you turn on the tap” and “No one is checking out until the ultimate ‘check-out'” are bromides less than wise.Snarky comments like,”what a busy little pensioner bee” and questions like,”When was your last check-up?” are the funniest.

There are too many mini-vignettes to enumerate besides a major engagement party and a wedding. Instead of the end of things and the beginning of things, we see a continuation of the same misunderstandings and befuddlements. Should we have more respect for our elders? Well, if they deserve it. Too many of this lot are still into scheming,bartering,cheating and insinuating. Don’t expect much wisdom here. These guys are still trying to figure life out, but for one exception. The wisest,Muriel, (Maggie Smith) gets the voice overs and the right to call Sonny a self-pitying mess-up.

I loved the dancing and the Indian music and ambiance. Tina Desai was beautiful as Sunaina,the bride. I hated the “novelist” hoax with the weakest lines I have ever heard Richard Gere deliver.Dev Patel reminded my husband and me of Ray Romano in his goofiness. I missed Tom Wilkerson and thought Bill Nighy and Judi Dench mis-matched. Whether the “Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is “franchised or foot-noted” better not be up to me for director John Madden’s sake.