"Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer"
Opens Friday April 14, 2017
Written by: Joseph Cedar
Starring: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi, Charlotte Gainsbourgh, Dan Stevens, Hank Azaria, Harris Yulin, Josh Charles
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for New York Cool
Perhaps you know the guy, or (horrors) you may recognize the guy in yourself. He’s the kind of person whom psychologists would label a masochist, the fella who cannot make a genuine connection with anyone but believes that in order to have friends, you’ve got to offer them something besides your good company. The truth is that Norman does not truly have something worthwhile to offer, and yet he succeeds in winning the loyalty, and even a transitory and ephemeral friendship with important people in the Jewish community.
But don’t think that psychoanalysis has only recently discovered such a person; a clinger, one who believes people will have reason to deal with him only if he can provide at least a semblance of a favor. In the Jewish tradition, Norman serves as a modern incarnation of the court Jew, the person who gets the good will of the king only by doing the special favor that a banker can provide. Since banking was one of the only professions open to Jews in past centuries (Shylock as a money lender for example), important Christians would rely on them to move money around. This in turn would provoked trigger the envy of others in the kingdom, leading to an unhappy fall from favor for the man.
Norman (Richard Gere) could be called a fixer, one who would do things for others that others would not dare to do themselves. In in Norman’s case, that would be to set up meetings between people who need something done for them and others who might do the favors. Among the people Norman befriends is a Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi), who fears that he and his congregation would be evicted from the synagogue for lack of payment. Norman knows somebody who will anonymously provide seven million dollars, the only problem being that he doesn’t.
If you ask women on the street flat out, “Would you sleep with me tonight?” you might get quite a few slaps, but in time you will succeed in locating such as person. Similarly, if you stop enough people on the streets of Manhattan, give them your card, and state that you could connect them with others, you may luck out after a dozen or more disappointments. When Norman attends a speech by Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a deputy minister of Israel, he follows the man down Manhattan streets, chats him up, even buys him a pair of thousand dollar shoes in an upscale store, attended to by salesman Jacques (Isaach de Bankolé). The grateful fellow is willing to attend a dinner at the plush home of Taub (Josh Charles), but after being advised by people back in Israel to stay away from “the Normans,” Eshel is a no-show, making Norman treated like an interloper by the homeowner.
But when Eshel becomes Israel’s Prime Minister three years later and recognizes the man who was so nice to him when Eshel was in New York, Norman is in his glory, is photographed like a rock star, and realizes that his horse has come in. How this sudden rise to fame leads to a fall from grace is not entirely clear from the plot, but director Joseph Cedar, whose “Footnote” in 2011 focuses on a father-son team of professors of Talmudic studies and involves a nasty embarrassment for the dad, again deals with the see-saw of incidents that show life as a process of highs and lows. Because of an investigation of the prime minister by one Alex Green (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Norman has to make the most important decision of his life.
Cedar films in Manhattan and part in Tel Aviv, using Hebrew with English subtitles in just a few scenes of this U.S.-Israel co-production. The theatricality is impressive: toward the conclusion, Norman is on the phone with several of the people he stalks, both standing just a glass wall away from each other though separated by seven thousand miles. Gere, no longer in the sexy, romantic roles that audiences enjoyed sixteen years ago in “Pretty Woman” and as a gynecologist in 2000 in “Dr. T and the Women,” performs well enough that we in the audience cannot help feeling sorry for his character when he meets resistance now and them and ultimately falls through the cracks. As the charismatic prime minister, Lior Ashkenazi inhabits a clever, sometimes humorous supporting role which, while putting the spotlight on the Jewish community in New York and on the politics of Israel in Tel Aviv, can travel considerably outside any niche audience. After all you don't have to be Jewish to be meshuga.
Unrated. 117 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Tomas Weinreb and Petr Kazda's
Opens Friday, March 24, 2017
Written by: Tomas Weinreb, Petr Kazda, story by Roman Cilek “Ja Olga Hepnarova
Starring: Michalina Olszanska, Martin Pechlat, Klara Meliskova, Marika Soposka, Juraj Nvota, Marta Mazurek, Zuzana Stavna
Outsider Pictures and Strand Releasing
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for New York Cool
Murder is a man’s game. There are far more Ted Bundys than there are Lizzie Bordens. In fact so few women commit murder worldwide that you remember the few who have committed the ultimate offense. Still, one wonders how many people outside of the Czech Republic heard of Olga Hepnarova, who not only killed eight people at once but was the last woman executed in her country. Now there’s Tomas Weinreb and Petr Kazda’s “I, Olga Hepnarova, a film which could inspire more people to order Roman Cilek’s paperback book from Amazon, where it lies awaiting a single review.
The facts, however cherry-picked, could have been made into a Hollywood blockbuster film, an intense melodrama like Robert Wise’s 1958 movie “I Want to Live,” featuring Susan Hayword as Barbara Graham who is executed for murder. Or it could have been done in the style of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1989 “Dekalogue,” a series of films based on the 10 Commandments one of which involves not only murder but a grisly look at what happens to a condemned criminal at the moment he is hanged. In fact, “Olga,” like “I Want to Live,” is done in a film noir manner, but is more like “Dekalogue,” in that the nourish, black-and-white photography by Adam Sikora exudes a color-free image of cinema verité journalism. Director Tomas Weinreb is known to Czech audiences for his “Vsechno Je Sraka” about a fellow who spent half a year in a relationship with a murderer before the crime (so this movie is right up his alley). Petr Kazda shares the director’s chair in his freshman film.
It’s easy to figure out the bleak, black-and-white tone of the film: it’s a reflection of the troubled mind of Olga Hepnarova (Michalina Olszanska), a young woman who was abused or ignored by her father (Vickor Vrabek) and mother (Klara Meliskova). Her mother is a dentist whose communication with Olga goes little further than writing prescriptions for drugs that could ease the young woman’s confused mind. Olga perhaps exaggerates the extent of her bullying by women her own age and her parents, even her teachers. We don’t see much of it on screen. Why is she the one who is picked on, since after all, bullied subjects are generally outliers in their communities? This could be because of her introversion, her unwillingness to connect with others, or maybe even her lesbianism, which she discovered late in her teens leading her into a brief relationship with Jitka (Marika Soposka). But Jitka threw her over for one Jana, her regular bedmate, leading Olga to travel further down the road to depression.
Theme-wise, there’s nothing new about a woman who thirsts for revenge against a society that she believes he done her wrong. The more melodramatic film on the subject, “Carrie,” shows the title figure bringing mayhem upon her town through telekinesis. Olga has no super-powers, but this woman, who is considered a tomboy and therefore given a job as the driver of a truck, one day mows down twenty elderly people on the sidewalk, killing eight. She dooms herself several times: first by telling the arresting officer, who suggests that she fell asleep at the wheel or that the brakes did not hold, “I did it on purpose.” Then she begs the five-judge panel to give her the death penalty so that her crime would achieve international coverage, leading the greater society to see what harms are committed by bullying.
As stated, this is not a movie for “Carrie” fans or for advocates of blockbuster melodrama, but is rather a serious, sometimes ponderous work involving several instances of the camera’s simply standing till in an empty hallway, or gazing at Olga’s face, which is usually downcast and sad. The most significant feature, one that could lead to appreciation for an audience not too big on stasis, is Michalina Olszanka’s somber performance of the troubled lass. She served as a memaid in Agnieszka Smoczynska’s “The Lure” and later this year in Andrey Malyukov’s “Sobibor,” based on a true story about an escape from an extermination camp. You can believe that she can kill.
“I, Olga Hepnarova” was filmed in Dolnoslaskie, Poland with dialogue in Czech. There is no mood music on the soundtrack. Did I say this is serious stuff?
Unrated. 105 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Opens May 5, 2017
Written by: Katie Dippold
Starring: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Joan Cusack, Ika Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes, Óscar Jaenada, Randall Park, Tom Bateman
20th Century Fox
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool
This adventure-comedy has the theme of mother-daughter relationships with an emphasis on two women who have been distant and who are brought together by experiencing a dangerous adventure. There could a reason that Emily Middleton (Amy Schumer) and her mother Linda Middleton (Goldie Hawn) have not done fun things together for a while. Mom is uptight, not adventuresome, content with reading a book despite potential adventures that would sound inviting to anyone with a pulse and some money to finance trips. For her part Emily is a seeker, a woman who has planned a vacation not in some traditional location like Virginia Beach or Las Vegas, but this time for Ecuador. There’s a crimp in her plans in that Michael (Randall Park), her boyfriend-musician dumps her the night before they were to leave together and none of her friends and acquaintances are ready at such short notice to join her, even for free. So who to invite? She heads to her divorced mother, begging her to go, suggesting that Ecuador is the place since life is too short to read books. When her mom is virtually shanghaied to join her daughter, perhaps with the secret wish to bond with her, the two get more than they expecte, but that’s all good because without their being conned by James (Tom Bateman), operating in an Ecuador resort, they would have had a carefree time and gone home just as distant as before.
Though “Snatched” is billed as a comedy—of course, it has Amy Schumer—the big attraction for a potential audience is a chance to see Goldie Hawn in her first role since she teamed up with Susan Sarandon in 2002 for Bob Dolman’s “The Banger Sisters,” in which Hawn this time plays the wilder one to Sarandon’s more conservative character. It’s great to see one of the great comedic actresses again after fifteen years but it’s too bad that she got stuck in a movie that depends on slapstick instead of the kind of sharp writing you might expect on a good night of SNL. If you think it’s funny to see Amy Schumer falling twice or thrice flat on her face, this could be the pic for you. If you think it’s amusing to see Amy Schumer swabbing her vagina in a bathroom which, given the opening and closing of the door could be viewed by men, ditto. If you thrill to hear Morgan Russell, an official of the U.S. State Department say “Shut the eff up” several times when receiving calls from Emily dorky brother Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), go for it.
To make a gratefully short movie shorter, the two women go for a drive with handsome James, taking the scenic route, are deposited with a vicious Morgado (Óscar Jaenada), are held for ransom, manage to escape only to get caught again, and are both so excited about the experiences that the following year they visit Kuala Lumpur where they are again seen being conned.
A small part is filmed in New York City but the major area, after a stop at a fancy resort in Honolulu, is in the village of Waianae, also in Honolulu County, where the Hawaii Tourism Commission may not laugh much at the comic antics displayed but should be proud of a product placement for a stunning rain forest. Is this a chick flick? Yes and no. I think men might find it worthwhile if they maintain a low bar for comedy and if they would like almost anything featuring Amy Schumer as the go-to girl for broad (so to speak) comedy.
Rated R. 91 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
"The Belko Experiment"
Opens March 17, 2017
Written by: James Gunn
Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Josh Brener, Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, Melonie Diaz
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for New York Cool
Sometimes a horror movie can serve as allegory to evoke an examination of some aspects of human behavior. “Frankenstein,” for example, is how a being who does not look like most of us fellows can be bullied and tormented to the point that he becomes enraged and dangerous. “Phantom of the Opera” is about sheer loneliness, about a man who through no fault of his own is disfigured and tormented by an unrequited love that compels him to kidnap a woman. “The Belko Experiment” looks like a sendup of social scientists who revel in exploring every aspect of human behavior in groups, but who in the audience is worrying about that? Horror fans want gore, blood, the more the better, and outside of full-scale war between countries, directors and screenwriters pile on the bodies as though working toward a record. How about 79? Is that the most bodies you hope to see in a horror movie? If so, you’ll treasure Greg McLean’s well edited look at a factory outside Bogotá, Colombia, where the Belko corporation looks over an unhappy landscape as a company whose motto is “We bring people together.” The bludgeons and shootings and knifings and butchering among eighty Americans who work for a corporation whose aim is to facilitate the employment of American workers abroad is ironic enough, but again, how many in the audience are looking for metaphors?
Greg McLean’s “Wolf Creek,” “Rogue,” and the “Darkness” put him firmly in the horror camp—dealing with an Australian psychopath who tortures backpackers, a crocodile that confronts a journalist and a family that returns from the Grand Canyon fighting for survival, respectively. In “The Belko Experiment” eighty Americans start the day in the Colombia-located corporate headquarters joking around, flirting, and telling people where to get off. Suddenly the loudspeakers are humming with a disembodied voice that challenges all to kill. After two people are killed via a small bomb that each has implanted in the back of the head (they thought it was for identification), the voice announces the ultimate game. If the employees do not kill thirty of their co-workers, the psycho will kill sixty. To make sure nobody escapes, metal shutters automatically close all windows. There is no way out. How do you think these friendly Americans will react? Do we really need to put these people to a test whose results are known in advance?
Witty dialogue is at a premium; multiple murders are the order of the day. And if thirty workers are killed, there is an additional hurdle. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Some performers stand out in what is for the most part a claustrophobic experience, save for an opening scene in the Bogotá outdoor market. Second-in-command Wendell (John C. McGinley) is an expected killer since he stares at one of the attractive women compulsively to her disgust. The company boss, Barry (Tony Goldwyn) does his best to calm the crowd but when push comes to shove, he can be counted on to perform for the anonymous person who serves as his alpha male. The security guard overlooks the scene helplessly, though he is initially blamed, and we in the audience root for nice guy Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) who conducts an office romance with Leandra (Adria Arjona).
You may expect the final scene to bring everything together, the hostile wizard of Bogotá unmasked, revealing the point of all. But you may be disappointed to find out that the experiment is not what we think it’s cracked up to be rather than a look at office politics gone murderous without much point.
Rated R. 82 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
F. Gary Gray
"The Fate of the Furious"
Opens April 14, 2017
Written by: Chris Morgan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for New York Cool
If you were researching a term paper for your film history class on the topic “The Early Use of Vehicles by the Film Industry,” you would undoubtedly mention the first narrative film, “The Great Train Robbery,” released in 1903 when cars were first appearing in the U.S.. The movie, inspired by an actual robbery of the Union Pacific in 1900 in which four men blew a hole in the safe and took off with $5,000 cash, must have been the year’s most exciting event to its audiences, many of whom ducked under their theater chairs when the characters appeared to jump from the screen. Imagine if, instead of seeing that as the first viable, commercial picture, they were introduced to “The Fate of the Furious.” Really, in 1903! The event would have made eclipsed the Wright Brothers’ maiden flight in North Carolina and would position director F. Gary Gray to be Time magazine Man of the Year if Time had such an award then.
So granted: “The Fate of the Furious” is a technological marvel, but unlike the folks 115 years ago, we have gotten accustomed to crashing cars, exploding helicopters, well-aimed torpedoes, countless bullets from machine guns bolted to the tops of cars, even a revolver or two pointed at people but completing the act of killing in only one such case. Really, folks, have you had enough of such wall-to-wall mayhem? I guess not. “The Fate of the Furious” is set to break opening weekend box office records.
More interesting, to me at least, is that the film gave jobs to three hundred Cuban people in Havana, namely transportation coordinators, producers, location advisors, drivers and the like for six months. This is what may have worried Fidel, that the big bad capitalists were handing more money out to the local extras in six months than doctors make in a year. Even “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba,” filmed there in 2013, required elaborate permissions from both Washington and Havana, so one imagine what red tape may have frustrated many an executive before this one could approved, but one incentive that seems to have worked was the money that the U.S. gave to the state-run Cuba Institute of Cinematographic Art. We’re supporting Communism? That’s one way of looking at it. Anyway, look for feature articles on how the U.S.-Cuba deal was made.
This installment, the eighth in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, one sadly missing Paul Walker, had early segments shot in Old Havana and Centro Havana. These were the most interesting scenes in the movie, including the singular case of a soulful exchange when Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is on his honeymoon with Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez). A sneering, local bully seeks to take off with Dom’s cousin’s heap. They agree to a race, the winner taking the other driver’s car. Dom strips the jalopy to its very essence, continuing just behind the bully even when fire engulfs what’s left of the vehicle, but darn if the hero doesn’t cross the finish line first—and by driving backwards in the final stretch. If you believe that, you can believe anything you see, but “The Fate of the Furious” is not about being rational, credible, justifiable, but about technology.
Cipher (Charlize Theron) introduces herself to Dom, seeming to know all about him and demanding that he work for her, showing something on a cell phone that makes him go rogue to the distress of Dom’s crew including Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Chris Bridges), his wife Letty, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and later agents Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and Eric Reisner (Scott Eastwood). What passes for Cipher’s motive as chief villain is her desire to teach superpowers a lesson so that only she, and not they, will be able to explode nuclear bombs. In that interest, she captures a nuclear code from a Russian defense minister in New York, though not before threatening to cut his car and him into two neat parts. She will then dictate “accountability,” warning the superpowers never to explode another such bomb.
To make an overlong story just long, the convoluted plot finds Luke breaking out of jail along with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), his rival, Computers—not your father’s computers and not yours but some that you’ve seen before only in action-adventure movies—are tap-tap-tapped to dazzle the audience, even one giant machine that starts cars in New York operating with no input from their drivers, and of course crashing, flying through the air, dodging fireballs and the like. As for writing, the script allows for just one memorable remark: that the trouble with putting your foot on a tiger is that you would not be able to take it off—which could remind moviegoers of the movie “Mine” about a soldier who steps on an IED in the desert and will not be able to move for fifty-two hours, when rescue arrives.
There is every indication that there will be a “Fast and Furious” episode 9, perhaps filmed in other parts of the world than this episode 8 which takes us from Havana to Berlin to New York and Russia, though Iceland stands in for that last country. This is expensive moviemaking, but one which lacks convincing performances, a lyrical script, a realistic set of conflicts. “The Fate of the Furious” (who’s furious, by the way?) is a technological dream but about as soulful as your computer monitor’s advertising “Black screen of death.” People who turn up their noses not so much at action adventure films, which can be quite good, but at off-the-wall repeated mayhem such as we see here, can be considered snobs. What are movie snobs like? They believe that from good books, films and theater, we learn something about the human condition. If instead of a steady diet of video games like this one, you want to know what people are really like, people who are not just like you and your friends and family, you might continue seeing popcorn movies by all means. But be open as well to be entertained not exclusively by special effects and visual effects but by honest, funny, tragic, melodramatic and complex illustrations of human character and personality.
Rated PG-13. 136 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Opens Friday, April 21, 2017
Written by: Terry George and Robin Swicord
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Daniel Giménez-Cacho, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Open Road Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for New York Cool
If you go to Berlin, you will note some sights that would seem unbelievable. Near the city center, an entire large square block is taken up with a Holocaust memorial, 2711 slabs of concrete arranged in a grid pattern as a memorial to the Jews who were killed on Nazi orders during World War II. Germany has gone overboard with contrition, delving into the country’s budget to make financial reparations for the murder of six million Jews. Students from elementary school through secondary institutions are required to make trips to the Holocaust museum in Berlin, and I noted during my visit that the young people visiting the site seem as apologetic as though they were in the war themselves.
By stark contrast, the government of Turkey to this day refuses to admit its own guilt in the genocide of Armenians living within the borders of the Ottoman Empire. As though it were not sufficient for the Turks to send armies to battle in World War I beginning in 1914, they used the opportunity to murder their own people, just as Syria is doing now in the sixth year of Syria’s civil war. But the Armenians were not rebelling. They lived side by side with ethnic Turks, marrying across religious and ethnic lines. However, as a general rule, when things get bad, when an alarming crisis is on hand such as Turkey’s entry into the war, minorities sometimes get swept up by a suppressed rage now let open. The excuse Turkey gave for its campaign against Armenians is that a contingent had joined with the Russian enemy; they could no longer trust their loyalty to the Ottomans.
As a result, the genocide was implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied Armenian male population through massacre and subjection of draftees to forced labor; the deportation of women, children and the elderly and sick on death marches leading to the Syrian desert.
Director Terry George, whose powerful “Hotel Rwanda” covers the massacre of Tutsis by Hutus, is well equipped to hone in on the Armenian genocide. We do not learn why the Turks turned on this minority group, perhaps because “The Promise” is a Hollywood movie as concerned with a triangular romance as it is with the brutality of the Turks, therefore spending a considerable part of its overlong 132 minutes on the romantic attachments of Ana (Charltote Le Bon), an Armenian raised in Paris, with two gents. They are Christopher Myers (Christian Bale), an American journalist with Associated Press, and Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), an Armenian medical student.
Oscar Isaac’s role is key as Mikael, an apothecary who leaves his small Ottoman village for Constantinople to study medicine, after promising to wed Maral (Angela Srafyan). Like some med students in America who depend on their wives or girlfriends for tuition, he uses Maral’s dowry of four hundred gold coins for tuition. Maral would be naïve to think that nobody in the Turkish capital would turn her boyfriend’s head: Ana, a dance instructor, has her own eye on the journalist, a man of noble character reporting on the genocide and noting that without reporters like him, the Armenian people would completely disappear.
After Turkish divisions break windows of Armenian-owned shops in Constantinople (think of Germany’s Kristallnacht a quarter-century later), Mikael and Ana wind up in bed together. Yet back home in the village, Mikael’s mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo) demands that her son make good on his promise to marry the small-town gal.
When photographer Gabriel Yared uses wide-screen lensing to show the pained expressions on Chris’s face when he sees his sweetheart together with Mikael, he gives ample time to the actual fighting; to the half naked Armenian men who are on a detail of heavy work leading some to die, and to the happy moment that the Armenians resist strongly, based on a true event in the mountainous Mosa Dagh where the Turks were held back for 53 days.
Oscar Isaac carries the film on his shoulders, an admirable job as a charismatic fighter and lover and also brilliant medical student who near the beginning of the story deftly extracts an organ from a corpse. Yet another bold move features the American ambassador to Constantinople telling the pasha that the journalist, in jail for releasing genocide material to AP, must not be executed but instead must be freed.
During the same year that “The Promise” is released, “The Ottoman Lieutenant” has followed a similar trajectory: the love story between an idealistic American nurse and a Turkish officer in World War I. Presumably a new interest in The Great War is on the march, though the first world war will probably always take a back seat in Hollywood to the second. “The Promise,” for its saccharine romance and pounding music on the soundtrack is a respectable treatment of an action by the Turks that killed between one million and one and on-half million Armenians. Again: the temptation in some countries to use a critical time such as war or depression to eliminate a minority may unfortunately be with off for a long time.
Rated PG-13. 134 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Denise Di Novi
Opens April 21, 2017
Written by: David Leslie Johnson, Christina Hodson
Starring: Katherine Heigl, Rosario Dawson, Whitney Cummings, Cheryl Ladd, Geoff Stults
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool
In 1697 a play by William Congreve, “The Mourning Bride,” has the line “Heaven has no rage like Love to Hatred turned, Nor Hell a fury like a Woman scorned." We modernized the idiom to “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” an insight probably well known long before the 17th century and one that will remain forever as long as women experience love unrequited. (Think of Euripides’ “Medea” in 431 B.C. for the best all-time example.) Even pre-teens are familiar with the expression, thanks to season 7 of “Star Trek Next Generation” wherein counselor Troi refers to "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" at 43:49 in the episode “Eye of the Beholder.” The classic film is arguably “Fatal Attraction,” which finds Alex Forrest seeking murderous revenge on Dan Gallagher for preferring to keep his own wife after Alex’s one-night stand.
The latest movie to capitalize in this theme, Denise Di Novi’s “Unforgettable,” is lame, featuring dialogue that might find a place on cable or a program like “Days of Our Lives.” This time Katherine Heigl as Tessa Connover tries her best with the villain’s role, a woman with long blond hair that could remind you of Angel’s Hair Pasta. Tessa is obsessively neat (you’ve got to watch out for people like that), compulsive, demanding, uptight, rigid, everything that her nemesis Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson) is not. Would you believe that handsome David Connover (Geoff Stults) would throw his wife Tessa over and promptly shift his romantic allegiance to Julia? If you can believe that David would leave a Wall Street job where he’s making the kind of pay that attracted Tessa and instead run a brewery, you can accept everything in what is essentially a soap.
Is David irresponsible? After all he and his ex-wife have a beautiful 6-year-old child, Lily (Isabella Rice), whose long blond hair can remind you of Angel Hair Pasta. This could have been a happy family, but for reasons not completely brought out in this film directed by Denise Di Novi, who has a splendid résumé as producer but only this feature movie, David took the initiative in the breakup. His new squeeze, Julia Banks, has some murky experiences with an abusive boyfriend, Michael Vargas (Simon Kassianides). Like so many others of her gender, she believes this new Prince Charming will change her life and make her forget Michael, who is now the subject of an order of protection.
When Julia sneaks off with Julia’s cell phone, hacking it by manipulating her ex-husband to break off with his new significant other, physical violence soon ensues, threatening the lives of all: Julia, David, Michael, and even Tessa. These manipulations take us in the audience from a to b to c in the standard cookie-cutter production, one which has the audience guessing the plot points step by step and ending with the requisite blood-bath.
Even the sample of limp dialogue that the studio issues to journalists as though it were a treasure to behold finds these words spoken:
Julia – “I know exactly what it is that you are trying to do.”
Tessa – “Are you threatening me?”
Julia: “Yes, I am threatening you. And if you keep this up, you will regret it.”
Kudos to the actors for not laughing out loud at other threats especially one of the dorkiest of all, “I’m going to call the police”—as if the predator is going to take a seat on the divan to await the sirens.
“Forgettable” would be the appropriate title.
Unrated. 100 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Opens May 26, 2017
Written by: David Michod, adapted from Michael Hastings’ book “The Operators”
Starring: Brad Pitt, Emory Cohen, RJ Cyler, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool
A comic whose identity eludes me once said that General Stanley McChrystal “sleeps standing up.” This exaggeration is based on the man’s discipline: he sleeps only five hours a night, runs seven miles in the morning before the sun comes up, and eats only one meal a day. He has been genuinely liked by the men who serve the U.S. in Afghanistan, and if you go along with the truth of “War Machine,” you’ll note that he never has to raise his voice. He is deadly serious about the mission, but in the obviously campy way that writer-director David Michod casts him, he appears to take the war as a bad joke.
Michod, whose “The Rover” illustrates an unusual bond by a loner who sets out to retrieve his stolen car, deals this time with a man who is no loner, but who in fact is Obama’s appointee to leads the war in Afghanistan. McChrystal, the obvious object of the writer-director’s bitter, yet comic take on the seemingly endless war and on the general, is portrayed by Brad Pitt in the fictional role of General Glen McMahon, who is seen several times running in the dark after his brief rest. His role, as one critic states, could have been better played by John Goodman, but really—a morbidly obese actor as a hyperactive four-star general?
Pitt does OK in his campiest role, treating victory in the war as a can-do American goal, asking the President for an additional 40,000 troops though Obama is intent on whittling down the manpower, and lobbying France and Germany for contributing proportionally as stalwart American allies. The men under his command accept what he has to say in his pep talks, but not so the Afghan resident goatherds of a godforsaken village, who don’t care about receiving blood money from the allies and simply want the invaders to leave.
Going over the top in making Afghan President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan a buffoon, Ben Kingsley plays the fellow not as corrupt as he has been made out to be by the American media but as an inept, out-of-touch man who wants to be called “Hamid” and not “Mr. President,” a spot-on choice by Karzai considering his relative indifference to the war and his compulsion to watch TV while in bed with a cold rather than chat with the general.
The movie has too much intrusive music and too much narration by the journalist from Rolling Stone magazine whose highly critical article led President Obama to fire the general, though Obama himself becomes an object of satire for his lack of contact with McMahon. As the Rolling Stone journalist notes, the general met with the president only once, appearing to equate Obama with Karzai for incompetence.
The overriding issue is that America’s war with Afghanistan, like its war in Vietnam, is foolhardy and humiliating, the greatest military power in the world unable to bring the Taliban to their knees after a dozen years or so. There is some fighting toward the conclusion, an unnecessary gesture with serious overtones as one of the soldiers is responsible for killing a child. (America gives the father compensation, of course.)
Brad Pitt fans will be delighted—or not—to see their favorite performer and movie-magazine icon as barely recognizable, with a straight military haircut, but I much prefer his role in my favorite movie of 2009 “Inglorious Basterds,” where Pitt, a commander in the war against Germany, hears a captive say he’d rather die than give in to his captors, only to have Pitt ask a subordinate, “The man wants to die for his country. Indulge him.”
Unrated. 122 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online