Tag Archives: New York

On the 30th Anniversary of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY…

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY… Country: USA. Director: Rob Reiner. Screenwriter: Nora Ephron. Language: English. Cast: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan,, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby, Harley Jean Kozak, Steven Ford, Lisa Jane Persky. Runtime: 95 minutes. Rating: CLASSIC.

Jane Austen once wrote how difficult it is for a man and a woman to establish a relationship not based in sex with her timeless classic Pride and Prejudice. Unless you’ve lived under a rock, or plain skipped every literary assignment you were given in high school, you’ll definitely know at least the bare-bones premise of the story and the development of its characters who for the most part remain blind around the fact that they love each other.

Flash-forward almost two centuries later and Nora Ephron, an author known for her acerbic, razor-sharp wit, developed, in conjunction with director Rob Reiner, a movie based on themselves to a degree (even when neither of them had been in a relationship with each other, which makes me wonder how that would have ended). The result… well… it’s made cinema history, thirty years later, as it gets re-released to either new audiences who might walk into theaters and watch it out of hearsay or moviegoers suffering from a case of nostalgia who, like me, saw it when it came out on cable in 1990, and want a shot at experiencing it — love in New York! oh, so romantic — on the big screen.

Who would have thought that this little movie which was a surprise hit back when and would have garnered more had it been considered for Oscar nominated performances by its two leads (who anchor the movie with their chemistry and those lines written by Ephron), would by now have entered our lexicon with that the line, “I’ll have what she’s having?” If only anyone knew back then, what comedic material they had in their hands. This is why you owe it to yourself to experience this movie. Rent it, buy it, or go check it out again in any retrospective near you. It’s that good of a film, you can watch it over and over and the entire film feels fresh and up to date. Much of what was true then rings true now, as men and women continue to circle each other and attempt relationships with each other.

[Heck, entire series have been created based on this “let’s be friends only” rule. Most of “Friends” was angled at this type of dynamics, and “Seinfeld” offered yet another example of a woman and a man being friends with no interest in each other whatsoever. “Sex and the City” brought this setup to the late 90s and the start of the new millennium, and “Will & Grace” took it a whole other direction by flipping sexuality and establishing a solid friendship with hints of sexual tension not just in its two main leads (Will and Grace) but in its two other leads (Jack and Karen).]

In short, When Harry Met Sally is timeless and the best movie Woody Allen never made (although it does bear some slight relation to Allen’s Annie Hall). With not only Carrie Fisher and the criminally underrated Bruno Kirby on board to produce a solid foursome, but also, as I mentioned earlier, the brilliance of New York City a its own character, to provide ample scenery for the clueless couple at the center to fall in love. And with a killer view of the Empire State Building (as seen in Harry’s character’s loft apartment), or with those walks both Harry and Sally take throughout the Upper West and Central Park, who wouldn’t want to meet someone and fall in love?

NEW YORK STORIES

MENASHE
USA
Director: Joshua Z. Weinstein
Runtime: 82 minutes
Language: Yiddish, English, Spanish

Mostlyindies rating:

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

I love when I discover hidden treasures amidst the barrage of big-budget movies and higher profile indies all flying at me like a wall of tennis balls spat out from an insane ball-spitting machine, and Menashe, a film that made its debut in both Sundance and New Directors – New Films, is one of them. A big plus of the reason I liked Menashe was its location — the less glamorous section of Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York, where a large Hasidic community resides in insular, closed off tradition. [Plus, it just makes an New York City-based movie more realistic than films that focus only on those who live in Manhattan and have White People Problems and while I don’t mind those films, I do like to see other communities represented.]

In this Brooklyn community, Menashe (Menashe Lustig) emerges as our lovable Sad Sack, the bear-sized gentle but awkward giant. A widower who resides in a small apartment by himself, he attempts to make ends meet as a grocery deliverer,  and wishes to get his act together so he might be able to gain full custody of his son Rieven. Unfortunately, tradition demands he find a wife, and on top of that, every time he encounters his tight-ass brother-in-law who evidently is better off financially (and makes no bones of his dislike of Menashe), he ends up humiliated and disillusioned. However, fate would have it, Menashe in a somewhat borderline creepy way manages to lure Rieven to stay with him, and for a block of time Menashe the film turns into an exercise in things going wrong for both him and Rieven.

At a little more than 80 minutes Menashe finds that right tone between kitchen-sink dramedy and subtle documentary devoid of a voice-over and pulls together a sympathetic character out of a man who can’t seem to get ahead and despite sincere intentions, remains floating in uncertain territory. This is a thing that makes Menashe a fully fleshed out person; flawed, but hopeful and someone to root for. Director Joshua Weinstein clearly respects the Orthodox community enough to present them as positively as possible (usually Hollywood has botched it up in the past by showing them in a more unflattering light, or as caricatures). And i love the moment when Menashe has an exchange with two Latino coworkers who invite him to drink and therefore live a little. It’s a wonderful little scene that briefly brings together two vastly different cultures together in a singular moment. That to me made the movie and shed a wonderful light onto the poor schlemiel that is Menashe. This is what to me, true storytelling is about.

Menashe is playing at the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in NYC. Go see it.

LANDLINE
USA
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Duration: 97 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies rating:

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

If there ever was a successor to the type of cute and bubbly comedy that made Goldie Hawn at star it would have to be Jenny Slate. I’m sure there’s a slightly deeper actress just waiting for the right part and the right movie but so far, every one of her appearances since she broke out in Gillian Robespierre’s debut film Obvious Child have been variations of quirk and that’s fine with me. Landline is not meant to be a deep analysis of interconnected relationships and family dysfunction but a humorous glimpse at Manhattanitee Having Problems… with a 90s retro vibe. In it Slate plays Dana, a young professional who’s dating a wonderful and sensitive guy named Ben (Jay Duplass). She reconnects with former schoolmate Nate (Finn Wittrock) and is soon seeing him on the side. Dana’s younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn, a standout in her role) is also involved in a no-strings-attached relationship with Jed (Marquis Rodriguez). One night Ali discovers that their father Alan (John Turturro) is having an affair with an unknown woman to whom he writes some powerful, deep poems he saves on the family computer. Largely at the fringes of the story is mom, played by Edie Falco, who’s consumed by her career (and models her professional wardrobe on a certain Nasty Woman) and routinely puts Alan down without realizing it. Robespierre deftly keeps the situation from devolving into the predictable (even when we keep expecting it). Once that moment arrives, however, she seems to hold back a little as if afraid of making Landline a bit too messy. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable–much of it is genuinely funny and complicated at the same time–but it’s as if Robespierre and her actors played possum when they should have played out their confrontations.

PERSON TO PERSON
USA
Director: Dustin Guy Defa
Runtime: 84 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies rating:

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

I really wanted to like this expanded version of Defa’s 2014 short which I saw at the MoMA’s New Directors/New Films because the original showed an uncomfortable encounter between a music guy (Bene Coopersmith) and a girl (Deragh Campbell). That scene is nowhere to be found in this expanded version. Instead, were treated to four vignettes varying from super-verbose (and in which Tavi Gevinsom stands out as an androgynous, neurotic teen who finds herself in an awkward situation) to outstandingly boring (the other three). The appearance of Coopersmith in a different storyline involving a rare jazz record shows that the man is not an actor and needed to be played by one. If anything can be said is that the movie does have a sort of cool late 70s vibe, but that alone doesn’t make an interesting feature length film.






TWO BY GERE: THE DINNER AND NORMAN

Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, and Rebecca Hall star in the darkly funny The Dinner.

THE DINNER
USA
Director: Oren Moverman
Runtime: 120 minutes
Language:  English

B+

There’s nothing as lurid as watching four grown people get together for an uncomfortable night together in which they progressively set aside the pleasantries and start revealing the ugly hidden just underneath the smiles, the gestures, the light exchanges, and the occasional snap of a misinterpreted question. It’s been done to death — think Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, September, Closer, and most recently, August: Osage County — and it still manages to draw you in like that train wreck you absolutely do not want to miss even if it means holding it in until your bladder or something more . . . backdoorsy can stand it no longer.

The Dinner is the newest in this branch of dark comedies, a movie that is already bristling from the first handful of scenes as Paul Lohman (an acid tongued, quick-tempered Steve Coogan, totally against his more comedic type), a history professor with who treats life as the Battle of Gettysburg who clearly has resentment issues towards his politician brother Stan Lohman (Richard Gere, understated) and would rather not sit down at a too-posh for his ilk restaurant, order over-the-top fancy food and drinks, and talk. However, a talk has to happen, and their future and the future of their two sons depends on it. You see, both Lohman’s sons have committed a crime. They’ve killed a homeless woman by lighting her on fire inside an ATM booth, but so far, surveillance cameras haven’t captured their faces in full. So what are they to do?

While Moverman’s 2014 entry, Time Out of Mind, tackled the forgotten from a point of view of the downtrodden (and gave Gere one of his finest, most moving performances as a man that society forgot), here he goes the opposite direction. He exposes that very same society — the haves vs the have nots — and presents every scene as part of an elaborate dinner complete with its courses, every segment revealing just how ugly the four of them (which also includes Laura Linney as Coogan’s wife and Rebecca Hall as Gere’s wife and both are a delight to watch) can and will go in order to either one-up the other, bring blame, and finally, reach no real agreement on how to act. Moverman’s movie is appropriate for its release as it depicts the excesses of affluenza and what can happen when indulgence and money get in the way of morals and scruples.

The only part that I personally didn’t really care for was some of the exposition leading to the dinner itself. Some of the backstory involving Chloe Sevigny as a family member who exists as a part of a subplot involving her adopted son Beau Lohman (Miles Harvey) serves little purpose as to open up the story from the confines of the restaurant. I would have preferred to keep the events of Moverman’s movie within its increasingly claustrophobic interiors to enhance the savagery rising from beneath the foursome’s distress and harshness towards each other. Still, The Dinner — the American version of the Danish novel by Herman Koch, filmed twice as the Danish movie The Dinner and the Italian movie I Nostri Ragazzi — is a nasty piece of work that offers no easy answers and four great actors behaving deliciously awful towards one another.

NORMAN, THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER
USA
Director: Joseph Cedar
Runtime: 116 minutes
Language:  English

B

It’s criminal to me to see that Richard Gere is approaching 70 and has never even once received a single acknowledgement from the Academy for any of the complex characters he’s played on screen since American Gigolo almost 40 years ago. And yet, he continues to work, to bring something unique into his roles, and with the advent of indie films, he can now work on quality pictures that don’t necessarily have to be commercial successes as long as the performance onscreen remains intact and his best. In Joseph Cedar’s movie Norman, Gere plays a character that exists, and is a chameleon, even when we never get even as much as a glimpse of who he is underneath the perpetual beige peacoat, Burberry scarf, and cab driver’s beret he wears while haggling people for a deal. He may as well he homeless for all we know, but somehow, the man, larger than life, insinuates himself into the lives of Upper Crust Manhattan, makes his mark, and disappears without as much as a trace (although his repeated calls to associates . . . not so much).

To discuss about the quixotic twists and turns that lead Norman into morphing from being a small time dealer (okay, con-artist, let’s say it) to be all but the toast of New York is to spoil all the fun. Norman might as well be distantly related to the aunt in Travels with my Aunt with the difference that we never meet a son or daughter and Norman’s only apparent ambition gets revealed in the end in a poignant shot. I would say that it is safe to call Norman a noble opportunist, albeit not a clever one — had he been clever, he’d have turned into a Madoff for sure — and Richard Gere tackles this character, sheds every last piece of vanity, and becomes this mousy little Jewish man that might be charming in small — very small — doses. And perhaps, now that I think of it, it’s probably for the best to never reveal where Norman actually lives, who his family is, who is roots are. The choice to avoid these questions elevates Norman the man from little more than a potentially pathetic creature and turns him into almost myth.






BETWEEN US

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Upon watching Rafael Palacio Ilingworth’s micro-drama Between Us I kept getting snippets here and there of John Cassavetes’ Faces played in a hipster key for today’s younger audience not used to close-ups and long, drawn-out sequences of banter. Indeed, there is a similarity borne perhaps from the need to tell urban stories of marital woes (and I’m not even going to reference Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, which yell at me or not, is also at the root of this cute little movie). A couple of thirty-somethings, Dianne (Olivia Thirlby) and Henry (Ben Feldman) are starting to go through the aches and pains of being together for six years and wonder why they’re still together. [Reader, if you’re in this situation, chances are, you shouldn’t be, but then you wouldn’t have a movie.] A simple visit to one of these overprices minimalist apartments provides ample room for all their fears to surface up like a wound that was once thought healed. Dianne wants it for practical reasons and plus, the market. Henry fears it’s too cold for his more eclectic style. Me, I just kept thinking what do both of you do to afford something that surely must cost a fortune? But I digress. It’s the jumping off platform to subsequent scenes that display how different they are, how much farther apart they are drifting, and how unwilling either one of is to confront the other. After a nasty fight both seek the company of others; Dianne drifts off to a tentative flirtation with a colleague and winds up with a performance artist (Adam Goldberg) and Henry strikes it up with a student (Analeigh Tipton, a dead ringer for Michelle Williams and probably the brightest note in this movie) who appears as a free spirit straight out of the swinging 60s. Ilingowrth’s Between Us is a bit too loose and casual despite strong performances. Even so, it does deliver the difficult premise of two people who can’t seem to be together but also don’t seem to know when it’s time to call it quits.

[On Amazon Instant Video and other VOD platforms.]






ANESTHESIA

Anesthesia_web_2

Hooked on Film rating:

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Here is an ambitious movie that wishes to present unto you, the viewer, an overreaching, multi-leveled series of story-lines designed to present a cohesive, thematic whole not too dissimilar to the likes of greater ensembles of the likes Robert Altman and Woody Allen directed (i. e. Nashville, Gosford Park, Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters), and almost succeeds. I say almost because when we’ve seen these pictures one too many times, the freshness of the material becomes a bit stale and staged. If anyone recalls a little movie called Crash that inexplicably won the Oscars in 2006, then that is the one that this movie seems to pay homage to. It didn’t work well (for the most part, except in some isolated circumstances), and it doesn’t quite deliver this time.

Anesthesia opens rather dramatically: on an Upper West Side corner, Walter (Sam Waterston) crosses the street to buy some flowers at a deli. Moments later a couple, Sam and Nicole (Corey Stoll and Mickey Sumner) get jolted out of their sleep and rush downstairs to find out that the man we just met has been brutally stabbed in what seems a random attack. Suddenly, Anesthesia goes back in time to about a week prior to its opening scene, and we’re introduced to Walter as a philosophy professor at Columbia, delivering his final classes before starting a life of retirement alongside his wife Marcia (Glenn Close). Everyone that he has met or will encounter within this space and time has some form of isolation in the form of escapism.

For instance, there is Sophie (Kristen Stewart, essaying another complex role). When we first meet her she’s sitting in the college cafeteria when she has a rather unpleasant encounter with a guy who wants her chair, to which she refuses. It turns ugly, and then we see that Sophie seems to be at odds with the world around her, a thing she copes with by injuring herself. Sam and Nicole, who encounter Walter at the opening of Anesthesia, are in the middle of an affair. Sam, allegedly, is in China, his wife (Gretchen Mol) in Northern New Jersey, drinking her pain away, suspicious that he is lying to her. Walter’s son Adam (Tim Blake Nelson) and his wife (Jessica Hecht) are coping with a lump on her breast while their kids get high to cope with their parents’ tension. And adding to this mix are two unrelated characters: Jeffrey (Michael Williams), a high-powered African-American lawyer who is trying to force his childhood friend Joe  (K. Todd Freeman) out of his drug-addiction and back to sobriety.

So, as this stands, there are a lot of characters to cover in the barely 90 minutes of running time. For the most part, Tim Blake Nelson succeeds without making the entire premise look too affected. What bothered me a little was the fact that Anesthesia seemed to, yet again, be mostly a front to present White People’s Problems under the guise of racial tensions that happen rather unexpectedly late in the film. Everyone has a certain degree of self-absorption, so it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for the characters that surround Walter, although the one character that does come through is the one who couldn’t be further from this circle of over-privileged White people living in the clouds of Upper West Side domesticity: Joe.

Beyond Joe’s addiction there are gears and cogs turning. There is a character — a real person — trying to come out. Sadly, Anesthesia relegates Joe to a hospital bed, yelling into thin air, completely dependent on the phone call from Jeffrey that fails to arrive (Jeffrey’s met a female lawyer of probably White, but ill-defined ethnicity, for a tryst). Joe’s biggest scene comes late, and is as mysterious as it is pregnant with possibilities. It’s again, inexplicable to me why it’s also left unexplored and instead goes for something that seems to be a necessary cop out that brings the story back to its opening scene.

Anesthesia is a story enamored of its own concept that has moments of humor, moments of pathos, but ultimately doesn’t know where to go once the moment that it — and we — go “Aha!” arrives. That n itself is a crying shame.