Thursday, May 18, 2017

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, plus (somewhat) Short Takes responses to Snatched

                                                The Kindness of Strangers

                                                           Reviews by Ken Burke
                             
                Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall
                    of a New York Fixer  (Joseph Cedar)
                    
A mysterious (financially-strapped?), friendly man is eager to meet and connect other people in his hopes of leading them (and him) to mutually-beneficial (and profitable?) results, with Norman's most recent acquaintance being an official of the Israeli government; eventually our protagonist will find himself with more potential influence than he’d ever had before but not without mounting problems.

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Norman Oppenheimer’s one of the nicest guys that you’d ever want to meet, although his background, his motivations, his operations are all ambiguous for us at best as he attempts to bring together various people with likely mutual interests, even though he may have no previous connection with them at all.  Early on in this film he happens upon a Deputy Minister of the Israeli government, befriends the man, then a few years later starts enjoying some of his long-sought-success when the guy rises to the position of Prime Minister, but this leads Norman to try to swing even bigger deals than before (including finding millions of dollars in donations to keep his synagogue from being torn down by the property owner) which produces a collection of complications even master-manipulator-Norman has a difficult time finding solutions for.  Norman …’s a very intriguing film, well acted by the whole cast (but especially by the subdued-yet-compelling-performance of Richard Gere in the lead role), presented in many oddly-unexpected cinematic tactics that make the film an added pleasure to watch, offering a fascinating account of a compelling character within a narrative structure that doesn’t offer smooth answers to every question it raises (often about what’s going on sometimes in the plot) but leaves you willing to explore it further through post-screening contemplations and conversations.  It’s playing in a tiny number of theaters so you might have to track it down later via video; either way, it’s worth your effort as my highly-recommended investment of your cinematically-determined-time.

So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.

What Happens: When we meet Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) we know he lives in NYC (exactly where, we never learn); he seems to be a man of modest means (about the only meal we ever see him consume is a snack of crackers and pickled herring in a back room of his synagogue, an apparently-acceptable-practice to Rabbi Blumenthal [Steve Buscemi]); he’s always wearing the same outfit of a dark suit, a light tan overcoat, and a cap, no matter his temporal or spatial location (mostly “Wintertime in New York town The wind blowin’ snow around,” to quote an old Bob Dylan song [“Talkin’ New York,” a 1962 tune if you care to look it up; for once I won’t cite a link because I’ve got enough Dylan waiting for you at the end of this review]); he’s constantly trying to swing various interpersonal connections (between people he either doesn’t know or just met) in order to bring about better fortune for them, along with some material gratitude for himself (yet, he’s no hustler nor con artist simply trying to take advantage of strangers; he truly believes the network of connections he seeks to create among various individuals will benefit them, thereby justifying the constant exaggerations/lies he tells everyone, in order to pursue the greater good for all concerned).

 Despite some other projects Norman maneuvers throughout the film, his most pressing schemes involve Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), initially Israel’s Deputy Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor later Prime Minister of the country, a guy who embraces Norman as his “special ambassador” to the NYC Jewish community as the result of Norman starting a spontaneous conversation with him on a busy Manhattan street while window-shopping an attractive pair of shoes (a cinematically-interesting shot from inside the store so we can’t hear their conversation [lip-readers who care to transcribe and circulate this part of the script are most welcome to do so]); their dialogue continues as they enter the store where Micha considers a suit he ultimately rejects as being too expensive on the government’s tab, leading to Norman buying him the shoes anyway just as a goodwill-gesture.

 However, we see that Norman’s real intention is to get Eshel to attend an exclusive dinner at the swanky home of high-roller-investor Arthur Taub (Josh Charles), but that doesn’t happen because Micha‘s associates warn him from involvements with sudden-appearance (con?)-artists such as we see in Norman.  Later that night, though, after a most hearty dinner at his hotel washed down with a lot of booze, Micha's feeling guilty so he calls Norman, with a sincere-but-drunken attempt at an apology, saying how much he appreciates the shoes (a $1,200 cost, likely a major expense for his sudden benefactor), leaving the door open for future connections.  That opportunity arrives 3 years later when Norman, along with nephew Philip Cohen (Michael Sheen), attends a huge reception celebrating Eshel‘s elevated position; Norman gets in the receiving line, nervous he won’t even be remembered, then affirmed in friendship by Micha who immediately introduces him to a vast array of potentially-profitable-contacts (shown in a lengthy montage of accepting faces with their images, colored lights, and upbeat verbal greetings overlapping, seemingly to infinity).  Norman’s contacts don’t turn out to be as useful as he’d hoped, though, when Rabbi Blumenthal informs him of an imminent crisis for the synagogue, needing $14 million to prevent the property from being sold, assuming Norman has the wherewithal to be the congregation’s savior.  Norman shares that assumption but can’t find a means of delivering the goods, with no help from PM Eshel who’s not only shielded by his protective-associates from Norman’s incessant phone calls but also has bigger problems from a growing corruption scandal tied to implications of improper dealings with some anonymous American business titan (connected to some complex networking scheme which Norman tried to set up that I never fully understood).

 Norman’s last hope for help is from government investigator Alex Green (Charlotte Gainsbourg)—the lead agent probing Eshel’s situation—whom he met on a train ride from Washington, D.C. back to NYC with his usual lines (“What do you need?  I can help you get it.”), but she’s also not useful in getting Norman anything he desperately needs.  Surprisingly, in a manner as mysterious as Norman’s own unrevealed life story (never shown to us, along with how he’s lived this long via these always-in-motion-means to find success through linkage of people who don’t yet even know each other—with many of them not yet knowing Norman either) we find everything suddenly wraps up well for everyone facing problems in this film:  Micha’s scandal disappears even as he negotiates a celebrated, historic pipeline deal with Turkey; his son gets into Harvard (with some help from Norman’s nephew, as best I followed the various swirling-negotiations on many fronts of this story); Philip as well finds victory in marrying his Korean fiancée who’s finally accepted for conversation to Judaism; while some anonymous donor did come through to save the synagogue, noted in the final scene which is actually a memorial for Norman (who cheerfully committed suicide toward the film’s end by eating a bag of peanuts—to which he was highly-allergic—leaving us with the implication his work on behalf of everyone else was blissfully done).  It’s unclear who the synagogue donor is—maybe Norman made connection with Taub after all (or some other bigwig whose associate Norman kept bothering on his jogs through the park), maybe Eshel quietly “reimbursed” Norman for his help over the years (or maybe it was that mystery businessman from the scandal), who knows?  

 Maybe Norman wasn’t as broke as he appeared to be, putting up the money himself as a silent testimony to his own publically-unreported-successes (although his presentation throughout the film gives little reason to argue much for this option, so I won’t).  Whatever may lie behind all of the lies and events of this film, everyone ends in peaceful-prosperity, leaving director Cedar with the ironic twist of calling Norman’s end a “Tragic Fall” in his lengthy-subtitle, even as tragedy is relative.

So What? We'll find that Norman …’s set up in designated units (as is the other current Richard Gere film now in theaters [although it's probably no more near to most of you than this film will prove to be], a raw-yet-insightful-example of such complex drama, The Dinner [Oren Moverman—easily rated as a 4-star-triumph for me, review in our May 11, 2017 posting]), as events occur within what the on-screen-titles tell us are the various subdivisions of Act One—A Foot in the Door, Act Two—The Right Horse, then Act Three—The Anonymous Donor, with the finale by Act Four—The Price of Peace, all of which (as I've experienced them) are generally more thematically-specific than Moverman’s similar use of "chapter" titles (although his are taken, my well-read-wife, Nina, tells me, from the original novel of The Dinner so maybe those designations were always intended to be ironic); Cedar’s 1st "act" focuses on Norman’s intrusive-operating-procedure, successfully connecting him to Micha; the 2nd act reconnects them with Eshel as the new PM, determined to bring peace in the Middle East no matter how hard the bargain (“Life is compromise.”); this film's 3rd act is about the crisis for the synagogue’s continuation vs. Norman’s assurances of finding a matching-donor; in the 4th Norman takes a public fall to alleviate corruption charges against Micha, leading to the closing montage of notable characters eventually getting what they want, set against Norman’s nut-munching-suicide.  

 Cedar also uses some visually-interesting-devices throughout this film, such as at the spectacular reception where Micha welcomes Norman into his inner-circle as everyone else at the event goes into freeze-frame or moves in slow-motion while Norman navigates among them; various scenes of Norman on the phone to different people with his image seamlessly-integrated into their environments so we can watch both ends of the conversations without always resorting to the standard-tactic of a split-screen showing both of the conversants; all of this punctuated by several scenes where the film's basic-wide-screen-format is filled with massive closeups giving none of these manipulators any open-air-space where they can conceal their ongoing-chess-game-tactics.

 Another very interesting aspect of this film is that toward the end Norman meets a younger version of himself, Srul Katz (Hank Azaria [sadly, I can find not even a single promotional image with which to illustrate him so you'll just have to put up with looking at Norman and Micha again here]), who offers his help to our beleaguered-protagonist (he’s also insistent about leaving his business card, which is a direct parallel of Norman’s consistent tactics), although I have no clue as to what element he adds to this narrative. (Can he provide the contacts that Norman needs to help the others solve their problems?  Is he an unknown apparition of Norman at a younger age, giving him assurance that somehow all these complications will be put to right?  Is he just a whimsical addition from the crafty mind of writer-director Cedar to start turning this plot in a more lighthearted direction after all the trauma built up in Act 3?)  Norman …’s not a film intended to leave you with satisfying answers to such queries, with debate-stimulating-questions seemingly more Cedar’s intent, based on what little I know of his previous work, the maddeningly-intriguing Footnote (2011; review in our May 12, 2012 posting [as always with these long-ago-ones, I beg indulgence for my Faulkner-length-paragraphs which needed more photos to break up their text-packed-flow]), set in the arcane-battles of academic research where the plot elements are more overt than in Norman … but still blend mystery, allusion, and interpersonal conflict into an equally-ambiguous ending, paralleling the intrigue of Cedar’s current filmic offering.

(With all of the Jewish/Israeli comments here it
seemed interesting to me to show Norman ...'s
poster in Hebrew
[for those who can read it].)
Bottom Line Final Comments: Our great nationwide community of critics (at least the ones surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic—but don’t give these sites too much credit; after all, you won’t find the brilliant analyses of Two Guys in the Dark among their listings, the snobs) have been very supportive of Norman … with the RT result of 88% positive reviews, Metacritic’s average at 76% (not unusual for them to place a bit lower, making them even snobbier), in response to a Jewish-oriented-story that doesn’t require you to be Jewish to appreciate it (Cedar’s got roots in both American and Israeli culture, born in NYC, raised in Jerusalem, educated there and at NYU), but understanding the concept of the mensch (meaning "a person of integrity and honor") might be somewhat helpful in better appreciating why Norman at least hopes to see himself in such a positive light as a man trying—for whatever altruistic motivations (maybe un-mensch-like material ones also?) that drive him—to create positive outcomes for those around him (For himself as well? That aspect of his incessant drive never [intentionally?] becomes clarified.),* even as his chief strategy for achieving his desired results involves a lot of deceit, obfuscation, and, at best, circumstantial luck.  However, it’s going to take a lot more than luck (such as an advertising campaign that I doubt Sony Pictures Classics will care to risk) for awards voters to even remember this film in a few months, just as it won’t likely stick too much with the few viewers who will have seen it given that a
release period of 5 weeks now has yet to see this film find a home in more than 153 theaters during that time, taking in a tiny domestic (U.S.-Canada) gross of just about $1.6 million (putting it a long way down at #6,801 on Box Office Mojo’s current All Time Domestic list—with even my here-we-go-again-for-2017-cellar-dwelling Oakland [CA] A's baseball franchise getting better awareness than that, at least in our area but maybe nowhere else), which is a damn shame that Gere’s fine work here (as well as in The Dinner, pulling in even less thus far, at only around $1.15 million) is going to be largely ignored while the silliness of Snatched, to be reviewed just below, pulls in vastly more box-office-income, even as a forgettable-escapist-comedy, but this is now Gere’s fate for his Buddhist-inspired-support of Tibet, making him an unacceptable inclusion in anything the studios want to promote in the lucrative markets of ChinaNorman …’s not a big-ticket-concept anyway, but I do encourage seeing it for its unexpected cinematic tricks, its less-than-obvious-plot elements, and its solid acting all around.

*Cedar addresses aspects of these motivations (and the heritage of the "Court Jew") in the press notes I have access to; I can’t convert the entire 28-page-file to anything that can be included here (unless I make a separate attachment for each page) so I’ll add a relevant sample at the very end of this posting (after all the Related Links material) with the willingness to share the whole PDF file via email with anyone who contacts me at the address noted in that Links section's closing remarks.

  I try to end each of these reviews with a Musical Metaphor (offering final commentary on what’s just been analyzed but from the perspective of another artform)—as long as I can think of something remotely connected to the cinematic-subject-at-hand—with my considerations for Norman … taking me into some personal deep-memory-sifting, which I’ll brighten your day by sharing it with you.  Even though I try to choose songs I haven’t used before (for the benefit of those of you faithful readers far-flung around the globe's several continents [that I proudly manage to connect with at least 3 or 4 of each week—continents that is, not readers, where the numbers are usually in the 20,000 range, for which I thank all of you immensely; I'm still stunned at those numbers, but you can see my verification graphic of such way down below at the end of each of these postings] who are keeping track of these things) my ruminations led me to some previously-posted-material, so I hope you’ll indulge me because I do think these aural statements carry notable relevancy for the character of Norman Oppenheimer, so I felt the repetition was justified.  For an objective evaluation of Norman and his various schemes I’m using “The Stranger Song” (from the 1967 Songs of Leonard Cohen album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLq7Aqd_H7g because of its focus on a man “who is reaching for the sky just to surrender […] Like any dealer he was watching for the card that is so high and wild he’ll never need to deal another He was just some Joseph looking for  
a manger […] Oh you’ve seen that man before his golden arm dispatching cards but now it’s rusted from the elbows to the finger And he wants to trade the games he plays for shelter” (even though the cards referenced here are used for “the holy game of poker” rather than the little business cards Norman’s always so quick to share, but then his whole life’s been like an extended poker challenge, always bluffing, waiting as long as possible to finally reveal what assets he actually holds).  However, despite some critics' observations that Norman may be just a lying hustler, trying to find any advantage to better his own situation, after listening to what Joseph Cedar and Richard Gere have to say about this character (found at their interview in the 3rd link connected to this film, far below) I think from Norman’s own perspective he’d choose Gordon Lightfoot’s "Don Quixote" (from the 1972 album of the same name), seeing himself as a selfless-crusader but often reduced to “Standing like a prophet bold He shouts across the ocean to the shore Till he can shout no more […] Then in a blaze of tangled hooves He gallops off across the dusty plain In vain to search again Where no one will hear.”  Norman really does seem to have the betterment of others at heart, although his messages and methods often fall on deaf—or suspiciousears of those around him.*

*Where my above-noted-memory-sifting becomes relevant isin thinking about how this Lightfoot song applies to Norman’s self-understandingI can now see how back in my own undergrad and grad-school years (mid-1960s through mid-‘70s) that I often imagined myself in such-similarly-ennobled-Don Quixote-terms (“He is wild but he is mellow […] He is wise but he is meek”), as my hormone-driven-passions drove me to fierce interpretations of everything I encountered, taking on challenges that I surely wasn’t ready for (including a badly-failed-1st marriage as part of a bewildering [yet mercifully short] move to NYC; the loss of my Catholic faith), yet somehow feeling that I had to do something about the injustice of having “seen the strong survive [… while] the lean grow weak.”  However, unlike Norman, who’d somehow survived a full life before taking on his final self-chosen-missions, becoming sincere in his motivations to make things better for those around him because he honestly felt he had workable tactics to bring about positive change (which he did by the end of his story), I was just a spinning-weather-vane in my 20s, desperate for self-importance to counteract a sense of inadequacy, a failing I was somewhat aware of even then when listening to Bob Dylan’s "My Back Pages"** (a guy I tried to emulate in thought, if not full-idealization, back in those days).

**This video is a great live performance (time and place unknown to me) which omits the verses about how “Lies that life is black and white Spoke from my skull, I dreamed” plus the “self-ordained professor’s tongue […] spouted out that liberty Is just equality in school,” but it does contain some nice harmonica work by our Nobel Laureate (if you want to hear the entire original version here it is—becoming not only a song I’ve used before but now also a repeat video [another tactic I try to avoid, for the benefit of any reader possessed of a photographic memory] from the 1992 Madison Square Garden 30th Anniversary Concert celebrating Dylan’s career where all the verses are sung, in order, by Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Dylan, and George Harrison—well worth repeating, though).  I realize these 2 footnotes get much more into my psychology than Norman’s, but that’s part of the beauty of this film: in trying to better understand his ambiguously-presented-motivations we're encouraged to re-examine our own, helping to better understand what guides our actions even when illuminated by those of a fictional character whose inclinations are noble even as his tactics become suspect.
                
(longer than it should be) SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
              
                                                Snatched (Jonathan Levine)
                
In this successful-at-times-but-not-overall-comedy, a young woman’s life isn’t going well so she’s off on a vacation to Ecuador only for her boyfriend to break up with her so she talks her reclusive mother into coming along, but the 2 of them are kidnapped for ransom by local thugs; occasional flashes of dialogue, gross-out-humor, and action work, but it’s not coherent.

 For most of its history, commercial cinema has functioned with glaring discrepancies related to career opportunities and accomplishments allowed to males and females working in those jobs “behind the camera” (although there have been some notable instances over the years of women taking important film production roles, with their contributions mainly as directors, scriptwriters, script supervisors [who manage on-set-shooting-continuity in the areas of locations, props, wardrobes, etc.], and editors; fortunately, in more recent times there have also been somewhat better opportunities for women as producers or even studio executives) even as female actors in front of the camera have been much more successful in terms of film careers (although subject to society’s ongoing sexism about age and physical attributes allowing the continuance of such); however, few women across the decades of cinema have been trusted by film-financiers to have the audience-attraction-power of successfully “opening” a movie, providing a sufficient run of grosses onward from the initial weekend to insure a profitable investment.  In recent times, a few female headliners (not just costars with their usually much-higher-paid-male-ensemble-partners) have emerged, though, such as Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, and Jennifer Lawrence (with salaries sometimes becoming more equitable as well, although that’s still a major point of contention), so I’m sure it seemed reasonable for producers to team up 2 well-known-screen-women, Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer, for this oddball comedy/somewhat-action vehicle of Snatched, especially given Schumer’s success with Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, 2015)—worldwide gross of $140.8 million, 85% RT positive reviews, 75% MC score—with Hawn also acknowledged as a beloved media figure, even though she hasn’t been in a movie for 15 years, with her notable days of such fare as TV’s Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (NBC, 1968-1973), Butterflies Are Free (Milton Katselas, 1972), Private Benjamin (Howard Zieff, 1980), and The First Wives Club (Hugh Wilson, 1996) now long behind her.

 However, despite the pedigree of these stars, their new opportunity of Snatched has been roundly-rejected by critics (RT 36%, MC a slightly higher 46% for a change), along with a less-than-overwhelming-worldwide-gross of about $24 million (the vast majority of it domestically) in its debut week (putting it as much better than Norman … on the All Time Domestic list, #3,166, but still far short of the income it will take to push it into desirable profit unless it picks up steam quickly against the ongoing-onslaught which will soon come from this summer's blockbusters, competing for the cash Snatched will need to overcome its $42 million budget [plus likely half that again for distribution costs]).  Mostly this is due to a thin script (Norman … just didn’t tell you some things; this one couldn’t connect all its dots if it tried, although as an intentionally-silly/ actionish-comedy I’m sure plausible-continuity wasn’t high on its “must-achieve” list).  Essentially, the plot’s about Emily Middleton (Schumer) who’s self-absorbed (constantly shooting selfies, I guess in hopes of impressing her less-than-invested-“friends”) yet miserable (fired from her clothing-store-job for jabbering about her upcoming vacation to Ecuador rather than pushing product to customers; deflated when boyfriend Michael [Randall Park] dumps her because his band’s on the rise while he sees her life stuck in neutral), even desperate (finally convinces her loving-but-critical, divorced, agoraphobic mother, Linda [Hawn], to join her on the nonrefundable trip when none of those friends are available) for her mundane existence to find some spark.  So, it’s off to South America where Linda’s satisfied to just hang around their luxury hotel (although bundled up more for the mountains than the local seashore to avoid tanning) while Emily seeks solace in the bar, surprisingly finding sexy James (Tom Bateman) seemingly attracted to her, as he insists on showing both women the local countryside the next day after much drinking with Emily.

 Turns out he’s merely a “procurer,” working for a local gang of kidnappers (led by Morgado [Óscar Jaenada]) taking revenge on rich tourists using their country as a temporary playground so these guys snatch ransom victims, including our frightened blondes.  As the silly plot more-or-less progresses the thugs contact the women's adult-nerd/still-living-at-home-watching 1970s-TV-shows/brother-son Jeffrey (played well in mostly-clueless-fahsion here by Ike Barinholtz) with their stiff $100,000 demand; he in turn calls the U.S. State Dept. but gets essentially nowhere with exasperated agent Morgan Russell (played equally well in a small role by Bashir Salahuddin); through a series of events our gals escape to a jungle village (in the process, Emily kills Morgado’s nephew with a shovel-slam, then when the “bad hombre” catches up with them she accidently kills his only son with a spear gun) in nearby-Colombia (where a doctor helps Emily expel a huge tapeworm in a particularly-grotesque-scene) only to be found by Morgado again so Mom helps daughter escape while she’s recaptured.  Emily makes contact with a couple of women from the hotel, Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and her friend Barb (Joan Cusack)—the latter an ex-Special Ops commando (who cut out her own tongue to avoid divulging secret info, although Emily asks “What keeps an interrogator from forcing her to just write out her secrets?”)—who capture James, thereby learning where Linda’s being kept with Emily managing to break her loose (Ruth and Barb get sidetracked) only to be once again confronted by Morgado but then be rescued just in time due to an arrest/extraction-squad led by Russell who was somehow browbeat by Jeffrey (?)—tearfully-delighted to see “Mamá” again—so it’s all good, with a closing scene a year later in Kuala Lumpur where Emily’s volunteering to help the locals (?) but it’s mostly about her and Mom at a dance club adding energy to the final credits.

(Please pardon the repetitious imagery of these last 2 photos,
but they give some idea of the ongoing "sense" of this movie.)
 I’ll admit that there are some funny scenes in Snatched which feature the occasional burst of witty dialogue (if you’re old enough to attend this R-rated assault on human credibility, with a noted scene being a quick shot through a restroom door of Emily washing her vagina in the sink [nothing explicit here but clear enough in its implication] in hopes she and James will have sex that night, although as we learn later that was never in his plan—along the nature of that plotline, there’s enough commentary [along with a steaming load of clear innuendo] about intercourse in the first third of this movie to justify “snatched” referring to more than kidnapping, if you get my drift; however, an even-grosser-opening-bit at the hotel mixing “welcome” with “whale cum” is best left as further unexplored, believe me), but overall this movie's a pleasant diversion at best, something to acquire more cheaply on some form of video later if you’re really interested.  I guess my cat, Bella, summed it up best for me the morning I wrote these words when I woke up to find that overnight she’d barfed up some dry food on the newspaper section containing a review of Snatched on its front page; maybe she's telling me I didn’t need to say even this much about this movie, although I did find it to be more interesting than the critical consensus noted above would indicate (yet my local guru, Mick LaSalle, gave it 4 of 5 on the San Francisco Chronicle’s “little man” scale [with the guy clapping but not fully jumping out of his seat in ecstasy; I guess Bella’s more of the opinion of using the graphic that just shows an empty chair]).

 However, this time for a Musical Metaphor I’ll offer something a bit more serious than what you'll find in the movie itself (rather than some of my flippant or sarcastic song choices  used at times in our past reviews), “Teach Your Children” (from the 1970 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu), found at https://www.you tube.com/watch?v=EkaK wXddT_I, featuring sweet
lyrics encouraging all of us to “become yourself because the past is just a good bye [… then] feed [each generation, whether they'll be young or older] on your dreams, the one they picked the one you’ll know by” because these pleas for intra-familial-connection reference Snatched’s underlying (but slapstick-presented, thereby-diluted) themes of taking better command of your own life’s direction as well as purging smothering-fear from “effective” strategies of parenting.  Finally, I'll note before the screening I saw of Snatched there’s a short clip of Schumer and Hawn thanking us for seeing their movie in an actual theater; perhaps that should have been bookended by scriptwriter Katie Dippold and director Levine thanking us for staying, a clip that should play right before the final credits because there likely wouldn’t be many left to hear them just before the lights come up again.

 By the way, my wonderful wife, Nina, and I are taking a short vacation next week so I may not get anything posted, but, if not, I’ll be back to “whale cum” (sorry, couldn’t resist) the beginning of June.
               
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
            
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

Here’s more information about Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer:



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onAUrapdqcQ (56:57 interview with director Joseph Cedar and actor Richard Gere)



Here’s more information about Snatched:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsBWnst8f7w (this is a Red Band trailer with some of the same R-rated language from the movie; if you’d prefer something a bit more sanitized here’s one at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcyeYFXdHNQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfFwRKXqYe4 (30:11 interview with director Jonathan Levine, producer Paul Feig, and actors Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn [begins with the 2nd trailer just above]; this interview and the 3rd link in the cluster just above show excellent contrasts of interview approaches where there’s an expectation that the people who are watching have seen the film [the one above] vs. the sort where everyone has to be circumspect about a project’s details [this one], in the same manner that my spoiler reviews address anything I find relevant, with the reader forewarned about such revelations, whereas the standard “preview reviews” have to be careful to not say too much for the benefit of upcoming audiences who haven’t even had a chance to decide on seeing the film under review)



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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at kenburke409@gmail.com.  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I have to keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 4/12/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

 UNLESS YOU’RE READING THIS ON A MACINTOSH COMPUTER USING MAC OS X 10.10.5 AND SAFARI 10.1.1 YOU MAY SEE A SLOPPIER PRESENTATION THAN WHAT WE INTENDED (Google Chrome 58.0.3029.110 meets our layout design; hopefully all other options will look decent also).  OUR APOLOGIES FOR ANY INADVERTENT MESS THAT WE CAN’T CONTROL.

Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 20,618 (on the rise again, plus I’m still big in Russia even without an Oval Office photo pop); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:


Below is the sample page of the press notes from Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer that I said I’d include here at the very end of the posting.  If you’d like to see the entire PDF file this comes from send an email to the address just above; I’ll reply with the PDF as an attachment in which you'll find extensive information about the director's perspective on his film.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Dinner and (somewhat) Short Takes on Get Out

                   Skip the Meal, We’ll Just Fight Over the Bill

                                                 Reviews by Ken Burke
                   
                            The Dinner (Oren Moverman)
                
2 brothers, 1 with mental issues who has ongoing anger against his politician sibling, are at an exquisite dinner with their wives, but the real reason is a need to discuss some private strategy for dealing with a yet-unpublicized-tragedy connected to their teenage sons; this all gets a bit sidetracked at times with a lot of flashbacks but contains powerful performances.
               
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Hostility’s been simmering between 2 brothers, Stan and Paul Lohman, for years due to a good number of factors: Paul’s perception that their mother favored Stan; Paul’s struggle with mental illness (a family trait that troubled Mom also, with Stan having to take early responsibility for her) leaving him grouchy about a lot of things in addition to his sibling; Stan’s success as a Congressman now running for Governor with Paul perceiving his brother as a phony, preening politician.  All those problems aside, they—along with their wives—meet at an exclusive restaurant for an absurdly-upscale dinner (Stan picks up the tab) because a family discussion’s needed to address a horrible situation perpetrated by the brothers’ teenage sons, although nothing has come to light yet about who was involved in this incident except for an ambiguous Internet video showing the crime.  Tensions mount throughout the meal as the film constantly shifts between the present scene and various flashbacks guiding our understanding of what’s brought about this current crisis.  To say more would get me out of “no spoilers” territory (although that’s available just below) except that the interpersonal dynamics within the 2 couples as well as among these 4 hostile parents alternates marvelously between cynical humor from Paul to scorching interchanges all across the table that give each of these excellent actors their proper due.

 My praise of this cinematic experience runs quite counter to the overall critical consensus (Rotten Tomatoes 53%, Metacritic 58%), so take my supportive 4 of 5 stars with however many grains of salt my past comments have shown about what harmony may exist between your sensibilities and mine.  However, while I acknowledge the constant use of flashbacks serves to artificially-prolong the revelations and ultimate climax of this narrative, that’s not necessarily as much of a detriment to The Dinner as many reviewers have protested.  I recommend this film for your viewing pleasure, even if just in the experience of seeing what a ridiculously-priced-meal looks like, saving you the need (and expense) of indulging in that yourself, depending on how much such a culinary-adventure gnaws at your curiosity (however, I think you’d also appreciate this complex family drama as well).

So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.
                  
(I'll admit from the start that the accompanying photos for this review are of limited 
content and quality; despite my due-diligence-attempts to find others, the ones I've 
used are not only the best I could find but they're also about the only ones available.)
What Happens: While most of The Dinner’s onscreen presentation is marked by titles that designate aspects of a fancy meal, the opening scenes simply lead up to this underlying metaphor with closeups of various exquisite foods (depending on your tastes, that is; more on that in this review’s next section), followed by our introduction to 3 important teenagers—Michael Lohman (Charlie Plummer), his blood-cousin Rick Lohman (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), his adopted-cousin Beau Lohman (Miles J. Harvey)—at a party where they leave when the cops show up; next we meet Michael’s Dad, Paul (Steve Coogan), giving us a lengthy voiceover soliloquy about how wonderful ancient Italy was until it (and the rest of civilization) was ruined by the onward flow of history since the Renaissance, as he and wife Claire (Laura Linney) prepare to attend the film’s upscale-titular-banquet, which he has no interest in due to both the extravagance of the setting (pompous absurdity in his opinion [although in the tradition of Roman feasts, which I’d think he’d admire]) and having to spend time with his brother, Stan (Richard Gere), a Congressman running for Governor (hard to tell if Paul loathes sibling Stan more for who he is or what he does)—although he’s got problems with Michael as well for dating a slightly-older-woman, Anna (Laura Hajek), whose “sophisticated” age of 20 gives him pause about his son’s ability to think clearly (more on that as we go).  From here on out, each film segment is titled by a serving name (aperitif, appetizer, main course, cheese course, dessert, digestif: most of them with items too complicated for me to even take notes on), although it’s hard to say such designations aren’t just convenient breaks in ever-escalating-tension among these 4 protagonists (including Stan’s second wife, Kate [Rebecca Hall]).

 Kate tries to put on a game face during the meal, covering up her disgust with hubby Stan’s constant breakaways to handle political issues, usually through repetitive interruptions brought  by his hovering campaign-manager, Nina (Adepero Oduye); Claire’s long ago learned how to lift herself up from the overriding gloom that follows Paul around (like the raincloud constantly hovering over Joe Btfsplk’s head in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner comic strip from long ago) but her patience will finally collapse by the time we get to the last segment of this narrative; Paul’s so openly disdainful of Stan it’s amazing that they can even coexist in the same room (although the group moves into increasingly-secluded-quarters as the story moves toward climax).  At various times during the evening Kate and Paul storm off separately while Stan fills in their absences by continuing to work the room with anyone available to help polish his campaign image.  During all this, we learn through flashbacks of Paul’s mental breakdown during his former career as a high-school-history-teacher (where distain for himself, everything around him became so evident Stan had to take him on a recovery trip to the site of his Civil War obsession, the slaughter that was the battle of Gettysburg [50,000 dead]), how this struggle with sanity was pushed to the limit when Claire had her own battle with lung cancer (highlighted by a scene when Michael’s basketball crashes through the window of a smoke shop where Claire got her cigarettes, supposedly an accident but probably Paul’s anger erupting), and the critical plot point of how our 3 teens from the opening scenes were making their way home, needed to stop at an ATM to get some cash, found a homeless woman sleeping there leading to a senseless attack initiated by Michael, helped by Rick (Beau, horrified at the situation, ran off) that ended with her being set on fire, filmed on Michael’s cellphone, with the crime posted anonymously on the Internet later by Beau but still unsolved because the images don’t identify the 2 perpetrators.

 All of this past/present trauma finally leads these couples to a private room in this swanky restaurant where Stan reveals he’s not willing to allow the boys to get away with this senseless murder so he’s calling a press conference the next day to announce his withdrawal from the Governor’s race followed by an admission of Rick and Michael’s instigation of their heartless action (there’s also concern all around that Beau’s about to go public as well, with the guilt making him far too emotionally unstable to be silent much longer regarding the atrocity).  At this point, Stan gets intense pushback, not only from Claire who doesn’t want her son’s future ruined by the publicity of his heinous act (despite Stan’s regrets, she’s convinced they can find a mutually-agreeable-solution to keep Michael and Rick’s involvement hidden) but also from Kate who’s clearly enamored of the even-higher-profile-life she’s about to enter (Stan’s a likely election-shoo-in—unless he’s got some disgruntled ex-coal miners, former factory workers, or fired FBI Directors in his state [unspecified, as best I understood, although Pennsylvania or New Jersey seemed possible] who haven’t been accounted for well enough in the polls) despite her disgust at the 24/7 realities of winning such a media-intensive-race.  Stan gets flack from Nina also, who finally convinces him to take a 3-day-cooling-off-break before deciding anything, but Paul’s not too cool because he admits he hasn't been taking his meds for months, so as to not be so numb in his
(As evidence of how difficult it was to find reasonable
photos for this review, I find I have to pad them with
this silly shot of Gere "looking" at the book cover.)
encounters with Claire, so he hustles off to talk with Beau; however, in reality Paul pulls the kid into the woods behind his house, about to kill him with a big rock just when the others arrive.  There’s  some confusion (at least for me) as to what happens to Beau,* but Stan’s clearly at the point of reconsideration because he  then gets a phone call he’ll have the needed votes tomorrow for his bill to provide better national mental health services, leaving us with the implication he thinks his growing political capital could be publically-beneficial for him after all.  Abruptly, though, this film ends.

*Since seeing The Dinner last weekend, my wife, Nina (another sharp woman but with no interest [thank heaven] in being anyone’s campaign-manager), now has the book (from which this film was adapted) of the same name (those Amazon drones work overtime)—a Dutch novel** by Herman Koch (2009), set in The Netherlands—so I could probably take a look at its final pages to see if I can find out what happens with Beau (a summary I’ve read shows that the novel largely parallels the film’s narrative but it doesn't clarify the ending's details) but I’m just going to wait until she finishes reading it so that I don’t give anything away to her when she soon gets a chance to read this review.

**There are 2 other cinematic adaptations of this book, all with the same title, a Dutch film by Menno Meyjes (2013) and an Italian one by Ivano De Matteo (2014), but I know nothing about them.

(As my attempts to find reasonably-relevant photos continue, I'll use
this shot of the French Laundry family dinner, with Nina in the left
front, me next to her, then her brother; I won't name the others so
they can remain innocently anonymous in this public posting.)
So What? I have no experience whatsoever with teenage-criminal-sons (although my cat, Inky, has killed a couple of innocent birds on our condo-porch), nor with sibling-rivalry (like Beau, I’m adopted, but unlike him I'm an only child; to further note our other differences he's African-American [with me as mostly-Caucasian {?} *], a possible factor in his horror at the abuse of the homeless woman, not only because he’s appalled his relatives would perform such a cruel act but also she appeared [to my eyes] to be a light-skinned Black woman so maybe he had more empathy for her than they did, although race may have had nothing to do with how Michael felt some deep-seated-need to lash out at the rift he has with Paul while Rick may have been just too weak to restrain his irrational [and likely drunk] cousin), but I have had a massive-splurge-dinner of such extremely-lavish-elements, a few years ago to celebrate Nina’s 60th (and her brother’s [also named Ken {Kindblad}, to keep things as confusing as possible at family gatherings] 65th) birthday, at the famous French Laundry, a bit north of us in Yountville, CA (where I made out in bandit-fashion because some of those fishy-dishes weren’t so delightful for Nina so I ate at least a 3rd of her meal also).  In truth, our 9 courses were as exotic as the ones in the film (although no little vegetables were still nestled in an ant-farm-like dirt container that we all begin The Dinner with; however, we had no embarrassing family events, probably because one of our wise nieces had the
(This looks like a bad high-school-yearbook photo.)
good sense not to tell my sweet Nina that famed actor Sean Penn [with his unidentified date of that night but, fortunately for all of us involved, no stalking paparazzi] was walking out just after we walked in; despite the useful context, though, I’d best not go into the 1968 Richard Harris Disneyland incident because the restraining order on Nina may not have expired yet, even though Mr. Harris sadly has), giving us a “taste” of what it must be like to regularly indulge in the rarified air, heady extravagances of that upper 1%.

*Depending on which DNA test you believe; one shows me as having some notable Native American, South Asian, and Middle Eastern ancestry, another has me as all Europeanmostly Irish, Scandinavian, and Iberian Peninsula.

 That dinner of ours allowed me to better appreciate Kate’s firm, sudden steeliness about giving up this type of luxurious lifestyle (I don’t want it on a fulltime basis, just as a memorable indulgence), yet without experience being a parent I still have to ponder Claire’s desire to protect her son at the expense of an innocent, social-outcast person killed needlessly by her irrationally-cruel-child.  (I do relate to Stan being left by first wife, Barbara [Chloë Sevigny]—after both kids were in their lives—as I also experienced that fate long ago [just without any kids], but for me it ultimately was for the better; based on what I see of Kate in this film I’m not so sure Stan could sincerely say the same.)

 All of these characters are quite complex, with us as observers best able to make sense of Paul’s motivations (twisted and hurtful as some of them are), having to surmise as best we can the larger range of influences that may have shaped the attitudes and actions of all the others: Stan seems to be truly concerned about Paul’s well being when he takes him on the trip to Gettysburg, even though his angry brother continues to push him away; Claire’s worried if Paul may actually be a racist when he voices hesitation about Beau’s entry into the Lohman family, an accusation Paul denies, with his strained explanation there’s just something he doesn’t feel comfortable with about the kid (although we later witness Beau as the one who ultimately shows a bit more integrity than his brother or cousin; yet, it may be less about innate morality on Beau's part, more about some revenge for his relatives' ongoing teasing about his “otherness").  Moverman often presents these flashbacks of Paul in overexposed, high-key light, as if trying to better illuminate for us (and Paul?) the cluster of emotional experiences which shaped him into the bitter, estranged man he is today, while the scenes of the teenagers are all dark (even at the initial party), reasonable given their locations but inherently providing for a dramatic contrast when the woman’s set on fire (supposedly to chase her out of the ATM-cubicle because the boys can’t stand her odor as they want to withdraw their cash but obviously as an excuse for Michael to act out his own estrangement from an overbearing father, along with a too-supportive mother), all part of the attempt to help us separate time/action scenes from the past that have led these characters to their slowly-building-moment-of-truth in the present.

 As noted before, many reviews of The Dinner have been quite negative toward this heavy use of the flashback structure, claiming that these past-based-intrusion-scenes hinder the film's steady-build-toward-emotional-explosion in the present.  Upon initial encounter, I also shared that feeling—although, even with that concern, I still preferred in this case to see some aspect of a thoughtfully-doled-out-reveal of what shaped Paul’s instability/ negativity to just some traditionally-constructed, chronological-event-by-event account of his past problems, then the horrid action of the boys on that fateful night, followed by a lengthy, angry clash over dinner as we work our way into the present day of this sad, terribly-disaster-prone family.  However, when discussing the film with Nina I came to understand her interpretation of this fragmented structure as being immensely effective, so while you might not agree the frequent time shifts work well if you see this story (on screen now or via video at a later date)—and, again, I can’t yet speak to whether this even occurs, let alone works better in the book—I see her point that our minds don’t work in constant linear fashion, with some sense of our own chronology clearly in place as we add new entries to the long parade of what’s gone before with everything in context of how it relates to all else (as most narratives in our media do, a clear flow from start to finish we’re expected to remember notable events from so we can easily appreciate how something in the present is a relatable-payoff to what we were introduced to earlier); rather, those files of memories are randomly-accessible, so a song on the car radio, a smell as we walk past a café, a color combination in a magazine or TV ad suddenly brings back a specific moment (or collage of them) that can either be a fleeting reminder of something long forgotten or the beginning of an engrossing return to a former event (or chain of them), possibly intruding on the stability of the present, possibly helping make sense of an unsettling-yet-inexplicable-feeling.  In retrospect, I see The Dinner functioning like this, in a usefully-non-linear-fashion, mirroring the jumbled-psyches of these characters who are dealing with disasters none of them want to accept.

(Insightful?) Bottom Line 
Final Comments: If you take
my advice to see The Dinner (oh, give it a try; you might run into Sean Penn at the theater), you'll have to endure (or, appreciate, as your tastes may be) Paul’s occasional VO narration in which he rails against his brother (which you can probably dismiss if you like, unless he reminds you too much of your own experiences of relatives/friends/co-workers/bosses/ political leaders/celebrities) but also our modern world of technology, Hollywood entertainment packages, instant gratification; however, you’ll also see how generally self-serving all of these characters are (Stan shows the most hope of enlightenment, until the ambiguous ending in which he seems to be getting onto the same warped wavelength as we find with his wife, brother, and sister-in-law, although Paul’s also disgusted with Claire’s easy acceptance of Michael’s crime as an “accident,” the woman as a “violent, disgusting bum,” which Paul knows isn’t true, unless you’d somehow link it to a temporary insanity plea, which I’m sure Paul would see as another cynical copout), even to the point of Paul rehearsing a lecture to his highschoolers about how war is useful in helping eliminate oppressive members of families who need to die for our common good, as we see another flashback where he rejects Stan and Barbara’s offer to take Michael while Claire’s hospitalized (before her undetailed-recovery), given that Paul’s losing all coherence as a father as the house is overrun with clutter, just as he’s unfocused so he’s often wavering between hostility and incompetence, not pleasant to watch but a true depiction of a person lost in his own sorrow yet blaming everyone else for his shortcomings as he hits Stan with a saucepan while Michael watches his father’s deterioration.  (Coogan’s just magnificent in his role, even in his VO Orwellian statement that “war is love” as he prepares to kill poor Beau; everyone else is excellent in their roles as well.)

(As a final example of what I had to work with
regarding images to accompany this review,
I decided to use this Italian poster for the film.)
 You’re not going to find a lot of other evidence to convince you to see The Dinner beyond my recommendation (it’s scored a less-than-enthusiastic-collective-cluster-of-responses at both Rotten Tomatoes—53% positive reviews—and Metacritic—a slightly-higher-than-RT-for-a-change 58%, with more details in the links far below; a very small domestic [U.S.-Canada] take of only $655.5 thousand gross from 505 theaters during opening week), so either take it from me that this film’s better than most others will make it seem or go with the crowd (especially if you don’t want to endure a downer drama about a severely-dysfunctional-family) to something more silly, showy, and upbeat such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn; scored $441.4 million worldwide in its opening week).  Whatever your choice, I’ll leave you with my appropriate … Dinner Musical Metaphor (to finalize the review from the perspective of another artform), Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” (from their 1979 album The Wall) found at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=q1bbE_TOsd8 (this is a 1994 live performance but without Roger Waters from the original group*) with its similarity to The Dinner’s characters “out there in the cold Getting lonely, getting old […] sitting naked by the phone […] breaking bottles in the hall [… quietly saying to anyone who’ll listen] don’t tell me there’s no hope at all,” even when it seems there won’t be much chance for a dose of liberating-relief for either the song's distraught singer or these distressed, lost souls in this grim film unless some hearts change soon.

*If you’re a purist, needing Waters in the mix, here’s the original from the album.
               
(another noble—but failed—attempt at actual) SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)

                                                     Get Out (Jordan Peele)

A young interracial couple goes one weekend for him to meet her upper-class White parents, a trip which turns increasingly weird from his perspective because not only do the family’s friends fawn all over him but also he gets strange vibes from the 2 Black servants; this is the rare effective blend of comedy and psychological horror, spiced with satirical racial comedy.

 I put this film into my category of Short Takes reviews only because it’s already been in release for quite a while so I doubt there are too many potential viewers who'd wait this long without having yet seen it—even though I just got around to it myself, thanks to Nina’s (who often has better insights about what might be our weekly filmic choices) ongoing-interest in seeking out this oddball-yet-enticing-experience—so I doubt anything I’d say at this point would make much difference given its solid market saturation already (it’s taken in an astonishing $173 million domestically over the past 10 weeks plus another $21.8 million internationally, against a mere $4.5 million budget, so director Peele’s gone from initial offering to a solid deal with Universal Pictures for more of his conceptions; my solid attempt at an actual Short Take review’s dubious, though, because there’s a lot to say about this marvelously-twisted-story, so please hear me out, concise presentation or not); I’ll acknowledge I got sidetracked when Get Out was first released, reading some reviews that made it seem like Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968) meets The Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975; Frank Oz, 2004)—which to some degree it is but in a much better result that such a description would indicate—with the implication that this supposedly-liberal Northeastern White community was simply lusting for Black blood (again, not completely wrong, yet nowhere near what’s actually on screen here) so I kept putting it off.  When I finally saw it I was astonished at the complexity, humor, and social implications permeating this film, understanding better now why the cumulative critical response is so very much better than what I initially encountered (99% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, 84% average score at Metacritic, with more details in the links below).

 A quick summary of the plot gives us a surprise opening abduction of a young Black man in a suburban neighborhood (I had to put that aside for awhile but later finally saw how this kidnapping of a guy we'll learn is Andre Hayworth [LaKeith Stanfield] plays into the main plot), followed by the introduction of young couple Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya)—Black—Rose Armitage (Allison Williams)—White—when after 5 months together she’s ready to introduce him to her parents.  On the trip to her wooded-home (her driving), they hit a deer which damages the car somewhat, kills the animal; after reporting the accident to the local authorities Chris endures some racist gruff from a highway patrolman, with Rose angrily coming to his defense.  Once they reach their destination, Chris is welcomed easily by parents Dean (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon, and Missy (Catherine Keener), a psychiatrist/hypnotherapist, although younger brother Jeremy’s (Caleb Landry Jones) somewhat unsettling while servants Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) are just downright weird in some of their reactions to Chris, with an annual gathering of family friends the next day yielding even more odd responses from the only other Black guest at this grand, lavish
occasion.  Chris does try to make contact with this strange guy, Logan King [Stanfield], (once known as Andre Hayworth, to finally explain that weird opening scene) whose offsetting behavior turns hostile when Chris (who's a noted photographer) takes a flash photo of him.  Further weirdness came in the early morning hours before this event when Chris snuck outside for a cigarette (he’s trying to quit) only to find Missy in the living room, wide awake; she hypnotizes him (with the clever use of a spoon in a teacup) into a paralytic state, sending him to what she calls “the sunken place” until he wakes up later that morning rattled by it all (but with his nicotine attraction gone).  Chris wants to leave but soon finds he’s a prisoner of this family, with a video explanation from Grandpa Roman Armitage (Richard Herd) that he’ll soon be part of their circle after Dean implants high-bidder/blind-art-dealer Jim Hudson’s (Stephen Root) brain into Chris’ head, with the host retaining only the vaguest awareness of his past life.  (Chris was warned against getting involved with these folks by his close friend/TSA Officer Rod Williams [Lil Rel Howery], but Rod assumed his friend was destined to be turned into a zombie-like-sex-slave—which comes across as much funnier than it sounds when he explains it.)

Another (less-riveting) side of Rose
 Through a series of plotted circumstances, Chris manages to get free of his confinement, kills Jeremy, Dean, and Missy, attempts to drive away from the secluded Armitage mansion but then hits Georgina in the process so he puts her in the passenger seat (somewhat in guilt for how as an 11-year-old-boy he just watched TV rather than trying to find out the reason that his mother didn’t return on the night she suffered an agonizing death due to a horrid hit-and-run-driver); Georgina then suddenly comes to (with our clarity that the body of this woman contains the brain of Grandma Armitage, the type of surgery that Dean’s been doing for years to put ailing White identities into virile Black bodies), angrily distracts Chris for destroying her house (it caught on fire in the process of his escape), so he smashes the car into a tree, apparently killing her for good.  Rose and Walter (with Grandpa’s brain [he was always miffed he lost an Olympic trial to Jesse Owens so he wanted a Black body to give himself a 2nd chance at top-flight-athleticism]) are right behind as bloodied-Chris crawls away from the smashed auto; when they catch up, he uses the phone-camera-flash again to awaken the submerged-consciousness of Walter who asks Rose for the rifle to kill Chris, instead shoots her, then kills himself.  Rose isn’t quite dead, though, so Chris starts to choke her, relents when a flashing-light-car pulls up with our assumption Chris will be arrested for all these deaths (apparently that was the original script intention) but it turns out to be super-sleuth-Rod to the rescue (who tried to report his earlier concerns to the police when he recognized the photo of long-missing-Andre that Chris sent him of “Logan,” only to be laughed off).

 There’s a constant sense of unease in Get Out that evolves into full-fledged-horror as circumstances (and lying Rose, who’s lured many Black men into her seductive-grasp) escalate against Chris, with our assumptions for his final demise turned into satirical humor when the “authority” arriving at the end isn’t the racist cop from earlier but instead Rod, who’s not about to report any of this to anyone lest Chris need to take any responsibility for all the deaths he caused in his frantic escape from the Armitage madhouse.  A perverse sense of humor pervades this unique film (despite the scene of Dean cutting off Jim Hudson‘s skull in order to take out his brain for the intended transfer, giving me memories of a similar grotesque event in Hannibal [Ridley Scott, 2001] when the title character finally overcomes his own capture to take revenge on antagonist Paul Krendler [Ray Liotta] by doping him, then removing the top of his skull, slicing off sections of Paul‘s brain for the deluded-prisoner to eat) even as the tension of betrayal, forced-surrender of identity, and the warped assumption of the Armitages and their retinue that such bodily-theft is acceptable, only because they’re of a class privileged enough to devise it.  The surface horrors of Get Out (a most appropriate title as a warning to Chris and all he represents) are blended well with the social satire of a narrative where Blacks are prized not for their humanity (as the Armitages and their social circle keep saying) but rather for their physical attractiveness as a vehicle for elderly Whites to escape death (reminiscent of a similar attempt of old folks entering into younger bodies in Being John Malkovich [Spike Jonze, 1999]—which also featured Keener), the sudden turn by Rose at the end is completely unexpected, the comic scenes featuring Rod’s paranoia are hilarious, with the whole enterprise of Get Out as one of the more unusual cinematic pleasures I’ve had in quite some time.

 I’ll leave my fascination with this most-unusual-but-satisfying-film in the offering of a Musical Metaphor, “A Hymn to Him” (lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner along with music by Frederick Loewe from their play, My Fair Lady [its Broadway premiere in 1956], then adapted to film by George Cukor in 1964, available on either version's cast soundtrack album) at https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=A PPfTEv-YxI (sung by Rex Harrison from the movie) because it takes such an odd stretch to connect this song to the events of Get Out, resembling this film’s odd stretch of race-relations-commentary put into the vehicles of comedy and horror movies, just as the song’s male (ego)-centric-lyrics (“why can’t a woman be more like a man?”) remind me of how this film’s satire of Black Lives Matter-caring White liberals (a real-world-group which generically includes me, although hopefully not as characterized by these manipulative-filmic-monsters) are enamored of their “dark neighbors” enough to crave their attractive bodies but only as vessels for their White identities—social privilege now manifested in a more robust tone—purified of all their unseemly “racial” aspects just as this song asks why women must be “exasperating, irritating, Vacillating, calculating, agitating Maddening and infuriating hags!” rather than men who “are so friendly, good natured and kind.  A better companion you never will find.”  These wealthy, warped liberals (I know; some of you are saying “Is there any other kind?”) in 
Get Out certainly aren’t the only harsh, doctrinaire societal or ethnic groups to feel this way about whomever they perceive as “the other,” but, as summed up in the above song, this patronizing (at best; sexist at its worst) attitude shown by men (Whites, oligarchs, etc.) as being “so honest, so thoroughly square; [not to mention] Eternally noble, historically fair” [!], setting forth such “excellent” [?] examples (with disastrous health-care-plans or their “big, beautiful” walls) to serve as the template for the “irrational” who just can’t seem to understand why “can’t a woman [or any of “them”] be like us?” comes together well as a condemnation on screen, whether we’re dealing with the Armitages or Prof. Henry Higgins.  As Chris and Rod demonstrate clearly in the fascinating, unnerving Get Out, there can be plenty of reasons not to follow such offered “models,” especially when the “us” displays any of the fawning-yet-horrid, (literally) mind-altering aspects of this repulsive mentality.*

*Some additional commentary on the intentions and attitudes of Get Out can be found at the following links, focused on 2 important-but-likely-unnoticed-symbols (7:11) in the narrative, an examination of its inner messages (10:24), along with a precise 25 facts about the film (6:33).
                 
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
               
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

Here’s more information about The Dinner:



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHTAAHvHiTY (6:19 commentary from actors Richard Gere, Rebecca Hall, Laura Linney, Chloë Sevigny, and director Oren Moverman; given that Steve Coogan’s not available there I’ll also offer Gere and Hall’s praise for Coogan in this very short video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhUApKasznA)



Here’s more information about Get Out:



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V32rOwfuZS4 (41:34 interview with director Jordan Peele and actors Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams [begins with the same trailer as noted just above])



Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at https://accounts.google.com/NewAccount if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at kenburke409@gmail.com.  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I have to keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 4/12/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
            
UNLESS YOU’RE READING THIS ON A MACINTOSH COMPUTER USING MAC OS X 10.10.5 AND SAFARI 10.1 YOU MAY SEE A SLOPPIER PRESENTATION THAN WHAT WE INTENDED (Google Chrome 58.0.3029.110 meets our layout design; hopefully all other options will look decent also).  OUR APOLOGIES FOR ANY INADVERTENT MESS THAT WE CAN’T CONTROL.
            
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 18,753 (a bit lower than previously; I guess I’m dropping out of fashion); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (I see I’m big in Russia again; I hope I’m not going to be called to D.C. to testify about clandestine contacts because, believe me, there’s been no payoffs coming from that direction—or anywhere else—to my bank account [if anything, I should be commended for maintaining the U.S.A. balance of trade relative to limited imports]):