Wednesday, April 5, 2017

After the Storm, Life, Frantz, The Zookeeper's Wife, I Called Him Morgan, In Search of Israeli Cuisine

After the Storm

The Zookeeper's Wife

I Called Him Morgan
In Search of Israeli Cuisine

Quick licks on six pix:

The mildest of recs for Hirokazu Koreeda's slow, gentle Japanese import "After the Storm," with a winning lead performance by Hiroshi Abe as a celebrated author unable to duplicate the success of his first novel. Now he works for a private detective agency and gambles away his earnings, perpetually falling behind on child support. Koreeda reveals character traits and story developments off-handedly and in his own sweet time… Thumbs way down for the brain-dead "Alien" ripoff "Life," a pure paycheck project for Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds featuring a decidedly daffy alien menace and a gore lover's mentality (which I do not share). The wicked twist ending is its sole saving grace… Another mild rec for François Ozon's black-and-white "Frantz," in which a German widow whose husband was killed in WWI finds a mysterious Frenchman placing flowers on his grave. What was the nature of Frantz's relationship with this Adrien fellow (Pierre Niney of the superb "Yves Saint Laurent")? And might he and Anna find comfort in each other? It's too much of a One-Big-Relevation movie to make a deep impact, but I like that the answer is not the one you would expect from Ozon… Jessica Chastain's political stridency - and a porridge-thick accent - dilute her effectiveness in Niki Caro's Holocaust picture "The Zookeeper's Wife." She plays Antonina Zabinska, a real-life heroine who operated the (still-extant) Warsaw Zoo, turning it in wartime into a hidden-in-plain-sight refuge for hundreds of Jews. Antonina's necessarily fraught relationship with Hitler's head zoologist (Daniel Brühl) is put in the service of a silly jealousy subplot involving her husband Jan. More problematically, the Jewish characters remain mostly undeveloped, and a scene in which Brühl makes Chastain (and us) think he's killed a child when he hasn't is unforgivable… Kasper Collin's jazz documentary "I Called Him Morgan," about the trumpeter Lee Morgan and his older wife, Helen, who killed him at a club in New York City, did nothing for me. The events and figures are of such vintage that they remain ever at an emotional remove… Finally, an enthusiastic rec for Roger Sherman's doc "In Search of Israeli Cuisine," which treats its title quest with appropriate academic rigor. We travel to almost every corner of Israel, meeting restaurateurs, farmers, vintners, food writers and others who have given serious thought to whether Israel is mature enough and has enough of an identity to be said to have a cuisine. The film covers such matters as the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic cooking, the challenges facing Arab restaurateurs in Israel, and the influences of Judaism on the eating habits of a population that is 80% secular. Good food porn, too.

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