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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Lior Ashkenazi

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2017)

Can’t trust anybody. Not even randomly kind Jewish men.

Norman (Richard Gere), a New York fixer, knows the right people and can get things done. He also can tend to be a bit overzealous and, as a result, begin to scare more people away, than actually bring them in and closer. Often too, his tactics can be a little odd and rub certain people the wrong way. But then again, those are the kinds of people Norman doesn’t want to really work with, which is why when an Israeli dignitary named Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) comes to the city, Norman decides to impress the man by buying him some very expensive shoes and seeing if they can build on some sort of friendship. It works and he establishes a strong connection to the man, and it helps him when Eshel becomes Israel prime minister a few years later and, get this, actually remembers Norman and wants him to help out in his office. Norman accepts, but also wishes that he was a lot closer to Eshel and the inner-workings. Eventually, this causes issues for both men and will ultimately prove to be Norman’s unraveling, where his real life, all the secrets and lies that he’s kept throughout the years, finally come to lie.

“Trust me, it’s cold out.”

Norman feels like it’s based on a true story, but it really isn’t. In a way, writer/director Joseph Cedar seems to be basing this story off the numerous individuals who work in the strategy-world portion of politics and he doesn’t seem to be frowning upon them, nor even glamorizing them – in fact, he’s more or less just giving them the fair-shake they probably deserve. Political fixers, so often, are seen as heartless, tactful, and evil-doers who find a way to win and keep at it, no matter what. Why on Earth we look down upon these people as less than human, when in reality, they’re just really good at their jobs. And in Norman, the idea we get about political-fixers, as well as the title-character, is that being good at your job is one thing, but being a good and smart human being is another.

Although, that’s what I think.

See, the small issue with Norman is that the movie never really knows just what proves to be his actual fall-from-grace, because honestly, we never really get to see the rise, either. Of course, the word “Moderate” in the title probably says it all, but honestly, when your movie is built around the fact that your lead character doesn’t really accomplish a whole lot, yet, still falls down dramatically off the social-ladder, it’s hard to really feel any pain or emotion. We may care for this character, or even what he’s doing, but if we really don’t get the sense of what’s being accomplished and lost, then really, what’s the point?

Well, Israel’s got enough problems on its plate, honestly.

If anything, Norman proves to be another solid showcase for Richard Gere who, so late in his life, almost doesn’t care how big the movies he’s doing are. By now, he’s so happy to be able to work with these three-dimensional, interesting characters, that he’ll take the budget on, regardless. And as the title-character, Gere’s quite good here; he has every opportunity to play it silly and cartoonish, but thankfully, he strays away from that. In fact, what we see with Gere’s portrayal is a small, rather smart man who also just wants to be recognized, praised, and above all else, loved.

In a way, if you look closer and closer into Norman, the movie does show itself as an intimate character-study of this one relatively troubled man who, despite seeming to have it all, still wants a little more. Cedar is a smart director to know when to get in the way of his ensemble, but because he doesn’t and they’re all good, we see more sides to these characters than ever expected, especially Gere’s Norman. He begins to show his true shadows and signs that, once broken down, unveil a very unexcited and disappointing man. The movie doesn’t really hit as hard, or as heavy as it should, but considering there’s Gere here, it’s safe to say that he’s still an interesting enough character to watch wheel-and-deal for over two-hours.

Anybody else, anywhere else, probably would have been a pain.

Consensus: Though it never really delivers going any deeper than it should have, Norman still works as a smart, interesting character-study, anchored by an even better Richard Gere performance.

7 / 10

Someone give him a hug already!

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

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Big Bad Wolves (2014)

Torture is so meaningless. Just get the killing over and done with!

Three different stories and characters come clashing together after a child is abducted, raped and brutally murdered. You know, happy stuff. On one hand, we have policeman Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) who is determined enough that he believes he found the main suspect in this case, although it’s clear that his police-chief doesn’t want him causing too much commotion; the other hand, we have the suspect in question, Dror (Rotem Keinan), a high school teacher that has a bit of a troubled-life with his own wife and kids, but still maintains the position that he didn’t do it, nor has any idea what anybody is accusing him of; and lastly, on the other hand, we have the father of the abducted, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), who knows what he wants to do as soon as he finds out who may be the main culprit in this grisly crime: Find him, kidnap him, torture him, get him to talk and once it’s all said and done with, kill him. Sounds like a good plan, and heck, it gets even better once Gidi and Miki decide to join forces on beating the truth out of Dror, but one thing leads to another and, well, let’s just say not everything goes as planned.

As you can probably tell from just reading that plot-line, that things aren’t so pretty with this. There’s a lot of torture, there’s a lot of blood, there’s a lot of tension and there’s also a lot of yelling. Which makes total sense as to why major nut-ball himself, Quentin Tarantino, would state this as being his favorite film of 2013, only to have it paraded around on each and every one of this movie’s advertisements. But where most of Tarantino’s violent-fests seem to have some sort of a point to all of the havoc and mayhem being caused, for some reason, Israeli writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado don’t really seem to be able to find that.

High school teacher with a troubled marriage = main suspect in any child-abduction case.

High school teacher with a troubled marriage = automatic suspect in any child-abduction case.

Instead, they seem a little too concerned with being able to balance out the comedy, the heart (or what’s there of it) and the queasy violence, in a way that doesn’t seem too tonally-jarring when it goes from one end to another. Which is fine, considering that both seem talented enough to pull it off and have it be entertaining, as well as unpredictable, for the longest time. Because truly, it is hard to show some guy getting his chest burnt, only to then follow it up with a joke about how it makes the man feel as if he wants to eat meat again. It’s a bit odd, but it actually works and had me enjoying myself for quite some time.

Not just because I felt like this was going to be one wild ride I’d truly never forget, but because I felt like it was going somewhere big, as if it was trying to teach us something new about the art, or idea of torture, and how it doesn’t really do much except add-on more excruciating pain than already necessary. And yeah, I guess the movie makes that point maybe once, or hell, maybe even twice, but not enough times, or in enough smart ways to make me feel like that was the first goal in the creator’s minds. Instead, it more so feels as if they just want to give us all the blood, violence, gore, torture and humor that they can throw at us, while making us feel like we’re going somewhere with all of this.

Which, once again, isn’t such a bad thing since the movie does it well at times, but it’s just not something that’s substantial enough to have me feel as if I’ll watch this over and over again, just to look for the small, complex subtleties that I missed-out on in the first-viewing.

You know, like a Quentin Tarantino flick. Then again, that’s a different discussion, for a different day, folks.

Where this film really succeeds, is when it focuses solely on the interactions these three characters have with one another. Whether they’re alone or all in the same room together, I was always interested in seeing what sort of dynamic the directors/writers could make with these two, somewhat different dudes, and how, in ways that they don’t even know of, they’re alike. But, like most of what else that has to do with this movie, it doesn’t go that deep – rather, it just focuses on these guys playing games on the other, whether it be mental, physical or a good old game of Twister.

Okay, the colored-dot sheet never comes out, but you know it’d be so much more interesting if it had.

"I'm here for the funeral. Yours, to be exact!!"

“I’m here for the funeral. Yours, to be exact!!”

For instance, the most interesting character of this movie I thought was Gidi, played very well by Tzahi Grad, who I would have liked to see a movie dedicated to him, actually made. What works so well for this character of Gidi is that even though he is committing all of these reprehensible, immoral acts of torture (then again, what torture isn’t considered either “reprehensible” or “immoral”?), you can tell it comes from a really passionate spot in his heart. We all know that he loves his daughter to death and only wants to know where her body is, just in order to get some sort of closure. It’s sad to watch for what seems to be such a strong-willed, manly-man, but thus fate have it, looks can be deceiving. Because, deep down inside, behind all of the male-posturing, the constant-threats directed towards others and questionable choices he makes throughout these two-hours, therein lies a pretty sweet, tender guy that wants his daughter back and can’t get her back, but will try his hardest to get the closest thing to that. Grad is great in the role, but it’s the writing of Gidi that makes him so suitable as a protagonist. Or antagonist. It all depends on whatever stance you take on any war happening either now, or in the past.

However, I didn’t mean to focus mostly on Gidi in the last paragraph, just to show that the other two characters in this blow, because that just isn’t true. In fact, they are both fine and performed well by Lior Ashkenazi and Rotem Keinan, it’s just that they clearly weren’t given as much in the writer’s department as Gidi was. Which, once again, is fine, it just shows when you think about who the most intriguing character is, which one is the easiest to stand behind, who is the most shady and mysterious and who is the most bland of them all. I won’t spoil which one is which, that’s up to you to find out, but the results may, or may not shock you. Who knows, right?

Consensus: Though Big Bad Wolves may try to be a bit more than just a tongue-in-cheek approach to torture-porn, it doesn’t quite get there, and instead, can’t help but have us feel the pain, have a laugh or two and just enjoy whatever entertainment we’re given, minus any sort of substance.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

I guess this is where it gets fun.

I guess this is where it gets fun?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net