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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Richard Gere delivers one of his very best performances as the titular Norman, a New York “businessman” who doesn’t really have a business or a job.

He’s a mysterious, earbud-wearing, graying man riding the trains and grabbing crackers for dinner at the local synagogue—with big aspirations. A self-professed “good swimmer” fighting to stay afloat, Norman finds himself in the company of an up-and-coming Israeli politician (an excellent Lior Ashkenazi), and in a moment of generosity/desperateness, Norman buys the man a pair of shoes. That gesture earns him good favor—as the politician becomes the Israeli prime minister. With big friends comes more notoriety, and Norman finds himself involved in political intrigue and rising responsibility within the New York City Jewish community.

Gere, who basically shrinks himself under a sun cap and trench coat here, sparkles in the role, making Norman a memorable, likable and appropriately annoying character.

Supporting performances from Dan Stevens, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Steve Buscemi round out an excellent cast. Director Joseph Cedar presents the story in a surprisingly layered, often-funny fashion, with definite tragedy at its center.

Gere’s work here is some of the year’s best so far.

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer is now playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

A couple of weeks ago, I explained how much I hated the latest from Lars von Trier, his awful Nymphomaniac: Vol. I. As much as I hated it, I hoped that Vol. II, released just after the first film, might improve upon the first part and allow the whole mess to make sense.

Nope.

This one picks up where the first film left off—and it’s actually more tedious than the previous chapter. Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) continues telling her story to the man who found her bloody body in an alley (Stellan Skarsgård)—a sordid tale about her crazy sex life and criminal activity.

The whole story basically leads up to the moment when Joe wound up in the gutter. Along the way in Vol. II, we discover that she had a baby, and she become a debt collector for a crime boss (Willem Dafoe) using S&M techniques instead of breaking arms. It is all so … incredibly … lame.

Both films play out like long, unfunny jokes told by a jerk with a lousy sense of humor. The punch line is both crass and uninspired.

Seriously: I want von Trier to retreat from provocation in his next venture, and perhaps make a film about puppies and ice cream.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. II is now playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

There’s no denying that writer-director Lars von Trier is a true talent. Melancholia, Antichrist and Dancer in the Dark represent some of the best bizarre cinema this side of David Lynch. His other offerings, Dogville and Breaking the Waves, are not favorites of mine, but they are still respectable.

Alas, now comes Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1, a despicably bad attempt at shock cinema that represents the very worst in sensationalistic, lazy filmmaking. Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is a confessed nymphomaniac who is found bleeding in the gutter by a kind soul (Stellan Skarsgård); he takes her back to his apartment. After a cup of tea, Joe starts telling her sad story (a boring framing device that rips off, among others,The Princess Bride). In flashback, we see Joe’s sad, humiliating story as she (played in her younger days by Stacy Martin) recounts her outrageous sexual escapades and supposed emotional problems.

This movie is hard to watch and features nothing that stands out as original or genuinely provocative. Instead, it comes off as desperate, with von Trier laboring to shock his audience—something that was never evident in his prior films.

Only Uma Thurman shines as a jilted wife; she blisters the screen in what feels like an improvised moment. The rest of the movie is just stuff like Christian Slater crapping himself and Shia LaBeouf getting naked.

This is a total piece of garbage—and it is only Part One of the saga: Part Two is coming out right on its heels, so God help us all.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 is now playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews