I feel so lucky to live in northern New Jersey, right across the river from Manhattan, the cultural capital of the country. There is no end to the plays, films, concerts, dance programs, museum exhibits, and more we have available in this area. I like to get around, and I like to share my thoughts and feelings about what I see and hear. I’m excited to start this new blog on culture high and low and hope you share your thoughts and reactions too. Let me know when you agree and when I’m absolutely, totally wrong.
Oren Moverman is an Israeli American screenwriter and film director who has done terrific work. I found his first directorial project “The Messenger” deeply moving (Moverman credited his time in the IDF with inspiration), and he worked as a screenwriter on the fascinating musical biopics “I’m Not There” and “Love and Mercy.” So I was eager to see the latest film he wrote and directed, “Time Out of Mind,” an examination of the daily struggle of one homeless person.
Having opened in New York City on September 11, “Time Out of Mind” stars Richard Gere as a shattered man roaming the streets of New York. (Gere is a producer and supposedly the driving force on the project.) The film follows him from when he is thrown out of a gentrifying squat until he eventually lands a bed in a men’s shelter. Virtually plotless, “Time Out of Mind” attempts to create a tone poem of sorts, as the camera watches without judgment: George lines up for free meals at a church; George trades the winter coat he gets there for a bottle; George propositions a friendly hospital worker; George stalks a young woman who turns out to be his daughter.
The movie is filled with fine character actors, including Ben Vereen, Kyra Sedgwick, and Steve Buscemi in small parts, all creating far more vivid characters than Gere’s George. Homelessness is much in the news, so the subject is timely, but Richard Gere is not the sort of actor who can transform himself into someone else, and he does not succeed in bringing George to credible life. Although he is roughed up with a raggedy coat and a bristly beard, we’re still watching a handsome older man walk around for what seems like hours, barely speaking or interacting. The primary takeaway is that being homeless is really boring. Jena Malone plays the daughter he abandoned who he now wants to reconnect with, but even that relationship feels forced. The most successful aspect of the film is Ben Vereen’s riveting performance as another homeless man who may or may not have been a well-known jazz musician. Sorry, Oren, this one didn’t work for me.
The smaller screen is bringing me more pleasure in the second season of “The Strain” on FX. This goofy take on vampires (the scary, awful ones rather than the sexy, romantic ones) has an intriguing Jewish twist. The real maven on how to kill the vamps is the 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Professor Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley). He has been tracking the Master and his minions since before he was imprisoned in Treblinka concentration camp. His bobbeh in the shtetl told him scary stories about soul-sucking creatures, and sure enough, the evil Nazi camp commander Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel) later turns up as one of the Master’s go-to guys.
The series’ good guy is a CDC doctor named Ephraim Goodweather. While he isn’t identified as Jewish, who would name their son Ephraim, I ask you, if they weren’t Jews. As played by Corey Stoll, Eph is an abrasive, brilliant scientist and sometime recovering alcoholic. He and his Latina assistant doctor must figure out how to stop the plague from spreading throughout New York City, and in addition, Eph has to protect his son from his vampiric ex-wife.
Created by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, “The Strain” is based on their trilogy of novels and is filled with pulpy propulsive fun. Of course, the story is ridiculous and some of the dialogue is too. But for me “The Strain” captures the storytelling flair and joy that is so painfully missing from most of those special-effects laden comic-book franchise movies. I’m delighted to learn that it’s been picked up for a third season. I just hope that Setrakian stays alive long enough to get those Nazi mamzerim.
If you missed “Dig” on USA Network earlier this summer, try and catch it On Demand. Set in Jerusalem, this complicated thriller involves an FBI agent who comes across a millennialist plot that involves both Jewish and Christian zealots eagerly awaiting the end of days. There’s even a gay Hebrew-speaking Israeli detective. Exciting and provocative.