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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Granger at the Movies: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,’ ‘Norman’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

For Marvel’s action-driven sequel, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” writer/director James Gunn cleverly revisits the irreverent comic book concept of maverick mercenaries that he created for the 2014 original.

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In 1981 in Missouri, the prologue shows Peter Quill’s mom (Laura Haddock) and ‘spaceman’ dad (a very youthful Kurt Russell) driving in their 1979 Ford Cobra to a special place in the forest where he plants something bizarre.

Skip ahead 34 years, when the Guardians have bartered with the haughty High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) to protect the golden-skinned Sovereigns’ valuable batteries from a ravenous beast in exchange for the return of their prisoner, Nebula (Karen Gillan), Glamora’s (Zoe Saldana) mean sister.

Problem is: impudent Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) has stuffed batteries in his backpack, arousing Ayesha’s imperious ire. After an intergalactic chase, the Guardians’ spaceship Milano crashes on Berhert, where they’re greeted by a glowing, egg-shaped craft, containing Ego (Kurt Russell), who tells Quill (Chris Platt) — aka Star Lord — that he’s his long-lost father. Cue the origin story.

So they’re off to explore Ego’s private planet, meeting Empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who bonds with muscular Drax (WWE wrestler Dave Bautista). Meanwhile, on Contraxia, Quill’s foster father, blue-skinned Yondu (Michael Rooker), has been exiled by the Ravagers’ Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone), and there’s a mutiny led by Taserface (Chris Sullivan).

Although the fast-paced plot is convoluted, there are intergalactic battle sequences galore and lots of zany humor, including pop-culture references to “Cheers,” “Pac-Man” and “Mary Poppins.” The adorable antics of Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are scene-stealers, plus there are a couple of Stan Lee cameos, along with “Awesome Mixtape #2.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is an overstuffed 7, followed by — count ‘em — five additional scenes during the seemingly endless credits.

The satirical subtitle says it all: “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,” as New York-born Israeli writer/director Joseph Cedar fashions a dryly witty character study.

Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) is a prescient, if nebbishy con man who befriends an up-and-coming Israeli politician, Deputy Minister of Trade Mischa Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), impulsively buying him a pair of expensive shoes, costing a whopping $1,200.

Three years later, when Eshel has become the Prime Minister who may be able to bring peace to the Middle East, he remembers Norman, extending a gesture of recognition, which briefly elevates Norman’s influential status among New York Jewry.

Now 67, Richard Gere proves he’s become a first-rate character actor, embodying likable, lonely Norman Oppenheimer, who — as the title cards testify — bet on “the right horse.”

Operating with nothing more than business cards, a cellphone and chutzpah, he’s a “hondler,” a master manipulator who insinuates himself into the proximity of power, making promises that he’s hard-pressed to deliver.

While Lior Ashkenazi is one of Israel’s leading stage, film and television actors, this is his first major role in an American film. His energetic Eshel evolves from an insecure wannabe to a near-messianic statesman. Not surprisingly, Ashkenazi’s next role is playing a young Yitzhak Rabin in the upcoming action-adventure “Entebbe.”

The supporting cast includes Steve Buscemi, as a rabbi, and Hank Azaria as a “nooj,” a pest, a well-intentioned “mensch,” like characters in stories by Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Saul Bellow.

Plus, there’s Michael Sheen as Norman’s Wall Street lawyer nephew, Josh Charles as an elusive tycoon and Charlotte Gainsbourg as an Israeli government investigator, reporting to the Knesset.

In short: Norman Oppenheimer is a pathetic, shamelessly name-dropping cipher, a political Zelig, seemingly desperate to make himself a superficial footnote to history.

On the Granger Gauge, “Norman” is a schmoozing 6, a challenging, cautionary tale about ambition gone awry.


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(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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Posted 05/10/17 at 10:32 AM  Permalink



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