Friday, March 31, 2017

Nosh 58: 'Kedi,' 'The Sense of an Ending' & More

By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER: Reviews of Kedi and The Sense of an Ending

Anyone familiar with domestic cats knows that they simply meow our world onto their own planet. They also receive enough love to pretend to be pets, coughing up the occasional hairball to remind us of their superiority. The people most enslaved are old ladies, living in fragrant intimacy with 40-plus cats and frozen fish-heads. Although the Proustian pungency of litter and cat piss arouses no  purr in me, I do relish my daughter’s beloved kitty, Caspian.

Kedi (Turkish for cat) is an Anatolian valentine to cats, some almost feral, in the fabled port city of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople). Their ancestors often arrived on foreign ships, and they live in an old waterfront district densely throbbing with  atmosphere. The starring critters include Duman, a lordly beggar at a deli; Gamsiz, a ferally proud and pouncing tom; Psikopat, who has mental “issues” and fierce claws, and Bengu, a tirelessly protective mother. Most have trained humans to provide them some food and shelter. The people, including a humble boatman with a mystic feeling for cats, are thrilled to be of service.

Director Ceyda Torun, now a New Yorker, loves her childhood city, and Istanbul is so vitally present that we, too, can roam and sniff, scratch and meow. Invaluable were editor Mo Stoebe, composer Kira Fontan and photographers Alp Korfali and Charlie Wuppermann. This urban nature documentary has charm, depth, humor and magnificent cat eyes, gazing upon their very own Catstantinople. Plus a thrill from my youth: multi-lingual Eartha Kitt, singing “Uska Dara” in fluent Turkish. Kitt, one fierce puddy-tat of a chanteuse, was also Batman’s best Catwoman.   

The  Sense of an Ending
Only senior viewers will probably care about the morsels of furtive memory and autumnal suspense, dropped like tea bags into The Sense of an Ending. Jim Broadbent does what he can with retired, divorced Tony, a Londoner both grumpy and amiable. His past comes to “haunting” life with a sudden bequest, rousing memories of a much-desired college lover and a Camus-reading, suicidal friend. Charlotte Rampling is barely employed as the aged and unsentimental ex-love. Most effective is Harriet Walker as Tony’s acerbic but generous former spouse.

Adapted by Nick Payne from the Booker-prized novel by Julian Barnes, directed for snacky chips of rueful remembrance by Ritesh Batra, the tease-along movie is a soaper. Not soap opera but soapy chamber music, like a weary, nostalgic cello ruminating its notes. Downton Abbey fans will savor two fairly minor players, humming along in a good English way: Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary on Downton) as Tony’s pregnant daughter, and Matthew Goode (Mary’s second husband) as a college instructor. If only they could have gotten together here, but it’s an elegy for elders.

SALAD (A List)
Ten Movies With Great Roles for Cats, in order of arrival: The Black Cat, 1934; Cat People, 1942; Lady and the Tramp, 1955; Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1962; Harry and Tonto, 1974; Adventures of Milo and Otis, 1986; Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, 1993; Duma, 2005; A Cat in Paris, 2010, and Kedi, 2016.

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Some parties are more fit for heaven than Hollywood, like the July, 1939 gathering for Aldous Huxley’s 45th birthday at his rented home in Pacific Palisades. Present with Orson Welles were astronomer Edwin Hubble, Lillian Gish, Helen Hayes, Christopher Isherwood and Charlie Chaplin, who “delighted the group by performing his hilarious balletic globe dance from (the not yet released) The Great Dictator.” Huxley “teased the crowd with hints about his new novel (After Many a Summer …), whose main character was inspired by William Randolph Hearst … and his mistress.” (Quotes from Patrick McGilligan’s Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
With your gracious permission, I will not plug my own book this week but instead tout playwright Jim Shankman’s recently published novel Tales of the Patriarchs. A fervent yarn of silent Hollywood, rich in rude laughter and frantic ambition, Tales centers on the driven Jewish visionaries who founded Paramount and MGM. The book would be a fine companion to Neal Gabler’s classic An Empire of Their Own, and Shankman’s prose has some romantic obsession and magical realism. A terrific sendup salute to Erich von Stroheim, famously Prussian but actually Jewish (and a genius), includes this yeasty passage about the smash impact of his Blind Husbands:

“All across America single men, fat and bald, round and hairy, began to prance and preen and speak with German accents … Duels were fought with sabers or pistols at dawn in parks on the edge of towns throughout the Old South. Sales of spear-top Prussian helmets went through the roof. Metro prospered.” (The novel’s sales may never rival Gore Vidal’s Hollywood, but those with primal movie fever will gladly find it on Amazon, and the author’s site is  

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Erich von Stroheim flashes the good old Hun charisma in Blind Husbands (Universal, 1919; director Von Stroheim, cameraman Ben Reynolds).

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