Saturday, December 15, 2018

Movie Reviews: Asher, A Fare To Remember

directed by Michael Caton-Jones
There are only so many stories to tell. You've seen this story before. You've also heard the cliche that "this is different". I thought this movie was worthwhile.

I chose to watch this movie because it starred Ron Perlman. For my money Perlman is a rare actor who is just too cool for words. He just walks and talks cool, period. Perlman usually brings masculine gravitas and some hidden intelligence or sadness/sensitivity to his roles. Perhaps a definition of being an American is the unrelated quote by George Eliot that "It is never too late to be what you might have been". 

Although Eliot was not American, I have always found her quote to be relevant to how Americans view themselves. It mirrors similar statements by Norman Vincent Peale. That worldview is at the core of this movie. Although the hero is not a good man, he is something of an everyman. The protagonist is concerned about his career choices. He wonders if he's made the right decisions throughout the years. 

Asher, (the name is derived from the Hebrew word for happy, ironic given that the role is played by the hangdog looking Perlman), is an Israeli-American man transitioning from late middle age to old age. Asher is also a former soldier, former Mossad agent, and current contract killer for a Brooklyn based Jewish organized crime organization.  

Asher doesn't engage in the organized crime equivalent of office politics. Asher is brusque and sticks to himself. Now and then Asher will reminisce about the old days with the organization's boss Avi (Richard Dreyfuss) but that's rare. Getting too comfortable with the boss isn't Asher's style.

Usually Asher just plods around, does his job and goes home. He lives alone. He's lonely. Asher is still processing some loss. Asher gets his assignments and pay from an organization middle manager Abram (Ned Eisenberg). Abram is both coldly business minded and like every good Jewish uncle, concerned about Asher's lack of a social (sexual) life. Asher worries that the organization is slowly cutting him out of the loop. Asher doesn't get the well paid high visibility jobs any more. Uziel (Peter Facinelli), a younger co-worker whom Asher trained, gets those jobs. Asher was a sort of surrogate father to Uziel. Asher was the best.

But that was a lifetime ago. Asher is slowing down. He has physical ailments that are a consequence of age and violence. Asher is not as mentally sharp as he used to be. He tires quickly.  

On one assignment, having to take the stairs instead of an elevator is more than Asher's heart can stand. Asher collapses into an apartment occupied by Sophie (Famke Janssen). It's bad enough to mess up the assignment but showing weakness mortifies Asher. But there's something about Sophie which intrigues Asher. She could be a kindred soul. Sophie is just as lonely as Asher is. Sophie is a ballet instructor struggling with the emotional pain of taking care of her elderly mother (Jacqueline Bisett) who is suffering from dementia. It's not going well for Sophie and her Mom.

Asher understands pain, loss, and guilt. He and Sophie begin a halting romance. But even as Asher debates telling Sophie the truth about his work, events beyond their control threaten both of their lives. Maybe Asher should have paid closer attention to the office politics.

Perlman communicates more with a raised eyebrow, grunt or shrug than many actors can say with a three minute monologue. Sophie is not window dressing. She has reasons for her choices and decisions, which are often independent of Asher's. Sophie is not depicted in a sexualized manner. This movie was one of the few times I've seen writers/directors have a action character make a realistic concession to age's increasing limitations. Asher is a classy gentleman with a taste for life's finer things. A gourmet cook and wine expert, Asher is never outside without shined shoes and pressed pants. 

This is less an action movie than a drama film about whether it really is too late to change your life. There is some violence but for the genre it's not explicit, nor is it generally shown as "cool".  This quiet movie has some things to say about regret and guilt. If you're into the genre or are just a Perlman fan, give this movie a look.

A Fare To Remember
directed by Jim Yukich
This was an older odd romantic comedy. I thought it was odd because the two leads are on screen together all the time. There weren't many scenes where one person temporarily disappeared from the narrative, had "war councils" with their best friends, or went to find themselves with someone else while their would be special rider pined for them. The film didn't show any strong rivals for either party's affection. Obviously the race difference between the two leads was also very unusual for such films, then or now. 

But the strangest thing about A Fare To Remember was that Malcolm-Jamal Warner rarely used his inside voice. In both looks and presence I think he was trying to channel Robin Williams from that actor's role in The Fisher King. No disrespect to Warner but he's not Robin Williams. His vocal mannerisms were offsetting. Anyhow there's no accounting for taste. Perhaps the director wanted to emphasize that fact or underline the whole opposites attract thingie.

Tamara Gault (Challen Cates) is a hard driving ad exec. She's going to marry an equally ambitious man. It's apparent that her marriage will be a business merger and something for Tamara to check off her to do list. She and her fiance don't so much as whisper sweet nothings to each other as they give status updates. Tamara is nonplussed that now that she's about to become a Mrs., her husband to be has started contradicting her, telling her what to do and changing decisions that she made. 

After an unpleasant cab ride to her client's business, Tamara closes the deal. Her bosses liked her presentation. They're willing to offer her a promotion and salary bump, contingent upon relocation to the New York office. Tamara knows her fiance won't agree. So she doesn't say yes. But she doesn't say no either. She needs to get from Seattle to Los Angeles for her wedding.  

But in a cheesy plot contrivance all the flights from Seattle to Los Angeles are cancelled. The only way Tamara can reach LA is to hire the obnoxious cabbie she previously dismissed, Winter Valen (Warner), to drive her to Los Angeles. The other silly plot contrivance is that Tamara lacks cash or credit cards. But there's no movie without the roadtrip. 

The squabbling duo departs for the City of Angels. Winter speaks his mind without caring what others think. He also makes friends easily. Winter disagrees with most of Tamara's opinions. This works Tamara's nerves. At first. Slowly the buttoned up Tamara starts to wonder if Winter's frenetic approach to life might not have some utility. Tamara wants to know what secrets Winter is hiding as he is apparently far too well read in Bronte and Yeats to just be a cabbie. Winter becomes protective of and affectionate to the upper class woman he dismisses as "Jackie O". Well you know where things are headed. It's a romantic comedy. It just didn't have a lot of real comedy. Halfway decent but that's it. Tracee Ellis Ross, John Ratzenberger, Mark DeCarlo, and Jerry Springer have roles.
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