Koch on Film

By Ed Koch

“Ajami” (+)

This complex Israeli production lays out in great detail the lives of Jews, Muslims and Christians as they interact both in Israel and the West Bank.

The central characters in the movie include a Muslim family that becomes involved in a blood war with a Bedouin West Bank clan. The family members, knowing that that they will all be killed if the conflict isn’t resolved, seek to end it with a cash payment.  The leading members of the family are Omar (Shahir Kabaha) and his younger brother, Nasri (Fouad Habash).  Omar is in love with Hadir (Ranin Karim), and their relationship involves much drama similar to Romeo and Juliet.

An Israeli family includes Dando (Eran Naim), a member of the Israeli police force and the brother of an Israeli soldier who is missing and feared dead.

A secondary story involves a Muslim boy, Malek (Ibrahim Frege), whose mother needs an operation.  Malek has to raise the $75,000 for her surgery.  Another story involves the use and sale of cocaine by Arab youths and the involvement of Israeli organized crime members.

What comes through is that the troubles besetting Muslims and Jews and their emotional responses are similar in nature.  The people involved have so much in common.  They should work together to fight those common problems instead of putting so much of their energies into hating one another.

I saw the film at 8:00 p.m. at the Quad Cinema on a Saturday night.  The theater was packed so be sure to purchase your tickets well in advance. 

Unrated; 2 hours; in Hebrew, with English subtitles. Now playing at Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street. For screening times, call 212-255-2243.

“The Last New Yorker” (-)

Lenny (Dominic Chianese) is in his late 70s or early 80s.  He has one close friend, Ruben (Dick Latessa), who behaves like a puppy in his presence.  Ruben is married to a woman we never meet.  A sort of romance takes place between Lenny and Mimi (Kathleen Chalfant).  Throughout the film the seniors’ self-esteem falls even lower, and they seek to escape their unsatisfying lives.  Lenny nooses himself, but is diverted by a phone call.

I thought the dialogue between the parties was inadequate, the script preposterous, and the attempt to visually capture the uniqueness of New York City a failure.  Chianese was superb in his role as Uncle Junior in the HBO series “The Sopranos,” but he’s not as marvelous in this film portraying a relatively honest New Yorker who, at the end of his life, thinks he can pull off a Ponzi scheme.

I first saw Kathleen Chalfant perform in her one-woman, off-Broadway show, “Wit,” in which she portrayed Vivian Bearing, a woman dying of cancer.  I never forgot that performance.  She was just as wonderful and elegant in this film as she was in that play.

I saw “The Last New Yorker” at the Quad Cinema.  The audience cheered when the picture ended.  When a couple asked me what I thought of the film as I was leaving the theater, I said, “I’m not there yet.  I have to think about it.”  The man replied, “That’s the way we feel, and we are relatives.”  Then I understood why there was so much applause.  The theater was probably filled with relatives of the director, writer and actors who spoke after the performance.

HS said:  “This is a buddy movie about an odd couple of men who are old, poor and lonely, except for each other.  The pair attempt to escape to a better life, one through a hopeless romance, the other through both of them leaving New York.  Although intermittently interesting because of the city scenes, the picture is a downer.  Those of us who are not already old will grow old if we are fortunate.  The movie is not terrible by any means.  Kathleen Chalfant is particularly good.  In the end, I started to feel sorry for the film, but that is not what most people pay $12.50 for, not counting popcorn.”

Unrated; 90 minutes. Now playing at Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street. For screening times, call 212-255-2243.