Deli Man: The Movie


Ziggy Gruber works hard at cooking with love.

Ziggy Gruber works hard at cooking with love.

(2014) Documentary (Cohen Media Group) Ziggy Gruber, Jerry Stiller, Larry King, Freddie Klein, Dennis Howard, Jay Parker, Fyvush Finkel, Mimi Gruber, J. Mackye Gruber, Freddie Roman, Zane Caplansky, Jane Ziegelman, Michael Wex, Adam Caslow, Alan Dershowitz. Directed by Erik Anjou

In their heyday, there were more than 1500 kosher Jewish delis in New York City alone. Now, there’s a tenth of that in all of North America. The great Jewish deli, once a mainstay of American culture, is slowly dying out.

This is a movie celebrating the deli and they choose for their spokesman David “Ziggy” Gruber, a genial man with a bit of a pot belly and an engaging grin. He also has a genuine passion for delis, having grown up essentially in the business; his grandfather founded the legendary Rialto Deli in Manhattan while his dad owned Long Island’s Woodrow Deli. He was stuffing cabbages as a pre-teen.

He would get himself to the Cordon Bleu Institute in England to learn to be a chef, but it was in the deli that his heart belonged. After going to a meeting of Deli Owners and discovering to his shock that nearly all of the owners were in their 70s and 80s and had nobody taking over for them when they retired, he felt that it was up to him to keep the culture alive and so he founded a deli of his own – in Houston.

Don’t laugh. There is a fairly large Jewish population there, as there is in many big American cities. In any case, his business took off and became a huge hit, to the point where he has been opening new restaurants although to date Kenny and Ziggy’s remains his only deli.

The film centers on Ziggy although it talks to various Deli Men from around North America including men from such legendary places as Cantor’s and Nate ‘n’ Al’s in Los Angeles, 2nd Avenue Deli and Carnegie Deli in New York, Kaplansky’s in Toronto and Manny’s in Chicago. They all admit given the labor-intensive nature of deli food and due to the high price of meat (deli tends to be meat-centric) the low return on investments that are modern delicatessens.

Part of why there are so few delis left is simply attrition. The Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, from where the initial flood of Jewish immigrants came to New York, were all for the most part wiped out in the Holocaust. There are no new immigrants coming to America from that region or at least very few and the children of those who are here aren’t interested in taking over a deli when they could be a doctor or a lawyer. Thus, the recipes for some of these dishes are fast disappearing – Ziggy bemoans that his grandfather’s gravy recipe died with him and that while he can get close, he can’t quite duplicate the taste. It’s easy to understand, given the grueling work schedule of the deli owner, why a lot of modern kids shy away from the business as a career.

The story of the delicatessen is also the story of the Jewish community in America; delis were places that they would gather to eat and became de facto cultural centers for the Jewish faith. For many, it was a taste of home, bringing with it the recipes of the old country – I’ll bet you didn’t know that pastrami was a Romanian invention despite the Italian-sounding name. However, with less and less people coming from the old country, the nostalgia factor has become less compelling and even in Jewish homes the meals that later generations grew up with became more Americanized.

We also see Ziggy, who had been married to his calling more or less, find someone who is willing to accept that – his massage therapist/acupuncturist Mimi. When the two decide to tie the knot, he insists on doing it in Budapest, Hungary in the synagogue where his grandfather had his bar mitzvah. If the site of Ziggy, tears streaming down his face, listening to the rabbi speak about the full circle of the grandchild coming to the temple where he breathes the air his grandfather breathed doesn’t make you misty-eyed, well, you are made of sterner stuff than I. I found him an engaging man, one who his brother said, not unkindly, that he was an 80-year-old Jew even as a child. He definitely seems to be an old soul and I’d love to sit down with him for an hour and just chat but I’d be willing to bet that it is a rare thing that he has an hour to spare for such pastimes.

Critic Sean Howley advised me not to see this hungry and it is sound advice. At the very least you will be jonesing for some good deli sandwiches after seeing this and the very next day I headed over to TooJays, our local deli. Matzoh Ball soup, pastrami on rye, carrot cake and a Dr. Brown’s celery soda. Oy vey it was delicious!

Gastronomy aside, the movie is surprisingly informative but doesn’t ever condescend. There are a number of Yiddish terms sprinkled throughout but they are thoughtfully defined with on-screen graphics in case you don’t speak it or haven’t been around it. There is a joy in what these deli men do, and even if they sometimes shake their heads in wonder at their own insanity it is clear that they feel what they do is not just a living but a calling. Not everyone feels the call as fervently as Ziggy does but all of them understand that what they are doing is not just piling a sandwich high with corned beef – they’re preserving a lifestyle and a culture that is in danger of disappearing. That makes the case that every time you head out to your local deli to pick up a sandwich, a bowl of soup or a loaf of bread, you are doing more than sating your appetite; you’re helping them preserve something precious. Who knew that grabbing a knish could be so important?

REASONS TO GO: Ziggy makes an ideal face for delicatessens. Informational without being boring and entertaining without being disrespectful. Merges cultural aspects and foodie aspects nicely.
REASONS TO STAY: Will make you hungry. Doesn’t really delve into why delis declined other than the financial.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of cussing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ziggy was once a line cook under Gordon Ramsay.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/14/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Search for General Tso
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Wild Card

Swinging with the Finkels


Just a couple of hedonists.

Just a couple of hedonists.

(2011) Sex Comedy (Freestyle) Martin Freeman, Mandy Moore, Jonathan Silverman, Melissa George, Angus Deayton, Daisy Beaumont, Paul Chowdhry, Jerry Stiller, Beverly Klein, Edward Akrout, Andi Osho, Tim Beckmann, Louie Spence, Kenneth Collard, Carolyn Tomkinson, Michael Burgess, Lorraine Hilton, Ian Midlane, Tracy Wiles. Directed by Jonathan Newman

Marriage is not the easiest undertaking. So many different elements go into making it work – financial stability (or at least a reasonable facsimile of same), sexual compatibility, child raising philosophy, shared interests – it’s a wonder that any of them actually work.

Alvin Finkel (Freeman) and his wife Ellie (Moore) have lost that spark. Months go by without any sex at all and when they do have it, there’s a kind of drudgery to it, as if it is some kind of chore. Both of them are wondering if that signals a basic incompatibility or worse yet, that their marriage is crumbling altogether. They decide what they really need is a little bit of spice.

Or perhaps to be more accurate, a whole tractor trailer full of spice. You see, they’re not alone in that predicament – their friends Peter (Silverman) and Janet (George) have been experiencing once the same thing. When some kinky self-pleasuring on the part of Ellie goes terribly, horribly wrong, she decides that the best thing for them would be to involve another couple.

But which couple? It would be too weird to do it with Peter and Janet – like having sex with your siblings. Besides, it’s novelty they seek. Out with the old, in with the new. However, that’s not as easy as it sounds as every couple they interview looking for the right one seems crazier and more unstable than the last. When at last they find a couple that looks like they might work out (Deayton, Beaumont) they make the commitment to take that step – and that’s when the fireworks really begin.

It sounds like the premise for a light and airy sex comedy but that’s not how Newman chose to go. The self-pleasuring incident I referred to earlier was Ellie using a cucumber for self-pleasuring being interrupted unexpectedly by the arrival of her parents who find their baby girl caught red handed as it were – and to make matters worse, the embarrassment causes Ellie to evacuate the cucumber from her vagina with explosive force, sending the veggie missile directly into her daddy’s crotch. Mandy Moore, fire your agent.

The humor here is so heavy-handed and sophomoric that you can only watch the movie slack-jawed, completely flabbergasted that anybody thought these jokes and gags would work. After awhile it becomes kind of a test; surely something funny must occur in this comedy but for my own personal taste in laughs, nothing ever tickled my funny bone. Perhaps you are made of sterner stuff than me.

The movie’s saving grace is Martin Freeman. Before he put on the furry hobbit feet and became one of the most stellar performers of this year’s TV season in Fargo he did this movie and I’ll give him credit it’s as game a performance as you’re likely to see. It’s not enough.

WHY RENT THIS: Martin Freakin’ Freeman.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Dreadfully unfunny. Tries to go either to gross or too refined and ends up being neither.

FAMILY VALUES: A goodly amount of sexual content and a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Newman based this on a short film, Sex with the Finkels that he had done.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The aforementioned short is included.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sex Tape

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: The Wicker Tree

New Releases for the Week of November 15, 2013


The Best Man Holiday

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY     

(Universal) Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard, Regina Hall, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau, Monica Calhoun, Melissa de Souza. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

A group of college friends determine to reunite over the holidays in New York. Years after the hi-jinx that ensued at the wedding, they’ve moved on with their lives – some together, some not, However once they all get into the same state, old rivalries and relationships flare up yet again and threaten to make this a Christmas to remember.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday night)

Genre: Urban Holiday Comedy

Rating: R (for language, sexual content and brief nudity)

Aftermath

(Menemsha) Maciej Stuhr, Ireneusz Czop, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Danuta Szarflarska. A Pole who has been living in Chicago for many years returns home to visit his younger brother. He discovers that his brother has been shunned and threatened by his neighbors. As he digs into the mysterious affair, he discovers a terrible secret that the town has been keeping and that he and his brother are part of. This is playing at the Enzian as part of the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

The Attack

(Cohen Media Group) Ali Suliman, Evgenia Dodena, Reymond Amsalem, Dvir Benedek. A surgeon in Tel Aviv of Palestinian descent has fully assimilated into Israeli society. When a suicide bomber detonates in a restaurant, he is one of those on the front lines taking care of the wounded. When he discovers his wife is among the fatalities, he is devastated but it becomes far worse when it becomes clear that she is suspected of being the bomber. Now he must take a journey into the dark side of his homeland to discover the truth about his wife. In doing so he will discover that he must question everything about his faith, his life and his dreams. This is playing at the Enzian as part of the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for some violent images, language and brief sexuality)

Dallas Buyers Club

(Focus) Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn. Ron Woodruff was a party hearty Texas cowboy in the ‘80s who like many in that era found his lifestyle catching up to him – he was diagnosed with AIDS. In 1985, that was a death sentence. Not satisfied to lay down and die, he fought to get alternative treatments, both legal and not so much. Traveling the world, he embraces and becomes embraced by elements of society he once would have disdained and establishes a buying club meant to get the drugs desperately needed by the dying into their hands.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use)

The Europa Report

(Magnet) Michael Nyqvist, Sharlto Copley, Embeth Davidtz, Daniel Wu. An manned expedition to Europa, a moon of Jupiter which scientists currently believe is the most likely place in the solar system to harbor life outside of Earth, loses contact with mission control. Their struggle to complete their mission will lead to the decision whether the increase of knowledge is worth the cost of human life. This was previously reviewed in Cinema365 here.

See the trailer and a link to stream the full movie at Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action and peril)

Great Expectations

(Main Street/Lionsgate) Jeremy Irvine, Holliday Grainger, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes. This is a lush new version of the classic Charles Dickens novel brought to life by one of the greatest living directors, Mike Newell. A young impoverished boy is lifted from the cruel streets of 19th century London and brought into a life of wealth and privilege, but this act of charity is not without its drawbacks.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Period Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence including disturbing images) 

Hava Nagila: The Movie

(International Film Circuit) Harry Belafonte, Leonard Nimoy, Connie Frances, Regina Spektor. The story of the iconic Hebrew folk song is examined with performances throughout the years by well-known stars. This is playing at the Enzian as part of the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Ram Leela

(Eros International) Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Richa Chadda, Supriya
Pathak
. The courtship of two young people from feuding families has consequences. Loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, the movie’s released has been temporarily blocked as the title in Hindi refers to the god Rama and the vulgarity, violence and sex in the movie was insulting to Hindus. However, the producers are free to release it here and indeed they have, making this a rare Bollywood film that opens in the United States before it does in India.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

When Comedy Went to School

(International Film Circuit) Sid Caesar, Jackie Mason, Jerry Stiller, Mort Sahl. Once upon a time the Catskill Mountains and the resorts therein were premium vacation destinations for the Eastern Seaboard. Many of the resorts had nightclubs where stand-up comedians were routinely booked. This area became known as the Borscht belt as many comedians – primarily Jewish – honed their skills here and went on to become superstars. This is playing at the Enzian as part of the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Zaytoun

(Strand) Stephen Dorff, Abdallah El Akal, Ali Suliman, Alice Taglioni. During the 1982 Lebanese Civil War, an Israeli fighter pilot is shot down and taken prisoner by a Palestinian refugee camp nearby. Although initially hating him, the young boy assigned to guard him yearns to see the homeland of his parents and is willing to make a deal; he’ll help the pilot escape in exchange for being taken to Israel so that he might plant an olive tree. Despite their mutual distrust, they form an unlikely friendship. This is playing at the Orlando Science Center as part of the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language)