Jorge is a morbidly shy Ecuadorian dishwasher toiling away in a shabby diner in Queens, New York. From his solitary kitchen corner, Jorge quietly attempts to forge a bond with Amy, the newly hired Chinese waitress, but eve... more »n though she tries to reciprocate, the gulf that separates them may be too large. On the job he is continually tormented by a coworker, and at home, in his Harlem apartment, under the psychological control of his domineering "roommate," he battles his inner demons. Choking Man captures the feeling of claustrophobia and almost literal asphyxiation newcomers to America experience as they struggle to find a place and purpose in this strange land.« less
"Choking Man is a very good, albeit strange, movie. Those who are into thoughtful, creative independent movies that push the envelope need look no further. Granted, this type of movie is not for everyone. The main character, Jorge, is often living between fantasy and reality. Not all of his thoughts are kosher, and his inability to interact with others provides the main driver for most of the scenes. Yet if you can suspend judgment, there is so much to learn from this movie.
Along with very well written characters, promising young actors, a great supporting cast of veteran actors, this film also makes excellent use of visuals combining excellent photography and interesting animation sequences. In short, this movie really has an interesting blend presented in an imaginative way.
In the way of plot, there is not too much happening through many of the scenes. Our main character is a dishwasher in a diner, and most of what we see is happening in his mind. But his crush on waitress Amy, played by a bubbly and excellent Eugenia Yuan, conflicts with his shyness. Not only does he have to contend with aggressive competition from guys at the diner, he also has to deal with all the demons in his head.
New York City is also a central character in the movie. Travelling between Jamaica Queens and Harlem provides for some interesting characters. Anybody who's ever taken the subways between those neighborhoods knows what a trek it is. The sights and sounds of the subway and the grittiness of the people comes through. You can see Jorge avoiding interacting with others as much as possible, whether people are mean or nice.
The title of the movie comes from the info poster in the diner which shows a *choking man* and how to administer the Heimlich maneuver. The faceless man also becomes a character in Jorge's mind, blending with a sort of menacing alter-ego.
While the supporting cast is all good, it's a shame that big-name actors get top billing with it is these young unknowns who really carry the movie. Yes, Mandy Patinkin is here, and he is good as usual. But to be honest, his part barely makes use of his range and really is one that could have been filled by a character actor. Some of the Diner drama, such as the feuding waitresses and cooks, adds some atmosphere but at times seems to detract from the central story. It seems like somebody tried to squeeze a traditional story in there to hedge their bets against Jorge's imagination being too far out for even independent film audiences.
Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. I've watched it more than 4 times over the past few months and each time I find something more to appreciate in it. Once again, this is not for the typical movie night. But if you want to watch something really subtle and creative, there's few new films that can top this.
Daniel B. Clendenin | www.journeywithjesus.net | 10/31/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Jorge is a young and morbidly shy immigrant from Ecuador. By day he washes dishes at the Olympic diner in Queens, New York. At midnight he returns to his grimy apartment and a weird roommate. Jorge pulls his hooded sweatshirt over his forehead so that we barely see his face; he knows a little English but almost never speaks. At work an obnoxious cook named Jerry bullies and hectors him. But there is one bright spot for Jorge -- Amy, a bubbly waitress from China. She defends Jorge, but also enjoys flirting with Jerry. That's unfortunte, because Jorge had been enjoying her attention, shining his shoes, getting a haircut, and even buying her a gift. The isolation of Jorge's immigrant experience, and the dysfunction at his job, are exacerbated by his pathological introversion so that he is, in an emotional sense, choking. Even the church and Christian faith, which is repeatedly invoked, can't help him. The film ends with two surprise twists in the plot. Mainly in English; some Spanish with subtitles."
I Could Easily Detest This Film....
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 08/26/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"... for its inefficiency and obscurity, and above all for its blatant Symbolism!, particularly the recurring "rabbit with one long ear" that seems to obsess the director/scriptwriter Steve Barron more plausibly than his central character Jorge. I could loathe this film for its unexplicated imputation of homosexual abuse in the relationship of Jorge to his shadowy roommate. I could spurn the intrusive graphics - doodles, cartoons, slick swirls of color emerging from food scraps - that seem to intend to reveal Jorge's subconscious perceptions but have no imaginable pertinence to his cultural mentality. Are there even jackrabbits in Ecuador? In short, I could hate this flick...
...but I don't! In fact, I found it riveting. Memorable. Unlike most American films these days, which I forget so quickly that I go blank if I try to review them. Why? First, the acting. Three unknowns play the leads, the psychotically shy dishwasher Jorge, the ebullient Chinese waitress Amy, and the cocky Italian kid who torments Jorge and hits on Amy. I'll leave them nameless. I hope they never become recognizable nameplated stars. Their acting talents are too fine to be wasted on stardom. They inhabit their identities in this plotless non-drama as persuasively as people whose lives one glimpses on a bus or in a queue. Second, the sound track: subtle, masterfully unobtrusive, tightly synched to the characters' moods. Composer Nico Muhly deserves to be named; may he often be employed in place of the usual Hollowwood hacks! Third, the cameraman, Antoine Vivas Denisov; his "independent" cinematography is quintessentially raw and akilter, and may it ever be so!
Fourth, and most important: it's creative. It's different. It's ambitious. What a joy it is to see a filmmaker taking chances, breaking modes, in this era of hyped banality!
I have no urge to explicate this film. Previous reviewers - Ms. Sound and Mr. Cousins especially - have offered insights enough. This production is being distributed by an entity called FILMMOVEMENT, which is dedicated to generating an audience for independent and experimental filmmakers. They have a DVD-of-the-month club. I'm thinking of joining."
Not for everyone to be sure, but a little five star beauty f
Aceto | Meilhan Sur Garonne | 07/19/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Boring, distant, impenetrable, pointless, contrived, depressing, cheap, indie-gook. Yep I hear all that. What, one star, maybe a grudging three? Steve Barron, are you kidding me?? Mister Coneheads? Mister Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The only star is a faded one, Mandy Patinkin late of sappy broadwat songs.But because of the intriguing review by a gentle sound, I decided to see for myself. Well some few of us will get a five star small film experience, so easy on that unhelpful button, just for a minute.
Mr. Barron wrote this one. He shot in Super 16, which give us this sense of immediacy. No need for master shots here, save the one of the E train going over the bridge to Manhattan at night. Nice. And he loves to play with small scale visual effects, not just the blending to animation, but the play of water in small spaces: the drip from the subway ceiling; the water play with the food on the plates in the sink.
The opening animation is scored with a charming and again playful percussive sparkle, set in opposition to what we will soon see. We see two of the main images in the film introduced here: the Rabbit and the Blessed Virgin (among others). Like Alice's rabbit, he takes us down the hole from Equador to Jamaica, Queens. Red is the dominant color, from food to diner seats to animation highlights. And you can calm down now this is no clobber you over the head Catholik flik. The opening resolves to the Choking Victim poster and blam...
We land at 11733 Myrtle Avenue, corner of Jamaica Avenue, at the Olympic Diner. As Casey Stengel would have said "You could look it up." In fact you can go there. From the name you know it is a Greek diner, iconic for generations, especially in the original Saturday Night Live, "Cheeseburger, chesseburger, Pepsi ". That too is a real diner in Chicago. Diners are iconic anchors in America. Movies appearances abound:When Harry Met Sally, The Sopranos, Pulp Fiction, on and on.
So we meet Jorge, from the Equator. How is that for way far away? The poster of the Choking Victim is totally out of place at his dishwashing station. They are always, in NYC, where EVERYBODY can see. He finishes washing dishes and boards the E train for Spanish Harlem. That train used to stop at the World Trade Center. Spanish Harlem, E. 117th Street is well more than an hour of train from Jamaica. We are talking three hours a day on top of his minimum wage job. Notice, you numerologists that 117th Street is also the beginning of the street address for the Olympic? Who cares anyway...
Jorge could live local. But this grinding distance puts him in another world at night. He lives across the street from his church. But he lives with his Demon, his nemesis, his punisher. This guy is opposite in every way, white Spanish, tall, a regular motor mouth. He tempts Jorge, making the trivial gesture of getting the New York City Daily Spanish paper, "El Diario" into a momentous romantic overture from Amy, the lovely optimistic Chinese waitress. The Demon manipulates this opening. He creates enmity against Jerry, another worker at the diner by making Jerry his rival for Amy. Jerry is the world's worst Irish tenor. Even worser(sic) is his Blarney, which is more a pebble in her shoe than the famed Stone. One of the finest moments in the film is Jerry taking Amy to the Persian rug merchant to see the flying carpet. Again with the bits of animation and the tintinabulous sparkle of the music, we are directed to moments of magic in this dreary urban-scape.
This is a film where we are like Jorge. We are shut out of most of the information we expect in a movie. We do not understand. The senior waitress tells us again and again we hear words but not meaning. We do not get it. In a fleeting moment of triumph I myself fantasize, she takes the damnable cell phone from the lout of a cook, Fernando, and plops it into a pot of sauce. Hooray. But brutality meets her as the owner fires her for being abused by the oafish cook. She puts, with the slightest of touches, a spider-web crack in the heavy plate glass door on her way out. A moment of magic (OK, Samson, you try this.)
Barron makes fun of himself again by putting a soap opera on Jorge's TV "Days of Our Lives"
SPOILER NOTICE: Stop here if you want to be surprised by the end. I left out half my observations anyway out of pity for any reader.
Early in the film, we see Jorge lifting fish bones out of the Wednesday Special (ash wednesday) fish soup. Amy loves the soup. After Jorge's Demon convinces him to take action, he does not take all the bones out. He replaces four small ones. In another scene back in Harlem, again with his Demon, Jorge shatters his statue of Mary. The die is cast. Back at the Olympic, Amy has the soup as usual -- to no effect. But a regular customer does, and begins choking. Of course, all are helpless, the poster hidden away in the back, but Jorge rises to the occasion, and in doing so is freed from his Demon. With rough poetry, Jorge uses the saved customer to expel abot eight gallons of soup/vomit on the jerk cook and the owner, Rick (who is the antithesis of Rick the cafe owner of Casablanca). You see the very bone replaced by the previously possessed Jorge arching his spume. Another cute animation moment renders this as exploding celebratory fireworks. Patinkin as Rick is flawless, by the way.
Jorge is free. He repairs his statue. He repurposes the tainted newspaper into a papier mache rabbit. Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Triumphant. Easter Rabbit."
a gentle sound | USA | 07/05/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I don't even think I could tell you my interpretation.
I could tell you my feelings are in play. At the end of the movie there is... for me... sadness. Something connected with this movie. I guess I am going to call it quits with trying to figure it out.
I'm in a teaching life, working with immigrants. There, in the differences in people, in the cultural exchanges,there are things I often don't get, catch. So this movie was like a lens on some aspect of the totality of my job as I conference, teach, interact on a yard, go in and out of work... of seeing glimpses, of wondering and knowing others minds only just as a little bit in a puzzle that has lost most of the pieces...and finding confusion a state of functioning reality. Oh let me start over. I just finished watching this movie. Choking Man is a wonderful title. It speaks to a actual event in the movie and alludes to the character you come to see as the enigmatic center and his life here. This is an impressionistic piece.
The movie told the story in a diner centered on interactions that never come completely to some linear clarity. And at the center is a painfully shy immigrant who slides in an out of what I assumed was schizophrenia, maybe induced by the stress of trying to integrate all of this pressure for survival, needs of a person his age for love, the shyness, the city, what he left. I just don't know.But my interpretation was he is struggling with his mind as alien as he is alien to this new world. It's so powerful in that regard that I find it a mesmerizing movie. I remained utterly lost in a maze much of the time.
Why I'm struggling is that I'm not entirely clear on this character. He was allowed to remain only partially revealed. And his thoughts and feelings are so visceral. Read the other reviews and the blurbs, watch, see where you are then. I want to reveal the ending to say something but I can't except to say he brought forward real people I've known. He was remarkably constructed.
So I'll tell you...I've recently had a complex dream, turned 50, been working on some thinking about teaching. I've worked almost exclusively in over 25 years with immigrant experience. This carries to me something of that. At a time when just bits, pieces, impressions, aren't adding up. It gets something of the closeness to physical, rough, sweat work of coming to our country.. It has the feeling, lighting, the sound of it...somehow in the shyness of this boy, his mind being revealed,he is glimpsed, but in how hard you are trying to read it from your experiences you realize something as I am doing of late, about how different things are perceived. It has a confusion, it has triggered for me the feeling of sadness I have in my work, profound remembrance of certain people, it seems to make me want to try...harder....to just cut myself a break....but to work aware. Watching. Hoping at least in moments we can see the suffering and walk in the shoes of one another. Try to reach out.
This isn't a film I can explain so I'm going to stop. I thought it was genius. There aren't ten people I'd recommend it to, because I wouldn't trust it to too many. But to those you will understand and take from it how much each one of us is worth. It was one I just felt. I really enjoyed the experience."