VICE – movie reveiw

VICE

Annapurna Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Adam McKay
Screenwriter:  Adam McKay
Cast:  Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Lily Rabe, Alison Pill, Shea Whigham, Eddie Marsan, Tyler Perry, Justin Kirk
Screened at: DGA, NYC, 11/23/18
Opens: December 25, 2018
Vice - Poster Gallery
Adam McKay is nothing if not a patriotic critic of United States policy.  With his adaptation of “The Big Short,” he took on the folks who gave us the worst recession since the Great Depression.  With “Revolt of the Yes Men” he and his fellow directors struck at corporate crimes for Big Business’ efforts to fight climate change.  “Anchorman 2” showed the man’s ability to make a light movie just for fun, though he is probably critical of any newscaster who came after Walter Cronkite.  Now he does it again with a satire that has elements of Michael Moore’s hard-hitting humor but tempered in his depiction of former Vice President Dick Cheney to such an extent that you might think at times that he is simply neutral about the man’s “accomplishments.”  “Vice” is a most delightful description of Cheney and his times beginning in 1963 and ending with the closing of the Bush administration where he watches the Obama inauguration from a wheelchair, pretending for the photographers that he is not completely disgusted with the afternoon’s activities.

As played by Christian Bale, who gained forty pounds for the role (not a wise choice considering that this could put him in league with the Veep who had five heart attacks), Cheney influences President George W. Bush to such an extent that journalists and pundits believe that he is not just the man behind the throne but the guy who is actually serving as President of the United States.  Cheney is a master manipulator, using his street smarts to get Bush to give him more power than any preceding Vice President ever enjoyed.  In fact he had been so aggressive in his determination to influence American foreign policy that he may have made the big decision to move troops from Afghanistan into Iraq, the kind of mistake to which the U.S. had become accustomed–not such our policy toward Vietnam but dating back to colonial days when patriotic countrymen strung up those dreadful witches.

Though his approval rating when he left office was 13%, you’ve got to wonder where the people who became the rank and file of the Tea Party were. Surely more of us, particularly in the red states of course, are willing to defend anything the Republican Party does, even tolerate a serial liar and womanizer simply because the person occupying the Oval Office is doing what they want him to do.  Cheney himself notes that like Nixon, he believes that anything the President does is ipso factor legal.

McKay, who wrote the script as well as directs, reaches back to 1963 when the Nebraska-born, Wyoming-living politician attended Yale and later the University of Wyoming getting a graduate degree in Political Science.  McKay brings us to the Nixon and Ford administrations where he pushes his way into getting appointed as White House Chief of Staff, then in 1978 becomes the sole Wyoming representative in the House where he is reelected five times, then Secretary of Defense during the George W. Bush presidency.  He has time even to become the CEO of Halliburton which, by coincidence no doubt, won many government no-bids contracts to supply war needs in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It’s little wonder that when he resigned from Halliburton—whose stock rose 500% at one point—he was given a separation sum of $22 million.

Much is made of the domestic life of the man.  He is given hell by his wife Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) during the early years of their marriage for being a drunk and getting into bar fights, but soon enough he shapes up to watch his star rise and see the pride that Lynne takes in him.  His wife, surprisingly, does not want him to accept an appointment from Bush to be his running mate since the job is considered ceremonial—or in more colorful terms as John Nance Garner once put it, “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”  Little did Garner realize that a manipulator of the sort that Cheney was could actually set policy, which would be officially announced as the thoughts of the President.  The only character who shines as much as both Bale and Adams is Steve Carell, a busy man indeed, who can emcee an evening of Saturday Night Live and now just as effectively portray Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

About the Michael Moore comparison: the most comical scene occurs when Bush (Sam Rockwell, who is truly funny to nobody’s surprise) tries to coax Cheney into becoming his running mate.  Cheney resists, telling POTUS that instead he could recommend a slate of people he considers worthy.  Little does Bush realize that Cheney is playing him, acting coy in order to make demands that Bush give him more policy-making power than any Vice President had before him.  Cheney is  mum on the issue of gay marriage, which a conservative Republican would surely oppose.  Could it be because one of his two daughters, Mary, is an open lesbian now living in Virginia with her wife Heather Poe?  And could that explain why Cheney broke rank with most of his fellow conservatives by supporting gay marriage?  If only the man were that decent and not the one who supported waterboarding and other methods of enhanced interrogation!  Never mind that Mary’s sister, during her own campaign for Wyoming’s rep in the House, insists that marriage is between a man and a woman.  Ah, politics.

Even serious matters like Cheney’s heart attacks are choreographed with wit.  When the Vice President falls to the floor and an ambulance is called, that’s the usual way.  In two other cases he stands with colleagues and announces casually and almost ironically that they should call the hospital.  When Cheney gets the heart of a man who dies in an auto accident, instead of praising the hero’s family he says that he is proud to have “my new heart.”  If Cheney is truly the man with the most influence on foreign policy during the Bush administration, he deserves censure for the loss of life of our fighting team and for 600,000 mostly civilian deaths in Iraq.

This is not the first satiric movie about Cheney but arguably the most incisive and best acted.  Oliver Stone directed a biographical drama using Richard Dreyfus to impersonate Cheney; in “Who is America” Sacha Baron Cohen pranked Cheney into signing a makeshift water board kit.  Ultimately you might agree that Cheney is so out of touch with common decency that you don’t need to pen a satiric book or a broadside on the screen.  He is his own caricature.

123 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A
Technical – B+
Overall – A-

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  • To search for a review, click the three bold horizontal lines near the upper left corner.  In the search box, enter the movie’s title, or director, or screenwriter, or principal actor, or opening date, or even a key word.  Reviews by Harvey Karten are from select movies from February 2017 to the present.

NOMADLAND – movie review

NOMADLAND
Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Chloé Zhao
Writer: Chloé Zhao, adapted from Jessica Bruder’s book by the same name
Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/23/20
Opens: December 4, 2020

Nomadland Movie

The people shown here may just be among those Americans who believe that the regular politicians never understood their way of life. After all, most people in Congress are well-to-do, almost all college graduates, many with degrees in law, finance, economics and even medicine. By contrast the itinerants in Chloé Zhao’s film are not likely to have seen the halls of academe. They do not live in big cities, they do not teach their kids how to ride a bicycle in the ‘burbs. These are the rural folks who, statisticians tell us. are the biggest fans of Donald Trump, who they believe is the first candidate for President who can relate to their way of life, however impossible this seems (if you see “Nomadland” and then take a look at Trump Tower in Manhattan, you may agree).

The film is adapted from Jessica Bruder’s 2018 book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century” by writer-director-editor Zhao, whose film “The Rider” is about a young cowboy whose head injury sends him on a quest for new identity in America’s heartland. Taking place not simply in our heartland but in what might be considered a rural enclave of any heartland, the story features Frances McDormand as Fern, in her mid-sixties, whose husband had died and whose town of Empire, Nevada suffers a similar fate when the gypsum mine for which everyone depends on employment goes belly-up. Even the zip code passes away in an area that could not be considered even a one-horse town.

Like Brady Blackburn, the injured cowboy in “The Rider,” Fern goes through a crisis. She takes off in her small rec vehicle, carving a new identity, wondering whether she can handle her unwelcome new independence. She runs into a virtual commune of elderly people who appear not to complain about their lives in the American West, taking warmth from the companionship of people like them. (Most are played by non-professional actors.) They take odd jobs to make ends meet, including temp work with Amazon during the Christmas season, and even there, as Fern tapes the boxes that are en route to tens of millions of homes, she looks so relaxed that you wonder about people who complain that Amazon exploits its workers—limited bathroom breaks, stop-watch timing and the like.

I think Zhao wants us in the audience to put ourselves in place of these people, and no doubt many of us imagine ourselves away from the hamster wheel, the rat-race, the belief that the American dream may consist not of the home with the white picket fence, two kids and a golden retriever, but at the same time not like that of the unfortunate homeless people who live in cardboard boxes in heartless big cities. Covering towns in what we new Yorkers may consider flyover country—Quartzite, Arizona, and bitter-cold South Dakota warmed by the campfire and the camaraderie of what some refer to wistfully as the real Americans… while enjoying sushi in a cozy restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side.

There’s even a chance of sixties-plus romance, as Dave (David Strathairn) shows how flirtation is easy when everyone is naturally friendly and non-exploitative. They part. They meet again. But what about money? Is working odd jobs in Amazon and baking doughnuts in fast-food joints able to satisfy the basics? You probably can guess the biggest expense. Remember that nomads, unless they are thumbing rides, are traveling in their own vans. What happens when they need not only gas money but a complete restructuring of their vehicles? Fern, for example, is quoted $5000 to get her broken-down wheels running again, and here’s where complete independence ends as she must hit up her sister for the money.

As you’d expect, this film does not follow the usual plot lines of commercial productions with beginnings, middles and ends, maybe some flashbacks and a slew of twists. The action is circular, and there really is not a heck of a lot of variety in Fern’s life. But isn’t there something enviable about enjoying the friendship of people who ask nothing in return, who are not out to pick your pockets?

The best thing about the enterprise is Frances McDormand’s awards-worthy performance. She is no longer the assertive but pregnant presence of Marge Gunderson in the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” or the justice-seeking Mildred of Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.” Here she is just another American seeking the American Dream in her own way, looking relaxed throughout but perhaps wondering whether she can spend the rest of her life as a wanderer.

108 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK – movie review

A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK
MPI and Signature Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Liev Schreiber, Suzanne Smith, Olivia Boreham-Wing, Ben Warheit, Griffin Newman, Selena Gomez, Diego Luna
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/23/20
Opens: October 9, 2020 in the U.S.

A Rainy Day in New York Movie Poster

My fellow Americans, we’re in luck. There was a delay in opening “A Rainy Day in New York” until after Poland had seen this movie. This has something to do with objections that Amazon Studios had to its director, Woody Allen, who has never been found guilty of anything besides being our country’s top maker of sophisticated comedies and playing a mean Klezmer clarinet. Filmed in Woody’s favorite city, this latest entry features Timothée Chalamet as Gatsby, a rich college student who finds himself more creative amidst the carbo monoxide of New York’s than listening to the sound of Arizona crickets. Chalamet who introduced himself to the movie audience with “Men, Women and Children,” about life among high school students and parents changed by the internet, but he made it big in the starring role of a seventeen-year-old student in “Call Me By Your Name.”

Here Chalamet’s character Gatsby, son of a fabulously rich mother (Cherry Jones) who, near the conclusion explains to her son the unusual way she fell into money, has been dating the effervescent co-ed Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) at one Yardsley College. The young woman’s life changes when she makes her third trip to Manhattan.

Nothing much happens other than a roundelay that threatens their relationship, specifically Gatsby’s meeting with the witty Chan (Selena Gomez) who is taking part in a film and Ashleigh’s meeting with Roland Pollard, a director—who is probably not a stand-in for Woody Allen given Pollard’s drunkenness and rage when a movie cut is not going according to his liking.

All is filmed on location in some spots that no tourist leaves without seeing and other areas that are home to died-in-the-wool New Yorkers—including Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Carlyle Hotel, a director’s screening room. The picture belongs to both Chalamet and Fanning, though the twenty-five-year-old man may or may not be serving as a stand-in for Mr. Allen’s signature characters. He is confused, eccentric, at war with his rich mother who doesn’t “see” him and instead tries to mold him into the shape of her society. But he is not a nebbish, preferring to spend some time winning fortunes at the blackjack table, fitting in quite nicely with the older players who think mistakenly that they can take him for a ride.

The two anticipate a romantic getaway from college, spending a weekend during a moderately strong storm, but as they say, man plans and God laughs. She goes to interview Roland Pollard for her college paper; he has his own liaisons while she is busy. She is hit on by Francisco Vega (Diego Luna), who is followed madly by paparazzi, obviously sexier than her steady boyfriend. While he is trying to avoid a party thrown by his family in a palatial East Side home, he runs into Chan, the sister of a former girlfriend.

He has more in common with Chan, who is quick with the one-liners. When she hears that Gatsby’s girl is from Arizona, she wonders: “What do you talk about, cactus?” And, “I would invite you to lunch, but I’m all out of beef jerky.” In other words this is not the kind of movie that people in the red states might adore, given that many of them seem to think that “Make America Great Again” is Shakespeare.

The movie as a whole lacks the classic look and sophisticated charm of “Manhattan,” “Annie Hall,” and “Match Point,” and the delightful fantasy of “Midnight in Paris,” which makes one think that now at the age of 84 he may have to settle for “just pleasant.” I may be wrong: we’ll be sure to check out his upcoming “Rifkin’s Festival” (a married American couple go to the San Sebastian Festival, and who can resist any film with Christoph Waltz and Wallace Shawn?

92 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B

 

THE SWERVE – movie review

THE SWERVE
Epic Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dean Kapsalis
Writer: Dean Kapsalis
Cast: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell, Zach Rand, Taen Phillips, Liam Seib
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/3/20
Opens: September 22, 2020

The Swerve Movie Poster

Though the movie is called “The Swerve,” a word which means “to change direction abruptly,” we can see where the plot is headed early on. This is a slow-burn film, all the better to watch an impressive performance from Azura Skye in the principal role of Holly. There is something wrong with this middle-aged woman, aside from the anorectic look and face that appears to be reliving past memories that were not too favorable. Her medicine cabinet proves that she’s not well, the shelves loaded with medications, though we don’t know whether her depression is generic or, more likely, the result of living in the suburbs.

Dean Kapsalis’s freshman full-length entry, a meditation on mental illness, proves once again—as though we do not know from the suicides of rich and famous people like Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams—that a nice house, two apple-pie clean kids, and a husband, do not guarantee a grounded life. Correction: one of her kids, an overfed brat who, when asked by her mom to help with something, simply says “no” and walks away. The other lad interrupts her four times when she’s on the phone, asking for his shirt. The husband, Rob (Bryce Pinkham), is fooling around with Holly’s drunken, obnoxious sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) and grabs a little in the storage room of the supermarket where he has just made regional manager.

But wait! She has the loving attention of Paul (Zach Rand), a student in her high-school English class who works after school in that supermarket, and what can be better than for a woman in her late thirties than being followed by a hunky teen with a huge head of hair and the ability to grant her better performances than her husband? And what an opportunity to get revenge on her Rob!

She has nightmares, the coolest one showing her on a dark road followed by a truck with blinding lights and a Yahoo in the shotgun seat who leans out the window to shout insults. Because of her insomnia—which unfortunately does not last all night, resulting in torments of this sort—her doc ups her meds, bad advice, since that’s enough to destroy what little grip she still has on reality.

Non-credited actors in “The Swerve” are a mouse and an apple pie, both playing a role in the Shakespearean outcome of the story. Listen: I’ve got two bits of advice. Watch this movie principally for the stellar acting of Azura Skye, who last appeared in”Alien Code,” which involves otherworldly beings who probably seem like the otherworldly-looking Holly. And don’t even think of moving to the ‘burbs.

95 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

 

KAJILLIONAIRE – movie review

KAJILLIIONAIRE
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Miranda July
Screenwriter: Miranda July
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: September 25, 2020

Kajillionaire (2020) - IMDb

This is a movie for those who enjoyed the bizarre strains of Jared Hess’s “Napoleon Dynamite” about a red-haired oddball running for class president who gets help from a friend, and more particularly for fans of its writer-director, Miranda July, whose “Me and You and Everyone We Know” is about how people struggle to connect with one another in our contemporary world. Though petty crime is a subject, the need for human connection is the principal theme of “Kajillionaire.” The effort of one twenty-six year old girl to see what the normal world is all about makes this a (late) coming of age tale for one Old Dolion—whose very name is a signifier for the kind of strange person her family has made her out to be.

Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) is lacking the kind of love that we in the land of people pursuing happiness should want and expect. Like poor Oliver Twist, who joins a gang of pickpockets and knows little of the world other than that of petty scams, Old Dolio is not only lacking the intimacy parents should provide but serves as a scammer for her father Robert Dynes (Richard Jenkins) and mother Theresa Dynes (Debra Winger). Living in an office building next to a bubble factory owned by oddball Stovik (Mark Ivanir), the three are months behind on their rent of $500—overpriced even for L.A. where the dump should attract only squatters. The con game, in other words, has not been lucrative. What’s more the bubble factory next door leaves mountains of suds on their walls which have to be cleaned off regularly.

One of their most lucrative schemes finds them winning a trio of round-trip tickets to New York, which finds them heading right back to the West coast, claiming $1575 for lost baggage (Dad removes Old Dolio’s from the premises). Squeezed together in threes on the way back, they meet the excitable Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) who becomes a partner in crime with an “in.” At her mall job, she is invited into homes by elderly customers, where she suggests returning to one of the lonely people, a man in bed dying, who thinks that the two young women are family. They quickly appraise the antiques. Having lived in a box, Old Dolio now sees how normal people live and what’s more, a visit to a Positive Parenting class, she learns the kind of tender loving care that good mothers should give to their little ones.

Evan Rachel Wood, best known by large segments of people for her role as Dorothy Abernathy in the TV episodes “Westworld,” is a gifted actress whose performance here is matched by that of Gina Rodriguez, known for a similar role of female friendship as Jenny Young in last year’s “Someone Great.” As I specified earlier, this film is for a special audience who enjoy the kind of quirkiness that in a repetitious, roundabout way (in this case) a woman in her mid-twenties experiences the real world for the first time as though trapped all her life by a perv kidnapper. Not for me.

104 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – C

 

THE SWERVE – movie review

THE SWERVE
Epic Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dean Kapsalis
Writer: Dean Kapsalis
Cast: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell, Zach Rand, Taen Phillips, Liam Seib
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/3/20
Opens: September 22, 2020

Poster

Though the movie is called “The Swerve,” a word which means “to change direction abruptly,” we can see where the plot is headed early on. This is a slow-burn film, all the better to watch an impressive performance from Azura Skye in the principal role of Holly. There is something wrong with this middle-aged woman, aside from the anorectic look and face that appears to be reliving past memories that were not too favorable. Her medicine cabinet proves that she’s not well, the shelves loaded with medications, though we don’t know whether her depression is generic or, more likely, the result of living in the suburbs.

Dean Kapsalis’s freshman full-length entry, a meditation on mental illness, proves once again—as though we do not know from the suicides of rich and famous people like Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams—that a nice house, two apple-pie clean kids, and a husband, do not guarantee a grounded life. Correction: one of her kids, an overfed brat who, when asked by her mom to help with something, simply says “no” and walks away. The other lad interrupts her four times when she’s on the phone, asking for his shirt. The husband, Rob (Bryce Pinkham), is fooling around with Holly’s drunken, obnoxious sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) and grabs a little in the storage room of the supermarket where he has just made regional manager.

But wait! She has the loving attention of Paul (Zach Rand), a student in her high-school English class who works after school in that supermarket, and what can be better than for a woman in her late thirties than being followed by a hunky teen with a huge head of hair and the ability to grant her better performances than her husband? And what an opportunity to get revenge on her Rob!

She has nightmares, the coolest one showing her on a dark road followed by a truck with blinding lights and a Yahoo in the shotgun seat who leans out the window to shout insults. Because of her insomnia—which unfortunately does not last all night, resulting in torments of this sort—her doc ups her meds, bad advice, since that’s enough to destroy what little grip she still has on reality.

Non-credited actors in “The Swerve” are a mouse and an apple pie, both playing a role in the Shakespearean outcome of the story. Listen: I’ve got two bits of advice. Watch this movie principally for the stellar acting of Azura Skye, who last appeared in”Alien Code,” which involves otherworldly beings who probably seem like the otherworldly-looking Holly. And don’t even think of moving to the ‘burbs.

95 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

 

PAPER SPIDERS – movie review

PAPER SPIDERS
Cranium Entertainment/Idiot Savant Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Inon Shampanier
Writer: Natalie Shampanier & Inon Shampanier
Cast: Lily Taylor, Stefanía LaVie Owen, Peyton List, Ian Nelson, David Rasche, Max Casella, Michael Cyril Creighton,
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/18/20

You do not often see a movie featuring the closeness that a mother and daughter can have for each other, which makes it all the more fortunate that Dawn (Lili Taylor), a middle-aged widow, might be helped to a semblance of emotional health by her daughter Melanie (Stefanía LaVie Owen). Bearing the possibility that “Paper Spiders” is semi-autobiographical, given the details cited by the husband-wife writing team of Natalie Shampanier and Inon Shampanier and directed by Inon Shampanier, “Paper Spiders” gives its audience the feel of what it’s like to be not schizophrenic, but almost hopelessly delusional (if that brings to mind anybody in the present U.S. government, you’ve been following politics).

You can almost swear that Owen and Taylor are an actual mother-daughter team; that’s how empathetic they are, and that’s how convincing albeit unwise that an eighteen-year-old girl might actually give up a full scholarship to a prestigious college and transfer to a local one to take care of her mom. There’s nothing fancy about the direction here; little of no animation, special effects, flashbacks, all the more bringing a sense a authenticity into the action which is at first comic, then spiraling into a more serious analysis of what it means to have a treateable, but uncurable, emotional condition.

Lacy’s paranoia would be comical if it were not pressing. She believes her neighbor is spying on her, throwing rocks at her house, stalking her; even at one turn when she develops a serious pain in her head, she is certain that he has a machine in his home that can mess with her mind. She is a constant embarrassment to her daughter; causing an uproar at her high school graduation that stops the proceedings, and earlier, during a tour of potential students, suggests that a library open to students even at 4 a.m. is flirting with danger, and by the way “What are the crime statistics of the college?”

For her part, Dawn possesses maturity in her sacrifices to help her delusional mother but enters movie coming-of-age territory when she learns, through Daniel (Ian Nelson), a persistent, handsome and rich boyfriend with a Beemer convertible, to drink beverages stronger than Virgin Mary and at about the same time to lose her virginity.

Comic interludes include meetings of the principal characters with Mr. Wessler (Michael Cyril Creighton), an awkward campus social counselor who relies on reading descriptions of mental illness right out of the DSM, the antics of a private investigator, Gary (Max Casella), and the frustrations of Lacy’s lawyer boss Bill Hoffman (David Rasche) who after six years finally gets the nerve to fire his paralegal.

If the writers and director are getting things right, we find out that paranoia does not come up to the surface at every moment, but relaxes enough to allow for unforced comic moments from the fine acting of Lily Taylor.

109 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

 

THE WAY I SEE IT – movie review

THE WAY I SEE IT
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dawn Porter
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/11/20
Opens: September 18, 2020

The Way I See It Movie Poster

This vivid, colorful documentary, some scenes filled with heartbreak and compassion, others with humor and joie de vivre, is as much about the photographer and the way he sees it as about the Presidents that he photographs. Pete Souza, a world-class photographer with a personality to match, is seen here as the chief shutterbug who has spent much of his career almost literally by President Obama’s side. He captures iconic images of Obama, a man he obviously considers not only a good friend but a hero, and adds pungency to the tale by comparing the dignified African-American leader with his ideological and extra-large small man who followed and who thinks nothing of anybody but himself and perhaps his immediately family.

The two million folks who follow Souza on Instagram might be familiar with a previous look of the lenser in the National Geographic 2010 movie “The President’s Photographer,” but while that excellent treatment deals with previous photographers as well, “The Way I See It” gives short shrift to Souza’s predecessor, President Reagan, in order to concentrate more fully on the wonderful personality of the man behind the lenses.

No sooner does Souza state that he believes empathy to be the most important emotion of a national leader than we reflexively see that this is a guy who has no use for Donald J. Trump. This movie comes out just a hop, skip and jump after the publication of the photographer’s book “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents,” which, put simply, sets up two columns. In one lie the hateful tweets of the incompetent bozo now in the White House, a loser who, thanks to the Electoral College was put into office despite being behind Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million votes, with Barack Obama. In fact commenting on the décor in the White House, Souza notes that he “like [s] the old drapes better than the new ones.” Therein lies a clever metaphor by which Souza “dropped shade,” which is to say disrespecting the current resident in the Oval Office, and changed him from being a fly on the wall, albeit a highly talented one, to becomes an outspoken photo-journalist.

Director Dawn Porter, whose “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” about the late member of the House of Representatives from Georgia embracing his sixty years fighting for civil rights, immigration reform and gun control, gives President Obama much of her time in moving picture images but allows Pete Souza to hold forth in a Madison, Wisconsin speech before a packed audience, with many of his favorite photos on the screen. Motion picture imagery aside, Souza makes the point that there is still a need for still photos, hopefully riveting the viewer on key moments in a President’s eight years. One shot that would impress even high school pupils who give the impression that they’ve “seen it all” finds Obama playing a one-on-one basketball game with Reggie Love, former professional athlete and then Obama’s “body man.” Imagine Obama’s pleasure when he discovers that Souza captured his block of his opponent, ordering that it be blown up and signed by Love.

While Ms. Porter uses motion picture film of the dramatic moment when Nancy Pelosi banged the gavel to announce to the House of Representatives that the Affordable Care Act had passed, she finds the former President’s empathy best illustrated in shots showing him shedding genuine tears while hugging the parents of the twenty children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Porter, who in her own medium performs a service as important as Souza’s, highlights the moment during his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, killed at the Charleston church shooting, that Obama says “Amazing Grace” twice, then connects with the vast audience by singing the song.

This is a deeply moving film, one filled with tears and smiles, pathos and laughter, a paean to a President, his photographer, and moments in history which, thanks greatly to still photographs, will never be forgotten.

100 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A
Overall – A-

 

KOKO DI, KOKO DA – movie review

KOKO DI KOKO DA
Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Johannes Nyholm
Screenwriter: Johannes Nyholm
Cast: Ylva Gallon, Leif Edlund Johansson, Peter Belli, Katarina Jacobson, Morad Khatchadorian
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/9/20
Opens: TBD

The idea is a clever one, one of monstrous people acting out the only partially buried grief of a couple in a Swedish tale of horror and torment. This pic, however, does not involve mass killings or aliens emerging from bodies. It’s more grown-up tale, though remember that the fairy stories targeted to children have motifs of terror. Still, a clever idea does not always make for an entertaining film even if the performers play their parts dutifully. The rip-off from “Groundhog Day” goes on too many times with too few variations. Remember that the masterwork “Groundhog Day” does not simply repeat scenes daily but shows the principal character played by Bill Murray as one who grows with past knowledge, as when he starts out as a beginner in piano and winds up a dazzling jazz pianist.

Writer-director Jonahnnes Nyholm, whose “The Giant” looks at an autistic man who enters a fantasy world where he is a giant indulges his own fantasies in his full-length sophomore narrative feature, but the picture as a whole may test your patience. Maja (Katarina Jacobson) dies on her eighth birthday from a severe allergic reactions after eating mussels while on vacation with her parents, Tobias (Leif edlund Johansson) and Elin (Ylva Gallon). Mom, who consumes the fish likewise, becomes ill but survives though neither parent has been able to let go of grief. The vacation, which allows them to take in a show at a restaurant featuring two clowns (Stine Bruun and Martin Knudsen) is hardly compensation for what befalls the family, then indulging in bunny make-up, greasepaint that will turn up three years later in a different form while mom and dad go on a camping trip.

Strangely the couple sets up a tent in an isolated forest area rather than on camping grounds, a choice that could and does leave them open to be victimized by criminals and madmen. Sure enough Mog (Peter Belli), a dapper man with a bowler hat, a huge Andre (Morad Khatchadorian), and Cherry (Brandy Litmanen), looking like an escapee from a Charles Addams cartoon in New Yorker magazine, pop up by the couples’ tent, toying with the duo before inflicting their punishments on them. Those intruders are representations of their pictures on Maja’s music box, but they are no longer like the painted, cheerful people singing something like “Zip-a-dee-doo da,” The trio are not looking for money but are psychos who enable one another—Cherry carries the gun, Andre a club and his own muscular body, and Mog the master of ceremonies who in one scene sings “Koko-di, Koko-da,” directs the torture.

Good so far. But when the scene is repeated again, then again, with only a few changes of behavior, that’s where the aforementioned patience trial kicks in. The one comic element is the sight of Tobias, having been warned by fantasies of Mog and company, racing out of the tent in his underwear, yanking his wife Elin into the car to escape from the evil trio.

Now and then the scene fades to a series of animations of bunnies, principally, an obvious reminder of what the poor eight-year-old may have loved but can do so no longer. Perhaps the writer-director would have been ahead of the game if he restricted the running time to that of his previous shorts, “Dreams from the Woods” (8 minutes) and “Puppetboy” (27 minutes). What grief. In Swedish with English subtitles.

86 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C-
Acting – C+
Technical – C
Overall – C

THE CLIMB – movie review

THE CLIMB
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Angelo Covino
Screenwriter: Michael Angelo Covino, Kyle Marvin
Cast: Kyle Marvin, Michael Angelo Covino, Gayle Rankin, Talia Balsam, George Wendt, Judith Godreche
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 11/4/19
Opens: TBD

As Cole Porter so eloquently composed,

“Friendship, friendship,
Just a perfect blendship,
When other friendships have been forgot,
Ours will still be hot.”

We like to think that our childhood friendships would last forever, but while the Four Aces note “those wedding bells are breaking up those old friends of mine,” adultery could have the same effect. At least that’s what we learn from Michael Angelo Covino, who directs and co-stars in “The Climb,” which he wrote with Kyle Marvin. And wouldn’t you know that the director and both writers are in the starring roles as well?

“The Climb” is a shaggy dog story, the kind of picture that true lovers of small indies adore. Avoiding a formulaic, tightly constructed tale of bromance (a close but nonsexual partnership of two or more men, one that goes beyond mere friendship,) director Covino expands on his eight-minute Sundance short to unfold the off-again, on-again lifelong pal concept, winding up by showing that no matter high the hills that these two guys climb on their bikes, notwithstanding the threats to their bond that would surely tear most people’s friendship asunder, they wind up where they started. Have they changed during six or more years in which the events take place? Yes, but not all that much.

Toying with a series of vignettes as though each scene were parts of continuing shorts that takes place a day, a week a month, or half a dozen years apart, Covino opens his movie as two bikers traverse the beautiful scenery of the South of France, the huffing and puffing symbolizing, perhaps, that life has its, well, huffs and its puffs, its highs and its lows. The principals of the movie use their own names, which should signal that this could well be a biopic of two characters whose diverse personalities complete each other. Kyle (Kyle Marvin) is a shlubby fellow, the kind that women like to marry because, as one woman states, they “will always be there.” But Mike (Michael Angelo Covino) is a daredevil, a risk-taking ladies’ man, the sort that honorable women would love for a fling but would steer clear of marrying. But Mike is something more, something that’s not at all nice. He interferes with his pal’s love life, doing his best to break up Kyle’s liaisons as though fearing that he would lose his bosom buddy to a woman.

Much of the humor is deadpan, dry, the kind of jocularity that some people cannot understand (“Huh, you think that’s funny”?) but others practice regularly as though to test the intelligence of their listeners. Mike breaks up Kyle’s engagement to Ava (Judith Godreche), who insists that she loves Kyle even while Mike is kissing her. Conveniently she dies, leaving Mike to challenge and try to disrupt Kyle’s engagement to Marissa (Gayle Rankin). He has the audacity, though with a secret plan, to tear into Kyle once again: While they bike in France, he blurts out “I slept with Ava.” Later, during Kyle’s courtship with Marissa, he announces, “I slept with Marissa.” You usually do not find these admissions freely made, but of course Mike opts for the statements with his own narcissistic glee.

Covino and Marvin, real-life best friends with more than enough artistry to evoke a story that seems only partially fictionalized, but do not dominate the entire movie. We don’t know much about Ava who died soon enough, but Marissa has a sturdy segment focused on her character—a strong woman who pushes the mostly passive Kyle to be a better man (he loves her for that) and who declares her love for Kyle right up to a riotous wedding scene turns physical. An extended look at a family Thanksgiving feast but one without a turkey (the Golden Retriever manages to grab and eat the whole bird, leaving a digested turkey on the floor) highlights Mike’s alcoholism. In one scene he topples the Christmas tree but Sara Shaw’s excellent editing of Zach Kuperstein’s lensing highlights moments of such high drama by cutting away quickly, leaving us in the audience to figure out what happens seconds later, and even to wonder how much time has passed between each vignette.

The writer-director shares with his co-writer a love for French songs as the soundtrack is filled with big, bold music that might remind you of the wit and wisdom of Jacques Brel. Marriages come and go, but friendships like those of Kyle Marvin and Michael Angelo Covino are for life.

98 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

LOVE CHILD – movie review

LOVE CHILD
PBS
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eva Mulvad
Writer: Eva Mulvad
Cast: Sahand, Mani, Leila
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/14/20
Opens: September 14, 2020

love child

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his people asked him how it went. The good news is “I got him down to ten,” the lawgiver said. “The bad news is that adultery is still one of them.” Commandments notwithstanding, adultery is probably more common than killing, stealing, even dissing your mother and father. I’ll bet more people say OMG than drink Coca-Cola, so forget enforcing decrees against taking The Name in vain. While we in the West love soap operas with every kind of description of sex outside marriage, parts of the world are just no fun. In Iran, if you’re guilty of violating the Sixth Commandment, you are in deep doody.

The government of Iran says not only Death to America but when they get a chance they think Stone the Adulterers. In this doc, a dramatized one which makes it the kind of nonfiction story that evokes the same audience interest as a narrative drama, Sahand and Leila have a love child conceived four years earlier in Tehran. Mani, the title character, does not understand why her mother and dad are eager to leave everything behind in Iran, but in a way it’s because of him. He is the physical evidence that he was created by his mom, but not by the guy back home who somehow, after three years of marriage to Leila, left her, well, a virgin. The Iranian court would not grant Leila a divorce which even our Catholic church would make short shrift of with an annulment. Instead the judge said “Pray and watch TV.” Maybe they don’t have good stuff on TV like our Drew Barrymore show, and yet somehow, not explained, she does get the divorce.

They’re not looking for a place to exploit workers and make a fortune like people in some countries. They want only to live. They are an educated couple, speaking Farsi, Turkish, English, even Azeri which should make them welcome in many countries, but first they fly to Istanbul and begin a paper chase. They seek refugee status from the UN High Commission for Refugees, which sends their fate into the hands of a byzantine bureaucracy; not ironic considering that they’re filing from Byzantium. They check the UNHCR website eager to hear whether their plea for refugee status is granted, which would allow them to apply for passage to Canada or Australia among other places, but Mani decides for them. He wants America. He never heard of Trump. But Turkey is inundated with Syrian refugees—give the Turks credit for opening their borders to (shock) Muslims (!) and appearing ready to allow them to stay for years if they wish.

As stated above, this is a doc that’s in the welcome format of a narrative drama, one that even takes on the momentum of a thriller. The three stars are not professional actors, but you’d never know. Their lovey-dovey chats and arguments are likely to have been scripted by Danish writer-director Eva Mulvad, whose doc “A Modern Man” is about a Norwegian-English elite violinist, but they sure seem real. Makes you wonder why people go to acting school when all you need is a good director like Ms. Mulvad.

A compelling drama with subtitles in Farsi, Turkish, English and Azeri.

82 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – A-

 

LES SAUVAGES – movie review

LES SAUVAGES (Savages)
Topic.com
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
Writer: Sabri Louatah (novels & screenplay); Rebecca Zlotowski, Benjamin Charbit, David Elkim
Cast: Roschdy Zem, Amira Casar, Marina Foïs, Dali Benssalah, Sofiane Zermani, Souheila Yacoub, Shaïn Boumedine, Kadri Islands, Carima Amarouche, Lyna Khoudri, Farida Rahouadj
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opened: September 19, 2019 on Canal. Available on Topic September 17, 2020′

Poster

 

If you’re an American watching the French TV episodes of “Les Sauvages,” you’d swear that the project was inspired by the election of Barak Obama, who apparently came out of nowhere during his first term in the US Senate to become President—twice. Could America have become post-racial? Not when you find out that the non-Hispanic white vote each time was under 40%, which means that he could not have been chosen without a turnout from the so-called minority population. Even more surprising, when his term was up, a person who has always been a household name, Donald J. Trump, perhaps the least qualified major candidate ever, defeated one of the most qualified people. What happened? The money is on the idea of blowback: deeply offended that a Black man took the highest office in the land, the American (white) public turned toward a person who from the beginning sent out racial dog whistles.

In the TV episodes of “Les sauvages,” the blowback worked in a reverse way, as France, a nation in crisis with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen polling second in a national election, changed course. Remember that “Les Sauvages” is fiction, but Sabri Louiatah, from whose novel the TV episodes have adapted and programmed via the direction of Rebecca Zlotowski (whose “Grand Central” deals with the discovery of radioactive contamination), could become real. In politics, anything can happen.

“Les Sauvages” studies two families, the Chaouch people consisting of Idder Chaouch and his daughter Jasmine; and the Nerrouch family, led by Fouad Nerrouche who is Jasmine’s boyfriend, and Nazir, a militant Muslim, hated by his brother Faouad.

The kicker here is that Idder Chaouch (Roschdy Zem) has been elected by the French people to the presidency with a solid 53.1% majority. The other 46.9% are not happy, yet they have little idea what policies he will follow under than the usual boilerplate, unifying the people. He’s a Muslim originally from Algeria, the first chap from the Mahgreb to ascend to the highest office, and what makes his majority vote particularly difficult to understand is that not all the Algerian-French want him. His Muslim enemies consider him a sellout for playing the game in a colonialist country that fought a vicious war against the independence drive in French Algeria.

The central event that drives most of the series is the attempted assassination of the new president-elect just after the election, given him not even a chance to prove or embarrass himself in office. The shooter is known. He is the eighteen-year-old Krim Benaïm, a gifted musician who is trying out for the conservatory. His motivation is unclear as he is silent under police interrogation. The theory is that he did not operate alone but was manipulated by Nazir Nerrouche (Sofiane Zermani), a militant Algerian then in jail who hated by the pro-French population, especially by his brother Fouad Nerrouche (Dali Benssalah), who is engaged to the president-elect’s daughter and adviser, Jasmine (Souheila Yacoub).

In episode one, the series’ most ambitious, we get to know the characters, the interlocking relationships, and get a closeup view of a wedding, which involves a highly spirited group of Algerian-French, the women showing their excitement in the Arab way by ululating, called zaghrouta. We learn that Idder Chaouch’s wife Daria (Amira Casar) is a musician and orchestra conductor who down to the last minute is not certain she wants to be First Lady, even to the extent of crumpling the ballot and tossing it. We are introduced to Marion, in charge of the candidate’s personal safety, burdened with guilt at her inability to stop the attack.

As the fast-moving episodes move on, each lasting from 50 to 60 minutes, we get a look at the police examinations, the rivalry within the ethnic Algerian families, all to the end of guessing what might happen if such events were to occur in the near future. The editing is rapid, shifting scenes, some last just seconds. The episodes are, in part breathtaking, the acting authentic. Filmed in Paris and Saint Étienne, France.

In French with English subtitles.

Episodes can be streamed at one-year-old Topic, a service of First Look Media, via Topic.com and Topic’s channels on Amazon Prime Video channels, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

50-60 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B

 

BLACKBIRD – movie review

BLACKBIRD
Screen Media
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Roger Michell
Screenwriter: Christian Torpe
Cast: Bex Taylor-Klaus, Sam Neill, Mia Wasikowska, Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, Rainn Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Anson Boon
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/20/20
Opens: September 18, 2020

Poster

A blackbird is a symbol of intuition, wit and knowledge while on the other hand the bird which has sometimes scared people, can represent darkness. The latter symbol may be at work primarily in Roger Michell’s drama about family, euthanasia, and one major twist that occurs late in the drama—though audience members born under the intuition represented by the bird might guess what that may be. “Blackbird is in the hands of director Michell, whose “My Cousin Rachel” is a revenge drama that becomes complicated when the avenger falls under the charms of the beautiful woman he targets.

Still of Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet in Blackbird (2019)

The only kind of revenge that we see in “Blackbird” could be that of a woman who is afflicted with the dread disease ALS (Lou Gehrig’s) raging against nature for giving her a plague that neither she nor anyone else deserves. But Lily (Susan Sarandon) has accepted her fate, and unwilling to die naturally—if you can call waiting until you can’t swallow can’t speak, can’t move your legs and arms and ultimately suffocate natural—she chooses suicide, or euthanasia. Such an exit is legal in only a few states but carried out only when a victim succeeds in jumping through hoops. She is married to Paul (Sam Neill), a doctor, able to acquire enough pentobarbital to kill half an army, as he puts it.

“Blackbird,” a remake of Bille August’s 2014 Danish picture “Silent Heart,” or “Stille hjerte,” closely follows that trajectory of three generations of a family who come together as a final sendoff to Lily. But this is not the lively affair that we see in the 1996 film “It’s My Party,” Randal Kleiser’s look at a mostly young family contingent joined together to say farewell to a man afflicted with AIDS who chooses to die on his own terms. In fact, for most of the story, we watch family and friends gather and socialize in the incredibly spacious and posh home (filmed by Mike Eley in West Sussex, England). The usual pleasantries take up too much time; the hugs, the aimless chit-chat. Still there are moments of grand humor, mostly centered on the Michael (Rainn Wilson), klutzy husband of Paul and Lily’s daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet), a pedant whose wife criticizes his lack of emotions and who guesses that if she threw a glass of wine in his face, she would probably hear in what district the grapes were grown.

As you might expect, not everybody is cool with Lily’s plans, particularly Anna (Mia Waskowska), who has shown up with her girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus), and who is furious that her mother never took the time to get to know her. She asks Lily to delay the plan to allow the two of them to do just that. Not so Lily’s sister Jennifer, who insists that euthanasia is Lily’s decision. And in fact Lily, in the final moments, appears to demand that the guests assembled agree unanimously to her decision, the “jury” threatening to be hung by Anna.

Despite her small role Liz (Lindsay Duncan), Lily’s best friend who sometimes join her and Paul on vacations, plays a key role in the film’s best plot twist. Ultimately, though, “Blackbird” suffers from Sam Neill’s passivity and from Susan Sarandon’s phoning in her performance. Diane Keaton, originally selected to play the part, would have turned in acting better conveying Lily’s controlling decision.

97 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – C+
Technical – B
Overall – C+

 

THE NEST – movie review

THE NEST
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sean Durkin
Screenwriter: Sean Durkin
Cast: Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Charlie Shotwell, Oona Roche, Adeel Akhtar
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/27/20
Opens: September 18, 2020

Jude Law and Carrie Coon in The Nest (2020)

As Robert Burns noted, the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley, which is a good thing if you’re a filmmaker because what can you write about if plans are always realized? Marriage supplies the best examples. Look at the 50% rate of divorce in America, the result of both declining novelty and huge expectations that go off the tracks. In his movie about a marriage that is not only deteriorating but features a woman whose own emotional balance goes off kilter, writer-director Sean Durkin is up his alley with his sophomore feature “The Nest.” His “Martha Marcy May Marlene” nine years back explores the life of a woman who had escaped from a cult, justifiably paranoid, trying to assimilate back with her natural family.

In his current film, Allison (Carrie Coon) is living comfortably in a New York suburb with her husband Rory O’Hara (Jude Law), her teen daughter Samantha (Oona Roche), and stepson Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell). Rory is a successful Wall Street trader; she gives horseback riding lessons at a nearby school. But Rory, dazzled by the American Dream, wants to become filthy rich not by continuing to have fantasies in America but by going to Britain where he must convince his old boss Arthur (Michael Culkin) to sell the firm to an American company.

Problems arise both at home and in the office. Allison complains that this would be their fourth move in ten years. The youngsters would have to make new friends and become adjusted to new schools. But in the 1980s when the story takes place, there may have been whiffs of feminism in the U.S. but there was nothing then like the current #MeToo movement, so Allison performs according to now-outdated gender roles. Even her mother (Wendy Crewson) advises that “a woman gets married so she doesn’t need to make decisions any more. Allison follows her man to England, where he has already paid a year’s rent on a 19th century Gothic house with farmland—so sure is he that his chickens will hatch notwithstanding the resistance he finds in his boss. Rory is British-born but his whose cultural ties to the mother country had lapsed after he had tasted success in a faster moving New York.

The movie is filled with shots of Allison riding her beloved horse Richmond around the large acreage while the principal riding done by her husband Rory is on the commuter train from their digs in Surrey to the London office. Puffed up with narcissism, Rory tries to pass himself off as a fellow with both money and class, bragging about the private schools the youngsters now attend (where Benjamin is bullied), passing himself off at fancy dinners with office staff as a person who attends theater and is impassioned by Anthony Hopkins. The brittleness of the marriage makes itself known when Rory is embarrassed by his disgusted wife, desperate because the family is down to its last 600 quid, announcing to the surprised restaurant table that her husband had never set foot in the theater and that he must have read his quote about Anthony Hopkins in that day’s newspaper.

A film that starts quietly albeit with music on the soundtrack that promises either horror or emotional surprises hits high melodramatic notes in the latter half, building up to a crescendo of family disfunction. A terrific performance by Jude Law is more than matched by that of Carrie Coon, as Allison cuts loose, no holds barred, furious that she went along with conservative gender roles. The death of her horse Richmond serves as apt metaphor for the inevitable demise of the O’Hara family.

107 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – A-

 

A CHEF’S VOYAGE – movie review

A CHEF’S VOYAGE
First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rémi Anfosso, Jason Matzner
Cast: David Kinch, Jean-André Charial, Glenn Viel, Alain Soliveres, Gérald Passédat, Koji Yokoyama, Courtney Weyl, Chkristine Muhklke, Jenny Yun, Mitch Lienhard, Jim Rollston, Julie Strangier, Grant Waller, Jean-Benoit Hughes, Eloi Dürrbach, Renata Ameni, Kristopher Lord
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/21/20
Opens: September 18, 2020

Poster

There are some things I didn’t know before seeing “A Chef’s Voyage.” For example, did you know that the word “restaurant” derives from “restore” or “refresh?” Do you feel either restored or refreshed when you finish a Happy Meal at Mickey D’s? Oh, the banality of that corporation’s food—though they should be praised for giving their customers affordable meals. One wonders whether people even think of what they’re eating since Big Mac, medium fries and a Coke are indulged in so frequently that you can’t blame customers for spending more time texting their Facebook friends even when seated with a real live pal who gets ignored. But enough snobbery.

A Chef's Voyage - A Chef's Voyage $4.99 - SOMM TV

Now David Kinch, the star of this documentary, knows how to refresh and restore his customers and his staff alike, though his cuisine is likely more expensive than a Happy Meal. The red-haired, blued-eyed, scruffy-bearded owner of a 3-star Michelin restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos, California since 2002 also wrote a 328 page cookbook “Manresa: An Edible Reflection” together with Christine Muhlke, but Kinch did not get a coveted third Michelin star by reading someone else’s cookbooks. Though the movie does not bring out his training, he started at New York’s “The Quilted Giraffe” and worked his way up, cooking even at a place in Fukuoka, Japan, learning from the great chefs of Europe like Dieter Müller.

What we do know about David is that he’s quite a personable fellow, speaking to his movie audience with humility, intent on telling us that to get those Michelin stars he needed not only to know how to use ingredients but also to motivate his staff since, “Who wants to train new people every year?” And his staff seems to love him especially since he took this contingent of people in their mid-twenties to France, presumably paying their fare, but that’s not clear. As the group plans the trip—some of whom had never traveled outside the country—they wondered what they should carry and even whether the airport officials would seize the sauce which took five days to prepare, but David assured them to be minimalist: underwear and abalone.

He was invited by top chefs in Marseilles, Paris, and a village Les Baux in Provence to show what he’s got, that perhaps even Californians can teach the great French a thing or two. So, with his own crew, he would get up a seven in the morning to start preparations which, in Marseilles, could mean catching fish which must be used on that same day. As the French restaurateurs look on, he and his young staff would prepare food California style for the customers, whom we never see.

The areas are striking, beckoning us not only to salivate on the food but to walk about picturesque Marseilles whose chefs use olive oil but never butter or cream, the medieval-looking village of Les Baux in Provence, and also Paris, whose chefs make omelets like David with both oil and butter. The owner of the Marseilles establishment emphasizes the need for a staff to respect one another, and allow each person to adapt an identity—a personal style like a film director.

The most savory dish to me is the combination of duck, lobster, clams and mussels which, if soup is added, would be a nifty bouillabaisse.

The film has value to us in the audience less from the food—which may be awesome but you can’t taste it from your movie seat especially if you’re indulging in popcorn. More from watching and listening to David dressed in a sweatshirt with the word “bread,” talk about his experiences, how he grew into loving food, how he worked his way to that coveted Michelin third star, and how, when all is said and done, he can be perfectly happy making an omelet—with oil and butter.

90 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B

 

STARS AND STRIFE – movie review

STARS AND STRIFE
Starz
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: David Smick
Screenwriter: David Smick
Cast: Alan Greenspan, Alice Rivlin, Amy Chua, Arthur Brooks, Chrissy Houlahan, David Ignatius, Derek Black, others
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/17/20
Opens: September 21, 2020

Stars and Strife Poster

Are we Americans destined to have the Stars and Strife forever, or are we simply at a crossroads today when so many formerly in the majority middle are increasingly separating into hostile forces reminiscent of Civil War times? David Smick’s documentary feature puts together a rousing bunch of leaders in both politics and economics to debate the current state of the U.S. while at the same time setting forth their views on our political divisions. Some spokespersons—and there are quite a few—believe the problems of democracy center on class differences while others believe that differences of race and religion are big factors. All believe that we can get together as we thought we were during the post-war period of prosperity in the 1950s and a largely global belief that America was where it’s at—though this would obviously dismiss the segregation that persisted well after the Civil War right into the present.

Stars and Strife Doc Trailer

Perhaps the best quote summing up the picture is the view that the opposite of hate is not love; it’s empathy. You’re not going to sing Kumbaya with people who do not see the world as you do, but listen listen listen. Implicit is the thought that what turned people in the rust belt, the rural areas, the blue-collar workers against the so-called elites in the coastal areas is that they have been looked upon by large segments of our people and politicians as hicks, racists, backward people living in flyover country. Democrats have lost many of these folks who believe that the party has been concentrating too much on ideas like gay rights, gay marriage, civil rights, all associated with identity politics, when they should have followed the wisdom of Franklin D. Roosevelt who, though a member of the aristocracy, won successive terms by showing regular people that he was on their side. (The FDR bit is not in the film, but a thought that came to me while watching a host of ideas sent out with the speed usually associated with blockbuster films.)

The most entertaining aspect of the picture is the use of animation and especially silent films starring Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd when the subject matter of each illuminated the issues in discussion. A lot of excellent editing by six film professionals kept the film moving ahead enjoyably. While twenty-four spokespersons introduced their pet ideas, President Trump is neither mentioned nor seen throughout, which is strange, since his actions are largely what informs the commentary.

Speakers who impressed me most include Hawk Newsome, President of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, who in one stirring evocation of his civil rights plank actually led to his being hugged by two members who appeared to be of white supremacists’ ideology. To further that end, Derek Black, the Godson of Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, appears in various sections explaining his abandonment of white supremacy ideas, as though he had an epiphany in college. Some fellow students googled his name, deciding to have nothing to do with him when he was found out.

What causes hatred? One speaker noted that the resentment of Germans after World War I led to the most vicious authoritarianism and that similarly, there is resentment by the aforementioned blue-collar, working class people, who lost their promised careers when factories closed and work was sent overseas. Resentment leads to humiliation, which gives birth to anger and finally hate.

One way to curb extremism in politics involves putting aside the two-party system, which encourages extremism of both the left and the right to get votes, and to allow independents the chance to win local and national elections. Voters check off their preferences in order: 1,2,3,4. Say you have four candidates. If the first candidate does not get 50.1% of the vote, a clear majority, the person coming in fourth is eliminated and the remaining three may get a clear majority when second and third choices are utilized in the voting. (This is a fairly complex procedure that my group, New York Film Critics Online  uses, as in each category, we write up to three choices.)

Here’s a point not directly mentioned in the film but which I come away with. The speakers, like so many of us in the fifty states, would like to come together, some willing to compromise as was the case when Democrats and Republicans were still speaking to one another. But take abortion. Would the so-called pro-life people be willing to compromise and allow abortion on demand during the first trimester? And would the so-called pro-choice folks be willing to give up the possibility of banning second- and third-trimester procedures? And immigration. Would the forces on the right wing of the spectrum be willing to accept a substantial number of immigrants from, say, Central America? And would they be willing to give up all possibilities of buying AK-47 rifles and other assault weapons while the left ponders whether to allow guns in most civilian hands at all?

Because “Stars and Strife” is fast moving, the spokespeople not acting like the usual ponderous talking heads of so many docs, the film can surely be recommended to a general audience. While those of us who are “woke” are familiar with just about everything mentioned during the 97 minutes, many Americans follow politics the way I follow basketball, which is not at all. This is obviously a film more interested in compromise than the excellent “#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump,” it may lack some of the rah-rah feelings that anti-Trump residents would come away with. But it’s fine as both a primer for those alienated from the fighting and an entertaining, informal piece for all.

The film is directed by David Smick, whose recent book The Great Equalizer: How Main Street Capitalism Can Create an Economy for Everyone warns of the dangers of the present subpar global economic growth rates.

97 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – A-

 

SYBIL – movie review

SIBYL
Music Box Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Justine Triet
Screenwriter: Arthur Harari, David H. Pickering, Justine Triet
Cast: Virginie Efira, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Gaspard Ulliel, Sandra Hüller, Laure Calamy, Niels Schneider
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/11/20
Opens: September 11, 2020

Poster

There are reasons that people choose the professions that they do. If you needed glasses at age five, you learn about eyesight and become an optometrist. If your life was saved by a surgeon, you think of going to medical school. If you love films, you want to promote them and you become a publicist. If you hate films, you become a critic. So what makes people want to be psychotherapists? Going by the presumptions shown here, you’ve had problems since childhood. The result? You deal with other people’s issues, and by lying on the couch yourself, you learn about your own. This appears to sum up the principal character in Justine Triet’s “Sibyl,” by a director whose “Sur Place” (2007) tries to analyze the student protests in France a year earlier.

Still of Virginie Efira in Sibyl (2019)

In this case the title character Sibyl (Virginie Efira), a young psychoanalyst, peels off many of her patients in order to find time to devote to writing novels. How to overcome potential writers’ block? Her choice is to use her patients’ narration of problems in the proposed book, and for that she centers her novel on Margot Vasilis (Adèle Exarchopoulos) because of Margot’s intensity. Tearful to a fault as well as conflicted about (it seems) everything, Margot is pregnant by accident, wants an abortion because she needs to work full time in her profession as an actress, schedules the abortion, then cancels, schedules it again, cancels again. Igor (Gaspart Ulliel), the father, is the lead performer in a love story directed by Mika (Sandra Hüller), alias “the bitch,” as some of her stars justly call her.

While Sibyl secretly records Margot’s rants, she brings up memories of Gabriel (Niels Schneider), a previous boyfriend, since isn’t that the kind of thing that shrinks do when they’re bored silly by their patients’ jibber-jabber? You wonder, sometimes, why Sibyl is willing to give up a good part of her income in paring down her patient load to write, when she is advised that in our current age of distraction, writers “have little influence.” With the extra time, she agrees to follow Margot to her romantic film location, since after all, Margot asked her to go and what psychoanalyst would refuse such a reasonable request from a patient?

Mixed in are two occasions of Sybil getting hand jobs from two guys, and one intense scene that finds her on the carpet with a lover getting it on. The film is marred in a few ways. One is that the scenes are constantly changing abruptly when Sibyl’s imagination takes hold. A more straightforward chronological approach might have worked better. On the streamed version that I saw, much of the dialogue was badly dubbed to the extent that words would come out though a character’s lips are no longer moving. Still, Sibyl is an interesting character, one who wants to break free of the daily chatter of her patients—including her youngest client with whom she plays Monopoly as a way to get him to talk more of his hangups—to live more dangerously, including drinking to excess.  In French, Russian and English with English subtitles.

101 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B-
Technical – B
Overall – C+

 

BUOYANCY – movie review

BUOYANCY
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rodd Rathjien
Writer: Rodd Rathjien
Cast: Sarm Heng, Thanawut Kasro, Mony Ros, Saichia Wongwirot, Yothin Udomsanti, Chan Visal
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/2/20
Opens: September 11, 2020

Buoyancy (2019) - IMDb

Watching this movie, I couldn’t help thinking of the line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” “There are lots of good fish in the sea, tra la, there are lots of good fish in the sea.” We are warned that there’s a limit to the number of fish in the world’s oceans just as there’s a limit to the amount of oil in the ground, but you wouldn’t know it from the catches of a small fishing boat under the rule of the Thai captain, the unhappy catch shoveled into a pit for future sale by a group of enslaved Cambodians. Forget Gilbert and Sullivan because there is no comedy in “Buoyancy,” Australia’s entry for an Academy Award for pictures opening in 2019. If you have to compare, think of Nat Turner’s rebellion in the Virginia of 1831 or of Steven Spielberg’s film “Amistad,” its most heartbreaking scene finding a group of enslaved Africans chained together and thrown overboard by the captain.

Filmed by Michael Latham in Cambodia with Khmer and Thai dialogue, “Buoyancy” is directed by its screenwriter Rodd Rathjien, in his freshman full-length offering. This is an intense, slow-burn drama based not only on a singular event in the life of a 14-year-old boy but standing in as well for human slave trafficking in Asia involving some 200,000 victims.

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too bright, to think for yourself, to take risks like the hero of “Buoyancy.” Think of Chakra (Sarm Heng), whose father uses him to carry heavy sacks for use in farming rice in paddies without pay, though his dad simply has too many kids to set up a wage-earning business. Like the human caravans we in the U.S. are familiar with, the thousands of migrants from Central America who cross into the U.S. with the hope of making something of their lives, Chakra seeks to make his fortune by being smuggled into Thailand, where he is told he can make some 8,000 bahts ($255 U.S.) a month in a factory. Instead, after crossing into Thailand, Chakra and his traveling friend are sold to Rom Ran (Thanawut Kasro), the captain of a fishing boat, where they are treated like unwanted animals. Those who grumble learn quickly enough to keep quiet. Instead of complaining verbally, formerly innocent Chakra asks Rom Ran when their debt will be paid. After that he projects his dismay, his rage through his facial expressions. He does not smile once though Thanawut Kasro as the skipper loves to smirk when he announces such finality that Chakra will be on the boat “forever.”

Chakra learns soon enough that he will get nowhere following Martin Luther King Jr.’s counsel to meet hatred with love, and forget about the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi. Violence will be the only way out, leading to the audience-expected treat that finds Chakra executing a coup d’état to take over the captaincy.

Sarm Heng doesn’t say much but his expressions serve as sign language for us in the theater. Yet the real guy to watch is Kasro in the skipper’s role. He toys verbally and physically with Chakra, and in at least one scene you might expect him to make Chakra a sex slave as well. No wonder they say that all actors aspire to the role of villain! What’s more Kasro, unlike Sarm Heng, is a professional actor with an impressive résumé, including a role in “Samurai Ayothaya” ten years ago, based on a historic figure during the Ayothaya Era about a Japanese adventurer who gained influence in Thailand.

I’d be seasick on this small boat every waking hour, which would be enough punishment for me. Yet I would have to count my blessings that I am not one of the tens of thousands of poor, innocent young people caught up in the vile human trafficking industry in the South China sea.

The film won various well-deserved awards including Best First Feature at the Berlin International Film Festival. In Khmer and Thai with English subtitles.

92 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

 

THE MOLE AGENT – movie review

THE MOLE AGENT
Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Maite Alberdi
Screenwriter: Maite Alberdi
Cast: Detective Romulo, Sergio
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/6/20
Opens: September 1, 2020

A still from The Mole Agent by Maite Alberdi, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Alvaro Reyes.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

You will not be able to see the new James Bond thriller, “No Time to Die” until November, but you might consider “The Mole Agent” a story that will tide you over until then. Like 007’s “Quantum of Solace,” this one is filmed in Chile but with an all Chilean cast. Directed by documentary filmmaker Maite Alberdi, whose “The Grown Ups” takes on a group of friends with Down Syndrome attending the same school for forty years, “The Mole Agent” may look like a scripted drama but is a surprisingly adept documentary. There are three deaths and several robberies involved, yet there is not a gun, a knife or an axe to be found. Instead of an Aston Martin, a jet boat or a ski lift, there’s just one wheelchair and an array of benches. And instead of prison, you have an old folks’ home, but the characters may not consider the place much better. Replacing Q is a private eye named Romulo, and the most danger that faces Sergio, an 83-year-old spy, is being proposed to, even physical mauled, by a woman about his own age.

The Mole Agent poster

Though the unusual ad in the newspaper asks for a man between the ages of eighty and ninety, a reader might suspect that something is fishy. As Sergio says in his interview, old people are never recruited for paying jobs, which is one thing that Chileans and Americans have in common. Though some technical proficiency is required, Sergio has to be trained to use a cellphone: how to communicate with the detective, what buttons to click and when. And he must memorize the face of Sonia, called in code the “target” of the investigation.

The motif is that a middle-aged woman whose mother is in a nursing home in Chile suspects that the older woman may be the subject of abuse, not an unusual idea since even some expensive assisted living dwellings involve unprofessional caretakers who take out their frustrations on the defenseless clients. Since some filming had been done at the home earlier, nobody need suspect that Sergio is not a new patient but a man hired to spy on them for three months. Since women live on average six years or more than men, Sergio is the talk of the elderly women from the time he arrives, particularly since he is gentlemanly, courteous, well dressed, ready to start conversations with any who might respond. All but one cranky woman express themselves.

The one problem they seem all to have is loneliness. Sure, they’re surrounded by women about their own age but these people are not their families. And as my mother used to tell me “Old people do not want to be surrounded by old people.” They long for visits from their sons and daughters, and one woman of about ninety years converses on the phone with her mother who is criticized for never visiting. (The home has one of its staff pretend to be the 125-year-old woman.)

It’s obvious that there would be no abuse in the nursing home when cameras are trained on the staff and their clients and, indeed, the place looks like it could be mistaken for a comfortable, albeit not luxurious retirement community. The floors shine, the rooms, except for one, are clean. The staff are ready to help is someone falls.

Sergio may have no favorites, certainly not the unfortunate two or three women who are completely bedridden, but he does listen to one woman’s poetry, though he is critical: his favorite poems rhyme and these do not. The strangest thing is that you may wonder why these women have to be in nursing homes at all, with the exception of a few who have Alzheimer’s and cannot remember having conversations with Sergio just hours earlier. They are not in wheelchairs, they do not watch TV or play bingo, so the documentary filmmaker can concentrate on the chats that Sergio has with several women.

Pablo Valdes films the proceedings in San Francisco, Chile, with almost all the action taking part within the building and in the surrounding grounds, where only the solitary cat seems happy to be alone all day, his time occupied by cleaning himself. Near the conclusion, a woman with a stroke is taken away in an ambulance, in a scene that reminds us that this is not narrative fiction. One critic notes that this is the most heartwarming spy movie of all time, and though I haven’t scene all in the genre, I’ll take his word for it. You may come away recalling the expression “Old age is bad but it beats the alternative,” but given the dreariness and sameness of the days here, you would not be blamed for challenging its veracity.

In Spanish with English subtitles.

90 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B

MY PRINCE EDWARD – movie review

MY PRINCE EDWARD
Cheng Cheng Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Norris Wong
Writer: Norris Wong
Cast: Stephy Tang, Pak Hon Chu, Hee Ching Paw
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/26/20
Opens: September 2, 2020

Right up until the mid-1960s, all my single friends and I lived with our parents, even though we had already pushed into our early twenties. On second thought not all. One of my pals moved out of Brooklyn into a small apartment in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan. The rest of us thought: what’s wrong with Steve? Doesn’t he get along with his folks? Predictably, our parents did not want to lose us so quickly, insisting “You can move out of here when you get married. You don’t want to go off alone.” What’s wrong with going off while single? Who knows? Happily, times have changed.

This brings us to Norris Wong’s “My Prince Edward” which takes place in the Prince Edward area of Hong Kong’s North Kowloon where most of the action takes place. The principal character, Fong (Stephy Tang), has a rebellious spirit. She no longer wants to “live at home” as we say when we don’t mean “home” but mean “with our parents.” Yet for reasons surrounding Hong Kong’s culture, she thought she would have to get married to do so. So she sets up a sham marriage with Yang Shuwei (Jin Kaiijie) from Fuzou on the Chinese mainland, which “allows” her to move away to the mainland and gain more freedom. In return Yang is able to fulfill his desire get a permit for Hong Kong by marriage to her. Years later she’s back in Hong Kong, this time living with Edward (Pak Hon Chu), and continues to live with him without marriage for years, bristling at Edward’s mother, who dominates her son, and confused because the chemistry with Edward just is not there. The two work in a bridal shop with Edward serving as photographer.

Edward discovers years later that his girlfriend had this fake marriage, is furious, then realizes that she and her fake husband never lived together as man and wife but in fact are trying to jump bureaucratic hoops to get divorced. If we see Edward as representative of the Hong Kong culture, the city does not come off well. Mainland China turns out, contrary to the view most of the world has, to be more culturally progressive than Hong Kong, as Yang, though he is about to marry a woman he got pregnant, wonders why Fong is so intent on marrying. “No one rushes to get married any more,” Yang says, obviously, apparently summing up the view of the people of his mainland city. Presumably, given the steady rioting of Hong Kongers against the incursions of the mainland, politics is a different story.

Norris Wong, who wrote and directs an impressive first film and whose Facebook page can be found here https://www.facebook.com/norrisfilm/, evokes performances all around by characters who are more than representatives of marital ideologies but are sympathetic people: one who is fully independent (Yang), one who is still a schlemiel (Edward), and one (Fong) is in the middle on the cusp of greater maturity, independence and happiness. Perhaps the best representative of a trait is the tortoise that Fong buys because the poor reptile has flipped over on its side, its vulnerability treated with empathy by its purchaser who wishes it to be turned back and regain independence.

The film is in Cantonese and Mandarin with subtitles in both Mandarin and English.

92 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

 

#UNFIT: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DONALD TRUMP MOVIE REVIEW

#UNFIT: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DONALD TRUMP
Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dan Partland
Screenwriter: Dan Partland
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/1/20
Opens: September 1, 2020

Poster

I think that the best way for a political documentary to get its points across is with humor. In that way, a filmmaker can undercut potential opponents who would be so entertained that even they would appreciate what they are seeing. Think of Michael Moore’s exposing of political foibles in “Fahrenheit 11/9,” in “Bowling for Columbine,” and especially in “Sicko” where Moore attacks the sorry state of American medicine, how it provides great benefits only for those who can afford expensive insurance or have terrific jobs like members of Congress and the Supreme Court. But “#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump” is one major exception to the humor rule. Dan Partland’s doc is so hard-hitting, so exquisitely edited, with so many people who are tops in their fields making major points against Trump, that this would probably be the year’s best non-fiction offering.

Poster #unfit: The Psychology of Donald J. Trump  n. 0

Not that it tells us anything new! That’s not what is so important. If you are politically woke, if you follow the news channels, especially the most truthful ones (i.e. those that Trump brushes aside as deliverers of fake news), you will not be surprised by the revelations here. The great benefit is that Partland hits us in the guts, drums in the danger that our republic is facing as we head down the road to fascism, and how fascistic leaders are taking power in countries as diverse as Brazil, the Philippines, Poland, Hungary and Turkey. (Duterte in the Philippines has no problem advocating the execution of the country’s three million drug pushers and addicts.)

Image result for UNFIT THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DONALD TRUMP POSTERS

But wait! There is some humor here after all. What you may remember most is a comment by Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted all of eleven days as Trump’s flack because his followers in the White House could not forget that he voted for Hillary and that he antagonized them, a hedge fund winner who could not adapt to the requirements of the political world. “Trump is not a racist,” he announces, to which the audience for the doc wonders whether he is sneaking in support for the President. “He treats everybody like shit.” Good one. Think about that. Is it true? We hear that he provides a toxic work environment, that those he praises one day he trashes the next. He thinks the world of Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, John F. Kelly, Kirstjen Nielsen, Steve Bannon (good riddance), John Bolton, H.R. McMaster and scores of others. He changes his mind not only about his staff, whose members are fired regularly, but about policy. He announces an attack on Iran but cancels ten minutes before the bombs start falling.

Definitive analysis of Trump by top US mental health experts. Science. Truth. Duty to Warn. We ALL have an interest in this discussion. THIS KICKSTARTER HAS ENDED - CLICK BELOW, VISIT OUR WEBSITE, SUPPORT THE FILM, CLAIM A REWARD.

The most damaging accusations, at least in this film, are from psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, who are obligated to remain silent about people’s personalities unless they have seen them and put them on the couch. But there is an exception: shrinks are allowed to go public with other confidential information when they believe a patient is a danger to others, such as when a patient on the couch announces that he is going to go home and kill his girlfriend. (In that case, the psychologist remained silent: the patient went home and killed his girlfriend.)

Trump is like that person, except that as one interviewer notes, his narcissism, his paranoia, his sadism and his anti-social personality are a threat to all of us, not only domestically but globally. When members of the cast talk about the President’s power to unleash a thermonuclear war, we should worry. In fact the accusations against the man in the White House are so incisive that the documentary’s viewers may wonder why he has not unleashed the dogs of war, particularly when he said (he was not joking) that what is the purpose of nuclear weapon if we do not use them?

If you watch the news, think about his speeches. He unloads statements not once or twice, but three times or more. He may use the term “fake news” three times in one speech. By the third time, the crowd believes him. He follows the tactics of other authoritarians around the world like Duterte in the Philippines, Bolsanaro in Brazil, Erdogan in Turkey, to rally the people. One person who knew Trump up close said that he read Hitler’s speeches. No, he is not Hitler, but he uses the same template to sway the population. There exists in this country a broad swath of people, those whom Hillary unfortunately labeled “deplorables,” who believe that they have been ignored by politicians. They went for Trump because he spoke their language, he convinced them that he hears them and that he vows to make the country great again. The wonder is, given his shrugging off of the dangers of the coronavirus and the fact that these people have not done any better economically during his tenure, they continue to support him wildly.

Some time is given over to animations, a particularly good cartoonish one shows an obese man with yellow hair marching quickly to his own drummer. Jane Goodall gets some photographic time studying chimps, noting that while at first they cooperate with one another under a head chimp, eventually the crew become so large that they break into two groups. One group attacks the other, beating the animals to death. Their own kind! Therein lies an incisive metaphor for our polarized society today.

There is one major point that Partland glides over. One man cannot do what Trump is accused of doing. He might have added that Hitler would not be able to kill six million Jews if he did not have enablers; that is, people in various countries as well as in Germany who helped him with that gruesome job. Trump could have been stopped in his tracks if he did not get the political support from a Supreme Court whose votes can be predicted with fair accuracy in advance of any case. Nor could he have had reactionary federal judges appointed if he did not control a Republican majority in the Senate, who, despite previous opinions they may have had about Trump’s inability to lead the nation, now praise him with obnoxious sycophancy. Mitch McConnell is another hypocrite who years ago denied even a hearing for Obama’s choice for a Supreme Court vacancy because he said that a President in his final year should have to wait until after the election. Now, the Senate majority leader notes that in the case of a Supreme Court vacancy during Trump’s last six months, “Oh, we’ll fill it.”

Dan Partland’s first documentary feature is astonishingly good.

83 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A

MADE IN BANGLADESH – movie review

MADE IN BANGLADESH
Art Mattan Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rubaiyat Hossain
Screenwriter: Rubaiyat Hossain, Philippe Barriere
Cast: Rikita Nandini Shimu, Novera Rahman, Deepanwita Martin, Parvin Paru
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/13/20
Opens: August 28, 2020

Poster

According to Shimu Akhtar (Rikita Nandini Shimu), women “are screwed if we are married and screwed if we are not.” What we have here is a film about female empowerment and at the same time a plea to working women of Bangladesh, single or otherwise, to unionize their factories. Why do they deserve to be empowered as females? Because they’re tired of being pushed around by men. As for why unionization is important, take a look at your T-shirt from The Gap or Lands’ End or Macys. See if the label says “Made in Bangladesh.” Or El Salvador, Honduras, India, and Vietnam. What did you pay for a trio of these garments? Forty dollars? Did you know that such a sum could pay a woman who made those shirts, just three miserable shirts, for an entire month? Exploitation is rampant in struggling countries like dirt-poor Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), as factory owners can sell their clothing to buyers in the west for a price that the rich countries can well afford, and their use of downtrodden help can reap enormous profits—while at the same time screwing labor in the rich countries like the U.S. by smashing their garment workers’ unions like our ILGWU, denying them jobs altogether.

Made in Bangladesh (2019)

Rubaiyat Hossain, who directs and co-wrote “Made in Bangladesh,” is a female director now enlightening us in the theater audience with her third feature. She follows up her “Meherjaan,” an antiwar film about the dangers of extreme nationalism, and “Under Construction,” which like her current feature is about a Bangladeshi woman finding her way. With Shimu as principal focus, she highlights the pitfalls of marriage, a woman who dodges pressure to hitch up with a man twenty years older but is oppressed by her husband Reza (Shatabdi Wadud), who despite having no job and being supported by his wife demands her obedience to his dictates. What’s more she, her husband, and presumably most of the people living and working in the capital of Dhaka, are ground down in a poor country that Trump would call the opposite of his favorite foreign place, Norway.

After a fire in a deathtrap of a clothing factory causes the death of one worker, Shimu is asked by Nasima Apa (Shahana Goswami) to visit her office for an interview where she encourages Shimu to lead a struggle to unionize. She would need signatures of thirty percent of the workers to register the factory as a union plant, and while she succeeds, she is also taunted by the very people who signed who are now worried that they will be fired. Never mind that even if she wins the battle, if she overcomes the bureaucrat in the Ministry of Labor who tries to sabotage the attempt, she will get her sisters a monthly raise to a mere 4250 takas ($50 U.S. dollars), because geography is destiny.

Salbine Lancelin behind the lenses captures the hellhole of Dhaka, which can make us in America wonder why we call that Asian country “developing.” It has been developing since its creation March 26, 1971 in a split with Pakistan (also “developing”). We see the interiors, namely the factory and the sad excuse for a home for which Shimu is behind in payments. The bad guys are the men—all the bosses and oversees are male, and all of the workers are female, usually young.

This is a drama that may prompt us not only to admire the tenacity of a twenty-three-year old Bangladeshi Norma Rae, but to think about how we should spend our money. We could refuse to buy clothing made in countries that pay workers $40 a month, more or less, but then who would hire women like Shimu who could wind up living on the street? The plot is not complex and the good gals and bad guys are not nuanced, but literary value notwithstanding, “Made in Bangladesh” is an interesting movie to watch with the added benefit of evoking political discussions.

95 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

 

UNHINGED – movie review

UNHINGED
Solstice Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Derrick Borte
Screenwriter: Carl Ellsworth
Cast: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Stimpson, Austin P. McKenzie
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYc, 8/17/20
Opens: August 21, 2020

Russell Crowe in Unhinged (2020)

During the 1940s moviegoers everywhere in the U.S. could look forward to a good buy for a quarter. You’d get an A movie and a B movie, a newsreel (nobody had TV), a cartoon, and a weekly serial episode. Everyone knew what a B movie was because it was listed in the newspaper ads as the second feature, a companion. To some extent, “Unhinged” is a B movie, the big difference being that given its lead actors, it may not be typically low-budget. Like Beethoven, who wrote the kitschy “Wellington’s Victory,” when he needed some cash, and Tchaikovsky who for the same reason penned “The 1812 Overture,” often used in high-school music appreciation classes because of its noise, Russell Crowe must have been in need of some quick Benjamins. “Unhinged” follows the formula of psychological thriller/horror to a T. It’s predictable, dumb as all get-out, a movie that might be unloved even by the presume target audience of teens.

Crowe, whose belly is either padded with a My Pillow or wholly natural, looks even fatter than Donald Trump. As The Man (hint: Everyman) he is more menacing than director Derrick Borte’s “American Dreamer,” about a driver at the call of a drug dealer who kidnaps his passenger’s child. This everyman (the beast inside all of us?) he is an obvious psycho who opens the movie by battering down the door of a private house and then battering its inhabitants, burning down the house for good measure.

Driving a truck, he is cut off by Rachel (Caren Pistorius), who is trying to get her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) to school on time. He follows her, bids her open her window, and demands an apology—which she does not give; the mistake of her life. Later stealing her cell phone, which he uses to track her location and to call her divorce lawyer for nefarious purposes, he gives her a Sophie’s choice. Which one are you willing to have killed to make up for the road incident? Your son Kyle, your brother Andy (Jimmi Simpson) or the boss who just fired you?

The movie is shot outside New Orleans as though to show that there are dangers out there that can compare with those of Hurricane Katrina. Even adolescents might sneer at this artless picture, with an atmosphere so gray you’d wonder whether it was filmed in color.

91 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – D
Acting – C
Technical – C+
Overall – C-

 

THE AUGUST VIRGIN MOVIE REVIEW

THE AUGUST VIRGIN (La virgin de Agosto)
Outsider Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jonás Trueba
Screenwriter: Itsaso Arana, Jonás Trueba
Cast: Itsaso Arana, Vito Sanz, Isabelle Stoffel, Joe Manjóln, María Herrador
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/1/20
Opens: August 21, 2020

The August Virgin (2019) - IMDb

Francisco Franco is turning in his grave, but that’s nothing new. The Fascist former dictator of Spain who took over the reins of government in 1939 after a bloody civil war is in hell, where Satan is forcing him to watch scenes of the new Madrid, the new Barcelona, places where even in 1972 when I visited, my wife’s travelers’ cheques in her own name could not be cashed without my written permission. Now all of Spain swings, the youth generation enjoying the freedoms which America is steadily losing under the thumb of our own Fascist-like leader. Eva (Itasaso Arana), the principal character in the film “The August Virgin” is testing this new abandon in Spain though is no longer eighteen to twenty-one years old, the years when college students engage in all-night bull sessions, aiming to discover the purpose of the universe.

Think about Eva, the primary focus of this tale told by the thirty-eight-year-old Madrid-born director whose third film, “The Romantic Exiles,” centers on three friends exploring and enjoying life, all to the end of showing the audience the joys of friendship and commitment. By co-writing and directing “The August Virgin,” he unwinds a story that resonates with his own existential condition, as he is in his thirties and a Madrileño. Eva, who has a background as an actress, is thirty-two years old, no longer committed to her former lovers, who wonders, like the rest of us, “Is this all there is?” Determined to reboot her life, to challenge herself to get out of her comfort zones, she behaves like someone still in college or trying to “find” herself belatedly. Many of us would consider the thirties and beyond too late to find the passion we may have had a decade earlier. To do this she leaves her living accommodations away from the center of Madrid, renting a room on her own, directly in the center. Giving herself the month of August to reconnect with life, she goes into the street during a month that the local people are away in Italy, Greece, whatever, though from what we see through Santiago Racaj’s photography is a bustling city filled (it seems) mostly with young people.

At first, without seeking men out, she and a girlfriend are flirted with by two Brits, one who has been teaching English for the past ten years, the other a Welshman who is visiting his friend. Nothing much comes of this save for a day or two of tentative friendship. At the cinema, she overhears two women of about her age discussing thoughts about having children. One is involved with a holdover from the late sixties and early seventies. She speaks of Reiki chakras—a laying on of hands with the aim of healing. Eva invites her to cast her spell on her. Eva’s major encounter, though, is with Agos (Vito Sanz). In the same way that she had taken the first step in introducing herself to the healer, she sees a gent about her own age staring at the water, smoking, and thinking that he may be contemplating jumping in, since he stands at a forbidden area closed to the public. She makes the first move. She sees him again mixing drinks behind a bar, walks with him back to his flat, and suggests to him that she might want to rent a room therein.

The director has sometimes been compared to Érich Rohmer, whose “My Night at Maud’s” is about a puritanical engineer marooned in a snowstorm who takes refuge in the apartment of an attractive divorcée. She tries to seduce him and fails: they spend the night shooting the bull. In other words, Rohmer’s film, like others of that director, is more talk, less action. We come away with the same thought from “The August Virgin,” whose title makes sense near the conclusion with a religious reference, signifying that you may invite each day without preconceived notions. That is the best way to discover new things, the spice of life. The tale is well acted by Itsaso Arana, who is also the co-writer, and should appeal to patient, intelligent people who are willing to forget that every film, theater piece and novel must contain conflicts. Eva may have internal conflicts, but without the usual ones—human against human or human against nature, “The August Wife” is, in the end, dull fare. Still, it could make you dream of a visit to Spain (when the Covid is over, of course).

129 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – C+

TESLA – movie review

TESLA
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Almereyda
Screenwriter: Michael Almereyda
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Eve Hewson, Hannah Gross, Kyle MacLachlan, Lois Smith, Josh Hamilton, Jim Gaffigan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/4/20
Opens: August 21, 2020

Tesla (2020 film) - Wikipedia

Every American has heard of Thomas Edison, considered by some to be the greatest inventor of all time, but Tesla? This is a name made familiar to some of us for the electric car that could revolutionize the auto industry. Look at the 20,000-word article on the man in Wikipedia, note that he had 300 patents in his name, that he slept for two hours a night, that he wiggled his toes because that recharged his brain, that he remained unmarried and celibate because that influenced his work in a positive way. Then you realize that here is a man who not only changed the world with his inventions but whose very life should be explored given talents that would make him one-in-a-million. Make that ten million.

As played by Ethan Hawke, who bears a physical resemblance to his character, Tesla is a man of many ideas, selling some of his patents to Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) while in his employ. He tries to sell Edison on perhaps his greatest dream, alternating current, which he believes will revolutionize communication, but Edison, who talks much and listens little shows no interest. At any rate, MacLachlan’s Edison is the only gent in the film with a sense of humor, by which filmmaker Almereyda, whose “Marjorie Prime” about holographic recreations of deceased loved ones to allow a woman to see younger version of her late husband shows the Kansas-born writer-director to be a man interested in the influence of invention on a global future.

While we see so much of Nikola Tesla’s inventions at work, there is little doubt that Almereyda wants to explore the character of the man, who, despite needing money from J.P. Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz) resists love signals from the multi-millionaire’s daughter Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson). One look at a sporting event might cast cries of fraud from a movie audience, as J.P. Morgan hits the ball with his racquet while dressed in a suit and bowtie, while his two female opponents wear long dresses.

Though at times the film looks as though it could pass for an undergraduate class in physics, the film plays with surreal images and an imaginative reach that gives hints of how Tesla’s inventions would change the future, i.e. our present. At intervals Anne opens a laptop to Google Tesla and other figures, and Edison has no difficulty consulting his smartphone at a bar.

There is one scene that could involve even high-school students, most of whom would consider the movie too highbrow for their taste and age. William Kemmler (Blake DeLong) in 1890 became the first person to be legally executed by the electric chair, actually developed by a New York dentist using alternate current. The “hot seat” was promoted as more humane than hanging, but the debut execution in Auburn prison in New York State did not go well. The guards failed to see that, the convicted axe-murderer should have had his head shaved, though there is almost a comic way that Kemmler, fully dressed, wanders into the chamber to face a dozen or more witnesses standing near him, and sits down casually in the chair saying “I’m ready to go.”

All in all “Tesla” is brainy, imaginative, surreal and inventive, a drama which without MacLachlan’s Edison would be bereft of humor. It’s a highbrow version of what could have been a less daring and duller biopic, making its technique a welcome entertainment for the right audience.

102 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

GRIPPED: CLIMBING THE KILLER PILLAR – movie review

GRIPPED: CLIMBING THE KILLER PILLAR
1091
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Benjamin Galland
Screenwriter: Corey Fischer, Benjamin Galland, Donna Laemmlen
Cast: Kaiwi Lyman, Megan Hensley, Amanda Maddox, Natalie Duran, Bryce Wissel, Jacki Florine
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/4/20
Opens: August 17, 2020

Gripped Film Picked Up for Distribution, Announces Release Date ...

If you want a climbing movie with a plot, you’ll want to look back to Clint Eastwood’s 1975 “The Eiger Sanction,” wherein a a hit man, who is an experienced climber, is ordered to take out a climber. He sees three men scaling the Eiger in the Swiss Alps and does not know who is the true target. The plot is unbelievable, but so what? It makes for interesting action fare, scenes of the Alps, and an exciting motif. “The Vertical Limit” is another, also a ridiculous plot, but keeps the viewers glued as a young climber seeks to save his sister and a summit team before time runs out. “Shivaay” focuses on a skilled mountain climber whose daughter is kidnapped while he seems helpless to save her. Eleven percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but then again, there’s a plot.

The plot is not ridiculous in “Gripped: Climbing the Killer Pillar,” but Benjamin Galland in his sophomore full narrative feature doesn’t have much of a story, which makes one wonder why three screenwriters were needed when the chatter on level ground could have been improvised. The story takes place in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains featuring one thousand foot rock cliffs with enough cracks to place your fingers to propel you from the ground up.

The two leads, Bret (Kaiwi Lyman) and Rose (Amanda Maddox) meet up with others on the grouind, spending the first night drinking beer and partying. You can believe that Kaiwi Lyman would know how to scale a cliff given that he’s an outdoorsman, having played water polo, sailed, indulged in Brazilian jiu jitsu, surfed and acted as a magician, but as his bio states, nothing excites his more than being on the stage. It’s not that he should stick to the stage. The trouble is that the rock-climbing movie which is billed as a comedy but is really a romance in the great outdoors is not much of a watch unless you are yourself a rock climber.

In the movie’s favor is that there are no stunt people. The actors do their own rope-climbing and must worry that the head and shoulder injury faced by Bret would not be too serious. There is excellent cinematography by John Garrett, who may have done even more than the two climbers by lugging heavy equipment up the rocks—if indeed he got the close-ups and far shots from a neighboring peak.

Rose falls for Bret, not unusual given the man’s chick-bait looks with long blond hair and beard, a kerchief tied to his forehead, and since there’s nothing like danger to arouse the passions, the two hit it off hundreds of feet up, kid each other, find time to kiss, and Rose is able to save Bret (not the other way around) when the gent slips and hits his head and shoulder. While the folks back on land, Jade (Megan Hensley) and company rush into action when the two injured daredevils do reach the land, whatever amounts to a story is predictable. Still it’s a woman-empowerment film especially since the woman saves the rugged man.

89 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – D-
Acting – B
Technical – A
Overall – C+

APOCALYPSE ’45 – movie review

APOCALYPSE ‘45
Abramorama/ Discovery
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Erik Nelson
Screenwriter: Erik Nelson
Cast: Members of the Great Generation Who Fought in World War 2
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/10/20
Opens: August 14, 2020

AP45_SHIP_EXPLOSION_POSTER_small.jpg

Two quotes in this film stand out from the members of the Great Generation who fought in World War 2. Quote one: My favorite, “I wish politicians cared more about their country than their party.” Is this veteran hinting that he might vote Democratic this year? Quote two: One that’s laughable if it were not sad: “The Japanese should thank us for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki!” Why? Because we saved the lives of thirty million to forty million Japanese people that would result if we attacked their homeland.

Quotes, though, are not the principal selling point of this remarkable documentary. The visuals are, particularly since some of the narration sounds garbled. In fact “Apocalypse ‘45” presents considerable file film never before shown. Now that technology allows us to go beyond even the big plus in 1945, the year that color film technology allowed for higher production values, one hundred forty reels selected from over thousands screened by the producer are digitally restored using natural color, now transferred into 4K. While that restoration went on, the filmmaking crew found veterans now in their nineties including one who is one hundred and one to add their modern voices to the seventy-five-year-old events.

“Apocalypse ‘45” concentrates on the final six months of World War 2, a conflict which dragged on past the May 1945 surrender of Germany into September 2 of that year because the Japanese, unlike the Germans, seemed ready to fight until the last man, woman and child were killed. As one narrator indicates, during the battle for Saipan, Japanese soldiers threw themselves over a rocky cliff rather than be taken captive. (Trump might be impressed by that since, after all, he likes people who are not captured.) It was that fanaticism that led to America’s being the first and only country to use atomic bombs, the devastating weapon now in the possession of nine countries—bombs that would supposedly make the ’45 ones seem like firecrackers. (I live in New York, ground zero in the eyes of our adversaries. Should I worry? You bet I should.)

Recall that some fine narrative films have been made in the U.S. about the Pacific theater of World War 2, my favorite being “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” starring Van Johnson, my first war movie, terribly exciting in its illustrating of American planes firing upon and being fired upon by Japanese zeroes. Not even the visuals of Japanese planes of Japanese Kamikaze pilots (Kamikaze, actually Tokobetsu Kogekitai, or special attack unit) deliberately committing suicide by diving straight into U.S. battleships could compare with that. But just the knowledge that these attacks actually took place seventy-five years ago elevates the material considerably.

Perhaps the most thrilling shot is the raising of the American flag over Iwo Jima, the scene of a bloody battle that took place because the U.S. strategy was to get close to the mainland by first conquering the islands. You doubtless know of the iconic photo and statue commemorating the most dramatic moment of the war and of Clint Eastwood’s movie “Flags of our Father,” wherein five Marines and one Navy corpsman raised old glory. See the statue, the largest bronze memorial figure in the world, when you next visit our nation’s capital.

We see lots of shots of Japanese planes lit up by tracer bullets and hit from guns on U.S. ships. Visuals aside, we hear some heartfelt narration by veterans of the war, one of whom was horrified by the war altogether because “I am a Christian and I believe in the 10 Commandments. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ allows no exceptions. Sorry, that’s incorrect. That commandment actually translates as “Thou shalt not murder,” or lo tirtzach. Self defense is not murder. So far as dying is concerned, one former soldier narrates that dying was not the principal fear of Americans. It was going home minus an arm or other body part.

Oh, yes, other inaccuracy in the narration. World War II in the Pacific did not end September 2, 1945. It ended Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, when the first Japanese bomb was dropped on Pearl Harbor.

105 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – n/a
Technical – A
Overall – B+

 

THE BAY OF SILENCE – movie review

THE BAY OF SILENCE
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Paula Van Der Oest
Screenwriter: Caroline Goodall from the novel by Lisa St. Aubin de Terán
Cast: Claes Bang, Olga Kurylenko, Brian Cox, Assaad Bouab, Alice Krige, Caroline Goodall, ShalishaJames-Davis
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/2/20
Opens: August 14, 2020

Poster

In what some may believe to be Hitchcockian, “The Bay of Silence” is a thriller that is too convoluted to thrill, filled with characters who may or may not know the secrets involving the disappearance of a woman and the death of their child. The principal couple are Rosalind (Olga Kurylenko) and her husband Will (Claes Bang), who open the movie with romantic scenes in Liguria, Italy. They are a successful, middle-class couple living in London. She is an artist, he an engineer, whose lives together are complicated by the presence of Rosalind’s former stepfather, Milton (Brian Cox), who will do anything to protect Rosalind, even offering money to her husband.

Rosalind, who in one scene may be sleepwalking, or may be fully awake but in a schizophrenic break seems to peels the wallpaper of their home. When Rosalind and her nanny Candy (Shalisha James-Davis) disappear with Rosalind’s two eight-year-old girls and Will and Rosalind’s newborn son Amadeo, Will finds her in Normandy but little Amadeo is dead. He buries the child, determined to leave the police out of the situation in order to protect his wife.

The picture may require multiple viewings, moving ever-so-slowly until in a melodramatic flourish near the conclusion involving a mysterious fellow, Pierre Laurent (Assaad Bouab) who is the key to the mystery. The movie is adapted from the novel by Lisa St. Aubin de Terán. No doubt a reading of the book will serve to uncover the dreary film.

95 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C-
Acting – B-
Technical – B
Overall – C

AN AMERICAN PICKLE – movie review

AN AMERICAN PICKLE
HBO Max
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Brandon Trost
Screenwriter: Simon Rich adapted from his novella “Sell Out” in New Yorker Magazine
Cast: Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Sean Whalen, Jorma Taccone, Joanna Adler, Jeff Daniel Phillips, David Mattey
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/30/20
Opens: August 6, 2020

An American Pickle' trailer: Seth Rogen talks 'unique' HBO Max comedy

Rip van Winkel fell asleep in the borscht belt and woke up twenty years later. Or so he thought. “Fiddler on the Roof” focuses on the Jewish community in 19th Century Eastern Europe, its residents always watching out for the Cossacks. In the movie “Borat,” the title character, Borat Sagiyev, wanders to the U.S. from the Kazakh backwaters to interview people in the modern U.S. In David Mamet’s “Homicide” (1991), Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna), a police detective investigating a murder that takes place within an Orthodox Jewish community, is criticized by a Hasidic Jew for being secular, the latter wondering whether there is anything spiritually real in a cop who does not embrace his religion. All of these and more are channeled in “An American Pickle,” directed by Brandon Trost in his freshman offering and written by Simon Rich, based on the writer’s novella “Sell Out” which appeared in New Yorker magazine January 28, 2013. By the very title of this HBO Max production, you’d figure that it would be a comedy since, after all, isn’t Seth Rogen, veteran of “The End,” “Super Bad,” “Sausage Party” and “Sorority Rising,” one of the great comic artists in the movies today?

Seth Rogen's An American Pickle finds a home at HBO Max

Truth to tell, “An American Pickle,” which bills itself as a comedy-drama, or dramady, is sadly unfunny and its lesson on the importance of religion and family is generally superficial. The one big plus is that it takes place not only in Eastern Europe but mostly in my home town, Brooklyn. Oh but wait. It was filmed in Pittsburgh.

Let’s look at an example of Simon Rich’s original novella in the New Yorker.

One day at work I fall into brine and they close the lid above me by mistake. Much time passes; it feels like long sleep. When the lid is finally opened, everybody is dressed strange, in colorful, shiny clothes. I do not recognize them. They tell me they are “conceptual artists” and are “reclaiming the abandoned pickle factory for a performance space.” I realize something bad has happened in Brooklyn. The science men come and explain. I have been preserved in brine a hundred years and have not aged one day. They describe to me the reason (how this chemical mixed with that chemical, and so on and so on) but I am not paying attention. All I can think of is my beautiful Sarah. Years have passed and she is surely gone.

The initial twenty minutes or so takes place in Eastern Europe in 1820 when Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) courts and weds Sarah (Sarah Snook), supporting his new family with a job in a pickle factory. Assigned to swatting innumerable rats who begin to attack him, he falls into a barrel of pickles just as the factory is closing down for good. The lid is placed on the barrel, and the factory is unoccupied until Herschel wakes up one hundred years later, preserved in brine so that he has aged not at all. He goes to America where he learns of a relative, Ben Greenbaum (Seth Rogen in his second role!), who has been working on providing a logo for a website called Boop Bop. With a full beard and an Eastern Europe hat, Herschel quickly learns the meaning of “logo,” and is of course astonished by what he sees in Brooklyn and Manhattan—just as you and I would be if we woke up in one hundred years to observe people wearing strange outfits and speaking Esperanto.

He works at what he knows, selling pickles, obtaining cucumbers from a dumpster and sinking them in rain water and salt. At first he is a success covered by TV but has a falling out from his envious brother who retaliates against Herschel for involving him in criminal activities—seemingly ending Ben’s career.

Seth Rogen's An American Pickle Gets A UK Trailer

The virtues of national attention through TV interviews and features in lecture halls appear to propel the man onward and upward but he makes one mistake, and it’s a mistake that makes me worry about how the Christians in the audience for this movie will react. I’m all for free speech, but even the First Amendment (like the Second) has its limits. What Herschel states in answer to a question about Jesus and Mary is so despicable that it has no place in such a film. Couldn’t the producers have found some other screw-ups if they wanted to show the evanescence of fame? We get enough racist crap and Islamophobia weekly from Donald Trump. There’s no need for disparagement of a religion with billions of followers. Sure it’s OK to kid as does the movie “I, Pastafari” (a bizarre group of people follow a religion whose god is a flying spaghetti monster) which opened July 7th and has all of eight reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. But this is going too far.

Ultimately, the picture turns sentimental, when the brothers reunite after their schism, announcing that family is important, and (according to this picture) so is religious ritual. But there is not much in the way of either comedy or drama, though the visuals—which allow Seth Rogen to play both roles, even to hug each other seamlessly—are awesome.

90 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C-
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – C+

MADE IN ITALY – movie review

MADE IN ITALY
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: James D’Arcy
Screenwriter: James D’Arcy
Cast: Liam Neeson, Micheál Richardson, Lindsay Duncan, Valeria Bilello
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: August 7, 2020

Made in Italy (2020)

The most salient feature of “Made in Italy” is that the conflict between father and son is acted by the tale’s actual father and son. This is not unusual: you’ll find similar examples in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1973 feature “Paper Moon,” in which Ryan O’Neal and his real daughter Tatum play out a Depression era film about their partnership. Closer to the “Made in Italy” theme, Kiefer Sutherland portrays a bitter gunslinger, John Henry Clayton, who attempts to make amends with his estranged father Reverend Samuel Clayton (Donald Sutherland), while their community is besieged by ruthless land-grabbers.

If you have ever had not just a disagreement, but more closely a situation in which your conflict with your parent emanates from a lack of emotional closeness, you will relate strongly to “Made in Italy.” As filmed by Mike Eley in the gorgeous Tuscany town of Montalcino in central Italy—perhaps one of the best places that a father and son can work out issues of emotional distance—we see that Robert (Liam Neeson) has not been the most honest and direct guide for his son Jack (Micheál Richardson). (Micheál is the actual son of Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, the story poignantly reviving our memory of the actress who died tragically in 2009 of a head injury while skiing on Mount Tremblant in Quebec. Micheál one of the couple’s two children.)

The story kicks in when Jack, who made a great success managing the art gallery in Britain owned by his wife Raffaella (Helena Antonio), determines to buy the place at about the time the two are finalizing their divorce. Raffaella allows Jack one month to raise the money, which Jack expects to have after he and his dad, each with a half ownership of a house in Tuscany, find a buyer. They discover that the place is a wreck, though filled with memories of Jack’s mother. And what better time for a dad and his twenty-five-year-old son to get to know each other than by taking a road trip, then working together to fix up the dilapidated structure to make it salable? We learn that Jack and Robert have barely spoken with each other for years, and more importantly, that after Jack’s mother died in a car accident, his father sent him away to boarding school as though unable to establish a closeness that such a tragedy could engender.

During their time painting together, fixing up the place, and entertaining prospective buyers, Jack meets Natalia (Valeria Bilello), an accomplished cook who runs a booming restaurant and who wins the hearts of both the young man and his dad by cooking a dish that the two men call “amazing.” (Aside: if you did not have the delightful experience of traveling in Italy, you may not realize that there is no such thing as a bad meal anywhere in that country.)

The film is written and directed by James D’Arcy in his freshman narrative film, the London-born gentlemen having a large résumé of acting roles including that of Colonel Winnant in the spectacular war movie “Dunkirk.” If you can’t get a bad meal in Italy, you’d have difficulty finding a bad performance from Liam Neeson. The big news is that his son Micheál Richardson, with two more movies announced this year and who performed with Liam Neeson in a leading role in the revenge picture “Cold Pursuit,” does such a good turn here that you’d think he was emoting with his real dad!

The story can be sappy and the plot thin, but the picture is a keeper for the sumptuous scenery and a particularly vivacious turn from Valeria Bilello as the bilingual chef. Try not to envy the folks on the night that she served a full house of happy diners, talking, laughing, and eating magnificently.

93 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

SONG WITHOUT A NAME – movie review

SONG WITHOUT A NAME 
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Melina León
Screenwriter: Melina León, Michael J. White
Cast: Pamela Mendoza, Tommy Párraga, Lucio Rojas
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/29/20
Opens: August 7, 2020

Theatrical: Song Without a Name (Canción sin nombre) :: Film Movement

From the looks of the Peruvian scenes in “Song without a Name,” you can bet that if President Trump saw this movie (if indeed he saw anything more recent than “Gone with the Wind”), he would compare the place with an adjective that he would never give to Norway. Melina León, who directs and co-wrote the tale in her freshman entry into full arthouse fare, focuses most of her attention on three people. One is the desperately poor Georgina (Pamela Mendosa), her partner Leo (Lucio Rojas), and an enterprising journalist from Lima, Pedro Campos (Tommy Párraga). They are living in a time that Peru is under constant terrorist attacks during the 1980s from Shining Path or Sendero Luminoso.

The plot kicks in when Georgina, who lives in a remote wooden shack a long bus ride and walk outside of the capital, is shown in her ninth month of pregnancy, perhaps wondering how she will ever raise enough money to find an obstetrician let alone to support her first baby. She is vulnerable enough to be taken in by a radio ad announcing that a clinic is Lima would give her free medical assistance if she chose to give birth there, and without the wherewithal to check out the place—which doesn’t resemble anything I’ve seen in Planned Parenthood clinics—she reports to the place thinking that she lucked out. Women speak gently to her, they help her up from the patient table, and tell her that her child is a girl. The mood changes ominously when she asks to see her daughter but is told to come back tomorrow, which sends Georgina into a screaming fit. She pounds on the doors of the “clinic” the next day only to find out that the place is closed, the staff having moved out swiftly.

The plot is adapted from actual happenings when Peru was scandalized by the thefts of babies to be sold abroad. It’s not clear whether the Shining Path guerrillas were involved in the theft or whether high officials in the government were part of the scheme. With inflation hitting 400%, Peru in 1988 when the film takes place was not unlike Venezuela and not the kind of country that care much about indigenous women like Georgina who follow a bureaucratic maze trying to get government officials even to listen to her.

If this were a Hollywood movie, the differences would be monumental. Assault rifles would make entrances every ten minutes, the photography would be in brilliant color particularly when covering village festivals (remember the opening scene in “Spectre” exhibiting the colorful “Día de los muertos” parade?), and the editing would be racing. Crime would not pay. Instead director León pays great respect to the freshman script co-written by Michael J. White, prioritizing atmosphere over action and dialogue. With a boxy aspect ratio of 4:3 and black-and-white photography, “Song” is replete with long takes with a variety of close-ups, especially during the meetings of the brave reporter with a gay, Havana-born boyfriend, though there is little psychological depth given to any of the characters.

The movie might be compared to “Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón’s awards-winning look at the life of a maid in a rich Mexican household, but aside from the black-and-white photography and the theme of social inequities, “Song without a Name” has no great use for that picture’s flash and images of the upper-middle-class family.

Press notes mention that this film is based partly on the exposé in 1981 of a trafficking ring that smuggled babies for sale to Europeans and Americans, and in fact one senator consulted by the journalist hints that the government was involved. “What can that woman offer to her baby?” yields the politician, the obvious intent being that the newborns will be far better-off in the developed world. The title song is recited by a newly relaxed Georgina when she ultimately realizes that she will never again see her baby. And it’s not only right-wingers in America who would agree with the senator, wondering what in heaven’s name a twenty-year-old woman living in a wooden shack out in nowhere trying to eke out a living selling potatoes and onions in Lima is doing giving birth.

The bold white subtitles translate the story’s Spanish and Quechua into English. Hardly a brash, political doc on the level of “The American President” and “All the President’s Men,” this film is more a poetic tone poem, a Liszt “Les Préludes” compared to Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” and should be enjoyed by an intelligent, patient audience.

97 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B

SUMMERLAND – movie review

SUMMERLAND
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jessica Swale
Screenwriter: Jessica Swale
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Lucas Bond, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Penelope Wilton, Siân Phillips, Tom Courtenay, Amanda Root
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/22/20
Opens: July 31, 2020

Poster

If you’re a fan of World War 2 movies you might have seen the stirring Warner Bros. films “Into the Arms of Strangers” (2000) about the Kindertransport, wherein thousands of children were sent from Nazi-dominated Europe to relative safety in the UK. Now comes something similar; a tale of heroic actions by which women in the rural areas of the UK were volunteered temporarily to take in kids living in London during the blitz, transported to the safety of the sticks. “Summerland,” which gets its title from a pagan heaven, is Jessica Swale’s freshman output as a narrative film, a solikd beginning which is mostly a casually-paced drama of a solitary writer with a cantankerous personality that makes none of us wonder why she is still single. However, in flashes of her backstory, we find her living happier moments during a romantic relationship with another woman who must sadly abandon her because she wants nothing more than having a regular family.

The picture is bookmarked by the older Alice (Penelope Wilton) who in 1975 pecks away at her typewriter, having completed a novel based on her wartime experiences. During the early stages of World War II, Alice (Gemma Arterton), then in her mid-thirties, learns that she has been drafted to take in Frank (Lucas Bond in his third feature film), a boy of about 13 who has arrived from London with a father who is in the British army and a mother who is looking out for the lad’s safety during the blitz. Since Alice has been attacked by the local riff-raff kids who consider her a witch because she is a woman living alone, we don’t need to wonder that she agrees, kicking and screaming, to take the kid in “for a week.” Predictably enough, young Frank is about to find a place in her heart, an organ that appears semi-comatose since her lover Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) left her to find a man and raise some kids.

At first Alice barely speaks to Frank, who is expected to clean and cook while she is writing a thesis debunking pagan myths, including that of Summerland, a land of eternal summer, with grassy fields and sweet flowing rivers, perhaps the Earth before the advent of humans. a Frank is not deterred. He shows genuine interest in a picture book about the legends and in one situation actually “sees” this Summerland, which is nothing more than a fata morgana.

Given the place in which women have been kept for centuries as people who should keep quiet unless spoken to but should relish nothing more than baking cookies, raising kids, and cleaning, this woman is among those who, when the men are off fighting, are called for tasks needed for the war effort. In this case it’s for the vitally important job of taking in children to save them from the bombings in London. In the movie’s major twist, we learn more about how Alice was picked for this particular child.

The story is deepened by the companions that Frank makes in the new school, particularly of Edie (Dixie Egerickx), who at first is afraid to join her new boyfriend Frank at the home of “the witch” but softens up when she discovers that Alice may be a normal woman after all. Tom Courtney, sounding like Peter O’Toole as Mr. Sullivan, the school’s headmaster, is well cast as a good soul who, now about eighty years old is doing what he can do best for the war effort.

“Summerland” is a woman-centered film bolstered by Gemma Arterton’s role through a variety of emotional storms—heartbroken to lose her lover, fearful of having to give up the boy when his mother is ready to take him back. This is a gentle tale with moments of high drama. filmed by Laurie Rose at Seaford, East Sussex, in England’s south coast.

100 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B

REBUILDING PARADISE – movie review

REBUILDING PARADISE
National Geographic Documentary Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ron Howard
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/23/20
Cast: Erin Brockovich, Michelle John, Phil John, Matt Gates
Opens: July 31, 2020

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water, the fire next time!”

Before peace can rain with Satan cast into a bottomless pit and world peace is symbolized when the lion will eat straw like the cow, our earth will be cleansed by fire. Part of that prophesy comes true though nobody in Paradise, California considers themselves cleansed when on November 8, 208, the town of Paradise looked more like hell than like the geographical entity it was named for. Whether the mother of all fires could have been prevented were it not for climate change is surprisingly glided over in this heartfelt documentary. For those of us who live in big cities, we get quite a picture of what it’s like to live in a small California town. What comes across by the film’s conclusion is that Paradise is a community in which the people are not the types who go bowling alone and who do not join groups, but rather down-to-earth, get-the-job-done sorts of folks that have the spirit, the gumption, the cojones to rebuild after mourning the 85 people killed in the fire—one while in his wheelchair and others who could not escape the flames in their cars.

A documentary about the Camp Fire recovery efforts was premiered ...

Most Americans are familiar with California names like L.A., San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, and the like but may be appraised of Paradise when global news in November 2018 reported the disaster felt by the 26,000-strong residents of Paradise. The film’s director Ron Howard boasts a long résumé of acting and directing credits including his “Frost/Nixon” which is a retelling of the famous interview between David Frost and the disgraced President (“When the President does it, it’s not illegal). This time he visits the besieged town, allowing us to eavesdrop at a series of meetings filled with people both tearful and angry, though the most dramatic moments, which pop up now and then, are scenes of fires that appear to presage the end of the world.

Though perhaps hundreds, even thousands of residents are determined to leave the place for good given the possibility of yet another conflagration in these days of rapid climate change, others are staying put, emboldened by large groups of supporters who fill large auditoriums with their meetings and hear of contacts with bureaucrats in FEMA who may or may not kick in adequate funds to rebuild as though this were Europe in 1945. FEMA did, at least, provide mobile homes temporarily to house the newly homeless, probably doing a better job than any government group did when in 2005 New Orleans was turned into an American Venice.

Matt Gates is in the hero’s seat, a local police officer who on November 8 helped his townspeople to get to safety even as his own digs are wiped out by the flames. Erin Brockovich, who built a case in 1993 against the villainous Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), takes a cameo, while schools superintendent Michelle John, whose husband makes sure that the class of 2019 gets a full-scale outdoor graduation, presides of the ceremony. (By the way, at the packed-to-the-gills meetings of the community, where are the high-school kids?)

The doc seems made by National Geographic Documentary Films primarily for TV use. More information should have been forthcoming about how or whether PG&E—who sent an executive to the meeting to apologize for the corporation’s negligence—will make the residents whole and to what extent the residents are helped by their homeowners’ insurance.

95 minutes. 132 minutes with a Q&A. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – A-
Overall – B+

 

YES, GOD, YES – movie review

YES, GOD, YES
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Karen Maine
Screenwriter: Karen Maine
Cast: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/16/20
Opens: July 27, 2020

giclee Poster - Yes God Yes (Natalia Dyer) 2020 Movie 12"x18"

Horace, one of the wise men of ancient Rome, once said, aturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. Latin may be a dead language but it’s alive enough to know the proverb’s truth, which is: “You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but it will always come back.” In other words, no matter what we say, no matter what homilies we think we live by, we are all hypocrites if we think we can really fight against our natural inclinations, both emotional and sexual. Here’s an example. Some time back some teen-age girls in high school took oaths of virginity administered by the Catholic church and some Baptist denominations—to refrain for intercourse until marriage. According to the poll, by graduation day, 75% of the girls had lost their virginity. Which brings us to this comedy taking place in a Catholic high school somewhere in a rural district composed of handsome homes and youngsters from the middle class.

“Yes, God, Yes” sounds like a stereotyped version of what women scream in the midst of an organism, or it could refer to kids who say “yes” to Jesus but are not likely to abide the strict rules of the church. You’d have to ask Karen Maine, the film’s writer and director in her freshman contribution to the world of narrative comedies. She situates the scene amid high schoolers who are well behaved and who seem not to tell jokes about how nuns rapped their knuckles in grade school or by the funny conversations among a priest, a rabbi and a minister who meet in a bar. There are no gross-out scene that might be typical of the Farrelly brothers in “There’s Something About Mary,” but even better, the comedy comes from situations that might very well take place in a parochial institution.

While the school’s priest, Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) and pregnant teacher Mrs. Veda (Donna Lynne Chaplin) lead a four-day retreat that includes senior class would-be devotees as student leaders, Alice (Natalia Dyer), a bright but confused 16-year-old, recalls the priest’s lecture back in class to the effect that Jesus does not want unmarried women to have sex. He explains that men are like microwave ovens and women are like conventional ovens; the former get turned on in a second, the latter take some more time to be in the mood. We watch nature overcome Catholic rules over the course of the brief, 78-minute story, as even Father Murphy must succumb to the wisdom of Horace’s proverb and so does 17-year-old Nina (Alisha Boe).

Perhaps the boldest epiphany driving the movie occurs during a scene in a lesbian bar a short walk from the retreat when Gina (Susan Blackwell), the owner, asks Alice what goes on in the retreat, and dishes out wise counsel to the young woman who until then thinks she has no choice other than to go to college a half-hour from home. Look into colleges in the east coast and west coast to get your education, she advises—which makes you wonder what she’s doing in a one-horse town. Eat sushi. That half-hour meeting will likely be more convincing to Alice than anything she learns from the school or her home.

If the movie is anti-Catholic, it generally pulls its punches, allowing even the pious in the audience, while listening to an array of songs both original and known, to pick up its gentle message without urging everyone to boycott the picture. As Alicia, Natalia Dyer, who came of age in real life with her role as Nancy Wheeler in the Netflix horror series, “Stranger Things” (33 episodes), is an absolute charmer whose frowns clear up as she knocks her school officials down a peg or two.

78 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

MOST WANTED – movie review

MOST WANTED
Saban Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Daniel Roby
Screenwriter: Daniel Roby
Cast: Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Josh Hartnett, Stephen McHattie, Jim Gaffigan, J.C. MacKenzie, Rose-Marie Perreault
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/4/20
Opens: July 24, 2020

When I was in third grade in 1945 I learned that the policeman is my friend. In fact the teacher said that we should call policemen “officers,” and “police” and never use the word “cop” because that was a slang term that the authorities would not like. It means we do not respect them. Things have changed since 1945 when the worst thing a policeman would do was to get a doughnut in the local coffee house and not pay for it.

In June, as though the coronavirus was not enough of a burden for us, the country faced an uproar of protests against the senseless killing of a suspect who was murdered by four cops for the horrendous offence of paying for cigarettes with a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. The idea that there is a thin line between a cop and a criminal, that a policeman can either way, may be extreme, but on top of that we have racist officers not just in the south but in a midwestern blue state, Minnesota. For those who still doubt that the law can be a rogue, just check out movies like “Training Day” (2001), “Bad Lieutenant” (1992), and “Internal Affairs” (1990). A new, sad tale of corruption among the people who are supposed to protect act comes out of Saban Films, and it’s “Most Wanted” written and directed by Daniel Roby, following up “Hold Your Breath” about the struggle of a family to survive while Paris fills with a deadly gas. “Most Wanted” is more down-to-earth with some enlightening shots of Bangkok, surprisingly filmed on location though one would expect the Thai government would object to having a scandal rubbed into its face.

“Most Wanted” is inspired by a true story that takes place mostly in 1989, when Daniel Léger (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), a low-life heroin addict with no criminal record, is set up by rogue cops in Vancouver, though the police are not so much interested in entrapping the usually penniless guy than in having him negotiate the purchase of ten kilos of heroin—for which they could get far more money in Canada than they would have to pay in Bangkok. Légar was caught, found guilty, and escaped the death penalty for heroin smuggling by pleading guilty (after his conviction!), then sentenced to one hundred years in a jail that would make you wish you had not pled guilty and accepted the death penalty. (For stark contrast compare the jails in Norway where prisoners get their own private rooms with cooking equipment.) He would have been incarcerated still were it not for Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett), a journalist who acted as a one-man Innocence Project, searching for a way to get a page one scoop for his newspaper, desperate for money since he had just had a baby.

Convincing the editor to finance a trip and warned that if he did not come back with a scoop he would never find a job again in the newspaper business, he is motivated even more when his gut tells him that the man may still be guilty, but that as an ameliorating factor the police had paid for his trip from Vancouver to Bangkok: hotels, meals, the works. The film meanders with several time changes, catching up with Légar as he gets a job on a fishing boat from Picker (Jim Gaffigan) who seems like a nice guy but who is involved with the conspiracy to get the heroin. Similarly guilty are a trio or quartet of shady police who, together with Picker pay so much attention to a loser like Légar that he gets sucked into the sordid plan.

Best performer is Montréal-born Antoine Olivier Pilon as Daniel Léger, with twenty-three film credits in his résumé, quite an accomplishment for a twenty-three-year old. Josh Hartnett exudes the electricity running through his body when he is on a mission, buffeted by several roadblocks. However, the movie is so spliced up that you might have to watch for a half hour before you realize the zig-zaginess of the editing. For that reason, “Most Wanted” cannot be enthusiastically recommended.

125 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – D
Overall – C+

THE PAINTED BIRD – movie review

THE PAINTED BIRD
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Vàclav Marhoul
Screenwriter: Vàclav Marhoul, from the novel by Jerzy Kosinski
Cast: Petr Kotlár Stellan Skarsgård, Harvey Keitel, Barry Pepper, Julian Sands, Udo Kier, Lech Dyblik
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/26/20
Opens: July 17, 2020

Harrowing World War II drama The Painted Bird gets a UK trailer ...

In “Leviathan” (1651) Thomas Hobbes calls life “solitary, nasty, brutish and short,” and “A war of every man against his neighbor.” Every picture of Hobbes shows an unsmiling man, looking disgusted, contemptuous, and constipated. Yet as we know after we lose our innocence that there is more than a smidgen of truth in such a pessimistic manifesto. Still, the dour philosopher may have smiled just once from his grave when the movie “The Painted Bird” was first shown in film festivals. Vàclav Marhoul wrote and directs the epic drama inspired by Jerzy Kosinski’s book about a shattered post-war Europe, which Amazon calls the story of “a dark-haired, olive-skinned boy, abandoned by his parents during World War II, wandering from one village to another, sometimes hounded and tortured, only rarely sheltered and cared for.” (Kosinski committed suicide at the age of 57, his novel available on Amazon for under $14.)

“The Painted Bird,” which was the Czech Republic’s submission for the Academy Awards held in 2020 did not make the short list for Best International Film, but I would rate it as good as South Korea’s “Parasite.” The title is metaphorically taken from an event in which a painted bird, up for sale amid scores of others, is released and promptly killed by a flock flying hither and thither, because they apparently consider him “The Other.” The inability of people to respect those who are not like them, who look different or follow different customs did not die out after World War II but is a concept relevant today as we in America mourn the killing of African-America men by white police officers. The whole of “The Painted Bird,” showing human beings cruel to a cute and polite but mute young man abandoned by his parents is an allegorical tale. Therefore, take “The Painted Bird” as a journey of authorial cherry-picking that displays, with few exceptions, a society of people in war-torn Eastern Europe taking out the misery of their own lives on an innocent boy.

Written and directed by Vàclav Marhoul, whose “Tobruk” deals with a World War 2 battalion of Czech soldiers in the Libyan desert, “The Painted Bird” is seen from the point of view of young Joska (Petr Kotlár) in a startling breakthrough role. Joska wanders through Eastern Europe during the war, only occasionally running into action by German soldiers, Russian Cossacks and regular army, but his troubles come not much from fighting units but mostly from local peasants. The boy is mute throughout but is able to hear dialogue spoken in German, Russian, Czech, and what’s labeled Slavic Esperanto. For most of the running time, Joska, who is Jewish but rarely outed as such, is pleasant looking, obedient, polite, and seemingly able to put up with tortures of ordinary people either driven to hostility from the deprivations of the war or simply full of hate.

In the earlier part of his wanderings, he is picked up by a handful of ignorant peasants, the most gentle of whom calls him a vampire. He becomes enslaved by the superstitious hag. In the movie’s goriest scene, he witnesses a stolid, unsmiling Miller (Udo Kier) who at dinnertime overturns the table on a younger guest because he is convinced that the fellow has been staring with lust at his wife (Michaela Dolezalová). He gouges out the man’s eyes with a spoon and feeds them to the cat, who is too finicky to bother. A sympathetic Joska carries the eyes to the newly blind victim who is lying, sobbing by a tree, beckoning him to replace the eyes in his socket as though they are contact lenses. Later Hans (Stellan Skarsgård), a German soldier, is ordered to take the boy for a walk and shoot him, but Hans, one of the few sympathetic characters, orders Joska to run, firing two shots into the air. Another character who shows a rare humanity is a priest (Harvey Keitel), who takes the boy into his church, fixing him up with a crucifix, asking Garbos (Julian Sands), a pedophile, to take care of him. Bad decision.

In the picture’s most action-filled episode a group of Russian Cossacks gallop into a village, shooting the residents and torching the houses. We hope that no kid in the United States today has to go through what this pre-adolescent lad did—surviving rapes, in one situation thrown into a latrine filled with poop and in another forced by a sex-crazed young blond woman to perform fellatio on her.

“The Painted Bird” is only tangentially a Holocaust film, a subject that the Czech filmmakers know well since releasing “The Shop in Main Street” in Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos’s 1965 “The Shop on Main Street,” in which a carpenter in a Nazi-occupied Slovak state is appointed Aryan Controller of a Jewish widow’s store. That picture won the International Film’s Oscar as did Jirí Menzel’s “Closely Watched Trains” two years later.

Opinions of “The Painted Bird” might vary from those who think the movie is little more than a relentless succession of tortures to those who, like me, consider it an epic drama in sharp black-and-white that both captures human beings acting in extremis during wartime and displaying irrational hated even here in America during a fragile era considered by some to be a relative peacetime.

169 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – A
Overall – A-