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.

ROLL RED ROLL – movie review

ROLL RED ROLL

Together Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nancy Schwartzman
Cast: Alexandria Goddard, J.P. Rigaud, Rachel Bissel , Scott Pelley, Chris Cuomo
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/26/19
Opens: March 22, 2019

The average person watching this documentary—which unfolds like a real crime thriller—might think that the case became so big because it is almost unique in the U.S. After all, if Chris Cuomo of CNN covers it, if Scott Pelley puts his views on it, and if German and Chinese newspapers find the case involving enough, does rape involving high-school students happen maybe once every five years? I can tell you as a former fraternity member who has watched women go to parties, get drunk to the point of throwing up and passing out, that things might have happened under the radar that are as outrageous as the case brought here. I have never seen an actual case of rape involving inebriated women—who by law are not able to give informed consent no matter what they say—but I would guess that this type of felony goes around. In my day there were no computers, no internet, certainly no Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. If there were, and if guys would text one another laughing about what they did with have girl, there would be many other cases like the one in Nancy Schwartzman’s riveting doc based on painful re-creation. Somehow, the situation in Steubenville, Ohio merited international publicity and can be used as a case study of the “boys-will-be-boys the “hey-they’re-football-players-what-would-you-expect” attitude.

In 2012 a 16-year-old girl was raped by two teens on the Steubenville, Ohio football team, kids who might have a reason to think that they’re special because the whole town would turn out to watch the games. This small-town high school shows off a squad of cheerleaders, the biggest cheerleaders being the packed stands where spectators would applaud wildly and hold signs like “Roll Red Roll,” the name that the team has embraced.

In this re-creation, Matt Bockelmon is behind the lenses while the three-person team of editors shift from tweets sent out by the boys including their hysterical laughing about how the girl was “trained,” to the team out on the field, to Alex Goddard, a crime blogger who got the interest of widespread media in the case. The potential witnesses are interviewed by Detective J.P. Rogaud, leading to the arrest of the rapists, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond. Strangely no attorney is present during the questioning.

Using clever and to-the-point animation, director Schwartzman in her debut documentary reproduces the tweets. For her efforts, Goddard incurred the hatred of the town given the support of the football team, and perhaps the fear that the games would close down or be suspended if action were taken against players. Goddard could not on her own have generated the interest. Instead Rachel Bissel, a reporter with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, brought the events to national attention, and later the NY Times covered the story as did major TV networks like CNN. During the trial at the country courthouse, hundreds of folks, mainly women, showed up outside with signs, which perhaps led the police to investigate further and uncover other similar stories, one involving a fourteen-year-old girl who was raped. Other women showed up with stories of their own rapes, some decades ago, which they did not report, fearing humiliation.

One statistic has it that one out of three women has been raped in this country at one time or another. Fortunately for the two boys in this case, their age—seventeen—protected them from a long sentence; just a minimum of one year each, though one of the boys was sentenced to an additional year for tweeting pictures.

80 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

HOTEL MUMBAI – movie review

HOTEL MUMBAI
Bleecker Street/ Shiv Hans Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Anthony Maras
Screenwriter: John Colee & Anthony Mars
Cast: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 3/6/19
Opens: March 22, 2019

If you don’t fancy biting your nails down to your cuticles, you may not want to venture forth to “Hotel Mumbai.” While there are no back-stories to speak of in this dramatic treatment of a terrible, mindless attack in 2008, the action scenes look authentic, the entire cast are game, the faces exude fear, and best of all the archival films from 2008 that editor Peter McNulty snap in at key points in the narrative look at though they are a seamless part of the action. While the Muslim jihadists from Pakistan, some of whom sneaked into Mumbai by small boat, coordinated an attack on several points in India’s largest city, Anthony Maras centered the action on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, a world famous spot of pure luxury in a mostly poverty-stricken country.

Director Maras, whose 2011 short “The Palace” covered military action by Turkish forces in Cyprus in 1974, and whose “Azadi” in 2005 follows the plight of an Afghan schoolteacher and his asthmatic son who escape their oppressive Taliban homeland in search of a new life in Australia, is obviously in his métier with “Hotel Mumbai.” Outdoor scenes on the sidewalk around the Taj Hotel are filmed on location, though the action taking place inside the hotel is filmed on a set in South Australia. (The team stayed at the International Hotel in Adelaide.)

Perhaps what Maras and co-writer John Colee want to emphasize thematically is the way that the heroes among the hotel staff—people who have been trained to consider all guests as gods—mostly stayed put to help those on the premises to avoid being shot by the young Pakistan men who carry their destructive automatic weapons. By contrast, the local police force despite their bravery in confronting the thugs are sporting nothing more potent than simple pistols, yet they rise to the occasion, entering the premises in search of the mass murderers. During a considerable part of the story, Maras’s cinematographer, Nick Remy Matthews turns the screen into a shooting gallery, as the jihadists hunt down every guest, even spending considerable time to target specific people, namely high profile Americans. Of course some in the cast are elevated by their individual heroism, including chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher), Arjun (Dev Patel), a Sikh whose turban freaks out one of the guests, David (handsome Armie Hammer) and his wife Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) whose principal aim is to protect their new baby. Jason Isaacs as Vasili is with the Russian special forces, turning in a dramatic move near the conclusion when he is tied up, refusing to show the slightest cowardice by spitting on the jihadist who has the power to maim and kill him on the spot.

Much of the action is handed to those playing the jihadists, who to a man are willing to die and become martyred for Allah. None expect to get away alive from the action, particularly when the Indian special forces, the only unit capable of ending the war, had to transport themselves from New Delhi, eight hundred miles from the action. The assailants—young men who could not be more than twenty-five years of age and played by Amandeep Singh, Suhail Nayyar, Yash Trivedi and Gaurav Paswala, casually make the rounds shooting straight ahead, hitting people in the back as they try to flee, even firing straight down to kill those on a floor below. One act of heroism aside from the general help given to the guests by members of the hotel staff finds two receiptionists from the Taj asked at gunpoint to call one of the rooms to get guests to open the doors. When they refuse, they are summarily executed.

More sophisticated moviegoers will want more than a re-creation of the events, however artistically executed. Are the principal characters merely of two dimensions, set up to represent in turn a father eager to save his wife and child, a degraded Russian opting to ask two young women to be sent to his room, a head chef serving as the chief of the rescue team? Perhaps there was little time for this since much action has to be covered, giving the movie audience the real feeling of what it means to be literally afraid for your life when you figure that the chances are that this is your last day on earth.

123 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

ROCKING THE COUCH – movie review

ROCKING THE COUCH
Avail Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Minh Collins
Screenwriter: Minh Collins
Cast: Lauren Anastasi-Peter, Ikon Barenbolm, Alana Crow, et al
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/8/19
Opens: March 15, 2019

Kim Johnston Ulrich, Greg Cope White, Andrea Evans, Carrie Mitchum, Tonja Walker, Minh Collins, Sadie Katz, Josephine Gorchoff, Alana Crow, Tiffani Fest, Jennifer Durst, Jerry Sommer, Pritesh Shah, Nick Patriarca, Lauren Anastasi-Peter, Ikon Barenbolm, Don D. Meredith, Susan K. Hayn, Peter Scalisi, and Stephen G. Rodriguez in Rocking the Couch (2018)

For a long time, men have gotten away with sexual harassment and, what’s worse, with sexual battery and assault. As attorney Stephen Rodriguez points out in Minh Collins’ “Rocking the Coach,” women have been afraid of losing their careers or chances to make it big in Hollywood. What’s more they’ve been justifiably afraid of being humiliated of being told that they brought on the harassment by the way they dress and act. Even unions like Screen Actors Guild have tried to hush up accusations lest its own prestige be affected. “Rocking the Couch” deals exclusively with the casting of actresses for movies and TV spots. Unlike the way that Michael Moore would direct a documentary, Collins concentrates on talking heads but enlivens the conversation with animation, re-creations, and pictures. The one distracting and unnecessary element he uses is music in the soundtrack, which does nothing to accent the proceedings.

Collins begins with accusations against Fatty Arbuckle and segues into Natalie Wood, the latter among those who were told that spilling the beans would hurt their careers. The spokespersons, who come forward with accusations and are allowed to speak their minds without interviewers’ questions, are generally women who in middle age still look great but were stunning while in their twenties. Among the more fascinating stores is one in which a handsome producer set up a premise—a woman is trying to get back with her former boyfriend—then tells the actress to improvise and strip until both are naked. When she charges the man with having pushed his penis against her, his defense lawyer notes that the angle of his penis is such that it would not be possible for a woman to feel it. Whether the judge or jury had a laugh is not disclosed.

In another case a former policewoman checks out a guy who has had accusations against him. She wears a wire, with other members of the force waiting outside to jump in if she utters a code word. She has to push the accused off the bed forcefully but did not invoke the code word.

There is still one problem. Many aspiring actresses would be happy to give their sexual services in return for parts in commercials and movies. This break in the potential unity of women to stand up against their assailants operates to make it difficult for others to resist, as they see that the casting directors and producers could do just fine without them.

Aside from the trio of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey, the most high-profile alleged violators and whose stories encouraged the #MeToo movement, the most damaging punishment cited in this film is that of a Burbank talent agent to five years and four months of prison, though the probation officer recommended probation to a fellow with an otherwise clean record. When Wallace Kaye, age 52, was put on trial for felony sexual battery, his victims testified that they came to Kaye seeking acting or modeling jobs and were assaulted while improvising dramatic scenes with him. Said one of his victims, “I feel like a big load has been lifted and that I can go on with my life. I’m glad he’s going to prison.”

In this film, men are not given spots to challenge their accusers nor do we see men introduced to us in the audience to give their sides of the story. Yet even without them, the evidence is compelling, prompting the police to urge women who are raped to go immediately to a hospital for a rape kit, not to shower away the evidence of molestation.

65 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE MUSTANG – movie review

THE MUSTANG

Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre
Screenwriter: Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock
Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern, Gideon Adlon, Connie Britton
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 2/4/19
Opens: March 15, 2019

In Frank Loesser’s musical “Guys and Dolls,” Nicely sings “Future for Tinhorns,” which opens “I got the horse right here/The Name is Paul Revere/And here’s a guy that says/That the weather’s clear/ Can do, Can do.” Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre’s movie “The Mustang” has to do obviously with horses, but the “can do” in this case rides on whether a particular convict in a North Nevada penitentiary can succeed in breaking a particularly fearsome wild mustang.

The Mustang Movie Poster

“The Mustang” directed by de Clermont-Tonnerre—whose familiarity with prisons led her to make “Rabbit” which finds a female prisoner entrusted with the care of a small animal—now broadens her sphere. No longer dealing with females who need to connect with animals for their therapy, she turns her attention to a detention center holding violent criminals. Though too many of our prisons do nothing to deserve the euphemism “correctional institution,” this Nevada center connects with a program of the Federal Department of Land Management. Our government believes that wild horses cannot continue to roam the West in unlimited numbers. They multiply, doubling their numbers every four years. Allegedly there is not enough foliage or even water to support them, therefore they are culled to allow for healthy animals. Or that’s our government’s story. However the reasons for the roundups are not revealed in this film, making the audience wonder how much is simply a desire for the government to make money auctioning them off. In this case, the horses are expected to be sold at auction if and when they are domesticated by prisoners—who in turn, we hope, will become changed people with their violent urges “corrected.”

Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts is at the center of the action as Roman Coleman, head shaved, in the Nevada Correctional Institution for a violent crime that is revealed later when his pregnant daughter Martha (Gideon Adlan) visits him, demanding that he turn over for sale the home that she shares with him. With a demeanor that might make audiences confuse him with Dwayne Johnson, Schoenaerts opens the dialogue on a scene with the prison psychologist and anger-management specialist (Connie Britton), whose favorite question is “How much time passed between your thinking of doing a crime and actually doing it?” (Seconds, is the typical answer; a fraction of a second in one case.)

Ruben Impens’s lenses reveal a fantastic creation of an actual roundup with long takes and closeups as helicopters maneuver a gathering of mustangs. They are then locked up in tight quarters, slamming against the walls, an apt metaphor for the appalling condition of the human prisoners Coleman is not a big talker, preferring to remain in solitary because he is “not good with people.” He begins to open up when assigned by Myles (Bruce Dern) to a program of training wild horses. .

Myles assigns Coleman to break one crazy mustang, believing that Coleman has some affinity for the animal. With the help of Henry (Jason Mitchell), a fellow inmate who appears to love the outdoor work he’s doing, Coleman goes step by step, leading the horse this way and that, until human and animal develop a bond. Having read an article in an equestrian magazine dealing with an 18th century marquis, he names the animal Marquis. Coleman has come a ways since the violent crime he committed twelve years previous, though while first training Marquis, he is so frustrated with the lack of response that he punches the animal so hard that Marquis is on the ground—knocked out—to Myles’ fury.

In addition to Schoenaerts’s terrific performance—we don’t know to what extent he is involved with riding the horse and falling from him and where the stunt people come in—we in the audience become enlightened further to the terrible conditions of American prisons. The cells are small. Coleman shares a cell with a toilet, no cover, and no door to afford a minimum of privacy. We long to show the appropriate authorities in our government the movie “Where To Invade Next, which illustrates Norway’s penitentiaries which critics trash as being too “luxurious,” where each inmate has an apartment with a stove and knives. Yet predictably, Norway has among the lowest rates of recidivism anywhere. We are also privy to the horrendous way our government rounds up “excess” wild horses, ultimately to be auctioned off. Some are allegedly given to the border patrol, others will wind up in Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouses.

As a critic with Variety magazine has stated, the picture is only partly about a convict who becomes a horse whisperer but is more about a horse that is a convict whisperer.

96 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

BUDDY – movie review

BUDDY
International Documentary Festival Amsterdam
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Heddy Honigmann
Screenwriter: Heddy Honigmann
Cast: Mister, Kaiko, Utah, Missy, Kay, Makker
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/10/19
Opens: March 20, 2019 at New York Film Forum

 

Buddy (2018)

Chaser, a Border Collie, can locate 1,022 items surrounding him on the floor at the request of his trainer. Border collies are often considered the most intelligent of dog breeds, and Chaser proves that he can supply entertainment to the folks who view his antics on the ‘net. But that’s all fun. What can dogs do to help us, the people, the folks who lack the intelligence that dogs have and prove it daily by enabling Trump? The enablers in Congress who sit, stay, and mostly play dead at the president’s command? Actually there are many things that dogs do for us according to Heddy Honigmann who wrote and directs a documentary starring Mister, Kaiko, Utah, Missy, Kay, and Makker.

Peruvian-born Dutch writer-Director Heddy Honigmann is a major player in the Netherlands with an impressive array of documentaries including “Forever” – highlighting the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. By contrast her “Buddy”—surprisingly without a dog named Buddy—is all about life. She follows six disabled people whose lives have been made so much better by their bond with our best friends. While these service dogs have learned to do things you wouldn’t not expect of your own pets, what comes across is principally the great love that the human folks have of their four-legged friends who obviously do not consider the canines to be robots following our commands.

Jessica de Koning edits the tale of six pairs, shifting from one couple to move on to another, then returning several times to complete the task. The people with disabilities are one African-Dutch man with post-traumatic stress disorder who relies on Mister to keep him on the right side of functioning human being. Makker, a ten-year-old dog, adds vision to an 86-year-old woman who had been blinded from the age thirteen from a German bomb. Makker is so trustworthy that his owner is able to put her cane aside and jog with him on open grounds. Kaiko works for a human who has a neurological problem not specified in the movie, and is able to move around the kitchen opening drawers including the refrigerator to haul out nutrition—without cutting in to take what he wants for himself. Kay pulls around a young woman who has limited vision in one eye and who uses a wheelchair, being pulled along everywhere as though Kay were a Husky racing in Alaska. A ten-year-old who has epilepsy and autism has the desire to wake up each day with an enduring love for his Utah. They sleep in the same bed and obviously adore each other, though I felt some discomfort watching the kid as he kissed the dog a few too many times.

The sixty-seven-year-old writer-director mostly allows the subjects to speak for themselves, adding interviews in her gentle style—which obviously works best for both the people and their dogs. Since this is a documentary and not a narrative, it lacks some of the excitement you’d find in the best dog movies like “Lassie Come Home,” “Shiloh,” “Hachi” and “Molly and Me.” Some of the chit-chat between people and dogs is likely improvised, thereby taking away from the enthusiasm that viewers have been led to expect in dramatic tales. As it stands, “Buddy” does not overstay its welcome, but don’t expect to be thrilled by plot points and the sentiment you’d expect from any drama about a vulnerable 8-year-old and the dog that got lost.

The dogs understand Dutch. For the rest of us there are English subtitles.

86 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

WALL – movie review

WALL
National Film Board of Canada
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Cam Christiansen
Screenwriter: David Hare
Cast: David Hare
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/8/19
Opens: April 3, 2019 at Film Forum in NY

Wall (2017)

If you wonder why the animation, which informs the whole of this feature, is black-and-white, you might wait until the concluding minutes to get an answer. The final moments of the picture are among the most vivid that you’re likely to see this year. As for the rest of the unusual documentary, it’s a mind-blower of sophisticated animation, of the interface or light and shadows, and what’s more, the narration by British playwright David Hare is both lengthy and fascinating.

Hare takes sides.  If if you like the Israeli point of view you’d think he’s just another fan of the Palestinians. After a suicide bomber hit a Tel Aviv discotheque in 2001 killing many of the youths having a the kind of good time that would be frowned upon by the religious on both sides, Israel built a wall that is four times the size of the one in Berlin, twice as high in points, and successful. Eighty percent of the terrorist attacks on Israel—or of freedom fighters if you’re on the Arab side—have been stopped based on statistics from the pre-wall era. Four billion dollars was spent on its construction by a small country with only seven million Jewish inhabitants, a point that our own president may use to garner support for the wall on the border with Mexico. But unlike the American version, many Palestinian landowners were uprooted as the wall was built partly on land that was part of the Palestinian West Bank.

Why the wall? As noted, this was an attempt to prevent land incursions by Palestinians in the West Bank, but the whole project may be for naught, as the Arab side may not be able to cross over with weapons but can now rely on flights of drones and rockets to cause the same damage without inflicting deaths on themselves. In fact the most fascinating point absorbed by the animated character of screenwriter David Hare in his interviews and road trips is that while we on the outside consider Israel to be strong (it has, after all, the most powerful army in the Middle East), Israelis themselves consider their country to be fragile and weak, and have not settled in the way most of the rest of the world has done in thinking that they have a secure, permanent place to live. Planning ahead to 2030 is out of the question.

Much of the information passed on by the movie is well known by those of us who follow politics. The Arabs are regularly harassed, sometimes having to take heavily trafficked roads and may be stopped for hours at checkpoints. Why does Israel do this? “Because they can,” states one Davuid Grossman who lives in Israel. Most of us know by now that a half million Jews live in the West Bank in settlements, making any peace ever so much more difficult. Aesthetically, the wall is an eyesore in the countryside, and given the frenzied energy of building in Jerusalem, that capital city (at least capital as recognized by the U.S. and Paraguay) has lost its religious ambiance.

If you are among the political junkies following Israeli politics through the Times of Israel, or the Jerusalem Post, or Haaretz, or for that matter any major New York media, you are likely to put aside the boredom you think you’ll feel before you watch the film. The MoCap animation technology (“Black Panther,” “Avengers,” “Guardians of the Galaxy) will capture your imagination and make the road trip engrossing.

82 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

ASH IS PUREST WHITE – movie review

ASH IS PUREST WHTIE (Jiang hue er nü)
Cohen Media Group
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jia Zhang-Ke
Screenwriter: Jia Zhang-Ke
Cast: Zhao Tao, Liao Fan, Xu Zheng, Casper Liang, Feeng Xiaogang, Diao Yinan
Screened at: Critics’ Link, NYC, 3/7/19
Opens: March 15, 2019

When I visited China in 1985 as part of a study tour, I found a country that had been wracked by a Cultural Revolution that ended a few years earlier. What I saw was as backward as you might expect for a state that had not experienced a global outlook. All felt provincial, with Beijing’s airport looking more primitive than even our own LaGuardia terminal and Shanghai’s equivalent of our Fifth Avenue coming across like a major road in Milwaukee. Even the best hotels were second-rate given that the big international chains were afraid to invest in a poor, Communist country. Today things have changed dramatically, though at the cost of making Beijing and Shanghai among the most polluted cities on earth. Instead of the quiet pace that found the older generation enjoying the camaraderie of the bathhouses, you now have ambitious young men more likely to bathe their Beemers or their Mercedes. The forty-eight year old Jia Zhang-Ke, easily China’s most celebrated filmmaker today and in the opinion of an NPR critic perhaps the best filmmaker at work in the world takes a look at how the changes affect a particular group of people. In 2001 they look like a bunch of small-time gangster nobodies socializing in a decrepit shack but calling one another “brothers” as a sign of undying loyalty. Seventeen years later life had caught up with them, the reversals symbolized in the characters of Qiao (Tao Zhao) and her boyfriend Guo Bin (Liao Fan).

Bin is the honcho of the underground society taking for granted the deference given to him by his brothers. Qiao is in love with him, a woman who is one of the boys, giving love punches in the back to two men and taking a bite from the shoulder of her paramour, Bin. The entire group must feel that their loyalty will be unchallenged for life while Qiao seems assured that her love for Bin and his for her will last forever as well.

Though Qiao considers ballroom dancing “too Western,” but the entire company dance to a rhythm that would be familiar here in the U.S. When Bin is attacked by young people from a rival gang, Qiao saves his life by firing a gun into the air. Since China is not Texas, she spends five years in jail for mere gun possession. It’s now 2006. Qiao is out of prison sailing the Yangtze. noting villages along the way that are going to disappear—not from climate change but from the building of a dam to give electric power to the community. There’s one change. From the narrative’s point of view comes another change. Bin has moved on to another girlfriend and refuses to see her, leaving her adrift and forced to use her prison-acquired scamming skills to get meals and money. (Telling some wedding guests that she is a friend of the bride and those of the groom is a technique sometimes used even here.) By 2018 Bin has become a different man entirely, sidelined by a serious stroke, wheeled around by Qiao who tells him that their love is gone. Yet Qiao is in no mood for schadenfreude despite being dumped by Bin while she is in jail.

The conclusion is one of great sentiment but not at all like the cheap kind you’d find in commercial Hollywood movies. Though Jia does not afford us in the audience the spectacular scenery found in epic films like Zhang Yimou’s “Raise the Red Lantern,” his cinematographer, Eric Gautier, supplies some panoramic shots around the Yantze and through the windows of a train—the latter being the backdrop of a humorous scene involving a passenger’s line that he is conducting research on a UFO project and would like Qiao to join him, offering her a job.

The film’s highlight is Jia’s expertise in the director’s chair but most of all from a shattering, albeit subdued (compared to what Hollywood would do to her) performance. “The years pass just like that” (snaps fingers) notes Gloria’s mother in Sebastián Leilio’s marvelous movie “Gloria Bell.” With those years, in China, there arrive momentous economic and social changes which, at the same time, make their mark against loyalties that had been expected to continue forever. Those wedding bells in our town may be breaking up that old gang of mine, but the simple passing of years does irreparable damage to familial ties in China. “Ash is Purest White” casts its eye on an exuberant but ultimately mournful setting in a particular spot involving two particular people, but its theme can stand in by extension for us all.

136 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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