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.

CORPORATE ANIMALS – movie review

CORPORATE ANIMALS
Screen Media
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Patrick Brice
Screenwriter: Sam Bain
Cast: Demi Moore, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, Karan Soni, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Calum Worthy
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 6/14/19
Opens: Sept. 20, 2019

Where would we be without the liberal media, especially Hollywood? Would there be anyone else ready and able to take down the evils of corporate business? With “Corporate Animals,” Patrick Brice, whose “Creep” and “Creep 2” are take-offs on the horror genre, now satirizes a field that that is not just ripe for such treatment but whose practices are often so silly that its members satirize themselves. We’re taking about business. Meetings have been held up to be for the most part time-wasters but an even bigger squandering of resources takes place when employees, now often called “the team” by the suits, are sent out on trips whether kayaking or hill-climbing to challenge their ability to get out of rough situations. The principal aim of this technique is to allow “the team” to bond beyond what they might do on their own in the local pub. In the case of “Corporate Animals,” which features sometimes hilarious ensemble acting, a diverse group of staff members of the company Incredible Edibles, are directed by their CEO, Lucy Vanderton (Demi Moore), to enter a cave in New Mexico and live for a day or two like the people who explored the area first: the Native Americans, from whom Lucy, like Elizabeth Warren, claims to be descended. When a cave-in adds to the challenge, the team get to think and discuss to a greater extent than even Lucy dreamed, providing a movie that is deliciously vulgar in language, concept, and physical exhibitions.

Like so many films nowadays, there are representatives of various ethnic groups and romantic preferences. Lucy and Brandon (Ed Helms) are white, but included in the cast are Jess (Jessica Williams), Lucy’s black assistant, Freddie (Karan Soni) or East Indian ethnicity, Derek (Isiah Whitlock), an African American male, and a few others who serve more to round out the cast than to offer much in the way of hilarity. When their guide, Brandon, is killed by falling rocks while trying to lead a group through a tight cave opening, then a quake rattle the environs, members of the company—whose niche is providing forks, knives and spoons that can be eaten rather than left in landfills—must figure not only how to escape but how to survive without food. If you guessed they considered cannibalism, given that Brandon is already dead, you’re ahead of the game.

The gags are mostly of the off-color kind, like what part of the cave can be used as a bathroom (the result of that decision is shown in gorgeous brown), which rocks to use for privacy if the workers choose to make out, and one woman, Gloria (Martha Kelly), blithely writing a last will and testament assigning which of her colleagues will get to eat her butt cheek when she dies. The most scintillating discussions take place by about day 5, when the staff, contemplating death, have no fear of getting fired and therefore unleash their true feelings about their boss and about each other.

Much credit goes to Sam Bain for his script, a writer whose “Four Lions” in 2010 honed in on four incompetent terrorists planning their evil adventure. “Corporate Animals” was filmed mostly in New Mexico by Tarin Anderson. Demi Moore, who took over the role when Sharon Stone had a scheduling conflict looks terrific at 56.

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

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

SUPER SIZE ME 2: HOLY CHICKEN – movie review

SUPER SIZE ME 2: HOLY CHICKEN
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Screenwriter: Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick
Cast: Morgan Spurlock
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/14/19
Opens: September 6, 2019

Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken Movie Poster Sizes 11x17" 16x24" 24x36"

When you see what goes into the chicken sold in fast food restaurants (and realize that probably the red meat industry does likewise for its burgers and fish) you may decide to go vegan. It’s not just the unhealthy ingredients and the lack of transparency in the franchises like Popeye’s, KFC, and Chick Fil-A. It’s the way that small farmers that grow the animals that wind up on your dinner plate are shafted by the five big corporations to which they sell the birds, principally Tyson. You may even go further than giving up animal flesh and think that you want nothing to do with capitalism. “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken” provides not only terrific information about the chicken industry. It is so entertaining that you might decide that documentaries, often at the bottom rung of movie popularity, are as worthy of your time and money as dramas and comedies.

There’s no wonder that this movie with its terrific, rapid editing, puts Morgan Spurlock on the same plane as Michael Moore. Like Moore, Spurlock knows how to be political without making you think that “educational” films are like carrots and broccoli: healthful and filling but simply not the kinds of foods you salivate over. You will remember that Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” thirteen years ago took aim at the fast-food burger chains, particularly McDonald’s, where the documentarian took all his meals for thirty days straight at Mickey D’s and wound up feeling ill and carrying around a huge weight gain. Now, paradoxically, in order to satirize the chicken industry, he opens a chicken restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, the center of food marketing experimentation, and buys a farm in Alabama to raise the cluckers. You may wonder whether he is actually doing this, or simply imagining a script for his vivid new doc. After all, how can a filmmaker, however on the A-list of documentaries, manage in a field so different from his own?

If you’re concerned about your health—and surprisingly enough many Americans can’t give two figs for what they put into their bodies—you have probably been impressed by claims made by the food industry such as “natural,” “hormone-free,” “locally grown,” “organic,” “free range,” “sustainable.” Turns out that for the most part these words are simply marketing tools and just a bunch of B.S. Looking at a farm that raises chicken “free range” instead of caged, you find that the chicks are on the big main floor with hardly room to move—so they might as well be caged. Think of the New York City subway system on a work day at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

But what if you really are not a particularly ethical person and you don’t care how the chickens are raised? You don’t mind that the vast majority of chickens are from one breed known for growing so fast that they can hardly walk, and that some will die on the floor of heart attacks and other maladies. Your health is still affected when you eat deep fried chicken, far more caloric and greasy than grilled, but for most of us, taste is the most important factor.

But maybe you care about the small farmers that, being forced to sell to one of the five giant corporations, namely Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms, Perdue Foods and Koch Foods. The biggies like to keep the farmers in debt, paying them less if they have complained or, in this case are giving information to Spurlock about the underside of capitalism. They supply the farmers with housing, land and equipment but make sure that the farmers pay so much for improvements such as heating units that they are like serfs under feudalism rather than workers under capitalism.

Spurlock has a gift for interviewing, peppering his questions with witticisms and employing the talents of people who explain the principles of marketing, all backed up by a bouncy musical score employing passages from Richard Strauss, Camille Saint-Saens and George Frideric Handel. If you’re concerned that the movie provides no solutions, that’s because are none. Eighty-eight percent of Americans will buy chicken each week.

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

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

HUSTLERS – movie review

HUSTLERS
STX Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Screenwriter: Lorene Scafaria
Cast: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Cardi B
Screened at: Lincoln Square, NYC, 9/10/19
Opens: Sept. 13, 2019

Hustlers Movie Poster 24" X 36" Or 27"x 40"

Based on Jessica Pressler’s 7,237-word article in New York magazine December 8, 2015, “Hustlers” deals with young women who work in strip clubs, which generally means that they do pole dancing and for extra money they perform lap dancers on the men who attend. Whether they all go further with the guys after closing time is not discussed, as writer-director Lorene Scafaria wants us to think that these “girls” are not dime-store street hustlers but are regular women who need the money to support their grannies, their children, college tuition and the like. They may have tried their hand working in retail stores at nine dollars and hour, so you can see how they can greatly increase their income with the bills that the mail clients throw at the stage or put inside the workers’ skimpy clothing, or the Benjamins that come out for the more private sessions. In fact these women are not exploited by their customers, since after all they make a good living dancing for them, but the real tawdriness comes from the bosses at the clubs that they have to cut in on their income.

“Hustlers” takes as its theme something said toward the conclusion of the movie by Ramona Vega (Jennifer Lopez) that “the whole country is a hustle,” a critical view that is more likely akin to left-leaning political philosophy, the liberals, the Marxists, the students at elite colleges presumably blaming others for being on the make. The livelier segment of “Hustlers” takes place during the first half, the second part reserved to provide the girls with a sounding board on what they think of their trade, of their customers and their bosses, even reserving some contempt for their employers in retail stores where they can barely make ends meet.

The most involving part shows Ramona, an experienced pole dancer, taking the innocent Destiny (Constance Wu) under her wing, teaching the shy newcomer the tricks of dancing, and in doing so giving the movie audience the treat of some classic “steps” that you would hardly think possible from a fifty-year-old actress. The entire story is framed by Elizabeth (Julia Stiles), a journalist taping testimony from Ramona and Destiny about the activities that went from just doing their jobs on to grand larceny, the progression that might make us think that they are getting revenge on the Wall Street crowd that fills the seats at the club. I’m not sure that the showgirls want revenge for the role of executives in the 2008 collapse of the American economy, since banks, working with the funds, had shred the economy with their shady manipulations leading to the closing of the club. The women proceed to haunt the bars that accommodated these rich guys, both young and adult, acting as a team by making each targeted man believe it’s his charm that arouses the cuddly affection of four or five women.

In reality, though, they would spike the drinks with MDMA and ketamine, which both wiped out their memory of the nightly events and put customers into semi-comatose conditions. They would take the credit cards and sometimes had the dazed marks sign credit slips, then going on to simply taking the cards and charging up to $50,000 per man, getting the transactions approved, and sending the money to a corporation they set up. They would then proceed to buy fur coats and the like, and to show the movie audience that they are not that bad, we find that they are supporting families including one grandma.

There’s little question that Jennifer Lopez turns in a spectacular performance, maybe even her best so far, as a tough, experienced woman who acts as mentor to Constance Wu’s Destiny. We men may look at women performing in strip clubs as obviously attractive and capable of knocking some impressive splits in their miniscule clothing, but they really are human like you and me, capable of maintaining friendship and providing conversations just like any other working stiffs. In the lead role, Constance Wu’s Destiny does not have even a high-school diploma though she has passed the so-called equivalent, which would have made her eligible to any number of civil service jobs. Their customers, hustlers just like them, are rich white guys (strangely nobody of color shows up to patronize the shows,) can be seen as exploiting the less-educated women and you’re free to think that, though remember the handsome income that these men provide to women who would more likely be cashiers in CVS making minimum wage.

The pop songs are many, running through the soundtrack, the production values emphasizing the darkness in the clubs and the brightness of the digs that the conniving women can now afford are spot-on. Yet the proceedings can become awfully repetitious, and while the jokes are there, there is not enough here to call “Hustlers” a comedy, nor is the drama deep enough to be insightful.

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

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

THE GAME CHANGERS – movie review

THE GAME CHANGERS
OPS Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Louis Psihoyos
Screenwriter: Mark Monroe, Joseph Pace
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/9/19
Opens: September 16, 2019

The Game Changers Movie Poster

 

With its sharp, rapid editing, colorful action photos, and testimonies of people in the sports field, “The Game Changers” comes across with a thesis that’s not only convincing and entertaining but perhaps the one movie this year that could change your life. Director Louis Psihoyos is known here for his stunning 2009 movie “The Cove,” which might have garnered some death threats by exposing Japanese who trap dolphins (“Who is this foreigner to tell us how to run our country?” replies one opponent). He now puts quite a positive spin on the value of changing to a plant-based diet. While subjects like Arnold Schwarzenegger rivet attention, urging vegans and vegetarians not to ask people to change over quickly from meat products to plant foods (try one meatless day a week, he suggests), other athletes who have made a full correction to abolishing meat, fish, eggs, and cheese seek to prove to us that they are stronger, have more endurance, and most important have stiffer erections than those of us in the majority who cannot imagine giving up the carnivorous pleasures.

“The Game Changers” is not one of those PETA-style broadsides showing naked models saying captions “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” Nobody is hit over the head with how evil we are if we damage our own bodies while destroying the ecology through supporting the livestock industry. The folks who populate the movie keep the pressure low but imply “Just look at me and what I can do, and I do this not only while avoiding steak, eggs, cheese and milk but actually because I have sworn off these products.

Comments by rough, tough athletes are frequently segued to scientists like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who do not simply tell us about the dangers of meat but do so with videos and graphs, the most impressive being two pictures shown by Esselstyn’s son Rip, one of arteries clogged and looking as though serial killers have mutilated them beyond description and contrasting this with a picture arteries that are bright and clear.

We have been worshipping meat for nutrition as well as taste, proclaiming the virtues of a Big Mac or a Popeye Fried Chicken, but chickens, cows, lambs and pigs are only intermediaries who have consumed vegetation and who pass on to us the protein in those plants. The two most impressive subjects are sprinter Scott Jurek who set a new world record in running a one-man marathon across the entire Appalachian trail, and Patrik Baboumian, who likewise made the Guinness Book of Wrold Recrods by lifting over one thousand pounds and walking several feet while doing so.

As for experiments, the most involving finds three football players who are first give meat and told to get a night’s sleep with two bands placed around each of their penises and the next day given only plant food. The study found that the plants increased both the size of sleep-time erections and their hardness. So when PETA says that vegans are sexier, here’s the beginning of actual proof that a plant based diet is good “for people who have penises and for those who like people who have penises.”

“The Game Changers” arrives at theaters just days after the opening of Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken,” which is not about super-sized penises but about the world-wide dangers caused by the poultry industry. Both films are among the most important you may see in 2019.

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

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

AMÉRICA – movie review

AMÉRICA
Lifelike Docs
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Chase Whiteside, Erick Stoll
Screenwriter: Chase Whiteside, Erick Stoll
Cast: América, Diego, Bruno, Rodrigo, Luis
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/3/19
Opens: September 13, 2019 at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image

América

In “The Seven Ages of Man” found in Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It,” the Bard concludes:
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

In other words though it may be better than the alternative (only sometimes), old age is a pitiful part of life, even worse if the elderly spend it alone or adrift in a terrible nursing home. But sans everything? Not so, say directors Chase Whiteside, Erick Stoll in their documentary “América.” This is Erick Stoll’s freshman full-length movie though you might figure his politics if you see “Good White People,” his short doc about gentrification. For his part Chase Whiteside unfolds his first full-length doc, though figuring his politics from his short feature “Lifelike,” about a taxidermist, doesn’t sound political, but who knows? Documentary shorts are not easy to find even in New York.

While Americans are known to put their elderly and fragile oldsters into nursing homes, it’s a cliché that Chinese would never elect to do this but rather to care for the parents, who gave them so much, at home. Now it turns out that some Mexicans are doing the same for their grandmother, América, who is 93 years old at the movie’s opening and, though suffering from dementia, she can recognize the terrific grandchildren who are caring for her. “América” is filmed over three years first in Puerto Vallarta where Diego can be found riding a unicycle through a crowd and later demonstrating at least amateur level acrobatics with his brothers Bruno and Rodrigo.

The brothers’ grandmother América lives in the state of Colima, a woman who may no longer be a vibrant human being but who lucks out by having grandsons to take care of her. Diego is the most committed. He bathes her, talks to her, kisses her while straightening her hair, and forces her to exercise when all she wants to do is return to her bed. In one scene he demonstrates tough love by insisting that she stand up straight, though América wants at least to hold his hand.

Ironically, when she suffers a fall, her son Luis is blamed and sent to prison for eight months though he is quite innocent of bad intent, and it falls to the brothers, already submerged in América’s care, to get their father released. How they pay for a lawyer, and how they deal with a judge’s offer to release the man for 25,000 pesos ($1400) is not clear though the three argue, but finances and commitment to América are debated among the three, in one case leading to a physical fight. The good thing about the whole affair is at least the three threesome are together again. At times they come across like philosophers in conversation, though we have no idea how much education they’ve had.

We learn something about the Mexican social care system, a country that is awash with drug murders but still funds social workers who seem genuinely to care for their clients—at least while director Stoll’s camera is on them. (The directors share stunning fluency in their editing while Stoll doubles as director of photography.) At fifty-two minutes in length viewers will gain insights into extreme old age, grandchildren, and the social and legal systems of our friends to the south.

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

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

DEPRAVED – movie review

DEPRAVED
IFC Midnight
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Larry Fessenden
Screenwriter: Larry Fessenden
Cast: David Call, Joshua Leonard, Alex Breaux, Addison Timlin, Maria Dizzla
Screened at: Critics link, NYC, 8/29/19
Opens: September 13, 2019

Depraved Movie Poster

Larry Fessenden’s feverish tale of a human being created by assembled body parts is an apt updating of Mary Shelley’s classic “Frankenstein,” now celebrating the novel’s 200th anniversary. Fessenden, who performed in the 2007 movie “Psychopaths” which deals with chaos inflicted by its title character, and who directed “The Last Winter” about people going insane in the Arctic, is well within his métier with this tale of horror. “Depraved” carries the message so often dished out in the horror films of the 1950s that “Maybe we should not have tampered with nature,” has been resurrected in a tale that conjures up images of young people working their parents’ garage doing exactly that with predictably disastrous results.

The film opens up with an argument between Lucy (Chloë Levine) and her boyfriend Alex (Owen Campbell), but without realizing it, the young woman has won the argument since Alex is attacked in the dark Brooklyn streets, stabbed to death. His body is dragged to a nearby lab, actually a loft in Brooklyn’s Gowanus area, where a doctor removes his brain and transplants it into a cobbled-together human being, sutures everywhere as though tattoos designed to terrify. Poof: Adam (Alex Breaux) comes to life, his first vision that of Henry (David Call), an otherwise nice guy eager to give him drugs thrice daily to prevent rejection, then to program him and together with his financier John Polidari (Joshua Leonard) make a fortune. Henry, unlike John, is not altogether greedy, but rather intent on restoring to life people killed on the battlefield where Henry, having received medals for bravery in the Middle East, now harbors PTSD.

He teaches Adam ping-pong, and watches while his lone pupil picks up one skill after another, though Henry cannot imagine what Adam is thinking. The creation’s thoughts show the impact of the brain, giving Adam memories of the good times with Lucy but also filled with lightning-like sparks that have always been a major part of films dealing with the experiments of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Henry introduces Adam to people in his life, including his girlfriend Liz (Ana Kayne) who is concerned with Adam’s loneliness, all the while being pushed by John toward introducing the creation to the scientific world to make a fortune. As in the classic James Whale’s 1931 film “Frankenstein” in which Boris Karloff as the monster scared the bejesus out of kids as Karloff had been doing since 1919, a monster, friendly, even cuddly, always ready to learn and accept nurturing, goes bonkers when treated badly by his creators, leaving bodies in his wake.

Of course we in the audience can sympathize in part with Henry, who is more concerned with saving lives than his financier John, but we put most of our sentiments into Adam, whose name allows us to think that maybe technology will go a lot farther than giving us smart phones to while away our days and nights by creating a new breed of human being that will have us somehow make room and disappear.

Special effects are dazzling albeit repetitious in what you could call a dystopian dream with technology running strictly on the defensive.

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

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

YOMEDDINE – movie review

YOMEDDINE
Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: A.B. Shawky
Cast: A.B. Shawky
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/4/19Rad
Opens: In Theaters May 31, 2019: September 24, 2019 on DVD

Image result for YOMEDDINE MOVIE POSTER

When I was thirteen I acted like most of the kids around me, belittling people who we saw as “the other.” To lift our fragile egos, we put down people who were too short, too bald, too slow, too klutzy. We even sang a song about leprosy that goes to tune of Frankie Lane’s “Jealousy,” the first lines going: “Leprosy/ night and day you torture me/ there goes my eyeball/ right into your highball/ there goes my ear, dear, right into your beer, dear.” You see, we thought that leprosy involves the steady falling apart of our bodies—our fingers, our feet, and even the organ (not the brain or heart) that we considered our most important possession. Never mind that this infectious disease, however serious, makes people suffer “only” by scarring their skin, causing large bumps about the body, gnarled fingers. In developing countries such people are put away in leper colonies, remaining there even if the malady is cured. Lepers may not lose body parts, but they can be scary, and they can be made fun of, especially by kids who are thirteen years old and adults of arrested mental development.

Along came a movie from Egypt, that country’s candidate for an academy awards for the 91st session, and since it was not nominated for Best Foreign Film, the competition must have been really tough. “Yomeddine,” which means “Judgment Day,” although the Google translator says it means “Extend me,” may not be the best picture I’ve seen so far in 2019 but it is certainly the most moving. A.B. Shawky, who wrote and directs his freshman full-length film, has been active in shorts such as “Things I Heard on Wednesday” (about Egypt’s modern history through the eyes of a middle-class family), and “Martyr Friday” (about demonstrations in Tahir Square in 2011 by crowds opposing the Mubarek regime.) “Yomeddine” centers on forty-year-old Beshay (Rady Gamal) and the teen orphan nicknamed Obama (Achmed Abdelhafiz), who believes his nickname came from “some guy on the TV.” Beshay takes a long road trip, reluctantly allowing the boy to accompany him as the kid has not been happy in the orphanage. His aim is not unlike that of Americans who have been adopted and would like to meet their biological parents. Beshay is off to the town of Qena on the Nile River’s east coast where his father and brother live, eager to find out why he was abandoned by the family at the age of ten. We will discover near the conclusion that his dad loved him but did not want to see him hurt by society. By settling him into a leper colony with people in the same bad shape, he would not be judged.

Surprisingly, as they take off in a cart led by a beloved donkey named Harby (that rhymes with an American name that’s on the tip of my tongue), hopping a ride on the railroad like the hoboes of the American depression, sailing briefly on a ferry across the Nile which neither buddy had seen before, being waved onto a truck heading near the destination city of Qena. Beshay was laughed at only once during the journey, by some jerks, who when asked for the location of the Nile, respond “Up your ass.” If the writer-director’s motif is Beshay’s emotional growth, a man who because of sores and bumps on his face is ashamed of himself, there should have been more insults thrown his way. Instead, he is helped out by quite a few along the way, a momentum of good graces that begins in this story when his wife, hospitalized for a mental illness, dies, is buried with a simple cross, and is offered condolences by a small gathering of Muslims and Coptics at the funeral. That’s not to say that the unlikely road buddies move along as easily as a New Yorker taking a trip to Djerba. The donkey dies (“animals go right to heaven,” he instructs Obama), the boy is injured and is taken to a clinic where the fee to see a doctor is 20 pounds, police officers, annoyed by the absence of regular clothes on Beshay who had been to the beach throw him in jail where his cellmate fears contagion. At any rate, he faces discrimination, but only one group actually laughed at him.

Beshay comes more into his own when he runs into a circle of self-described freaks, including a midget and a man who, because of a road accident, is missing both legs. Thirty years after being abandoned and making a “living” by recycling trash from “Garbage Mountain,” the disgured man had followed the Nike motto “Just Do It,” later to return, homesick no less, to the leper colony just as his young road partner is eager to get back to the orphanage. In Qena where he finally meets his father and drops the netting covering his face to avoid scaring people, he declares, “I am a human being,” which may remind you of Shakespeare’s character Shylock who contends, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”

We’ll all be equals on Judgment day brings us back to the motif; in other words you get pie in the sky when you die. These words have given hope to hundreds of millions of the world’s poor, the wretched of the earth, if you will. The two buddies will not know whether they will meet a gatekeeper on that day, but their optimism is not unlike the confidence that so many in this world feel, the knowledge that the only way to get on with a life touched by some pleasures is to accept a mixture of poverty, disease, and violence.

The DVD for this humanistic film can be ordered from Amazon for $17.99 beginning on its release Sept. 24. 2019. That’s not more than the price of a single admission to a New York multiplex and one that you can treasure forever. Even the bold yellow subtitles, usually missing even for most European films, add to the movie’s grandeur.

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

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