• 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.

FINAL PORTRAIT – movie review


Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Stanley Tucci
Screenwriter: Stanley Tucci
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Tony Shalhoub, Sylvie Testud, Clémence Poésy
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 2/26/18
Opens: March 23, 2018

Final Portrait Poster

If you visit one of the hundreds of artists’ colonies throughout the world, perhaps Res Artis in Amsterdam, the Alliance of Artists’ Communities in Providence, even the Intra Asian Network in Taiwan, you might expect that the community houses people of like minds albeit all with temperamental personalities. “Final Portrait” will open your eyes to your mistake. The movie is directed by Stanley Tucci, whose busy professional life encompasses principally his acting as in “Submission” (as a professor accused of sexual harassment). Yet he is far from a slouch in the directing department. Consider his hit film “Big Night,” doubling as a actor playing a restaurateur trying to save his business. He does well with “Final Portrait,” though he states in production notes he does not care for biopics. By this he may mean those studies which are plot-directed such as “The Young Karl Marx,” which takes the intellectual founder of modern communism from his job in a magazine through his friendship with Engels and his founding of a troupe determined to restore equity to oppressed workers in all countries.

“Final Portrait” does not have a plot in the usual sense. All scenes take place in an around an artist’s Paris studio, the City of Lights during the year 1964, filmed in a London studio. As a showcase for the remarkable talents of Geoffrey Rush in the role of sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti, the picture’s thematic focus is on the vast personality differences that Giacometti had with a noted writer, James Lord (Armie Hammer), known today for his voluminous biography of the man he befriended.

“Final Portrait” begins in black-and-white, gradually morphing into color as the characters become better drawn together with the women in the sculptor’s life, namely his masochistic wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) and a vivacious hooker, Caroline (Clémence Poésy). Both men wear jackets and ties throughout, but Alberto’s is of the well-worn tweedy type worn by professors while James spends the movie in a fine suit. For both men no changes of outfit take place throughout since Lord is forced to wear the same suit for eighteen days because of the demands of the sculptor who, this time, concentrates on his painting and uses his friend to sit.

The comedy relies in large part on the way that Giacometti first tells the writer that he would be needed for two days, but that drags on to eighteen, requiring Lord to change his reservations to New York several times. Not that the painting should have required such delays: the volatile Giacometti in frustration twice smeared gray paint across the canvas and redid the face, frustrated for reasons not entirely clear. Nor is it true that he was in want of female company. His wife Annette whines that Giacometti will not spend money on her; that she needs a new coat “not mink” only to hear her husband’s rebuttal, “Who needs more than one coat?” A good deal of money is spent on his mistress Caroline who is with him on a long term basis, the most lively woman in the biopic, even irritating in her extraversion but not a problem at all for Giacometti.

Lord somehow is willing to put up with the painter’s delays, despite advice from the artist’s brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub), not the kind of patience one should expect of a man who is famous in his own right. Then again so far as we know the story is true, though maybe Lord, who is promised the painting which is to be shipped to New York for him may have realized that it would sell in 1990 for $20,000,000.

The two principals play their core personalities against each other, making the characterizations a delight, together with Evan Lucie’s joyful score of French pop from the sixties.

Rated R. 90 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

A BAG OF MARBLES – movie review

A BAG OF MARBLES (Un sac de billes)

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christian Duguay
Screenwriter: Alexandra Geismar, Jonathan Allouche w/ collaboration of Laurent Zeitoun and based on the graphic novel by Joseph Joffo and Vincent Bailly
Cast: Patrick Bruel, Dorian Le Clech, Batyste Fleurial Palmieri, Elsa Zylberstein
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/8/18
Opens: March 23, 2018

This narrative film based on a graphic novel by Joseph Joffo and Vincent Bailly purportedly relating true experiences takes place in Paris and Nice, exhibiting a phase of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of ten-year-old Joseph (Dorian Le Clech) and his big brother Maurice Joffo (Batyste Fleurial). “A Bag of Marbles” includes some shots of unprovoked brutality, although if you’re seen enough Holocaust films and read enough books on the tragic era, you’d be naïve to think that this represents Germans and some French acting on their full-pledged antisemitism. The director, Christian Duguay, has a resume packed with TV episodes including one called “Human Trafficking,” about the brutality of kidnappers who sell young women into prostitution.

An authentic performance by Patrick Bruel in the role of the boys’ father is the highlight, a man who runs a barber shop in Paris that caters only to Jews (who in 1942 would not be allowed to patronize a shop run by Christians). For me a big surprise was that two German soldiers among the occupation troops in France’s capital visited the barber as customers, and that Roman, the boy’s father, freely stated to the two customers that “everyone in the shop is Jewish.” I had figured that by 1942 the windows would be broken, a Star of David would be painted on the walls, and the Jews would have to go immediately into hiding.

Since the film involves the travels of the two brothers without their parents to a freer area in the south, largely on foot but sometimes by hitched rides, you could this a road-and-buddy pic, involving various people, mostly friendly and talkative. Among the events encountered by young and naïve Joseph, who could barely believe that the lives of Jews were in danger, and his more mature, older brother Maurice, is one in which the lads, traveling alone on a train heading south toward Nice which was governed by the French Vichy regime under Petain, are terrified when about to be confronted by the authorities asking for papers (they had none). They came under the immediate protection of a priest, one of two gents of the cloth who would protect the identity of the two. Other events include their presence in a training program of youths expected to fight for Germany, wherein the boys feign Catholicism, and another in which Joseph, following the counsel of his father who literally beat into him that he must always deny his Jewishness, worked for an anti-Semitic bookseller for six months without guessing the identity of his employee. This middle-aged shop owner, who would be dealt with by the Resistance after liberation, blamed the Jews for the war, a classic Big Lie of the Nazi regime, and who furthermore states that the real enemy of France is England, not Germany.

With a solid supporting role by Elsa Zilberstein as Anna Joffo, the boys’ mother, “Bag of Marbles” is yet another film on the horrors of the Nazi regime with its own particular niche. It should be required viewing by those who tend to believe whatever governments are telling them, with a manifesto that should read “Question authority: Trust No One.” This especially in view of the rightward movement of several Western countries whose naïve citizens are going along with the hatred spewed by candidates for government. Beware of anyone with statements about neo-Nazis and white supremacists in our own country that there are fine people among them.

Unrated. 110 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

ISMAEL’S GHOSTS – movie review

ISMAËL’S GHOSTS (Les fantômes d’ Ismaël)

Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Screenwriter:  Arnaud Desplechin
Cast:  Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/17/18
Opens: March 23, 2018

You’re in luck if you take in the director’s cut of “Ismaël’s Ghosts” because the writer-director will keep you and others of your sophistication engrossed for most of its 135 minutes.  Call is episodic, name it a magnum opus, label it anything you want, but if you want to find the meaning of life, you’ll gain a few steps toward answering the most basic of all questions by seeing many of life’s aspects unfold.  This is because Desplechin, in his ninth fiction feature, paints a broad canvas tapping your funny bone, evoking some tears, wondering whether he has packed so much material in this that it comes across as a summation of maybe every type of situation you may find yourself in.  This director’s cut is not the 120 minutes’ version that played in Cannes, but akin to the cut that was shown here in New York at the annual film festival at Lincoln Center.

This is not to say that among life’s experiences many in the audience will  ever see a ghost, though truth to tell Carlotta Bloom (Marion Cotillard), missing from France for 20 years, had long been certified dead.  Because of that long absence, which Ms Cotillard discusses in the film’s juiciest monologue, her great love and partner Ismaël Vuillard (Mathieu Amalric) is free to look elsewhere for female companionship.  Meanwhile the titular character’s mentor Henri Bloom (László Szabó), a filmmaker who has taught his protégé everything he knows, now depends on Ismaël to relieve his loneliness and his slide into depression.

The film is chaotic.  Stories within stories, genres within genres, countries appearing and changing like a global kaleidoscope from France to the Czech Republic and even Tajikistan open up as though Ismaël is taking a survey of writing and direction from the 83-year-old Henri.  He is busy on a script, throwing in some melodrama about his brother Ivan, a diplomat hired by the French ministry because of his non-traditional education.  At the same he is enjoying his affair with the lovely Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), but begins losing his sanity when Carlotta returns (or does she?), thereby setting up a romantic triangle which, instead of pleasing Ismaël, who considered himself too old for romantic nonsense, goes off the wall.  In a similar action, his father-in-law Henri, taking a flight to Tel Aviv to receive an award, goes ballistic on the plane when told by the flight crew that he may not open a bottle of his own spirits.

The chaos turns to order eventually when the wrinkled plots and subplots are ironed out

It might be difficult to find a trio more capable of these bold dynamics as Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourgh.  Amalric in particular has been a favorite of Desplechin—well known among cinephiles here for such contributions as
the popular “A Christmas Tale” about a woman whose need for a bone marrow transplant brings a feuding family together, and “My Sex Life…or How I Got Into an Argument,” focusing on a young man with a dual conflict of whether to change girlfriends of whether he really wants to become a professor.  The struggle of this fellow in “My Sex Life” seems ridiculously easy to solve when compared to those of the men and women in this latest feature, bringing together a potpourri of people who can afford to have all the anxieties of modern civilization.a Their woes do not amount to a hill of beans when compared to the problems of Syrian refugees—who presumably have other things to worry about than which men and women to embrace and which to reject.

Unrated.  135 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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


Take Your Pills Movie Review

Photo from Take Your Pills.

Take Your Pills

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alison Klayman
Screenwriter: Alison Klayman
Cast: Dr. Anjan Catterjee, Dr. Carl Hart, Dr. Wendy Brown, Dr. Martha J. Farah, Nicolas Rasmussen, Stephen P. Hinshaw, Eben Britton, Michael “Blue” Williams
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/14/18
Opens: March 16, 2018

The principal theme: Adderall and Ritalin allow users to focus clearly without distractions for hours on end.

In Sonnet 103 Shakespeare warns, “Were it not sinful then, striving to mend, To mar the subject that before was well?” In other words, the perfect is the enemy of the good. If only people especially in America would honor the wisdom of the Bard and instead live the way Italians do with their five weeks’ vacation, ample time for parental leave, and leisurely lunches under the Duomo in Rome! Instead we rush through salad-bar offerings at our desks and remain always wary of the competition, of the people who appear to have more drive than we do and might be on the fast track to the Executive Board (or the graveyard). This striving for perfection and productivity may have catapulted the United States to its current prosperity, but at the same time the U.S. has been judged by a reputable poll to stand only eighteenth in happiness, well behind all the Scandinavian residents.

This striving to do quicker, better, best begins for some in pre-school where parents are already pushing their four-year-olds to prepare for Harvard, but now, in college—if you believe the young women interviewed by this documentary, “Everybody does it.” Does what? Hooking up? No. Nobody mentions that but we know that ambitious college students have no time for dates and romance, so quickies will do. Everyone takes pills, probably not heroin, maybe not cocaine, but the title drug, Adderall. The drug is amazing, and in fact though director Alison Klayman—known to cinephiles most recently for her “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” about the Chinese artist and activist who regularly clashes with his government—presents so much evidence for the positive effects of Adderall that despite warnings from doctors about its side effects, viewers will want to experiment.

Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts) is prescribed for some, Ritalin (methylphenidate) for others, all with the purpose of treating ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). We probably know Ritalin because it’s being used by kids from grade school through high school because they have been reported by their teachers for fidgeting, restlessness, running around the room. Some of the parents speak to Julia Liu’s lenses with mixed feelings, worried that their youngsters would become addicted. But for academic circles, more time is given to college students, the ones who say “Everybody does it,” because there is pressure in college not to relax and have a good time but fiercely to compete with one another for the jobs in white shoe law firms, Silicon Valley, and the medical profession. Once again: Adderall and Ritalin allow users to have a clear focus with no distractions and to continue at a single task for hours on end.

We’re also aware that in professional sports, doping is de rigueur (see the Oscar-winning movie “Icarus” about Russians eliminated from competition because they’ve been stimulant positive). NFL player Eben Britton used Adderall to boost his game, and often went beyond the usual limits because of the high he received thereby sustaining multiple injuries.

If you’re a Marxist, you’re likely to blame capitalism for the special interest that New Zealand and the U.S. have in Big Pharma, as the only countries in the world to allow TV commercials for pharmaceuticals. When you’re tapping away at your computer in the office, you’re next to someone on your left and on your right who might be faster; more productive; willing and even eager to work a sixteen-hour day, so what’s a person to do to get ahead? Be like them. With sports, school, and business, with the emphasis on competing as a factor more important than relationships, with all the money we dole out for health insurance, real estate taxes, Beemers, two or three kids, who can relax? Take your pills.

Here’s one caveat: don’t think all the schoolboys and schoolgirls are killing themselves with study, soccer practice, big league sports, and the like. From my 32 years’ experience as a high-school teacher, I have found that only the academically brightest, those who get put in honors classes and who are likely to be tutored for the SAT and stay up nights studying, are pushing themselves. The others either don’t know what they’re in for when they “grow up” or do know and have simply given up.

The film is loaded with humorous animation including excerpts from “The Simpsons.”

 The major problem with the doc is that it is far more likely to encourage non-users to play up to their doctors and request scripts for Adderall than to serve as a warning, as do the movies that get shown in high schools every year talking up the side effects. The harmful effects of Adderall and Ritalin are skipped over lightly: this kid gets headaches and can’t sleep; maybe somebody’s liver is attacked and destroyed as alcohol might do. But that’s it. Just a scant few minutes in this 86-hour presentation on what’s bad, and you’re likely to skip over that and go for the pills.

Unrated. 86 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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


BACK TO BURGUNDY – movie reveiw

BACK TO BURGUNDY (Ce qui nous lie)

Music Box Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Cédric Klapisch
Screenwriter:  Cédric Klapisch, Santiago Amigorena
Cast:  Po Marmaï, Ana Girardot, François Civil, Jean-Marc Roulot
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 314/18
Opens: March 23, 2018

I don’t “get” wine.  I wish I could because wine raises HDL, the good cholesterol.  Beer does that as well, but I don’t “get” beer either.  In a blindfold test, I would take Welch’s Grape Juice over a $1,560 bottle of 1986 Chateau LaFite Rothschild, notwithstanding the latter’s  deep color, medium body, a graceful, harmonious texture, superb length and its penetrating fragrance of cedar, chestnuts, minerals, and rich fruit. So wine provides a good living for many who cultivate it, as we see from “Back to Burgundy,” but money isn’t everything.  Relationships: that’s the key to the good life. And that appears the overriding theme of “Ce qui nous lie,” the original French title which means roughly “What Moves Him.”

Director Cédric Klapisch may be best known to cinephiles for “L’auberge espagnole, which thrusts a young, innocent economics student into Barcelona ostensibly to brush up his Spanish but serves as an initiation to life as he mixes with a diverse array of foreign students.  “Back to Burgundy” has a large cast serving as a background to development, folks who go to a vineyard around Burgundy to pick grapes during the harvest and who in one scene have one the most spirited parties recorded in the cinema—calling out “wine, wine, wine!” while banging on the table.

You can’t go home again might have been in the co-writer-director’s mind when he focuses primarily on a mid-thirties man, Jean (Pio Marmaï), who left the vast vineyard for Australia, marrying one Alicia (María Valverde) there,leaving behind an aggrieved couple of siblings: his sister Juliette (Ana Girardot) and his brother Jérémie (François Civil).  Jérémie and Juliette are particularly angry that the wanderer left them behind to care for the land and, later, for their sick father.  They cannot understand why he did not return to Burgundy for their mother’s funeral (he has a valid reason) and, as in many families with some dysfunction, he does not believe his father cared much for him.  When the native returns, bearing news of his changed status from the antipodes, he is met at first with hostility, giving him the job of reconnecting with brother and sister after a decade way.

The complexity of relationships finds twenty-something Jérémie living away from home with a successful winemaker who may remind you of Trump, as Anselme (Jean-Marie Winling) wants to buy some of the land to build an airport, a spa, and general tourist facilities.  When the three heirs to the land receive a sizable inheritance tax bill, they ponder whether to sell all for $6 million or sell parts to raise the money they need.  This runs counter to tradition: you don’t give up property that has been in the family for decades.

The cinematography is a strong point, some of the scene captured with a drone.  This is a story that leans toward epic complexities but embracing easy-to-define ups and downs of the three siblings.  Typical American moviegoers, however, as opposed to critics and highbrows, might prefer the more informal inputs and recognizable characters from a movie like Alexander Payne’s “Sideways,” as those characters are on merely a trip through California wine country without all the complications of ironing out the wrinkles of a partnership when the decision to sell needs the unanimous votes of the three owners.

Unrated.  113 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

AUGIE – movie review


PCH Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  James Keach
Screenwriter:  James Keach
Cast:  David Foster, Mari Winsor, Augie Nieto, Austin Nieto, Lynne Nieto, Steve Perrin, Lindsay Nieto, Scott McFarlane, Pat Fuscoe
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/9/18
Opens: March 16, 2018
Augie poster
In his book “The Human Predicament,” David Benatar essentially reiterates Socrates’ statement that it’s better not to be born.  Benatar believes that on balance, the pain of living cancels out the pleasures.  He is talking not only of the daily hassles we go through but of course the dreaded problem of disease.  There may be no disease more tragic than ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease, with a cure that may depend on increasing research funding.  The disease assaults the muscles month after month, year after year, until the sick people can do nothing more than more their eyes.  Its most celebrated victim, Stephen Hawking, died this week after living some fifty years since the diagnosis.

Augie, or Augustino Nieto, was diagnosed at age 47, a horrific disease that fells ten percent of people from congenital reasons and the other ninety percent for causes about which nobody knows.  Psychologically the illness must have been exceptionally tragic because it paralyzed a man who spent most of his working life in the fitness business, specifically through entrepreneurship inventing Lifecycle, the bicycle known by fitness enthusiasts the world over, eventually selling the business to Brunswick making him a wealthy man.  Consider the irony: a man slated to enjoy his wealth and his superb, muscular body is now unable to move.  Hence, this documentary.

He has a lovely and charming and dedicated wife, Lynne Nieto, who spend considerable time in James Keach’s film discussing the disease and what it’s like to take charge of his care—hiring several people to watch over him throughout the days particularly one Filipino woman who explains that in the culture she brought over to the States, she believes in caring for people.

James Keach has an impressive résumé as an actor as well as director, including a performance in, of all things, “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” a joyful look at the pleasures of healthy youth.   This documentary is filled with talking heads, namely people from his extended family and the physicians who describe ALS and make specific reference to Augie’s love of life.  Nonetheless, as the movie begins, Augie tells a gag about a man about to commit suicide from losing the use of an arm but, looking out the window he sees a man happily skipping along though that fellow had no arms at all.  “You saved my life,” he tells the man, running down the stairs; in other words, there is always someone worse off than you, and if that person has overcome his handicap, so can you. (Some of the self-help books on happiness, we might add, advise us that when you become handicapped, you may consider ending it all, but that surprisingly, as time goes by, you accept your limitations and can wind up even happier than a fully-functioning person.)

Augie and his wife Lynne used their contacts in the fitness business in the so-called Augie Quest to Cure ALS, raising over $60 million for research.  Until now, virtually nothing has come through the pipelines toward a cure, but recently a drug has entered clinical trials that could slow down the progress of the disease.

If a guy sitting around a four hundred pound chair and with tubes that connect him to life wants to survive, he serves as an inspiration to everyone, especially for those who think they would not want to continue living if they had any disease that robs them of their capacity to be independent.  The documentary does not feature much if anything in the way of special effects of Michael-Moore type ironic comedy, but it does expose us to scores of people in the medical fields and high finance that are inspired by Augie’s spirit to push hard to find a cure or at least some incremental progress.

Unrated.  84 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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


DEAR DICTATOR – movie review


Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lisa Addario, Joe Syracuse
Screenwriter:  Lisa Addario, Joe Syracuse
Cast:  Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Jason Biggs, Seth Green, Fish Myrr, Jackson Beard
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/10/18
Opens: March 16, 2018

Whatever happened to satire with political undertones that are as smart as they are ruthless, that portray real characters in extremis but not as cartoons?  Think of “Dr. Strangelove,” the more recent “Thank You for Smoking,” and anything coming out of Monty Python?  With “Dear Dictator” a modern parody playing on figures like Fidel Castro and suburban moms and teens, the genre has sunk to its most unfunny low.  This is dumbed down with the most obvious gags, pure sitcom “entertainment”—with a portrayal of a dentist but with an overall story with no bite, no teeth, nothing to chew on.

Even Tatiana Mills (Odeya Rush), who has the gumption to send letters to a Caribbean dictator about to be ousted, projects herself as not a bimbo but a girl who is so uncoordinated that she falls to the ground twice.  And in a side role Denny (Jackson Beard) shows himself as the usual Hollywood portrayal of a religious nut, a Bible thumper, the kind of role that could make Evangelicals furious, except that he is so unconvincing that even folks in the reddest of states might tease out an uncomfortable laugh.

In the story Titiana has a single mother Darlene (Katie Holmes) is so horny that having her toes sucked by the dentist she works for, Dr. Charles Seaver (Seth Green) drives her into a sexual frenzy.  The high school girls gets the idea for a history project from her teacher Mr. Spines (Jason Biggs), fulfilling the assignment of writing a “letter to a person you admire.”  Strangely, she admires a Caribbean communist dictator, General Anton Vincent (Michael Caine), who writes her back, even sending her a revolutionary flag. When he is overthrown, he somehow winds up hiding in the large suburban home of the person heretofore just a pen pal.  He shaves his beard, drops his revolutionary uniform, and puts on a ridiculous wig and mustache, eluding Titiana’s mother for a while, playing miniature golf with the young woman, and learning about the Internet.

That’s Michael Caine, taking a big slide down from his magnetic roles such as Harry Palmer in the 1965 “The Ipcress File,” a performance which makes that movie stand as a masterwork of espionage fiction.  Now he’s a bumbler who, in this story, tries to redeem himself by complimenting Tatiana and Darlene, giving them feminist-style messages that they’re much better people than they think they are and telling them to “go for it.”

The picture was first introduced with the title “Coup d’état,” which could have been called “Coup d’éTatiana,” but no name could have given this mess of physical comedy, dumbed-down script, been-there- done-that high-school parody worth a view.

Unrated.  90 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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