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-

Search

  • 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.

BY THE GRACE OF GOD – movie review

BY THE GRACE OF GOD
Music Box Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: François Ozon, Anais Duran
Screenwriter: François Ozon
Cast: Melvil Poupaud, Denis Menochet, Swann Arlaud, Eric Caravaca, François Marthouret
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/15/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

By the Grace of God  movie poster 12x18  32x48 inch image 0

If I’m correct, the Catholic Church is the only religious institution that forbids the entire hierarchy of anointed officials from getting married, from having sexual relationships, from masturbation. Presumably the Church allows for nocturnal emissions, provided, of course that the officials are asleep during those times. Is it possible that this is the cause of so many charges of priestly molestations? That while there is no legal or ethical excuse for a member of the clergy to take sexual advantage of children, this can serve as a partial defense? This particular issue seems never to be discussed in media reports on pedophiles, nor to my memory have any priests charged with sexual offenses used this plea to lessen the severity of their crimes. (I use the term “his” because the Church does not allow women to be priests This is based on canon law passed by the clergy in 1024, requiring the excommunication of any woman ordained to be a priest together with the bishop who ordains her.)

Nor do my concerns find celluloid in “By the Grace of God,” a film which is not entirely an unusual departure for François Ozon, as his “Double Lover” focuses on a fragile woman’s relationship with her psychoanalyst, the latter acting beyond ethical norms like the priest who is front and center in Ozon’s latest contribution.

Like so many other French movies, “By the Grace of God” is talky. There is little melodrama, though there is considerable tension in a film that takes down Bernard Praynat (Bernard Verley), a priest, and his boss, Cardinal Phillipe Barbarin (Bernard Marthouret). If you’re looking for anything but a token display of Ozon-ite humor, you’re going to the wrong place. Looking like a docudrama though it is fully a narrative film, “By the Grace of God” is a heavy, long drama, its denouement known to people who follow such doings.

The acting is so believable that you might think events are running in real time rather than by thoroughly professional actors. Stories by the three alleged victims of abuse come together smoothly, though Ozon gives each man time to argue his case separately and to show how the abuse by the same priest affects their lives today. You are likely to consider the principal character, Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud), the most anchored, a bank executive with a spacious house in Lyon who never has doubt about pressing charges against Praynat. He has five children with the kind of family that the Church would favor, and states that he is not looking for revenge, only for justice and the opportunity to prevent abuses from going on. He is also a role model for his children, stating that they should never be afraid to speak out.

And speaking out is something that all three victims had refused to do for twenty years and more, the French statute of limitations making it difficult to find Praynat guilty of a felony—though he certainly may be defrocked. Though Alexandre’s wife (Aurelia Petit) wants her man to “go for it,” his mother advises him to stop “stirring up shit” against an old man. And she may be right! At least that’s the impression I get, my own sympathies being that if Praynat was not properly accused at the times of the molestations (“It’s our secret,” he says), maybe this should be water under the bridge.

Surprisingly, Praynat has not denied Alexandre’s accusations, even agreeing to meet with him in the presence of another church official, Regine Maire (Martine Erhel), admitting that he has an attraction to young boys. But strangely, he does not ask for forgiveness, which might have mollified Alexandre. That’s not all. Even though Alexandre speaks with Cardinal Barbarin, who could have defrocked the priest, this archbishop of Lyon had not stopped the priest from being with children and appears to minimize the offenses.

Alexandre’s woes are confirmed by François (Denis Menochet), a husky gent who calls himself an atheist and who is furious as well, even going to the press and arranging for a website “Lift the Burden of Silence” designed to rally other victims to the cause. Finally Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud), whose girlfriend accuses him of grandstanding and will take a break from their relationship due to her man’s hostility and aggressiveness, finds that her boyfriend is a “zebra,” a label to designate people with IQ’s over 140. He blames his own intelligence for an inability to adapt to the world, an unemployed guy who believes he has no future. In the film’s only real burst of melodrama, François’ brother goes ballistic, accusing François of loving his status as the center of the family’s attention.

What might turn off potential viewers is that sparseness of flashbacks to dramatize the predicaments of the three men, and even those look simply at a younger Prayat’s beckoning his favorite scout to leave the group for a while “to pray.” Nothing there to warrant anything but a PG-13 rating for the movie. Notwithstanding, for the appropriate audience, the film is thoroughly absorbing, though it’s not likely to raise the blood pressure of anyone in the audience.

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

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

JOJO RABBIT – movie review

JOJO RABBIT
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Taika Waititi
Screenwriter: Taika Waititi based on on the book “Caging Skies” by Chrstine Leunens
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Sam Rockwell, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Scarlett Johansson
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/14/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

The time is long past that we did not dare to treat Hitler and the Holocaust with broad comedy. Hitler was a demon, the most evil man of the 20th century, so how can we deal with him other than with serious documentaries and dramas? Must everything be as serious as Berthold Brecht’s 1941 play “The Resistable Rise of Urturo Ui”? No. Charlie Chaplin knew that the best way to take such people down is to laugh at them, thus “The Great Dictator,” though in 1940 Chaplin could scarcely have known just how evil the German chancellor was. “The Producers” could be considered the first major movie that laughs at Hitler, and now comes “Jo Jo Rabbit” that mocks Hitler as a fool but hardly shows the depths of depravity in his characterization by Taika Waititi. If you’re wondering about the name of this inventive director, Waititi hails from the Raukokore region of the East Coast of New Zealand, and is the son of Robin Cohen, a teacher, and Taika Waiti, an artist and farmer. His father is Maori (Te-Whanau-a-Apanui), and his mother is of Ashkenazi Jewish, Irish, Scottish, and English descent.

While the director has twenty-two credits, largely from overseeing TV episodes, his “What We Do in the Shadows” about vampires who worry more about paying the rent than about nourishing themselves, gives us a hint of the oddball and original works to come. The title figure in “Jojo Rabbit” is a ten-year-old boy from a German village played by Roman Griffin Davis, the son of Rosie Betzler, (Scarlett Johansson), who has an adult playmate in his spacious house named Adolf Hitler (the director himself). In the opening scenes which are the movie’s fastest-moving and zaniest, he attends a Hitler Youth camp taught by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), where the young men are taught military skills while the girls, scarcely teens, are instructed in how to get pregnant. (Truth to tell, the Nazi government cared not a whit about marriage. Women’s purpose was to give birth as many times as they could to populate the Reich with Aryan babies.) The girls here are instructed by Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) who gave the Fatherland eighteen of ‘em.

When Jojo Belcher is injured by a grenade he is drummed out of the camp but not before taking part in such fun activities as burning books. When he refused orders to kill a rabbit, he is derided by the counselors, given the nickname Jojo Rabbit. Filled with ridiculous tales of alleged Jewish depravity he is shocked to discover that his mother is hiding Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish woman of about eighteen years of age. You might expect that Elsa, when discovered by this young nazi kid, would cower, but instead she boldly declares that if Jojo turns her in, she would tell the Gestapo that he and his mother were hiding her, even using some physical force to show her lack of fear. Eventually, as everyone in the audience knew, he would hear about the Jewish tradition, how Jews were chosen by God, and comes around even to falling in love with her.

Brief archival shots show the genuine love for Hitler as thousands lined the streets when he passed in his car, reminding us that the people in charge of governments, the CEOs as you will, are often hardly the types of people that Plato advocated to be leaders. Few of them even now are Platonic philosopher kings, and many subjects are blown away by their vulgarity and cannot understand how their decisions could spell disaster for themselves and their country.

This is a remarkable feel-good movie in the style of Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful,” about a Jewish-Italian book shop owner who must shield his young son from the terrors of the Nazis. Eleven-year-old Roman Griffin Davis is the actor to watch, having turned in an astonishing role, evoking the full range of emotions from surprise to joy to terror. “Jojo Rabbit” was filmed in the Czech Republic.

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

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

SYNONYMS – movie review

SYNONYMS
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nadav Lapid
Screenwriter: Nadav Lapid, Haïm Lapid
Cast: Tom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevilotte
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/5/19
Opens: October 25, 2019

Synonyms Large Poster

Thomas Wolfe said you Can’t Go Home Again, in fact that is the title of a novel published in 1940. The novel tells the story of George Webber, a fledgling author, who writes a book that makes frequent references to his home town of Libya Hill which was actually Asheville, North Carolina. The book is a national success but the residents of the town had been unhappy with what they view as Webber’s distorted depiction of them, send the author menacing letters and death threats. Nadav Lapid, a brilliant director whose “The Kindergarten Teacher” tells of a New York teacher who becomes obsessed with a five-year-old’s gift for poetry, now takes tackles a film thematically alike Wolfe’s novel, about a 20-something who not only can’t go home again: he does not want to. You can’t blame some critics who, like the writer for “The Jerusalem Post,” in effect blames director Lapid for washing Israel’s dirty laundry in public in a similar way that Thomas Wolfe disturbed his townspeople.

“Synonyms” is a bold, original, impressive movie that has critics divided though it took top prize at the Berlin Film Festival this year. That’s not surprising. The best movies are strong enough to divide audiences, since unlike pics that are febrile, that do not hurt anybody’s feelings, controversial ones may have some people hating while picking up other people’s praise.

As for the fellow who has no intention of ever going back to his homeland, Yoav (Tom Mercier) left Israel after fulfilling his military duties, traveled to France without a shekel in his pocket, and refuses to speak Hebrew. He pores over grammar books, walking the streets around the Seine mumbling words together with their synonyms, takes a demanding and exciting citizenship class where he is required to sing the second stanza of the Marseilles, and even when visited by his father who is worried that his son is not eating and is living in a shoebox refuses to respond to the older man in Hebrew.

But he is not at all out of luck. In the film’s opening he visits a strangely vacant Left Bank apartment, wakes up nude (full frontal nudity: beware), discovers that someone has stolen his backpack with all his clothes and wakes up in the home of Émile (Quentin Dolmarie) and Caroline (Louise Chevillotte). Émile finds Yoav an impressive young man, given that Yoav is filled with stories about his life in Israel, making analogies to the Greek legends about Homer’s Hector, represented as the ideal warrior. By contrast Émile responds that his own life is boring, that he has no stories to pay his new guest back. For her part Caroline (Louise Chevillotte), an oboist with the local symphony orchestra, is likewise fascinated by the immigrant, not surprising since he has sworn off Hebrew, knows the complete French national anthem, and is more Gallic than the typical person born in France and knowing no other tribe.

Despite his reverse nationalism, Yoav appears qualified only to be a security guard at the Israeli consulate, where one officer goads him into a fight as though training him for the Israeli Defense Forces. Yoav is slim, yet seems rock hard from his army training and is occasionally interested in starting a fight—particularly with a member of Caroline’s orchestra who chastises him for rudeness.

Émile soon sense that Caroline is more interested in Yoav than in him, no considering that Caroline and Yoav fell into each other’s arms—Caroline muttering that she “always knew that we would sleep together.” Perhaps the most emotional scene occurs when Yoav, determined to flee the militaristic country of his birth, becomes enrapt hearing a classmate in his French class sing the first stanza of the Marseilles, following up with the next which speaks of the “purity of the French blood” and the needs to spill the blood of the enemy.

All this makes “Synonyms” as arresting a film that you’ll see this year, perhaps later competing against great movies like the South Korean “Parasite” for Best Foreign Picture. Note especially the great performance coming from Tom Mercier in his early career, a likely candidate for those organizations like NY Film Critics Online which give awards for Best Actor.

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

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

TELL ME WHO I AM – movie review

TELL ME WHO I AM
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ed Perkins
Cast: Alex Lewis, Marcus Lewis
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 10/2/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

Poster

When Cain asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he may have meant the question to be rhetorical and, indeed, he got no response. This is a question that many families around the world ask, with different answers offered depending on whether siblings are close or distant. There’s no doubt that Ed Perkins’ film “Tell Me Who I Am,” to be streamed on Netflix as of Oct. 18, provides an answer for one English family, one with an apparent aristocratic background, living in a spacious country house in one of the Home Counties (those areas that surround London such as Berkshire, Essex and Surrey).

The story written by twin brothers Alex Lewis and Marcus Lewis has been published in 2013, available on Amazon for under $11, doubtless giving the readers more answers and details than can be found in this too-brief documentary. While Alex and Marcus are the same age, we in the audience can believe that Marcus has been the dominant one, his brother’s keeper. And this is all the more so since Alex suffered a traumatic motorcycle accident when he was eighteen, leading to full-scale amnesia. His life is really starting over. His memories are gone, though Marcus has been game to briefing him about their lives together. Yet for over three decades, there is one series of incidents that Marcus had repressed and has been unwilling to tell Alex all these years. A series incidents changed Marcus’s life, made him refuse to forgive his father on the old man’s deathbed while Alex was perfectly willing to do. It’s as though Alex would say to Marcus, “He’ll be dead in days or hours: what’s the problem?” In most cases that’s the least a son can do. Apparently, though, dad has been an enabler in a series of horrendous acts of perversity, and Marcus (correctly, I think) had been reluctant to bringing those childhood events back into Marcus’s mind. Until now.

It would be unfair, a spoiler, for a review to reveal just what happened to cause severe family dysfunction, as if Agatha Christie revealed the name of the murderer on the front page of “And Then There Were None.” Suffice it to say that “Tell Me Who I Am” is not a study of amnesia, but rather than it uses Alex’s amnesia as a catalyst to tell a story. The problem I have, perhaps a minor one, is that this tale of repression would find a better home on the stage. Even the movie divides the 85 minutes into three acts. Ed Perkins, whose short TV documentaries include “Bare Knuckles Fight Club” (Brits competing without boxing gloves), “Comic Store Heroes” (about the largest comic book store in the U.S.) and “If I Die on Mars” (looking into why people would volunteer on a suicide mission), evokes solid performances from Alex and Marcus.

The brothers, who do almost everything together (including some strange activities ending when they were 14), run a successful business. Specifically they are among the founders of Fundu Lagoon in Pemba, Zanzibar, a hotel known throughout Africa. Now if you want to open up “Tell Me Who I Am” into a two-hour action story, you’d do well to follow the lives of the twins from debutante balls in the 1950s to raves on a remote Pacific island in the 1990s right up to the creation of this magnificent hotel on a multi-cultural African island built in part by locals who had never seen a white person before.

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

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

#FEMALE PLEASURE – movie review

#FEMALE PLEASURE

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Barbara Miller
Screenwriter: Barbara Miller
Cast: Deborah Feldman, Leyla Hussein, Rokudenashiko, Doris Wagner, Yithika Yadav
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/23/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

#Female Pleasure (2018)

During the Age of Aquarius in America, Joan Baez would sing “Hard is the fortune of all womankind/ She’s always controlled, she’s always confined/ Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife/ A slave to her husband for the rest of her life.” You might not think that in free America—as compared, for example with Saudi Arabia—that women have it so bad, but of course there’s room even in our country before we can declare the two sexes absolutely equal. Things are worse, then, in some parts of the world, and Barbara Miller, who wrote and directs “#Female Pleasure,” takes us around the globe from Brooklyn to Japan to India and to the UK and to Italy, where women activists are challenging the rules enforced upon them by religion or by culture. You come away with the impression that Karl Marx was right in saying that religion was invented by men to keep women down–though he could add repressive cultures in general.

The Swiss director hones in on five women, capturing their legitimate beefs through both the interview format and through observing them living their lives. In one case she indicts entire societies in discussing the evil practice of FGM, or female genital mutilation, in which babies, really, five-year-old girls, are held down and have their clitoris cut out so that they cannot feel sexual pleasure. Strangely, though, the women do not explain why this is done. Presumably this is to prevent women from straying from their husbands. In other cases, religion, which of course is part of a culture, is indicted, interpreted by men to pronounce themselves superior to women and to exploit them for their own satisfaction.

The woman whose story meant the most for me was Deborah Feldman, as I had read her book “Unorthodox,” there describing her view of the Hasidic religious sect in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She was one of the few who actually left, taking off on her own, living in Greenwich Village, her book describing her dismal view of the highly Orthodox people who do not allow women to choose their mates. (I think she did a disservice on those pages in which she tells all, describing the sexual practices of her ex-husband which must have humiliated him.) Feldman is seen driving her son inside the Hasidic community, asking him whether she should return to the fold and getting the obvious answer from the young man, “Let’s get out.” And that’s a male talking! We see films of Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, where the residents post large signs about respecting the local culture. Women are told to dress modestly—long sleeve shirts, skirts down about her ankles, though what Feldman could have added is that tourists who walk through the community with outfits that the residents consider immodest are spat upon, the women addressed as whores.

At least nobody in the Hasidic culture favors FGM. The bizarre custom of cutting a woman’s genitals when she is but a small child occurs largely in North Africa—Egypt, Somalia, for example, but also in Kenya. We hear from Leyla Hussein, who had the procedure forced on her. Like Feldman, she ultimately escaped the repressiveness by moving to the UK. At the very least she has convinced women in the expate Somali community to the anti-FGM cause, and when she visited the Masai in Kenya, learning that these women too had been mutilated, she gets their pledge not to do the same to their own daughters. As for the view that, hey, men, too are mutilated by some cultures by having their foreskins removed, she counters that the equivalent would be to have their entire penises removed.

Rokudenashiko, the nickname of manga artist Megumi Igarashi which means “good for nothing,” put vaginas in her cartoons for which she was arrested, tried, and acquitted of that charge, but she was convicted for making 3D images of the vagina, creating necklaces, iPhone cases and even a kayak using her own vulva as the design.

Miller also gives time to Doris Wagner, a German nun who claims that she was raped more than once by a priest, though we wonder why she would remain in the convent after a single instance, particularly since her charge was not taken seriously. She had written to Pope Francis, receiving no response, and is now a free woman who loves pop songs which, unlike what she heard in the convent deals with real human emotions.

Vithika Yadav, a feminist activist in India, makes us aware that the government in India appears not to take rape seriously, thinking, perhaps, that “Boys will be boys.” A street demonstration cast with men sympathetic to her cause reenacts the humiliation that women go through.

Some might say that the film is “all over the place,” since it deals with a variety of themes from genital mutilation to arranged marriage, but all falls under the umbrella of ways that women are not valued as much as are men, looked upon—except by me and you—as nothing more than baby-making machines whose pleasure is considered unimportant by men. If you are “woke,” i.e. socially aware, you know and rejects the attitude of male supremacy unearthed by this fascinating trip around the globe. Even so, you will be attentive to the sharp visuals in Jiro Akiba, Gabriela Betschart and Anne Misselwitz’s photography.

The film garnered awards and nominations at film festivals in Locarno, Leipzig, Austria and Thessalonika.

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

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

CYRANO, MY LOVE – movie review

CYRANO, MY LOVE
Roadside Attractions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director:Alexis Michalik
Screenwriter: Alexis Michalik
Cast: Thomas Solivérès, Olivier Gourmet, Mithilde Seigner, Tom Leeb, Lucie Boujenah, Alice De Lencquesaing
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/24/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

Cyrano, My Love poster

We go to movies to see stories of lovers and criminals, cops and robbers, Batman and Robin, but who would think that a story about a writer could be both funny and sad, bubbly and mournful, especially about a playwright whose magnum opus is known by everyone but whose name slips our mind? With “Cyrano, My Love,” director Alexis Michalik, a handsome young fellow with a long résumé as an actor, slips into the director’s chair with a first feature that mimics the trajectory of Edmond Rostand. With this wonderful, effervescent movie, Michalik hits pay dirt much like Rostand, a Parisian who, in 1897, had not written for two years only to rise above his station. Filled with both boisterous moments and expression of deep loneliness, “Cyrano, My Love” finds Rostand at age twenty-nine in Paris, desperate for money to pay the rent and to support his wife and two kids.

Rostand, given stunning new life by newcomer Thomas Solivérès, shares the glory in this film with Olivier Gourmet in the role of noted French actor Constant Coquelin, who is about to take on the costume, the poetic wit, and most of all the nose of Cyrano. Herein is a fanciful re-creation of Rostand’s struggle to make a name for himself after the turkey he had written for Sarah Bernhardt (Clementine Celarie). Since necessity is the mother of invention, Rostand’s recovers his ambition and his hopes, investing everything in a new play that seems unlikely to draw much of an audience given his previous flop. Enlightenment comes from the local restaurateur Honoré, a black man, who suggests the plot lines for Cyrano, holding that like Honoré, Cyrano has been treated like an insignificant soul.

Since a cardinal rule is to write what you know, Rostand bears witness to the plight of his friend Léonidas Léo Volny (Tom Leeb). Volny is in love with a theater costume designer Jeanne (Lucie Boujenah) and, given his good looks should be able to connect with the pretty young woman. But looks aren’t everything (or so some people think). Volny is unable to speak what he feels, and what a woman wants in Paris at least during the fin de siècle is a lover who can sweep her off her feet with words, verses preferred over mere prose. By contrast, Rostand is flawed with his ordinary appearance, his only hope lying in his words. While Volny pretends to speak passionately with Jeanne, who stands on a balcony, Rostand hides beneath delivering Volny’s words of love, making Jeanne fall in love with the poetry.

This being Paris, love and sexuality are more open than they had been for, say, the U.S. during the 1950s, which makes one wonder why the City of Lights needs brothels at all. Director Michalik, who by the way takes on the role of George Feydeau known and celebrated for his one-act farces, chooses to shoot a scene in a brothel which he could have left on the cutting-room floor, perhaps spending more time fleshing out some of the minor characters like Feydeau and some of the women including Mathilde Seigner as Maria Legault, who in the re-enactment of the play falls twice through a trap door, and Rostand’s wife Rosemonde (Alice de Lencquesaing), who fears that the passion in her marriage is gone.

This is an expensive production given the hundreds of well-dressed extras that fill all of the theater’s 1050 seats and the rentals of expensive costumes probably from the Barrandov Studios in the Czech Republic where much of the movie was filmed. “Cyrano, My Love” is a fast-moving comedy-drama that builds excitement from the scores of mishaps that threaten to close the play even before opening night, including a police action that would ban the presence of the title character and the disappearance on opening night of a major player. However the show must go on. See this obvious crowd-pleaser for scenes that are partly highbrow but with a strong emphasis on the down-to-earth hilarity that can be appreciated by theater snobs and groundlings alike.

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

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

THE LAUNDROMAT – movie review

THE LAUNDROMAT
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns, Jake Bernstein, from Bernstein’s book “Secrecy World”
Cast: Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, Gary Oldman, Sharon Stone
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/10/19
Opened: September 27, 2019. October 18, 2019 streaming.

The Laundromat Movie Poster

You may think that the revelations of the Panama Papers in 2015 are ancient history, that they have little bearing on the world of 2019, but in the film’s conclusion—a manifesto by Meryl Streep who is in the principal role—Soderbergh is indicting the current administration on Capitol Hill and in the White House. He makes clear to those who are following politics today that the working class people who voted for Trump and support him to this day are being screwed over. They may think it’s great that Trump talks like ordinary people in our country, but that’s just a distraction. The government makes it possible for the rich to become richer, enabling them to avoid paying taxes (some billionaire corporations today pay no tax at all), and handing big business a major tax break that is increasing the deficit by $300 billion in just the past three years.

You don’t have to be familiar with the Panama Papers to understand this movie, though it helps..maybe. There are so many stories, such a load of subplots in the film that marks Steven Soderbegh’s coming out of retirement to direct once again, that you might be better off streaming it from Netflix when it becomes available October 18. In that way you can stop the proceedings, re-wind, and re-wind again. However because of the terrific editing job done by the director, the jumble of subplots congeal by the conclusion.
As stated in Wikipedia, The Panama Papers are 11.5 million leaked documents that detail financial and attorney–client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities. The documents, some dating back to the 1970s, were created by, and taken from, Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca, and were leaked in 2015 by an anonymous source. The documents contain personal financial information about wealthy individuals and public officials that had previously been kept private. While offshore business entities are legal, some of the Mossack Fonseca shell corporations were used for illegal purposes, including fraud, tax evasion, and evading international sanctions.

Director Soderbergh, whose “The Informant!” shows the U.S. going after agro-business for price fixing, is surely following the political scene closely. Now he uses Meryl Streep in the key role of Ellen Martin, an elderly, biddie-ish woman caught in a tragic boating accident in New York State, suffering the loss of her husband Joseph David Martin (James Cromwell). Expecting to get a settlement from the boat company’s insurance, she learns of skullduggery involving the sale of the insurance company to a shell group, which is to say that the company exists only as a piece of paper and a mailbox somewhere outside of the U.S.

Avoiding broad comedy but instead relying on arch humor, Soderbergh piles on the tales of corruption. Ellen is cheated out of the Las Vegas condo that she wanted: it faced the area in which she had met her husband. Serving as a Greek chorus, Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca, played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, meet us on screen in an array of bespoke suits, representing the law firm catering to the upper one percent, giving these corporations advice on laundering money (hence the picture’s title) avoiding taxes thereby. In the most interesting subplot, a rich, imposing gent originally from Africa cheats on his wife, his daughter threatening to tell her mother that dad has a whole separate married family. She is offered a $20 million company to keep quiet. Did she really get that amount, or is the company worth more like $100? A Chinese official poisons a British businessman, the Chongking police chief “in” on the situation, involved in the bribery. A character in a West Indian country is arrested at airport, fainting when he is confronted by the police.

Soderbergh brings together a group of people more interesting than we in the audience have ever met, all scalawags who evoke our smiles until we realize that each of us is too meek to do anything about it. Meryl Streep provides the picture’s greatest plot twist, waiting until the final minutes to cause us to gasp. For a better understanding of the bribery, tax evasion and money laundering, spend $12.64 at Amazon to get Jake Bernstein’s “Secrecy World,” drawing from millions of leaked documents, explaining how criminals are enabled by authorities who look the other way.

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

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