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.

THE WHITE CROW – movie review

THE WHITE CROW
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Screenwriter: David Hare
Cast: Oleg Ivenko, Adele Exarchopoulos, Ralph Fiennes, Raophel Peronnaz, Chulpan Khamatova, Sergie Polunin, Dalypso Valois
Screened at: SONY, NYC, 3/20/19
Opens: April 26, 2019

Rudolph Nureyev would likely be famous even if he remained with dance troupes in Moscow, but became an icon when he defected to France. Why would anyone want to defect from Mother Russia? Possibly the same reason people risked their lives in the bad old days, most notably when East Germans tried to flee to the West. Communism, in the opinion of many, is an example of social engineering gone wrong. It asks people to conform to an economic way of life that is unnatural. Therefore those governments who call themselves communist—whether they follow orthodox Marxism or not—have to keep control on its residents lest they evacuate en masse from this unnatural environment and make new homes in countries that simply do not need this kind of control.

But what of people who have done well in communist states like the former Soviet Union? Creative people who have become well known, have been educated by the state, and whose vocations are subsidized by the government? Think of Rudolph Nureyev, ascending to the potential of the Bolshoi Ballet, considered good enough to join a group going to Paris to dance as representatives of their proud state. Why would he want to leave everything behind? Strangely enough, we simply do not know even while we are riveted by Ralph Fiennes’ “The White Crow,” flexing his directing muscles for the third time. Sure. Nureyev liked the glitter of Paris, as did his fellow dancers who looked at the Champs Elysees goo-goo eyed. Maybe not all of them were too pleased when the bureaucrats assigned to keep an eye on the troupe gather all passports as they descend from the bus to spend a few days wowing the French. What country in West would think of collecting passports, handing them back only as they are returning to Moscow from the airport?

Then again, “The White Crow” is entertaining enough so we go home not disappointed without the insight that drove us to watch this movie. It’s fragmented, going from Nureyev’s birth on a train of the trans-Siberian railroad, and who was prepared from an early age for a career as a dancer. We watch as he develops an ego, strong enough to refuse to be trained by a teacher who he thinks does not like him, then taking up with Alexander Ivanovich Pushkin (Ralph Fiennes). The principal role is played by Oleg Ivenko, a Ukrainian dancer in his debut as an actor, a handsome fellow playing a man who rejects the communist view that the good of the state is paramount over the desires of the individual.

In Paris Nureyev flirts with Clara Saint (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who is on the rebound after the death of her boyfriend, a woman of some influence given her relationship with the son of André Malraux, who is France’s minister of cultural affairs. While he is staying out late enjoying the entertainments that Paris offers, he causes his handlers anxiety, suspecting that he could become a great embarrassment for the Soviet Union is he decides to defect. He continues his training with Pushkin, played by director Ralph Fiennes with such meekness that we wonder how such a person could inspire a ballet troupe. The poor man’s wimpy personality appears to push Pushkin’s wife Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova) into seducing Nureyev, though the bisexual performer nurses a craving for his roommate Yuri Soloview (Sergei Polunin).

Nureyev shows his temperament, not always held in check, when he feels patronized by a Russian waiter who may suspect that though he and Clara are dining together, the woman has class but the man is from peasant stock. His connection with Clara, a meeting of opposites, could result from her pleasant surprise to be with a man whose style is direct rather than wishy-washy.

The film jumps from the Soviet Union to Paris, with regular intervals shown in desaturated colors of his life as a small boy, who even then demonstrates a passion for dancing. I would have wished for more time spent on Nureyev’s theater performances, as Oleg Ivenko demonstrates everything on stage from adagio to allegro, from grande jeté to pirouette. Still, the scene of greatest drama, actual edge-of-the-seat minutes that you can find on police dramas, occurs when at the airport on the final day in Paris he asks for asylum. The KGB handlers, aware that this could happen, jump into the fray, fighting with the French airport police who with great patriotic fervor announce “This is France!”

Flashbacks do not detract from the continuity of the story, in fact we’re happy to see Maksimilian Grigoriyev depicting an enthusiastic Nureyev at the age of eight. This is a movie with great charm, glorious dancing and high drama, concluding with our excitement to watch a man thumbing his nose, or rather extending the middle finger, to the duplicitous agents of the big, bad Soviet Union.

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

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

GRASS – movie review

GRASS
Cinema Guild
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Hong Sang-soo
Screenwriter: Hong Sang-soo
Cast: Kim Min-hee, Jung Jin-young, Ki Joo-bong, Seo Young-hwa, Kim Sae-byuk, Ahn Jae-hong
Screened at: Metrograph theater, NYC, 4/10/19
Opens: April 19, 2019 at New York’s Metrograph Theater

Martin Scorsese once said that Hong Sang-soo’s movies begin in an unassuming way—(which makes some liken the writer-director to Woody Allen)—but then the unpeeling begins. There’s no way of knowing, then, when a simple conversation between two people, will turn into something both capricious and daunting, as though a given person chatting with others might be as banal as a weather report, but then, a tsunami of rising emotions turn the talk into a fierce dressing down of a partner.

Such is the case with “Grass” whose title, obviously metaphorical and perhaps applying to some shoots growing outside a coffee shop, is mysterious. In fact a better title would be “Soju,” after a Korean alcoholic drink, that loosens people’s tongues and make them utter statements that they may wish they had no said. (Think of emails you’ve sent, regretting your harsh tone two seconds after sending, which you will be unable to retrieve.)

“Grass” has its store of people who are narcissistic and needy, but whose conversations are likely to turn off the people who must listen to the words of these flawed people. Filmed in black and white by Kim Hyung-yu, “Grass,” which embraces the three classical unities of time, plot and space, eavesdrops on four conversations. The chats are followed at a nearby table by Areum (Kim Min-hee), a writer who scratches the conversations out on her Apple laptop. Or perhaps the scenarios are actually created by Areum, who stands in for Hong Sang-soo, who writes as well as directs the film.

At first, two people coming across as either shy or afraid to bring up repressed emotions, are asking “how are you?” questions, avoiding eye contact, until the real subject emerges. The girl (Gong Min-jung) seated across a table from a boy (Ahn Jae-hong), begins yelling, accusing the gent of responsibility for the suicide of a mutual friend. He thinks she’s gone nuts and says so, but in a brief minute or so she calms down, conversing as though the outburst never took place. Similarly,in a chat between two others, a middle-aged actor (Jung Jin-young) seeks a partnership with a younger woman (Kim Sae-byuk), urging her to join him in writing a screenplay. Not exactly Lerner and Lowe or Rodgers and Hammerstein, the girl nixes the suggestion.

An out-of-work actor and would-be writer, the same Kyung-soo (Jung Jin-young), begins a conversation with the writer Areum, hitting on her in an outrageous way by asking her to allow him to observe her at her home for ten days as a model for a future screenplay. Around the room again we find a middle-aged woman, Sung-hwa, (Seo Young-hwa) fending off a proposal of a friend (Ki Joo-bong), who is desperate for a place to live and asks her permission to move into her digs. Obviously that has a much chance to fly as the would-be courtship between Kyung-soo and Kim Sae-byuk).

The film’s supremely catty scene involves Areum’s lunch with her brother Jinho (Shin Seo-kho). She criticizes him in the presence of his older girlfriend Yeonju (Ahn Sun-young). “Why are you thinking of marrying? You don’t even know each other!”

You could predict the writer-director’s trajectory simply by noting the title of his first directorial project, “The Day a Pig Fell into a Well.” You might think that Hong does not have a script prepared well in advance. You would be right: he knocks out a tentative script hours before filming, making changes as he sees fit. His stories generally takes place on peaceful streets far outside Seoul’s business district, in coffee shops and in lobbies of apartment houses. This quaint, charming dramedy played last year at New York’s Film Festival and should be seen by those who take pleasure in scenes of domestic realism.

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

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

FAST COLOR – movie review

FAST COLOR
Code Black
Reviewed for BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Hart
Screenwriter: Julia Hart, Jordan Horowitz
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney, David Strathairn, Christopher Denham
Screened at: Dolby 24, NYC, 3/27/19
Opens: April 19, 2019

Fast Color Movie Poster

Are movies in 2019 heading for the metaphoric and the allegorical? You’d think so after seeing Jordan Peele’s “Us,” which throws symbols at us so fast that we’re glad the film is not in 3D. Where his “Get Out!” was about racism and the white liberals’ hypocrisy, “Us” is about the whole America, which Peele divides into the rich and powerful and the underclass that serves it. “Fast Color” is at base a sci-fi thriller with a few mild aspects of horror, its domestic scene serving largely to make us more aware of the need for men to crush feminism, but it is also about a helicopter parent who smothers her daughter to such an extent that she becomes rebellious and moves away for a long time. Still, it can be enjoyed even by folks who don’t give much of a fig (to coin a metaphor) for symbols, since it shows domestic scenes to which some of us can relate. And for those who like computer graphics/visual effects, director Julia Hart has her abundant visual effects team throw in some bright color, albeit not of the fast kind.

Julia Hart, whose “Miss Stevens” tracks a teacher who shepherds a group to a drama competition (to which I can relate since I arranged similar activities for my high school students), and the upcoming “Stargirl,” about a homeschooled teen who shakes this up in an Arizona high school, may not be dealing with high-school kids in “Fast Color” but her interest remains with young women. The primary focus, and that of her real-life husband Jordan Horowitz who serves as co-writer, is on Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a confused woman in her early thirties who is on the run. Formerly a drug addict, she for the past eight years of so has left her daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney) in the care of Ruth’s mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint).

Without the help of her mother, she is on the run from the government in a dystopian America that has not seen rain for a long time, conjuring up John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” if you will. She has a special power that makes a pursuing government out to haul her in to study her since when she has a seizure, the earth shakes and pictures fall from the wall of her solitary New Mexico town where Bo and Bo’s granddaughter are living. In particular Bill (Christopher Denham), a scientist who will advise Ruth to stop running because she is “hurting people,” has been trying to track her down.

This power has been handed down through the generations, though Bo, who does not get seizures, has a hobby of breaking up objects into molecules and putting them together, shown as she whips her cigarette into its toxic parts and puts it together. Much of the action is like the CGI; on a low key until the final minutes when the sky bursts into colors, the family’s principal trick consisting of taking the sky apart and putting it together into its current, bland blue color. Ultimately Sheriff Ellis (David Strathairn) hopes to track the runaway down, while we in the audience get the story’s principal twist. Yes, there’s something about this fellow that makes him more than just the enforcer of laws, a guy who has no intention of locking up his prey.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw has entertained audiences in “A Wrinkle in Time,” another imaginative tale involving a father’s disappearance in space and the team sent to find him, but you’re probably wondering about her name. Her father, Patrick Mbatha is a Black South African doctor, and her mother Anne Raw, a Caucasian English nurse. The British-born actress delivers nicely, whether causing earthquakes all around her during her seizures, breaking free of the ropes that bind her, or checking into a fleabag motel that charges as much for a huge jug of water as it does for the room, though despite her special powers she is vulnerable almost throughout.

The problem with “Fast Color” is that the story is not solid enough to convince the audience that it serves the transcendent purpose of seeing it as a feminist allegory of three women (yes, even young Lila can make a bowl rise from the table and disappear into a collage of colorful dots) being chased by men who, if they could, deprive the trio of their powers. Nor are we convinced that the behavior of Ruth’s mother, Bo, caused Ruth to disappear from a forlorn home and desert her own daughter for eight years. In short, the tale could have used more flashes of melodrama.

“Fast Color” was filmed by Michael Fimognari exclusively in New Mexico.

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

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

RED JOAN – movie review

RED JOAN
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net with a Rotten Tomatoes link by: Harvey Karten
Director: Trevor Nunn
Screenwriter: Lindsay Shapero based on Jennie Rooney’s novel
Cast: Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Tom Hughes, Ben Miles, Tereza Srbrova
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 3/13/19
Opens: April 19, 2019

Red Joan Movie Poster

Tom Lehrer sang this ironic song in 1965 which goes in part…

First we got the bomb and that was good,
‘Cause we love peace and motherhood.
Then Russia got the bomb, but that’s O.K.,
‘Cause the balance of power’s maintained that way!

The idea that it’s fine with us in the West that Russia got the bomb becomes literally true in Trevor Nunn’s film “Red Joan.” The title character, Joan Stanley (Judi Dench), who is the fictional stand-in for the actual civil servant Melita Norwood, confesses after her arrest in 2000 that she was always a good British citizen though she handed nuclear secrets to Stalin. How so? Disgusted that the U.S. dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she believed that the best way to avoid future nuclear holocausts is to make sure that the two super powers would live together in relative peace. And they would live together in relative peace knowing that it would be self-destructive to drop atomic weapons on each other. And maybe she had a point since, mirabile dictu, throughout the Cold War, neither the U.S. nor the Soviet Union dared to attack each other head-on.

Most of “Red Joan” finds the great Judi Dench in the background, brought back to the limelight now and then but spending most of the story illustrating the way that her youthful self (Sophie Cookson) is recruited by the KGB to transmit nuclear secrets from the labs of Great Britain into the hands of the Soviets. The story involves considerable romantic interludes, first between Joan and Leo Galich (Tom Hughes), a communist firebrand who in a rousing speech notes that as a Jew, he made the mistake of leaving the Soviet Union and going to Germany. Aware of Hitler’s atrocities, he is orating full speed in favor of the Russians. During his affair with Joan Stanley, the latter awed of her new boyfriend’s ability to agitate a crowd, we in the movie audience wonder to what extent he is really in love with Joan and to what extent he is simply using her to transmit documents from her job in a physics lab to Britain’s ally, the Soviet Union.

Still a virgin in 1938, Joan is befriended by Sonia (Tereza Srbova), like Leo a KGB agent, who encourages Joan to pursue her romance with Sonia’s cousin Leo. In that lab, she is an assistant to professor Max Davis (Stephen Campbell Moore) and becomes his lover though he is married to a woman who refuses to give him a divorce. The movie’s opening in the year 2000 finds Joan arrested by MI5, Britain’s CIA equivalent, defended by her lawyer son Nick (Ben Miles). Though a lawyer’s job is to defend clients, Joan’s own son is furious: “How could you do this?” he insists, while reluctantly taking on her case.

“Red Joan” as a spy story is more in line with the brainy types of heroes and villains you’d find in John Le Carre’s novels, books like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “A Legacy of Spies,” and “The Guardian,” weaving past and present. An example involves Peter Guillam, a disciple of George Smiley, now living out his retirement on the south coast of Brittany, then called to account by the British Secret Service about his role in the Cold War. There is nothing James Bond-ish in this film, much as we might secretly wish for explosions more damaging than those between Joan and her attorney son Nick. There is no need even to wonder about Judi Dench’s performance. She is perhaps among greatest actress of her generation, and surprisingly, young Sophie Cookson rises to the occasion with a stunning, understated role as the idealistic 20-year-old who may not have thought of giving secrets to Stalin to provide a balance of power, but because she had become a dedicated communist under Leo’s vivid encouragement.

The king’s English is spoken throughout, so no subtitles are needed for us Americans. Charlotte Walker’s costumes are spot on as is Cristina Crisali’s set design, both eliciting the vibes of the two time periods. Zac Nicholson films all in Cambridgeshire, England. This is a well-cast story, unshowy, that will lead to consider Joan’s quote “I was fighting for the living, I loved my country!” and making up your mind about whether she believed this in spite of being a spy for the Soviet Union for some fifty years. Jennie Rooney’s novel of the same name is available at Amazon for $14.38.

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

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

HAIL SATAN? – movie review

HAIL SATAN?
Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Penny Lane
Cast: Lucien Greaves
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 3/14/19
Opens: April 19, 2019

click for larger (if applicable)

If you go to the movies even rarely you’ll probably encounter a comical scene that finds a man and a woman in bed. The husband comes home early, and the guy in bed says, “It’s not what you think it is.” In a similar vein, “Hail Satan?” is “not what you think it is.” You’re thinking that this is one of the kooky cults that literally worship the devil. Instead you’ll find members of the Hail Satan? Fellowship to be a diverse mixture of humanity, some with tattoos and nose rings and ornate jewelry on their chests, others who are as straight as I am, notably a founder and leader of the cult, Lucien Greaves—a Harvard graduate who inspired groups in thirteen American states, in Canada, and in several European countries. If these people do not worship Lucifer, then what’s the point of giving this name to the organization? There is a point, but it’s not a good one. These good folks could have made their mark by “worshipping” a goat (actually they pretend to do just this), an elephant (Ganesh anyone?), the North Star, the pagan Pan, or anyone but Satan himself (or herself).

You may not believe in the way the Hail Satan? People go about their parodies and metaphors but from my point of view (feel free to disagree) there should be a separation of church. Yes, the First Amendment implies just that, yet beginning in 1864 when religious zeal was at a new height, “In God We Trust” began appearing on American money, and later, in 1956, President Eisenhower had us change our motto from “E Pluribus Unum” to (you guessed it) “In God We Trust.”

Now this is the kind of coinage that the Satanists should oppose, yet I suppose they’d given up on trying to abolish the mention of the Deity on money and in government buildings. The Satanic Temple does not believe the Ten Commandments belongs on government land, and courts have for the most part agreed. Yet if the State of Arkansas insists on putting the plague by the capital building, then the Satanists do counter with their own statue, one of Baphomet, a half-man/half-goat follower of Satan. Founder Greaves set the group’s monument up only to have to cart it away when the festivities were over.

Here they see an opportunity to turn a pro-religion law into their own beliefs. When governor Rick Scott pushed through a bill to permit prayer in Florida schools, the Satanists welcomed this by affirming that students could worship Satan with as much freedom as they would give to God. If you have not realized by now, members of the group are atheists, but people who believe that atheism is either boring or not comprehensive in that this tells you what they do not believe rather than what they do accept. Their tenets include acting with compassion to all creatures, continuing to struggle for justice, asserting the inviolability of our bodies (which makes them pro-choice), respecting the freedom of others including the freedom to offend, using science to test beliefs, acting to rectify mistakes, embracing wisdom and justice over all written and spoken words.

Christian groups have turned up, it seems, whenever Greaves’ acolytes garner media attention, some shouting that “you’re all going to hell”—to which one Satanists responds, in effect,” I look forward to that with excitement.” In fact the presence of Christian groups gives more publicity to the Satanists than they otherwise could have wished. The documentary plays up the interaction between two competitive groups—one believing in the First Amendment, the other believing that the U.S. is a Christian country. (The U.S. is probably 90%+ Christian but that does not nor should not make us a Christian country.)

This is a fun film with serious messaging, the humor and wit of the atheist group making it more than watchable. Director Penny Lane is in her métier since she had made films like “Nuts!” about the mostly true story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire with his goat-testicle impotence cure; and “The Pain of Others,” a documentary about Morgellons, a mysterious illness whose sufferers say they have parasites under the skin, long colored fibers emerging from lesions,

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

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

STOCKHOLM – movie review

STOCKHOLM
SGM and Dark Star
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Robert Budreau
Screenwriter: Robert Budreau, inspired by a 1974 New Yorker magazine article “The Bank Drama”
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Ethan Hawke, Mark Strong, Christopher Heyerdahl, Bea Santos, Thorbjørn Harr
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 3/15/19
Opens: April 12, 2019

Stockholm Movie Poster

If you’re American, you may have thought that the Patty Hearst case was the first time the concept of Stockholm Syndrome was used.
The most famous case of Stockholm Syndrome in America occurred in 1974 when Patricia Campbell Hearst was kidnapped by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, which took her hostage to gain the release of some imprisoned members of the group. She bonded with her captors, called her granddad, William Randolph Hearst, a fascist, took up a machine gun and robbed businesses and made explosive devices, all allegedly in voluntary service to the SLA. However the first time the concept was used was in 1973 involving a hostage situation in the main bank of Stockholm, Sweden.

Budreau, whose “Born to Be Blue” about the reimagining of Chet Baker’s jazz comeback in the sixties, now departs wholly from that biographical subgenre to tackle what is unlikely the first case in which a hostage bonds with her captor, but is the first time that the “Syndrome” term was used. Ethan Hawke departs from his restrained performance as a minister grappling with despair in “First Reformed” to go over the top, and Noomi Rapace shucks her over the top performance as the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” to play a meek bank clerk. “Stockholm” is off and running when Lars Nystrom (Ethan Hawke) adjusts his fake, hippie-style hair, combs his mustache, strolls into Stockholm’s central bank, removes a machine gun from his duffel, fires a few shots at the ceiling, and give every impression that he’s out for money. He does ask for a million, but his real goal is to get the cops under chief Mattsson (Christopher Heyerdahl) to free his bank robbing pal Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong) from jail.

As the two criminals settle in for what will be five days and the police occupy the second floor of the bank, Lars both terrorizes and comforts his two hostages, Claire (Bea Santos) and Bianca Lind (Noomi Rapace). As a wife and mother, Bianca would not seem the type of person who would be taken in by Lars, except that Lars is the kind of person that women say they’d like to have fun with but not marry, while Bianca’s husband Christopher Lind (Thorbjørn Harr) is the groomed, steady type, the marriageable kind, taking care of the two kids during the hostage crisis. In the film’s most absurd moment, when Christopher shows up at the bank to see what his wife is up to, Bianca patiently gives him a fish recipe so he can return home and feed himself and the little ones.

This is the kind of movie that may disappoint thrill seekers who think it will be another “Dog Day Afternoon,” but will encourage a potential audience interested in human psychology, particularly in the surprising ways that people can react when in a situation that should inspire nothing but terror. Ethan Hawke and Noomi Rapace play off each other, convincing us in the audience that in spite of all logic, they get to do some smooching as the crisis proceeds day by day.

Almost all action takes place inside the bank, which could allow for some playwright in the future to consider the plot for the legitimate stage. The inspiration for the movie came from a New Yorker magazine article called The Bank Drama published Nov. 25, 1974 about Jan-Erik Olsson’s takeover of Sveriges Kreditbank in Stockholm, where the hostage-taker and an accomplice held 4 hostages for 6 days in Aug. 1973.

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

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

 

DOGMAN – movie review

DOGMAN
Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Matteo Garrone
Screenwriter: Ugo Chiti, Maurizio Raucci, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso
Cast: Marcello Fonte, Edoardo Pesce, Alida Baldari Calabria, Nunzia Schiano, Adamo Dionisi
Screened at: Dolby 24, NYC, 4/2/19
Opens: April 12, 2019

Dogman Movie Poster

“Dogman” is the movie that won the “Palm Dog Best Canine Cast” during the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2018. If that’s not a reason to run to the theater I don’t know what is. Maybe I do: the picture also gave Marcello Fonte the Best Actor award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this year and the aforementioned Cannes Festival as well. If you’re still not convinced, consider whether you’d like the films made by Matteo Garrone. The director’s well-named “Gomorrah” a few years back deals with the Napolitano mafia, is full of violence (obviously), and has the additional scare for audiences when the title “Gomorrah” shows up on covering the entire screen.

You’re still with me? You have no problem with extreme violence? And maybe you like dogs enough to watch canines of all sizes getting groomed? But you’re queasy when one chihuahua is tossed into a freezer praying to be rescued and defrosted, especially if his savior could be the Cannes Film Festival’s Best Actor? You’re set for an interesting time at the movies.

The tale focuses primarily on Marcello (Marcello Fonte), a milquetoast, an easily bullied fellow, who makes a living grooming dogs in a godforsaken shop called Dogman in a sh*thole of a town outside Naples. He has a daughter of about nine years, Alida (Alida Baldari Calabria), who is the most mature character in the movie, regularly promised by her dad to take her on a trip to the Red Sea but settling for scuba-diving in a nearby watering hole. He wants to fulfill this dream and is lured into selling cocaine to make the needed money, and he is also more or less forced into more criminal activity by the town bully, ex-boxer Simone (Edoardo Pesce), a bruiser of a guy that some in the community would like to kill. This Simoncino is such a brute—I hesitate to use the term “animal” unless you compare him to the pit bull that opens the movie ready to tear into Marcello’s throat—that in one scene he virtually kills his mother, (Nunzia Schiano) with an outrageous bear hug. Still, she deserves the treatment for tossing her dear boy’s cocaine into the air (though Marcello is forced to sweep it up).

When Simone insists that wimpy Marcello take part in robbing Marcello’s friend Franco (Adamo Dionisi) who runs a gold-buying service next door to Dogman, the stage is set for a disaster that will bring Marcello down and lead to an act of vengeance that has unintentional consequences.

Nicolaj Brüel’s lenses capture the action in Caserta, Campania, Lazio and Rome, though the principal location probably had its last batch of tourists during the time of the Caesars. There is an indication that metaphoric use is made of the town since it’s almost inconceivable that anyone in the culture-rich nation of Italy would live there—and maybe (metaphor alert) nobody does. “Dogman” was Italy’s Oscar candidate for movies opening in 2018, though the rich assortment of imports made it impossible for the pic to get a nomination. Subtitles are clear, as the only words of English are spoken to a dog as in “sit” and “stay,” though those are about the last words you’d use in the presence of Simone.

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

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