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.

SCREENED OUT – movie review

SCREENED OUT
Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jon Hyatt
Screenwriter: Jon Hyatt, Karina Rotenstein
Cast: Jon Hyatt, Alicia Dupuis, Jim Steyer, Syd Bolton, Adam Alter, Jean Twenge, Hilarie Cash, Alex Pang, Ramsay Brown, Mihael Rich, Nir Eyal, Nicholas Kardaras
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/22/20
Opens: May 26, 2020

Screened Out (2020)

One glaring omission from Jon Hyatt’s blandly informative but virtually humorless documentary “Screened Out” is the name Donald J. Trump. CBS news the other day reported that since he took office, he has sent out 50,000 tweets. Was he stupid before computers and the internet were even invented, or did he become the way he is because of all the screen time that he indulges? But wait: his addiction to Twitter may accord with  Hyatt’s thesis that excessive time on smart [sic] phones and computers will mess with your brain, so to the president’s credit, he announced that because Twitter is now fact-checking his tweets for accuracy and truth, he will do what he can to shut the company down. You go, man. Less Twitter, more time for engaging directly with life.

While I do not even have a Twitter account, I was not born into the computer age, so I cannot fully comprehend that men and women below the age of thirty (when home computers started to takeoff) are so dependent on this technology. On Memorial Day, the folks spending six to nine hours daily “talking” to their thousand Facebook friends, retweeted a video of a woman who lost her six-figure job because her racist comments were caught. Thirty million people had seen the altercation when the video went viral (Ugh, that word again). Heaven known how much time many of these followers are spending on their devices rather than looking flesh-and-blood people in the eye and talking to them or gaining genuine wisdom about life by reading “War and Peace” instead.

Other points left out by the doc include the more concrete danger of distraction on your screens while driving your car, resulting in giving some pedestrians nasty bumps, or that of great armies of mostly young people glued to their phones and slamming into people on the sidewalk or falling from cliffs. Still, co-writer and director Hyatt knows whereof he speaks since he was (is?) himself a screen addict. Many years earlier he would play out in the yard with kids his own age, having a ball, learning how to relate directly to others while getting the sufficient amount of vitamin D that others are missing. He now spends more time reading the fiction that was crowded out because of his addiction while his wife has been unable to kick the screen habit. Imagine guys and gals in college assigned to read “Jane Eyre” but glancing every ten minutes at the phone when hearing the buzz or ring or theme song from “Gone with the Wind.” As one talking head advises, multi-tasking does not work.

Among the gems delivered from the documentary which I was watching on my computer when I could have been re-reading “Jane Eyre,” is the concept of intermittent rewards. When a pigeon gets a pellet of food each time it (or he or she) pecks at a button, the bird is rewarded. Soon, however, the pigeon gives up, winded. Everything’s too predictable. When the pigeon does not know which peck at the button will release the food (the mechanism is programmed to release the pellet intermittently), the bird retains excitement. In that regard slot machines keep people glued not because they win a fortune every time they swing the one arm—that would be boring albeit enriching—they are fascinated by wondering when or if the quarters will bounce into the slot. So is it that when people hear the ping of the phone (or the opening bars of “Twist and Shout” as sung by Ferris Bueller), they will salivate at the thought that the texter’s message may be more interesting than their Social Studies teacher’s talk on the Congress of Vienna.

The documentary barely presents another point of view, so intent is Hyatt to list and elaborate the many dangers of social media and other plagues. He might have said that video games improve cognitive function and motor skills, and that at least the youths are reading words. On the other hand, teen suicide is way up since technology allows them to compare their miserable lives with the bragging from their peers who are equally miserable. Then again there’s bullying by callow adolescents, while in my day you could just grab a kid from the street who is half your weight and show him how much better you are.

How’s this for irony. When this movie shown on your computer ends, you get to click, or not click, the button “like.” I thought and debated and meditated and clicked it.

71 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B- (near absence of animation)
Overall – B

STAGE: THE CULINARY INTERNSHIP – movie review

STAGE: THE CULINARY INTERNSHIP
Butternut Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Abby Ainsworth
Screenwriter: Abby Ainsworth
Cast: Andoni Luís Adúriz, Kim Joon, Alexandre Castelló, Pawel Poljanski, Sara Merendes
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/22/20
Opens: May 29, 2020

Stage: The Culinary Internship

Technology changes, forcing people to give up some of what they learn while training for a career, but there is one thing they can’t take away from you, and that is the ability to think and feel. That is the message that oversees what goes on in God’s country in the Northeast corner of Spain, where thirty applicants are chosen out of fifteen hundred to take part in a nine-month program as unpaid interns at the Mugaritz Restaurant. In this brief documentary writer-director Abby Ainsworth gives her movie audience a look at what goes on in the kitchen of one of the world’s top fifty restaurants, as chef interns with an average age of twenty-four come together to learn technique, of course, but more importantly to put their very souls into the preparation of food.

Among the words of wisdom: “It’s better to show disgust at a dish than to feel nothing at all.” Those who persevere through the rigorous training program are letting us in the audience know that while talent is important, stick-to-ivness is mandatory. In other words, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice.”)

Abby Ainsworth, whose envious career immerses her in the food industry, tries to “find the beauty of a story outside its face value” as she states in production notes. While she spends a considerable time in a restaurant kitchen watching the thirty interns prepare dishes with designs that would make even top French chefs envious, she is as interested in showing us what these interns are made of, allowing them to discuss their backgrounds with one another, principally how they became passionate about cooking.

The Mugaritz Restaurant (“muga” means “border”), located in Errenteria, Guipúzcoa in Spain’s Basque country, is one of the world’s most celebrated places to chow down. Its founder and chef, Andoni Luís Adúriz, closes the restaurant four months of each year, when much of the training of interns takes place. The movie title “Stage” is a French term meaning “unpaid position.” focusing on two-star Michelin restaurant’s program of mentoring the great chefs of tomorrow.

Ainsworth concentrates on four interns. Kim Joon from South Korea has served in his country’s army and speaks fluent English but is likely under stress because he must follow instructions in Spanish. Alexandre Castelló from Spain has experience cooking in his father’s family restaurant. Pawel Poljanski is from Poland, failing three times to be accepted to the stage program, but he perseveres and, though accustomed to working on his own must acclimate to the group of twenty-nine others. Sara Merendes from Spain wonders why she majored in graphic design in college when her real métiér is cooking.

All are competing to be among a select circle to be chosen for an advanced position in the restaurant’s Research and Development program, which brings us to how this restaurant is probably unlike any for which you’ve dined. The food consists admittedly of dishes that a diner may either hate or love. The design is avant-garde given that some of the dishes include aged mole leaves and bone marrow; natto pie with palo cartado; snails in ceviche over frozen teff; pinecut kagami; and the one that impresses me the most, oyster frozen kiss. This last item, which Aduriz’s wife called “cold,” looks bizarre, but so does almost everything that these interns in their mid-twenties are preparing. (Incidentally, they do not use gloves.)

On a technical note, the music in the soundtrack is intrusive. This is not a thriller and no music at all would for me be a desideratum. English subtitles are available throughout with Spanish and English each the lingua franca of the production.

While the internship does not pay, you get room and board—and my, what board and what a view from the room!—so presumably you need to lay out only for air fare and for occasional personal needs. Feel free to make reservations at the restaurant, and take a trip to Spain’s autonomous Basque country. You can call 34-943-52-24-55, pay a 50€ deposit based on the expected cost (without drinks) of 220€. Then head to Aldura ladea 20 in Errenteria and enjoy.

78 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF – movie review

THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF
Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Benjamin Ree
Cast: Barbora Kysilkova, Karl-Bertil Nordland
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/29/20
Opens: May 22, 2020

The title thief of this unusual and arresting (so to speak) documentary sometimes wears a shirt that says “Crime Pays.” Not surprisingly, it really does, because Karl-Bertil Nordland not only avoids prison when he is nailed as a thief but he gets some life-affirming lessons from the victim, Barbora Kysilkova. Emerging from Benjamin Ree’s film (the director’s sophomore feature follows his “Magnus” from four years back, a study of a Norwegian chess prodigy) is that the relationship drawn here could serve to motivate meetings between criminals and victims together, the former trying to understand the bad guy’s motivation while the crook learns that the person he harmed has actual feelings.

Largely a two-hander though Ree brings in side characters such as the painter’s girlfriends and the artist’s partner, “The Painter and the Thief, organized in a helter-skelter way (that’s a compliment in this case), focuses on the Karl-Bertil Nordland and Barbora Kysilkova’s meetings and chats together, then splitting them up to watch each acting and reacting as separate individuals, each with their own difficulties and moods.

Of course criminals are not the only people with severe problems. Barbora describes how in Berlin she was abused by her boyfriend, made to feel insignificant and unworthy of attention in the art world or anywhere else. For his part Karl-Bertil Nordland has more serious problems as a junkie who in one scenes scores heroin while on the way to rehab and had already spent eight years in jail. And speaking of jail you’ve got to admire the Norwegians, benefactors of a social democratic state (a nanny state in the words of some of our right-wing friends). The prison provides Karl with a private room and a desk, a modern phone, a nice bed, all bringing to mind Michael Moore visit to a Norwegian prison and a similar look at the country-club atmosphere from “Breaking the Cycle.”

Karl gets a sentence of an additional year not because he stole a painting but because he violated the penal code in a vehicular accident that could have paralyzed him. For her part Barbora comes across at times as emotionally paralyzed. She is three months behind in rent and could afford the produce from a supermarket only by asking the checker to remove the grapes.

Special praise for the filmmaker who evokes natural performances from the duo while keeping the appropriate distance. The film is mostly in English with considerable Norwegian, highlighting the idea that Norwegians, and perhaps most Europeans, learn English as a second language given the difficulty of understanding the world in a tongue spoken only in one country.

103 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

TOWERING TASK – movie review

A TOWERING TASK: The Story of the Peace Corps
First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alana DeJoseph
Screenwriter: Shana Kelly
Cast: Annette Bening
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/30/20
Opens: May 22, 2020

A Towering Task

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “If you are in your twenties and you are not idealistic, you have no heart. If you are in your forties and are idealistic, you have no brains.” The idealism in me began when I, a 22-year-old political lefty, cheered JFK’s founding of the Peace Corps. (Also volunteers doing Peace Corps work were in most cases not threatened with the draft to Vietnam.) I voted for JFK not only for his generally progressive views (forget about Castro) but particularly for his plan to found the Peace Corps. Even now as a “senior” who should know better, I confess to having no brains.

After passing several look-sees into my qualities, I was accepted and went with my then wife to Georgetown University to get preparation to teach English to college students in Bogota. Despite being chosen to spend time in a big city, I got more shots from the nurses than Bonnie and Clyde as though they were preparing us to hit the shanties of Sierra Leone. After aceing the classes in Spanish and U.S. history, we found out in the middle of training that the budget was drastically cut. We were sent home, older but scarcely wiser people.

The Peace Corps still exists despite our turn to faux-populist nationalism, and in fact has passed muster with chief executives as far right as Ronald Reagan, Dick Nixon and George Bush. Why should our pals on the far right support a hippie organization? They noted that the Peace Corps was not only an outlet for idealism but a smart geopolitical move. If mostly young Americans are sent to 60+ countries that requested our help—teaching English, scientific farming, building schools—everyone would love us and we would no longer be subjects covered by Lederer and Burdick’s 1958 book “The Ugly American.”

Now, Alana DeJoseph, employing Shana Kelly’s script, has a new documentary to comment on a program that everyone knew about during the JFK administration but is scarcely publicized today. In this documentary, one that does not match the humor of a Michael Moore or a Morgan Spurlock but makes up for the deficiency with heartfelt anecdotes by talking heads. They include veterans of the two-year stint in places that include even Moscow, and former directors of the Peace Corps like my friend and former head of the New York City Council Carol Bellamy. This is DeJoseph’s her freshman direction of a documentary that allows cinematographer Vanessa Carr to splash pictures across the screen exploring places that have benefitted by America’s idealistic people. Archival films as well, of course.

In one African country where people from the slums never got mail because their streets and addresses had no names, the Peace Corps on premises fixed what should have been a simple problem handled by the local government. In another area, a woman who majored in music gives help to a fellow who has been farming for eighty years. Some denizens of areas like Thailand and Cuba had suspicions that some corps people were CIA, but even Fidel Castro, who licked his chops hoping to uncover plots, had to admit that he did not find a single CIA henchman.

The pictures that we see are all positive, and maybe we should not expect a cinema team enthusiastic about the agency to be critical. As you might expect, local people, for example in Africa, crowd around U.S. volunteers in shows of friendship and trust. Even during the Vietnam War, some locals may have been surprised that the American volunteers were neutral, though most probably leaned against our government’s misguided war policies. In one Central American country volunteers witnessed the outbreak of a Communist revolution, yet even the rebels respected and did not harm the Americans.

Among the talking heads are past directors of the Peace Corps and writers of books about the agency. Given its successes, not even Trump threatened to slash the funding. After the movie was made, the coronavirus broke out everywhere and for the first time in history almost all volunteers were called home. There are currently 7800 Peace Corps volunteers in 140 countries. “A Towering Task” is the first doc to cover the institution. It does the job well.

107 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE LAST VERMEER – movie review

THE LAST VERMEER
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dan Friedkin
Screenwriter: James McGee, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby based on the book “The Man Who Made Vermeers” by Jonathan Lopez
Cast: Guy Pearce, Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 3/19/20
Opens: May 22, 2020

It’s about time that the film industry has come around to portraying a first class melodrama of one of the great forgeries in art history, one of many that allowed Hans van Meegeren to amass enough of a fortune to buy 52 properties and 15 country homes throughout Europe. Van Meegeren’s story has is covered in an elaborate Wikipedia essay, a fellow well known to the residents of the Netherlands but until now unfamiliar to the average American. “The Last Vermeer” is adapted from a book by Jonathan Lopez, “The Man Who Made Vermeers,” available on Amazon, now brought to life before cinematographer Rami Adefarasin lenses with all the splendor of Fort Widley in Portsmouth, England and Dordrecht, the Netherlands.

The film should cast Dan Friedkin in the limelight as a first-time director with a potential future in uncovering the lives of people as colorful as Van Meegeren, who thanks to this picture will allow us in the U.S. to dig further into aspects of the Third Reich rarely illuminated before. This film is graced by a stunning performance from Guy Pearce in the role of the forger who must have been thankful that he did not make the cut as a grade-A painter, but who amassed a fortune of thirty million dollars (that’s in 1943) by swindling the number 2 man in Hitler’s stable, art lover Hermann Göring. Implied in the tale is the certainty that if Göring knew he was taken advantage of, he would have had Van Meegeren shot. Then again, some of Van Meegeren’s countrymen might have done the deed given that Dutchmen who collaborated with the Nazis were tied behind a pole in a central square and shot before a mass of citizens screaming epithets.

The two central characters are Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) and Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang). The movie, like the book, emphasizes the captain’s Jewish background given his disgust with the Nazis for stealing hundreds of masterworks in the art world when Jews escaping the Nazis in the Netherlands as in most of the rest of Europe had to sell their collections for bargain basement prices. Presumably van Meegeren acquired these paintings partly for his collection, but always conspiring to sell them and accumulate vast riches. What Göring did not know was that the painting of “Christ and the Adulteress” that he bought from van Meegeren was not an original Vermeer and that in fact Vermeer had not been credited with the work at all. One must wonder—though the film does not—why Göring could not check on the complete list of the works of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) where he would discover that no such title exists.

The film is bogged down by a large number of characters, most if not all might be unfamiliar to American viewers. Otherwise the story involves throughout with several melodramatic touches, culminating in a dramatic courtroom scene presided over the three judges, with the Dutch people gathered outside seemingly favorable to van Meegeren as they credit him with swindling the Nazis. On the other hand the judges and the prosecutor are adamant about prosecuting the forger and giving him a death sentence, as they consider him a fellow who enriched himself by collaborating with Nazi bigwigs.

The women in the story get short exposure, lost in the maze of personages, including the forger’s ex-wife and his mistress, while Piller, a handsome Dutch fellow with a clear, penetrating voice, has his own bedmates. Yet Guy Pearce, well known to American audiences for roles in “Mary Queen of Scots,” “The Catcher Was a Spy” and as F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Genius” takes a role in which he is almost unrecognizable, giving support to Claes Bang, recently seen in the wonderful “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” which also deals with the world of painting.

An epilogue that tries to imitate some of the novels of John Grisham—wherein a winning case unravels in the final pages—is unconvincing, dealing with a suggestion that the Dutch painter indeed collaborated with Hitler himself.

117 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THEY CALL ME DR. MIAMI – movie review

THEY CALL ME DR. MIAMI
Cargo Film & Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jean-Simon Chartier
Cast: Michael Salzhauer as Dr. Miami
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/1/20
Opens: May 14, 2020

Let’s say you walk into a medical arts building to take care of an infected wound on your hand. You pass by a group of medical offices and on the way you can’t help noticing that one office housing a surgeon has a large colorful sign “Make Butts not War.” Would you make a run for it, thinking the entire building may be loco? Would you whip out your i-phone to call the authorities? You’re thinking: maybe there’s a reason for the sign, so to assure yourself you open the door and find a few young women laughing and photographing the surgeon with material that will appear on Snapchat. You’re convinced. Something’s going on here.

But wait. Is there any chance that you, a resident of South Florida, had not even heard of Dr. Salzhauer? No chance. You recall the name and feel more at ease. But you’re not the only person who thought something was wrong. There are important people who even now might like to shut down the doctor’s practice, and Jean-Simon Chartier gives some Salzhauer negative reactions. Never mind that he is already world famous, as big a name even in Antigua—where women unhappy about their appearance travel to South Florida to get a procedure—as Dr. Oz is in our own country.

Do you think it’s right for a surgeon to create rap videos, culturally appropriating part of African-American culture to advertise his name and practice, and to clown around with various audiences including his own assistants and other young women who crowd around him in his office as though he were a rock star? The ethical implications—that perhaps a man of medicine should not be doing rap and sending videos through Snapchat—are given short shrift, with just one physician given time to testify his concern to the camera, but maybe he should be written off as an envious fellow with a short sense of humor.

I would tell him what Salzhauer himself states in this intriguing, entertaining documentary, one which breaks new ground on the subject of plastic surgery, that is: it makes no difference what a person does for entertainment provided that he or she is competent in the profession. (Think of Trump: he clowns around too, but is he competent)?

Salzhauer is one of the men who would be loved by the Lubavitcher folks here in Brooklyn who go around asking people on the street “Are you Jewish?, invite them into a van called a Mitzvah tank, and try to upgrade their religion from secular to Orthodox. Indeed we see several clips of the plastic surgeon laying Tefillen, clothing himself with a Tallit, and davening in fluent Hebrew. He had upgraded himself from Reform or Conservative or even secular and is married with kids to an Orthodox wife. His home life is as enviable as his office politics, his spacious home serving to give us a short piano recital from one of his accomplished kids, even allowing us to witness a brit on an 8-day old baby.

If you like entertainment but recoil at seeing close-up images of tummy-tucks, breast augmentation, and particularly butt enhancement, you will get that too, but the short 76 minutes are taken up mostly with an exploration of the doc’s personality. By the way, I understand how women may want breast augmentation, but here they seem to want bigger butt. Shouldn’t it be the opposite, with women requesting butt-tucks?

76 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE TRAITOR – movie review

THE TRAITOR
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Screenwriters: Marco Bellochio, Ludovica Rampoldi, Valia Santela, Francesco Piccolo
Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Luigi Lo Cascio, Fausto Russo Alesi, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Fabrizio Ferracane, Nicola Calì
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/8/20
Opens: May 12, 2020

What is most impressive about “The Traitor” is that this film perhaps more than any other presents the true story of the Cosa Nostra. Marco Bellochio, whose “Sweet Dreams” focuses on a child whose idyllic childhood is crushed by the death of his mother, paints on a broader canvas in directing and co-writing “The Traitor.” “Il Traditore,” the original Italian name of his current offering, hones in on one person, Tommasco Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino), who is responsible more than any other informant for destroying the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, not because he is a saint but because he did not approve of the mob’s increasingly violent manner. For him, cigarette smuggling appears sufficient enough, but when the organization moves into heroin pushing and members of his own family are targeted by cold blooded bosses like Pippo Calò (Fabrizio Ferracane) and Totò Riina (Nicola Calì), Buscetta turns informer.

All names are actual in this biopic of the title traitor, including that of Judge Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi), who took Buscetta’s testimony and, like others on the side of the law, treated the informer well. Buscetta’s testimony brought other would-be informers out of the woodwork to turn state’s evidence in a trial that lasted 1986-1992. As you might expect, since Bellocchio and his co-writers Ludovica Rampoldi, Valia Santela and Francesco Piccolo are dealing with biography, the movie is not as commercial as “The Godfather Part I,” meaning that there are no horse’s heads under the bedcovers and only a minimum of gunplay and explosions.

The hostility between the old mafia (which includes Buscetta) and the Corleone faction led by Totò Riina is almost as intense as that between our current Democratic and Republican Parties, but unlike our own political chaos, the Italians find a way to call a truce. Meanwhile Buscetta moves with his family to Rio, but the plot thickens when he learns that his boys, now in their twenties, are missing.

Truces do not last long. When warfare continues between the two mafia organizations, Buscetta, still in Rio, is arrested by a Swat team of the Italian army, who are then unable to coax a confession out of him even when they dangle his third wife from a chopper. Instead he is extradited to Italy to face Judge Falcone and is treated like a rock star, perceived as the kingpin not to push drugs but to rat on the Cosa Nostra. When the big shots are arrested, they are put behind a cage in a large Italian courtroom, which houses the defendants in a cage, all of whom taunt the traitor particularly with what the Sicilians consider the ultimate insult, “cuckold.” Ultimately Buscetta rats out a prominent Italian politician, and he is given witness protection in the U.S. where he must look over his shoulder even when shopping for food.

The acting all around is appropriately scary, the audience probably feeling the paranoia during the closing scenes when Buscetta notes that he doesn’t give a crap any more if he is taken out by the remnants of the Italian mafia. Great use of operatic music when appropriate, and at two and one-half hours the picture never loses its puls ating momentum.

150 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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