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.

CYRANO – movie review

CYRANO

United Artists
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Joe Wright
Screenwriter: Erica Schmidt based on the musical by Erica Schmidt and the play by Edmond Rostand
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn, Bashir Salahuddin
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/5/21
Opens: December 17, 2021

What the world needs now, albeit not as much as that fourth shot of Pfizer, is a crowd-pleasing musical, preferably with songs that do not imitate the wonderful but by now overdone music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. “Cyrano” fills the bill, a reimaging with music of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play which takes place in France and is filmed in Sicily by Seamus McGarvey. Its director, Joe Wright, can stage classics, known by many for his “Pride and Prejudice” (2005) and “Anna Karenina (2012). The big schnozz of the title character is out, with Peter Dinklage’s four-and-a-half feet of height substituting for a man who believes he has no chance with the city’s greatest beauty. Erica Schmidt, who has been married to Dinklage for the past sixteen years, wrote the music and screenplay in a musical first presented at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut.

If you’re about my age and a fan of great musicals, you might have seen Jose Ferrer’s Oscar-winning performance in 1950. Younger people may have caught Gerard Depardieu in 1990, and who would want to skip a look at Steve Martin who comes along in 1987?

Complete with swordfights—the kind that Shakespeare’s groundlings applauded in the Bard’s day even if they could not understand the words—the current version adds songs, nothing memorable the day after, and a story about a handsome but tongue-tied man, Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in love with Roxanne (Haley Bennett), but unable to win her because of her need for passionate lover letters. Enter Cyrano (Peter Dinklage), who cannot even think of expressing his love for the beautiful woman with a lovely singing voice lest he be humiliated by a certain rejection. Instead, he forges love letters, gets them signed by Christian, evoking returns from the romantic Roxanne who had fallen in love at first sight with Christian during a theater event that serves as the highlight of the musical. One date with Christian, however, could have ended the anticipated affair given the man’s lack of facility with the French language.

Rostand knew how to dispense ultimately with Christian by sending him off to the front in one of France’s chronic wars, but we use him and his fellow soldiers to deliver songs based on letters sent home before the big battle. All the wit, passion, and the love for language comes through with honors in a musical that should make more of an impact on the modern audience than might the original words-only play. Dinklage is more than credible as a master swordsman and poet, a Renaissance man whose character lived during that artistic period in Europe. We can predict the finale long before we see it. After all what audience would be happy to see the great Cyrano with a broken heart that could last for a lifetime?

124 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE POWER OF THE DOG – movie review

THE POWER OF THE DOG

Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Jane Campion
Screenwriter: Jane Campion, based on Thomas Savage’s novel
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/3/21
Opens: December 1, 2021

The Power of the Dog

Have you ever ridden a horse? If you’re like me, a city dweller, you may have had few opportunities to do so. As a New Yorker I remember that decades ago I took some lessons on Ocean Parkway, right in the middle of Brooklyn where there was a horse path. But it was not the same as riding in wide open spaces. “The Power of the Dog,” set in Montana in 1925, features the same wide open spaces that may be there today as well. The principal characters are ranchers, which means they work hard, but measures well when compared to easy but dull office work. Instead of sitting in a chair all day setting yourself up for an early heart attack, you spend most of your time outside, maybe running cattle. Annie Proulx, in an afterword to Thomas Savage’s novel of the same name, notes “it’s a man’s world of cattle, sheep, horses, dogs, guns, fences and property…men were valued for their abilities with horses. Most ranch diets were home-raised, rustled or hunted meat, potatoes, beans, and coffee swallowed black.” Now there’s a welcome break from our daily anxieties about cholesterol, fat, carbs and sugar!

As we see from Ari Wegner’s awesome cinematography—which in one stretch shows what looks like hundreds of cattle being driven to the railroad perhaps for a trip to Chicago—that this was a land without paved roads, television or radio. No hot showers, telephones or planes. This was the world of novelist Thomas Savage for twenty-one years, so he wrote what he knew. It may be odd that Jane Campion directed such a story of such a world given her “In the Cut” about the culture of Americans in Europe, so apparently unlike Savage, she is directing a world that she had not known.

The culture of ranch life abounds, focusing on two well-to-do ranch owners Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his brother George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) who are called “sir” by the dozen men who work for them and who share fried chicken meals in a local restaurant. They are like so many brothers you may know with completely different personalities. Phil is the Marlboro man; coarse, shunning baths but swimming in the local river; never without boots and spurs which click along as he walks around the living quarters. George looks is more the guy who goes to town to settle business matters with a suit, shirt and bow tie. George takes so much crap from his brother that we wonder how to has time to shovel the manure away from his clothing, but he accepts his fate with a reasonably good spirit.

The only person Phil admits to liking is the late Broncho Henry who taught him ranching. One day while the men are dining in the local saloon run by the widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst) who is helped by her lanky, effeminate son Peter (Smit-McPhee), two events occur. One is the merciless ribbing that Peter takes from Phil to the delight of the men. The other is the brief courtship between George and Rose. Soon enough the dandy rancher and modest proprietor marry—without inviting Phil. This, together with something in Phil’s character about which we learn later, leads to a more damaging ribbing. Phil, believing that Rose married for George’s money, rides her (so to speak) to such an extent that she becomes an alcoholic who one day she passes out in the field.

A perverse tension mounts even more when Phil suddenly becomes the gentle older man to young Peter and wonder: what’s going on? Is Phil looking to get something from the effeminate fellow? Is there genuine, growing affection, or is Phil playing a game but without the outward hostility? The end comes suddenly. Implications are given, the film audience hopefully catching on quickly, a conclusion that leads to Peter’s reading of Psalm 22 in the Bible which goes,

“Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;  save me from the horns of the wild oxen.”

The person is crying out to God for help against his enemies’ taunts (and presumably attacks by a vicious ancestor of the pit bull) and ultimately praises the Lord for rescuing him. Do we understand from the psalm that Peter has been oppressed for long periods and seeks deliverance? Or is there something about Phil that has secretly driven him half-crazy, oppressed by his own inner needs?

This film plays with inner demons, something that literature is usually better at portraying. Though Peter is the obvious choice of the oppressed man in the psalm, Phil emerges as the more damaged individual. Rose, too, has been hurt by the loss of her husband and is now tormented as she looks at a life that gives her more access to wealth but less inner peace. Jane Campion has done a solid job of converted the nuances of the novel to the screen in a well-crafted film enjoying solid ensemble performances particularly form Cumberbatch in the lead role, easily changing the king’s English to the rhythms of the American West.

127 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

C’MON C’MON – movie review

C’MON, C’MON

A24
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Mike Mills
Screenwriter: Mike Mills
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Woody Norman, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, Jaboukie Young-White
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/01/21
Opens: November 19, 2021

Can you do this?

When kids are in elementary school, there is the obligatory day that their fathers or mothers are invited into the classroom to tell the class what they do. The object, of course, is to get children into the habit of thinking of the future. Which parent would I be like? Would I love her job as much as she does? Then inevitably, someone will come around to each child to ask about the little one’s ambitions for the future. And just as inevitably, the answer is: an astronaut (probably number 1); a police officer; a fire fighter. Maybe nowadays they would say computer coder, but nobody aspires to be the guy stuck all day in a New York kiosk of metro station selling newspapers, Mars bars and juice.

In “C’mon C’mon,” Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), a broadcast journalist, is involved with interviewing kids to find out not so much what they want to be, but what they think the city, the world, the universe would be like years from now. The unscripted answers they give show their intelligence, their thoughtfulness; it’s a pleasure to hear from these charming young people. Johnny himself is unmarried, his center being the radio program. What we know about him is that he has been estranged from his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) for a year because of some disagreement about treating their dying mother. Wouldn’t you now an occasion arises that requires Viv to get help, since she is having trouble her bi-polar husband Paul (Scoot McNairy) and has to leave town to care for him for a longer time than she had anticipated. What to do with her nine-year-old son Jesse (Woody Norman)? Why not ask Johnny to babysit for several weeks despite the radio announcer’s lack of experience with young people save for the brief interviews we have with a diversity of kids?

The babysit leads to a relationship between Johnny and the nephew he did not really know. Now Jesse at nine is precocious but also lonely; he is not the “normal” child and knows it. He has no friends because there really is nobody in the New York neighborhood quite like him; there are likely thousands of boys and girls who have trouble making pals because of their distinctiveness. But Jesse is going to bond with this uncle in a relationship that he will remember forever.

We watch on the screen as the kindship grows. It moves ahead in fits and starts. Johnny is amused that the boy sometimes plays that he is an orphan and that Johnny is here to care for him. Other times he becomes arrogant; a pain in the ass as he wisely puts it. When Johnny, who has to go to New York for his broadcast interviews, asks whether Jesse would like to accompany him, he replies “I’d love it.” There are incidents that will leave the movie audience tense, since like the two in the story, they may have lost track of their charges, trembling that their little child would be run over by a bus or kidnapped.

Joaquin Phoenix is no Joker here. He is competent with his radio job, eliciting full-sentence responses from young people who worry that their cities will be dirty in decades to come. But he is a fish-out-of-water at anything that requires attention to a young person for longer period than a fifteen-minute interview. For his part, Woody Norman just may have knocked out one of the boldest interpretations of childhood that we will ever see on the big screen. He was eleven years old at the time of the filming, having served as a model since the age of four. In the film he listens to a part of Mozart’s Requiem: we can believe that like the musical genius who preceded him, he is similarly talented but in the thespian profession.

The film shows Phoenix often challenged by his young charge but never going ballistic, unless you count the time that he lost the kid for several minutes in New York. As Jesse, Woody Norman is regularly testing his caregiver, wondering whether he can trust the man to be supportive even during those brief times that he is acting as a pain. “C’mon C’mon” is the kind of picture that should have its audience telling their friend to c’mon c’mon to the movie.

108 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

SOPHIE JONES – movie review

SOPHIE JONES

Oscilloscope Laboratories
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Jessie Barr
Screenwriter: Jessie Barr, Jessica Barr
Cast: Jessica Barr, Katie Prentiss, Chase Offerle, Claire Manning, Sam Kamerman, Tristan Decker
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/29/21
Opens: March 2, 2021 Streaming

First Trailer for Coming-of-Age-with-Grief Indie Gem ...
How should I treat him?

Don’t look for Ferris Bueller when you’re watching this one. Nobody leads a massive parade singing “Twist and Shout.” Nobody does anything as daring as playing hooky from school, unless you consider sex full clothed to be risqué. Instead the movie is fsas authentic as the name Jones, a name that Sophie (Jessica Barr) inhabits, from a family with a loving sister Lucy (Charlie Jackson) and father (Dave Roberts)in Portland, Oregon. Wearing a farmer’s apron almost throughout, Sophie, like most of her female classmates, wears little makeup. Their talk, not surprisingly, is about boys, all the fellows in the movie as handsome and clean cut as you would expect in a well-to-do suburb, its high school showing an elaborate football field and stands that would not be out of place in a small college.

We don’t see classes in session; all the learning occurs among the students themselves. The title character is played by the co-writer director’s cousin. This is Jessie Barr’s freshman film.

Much of the action takes place at a time that Sophie’s mother has died from an overdose of fentanyl. We watch to see the effect that the loss has on Sophie, who tries to bury her grief in hookups with boys like handsome Kevin (Skyler Verity), who sometimes has to be seduced and who cares about Sophie more than she does about herself. At the same time she is chased by Tony (Chase Offerle) but is warned and scared away by stories told her by her best friend Claire (Claire Manning). Nonetheless she endures one hookup with Tony, who refuses to honor her demand that he stop midway and suffers a bite on his hand.

Though in real life Jessica Barr looks more like 24 than 18, her story will go over well with others about her age, particularly those who have suffered the loss of a parent or sibling much too early. Mature adults will be entertained while at the same gaining insight into the feelings and actions of adolescents, which makes “Sophie Jones” a movie to recommend to a broad age spectrum.

Though “Sophie Jones” opened March 2 of this year, Oscilloscope has tapped the film for end-year awards consideration.

85 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

BELFAST – movie review

BELFAST

Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenwriter: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Jude Hill, Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Jude Hill, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/27/21
Opens: November 12, 2021

Belfast Poster Kenneth Branagh Movie Art Film Print Size 11x17" 24x36" 27x40" #1 - 11x17" / 27.94x43.18 cm

The big question raised by “Belfast” is: when times are rough, when your life is in danger because of where you live, why don’t you get the hell out? For the Jews living in Germany during the 1930s, exiting the country was not easy. Some were afraid to give up their wealth. Some others considered themselves “too old to move,” whatever that means. Those who were prepared to give up their old lives could not easily enter another country. Go from Germany to Eastern Europe? Poland was no Shangri-la for Jews. And most of Western Europe was already occupied by the Nazis. The U.S. under FDR was not eager to issue visas, and Jews in ships like the St. Louis were turned right back to Germany.

When Catholics and Protestants were at one another’s throats during the 1960s, the Catholics claiming that they were oppressed by the British government which favored Protestants for jobs, Catholics could have gone to Ireland right next door. Protestants could set up residence anywhere in England, which was their country, so there would be no need for visas. But the Branagh family—this is, after all, a memoir by writer-director Kenneth Branagh of the time he was nine years old in 1969—there was a split. Buddy (Jude Hill as the young Kenneth Branagh) would not think of moving. Normally a stable, intelligent lad, he is willing to put up with the occasional bombings by the Irish Republic Army, which sought independence for Northern Ireland and perhaps annexation to the Irish Free State. His friends are in Belfast and so was classmate and love interest, Catherine (Olive Tennant), who goes to his school and sits near him in class. He is also undeterred by a Protestant gang that tries to get Buddy’s dad (Jamie Dorman) to join them in causing havoc to Catholic residences. His mother (Caitriona Balfe) says she knows nothing outside of Belfast, that if the family moved to Sydney, Australia, they would be laughed at because of their accent (strange since so many ethnic Irish live downunder). Ditto England. Only his father, who works construction in England and comes home easily is ready to ship the family out.

This is Kenneth Branagh’s seeing everything through his eyes at the age of nine. Buddy is well liked by the folks in the neighborhood who say hi to him regularly. He returns the greeting remembering to say each neighbor’s name as in “Hi Mr. West.” Kids don’t do that anymore, do they? Buddy loves his grandparents (Ciarán Hinds and Judy Dench), the latter given over to fire and brimstone religion, the former dying from a lung problem created when he mined coal. Buddy’s grandpa gives the boy advice especially about how to win friends and influence people, especially girls. Can you blame Buddy for throwing a tantrum when da insists on moving out?

The story is told through mostly black-and-white imagery, better to capture the feeling of the period, with color taking over during the high points in Buddy’s life. And no point could be higher for a kid who later would spend his life writing, directing, and acting in movies than each time he visited the cinema. His attention is rapt. He is able to repeat the key song in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and he warns granny not to talk in the theater. The songs by Van Morrison, when songs were really songs, adds greatly to the 1960s feeling.

When Buddy says goodbye to people he knew for his entire life, he forges a memory in all of us in the audience who at one time had to leave everything behind and enter a life where everything is new. Jude Hill, who was ten years old at the time of the filming, delivers a remarkable debut, able to convey emotions from sadness to ecstasy without a stumble. At the time of this writing, Gold Derby, a website that predicts awards, is betting on “Belfast” to be the winner of Best Picture among scores of awards groups as well as the major ones, the Academy and the Golden Globes.

97 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE WORST WOMAN IN THE WORLD – movie review

THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (Verdens verste menneske)

Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Joachim Trier
Screenwriter: Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier
Cast: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum, Hans Olav Brenner, Helene Bjøreby, Vidar Sandem
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/25/21
Opens: February 4, 2022

Poster
Happy at last!

Most people in the U.S. who marry in their teens get divorced. But women who think will delay matrimony, playing the field until they’re in their 30’s, which becomes the age that college educated folks get married here in large numbers. The more education you get, though, the more confused you can be. Using their brains and their cultured backgrounds, men and women might be awfully confused during their 20’s, going hither and thither, not knowing which of their partners is the right one, and what’s worse, not confident that the field they choose is really for them.

Julie (Renate Reinsve) is an example of the latter, with her professional life even more confusing than typical. So what? She resists society’s mandates, though in the Scandinavian countries there is not the same pressures as here in the States. Julie is Norwegian, lives in Oslo, whose disorientation is described by director Joachim Trier. She is like the title character in Trier’s “Thelma,” about another confused woman whose religious upbringing causes conflict with a potential mate. Expect a film with more nuances than most, one whose tones alternate between depressing and droll. The humor is on the dry side; the sadness heartbreaking.

Consider that Renate Reinsve won “Best Actress” at Cannes, so you know you are in for a treat. This Julie, would you believe, quits medical school, thinks of being a photographer, and instead winds up as a salesperson in a bookstore. Knowing that Oslo is the most expensive city in Europe with residents paying huge taxes, you may wonder how she can afford an apartment. During Julie’s years when most women have made up their minds on their future partners, Julie moves in with Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), who is forty-four years old to Julie’s twenty-nine. Having given up medicine for her bookstore job, she is on a lower status level than he, as he is a successful writer of underground graphic novels even picked up by a film company. She hooks up with Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) who is on her level as he dispenses coffee in a Starbucks-style place, yet we wonder why Julie, who is the worst person in the world because she breaks Aksel’s heart, makes the nutty decision to make Eivind her main man.

In the movie’s most cinematic scene, Aksel is making coffee in his flat. Julie runs out before the drink is ready. Action other than Julie’s race through Oslo streets is frozen as she runs into the arms of Eivind. Another whimsical scene shows Julie taking part in magic mushrooms, hallucinating but without gaining special insights into her life. Nothing remains the same: Aksel suffers a decline in popularity when he insults a feminist interviewer who accuses him of writing misogynistic comic strips, to which Aksel tries to defend himself by noting that the interviewer is younger, at a different generational stage when women no longer take crap.

Life moves on. Julie has learned little from four years’ experience shown in her story; still indecisive, brooding when she sees a former lover now settled with a wife and kid. This is not a glitzy Hollywood tale which would have the hero redeeming herself, happy at last, and there’s thankfully almost no music in the soundtrack that would distract from the dialogue. Here is romance as it really is: full of contradictions, decisions which are often wrong but can sometimes be rectified.

121 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

KING RICHARD – movie review

KING RICHARD

Warner Bros.
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Screenwriter: Zach Baylin
Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Saniyya Sidney, Tony Goldwyn
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/23/21
Opens: November 19, 2021

Sharon - King Richard (2021) movie poster
Are we running out of tennis balls?

What do you think of helicopter parents, the folks who push and push their children, compelling them to participate in games and sports when they show talent? They may insist that you take piano lessons and practice for an hour a day—which is surely nowhere near enough if you want your kids to be the next Van Cliburn or Artur Rubenstein. The vast majority will not amount to anything on the celebrity circuit but, a parent can rationalize that at least John and Jane will have skills that make their lives more interesting. If they cannot appear with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show because their talent on the 88 keys is far distant from that of Jon Batiste, maybe they can be lives of the party, encouraging all to sing while making their peers envious.

With “King Richard” Reinaldo Marcus Green, whose “Joe Bell” takes on bullying and whose “Monsters and Men” focuses on the police for the killing of a Black man, this time looks primarily at the life of a big bully, Richard Williams (Will Smith), who sees that two of his five daughters, Venus Williams (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena Williams (Demi Singleton), may be destined for fame well beyond what the typical Saturday-at-the-courts tennis players can achieve. Throughout his bullying, the five daughters respect and love him, saying “Yes daddy” to all his entreties, but often the girls’ mother, Brandy Williams (Aunjanue Ellis) will try to time her husband’s demands.

So why do parents push their kids rather than allowing them to do the things children want to do during their teens? In Richard’s case, it partly his disappointments in life. His job as a nighttime security guard somehow supports seven people in his family (How? Who knows?). He had been buffeted not only by white gangsters who would beat him up and by his own people—gangsters who act like some folks’ stereotypical view of people who live in the mostly Black city Compton, California. He is beaten even by a young Black man who hits on Richard’s 16-year-old daughter, while the man’s friend urges the low-life to waste him.

As expected, Venus, who gets the lion’s share of coaching first from Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) then from Rick Maaci (Jon Bernthal), bonds with both white men, but this time their father pulls back. He states that he wants them to go through childhood as kids are wont to do and not to climb the ladder into the pros. It’s something to see—two white guys jumping up and down, disgusted with the interference from the Venus’s father, although during one critical night Venus astounds everyone by refusing to sing a contact with Nike for a million dollars. (That was later upped when Venus went pro, ultimately to twelve million.)

Considerable time is happily taken by the shots on the court, making viewers wonder by what magic do Robert Elswit’s cinematography, Pamela Martin’s editing, and especially a team of over two dozen special effects people make us believe that Venus can kill the ball as though she were the real Venus Williams?

Warner Bros. is shaping this movie up for Best Picture awards, though they have a better chance with Will Smith for acting. This is a feel-good movie without excessive sentimentality giving a nuanced picture of the man who helped make two daughters into world-class players. When you finish viewing, you will likely say that a bold dramatization like this one beats anything that documentary filmmakers can do.

146 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

BENEDETTA – movie review

BENEDETTA

IFC Midnight
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Screenwriter: David Birke, Paul Verhoeven, based on the non-fiction book by Judith C. Brown
Cast: Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling, Daphne Patakia, Lambert Wilson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/20/21
Opens: December 3, 2021

Benedetta Poster Wall Art Decor Home - Poster 24x36

Joan of Arc meets Covid in Paul Verhoeven’s “Benedetta,” based on true events that occurred in Pescia, Tuscany, Italy during the 17th Century. If you’re familiar with Verhoeven you already know that this creative director was responsible for what some consider a movie tied with Ed Wood’s 1957 “Planet 9 from Outer Space”– namely Verhoeven’s “Showgirls.” I for one got a kick out of the latter which I interpret as Verhoeven’s bid for satirical honors, but that’s another story. His best film is “Black Book,” about a singer who engaged with the Gestapo for the Dutch Resistance in Nazi occupied Holland.

I cannot get over the feeling that “Benedetta” is something like “Showgirls,” at times laughable, and yet also like “Black Book,” full of thrilling drama. It’s a mixed bag, well worth you time if you go for period pieces, and like to see both religious heroism and the damnation of hell. You can access the story of Benedetta through an extensive article in Wikipedia. Verhoeven changes mostly the part where the title character actually died in prison for something more dramatic (and somewhat laughable as well).

Shot in Tuscany’s Montepulciano, this tale is about life in a nunnery that’s anything but dull in that within the walls, the abbess once spied on Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efira) and her roommate Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) engaged in lesbian sex. Not only is their relationship considered sacrilege—even if it had not included a non-vibrating dildo, a wooden penis carved from one end of the figure of Virgin Mary. Benedetta worshipped Virgin Mary from her childhood (Elena Plonika) and during one prayer witnessed a large statue of the Virgin fall to the floor on top of the poor girl. Much later she is introduced to carnal love by Bartolomea, who strangely does not require Benedetta to satisfy her because she is totally involved with pleasing her partner. The abbess had regularly taught the women that their biggest enemy is their bodies, which is one reason she dresses her flock with itchy cloth. Apparently the abbess (Charlotte Rampling) never took a course in Education because her teachings went into one orifice and out the other.

The picture features full female nudity, the two young women showing off their bikini wax, making us wonder where they got the blades to shave themselves so neatly. By the conclusion, trials are conducted by the papal nuncio Alfonso Giglioli (Lambert Wilson), who is not sure whom to believe—the abbess who swears that she saw the two having sex, or the lovers who insist that they did not. Crowd scenes abound, the plague has hit Europe, but the 17th Century’s Covid-type disease spared the entire town of Pescia. Credit Benedetta, a complex character who is both an aspiring nymphomaniac and a visionary who in one case receives stigmata—the wounds of Christ—on her hands, head and torso.

Nothing by Verhoeven should be missed. The man knows how to run crowd scenes, trials, and best of all, lesbian sex. But of course you did not attend this movie for the last item but for a better understanding of Church politics in the 1600s. You get that and more particularly since the director evokes solid performances from Charlotte Rampling and Virginie Efira.

131 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

SMALL TIME – movie review

SMALL TIME

Film Arcade
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Niav Conty
Screenwriter: Niav Conty
Cast: Audrey Grace Marshall, Kevin Loreque, Holter Graham, Dominique Johnson, Maria Hasen, Elissa Middleton, Sina Rassi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/15/21
Opens: November 11, 2021 streaming on Amazon, Apple TV, and Google Play

Poster

During his primary battle with Hillary Clinton, Obama was caught in an uncharacteristic moment of loose language. Referring to working-class voters in old industrial towns decimated by job losses, the presidential hopeful declares: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Not the wisest of his aphorisms, one that ranks with Hillary’s comment about Trump supporters’ being “a basket of deplorables.” If they needed an excuse to vote Republican, white folks in the Pennsylvania rust belt and in the small towns of the Midwest had two.

Maybe “Small Time” writer-director Niav Conty was disturbed by Obama’s quote, maybe not. In any case her depiction of people living in what we New York elitists call flyover country aligns with what we city slickers think of “hayseeds.” Conty, whose other full-length narrative film “Un peu plus d’éternité” deals with a woman who “knows she exists but does not know why,” sees life in (judging by a truck registration plate) upstate New York through the eyes of a young girl.

Filming behind the lens as well as in the director’s chair in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, Conty finds Emma (Audrey Graced Marshall) looking back over three and one-half years of her impressionable life. While many a spoiled kid in Manhattan or Berkeley or Shaker Heights would be whining and crying at similar experiences, Emma is upbeat almost throughout. Nary a frown or a scowl, no harsh words, no searingly critical eye.

Though she is supervised by Sadie (Maria Hasen), her grandmother—who doubles as caretaker of her battle-scarred, emotionally disturbed son Lonnie (Kevin Loreque)—she appears confident enough to experience life in a village that appears to have a population of 57. Over the years Emma has seen enough to make her wonder, like Anne in “Un peu plus d’eternité, why she exists and how long she can continue in that state. After all, the opening shows her close up to the embalmed body of one caretaker, staring at him enough to know that perhaps one day she, too, will be decked out for exhibit.

We’re told that the red states are not immune from drug addiction. Emma sees that first-hand in her mom, who she tries to wake up from a drug overdose, a woman who clings not necessary to guns and religion but certainly to the appeal of heroin. Consider it a bad thing when a girl still in elementary school has to be a parent to adults.

A moment of enlightenment comes when Emma places a fallen tooth under the pillow only to find not one dime to replace it the next day. Her grandmother assures her that while there are no fairies, there are demons, that we are in a war, and that we must win it. Emma is the kind of child that many of us wish we had. Though sometimes in public you see a youngster acting with maturity beyond her age, eyes flashing inner light and kindness, you can probably bet that behind the scenes, behind the locked door of her parents’ home, she throws the tantrums that all parents dread, guilty that they are not bringing up their kid the right way. Nobody in “Small Time” thinks like that. The older people take things as they come, they appear to have no plans to watch “Face the Nation” or plan safaris even within our own country. And so does Emma, who though shown over a period of over three years seems just as mature when the film began as she does now.

Marshall is a wonderful performer, seen recently in nine episodes of “The Flight Attendant” (about a reckless flight attendant who wonders whether she killed the dead man in her hotel room), embraces her coming-of-age role in a work that shows once again the virtues of small-budget movies that can command more attention from the film community than anything featuring The Rock.

104 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

PASSING – movie review

PASSING

Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Rebecca Hall
Screenwriter: Rebecca Hall, based on the novel by Nella Larsen
Cast: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård, Bill Camp
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/12/21
Opens: October 27, 2021. Streaming November 10, 2021

Passing (Movie Tie-In) - by Nella Larsen (Paperback)
Passing as white

Chaz Ebert, the CEO of Ebert Digital, passes along some information on the process of passing white. “Someone was considered Black if she had only one drop of Black blood. An octoroon was someone who had an ancestry that was one-eighth Black. To escape the peculiar institution of slavery or a lifetime of discrimination, some African Americans chose to pass as white. They could then become doctors and lawyers, businessmen and engineers, land owners and teachers. One woman would visit a beauty salon at night to have her blond hair straightened with chemical relaxers.”

To dramatize the custom and for full period detail, Rebecca Hall takes off her actor’s cap to deliver a powerful debut direction, filming in 4:3 boxy aspect ratio and black-and-white to mirror New York in the 1920’s. Her focus is on two Black women who, despite their friendship back in high school and a growing affection in the story’s present time will, their distinct personalities will turn them into hostility bordering on murder. Adapting Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel that takes place during the Harlem Renaissance, Hall evokes terrific performances from Tessa Thompson as Irene and Ruth Negga as Clare as mismatched friends.

For those who may not have lived through a period in New York when racism was even more overt than now, some Black women who were light-skinned tried to pass themselves off as white, not because they believed white was superior but because they believed they could get ahead in a white person’s world more easily than if they denied authenticity. “Passing” is not the first movie to deal with the subject; in fact, John Ford and Elia Kazan’s 1949 film “Pinky” finds a Black woman passing as white, married to a white doctor who does not guess her race.

We get the impression from the first scenes watching Irene a.k.a. Renie, walking in downtown Manhattan, wearing a large hat and avoiding eye contact, that she is the one who is passing. She does in fact, hide her features in a mostly white neighborhood, on this day taking a taxi to the Drayton Hotel to cool off in its tea room on a sweltering day. By coincidence she runs into Clare, an old friend, whose own husband has no idea that she is Black. In fact her man John (Alexander Skarsgård), a well-to-do banker who expresses his hatred of “Negroes” while later speaking to Clare and Irene in his home. Wouldn’t you know that Clare trumps her husband in intolerance, refusing to hire a colored maid.

Months later, Irene, living with her doctor husband Brian (André Holland), reads a letter from Clare who hopes to get together again. When Clare shows up in Harlem and climbs up the walkup, we see that Brian resents a woman who refuses to accept her race, but nonetheless warms up to her sexually making Irene becomes anxious enough to drop and break a treasured teapot. Clare is self-aware, stating that she would do anything to get what she wants, a feeling which, as in a Greek tragedy, will lead to her downfall. Irene’s irritation continues even with her husband, who wants their two young sons to be aware of murderous racism in the country while Irene thinks that the boys should be allowed their innocence.

“Passing” will be especially enlightening to the majority of the country who have no idea that at one time, some African-Americans denied their blackness to get ahead. The film is emotionally vibrant, intellectually honest, and blessed by sterling performances of the two principals and a debut by director Rebecca Hall, who may worry that any second feature she will hopefully present to us will be unable to equal or excel this awesome work.

One more compliment: there is virtually no music on the soundtrack, allowing us in the audience to hear every word without the musical distractions that ruin so many American movies.

98 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE DIABETES SOLUTION

THE DIABETES SOLUTION

Passion River
Reviewed for Shbockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: John Beckham
Screenwriter: Bethany McKenzie, Amanda J. Adkins, James Reynolds, Deborah Reynolds
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/11/21
Opens: November 9, 2021

Don’t touch that cake!

Doctors in their graduation ceremonies take the oath first promulgated in ancient Greece by Hippocrates, but medical schools seem to forget one of the great quotes of the father of medicine: “Let food be thy medicine.” How did a doctor in the Periclean age 2500 years ago know more than doctors today? That’s not all. The Greeks coined the term “diabetes,” which means “funnel,” because Greeks drank and lot and therefore urinated a lot. People who urinate a great deal today are likely to be advised to take a test for diabetes.

This brings us to John Beckham’s sophomore (and sometimes sophomoric) documentary “The Diabetes Solution.” Beckham, whose previous doc deals with a county in Maryland that has produced a disproportionate number of NBA basketball players, realizes that the exercise you can get from playing basketball has something in common with a good diet. Exercise and diet are both advisable for health. People with Type 1 diabetes do not make enough insulin, while people with the more common Type 2 diabetes make insulin but, to put it in simple terms, the insulin cannot catch up to the intake of carbohydrates. Several kids and parents and doctors are interviewed with the help of diagrams (but no cute animations) and note that the American Diabetes Association has become corrupted by money contributed to them by Big Pharma and Big Agriculture. The profits of the latter two organizations are threatened by all the stuff thrown at us from scientists, especially from honest dieticians, who follow Hippocrates’ advice about letting food be our medicine. It should be noted that while a large percentage of disease is brought on by improper diets, med schools have been known to spend only one week or one day on nutrition during the four years that keep their charges busy.

Mothers whose kids have been affected by Type 1 diabetes have long been that they can keep the illness under control by matching insulin injections (ugh) with carbohydrates eaten. They balance each other, is the idea. But because the balance is difficult to maintain, kids have had blood sugar first spike (with the intake of starchy foods like cupcakes), then descend to hypoglycemic levels (from the intake of insulin.) Up and down like a roller coaster. So: how to get the line straight instead of up and down forever? Limit carbohydrates. The kids in the movie have followed the advice of the good doctors (there are some) and have avoided spending time in hospitals. No Fruit Loops, Pepsi, Coke and Kellogg’s cereals for them. By being good kids they avoid neuropathy and diarrhea. Also comas and death. Simple as that.

There are problems in this film caused by a lack of nuance. While the film talks about carbs, carbs, carbs, it neglects to mention that saturated fat may also be disastrous, too much of which can lead to heart attacks. In fact, New York City mayor elect Eric Adams came out with a book in October “Healthy at Last,” citing his trip to Dr. Esselstyn’s course in veganism, the belief that giving up animal fat is not only ethical for both the animals and the globe, but also leads to better health. Adams cut his hemoglobin A1c from 17 to below 6 purely on diet, having given up eating what former police like him consume during their midnight shifts where a typical individual would tackle pizza and big Macs and more in a single shift.

The other big problem is that the audience can go away thinking that all carbs are bad. How come tomatoes and broccoli and brussels sprouts and carrots, all carbohydrates, are good for you and can be eaten by people with Type 1 diabetes? Those are complex carbohydrates. Only simple carbs are to be avoided: that message did not come across.

Another big thumbs-downer? Music, music, music. Tinkling piano and pounding drums almost throughout. Is this a concert or a nutrition-based documentary? Some of the producers appear to have made the decision that there is not enough drama in the movie, not enough information to get our blood flowing, so they try to distract us with music. This film is not a thriller, and even action movies are infused with too much orchestration. When you go to the theater for a serious play, not a musical, is music piped in at all? Of course not, nor should it be, but casting broadsides against the intrusiveness of music in soundtracks is a lost cause. Maybe I am one of the few who are disgusted with such distraction.

55 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C+ (false or misleading information)
Acting – B
Technical – C (music)
Overall – B-

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE – movie review

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE

Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Showalter
Screenwriter: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, Abe Sylvia
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, Marm Wystach, Sam Jaeger, Gabriel Olds, Jay Huguley
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/7/21
Opens: September 17, 2021. Streaming November 2, 2021

Halloween gift | The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) movie gloss poster 17 x 24 inches
God loves you!

Call it a soap opera as some critics point out, but it’s a richly rewarding film, filled with a terrific pair of lead actors, produced on a large scale with rousing songs and a religious motif that will be embraced by some in the audience while others, particularly the more secular, could be turned off. Corruption in religion is well known, the past decade harping on the sexual proclivities of some in the Catholic Church. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is based on actual events involving hidden homosexual activities of a televangelist and the transfer of money donated for the expansion of an evangelical religion to private purposes.

The title character, played by Jessica Chastain (sure to get be nominated by the Academy and also a large number of film groups), and Tammy Faye’s husband, Jim Bakker (Andrew Baker in a stunning job as supporting actor), go step by step through the biopic conventions. Essentially the young, innocent Tammy, first ecstatic, then brought down not only by her own avarice and the deterioration of her marriage, appears to punctuate the idea that to be happy, you must be like a child—that’s childlike, not childish. The movie is bookmarked by events in the life of little Tammy Faye (Chandler Head) whose idea of excitement lies not in videogames, TV or movies but in the machinations of an evangelical preacher, and who during a service speaks in tongues.

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is directed by Michael Showalter, whose “The Lovebirds” last year deals with a couple embroiled in a murder mystery. Tammy comes from a home dominated by her mother, Rachel Grover (Cherry Jones), a stern woman of simple tastes who will become disgusted by the growing materialism of her daughter—until even she cherishes a fur coat that Tammy buys for her through funds that may have been diverted from contributions.

We might see where things are going when Jim Bakker goes against the Christlike teachings of penury to preach a gospel of prosperity and Tammy defies the church by wearing makeup. (If you listen to the views of audience members who have seen the film, you’re likely to hear about Tammy’s makeup which, we are told, required Chastain to sit through seven hours of preparation on a good day and will likely snatch an Oscar for the nine persons involved in the makeup department.) Then together, Tammy and Jim defy school rules by getting married and getting expelled.

Gaining a large audience through puppet shows in which the hand-held figures join the duo in insisting that God loves you, they meet the big shots in the field, namely Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) and the stick-up-his-butt Jerry Falwell—who is sure that America is going to hell because of homosexuality. Tammy continues her rebellious stance by shocking a table of bigwigs in the church by insisting that homosexuals should be treated like human beings. The marriage shows a strain when Jim, competing and surpassing Pat Robertson’s numbers in his own show, leaves Tammy home alone with her baby.

Sex rears its head when Jim is sure that his wife is having an affair with Gary Paxton (Jim Wystrach), a record producer, while Jim retaliates by hiring a female prostitute just once to get back at her. Tammy becomes addicted to drugs and consumerism, enjoying the luxurious home given to them by the church, ultimately to be ground down by debt and Jim’s conviction of mishandling church funds.

This powerful tale which may make you at first disgusted with Tammy’s materialism and extreme use of makeup could encourage you take in other projects about evangelists, the classic being “Elmer Gantry” (1960) starring Burt Lancaster as a man who likes his booze, tobacco and women-chasing but who convinces the church that he could be a charismatic preacher, successful despite sexual indiscretions and hypocrisy.

126 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE GIG IS UP – movie review

THE GIG IS UP: A Very Human Tech Doc
Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Shannon Walsh
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/2/21
Opens: October 8, 2021

Poster
Who gets the fries?

Bosses hire workers to make money from their labors. They may treat them like family while they’re associating with them in close quarters such as in an office, but if they could produce goods and services without human labor, you can be sure they would toss the employees out. One group of workers are treated even more obviously as mere moneymakers. Employers rarely if ever see them, so the human touch in that regard is out. These are gig workers, members of the huge platform economy, so-called independent contractors, which is merely a euphemism for “you’re on your own.” They are not appreciated as human beings by either owners or the people they serve.

Look at the meaning of “gig.” Originally it was a colloquial term referring to musicians. A single job playing for a wedding or Bar Mitzvah was a gig. Merriam-Webster says a gig is a job with a stated end-point, a temp. As the term is used here, a gig is a job that depends on consumers’ use of phone apps. You hail a ride with Uber or Lyft by a few clicks. You order food with Deliveroo. Some gig workers work on fine-tuning artificial intelligence of internet sites. They are metaphorically and often literally unseen by the rest of us. The worst thing about gig work is not that they do not feel respected by their customers, but that they are considered independent contractors, and not employees. That means no overtime pay, no health benefits, no sick leave, no paid vacations. It sucks.

At first director Shannon Walsh, whose “Illusions of Control” deals with people in crisis creating new landscapes, hones in on some happy gig workers, making us think that this is a documentary about the freedom of working outside of offices. You’re out in the street on your bike, digging the sunshine, nobody checking what you’re doing every minutes. What’s more it would not matter what kind of education is required, whether a worker is undocumented, whether you’ve been a felon. But as with pharmaceutical drugs, the side effects could be worse than what’s promised. How can you survive especially in a city like New York or Paris without the benefits to which most of us are accustomed? It’s a wonder that these gig workers, at least in the film, did not become homeless.

The guy you may remember most, fella in his 30s who takes care of his mother, gives the impression that his gold teeth are all natural. He’s massively tattooed, he speaks slowly, his mother spends what little money he can give her on cigarettes and lottery cards, in one case marveling that she won two bucks. A Yemeni American with perfect English shows us how to lead a strike in San Francisco, pushing for recognition as an employee and not an independent contractor.

Among the intellectual talking heads, Prayag Narula predicts that by 2025 the gig economy will become so huge, cutting down the income on the workers, that the Middle Ages would look like paradise. We hear from Mary L. Gray, author of “Ghost Work” and Nick Srnicek of the book “Platform Capitalism.” The latter is a term many of us never heard before. That and the insights given to us throughout the film makes it unique. Can you remember any other movie like it? You might call director Shannon Walsh the equivalent of Britain’s Ken Loach, though Loach’s focus is on regular, normal workers who have it just as bad as of worse than those dealing with platform capitalism.

Special attention is given to gig work in Lagos, Nigeria; Paris, France; and Shenzhen, China.

88 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

GAZA MON AMOUR – movie review

GAZA MON AMOUR
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser
Screenwriter: Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser
Cast: Hiam Abbass, Salim Dau, Maisa Abd Elhadi, George Iskander
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/29/21
Opens: November 5, 2021

Poster
You’re never too old for romance.

Gaza may have never been associated with love before, a hellhole of a place that might make people who watch the news think that it’s nothing more than a training camp for Hamas, a recognized terrorist group. But in the hands of Tarzan Nasser and his brother Arab Nasser, the geography may be unbecoming but love blooms in the saddest places. The Nasser brothers’ previous film is Dégradé wherein in Gaza, two hairdressers and ten customers of various ages and backgrounds spend the day trapped in a beauty salon while Hamas police fight a gang in the street. The Nassers this time cast a romantic spell without failing to dramatize the restrictions placed by Israelis on that strip of Middle Eastern land.

Electricity is available to Gazans only at the will of Israel. Fishermen and others are not allowed to sail past a three-mile limit on the sea. Though Gaza is known to have beaches fine enough to entice tourism and develop an economy, the occupation will not allow this kind of development. Unlike the situation in Hong Kong where the British colonialists set a specific date in 1997 to clear out. Israel appears to have no intention of freeing either Gaza or the West Bank.

The characters do not spend every hour planning political movies for independence. They live their lives like the rest of us. They make livings for the market, or as fishermen, or a retailers selling dresses, and like the rest of us dream of romance, even at age sixty. Our focus is on Issa (Salim Dau) and Siham (Hiam Abbass), the former a fisherman who takes his catch to the street and negotiates sales as in much of the Middle East where every little purchase is preceded by negotiations. For her part Siham runs a women’s dress store and takes in tailoring. Issa is too shy to come right out and profess his love for Siham but despite his age, in one scene he has a wet dream and stains his pants. Yes, even at his age. He also has a bronze phallis in his pocket, broken off a sculpture of the Greek god Apollo that he catches in his net and should prove more lucrative than years of fishing. When the police get wind of the catch they search his home and haul him off to jail.

Gaza is no place for the young. We do not blame Siham’s daughter Leila (Maisa Abd Elhadi) for wanting to get out presumably to go to Europe, but no such permission exists under the occupation. Still the movie as a whole is foremost a comedy, an adorable one, complete with Issa’s matchmaking sister Manal (Manal Awad) who escorts a band of four late-middle-age women for Issa’s inspection. The movie belongs to the older couple who underplay their roles delightfully against a background of Hamas’ rule internally and Israel’s authority outside.

87 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE RESCUE – movie review

THE RESCUE
National Geographic Documentary Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/7/21
Opens: October 8, 2021

Several people in a cave.
We can’t breathe!

There are many terrible ways to die aside from what you see in some movies like the “Saw” series. How about becoming asphyxiated on your own saliva? Talk about your own body turning on you! Yet this is one of the principal fears of the people from England, Australia, China and Thailand as they map out a strategy to rescue twelve male children and their soccer coach figuratively imprisoned inside a cave in Chiang Mai. In a movie featuring terrific editing and cinematography, using both clear and colorful file film and some reenactments, National Geographic, taking good advantage of the direction by the husband and wife team of Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, give us a front-row seat on a drama. Had we not known the ending, this could have been the suspense thriller of the year. There is no way that a typical audience member could have conceived that any of the lads would emerge alive after spending over two weeks deep inside their tour of a cave with only occasional bits of food supplied by their rescuers. One thing the heroes could not have given to them was oxygen. The biggest concern was that the kids and their coach would run out of air, which at one time was three points under the amount needed for survival.

In the same way that Americans are transfixed these days on the plight of the murdered woman Gabby Petito and the chief suspect Brian Laundrie, the entire world followed the disaster facing the children in 2018, the efforts of the trained adults to reach them and bring them all out was flashed around the world with TV newscasters relying on the emotions of their listeners to keep tuned in.

The directing duo, known by some for the 2015 “Meru” about the efforts by three elite climbers to conquer the Himalayan Mount Meru, outdo themselves this time around. Instead of dealing with mature, adult mountain climbers, their stars include vulnerable children ages eleven to sixteen who, in the many shots appear to take their danger in stride. They smile at the camera, their clasp their hands together as though in prayer, and while they sometimes say that they are hungry, they appear to react in a more grown-up way than you might expect if they were Americans trapped in one of the scores of caves found in our own country. Doubtless many who followed the action inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Mai which trapped the thirteen after heavy rains flooded potential escape routes believed that the potential rescue was hopeless. And when you see the monsoons that made the job even more difficult, and how thousands of liters of water get pumped out yet only a few centimeters of depth are created, you figure a major national tragedy is at hand.

The biggest heroes are not the brave folks of the Thai Navy Seals who are not trained for this but are Rick Stanton and John Volanthen who import themselves into Northern Thailand and may prompt many to wonder what two middle-aged guys can do that the military could not. These UK citizens had to navigate the cave for almost three miles, and though they come face to face with the hapless kids, they are unable to do anything for them immediately. In fact during one of the rescue missions they took fifteen body bags with them which, if seen by the children would not exactly inspire their good spirits.

The problem? How to escort them through the waters for a journey that would take hours. Nor did it raise the spirits of the rescue party that one Thai Seal died from lack of oxygen. Enter injections of Ketamine and Atropine to anesthetize the kids and off everyone goes to the surface, the English heroes to receive an awards from the queen.

A documentary that includes interviews along with some file film not previously wraps up, the production team presumably hoping that those of us watching from our safe movie seats (vaccinated and masked and in less danger than the cave dwellers) with be choked up with emotion. Prepare to see this drama considered by awards groups for Documentary Movie, Cinematography and Editing.

107 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

ONLY THE ANIMALS (SEULES LES BETES)

ONLY THE ANIMALS (Seules les bêtes)
Cohen Media Group
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dominik Moll
Writer: Dominik Moll, Gilles Marchand. Adapted from Colin Niel’s novel ‘Seules les bêtes’
Cast: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Denis Ménochet Laure Calamy, Damien Bonnard, Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Guy Roger “Bibisse” N’drin
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/21/21
Opens: October 29, 2021

Where did I put that body?

Let’s see. Near the opening we hear reports on the radio that a woman is missing. At this point her body has not been found but her abandoned car has been located on the road. That’s a no-brainer: “Only the Animals” is a documentary about Gabby Petito. Already? That was quick. No wait, oops: “Only the Animals” is a French drama, though more accurately a dark comedy, more dark than comic. Writers Dominik Moll and the director adapt Colin Niel’s novel “Seules les bêtes” (available in French at Amazon for $33.07 but if you want to save money get the German paperback “Nur die Tiere” for $19.86). The plot takes off from the central mystery, the disappearance of one Evelyne Ducat (Valería Bruni Tedeschi) during a blizzard in Lozère, France (inland in the south). Told under German-born Dominik Moll’s direction in five chapters, “Only the Animals” brings five lives together as additional proof that there are only six degrees of separation between us and everyone else in the world. Each character is given his or her own point of view, “Rashoman” style.

The acting all-around is terrific particularly that of Côte d’Ivoire native Guy Roger “Bibisse” N’drin as an internet scammer in his debut role. His actions on a laptop computer surrounded by his pals, who egg him on to success in lightening the wallets of white guys in France, are responsible for the connection between the West African nation and the farming community in Southern France.

The film opens in Abidjan with a bizarre scene featuring Armand (N’drin) carrying a goat to a room, plying one of his varied freelance trades, and ending with Michel Farange (Denis Ménochet), a Frenchman, laughing while typing on a laptop. Michel winds up psychologically crushed but appreciates the comic nature of his troubles. Each chapter is named for a character, the first being Alice (Laure Calamy), who is having an affair with Joseph Bonnefille (Damien Bonnard), plying her trade as a home care nurse whose sex with the depressed man is explained as her attempt to revive his spirits. She loves him, but unhappily his response to that affection is “Get out!” Not good news for her, especially since her marriage to farmer Michel is moribund.

Michel returns home bloodied, making us think that he killed Evelyne, and from time to time we, sitting in the theater, think back to the disappeared dead woman, trying to outsmart the characters by guessing the identity of the murderer. Alice and Joseph make way for Marion (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), a pretty blonde waitress having a liaison with Evelyne (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), great sex ‘n’ all but Evelyne is concerned that she is twenty years older than her soulmate and is about to drop her. Does this give Marion the motive to kill Evelyne? Maybe.

Filmed on location in both France and Africa by Patrick Ghringhelli, the film stock making a sad comment about Abidjan’s slums and the depressed farms of Lozère at the same time hinting that the latter region has promise as a tour destination for skiing and scenic drives. “Only the Animals” features an extended final chapter in Abidjan, the capital of a country that won independence from France in 1960, highlighting an internet scammer whose lively-turned-morose character makes us root for him despite his dabbling in crime.

In my view “Only the Animals” is running next-and-next with Julia Ducournau’s “Titane” as this year’s two best French films so far, the former emphasizing the bizarre connections between its people than on American-style suspense. The picture is in French with English subtitles and happily without the intrusive music that ruins so many of our own American pictures.

117 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

NOT GOING QUIETLY – movie review

NOT GOING QUIETLY
Greenwich Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nicholas Bruckman
Writer: Nicholas Bruckman, Amanda Roddy
Cast: Ady Barkan, Tracey Corder, Elizabeth Jaff, Rachael King, Ana Maria Archila, Nate Smith, Jeff Flake, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/10/21
Opens: October 5, 2021

Ady Barkan and son Carl

Life is a crapshoot. When a couple decide to have children to complete a family, their fingers are likely crossed that they will bring forth a healthy birth and that their offspring will enjoy full happy lives albeit with the strong possibility that their health will deteriorate in old age. A two-year-old with leukemia puts all heaven in a rage, as the poet William Blake might say. A person in mid-thirties who acquires Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease (after the famous baseball player with the Brooklyn Dodgers), may well make religious folks question God’s motives. While some adults with the disease—it’s idiopathic, i.e. of unknown origin, unavoidable even by strenuous exercise, a Mediterranean diet, yoga, meditation, or picking the right parents—may resign themselves to the wasting of their muscles in this neurological nightmare, Ady Barkan is not going quietly. After receiving the crushing diagnosis from his neurologist, who gave him three to four years to live, Barkan became an activist in Congress, demanding with his group of followers that our government pass legislation for Medicare for All or Universal Health Care and to stop messing around with the reactionary idea of cutting Social Security and Medicare to allow corporations and the wealthy to pay taxes that today are way too low.

Since “Not Going Quietly” is not a biopic, we hear nothing about Barkan’s parents—one of whom is Romanian and the other Israeli—nor are we shown that he was brought up in a secular Jewish-American household and graduated from Yale Law School. Director Nicholas Bruckman, whose “Valley of Saints” is a narrative of a poor Kashmiri citizen who tries to run away, chased by the military, does not shrink away from capturing the deterioration in Barkan’s body as he goes downhill from being wheelchair bound to losing the clarity of his speech and movement in most of his body. But Barkan, who has a wife Rachael and a young son Carl who calls his daddy by the Hebrew word Abba, becomes a figure not of pity but one that thrusts him into such strenuous political activism that Time magazine has called him one of the world’s one hundred most influential people.

In addition to fighting against Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court of Brett Kavanaugh, whose politics might lead him to hand down decisions that would financially impact the health of disabled Americans, he is caught on camera buttonholing then Senator Jeff Flake on a commercial flight, begging him to vote against a right-wing supported tax bill. Despite Flake’s willingness to listen, standing up in a plaid shirt and showing empathy with the fellow in a wheelchair, he did not promise to vote the way Barkan would like. Still, this confrontation may give viewers the faulty impression that Flake was one of the large majority of ultra-conservative Republican lawmakers when in fact he was among that party’s most reasonable members (not a high bar to overcome). The talk on the aircraft went viral on social media, giving people who do not read newspapers new insight into the divisiveness of current American politics, highlighting the cruelty of self-serving politicians.

Barkan’s story is an inspiring one with limited sentimental goo, one that should give viewers the idea that perhaps our government should spend more on medical research, authorizing more money for seriously disabled people than fighting hopeless, unnecessary wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq. Thankfully ALS is a rare disease usually picked up in late middle age and not in one’s thirties as was the case with Barkan. It will make you wonder why Republicans speak and vote as though social services for ordinary people are disposable while expanding the Monroe Doctrine to cover not just the Western Hemisphere but the entire world commands the attention of today’s oft-times cruel and thoughtless policy makers.

96 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

TITANE – movie review

TITANE
Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Jacques Akchoti, Simonetta Greggio, Jean-Christophe Bouzy
Cast: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Lais Salameh, Bertrand Bonello, Dominique Frot
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/24/21
Opens: October 1, 2021

Do you like my implant?

During the early 1960s Joan Baez made an imprint on the women’s liberation movement with her song, “Wagoner’s Lad,” which begins “Hard is the fortune of all woman kind/ She’s always controlled, she’s always confined…” In a tale of riveting horror, director Julia Ducournau, whose “Raw” about a woman studying to be a vet who has a craving for human flesh, contributes a new movie that is right up her alley. Though some might find it difficult to consider “Titane” principally an allegory–of a woman who is “always controlled, always confined,” nor do you need to do so. This film, which won a Palme D’Or for Ducournau at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, just might knock your socks off. In fact, the energy is so visceral, one might even anticipate a few sensitive souls in the audience heading for the exits, which would be a shame. Moviegoers should be prepared for anything that takes them out of their comfort zones.

In a stunning performance whether playing the part of a woman, Alexia, or of a young man, Adrien, Agathe Rousselle dominates the proceedings, creating potential gasps from the audience whether she uses a knitting needle to kill an aggressive man, or has sex with a car at an auto show, or dances on top of a vehicle at the show or a fire truck. When she gets bored doing this, she kills a few people as though executing a knit-one, pearl-two. It’s not long before the French authorities are after her, transmitting a picture throughout the country. However, Alexia, like our own Brian Laundrie who is suspected of killing his fiancé Gabby, is equally determined to evade the authorities. She could travel the Pyrenees just as Laundrie may be hiking the Appalachian Trail, but she is even more creative. She shaves her head, wraps cloth around her breast to compress it, and invites herself to the home of Vincent Legrand (Vincent Lindon), whose son disappeared ten years earlier and would now be seventeen. At that point, “Titane” enters the territory of John Guare and Fred Schepisi’s 1993 movie “Six Degrees of Separation,” wherein a young scammer introduces himself to a couple as their long lost son.

The film starts at a furious pace. A young girl is injured in a car crash and is fixed up with a titanium plate in her head. Titane means titanium—which reminds me of a dental implant I recently received which, hopefully, does not mess me up the way Alexia’s does. Years late she performs as a showgirl at a motor show, getting off by humping a car and, as we all know what happens when you have sex with a car. You become pregnant. When her knitting needle fails to abort the early pregnancy, she uses the tool as a weapon to kill an obnoxious man, but when one of the women she is fighting escapes to report her to the gendarme, she enters the disguise.

What a show, enhanced by cinematographer Ruben Impens’ bright colors and terrifically realistic fires. Agathe Rousselle, who could be up for year-end awards for an arresting performance in her first professional role, plays neatly off Vincent Lindon, chief of a fire department whose life changes when he becomes involved with his lost-and-found “son” Adrien. Adrien has quite the job to fool the heretofore depressed father, since tightening cloth around your chest is only the beginning of the scam. She refuses to talk, hinting that she had been traumatized during her ten years’ separation, and what’s more she had previously broken her own nose and punched herself around to make the falsification credible. Adrien’s mother (Myriem Akheddiou), who visits the house, becomes suspicious but is willing to play along since “Adrien” is making dad happy again. Not so happy are the young firefighters, who envy the attention that Vincent is giving his “son,” their antipathy leading to some major bullying.

All hell breaks out when Alexia is about to give birth with the help of her putative dad but without the presence of the car she humped. Motor oil drips from her body, a fitting summing up of what is probably going to compete with Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Icelandic entry “Lamb” for the year’s most imaginative picture.

In French with English subtitles.

108 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

ADVENTURES OF A MATHEMATICIAN – movie review

ADVENTURES OF A MATHEMATICIAN
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Thor Klein
Writer: Thor Klein
Cast: Philippe Tlokinski, Esther Garrel, Fabian Kociecki, Joel Basman, Mateusz Wieclawek, Sam Keeley
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/22/21
Opens: October 1, 2021

I know that 2+2 equals 4 and can even show the extensive work on paper using Core Math. I discovered that A+B sometimes equals 7, sometimes not. But what I do not understand is how mathematics helps scientists to make the atomic bomb. “Adventures of a Mathematician” does not tell you how, since it takes more than 102 minutes to explain, nor is there much of an adventure in the Thor Klein’s film, at least not in the sense of Indiana Jones. Instead this is a staid, conventional, chronological biopic of a guy who, according to his Wikipedia article had a fine head on his shoulders. And we do learn that he is not all numbers and chain-smoking. Maybe the greatest adventure he had was to escape from Poland, where he was a member of a rich, Jewish family, and get a gig teaching mathematics at Harvard—where in one scene he seemed to be teaching the tie-and-jacket adult students card tricks. We know he also flirted with a French woman, Françoise (Esther Garrel) at a party, married her and had a daughter; and that he traveled to New Mexico to take part in creating the atomic bomb. But we don’t even see a mushroom cloud when the bomb was tested. Did I mention that the movie is staid? (sedate · respectable · quiet · serious · steady, serious-minded).

I have a sudden craving for mushrooms.

Stan Ulam is not a household name like Albert Einstein, though he does have a extensive Wikipedia article. And he is played by Philippe Tlokinski, a handsome dude who is fluent in Polish and English, but writer-director Klein, whose first movie “Lost Place” looks more exciting as it is about four teenagers come across an abandoned US military radio tower station that once was part of a secret military program. This is his sophomore feature. We can wonder whether his third film will be like the first or like this one.

Klein touches upon Ulam’s relationship with his younger brother Adam (Mateusz Wieclawek) who came to America, but they worry about their parents who are left in Poland. This may explain in part why Stan Ulam, along with other mathematicians, physicists and engineers are eager to build a bomb before the Nazis produce one, yet hey, the war in Europe is over so who’s left to torment? There’s Japan on whom to test the bomb, though at least one scientist, Sam Keeley (Jack Calkin) delivers an explosion of his own, yells that it is barbaric to burn women and children. Amen.

When Stan hears arguments from Edward Teller (Joel Basman), who pushes for a hydrogen bomb—which may need three baby atomic bombs to light up–he is caught in the middle. He understands and abhors the devastation wrought in Japan and is also aware that the Cold War with the Soviet Union is back on. And one Klaus Fuchs has apparently committed treason to giving the USSR the secret of its making. A final melodramatic burst comes from Stan’s brother, who renounces all ties to Judaism. Huh?

Bringing the key points in the life of a mathematician who has produced far more than chalk writing on a board is a worthy project for director Klein, but…meh!

101 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS – movie review

EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS
Quiver Distribution
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: S.J. Chiro
Writer: David Guterson, Thane Swigart
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Tom Skerritt, Annie Gonzalez, Victoria Summer Felix, Wally Dalton
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/21/21
Opens: September 24, 2021

Rex – retrieve that bird

You would be hard put to find a better, more succinct summary of the nature of human beings than in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” II,vii. Babyhood is not that terrific, “Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms,” nor is youth, “And then the whining schoolboy with his satchel…creeping like snail unwillingly.” Worst of all is old age, the seventh stage, “second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” The final stage is the canvas onto which S.J. Chiro paints, and for the most part it’s not pretty. And yet, given that old age is being performed by the eighty-eight-year-old Tom Skerritt as Ben Givens, you may come away from the film with the idea that even with cancer, old age has redeeming features.

In the 1999 novel by David Guterson, Ben Givens is by comparison a young man of seventy-three, but given his diagnosis of colon cancer, there is no chance that he can live to the ripe old age portrayed by the Givens in the movie. And if we can go back and steal the best-known line of Shakespeare, Chiro, using a script by Thane Swigart and adapting the novel of David Guterson “to be or not to be” is the choice. The conflict is not man vs. man, or man vs. nature, but man against himself.

Throughout Chiro’s film, you may be haunted by the portrait of Ben’s inner battle. Given is a retired cardiac surgeon in Seattle who a year back had lost his beloved wife and now calculates that without treatment he has one year to live. The death will not be pretty, as he matter-of-factly relates, blisters, pneumonia, suffocation. When he fails to pull the trigger of his rifle at home, he intends to finish the deed outdoors, heading from Seattle to rural Washington state where he meets the kinds of people that big city cats cannot believe.

Oh we can believe Bill Harden (John Paulsen), the only bad guy. His coyote dog mauls Bill’s four-legged hunting companion, and Ben shoots the runaway animal. Bill, the attack dog’s owner, takes no responsibility for the aggression and takes away Ben’s rifle. On the other hand, abandoning his car after it breaks down, Ben meets the nicest folks after accepting a ride to a motel from a passing motorist. He then discovers a veterinarian, Anita (Annie Gonzalez), willing to drive out at night to stitch up the dog and keep the animal for observation.

Maybe he should have listened to his daughter, Renee Givens (Mira Sorvino), who advised Ben to give up thoughts of the road trip, but then we would not have been able fully to enjoy the performance of Tom Skerritt, whose movie résumé stretches back to 1962 but has regularly been featured heretofore mostly in supporting roles. Soft-focus flashbacks to his adolescence in East Washington State finds him a handsome young man, courting young Rachel (Victoria Summer Felix), though we learn little from the meetings, which is fine since we are really interested in his feelings as an old man bereft of his early dreams, expecting to die painfully in one year or more immediately by his own hand.

The mountainous regions of Washington State are photographed in their natural beauty by Sebastien Sandiuzzi; the river, the brush, the evocation of God’s country coupled with a look at the friendliness of a nearby village where, like with “Cheers,” everybody knows your name.

93 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

A LA CALLE – MOVIE REVIEW

A LA CALLE (To the Streets)

Warner Media 150 for HBO Max
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nelson G. Navarrete, Maxx Caicedo
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/13/21
Opens: September 15, 2021 on HBO Max

A La Calle (2020) - IMDb
Political Activism

Some American Marxists have a habit of endorsing the government or any country that calls itself socialist, as though each of these authoritarian regimes have not wound up with firmly statist roles. So it is that in Venezuela, American socialists and their sympathizers virtually deified Hugo Chavez for breaking up big estates and handing them over to “the people.” His successor, however, never had the Chavez’s charisma, and what’s more he has been blamed for turning his once rich Venezuela into a nation rife with starvation and hyperinflation. There is little doubt that Nicolás Maduro rigged elections and, in fact, our own previous president recognized his major opponent as the actual interim president of Venezuela. In this documentary, Nelson G. Navarrete and Maxx Caicedo make the case that Maduro does hold his post illegally as do hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who line the streets demanding his ouster.

“A la calle” calls dramatic attention to the situation in Venezuela, once the richest country in Latin America, now perhaps the poorest. But in giving so much attention to the street protests, where opposition leaders like Leopoldo Lopéz and Juan Guaidó bring out hundreds of thousands of citizens of Caracas a la calle—directors Nelson G. Navarrete and Maxx Caicedo do make crystal clear why so many people treat these opponents as though they are messiahs.

Instead of doing their best to try to block out the speeches with intrusive music, the directors could have made clear why the country blames the current president for sinking the country’s economy. The economy is contracting as the country is almost wholly dependent on the world price of oil—which it does not control. At the same time, prices for goods are sky high, so that a family might be able to afford a kilo of cheese and a couple of plátanos, they would have to choose between the two. If it were not tragic, it would be humorous to note as we see one head of family plunk down bankrolls of bolivars as though he had just robbed a bank, but all of that paper is worth just enough to get some pasta and rice Can you imagine what would happen in our country if inflation hit 450% a year as it does in Venezuela? Some years ago a U.S. dollar would net you 100 bolivars. Now one dollar can get you 404,296,000,000 bolivars. Need wallpaper, anybody?

When the government–imposed price ceilings on food, the supermarket shelves were cleared out in days. Now that the government has backtracked, milk, eggs, flour, soap and toilet paper are unaffordable to most. But here’s the rub. While Venezuelans and an increasing number of soldiers have crossed the bridge to Colombia, the film does not explain why so many folks believe their problems would be over if Maduro departed: a corrupt dictator who refuses to allow humanitarian aid from Brazil and Colombia since that would be an admission of failure. If opposition leaders like Juan Guaidó, once head of the Venezuelan National Assembly—which at one point was dissolved by Maduro—took power in Miraflores–he is recognized as the current interim president by fifty countries—how would that solve the food and medicine shortages? Even the brief allowances that Maduro made by distributing food to his supporters among the poor through the CLAP program is corrupt. It is said that Maduro owns the company from which the food was bought, but we do not learn this from the film.

While it’s true that Maduro and his inner circle have gained weight on lavish meals while 78% of his people are starving, we’ve got to ask: once again, how would a new leadership change the situation when the country depends so much on the price of oil? We wind up with a film full of sound and fury (and did I mention the intrusive, unrelenting music?) signifying little other than rah rah speeches and impressively filmed street demonstrations.

111 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C-
Acting – n/a
Technical –B
Overall – C

POWDER KEG (KRUDTTONDEN)MOVIE REVIEW

POWDER KEG (Krudttønden)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ole Christian Madsen
Writer: Lars Kristian Andersen, Ole Christian Madsen
Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lars Brygmann, Jakob Oftebro, Sonja Richter, Nicolaj Kopernikus, Martin Greis-Rosenthal
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/29/21
Opens: September 3, 2021

Thinking of quitting the SWAT team

The political situation in the U.S. has become so divisive that some say politics has replaced religion as the factor that most divides people. Now, given the satirical banter by late-night comedians like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmerl and Trevor Noah, much of which was taken up with excoriating comments about the former president, you may wonder why religion gets a free pass—aside from commentary about the cover up of sexual abuses among some fathers of the church, not really a challenge to religious beliefs. So: even in free-speech America (free speech, that is, until you are a victim of cancel culture or are threatened with physical violence for advocating masks), religion goes on an unapproachable dais. We respect each other’s faiths. Yet, it’s not every day that Americans are threatened with death for criticizing a religion, but among radical Islamists, there’s a different story to tell. And Ole Christian Madsen, who directs “Powder Keg, with the original title Krudttønden, the name of a culture center in which a fatal shooting took place in Copenhagen in February 2015, tells an involving story albeit one with physical action reserved for the conclusion.

There are two shootings, actually, both by a radicalized Muslim, a frequent felon named Omar El-Hussein (Albert Arthur Amiryan). Despite his crime record, given Denmark’s liberal treatment of offenders who are often put inside luxury prisons, he is out on parole pending an appeal. His is the most sinister character in a film that wisely avoids a straight documentary in favor of a rich narrative. Omar, who kills one innocent person in each of two shootings in Denmark’s wonderful capital, is sought by Rico, a SWAT team member (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who has been battered and is ultimately urged to leave the vigorous requirements of SWAT for a gig that would preserve his life and limbs.

We will meet two other principal characters whose careers in separate avenues of the city will take them together at the conclusion. Welcome Dan Uzan (Adam Buschard), a chief of security at a synagogue who is applying for a better job in logistics; Finn Nørgaard (Lars Brygmann), a journalist-filmmaker who is an advocate of free speech without the “but,” meaning there should be no exceptions, not even against satirical treatment of any religion. When Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist sketches The Prophet as a dog, Omar’s fury passes the point of no return. Though even his buddies at an Islamic club warn him against violent action, he insists, like Rodney Dangerfield, that he gets no respect. What’s more he envisions a caliphate with Islam, “the only true religion,” giving orders to the entire world after the Conquest.

The shoot-up scenes are well done, with one principal character’s becoming a hero and giving his life to stop the gunman when he could have run like the others, though in the second event a man is killed outright. (You can read all about the true story in Wikipedia under Copenhagen terrorist shootings.)I particularly enjoyed Finn’s extended conversation at a dinner in which he tried the patience of his friends, most of whom agreed with Finn, that freedom of speech is freedom of speech. (Though even we in the U.S. can legally bar speech that leads directly to action: applied too late against the former president on January 6.) Characters are given humanity even outside the realm of the central issue. Dan Uzan, ready to move up after delivering security for yet another Bat Mitzvah outside Copenhagen’s Great Synagogue, cannot get a better job for months, rejected by phone time after time. Rico, divorced with two kids, fantasies getting back with his ex-wife. Poor guy has women visiting him for sex, but one of them rejected his call for yet another date saying that he’s too tired for her.

All in all, yet another series of true events done in somewhat fictionalized narrative form, “Powder Keg” is a visceral reminder that when it comes to religion as with politics and opinions of rap music, people do not all think the same. Some will show their differences by damaging the lives and limbs of others.

106 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

WILDLAND – movie review

WILDLAND (Kød & blod)
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jeanette Nordahl
Writer: Ingeborg Topsøe
Cast: Sandra Guldberg Kampp, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Joachim Fjelstrup, Elliott Crosset Hove, Besir Zeciri
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/13/21
Opens: August 20, 2021 at New York’s Film Forum

Criminal family values

“Wildland,” whose Danish title means “flesh and blood,” is a gangster film, a crime drama, one in which a murder takes place which leads police to intimidate the person they believe should be easiest to crack and confess. But if you’re looking for another “Godfather” (though a loyal family is involved), you’ll have to look a lot father than Denmark where the action takes place. (Given that “Wildland” is filmed in the Danish ‘burbs, you would not guess the location unless you spotted the spoken language as Danish.)

This is a muted story, too low key for a Hollywood-only audience, more suited to the kinds of indie-lovers that may have seen it at a festival. In her freshman entry, one that will lead the proper audience to keep their eyes on direktør Jeanette Nordahl to watch for later contributions, the film, which highlights strong female performances, opens with a car turned upside down. Seventeen-year-old Ida (Sandra Guldberg Kampp) survives, walking away later to receive a cast on her arm, but her alcoholic mother dies. What’s to become of Ida, who not surprisingly asks her social walker to set her up in her own apartment?

No deal: she is sent to live with her long-estranged aunt Bodil (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who demonstrates throughout the story her love for her three sons Jonas (Fjel Joachim Fjeolstrup), David (Elliott Crosset Howe) and Mads (Besir Zeciri). A good deal of the time, Ida acts as would an American high-school senior, who would doodle while her teacher drones on about the Congress of Vienna. She is understandably upset, not acting hysterical as some kids might, but appearing so indifferent to her new family that you might wonder why they do not return her to the social worker as though she were a phlegmatic Basset hound.

She bonds with one boy’s girlfriend, shows signs of life at a dance hangout, then slowly becomes more attached and at home to such an extent that when she is driving with the boys and witnesses a murder, she knows that she is dealing with a loan-sharking, criminal gang. Will she testify against them when the cops browbeat her, or will she obey the iron-fisted family matriarch who pleads with her to keep silent because “family is everything.”

Happily, direktør Nordahl does not fill the soundtrack with music as a Hollywood regisseur might do but instead opts to give Frederikee Hoffmeier permission to include pulsating music at the film’s major climactic moment. All leads are doing stærkt arbejde (strong work), with young Sandra Guldberg Kampp delivering a thoroughly believable set of reactions each time she discovers something new about this atypical suburban clan.

“Wildland” was featured at the 2020 Berlin Festival. In Danish with English subtitles.

88 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

PIG – movie review

PIG
Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Sarnoski
Writer: Michael Sarnoski, story by Michael Sarnoski, Vanessa Block
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin, Nina Belforte, Cassandra Violet, Julia Bray, Elijah Ungvary
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/2/21
Opens: August 3, 2021 (streaming)

Heartbroken

If you were tempted to see this film thinking that it’s about the title character, you might be disappointed. “Pig,” despite enjoying lavish attention and great respect by her human companion, does not have much of a role, save for a few attempts to talk Latin, which is indigenous to porkers. But she is nice looking; colorful, not the typical white pig you will find suffering hell in any one of America’s pig farms and processing plants. Even Gunda had a bigger role in Viktor Kosakovskiy’s documentary.

But you say, “No problem?” That you really went to writer-director Michael Sarnoski’s picture to enjoy Nicolas Cage’s magnificent performance as Robin Feld? There’s a reason that Cage is great, aside from the fact that he is such a world-class actor. Sarnoski’s script gives him the chance to show emotions all the way from A to R if not to Z. Sarnoski, whose “Olympia” is about a farm girl who wants more than to be a farm girl (the opposite, if you will, from Nic Cage’s Rob, who goes from his life in the big city to what he might consider a farm), has an easy job with his first full-length film given Cage’s doubtless ability to direct his own performance.

Rob is so traumatized by the loss of his wife Lori years back that he shed his fame as a master chef to retreat to a log cabin that not even Thoreau would go near. He lives, albeit not intimately, with Pig who he uses to search the woods for truffles. He sells the truffles to Amir (Alex Wolff), who drives by from downtown Portland every Thursday to pick up the week’s catch to deliver to tony restaurants. Later Rob will admit that he could gather truffles without his companion but lives with her to avoid loneliness, which may be why he is devastated when a couple of hoodlums break into the shack and kidnap her. Anyone who dotes on such a pet (pigs are smarter than dogs) would be as heartbroken.

There follow a series of strange events that would make “Pig” a super indie; really indie-ish, that is. In search of Pig, he thumbs a ride with Amir, patronizes an illegal fight club of restaurant employees presumably to find out the pig’s location and getting the crap beaten out of him without resisting. He dines, bloody face and unkempt beard to the restaurant Eurydice, where he criticizes a former employee chef (David Knell), for opening a contemporary, successful establishment rather than the pub that he had dreamed of owning. Ultimately he faces the perpetrator who admits to ordering the kidnapping and promises $25,000 if Rob would walk away.

This is not the revenge fantasy that some moviegoers might expect seeing the Nicolas Cage, who in other pics was set on fire and endured flipped cars, is the principal performer, but it is rather a study of regret. That’s what most of us who are unfortunately equipped with enough brains to examine our lives, which is supposedly what makes life living, one which leads caused Rob to throw off his success as a restaurateur and to live in a cabin with his one endearing companion. When you here Amir’s father calling his son a mediocrity, you’ve got to have empathy for Amir as well as for Rob, the former a man who could never become the success enjoyed by his dad Darius (Adam Arkin). At least he has a bond with Rob, with Alex Wolff pairing off nicely as straight man in this odd couple, in a picture that’s filmed on location near Mount Hood which is East of Portland.

Next time a maître d’ asks you to leave his restaurant because you’re not wearing a tie, show him a photo of Rob Feld in one of Portland’s trendy establishments, bloody face, scruff beard, shaggy clothes, yet having a conversation with a chef who is deeply affected.

92 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE CONDUCTOR – movie review

THE CONDUCTOR
Nylon Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bernadette Wegenstein
Writer: Bernadette Wegenstein, Stefan Fauland
Cast: Marin Alsop, Christanne de Bruijn, Benjamin Wainwright, Scott Turner Schofield, Seumas F. Sargent, Annet Malherbe
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/10/21
Opens: June 15, 2021

Even some feminists understand that few women should qualify as firefighters. Can they lift 300 pounds, the weight of the average American? That’s a job for men, for the most part. But a baton: how much does it weigh? Under a pound? Then there is every reason that a woman can do the job of conducting an orchestra as well as a man. Yet there are probably more female doormen in Manhattan than women who aspire to be orchestral conductors.

So along comes U.S. born Marin Alsop, determined to break the sound barrier. “The Conductor” is directed by Bernadette Wegenstein (yes, women get directing jobs), obviously a progressive, given that her doctoral degree from Vienna University is accomplished with a dissertation on the portrayal in the media of the ActUp movement. And in one of her films, “The Good Breast,” she criticizes the overuse of mastectomies.

Marin Alsop anchors the documentary, leading us in the audience to see how with determination she becomes the first woman to direct an American classical group of musicians, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She becomes a mentor to other women who dream of becoming conductors including one African-American man who notes that conducting has been his lifelong dream. I know that every kid dreams of being an astronaut, and even musical tots may want to be the next Benny Goodman or Louis Armstrong, Artur Rubenstein or Glenn Gould. But conductor?

What does a conductor do anyway? In the film’s most incisive scene, Leonard Bernstein, the last century’s most gifted and versatile composer-conductor-pianist-lecturer, steps away from a rehearsing orchestra for a moment and asks: Do these people need a conductor? Aren’t they doing just fine without one? Sadly, the question is not really answered, so viewers may still think that conductors are little more than human metronomes.

Alsop is nothing if not cosmopolitan. She has spent eight years conducting in Sao Paulo, apparently picking up the Portuguese language, speaking German while she conducts the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Nor is she a snob that would not listen to anything not seriously classical, having directed an all-women’s swing band, playing such great hits as “In the Mood.” (If you like films about music, be sure to check out the 1953 movie of that title starring James Stewart.) This swing band brings me back to my days at Tufts when each year, Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops, does renditions of such serious classical greats as “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

By way of instruction, she tells one young woman studying to be a conductor to be like the person who is suddenly confronted by an angry bear. No…don’t play dead. Bad advice. Instead make yourself as big as you can. There’s an attitude that happily many women, at least in the West, have taken to heart.

The soundtrack is as stirring as anything from the huge musical “In the Heights,” with more than just ten-second snippets from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Shostakovich’s Fifth, Mahler’s Fifth, the famous opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth, some of Rimski-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. (Considering some of these picks, one wonders whether the folks making “The Conductor” have liquor on their minds.)

Where there’s music, there is hope for humanity. This optimism comes up near the conclusion, which makes one think that instead of selling assault rifles and fighter jets to our allies, we should just train them to make music, not war.

The film has been selected to play at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. In English with snippets of German and Portuguese, English subtitles.

90 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

A PERFECT ENEMY – movie review

A PERFECT ENEMY
Brainstorm Media
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kike Maíllo
Writers: Cristina Clemente, Kike Maíllo, Fernando Navarro, from Amélie Nothomb’s novel “Cosmétique de l’ennemi.
Cast: Athena Strates, Tomasz Kot, Marta Nieto, Dominique Pinhon
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/8/21
Opens: June 11, 2021

The way the plot is constructed reminds me of the opening lines of my favorite poem:

“It is an ancient mariner
And he stoppeth one of three,
‘By thy long gray beard and glittering eye,
Wherefore stoppeth thou me?’”

Top architect Jeremiasz August (Tomasz Kot) delivers a talk at a Ted-type conference, where his best line is that perfection is reached when there is nothing more to take away. He is on the way to Charles deGaulle airport where he expects to board a flight from Paris to Warsaw when Texel Textor (Athena Strates), a woman of about twenty years, pounds on the taxi door. She asks for a lift to the airport since she cannot find a taxi. He reluctantly offers her a seat, though he is running late for his flight. Incredibly, when she fears that she left her luggage and passport behind, he allows the taxi to reverse course so she can find it.

What Barcelona-born director Kike Maíllo will be dealing with for most of the story is like what rivets wedding guest in Coleridge’s poem; rooted to the ground although he “heard the loud bassoon,” unable to walk away from the cursed sailor. Texel serves, if you will, as a modern ancient mariner (oxymoron intended), relishing the famous man’s attention, and if he had any doubts about giving the woman his time, her question, “Have you ever killed anybody?” rivets him. Her story will come to near completion when she describes the person that she murdered.

Opposites attract. The architect is a perfectionist; his philosophy apparently one of minimalism. By contrast she is like the kid who is sent to the principal’s office almost daily; impulsive, driven, and imaginative where he favors the concrete. Jeremiasz’s own imagination, however, is not restricted to counting sheep. Unlike the impression he gives to his audience at the Ted-type talk, that he is wedded to the concrete, to what can be proved (he does not believe in God), he will fool the modern mariner and, like the song from Anna in “The King and I” song “Whenever I’m afraid…I whistle a happy tune…and fool myself as well,” he deceives himself.

The two have started off as strangers, although Texel may or may not have been at Jeremiasz’s lecture, they have someone in common, Isabella (Marta Nieto), a beautiful woman whose own story seems so compelling per Texel’s narration that the architect may miss his flight and not care. Such is the power of a good storyteller, and Textor, whose name means “weaving a text,” is magnificent.

This is an imaginative tale full of human emotion that at some point reaches a boiling point. A person’s head comes crashing into a mirror in the airport men’s room. A knife is drawn, which will predictably be used. So no, Jeremiasz, you may wish the world to be rational, but it is anything but. After a few hours of conversation with Texel, who is the architect’s unequal, too young to be a college graduate, the architect has been taken down, his view of the world deconstructed.

90 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

IN THE HEIGHTS – movie review

IN THE HEIGHTS
Warner Bros.
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jon M. Chu
Writer: Quiara Alegria Hudes, based on the musical stage play with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, concept by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV
Opens: June 11, 2021

In The Heights Movie Poster (h) : 11 X 17 Inches

If home is where the heart is, the one concept that you can predict from the first minutes of this dazzling musical is this: Though the people of this neighborhood may have come from the Dominican Republic, Washington Heights is home. Unless you can play spectacular baseball, you can dream more of success in Nueva York than in Santo Domingo. What’s more, the people surrounding the subway stop at W. 181 Street in northern Manhattan have created their own DR, perfectly willing to put up with the summer’s heat and the occasional loss of electric power since they have the ambition to work hard, hearing that the money will come. Or so we American optimists believe.

Director Jon M. Chu, best known in these parts for the runaway hit “Crazy Rich Asians” about well-to-do people in New York, one of whom goes to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family, now takes on people who are rich at least in spirit. As we learn from a variety of Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs and lyrics and a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, the Tony-awards winning, three-years’-running Broadway play is gloriously taken to the big screen. The musical loses nothing by the transfer and even gains, as the neighborhood by the George Washington Bridge is sometimes filled with a near-mile of dancing people, all of whom could get places on TV’s Dancing with the Stars.

Anthony Ramos holds the story together as Usnavi, who runs a bodega with his cousin, his unique name taken from a U.S. Navy ship, perhaps the first English letters his parents saw upon their arrival in Nueva York. Director Cho, knowing that people who attend musicals live for song and dance just as opera lovers live for the arias, gives Ramos and company a chance to show their mettle in hip-hop (though not taking up the same time as it did in Miranda’s “Hamilton”), in jazz, and in Latin dances namely salsa and merengue. Ramos, the 29-year-old actor known to cinephiles for his roles in “Hamilton” as Philip Hamilton and Ramon in “A Star is Born” gets the tale rolling by telling a long story to a group of young people on the beach, including the adorable Iris played by Olivia Perez in her sophomore movie role.

Usnavi, having come here with his parents, wants to move up the ladder more quickly than he could as a New York bodega owner, and dreams of going back to a Caribbean paradise. He saves his dollars to buy a kiosk in the DR that had been owned by his father. He is fond of his one employee, his teen cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), and tries to coax him into changing his roots as well. But Sonny, despite living with an alcoholic dad, still prefers New York over any move. Usnavi has longed for a hotter relationship with Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who wants to move up the social ladder by getting into the downtown Manhattan fashion industry. If Usnavi is the movie’s center, Claudia (Olga Merediz), the entire neighborhood’s would-be abuela (grandmother), takes the role of mentor, watching lovingly over her flock.

The story’s other romance, between Benny (Corey Hawkins), a taxi dispatcher, and Nina (Leslie Grace), is noted particularly for Nina’s apparent going the wrong way on the road to success. Though a freshman at Stanford, she has dropped out, concerned that her father Kevin (Jimmy Smits) cannot afford the tuition, but mostly because as a Latino she feels a fish out of water in the prestigious California institution. This is a surprise considering that Stanford, like so many other top universities in the U.S., make a point to have a diverse body of students. (She might feel more comfortable at NYU or Columbia, where she may have been accepted as well.)

But hey, this is a musical, the crowd-pleasing scene taken over by song and dance. Of particularly merit is a Busby Berkeley-like scene in a pool, the wall-to-wall dancing in the neighborhood where cinematographer Alice Books trains her lenses on location, the audience wondering how the company was able to take up so many blocks in a normally busy neighborhood with no interference by passers-by.

Politics is not ignored. There lies a worrisome threat of a potential cancellation of DACA by some undocumented folks, and gentrification is raising rents in the area, so salon proprietor Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega) cannot afford the increases and is moving—but not to the DR, only up north to Bronx’s Grand Concourse. It’s a shame that she is on her last days in the town considering the delicious gossip that these customers spread while getting their hair done and their nails painted. The most imaginative song-and-dance is by Benny and Nina who appear to be Mr. and Mrs. Spiderman, walking straight up and down the walls of an old apartment building. (If you watched Stephen Colbert doing push-ups in a recent show when he was in truth simply extending his arms, you realize that all that had to be done was to move the camera on its side.)

If you liked “Hamilton” for its sense of history (lacking in this show) and its emphasis on a steady diet of rap, you might find that artistry less developed in “In the Heights.” Still, the lenses are in love with all these people. The musical on the whole is provocative, engrossing, poignant; a high-voltage treasure.

143 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

SHEPHERD: The Story of a Jewish Dog

SHEPHERD: The Story of a Jewish Dog
JDog Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lynn Roth
Writer: Lynn Roth, Based on Asher Kravitz’s novel “The Jewish Dog”
Cast: August Maturo, Ken Duken, Ayelet Zurer, Ádám Porogi, Viktória Stefanovszky
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/21/21
Opens: May 28, 2021

If you have even been owned by a dog or two, if you have felt the reciprocal love that comes from this lucky break, prepare to shed a tear. “Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog,” tells of the separation and the ultimate reunion of a 12-year-old boy Joshua (August Maturo) and his German Shepherd Caleb (Hebrew for “dog” also connoting “as if it understands”). But if you are the kind of person who, when told by a friend that her dog got lost, or died, and you respond, “So what? It’s a dog and you can get another,” you might miss the emotional impact evoked in this film or, who knows…you might see and feel the tragedy when dog and human are separated.

The idea of a Jewish dog may be ironic, or maybe not, but in any case Lynn Roth, who directs and co-wrote, adapted Israeli Asher Kravitz’s novel “The Jewish Dog” translated into English by Michal Kessler, which on Amazon states that it is meant for people fourteen years of age and up. It is, I believe, meant for the entire family, if you overlook its basic simplicity (meant as a compliment because it is kid-friendly) and the fact that everyone speaks good English—the Germans played largely by Hungarians, the folks playing Yugoslav partisans, and to a lesser extent the American actors.

Surveys have found that forty percent of Americans have no idea what the Holocaust was all about, certainly true of the “Proud Boys” and Oath Keepers who are sure that it was all made up by Jews who pushed for the creation of Israel, and who spread the fake news via the “worldwide Jewish control of the media.” There is a direct line from the movie “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and “Life is Beautiful,” made largely for teens, so you don’t have to worry that your adolescent girls and boys will hear any curse word stronger than the “damn,” or that any dog would have the bad manners to pee and poop for the camera, or even to sniff another canine butt. But you will see the phenomenal brutality of the Nazis save for one guy, Ralph (Ken Duken), who adopts “Shepherd” with the job of chasing runaway Jews, calls him “Blitz,” and gives him love. Never mind that he is ready to kill young Joshua, a resident of the Treblinka concentration camp, for stealing crumbs meant for the camp animals.

The tale opens on the Berlin of 1935 when Jews are increasingly oppressed by signs on stores “No Jews allowed.” Joshua’s mother Shoshonna (Ayelet Zurer) and father Samuel (Ádám Porogi) break the news that Jews have been forbidden to have pets and that all their dogs were impounded. Shepherd is adopted first by the housekeeper’s husband Frank (Miklós Kapácsy), who calls him “Wilhelm,” and is henpecked by his mean wife Greta (Lois Robbins) who uses the opportunity to tell Frank how worthless he is.

Shepherd runs away, finds his way home, sees that his family is missing, and is caught on the street by the dogcatchers. In short order, he’s chosen by Nazi Ralph (Ken Duken) who now tells the dog his name is Blitz. Blitz is so brilliant that he learns to give the Heil Hitler salute, ingratiating him with the German officer corps who assign Ralph the job of training him to cut down anyone wearing a yellow star.

Life as shown in the Treblinka barracks is neither “Stalag 17” nor “Escape from Sobibor.” Little Joshua is assigned to feed the camp’s ducks, chickens, pigs and dogs, at which time Shepherd/Wilhelm/Blitz excitedly sees the boy and Joshua excitedly sees “Shepherd/Wilhelm/Blitz. The rest follows the tenets of historical fiction, though the movie ends before the book does so we do not see the death of the dog or Joshua.

The key conversation in this film takes place early on, as Joshua’s family tries to sell Caleb in the park. They are confronted by a potential sale, but the interested gentleman takes a pass because he cannot get the dog’s papers and therefore may not be pure. Call this a subtle dig at the show dog world, but more important, the passerby has internalized the absurd idea of the purity of blood. As sixty percent of Americans know, Jews, gypsies, even Jehovah’s Witnesses went to death camps because of the so-called impurity of their red stuff in a film which avoids graphic scenes like prisoners hanging (though a few get electrocuted on the camp fence, but that’s a distant shot).

This is a compelling enough movie, an effective Holocaust 101 course, entertaining enough for the big fry and likely absorbing the teens and prepubescent. The show’s star, the title character, is uncredited in the IMDB may be played by more than one dog.

93 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

200 METERS – movie review

200 METERS
Odeh Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ameen Nayfeh
Writer: Ameen Nayfeh
Cast: Ali Suliman, Anna Unterberger, Lana Zreik, Gassan Abbas, Nabil Al Raee, Motaz Malhees, Mahmoud Abu Eita, Samia Bakri Qazmuz
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/14/21
Opens: May 19-27, 2021 at the Human Rights Festival Watch Film Festival

Poster

To get an idea of what it’s like to be separated from your family like the people in this film, unable to meet with them without putting up with humiliating hassles, think of this. Brooklyn joined the rest of New York City in 1898. Imagine that Brooklyn and Manhattan are now hostile to each other. The U.S. government makes people go through a bureaucratic maze if they want to directly cross the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan or to travel from Manhattan to Brooklyn. There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is you cannot sneak from your busy family’s Brooklyn apartment to visit your mistress in Manhattan. The good news is your in-laws from Manhattan may not visit you in Brooklyn. Similarly, in “200 Meters” Palestinians living in the West Bank cannot cross over into Israel proper without ID cards, regular permits and work permits. By controlling passages between Israel and the West bank, the Israeli government has succeeded in stopping at least 75% of the terror incidents that the country faced previously. What’s going down now, in mid-May 2021, shows how suppressed feelings over the hassles can boil over violently.

The title comes from the distance that Mustafa (Ali Suliman) lives from his wife Salwa (Lana Zreik). Mustafa lives with his mother in the West Bank near the city of Tulkarem (the writer-director’s birthplace) and Salwa lives with her kids in Israel. Why are they not living in the same house? Mustafa wants nothing to do with Israeli citizenship and refuses to hold an Israeli ID. Salwa wants her child to go to a Macabee Camp in Haifa under Jewish auspices, which infuriates her husband, while at the same the more practical Salwa does not understand why he cannot live with her in Israel. Thing is, Mustafa can see his wife’s apartment house from his window (just as Sarah Palin can see Russia from her Alaska digs). She can signal him with lights. She can talk on the phone with him. They simply have different politics.

If you think the tension between them can be a catalyst for an exciting movie, you’re on the shekels, because this is one of the best road trip films in years. “200 Meters” is a thriller which at the same time educates the moviegoing public about what it’s like to make a choice. Should you go the 200 meters through a busy, crowded checkpoint to cross the big wall that the Jewish state has erected separating the West Bank from Israel, or, if you are missing a permit, should you wait over the weekend to renew your permit? Or should you take a trip of several hours catered by smugglers who make money ferrying people via a back way? It is not that Mustafa refuses to go through the checkpoint. The problem is that his permit has expired, so he is determined to stay put until he renews it after the weekend. However, when his son Majd (Tawfeeq Nayfeh) is hit by a car and is in an Israeli hospital, Mustafa wants to get to Israel pronto. Thus the payment to smugglers and the long road trip with the possibility of being caught by Israeli soldiers and paying a stiff fine. On top of that, smuggler Nader (Nabil Al Raai), though receiving shekels worth $100 U.S. from Mustafa, takes his time, awaiting other passengers to make his job more lucrative.

A motley crew join Mustafa, including 17-year-old Rami (Mahmoud Abu Eita), militant Palestinian Kifah (Motaz Malhees), and beautiful Anne (Anna Unterberger), who carries a large camera, identifying herself as a German filmmaker who wants her public to see what the Palestinians have to go through.

The story, filmed by Elin Kirschfink completely in the West Bank (I’m guessing) as there are no real-life Jewish Israelis who would be permitted to take part therein. I see only Arabic names in the cast list except for the blond pony-tailed Unterberger who speaks English and who comes close to being slugged by a fellow passenger when she speaks fluent Hebrew. The trip involves not just the chance of being busted by soldiers but also a fight with Palestinian thugs who declare that a wall encountered along the way is “our wall,” demanding additional tariffs.

Kudos to writer-director Armeen Nayfeh for his first full-length narrative film. Of course if he were in the cast, he would be the guy with the big camera rather than the German woman. He has a way with creating tension while enlightening us about traveling difficulties borne by Palestinians who want to work or visit in Israel. His characterizations are also nuanced: Mustafa, though refusing to take advantage of his right to an Israeli ID by marriage to an Israeli, never comes across as a hate-field, vituperative seeker of vengeance. It helps that his cast is led by Nazareth-born Ali Suliman, who trained at the Acting School in Tel Aviv and who you may have seen in eight TV episodes of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”

96 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

GEORGETOWN

GEORGETOWN
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christopher Waltz
Writer: David Auburn, based on the NY Times article 7/8/12 “The Worst Marriage in Georgetown” by Franklin Foer
Cast: Christoph Waltz, Vanessa Redgrave, Annette Bening
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/12/21
Opens: May 14, 2021

So you think the Ponzi scheme worked out by the late Bernie Madoff is the most egregious case of its kind? Here’s another one that could take top honors away, though it not only yielded few financial dividends, motivated a murder, and involved people in the highest employ of international government. In his debut as director, Christoph Waltz, who may always be identified principally with his stellar role as a high-level Nazi in “Inglourious Basterds,” plans a scheme, yes a Ponzi scheme indeed. He would make contacts with important people, each of whom would refer him to a person of higher stature (including a former prime minister of France), a scammer who would ultimately be best known for killing his wife. Written by the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright David Auburn, “Georgetown” is more than simply inspired by an actual case in in which Albrecht Muth was convicted of killing his far older wife Viola Herms Drath, inheriting a relativity small sum of just a few hundred thousand dollars, but especially a large house in the tony DC section of Georgetown. In the film Ulrich Mott (Christoph Waltz), and his wife Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave) work together together to give celebrity status to a man who, in the movie, is about 44 while his wife is 91. It’s no wonder that Brecht’s daughter by a first marriage, Amanda (Annette Bening), cast a wary eye on Muth when he announced his engagement at a dinner party, one which he catered himself and which prompted Elsa to call him her butler.

“Georgetown” is one of those films that appropriately avoid conventional chronological telling. After all you wouldn’t think that Vanessa Redgrave, whose body is escorted from the house in a zippered bag near the beginning of the drama, is not to be seen again.

Though the actual story involves a teen aged Albrecht Muth courting is sixty-something widow, we are not totally surprised that in the filmed version, a man in his mid-forties makes contact with Elsa, lavishly praising her journalism. We watch as Elsa, flattered by Ulrich who kisses her hand, agrees to see him again—surprisingly enough since a journalist should be among the first to spot a phony.

Mott begins the scam by simply taking over the name tag and identity of the boss who fired him from an internship as a bad fit, getting him into the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Shortly thereafter Elsa, not really appreciating her spouse’s bringing her breakfast in bed, urges him to be ambitious, to use the energy and charm to ascend the career ladder by meeting and impressing important people. Elsa signs her own death warrant, if you will, by encouraging Ulrich’s design in appropriating a name for a fake NGO, which somehow none of the people who serve as his too-willing abettors can see through. Watch how he works and you may go away from the theater with your own ideas on how to scam. It’s simple. At an event, he heads right over to the former prime minister of France, who looks as though he would like to get away from his intruder pronto, but who ultimately is taken in by the man’s graces and is too willing to believe that Ulrich’s NGO, “Eminent Persons Group,” is not just a sheet of worthless paper. Maybe it helped that George Soros, who never heard of the group and who doesn’t know Ulrich is listed on the board of directors.

Who needs Jimmy Carter to bail out Americans held hostage by hostile nations when you have Ulrich Mott to serve as peacemaker? To that end Ulrich struts about with the uniform of an Iraqi soldier, a Brigadier General at that. Why not? The bigger the lie, as we have seen recently in our own country, the more likely people will believe it.

We see the house of cards collapsing when after explaining to some bigwigs that he was in the French Foreign Legion is challenged by one fellow who asks where those bars on his military jacket are for and suggesting sarcastically that Ulrich should ask the foreign legion for help on a dilemma. The film concludes on a hearing to determine whether he should stand trial for murder. Even his own lawyer begs him for something that could help him win a case that has little to no real defense (he was “out for a walk” when his wife was murdered in a break-in).

The film is bookmarked by a distant shot of a man, later identified as Ulrich, dressed in an Iraqi officer’s uniform, commanding a few dozen men. Ultimately this is Waltz’s movie, as he passes this test: do you really feel bad that his character was indicted for murder and, as shown in an epilogue, sentenced to 50 years in jail? If so, he is even a better charmer than we think, able to move us in our theater seats to his side.

99 minutes. (c) 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online

Story – A-

Acting – A

Technical – A-

Overall – A-

THERE IS NO EVIL

THERE IS NO EVIL (Sheytan Vojud Nadarad)
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Mohammad Rasoulof
Writer: Mohammad Rasoulof
Cast: Ehsan Mirhosseini, Shaghayegh Shourian, Kaveh Ahangar, Mohammad Valizadegan, Mahtab Servati, Mohammad Seddighimehr, Baran Rasoulof, Jilla Shahi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/4/21
Opens: May 14, 2021

There Is No Evil - Wikipedia

Jean-Paul Sartre once said that “It is only in our decisions that we are important.” “There Is No Evil” is a feature film with four stories, unrelated to one another except in the theme of how decisions make each central character important. The first three deal with executions in Iran: how the principal character in each story makes up his mind whether to go along with orders or to defy them, which tells us much about the writer-director, Mohammad Rasoulof, who has been sentenced to prison and whose every feature film has been banned from exhibition in his country.

One can see how the absolutist government of Iran would not want citizens exposed to people who make personal decisions to override what others expect of them or, in one case, to go along without compunction to perform a task that few of us would agree to voluntarily.

The first episode is untitled, and though this is the one that has the least melodrama, it has the most effect. Rasoulof respects his audience to the extent that he will show his protagonist, Heshmat (Ehsan Mirhosseini), driving around Tehran, seemingly aimless, with no consequential occurrences anticipated. When he picks up his schooolteacher wife Razieh (Shaghayegh Shourian), she bickers and complains about little things, projecting the ease with which she trusts her husband not to go ballistic with anything she says. She picks up his check in the bank, complaining about red tape that she must go through to have the salary released to her. Razieh must wonder what he does on the night shift when he gets up at three in the morning and pulls away with his car. When he goes about his task without thinking or considering its ethics, we know more about him than his wife does.

The second installment, with the title “She said, you can do it,” is the kind of episode that a general American audience would like given the histrionics that take place in a military detention center. In Rasoulot’s most theatrical story given how much of the action unfolds inside the barracks among a group of soldiers, Pouya (Kaveh Ahangar) trusts his fellows to sympathize with his terror. He has been ordered to execute a man by pushing the stool out from under him, which would result in the man’s death by hanging. But his fellows, with one exception, debate as though in a college freshman bull session about whether a person under orders has the right, even the duty, to disobey if he considers the order immoral. When the time comes for Pouya to obey, which would give him the chance to be released from the prison and get some time off, we leave the theatrical in favor of upheaval.

In “The Birthday,” Javad (Mohammad Valizadegan), a soldier with a three-day pass takes a bath in the woods before visiting his fiancée, Nana (Mahtab Servati). We can see that the immersion in water is a self-designed baptism: the news he feels compelled to give is hardly designed to allow her and her family to reconsider whether his visit is a good one. Sometimes the less you say—becoming more like Heshmat in the first episode—is the most desirable way to go. In any case, going back to Sartre’s quote “It is only in our decisions that we are important,” Javad becomes the man of the hour: his fifteen minutes of fame or infamy.

“Kiss Me” is unusual in that it does not feel it belongs with the other three under the theme of executions. Bahram (Mohammad Seddighimehr), is a dying man who lives with his wife Zaman (Jilla Shahi) in a remote area cut off from other people but immersed in the raising of bees. He picks up his young niece Darya (Baran Rasoulof, who is the director’s daughter) on a visit from Germany where she lives with Bahram’s brother. She becomes attached to Bahram, disturbed when he coughs up blood, and could have returned to Germany with tender views of her uncle. However, there is tension in the air. We wait for an announcement that will change the college girl’s attitude forever. Given the overlong running time of the film, “Kiss Me” could have easily been left for a future narrative, assuming that the next offering could be smuggled out of the country like this one. We can see how in an absolutist nation like Iran, none of the writer-director’s films have been exhibited at home.

150 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE PERFECT CANDIDATE

THE PERFECT CANDIDATE
Music Box Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Writer: Haifaa Al-Mansour, Brad Niemann
Cast: Mila Azahrani, Sara Nora Al Awadh, Dhay, Khalid Abdulrahim
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/6/21
Opens: May 14, 2021

You may be able to get gasoline in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for $2.15 a gallon, but what’s the advantage if you cannot use your car to drive to the movies? Update: As of 2018, the Saudis ended a 35-year ban on movie theaters and have begun getting the public’s enjoyment. AMC is betting that the industry will explode, expecting to put up forty additional theaters in fifteen Saudi cities. Why is this important when judging Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “The Perfect Candidate?” Because this represents change and is just one of the developments that are taking off despite the opposition by extremists who believe the movies are ungodly. (They’re right on target if they’re going to talk about some of the lemons that Hollywood churns out yearly.)

And with change comes more change. When segments of the public get new freedoms, then voices are raised in support. After all, when France and the U.S., notable by comparison with the Third World for accepting at least a near equality of women, that’s when modern feminism took hold. Countries in which women are wholly oppressed, such as in parts of the Middle East, had seen few demonstrations in favor of more freedoms.

This brings us to “The Perfect Candidate,” entered into our own 92nd Academy Award competition for Best International Film, a worthy achievement despite its failure to be nominated. Al-Mansour’s “Wadjda” in 2012 deals with a girl’s desire to win a Koran recitation competition in order to win a green bicycle, and “Mary Shelley” in 2017, finds her moving out of the Middle Eastern culture to examine the title character’s writing of “Frankenstein.” She continues to look at the role of women–this time in Riyadh and its outskirts.

Filmed by Patrick Orth on location, the film opens on Maryam (Mila Azahhrani) in a car, but sends a message up front: Hey! She’s driving! This is something women would not do until the laws changed in 2017, a harbinger of progressive things to come. Who knows? The Saudi monarchy might next allow women to go to medical school! Update: Already done. Maryam is a full-fledged doctor, the only woman with that certification in an emergency clinic that does not even have a paved road to get people quickly into the building when they most need quick help.

Her father, Abdulaziz (Khalid Abdulrahim), grieving for his wife, is a band leader whose profession is under attack by far-right radicals at the very time that women are moving ahead. Doctor or not, Maryam still need her father’s permission to travel to a conference in Dubai. Update: that has changed too. Guardians need not grant permission. Since feminist enthusiasm rises not when women are totally oppressed but when they are given some agency, Maryam becomes a candidate for her municipal council on a platform of paving the road to her clinic, raising her father’s blood pressure and raising doubts that even women would vote for her over her male opponent.

“Hope for the best” is her dad’s motto, which he states to a fellow musician on a concert tour when the orchestra is in danger of being canceled, and is likewise Maryam’s view as she runs for office. In one humorous incident she tries to get the cooperation of an elderly male patient who shouts “get away from me” when she is trying to save her life, and prefers a male nurse to fix a problem and save his life.

The dialogue is workmanlike at best. If this were a Hollywood dramedy with American actors in middle-class American sitcom situations, it could be panned. But it is not. One might get the notion that the director, who co-wrote the movie with Brad Niemann in his freshman script, is far more interested in giving her audience a narrative view of things to come in her country than in calling the shots for a complex work of artistic merit. And there’s nothing wrong with that. As cinema grows, especially given the ambition of AMC to bust the place wide open with multiplexes, we can expect Al-Mansour to develop when no longer confronted principally with educating us about Saudi cinematic progress.

You may enjoy some of the music on display as Maryam’s father leads an orchestra with the oud as principal instrument. A wedding scene near the conclusion and especially sightings of women who are among just themselves without covering their faces gives us the idea that if real progress is made and women are as equal to men as they may some day be in America, Saudi Arabia will burst forth with new ideas from a gender that until recently has been kept in the kitchen.

104 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

HOPE – movie review

HOPE (Håp)
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Maria Sødahl
Writer: Maria Sødahl
Cast: Andrea Bræin Hovig, Stellan Skarsgård, Elli Müller Osborne, Alfred Vatne Brean
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/14/21
Opens: 93RD Academy Awards Candidate Best International Film. Spring 2021 TBD.

Image result for hope movie poster norway

Don’t expect a miraculous cure like the one that Queen Latifah’s character Georgia Byrd is given in “Last Holiday” under a cancer diagnosis. She goes to a posh hotel in the Czech Republic to live it up in her final weeks only to discover that the diagnosis was a mistake. That’s comedy for ya. There is some hope, just some, in “Hope,” Maria Sødahl’s drama of a woman who likely has three months to live, but not really much. After all, this is Norway, and Scandinavia is the home of Ingmar Bergman. Could it be that these people are depicted in so many movies as folks who don’t like to laugh if they can help it?

Norwegian-born writer-director Sødahl’s recent movie “Limbo,” about a woman who moves to Trinidad with her kids and discovers that her husband has had affairs, is only slightly related to the theme in “Hope,” principally the part about an affair. Mostly, this latest contribution, which is Norway’s candidate for Best International Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards celebration, is about an unusual relationship, a partnership between Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård) and Anja (Andrea Bræn Hovig). Both are theater people. She is a dancer and he a theater director, so it’s not unusual to find her executing some choreography in the film’s happiest segment—right at the start. It’s downhill from there as Anja complains of constant headache, sleeplessness, blurred vision to find that the lung cancer that was treated not long ago had metastasized to her brain.

Norwegian socialized medicine being what it is (sorry Bernie), the specialists are all off for the Christmas holidays, so Anja has to suffer the anxiety of an indefinite prognosis. She’s on a powerful steroid meanwhile, which makes her jumpy and particularly sensitive to the callousness of her husband, whose kids from his previous marriage and those from her partnership with him make this a big family affair. Little irritations add up, such as her partner’s inviting guests for Christmas lunch without consulting her.

The partners question how to break the news to the kids, who are of various ages, though she does confess to her best friend Vera (Gojertrud Louis Kynge) who has promised to help take care of the kids if “something should happen” to Anja. Aside from family matters, her two conferences with doctors show different degrees of sensitivity. One tells her not to try experimental treatments such as are found in the U.S. but instead to live it up like the aforementioned Georgia Byrd. The neurosurgeon, said to be the best in the business, wants to go through with the operation on January 2nd, which sets the mood for Anja and Tomas’s discussion about whether to marry on New Year’s Eve. This sets the stage for the film’s major conflict: Anja on the one hand explodes that she should have left Tomas long ago. On the other hand, she is desperate for a closer union with her partner at this time of great stress. Emotional discussions follow between Anja and the children and Anja with Tomas, more than had taken place in all the previous years.

This is a film with a soundtrack that is happily free of Hollywood-style soundtracks to allow a few classical pieces to have a strong effect on the audience. The performances of Skarsgård and Hovig, each having characteristics of both angels and sinners, make this a film that is far from being a saccharine Hallmark offering or a TV disease-of the-week venture. You come away with the feeling that everything taking place in the story is authentic. This is the way mature adults are likely to compress the rest of their lives into days of their most intense distress.

126 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE VIRTUOSO – movie review

THE VIRTUOSO
Lionsgate
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nick Stagliano
Writer: James C. Wolf
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Abbie Cornish, Anson Mount, Eddie Marsan, Diora Baird, David Morse
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/8/21
Opens: April 30, 2021

The Virtuoso - IMDb

Once back in high school when we were sitting around having a bull session, he gave us advise. “The way to attract girls is to be a man of mystery. Don’t reveal too much about yourself. Don’t show much emotion.” This is probably not bad advice, because if you watch the title character (Anson Mount) in “The Virtuoso” as he drives around a rural section of our country, you can’t help wondering about this “lonesome stranger.” Lonesome, mostly taciturn stranger is exactly what he wants people to think. Just ask the waitress (Abbie Cornish), whose name tag reads Dixi. She is taken at first sight when he walks in the diner’s door of the one-horse town. What’s he doing here? Why does he talk so little? Why isn’t he coming on to me? And, oh yes, it helps that he’s handsome, projecting the good looks of a George Clooney.

If you must know, though, he’s not a traveling salesman, he’s not trying to disappear from the earth to avoid the FBI. He’s a hit man, not wandering around with little to do, but a man with a mission. We get an idea about his profession near the opening when, accepting a job from The Mentor (Anthony Hopkins), who hires him to take out specific targets, he plans carefully, as when he shoots out the tire from a speeding car driven by a victim, knowing that the driver would make an overcorrection that would lead him crashing into a wall and making him a steady target. But professional though he is, he makes an error; or, not really his error, but the car’s. The vehicle hits a truck which blows up frying an innocent bystander. Collateral damage. That should be no problem for a virtuoso.

Anthony Hopkins, The Mentor, plays little more than a cameo role, another man of mystery albeit one not as handsome of The Virtuoso. He sits in a dark studio wearing a pair of dark shades, delivering messages to The Virtuoso, in this case telling him his mission is to take out a rogue hit person with the code “White River.” Somehow, if he asks strangers around town to tell him who or what is white river, he will find his quarry.

Bodies pile for one reason or another. One guy die of a heart attack, and The Virtuoso sets up a scenario to make the killing look like a burglary, the usual steps to take if you want to get away with murder. But his professionalism may be tainted when he meets The Waitress, who flirts with him, seems surprised that he is not taking the bait, her ego resting more easily when he invites her to stay in his motel room “until the snow stops.”

The Virtuoso is, as said, the man of mystery, but sometimes he is too mysterious for the audience to accept in good nature. He speaks little, smiles almost never, is just too aloof for us to take him as a real human being. What’s more this film is marred by this flaw: too much on narration. A film is not a book. We hear him thinking now and then, about how a professional should act. Don’t let the heart race. Slow the breath. Further, unless the streaming delivery that I received is not the final product, the words are difficult to understand, muted and coming across like people mumbling.

In the end, with a denouement which some astute followers of noir fiction might predict, all is explained, all becomes almost believable. The movie is directed by Nick Stagliano, his fourth feature, his work including “Good Day For It” about a man who had abandoned his wife, and “The Florentine,” about the lives of an ensemble of people who patronize a bar. This is James C. Wolf’s second full-length feature as a scripter.

110 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

SLALOM – movie review

SLALOM
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Charlène Favier
Writer: Charlène Favier, Marie Talon
Cast: Noée Abita, Jérémie Renier, Marie Danarnaud, Muriel Combeau, Maïra Schmitt, Axel Auriant
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/6/21
Opens: April 9, 2021

Slalom (2020) - IMDb

Take it from me. If you have ever taught in regular New York City public high schools, do not expect students to be motivated, to be eager to learn about the Congress of Vienna, to recite answers longer than 20 seconds lest they incur the ribbing of their friends, or even to show interest that they genuinely feel. Coaching sports; that’s different. Put the trainer on the basketball court, on the baseball diamond, on the 50 yard line, and you’ll get quite a different response. However even there, coaches may find that their junior varsity troupe will not put up with solid, tough preparation for the game.

In France, things may be different as co-writer and director Charlène Favier finds in her first full-length narrative film. Having given us “Odol Gorri” about a fifteen-year-old who escapes from a juvenile center, hides in a fishing boat, and finds herself and the crew at sea, Favier, with the input of co-writer Marie Talon (in her first screenplay), takes us to the French Alps. There coach Fred (Jérémie Renier) is the star attraction at an elite French ski school. Though teachers are not supposed to show favoritism, Fred is taken by Lyz Lopez (Noée Abita), who is the most likely to bring back the gold in an upcoming ski-race competition.

Fifteen-year-old Lyz (twenty-one at the time of the filming) is in virtually every frame, the teen showing in D.P. Yann Maritoud’s close-ups almost all the conflicted expressions that a young woman can exude. Feeling great joy at one moment, she is depressed and disgusted with herself in another. Physically attracted to the coach (who in real life is forty at the time of the filming), she needs a father figure since her own has been absent. Since Fred appears with her day and night, even boarding her with him and his girlfriend Lilou (Marie Denarnaud) to enable the failing student to catch up academically with her classes, we know where this is headed. Fred soon escalates the abuse he gives her in the training. Making her lift weights that look to compete with her own weight of 110, he erupts with passion as she needs next to him in the car, later consummating the sexual act which will make the virginal girl both elated and confused.

Is Fred acting professionally? Hardly. His girlfriend quickly sees what’s going on, though the girl’s mother, who is unable to spend much time with her because of a job in Marseilles and who from time to time reminds Lyz how much she is sacrificing for her, remains clueless. Of course the whole story reminds us of gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall who abused 700 women over a 17-year-period, but there are differences. The age of consent in France is 15, though there may be a question of legality when an older man with influence on a teen takes advantage of the situation.

The movie is set in Les Arcs ski station which cinephiles will recognize as the location of the wonderful “Force Majeure” about a man who, during an avalanche, runs from his family in search of safety for himself. Noée Abita is a find, a young woman who made her debut as the title character in “Ava,” about a 13-year-old who knows that she will lose her sight earlier than expected. There are a few shots of professional skiers slaloming down the slope, zig-zagging between markers in races where both speed and agility are everything. In the dramatic conclusion, Lyz must decide what to do when Fred promises to remain virtually her private trainer, looking forward to a competition in the U.S. at Beaver Creek, Colorado. You may recall a similar, momentary decision of a young delinquent, Colin Smith, in Tony Richardson’s 1962 “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.”

The movie is a Cannes selection. In French with English subtitles.

92 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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