VICE – movie reveiw

VICE

Annapurna Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Adam McKay
Screenwriter:  Adam McKay
Cast:  Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Lily Rabe, Alison Pill, Shea Whigham, Eddie Marsan, Tyler Perry, Justin Kirk
Screened at: DGA, NYC, 11/23/18
Opens: December 25, 2018
Vice - Poster Gallery
Adam McKay is nothing if not a patriotic critic of United States policy.  With his adaptation of “The Big Short,” he took on the folks who gave us the worst recession since the Great Depression.  With “Revolt of the Yes Men” he and his fellow directors struck at corporate crimes for Big Business’ efforts to fight climate change.  “Anchorman 2” showed the man’s ability to make a light movie just for fun, though he is probably critical of any newscaster who came after Walter Cronkite.  Now he does it again with a satire that has elements of Michael Moore’s hard-hitting humor but tempered in his depiction of former Vice President Dick Cheney to such an extent that you might think at times that he is simply neutral about the man’s “accomplishments.”  “Vice” is a most delightful description of Cheney and his times beginning in 1963 and ending with the closing of the Bush administration where he watches the Obama inauguration from a wheelchair, pretending for the photographers that he is not completely disgusted with the afternoon’s activities.

As played by Christian Bale, who gained forty pounds for the role (not a wise choice considering that this could put him in league with the Veep who had five heart attacks), Cheney influences President George W. Bush to such an extent that journalists and pundits believe that he is not just the man behind the throne but the guy who is actually serving as President of the United States.  Cheney is a master manipulator, using his street smarts to get Bush to give him more power than any preceding Vice President ever enjoyed.  In fact he had been so aggressive in his determination to influence American foreign policy that he may have made the big decision to move troops from Afghanistan into Iraq, the kind of mistake to which the U.S. had become accustomed–not such our policy toward Vietnam but dating back to colonial days when patriotic countrymen strung up those dreadful witches.

Though his approval rating when he left office was 13%, you’ve got to wonder where the people who became the rank and file of the Tea Party were. Surely more of us, particularly in the red states of course, are willing to defend anything the Republican Party does, even tolerate a serial liar and womanizer simply because the person occupying the Oval Office is doing what they want him to do.  Cheney himself notes that like Nixon, he believes that anything the President does is ipso factor legal.

McKay, who wrote the script as well as directs, reaches back to 1963 when the Nebraska-born, Wyoming-living politician attended Yale and later the University of Wyoming getting a graduate degree in Political Science.  McKay brings us to the Nixon and Ford administrations where he pushes his way into getting appointed as White House Chief of Staff, then in 1978 becomes the sole Wyoming representative in the House where he is reelected five times, then Secretary of Defense during the George W. Bush presidency.  He has time even to become the CEO of Halliburton which, by coincidence no doubt, won many government no-bids contracts to supply war needs in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It’s little wonder that when he resigned from Halliburton—whose stock rose 500% at one point—he was given a separation sum of $22 million.

Much is made of the domestic life of the man.  He is given hell by his wife Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) during the early years of their marriage for being a drunk and getting into bar fights, but soon enough he shapes up to watch his star rise and see the pride that Lynne takes in him.  His wife, surprisingly, does not want him to accept an appointment from Bush to be his running mate since the job is considered ceremonial—or in more colorful terms as John Nance Garner once put it, “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”  Little did Garner realize that a manipulator of the sort that Cheney was could actually set policy, which would be officially announced as the thoughts of the President.  The only character who shines as much as both Bale and Adams is Steve Carell, a busy man indeed, who can emcee an evening of Saturday Night Live and now just as effectively portray Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

About the Michael Moore comparison: the most comical scene occurs when Bush (Sam Rockwell, who is truly funny to nobody’s surprise) tries to coax Cheney into becoming his running mate.  Cheney resists, telling POTUS that instead he could recommend a slate of people he considers worthy.  Little does Bush realize that Cheney is playing him, acting coy in order to make demands that Bush give him more policy-making power than any Vice President had before him.  Cheney is  mum on the issue of gay marriage, which a conservative Republican would surely oppose.  Could it be because one of his two daughters, Mary, is an open lesbian now living in Virginia with her wife Heather Poe?  And could that explain why Cheney broke rank with most of his fellow conservatives by supporting gay marriage?  If only the man were that decent and not the one who supported waterboarding and other methods of enhanced interrogation!  Never mind that Mary’s sister, during her own campaign for Wyoming’s rep in the House, insists that marriage is between a man and a woman.  Ah, politics.

Even serious matters like Cheney’s heart attacks are choreographed with wit.  When the Vice President falls to the floor and an ambulance is called, that’s the usual way.  In two other cases he stands with colleagues and announces casually and almost ironically that they should call the hospital.  When Cheney gets the heart of a man who dies in an auto accident, instead of praising the hero’s family he says that he is proud to have “my new heart.”  If Cheney is truly the man with the most influence on foreign policy during the Bush administration, he deserves censure for the loss of life of our fighting team and for 600,000 mostly civilian deaths in Iraq.

This is not the first satiric movie about Cheney but arguably the most incisive and best acted.  Oliver Stone directed a biographical drama using Richard Dreyfus to impersonate Cheney; in “Who is America” Sacha Baron Cohen pranked Cheney into signing a makeshift water board kit.  Ultimately you might agree that Cheney is so out of touch with common decency that you don’t need to pen a satiric book or a broadside on the screen.  He is his own caricature.

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

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

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  • To search for a review, click the three bold horizontal lines near the upper left corner.  In the search box, enter the movie’s title, or director, or screenwriter, or principal actor, or opening date, or even a key word.  Reviews by Harvey Karten are from select movies from February 2017 to the present.

THE 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+

SHIVA BABY – movie review

SHIVA BABY
Utopia
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Emma Seligman
Writer: Emma Seligman
Cast: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Diana Agron, Danny Deferrari, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/19/21
Opens: April 2, 2021

Image result for shiva baby poster

If you want to know what it’s like to sit shiva, think of an Irish wake minus the drinking and multiply the eating. Different religions and ethnic groups have distinct customs for grieving the dead, but given the importance of the family in the Jewish tradition, the shiva can be a festive occasion marked with bagels and lox and maybe a little Manischewitz. The first day of the commemoration brings together folks from an extended family, who engage in conversation, looking at pictures of grandchildren, some hoping to find an excuse to leave early without insulting the hosts.

The title character, who is uncredited, is an eighteen-months’-old infant whose idea of conversation is crying his heart out and, with some luck, catching up on sleep. Emma Seligman, who wrote and directs her freshman offering, is in Woody Allen territory, putting together a group of people of all different ages who, as stereotypes have it, wonder, “Do you have a boyfriend yet?” “You’re skin and bones; you’re not eating!” “What are you going to do after you graduate?” Aside from the usual catching-up by people who may not have been together for years, Seligman focuses on Danielle (Rachel Sennott), seeing all activity from her point of view, as she tries to satisfy everyone’s nosy queries about her plans.

Danielle, or Dani as her mother Debbie (Polly Draper) calls her, is a bisexual college senior whose mom is wise to some of her sexual inclinations. “No funny business with Maya” (Molly Gordon), she warns, realizing that her daughter and Maya had been an item in the recent past whose embers may be kindled after their meeting at the shiva. Though Maya is about to enter law school, Danielle appears without insight into what she might be doing, which may have something to do with her less-than-jobs-worthy major of gender studies. (Think of Bill Murray’s character, Phil, in “Groundhog Day,” who upon learning that a woman majored in 19th century French literature responds, “What a waste of time!”)

Maybe Danielle’s gender studies curriculum considers women who sleep around for money to be perfectly legitimate sex workers, in fact that is what Danielle does for cash. She meets now and then in Max’s (Danny Deferrari) bachelor apartment, faking an orgasm and gaining an expensive bracelet and some cash. And wouldn’t you know that Max would show up at the shiva with whom guests would call a shicksa wife, Kim (Dianna Agron). One guest suggests “I hear her father is Jewish” to which another responds “That doesn’t count.”

Rachel Sennott communicates her anxiety in this claustrophic setting to such an extent that we in the audience are bound to recall events in our own lives that have made us blush, cry, wish-we-had-done-something-differently, all the while laughing nervously at this recognition. Though “Shiva Baby” recalls a tradition that is central in Judaism, it aims for universality as do many of Woody Allen’s movies. We may come away figuring things will work out for Danielle—who is on the way up, just like the film’s writer-director whose next satirical contribution we eagerly await.

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

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

ATOMIC COVER-UP – movie review

ATOMIC COVER-UP
Exposed Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Greg Mitchell
Cast: Greg Mitchell, Daniel McGovern, Herbert Sussan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: March 20, 2021 through March 30, 2021 at Cinequest in San Jose, California and streaming.

Atomic Cover-up (2021) - IMDb

Bumper stickers on the backs of cars provide sound bites of their drivers’ political views. You may think you can avoid getting parking tickets from traffic cops with the sticker, “Support your local police.” If you do not like U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, you sport the saying, “We’re creating terrorists faster than we can kill them.” Shortly after World War 2 (as I recall) and even in recent years, there is the bumper sticker “No Pearl Harbor, then no Hiroshima,” which some people today would assume is the motto of fellows on the political right. However, left-leaning folks today would find a major flaw in that last motto: the bombing of Pearl Harbor killed mostly sailors, military people, a total of some 2500. The American bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed over 200,000, at least 80% civilians; that includes old men, women and children. In fact the Hiroshima bombing was directed toward the center of the city and not to the military base.

Nowadays we have so many issues to think about that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings fade into obscurity. But thanks to the people who filmed “Atomic Cover-Up,” which includes grainy black-and-white celluloid taken by Japanese journalists shortly after the bombing in addition to color shots by the U.S., we get to see not only the devastation to buildings (just a few remain almost intact) but more poignantly to the people who fell victims to the heat and radiation. One poor guy lying in his stomach had a back as raw as a skinless-and-boneless salmon. Red from neck to waist. He was in agony and begged to be put out of his misery, but the doctors and nurses who heroically treated victims of the bombs were determined to treat him. He survived and is now married with kids.

Despite the intrusive music in the soundtrack, there is much praise due to the showing of this film at the Cinequest Festival in California’s San Jose, and further, that the film was declared top secret by the U.S. for decades gives it the resonance of a forbidden fruit. Shots taken immediately post-war portray and apocalyptic vision of a Hiroshima virtually leveled, and remember that this hear 1945 bomb is a pup compared to what nine countries possess today. As one commentator notes, the next nuclear war will be “the end of everything.”

The irony of it all is that a military man, Dwight D. Eisenhower, called the bombing unnecessary as Japan was already defeated, thereby attacking arguments by some that the atomic bomb saved tens of thousands of American lives, soldiers who would have to stage a land invasion of the Japanese archipelago in order to end the war.

After being declassified the film aired in 1970 on PBS and is available now as a streaming. Moreover film-maker Greg Mitchell had written a book on the history of the footage, now available on Amazon, though the small number of reviews there indicate that not that many prospective readers consider it a hot political issue today. Its 52 minutes’ length and its selection of only a small amount of devastating human suffering makes John Hersey’s classic “Hiroshima” the more heartbreaking.

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

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

 

THE GOOD TRAITOR – movie review

THE GOOD TRAITOR (Vores mand i Amerika)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christina Rosendahl
Writers: Kristian Bang Foss, Danja Gry Jensen, Christina Rosendahl
Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Burn Gorman, Ross McCall, Zoë Tapper, Denise Gough, Pixie Davies, Henry Goodman, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Nicholas Blane
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/25/21
Opens: March 26, 2021

Poster for The Good Traitor

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, capital city of a country that heroically ferried its Jewish population of 7200 to safety in neutral Sweden, thereby saving their lives from Nazi onslaught. Denmark, which is now among the most progressive countries in the world embracing what may be called Medicare for All, generous parental leave, long time off in the summer, has a problem in its twentieth century history. There was, I fear, something rotten in the state of Denmark, because when Hitler invaded the small country, the Danish government offered virtually no resistance, negotiating with the Hun almost immediately. The cowardly action gained more opprobrium when its king and prime minister fired its ambassador to the U.S., an action resisted by the person holding that office, which called its outpost in Washington the official government of Denmark in exile.

“The Good Traitor” is a biopic, well not exactly since it is “inspired” by the tale of Henrik Louis Hans von Kauffmann (Ulrich Thomsen), focuses almost equally on domestic melodrama as on political gamesmanship. The title character is considered a hero if you look backward from the present year but considered by the Danish government during World War II a traitor. Ordinarily a fellow who may represent only a small country but whose bravery catapults him to modern heroism would be too busy giving the middle finger to King Christian X to have time for a 51-year-old’s hanky-panky. But Kauffmann, married to Charlotte MacDougall (Denise Gough), is in love with Charlotte’s sister Zilla Sears (Zoë Tapper). The affair had been going on for years, leading to a melodramatic confrontation when Charlotte discovers the two kissing in the ample grounds of the Danish embassy in Washington.

Charlotte, however, has an important role to play, being an American, the daughter of U.S. Navy Rear Admiral William Dugald MacDougall, giving her a special “in” with President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Henry Goodman)– played with laid-back, aw-shucks behavior. While the war in Europe is raging, Henrik uses Charlotte’s influence with POTUS to help push a reluctant America into the war, noting that Hitler is not going to stop his conquests at the water’s edge. He wins the gold. Literally. He names himself the legal government rep of Denmark when he is merely its fired ambassador, which allows him to unlock the gold bars in New York’s Federal Reserve Bank to finance liberation activities in at least ten other Danish embassies including those in Iran and Egypt. He also has the chutzpah to sign away part of Denmark’s colony of Greenland to the U.S. for air force bases in perpetuity. It’s no wonder that the cowardly government in Copenhagen and a surprising number of pro-Nazi Danes consider Kauffmann an enemy of the state. History now judges the man a good traitor.

The film includes a meeting of FDR and Churchill (the latter looking more bloated than our previous U.S. president) in the presence of the Danish ambassador, who simply acts as though his firing never took place It reaches toward soap opera whenever Kauffmann, who has juice with the President for Pete’s sake, cannot get his wife to excuse his peccadilloes with her own sister. In defense of his extra-curricular recreation with Zilla, he reminds his wife that he loves Zilla’s… eyes. Who could resist? Who is so hardhearted not to excuse him, for the flesh is weak?

The movie makes no attempt to build up to a surprise conclusion that could be copied in a future horror movie by Dario Argento or Wes Craven or Eli Roth, giving us much of the final scene in the opening moments. This is a respectful projection of the crucial war years involving Kauffmann, and old-fashioned biopic complete with the beautiful ballads of the thirties and forties in America on the soundtrack. Jo Stafford’s “The Things We Did Last Summer” would have been most appropriate. Danish-born Christine Rosendahl, whose “The Idealist” deals with a nuclear disaster during the Cold War, is in the director’s seat.

The film is in English and in Danish with English subtitles.

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

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

SIX HOURS TO MIDNIGHT – movie review

SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Andy Goddard
Writer: Andy Goddard, Eddie Izzard, Celyn Jones
Cast: Judi Dench, Eddie Izzard, Carla Juri, Kevin Eldon, David Schofield
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/8/21
Opens: March 26, 2021

Poster

Just when you think you’ve seen movies on every political aspect of Europe on the brink of World War 2, along comes an original film of international intrigue, a spy story with the usual basket of twists, leading up to a series of exciting chase scenes for which director Andy Goddard prepared us for quite well. Goddard, who has an impressive résumé of made-for-TV movies and TV episodes (including many for the great “Downton Abbey”), now tackles his sophomore full-length feature. That “Six Minutes of Midnight” is based on the true story of incidents surrounding Augusta-Victorian college, a finishing school for girls on England’s south coast, might make us wonder just how many original cusp-of-war stories must be available for writers and filmmakers.

You can tell that this is a finishing school rather than a real college as you watch the girls walking about, each with a book on her head, casting fierce glances at the one pupil whose book drops noisily to the floor. There’s an even better example. When Thomas Miller (Eddie Izzard), who had been hired by headmistress Miss Rocholl (Judy Dench) after the suspicious death of his predecessor, Mr. Wheatley (Nigel Lindsay, playing a flawless death body washed up on the beach), asks what book the girls had been reading, they reply “no book.” They insist that Wheatley told them stories. To conform to the culture of the school, Miller does likewise and is well liked by the young people and by the headmistress as well.

This is no “Room 222,” however. Miller is a British agent, the girls are German, sent via the Anglo-German Fellowship to represent the best of Nazi youth. As September 1, 1939 approaches, which will signal the opening of World War 2 in Europe, Hitler’s plan is to evacuate the girls suddenly. At the same time Whitehall wants to hold them hostage—though the UK’s motives are not entirely clear.

The major segment of the film takes place within the school. We see that headmistress Rocholl considers her charges to be “her girls” despite their nationality, and is highly motivated to do the best job in teaching them notwithstanding their being daughters of members of the Nazi high command. By contrast Ilse Keller (Carla Juri), a young, pretty teacher, is a dedicated Nazi who makes sure that the girls listen to propaganda on the radio and is soon to become more than a mere, quiet cog in the German war machine. In fact Ilse’s murderous action outside the school will lead to the dramatic chase scenes, the arrest of Thomas Miller who is now considered by authorities to be a British traitor, and a series of twists that turn the movie into a real thriller.

Judi Dench can do no wrong and is ideally suited to be the dedicated head of the school, a woman who would likely protect her girls even as war with Germany begins. But the picture belongs to Eddie Izzard, known to British audiences as a stand-up comedian. He convinces us of his ability to play a teacher who must conform to the culture of a finishing school and yet act as a prized spy for Britain, infiltrating the soon-to-be-defunct Anglo-German Fellowship.

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

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

 

QUO VADIS, AIDA? – movie review

QUO VADIS, AIDA?

Neon Super Ltd.

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jasmila Zbanic
Writer: Jasmila Zbanic
Cast: Jasna Djricic, Izudin Bajrovic, Boris Isakovic, Johan Heldenberg
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/16/21
Opens: March 5, 2021 at Angelica Theatre in NY. VOD March 15, 2021

Quo Vadis, Aida?

I recall in my high-school days the units on World War 1 and World Was II that emphasized that all wars are caused by four general conditions. They are: Imperialism, Nationalism, Alliances, and the fourth is given the fancy term “international anarchy.” That last item means nothing more than there were no effective peacekeeping forces able to intercede against the warring parties to force them into peace. We do have the United Nations now, the UN does send well-armed peacekeeping forces to war zones, but that international organization has been criticized for its impotence against aggression.

Among the best examples of this deficiency is the genocide conducted particularly in 1995 during a war between Bosnian Serbs who are Orthodox Christians and Bosnian Muslims, sometimes called Bosniaks, who inhabit the same country—itself an offshoot of the former Yugoslavia. Sarajevo-born Jamila Zbanic, who dealt with the Serbian rapes of Muslim women in“Grbavica: the Land of Our Dreams,” brings to vivid life the barbaric killings by members of the Serbian army together with paramilitary units of innocent Bosnian Muslims in the village of Srebrenica. Under the command of the brutal Ratko Mladic (Boris Isakovic), the soldiers emptied out the village, sending up to 8,000 civilians of all ages to the death by machine guns while escorting the women away. (Zbanic does not go into what happened to the women, implying that they may have been given safe conduct though the reality is that they were raped and possibly killed.)

Everything is seen through the eyes of Aida (Jasna Djuricic), the energetic Bosniak interpreter who had been a teacher in the town, called upon now to translate the Bosnian into English for the benefit of the Dutch UN forces. The UN under Colonel Thom Karremans (Johann Heldenbergh) is surprisingly (or unsurprisingly if you are cynical enough) inept, unable to prevent the Serbs from doing whatever they felt like doing, notwithstanding that Srebrenica was called a safe town under UN protection. Given the incompetence of UN peacekeepers, Serb army units did not fear threats to call in air strikes if necessary, which may remind you of how former President Obama threatened Bashir Assad’s Syrian government with military action should the Assad unleash gas during the civil war there, then did nothing when provoked.

Aida acts heroically, negotiating with the Serbs but is furious at the UN for allowing only 5,000 people to remain within a gated area while others are stuck outside. (This is an expensive production as the company has obviously hired hundreds of extras to take the roles of the oppressed Muslims.) But she is human as well, giving special attention to saving her husband and her two boys from being gunned down on the spot.

In the role of Aida, we may find it curious that Jasna Djuricic is Serbian, while one would think that nobody from that ethnic group would be willing to take part in a film that is anti-Serb. The scenes are horrific, the only sentimentalism coming from a woman who gives birth on the grounds. It is impossible to look away, so vividly is the toxic toying by the Serb general of the populace dependent for the lives on his orders.

As for the puzzling title “Quo Vadis, Aida,” the term means “Where are you going,” referring to a legend that Peter comes to a crossroads where the Appian Way meets the Via Ardeatina, which he means the risen Jesus. The reply: “Romam vado iterum crucifigi” or “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” It’s anybody’s guess how the title applies, but perhaps it means that after the peace, the teacher remains in the town to conduct classes. To be oppressed again?

The film is a co-production of twelve production companies from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Germany, France, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Turkey.It is the Bosnian entry for best international film in the 93rd Academy Awards competition, and has been deservedly shortlisted into the top fifteen.

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

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

GOLDEN GLOBES WINNERS MOTION PICTURES 2021

Movies

See the Exclusive First Look at Tina Fey & Amy Poehler's Golden Globes  Billboards

Best Motion Picture, Drama
“Nomadland”

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Best Director, Motion Picture
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Andra Day, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Rosamund Pike, “I Care a Lot”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture
Jodie Foster, “The Mauritanian”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Sacha Baron Cohen, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture
Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Best Original Score, Motion Picture
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste, “Soul”

Best Original Song, Motion Picture
“Io Sì (Seen),” “The Life Ahead”

Best Motion Picture, Animated
“Soul”

Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language
“Minari”

 

ADAM – movie review

ADAM
Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Maryam Touzani
Writer: Maryam Touzani in association with Nabil Ayouch
Cast: Lubna Azabal, Nisrin Erradi, Douae Belkhaouda, Aziz Hattab, Hasnaa Tamtaoui
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/11/21
Opens: March 5, 2021

Adam (2019)

You don’t want to know what happens in some Muslim societies to women without husbands who become pregnant. Happily for the characters in “Adam,” Morocco is not what of the ultra-conservative countries but is in fact wide open to Western film-makers who want to take advantage of its fascinating cities (Fez, Marrakesh, and Meknes particularly) and desert landscapes. “Adam”, is a Moroccan-made film by a Tangier-born director, Mayam Touzani, who is known for co-writing “Razzia,” five stories that come together in Casablanca. “Adam” is her first feature film, though you would think it’s a work by a director with an extensive résumé. It’s a woman’s story whose only men other then as customers of a woman’s snack food is a suitor, Slimani (Aziz Hattab) and the title character (uncredited) in his debut performance. (Adam shows his acting chops, able to cry on cue and dissolve into pure pleasure in the presence of a woman.)

Lubna Azabal in the role of Abla and Nisrin Erradi performing as Samia have about equal time in front of Adil Ayoub and Virginie Surdej’s lenses. Both are living in Casablanca in a section that’s considered poor but which American visitors would label quaint, with its narrow sidewalks and a plethora of vendors. Abla, a single mother with an eight-year-old daughter Warda (Douae Belkhaouida), sells pancake-like snack foods like rziza and msemmen right from her modest home but so far appears to have only a moderate clientele. That will change when Simia, in her eighth month of pregnancy and homeless, asks for work, any kind, and receive a tentative welcome from the dour Abla. Taking homeless people into your residence is not a popular pastime in the U.S. but Abla, feeling sorry for Samia who is sleeping outside, takes her in for one night. The invitation is extended when the adorable Warda takes an immediate liking to the new guest and when Samia proves to be an excellent chef, turning out better rziza and msemmen because when she kneads the dough, she feels it.

Not much happens during the first hour or so. Abla loses patience with Samia, kicks her out, then races through the Casablanca streets to find her and coax her back. In the film’s most poignant scene, Abla, who continues to grieve for her dead husband, is forced by Samia to listen to Abla’s favorite music on the radio, one that might be considered in the American culture to be a couple’s wedding song. Approaching that point, Samia takes charge of her hostess and boss, forcing her to listen carefully, to close her eyes and sway, and loosen up on her wicked witch act. For comic relief, now and then Abla’s suitor Slimani (Aziz Hattab) has marriage on his mind, asking Samia to tell her boss that his father had always had hair and that Slimani’s receding hairline constitutes the most locks that he will ever lose.

Maybe in the U.S. and Sweden, where one born out of wedlock is called a love child, at least by progressives. In Morocco, such a baby is dirt, although as Samia advises us, the baby himself is wholly without sin. Because of this, Samia seems determined to give Adam up to a good family despite Abla’s suggestion that she keep the infant. The women—Abla, Samia, and the precocious Warda, are fleshed-out human beings who have emotional ups and downs and happily, their relationship has changed them for the better. As the uneducated country girl with an eight-month unborn child, Nisrin Erradi stands out, a woman who has had to go from house to house asking for work and ending up with an inadequate resolution to her dilemma but able to turn her uptight hostess into a more caring person.

You may not want to live in Casablanca’s old Medina, but for Abla, the neighborhood provides work without a commute and for little Warda the chance to make something of herself by taking her studies seriously under her mother’s watch. A charming, low-key adventure well worth your custom.

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

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

 

ALLEN v. FARROW – movie review

ALLEN V. FARROW
HBO Documentary Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Directors: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
Writers: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Dylan O’Sullivan Farrow, Ronan Farrow, Carly Simon, Frank Maco
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/24/21
Opens: February 21, 2021 on 4 Sunday nights at 9p for one approximately hour each

Poster

Who do you believe? Woody Allen was accused of sexually molesting his partner’s adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, when she was seven. That was twenty-eight years ago. Woody Allen’s defense is that Mia Farrow, who is Dylan’s adoptive mother and Allen’s girlfriend, manipulated the child to accuse her stepdad. Why? According to Allen, Mia Farrow is a vengeful woman not all-that-right in the head. Allen was never found guilty in a court of law because Frank Maco, the prosecutor, believed the little girl “too fragile” to be put on the stand. HBO Documentary Films now presents four episodes to examine the case, each about an hour beginning February 21, 2021.

Never mind that Allen was never convicted. During the past year or two, various people who starred in his movies, Timothée Chalamet, Griffin Newman, Rebecca Hall among others (but not Diane Keaton who remains a big fan) are donating their salaries from those films, some to anti-abuse organizations. Amazon, its distributor, refused to air “A Rainy Day in New York” in any U.S. theaters, but folks in Poland somehow were exempt from the boycott. “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred in their bones.” [Marc Anthony].

Some critics have complained that writer-directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, whose “The Bleeding Edge” indicts some modern medical technology, are biased. They must be convinced that Allen’s calling his partner not right in the head sounds overblown. Also, that child reported that her father took her into the attic on one day and touched her in the butt and the vagina, an accusation that she has upheld consistently since the incident, sounds spot-on. They add that this was not a one-time, twenty-minutes’ molestation, showing pictures of Allen and Dylan in awfully tight hugs and improper looks. That Allen married Mia Farrow’s stepdaughter, Soon-Yi Previn in 1997 despite an age difference of thirty-five years, becomes part of the heap of “evidence” that Allen likes ‘em young.

Needless to say, Mia Farrow, who thoroughly believes her child, broke up with Allen, saying she wishes he had never entered her life, and proves this in a flurry of taped phone conversations. The filmmakers more than imply that Woody Allen is a hero to New Yorkers given the major works filmed in the Big Apple and his view that he feels stifled in the countryside.

This is a well-paced doc, giving us a breather after every hour, presumably showing us all the evidence we need to know. Detractors include Ronan Farrow, a journalist who wrote a scathing anti-Allen article in the New Yorker, and who titillates readers of “People” magazine and the like suggesting that he is the son of Frank Sinatra. Allen defends himself rather well not only in press conferences but in his memoir “Apropos of Nothing,” which makes Allen wish that he never met Mia Farrow. So feelings are reciprocal.

Believe it or not stepfathers and even biological daddies rape their young charges, whether in the statutory form or via outright violence. But if you are a celeb like Woody Allen or like Roman Polanski (who had statutory relations with a thirteen-year-old and is unable to set foot in the U.S. lest he go to jail), you get the book thrown at you. Though IndieWire’s critic states that “after this documentary, no one should want to hear from Allen for a very long, long time, how about reserving judgment? I recognize the writer-directors’ one-sided treatment. I believe one is innocent until proven guilty. Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby went to jail but only after being found guilty of sexual misconduct in courts of law. Making charges against people without clear evidence, unproven in a fair trial, may have worked during the Spanish Inquisition, but some of us like to think we are (after a four-years’ respite) a democracy.

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

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

‘TIL KINGDOM COME – movie review

‘TIL KINGDOM COME
Abramorama
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Maya Zinlshtein
Writer: Mark Monroe
Cast: Pat Robertson, Paula White Boyd Bingham IV, Yael Eckstein
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/3/21
Opens: February 25, 2021

Image result for 'til kingdom come posters movie

It’s a well-known fact that many Christians believe that Jesus, “Our Savior,” The Messiah, will return to earth: the Second Coming, as they call it. Less known is that many Orthodox Jews also that a savior is coming as well, but they would call the event the First Coming. “We want Mossiach Now!” is the rallying cry. Christians and Jews both look forward to the event, or events, because they believe the savior will do just what saviors are meant to do: usher in a world of peace. Orthodox Jews do not see something tragic occurring before the event of the Mossiach. Evangelical Christians see the return of the Messiah will come only after Armageddon, the end of the world, ushering in the Rapture: the rise of heaven of all who accept Jesus as Lord. As for what will happen to people who do not accept Jesus as savior, there is some controversy. Some think Jews in particular who do not convert to Christianity will suffer “tribulation.” Whether that means an eternity in hell or something less pleasant is…who knows? Hey: I went to college and even I don’t know. Why should anyone else?

Image result for 'til kingdom come posters movie

Then there are those who say that both sides are cuckoo. Don’t look at me: I’m only the messenger. Segue into “’Till Kingdom Come,” a documentary praising the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which has donated over a billion dollars to Israel, given that Christians think that the Return and the Rapture will come only when Israeli Jews have a homeland. There is already a Jewish homeland in Israel, but the Messiah, or the Mossiach, maybe both, are patient. Stay tuned.

If you are Jewish, the chances are that if you know you are Jewish, you will be pro-Israel. That does not necessarily mean supporting every policy of the present government under Bibi Netanyahu or the past governments beginning with David Ben-Gurion. But Israel is likely to be in your heart even as you are a patriotic American or Brit or French or whatever. If that’s the case, then you’ll be ever so excited to see Evangelical Christians (25% of Americans, or so they say) and Jews (2% of our country’s folks), come together, all lovey-dovey. Some say (maybe I, maybe not) that Trump showed his pro-Israel stance by being the first President to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That is among the policies that got Trump the votes of some 80% of Evangelical Christians. Could it be that Trump is not really excited about Israel even though his daughter is an Orthodox Jew? Something to think about.

The current Israeli government under Bibi loves Trump, the most pro-Israel President of the U.S. ever. They love the contributions coming in from Evangelical Christians by the millions. They welcome the tens of thousands of Christians who visit Israel annually, getting bussed around, looking at holy sites such as the location of Jesus’ birth and of the crucifixion, and maybe even sending written prayers at the Western Wall. Back to the movie: a pastor in Kentucky from a town that once provided jobs in the mines preaches to poverty-stricken people. No matter how poor they are, many contribute specifically to a foreign country, meaning that they are spiritually uplifted as the pastor tells them they would be. When pastors are not preaching, Sondra Oster Baraz, founder of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities and a settler in Israel’s West Bank, speaks her love of the Evangelical Christians; never mind that the latter appear to overlook the fact that the Jewish settlers are living on Arab land.

The big question, though, is virtually ignored by the movie. What’s not to love about these Christians? For one thing, two thousand years of persecution of Jews may not be erased so easily. Many still accuse Jews of crucifying Jesus, not just then, but now; even if you’ve lived in Brooklyn and never went to the Holy Land. Since 80% of Evangelicals voted for Trump, maybe Trump’s (hypocritical) anti reproductive rights stance swayed them, but still, huge numbers appear to believe every one of the ex-president’s 20,000 to 30,000 lies. Call it an irony, a paradox, or something else: pro-Israel but anti-Semitic? What do they think will happen when the Rapture comes? Bluntly: the reason Israel and Jews are so important and deserving of support is because of the belief that Christians won’t get raptured in the end times unless Jews and Israel fulfill their part of the prophecy including being slaughtered into becoming Christians.

Still ‘n’ all, you can’t win ‘em all: take what you can get. And did I mention that some believe that both sides are cuckoo?

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

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

SEX, DRUGS & BICYCLES – movie review

SEX, DRUGS & BICYCLES
Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jonathan Blank
Writer: Jonathan Blank
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: February 26, 2021 on PBS

“Sex, Drugs & Bicycles” really is about sex, drugs and bicycles with the implication throughout the documentary that the more you have of each, the happier you will be.

Considering the high taxes of countries with Holland’s social welfare programs and policies, you might be surprised to find out that in their lust for life, the Netherlands joins the equally social democratic countries of Scandinavia. This might seem surprising to people here in the U.S., often called the world’s richest country (as though that leads to happiness as does the night the day), but the view of our Republican politicians and the moderate Democrats who sometimes resemble them is that socialism is the monster you found under your bed when you were six years old.

Directed, written, edited and whatever by Jonathan Blank, whose sense of humor is most like that of Michael Moore, this doc moves forward like a stiff dose of amphetamines with a love for Holland that might make you think that Blank is high on Ecstasy. As for the multiple organisms and the ease of finding partners to achieve same, who’s got the time to worry about the headaches of owning cars when bicycles are the favored mode of travel and the most serious crime that Blank finds in his favorite nation-state is that the two-wheelers often get stolen. Since there are more bikes than people—which means there are more than seventeen million of ‘em—who has the need to add another to their stable?

With snappy and often hilarious animation where Blank morphs into Rembrandt, “Sex, Drugs & Bicycles” lauds, among other things, the four+ weeks of holiday that the Dutch are required to take, even getting paid for their extra month off. And unfortunately for us cinephiles, director Blank seems to have taken far more time off than that. His previous picture, “Anarchy TV,” which features teens doing nude television on the station that they capture, was released twenty-two years ago. It’s therefore not at all puzzling that Blank includes an annual naked bicycling day as one of the great things going for the Dutch.

And how can they pay attention to the windmills, which are the most notable symbol of the Netherlands, when there’s so much sex to concentrate on? Every traveler knows about the sex shops where sex workers, fully legal and licensed, get to parade their wares on storefronts in the tourist-heavy neighborhood that is the main attraction. Not only that. Kids get sex education beginning in primary school, and perhaps as a result, the Dutch abortion rate is much lower than that in our country.

As for medical care, it’s not free but it’s mandatory. Basic coverage is required and 99% are insured. Insurance is sold by private companies, and you can kick in extra cash to get more than the usual services. Even in the land of windmills, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Marijuana can be sold in legal neighborhood coffee shops, such as the one on display named “Smokes.” Teens also take drugs on TV, though Blank briefly mentions that Holland had a problem with legalize hard drugs and pushed back somewhat against it.

Bernie Sanders might be considered a “moderate” by Holland’s standards. Does Bernie believe that transgender surgery should be covered by the government health plan as do the Nederlanders? How about sex workers making the disabled happy? Holland is in the forefront of LGBTQ equality, so there’s none of the fanfare such as here when Barack Obama had to say that he’s “evolved” on his position regarding gay marriage and LGBTQ protections.

Blank takes little time reviewing what’s bad, though he does point out that the liberal policy on accepting Muslim refugees has brought right-wing politicians out of the woodwork. The press notes state “Is having month-long double-paid vacations, no fear of homelessness and universal healthcare the nightmare we’ve been warned about?” More a wet dream than a nightmare, though Holland has an increasing problem of homelessness. According to the Wikipedia article “Netherlands and Homelessness,” in 2018 there were 39,000 without roofs over their heads, afflicting mostly Muslim refugees.

As you might expect, Holland’s seventeen million people would be lost if traveling outside their borders if Dutch were their only language. Everybody interviewed in this doc spoke perfect English. So…if you’re a Michael Moore fan and you had not heard of Jonathan Blank before (as stated, he had no released a film for twenty-two years), you are likely to enjoy this movie’s eight-five minutes and get depressed when you realize that the U.S. ranks so low in the developed world in education, affordable health care (though Medicare is fantastic making it great to be old), and harbors a puritanical fear of recreational drugs.

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

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

THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN – movie review

THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN (L’homme qui vendu sa peau)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kaouther Ben Hania
Writer: Kaouther Ben Hania
Cast: Yahya Mahayni, Dea Liane, Koen De Bouw, Monica Bellucci, Saad Lostan, Darina Al Joundi, Jan Dahdouh, Christian Vadim
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/21/21
Tunisia’s entry to the 93rd Academy Awards

Image result for the man who sold his skin poster

Sylvia Sims sang the classic song that opens: “You’d never think they go together/ But they certainly do/ The combination of English muffins/ And Irish Stew.” Top chefs know how to mix quite a number of things that would not have been attempted years ago. In the same way, stories combine groups from different classes, nationalities, and religions. Suprisingly, sometimes they find common ground. One example is found in female director Kaouther Ben Hania’s sophomore feature, which is the official entry of Tunisia into the 93rd Academy Awards competition. She mixes Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni) a poor, uneducated Syrian, one who has been arrested for comically inciting rebellion on a train, with Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw), a world-renowned contemporary artist. They find that they can do business together profitably, but in signing a contract that represents a document that binds Faust together with Mephistopheles, the oppressed Arab sells his soul and is ultimately disgraced. Or is he? Ben Hania, whose first film, “Beauty and the Dogs,” tracks a college student brutally assaulted by police officers, turns now to a topic of more international resonance, bringing Syria, Lebanon and Belgium into the bargain.

“L’homme qui vendu sa peau,” the original title which translates directly into the English, begins smashingly on a rail car filled with people who break into cheers when Sam announces that he is in love with his seatmate, Abeer (Dea Liane). His love is requited, and in his moment of ecstasy, he calls for freedom for Syria and is arrested. The plot turns, in fact, on whether Sam himself is a free man or one who in later moments has lost all dignity, shaming his country as well. As our President would say, here’s the deal: When Sam breaks out of jail and meets Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw) and his elegant assistant Saroya (Monica Bellucci) in Lebanon, he is offered unusual work. The artist will tattoo a huge Schengen visa on Sam’s back. Sam will be at Jeffrey and Soraya’s beck-and-call to show up in museums and galleries, his back exposed, his head down in a pose of humiliation. In return Sam will be able to travel throughout Europe and receive a sizable commission when the artwork is sold to a collector. Here’s quite a new form of slavery, one that leads an organization that opposes the exploitation of Syrian refugees to sue against mortification of any of its citizens.

Today’s so-called political far-left calls capitalism nothing more than the turning of human beings in commodities, possibly using this film to advance its case. Yet Sam may be able to stay in five-star hotels, “bought off and sold out” as some would say, while Sam enjoys room service caviar, but in the end he is expected (by the movie audience) to regret his agreement to the Faustian deal. Look: Sam becomes a celebrity, able to meet up in Brussels with Soroya—who had entered into her own Faustian bargain by marrying Ziad (Saad Lostan), a rich diplomatic official at the embassy in Brussels.

Concluding moments come off like an exhibition of sedate fireworks that had turned into a thunderous climax. The film’s underlying dark humor comes to the fore, leading to a satisfying conclusion. This is a bold, original work, full of twists, enjoying an ensemble of superb performances especially by Mahayni in only his second full narrative performance.

In Arabic, French, Flemish and English with English subtitles (displayed even when English is spoken!)

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

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

TEST PATTERN – movie review

TEST PATTERN
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Shatara Michelle Ford
Writer: Shatara Michelle Ford
Cast: Brittany S. Hall, Will Brill, Gail Bean, Drew Fuller, Ben Levin, Amani Starnes, Caroline Bloom
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/6/21
Opens: February 19, 2021

Poster

Although “Test Pattern” is reasonably entertaining given the sympatico of the principal couple, the movie comes off more as a didactic fable, perhaps targeted to high-school seniors and college freshman. “Watch what you do” is the message, “Because you never really know what kind of person is showing interest in you.” The plot focuses on Renesha (Brittany S. Hall), a Black woman, and Evan (Will Brill), a White male, who meet at a party in Austin, Texas. Given the general nature of two events, one an outdoor get-together, the other a young people’s bar, you get the idea that we are indeed a post-racial culture, and this in Texas (although Austin, a college town, is known as a place that culturally could be Boston or Minneapolis or L.A.).

When Evan approaches a group of young women and asks Renesha for her phone number, the twenty-something women at her table giggle like a gaggle of high school kids, as though the request came from Brad Pitt or Robert Pattinson. In fact Evan is a tattoo artist who appears to make enough of a living to be independent with an SUV and appears to be outclassed by Renesha, who is more educated and living in a spacious, well-appointed flat. Social class notwithstanding, they click immediately, proceeding happily to the bedroom in what may me their first or second date.

Some time later, Renesha insists that she has a boyfriend at what was supposed to be a girls’ night out. She is chatted up by Mike (Drew Fuller) while Mike’s friend Chris (Ben Levin) displays her charm to Renesha’s friend Amber. (Once again, an indication of a post-racial society.) After being given a drink and a suspicious gummy bear, Renesha is hustled off to a hotel where she is unable to offer physical resistance to what essential is non-consensual sex, i.e. rape. Hearing about the disastrous evening, boyfriend Evan does not break up with her but instead drives her around to hospitals trying to get a rape kit, which she succeeds in receiving after being turned away at two medical centers. Will the rape kit indicate forcible sexual activity? More important, how is a young woman supposed to prove that she was sexually assaulted when she accompanied Mike to a hotel, seemingly penetrated without physical violence? If DNA inspected at police headquarters links to the guy, so what? Indications are consensual sex.

The film is sympathetically acted by Hall and Brill, who do not really look like a pair, as she dresses with classical taste while he dons a fashionably (?) torn white T-shirt. The film is billed as part psychological thriller, but that part is microscopically small. Save it for the sex-ed classrooms.

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

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

 

MAFIA INC. movie review

MAFIA INC
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Daniel Grou
Writer: André Cédilot, Sylvain Guy, André Noël  Mafia Inc: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada’s Sicilian Clan by journalists André Cédilot and André Noël,
Cast: Sergio Castellitto, Marc-André Grondin, Gilbert Sicotte, Mylèlen Mackay, Donny Falsetti
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/7/21
Opens: January 29, 2021

Mafia Inc Large Poster

Names of countries and provinces are flying here as though the actors are playing a game of geography. Lugano, Switzerland, Italy, Sicily, Lichtenstein, Venezuela, Quebec, Canada, Montreal, Cayman Islands. All of these areas (even Venezuela in better times) accommodate people who want to launder money, to hide deposits from the authorities. It’s a wonder that mafia members ever get caught, but Daniel Grou’s “Mafia Inc” shows what many of us in the audience know. Fallings out within gangster families in addition to wars between rival gangs lead to actions, reactions, and these guys don’t fool around. They get revenge when somebody squeals to the cops, when others are found to wear wires to lessen their sentences, and in the case of this movie, when one commits a crime so horrible that even his fellow members ostracize him.

The Quebecois director Daniel Grou, whose “Miraculum” is an ensemble work about people exploring their passions, deals now with people at least equally passionate, though a subplot around a controversial romance is thrown in to complicate a story that, like “Miraculum” is an ensemble piece. There are many characters with so many conflicting emotions and desires that a second showing may be needed to assemble the puzzle.

The two principals are Frank Paternò (Sergio Castellitto), the godfather of an ethnically Italian clan living in Montreal, and Vince Gamache (Marc-André Grondin), a young member committed to violent actions meant not only to earn great sums of money (by hiding drugs inside corpses with removed organs and smuggling them through customers), but also to impress Frank. The film is based on a true story uncovered by Canada’s Woodward and Bernstein-like journalists André Cédilot and André Noël. The action takes place in Montreal in 1994 with flashbacks to 1980 to show the lives of upcoming mafioso Vince.

The godfather is played by a smartly-dressed, articulate, person who you might think is the CEO of Italian airlines and whose idea of making money is not by Bonnie-and-Clyde bank heists but by getting involved in a proposed bridge between Sicily and Italian mainland. You would not be surprised to see that the smooth-talker is proud of his anticipated construction as he frequently refers to his roots in the “motherland.” What will eventually take down the scheme is that Frank’s son Giaco (Donny Falsetti) is the man he wants as his successor, and ambitions of rival Vince, who is the son of a tailor (Gilbert Sicotte) known for custom-dressing the Paternò clan.

These are not a pleasant ensemble of people but Vince, a firebrand on his way up, believes more than the others that the end justifies the means. His is the idea of crashing a school bus in Venezuela sacrificing children to pick up bodies to transport drugs through customs. The romance between Giaco’s brother Pat (Michaela Ricci) and Vince’s sister Sofie (Mylène) adds complexity to the story, which features large groups of people in ornate houses and reception halls, a concrete sign of the millions sent by the families to banks around the world.

As in “The Godfather,” which is probably the best known classic film on the subject atop a slew of others like “Once Upon a Time in America,” (an almost four-hour look at a Jewish prohibition gangster coming to terms with his life), “Eastern Promises” (a Russian crime family), and “Scarface” (a Cuban immigrant in Miami takes over a drug cartel). If we are to believe the two journalists who covered the Quebec-based mob, their story involves everything you expect in an action drama, including the blowing up a custom men’s wear shop with a pipe bomb, shootouts that make “High Noon” appear like a child’s game of tiddle-de-winks, dancing by ornately dressed couples in the most gaudy reception rooms, and the like.

What is different here is that the gangsters easily adapt their perfectly accented speech among Quebec French, English and Italian. The film also shows what’s left of the mafioso humanity: they may cry when family members wind up dead and they are sentimental about budding romances among the clan. “Sicko,” one of Michael Moore’s documentaries, purports to show how civilized Canada is when compared to the U.S. Some of us here in America have fantasies that the Canadians, with their seeming cooperation among political parties and normal prime ministers, must be an idyllic place to live. “Mafia Inc” however points out the flaws within the boundaries of our neighbors to the north and does a more than adequate job albeit with some confusion.

In French (or should we say “French”), Italian, and English with English subtitles where necessary.

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

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

BEGINNING MOVIE REVIEW

BEGINNING
Mubi
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dea Kulumbegashvili
Writer: Dea Kulumbegashvili, Rati Oneli
Cast: Ia Sukhitashvili, Rati Oneli, Kakha Kintsurashvili, Saba Gogichaishvili
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/4/21
Opens: January 29, 2021

 

Beginning (film).jpg

One of the long gags about the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the U.S. is that when you hear your doorbell ring on Sunday morning, you pretend you’re not home. This is because the religious sect, intent on awakening religious awareness and hopefully finding new members for the church are so assertive, so confident in their morality that they can barely believe that others might not find them so. If you invite them in for tea, and by “them” we mean that there is always a pair of missionaries, you might find them to be utterly pleasant people who could win you over despite yourself. But how much do we know about their culture?

You won’t find all that much about the general ethics of the religion in “Beginning,” set in a boxy 1:33 aspect ratio that symbolically imprisons the viewer in the story. But you will find a woman, the principal character who is in most frames, to be so oppressed by the small town, by the feeling that she is invisible with no effect on anyone but her pre-pubescent child, and most of all so ignored by her husband who is the leader of a small congregation. This is not the year or the decade of the woman everywhere. If we can stretch a point made in Georgia’s entry to the 93rd Academy Awards competition, women are still controlled by their environment, by the overriding culture, and most of all by their husbands.

Not that David (Rati Oneli) is an evil man. In fact he is the pastor of the congregation, preparing the youths for baptism, questioning even the adults who meet in the church about the meaning of the sacrifice that Abraham is about to make of his son Isaac to God. When in one of the film’s rare, melodramatic scenes the church is firebombed by extremists during a service, the domestic terrorists caught by the surveillance cameras, the police are unwilling to bring charges against the perpetrators. The attack prompts Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili) to feel even more invisible: not only does she stay with her husband who refuses to get a transfer out of the suffocating town near Georgia’s capital, but he refuses to allow her agency if her wishes go against his career moves. Insisting that she accompany him to a meeting with the elders, she refuses. “I want to be alone,” she insists, mimicking the famous quote of Greta Garbo in “Mata Hari.”

A former actress (“you were a terrible actress” notes her husband who ironically claims that he rescued her from the depths of despair), she puts up with ill treatment by her man, even criticized by her mother who advises her that she too put up with hers. When a detective (Kakha Kintsurashvili) shows up, asking her to use her charm to convince David to withdraw her complaint about the destruction of his meeting hall, he segues into a discussion of Yana’s most personal activities, asking her whether she lies when her husband makes love (not his exact word) to her. He asks her to sit next to him on the couch, proceeding to advance sexually, behavior that should horrify feminists but appears to “turn on” Yana, who has been living with a passionless marriage.

This is Dea Kulumbegashvili’s freshman feature film, from a director who was raised in Georgia and studied film direction in New York at Columbia University and the New School. She has her D.P., Arseni Khachaturan, hold his camera still, barely moving the lenses during the tracking shots, and keeping himself at a distance particularly in a scene of violent rape. The film’s most famous scene, a long, seven-minute take with a stationary camera finding Yana with eyes closed, the sun caressing her face, signals one attempt by the frustrated former actress, mother, and obedient wife to meditate on her life’s renewal. The scene gives way, the beauty of the landscape belying the desolation of her life.

“Beginning” looks at first like an ironic title, a bad joke when the woman is doomed to live as each twenty-four hours are like Groundhog Day. Still, a horrifying twist in the final scene could signal the start of a new chapter in her life, one that is anything but encouraging. This is not for those who want Hollywood endings or who can’t imagine watching a woman motionless on the grass for seven minutes. “Beginning,” which happily does not cater to the Hollywood audience with music in the soundtrack, existsfor folks who are fond of learning about human nature in all of its aspects.

In Georgian with English subtitles.

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

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

 

FALLING – movie review

FALLING
Quiver Distribution
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Viggo Mortensen
Writer: Viggo Mortensen
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henricksen, Terry Chen, Sverrir Gudnason, Hannah Gross
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/23/21
Opens: February 5, 2021

Poster

This is one of those rare movies that have their writers sitting in the director’s chair as well, taking a major role, even playing some chords on the piano to punctuate the difficulty of his life. In other words, “Falling” has more than a touch of autobiography: Mortensen imaging and re-imaging his life under the rule of his father who, having looked at the baby he helped create greeting him not with “say dadda” but “I’m sorry I brought you into this world. To die.” We can only wonder how the little one was able not only to survive his daddy’s acerbic personality but why this baby, later on in life, would cater to almost every whim of the dad whose temper could burst forth at any time and whose progressive dementia would turn him into a fierce, cantankerous fool who not only brought a baby into the word to die but would regularly describe his two ex-wives as whores.

Though Mortensen has one of the two lead roles, the film belongs to Lance Henriksen, with a résumé of some 260 roles (including seven that would come out at about the same time as “Falling” and a stack of others continuing the career). Though Henricksen has performed mostly as a character actor, ranging from roles as a clean-cut FBI agent, a vampire or two, a psychotic motorcycle gang leader, his performance in “Falling” may be his meatiest, one that finds the actor who has now passed his eightieth year in full command of his craft.

Half the film’s time takes place forty years earlier with young Willis (Sverrir Gudnason) giving hints of a growing misanthropy and the other half featuring Willis (Lance Henriksen) at his present age of eighty. “Falling” is a film about family dysfunction that shows Willis’s middle-aged son John Peterson (Viggo Mortensen) selflessly taking care of the crotchety old man despite the latter’s insistence that “this is my house and if you don’t like it you can leave.”

Perhaps the most humorous scene, albeit one that you would hardly find funny if you were a passenger in the same plane, old Willis is being escorted from his upstate New York farm to California, ostensibly to find a place to live as he is now unable to take care of his farm. With behavior that makes you wonder when the airline crew would pitch Willis from the emergency exit, the old man believes the passenger cabin to be nothing more than his upstate New York farmhouse, his wife patiently awaiting him upstairs. This leads him into the kind of loud, vulgar emissions, his son John obviously embarrassed but assuring the crew that he will be OK.

The less conflicted part of the film, or at least the scenes with forty-year-old Willis doting like his wife Gwen (Hannah Gross) on their four-year-old son John (Grady McKenzie). Even at that age, a macho Willis takes the lad hunting; when little John shoots and kills a duck, Willis is happy to let him keep the dead bird, bathe it, sleep with it, until they allow Gwen to pluck the feathers and cook it.

But those salad days are now gone. Old Will is not only dismissive of the two wives he chased away, but has all the grotesque features of our last White House resident. He is disgusted that his son is gay, married to Eric (Terry Chen), the latter understanding that Willis’s dementia is talking. Yet John has no problem escorting his dad to a museum where Willis, gazing at a Picasso, tells his granddaughter Monica that “You can draw that.” If you look for nuance on this raging gaffer, you will find it only in his behavior toward young Monica.

How to explain John’s tolerance of his dad? He may think of the time his dad back took him hunting, let him play with the duck he shot, and ultimately, when John at 16 (William Healy) simply could not shoot the deer in his telescopic sights, was comforted with a pat on the shoulder and the statement, “It’s OK.”

We are told that Viggo Mortensen acted in the film he wrote and directed only to win financing. But this Renaissance man, an accomplished pianist, fluent in many languages having lived in Denmark, Spain and Argentina and able to speak English like a lifelong Californian, does the incomparable job of making the audience understand and accept his ability to tolerate behavior that would send most of us running.

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

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

 

SONGS OF SOLOMON – movie review

SONGS OF SOLOMON
Cloudburst Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Arman Nshanian
Writer: Audrey Gevorkian, Sylvia Kavoikjian
Cast: Samvel Tadevosian, Arman Nshanian, Sos Janibekyan, Arevik Gevorgyan, Tatev Hovakimyan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/31/21
Opens:

Poster

Every year that I taught high school history, someone in the class would ask why Jews have been oppressed by so many different cultures in so many different centuries. There are many reasons, all of them irrational, but the principal reason today is that during periods of extreme nationalism, the folks who are in the minority of a country’s ethnic or racial minority are in danger of being considered “the other.” They are different from the majority, and may be in a minority so small that they can easily be persecuted. They are scapegoated for society’s problems, though they had nothing to do with those dilemmas. In fact it was not until the founding of the state of Israel that Jews could live in a country where they are the majority and therefore free from being marginalized.

Similarly, the Armenians in the Ottoman (Turkish-dominated) Empire, were also in a minority. They are Christians; the Turks are Muslims. When the Ottomans found themselves in World War One, they used Armenians as scapegoats, “blaming” them for their contributions to architecture, music, cultural life in general, and acumen for business. In fact they were called by some the Jews of Turkey. In 1915, the Turks exterminated 1.5 million Armenians, though less is known about the pogrom against these Christian in 1894 when 300,000 were murdered. When Nazi government officials in the 1930s and 1940s were concerned that the world might condemn them for their genocidal pogroms against Jews, Hitler said: “Who remembers the massacre of Armenians?”

Well, then, movies like this one will certainly help to remind non-Armenians as well about the oppression, but don’t count your breath. A poll indicated that 40% of Americans never heard even of the Nazi Holocaust. In any case, “Songs of Solomon” is a worthy addition to the celluloid literature of the subject of genocide, joining others like “Nahapet,” ‘Mayrig,” “Ararat,” “The Cut,” “The Lark Farm,” “Dzori Miro,” “Map of Salvation,” “1915,” “Aram,” and “Do Not Tell Me the Boy was Mad.” The actors use exaggerated facial expressions as though in a silent movie, but I suspect the reason director Arman Nshanian evoked such exaggerated emotions is that he wants the film to appeal to a youthful audience.

Nshanian, in his freshman full-length film narrative (he is primarily an actor who takes a principal role here) leads us from the murders in 1894 to the more horrific ones in 1915, going back and forth in a film that in my opinion would have been better if told chronologically. This is a biographical look at Komitas Vardabet aka Solomon, credited with saving Armenian music, singing songs with an exquisite voice. The story opens before the dreaded year of 1894 when Solomon, an Armenian Christian who is a frail, gentle orphan with a blind grandmother, becomes best friends with two girls his own age. One is Sevil who is Turkish. She is friends with Sono, an Armenian. When Solomon sings to them, an Armenian archbishop believes that Solomon’s voice is a gift from God, and puts him into a seminary, which may have been responsible for saving his life.

When Sevil is married thirteen years later, her Turkish husband (played by the director) wants her not to associate with Armenians because “something bad is going to happen to them.” What follows appears to imitate the trajectory of Nazi anti-Semitism in Germany, as Nazi thugs break windows of Jewish stores, bully Jews on the street, and make them wear patches to signal their Jewishness. A Turkish colonel, played with glee, becomes the chief villain, always speaking softly, smiling with contempt, playing with his Armenian victors before letting his goons beat them to death. The most riveting scene, in fact, occurs when this colonel taunts the family harboring the Armenian woman Sono, reminding cinephiles of similar doings when in “Inglourious Basterds,” Col. Hans Lada played by Christoph Waltz, toys with a French farmer who is hiding a family of Jews.

Though “Songs of Solomon” has an excellent group of Armenian extras, it has a budget smaller than that of movies like “1915,” and that’s just fine. We in the audience have the privilege of knowing more than today’s Turks seem to know about the genocides (Turks who made their truer opinions known about the genocide are subject to arrest). It’s pitiful that though Germans today freely acknowledge the role of Nazis in their history, the Turks continue to hide facts about these tragic events. This film thereby joins the others in bringing the truth to light.

“Songs of Solomon” is the Armenian entry competing in our 93rd Academy Awards, though it has tough competition from “Minari,” which I think will be chosen. Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein filmed in Armenia. The film is in Armenian with English subtitles.

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

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

DEAR COMRADES – movie review

DEAR COMRADES (Дораги товарищи)

Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Andrei Konchalovsky
Writer: Andrei Konchalovsky, Elena Kiseleva
Cast: Julia Vysotskaya, Andrei Guseve, Yulia Burova, Sergei Erlish, Vlaislav Komarov
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/28/21
Opens: January 29, 2021 in virtual cinema. February 5, 2021 streaming

Poster

Not only political candidates, but whole countries embarking on a new system of government promise the world in poetry and then govern in prose. In the U.S., a middle-class revolution beginning in 1776 seemed to guarantee that our nation would be the shining city on the hill, but slavery, the Civil War, and countless brutal and unnecessary wars of our various administrations in Washington belie those ideals. So it was with the Soviet Union.

Smarting under the tsarist monarchies that gave wealth and power to a small elite, the Russians fought through two revolutions that took the country out of World War One in violation of a treaty, soon winning a war between the Reds and the Whites. The Whites wanted moderate reforms, the Reds total overthow of the old system. The aim? A paradise of workers and farmers as symbolized by the hammer and sickle. Though Stalin built up a country that emerged from feudalism to win a war against Hitler, on the domestic side, no administration there gave the workers and farmers anything resembling a paradise. Instead, the Soviet Union forbade strikes, even gunning down workers with justifiable grievances though they might be unarmed, simply letting off steam about price increases on food and cuts in salaries.

“Dear Comrades” takes hold of this concept and through narrative film rather than documentary gives the moviegoing public a view in black and white to emulate the times in 1962. You might think the Soviet government would cover up a tragedy in which scores of people were gunned down for striking and others were compelled to keep the matter secret lest they suffer torture and execution. And cover up they did, except that now, in our year, Andrei Konchalovsky was given the freedom to expose the oppression of the workers 68 years ago, an unusual work for the man whose previous film, “Sin,” is about the life of the Italian artist Michelangelo. More up his alley is his “Paradise,” a World War 2 drama involving a Russian member of the French resistance, a French collaborator, and a high-ranking German officer.

Lyudmila (Julia Vysotskaya)anchors “Dear Comrades” in the city of Novocherkassk in the story of an actual event. A thousand workers walked out at a Soviet factory, which would make the local members of the Communist party look bad and lose their cushy jobs, so the city council, as it were, moved to blame the higher-ups; perhaps the KGB, maybe the army. Their jobs were on the line, as tensions escalated as both the Red Army and the KGB (secret police) fired live bullets at the demonstrators.

Lyudmila gets special favors as a party member (some are more equal than others) such as passing by a crowd of people trying to fill up their food baskets the normal way while Lyudmila heads into the back room for salami and the like. She is a Stalinist, believes Khrushchev is likely to cozy up to the Soviet Union’s adversaries. In fact she is more than happy to see the strikers shot dead, though her liberal daughter Svetka (Yulia Burova) wants to demonstrate with the strikers. Lyudmila is horrified that her daughter might be among the scores of people killed by snipers from the army and the KGB. She searches the morgue and when bodies disappear from there presumably driven to the countryside, she is all but certain that her daughter has been buried. She has the good luck of being befriended by a KGB man sympathetic to her cause.

Throughout the film we watch as the local people are made to sign statements of confidentiality: the shootings never happened and neither did the strike. This is a deadly serious drama: The closest thing to humor in the movie is the sight of Lyudmila’s grandfather who proudly puts on the army costume he used when he defended the tsar.

The big plus for the film is the sight of hundreds of extras hired by the movie company rather than having the studio resort to using archival shots. Here in the U.S. we continue to face a diminishing number of strikes given the economy and the purported easy of replacing recalcitrant workers. Yet more to the moment we cannot help thinking that the alt-right characters who invaded the Capitol on January 6th might have suffered a similar fate if our previous President gave the word, but given that the white supremacists are in bed with their billionaire leader, such could hardly befall them.

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

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

PREPARATIONS TO BE TOGETHER FOR AN UNKNOWN PERIOD OF TIME – movie review

PREPARATIONS TO BE TOGETHER FOR AN UNKNOWN PERIOD OF TIME (Felkészülés meghatározatlan ideig tartó együttlétre)
Greenwich Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lili Horvát
Writer: Lili Horvát
Cast: Natasa Stork, Viktor Bodó, Benett Vilmányi, Zsolt Nagy, Péter Tóth
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/7/21
Opens: January 22, 2021

Film Poster

We’ve all heard this. “Let’s do lunch some time.” “We’ve really got to get together.” “My wife and I want to have you over for dinner soon.” “Stay in touch.” People who take invitations like these seriously are likely to be called rubes by those of us who have enough experience in life to distrust them. What do you think would happen if you took the speaker up on such fake invites? Humiliation, probably, so we shrug off the come-on just as does the inviter. This reminds me of the New Yorker magazine cartoon showing an executive behind the desk on the phone, saying “How about never? Is never good for you?” But you’re not likely to hear that from polite folks.

Now here’s a film that shows what happens to a woman who takes a man’s invitation seriously. She’s a neurosurgeon no less, who in Jersey meets a man in the same field. János Drexler (Viktor Bodó) is from Budapest at an American medical conference. The woman is ethnically Hungarian too. We don’t see what happens in New Jersey but apparently they agree to meet in Budapest in one month by the Liberty Bridge (and you’d better make sure of which bridge because Budapest has seventeen).

A month later, Márta Vizy (Natasa Stork) flies to Budapest to meet him, and later to take up a new job in one of the city’s hospitals. She has been stood up, and here comes a scene that should land this foreign language gem an award for Best Male Fantasy. There is nobody to greet her, so she faints dead away. The scene comes from the pen of director Lili Horvát, whose coming-of-age tale “The Wednesday Child” was her freshman, full-length film. Now she has a fleshed-out narrative that labels her a feminist, a female director with a female lead, notwithstanding the principal character’s anxieties when unable to connect to the first person (at age 40) who makes her feel “like this.”

Building on male fantasy, Márta, about to fly back to New Jersey but determined to connect with János, runs from the airport and takes a job at the hospital at which János does surgery. Never mind that János had later told her that he never laid eyes on her, which takes the film from frustrated romance into psychological mystery. What’s the truth? Did she imagine everything? Because if she did, the story is a cop-out, given that you can excuse all sorts of strange occurrences on a dream. But no, there is an explanation. Wait a while.

Now isn’t it just like a neurologist to think she has a brain ailment, leading her to have a few sessions with a psychiatrist. Is she impaired? She could always hang out with a fourth-year medical student who lusts after her, thankful that she successfully treated his father, but she’s not that desperate. We’ve got a mystery here, one destined to keep us glued to the end to get some answers. Will this mature film be tainted with a happy, Hollywood ending? Will Márta become institutionalized? Is her brief affair with him in her bare, shoddy apartment, imagination or one-night stand?

If we were not wallowing in this one-year-old pandemic, “Preparations To Be Together For An Unknown Period Of Time” could conceivably open in any theater that has room in its marquee to fit the title. Though this is marketed here for those Americans who have no problem reading subtitles, it could draw a larger audience. The plot moves along at a good clip, highlights the impressive talents of Natasa Stork as the blue-eyed, classy but lonely protagonist, has some good shots on Budapest streets by cinematographer Robert Mály, and serves well as this year’s answer to Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” In other words, this is not artsy-fartsy: hey, it’s not brain surgery.

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

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

 

DARA OF JASENOVAC – movie review

DARA OF JASENOVAC
101 Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Predrag Antonijevic
Writer: Natasa Drakulic
Cast: Bilijana Cekic, Vuk Kostic, Nikolina Jelivasac, Igor Djordjevic, Natasa Ninkovic, Petar Zekavica
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/17/21
Opens: February 5, 2021

Movie detail page | Fairfax, VA | DARA OF JASENOVAC

Some astute filmgoers might dismiss “Dara of Jasenovac” as a course in Holocaust 101, a film that might have been designed primarily for the forty percent of Americans who never heard of the Holocaust and a few others who might be admirers of the Nazi extermination camps as shown in the attempted coup at our national capitol. However, Predrag Antonijevic’s film is unique in its coverage of the concentration camps of the independent state of Croatia, a country created by the ultra-nationalistic, racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, anti-Serb Ustashe.
Director Antonijevic, born in Nis, Serbia, Yugoslavia in 1959, whose “Breaking at the Edge” is a horror film about a woman whose unborn child could be killed were she not to avenge a supernatural entity, now takes on a far greater horror rather than one affecting just a single person. And this one is based however sadly on true events. In doing so, he personalizes the story by focusing partly on Dara (Bilijana Cekic) in her debut performance as a ten-year-old, determined not only to survive the terror of a concentration camp but to stick by her infant brother Bude Ilic come hell or high water.

And hell could hardly be more horrific than the large concentration camp of Jasenovac, the only camp set up independent of German control during the war, though a German adviser or two may visit the premises to advise the Ustashe commanders. When one German wonders why the Ustashe do not concentrate on “just Jews and Roma,” he is told that the others are imprisoned there simply because “they are Serbs.” So these Ustashe s.o.b’s are into all the accoutrements of Nazi ideology, in this case that the purity of Croatian blood must be preserved against the alleged manipulations of others who supposedly run the gamut from having exclusive control of the media to being sub-humans sucking the pure blood of the Croatian people.

One may well imagine that Natasa Drakulic, who scripted the story, aims to show that the Jasenovic camp was even more brutal than Auschwitz since the inmates were not only worked to death but killed gleefully by the commanders—who include women who are no less sadistic than the men. Examples abound. During a game of musicals chairs, to which the Serb inmate musicians are directed to knock out a Serb folk song, the commandant would raise his hands to stop the music. The prisoner who is left without a chair is killed. Then two chairs are taken away—fun and games. The two unfortunate people are stabbed in the neck as well. Finally, all the “winners” become losers, gunned down as though the Croatian officers are playing a video game.

Another method of killing involves shooting anyone who tries to escape, running toward a river that would take a prisoner to safety. A bunch of children are taken to a basement while the Croatian hurls a can of poisonous gas. Kapos help out, just as they did in the German-led camps, keeping lists of names and turning select people over.
While this is going on, the ten-year-old Dara must learn to be strong. She is as determined to protect her young brother as she is to stay alive, prepared to give her own life is needed to ensure the safety of the boy.

The activities by the prisoners in running the camp like a farm by grinding the corn, feeding the pigs, looks more like make-work before the killings, the entire film hitting you with the dangers of ultra-nationalism, the kind of ideology that enjoyed a bit of a run of the previous administration and featured the invasion of our nation’s capitol, with the ensuing risk to the lawmakers of being taken hostage or killed. Credit must be given to the cast of non-professional actors from whom director Peter “Gaga” Antonijevic evokes skillful performances. “Dara of Jasenovac is filmed by Milos Kodemo in the villages of Kolut and Bela Crkva, Serbia.

In Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles.

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

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

TRUE MOTHERS (Asa g Kuru) – movie review

TRUE MOTHERS (Asa g Kuru)
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Naomi Kawase
Writer: Naomi Kawase, Izumi Takahashi, based on the novel by Mizuki Tsujimura
Cast: Hiromi Nagasaku, Arata Iura, Aju Makita, Reo Sato, Hiroko Nakamima, Tetsu Hriahara, Ren Komai, Taketo Tanaka
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/20/21
Opens: January 29, 2021

‎True Mothers (2020) directed by Naomi Kawase • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd

Well known for her film “Hikari,” about a film writer for the visually impaired who meets a photographer who is losing his eyesight, director Naomi Kawase continues on a similar lyrical vein with “True Mothers.” This drama, which relies largely on displays of the emotions of its characters, is framed throughout by a setting in Japan that gives the area an idyllic look. Those who consider Japan to be a nation of ultra-polite people, the angle of whose bows reflecting the differences between the people they are greeting, will not be disarmed. There is a sense of order throughout. Even the wrenching features on the principal characters never get overblown as they might be, were this am American melodrama or soap opera. Instead, “True Mothers” is a lovely take on the subject of motherhood that could feel just right no matter where you live. The care and focus of women on their children is universal.

Editors Tina Baz and Yôichi Shibuya’s mixture of time, flashing back and leaping forward to display meetings of people and then explaining how they got there, can be confusing. There should have been no problem dealing with the story in chronological order. This deliberately paced dramatization is predictable at first, but has its share of twists which ultimately leaves the two woman in principal focus trying to work out their problems.

The tension develops when Kiyokazu (Arata Iura) tells his wife Satoko (Hiromi Nagasaku) that he is unable to have a baby because his semen does not carry the requisite amount of sperm. The surgery he is offered—to undergo a painful extraction of sperm directly from his testicles—could be a setup for an American broad comedy, but is here taken as just another of life’s sad situations. After refusing her husband’s suggestion that they file for divorce, they visit “Baby Baton,” an organization founded by Mrs. Asami (Miyoko Asada), which pairs birth mothers who cannot raise their babies with couples who are ready to adopt. Through that group they become adoptive parents of Asato (Reo Sato), who we see when he is preparing to enter kindergarten.

You can imagine Satoko and Kiyokazu’s surprise when Hikari (Aju Makita), the teen-aged birth mother turns up, demanding the return of her boy, although money instead would be fine. As for why money is so important, Kawase switches us to Hikari’s story, which takes on the more interesting half of the film. When the fourteen-year-old is approached by her classmate Takumi (Taketo Tanaka), who asks whether she would go out with him, her response, “What does ‘go out’ mean”? turns out to be more than his reply “to go to movies.” The two are quickly infatuated, nature takes its course, and Hikari finds herself pregnant. (She did not have a clue since at her age she had not developed menarche.) Takumi takes off, and Hikari’s family send her off to the home for unwed mothers as her pregnancy, being over 24 weeks, is too late for an abortion.

Hikari gains some maturity through her relationship with her roommate, Tomoka, a sex worker, who takes away some of Hikari’s innocence with a facial makeup—which makes her unrecognizable to the young boy’s step-parents who believe that she is not the biological mother but a scammer. By the final frame, we in the audience come away with a sense that there are two heroes in the story: the self-sacrificing Satoko and the teen Hikari; and some villains, namely Hikari’s prejudicial parents and the spineless father of Hikari’s baby. Call this a women-empowerment movie if you wish, but most of all, this is a soulful treatment of a situation into which many an altogether-too-young woman has a baby that she lacks the time and maturity to care for but who rise deliberately to the occasion.

“True Mothers” is Japan’s submission to the 93rd Academy Awards. In Japanese with English subtitles.

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

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

 

SPOOR – movie review

SPOOR (Pokot)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Writer: Olga Tokarczuk, Agnieszka Holland, adapted from Olga Takorczuk’s novel
Cast: Agnieszka Mandat, Wiktor Zborowski, Miroslav Krobot, Jakub Gierszal, Patricia Volny, Tomasz Kot
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/9/21
Opens: January 22, 2021

Poster

The difference between a B-movie crime story/TV episode like NCIS and an art movie that deserves greater concentration, is that the crimes, be they murder, robbery, rape, kidnap, and arson, should be entertaining thrillers, while the more intellectual dramas use the crimes as stepping-stones to the development of characters. “Spoor”is a good example of the latter. The title refers to the scent, droppings, even the trails trodden by animals. Animals, specifically dogs, boars, and antelopes, each have their brief starring roles, quite necessary to the development of plot. Since this is a film by the Polish director Agnieszka Holland, you would expect the story to be similar to that of her other contributions, such as her 2011 film “In Darkness” about one man’s rescue of Jews in the German-occupied city of Lvov. “Spoor” is more about the intended rescue of animals which are shot for fun, each month a different creature made legal to kill, in a small, southwest Polish town near the Czech border.

Holland, who studied filmmaking in Prague, focuses primary attention on Duszejko, an elderly woman who is the town’s only, animals rights advocate. Her personality might convince some diners that vegetarians and spokespersons for the four-legged are eccentric at least, crazy at most. Duszejko (Agnieska Mandat), a woman who objects vigorously to being called Janina though we do not find out why, is a part-time teacher in the local school whose 8-year-old kids love her, even hugging as you’d expect a dog to hug its human partner. She has studied astrology for years—not in itself eccentric, since even former first lady Nancy Reagan was a fan of the pseudoscience as well. When she protests against town laws that allow hunting, she undercuts her points with the police by screaming. The police have other concerns on their minds when bloodied bodies turn up in the snow, the film audience presuming that the wolf-hugger is the perp.

Though photographers Jolanta Dylewskh and Rafal Paradowski’s lenses are on Duszejko throughout, there are an abundance of secondary characters ranging from the wolves, boars, deer, foxes and even insects to people who enter in and exit from the scenes regularly. Among the folks introduced in this hayseed village are the priest, a man she should not have bothered to confide in, given that he considers equating dogs with people (my dogs are my daughters, insists Duszejko) with blasphemy since God gave us dominion over them and besides, animals do not have souls and therefore cannot be candidate for salvation. She has a brief affair with Boros (Miroslav Krobot), a wandering professor of her own age, an entomologist who advises her about how dead bodies can attract certain types of beetles.

Of the side roles, the most meaty, so to speak, is that of young Dyzio (Jakub Gierszal) who works for the police setting up and instructing them in how computers can help and who fears that he will lose his job because he has seizures. He will obviously team up with Dobra Nowina (Patricia Volny),the only twenty-something female in town.

Some of the material is rambling that would not be hurt by more attention from Pavel Hrdlika, its editor, but supplemented by more activity form the forest creatures that sometimes run quickly through the snow, and other times, as with deer that come over across the Czech border, and stand still, too dumb to be unafraid of humans.

Don’t expect too much blood, though one animal, apparently really gunned down by a hunter, is hugged and prayed over by Duszeklo. The principal reason for seeing this movie is the performance of Kraków-born Mandat, 64-years old when this was filmed, well known in her own country for roles in a host of TV dramas. Otherwise there are too many moments of tedium in this overlong, 128-minute offering, but enlivened by many of the secondary characters coming across not as salt-of-the-earth just-folks but mostly as fierce adversaries of animals, from the priest to the types you probably found climbing the walls of the capitol to protest a fair U.S. election.

In Polish with English subtitles.

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

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

 

IN & OF ITSELF – movie review

IN & OF ITSELF
Hulu
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Frank Oz
Writer: Derek DelGaudio
Cast: Derek DelGaudio
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/13/21
Opens: January 22, 2021

DEREK DELGAUDIO’S IN & OF ITSELF Key Art Poster

There are two kinds of audiences for live shows in New York. One is represented by the tourist, perhaps not fluent in English, who would go to a Broadway musical: “Chicago,” “South Pacific,” “Guys and Dolls,” presentations that are a lot of fun. Others are a more intellectual set that would patronize off-Broadway, even off-Broadway; likely to be in a serious vein, knowledge of English indispensable. There is third type of live presentation; the kind that would challenge people who think they know everything and like to brag about going to esoterica. What they see is likely to be a mix of entertainment and a delving into our minds and souls. Such a show played at the Daryl Roth Theatre, off-Broadway in New York in 2017, called “In & Of Itself,” considered to be a one-man exhibition but depending upon enough people in the audience to volunteer to stand up, even to come up on stage.

“In and Of Itself” as presented by Hulu and executive produced by the likes of my favorite TV comic Stephen Colbert, is a filmed play and then some; meaning that the presentation puts together a collage of audiences and evenings, melding some of the stunning 552 displays that ran before an audience of one hundred diverse souls. As directed by Frank Oz (both the stage show and the movie) with generous filming of a diverse audience including African-Americans and Asian-Americans, young, middle-aged and elderly, “In & Of Itself” may require multiple viewings to allow DelGaudio’s message to sink in: that we are not necessarily what we do for a living, even what goes on within our families. Each of us is a multiple, some of our character easily comprehended by others, while the rest of is below the surface, even hidden from ourselves.

In the opening scene, he asks members of the audience to come up before a large board filled with cards, each bearing the title of an occupation: nurse, ophthalmologist, dentist, and the like. Each is an “I am.” Some of the audience members will be called up to the stage, and as we watch the unfolding drama, we may wonder whether some of the folks are shills for the company who make sure that enough volunteers are called up each time. As a whole, nobody seems shy in the audience(s) that we see.

DelGaudio is a gifted man who knows his lines cold, a fellow of medium height, a close haircut, a trace of a beard. He wears a tie but that’s soon to come off to put across his eyes for one of his tricks. He is a master storyteller, segueing from a tale about a man who plays Russian roulette—the image of the person on one of the six diaramas on the wall. The deal is that he has 5 chances out of 6 to win, to save his life, and if he comes out ahead, he is rich. His troubles are over. But then again, as DelGaudio notes, if he loses, his troubles are also over (which brings the first laugh from the audience). This guy raises the ante, putting two bullets into the gun the next night, three the following, until he points the gun with six bullets at his head. How he manages to come out ahead? Find out by seeing the film.

The most dazzling part finds DelGaudio doing card tricks that are absolutely amazing. Ricky Jay is probably envious. If you see how he manipulates the deck to do everything he wants it to do, setting out the spades in order like a super royal flush, you might consider that he is a sorcerer. In the Middle Ages, the peasants would know what to do with him, and it’s not pretty.

Later he will present volunteers from the audience with letters allegedly written by members of their families, letters that bring some of them to tears. What these letters contain are writings that could easily have come from the participants’ mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. That’s how well DelGaudio seems to know his audience.

Then just as you wonder whether these audience members are the sorcerer’s apprentices, he dazzles by getting half of the hundred to stand up in the every-seat-taken theater, looking at the folks, telling each what he or she is: an introvert, a vegan, an optimist, a lover. The audience at no point looks at a cell phone, a watch, his navel, but all eyes are concentrating on the majordomo.

What does it all mean? Paradoxically, we are all many things, and we are all alike. Forget about Superman, Batman, even Wonder Woman. This showman can see into our souls, as you can believe as you watch the audience members, one by one, feeling the magic.

Yep: he is an enchanter.

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

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

 

THE MAURITANIAN – movie review

THE MAURITANIAN
STX Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writers: Michael Bronner, Rory Haines, based on Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s memoir “Guantánamo Diary”
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Jody Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley, Langley Kirkwood, Corey Johnson, Matthew Marsh
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/12/21
Opens: February 19, 2021

Andrew - The mauritanian poster

If you are following the events of the days just preceding the inauguration of Joseph Biden as President, you will see a division into two camps. One group, believing that the election was rigged, might well say that the violence of the far-right extremists who took over the Capitol was justified, given their disgust with what they consider fraud. The other folks, hopefully the greater number, were horrified watching the only attempted coup of the citadel of democracy since the British set fire to the building in 1814. This latter group, the more educated Americans, might well think: “With enemies like these domestic terrorists, who needs enemies?”

And when you consider the way that the American armed forces have acted for years in our country’s prison at Guantánamo, Cuba (itself an example of U.S. imperialism), torturing prisoners by blasting them with music, waterboarding (which gives the hapless victims the feeling of drowning), humiliating them in at least one case by dragging a man around on a leash, putting them into stress positions, i.e. bent over, for hours, you may say as well: If this is American democracy, who needs enemies from authoritarian regimes abroad?

As pointed out in the epilogue of “The Mauritanian,” Kevin Macdonald’s new, exciting, bold and horrifying film, one prisoner, Mohamedou Ould Slahi had been held for seven years without evidence and with just one hearing in a D.C. federal court where he was judged not guilty. And would you believe that the Obama administration appealed, leading the poor man to be kept a total of 14 years before being released to his home in Nouakchott, Mauritania? Filming in Mauritania and South Africa among other locations, Glaswegian director Macdonald, known mostly for his “The Last King of Scotland” about events surrounding the Uganda administration of Idi Amin, offers us an indictment of an infuriated America uninterested in due process. On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, New York’s World Trade Center was attacked by two planes leading to 3,000 deaths. As a result, those charged with terrorism and held at our facility in Cuba would be denied a hearing, much less a fair trial. Seven hundred seventy-nine prisoners had been guests of the facility since 9/11. A mere handful were found not guilty and released.

The most interesting detainee would be Mohamedou Ould Slahi, principally because he wrote a book, actually four books, about his experiences there, adapted for Macdonald’s pulsating drama. The plot is unfolded with its center, Tahar Rahim, a gifted French performer of Algerian descent adept in French, Arabic, English, Scottish Gaelic and Corsican (he used his skills in the dynamic movie “The Prophet” about a prison holding people Corsicans mobsters and Muslims).

It doubtless took a man of exceptional intelligence to compose these tell-all books, and Slahi was exceptional enough to have received a scholarship in 1988 to study in Germany for a degree in electrical engineering. He joined the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, fighting against the Soviet occupation, a war in which the mujaheddin was backed by the U.S. So far so good. He trained with al Qaeda, one of the mujaheddin groups fighting a civil war, but instead of joining the fight he returned to Germany. His cousin al-Walid and other Qaeda members wrote to bin Laden opposing the planned 9/11 attacks. Slahi allegedly lodged three suspects for one night at his home in Germany in 1999. Not so good.

From what we gather in this film, the government had virtually no case, no evidence that Slahi was the prime mover of the 9/11 attacks or took part at all. Habeas corpus, the concept by which an arrested person must be advised of the evidence that causes him to be charged? Forget about it. The fury of President Bush from the first enemy attack in America since Pearl Harbor was joined by the American people, who seemed in no mood for giving those held at Gitmo the time of day. Hence the many years served in that prison camp by people held without charges.

You could not likely pick a better actor for the Slahi role than Rahim, who, judging by his multi-lingual skills comes across believable in his knowledge of English, learned largely from the guards, able to project his case to the movie audience. Serving as defense counsel, Jodie Foster takes the role of Nancy Hollander, determined to force the United States to live by the Constitution. She, together with an associate, Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) who would serve as a translator from French (not needed given the prisoner’s fluency in English), take their time gaining the man’s trust, persuading him to sign documents that would give her the rights of counsel, insisting that there is an attorney-client privilege. Only later did it come out that Slahi confessed, insisting to his counsel that the confession was beaten out of him, to which Hollander replies that the confession could therefore be thrown out. Opposing them for prosecution is Stu Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch)—a British actor who does quite a job with a southern American accent. He seems less than convinced at any point that the defendant is guilty, and will ultimately do the right thing. When he demonstrates his uneasiness, he gets the same kind of hell from the military that Hollander receives from the USA-USA crowd, which cannot believe that an American can plead a case for a man who obviously (they think) had a big role in 9/11.

Director Macdonald occasionally breaks chronology, going back to the accused man’s happy life in Mauritania, the praise he receives from others for getting that scholarship to Germany, the plan opposed by his mother who believes she will lose him. A dramatic scene during the opening shows a cultural festival in a country that most Americans probably never realized could house some of the bad guys, terrorists found largely in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

Surreal tension break out during the final one-third of the film as we watch close-ups of the brutality of the military, sometimes playing good cop but in the end hitting Slahi with the most diabolical series of brutalities—the stress postures, the loud music, the sleep deprivation, even an episode with an army woman costumed in a cat mask humiliating him by sitting astride the man and “talking dirty.”

Jodie Foster may be the name that brings an audience to the theaters, but this is Tahar Rahmin’s movie. He is superb whether showing an ironic sense of humor, straining against his captors’ brutality, serving to convince us if we are not already believing, that some, and probably most of the current detainees in our wretched prison camp abroad are not guilty of the crimes with which they are…not even charged!

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

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

 

SACRED COW – movie review

SACRED COW: The Nutritional, Environmental and Ethical Case for Better Meat

Uncork’d Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Diana Rodgers
Writer: Diana Rodgers
Cast: Nick Offerman, Narrator
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/9/20
Opens: January 5, 2021

Before tackling the points made by this new doc “Sacred Cow,” let’s look at the concept of veganism, a philosophy that would not be in accord with the ideology of this film…

Sacred Cow: The Nutritional, Environmental and Ethical Case for Better Meat Poster

It seems not so long ago that most of us thought that meat was born in plastic wrap, that vegetarians were communists, fascists, or just plain weird, and that if you are not poverty-stricken, why would you ever want to give up meat? Suddenly Hollywood celebs embrace not only vegetarianism (no meat or fish) to veganism (no meat, fish, dairy and eggs). Joaquin Phoenix, Alicia Silverstone, Alec Baldwin among others. Even President Clinton was on the wagon, turning his nose up against flesh and enjoying the cooking of a top vegan chef), but now he’s playing the omnivore card.

There are reasons that people abstain from anything that has a mother. They may do this for aesthetic reasons (decaying animal corpses are gross), taste (you don’t like steak or sausage), environmental (you don’t want to be standing next to a cow when it endangers the atmosphere), health (saturated fat raises bodily cholesterol), economics (the high price of meat and fish), conservationist (rain forests are disappearing to make room for cattle grazing and growing animal feed),and best of all ethical (animals are born, live lives in an earthly hell, and are slaughtered without last rites, on their deathbeds with none of their family present and you don’t want on your conscience that you in effect, hired a hit team to take out a cow or a horse, a lamb or a bat).

Diana Rodgers’ movie, however, might give meat-eaters a further excuse to continue their habit and possibly to justify it if debating vegans. What horrifies some vegetarians and vegans so much is not the actual slaughter of cows and sheep and chickens, but the idea that the animals live horrible lives in huge factory farms. This smart film takes a middle ground, showing that cows and sheep can live happy lives, are slaughtered humanely, and what’s more, they benefit us in ways that factory farms cannot. There is considerable information that can be best absorbed by people who study regenerative agriculture such as in colleges that have that subject as a major. City folks would do well to supplement the considerable factual content of the film with readings, and in fact, you can do just that by entering this address in your URL: SacredCow.info.

Unlike factory farms, which in America supply 95% or more of meat, regenerative farms practice sustainable agriculture, not by fighting nature with chemical pesticides and growing corn or soy in a separate area from grazing animals. They grow crops simultaneously with cattle, allowing the animals to fertilize the soil naturally and making marginal soil more arable.

Diana Rodgers, who directs, takes us first to a farm in Monon, Indiana, then spreads out across the land where we here enthusiastic farmers praise how they are raising cattle and sheep. What’s more their animals feeding on plants not damaged by chemical bring more nutrition to our plates.

In a sense, without mentioning keto diets, the folks covered by Rodgers’s doc note that Americans have become increasingly obese at the same time that they ironically had given up considerable meat eating. One subject states even that the high starches with the extra salt and sugar used to preserve and give a bolder taste to processed foods, have added to this massive weight gain.

According to some of the friendly folks who inform us that eating meat is both nutritious and ethical, people who abjure flesh may not grow sufficiently and can suffer degenerative diseases as well. Perhaps, one states, that it’s not the meat that causes increases in weight and blood pressure and blood sugar, but that people who eat lots of meat are also likely to smoke and avoid exercise.

There is much here to consider, particularly if you, like me (a member of PETA), believe that being vegan is not only good for animals who get to live, but is the most healthful of all possible dietary choices.

If this film whets your appetite for more knowledge, particularly if you would like to counter its arguments, you can check out these other movies which may be available on Amazon Prime, including “Eating You Alive,” “The Invisible Vegan,” “Food Choices,” “The End of Meat,” “From the Ground Up,” “Death on a Factory Farm,” among others. The filmmakers of these items would likely take issue with the ideas raised in “Sacred Cow,” considering them to be a gutless compromise solution.

The music is intrusive. What for? Would it be boring to watch a well-produced film like this without such distraction?

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

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – C+ (intrusive music)
Overall – B+