FIRE WILL COME – movie review

FIRE WILL COME (O Que Arde)
Kimstim
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Oliver Laxe
Screenwriter: Santiago Fillol, Oliver Laxe
Cast: Amador Arias, Benedicta Sánchez, Inazio Abrao, Elena Mar Fernández, David de Poso, Alvaro de Bazal, Damián Prado
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/3/20
Opens: October 30, 2020

If you are a dedicated film goer especially one who attends highbrow film festivals like NYFF, you might compare Oliver Laxe to Terrence Malick. Malick’s movies, e.g. “Tree of Life” which is about a young man struggling through conflicting parental teachings, have sometimes been compared with watching paint dry. Laxe, who was born in Paris and filmed “Fire With Come” in northwest Spain in a rural area near Lugo, may informally compete this year for directing the most glacially-paced picture. Glaciers notwithstanding, “Fire Will Come” features the hottest, real blazes you are likely to see in the movies this year. The film, which is surely not plot-centered, is not even character-focused but more to the point is nature-dominated. Forest scenes involve three cows, each with its own name, led around the woods to graze, Amador (Amador Arias) leading the pack of three bovine creatures, his German Shepherd Luna bringing up the rear. Laxe, in his third feature following up his movie “Mimosas” (a dying Sheikh wanders about the the Atlas Mountains), wants us to feel the rhythms of rural life a few hundred miles from bustling Barcelona but so apart in culture you might think he is directing on Pluto.

There is but one melodramatic moment involving human beings in a picture that is not unlike last year’s “Honeyland,” about the last female beekeeper in Europe struggling to defend her turf against some competing beekeepers who are vulgar and pushy. The strongest relationship in “O Que Arde,” which is in the Galician language with similarities to Portuguese, is between Amador and his aging mother Benedicta (Benedicta Sánchez). The other melodramatic moments open the film after a long, blank-screen pause, featuring machines blazing through the forest cutting down large trees as though the construction workers are Brazilians ruining the rain forest to make room for animal grazing.

With the principal actors bearing their actual names throughout the film, we get the impression that the fictional aspects of the story are closely based on real events. Amador has just returned to town after a two-year stint in prison for starting a fire. Though a pyromaniac who is looked upon with fear and loathing by the villagers, Amador conveys the impression that he is a simple farmer whose capital goods are three cows that give milk to support him and his mother. Still, the people of the town who are at all close to the small family, are eager to learn about Amador’s health, while a veterinarian who visits to treat a cow backs away from an invitation to share a drink because she is “busy.”

The image that stays with me is that of Amador’s dealing with a reluctant cow, something like my late terriers who loved to challenge their human companion by refusing to move. Amador pulls and tugs, but simply cannot prevail against a huge animal going on strike after producing milk and gaining no particular reward save for the free grass. The unappreciative cow should thank whatever diety he or she favors for living a life out in the open and avoiding obesity as the cow is not forced to eat corn.

You won’t discover Stephen Colbert’s wit in Amador’s conversations with his mama, but if you want to know why one fella in the musical “Tuscaloosa” prefers New York to a small town, you might come away from this movie happy to live in a teeming city with all of its chaos and to visit the outskirts of Lugo for six hours at most.

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

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

FIRE WILL COME – movie review

FIRE WILL COME (O Que Arde)
Kimstim
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Oliver Laxe
Screenwriter: Santiago Fillol, Oliver Laxe
Cast: Amador Arias, Benedicta Sánchez, Inazio Abrao, Elena Mar Fernández, David de Poso, Alvaro de Bazal, Damián Prado
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/3/20
Opens: October 30, 2020

If you are a dedicated film goer especially one who attends highbrow film festivals like NYFF, you might compare Oliver Laxe to Terrence Malick. Malick’s movies, e.g. “Tree of Life” which is about a young man struggling through conflicting parental teachings, have sometimes been compared with watching paint dry. Laxe, who was born in Paris and filmed “Fire With Come” in northwest Spain in a rural area near Lugo, may informally compete this year for directing the most glacially-paced picture. Glaciers notwithstanding, “Fire Will Come” features the hottest, real blazes you are likely to see in the movies this year. The film, which is surely not plot-centered, is not even character-focused but more to the point is nature-dominated. Forest scenes involve three cows, each with its own name, led around the woods to graze, Amador (Amador Arias) leading the pack of three bovine creatures, his German Shepherd Luna bringing up the rear. Laxe, in his third feature following up his movie “Mimosas” (a dying Sheikh wanders about the the Atlas Mountains), wants us to feel the rhythms of rural life a few hundred miles from bustling Barcelona but so apart in culture you might think he is directing on Pluto.

There is but one melodramatic moment involving human beings in a picture that is not unlike last year’s “Honeyland,” about the last female beekeeper in Europe struggling to defend her turf against some competing beekeepers who are vulgar and pushy. The strongest relationship in “O Que Arde,” which is in the Galician language with similarities to Portuguese, is between Amador and his aging mother Benedicta (Benedicta Sánchez). The other melodramatic moments open the film after a long, blank-screen pause, featuring machines blazing through the forest cutting down large trees as though the construction workers are Brazilians ruining the rain forest to make room for animal grazing.

With the principal actors bearing their actual names throughout the film, we get the impression that the fictional aspects of the story are closely based on real events. Amador has just returned to town after a two-year stint in prison for starting a fire. Though a pyromaniac who is looked upon with fear and loathing by the villagers, Amador conveys the impression that he is a simple farmer whose capital goods are three cows that give milk to support him and his mother. Still, the people of the town who are at all close to the small family, are eager to learn about Amador’s health, while a veterinarian who visits to treat a cow backs away from an invitation to share a drink because she is “busy.”

The image that stays with me is that of Amador’s dealing with a reluctant cow, something like my late terriers who loved to challenge their human companion by refusing to move. Amador pulls and tugs, but simply cannot prevail against a huge animal going on strike after producing milk and gaining no particular reward save for the free grass. The unappreciative cow should thank whatever diety he or she favors for living a life out in the open and avoiding obesity as the cow is not forced to eat corn.

You won’t discover Stephen Colbert’s wit in Amador’s conversations with his mama, but if you want to know why one fella in the musical “Tuscaloosa” prefers New York to a small town, you might come away from this movie happy to live in a teeming city with all of its chaos and to visit the outskirts of Lugo for six hours at most.

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

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

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE – movie review

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (Portrait de la jeune fille en fej)
Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Céline Sciamma
Screenwriter: Céline Sciamma
Cast: Noemi Merlant, Adele Haenel, Luana Bajrami, Valeria Golino
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/4/19
Opens: December 6, 2019

Now that Céline Sciamma’s film has been tapped by the New York Film Critics Circle for Best Cinematography, you may be even more curious to find out just how good the movie is. Be assured: it is excellent in every way, from the unusually authentic acting, to the Pinteresque pauses that define the two principal characters’ dialogue; from the composition of the scenes, each one serving as a potential painting in itself; to the remarkable isolation of the scenery shot on location in the French province of Brittany. Sciamma follows up on her previous film “Tomboy” about a ten-year-old girl who presents herself to other children as a boy named Mikhael with her current entry, about two women who are not tomboys but who broaden their concept of sexuality in similar ways.

The title of the film is also that of a painting executed by Marianne (Noemie Merlant), and depicts the sexual awakening of a previously closeted woman who had spent her early years in a monastery. The action, which takes place in 1760, opens as a number of men row Marianne out to the island, complete with her painting gear—which she recovers when it had left the boat and is floating in the water by jumping right in and taking it back. Except for an additional segment of the film that shows bewigged men looking at paintings in a museum, there is no sign of masculinity to be found. This is strictly a study of women, focusing on the way that a liberated Marianne and an isolated woman about her age are ablaze with desire, though spending a fair amount of time before throwing off resistance to action.

How did this lesbian relationship begin? Marianne, who makes her living by receiving commissions from rich and titled women for portraits, shows up at the home of a countess (Valeria Golino), observing a portrait of her sponsor painted by Marianne’s father years back when the countess was a young woman. Yet the countess’ daughter Hèloise, having refused to sit for her own portrait, is reacting to the suicide of her sister who had been pledged by her mother to a rich Milanese man. To ease the way for Hèloise’s eventual surrender to the proposed painting, Marianne has been told to pretend she is merely a walking companion, during which time she understands that Hèloise is enraged by the thought of marriage to a man she had not met.

In a subplot, Sophie (Luana Bajrami), the housekeeper who does embroidery, is pregnant, desperate enough to abort the fetus to go to an abortionist who uses an undisclosed poison to separate the unborn from its mother.

Gratefully the soundtrack is almost bereft of music, the kind of distraction that ruins so many Hollywood movies whose directors do not trust their audience to know when to cry and when to feel joy. As the two women go about walks on the beach, heading back to the quarters to work on the portrait, they are filled with desire. Hèloise begins to ask Marianne whether she had ever “known love,” asks how it feels, and yes, succumbs to the mutual urges of the two women. Their tsunami of forbidden emotions is palpable, the two offering a shower of sparks to display their mutual love. At one point Hèloise even allows her dress to catch afire, taking her good time to put it out.

“Portrait” received not only a best cinematography award from the prestigious NY Film Critics Circle but has been blessed by a best screenplay citation at a Cannes Festival. Photography and screenplay and direction aside, nothing would have come of this film were it not for the passion of the two actresses evoking forbidden love at a time that might surprise moviegoers who believed that lesbianism was created in the 20th century.

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

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

TEL AVIV ON FIRE – movie review

TEL AVIV ON FIRE
Samsa Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sameh Zoabi
Screenwriter: Sameh Zoabi, Dan Kleinman
Cast: Kais Nashef, Lubna Azabal, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Yaniv Biton
Screened at: Cohen Media Group, NYC, 7/11/19
Opens: August 2, 2019 in New York and Los Angeles

Tel Aviv On Fire Poster Sizes 11x17" 16x24" 24x36" 32x48"

Think of the most talked-about rivalry within a country today. Israel has a Jewish majority and a Muslim minority and, to my knowledge, has blessed far too few intermarriages between the groups. In fact if you set up a TV program with a proposed marriage between the clans, you might get little support from either side. But in “Tel Aviv on Fire,” such an arrangement is possible because in TV soap operas, anything can happen. Sameh Zoabi, co-writer and director, gives us a light comedy that spoofs soap operas with their far-fetched plots and more importantly treats the possibility of a marriage between a Jewish general and an Arab spy. You might consider this the kind of story that would not gain prominence from either side, but “Tel Aviv on Fire” was not only showcased at the 34th Haifa Film Festival but garnered a best actor award for a Palestinian actor. Zoabi is in his métier on the subject of cultural divisions, having directed “Under the Same Sun,” a story about two businessmen from opposite tribes set up a solar energy company, and “Man Without a Cell Phone” about modernization coming to a Palestinian village.

In “Tel Aviv on Fire,” Salam Abbas (Kais Nahef) serves as a low level movie production assistant living in Jerusalem and working in Ramallah. He’s a good-natured slacker given a job by his producer uncle Bassem (Nadim Sawahlha). He is fluent in Hebrew and charged with correcting the way characters on a soap opera speak. Because of his low status, his ex-girlfriend Maryam (Maisa Abd Alhady) is not interested, which motivates Salam with the goal of impressing her. When a clueless Salam is given the job of screenwriter for the soap, he has his chance to become Maryam’s hero but lacks the talent for writing.

The soap being satirized, “Tel Aviv on Fire,” is lightly anti-Zionist but not to the extent that would alert Israeli censors. The cheesy soap-opera plot finds Marwan (Ashraf Farah) training Tala (Lubna Azabal) to be a spy, to use the name Rachel, and acquire military secrets held by General Yehuda Edelman (Yousef Sweid). The episodes are not yet complete. As Salam is writing, he is stopped at a checkpoint separating Ramallah from East Jerusalem by Captain Assi Tzur (Yaniv Biton), who recalls that the soap is eagerly watched by both Arabs and Jews. The captain grabs the incomplete script from Samar, making his own suggestions and even insisting that the captain’s script be utilized (and his portrait held on a shelf in the background). The captain wants his family to be impressed that he knows how the story will proceed and insists that Tala and Edelman fall in love and marry.

While this looks as obvious as any soap would be, the entire film is full of surprises, unpredictable right until a sudden coup de théâtre in the final seconds. The entire movie is filled with ironic humor, not the kind that seeks belly-laughs but goes for more subtle, satiric notes. While the entire ensemble performs nicely—probably having to go through may takes as they involuntarily smile at the ironies while acting—you can see why Kais Nahef would take away a best actor award at the Venice Film Festival while Haifa’s 34th International Film Festival awarded “Tel Aviv on Fire” best film and best screenplay.  Nahef exudes loser  authenticity, turning the tide and winning the respect and affection of his ex-girlfriend Maryam. This is one of the best comedies to come out of the Middle East in recent times.

In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles.

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

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

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-

 

SOROS – movie review

SOROS
Abramorama
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jesse Dylan
Writer: Jesse Dylan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/16/20
Opens: November 20, 2020

Soros Poster

“No good deed goes unpunished.” In a more metaphoric vein, “The tallest blades of grass get mowed first.” Ironically enough, the more good you do for others, the more people will suspect you, wonder about your motives, become envious of you, finally to hate you enough to slam you on Twitter. In the case of Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, who, if you go along with Jesse Dylan’s presentation about him thinking maybe Soros should be Time magazine’s Person of the Century, you may paradoxically see that he is the world’s most hated man. Judging by his censure all over the world, in those countries that he has helped the most, you don’t wonder that there was an assassination attempt on his life, something that is not covered in this film because enough poison has been splashed his way to make you guess at that.

According to the Wikipedia article, Soros is the target of conspiracy theories: that he was behind the 2017 Women’s March, the fact-checking website Snopes, gun-control activism, protests against the nomination of Justice Kavanaugh. Conspiracy theories the likes of which appear in Q-anon these days either subliminally or right out in public note that Soros is Jewish. So you wonder why Soros has not yet been accused of causing the California wildfires, the tidal waves in Thailand, and if there is such a thing these days, the poisoning of wells throughout the world. Another theory is that Soros was a Nazi collaborator who turned in other Jews and stole their property. Never mind that he was a thirteen-year-old child at the time who had to hide from the Nazi government.

It’s almost understandable that dictators like Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan would blame Soros for financing terrorists, but hey, you don’t expect Americans living in our open society to hold conspiracy theories? They sure do, and the failure of our educational system to inform people about the dangers of people like our president who are undermining our democracy lies heavy on us today.

Director Jesse Dylan’s many videos came out of Wondros, a production company that tells the stories of the most innovative organizations and individuals. He wants to educate us about how innovative individuals are helping to change the world, and makes clear that Soros is resented by right-wingers not only because he is Jewish but because he has made billions. Envy has often been the emotion that triggers hatred of others in much the way that some people conversely hate those they consider below them as well. We see from the archival spots that pop up during the chats by talking heads that he has traveled to problem spots around the world, using his money to effect change, which in itself seems to have caused people to think, “Who is this outsider to tell us how to treat our people?” He opposed apartheid in South Africa. It’s needless to say who would hate him for that.

He is incensed by the genocide against Rohingyas in Myanmar, bringing that country’s government out of the woodwork to hate him, but at the same time Soros considered so-called human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi to be a hero when in fact she joined the haters by calling the Rohingyas terrorists.. He spoke out against the genocide of Bosnians by Serbs under the leadership of Milosevic.

Traveling back and forth from Soros’ childhood in Budapest to today’s ninety-year-old man, Dylan, son of the musician Bob Dylan, gives us a picture of the embattled giant and presumptive savior of the world. I would expect right-wingers and anti-Semites to think (why not?) that this is a vanity project financed by the title character.

The doc is vivid enough without the help of tinkling piano music in the soundtrack, as if the makers of the film worry about our intelligence so much that we would not know whom to cheer and whom to dislike. I think that most movies that are not thrillers should simply stop the nonsense of distracting our attention from the speakers with irrelevant noise.

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

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – C (music)
Overall – B

 

TRUTH IS THE ONLY CLIENT – movie review

TRUTH IS THE ONLY CLIENT
Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Todd Kwait, Rob Stegman
Writer: Todd Kwait, Rob Stegman
Cast: Howard Willens, Judge Burt Griffin, David Slawson, Ruth Paine, Bernie Weismann, Robert Blakey, Vincent Bugliosi, Patricia Johnson McMillan, David Robarge, Judge Brendan Sheehan, Judge Ellen Connally, Steve Barber
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/4/20
Opens: November 17, 2020

Poster

Most Americans alive today were born after President John F. Kennedy was gunned down, so the event has as much emotional impact on them as the assassination of Julius Caesar. If you came into the world after 1963, you can scarcely imagine how much effect the event had, principally because there was, and still is, a big split between those who saw the killing as the act of one disturbed man, and others who believe there was a conspiracy with Lee Harvey Oswald as nothing more than a patsy.

Why do we like to believe in conspiracies? The short answer is: excitement. We want to experience conflict (all film and literature deal with conflict) even while we are working and hopefully while we are dreaming in a deep sleep. That may propel not a few knuckleheads in the U.S., including one Congresswoman elect, to go with QAnon—the belief that dark forces are at work in our country such as pederasts in the Democratic Party who worship Satan, including Hillary Clinton, who used a pizza store to plot the sale of sexual slaves.

So far as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 is concerned, the conspiracy buffs insist that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the sole killer, the man who, like a wartime sniper, hid out in the Texas Book Depository in Dallas and allegedly fired one shot that missed and two that hit the President in the back and in the head. Conspiracy nuts insist that Kennedy was shot on the grassy knoll, in front of the open car as well as in the rear building hiding Oswald, in which the President was riding with Texas Governor Connally and Jackie Kennedy. They point out that Oswald was a patsy set up to be blamed while the real, politically motivated haters of the President were the real assassins.

That is not the only conspiracy trashed by this heavily detailed film consisting of relatively few archival shots and a boatload of talking heads, mostly older men who were around during the tragic event that occurred 57 years ago. One group believes that Jack Ruby, an extrovert who ran a strip club in Dallas contrasting with Oswald, who did not talk much, was connected to organized crime, people who hated JFK and wanted to blame Cuba. Recall that Oswald had traveled to the Soviet Union where his request for citizenship was rejected, then to Mexico City on route to Cuba. Ruby, of course, shot Oswald to death and was sentenced to be executed. Did he do this to cover up the conspiracy?

Opposing the view, the folks in this doc (see their names on top below the title) refuse to believe that anyone would want Oswald to be even a patsy, given his emotional instability, his troubled marriage to Marina, that a more reliable guy would have been set up by any rational group. Much was made in the headlines of a plot by the CIA to kill Castro with the involvement of Kennedy’s attorney-general brother Robert.

Aside from taking down theories about the conspiratorial motivations of people, “Truth is the Only Client” projects spokespersons who challenge the theory that shots were fired by people in addition to Oswald, holding that the way the bullets had hit both Kennedy and Governor Connolly could not have been fired by a lone gunman.

If you are among the 50% of more Americans not alive during the most controversial political assassination in our history, you will be lost without the background. For this you can consult Wikipedia articles, such as one on Jack Ruby https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Ruby, one on Lee Harvey Oswald https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Harvey_Oswald, another on the Warren Commission which found that there was no conspiracy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Commission.

Directors Todd Kwait and Robert Stegman’s previous doc, “Pack Up Your Troubles” about living a healthy life with mental illness, and “Tom Rush: No Regrets” about a musician with great influence on the music scene here beginning in the 1960s, are both non-political and would not have led moviegoers to imagine that such a detailed albeit insufficiently archival film would come out of the Kennedy assassination. They do a fine job, but not only are documentaries perhaps the least favorite kinds of movies by the general public, but this one will require patience given its length and emphasis on one commentator after another.

The music in the soundtrack, particularly Beethoven’s funereal Symphony number 3, is not only unnecessary to set the mood but is downright distracting. I love Beethoven, but not when he is trying to compete with the rich dialogue herein.

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

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B- (the music)
Overall – B

 

THE BIG SCARY ‘S’ WORD – movie review

THE BIG SCARY ‘S’ WORD
At film festivals October & November 2020
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Yael Bridge
Writer: Yael Bridge
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/28/20

The Big Scary 'S' Word Film

The opening question of this heartfelt documentary is a version of the most important political question you could ask yourself. Your answer would determine what you think would be the best society for both you and the rest of the U.S. This is the full version as I recall it from an article years ago: “Pretend you are about to be born. You have no idea whether you will be rich or poor, Black or White, live rural, suburban or big city, have a terrific set of parents or a pretty miserable duo, go to a great Ivy League school or drop out of high school, be mostly unemployed or on minimum wage, or be the CEO making millions annually. Now construct the kind of society you would favor. While this is a tough question for an unborn baby to answer, it is of course hypothetical.

It’s pretty obvious that you would not build an America in which one person, no, change that to five individuals, own as much as the bottom fifty percent of our residents. What’s that? Five people (can you name them?) have as much wealth as 165,000,000 folks combined. Let me guess. You would opt for socialism, wouldn’t you? Forget about the Soviet Union’s failed experiment with its brand of socialism, or China where millions of peasants starved, or Cambodia where everyone was forced to move out of the cities to work on farms for virtually nothing and if you wore glasses, you were as good as dead. We’re talking about American socialism, which, though not mentioned in the documentary, might be similar to Denmark’s.

Do you think you would want health care to be a right of all of our people? Do you favor a high minimum wage? Would you favor being in a union that has clout, and might you want to have union members on the board of the corporations for which you work? Should you be able to afford a home after laboring two thousand hours each year? Or would you build a society where CEOs of Google, Amazon and the like would make hundreds of millions each year—and remember that your chance of being such a captain of industry is less likely than your winning a lottery.

So: it turns out that you, as an unborn baby, would favor socialism. Is the society dreamed up here scary? Not to me, and yet most people who are not millennials for one reason or another think that socialism is un-American, dangerous in that it would lead to authoritarian governments where, as in the Soviet Union, you pretended to work and the government to pay you.

In this film directed by Yael Bridge in her freshman full-length picture (she made shorts like “The Habitat Game” exploring whether people are part of nature or apart from it), we get some archival films of socialists not just Karl Marx, which might be the first theoretician to come to mind, but also others like M.L. King Jr., Eugene Debs, Theodore Roosevelt, the writers of the Pledge of Allegiance and American the Beautiful, Professor Cornel West, and others teaching in prestige colleges. Academics are generally on the left politically if not socialists, and then again those who are socialists may not identify as such. We are introduced to an elementary school teacher, a single mother who cannot make ends meet even with two jobs. Would a socialist government treat the public schools the way our present leaders do, where even in the reasonably well paid New York City you can make about $125,000 a year BUT you must be willing to teach for twenty-five years before you can get what a student just out of law school might make immediately?

Among the industries cited is a co-op laundry in which the worker-owners feel a responsibility to contribute to the best of their ability because each is getting an equal share of the profits. What is not mentioned at all in the film is the concept of co-op housing, in which instead of a landlord’s cutting expenses to the extent possible with cheap paint jobs required every few years and poor responses to tenant grievances, all residents own shares in the co-op thereby having the motivation to keep the building in good shape, the profit motive gone.

Another subject the film should have mentioned is that under the American form of socialism that so many millennials favor, the government would not own the means of product, distribution and exchange, a system that doomed the Soviet Union, Venezuela and Cuba. Socialism means rule by society: that’s us. All of us, not just the society in Mar-a-Lago. And since we own the country, do you think we would tolerate bad air and water by corporations given the green light to pollute the air and water and contribute to climate change with its current effect on the fires in California and Colorado?

Actually America has been moving toward socialism steadily with a great many speed bumps along the way. We have gone from a country in which only rich white men were considered to have a stake, to the freeing of enslaved people, which involved the largest socialist revolution in our history. We have given the right to vote to women and to eighteen-year-olds. We introduced social security, Medicare, Prescription Drug programs, Affordable Health Care, all designed to prevent dire poverty form unemployment. Why not go further and ensure a job for every American? That’s what socialism could theoretically do.

In eighty-two minutes, “The Big Scare ‘S’ Word” is able to touch on examples only briefly, examining the work of some modern socialists like young Lee Carter, who is now serving his second term in the Virginia legislature, the only non-capitalist in the building. Is this because the people of Virginia, like those throughout the fifty states, simply think that socialism is a word that should be bleeped out? I think the makers of this film believe so, and I think that it would not hurt at all for the doc to get a wide audience. In fact, if all Americans saw this movie in January, Bernie Sanders might have swept the primaries and the election; who knows?

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

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

‘bOOBs: The War on Women’s Breasts

bOOBs: The War on Women’s Breasts
Cinema Libre
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Megan Smith
Writer: Megan Smith
Cast: Otis W. Brawley, Manfred Doepp, Galina Migalko, Ben Johnson, Gloria Jackson, Beth DuPree
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/6/20
Opens: October 6, 2020

Poster

Women are being exploited. Doctors tell women 35+ to take mammograms yearly, yet mammograms are painful, One participant tells men who are clueless about gynecology to think of having their testicles squeezed by two metal plates. They cause patients to absorb radiation, and they yield many false positives and false negatives. What’s more, those women who are diagnosed as positive undergo biopsies, which are painful and often unnecessary. There’s even more. If a biopsy comes back positive, doctors advise patients to undergo mastectomies, resulting in yet additional pain and disfigurement. Sometimes surgeons will admit to some that their mastectomies turned out to be mistakes. (Not covered in this film: In Britain, the National Health Insurance, women with positive diagnoses are encouraged have both breasts removed at once, which is somehow more convenient and efficient for its card-carrying members.)

So what to do? Aided by a clever use of texts covering the screen, the most essential words projected bold and in color, doctors recommend bypassing what they called the standard protocol of mammograms. They accuse hospitals of guiding patients to machines for which they’ve spent millions of dollars and need a return. Instead—and you have to wait until half the doc is over before the epiphany—women should insist on a combination of ultrasound and thermography. Not only do these two machines avoid radiating them and are painless, their accuracy is around the area of ninety-five percent. Yet thermography is usually not covered by insurance, perhaps because the Food and Drug Administration suggests that those who opt for it may miss a chance to discover early cancers.

Huh? While the docs in this doc say more or less the reverse, and though thermography is standard use by firefighters to see through smoke, and building construction people use it to make heating and air conditioning more efficient, it’s just “alternate” medicine? If you’re like me you are likely to have had a love affair in youthful days with the likes of herbal medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, all of which have limited uses if any at all. The doctors seem to agree that even Lancet, the most prestigious medical journal, will some select articles for publication because of money!

This film will likely be seen almost exclusively by prospective women patients, though the idea of nuts being squeezed between two metal plates was the metaphor that got my interest. Given the nice personalities of the professionals used as talking heads, you might be ready to abandon mammography as of tonight (if you’re a woman). But sit back and think: could this movie be nothing more than an infomercial for the thermography protocol which, unless you believe in conspiracy theory (it’s being suppressed because of money-hungry docs and Big Pharma), it’s simply an organ for the promotion of a generally unapproved technology? Could the whole film be little more than analogous to propaganda by the anti-vaccination folks?

Then again, that’s what makes this even more interesting to see. Have a look at it and, as Fox News always says, decide for yourself.

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

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

 

NOMADLAND – movie review

NOMADLAND
Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Chloé Zhao
Writer: Chloé Zhao, adapted from Jessica Bruder’s book by the same name
Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/23/20
Opens: December 4, 2020

Nomadland Movie

The people shown here may just be among those Americans who believe that the regular politicians never understood their way of life. After all, most people in Congress are well-to-do, almost all college graduates, many with degrees in law, finance, economics and even medicine. By contrast the itinerants in Chloé Zhao’s film are not likely to have seen the halls of academe. They do not live in big cities, they do not teach their kids how to ride a bicycle in the ‘burbs. These are the rural folks who, statisticians tell us. are the biggest fans of Donald Trump, who they believe is the first candidate for President who can relate to their way of life, however impossible this seems (if you see “Nomadland” and then take a look at Trump Tower in Manhattan, you may agree).

The film is adapted from Jessica Bruder’s 2018 book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century” by writer-director-editor Zhao, whose film “The Rider” is about a young cowboy whose head injury sends him on a quest for new identity in America’s heartland. Taking place not simply in our heartland but in what might be considered a rural enclave of any heartland, the story features Frances McDormand as Fern, in her mid-sixties, whose husband had died and whose town of Empire, Nevada suffers a similar fate when the gypsum mine for which everyone depends on employment goes belly-up. Even the zip code passes away in an area that could not be considered even a one-horse town.

Like Brady Blackburn, the injured cowboy in “The Rider,” Fern goes through a crisis. She takes off in her small rec vehicle, carving a new identity, wondering whether she can handle her unwelcome new independence. She runs into a virtual commune of elderly people who appear not to complain about their lives in the American West, taking warmth from the companionship of people like them. (Most are played by non-professional actors.) They take odd jobs to make ends meet, including temp work with Amazon during the Christmas season, and even there, as Fern tapes the boxes that are en route to tens of millions of homes, she looks so relaxed that you wonder about people who complain that Amazon exploits its workers—limited bathroom breaks, stop-watch timing and the like.

I think Zhao wants us in the audience to put ourselves in place of these people, and no doubt many of us imagine ourselves away from the hamster wheel, the rat-race, the belief that the American dream may consist not of the home with the white picket fence, two kids and a golden retriever, but at the same time not like that of the unfortunate homeless people who live in cardboard boxes in heartless big cities. Covering towns in what we new Yorkers may consider flyover country—Quartzite, Arizona, and bitter-cold South Dakota warmed by the campfire and the camaraderie of what some refer to wistfully as the real Americans… while enjoying sushi in a cozy restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side.

There’s even a chance of sixties-plus romance, as Dave (David Strathairn) shows how flirtation is easy when everyone is naturally friendly and non-exploitative. They part. They meet again. But what about money? Is working odd jobs in Amazon and baking doughnuts in fast-food joints able to satisfy the basics? You probably can guess the biggest expense. Remember that nomads, unless they are thumbing rides, are traveling in their own vans. What happens when they need not only gas money but a complete restructuring of their vehicles? Fern, for example, is quoted $5000 to get her broken-down wheels running again, and here’s where complete independence ends as she must hit up her sister for the money.

As you’d expect, this film does not follow the usual plot lines of commercial productions with beginnings, middles and ends, maybe some flashbacks and a slew of twists. The action is circular, and there really is not a heck of a lot of variety in Fern’s life. But isn’t there something enviable about enjoying the friendship of people who ask nothing in return, who are not out to pick your pockets?

The best thing about the enterprise is Frances McDormand’s awards-worthy performance. She is no longer the assertive but pregnant presence of Marge Gunderson in the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” or the justice-seeking Mildred of Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.” Here she is just another American seeking the American Dream in her own way, looking relaxed throughout but perhaps wondering whether she can spend the rest of her life as a wanderer.

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

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

PAPER SPIDERS – movie review

PAPER SPIDERS
Cranium Entertainment/Idiot Savant Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Inon Shampanier
Writer: Natalie Shampanier & Inon Shampanier
Cast: Lily Taylor, Stefanía LaVie Owen, Peyton List, Ian Nelson, David Rasche, Max Casella, Michael Cyril Creighton,
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/18/20

You do not often see a movie featuring the closeness that a mother and daughter can have for each other, which makes it all the more fortunate that Dawn (Lili Taylor), a middle-aged widow, might be helped to a semblance of emotional health by her daughter Melanie (Stefanía LaVie Owen). Bearing the possibility that “Paper Spiders” is semi-autobiographical, given the details cited by the husband-wife writing team of Natalie Shampanier and Inon Shampanier and directed by Inon Shampanier, “Paper Spiders” gives its audience the feel of what it’s like to be not schizophrenic, but almost hopelessly delusional (if that brings to mind anybody in the present U.S. government, you’ve been following politics).

You can almost swear that Owen and Taylor are an actual mother-daughter team; that’s how empathetic they are, and that’s how convincing albeit unwise that an eighteen-year-old girl might actually give up a full scholarship to a prestigious college and transfer to a local one to take care of her mom. There’s nothing fancy about the direction here; little of no animation, special effects, flashbacks, all the more bringing a sense a authenticity into the action which is at first comic, then spiraling into a more serious analysis of what it means to have a treateable, but uncurable, emotional condition.

Lacy’s paranoia would be comical if it were not pressing. She believes her neighbor is spying on her, throwing rocks at her house, stalking her; even at one turn when she develops a serious pain in her head, she is certain that he has a machine in his home that can mess with her mind. She is a constant embarrassment to her daughter; causing an uproar at her high school graduation that stops the proceedings, and earlier, during a tour of potential students, suggests that a library open to students even at 4 a.m. is flirting with danger, and by the way “What are the crime statistics of the college?”

For her part, Dawn possesses maturity in her sacrifices to help her delusional mother but enters movie coming-of-age territory when she learns, through Daniel (Ian Nelson), a persistent, handsome and rich boyfriend with a Beemer convertible, to drink beverages stronger than Virgin Mary and at about the same time to lose her virginity.

Comic interludes include meetings of the principal characters with Mr. Wessler (Michael Cyril Creighton), an awkward campus social counselor who relies on reading descriptions of mental illness right out of the DSM, the antics of a private investigator, Gary (Max Casella), and the frustrations of Lacy’s lawyer boss Bill Hoffman (David Rasche) who after six years finally gets the nerve to fire his paralegal.

If the writers and director are getting things right, we find out that paranoia does not come up to the surface at every moment, but relaxes enough to allow for unforced comic moments from the fine acting of Lily Taylor.

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

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

 

LES SAUVAGES – movie review

LES SAUVAGES (Savages)
Topic.com
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
Writer: Sabri Louatah (novels & screenplay); Rebecca Zlotowski, Benjamin Charbit, David Elkim
Cast: Roschdy Zem, Amira Casar, Marina Foïs, Dali Benssalah, Sofiane Zermani, Souheila Yacoub, Shaïn Boumedine, Kadri Islands, Carima Amarouche, Lyna Khoudri, Farida Rahouadj
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opened: September 19, 2019 on Canal. Available on Topic September 17, 2020′

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If you’re an American watching the French TV episodes of “Les Sauvages,” you’d swear that the project was inspired by the election of Barak Obama, who apparently came out of nowhere during his first term in the US Senate to become President—twice. Could America have become post-racial? Not when you find out that the non-Hispanic white vote each time was under 40%, which means that he could not have been chosen without a turnout from the so-called minority population. Even more surprising, when his term was up, a person who has always been a household name, Donald J. Trump, perhaps the least qualified major candidate ever, defeated one of the most qualified people. What happened? The money is on the idea of blowback: deeply offended that a Black man took the highest office in the land, the American (white) public turned toward a person who from the beginning sent out racial dog whistles.

In the TV episodes of “Les sauvages,” the blowback worked in a reverse way, as France, a nation in crisis with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen polling second in a national election, changed course. Remember that “Les Sauvages” is fiction, but Sabri Louiatah, from whose novel the TV episodes have adapted and programmed via the direction of Rebecca Zlotowski (whose “Grand Central” deals with the discovery of radioactive contamination), could become real. In politics, anything can happen.

“Les Sauvages” studies two families, the Chaouch people consisting of Idder Chaouch and his daughter Jasmine; and the Nerrouch family, led by Fouad Nerrouche who is Jasmine’s boyfriend, and Nazir, a militant Muslim, hated by his brother Faouad.

The kicker here is that Idder Chaouch (Roschdy Zem) has been elected by the French people to the presidency with a solid 53.1% majority. The other 46.9% are not happy, yet they have little idea what policies he will follow under than the usual boilerplate, unifying the people. He’s a Muslim originally from Algeria, the first chap from the Mahgreb to ascend to the highest office, and what makes his majority vote particularly difficult to understand is that not all the Algerian-French want him. His Muslim enemies consider him a sellout for playing the game in a colonialist country that fought a vicious war against the independence drive in French Algeria.

The central event that drives most of the series is the attempted assassination of the new president-elect just after the election, given him not even a chance to prove or embarrass himself in office. The shooter is known. He is the eighteen-year-old Krim Benaïm, a gifted musician who is trying out for the conservatory. His motivation is unclear as he is silent under police interrogation. The theory is that he did not operate alone but was manipulated by Nazir Nerrouche (Sofiane Zermani), a militant Algerian then in jail who hated by the pro-French population, especially by his brother Fouad Nerrouche (Dali Benssalah), who is engaged to the president-elect’s daughter and adviser, Jasmine (Souheila Yacoub).

In episode one, the series’ most ambitious, we get to know the characters, the interlocking relationships, and get a closeup view of a wedding, which involves a highly spirited group of Algerian-French, the women showing their excitement in the Arab way by ululating, called zaghrouta. We learn that Idder Chaouch’s wife Daria (Amira Casar) is a musician and orchestra conductor who down to the last minute is not certain she wants to be First Lady, even to the extent of crumpling the ballot and tossing it. We are introduced to Marion, in charge of the candidate’s personal safety, burdened with guilt at her inability to stop the attack.

As the fast-moving episodes move on, each lasting from 50 to 60 minutes, we get a look at the police examinations, the rivalry within the ethnic Algerian families, all to the end of guessing what might happen if such events were to occur in the near future. The editing is rapid, shifting scenes, some last just seconds. The episodes are, in part breathtaking, the acting authentic. Filmed in Paris and Saint Étienne, France.

In French with English subtitles.

Episodes can be streamed at one-year-old Topic, a service of First Look Media, via Topic.com and Topic’s channels on Amazon Prime Video channels, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

50-60 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

#UNFIT: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DONALD TRUMP MOVIE REVIEW

#UNFIT: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DONALD TRUMP
Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dan Partland
Screenwriter: Dan Partland
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/1/20
Opens: September 1, 2020

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I think that the best way for a political documentary to get its points across is with humor. In that way, a filmmaker can undercut potential opponents who would be so entertained that even they would appreciate what they are seeing. Think of Michael Moore’s exposing of political foibles in “Fahrenheit 11/9,” in “Bowling for Columbine,” and especially in “Sicko” where Moore attacks the sorry state of American medicine, how it provides great benefits only for those who can afford expensive insurance or have terrific jobs like members of Congress and the Supreme Court. But “#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump” is one major exception to the humor rule. Dan Partland’s doc is so hard-hitting, so exquisitely edited, with so many people who are tops in their fields making major points against Trump, that this would probably be the year’s best non-fiction offering.

Poster #unfit: The Psychology of Donald J. Trump  n. 0

Not that it tells us anything new! That’s not what is so important. If you are politically woke, if you follow the news channels, especially the most truthful ones (i.e. those that Trump brushes aside as deliverers of fake news), you will not be surprised by the revelations here. The great benefit is that Partland hits us in the guts, drums in the danger that our republic is facing as we head down the road to fascism, and how fascistic leaders are taking power in countries as diverse as Brazil, the Philippines, Poland, Hungary and Turkey. (Duterte in the Philippines has no problem advocating the execution of the country’s three million drug pushers and addicts.)

Image result for UNFIT THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DONALD TRUMP POSTERS

But wait! There is some humor here after all. What you may remember most is a comment by Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted all of eleven days as Trump’s flack because his followers in the White House could not forget that he voted for Hillary and that he antagonized them, a hedge fund winner who could not adapt to the requirements of the political world. “Trump is not a racist,” he announces, to which the audience for the doc wonders whether he is sneaking in support for the President. “He treats everybody like shit.” Good one. Think about that. Is it true? We hear that he provides a toxic work environment, that those he praises one day he trashes the next. He thinks the world of Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, John F. Kelly, Kirstjen Nielsen, Steve Bannon (good riddance), John Bolton, H.R. McMaster and scores of others. He changes his mind not only about his staff, whose members are fired regularly, but about policy. He announces an attack on Iran but cancels ten minutes before the bombs start falling.

Definitive analysis of Trump by top US mental health experts. Science. Truth. Duty to Warn. We ALL have an interest in this discussion. THIS KICKSTARTER HAS ENDED - CLICK BELOW, VISIT OUR WEBSITE, SUPPORT THE FILM, CLAIM A REWARD.

The most damaging accusations, at least in this film, are from psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, who are obligated to remain silent about people’s personalities unless they have seen them and put them on the couch. But there is an exception: shrinks are allowed to go public with other confidential information when they believe a patient is a danger to others, such as when a patient on the couch announces that he is going to go home and kill his girlfriend. (In that case, the psychologist remained silent: the patient went home and killed his girlfriend.)

Trump is like that person, except that as one interviewer notes, his narcissism, his paranoia, his sadism and his anti-social personality are a threat to all of us, not only domestically but globally. When members of the cast talk about the President’s power to unleash a thermonuclear war, we should worry. In fact the accusations against the man in the White House are so incisive that the documentary’s viewers may wonder why he has not unleashed the dogs of war, particularly when he said (he was not joking) that what is the purpose of nuclear weapon if we do not use them?

If you watch the news, think about his speeches. He unloads statements not once or twice, but three times or more. He may use the term “fake news” three times in one speech. By the third time, the crowd believes him. He follows the tactics of other authoritarians around the world like Duterte in the Philippines, Bolsanaro in Brazil, Erdogan in Turkey, to rally the people. One person who knew Trump up close said that he read Hitler’s speeches. No, he is not Hitler, but he uses the same template to sway the population. There exists in this country a broad swath of people, those whom Hillary unfortunately labeled “deplorables,” who believe that they have been ignored by politicians. They went for Trump because he spoke their language, he convinced them that he hears them and that he vows to make the country great again. The wonder is, given his shrugging off of the dangers of the coronavirus and the fact that these people have not done any better economically during his tenure, they continue to support him wildly.

Some time is given over to animations, a particularly good cartoonish one shows an obese man with yellow hair marching quickly to his own drummer. Jane Goodall gets some photographic time studying chimps, noting that while at first they cooperate with one another under a head chimp, eventually the crew become so large that they break into two groups. One group attacks the other, beating the animals to death. Their own kind! Therein lies an incisive metaphor for our polarized society today.

There is one major point that Partland glides over. One man cannot do what Trump is accused of doing. He might have added that Hitler would not be able to kill six million Jews if he did not have enablers; that is, people in various countries as well as in Germany who helped him with that gruesome job. Trump could have been stopped in his tracks if he did not get the political support from a Supreme Court whose votes can be predicted with fair accuracy in advance of any case. Nor could he have had reactionary federal judges appointed if he did not control a Republican majority in the Senate, who, despite previous opinions they may have had about Trump’s inability to lead the nation, now praise him with obnoxious sycophancy. Mitch McConnell is another hypocrite who years ago denied even a hearing for Obama’s choice for a Supreme Court vacancy because he said that a President in his final year should have to wait until after the election. Now, the Senate majority leader notes that in the case of a Supreme Court vacancy during Trump’s last six months, “Oh, we’ll fill it.”

Dan Partland’s first documentary feature is astonishingly good.

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

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

MADE IN BANGLADESH – movie review

MADE IN BANGLADESH
Art Mattan Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rubaiyat Hossain
Screenwriter: Rubaiyat Hossain, Philippe Barriere
Cast: Rikita Nandini Shimu, Novera Rahman, Deepanwita Martin, Parvin Paru
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/13/20
Opens: August 28, 2020

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According to Shimu Akhtar (Rikita Nandini Shimu), women “are screwed if we are married and screwed if we are not.” What we have here is a film about female empowerment and at the same time a plea to working women of Bangladesh, single or otherwise, to unionize their factories. Why do they deserve to be empowered as females? Because they’re tired of being pushed around by men. As for why unionization is important, take a look at your T-shirt from The Gap or Lands’ End or Macys. See if the label says “Made in Bangladesh.” Or El Salvador, Honduras, India, and Vietnam. What did you pay for a trio of these garments? Forty dollars? Did you know that such a sum could pay a woman who made those shirts, just three miserable shirts, for an entire month? Exploitation is rampant in struggling countries like dirt-poor Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), as factory owners can sell their clothing to buyers in the west for a price that the rich countries can well afford, and their use of downtrodden help can reap enormous profits—while at the same time screwing labor in the rich countries like the U.S. by smashing their garment workers’ unions like our ILGWU, denying them jobs altogether.

Made in Bangladesh (2019)

Rubaiyat Hossain, who directs and co-wrote “Made in Bangladesh,” is a female director now enlightening us in the theater audience with her third feature. She follows up her “Meherjaan,” an antiwar film about the dangers of extreme nationalism, and “Under Construction,” which like her current feature is about a Bangladeshi woman finding her way. With Shimu as principal focus, she highlights the pitfalls of marriage, a woman who dodges pressure to hitch up with a man twenty years older but is oppressed by her husband Reza (Shatabdi Wadud), who despite having no job and being supported by his wife demands her obedience to his dictates. What’s more she, her husband, and presumably most of the people living and working in the capital of Dhaka, are ground down in a poor country that Trump would call the opposite of his favorite foreign place, Norway.

After a fire in a deathtrap of a clothing factory causes the death of one worker, Shimu is asked by Nasima Apa (Shahana Goswami) to visit her office for an interview where she encourages Shimu to lead a struggle to unionize. She would need signatures of thirty percent of the workers to register the factory as a union plant, and while she succeeds, she is also taunted by the very people who signed who are now worried that they will be fired. Never mind that even if she wins the battle, if she overcomes the bureaucrat in the Ministry of Labor who tries to sabotage the attempt, she will get her sisters a monthly raise to a mere 4250 takas ($50 U.S. dollars), because geography is destiny.

Salbine Lancelin behind the lenses captures the hellhole of Dhaka, which can make us in America wonder why we call that Asian country “developing.” It has been developing since its creation March 26, 1971 in a split with Pakistan (also “developing”). We see the interiors, namely the factory and the sad excuse for a home for which Shimu is behind in payments. The bad guys are the men—all the bosses and oversees are male, and all of the workers are female, usually young.

This is a drama that may prompt us not only to admire the tenacity of a twenty-three-year old Bangladeshi Norma Rae, but to think about how we should spend our money. We could refuse to buy clothing made in countries that pay workers $40 a month, more or less, but then who would hire women like Shimu who could wind up living on the street? The plot is not complex and the good gals and bad guys are not nuanced, but literary value notwithstanding, “Made in Bangladesh” is an interesting movie to watch with the added benefit of evoking political discussions.

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

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

 

REBUILDING PARADISE – movie review

REBUILDING PARADISE
National Geographic Documentary Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ron Howard
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/23/20
Cast: Erin Brockovich, Michelle John, Phil John, Matt Gates
Opens: July 31, 2020

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water, the fire next time!”

Before peace can rain with Satan cast into a bottomless pit and world peace is symbolized when the lion will eat straw like the cow, our earth will be cleansed by fire. Part of that prophesy comes true though nobody in Paradise, California considers themselves cleansed when on November 8, 208, the town of Paradise looked more like hell than like the geographical entity it was named for. Whether the mother of all fires could have been prevented were it not for climate change is surprisingly glided over in this heartfelt documentary. For those of us who live in big cities, we get quite a picture of what it’s like to live in a small California town. What comes across by the film’s conclusion is that Paradise is a community in which the people are not the types who go bowling alone and who do not join groups, but rather down-to-earth, get-the-job-done sorts of folks that have the spirit, the gumption, the cojones to rebuild after mourning the 85 people killed in the fire—one while in his wheelchair and others who could not escape the flames in their cars.

A documentary about the Camp Fire recovery efforts was premiered ...

Most Americans are familiar with California names like L.A., San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, and the like but may be appraised of Paradise when global news in November 2018 reported the disaster felt by the 26,000-strong residents of Paradise. The film’s director Ron Howard boasts a long résumé of acting and directing credits including his “Frost/Nixon” which is a retelling of the famous interview between David Frost and the disgraced President (“When the President does it, it’s not illegal). This time he visits the besieged town, allowing us to eavesdrop at a series of meetings filled with people both tearful and angry, though the most dramatic moments, which pop up now and then, are scenes of fires that appear to presage the end of the world.

Though perhaps hundreds, even thousands of residents are determined to leave the place for good given the possibility of yet another conflagration in these days of rapid climate change, others are staying put, emboldened by large groups of supporters who fill large auditoriums with their meetings and hear of contacts with bureaucrats in FEMA who may or may not kick in adequate funds to rebuild as though this were Europe in 1945. FEMA did, at least, provide mobile homes temporarily to house the newly homeless, probably doing a better job than any government group did when in 2005 New Orleans was turned into an American Venice.

Matt Gates is in the hero’s seat, a local police officer who on November 8 helped his townspeople to get to safety even as his own digs are wiped out by the flames. Erin Brockovich, who built a case in 1993 against the villainous Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), takes a cameo, while schools superintendent Michelle John, whose husband makes sure that the class of 2019 gets a full-scale outdoor graduation, presides of the ceremony. (By the way, at the packed-to-the-gills meetings of the community, where are the high-school kids?)

The doc seems made by National Geographic Documentary Films primarily for TV use. More information should have been forthcoming about how or whether PG&E—who sent an executive to the meeting to apologize for the corporation’s negligence—will make the residents whole and to what extent the residents are helped by their homeowners’ insurance.

95 minutes. 132 minutes with a Q&A. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

DEERSKIN – movie review

DEERSKIN (Le daim)
Greenwich Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Screenwriter: Quentin Dupieux
Cast: Jean Duojardin, Adèle Haenel, Albert Delpy, Coralie Russier, Laurent Nicolas, Marie Bunel, Pierre Gommé
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/14/20
Opens: May 1, 2020

Melbourne International Film Festival 2019 Review – Deerskin

Near the opening of “Deerskin,” Georges (Jean Dujardin) checks into a cheap motel in a one-horse town asking to stay for one month because he wants to be alone. But Georges may have been alone before the check-in but he is not a single person any more. He had purchased a deerskin jacket, willing to buy it with a dated movie camera thrown in, because he considers it the most beautiful jacket in France. In fact to prove he is not alone, when he is in the motel room, he talks to the jacket, and lo, the jacket talks back in Georges’s own voice. So this is not a film so bizarre that the writer-director wants you to think that the jacket is really alive, but it’s bizarre enough. And no wonder. Its regisseur, Quentin Dupieux, is credited with “Réalité,” about a director who wants to hire a person who can deliver a groan worthy of an Oscar. Even more off the beaten track, literally, his “Rubber” follows the exploits of a homicidal tire obsessed with a mysterious woman in the desert.

For his part Jean Dujardin, whom you may remember from the boldly original silent film “The Artist” in which he takes second billing to a Jack Russell Terrier, is virtually unrecognizable under his thick beard and some weight he either put on since “The Artist” or had the make-up person bulk him up artificially. His character Georges is convinced by his deerskin jacket that the article of clothing should be the only one in existence; meaning, not just the only deerskin in existence but the only jacket. To fulfill the jacket’s plan he sets out to film a movie with his newly bought camera, offering euros to several people if they would remove their jackets and put them into his car trunk. When they do so, he takes off. Later it becomes difficult to con people into the donations, and that’s where the film turns to dark comedy.

The principal attraction of “Deerskin” is the relationship between Georges and Denise (Adèle Haenel)—whom movie buffs will quickly recall for her startling lesbian role in “Portrait of a Woman on Fire.” Denise serves in a bar with only one or two customers but her passion is to edit movies. (That’s a new one: not a desire to act or direct!) Georges picks up on this, hires her as an editor, gets her to cough up money which she withdraws from an ATM. She proceeds to put his spontaneous film takes into an editing machine, and before you know it, her obsession with cutting film matches Georges’ preoccupation with his jacket.

Dupieux knows not to overstay his welcome as the film has barely enough material for a short. Denise congratulates herself with an interpretation of the jacket as “we all hide behind a shell,” which Dupieux may have thrown in to satirize the predilection of serious moviegoers to find meaning where symbolism does not exist. Look, the guy is simply obsessed with a deerskin jacket which, Georges thinks, feels anger that other jackets exist in France. This is a kooky picture, but not difficult or “artsy.” It exists largely to have us feast on the talents of the always imposing Dujardin.

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

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

ABOUT A TEACHER – movie review

ABOUT A TEACHER
Hanan Harchol Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Hanan Harchol
Screenwriter: Hanan Harchol
Cast: Leslie Hendrix, Dov Tiefenbach, Tibor Feldman, Aurora Leonard, Kate Eastman, Yan Xi, Hanan Harchol
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/26/20
Opens: April 7, 2020

About a Teacher

As a guy who spent a 32-year career in the high school classroom, I sometimes wondered why there are far more movies about police than about teachers. Think of “Training Day,” “Dirty Harry,” “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon,” “The Untouchables,” and the best of all, “Serpico.” After all only a small fraction of us have had careers in law enforcement and most of us were never in real trouble, but we’ve all been in classrooms and we should we fascinated by stories about teachers, comparing the movie pedagogues with our own. Wait. On second thought, there are at least one hundred movies about classrooms that are considered among the best, including “Election,” “Chalk,” “The English Teacher,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” “School of Rock,” and my favorite, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” So maybe our own experience in classrooms is mirrored by quite a number of shows about our favorite mentors and our worst nightmares.

Now comes what the marketing people might call a feel good movie. It’s “About a Teacher,” and though happily not a documentary, it follows the experience of an award-winning instructor who felt like quitting during his first year in an inner-city school. Since his favorite word is “perseverance,” he struggled through the first two years, was almost fired before beginning even a second semester, and went on to guide students into using the imparted knowledge to win many thousands of dollars in awards from festivals and the like.

Writer-director Hanan Harchol also has a bit role of “Mr. Caldwell,” an assistant principal who in real life is the great man who helped create careers of his rambunctious students in a tough school. The title character is played by Dov Tiefenbach, known to his students as Mr. Harchol, or just Mister, or Mr. H. At the same time Harchol’s fellow teachers call each other Mr. or Ms., rarely by first names, which in my experience might have been the case before the mid-1960s when we had to wear jackets and ties but now just first names and a t-shirt are de rigueur. The current dress code is good enough for Mark Zuckerberg, and it was good enough for me—and for Hanan.

You would think that Hanan Harchol would have no problem even from the first day since, after all, he is not teaching algebra, which might be of little interest to teens in almost any high school, but instructs them in film making. Here the kids have something to do with their hands. They don’t sit still facing the front of the room listening to long lectures or trying to participate in subjects they can’t really get their minds into. Instead, Harchol faces the indifference so dismaying in “Precious,” in which that title character, sitting in a history class where students are simply talking to each other and ignoring the instructor, bops a kid on the head with a notebook, demanding that the whole class pay attention.

Because of the discipline problems facing Harchol during his first year, he gets into frequent tiffs with Ms. Murray (Leslie Hendrix), the department chair, who could easily fit into a role as Ilsa Koch, the Nazi commandant at Buchenwald concentration camp. She will turn out to have a heart of gold, though, which makes us recall that people wear masks to cover their real feelings and attitudes.

So the kids are a problem. When one of them refuses to turn off his computer, Harchol moves to turn it off himself. The youngster grabs him by the wrist, inflaming the educator who yells “Get out,” notwithstanding that at a previous time, several of his pupils are roaming around the hall leading to an admonishing by an administrator for sending someone out of the classroom without supervision—which could make him lose his license. Seeking a mentor (not realizing that Ms. Murray has been just that all along), he consults a young, attractive Ana Martinez (Aurora Leonard) whose algebra class quietly works at their desks, seeking to learn what she does to get such attention. After receiving feedback from her, he is startled to hear her ask him a key question: “Do you like the kids?” Aha. A genuine affection for your charges will be felt by them, and you’ve won half the battle.

I related strongly to the discussions in the faculty lounge, which features the burnt-out Mr. McKenna (Tyler Hollinger), whom Ana Martinez calls an a**hole. There is considerable grousing when the department chair conducts a meeting, telling the men and women about the demands of the state: lesson plan every day, suitable for inspection. Call each parent of every failing student. Keep the pace: do not fall behind, spending too much time on one project.

Inevitably Harchol cannot avoid taking his problems home, where his sometimes bored wife has to listen to her husband’s tales of woe when all she wants to do is to get some sleep. But when they clash on whether to start a family, you might think the marriage can go belly-up just as Harchol may get fired from his job. Harchol notes several times that he received an MFA from one of the country’s most prestigious schools, which makes one wonder why he did not opt to get a gig at least in a community college. It’s not as though he carried with him a liking for teens, so what’s the deal? Since the story is based closely on real life, I would like to know the answer, especially since hell, the maximum pay right now in New York City public schools, one of the highest paying municipalities in the country, is $119,000, but you have to work 25 years and have a Master’s plus 60 credits to get there. A lawyer getting a fairly decent job right out of law school can make that at age twenty-four. So can a pharmacist. So can a lot of people.

Harchol deals with individual problems of some of his charges, including one girl who had been “hurt” by her mother’s boyfriend from the age of five to the age of nine, and another who sleeps in class because he has two jobs after school and has to look after a child, though he is only seventeen. In the end comes a Hallmark statement by Ms. Murry, who notes (decades before the coronavirus business), that we have little control over many things, but that “the only thing we have is the ability to give away.”

If you do not expect the movie to be as lively as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” or chaotic and violent like “To Sir With Love,” or as wacky as “Teachers” (an escaped mental patient serves a day as a substitute), or as horrific as “Never Let Me Go,” you should have a good time enjoying the inevitable rise of Harchol from a miserable failure to brilliant educator. No, that’s not a spoiler: you already know the trajectory. It’s quite well played by Dov Tiefenbach, though at the age of 38 he seems long in tooth to perform as a beginning teacher. He has particularly interesting conversations in a coffee shop with his dad (Tibor Feldman), who makes fun of his son’s gig entertaining restaurant guests with his guitar but is proud of the lad’s choice to be a teacher.

The students, who may be improving much of the dialogue, were actual pupils of Harchol who came back to play themselves at age seventeen. As their teacher said to them many time, “good job.” This is Hanan Harchol’s freshman film, though he may be known to some at the helm of the short, animated TV episodes of “Jewish Food for Thought.”We look forward to his next venture.

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

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

BURDEN – movie review

BURDEN
101 Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Andrew Heckler
Screenwriter: Andrew Heckler
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Tom Wilkinson, Andrea Riseborough, Tess Harper, Crystal Fox, Usher
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/24/20
Opens: February 28, 2020

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/ You’ve got to be taught from year to year
Its got to be drummed in your dear little ear, You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

We learn from these lyrics from “South Pacific” that we are not born with hate. Hate is evoked by the environment, not the genes. The negative emotion may be given birth by your parents, later by your friends and what you see on TV and in the movies. This does not mean that we should not hate Hitler and Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. That hatred is rational. To feel this animosity to an entire people because of their skin color or religion is irrational.

Andrew Heckler, who directs and wrote “Burden,” has been heretofore known mostly for his acting. However he contributes an incisive portrait of hatred based closely on a true story (we see some of the actual characters in the epilogue). In this case the focus is on the Ku Klux Klan which, surprisingly, was alive and well as recently as 1996, albeit in one small South Carolina town. Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson), the head of the sheeted warriors, had the brilliant idea to invigorate a dump of a one-screen cinema house by converting it into a museum of the Klan, with Confederate flags prominently displayed. One woman involved in the structure might be called a moderate in that she announces that Blacks are welcome as well as Whites because “Blacks also fought and died for the Confederacy.” A shrine to the KKK would seem bad enough but the place is used for headquarters of an actual Klan group, one of its members, Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), serving as grand dragon.

Not much is told about Burden’s youth aside from his statement that he once coaxed a deer to come right up to him fearlessly (the animal senses the boy’s friendliness) only to be shot by Burden’s father. Burden is poor, badly educated, orphaned, seeking a family as do so many young gang members, though he finds familial warmth from Tom Griffin, who assures him that he treats the young man as his own son. In fact he is so enamored of Mike that he hands over the deed to the Klan museum, giving title to him upon his death.

Two forces counteract the racist group. One is Judy (Andrea Riseborough), a single mom, who is instrumental in turning around the emotionally unstable Mike. The other is David Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), the local reverend, who active not only in his fire-and-brimstone sermons on Sunday but throughout the week gathering crowds of other Black people including a few Whites, demanding that the Klan museum be destroyed.

Much of the movie is taken up with the gentle and sometimes fiery relationship between Judy, who is actively anti-Klan, and Mike Burden, who treats her as lovingly as he treats the local Black people with contempt and with his fists. In one scene he targets the reverend for assassination with a high-powered rifle, but on further consideration he puts down the weapon (he “lays the burden down” as we hear from a song on the soundtrack) and reconsiders his fury at the African-Americans.

Many of the scenes come across as if the movie were endorsed by the church, given the loving attention that Reverend Kennedy gives to the repenting Klan member, affection that means a lot to Burden after he quits the Klan and is targeted for beatings at Tom Griffin’s order. The reverend’s “chasing hate with love” is not popular with his own family, which recalls the many beatings that the gang members gave to the African-Americans.

Garrett Hedlund’s terrific performance anchors the story, turning the individual into a thoroughly credible action to redeem himself. Many of the scenes, however, are not modulated, the physical actions and obscenity-laced words appearing one after the other. We in the audience are coaxed to consider whether we should treat our enemies with love, as “brothers in Christ” as the reverend notes, or to feel emboldened temporarily by taking vengeance against those who have wronged us.

Save the for cursing, you might almost take this film as a Hallmark Hall of Fame episode, one that could be appreciated by a wide audience as a supplement to a Sunday sermon.

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

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

OLYMPIC DREAMS – movie review

OLYMPIC DREAMS
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jeremy Teicher
Screenwriter: Alexi Pappas, Jeremy Teicher, Nick Kroll
Cast: Alexi Pappas, Nick Kroll, Gus Kenworthy, Morgan Schild
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/3/20
Opens: February 14, 2020

Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas in Olympic Dreams (2019)

Jeremy Teicher’s movie is about a rom-com about competing in the Olympics, but it is also competing in a crowded fields of other romantic tales opening on Valentine’s Day. Think of “The Photograph,” “Ordinary Love,” and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” even the horror pick “Fantasy Island,” all February 14th fare. There is just one horror in “Olympic Dreams,” one evoked by the soundtrack. Annie Hart and Jay Wadley’s often pounding music does its best to drown out even the soft dialogue of the two would-be lovers as though director Jeremy Teicher is as uncertain about the pillow talk as his two characters are about their goals.

Other than that, this is the kind of fare often distributed during the Sundance Festivals, too gentle to attract the kind of audience that goes for bit commercial love stories. The two actors, Alexi Pappas as Penelope and Nick Kroll as Ezra are both involved in the script writing along with the director (who in real life is Pappas’ husband).

“Olympic Dreams” may feature Penelope and Ezra’s warm but neurotically repressed conversations but you can’t say that it’s the kind of movie that could or should find a spot even on a Broadway stage. To its credit this is the first film green lighted by the Olympic Committee to shoot on location at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, giving even people who don’t typically go for rom-coms to see what goes on both on the slopes and behind the scenes at the Athlete Village cafeteria, the active game room, and the parties.

It’s also where too lonely people meet. Penelope competes in cross-country skiing (in real life Pappas is a long distance runner most adept in 10 km runs) while Ezra is a volunteer dentist who at the age of thirty-seven (41 in real life) is understandably unhappy with his position in a New Jersey dental clinic. We don’t really find out why he never used his clinical experience to branch out into private practice, but maybe it’s because at his age he sprinkles the word “like” into his conversations as though he were still a teen or 20-something. But he does have a good dental-chair manner, chatting up the athletes and getting them to talk about themselves before they open their mouths wide.

For her part Alexi is the assertive member of the duo, in effect asking him out on dates, but as we in the audience wonder when (not whether) they will ever “get it on,” we might leave the theater with the impression that fairly severe neuroticism is at work as he rebuffs the advances of the woman fifteen years his junior. Still, you’re not going to get the spoiler here on how everything turns out. That’s all part of the dramatic tension evoked by the twosome.

Here are two people, both the sorts who never make the headlines, though Penelope is an Olympian and that’s something, and Ezra has made it through dental school but is held back to such an extent that in their first argument, Penelope verbally shakes him up, implying that he “snap out of it,” to “just do it.”

Intrusive music aside, Pappas and Kroll are an interesting couple to watch, to empathize with. You will believe that Pappas is an athlete, which she is, and I that Kroll is a Woody-Allen-like stand-up comedian, which he is.

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

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

 

RICHARD JEWELL – movie review

RICHARD JEWELL
Warner Bros
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriter: Marie Brenner, Billy Ray
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates, Nina Arianda, Paul Walter Hauser
Screened at: Warner, NYC, 11/25/19
Opens: December 13, 2019

Richard Jewell Movie Poster

No good deed goes unpunished. Remember Frank Wills, the security guard at the Watergate Hotel who discovered something funny about the lock on a door and whose discovery brought down President Nixon? Wills was given a $2.50 raise and was denied a promotion that he requested based on his good citizenship. Think of Chesley “Sulley” Sullenberger, rewarded for saving the lives of all aboard his plane, but not before he is baked over the coals for allegedly violating orders from the ground. Sulley, like Richard Jewell, was given his due by Clint Eastwood in the 2016 film “Sully.” The director’s now sets his sites on overzealous police.

If you’re high up, like journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, you will be rewarded, maybe with a Pulitzer, as the two newspaper men got for reporting on the Watergate scandal in the Washington Post. But if you’re low on the totem pole, you may wind up like the title character, Richard Jewell, who saved scores of lives by alerting the authorities of a potential bomb inside a backpack left under a bench at the 1996 Atlantic Summer Olympic games. His reward? Though not under arrest, he remained a suspect as the bomber himself, later remaining for six more years as a suspected accomplice to the terrorist.

Richard Jewell is played remarkably by Paul Walter Hauser, not unknown as an actor but this time given the lead role by director Eastwood. Based on actual events surrounding the bombing of the Atlantic Olympics, “Richard Jewell” is anchored by Hauser’s performance, an overweight guy with a record as a screw-up, a former sheriff’s deputy who is eased out and forced to become a lowly supply clerk at a law firm after a college dean fired him for being overzealous in giving hell two a couple of students with alcohol in their dorm. Your record follows you for life and could help the authorities do a number on you for actions that are completely innocent.

Though already age 33 Jewell still lives with his mother Bobi (Kathy Bates), seems to have no social life, and becomes a punching bag, or doormat, by the FBI, eager for an arrest and conviction for a tragedy that took two lives and injured 111 others. As luck would have it, Jewell had made the acquaintance of a lawyer, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), who is working at a law firm and who joins Jewell in a video shooting gallery. Jewell, a non-entity, is destined to become first a hero, then a terrorist, when on the evening of July 27, 1996 he warns police to clear an area because of the discovery of a suspicious backpack. When the bomb goes off, he is hailed as a hero in the press, particularly by journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who has been given confidential information by FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), with whom she may be having an affair. She is later to turn against Jewell with sensationalized reporting that trashes Jewell, reflecting Tom Shaw’s new, classified information.

Defended by Watson Bryant during questioning by Agent Shaw and his assistant Dan Bennet (Ian Gomez), Jewell becomes chief suspect for fitting the profile: a guy with a modest job, no friends, obese and living with mom, Jewell remains in Agent Shaw’s sites for six years, as the FBI closes the case, though Shaw tells Bryant that he think the lawyer’s client is “guilty as hell.” Watch the awards groups considering Paul Walter Hauser for Best Breakthrough Performance and Sam Rockwell for supporting role. They rivet attention.

This is the year that the movies free the innocents. In “Brian Banks,” a football star is convicted for a crime he did not commit and sentences to ten years of jail and probation. The California Innocence Project gave him back his life. In “Just Mercy,” a man is sentenced to death despite the lack of evidence and is freed thanks to the hard work of a newly graduated Harvard-educated attorney who declined big money jobs to work for virtually nothing. Losers, like starving lawyer Watson Bryant and security guard Richard Jewell become winners, working together in this solid police drama.

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

63 UP – movie review

63 UP
BritBox
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael AptedTony, Lynn, Nick, Neil, Peter
Cast: Charles Furneaux, Lynn Johnson, Nicholas Hitchon, Tony Walker, Neil Hughes, Bruce Balden, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Dewey, Symon Basterfield, John Brisby, Andrew Brackfield, Susan Sullivan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/22/19
Opens: November 27, 2019 at New York’s Film Forum

63 Up Poster

Breathes there a kid who has never been asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In my day the two most popular answers were fireman and policeman. While politically correct youngsters nowadays would more likely say firefighter or police officer, the most popular ambition now is to be an astronaut. And don’t think that children would automatically adjust their thinking when they turn twenty-one and are ready to make a living. As Michael Apted repeatedly notes in his monumental, epic spot of moviemaking, “Show me the child and I’ll show you the man.” Apted give us a documentary unique in its aspirations, having begun interviewing fellow Brits when they were seven and continuing the “Seven Up” tradition now. With archival films that he uses to show us a select group of people at age 63, flashing back to 7 or 14 or 21 or 28 and beyond, he allows us to come to the conclusion that people generally turn out at least somewhat as you might expect them to be when they were 7.

Yes, it’s amazing that every seven years he has been able to go find and go back to the people he interviewed at seven. Most people might wonder whether he would even locate them over such a long life span, whether they would agree to continue with him every seven years, and mirabile dictum, there was only one death, one serious illness, and a small group who opted out.

The kids are all wonderful. They sound more articulate than the American youngsters with whom I’ve been in contact, and yet they have not all been chosen for their intellectual gifts. Only Lynn had passed away,and that from a freak accident. She was hit while playing on a park swing with her grandchildren. She was beloved in her career as a school librarian who because of government cutbacks lost her job more than once, and not ironically was an advocate of stronger government spending on social services.

The saddest story is that of Nick who had just been diagnosed at 63 with throat cancer, a gifted professor who appears shaken given that the diagnosis was given just days before the filming. Some were married more than once, and given the merit of film, we are able to see their spouses now, seven years back, then seven years back again and again. Not surprisingly they look older now having lost the gift of youth which seems to confer the adjective “adorable” on the lot of them.

When asked their opinions of Brexit, all appear to be opposed, one suggesting that 52% of Britons voted to leave the EU not because they really wanted to separate from Europe but because they were getting revenge on the whole political apparatus. In that our cousins across the Atlantic are akin to us here in the States.

Though a large number of the fourteen subjects were in occupations to envy—one a solicitor, another a professor, which might reinforce the idea that Britain is a class society that might predict what people would be in glamorous professions while others may drive a cab (and be annoyed by the competition of Uber), at least one suggests that things are different now. Now, an employer would look at the résumés and backgrounds and hire based on ability. If only that were true.

Neil is the only person who might be called a loser, and then only during certain periods of his life. He had been homeless and he had roamed the country, now and then. But even he gets elected to local political office, buys a home in France, and serves as a lay minister in churches.

Though Michael Apted gets full directing credit for the entire 55 years, a number of photographers had been on hand to capture the words, emotions and philosophies of the selected candidates. Will there be a “70 Up?” Cross your fingers. The current film is a lengthy 139 minutes but given the work that the crew and actors have put in, they certainly deserve your attention the full time. Apted himself remains in the background the entire time, posting questions in an empathetic style that is probably what is responsible for the continued appearances of his cast.

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

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

ATLANTICS – movie review

ATLANTICS
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Mati Diop
Screenwriter: Mati Diop, Olivier Demangel
Cast: Mama Sane, Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traore, Nicole Sougou, Aminata Kane
Screened at: Soho House, NYC, 11/17/19
Opens: November 15 in theaters and November 29 streaming

Atlantics (2019) movie photo

Senegal’s Oscar candidate is part ghost story, part romance, with even a dollop of social commentary and criticism. The film is anchored by the lovely 17-year-old Marne Bneta Sane as Ada in a breakthrough performance as a woman who is destined to marry Omar (Babacar Sylla), a rich individual who spends nine months in Italy each year. When Ada confesses to her friends that she is in love with Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) and that she has no interest in coupling with Omar, they advise to suck it up. After seeing Omar’s house with a bed that is large enough to carry a man with four wives comfortably, they are envious. Given the tight economic times in this third-world country, you can’t blame them for the chance at being taken care of in style.

Director Mari Diop, who is the first female black person to present a film in competition at Cannes plays down the supernatural aspects of her new film in favor of stressing the romance, though given the shabby neighborhoods covered on location in Dakar (specifically the Plage du Virage, Plage de Yoff, and Thiarove though with key moments at the Radisson-Blu Hotel) you will not find lovers cavorting in an ersatz Paris. With a bunch of eager, nonprofessional actors photographed amid a Dakar community with a tower block under construction, “Atlantics” faces off with a group of pissed-off construction workers who have not been paid for three months. They have just about given up the possibility of getting their due, instead taking off in a rickety board for Spain Souleiman among them.

Being stiffed from wages becomes a concept that will appear toward the conclusion of the film, but the constant, understandable obsession with money finds Ada’s friends Fanta (Amina Kane) and Marianna (Mariama Gassama) hanging out at a night club on the beach looking for sugar daddies that will allow them to remain in Senegal rather than having to take off for Europe.

A fire burns down the aforementioned detective Issa (Amadou Mbow) is assigned to the case, but the police work is already beginning when the eyes of the women at the night club turn white, corneas only, crash the home of the construction boss N’Diaye (Diankou Sembene), demanding that they pay the wages owed even though the men are out to sea, dead, or already in Spain. Wherever they are, you will likely suspect that Souleiman will return to his great love, whether with milk-white eyes or seeing normally, to spend at least one night with the heartbroken Ada.

“Atlantics” is a compelling work that will disappoint those who like their zombie movies filled with terror but will be embraced by folks who like their films nuanced with supernatural elements that genuinely expand and interpret the plot.

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

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

MARRIAGE STORY – movie review

MARRIAGE STORY
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Noah Baumbach
Screenwriter: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Larua Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 11/13/19
Opens: November 6, 2019  Streaming December 6, 2019

Marriage Story Movie Poster

Divorce is a traumatic event for many, and considering that fifty percent of marriages end up that way, many of us in the U.S. have undergone its agony. These are the people who can immerse themselves in “Marriage Story” and be particularly caught up in the emotions on display. What’s more, since it is based on what the writer has experienced—specifically Noah Baumbach’s divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh—the exposure becomes even more arresting.

While some get divorced because their partners commit adultery (surprisingly, in a liberal state like New York, adultery was once the only allowable argument for a split), others get bored with their partners, maybe some more have changed emotionally and intellectually, growing apart from their spouses. In the case of “Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach—whose “The Squid and the Whale” in 2005 finds two boys in Brooklyn trying to cope with their parents’ separation—the split is not desired mutually. The woman, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) seeks divorce from her husband Charlie (Adam Driver). Neither of them is a typical nine to five worker. Both are directors, though Nicole is primarily an actress. Nicole feels slighted for having obeyed Charlie’s insistence that she remain with him in New York City where he is an up-and-coming director of off-Broadway plays, while she has repeatedly had to turn down offers for movie roles in Hollywood.

The divorce could have been amicable, or as amicable as you sometimes think when you read about celebrities who say they “remains friends.” But a child is involved, and children complicate lives. Disputes over custody of eight-year-old Henry (Azhy Robertson) turns what could have been as close to “let’s be friends” to matches of yelling and screaming, in one case their raised voices and just a threat of physical violence puts you on notice that they will rehash the histrionics of “The War of the Roses,” when Michael Douglas’s Oliver Rose and Kathleen Turner’s Barbara Rose virtually reenacting the American Civil War in their fight to determine who moves out of the house.

In what could be regarded as playing the feminist card, Nora (Laura Dern), serving as Nicole’s aggressive lawyer, notes that fathers get away with near murder. The society expects women, says Nora, to be like the Virgin Mary, perfect, while men can get away with doing as little as possible, that the world expects men to be screw-ups. For his part Charlie hires Bert Spitz to be his lawyer, a laid-back fellow with some old-fashioned jokes at $450 an hour, but Charlies fires him for the more aggressive Jay (Ray Liotta), $950 an hour with $25,000 retainer. Since Charlie insists on continuing his job directing plays in Brooklyn while Nicole is determined to remain in L.A. to continue her career with films, the battle is fought out in court, the sparring of the counselors, particularly Nora, scoring points for those of us in the audience who sympathize with her.

We may be manipulated into sympathizing with her from the beginning, but as the story goes on, Charlie, and especially Nicole,go through emotional changes, sometimes showing vulnerability, other times a rugged determination to win custody of the boy. With a terrific performances all around. Special kudos to young Azhy Robertson as a boy who wants to remain in L.A. and appears to lean toward siding with his mom.

“Marriage Story” is far from a downer, but is instead mixed with comic moments at some times hilarious, and other times examples of pure entertainment. Julie Hagerty turns on an eccentric performance as Nicole’s mom who, rather than having the traditionally suspect relationship with her son-in-law loves the poor guy and appears almost ready to marry him as soon as the divorce becomes final. Score one for a male director’s empathy for feminism, ready and able to sign on to the idea that in marriage as in the corporate sphere, women are getting shafted.

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

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

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME – movie review

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Craig Brewer
Screenwriter: Larry Karaszewski, Scott Alexander
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Noop Dogg
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 10/3/19
Opens: October 4, 2019

Dolemite Is My Name Movie Poster

Eddie Murphy is back and back big! “Dolemite is My Name” is a vastly entertaining, noisy, chaotic and wonderful comedy which takes off from the principal character’s thesis that “Black people like explosions, car crashes and titties.” Sounds like something that transcends race, but in many ways, Craig Brewer’s biopic finds that blacks and whites may have different senses of humor. Never mind: spun by this mostly African-American cast, the jokes and situations can be universally understood and embraced.

Under the direction of Craig Brewer, the perfect guy for the task having made films like “Hustle & Flow” (Memphis pimp in midlife crisis tries to become a hip-hop emcee), Murphy anchors the comedy as a man down on luck. Like Terrence Howard’s character Dj in “Hustle and Flow,” Rudy Ray Moore is not satisfied being a mere record store clerk, eager to break out with his own music, frustrated that nobody would touch his singles. Moore is compelled to work a shift in a nightclub where he bombs. Unable to catch the attention he needs as either a singer or a stand-up comic, he runs into a homeless man who is a repository of stories, which Moore appropriates for his own nightclub act and voilá: he has his crowd screaming. The more obscene the better. When he can’t sell the disc to a local JD as it’s too dirty to put on the air, he successfully markets it from his car trunk. He takes on the name Dolemite, and he’s on his way up.

Moore, dressed in a huge array of costumes, the pimp-ier the better, excites his all African-American crowd. He hits on one Lady Reed (D’Vine Joy Randolph), convincing her to team up with him. He watches the movie “Front Page” in a theater with an appreciative white audience, looking around and wondering why he’s the only person who doesn’t get it. That gives him an idea. Why not open up a movie starring him, all-black cast, giving his target audience what they want most: white guys as baddies, taken down with karate chops and automatic gunfire, a sex scene (which, though meant to be romantic turns out hilarious), and all-around mayhem. Plans get realized when he rents a run-down hotel, hires white guys from the local film school who know how to put a movie together, and lands a celeb, D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) to co-star with Moore and to direct.

Eddie Murphy is a spellbinder, set to rivet his real movie audience as he does the folks in the cast, a Horario Alger story, if you will, about picking yourself up from the ground, dusting yourself off, and making it big. With a large and delightfully vulgar ensemble, especially Wesley Snipes and Da’Vine Joy Randolph and lots of loud songs to keep our blood flowing, “Dolemite is My Name” is not only a blast but informs us about the rules of the marketing game and how they can be embraced and overturned as well.

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

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

PROMISE AT DAWN – movie review

PROMISE AT DAWN (La promesse de l’aube)
Menemsha Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eric Barbier
Screenwriters: Eric Barbier, Romain Gary, Marie Eynard
Cast: Pierre Niney, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Didier Bourdon, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Catherine McCormack, Finnegan Oldfield
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/31/19
Opens: September 6, 2019 at New York’s Quad Cinema

La promesse de l'aube (2017)

In an internet article by Adina Kay Gross et al “My Jewish Learning: What it means to be a Jewish mother today,” the columnists note that people think of Jewish mothers as mddle-aged women with a nasal New York accent who sweat over a steaming pot of matzo balls while screaming at their kids; or she could be the one who sits poolside in Florida jangling her diamonds and guilt-tripping her children into calling her more often. “She is sacrificing, yet demanding, manipulative and tyrannical devoted and ever-present. She loves her children fiercely, but man, does she nag.”

The surprising thing as that the bloggers wrote this years before the release of “Promise at Dawn,” but then again, maybe Eric Barbier, who directed by picture using a script he wrote with Marie Eynard (with a posthumous credit to Romain Gary), copied the theme from that article. Nah, but it sure seems that way. “Promise at Dawn” is not simply a biopic honoring the great writer-adventurer Romain Gary, who, while not fighting the Germans from a base in England penned thirty-four novels and collaborated with Cornelius Ryan on the great war movie “The Longest Day.” It is a quintessential treatment—one of the best in recent memory—of the love-hate feelings that a demanding Jewish mother evokes from her only son—yet we can credit her for pushing her boy to be what he became, oh, just a winner of the Goncourt Prize for French literature twice. Never mind that French law prohibits the giving of such an award more than once to the same writer.

And yes, Charlotte Gainsbourg delivers such a fierce, over the top performance as Nina Kacew, a Jewish mother that you may want to raise your champagne glass to her and say “mazel tov and Le Haim!” It helps that she’s playing against terrific performances by Pierre Niney as her son Romain Kacew, who later changes his name to Romaine Gary, and by Pawel Puchalski and Némo Schiffman as Romain from ages eight and ten and then as an adolescent respectively. Director Barbier is in his métier having served at the helm for “Le brasier” about, among other things, the relationship of father and son.

You’ll come away comparing Romain Gary to Ernest Hemingway, meaning that he was a writer who did not sit in his room pecking away at the typewriter without living life and without rugged experiences as his guide. Here is a fellow who could help land a plane during World War 2 after his pilot is blinded by an enemy bullet, and who is able even to stand up (a little, at least), to a mother who knows that her brilliant son could write prize-winning literature while serving as a French ambassador. If you’re an only son, as I am, you’ll probably relate all the more to the subject matter, perhaps swinging your view of your own mom from wanting to say “Get the hell out of my room and mind your own business” to “Mom, I love you; why don’t you come over and visit more often?”

The movie, based on Romain Gary’s best-selling autobiography of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, is framed in Mexico, opening on a celebration of Día de los muertos (you’ve seen that event in a most stunning form in the 007 movie “Spectre”). He has become exhausted while writing “Promise at Dawn,” his wife Lesley Blanch (Catherine McCormack) looking on. Changing quickly to Romain’s childhood in Vilnius in the Russian Empire where Romain’s mother Nina made a living selling hats to women (including at least one anti-Semite), the Francophone Nina moves to Nice, France, to give her son a better environment to pursue a career in literature. She opening a hotel there, taking a little time to advise her son to get a pistol, go to Berlin and kill Hitler.

During one of his early trysts with women, Romain is caught by his mother in bed with the maid leading her to fire the servant—too much competition for Nina, presumably. Romain tries to write, is rejected four times, and appears to get his mojo in the military despite being the only recruit out of 300 who does not receive stripes as a officer. “Dreyfus had it worse,” his commanding officer consoles, selecting Romain to go with him to England to continue the war. We can imagine that the officer does not relish Romain’s remaining in France after that country’s defeat as his fate as a Jewish prisoner of war would not be enviable.

I would have liked to know more about Gary’s suicide, since he does not appear a victim of serious depression, but then, as with Anthony Bourdain’s similar taking of life we may never really know. If you look at the Wikipedia article on Romain Gary, you may find that the director honors the man by following his actual life story, giving the French hero all the accolades and avoiding fictional embellishment. Gary’s mother really was like that helicopter parent, and Romain really performed heroic service in the military despite the humiliation of earning no stripes in his graduating class. Romain Gary: novelist, diplomat, film director and World War II aviator. It’s all in the movie and well-serviced especially by Charlotte Gainsbourg under the director’s period look at the twenties through the end of the war and beyond.

In French, English subtitles, filmed in Hungary, Belgium, Morocco, and Italy.

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

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

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID – movie review

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID
Shutter
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Issa López
Screenwriter: Issa López
Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón Lópex, Hanssel Casillas, Rodrigo Cortes, Ianis Guerrero, Tenoh Huerta
Screened at: Technicolor Screening Room, NYC, 8/6/19
Opens: August 23, 2019

Image result for TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID MOVIE POSTER

Feel free to call this movie an example of Guillermo del Toro light, considering that del Toro is best known for “Pan’s Labyrinth” (n the Falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world). Like the master, writer-director Issa López fills her works with magic realism, a technique for characters to conjure dreams as an escape from reality. Perhaps “Tigers are Not Afraid” does not succeed because the actors, however skillful and talented, are ten-year-olds with a limited grasp of the situation but more likely it is because the actions in this Shutter release come across like a work-in-progress. Its plot that does not congeal, landing across the screen as a bunch of actions not full thought out.

 

Since the principal characters are all young orphans whose parents have presumably been rubbed out by drug lords during the war that began in Mexico in 2006, we can accept the ease by which these kids fill their time with fantasies about killers on the loose. The story opens on a classroom. The teacher assigns the writing of fairy tales, stories which for ten-year-old Estrella (Paola Lara) star tigers because tigers are not afraid. She and her classmates have good reason to be afraid when shots are fired down the hall, the children and teacher hitting the floor. However Estrella holds three pieces of chalk in her pocket, each with the power to grant a wish. With the first she succeeds in killing a local mobster, an initiation of sorts into a roving band of street urchins who include El Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez).

Issa López, who wrote and directs, projects that for these kids, things that go bump in the night may be seen as by adults as just superstitions, but for these kids they are as real. They include shadows, ghosts, the dead whispering their demands for vengeance. A line of blood follows Estrella as she and her male pals plan on dealing with members of the cartel including El Chino (Tenoch Huerta), whose cell phone with damning evidence of murder has fallen into the hands of the children and which the drug lord seeks—not that the cops are interested in doing anything with the evidence as Estella and company find out.

Though the film is described as horror, at most it could be called supernatural, with visions that are not overdone by López, whose “Efectos secondarios” about four young adults adrift in Mexico City shows her versatility. Good performances aside, “Tigers are Not Afraid” is filled with repetitive and dull commentary by the street kids and lacks the kind of variety that would substantially fill even its brief running time.

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

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

AMERICAN FACTORY – movie review

AMERICAN FACTORY
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar
Screenwriter: Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar
Cast: American and Chinese workers and supervisors in Dayton, Ohio
Screened at: Dolb24, NYC, 7/30/19
Opens: August 21, 2019

American Factory Movie Poster

I once destroyed a fellow in a moderated debate. He said he would never buy a foreign car, thinking that if he did he would be throwing American workers under the bus (or car). I hit back by citing foreign autos which are made in the U.S., e.g. Mercedes and BMW in South Carolina, Infinity QX60 in Tennessee, Honda Accord and Acura in Ohio, all providing thousands of jobs for factory workers. We are living in a globalized world where products made by foreign companies use American workers, but sometimes management from China, or Germany, or Sweden come here to oversee the work. Think of Tom Hanks’ role as Chuck Nolan in “Cast Away,” traveling to the Soviet Union to represent management of a FedEx plant that opened there. He found the workers lazy and even wide-eyed at the suggestion that they should work since, after all, this was the socialist paradise where laborers pretended to work and bosses pretended to pay them.

A similar situation occurs in “American Factory,” but the shoe is on the other foot. Now American workers are accused of being lazy while Chinese at the same task are workaholics. The case involves Chinese investment in a factory that produces glass for automobiles. When the General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio, closed,leaving well-paid factory employees jobless, the Chinese were welcomed as heroes. Flush with incentives from the Ohio state government, Cao Dewang the founder of Fuyao, the glass manufacturing plant built on the husk of the GM plant, hired some 2000 Americans while bringing in 200 potential supervisors from China. Though the American workers are paid only fifty percent of what they had been getting from GM, averaging about $25 an hour with the opportunity to earn more for overtime, these native Ohio workers are happy to have jobs at all. Never mind that they’re getting $14 an hour, which is less than the minimum wage that a clerk in a New York CVS earns. For this pay they risk injury, even death, from machines that emit heat past 200 degree Fahrenheit. They can be crushed by heavy machinery. The Chinese are not so careful about safety precautions, for as one American states, when he worked for GM he never witnessed a serious workplace injury. Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, who direct this documentary, focuses the camera on one woman with a bandaged thumb and another with orthopedic boots and crutches.

Here come the inevitable culture clashes, and they are not about how Chinese eat with chopsticks and Americans partake of food with forks and their hands. The clash is over the length of the working day. While Chinese are accustomed to putting in 12 hours on a shift, comparable to what American nurses must slog through, Americans insist on the eight-hour day, five days a week. “They won’t come in on Saturday,” complains a Chinese supervisor. The Tom Hanks individual in “Cast Away” is now Chairman Cao, who doesn’t like the way Americans talk too much and lack the Chinese work ethic. Despite the alleged cushiness of their eight-hour day, Americans begin to talk union, with activists—who, predictably enough get fired—holding up signs urging an election on whether to join the United Auto Workers. Chinese management pays $1 million to a firm that hold sessions with the Americans, stating that the workers should vote the way they want but clearly pushing for a big “no” vote. When Cao bloviates that he will close the factory should the union get representation, you might predict how the vote will turn out.

On a note of lesser cultural importance, Americans are astonished that the Chinese TV screen, using costumed women and children, flash pictures of singers and dancers singing about the joys of work—not unlike the old Soviet propaganda pics with such titles as “How I settled down and loved a tractor.” Here is an example of socialist realism for a country that is communist in name only. When Chinese management announces that ten workers who turn out the most product will be given free trips to Shanghai, the audience look at the speaker as though he were talking in Swahili. These Americans on the plant floor are not world travelers looking at Safari ads or commercials. for Viking cruises.

Ultimately it’s not the unions or the American work ethic or even the Chinese 12-hour shift people that will determine the future of a factory that has been making a profit since 2018, but automation. We see a band of Chinese gleefully conversing on how machines can do the jobs of people and how they can cut two workers here, four there, and so on.

If you watched the Democratic candidates’ debate on 7/30/19 you could not help noting that some candidates praise China for being in the forefront of industries like the manufacture of solar panels and other technologies that promise to reduce the carbon footprint, and this at a time that our president is doing nothing to encourage such progress nor does he even admit that the climate is changing. “American Factories” is an eye-opener that will depress viewers who had been hoping that Chinese investment in our country will save the day. Then again, promises have a way of sounding at first like poetry but ultimately fading as prose.

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

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

LUCE – movie review

LUCE
Neon/Topic
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julius Onah
Screenwriter: JC Lee, Julius Onah
Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth, Norbert Leo Butz, Andrea Bang
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 7/29/19
Opens: August 2, 2019

Luce Movie Poster

Every time I think that the high schools in which I taught are pretty OK, not great but certainly not blackboard jungles, I get a wake-up call that says, “Your schools are OK: but compared to what?” Then I come across this high school in Arlington, Virginia which looks nice and clean with grounds to match and students that really pay attention in class and one teacher who has given the teens fifteen years of her life, sees parents after class, and discusses education with the principal. So I think, “I wish I could have been assigned to this Arlington city High School.” Then my envy of the place gives way when I find out that this school may be in prosperous Arlington but it could in no way deserve real estate in Shangri-La. Things are happening therein that would threaten a parent’s trust of her son, a teacher’s dedication to her students, and would start warfare enveloping teacher vs. principal, mother vs. father, student vs. teacher, and would involve questions of race and class. That Julius Onah, who adapted the movie from a play by JC Lee featured in New York’s Lincoln Center leaves ambiguity not only in the ending but throughout the proceedings is a good thing. In fact without the ambiguity’s causing us in the audience to pause and think deeply about the film, we would be shut off from any thought of discussion save for “Where should we go now for our frappuccino?”

“Luce,” which is the name of the principal character played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., means “light” and light indeed brightens the upper-middle-class home of Amy Edgar (Naomi Watts) and her husband Peter (Tim Roth). Unable to have children of their own, they seek out a potential adoptee from the most troubled place imaginable, a seven-year-old who has already been tormented more than almost any American adult by growing up in war-torn Eritrea. With a back-story that involves years of psychological help and any other form a rescue that his adoptive parents have tried, Luce attends a school that gives his room to develop and express his natural talents and is lucky—or maybe not–to have as his history and government teacher Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), who pushes those in her charge so strictly that she has been called a bitch. For reasons that a movie audience will find ambiguous, she snoops into Luce’s locker, finding illegal fireworks among the notebooks, confiscates them, and, instead of telling Prinicpal Towson (Norbert Leo Butz) calls in Luce’s parents. To add to her suspicions, Harriet has graded the student’s essay on the subject, name a historical figure and write a paper on how you would act in his place. Luce uses the example of Frantz Fanon, whose “Wretched of the Earth” advises violence to get overthrow colonialists. Luce is virtually labeled a terrorist, and when in addition, Harriet hears a rumor that Luce is involved in the rape of Stephanie Kim (Andrea Bang), the stage is set for verbal, and later physical warfare, involving students, teacher, principal and parents.

What motivates Harriet to go after this one student, a young fellow who excels in debate, track, and can hold an audience of parents in thrall when addressing them in the auditorium? We in the audience are left with an unspoken motif that Harriet, who is on the one hand demanding outstanding work especially for marginalized teenagers, is envious of Luce’s parents, who appear to be upper middle class, who presumably did not have the stresses affecting Harriet, who has lived with her emotionally disturbed sister Rosemarie (Marsha Stephanie Blake). In fact in the film’s most energetic scene the entire school must cope with Rosemarie’s psychotic break as she goes ballistic, removes all of her clothes, and is carted away by the police.

Tim Roth and Naomi Watts play parents who must have had to cope with the frustrations and joys of bringing up a child with a damaged psyche, their most compelling scene involving an argument about how to deal with accusations that their young man has committed an act of minor terrorism. Should he be exposed for what he may be—the emphasis on may be—or should they lie and give him an alibi that would counter charges against him? Still, the film belongs to Harrison, who has appeared in films and TV since his minor role in 2013 in “12 Years a Slave,” but who, at the actual age of twenty-five is too old to convince us that he is a student in high school rather than going for a graduate degree.

Nigerian-born director Jonah Onah, whose “The Cloverfield Paradox” finds scientists testing a device to solve the energy crisis, moves ahead with this intellectually challenging and emotionally gripping tale with metaphoric possibilities that feed into the current sophomoric racism of our president, who does not have a racist bone in his body.

This is an emotionally gripping and intellectually satisfying meditation on racism, parental pressures, and teachers’ expectations.

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

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

THE LION KING – movie review

THE LION KING
Walt Disney Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jon Favreau
Screenwriter: Jeff Nathanson, story by Brenda Chapman, characters from Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, Linda Woolverton
Cast: Voices of John Kani, Seth Rogen, Donald Glover, Keegan-Michael Key, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Early Jones, Beyoncé, Billy Eichner, Amy Sedaris, Alfre Woodard, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Eric André, John Oliver, JD McCrary, Florence Kasumba
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 7/10/19
Opens: July 19, 2019

Lion King Movie Poster (2019)

John Badham’s “Point of No Return” is a carbon copy of Luc Besson’s “La Femme Nikita,” but there are qualitative differences between the two that should be obvious to people who have acquired a taste in film. Similarly Jon Favreau’s “The Lion King” is a copy of Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff’s 1994 film of the same name, and here again, the quality of the current version is obvious. Favreau’s version is blessed by a quantum advance in animation technology known as photorealistic computer animation which takes away the illusion of artifice in favor of rendering the subjects quite life-like. You may be able to tell the difference between animals photographed at Serengeti and the same beings in which no real animals are used (or harmed), but the eight-year-old who takes you to “The Lion King” will be stunned by the naturalness of all that the child can see. One wonders whether in the future live actors will be automated out of jobs just as are the movie personnel who sell you tickets at the multiplex will have to look for some job that has not already been deleted by machines.

Even without the new technology, Disney could continue the reign as the animation king of blockbuster films. “Beauty and the Beast,” for example, is a familiar enough tale, yet when you watch it again you may find it to be fresh. In the same way though the songs used in the current “Lion King” may be familiar enough—think of “Hakuna Mattata” (what a wonderful phrase…ain’t no passing craze”) and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (“in the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…” ah weemoway”). When sung by a variety of creatures of the jungle it’s as though you’re hearing the songs for the first time.

Whether you think that Disney’s trope of creating animals that talk and sing like human beings is no problem, a hakuna mattata, or whether you believe that this way of conveying animal behavior is overdone, is a matter of opinion. The way that the lions, the hyenas, the warthogs, a variety of birds speak our language does take away from their individuality since, after all, giraffes are not zebras, but such is not likely to be a problem for the small fry.

As in the 1994 version, “The Lion King” is about family and the importance of home, but those of us in the U.S. now having to put up with a circus of campaigning for top gun a year and one-half in advance cannot help thinking that we have a president and we have a number of people who would like to unseat him. Similarly, Mufasa (James Earl Jones) is the respected monarch of the Pride Lands, particularly as he believes (unlike a few of our politicians) that what makes a king is not what he takes but what he gives. Yet among the Pride Lands, his own brother wants him killed so that he can ascend the throne—which makes this a kind of Shakespearean theater. Mufasa’s son Simba (Donald Glover as an adult and JD McCrary as the cub) has been readied by the king of beasts to take over when his time comes, and this is where the Circle of Life comes in, but Mufasa’s brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is determined not to let this happen as he has monarchial ambitions. Scar’s allies are a group of nasty hyenas (Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, Keegan-Michael Key) who realize that Simba must be lured into a forbidden part of the kingdom so he can be killed and eaten.

The villains are ugly. Scar is easily recognized despite having the mane of his brother because he has been grayed out, the typical bold color of lions is desaturated. The hyenas, whose dialogue is fast and idiotic, are as ugly as animals can be. Comic relief is supplied by Pumbaa, a warthog (Seth Rogen) who adopts Simba when the future king has run away from home, and is never seen without the company of a Meerkat who pops on and off Pumbaa’s head. Beyoncé’s voice serve as Nala, Simba’s childhood sweetheart who insists that she could never marry Simba while Alfre Woodard is the voice of Sarabi, the Queen, and Simba’s mother.

Unlike the 1994 version which is rated G for general audiences, this one features an MPAA rating of PG given the realism of the violence (animals falling from cliffs into fire, for example) and perhaps more disturbing for the young ‘un in the audience, there is talk of death which could be even scarier than watching scenes of violence and death, such as the statement that life is not a circle but a straight line. When you come to the end of the line, that’s it.

As you can probably guess the visuals are splendiferous. Favreau takes a story that so many of us know about from the original and from the stage version where it is still holding court at the Minskoff, and with photorealistic animation can make you think you’re on a prohibitively expensive safari—yet paying no more than $20 a ticket.

Music is composed by Hans Zimmer, with songs written by Elton John and Tim Rice.

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

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

TOLKIEN – movie review

TOLKIEN
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dome Karukoski
Screenwriter: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
Cast: Lily Collins, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Gibson, Pam Ferris, Genevieve O’Reilly, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 4/10/19
Opens: May 10, 2019

Tolkien Movie Poster

The biopic of J.R.R. Tolkien is as dull and stodgy as the title of the film. The Finnish-born, Dome Karukoski, whose“Tom of Finland,” about the artist Touko Valio Laaksonen, projects the director’s interest in biopics, this time deals with Tolkien’s youth from the time he was about twelve (played by Harry Gilby) through his experience in World War One, marriage and fatherhood. Tolkien could have been one of the those writers whose parents typically advise “continue with pen and paper as a hobby if you like, but be sure to have a career to earn a living.” But we know little of his parents’ wishes as his father had died in South Africa, his mother of diabetes, making the lad an orphan who is lucky to come under the wing of Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney). From Father Morgan’s strict management of his charge, Tolkien winds up under the wing of a rich woman, Mrs. Faulkner (Pam Ferris), his studies bringing him up to entrance to Oxford University.

Much is made of the influence of young Tolkien by friends of his own age who form a brotherhood, horsing around, teasing one another, and helping to mold the young man into a scholar whose interest in philology, the study of language, brings him into the world of Europe’s most celebrated linguist and writer (Derek Jacobi). Scenes of his years in high school, where male students wear jacket, vest and tie to classes, alternate with cuts from World War One, where we find Tokien submerged in a trench as was the custom of the time, until the unit is ordered on what looks like a suicidal charge of the German lines reminiscent of a similar devastation in the Battle of Gallipoli. Central to his life is his courtship of Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), the on-again, off-again woman who will become his wife and give him four children. Bratt plays her part wonderfully, flirtatious at first, showing her increasing enthusiasm of her bond with Tolkien, a woman who Father Morgan tries to drive away from Tolkien because she is “not Catholic,” and might prevent his success at Oxford.

As you already know, Tolkien’s first published work, “The Hobbit” in 1937, brought the author fame and elevates him to perhaps the world’s foremost scribe of mythological subjects. If you have seen “The Hobbit” and Peter Jackson’s 2001 hit “Lord of the Rings” which won a boatload of Oscars and critics’ awards, you might expect the film “Tolkien” to throw in scenes—not necessarily from the movies, but at least of some of the dramatic personae of the man’s creations. Yet we see a fire-eating dragon just twice, and for a scant few seconds, and some vague scenes of warriors on horseback. Without the special effects that would have brought the audience the full measure of the man, “Tolkien” becomes a biopic that’s stodgy, lacking in imagination and the creativity that could have come with an array of visual effects.

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

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

RED JOAN – movie review

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

Red Joan Movie Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STOCKHOLM – movie review

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

Stockholm Movie Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE BRINK – movie review

THE BRINK
Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alison Klayman
Screenwriter: Alison Klayman
Cast: Steve Bannon
Screened at: Dolby 24, NYC, 2/20/19
Opens: March 29, 2019

Steve Bannon appears in The Brink by Alison Klayman, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Steve Bannon could use bariatric surgery, a better dentist, and a Brooks Brothers overhaul of his wardrobe. None of these flaws takes away from his charm, and remember that even Darth Vader has been called a charmer by the huge crowds that pack theaters when he’s around. He has been picketed around Europe and the U.S. with the same sorts of signs that greet Trump now and then, though a great deal of picketers are not protestors: anything but. As CEO of Trump’s presidential campaign, he considers himself virtually the sole reason that Trump was able to thumb his nose at the pollsters. Though fired by the POTUS for a side comment Bannon once made in the book “Fire and Fury,” he claims to be on the president’s direct line, and despite his sendoff shortly after the president’s swearing-in, he maintains that he is still treasured by the man with the long red tie.

Since Bannon is a filmmaker among other diverse traits, it was only natural that he would grant producer Marie Theresa Guirgis the thumbs-up for a film about his ideologies and skills at communicating them. Guirgis tapped Alison Klayman to be a fly on the wall, a wise choice as Klayman’s documentary “Ai Wei Wei…Never Sorry” chronicles the trouble the activist has endured from the Chinese government, and “Take Your Pills” puts America’s drug Adderall front and center by people who need the boost to outpace the competition.

That Bannon has been vilified by progressives is no problem for him, in fact he gives the impression that he’d agree with the view that the only bad publicity is no publicity. More specifically, he believes that every time he is trashed by progressives at demonstrations picked up by the media, he gains prominence. Therein lies his welcome of director Klayman, who allegedly spent well over one hundred hours following him around, both in the U.S. and Europe. The best part of the doc is not a rehash of what we already know about him, but the ways he acts informally when nobody but his “fly” is around to capture both his manic moods and his frustrations.

Aside from the idiosyncrasy of wearing two shirts everywhere he goes and, when filming himself with another gent and a woman tells the woman that she is a rose between two thorns, he probably won’t strike you as either an intellectual or a fellow who can easily one-up his company with his wit; and in fact he appears awkward when he speaks to large crowds. Nor does he hesitate to repeat his views before groups of progressives who in one scene loudly boo him, telling them “I have a whole night to convert you.” His attempted conversion leads to a non-hostile laugh from the crowd.

What is his goal? Well, Winston Churchill stated that his goal is victory; victory at all costs; victory in spite of all terror.” Bannon smells victory, a strong smell at that, when Trump (thanks to him) won the presidency against all odds. He is a one-note politician, a nationalist, a populist, who insists that he cares not what is your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preferences. Nationalism is generally defined as identification with your own nation to the exclusion of the interests of other countries. In concrete terms, he wants America for Americans, considering that people who come here illegally should be sent back to where they came from, and even better, to prevent them from crossing the border in the first place. He travels to France, Italy, Hungary, Poland, in each case beating the drum for the candidates who want to seal the borders or severely restrict immigration. He believes that high walls make good neighbors and supports Trump’s call to take money needed for schools away from going for more schools for the children of the military.

Given his rah rah USA beliefs, we wonder why he is so motivated to further the interests of far right parties outside his country–in Europe such as the Italian League, The Brothers of Italy, Alternatives for Germany, Spain’s vox, and others, nor does the documentary probe deeply enough into why it’s important for him, a nationalist-minded American, to embrace the ideologies of other states. He does get creds for calling persecutions or Jews and others at Auschwitz, which he visited, a horror. Again, he denies that he is a racist, but then Minister Farrakhan says he is no anti-Semite. Groups like the neo-Nazi bunch—remember, the fine people on that side—eagerly brag that they want a country exclusively of white Christians, but for others, those who are regularly in front of the cameras, that is a no-no. Bannon, in fact, would like to deny that he had dinner with Filip Dewinter of Belgium’s racist party, but thanks to Ms. Klayman, we have documentation.

Don’t look for Michael Moore moments but you will, instead, get to know more about Bannon than you could otherwise find in “Darth Vader” sound bites and press releases. As for the title of the movie, President Lincoln noted in a letter “We are now on the brink of destruction,” Lincoln said. It appears to me that even the Almighty is against us. I can hardly see a ray of hope.” Hmmm.

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

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

SOBIBOR – movie review

SOBIBÓR
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Konstantin Khabenskiy
Screenwriter: Anna Chernakova, Michael Edelstein, Ilya Vasiliev, based on the book by Ilya Vasiliev: “Alexander Pechersky: Breakthrough to Immortality”
Cast: Konstantin Khabenskiy, Christopher Lambert, Mariya Kozhevnikova, Michalina Olszanska, Philippe Reinhardt
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/7/19
Opens: March 29, 2019

If you travel to Poland, you will do well to take the day trip from Krakow to Auschwitz, certainly not because there is entertainment to be found there but because the most notorious death camp and its promotion by Germany is part of what is now called grief tourism. The German government has been surprisingly transparent in its vast campaign of owning up what the Nazi government did to the Jews they arrested, most of whom either died in the camps or were summarily shot on location. If the camp at Sobibór is not among the most visited camps today ,it is because unlike with Auschwitz, the Nazis government tore down the camp in 1943 after a dramatic escape by prisoners, making it part of the adjoining forest.

Konstantin Khabenskiy, who directs and stars in “Sobibór” takes on the role of the actual hero, Alexander Pechersky, who led one of the only two successful escapes from concentration camps, standing in as one answer to naïve accusations such as “Why didn’t the Jews do more to fight against the enemy?” Obviously given the way that the guards at the camps crushed not only the spirit of the inmates but did their best to work them to death, Jews were generally in no condition to put up a fight. Given this situation, you can’t blame Russia for commemorating the heroic uprising led by Pechersky, though under an anti-Semitic Stalin, information was kept quiet only because the rebellion was led by Jews. Happily things are different now as we witness the box office success of Khabenskiy’s film, which has among the most gory, bloody scenes of chaos month after month involving German officers living on Cognac and laughing at the humiliations they visit upon the poor prisoners.

Ramunus Greicius films entirely in Vilnius County, Lithuania, standing in for the Polish city of Sobibór which lies southeast of both Warsaw and Treblinka, hugging the border with Ukraine. With a cast including scores of Lithuanian extras, Anna Chernakova, Michael Edelstein and Ilya’s Vasiliev screenplay based on the book “Alexander Pechersky” by Ilya Vasiliev takes us first to the railway where Jews being resettled have allegedly been treated fairly well on the transport to cover up the goal of the Germans. As they depart, they are told “Welcome to your new life,” but instead, most of the women are forced to strip naked and march into the “showers” only to be gassed with carbon monoxide. The men and women who are kept alive are made busy with sewing and chopping, their hard work met with strange rewards including one attempted rape, nonstop floggings, setting Jews up as horses to run the officers around.

As a result of one attempted escape early on, the officers order one inmate of every group of ten to be shot, to discourage further escapes and to demand that the Jews tell the Nazis of any future plan. Among the prisoners is one kapo who is crueler to his fellow Jews than any German, calling them “kikes,” and bringing clear definition to the term “self-hating Jew.” The camp commandant, Karl Frenzel (Christiopher Lambert) does little to discipline the men, even encouraging them to shoot Jews for sport and, in one instance, to allow Berg (Mindaugas Papinigis) to pour alcohol on one prisoner and set him on fire.

Most of the story deals with life in the camps, which the officers find to their liking being the sadists that they are, nobody forcing restraint while the Jews are beaten so regularly that we wonder how they are able to kill eleven officers, duping them by saying that they have beautiful Parisian leather jackets to show them in their quarters and then stabbing or shooting them. It is only during the final twenty minutes that the actual escape takes place, as prisoners take the pistols and rifles that they capture and make their way into the forest. Slow-motion photography adds drama to the narrative. Regrettably, of the six hundred taking part in the mad dash to freedom, most perished, either killed by guards or exploded in the mine fields surrounding the camp. Only 58 are known to have survived, while some are killed by locals and some by Ukrainian guards.

Because the film so boldly displays the misery dished out to the Jews, who never know whether they would survive the day, it stands as a great tribute to Alexander Pechersky without whose leadership all might have been either killed or too petrified even to attempt escape. English subtitles provided for languages spoken: Russian, Polish, German, Dutch, Yiddish

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

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

GLORIA BELL- movie review

GLORIA BELL
A24
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Screenwriter: Sebastián Lelio
Cast: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Caren Pistoruys, Brad Garrett, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Rita Wilson, Sean Astin, Holland Taylor
Screened at: Dolby 88, NYC, 3/5/19
Opens: March 8, 2019

There is wisdom in old age, so when the title character’s mother (Holland Taylor) tells Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) that “life goes by just like that” (snaps her finger), you realize that Sebastián Lelio’s film is about the complications of growing middle age and beyond. Those are not necessarily the physical ones, as when Gloria, now in her fifties, finds out that she needs to use eye drops twice daily to counteract a malady that probably does not affect youths. More to the point are the complications of relationships . There are children, there are divorces, and yet there is a desire to find a mate at any age, and to dance to tunes like the 1982 “Gloria” with its phenomenal beat, a sound which brought disco music back to life when everyone was pronouncing it dead.

Writer-director Lelio now re-imagines his 2013 film by the same name with Los Angeles as home base taking the place of Santiago, Chile, and he could not have found a better person for the leading role than Julianne Moore—a free-spirited divorcée who, like Tony Manero in the 1977 movie “Saturday Night Fever” works a mundane day job but lives for the dance floor at night.

There is something Woody-Allen-ish in “Gloria Bell,” taking place amid a group of middle-aged, reasonably well-off white people in Los Angeles, where taking off for a weekend in Vegas is easier than even jumping from New York to Miami for a long weekend in the sun. Gloria who works an insurance job by day—and who gets a chance to comfort Melinda (Barbara Sukowa) who has just been fired shortly before she’d would be eligible for a generous retirement allowance. Gloria’s days are complicated only in part from a psychologically unstable neighbor whose cat appears to prefer the more stable environment offered by Gloria. For her part she is concerned about a pregnant daughter who is about to go to Sweden to join up with her boyfriend. At the same time Gloria’s son Peter (Michael Cera) has a messed up relationship with his wife, who left for the desert to “find” herself, leaving him to care for their baby.

At the heart of the movie is Gloria’s relationship with Arnold (John Turturro) whom she meets at a bar patronized by middle-aged people. They appear fascinated with each other, beginning an affair. The fireworks start when Arnold, though professing to think of her all the time “I can’t get you out of my head,” has a co-dependency relationship with his two grown daughters who call him daily. Instead of throwing away his mobile, he answers every call, frustrating Gloria. That’s not his only hangup. Twice, he leaves suddenly without so much as a goodbye; once when he feels ignored by her family at a gathering, a second time after she drops his mobile into his soup.

The music is terrific, and not only the aforementioned “Gloria,” to which Gloria sings and dances joyfully as though to drop all her cares on the dance floor. There’s a favorite of mine, Bach’s Prelude in D minor performed by Gloria’s son Peter on a harpsichord, and also pop hits like “No More Lonely Nights.” The movie would have been just OK with any other lead performer, but with Julianne Moore, whose solid performance, ranging emotionally from ecstatic abandon to soulful tearing up, Lelio’s project comes across as an authentic look at middle age life among people when they are away from their desks.

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

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