LOVE CHILD – movie review

LOVE CHILD
PBS
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eva Mulvad
Writer: Eva Mulvad
Cast: Sahand, Mani, Leila
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/14/20
Opens: September 14, 2020

love child

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his people asked him how it went. The good news is “I got him down to ten,” the lawgiver said. “The bad news is that adultery is still one of them.” Commandments notwithstanding, adultery is probably more common than killing, stealing, even dissing your mother and father. I’ll bet more people say OMG than drink Coca-Cola, so forget enforcing decrees against taking The Name in vain. While we in the West love soap operas with every kind of description of sex outside marriage, parts of the world are just no fun. In Iran, if you’re guilty of violating the Sixth Commandment, you are in deep doody.

The government of Iran says not only Death to America but when they get a chance they think Stone the Adulterers. In this doc, a dramatized one which makes it the kind of nonfiction story that evokes the same audience interest as a narrative drama, Sahand and Leila have a love child conceived four years earlier in Tehran. Mani, the title character, does not understand why her mother and dad are eager to leave everything behind in Iran, but in a way it’s because of him. He is the physical evidence that he was created by his mom, but not by the guy back home who somehow, after three years of marriage to Leila, left her, well, a virgin. The Iranian court would not grant Leila a divorce which even our Catholic church would make short shrift of with an annulment. Instead the judge said “Pray and watch TV.” Maybe they don’t have good stuff on TV like our Drew Barrymore show, and yet somehow, not explained, she does get the divorce.

They’re not looking for a place to exploit workers and make a fortune like people in some countries. They want only to live. They are an educated couple, speaking Farsi, Turkish, English, even Azeri which should make them welcome in many countries, but first they fly to Istanbul and begin a paper chase. They seek refugee status from the UN High Commission for Refugees, which sends their fate into the hands of a byzantine bureaucracy; not ironic considering that they’re filing from Byzantium. They check the UNHCR website eager to hear whether their plea for refugee status is granted, which would allow them to apply for passage to Canada or Australia among other places, but Mani decides for them. He wants America. He never heard of Trump. But Turkey is inundated with Syrian refugees—give the Turks credit for opening their borders to (shock) Muslims (!) and appearing ready to allow them to stay for years if they wish.

As stated above, this is a doc that’s in the welcome format of a narrative drama, one that even takes on the momentum of a thriller. The three stars are not professional actors, but you’d never know. Their lovey-dovey chats and arguments are likely to have been scripted by Danish writer-director Eva Mulvad, whose doc “A Modern Man” is about a Norwegian-English elite violinist, but they sure seem real. Makes you wonder why people go to acting school when all you need is a good director like Ms. Mulvad.

A compelling drama with subtitles in Farsi, Turkish, English and Azeri.

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

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

 

ORDINARY LOVE – movie review

ORDINARY LOVE
Bleecker Street
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Lyburn
Screenwriter:  Owen McCafferty
Cast: Lesley Manville, Liam Neeson, David Wilmot, Amit Shah
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/10/20                                                                                
Opens: February 14, 2020

Liam Neeson & Lesley Manville in First UK Trailer for ...

People go to movies because they like to laugh, but they also like to cry.  In the classic downer, Arthur Hiller’s 1970 movie “Love Story,” a young couple fall in love.  Death strikes, especially tragic since the couple have their whole lives ahead of them.  You would expect the primary audience to be people of about the same age, 20-somethings.  On Valentine’s day comes a new weepie, “Ordinary Love,” which deals with people in the sixties, now retired.  You might expect an audience to be older than the ones that attended the Hiller film, but that’s just a guess.  Though neither of the principal characters passes away, the story is filled with the ways that the two cope with a diagnosis that confirms that the lump that Joan (Lesley Manville) feels in her breast while in the shower is cancer.  Though her hopes were up at first when the doctors were not sure, they were dashed after the final test.  Since Joan has a partner, her husband Tom (Liam Neeson), is drawn into the drama.  Tom has the time free to escort his wife to and from the hospital, though whatever physical difficulties are involved in transporting from a Belfast suburb to the big city hospital is nothing compared to the emotional torment that such a situation provokes.

Some psychoanalysts tell us that when two married people, even those who have lived together for decades, encounter a serious illness, the sick person, who faces surgery, mastectomy, reconstruction of the breast, all followed up by a course in chemotherapy, is not the only individual who suffers. A serious sickness could threaten a marriage, no matter how fond the husband is of his wife. Petty arguments notwithstanding. Tom sometimes baits Joan with comments that he considers witty but which are taken in a negative way by Joan.  Now, however, the normal, quiet household of an average couple is strained to such an extent that when Tom lets slip a thoughtless comment—“We’re in this together” as though they share a burden equally—you can sympathize with Joan’s fury.

The directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Lyburn, who worked together in 2012 on the film “Good Vibrations,” may be stepping out of their comfort zone by morphing from a duo about a story of a man who developed Belfast’s punk-rock scene into tackling one of a generally stay-at-home couple giving each other ordinary love.

Since Owen McCafferty, whose script for “Mikybo and Me”—about two young pals obsessed with “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” who run away to Australia–contributes ordinary dialogue for this ordinary couple, the principal joy of “Ordinary Love” is in the acting.  Giving themselves over this a slice of life, Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville come across so bonded with each other that you might swear they were actually married.  They take us from their suburb of Belfast into the big city medical system (filmed on location by Piers McGrail), allowing us to see UK’s health coverage up close and personal.   The sadness mounts when we are introduced to Peter (David Wilmot), whom the couple run into at the hospital, where they learn that Peter has terminal cancer.  Peter had once taught Joan and Tom’s daughter.  Oh, and young Debbie, perhaps the only child of the marriage, had died a decade ago.

This, then, is a story well told, one that expects a mature audience as drawn into the ordinary lives of these people as youngsters might be riveted by “Lord of the Rings.”

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

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

DOUBLE LOVER – movie review

DOUBLE LOVER (L’amant double)

Cohen Media Group
Director:  François Ozon
Screenwriter:  François Ozon, loosely based on Joyce Carol Oates’ “Lives of the Twins”
Cast:  Marine Vacth, Jéremié Renier, Jacqueline Bisset, Myriam Boyer, Dominique Reymond
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/10/18
Opens: February 14, 2018
L'amant double Movie Poster
In middle-class households, the favorite question that family friends and relatives ask of children is “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  In the early years, fireman, policeman, astronaut.  Later on events occur in youthful lives that coax them into becoming neurologists (they had a history of headaches), optometrists (they wore glasses from age 5), and best of all, psychiatrists (they have a history of emotional problems).  In fact it’s sometimes said that psychoanalysts are more disturbed than their patients, and this is the likely reason.

“Double Lover,” based loosely on Joyce Carol Oats’ erotic thriller “Lives of the Twins,’ is about two such psychotherapists, twin brothers, in fact, who ply their trade with radically different ideologies.  One is the mild-mannered Paul Meyer (Jérémie Renner); the other a wacko!  Rougher, Paul’s more physically direct twin Louis Delord (Jérémie Renner again!—but forget that there’s any symbolism in the latter’s name though patients often make the mistake of thinking that their shrinks are gods.)

Paris-born writer-director François Ozon is well known among cineastes for “8 Women,” about the search by these folks for a murderer among them, an Agatha-Christie style movie quite a bit tamer than his current work.  In fact this time Ozon wants to break through his typical fare, much as the principal character of “Double Lover” seeks to punch through her obsessions and repressions.  At the same time Ozon is having fun with the cineastes, challenging them to recall movies with similar themes such as “Rosemary’s Baby” (some bizarre neighbors seem to have plans for the upcoming infant), “Dead Ringers” (twin gynecologists have run challenging women to guess who’s who), and even “50 Shades of Gray” (a co-ed gets more than she bargained for with her new boss).

Here’s the thing about “Double Love.”  It’s probably as incoherent and unrealistic as the Oates novel from which is loosely adapted. But it makes the audience work to deconstruct the plot, wondering how many of the principal character’s fantasies are real.  And it’s filled with style, style, style; and when a film succeeds in doing what movies can do best, which is to avoid telling a story in too literal a way, we’ve got to allow the director to afford the filmmaker a loose leash over the material.

Ozon’s focus is on Chloé (Marine Vacth), done with her modeling career, shown in dramatic closeup getting her locks cut and transforming her into a pixie-like beauty.  She goes to doctors complaining about stomach pains—somehow the physicians neglect to give her an ultrasound or CT-scan—and is told what all of us would-be patients hate to hear: “It’s all in your head.”  She nods, agreeing to see Dr. Paul Meyer (Jérémie Renner), a psychiatrist, the sort who frustrates patients by talking little, not even the traditional “How does it make you feel?”  When Meyer falls in love with her, he is ethical: he wants to refer her to another, ending his therapy.  With this therapy over, they discover mutual attraction: she moves with her cat Milo into his spacious Paris apartment.

The piece de résistance: she discovers an old passport with his picture but with a different name: Delord.  As a museum attendant, a hideously dull job for a pretty, educated woman, she has time to look up Louis Delord, discovering that he is Paul’s identical twin, born 15 minutes after Meyer.  She soon finds that Delord’s methodology is quite different from Meyer’s.  Whereas Meyer ethically stopped therapy because of his attraction, Delord uses the attraction to engage in rough sex with Chloé, who is at first repelled, then returning, obsessed.

Some plot details are one thing, but like reading classic comics and thinking that you know all there is to know about “War and Peace,” you may find that plot takes a backstage turn in favor of Ozon’s stylistic agenda.  With the first analyst, she sits facing him.  In the next shot, they’re inches apart as though about to kiss.  Then she looks at the two in the mirror.  At one point she is having sex with both psychoanalysts at once—or is she?  The threesome becomes a foursome, as she miraculously doubles (but you already knew that this would happen from the movie’s title).  In one of the most intimate shots you see in movies, Ozon takes a few seconds to show the ululations of the vagina in orgasm, and in stark closeup.

You’d think that Ozon prides himself in being able to write about women, one of the many male fantasies such as that skill actually possessed by Jack Nicholson’s character Melvin Udall in James L. Brooks’ “As Good as it Gets.” Ozon also re-introduces one of his favorite motifs, the impossibility of knowing someone else no matter how intimate you may be with that person. (In fact the real problem is our inability to know much about ourselves, which drives us into psychotherapy.)

The director is more playful now than he was in his more serious, classic films like “Under the Sand,” “Frantz,” and “Criminal Lovers.”  Now in his 51st year, having used his skills and art to make forty films, he’s entitled to have fun, n’est-ce pas?

Unrated.  107 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

AFTER LOVE – movie review

AFTER LOVE (L’economie du couple)

Distrib Films US
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe ShowBiz d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B+
Director:  Joachim Lafosse
Written by: Mazarine Pingeot, Fanny Burdino, Joachim Lafosse
Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Cédric Kahn, Marthe Keller, Jade Soentjens, Margaux Soentgens
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, July 27, 2017
Opens: August 9, 2017

Freud said that the meaning of life, indeed the secret of happiness, lies in two words: a) Love, b) Work.  Those of us who can find both will enjoy life and solve its meaning, though the question has intrigued philosophers since Aristotle.  In “After Love,” Belgian director Joachim Lafosse, whose “Private Property” featuring Isabelle Huppert is a family drama like his current offering, and whose “Our Children” focuses on the unhealthy dependence a couple has on a doctor, stays with what he knows.  “After Life” is like a Belgian “Kramer vs. Kramer,” but unlike the more Hollywood-inspired “The War of the Roses,” melodrama takes a back bench to verbal skirmishes and occasional yelling.

The big question that Lafosse and his writers Mazarine Pingeot, Fanny Burdino and Joachim Lafosse serve to keep our interest is : Why would two people who once loved each other and who now suffer with an indefinite round of arguments stay together?  Could it be that they still retain enough passion to keep them together albeit uncomfortably?  Or could is all be a matter of money?  Most of the time Lafosse leans toward the latter answer while at the same time throwing us evidence that there is enough passion to keep them together.

Marie Barrault (Bérénice Bejo) has inherited their house and brings home a paycheck while her husband Boris Marker (Cédric Kahn) is an occasional handyman who claims territorial rights for renovating their digs. He cannot afford to move out.  He needs Marie to pay him half of whatever the house brings in, while she argues that she has been supporting him throughout their lives together.

The drama is complicated, as marital discord always is, by the presence of children.  Their two young daughters, Jade Marker (Jade Soentjens) and Margaux Marker (Margaux Soentjens), are disturbed by the constant arguments, which include battles between their parents for custody rights.  In one surprising scene, the girls get up and dance, and for her part Marie joins the party. She becomes emotional while embracing her husband, and they wind up together in bed.  This makes us in the audience wonder whether we’re in for a Hollywood ending, but given the extreme tension felt by the couple and their guests at a dinner which Boris crashes, we can’t help thinking that sticking it out would be a mistake.

Christine (Marthe Keller), in the role of Marie’s mother, rankles her daughter when she gives the usual advice of the old-timers toward married children: which is that in the long run, “friendship replaces desire.”  The problem here is that the friendship is dead as well as the passion.  There we have it.  Donald Trump was partially right when in March 2016, after a terrorist attack, he said that “Brussels is a hellhole,” but he should have confined his judgment to the goings-on in Marie and Boris’s home.

This is not a film for those who insist on seeing fighting couples swing on the chandeliers like Oliver and Barbara Rose, but is rather an authentic look at a single family whose problems will doubtless find married people everywhere identifying.  If we want to learn more about what makes the world tick, don’t bother all that much with “Spiderman” and “Wonder Woman.”  Narrative films like this one are generally more effective than documentaries for reaching into our emotions, allowing us to recognize ourselves in the characters we see on the screen.  In French with English subtitles.

Unrated.  100 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

LOVELESS – movie review

  • LOVELESS (Nelyubov)

    Sony Pictures Classics
    Director:  Andrey Zvyagintsev
    Screenwriter:  Oleg Negin, Andrey Zvyagintsev
    Cast:  Maryana Spivak, Alexey Rozin, Matvey Novikov, Marina Vasilyeva, Andrid Keishs, Alexey Fateev
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/27/17
    Opens: February 26, 2017  but  December 2017 for one week for awards consideration.
    click for larger (if applicable)
    You’re of course familiar with the chorus of Van Morrison’s song that goes “She give me love love love love crazy love/She give me love love love love crazy love.”  You are also familiar with The Beatles “All you need is love.”  In this cynical age those songs may look sappy and unrealistic, but Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose incredible “Leviathan” finds a family fighting a corrupt mayor intent on demolishing their house, now suggests that there may be something to those songs.  He can’t prove it with his latest movie, but he is hell-bent on showing that in the absence love, only tragedy can result.

    Bookmarking “Nelyubov” (the original title of this Russian language film with English subtitles) with a wintry, somber landscape that could stand for a land without love, Zvyagintsev hones in on one family not only on the brink of dissolution but actively cursing each other with terms like “Scumbag” and worse as they seek to sell their Moscow-area house and move on to try different partners.  As though Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Alexey Rozin) are about to face even more catastrophes while they’re fighting like Edward Albee’s George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” their introverted 12-year-old son Alexey (Matvey Novikov) eavesdrops  and is not overjoyed to hear them shout that they never wanted the kid (she was afraid to abort) while his mother adds to the dialogue “And I never loved you…I just used you to get out of my mother’s house.”

    There’s nothing particularly Russian about dysfunctional families but Oleg Negin, who co-wrote the script after co-penning “Leviathan,” appears to have it in for Russia which comes across as a vast region whose police and bureaucrats haven’t the will or energy to protect the vulnerable but must resort to drafting unpaid volunteers to help each mission.  The mission here is to find their boy, who had overheard that at least one parent never wanted him, and runs away from home.  A search team based largely on free volunteers combs the area, and in the most dramatic development enters the private home of the boy’s maternal grandmother—whose idea of love is to berate her daughter Zhenya for hitching up with Boris while making sure she know that there’s no way she would think of taking the boy in.

    When the dysfunctional couple are not looking for their boy they do not realize that their new boyfriend-girlfriend will not solve the problem but will probably lead shortly down the road to more demoralization if not hatred.  Sexual scenes involving Boris and Masha (Marina Vasilyeva) and Zhenya and her rich businessman Anton (Andris Keiss) are prolonged unnecessarily presumably because that’s what the film-maker believes would interest part of his audience.

    The only humorous scene takes place in a huge cafeteria where Boris and a colleague joke about their Bible-thumping boss who would fire anyone participating in a divorce.  One employee had to hire a family, a woman with her two children, to play wife.

    This is quite the film, ambitious and successful in making a family a microcosm to effect a parable about a country that needs more love love love.

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

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

THE LOVERS MOVIE REVIEW

  • THE LOVERS

    A24
    Director:  Azazel Jacobs
    Screenwriter:  Azazel Jacobs
    Cast:  Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Jessica Sula, Melora Walters, Aidan Gillen, Tyler Ross
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/11/17
    Opens: May 5, 2017
    The Lovers Movie Poster
    Nobody can slash away better at the notion of marital bliss than Ingmar Bergman, but Azazel Jacobs does it the American way with lots of comic touches and without the mystical or iconic accoutrements.  The director, whose “Momma’s Man” finds a gent who has been avoiding his wife and child, is following in the same territory here.  With the great Debra Winger in a title role of Mary (actually there are five lovers all told) and Tracy Letts as her husband Michael, the story takes off as a traditional cheating-wife, cheating-husband merry-go-roundelay, neither husband nor wife fully knowing about the lovers on the side and yet not without suspicions given the “gotta work late at the office” excuse—one that could easily be checked out by simply calling the offices.

    This is the kind of movie that would appeal mostly to middle-aged and older audiences—a shame, since youths can learn lessons by watching the antics of those decades older.  Both are working in cubicles, both “work late” at the office.  Michael has an imaginary friend called Ben with whom he “has drinks late at night” when he is not “working late at the office.”  Instead of seeing Ben, he cavorts with a professional dancer, Lucy (Melora Walters), who is apparently unmarried and feels lonely whenever she is without Michael’s company.  For his part, a youthful Robert (Aidan Gillen), also free, has attached himself to Mary despite an age difference, at one point demanding that she make up her mind and leave her husband or he’s outta there.

    There’s one great scene with which people in the movie audience can identify if they’ve ever thought of leaving their spouse or significant other.  What if the partner with whom they enjoy cheating will stay with the spouse, not just as a convenience, but because the married couple realize they really love each other?  In that scene, Mary and Michael awake one morning, still dazed, thinking that they are in bed with their outside lovers.  They kiss and suddenly the flame arises.  This is probably the kind of wet dream that a man or woman goes through, thinking that maybe they will not only stay together but like the idea.

    Complications arise when Michael and Mary’s son Joel (Tyler Ross) visits with his girlfriend, Erin (Jessica Sula) for a three-day stay, expecting to see fireworks but wondering why dad and mom are so lovey-dovey.  Obviously they are role-playing for the benefit of their young guests, no?  In fact the young seems even to hope that the parents will let loose against each other rather than play a game for the sake of the visitors.

    The best part of the movie is in the final scene, when an arrangements has worked out that we didn’t see coming.  Thinking back from there, you’ve got to acknowledge that, yes, Michael and Mary have taken us on a ride wherein we wonder what will happen when the young visitors leave.  And they do something that probably surprising them even more than it does the movie audience.  A nice, mordant comedy.

    Rated R.  94 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

NEWS OF THE WORLD – movie review

NEWS OF THE WORLD

Universal Pictures

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Paul Greenglass
Writer: Paul Greengrass, Luke Davies, based on the novel by Paulette Jiles
Cast: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Michael Angelo Covino, Ray McKinnon, Marc Winnigham
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/17/20
Opens: December 25, 2020

News of the World film poster.png

When I was a kid, say 9 years old, I couldn’t get enough of Westerns on TV and in the movies, though in a recent interview Tom Hanks said “they don’t make Westerns any more.” My favorite heroes were Gabby Hayes, who played a toothless, bearded gent for comic relief; Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger. Every story of the Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian scout Tonto, ended with “Hi Yo Silver. Away!” Its only classic notion was the theme music from the overture to the opera William Tell, which I always use first to introduce high school kids to classical music.

Occasionally a Western had real class, with “High Noon” standing so far above the rest that it stayed in my mind as the Greatest of the genre. Westerns today are so rare that “News of the World” can be welcomed indeed. It may or may not have resonance with twelve-year-olds today, though there’s a good chance that one of the two principal actresses, Berlin-born is Helena Zengel, a 12-year-old playing a Johanna Leonberger, may connect with them. Kids today may marvel that she can speak English, German and Kiowa—that last word taken from an Indian tribe that originated in Western Montana and whose name means “principal people.”

We’ve come a long way from the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and any of that genre that portrayed Indians as the bad guys, whooping it up on battle and taking white scalps to show their courage. In these older westerns the U.S. cavalry were the good guys who arrived in the nick of time to save a family, announcing their courageous entry with blasts of the bugle.

In this drama, Tom Hanks in the role of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd in the year 1870 in northern Texas, now makes a living reading newspapers in towns where the people either had no newsstands and were probably illiterate. They were interested in news of their area, though later in the story they would find not only amusement but incitement when Captain Kidd, suddenly turning Marxist, reads to the people of Pennsylvania miners who fought back against their bosses, who were not particularly concerned about the yearly deaths of these employees.

The story turns on the relationship between the Captain and the blond child, the latter having lost her parents via an Indian raid, was adopted by the tribe where she learned the Kiowa language, and has only a rudimentary understanding of German. In fact when Kidd, who finds her and dedicates himself to taking her to her aunt and uncle (whom she hated), refuses to identify herself as Johanna, instead taking her Kiowa name, Cicada.

The road movie involves the growing bond between a man in his sixties and an anxious girl over three-score years his junior. As they ride toward the relatives, they run into problems. The first involves a trio of bad guys with rifles who try to buy the girl from the captain for fifty dollars, set on making money by pimping her out. When he refuses, they chase him. In the story’s best action sequence, the captain has to take out all three, which he does using advanced military strategy of its time—with the help of the girl who in a later action scene saves him again.

The movie has resonance today as the solitary captain, wandering from town to town to deliver the news, finds a tree where a Black man has been lynched, a note on the body inscribed “Texas says no. This is White man’s Country.” When the captain and his young charge ride through a no-man’s land, they find a town seemingly owned by Farley (Thomas Francis Murphy), who brags about how he lorded over the Indians, Mexicans, and Blacks. (Guess who would play Farley most realistically today!) Buffalo bodies are strewn across the land. (Remember them? There must be a few remaining).

Paul Greenglass, who directs and co-wrote, may be best known today for films of greater action such as “Jason Bourne” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” here settling down to concentrate on the bonding experience of man and girl. We all know that Tom Hanks can do no wrong, but we take surprise in the energy cast by young Zengel, who is both vulnerable and fierce, resisting the adult at first based on her memories of older people, and of course yielding to the love that she feels for her new adopted dad.

Here the actions scenes might be considered a temporary relief from the quiet seriousness, but both action and sentiment are conveyed with authenticity as is the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski in the proud blue state of New Mexico.

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

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

THE GODDESS OF FORTUNE – movie review

THE GODDESS OF FORTUNE (La dea fortuna)
Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ferzan Ozpetek
Writer: Ferzan Ozpetek, Silvia Ranfagni, Gianni Romoli
Cast: Stefano Accorsi, Edoardo Leo, Jasmine Trinca, Sara Ciocco, Edoardo Brandi, Barbara Alberti, Serra Yilmaz
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/18/20
Opens: November 17, 2020

The Goddess of Fortune

The slings and arrows of a gay relationship turn out to be not at all different from the same discords in straight couples. Two gay men with different backgrounds, Alessandro (Edoardo Leo), a muscular plumber, and Arturo (Stefano Accorsi), an academic translator, are on the verge of spliting. Being Italian, they are of course part of a large family, a group that knows how to celebrate, eating and drinking as though life were a European banquet. Like many comedies that begin with high spirits, “The Goddess of Fortune” will gradually and heartbreakingly face crises, affecting not only the two whose passions have long diminished, but two children, Martina (Sara Ciocca) and Sandro (Edoardo Brandi), as well.

Film Review: THE GODDESS OF FORTUNE [LA DEA FORTUNA] (directed by Ferzan  Özpetek)

The dramedy is the work of Ferzan Ozpetek, whose “Naples in Veils” treats the existence of Adriana, whose life changes from a sudden love and a violent crime. In this current picture, Ozpetek hones in on Alessandro, furious that his partner has been involved with another boyfriend for two years, which gives the plumber enough reason to break up then and there. But family situations turn up to alter their heartbreaking plans, giving both a reason to stay together in caring for the children as well as they cared for and loved Annamaria (Jasmine Trinca). The warm and friendly Annamaria’s children are by different men. When she, burdened with migraines, gets a painful diagnosis from the hospital requiring a sensitive operation, she leaves the eleven-year-old girl and the nine-year-old boy (played superbly, by the way), with the men whom they love.

You will probably guess where the story is headed, given its predictable conclusion when the two middle-aged men, being too busy to take care of the young ones, put them up with a bitch of a grandmother (Barbara Alberti), a baroness with a huge chateau near Rome whose attitude toward gay men is the least of her problems. The principal one is the way she has treated her own daughter, and now follows suit with her two grandchildren. (That chateau, all of which is inhabited by only the grandmother and her loyal servant, was filmed near Palermo at the Seventeenth Century Villa Valguarnera.)

The picture includes good food, of course, even on the cheap ferry that takes the children and the two men from Sicily to the North. But the pleasures that Italians take seriously are threatened throughout most of the final segments of the movie by conflicts of the two men, one of whom gives Alessando the guilt trip “I could have been a professor,” while Alessandro knows how to make a mockery of his partner’s Trumpian whining.

“The Goddess of Fortune,” whose message is to closely stare at a partner, then close your eyes. You will remember him or her forever. In the same way, the film covers the emotions from joy to tragedy smoothly, making this almost a holiday movie given the happy and credible ending.

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

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

DIRTY GOD – movie review

DIRTY GOD
Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sacha Polak
Writer: Sacha Polak, Susie Farrell
Cast: Vicky Knight, Katherine Kelly, Eliza Brady-Girard, Rebecca Stone, Bluey Robinson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/12/20
Opens: November 13, 2020

Acid attack drama Dirty God gets a poster and trailer

Big surprise: the poor get shafted. Unlike the title character in Dutch director Sacha Polak “Hemel” who in the end finds true love , Jade (Vicky Knight) does not fare as well. Not only did she pick the wrong boyfriend who, after leaving her with a two-year-old child, disfigured her face and chest by throwing acid at her. She is disrespected by her mother Lisa (Katherine Kelly) who often has to take care of Rae (Eliza Brady-Girard), the toddler. Jade is red meat to the types of scammers who go after the elderly, the desperate and the ignorant; and she is given the cold shoulder by the hospital which, working under the cash-strapped National Health refuses to give her the additional plastic surgery that she deserves.

In a promising debut performance by Vicky Knight, who herself is disfigured but is made worse by the film’s makeup department, Jade gains some support from her best friend Shami (Rebecca Stone), an extrovert whose gentle boyfriend Naz (Bluey Robinson) also has had carnal knowledge of Jade knows . He knows what to say: when Jade blames a “dirty God” for her troubles, Naz notes that God had nothing to do with her concerns. The guilty party has been sentenced to a long term in court. But Jade needs more attention than she is able to get post-acid attack and turns to chat sites that are only somewhat comforting but mostly humiliating. The chat sites, however, are a piece of cake compared to one that advertises cheap plastic surgery in Marrakesh.

What more can Jade do to deal with her disfigurement? In one scene that would be comical if it were not sad, she wraps herself in a niqab to resemble Britain’s Islamic women, dancing about while covering her scars completely.
As a further sign that the poor do self-destructive actions that keep them in their unenviable cast, we see that Jade’s mother Lisa looks no more than seventeen years older than she, a condition repeated by Jade whose two-year-old is going to have a young mother if she’s ever around, and whose culture will doubtless be imitated by Rae some fifteen years from now.

Despite her immaturity or perhaps even because of it, Jade becomes a likable person, one that might tempt us in the audience to shout to her that she can rise at least somewhat out of her social class with just a few changes. If British director Ken Loach may be the foremost diarist for the working class, noting its inhabitants’ alienation from society, then credit Sacha Polak with offering a look at the underclass, whose members appear to lack any understanding of politics and are clueless about how to do better. Perhaps Jade needs the counsel of Professor Henry Higgins, whose tutelage gets a street flower seller to pass for a princess.

Excellent performance from newcomer Vicky Knight, a big plus being photographer Ruben Impens’s camerawork in Morocco, contrasting its warm tones with England’s more frigid ambiance.

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

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

 

ALONE WITH HER DREAMS – movie review

Alone With Her Dreams (Picciridda – Con i piedi nella sabia)
Corinth Films
Reviewed by Harvey Karten for BigAppleReviews.net
Director: Paolo Licata
Screenwriters: Ugo Chiti, Catena Fiorello, Paolo Licata
Cast: Lucia Sardo, Marta Castiglia , Ileana Rigano, Katia Greco, Claudio Collova, Lorendana Marino, Tania Bambaci, Frederica Sarno
Release Date: October 30, 2020

Many couples with failed marriages avoid separating and divorcing until their children are eighteen years old, able to take care of themselves and old enough to be cushioned against the loss of their moms and dads. Even more concerning, though, is the psychological harm that comes when both parents leave a child, in the case of “Alone With Her Dreams” going from a seacoast town near Messina to somewhere in France to find jobs. During the 1960s, when hell might freeze over before a Sicilian is given employment in Rome or, for that matter, anywhere in Northern Italy, the mother and father of eleven-year-old Lucia (Marta Castigilia) try to sooth their traumatized little girl (known as “little one” by her family) as they board a boat that will take them by train across the border. They took just one of their brood with them, unable to take care of both, leaving Lucia in the hands of her grandmother, Nonna Maria (Lucia Sardo).

As the film progresses, we in the audience might feel angry with Maria, a widow who regularly insists that she would prefer being alone, and who appears to take out her frustrations on her charge—spanking her with a wooden spoon when she comes home late and depriving her of the kind of love a small child should expect of at least someone in the family.

Later, though, we understand why the older woman has been harsh with Lucia, but not until she comes back in the current year, a 41-year-old woman (Federica Sarno), finally hearing the truth of a story that had been a lie promulgated by her uncle, Zio Saro (Claudia Collovà). For his part uncle Saro tells his niece the fake reason that her grandmother refuses to speak to her own sister, Zia Franca (Loredana Marino).

Without question this is a coming-of-age story but rises above the glut of such dramas by Lorenzo Adorisio’s photography on a seacoast area of Sicily that might be sought out by tourists seeking a peaceful vacation away from the treasures of Rome, but an area marked by the poverty of its inhabitants.

As we see daily life of the residents of a small village—fruit and vegetable stands with food that Italians can never get wrong, gossip by the folks which means that everything and then some is everybody’s business, near-curses put on people within families, one of which becomes resolved toward the conclusion of the story—we can empathize with Lucia easily enough, but most of all we can lift our censorious attitude toward granny when you realize that she has Lucia’s long-term interests at heart.

This is Paolo Licata’s freshman offering as director, a person who may have a difficult time carving out a future story as tender and yet as unsentimental as this one, its two principals bonding as though they were parts of an actual family.

In Italian with English subtitles.

95 minutes. © Harvey Karten

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

ALBERT EINSTEIN: STILL A REVOLUTIONARY – movie review

ALBERT EINSTEIN: STILL A REVOLUTIONARY
First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Newman
Writer: Julia Newman
Cast: Michio Kaku, Michael Paley, Alice Calaprice, Herbert Freeman, Jr., Susan Neiman, Barbara Picht, Jürgen Renn, Ze’ev Rosencranz, Robert Schulmann, Milena Wazeck
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/6/20
Opens: On Apple TV, iTunes, Amazon VOD & DVD

Still a Revolutionary - Albert Einstein (2020) - IMDb

Someone once said that the four people who have influenced today’s world the most were Jews: Jesus, Freud, Marx, and Einstein. Jesus influenced one the world’s great religions followed by some two billion people. Marx was the intellectual founder or a religion of its own, communism, which though not so popular today as it once was serves as a leading critique of capitalism. Freud, in his theory of the unconscious, believed that we know not what we do since most of our emotions come from the unconscious, and Einstein said that everything is relative, which is said to be a mighty important insight.

In her freshman documentary, Julia Newman focuses not on Einstein’s contributions to the laws of physics, which many people do not understand and which in my college compelled the professor to boost everybody’s grades or nobody would have passed. Instead she looks at the physicist’s moral code, not greatly different from that of people who are quite spiritual on Sundays. He followed the beat of a different drummer, opposing the rule of conformity that guides everyone with a smart phone.

For one, he opposed war. He criticized the march of extreme nationalism that led to a particularly stupid war in 1914, left Germany to be with his folks in Italy, then returned to his homeland (the only instance in which he was not smart) under the Weimar constitution. Perhaps it was the anti-Semitism of his southern German home that turned him away from the bullying. A teacher once brought a nail to the classroom, noting that Jesus was crucified with such, humiliating Albert who was the only Jewish person in the class.

The key word in this documentary is “compartmentalization,” the idea that we separate our lives into clear divisions: family, friends, work, politics. This explains that under the Nazis (1933-1945) a German soldier could love his kin and his dog, yet harbor murderous hate toward people who are not like him, or who he believes are not like him. Some men do not like women very much. Einstein spoke in favor of women’s rights. He was pro-choice, and being anti-nationalist did not at first believe that Jews should have a state of its own. He came around to favor the creation of Israel and enjoyed a friendship with its founder, David Ben-Gurion. He supported demonstrations for the rights of minorities and was friendly to Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson. Though brought up Jewish, he was a pantheist like Spinoza, believing “the whole universe is God,” a notion that is akin to atheism.

When he escaped from the Holocaust, winding up in New York, he abandoned his pacifism, holding that you have to meet force with force.

Though he was a celebrity, who mixed easily with people and could talk with anyone from kings to children, he was considered a luftmensch, naïve, an absent-minded Princetonian professor, a fellow who did not seem grounded. When he was scheduled to meet some big shot, his wife told him to wear a suit, but he refused. “If they want to see my clothes, they can look in my closet.”

See if you can guess what he would think of the people in power in our present government.

Director Newman’s film has too many talking heads, though their comments are backed up by some valuable archival celluloid. We see Einstein as a man, laughing, talking, a social butterfly really, making us wonder when he had time to make contributions that led to the creation of the atom bomb, to inspire his students at Princeton, and to be a rebel with a cause. Though he was at ease with ordinary people, he was an elitist who preferred to exchange ideas with other intellectuals. Julia Newman shows the man in all of his guises, providing an entertaining enough vehicle for our consumption.

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

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

THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS – movie review

THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Directors: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Writers: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/3/20
Opens: December 25, 2020

The Truffle Hunters: Luca Guadagnino brings Alba to the Sundance 2020 - La  Cucina Italiana

If you go swimming a lot and do not take care to dry yourself thoroughly, you may be visited by a fungus, which will cause an itch in the last place you want to itch. But did you know that some fungi will fetch $2500 a pound and up? The costly food item is the truffle, an acquired taste like caviar and even more difficult to find. The white Alba truffle, the most prized, is found in the Piedmont area in northwest Italy. But don’t worry. This documentary is not middle-school biology presentation about the fungus, dealing instead with the mischievous octogenarian men in the area and the dogs that always try to upstage their human companions. The canines almost do, but they cannot win our aww’s the way the men do. This, then, is a look at the folks who harvest the morsel so prized by diners who have the restaurant staffs grate the truffles over their fried eggs as if they were parmesan cheese.

Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw direct their sophomore movie, having immersed themselves in the birthplace of stock car racing in the film “The Last Race” (2018).

There is only a single scene near the end focusing on a gourmet whose server shaves a truffle over a fried egg while the restaurant is playing “Tosca.” Otherwise we are looking at the forests of Piedmont where men in their eighties search the land with their trained dogs, animals that they love and would not dream of parting with notwithstanding an offer one gent received for thousands of euros if he would sell. “Do you have children?” he asked the prospective buyer. “Yes? If I take 50,000 euros from the bank, would you sell me one of them?” (Watch out: you might be surprised at how many fathers would jump at the chance.)

If you’ve spent your life living in a big city and take a look at these men communing with nature under the moonlight, you may be excused if you feel envy. But would you trade your condo for a spartan lodge, throwing logs into the antique stove for heat and for cooking, trading your bidet-furnished bathroom for an outhouse?

A good deal of the film shows truffle hunters living under a code of behavior not unlike that of sellers of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. The codgers must guard their turfs. They sometimes have to muzzle their dogs because the competition is leaving strychnine for them. One fellow with a long gray beard, using a Olivetti about the same age, types a manifesto that the youths are no longer respecting the honorable codes of the past, thinking only of the money they can make in the business. He is disgusted to such an attempt that he is backing out of the game, retiring despite pleas from a buyer with deep pockets who trusts him and wants to buy only from him.

By contrast, Carlo, another fellow of 87 is badgered by his wife to retire on his pension. He had already injured himself on a tree branch walking with his dog Barbi at night, but he and others of his trade may realize that the hunt is the only thing keeping them alive.

Would it be ageist to say that these old guys are adorable? The really are. Barbi’s human companion talks to his Lagotto Romagnolo (a breed well known for nasal abilities) because dogs are the greatest listeners you can find. Another shares a bathtub with his dog, the latter loving the shampoo, then having his fur blow-dried.

The film is awash in color: green for the forest, of course, yellow for the abbondanza of grapes being prepared for home-brewed wine, white for the snow and red for the tomatoes with a taste that you’ll never find among those fruits in the U.S. The best shots, however, are filmed by a dog. A camera is attached to the body, and as the dog scampers excitedly across the woodland, we get the impression that he can outrun even a cheetah.

Wouldn’t this be a better world if the only living creature being hunted down would be the truffle?

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

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

 

THE KEEPER – movie review

THE KEEPER (Trautmann)
Menemsha Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Marcus H. Rosenmüller
Writer: Robert Marciniak, Marcus H. Rosenmüller, Nicholas J. Schofield
Cast: David Kross, Freya Mavor, John Henshaw, Harry Melling, Michael Socha, Dave Johns
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/26/20
Opens: October 2, 2020

The Keeper (Trautmann)

 

Do you think that it’s possible or even praiseworthy to forgive and forget a people for atrocities? Forgiving is difficult. Forgetting is impossible, as it should be. The most impressive sight in Berlin today is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or, in German Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas. An entire city block is covered with 2,711 slabs of concrete as a memorial to the Jewish dead that will hopefully last for centuries. Though Turkey refuses to admit to the genocide of Armenians, Germany’s governments have stepped forward to make sure that their own people, even men and women who had nothing to do with the Holocaust or World War II, never forget. Nor should the world.

In the biopic, “The Keeper“ (Trautmann in the original German title), the Bavaria-born director Marcus H. Rosenmüller, whose Beste Zeit is a frothy look at two country girls seeking love from boyfriends and more freedom from parents, takes on a more serious project. Throughout the two-hour biopic, I think that what Rosenmüller and his co-writers Robert Marciniak and Nicholas J. Schofield, want us to keep in mind is this question: Can we/should we forgive the Germans for starting the most catastrophic war the world has known resulting in deaths in the tens of millions and destruction of a good part of Europe? The ethical question is not really answered, though the film glorifies one man, Bert Trautmann (David Kross), who through his good looks, his charming personality, and most of us his incredible talent as a goalie for the Manchester City football (soccer) team encouraged the Brits to feel warmer toward their enemy.

The film is a good, solid, old-fashioned tale with a tasteful sample of archival films of actual soccer games that appear to be won thanks to Trautmann’s athletic ability. But how did a guy who was not only a soldier but a Nazi gain the respect, admiration, and even the love of British people so quickly after the horrors of war? Rosenmüller takes the story step by step in straight time choosing to show the forest if not the trees. What is not described? One is that Trautmann had a daughter by a previous relationship before he married Margaret (Freya Mavor); another is that the marriage ended in divorce, that Trautmann had three wives, and that he died in Spain at the age of eighty-nine. Here is the time line from the film…

Trautmann is in a British prisoner of war camp in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire, in 1944 toward the end of the war, a place that despite the barking leadership of Sergeant Smythe (Harry Melling) looks more like Stalag 17 than Terezenstadt. The prisoners play football when they are not shoveling shit or doing whatever busywork is required by the camp. Jack Friar (John Henshaw), the manager of a local football team, notes that Trautmann is superb as a goalie, catching everything aimed at the net he guards. He convinces the camp command to let him play for his team, promising to return him daily after each game. Jack’s daughter Margaret, who Trautmann is ordered to help in a general store, is both repelled and fascinated by the German, the disgust taking root when she discovers that Trautmann’s claim that he had no choice other than to serve as a soldier is splintered. She learns that he not only volunteered for the army but had won the Iron Cross.

During the years 1949-1964 Trautmann served as goalie, at first shunned by the team, then razzed by the fans who shout Kraut go home, all of which may make you think of how Jackie Robinson, the first Black man in the majors, was shunned by his fellow Dodgers, the National League threatened with a strike by players with the St. Cardinals. Fans in the stadiuims shouted Go back to the cotton fields.

Because of the old-fashioned nature of the film, dividing time among the prisoner-of-war camp, the football field, and the romantic relationship with Margaret, you may get the impression that this is a Hallmark Hall of Fame type of sentimental piece. You would be partly right. Still, the sincere acting of the players, who look as though they came right out of the forties, jitterbugging to the sound of the Big Bands. There is an able contrast between sombre scenes (the Trautmanns‘ child is killed by a car) and the lighter ones led mostly by John Henshaw’s portrayal of Jack Friar, a tough hombre with a heart of gold. All makes this a movie that’s relevant particularly in light of the protests taking place here in Portland, Louisville, and in big cities around the world. If it seems as though Freya Mavor’s character Margaret changes her attitude too quicky from revulsion to acceptance to love, well, you never know how we human beings can surprise one another by our often unpredictable behavior.

The screener that I used for this review came with English subtitles, and though the Manchester speech is clear enough and even David Kross’s fluent English comes across understandably, the studio should be credited for not assuming that all of us Americans can easily understand our neighbors from across the Atlantic.

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

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

 

THE WAY I SEE IT – movie review

THE WAY I SEE IT
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dawn Porter
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/11/20
Opens: September 18, 2020

The Way I See It Movie Poster

This vivid, colorful documentary, some scenes filled with heartbreak and compassion, others with humor and joie de vivre, is as much about the photographer and the way he sees it as about the Presidents that he photographs. Pete Souza, a world-class photographer with a personality to match, is seen here as the chief shutterbug who has spent much of his career almost literally by President Obama’s side. He captures iconic images of Obama, a man he obviously considers not only a good friend but a hero, and adds pungency to the tale by comparing the dignified African-American leader with his ideological and extra-large small man who followed and who thinks nothing of anybody but himself and perhaps his immediately family.

The two million folks who follow Souza on Instagram might be familiar with a previous look of the lenser in the National Geographic 2010 movie “The President’s Photographer,” but while that excellent treatment deals with previous photographers as well, “The Way I See It” gives short shrift to Souza’s predecessor, President Reagan, in order to concentrate more fully on the wonderful personality of the man behind the lenses.

No sooner does Souza state that he believes empathy to be the most important emotion of a national leader than we reflexively see that this is a guy who has no use for Donald J. Trump. This movie comes out just a hop, skip and jump after the publication of the photographer’s book “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents,” which, put simply, sets up two columns. In one lie the hateful tweets of the incompetent bozo now in the White House, a loser who, thanks to the Electoral College was put into office despite being behind Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million votes, with Barack Obama. In fact commenting on the décor in the White House, Souza notes that he “like [s] the old drapes better than the new ones.” Therein lies a clever metaphor by which Souza “dropped shade,” which is to say disrespecting the current resident in the Oval Office, and changed him from being a fly on the wall, albeit a highly talented one, to becomes an outspoken photo-journalist.

Director Dawn Porter, whose “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” about the late member of the House of Representatives from Georgia embracing his sixty years fighting for civil rights, immigration reform and gun control, gives President Obama much of her time in moving picture images but allows Pete Souza to hold forth in a Madison, Wisconsin speech before a packed audience, with many of his favorite photos on the screen. Motion picture imagery aside, Souza makes the point that there is still a need for still photos, hopefully riveting the viewer on key moments in a President’s eight years. One shot that would impress even high school pupils who give the impression that they’ve “seen it all” finds Obama playing a one-on-one basketball game with Reggie Love, former professional athlete and then Obama’s “body man.” Imagine Obama’s pleasure when he discovers that Souza captured his block of his opponent, ordering that it be blown up and signed by Love.

While Ms. Porter uses motion picture film of the dramatic moment when Nancy Pelosi banged the gavel to announce to the House of Representatives that the Affordable Care Act had passed, she finds the former President’s empathy best illustrated in shots showing him shedding genuine tears while hugging the parents of the twenty children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Porter, who in her own medium performs a service as important as Souza’s, highlights the moment during his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, killed at the Charleston church shooting, that Obama says “Amazing Grace” twice, then connects with the vast audience by singing the song.

This is a deeply moving film, one filled with tears and smiles, pathos and laughter, a paean to a President, his photographer, and moments in history which, thanks greatly to still photographs, will never be forgotten.

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

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

 

KOKO DI, KOKO DA – movie review

KOKO DI KOKO DA
Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Johannes Nyholm
Screenwriter: Johannes Nyholm
Cast: Ylva Gallon, Leif Edlund Johansson, Peter Belli, Katarina Jacobson, Morad Khatchadorian
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/9/20
Opens: TBD

The idea is a clever one, one of monstrous people acting out the only partially buried grief of a couple in a Swedish tale of horror and torment. This pic, however, does not involve mass killings or aliens emerging from bodies. It’s more grown-up tale, though remember that the fairy stories targeted to children have motifs of terror. Still, a clever idea does not always make for an entertaining film even if the performers play their parts dutifully. The rip-off from “Groundhog Day” goes on too many times with too few variations. Remember that the masterwork “Groundhog Day” does not simply repeat scenes daily but shows the principal character played by Bill Murray as one who grows with past knowledge, as when he starts out as a beginner in piano and winds up a dazzling jazz pianist.

Writer-director Jonahnnes Nyholm, whose “The Giant” looks at an autistic man who enters a fantasy world where he is a giant indulges his own fantasies in his full-length sophomore narrative feature, but the picture as a whole may test your patience. Maja (Katarina Jacobson) dies on her eighth birthday from a severe allergic reactions after eating mussels while on vacation with her parents, Tobias (Leif edlund Johansson) and Elin (Ylva Gallon). Mom, who consumes the fish likewise, becomes ill but survives though neither parent has been able to let go of grief. The vacation, which allows them to take in a show at a restaurant featuring two clowns (Stine Bruun and Martin Knudsen) is hardly compensation for what befalls the family, then indulging in bunny make-up, greasepaint that will turn up three years later in a different form while mom and dad go on a camping trip.

Strangely the couple sets up a tent in an isolated forest area rather than on camping grounds, a choice that could and does leave them open to be victimized by criminals and madmen. Sure enough Mog (Peter Belli), a dapper man with a bowler hat, a huge Andre (Morad Khatchadorian), and Cherry (Brandy Litmanen), looking like an escapee from a Charles Addams cartoon in New Yorker magazine, pop up by the couples’ tent, toying with the duo before inflicting their punishments on them. Those intruders are representations of their pictures on Maja’s music box, but they are no longer like the painted, cheerful people singing something like “Zip-a-dee-doo da,” The trio are not looking for money but are psychos who enable one another—Cherry carries the gun, Andre a club and his own muscular body, and Mog the master of ceremonies who in one scene sings “Koko-di, Koko-da,” directs the torture.

Good so far. But when the scene is repeated again, then again, with only a few changes of behavior, that’s where the aforementioned patience trial kicks in. The one comic element is the sight of Tobias, having been warned by fantasies of Mog and company, racing out of the tent in his underwear, yanking his wife Elin into the car to escape from the evil trio.

Now and then the scene fades to a series of animations of bunnies, principally, an obvious reminder of what the poor eight-year-old may have loved but can do so no longer. Perhaps the writer-director would have been ahead of the game if he restricted the running time to that of his previous shorts, “Dreams from the Woods” (8 minutes) and “Puppetboy” (27 minutes). What grief. In Swedish with English subtitles.

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

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

THE CLIMB – movie review

THE CLIMB
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Angelo Covino
Screenwriter: Michael Angelo Covino, Kyle Marvin
Cast: Kyle Marvin, Michael Angelo Covino, Gayle Rankin, Talia Balsam, George Wendt, Judith Godreche
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 11/4/19
Opens: TBD

As Cole Porter so eloquently composed,

“Friendship, friendship,
Just a perfect blendship,
When other friendships have been forgot,
Ours will still be hot.”

We like to think that our childhood friendships would last forever, but while the Four Aces note “those wedding bells are breaking up those old friends of mine,” adultery could have the same effect. At least that’s what we learn from Michael Angelo Covino, who directs and co-stars in “The Climb,” which he wrote with Kyle Marvin. And wouldn’t you know that the director and both writers are in the starring roles as well?

“The Climb” is a shaggy dog story, the kind of picture that true lovers of small indies adore. Avoiding a formulaic, tightly constructed tale of bromance (a close but nonsexual partnership of two or more men, one that goes beyond mere friendship,) director Covino expands on his eight-minute Sundance short to unfold the off-again, on-again lifelong pal concept, winding up by showing that no matter high the hills that these two guys climb on their bikes, notwithstanding the threats to their bond that would surely tear most people’s friendship asunder, they wind up where they started. Have they changed during six or more years in which the events take place? Yes, but not all that much.

Toying with a series of vignettes as though each scene were parts of continuing shorts that takes place a day, a week a month, or half a dozen years apart, Covino opens his movie as two bikers traverse the beautiful scenery of the South of France, the huffing and puffing symbolizing, perhaps, that life has its, well, huffs and its puffs, its highs and its lows. The principals of the movie use their own names, which should signal that this could well be a biopic of two characters whose diverse personalities complete each other. Kyle (Kyle Marvin) is a shlubby fellow, the kind that women like to marry because, as one woman states, they “will always be there.” But Mike (Michael Angelo Covino) is a daredevil, a risk-taking ladies’ man, the sort that honorable women would love for a fling but would steer clear of marrying. But Mike is something more, something that’s not at all nice. He interferes with his pal’s love life, doing his best to break up Kyle’s liaisons as though fearing that he would lose his bosom buddy to a woman.

Much of the humor is deadpan, dry, the kind of jocularity that some people cannot understand (“Huh, you think that’s funny”?) but others practice regularly as though to test the intelligence of their listeners. Mike breaks up Kyle’s engagement to Ava (Judith Godreche), who insists that she loves Kyle even while Mike is kissing her. Conveniently she dies, leaving Mike to challenge and try to disrupt Kyle’s engagement to Marissa (Gayle Rankin). He has the audacity, though with a secret plan, to tear into Kyle once again: While they bike in France, he blurts out “I slept with Ava.” Later, during Kyle’s courtship with Marissa, he announces, “I slept with Marissa.” You usually do not find these admissions freely made, but of course Mike opts for the statements with his own narcissistic glee.

Covino and Marvin, real-life best friends with more than enough artistry to evoke a story that seems only partially fictionalized, but do not dominate the entire movie. We don’t know much about Ava who died soon enough, but Marissa has a sturdy segment focused on her character—a strong woman who pushes the mostly passive Kyle to be a better man (he loves her for that) and who declares her love for Kyle right up to a riotous wedding scene turns physical. An extended look at a family Thanksgiving feast but one without a turkey (the Golden Retriever manages to grab and eat the whole bird, leaving a digested turkey on the floor) highlights Mike’s alcoholism. In one scene he topples the Christmas tree but Sara Shaw’s excellent editing of Zach Kuperstein’s lensing highlights moments of such high drama by cutting away quickly, leaving us in the audience to figure out what happens seconds later, and even to wonder how much time has passed between each vignette.

The writer-director shares with his co-writer a love for French songs as the soundtrack is filled with big, bold music that might remind you of the wit and wisdom of Jacques Brel. Marriages come and go, but friendships like those of Kyle Marvin and Michael Angelo Covino are for life.

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

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

SYBIL – movie review

SIBYL
Music Box Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Justine Triet
Screenwriter: Arthur Harari, David H. Pickering, Justine Triet
Cast: Virginie Efira, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Gaspard Ulliel, Sandra Hüller, Laure Calamy, Niels Schneider
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/11/20
Opens: September 11, 2020

Poster

There are reasons that people choose the professions that they do. If you needed glasses at age five, you learn about eyesight and become an optometrist. If your life was saved by a surgeon, you think of going to medical school. If you love films, you want to promote them and you become a publicist. If you hate films, you become a critic. So what makes people want to be psychotherapists? Going by the presumptions shown here, you’ve had problems since childhood. The result? You deal with other people’s issues, and by lying on the couch yourself, you learn about your own. This appears to sum up the principal character in Justine Triet’s “Sibyl,” by a director whose “Sur Place” (2007) tries to analyze the student protests in France a year earlier.

Still of Virginie Efira in Sibyl (2019)

In this case the title character Sibyl (Virginie Efira), a young psychoanalyst, peels off many of her patients in order to find time to devote to writing novels. How to overcome potential writers’ block? Her choice is to use her patients’ narration of problems in the proposed book, and for that she centers her novel on Margot Vasilis (Adèle Exarchopoulos) because of Margot’s intensity. Tearful to a fault as well as conflicted about (it seems) everything, Margot is pregnant by accident, wants an abortion because she needs to work full time in her profession as an actress, schedules the abortion, then cancels, schedules it again, cancels again. Igor (Gaspart Ulliel), the father, is the lead performer in a love story directed by Mika (Sandra Hüller), alias “the bitch,” as some of her stars justly call her.

While Sibyl secretly records Margot’s rants, she brings up memories of Gabriel (Niels Schneider), a previous boyfriend, since isn’t that the kind of thing that shrinks do when they’re bored silly by their patients’ jibber-jabber? You wonder, sometimes, why Sibyl is willing to give up a good part of her income in paring down her patient load to write, when she is advised that in our current age of distraction, writers “have little influence.” With the extra time, she agrees to follow Margot to her romantic film location, since after all, Margot asked her to go and what psychoanalyst would refuse such a reasonable request from a patient?

Mixed in are two occasions of Sybil getting hand jobs from two guys, and one intense scene that finds her on the carpet with a lover getting it on. The film is marred in a few ways. One is that the scenes are constantly changing abruptly when Sibyl’s imagination takes hold. A more straightforward chronological approach might have worked better. On the streamed version that I saw, much of the dialogue was badly dubbed to the extent that words would come out though a character’s lips are no longer moving. Still, Sibyl is an interesting character, one who wants to break free of the daily chatter of her patients—including her youngest client with whom she plays Monopoly as a way to get him to talk more of his hangups—to live more dangerously, including drinking to excess.  In French, Russian and English with English subtitles.

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

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

 

UNHINGED – movie review

UNHINGED
Solstice Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Derrick Borte
Screenwriter: Carl Ellsworth
Cast: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Stimpson, Austin P. McKenzie
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYc, 8/17/20
Opens: August 21, 2020

Russell Crowe in Unhinged (2020)

During the 1940s moviegoers everywhere in the U.S. could look forward to a good buy for a quarter. You’d get an A movie and a B movie, a newsreel (nobody had TV), a cartoon, and a weekly serial episode. Everyone knew what a B movie was because it was listed in the newspaper ads as the second feature, a companion. To some extent, “Unhinged” is a B movie, the big difference being that given its lead actors, it may not be typically low-budget. Like Beethoven, who wrote the kitschy “Wellington’s Victory,” when he needed some cash, and Tchaikovsky who for the same reason penned “The 1812 Overture,” often used in high-school music appreciation classes because of its noise, Russell Crowe must have been in need of some quick Benjamins. “Unhinged” follows the formula of psychological thriller/horror to a T. It’s predictable, dumb as all get-out, a movie that might be unloved even by the presume target audience of teens.

Crowe, whose belly is either padded with a My Pillow or wholly natural, looks even fatter than Donald Trump. As The Man (hint: Everyman) he is more menacing than director Derrick Borte’s “American Dreamer,” about a driver at the call of a drug dealer who kidnaps his passenger’s child. This everyman (the beast inside all of us?) he is an obvious psycho who opens the movie by battering down the door of a private house and then battering its inhabitants, burning down the house for good measure.

Driving a truck, he is cut off by Rachel (Caren Pistorius), who is trying to get her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) to school on time. He follows her, bids her open her window, and demands an apology—which she does not give; the mistake of her life. Later stealing her cell phone, which he uses to track her location and to call her divorce lawyer for nefarious purposes, he gives her a Sophie’s choice. Which one are you willing to have killed to make up for the road incident? Your son Kyle, your brother Andy (Jimmi Simpson) or the boss who just fired you?

The movie is shot outside New Orleans as though to show that there are dangers out there that can compare with those of Hurricane Katrina. Even adolescents might sneer at this artless picture, with an atmosphere so gray you’d wonder whether it was filmed in color.

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

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

 

THE AUGUST VIRGIN MOVIE REVIEW

THE AUGUST VIRGIN (La virgin de Agosto)
Outsider Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jonás Trueba
Screenwriter: Itsaso Arana, Jonás Trueba
Cast: Itsaso Arana, Vito Sanz, Isabelle Stoffel, Joe Manjóln, María Herrador
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/1/20
Opens: August 21, 2020

The August Virgin (2019) - IMDb

Francisco Franco is turning in his grave, but that’s nothing new. The Fascist former dictator of Spain who took over the reins of government in 1939 after a bloody civil war is in hell, where Satan is forcing him to watch scenes of the new Madrid, the new Barcelona, places where even in 1972 when I visited, my wife’s travelers’ cheques in her own name could not be cashed without my written permission. Now all of Spain swings, the youth generation enjoying the freedoms which America is steadily losing under the thumb of our own Fascist-like leader. Eva (Itasaso Arana), the principal character in the film “The August Virgin” is testing this new abandon in Spain though is no longer eighteen to twenty-one years old, the years when college students engage in all-night bull sessions, aiming to discover the purpose of the universe.

Think about Eva, the primary focus of this tale told by the thirty-eight-year-old Madrid-born director whose third film, “The Romantic Exiles,” centers on three friends exploring and enjoying life, all to the end of showing the audience the joys of friendship and commitment. By co-writing and directing “The August Virgin,” he unwinds a story that resonates with his own existential condition, as he is in his thirties and a Madrileño. Eva, who has a background as an actress, is thirty-two years old, no longer committed to her former lovers, who wonders, like the rest of us, “Is this all there is?” Determined to reboot her life, to challenge herself to get out of her comfort zones, she behaves like someone still in college or trying to “find” herself belatedly. Many of us would consider the thirties and beyond too late to find the passion we may have had a decade earlier. To do this she leaves her living accommodations away from the center of Madrid, renting a room on her own, directly in the center. Giving herself the month of August to reconnect with life, she goes into the street during a month that the local people are away in Italy, Greece, whatever, though from what we see through Santiago Racaj’s photography is a bustling city filled (it seems) mostly with young people.

At first, without seeking men out, she and a girlfriend are flirted with by two Brits, one who has been teaching English for the past ten years, the other a Welshman who is visiting his friend. Nothing much comes of this save for a day or two of tentative friendship. At the cinema, she overhears two women of about her age discussing thoughts about having children. One is involved with a holdover from the late sixties and early seventies. She speaks of Reiki chakras—a laying on of hands with the aim of healing. Eva invites her to cast her spell on her. Eva’s major encounter, though, is with Agos (Vito Sanz). In the same way that she had taken the first step in introducing herself to the healer, she sees a gent about her own age staring at the water, smoking, and thinking that he may be contemplating jumping in, since he stands at a forbidden area closed to the public. She makes the first move. She sees him again mixing drinks behind a bar, walks with him back to his flat, and suggests to him that she might want to rent a room therein.

The director has sometimes been compared to Érich Rohmer, whose “My Night at Maud’s” is about a puritanical engineer marooned in a snowstorm who takes refuge in the apartment of an attractive divorcée. She tries to seduce him and fails: they spend the night shooting the bull. In other words, Rohmer’s film, like others of that director, is more talk, less action. We come away with the same thought from “The August Virgin,” whose title makes sense near the conclusion with a religious reference, signifying that you may invite each day without preconceived notions. That is the best way to discover new things, the spice of life. The tale is well acted by Itsaso Arana, who is also the co-writer, and should appeal to patient, intelligent people who are willing to forget that every film, theater piece and novel must contain conflicts. Eva may have internal conflicts, but without the usual ones—human against human or human against nature, “The August Wife” is, in the end, dull fare. Still, it could make you dream of a visit to Spain (when the Covid is over, of course).

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

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

SUMMERLAND – movie review

SUMMERLAND
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jessica Swale
Screenwriter: Jessica Swale
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Lucas Bond, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Penelope Wilton, Siân Phillips, Tom Courtenay, Amanda Root
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/22/20
Opens: July 31, 2020

Poster

If you’re a fan of World War 2 movies you might have seen the stirring Warner Bros. films “Into the Arms of Strangers” (2000) about the Kindertransport, wherein thousands of children were sent from Nazi-dominated Europe to relative safety in the UK. Now comes something similar; a tale of heroic actions by which women in the rural areas of the UK were volunteered temporarily to take in kids living in London during the blitz, transported to the safety of the sticks. “Summerland,” which gets its title from a pagan heaven, is Jessica Swale’s freshman output as a narrative film, a solikd beginning which is mostly a casually-paced drama of a solitary writer with a cantankerous personality that makes none of us wonder why she is still single. However, in flashes of her backstory, we find her living happier moments during a romantic relationship with another woman who must sadly abandon her because she wants nothing more than having a regular family.

The picture is bookmarked by the older Alice (Penelope Wilton) who in 1975 pecks away at her typewriter, having completed a novel based on her wartime experiences. During the early stages of World War II, Alice (Gemma Arterton), then in her mid-thirties, learns that she has been drafted to take in Frank (Lucas Bond in his third feature film), a boy of about 13 who has arrived from London with a father who is in the British army and a mother who is looking out for the lad’s safety during the blitz. Since Alice has been attacked by the local riff-raff kids who consider her a witch because she is a woman living alone, we don’t need to wonder that she agrees, kicking and screaming, to take the kid in “for a week.” Predictably enough, young Frank is about to find a place in her heart, an organ that appears semi-comatose since her lover Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) left her to find a man and raise some kids.

At first Alice barely speaks to Frank, who is expected to clean and cook while she is writing a thesis debunking pagan myths, including that of Summerland, a land of eternal summer, with grassy fields and sweet flowing rivers, perhaps the Earth before the advent of humans. a Frank is not deterred. He shows genuine interest in a picture book about the legends and in one situation actually “sees” this Summerland, which is nothing more than a fata morgana.

Given the place in which women have been kept for centuries as people who should keep quiet unless spoken to but should relish nothing more than baking cookies, raising kids, and cleaning, this woman is among those who, when the men are off fighting, are called for tasks needed for the war effort. In this case it’s for the vitally important job of taking in children to save them from the bombings in London. In the movie’s major twist, we learn more about how Alice was picked for this particular child.

The story is deepened by the companions that Frank makes in the new school, particularly of Edie (Dixie Egerickx), who at first is afraid to join her new boyfriend Frank at the home of “the witch” but softens up when she discovers that Alice may be a normal woman after all. Tom Courtney, sounding like Peter O’Toole as Mr. Sullivan, the school’s headmaster, is well cast as a good soul who, now about eighty years old is doing what he can do best for the war effort.

“Summerland” is a woman-centered film bolstered by Gemma Arterton’s role through a variety of emotional storms—heartbroken to lose her lover, fearful of having to give up the boy when his mother is ready to take him back. This is a gentle tale with moments of high drama. filmed by Laurie Rose at Seaford, East Sussex, in England’s south coast.

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

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

THE TWO OF US – movie review

TWO OF US (Deux)
Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Filippo Meneghetti
Screenwriter: Filippo Meneghetti, Malysone Bovorasmy, additional writing by Florence Vignon
Cast: Barbara Sukowa, Martine Chevallier, Léa Drucker Muriel Benazeraf, Jérôme Varanfrain, Herve Sogne
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 2/19/20
Opens: July 10,  2020

Deux (2019)

A nine-year-old boy learns all about sex in his hygiene class at P.S. 103 augmented by discreet animated visuals that show him how it’s done. “EEEEEUUUU Gross,” he shouts, “My mom and dad would never do that!” Now imagine that a woman in her forties is about to discover that her mother, now in her seventies, is “doing it.” She realizes that granny must have done something or mom would not be here, but “at age seventy? And what? Wait a sec. With another woman!” Still this is France, not Saudi Arabia, so many middle-aged moms will come around. After all, Professor Henry Higgins (“My Fair Lady”) suggested, “The French don’t care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.”

Joshing aside, “Two of Us” is a remarkably well-acted, exquisitely photographed chamber piece featuring two stellar performers who act out a scenario that must have jogged the imagination of so many of us, meaning: do people in their seventies have sex lives? And more specifically, do lesbians in their seventies have sex lives? If so, are their sons and daughters aware of this? (Yes Virginia, some lesbians have children of their own through marriage or less perilous means.) In this case Madeleine or Mado (Martine Chevallier) and Nina (Barbara Sukowa) have been lovers for decades. Living next door to each other in a town in the South of France, they have to sneak into each other’s apartment because theirs is a romance that not all French people can understand, least of all Madeleine’s mother Anne (Léa Drucker) and Anne’s brother Frédéric (Jérôme Varanfrain).

It may be hard to believe in these times, when most of the West—certainly France—has come to accept lesbianism, but sneak around they will, and their almost daily pas de deux gives this slice of life a comic touch. Filippo Meneghetti, who directs and co-wrote “Deux” as his first narrative feature scores big, and will hopefully evoke a deep emotional impact from his theater audience. The story begins simply, becoming more complex when the two principals realize that deux en compagnie de trois est une foule.

German expatriate Nina is next-door neighbor to Madeleine. They should have been able to be roommates but Madeleine, at any rate, fears the opprobrium of her daughter Anne. They plan to spend the rest of their lives in Rome but Madeleine gets cold feet and backs out of selling. Madeleine determines to come out of the closet with her daughter and son who are sure that their father was adored by her.

Their secret is complicated by Madeleine’s caregiver Muriel (Muriel Benazeraf) who believes that her job is being taken over by Nina, and senses the secret that Madeleine has kept from her son and daughter. At long last Anne and Frédéric are on to Madeleine, are understandably shocked, though the single moment when Anne discovers her mother’s secret is both amusing and melodramatic.

No scenes are wasted in a pas de deux that could easily fit on your TV or on an off-Broadway stage. The storytelling is crisp, to the point and forms a terrific palette for a dance that to my memory is thoroughly original.

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

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

MY WONDERFUL WANDA – movie review

MY WONDERFUL WANDA (Wanda, mein wunder)
The Match Box
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bettina Oberli
Screenwriter: Cooky Ziesche, Bettina Oberli
Cast: Agnieszka Grochowska, Marthe Keller, Birgit Minichmayr, Jacob Matschenz, André Jung, Anatole Taubman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/15/20
Opens: TBD at Tribeca Film Festival in New York

Wanda, mein Wunder (2020)

A 2013 film by Bettina Oberli, “Lovely Louise,” shows how a charismatic American, arriving to the home of a taxi driver living quietly with his mother, turns their lives upside down. Similarly, the Swiss director in a stunning entry to be shown at this year’s Tribeca Festival, shows how the arrival of a caregiver in Poland to a wealthy family in Switzerland turns the lives of an elderly man, his wife, his son and others will upset their staid but lavish home life while at the same time getting more than she bargained for as well.

Set in three chapters and an epilogue, the Swiss language production “My Wonderful Wonder” finds Wanda, the title figure, barely able to cope back in Poland with parents who, despite their education, are not employed but who are taking care of her two children while she is away on her new job. Since Josef (the Luxembourg-born André Jung), the seventy-year-old Swiss paterfamilias, is bedridden having suffering a stroke. He needs to be fed, exercised and bathed, and who better to do that not his wife Elsa (Marthe Keller), but the thirty-five-year old Polish helper, Wanda (Agnieszka Grochowska). Now Josef may be ill but he’s not dead and, despite the stroke has sexual needs which Wanda fulfills (the extra CHF’s will come in handy).

Once Wanda is pregnant, she puts the family in such a tizzy that only their dog Mephisto takes things as calmly as ever. Secrets are revealed regarding Elsa’s inability to have a child, and in a dinner party that begins to take on reverberations that we’ve seen in the Danish film “Celebration), the master’s son Gregi (Jacob Matschenz), due to take over the corporation upon his father’s death, is shown to be as incompetent as our own chief executive. At the same time Sophie (Birgit Minichmayr), suspicious of the alleged conspiracy by the maid, pressures her to go back to Poland.

As Wanda is accused of theft of the money from the household and a belief that she will blackmail the household for a large payment, several twists appear. When Wanda’s Polish parents show up, charges and countercharges show that there is much business to settle before the newborn baby’s fate is sealed.

“My Wonderful Wanda” is a delightful comedy of manners satirizing people previously living in insulated contentment with their spectacular Swiss villa by a lake, their complacency shattered by events led by a poor Polish woman who can speak fluent German despite the low pay she initially accepts. The dialogue is sharp and revealing, though English subtitles, too small and too indistinct to be followed easily, are about as bad as you’ve ever seen. Perhaps when the film is shown on the big screen—should the Tribeca Festival be revived after its postponement from the coronavirus—the translation will show up with greater clarity.

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

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – C (because of poor subtitles)
Overall – B+

MADAGASIKARA MOVIE REVIEW

MADAGASIKARA
Global Digital
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Cam Cowan
Screenwriter: Cam Cowan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/7/20
Opens: June 26, 2020

Madagasikara Poster

Though Republican politicians in the U.S. don’t know or don’t care, the largest economic problem here is the inequality of income. So let’s look for places that have little inequality. Try Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world with sandy beaches and the pure waters of the Indian Ocean. If there is little inequality there perhaps it’s because 98% of the country live on less than $2 a day! And boy do they have children! Maybe those earning $2 a day are envied by those making $1.50, but it’s probably unlikely that the 2% who make money are gobbling up almost all the wealth of the island.

So how do you live on two bucks a day, supporting children, paying rent, eating mostly white rice? Not too well, and yet there are smiling faces that we see in Cam Cowan’s documentary. This is Cowan’s freshman entry, though his next feature, “Opeka” to be released in 2020, deals with a similar subject: how an Argentine priest is teaching people who live in a Madagascar landfill to build a functional city.

In this mostly Catholic island that practices traditional religions as well, Pedro Opeka, a priest with a large white beard and shocks of snow-white hair complains that when he arrived to the island in 1970, the poverty rate was thirty percent, then became worse: in 2009 the rate hit ninety percent and by now it’s even worse. So much for calling this part of the world a “developing nation.”

The name of the movie, “Madagasikara,” sound like something Disney would call it if that company were to set up a Disneyland of sorts, but instead it is simply the name that the local people of the island call their nation. Though there have been protests with populations marching on the capital city, there has been no civil war, no foreign expeditions of conquest, and no natural disasters.

Then again, maybe a Trump-like poltician is responsible for some of the starvation there as one half of the children are malnourished, affecting their growth and intellectual potential. A rich guy who assumed the office of president despite losing an election (apparently the military supported him) aimed to sell off half of the good land to South Korean businesses. President Obama hit the land with sanctions, perhaps not realizing that Madagascar desperately needs foreign aid.

However most of the film focuses on a few women, one of whom named Lin is busy raising seven children and one grandchild on, yes, under $2/day. She takes in nine batches of laundry to earn the equivalent of 28 cents, which is 1,066 MGA or Malagasy Ariary. That gets her 2 cups of white rice, hardly enough to put meat on the bones of the kids and worth virtually nothing nutritionally.

Deborah, another woman who once had to resort to sex work beginning at age 12, complains that some of the men do not even pay her and some even beat her up. And don’t forget the wives of these “men,” instead of beating the crap out of their husbands, took out their venom on the poor woman. She had determined to stay in school to become a lawyer, though I can barely think of what people would have the money to hire attorneys but had to drop out, now hoping that some of her offspring could do what she had been unable to. Not likely, though we do see one school with kids crammed on makeshift desks watching teacher put mathematical formulas on the board.

A vocation that attracts some is breaking big rocks into small ones to make gravel, a task that looks similar to what U.S. prisoners on chain gangs had to do. The folks do not even wear gloves to protect their hands, nor can they presumably even afford them.

The production team encourages people to make the long journey to what is called one of the most beautiful islands on earth, but at present there are few if any international hotels, though prices are incredibly low. The Anjiamaranco is $29 a night with free breakfast, the Sakamanga is $20. The most expensive hotel is about $350 a night. Now none of this is mentioned since the focus is on the lives of some women living without running water and presumably no toilets. Still the doc, in addition to enlightening us, may encourage us to look up most facts about this island in Wikipedia and to price hotels via Trip Advisor and Trivago. I also discovered, though not particularly dealt with, that the country provides the world with 80% of its vanilla and a majority of its cloves, while having coffee, lychees, shrimp and providing one half of the world’s sapphires plus some titanium, chromite, coal, iron cobalt, copper and nickel.

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

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

PICTURE OF HIS LIFE – movie review

PICTURE OF HIS LIFE (תמונה של חייו)
Oded Horowitz/Panorama Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dani Menkin, Yonatan Nir
Screenwriter:  Dani Menkin, Yonatan Nir
Cast: Amos Nachoum and colleagues
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/19/20
Opens: June 19, 2020
Running Time: 71 minutes. 
People who go to foreign lands during their vacations, stay in good hotels, dine in fine restaurants, do some sightseeing and attend to some group trips are tourists, not travelers.  Perhaps one step higher on the ladder  would be those who go to Portillo in August to ski or to Botswana to take picture of animals in the wild.  At the highest level, literally, would be those challenged to climb Mt. Everest, but that’s been done.  Here’s something that has not been done until now, something you probably all dream of doing at least once in your life: that’s photographing polar bears while swimming alongside them, trying not to be eaten at least until you’ve given them your best shot and have the folks in the boat scoop up your camera.
Now comes a movie that shows just what it’s like, particularly if your trips to Canada have been only to film festivals in Montreal and Toronto or to see some actual filming in Vancouver.  “Picture of His Life,” which has archival film of Israel during the 1973 war and some shots of Tel Aviv, spends most of its brief running time in the Canadian Arctic, home of Inuits, some of whom consider theirs a dying culture as their children move to the cities.  An ensemble of travelers fall under Yonatan Nir and Adam Ravetch’s lenses, all of which is directed by Nir and Dani Menkin.  You know the last two for their documentary “The Dolphin Boy,” about a lad who, having been traumatized by a violent attack, is taken by his father to be treated by …dolphins.  What better candidates to do this movie than these?
Though he could not have taken pictures of polar bears under water without the help of Joe the Inuit and a few others, there is probably not a single narcissistic bone in Amos Nachoum’s body.  When Narcissus looked at a body of water, he saw his reflection and fell in love.  When Amos does the same, he sees large animals and is head over heels in love, not with himself but with bears, sharks, whales and the like.  Merely to get to the Canadian Arctic where most of the story takes place required Amos to take five flights from Tel Aviv, stopping among other places at San Francisco, Vancouver, and Winnipeg  and finally with a small wind-shaken plane that had a difficult time finding a place to land in one of the most remote places on earth.
Having photographed seals, whales, sharks, marlins and alligators, he is obsessed with capturing polar bears,  not like Disney but alongside these huge, sometimes aggressively hungry mammals that can outswim humans with even with rubber fins twice over.   The directors want us to realize that Amos, having served in the 1973 Yom Kippur war which resulted in 20,000 deaths on both sides, may have received increased motivation to take on this risky project because of the scars caused by the violence.  He is shown as a younger man and now, at an age that puts some people in rocking chairs, Amos, sporting a full mop of graying hair, heads into the water believing that “without learning, there is no reason to be here,” which sounds something like Socrates’ advice that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  Amos wants to be relevant at his age, when much of the world has little use for older people calling them, not without condescension, senior citizens.
In the action scenes, Amos dives backward with so much equipment that you wonder how all five of his planes did not crash.  In one climactic moment, he confronts a bear, tries for a shot, and fails, barely escaping with his life.   We wonder: is that all there is?  Tune in when the movie opens June 19 to find out whether he gets an iconic shot of a rare event: a mother bear swimming with her two cubs.  Did I mention that now he is the founder of a travel business called Big Animals, that takes people who think they can duplicate Amos’s adventure?
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+
© Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online

AVIVA – movie review

AVIVA
Outsider Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Boaz Yakin
Screenwriter: Boaz Yakin
Cast: Zina Zinchenko, Bobbi Jene Smith, Tyler Phillips, Or Schraiber, Omri Drumlevich, Mouna Soualem
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/28/20
Opens: June 12, 2020

Writer-director Boaz Yakin may lead a life full of conflicts—a good thing because that is how people become creative—but his characters are certainly not lacking in bodily motion. His personal movie “Aviva” is chock-full of nudity, writhing bodies and modern dance and would have probably received an NC-17 rating rather than opting for NR, or not rated. It is not only about to be the year’s horniest film; it has the kind of dancing by veterans of Israel’s Batsheva troupe that Tschaikowsky (“Swan Lake,” Sleeping Beauty”) would not have understood. For that matter I wonder how many viewers will understand the film, given its use of masculine and feminine characterizations that serve to show us women with masculine sides and men with their feminine proclivities. Not that gender bending is unknown to the cinema, as it is expressed also by Luis Buñuel in his 1977 film “The Obscure Object of Desire,” in which a former chambermaid is played by two persons who differ physically as well as temperamentally.

In an interview, Yakin had said that his “adult creative life has been this very, very upsetting push and pull between trying to find a way to fit myself…This time I didn’t want to limit myself at all.” There it is: the background of a film seemingly without limits, one that deserves a second and third viewing to sort out the confusion as you watch a woman played in some scenes by a man and a man performing in the physical persona of a woman.

There are two principal players, the title character Aviva (Zina Zinchenko) and a man (Tyler Phillips), and then again Aviva as a man (Or Schraiber) and Eden as a woman (Bobbi Jene Smith). When Aviva moves from Paris to New York to be with Eden, the gent gets cold feet, conflicted over whether to marry her. (We are told in press notes that Aviva is based on the director’s relationship with his ex-wife Alma Har’el.) To understand this difficult, theatrical movie you must be aware that Aviva becomes a man unpredictably while Eden morphs into a woman, the idea being that they are expressing, respectively, their masculine and feminine sides.

As with any love affairs, most of the excitement is in the early stages, shown creatively enough in Eden and Aviva’s dancing through city streets—which may remind you of Gene Kelly’s resonating with an umbrella, singing in the rain. Aren’t first love and hormonal youth exhilarating? Eden and Aviva’s relationship are on and off, filled with both anticipation and heartbreak. When Eden is dabbling with his feminine side he changes from an indecisive male to a female full of hormonal tension. There are repeated scenes of sexual congress that border on hard core, with male and female frontal nudity displayed as though nakedness should be embraced (literally).

The best scenes, though, are those involving dances, particularly from a trio of thirteen-year-olds meant presumably to reflect the director’s childhood in the happiest moments, played here by Roman Maldenda. He and his two pals rap and show off terpsichorean talents in Coney Island, the iconic Wonder Wheel serving as background. Equally electrifying is a dance number in a bar as a group of denizens acting like Greek men showing their camaraderie with their footwork, burst forth with enough energy to light up the city.

The movie is overlong, though, and too intent on sexual scenes which seem thrown in to turn on a theater audience with vicarious thrills, the men, at least while they are still men, performing energetic thrusts to the gasps of the women who seem unable to get enough. Still, given the way that commercial films are equally repetitive, albeit with guns and car crashes rather than sex serving as melodrama, “Aviva” is an offering that deserves the attention of a patient audience open to its experimental nature.

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

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

SHIRLEY – movie review

SHIRLEY
Neon
Review by Harvey Karten for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net
Directed by: Josephine Decker
Screenplay by: Sarah Gubbins, based on the novel by Susan Scarf Merrell
Cast:  Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Logan Lerman, Odessa Young
Reviewed from a critics’ link on 5/15/20
Opening:  June 5, 2020
Running Time:107 minutes
What gives one person the impetus to become a psychoanalyst, another an optometrist, yet a third individual a teacher and a fourth a writer?  In these cases consider the possibility that the optometrist had early onset myopia, was prescribed coke-bottle glasses, and is determined to help others by inventing thinner lenses; the teacher had unfortunate experiences with her own pedagogues and knows she can do better; and the psychoanalyst suffered from childhood anxiety and depression, spending long, creditable hours on the couch and hoping later to sit on a padded chair rather than the sofa.  This last scenario could apply to Shirley Jackson, a prolific writer with 200 magazines articles to her credit, an impressive contribution of novels, and a home library with 25,000 volumes.  She did not become a shrink but penned psychological/horror stories to exorcise her demons.
Shirley Poster
One of her shorter novels, “The Lottery,” which became a short movie, is a hair-raising, nightmare-causing story of a bucolic region of farmers in which, to further the fertility of crops, the town holds an annual lottery of all residents.  The “winner” of the lottery is sentenced to death by stoning, presumably donating blood to the fields.  Jackson did not herself live in a farming community but rather in North Bennington, Vermont, the location in the early 1960s setting of the movie an all-girls’ college until 1969. She suffered considerable neuroses, even borderline psychosis, her anxieties, her agoraphobia that essentially sentenced her to her house for months as though a plague  infested the outdoors.  She may not have been cured of her psychological problems, but at least she could use them to create great art.  And so she did.
The film directed by Josephine Decker, an actress and who as a director gave us movies like “Madeleine’s Madeline” (a theater director’s young actress takes her performance too seriously), is adapted from Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel by Sarah Gubbins, scripter for TV episodes of “I Love Dick.” The movie lifts off by Elisabeth Moss’s electrifying performance in the title role.  Not only that: take a look at Shirley Jackson’s picture on Wikipedia or on Amazon books and you’ll find quite a likeness—except that Moss does not have the weight problem of her character which, together with Jackson’ chain smoking led to the novelist’s death from cardiac arrest at the age of 48.
While Moss carries the principal focus, Decker and Gubbins provide the film with an ensemble performance—three characters given about equal time to express their disappointments, their frustrations, their happy moments, in short, their personalities.  Consider Shirley’s husband Stanley Edgar Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor at Bennington where he enjoys sexual favors at the women’s college.  He is extroverted, peering at the world though thick glasses with the black frames no longer fashionable in our times.  He insists on originality, on creativity, exhibiting his persona by playing a record by jazz and folk musician Lead Belly, who died in 1949 and seems to be unknown to the bright young co-eds.  At home, he shows his dismay with his wife’s habit of staying home, often skipping dinner to work on her stories, leaving him to dine alone as she would clack away speedily on her standard typewriter.
As though there were not enough drama in the household, enter a “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” scenario when a young couple arrive, invited by Stanley to remain in the couple’s home.  Rose Nemser (Odessa Young) is nervous and pregnant, and her classically handsome husband Fred (Logan Lerman) are soon to incur the wrath of the residents.  The young couple are regularly baited, but Fred is staying on, hoping to get Stanley to recommend him to teach English at the college.  Though Rose is naïve and trusting, she is soon to find out that her husband is following the same path of infidelity as his new mentor.  Among the barbs: Stanley has read the young man’s dissertation.  At the dinner table he announces that the paper lacks originality and is mediocre.  “Have you considered teaching at the high school level?”  If that were not enough to make Fred bolt from the dinner table, what is?
Anyone who has seen Elisabeth Moss knows that she is among the best actresses of all generation.  Her work on Margaret Atwood’s TV episodes “The Handmaid’s Tale” as June Offred Osborne, gave her the extra push to work for women’s causes and led to her telling an interviewer that it made her “a stronger woman.”  She needs no dialogue in “Shirley” to signal her every emotion.  Coiling like a snake, a fierce look at her husband and guests, she could keep you up nights if you were her guest.  Rose is eager to leave this house, virtually haunted by its occupants, but nonetheless she is drawn to Shirley, considering her a friend notwithstanding the difference in age.  It helps that she responds to Shirley’s sexual advances, their playing footsies under the dining table being one of the comic moments in the film.
And Stuhlbarg is no mere straight man to Moss’s manipulations.  His is a formidable performance whether leading a group dance at the college dean’s party, barking at his wife to leave the house, or baiting the poor young man who has been effectively relegated to teaching high school.   As for Odessa Young’s Rose, we can see how Stanley uses her to help his wife complete her latest book, which, in fact, is based on the author’s experiences with her husband and the young boarders.  Write what you know.
The film appears to toy with two endings: one which results in Rose’s suicide, the other finding her sitting in the back seat of the car driven by her Tom-cat husband.
Kudos to Tamar-Kali’s use of music, largely jazz tracks, and Sturla Brandth Grovlen’s lensing, making good use of  the house’s interiors, the lively faculty party, and the rural pleasures of a state whose slogan, “Freedom and Unity,” is, judging by this movie, surely ironic.
Story – A-
Acting – A
Technical – B
Overall – B+
© Harvey Karten, Director, NY Film Critics Online

CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY – movie review

CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Justin Pemberton
Screenwriter: Adapted by Matthew Metcalfe, Justin Pemberton, Thomas Piketty, based on Thomas Piketty’s book
Cast: Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz, Gillian Tett, Kate Williams, Gabriel Zucman, Ian Bremmer, Rana Foroohar, Francis Fukuyama
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/5/20
Opens: May 1, 2020

Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2019)

People with any rational perspective in our country are fighting mad. Never mind that Fox News tells us that we have the lowest rate of unemployment in decades, or that what’s good for Wall Street (the booming stock market) is good for Main Street. The trouble is that instead of focusing on the real problem, which is the rising rate of economic inequality, too many people are instead distracting themselves by blaming immigrants, by blaming Muslims, by dispelling their anger is ways that are not only dangerous but ineffective. This brings us to Justin Pemberton’s bold, incisive, riveting documentary, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” based on the dense book by Parisian Thomas Piketty, who gets a considerable platform in this striking new documentary.

Pemberton, whose previous docs run the gamut including “Chasing Great” about a black rugby player, “The Golden Hour” about New Zealand Olympians, and “Is She or Isn’t She” about a hairy woman with a penis, now takes on what is arguably the major economic hazard of our time, which is the inequality of wealth. Piketty, who holds gigs at the London School of Economics among other prestigious institutions, believes that the rate of capital return in the developed countries is greater than rate of economic growth, and that is what is causing inequality. President Reagan offered the view that tax decreases will pay for themselves and afford everyone a slice of a bigger pie. Instead Piketty advocates a global tax on wealth, which would bring about the necessary redistribution of income. After all, it’s not always hard work that thickens your wallet; in fact it’s possession of capital largely brought about through inheritance.

In his book, Piketty goes further than what we see in this movie, heads and tails above what Bernie Sanders bases his campaign on. He wants a schedule of taxation on income and wealth that reaches ninety percent and the elimination of nation-states in favor of a vast transnational democracy securing a universal right to education and the abolition of borders. Among other reforms, this would prevent capital from moving to havens to avoid taxation like Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and even the tiny national state of Vanuatu.

Economics writing can be intimidating, but Pemberton transcends the difficulty of the printed word by supplying a staggering series of archival films, forming the historical background of income inequality. The idea that one percent of the population makes as much money annually as the bottom three hundred eighty billion folks has roots beginning at least as far back as the Eighteenth Century. If you’re a buff of movies like “Downton Abbey,” “The Favourite,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Reign,” “The Medici” and “Dangerous Liaisons,” and you marvel at the costumes and the breathtaking splendor of the land, the minuets, the sumptuous feasts, you are too distracted to get your blood boiling with the knowledge that the aristocracy is only one percent of the Europeans on display while the masses outside are suffering.

You will, however, be impressed with the scenes in this movie about royalty, including a splendid few moments of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Les Miserables,” but your excitement plummets when you watch the black-and-white shots of poverty in times past and, much more recently as the way capital has led us to the near depression of 2008 when banks gave out mortgages to people who shouldn’t have received them, and through the shuffling of paper sold those mortgages to other financial institutions through a mind-boggling template of Wall Street intrigue. Other historic celluloid on display looks into sections of “The Grapes of Wrath,” featuring a farmer telling a dude with a convertible that “Nobody is going to take away my land.”

I love what Amazon does for me, but given Piketty’s focus on redistribution, Jeff Bezos would have to fork over $409,000,000,000 (that’s four hundred nine billion dollars) in year one of the plan. If big corporations continue to take the lion’s share of money, they will be able to continue exerting monumental power. What better example than that of Trump’s getting his Republican congress to lower the corporate tax rate from thirty-five percent to twenty-two percent, one of the major disasters that our great-great grandchildren will pay for as the deficit continues past the stratosphere.

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” then, serves as one of the best documentaries in recent years. There is scarcely a dull moment given the fast editing provided by Sandie Bompar and the deft selection of historic clips that Pemberton uses to nail down his points. Economics is oft considered a dismal science, perhaps much of it is. With the excitement generated by this doc, punctuating the talking heads with dramatic cinematics, you might expect thousands of students to select Economics as their major and adults long past college to inspire vivid discussions around the table about where America is headed. What’s in your wallet?

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

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

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+

NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS – movie review

NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eliza Hittman
Screenwriter: Eliza Hittman
Cast: Sidney Flanagan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/18/20
Opens: March 13, 2020

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

In her third feature movie, writer-diector Eliza Hittman continues to explore people who are vulnerable, youths who are missing the proper guidance in life and who are put into positions that they would not have found themselves if they had the proper direction. In the director’s “It Felt Like Love,” a young woman dreams of emulating the sexual exploits of a more experience person, putting herself into a dangerous situation. In “Beach Rats” a teen “experiments” with drugs and looks to meet older men. Now with “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” Hitmann focuses on “Autumn” (Sidney Flanigan), a seventeen-year-old girl who must deal with a pregnancy that she never wanted but with the good luck to have a friend like Skylar (Talia Ryder), who acts more like Autumn’s older
sister willing to go the distance with Autumn during a difficult time in the younger girl’s life.

After Trump was elected president largely with the support of rural Americans, voters in small towns and farms complained that city people consider them racists, sexists, homophobic and the like. We would like to think that this is true, yet as Hitmann portrays small-town Pennsylvania, at least through the eyes of people on the cusp of mature adulthood, a large number of these Americans are what they say they are not. For example, when Autumn is performing in a talent show, one guy yells out “slut” in the middle of her song, and the attendees including even Autumn’s young parents, appear to think nothing of it.

Autumn, who appears not to realize that she is pregnant until eighteen weeks have passed since her last menstrual period, tries to self-abort the fetus by taking a slew of Vitamin C pills, then punches her belly without much result save for some large bruises. Stealing some money from the supermarket with the help of her cousin, she takes a bus to New York, not even considering that she would need to get a round-trip ticket, that she lacks money for a hotel, that she would have to stay in New York two nights. On the bus Skylar is hit on by a young passenger (Théodore Pellerin), who will try to encourage Skylar to go with him “downtown” and who the girls will later exploit for money.

In this slice-of-life drama, Hittman takes us first to a rural clinic, the agent explaining that there are alternatives to abortion, that there are people who would gladly adopt the future child. Since it’s too late for Autumn to get an abortion in her area, she and Skylar take two buses toward New York’s Port Authority Terminal, going to Planned Parenthood on 44 Court Street in downtown Brooklyn, and back up to a Manhattan facility which would be able to conduct the procedure.

Autumn has no particular support from her parents, and in fact by showing us the youthful age of the father and mother in the audience of the talent show, Hitmann may be making the point that they too had babies while they were teens. Hélène Louvart films all in 16mm, from the broken-down areas of rural Pennsylvania to the chaos of New York.

Here is an ideal slice of life drama. No melodrama, no frantic behavior, with Autumn’s emotions showing only when she began to cry during a social worker’s interview. At that meeting, she is asked a series of questions such as “Were you ever forced to have sex when you did not want to” for which she needed to answer “Never, rarely, sometimes or always.” In Hitmann’s hands, the two young performers, Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder relate to each other as though they knew each other for a decade. But even to her cousin and best friend, Autumn never opens up. She does not tell her even that she’s pregnant, just that she has “cramps.” These are inarticulate people, the sort that just might vote for politicians who do not necessary offer much but who are grand showmen who can entertain and who do not evoke articulate responses from their audience.

101 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

 

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-

UNCUT GEMS – movie review

UNCUT GEMS
A24
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Screenwriter: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Cast: Adam Sandler, Lakeith Sanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 11/29/19
Opens: December 13, 2019

If you like your movies over-the-top like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Inglorious Basterds,” then has A24 a movie for you! The pace doesn’t let up for a second, the photography evokes New York on amphetamines, and Adam Sandler gives the performance of his lifetime. Yes, that Adam Sandler, moving up from a waterboy for a football team, a manchild with a stutter, to a jewelry merchant on New York’s 47th street with a gambling disability. “Uncut Gems,” directed by Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie following up their New York-centered pic “Good Time,” about an attempt by a guy to get his younger brother out of jail. Given that “Uncut Gems” shoots many of its scenes inside a midtown jewelry store which has a way of locking people inside, the Safdies are right in their métier.

Even if you have a hearing disability you’ll have no problem understanding the dialogue. The shouting is combination of the floor of the Chicago Futures Market and Donald J. Trump’s ersatz press conferences that are drowned out by his chopper. Anchoring the proceedings, Adam Sandler in the role of Howard Ratner knows and loves gem stones.  He does not think that he could make the kind of life he wants at his desk in the back room, preferring to gamble on basketball games, chiefly because he has faith that his main man, Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics (who plays himself), will sink enough baskets and pick up enough rebounds to make him an instant millionaire.

The shouting, in fact, starts right in the beginning, not in New York but in Ethiopia, where a large group of miners who had just extracted a fellow worker from a grievous accident. The bosses are getting hell for allowing unsafe conditions, but when two miners re-enter the tunnel they find a large rock with brilliant opal stones imbedded as though fashioned by an expert cutter.

On a hunch, Howard buys the rock, then lends it out to KG who convinces Howard that he will buy it. To contrast Howard with his long-suffering wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), who is aware that Harold has a woman, Julia (Julia Fox) on the side, the couple are at a theater to watch their daughter perform in a play. Dinah is sitting with her teen son, but Harold who should be with them, is running about outside, all in the service of making his fortune while at the same time avoiding or putting off his creditors.

Harold is larger than life, just like Trump, and like the president he is wrapped up in himself, playing a high-wire act that finds him tending to his business but more involved in actions that could make big trouble for him. He is a rabid sports fan, liking the Celts not as a mere hobby but as his chance to make it big financially. It would be nice to say that a win that bring him over a million dollars would allow him to retire, but you can bet that he will gamble it away within a month.

Daniel Lopatin’s score, particularly in the miners’ scenes, can be madly intrusive, making one wonder why the bold and furious action would not serve to excite the moviegoers. For Darius Khondji who is behind the lenses, no action that he captures is too fast. The ensemble cast are terrific, but wouldn’t it be great if Adam Sandler, seeking the big movie guild prizes this year, winds up competing for the over-the-topness with “Dolemite”’s Eddie Murphy?

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

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+

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+

I LOST MY BODY – movie review

I LOST MY BODY (J’ai perdu mon corps)
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jérémy Clapin
Screenwriter: Jérémy Clapin, Guillaume Laurant, adapted from Laurant’s novel “Happy Hand”
Cast: Voices of Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois, Patrick D’Assumcao
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 10/30/19
Opens: November 15, 2019

Poster

You’ve got to hand it to Jérémy Clapin, who co-wrote and directed this remarkable movie in an adaptation from Guillaume Laurant’s novel “Happy Hand.” His handsome, animated feature could become a hands-down favorite of the Academy along with the many guilds and critics’ groups. The movie idea was presumably exploited by Clapin from the book—which has not yet been translated from the French and whose plot can be summarized by “Naoufel -dit Nafnaf-est un jeune Marocain, né de parents professeurs de littérature française, lui ayant enseigné un français de salon, un rien désuet. Lorsqu’il arrive en France, vers 12 ans…” The movie, confusing enough at first since it does not roll chronologically, becomes clear at about the mid-point.

In fact a little spoiler can’t hurt since it could clear up the film right from the beginning. So…the whole story is told from the point of view of a hand, the first original idea. Not even the 1946 pic “The Beast with Five Fingers” about a wheelchair-bound one-handed pianist’s murder, is quite like this. Naoufel (Hakim Faris), whose childhood happiness in North Africa is upended when a car crash kills his parents. Traumatized, the orphan boy tries for nothing more ambitious than being a pizza delivery guy, who is always late and who agrees with his boss that he is, more or less, a loser. But delivery boys meet lots of pizza-loving people. Naoufel lucks out, flirted with by Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois), a resident in an apartment house, who sets him up with her uncle (Patrick D’Assumcao) in a carpentry job through which he has an accident severing his hand.

The plot is of secondary importance. The principal virtue of this French movie, complete with the artistry of a skilled animator (director Clapin), is its originality. There has been nothing quite like this one, which helped the picture win top prize in “Critics’ Week”and to become the first animated film ever to win the Nespresso Award at Cannes. You’ll wonder why the principal character is so focused on catching flies, a most difficult job according to the lad’s father (I concur), but the common housefly has a major role, in fact perhaps the most important role a fly has had in a movie since David Cronenberg’s 1986 horror tale entitled, of course, “The Fly.” The hand goes through a series of adventures, using its wisdom to play piano, riding atop a pigeon and rewarding it by snapping its neck, saving his (its?) life from a group of hand-eating rats, and exploiting the talents of a seeing-eye dog.

Losers can be winners, which makes this a feel-good picture, using the metaphor of a hand’s seeking its body to make it whole, just as the lovely Gabrielle may become the part that will complete young Naoufel. Indie films generally feature more thoughtful sounds and sights than blockbuster commercial items, but even among the indies out there this year or any other, “I Lost My Body” is a pioneer.

81 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Onli

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