NOT GOING QUIETLY – movie review

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

Ady Barkan and son Carl

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEST – movie review

THE NEST
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sean Durkin
Screenwriter: Sean Durkin
Cast: Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Charlie Shotwell, Oona Roche, Adeel Akhtar
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/27/20
Opens: September 18, 2020

Jude Law and Carrie Coon in The Nest (2020)

As Robert Burns noted, the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley, which is a good thing if you’re a filmmaker because what can you write about if plans are always realized? Marriage supplies the best examples. Look at the 50% rate of divorce in America, the result of both declining novelty and huge expectations that go off the tracks. In his movie about a marriage that is not only deteriorating but features a woman whose own emotional balance goes off kilter, writer-director Sean Durkin is up his alley with his sophomore feature “The Nest.” His “Martha Marcy May Marlene” nine years back explores the life of a woman who had escaped from a cult, justifiably paranoid, trying to assimilate back with her natural family.

In his current film, Allison (Carrie Coon) is living comfortably in a New York suburb with her husband Rory O’Hara (Jude Law), her teen daughter Samantha (Oona Roche), and stepson Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell). Rory is a successful Wall Street trader; she gives horseback riding lessons at a nearby school. But Rory, dazzled by the American Dream, wants to become filthy rich not by continuing to have fantasies in America but by going to Britain where he must convince his old boss Arthur (Michael Culkin) to sell the firm to an American company.

Problems arise both at home and in the office. Allison complains that this would be their fourth move in ten years. The youngsters would have to make new friends and become adjusted to new schools. But in the 1980s when the story takes place, there may have been whiffs of feminism in the U.S. but there was nothing then like the current #MeToo movement, so Allison performs according to now-outdated gender roles. Even her mother (Wendy Crewson) advises that “a woman gets married so she doesn’t need to make decisions any more. Allison follows her man to England, where he has already paid a year’s rent on a 19th century Gothic house with farmland—so sure is he that his chickens will hatch notwithstanding the resistance he finds in his boss. Rory is British-born but his whose cultural ties to the mother country had lapsed after he had tasted success in a faster moving New York.

The movie is filled with shots of Allison riding her beloved horse Richmond around the large acreage while the principal riding done by her husband Rory is on the commuter train from their digs in Surrey to the London office. Puffed up with narcissism, Rory tries to pass himself off as a fellow with both money and class, bragging about the private schools the youngsters now attend (where Benjamin is bullied), passing himself off at fancy dinners with office staff as a person who attends theater and is impassioned by Anthony Hopkins. The brittleness of the marriage makes itself known when Rory is embarrassed by his disgusted wife, desperate because the family is down to its last 600 quid, announcing to the surprised restaurant table that her husband had never set foot in the theater and that he must have read his quote about Anthony Hopkins in that day’s newspaper.

A film that starts quietly albeit with music on the soundtrack that promises either horror or emotional surprises hits high melodramatic notes in the latter half, building up to a crescendo of family disfunction. A terrific performance by Jude Law is more than matched by that of Carrie Coon, as Allison cuts loose, no holds barred, furious that she went along with conservative gender roles. The death of her horse Richmond serves as apt metaphor for the inevitable demise of the O’Hara family.

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

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

 

HEREDITARY – movie review

HEREDITARY

A24
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ari Aster
Screenwriter:  Ari Aster
Cast:  Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 5/31/18
Opens: June 8, 2018
Hereditary Movie Poster
In his debut feature, Ari Aster—known for shorts such as “The Strange Thing About the Johnsons” which is a dark family melodrama—graduates into a full length picture that goes beyond mere melodrama into the realm of horror.  But “Hereditary” is not a simple slasher movie like the “Friday the 13th” series but is instead for a discerning crowd.  The film will draw people who do not need to see scenes of killings, each one occurring within five minutes of the other, all the cuts edited so quickly you can barely see what’s going on.  Instead Aster is fond of long takes and intense close-ups, with patient buildups heading toward the inevitably concluding mayhem which is foreshadowed in a Hebrew inscription that fortells “pandemonium.”

While the story does not match up to the hype the film received at the Sundance Festival, its chief talking point is a stunning performance from Toni Collette in the principal role of Annie Graham, who lives in a wilderness home of undisclosed location (filmed by Powel Pogorzelski in Utah).  Annie, who creates and paints miniatures, has a mild-mannered husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) who is the only normal person in the family, a teen son Peter (Alex Wolff), and Peter’s thirteen-year-old sister Charlie (Milly Shapiro).  It doesn’t take long to see that something is wrong with Annie and her children, with Steve doing his best to contain the schizophrenic-type rages and impulses of the family, all of which come emerge in full bloom after the death of Annie’s mother Ellen.  When Annie delivers a eulogy for her mother she appears anything but broken up, yet her miniatures depict scenes from her life as though she is intent on holding fast to her personal history.

Yet this obsession with her recent past is based not on pleasant memories of her upbringing but with a feeling she cannot shake off that something was strange about her mother, something relating perhaps to the older woman’s belonging to a cult along with Joan  (Ann Dowd). John, despite her neighborliness and support for Annie, appears to have supernatural powers to communicate with the dead. As though these were not problems enough, Annie must deal with her young daughter’s antisocial behavior and strange appearance and we in the audience catch a whiff of the thirteen-year-old’s macabre activities when she slices off the head of a pigeon that had died when crashing into a building.

The story takes a grisly turn when Peter, forced to take his kid sister to a school party, must deal with a sudden medical emergency when her sister, having eaten some chocolate cake at the party, has an episode of anaphylaxis and must be rushed to a hospital.  She doesn’t make it.  What occurs at a series of séances should not be revealed but should be experienced first-hand by the audience, but don’t expect to be riveted by unbearable tensions unless you have the same outlook on this horror film as some of the attendees at Sundance.

The principal plus is the three-dimensional performance from Toni Collette, who goes from quietly painting her miniatures to a somewhat alarmed concern for her daughter’s awkwardness to an outright breakdown at a funeral and soon, one of the most chilling monologues you’re likely to see this year.  Colin Stetson’s music does it best to ratchet up the tension but there’s little available here that’s memorable; perhaps nothing that will raise the kind of post-performance discussions so indelible in the horror greats like “The Shining,” “Carrie,” “The Exorcist” and “The Sixth Sense”—the last featuring an expertly crafted dinner between Olivia Williams and a missing Bruce Willis.

Rated R.  126 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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