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

INVISIBLE LIFE – movie review

INVISIBLE LIFE (A visa invisível)
Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Karim Aïnouz
Screenwriter: Murilo Hauser, Ines Bortagaray, Karim Ainouz based on a novel y Martha Batalha
Cast: Carol Duarte, Juilia Stockler, Gregorio Duvivier, Fernanda Montenegro, Barbara Santos, Flavis Gusmao
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/9/19
Opens: December 20, 2019

Invisible Life

Sisterhood is powerful. That’s a good slogan for our own time but had a different meaning in the 1950s. With “Invisible Life,” director Karim Aïnouz follows up on his “Praia do Futuro” about a doomed relationship to reveal the long story of two sisters who cannot get enough of each other but who are separated in Brazil’s famed city of Rio never to meet again. An American watching the picture can’t help thinking that the fifties, which despite prosperity marked a dull, conventional era in the U.S., has its reflection in the manners of a family in Brazil.

The film feature two women whose bond is obvious in the opening scenes when sisters Guida (Julia Stockler), now twenty years old and Euridice (Carol Duarte) now eighteen, making it all the more tragic that they are fated to be separated by Manuel (Antonio Fonseca)a mean-spirited father whose tyranny, supported by a patriarchal society, is unchecked by man’s passive wife Ana (Flavai Gusmao).

In one fateful night, Guida sneaks out of the house to attend a dance club with Yorgos (Nikolas Antunes), a Greek sailer. Euridice, a classical pianist, looks forward to traveling to Vienna to audition for a conservatory, an ambitious plan especially considering the need to travel by ship to a far-off city. Believing that she will marry her Greek boyfriend, Guida discovers that Yorgos (Nikoas Antunes), after making her pregnant, is off to find more sexual conquests. Guida returns home to a father who, seeing her daughter with child, disowns her and throws her out of the house. What’s more her conservative dad lies, telling her that Euridice had gone to Vienna. Little do the two young women realize that they may never cross paths again.

Guida, having no skills and no home, becomes a sex worker, mentored by an older hooker Filomena (Barbara Santos), who becomes her lifeline given the absence of her own family, while Euridice fares just a little better, having married a brute of a man via arranged marriage from her father, who sees that the young man has money and can treat her well. While Guida does marginally well, her sister, refusing the numb life of church, children and home, has a barrier put in the way of her feminist ambitions.

A Hollywood movie would doubtless have the two women find each other, surely by the close of two years or more. In one clever twist, the desire of the two sisters to meet is thwarted by a creative ploy, leading Euridice, now in her seventies or eighties, ultimately understanding why she is unable to meet up with her long lost sister. Yet director Aïnouz and her co-writers Murilo Hauser, Ines Bortagaray, adapt the novel by Martha Batalha to show the resilience of the two women, a trait that might make you think of how #Me Too people have spoken up, leading to the firing of major celebrities. A musical score that include Chopin and Liszt, and cinematography that brings out the period nature of the piece, help to make this film the obvious choice of the film people in Brazil to set up this candidate for end-year awards.

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

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

A HIDDEN LIFE – movie review

A HIDDEN LIFE
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Terrence Malick
Screenwriter: Terrence Malick
Cast: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon, Tobias Moretti, Bruno, Ganz, Matthias Schoenaerts, Karin Neuhauser, Ulrich Matthes
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/9/19
Opens: December 13, 2019

A Hidden Life Movie Poster

In the novel “Middlemarch,” George Eliot praises those of us who do good without getting our fifteen minutes of fame: “…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” Among directors who take this expression to heart and project to their audience the lives of such people, you can scarcely find one more qualified than Terrence Malick. The master of meditative movies is back with his best offering in eight years, having wowed his (admittedly) relative small audience with “The Tree of Life,” the story of a family in Waco, Texas in 1956 wherein an adolescent boy is conflicted by his mother and father’s opposing ideas of upbringing.

With “A Hidden Life,” Malick takes us back to the 1940s, focusing his lenses on a family of six on a farm in St Radegun, Austria (filmed on location), a vista of compelling beauty framed by the Alps, complete with trees that rustle in the wind and brooks that flow without impedance. In a story based on real events, Franz Jägestätter (August Diehl) lives with his wife Franziska Jägerstätter, his mother-in-law, and his three young daughters. Franziska appears to have influenced him to the wonders of religion, a loving woman who cannot embrace her husband enough, who joins in the fun of mock chases with the little girls. He will later prove that he did not remain a hidden life, for his momentous decision to refuse to swear loyalty to Hitler who had annexed Austria threatens to cost him his life. A conscientious objector who nonetheless reports to an induction center where he refuses to raise his arm in a salute to Hitler, he suffers the hostility of all members of his farming community outside of his family. He would be punched spit upon, lectured by the town mayor, and altogether ostracized by these simply Austrian fellows who ecstatically welcomes the Anschluss, or annexation of their country to Germany.

Much of the three hour presentation is bound to tax the patience of some in the audience who might not be aware of the types of movies that Malick regularly makes. In this case, though the people in the story are all German speaking, ninety percent of the dialogue is in English, and not so much the dialogue of the people but instead that of their narrated thoughts. During the first segment of the movie, some in the audience will be wondering: When will something happen? Instead we see the daily, monotonous, grinding work of the people, threshing without the aid of modern equipment, cutting the wheat with scythes and harvesting with the aid of a donkey and a cow. The writer-director gives us a splendid picture of what farming was like some eighty years ago, later to contrast that with the brutality of the Nazis given almost complete authority over their Austrian prisoners.

You can’t say that when the Germans heard of this “traitor” who refuses to fight for the fatherland, they just hoisted him up on the gallows. Several military officers did their best to get him to sign a loyalty oath and take his chances on fighting. There was even some expectation that he would be exempted as were some farmers. Even in the end, when condemned to death, Judge Lueben (Bruno Ganz), one of the elderly judges on the military court, counseled that his protest would not mean a thing; that it would not stop the war or hinder the war effort in the slightest. Franz would probably agree. Though he probably lacked much education, his ethical choice was influenced not by consequentialism (make your ethical choice by the results that would ensue), but more by deontology (do the right thing even if by consequence it did not matter).

Since the church declared him a martyr and later beatified him, and since Malick made a film about him, the German judge was obviously wrong. It’s not clear from “A Hidden Life” what was in Franz’s background that made him the only farmer to refuse to serve the Führer, but by the conclusion of the three hours, we have a solid picture of the daily, natural life of small-town farmers contrasted with the brutality of the war effort. Diehl and Pachner anchor the film in their stirring roles, the latter showing how far a wife would go to stop her man from being a martyr, while Diehl demonstrates the absolute determination to resist.

This is a film that Malick fans will find irresistible.

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

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

WILDLIFE – movie review

WILDLIFE

IFC Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Paul Dano
Screenwriter:  Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano
Cast:  Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp, Jake Gyllenhaal
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 10/11/18
Opens: October 19, 2018
Wildlife Movie Poster
Should parents who are having arguments stick out their marriage for the sake of the kids, or would the children be better off if their parents split, thereby ending the confrontations?  This question comes to mind when you’re watching “Wildlife,” which looks at parental conflict through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy.  Based on a novel that first appeared in Atlantic magazine in 1990 by Richard Ford and set in the town of Great Falls, Montana, “Wildlife” finds Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould) staring with owlish eyes at events surrounding him that he cannot much alter.  He is caught between what actually appears to be flirtations from his own mother, Jeanette Brinson (Carey Mulligan), a woman who is only twenty years older than her son, and the affection he harbors for his dad, Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal), who practices tossing the football around and encourages his son to play the game in high school.

Director Paul Dano, known to cinephiles for diverse acting roles such as in “Little Mary Sunshine” (family wants their young daughter to compete in the beauty finals) and in “Swiss Army Man” (guy stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body), now comes through with his freshman directorial debut, and it’s looks like a movie from a director who has had considerable experience in the field.

As young Joe stares at the unfolding scene in school, on a job as a photographer’s assistant, and most of all at home, he keeps his emotions to himself until cutting loose toward the tale’s conclusion.  But this is Carey Mulligan’s picture.  The wonderful British actress, playing the role of a person of her own early-thirties age, runs the gamut of emotions.  At first she supports her husband, Jerry, who has just been fired from a job as an assistant to pros on a golf course, urging him to find another lest she would have to enter the employment market herself.  When Jerry refuses to return to that job (the boss said firing him was a mistake) and not open to a gig bagging groceries (“I won’t do a teenager’s job”), Jeanette begins to lose patience.  When Jerry compounds the problem by hiring himself out to fight forest fires as a dollar a day, not great pay even in 1960, she looks for opportunities, finding one as a swimming teacher.

At the pool, she teaches Warren Miller (Bill Camp), a wealthy businessman with his own plane, who begins to court her.  Despite his unattractive demeanor—he’s portly, balding, a drinker and cigar smoker—she responds to his invitations, all to the growing dismay of the boy.  Still, Miller has a glib way of expressing himself, introducing the kid to a scene which found him 4000 feet up, watching a gaggle of honking geese, so entranced that he turned off the motor thinking that this is what it must mean to be an angel.

What’s in the Brinson family for the future?  Will Jeanette and Jerry break up, leaving the 14-year-old to an uncertain fate?  In this case we really do care about these people.  We hope that she does not team up with the divorced Warren Miller despite the financial boon for mother and son, confirming “Wildlife” as a feminist film that may have us rooting for her to find her own steady job rather than depend on her need to find a man.  It looks as though all’s well that may end well, a coming-of-age tale just as it is a feminist film, well designed for a potential audience of moviegoers who do not need much melodrama and have contempt for formulaic soap operas.

Rated PG-13.  104 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

ALLEN v. FARROW – movie review

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

Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEX, DRUGS & BICYCLES – movie review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS – movie review

I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Writer: Charlie Kaufman, Iain Reid, based on Iain Reid’s book of the same title.
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Guy Boyd, Hadley Robinson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/9/20
Opens: September 4, 2020

A surreal film associated with Charlie Kaufman’s wild imagination comes from a director whose “Anomalisa” hones in on a man who cannot continue tolerating his mundane life, whose “Synecdoche New York” find a man’s creating a life-size warehouse of New York City, and whose script for “Being John Malkovich” lauds a puppeteer who finds a portal leading into the head of the title actor. All are works of a fervent imagination, but perhaps no other film of his has issued such a large amount of moviegoer puzzlement than “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.”

With that as the case, here is a disclaimer. This is my interpretation, one that may be attacked by critics and normal people as too easy; that Kaufman must be traveling a larger road.

Here is a way to think about the picture. Many say that folks on their deathbeds asked for their regrets will never say “I wish I had more time to spend in the office.” Real regrets are far more serious, as illustrated by this film. Here, an elderly janitor (Guy Boyd), a man who is surprisingly well read for someone in his low-skilled trade, may be facing his mortality. He puts down the mop, casts aside the pail, and, being the only character in the hallway of a large high school, he has the time to reflect.

Some of his regrets may be strictly a segment of his imagination. I believe that, allowing for some embellishment, his thoughts run to actual events in his life, something like those of Guido Anselme in Federico’s 1963 classic “8 ½” who retreats into his memories and fantasies. In his younger days he probably dated a number of women, all of whom congeal into the shape of Lucy (Jessie Buckley), or Lucia, or Young Woman. To prove that she is a composite, she is introduced as a painter, a poet, a physicist. The janitor, now in the guise of young Jake (Jesse Plemons), is driving his girlfriend Lucy to the farmhouse of his parents, Mother (Toni Collette) and Father (David Thewlis). It’s a long drive, it’s snowing heavily, the wind is biting. It’s the kind of night that may be part of Jake’s imagination, because what woman is willing to take her chances in such inclement weather when the trip could have been set for another day? What’s more, this may be the last time Lucy sees Jake, her boyfriend for only a few weeks, though he is a man who is mostly self-educated as shown by the books and movies in his childhood room. He is able to discuss Wordsworth and analyze any 19th century poem.

She is smart and well educated, able to respond to him. You might think, then, that they would wind up marrying but though Lucy sees Jake properly as an intelligent person, a nice guy, he is stiff, a bore, a man who probably could not see himself laughing out loud at a joke or telling one himself. Furthermore Jake’s folks are a bizarre couple. Mother laughs too loud and too long. Lucy reports that “Jake told me a lot about you.” She replies, “And you’re willing to come anyway Ha ha ha ha!” Father takes a lesser role in the conversations but like Mother, he disappears into old age and back again, while Mother in one scene is on her bed, wrinkled, taking her last breaths or already dead.

Since much of the movie is a road trip filled with both high-level and vapid conversation, we get to meet three women tending an ice cream bar, two bimbos and one who advises Lucy to “go forward.” In a scene near the conclusion, Jake is thanking everyone in a theater audience for being part of his life, including Lucy, above all, who now appears decades older, and even the bimbos from the ice cream shop are in attendance.

Some moviegoers might say, if this is a dream, I can tell you a weird one I had myself last night. But though fantasies hover around the truths, these are actual people in his life, important ones, also those he conversed with for only minutes. However, what makes “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” on a quality level of classics like “8 1/2” aside from the script, the prescient editing, the spot-on direction, is the performance of Jessie Buckley, who dazzles throughout. She has wowed the movie audience playing Queen Victoria with authenticity in Stephen Gaghan’s “Doolittle,” a troubled woman controlled by her family while at the same time fascinated by a man who could be a killer in Michael Pearce’s “Beast,” and a major role in Rupert Goold’s “Judy.” Her dynamic range includes song, as shown in Tom Harper’s “Wild Rose,” as a Glaswegian dreaming of becoming a country music star in Nashville.

With such talent all around, it’s no wonder that “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is my choice, so far, as best movie of the year, with Buckley as best actress.

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

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

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+

SOROS – movie review

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

Soros Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FIRE WILL COME – movie review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIRE WILL COME – movie review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON THE ROCKS – movie review

ON THE ROCKS
A24
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, Jenny Slate, Barbara Bain
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/15/20
Opens: October 23, 2020

On the Rocks (2020) - IMDb

Human beings are a sociable lot, unable to cope with loneliness for long stretches. But there are distinct ways that we socialize. Introverts have something going for them. They listen, and oh do we like people who listen. They are better in one-to-one relationships and, according to the cliché, they might rather read a book than stay too long at a boisterous party. Extraverts are more superficial. They’re back-slappers. They celebrate life boldly; they’re the life of the party. And while most of us lie on a spectrum making us neither extreme introverts nor dyed-in-the-wool extraverts, extraverts have more fun.

You don’t believe me? Take a look at the character Felix, played by Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks.” He can talk his way out of a speeding ticket, jumping out of his antique Italian sports car and, wouldn’t you know—he is familiar with the officer’s dad? “How is he doing?” and the like. He even introduces his daughter Laura (Rashida Jones), his passenger, to each of the men in blue, and has the two cops not only forget that they should ticket speeders, but actually help push until his stalled engine runs again.

Laura, whose eyes roll a some of the things her dad does, but deep down she may be like the rest of us, I’m guessing the majority of sons of daughters who would like their dads to be more like Felix than like their own loving, lovable, but staid givers of life. He can go with Laura to Manzanillo and be the aforementioned life of the party by singing to an appreciative audience accompanied by a local on a guitar. But he can be bookish as well, enlightening Laura about the only breed of monkey in which the females dominate. And how way back when, men, crawling on all fours, would be attracted to women by their butts, and how the breast symbolizes the paleolithic rear today, which explains the hold on men.

The plot is screwball, but not the far-out slapstick that would often find Marlon Wayans in his métiér. Here Wayans performs in the role of Dean, who may not yet be a rich as his father-in-law but he’s getting there, affording a loft in Tribeca. By the way the whole picture puts New York City in there as a character and makes you wonder why anybody would want to leave, Covid or otherwise. Laura thinks he’s cheating on her, tells her dad, and presto. The late middle-aged playboy is on it, following Dean around the city, even persuading Laura to join him on a flight to Manzanillo, Mexico where her husband is having a meeting that includes some women colleagues.

Here is not the place to reveal the answer to the big question: is he or isn’t he? The answer is not the important thing. Coppola, who made good use of Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation” (a fading movie star bonds with a woman in Tokyo) and was at the helm in “The Virgin Suicides” (men become obsessed with five sisters who are ruled strictly by their religious parents), provides continuous amusement with the help of two girls playing Felix’s granddaughters. And Marlon Wayans convinces in a serious role of a successful businessman. For all the riches he represents, Bill Murray remains happily in his signature attitude: one of the great examples of actors entertaining with dry humor.

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

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

 

MARTIN EDEN – movie review

MARTIN EDEN
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Pietro Marcello
Writer: Maurizio Braucci, Pietro Marcello, novel by Jack London
Cast: Luca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Denise Sardisco, Vincenzo Nemolato
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/2/20
Opens: October 16, 2020

Martin Eden Movie Poster

In the forceful prose that is the backbone of his writing, Jack London says this in his novel “Martin Eden.”

Who are you, Martin Eden?. He gazed at himself long and curiously.
Who are you? What are you? Where do you belong?
You belong with the legions of toil, with all that is low, and
vulgar, and unbeautiful. You belong with the oxen and the drudges,
in dirty surroundings among smells and stenches.
And yet you dare to open the books, to listen to beautiful music, to
learn to love beautiful paintings, to speak good English, to think
thoughts that none of your own kind thinks, to tear yourself away from the oxen

You need not have a whole lot of insight to note that these are the insights of a man who hates being lower class, who dislikes having to work for bosses who treat the workers like crap, to shoveling manure, toting that barge and lifting that bale. Eden is the name chosen by the author perhaps to sound ironic or maybe to illuminate the higher class to which he aspires. “Martin Eden” is considered a bildungsroman, a novel based closely on the author’s life and feelings and aspirations. The film, like the book, traces Eden’s yearnings for a life of the intellect, a life that would give him ease, and most of all a life to make him a worthy lover of a rich, beautiful woman.

As played with passion by Luca Marinelli and directed by Pietro Marcello, whose “Lost and Beautiful” deals with a man’s promise to a shepherd to save a young buffalo, Eden is a sailor who travels the world and who is told by friends and associates to stay with this kind of existence. It suits him. They warn him not to strive to be something that he is not. This passionate man, who has only a primary education, falls hopelessly in love with Elena (Jessica Cressy) after having met her and her impossibly rich family after saving the family’s young Arturo Orsini (Giustiniano Alpi) from the fists of a brutal security guard.

Given Eden’s sensibilities contrasted with the ethereal personality of Elena (who plays piano, loves paintings, and enjoys the trapping of a life not distracted by the need to work), Eden absorbs the advice given to him by the young woman to first get an education. The lack of formal schooling, however, does not prevent Eden from writing, and given his world-wide experiences at sea, he has experiences to project. But his stories are rejected time after time (think of John Grisham whose manuscripts were rejected some thirty times), so Eden hopes to gain the requisite literary touch as a feverish reader.

He may have gotten nowhere with his writing or his courtship had it not been for a kind widow Maria (Carmen Pommella) who had “known love” and gives him room and board; and Russ Brissenden (Carlo Cecchi), a writer and editor, who sees potential in his prodigy. Still Eden remembers his roots, shown convincingly enough when he picks up a waitress (Denise Sardisco), comparing her favorably with his upper-class love. His desire for Elena, however, is waning.

Eden has a run with politics brought on by the demands of working class people who are fighting for socialism. You might think that Eden would agree, but instead, having read the libertarian writings of Herbert Spencer, he rises to the podium and, to the disgust of the crowd, announces that subordinating the individual to the community is wrong, and that evolution teaches that we will always have masters.

“Martin Eden” is of epic scope, the kind of film that could easily have gone on for three hours, digging ever so much more deeply into the principal character’s metamorphosis. As the picture stands, filmed with evocations of the color of Neapolitan streets by Alessando Abate and Francesco Di Giacomo in Balzana Santa Maria La Fossa and Naples, “Martin Eden” is an enterprise that would likely garner the respect of Jack London.

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

Story – B+
Acting – A-
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-

 

MR. JONES – movie review

MR. JONES
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Screenwriter: Andrea Chalupa
Cast: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Kenneth Cranham, Krzysztof Pieczynski, Celyn Jones, Patricia Volny
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/7/20
Opens: June 19, 2020

Mr. Jones (2019)

“Mr. Jones” should be required viewing in every school of journalism from Columbia University down to the smallest community college in Nebraska. The true events on which “Mr. Jones” is based focus in part on the newspaper industry which was far more important in its time when everybody read the papers daily, a practice now largely abandoned by people absorbed more in their I-Phones than on reading about something greater than themselves. An intelligent viewer of this picture could not be faulted for noting the current relevance on display, when fake stores from Russia corrupt social media and when every paper whose editorial board leans left and Democratic is considered by the White House to be “failing.”

Warsaw-born Agnieszka Holland, whose “Europa Europa” unfolds a story of a Jewish boy hiding his religion by joining Hitler Youth, is a director who obviously thinks well beyond the rom-com and hyped-up melodrama, is well suited for the task, promoting the central motif that journalists must tell the truth as they see it. There is only one truth, and journalists who for material gain or sensationalist hype do anything to cover up the truth, they are guilty of hypocrisy and an outright betrayal of their (once) revered profession.

Mr. Jones (James Norton) pursues a fascinating story so perilous, so important to tell, that he appears willingly to risk his comfort and even his life. The tale tells of the Soviet Union’s starvation of at least five million peasants in Soviet dominated Ukraine, their farms collectivized and much of their produce shipped out of the country to Moscow. That view is considered controversial, even untrue, particularly by Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), a reporter for the NY Times who made his mark after being accorded a private interview with Stalin. From that time he became the mouthpiece of the communist nation, and awarded a Pulitzer for his reporting of what became known as fake news. If Duranty’s sucking up to Russia no matter his personal feelings makes you think of what’s happening on Capitol Hill, you know enough about politics to join the audience of Saturday Night Live.

When Gareth Jones first appears in this shattering narrative film, he’s a kid, yet Britain’s Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham) employs him as an adviser—a gig that ends when he is laughed out of a Cabinet meeting for suggesting that the UK would soon go to war against the Soviet Union. Out of the mouth of babes. He is given a reference by the prime minister upon which Jones commits forgery by erasing the sentence about his “former” service to the prime minister, changing that to “valued” service. He receives a journalist’s visa to the Soviet Union where he is expected to write about a Potemkin Village setup, refused admittance to the Ukraine where he smuggles himself in and sees first-hand the starvation and despair of farmers either driven from the land or forced to work in collectives.

Traveling by train as though a first-class tourist, he moves into the third-class compartment finding people without a crust of bread. Walking through the frozen depths of Ukraine farmland after trading a bit of food for a passenger’s overcoat, he finds vast reaches peopled by peasants without hope. (Not mentioned in the movie is that fact that the rich peasants were sent to the gulag or killed, while the masses who work the land have little motivation to produce anything save for their own private needs.)

One comes away from the picture assuming that Ms. Holland’s politics are as Orwellian as George Orwell himself, the latter played by Joseph Mawle. Mawle opens the movie by advising that he will discuss the failures of communism simply, in a book peopled by farm animals substituting for the various personages in a communist state.

Given the poignant scenes of starvation and frozen land with a particularly vivid coverage of a heroin-soaked party attended by a naked, drunk Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, “Mr. Jones” can he heartily recommended not only to the aforementioned journalism students but also to students on the secondary school level who have probably read “Animal Farm” and would be further enlightened by observing Soviet criminality on the screen.

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

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

NOMADLAND – movie review

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

Nomadland Movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK – movie review

A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK
MPI and Signature Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Liev Schreiber, Suzanne Smith, Olivia Boreham-Wing, Ben Warheit, Griffin Newman, Selena Gomez, Diego Luna
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/23/20
Opens: October 9, 2020 in the U.S.

A Rainy Day in New York Movie Poster

My fellow Americans, we’re in luck. There was a delay in opening “A Rainy Day in New York” until after Poland had seen this movie. This has something to do with objections that Amazon Studios had to its director, Woody Allen, who has never been found guilty of anything besides being our country’s top maker of sophisticated comedies and playing a mean Klezmer clarinet. Filmed in Woody’s favorite city, this latest entry features Timothée Chalamet as Gatsby, a rich college student who finds himself more creative amidst the carbo monoxide of New York’s than listening to the sound of Arizona crickets. Chalamet who introduced himself to the movie audience with “Men, Women and Children,” about life among high school students and parents changed by the internet, but he made it big in the starring role of a seventeen-year-old student in “Call Me By Your Name.”

Here Chalamet’s character Gatsby, son of a fabulously rich mother (Cherry Jones) who, near the conclusion explains to her son the unusual way she fell into money, has been dating the effervescent co-ed Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) at one Yardsley College. The young woman’s life changes when she makes her third trip to Manhattan.

Nothing much happens other than a roundelay that threatens their relationship, specifically Gatsby’s meeting with the witty Chan (Selena Gomez) who is taking part in a film and Ashleigh’s meeting with Roland Pollard, a director—who is probably not a stand-in for Woody Allen given Pollard’s drunkenness and rage when a movie cut is not going according to his liking.

All is filmed on location in some spots that no tourist leaves without seeing and other areas that are home to died-in-the-wool New Yorkers—including Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Carlyle Hotel, a director’s screening room. The picture belongs to both Chalamet and Fanning, though the twenty-five-year-old man may or may not be serving as a stand-in for Mr. Allen’s signature characters. He is confused, eccentric, at war with his rich mother who doesn’t “see” him and instead tries to mold him into the shape of her society. But he is not a nebbish, preferring to spend some time winning fortunes at the blackjack table, fitting in quite nicely with the older players who think mistakenly that they can take him for a ride.

The two anticipate a romantic getaway from college, spending a weekend during a moderately strong storm, but as they say, man plans and God laughs. She goes to interview Roland Pollard for her college paper; he has his own liaisons while she is busy. She is hit on by Francisco Vega (Diego Luna), who is followed madly by paparazzi, obviously sexier than her steady boyfriend. While he is trying to avoid a party thrown by his family in a palatial East Side home, he runs into Chan, the sister of a former girlfriend.

He has more in common with Chan, who is quick with the one-liners. When she hears that Gatsby’s girl is from Arizona, she wonders: “What do you talk about, cactus?” And, “I would invite you to lunch, but I’m all out of beef jerky.” In other words this is not the kind of movie that people in the red states might adore, given that many of them seem to think that “Make America Great Again” is Shakespeare.

The movie as a whole lacks the classic look and sophisticated charm of “Manhattan,” “Annie Hall,” and “Match Point,” and the delightful fantasy of “Midnight in Paris,” which makes one think that now at the age of 84 he may have to settle for “just pleasant.” I may be wrong: we’ll be sure to check out his upcoming “Rifkin’s Festival” (a married American couple go to the San Sebastian Festival, and who can resist any film with Christoph Waltz and Wallace Shawn?

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

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

 

THE SWERVE – movie review

THE SWERVE
Epic Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dean Kapsalis
Writer: Dean Kapsalis
Cast: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell, Zach Rand, Taen Phillips, Liam Seib
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/3/20
Opens: September 22, 2020

The Swerve Movie Poster

Though the movie is called “The Swerve,” a word which means “to change direction abruptly,” we can see where the plot is headed early on. This is a slow-burn film, all the better to watch an impressive performance from Azura Skye in the principal role of Holly. There is something wrong with this middle-aged woman, aside from the anorectic look and face that appears to be reliving past memories that were not too favorable. Her medicine cabinet proves that she’s not well, the shelves loaded with medications, though we don’t know whether her depression is generic or, more likely, the result of living in the suburbs.

Dean Kapsalis’s freshman full-length entry, a meditation on mental illness, proves once again—as though we do not know from the suicides of rich and famous people like Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams—that a nice house, two apple-pie clean kids, and a husband, do not guarantee a grounded life. Correction: one of her kids, an overfed brat who, when asked by her mom to help with something, simply says “no” and walks away. The other lad interrupts her four times when she’s on the phone, asking for his shirt. The husband, Rob (Bryce Pinkham), is fooling around with Holly’s drunken, obnoxious sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) and grabs a little in the storage room of the supermarket where he has just made regional manager.

But wait! She has the loving attention of Paul (Zach Rand), a student in her high-school English class who works after school in that supermarket, and what can be better than for a woman in her late thirties than being followed by a hunky teen with a huge head of hair and the ability to grant her better performances than her husband? And what an opportunity to get revenge on her Rob!

She has nightmares, the coolest one showing her on a dark road followed by a truck with blinding lights and a Yahoo in the shotgun seat who leans out the window to shout insults. Because of her insomnia—which unfortunately does not last all night, resulting in torments of this sort—her doc ups her meds, bad advice, since that’s enough to destroy what little grip she still has on reality.

Non-credited actors in “The Swerve” are a mouse and an apple pie, both playing a role in the Shakespearean outcome of the story. Listen: I’ve got two bits of advice. Watch this movie principally for the stellar acting of Azura Skye, who last appeared in”Alien Code,” which involves otherworldly beings who probably seem like the otherworldly-looking Holly. And don’t even think of moving to the ‘burbs.

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

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

 

THE SWERVE – movie review

THE SWERVE
Epic Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dean Kapsalis
Writer: Dean Kapsalis
Cast: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell, Zach Rand, Taen Phillips, Liam Seib
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/3/20
Opens: September 22, 2020

Poster

Though the movie is called “The Swerve,” a word which means “to change direction abruptly,” we can see where the plot is headed early on. This is a slow-burn film, all the better to watch an impressive performance from Azura Skye in the principal role of Holly. There is something wrong with this middle-aged woman, aside from the anorectic look and face that appears to be reliving past memories that were not too favorable. Her medicine cabinet proves that she’s not well, the shelves loaded with medications, though we don’t know whether her depression is generic or, more likely, the result of living in the suburbs.

Dean Kapsalis’s freshman full-length entry, a meditation on mental illness, proves once again—as though we do not know from the suicides of rich and famous people like Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams—that a nice house, two apple-pie clean kids, and a husband, do not guarantee a grounded life. Correction: one of her kids, an overfed brat who, when asked by her mom to help with something, simply says “no” and walks away. The other lad interrupts her four times when she’s on the phone, asking for his shirt. The husband, Rob (Bryce Pinkham), is fooling around with Holly’s drunken, obnoxious sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) and grabs a little in the storage room of the supermarket where he has just made regional manager.

But wait! She has the loving attention of Paul (Zach Rand), a student in her high-school English class who works after school in that supermarket, and what can be better than for a woman in her late thirties than being followed by a hunky teen with a huge head of hair and the ability to grant her better performances than her husband? And what an opportunity to get revenge on her Rob!

She has nightmares, the coolest one showing her on a dark road followed by a truck with blinding lights and a Yahoo in the shotgun seat who leans out the window to shout insults. Because of her insomnia—which unfortunately does not last all night, resulting in torments of this sort—her doc ups her meds, bad advice, since that’s enough to destroy what little grip she still has on reality.

Non-credited actors in “The Swerve” are a mouse and an apple pie, both playing a role in the Shakespearean outcome of the story. Listen: I’ve got two bits of advice. Watch this movie principally for the stellar acting of Azura Skye, who last appeared in”Alien Code,” which involves otherworldly beings who probably seem like the otherworldly-looking Holly. And don’t even think of moving to the ‘burbs.

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

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

 

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+

STARS AND STRIFE – movie review

STARS AND STRIFE
Starz
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: David Smick
Screenwriter: David Smick
Cast: Alan Greenspan, Alice Rivlin, Amy Chua, Arthur Brooks, Chrissy Houlahan, David Ignatius, Derek Black, others
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/17/20
Opens: September 21, 2020

Stars and Strife Poster

Are we Americans destined to have the Stars and Strife forever, or are we simply at a crossroads today when so many formerly in the majority middle are increasingly separating into hostile forces reminiscent of Civil War times? David Smick’s documentary feature puts together a rousing bunch of leaders in both politics and economics to debate the current state of the U.S. while at the same time setting forth their views on our political divisions. Some spokespersons—and there are quite a few—believe the problems of democracy center on class differences while others believe that differences of race and religion are big factors. All believe that we can get together as we thought we were during the post-war period of prosperity in the 1950s and a largely global belief that America was where it’s at—though this would obviously dismiss the segregation that persisted well after the Civil War right into the present.

Stars and Strife Doc Trailer

Perhaps the best quote summing up the picture is the view that the opposite of hate is not love; it’s empathy. You’re not going to sing Kumbaya with people who do not see the world as you do, but listen listen listen. Implicit is the thought that what turned people in the rust belt, the rural areas, the blue-collar workers against the so-called elites in the coastal areas is that they have been looked upon by large segments of our people and politicians as hicks, racists, backward people living in flyover country. Democrats have lost many of these folks who believe that the party has been concentrating too much on ideas like gay rights, gay marriage, civil rights, all associated with identity politics, when they should have followed the wisdom of Franklin D. Roosevelt who, though a member of the aristocracy, won successive terms by showing regular people that he was on their side. (The FDR bit is not in the film, but a thought that came to me while watching a host of ideas sent out with the speed usually associated with blockbuster films.)

The most entertaining aspect of the picture is the use of animation and especially silent films starring Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd when the subject matter of each illuminated the issues in discussion. A lot of excellent editing by six film professionals kept the film moving ahead enjoyably. While twenty-four spokespersons introduced their pet ideas, President Trump is neither mentioned nor seen throughout, which is strange, since his actions are largely what informs the commentary.

Speakers who impressed me most include Hawk Newsome, President of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, who in one stirring evocation of his civil rights plank actually led to his being hugged by two members who appeared to be of white supremacists’ ideology. To further that end, Derek Black, the Godson of Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, appears in various sections explaining his abandonment of white supremacy ideas, as though he had an epiphany in college. Some fellow students googled his name, deciding to have nothing to do with him when he was found out.

What causes hatred? One speaker noted that the resentment of Germans after World War I led to the most vicious authoritarianism and that similarly, there is resentment by the aforementioned blue-collar, working class people, who lost their promised careers when factories closed and work was sent overseas. Resentment leads to humiliation, which gives birth to anger and finally hate.

One way to curb extremism in politics involves putting aside the two-party system, which encourages extremism of both the left and the right to get votes, and to allow independents the chance to win local and national elections. Voters check off their preferences in order: 1,2,3,4. Say you have four candidates. If the first candidate does not get 50.1% of the vote, a clear majority, the person coming in fourth is eliminated and the remaining three may get a clear majority when second and third choices are utilized in the voting. (This is a fairly complex procedure that my group, New York Film Critics Online  uses, as in each category, we write up to three choices.)

Here’s a point not directly mentioned in the film but which I come away with. The speakers, like so many of us in the fifty states, would like to come together, some willing to compromise as was the case when Democrats and Republicans were still speaking to one another. But take abortion. Would the so-called pro-life people be willing to compromise and allow abortion on demand during the first trimester? And would the so-called pro-choice folks be willing to give up the possibility of banning second- and third-trimester procedures? And immigration. Would the forces on the right wing of the spectrum be willing to accept a substantial number of immigrants from, say, Central America? And would they be willing to give up all possibilities of buying AK-47 rifles and other assault weapons while the left ponders whether to allow guns in most civilian hands at all?

Because “Stars and Strife” is fast moving, the spokespeople not acting like the usual ponderous talking heads of so many docs, the film can surely be recommended to a general audience. While those of us who are “woke” are familiar with just about everything mentioned during the 97 minutes, many Americans follow politics the way I follow basketball, which is not at all. This is obviously a film more interested in compromise than the excellent “#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump,” it may lack some of the rah-rah feelings that anti-Trump residents would come away with. But it’s fine as both a primer for those alienated from the fighting and an entertaining, informal piece for all.

The film is directed by David Smick, whose recent book The Great Equalizer: How Main Street Capitalism Can Create an Economy for Everyone warns of the dangers of the present subpar global economic growth rates.

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

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

 

BUOYANCY – movie review

BUOYANCY
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rodd Rathjien
Writer: Rodd Rathjien
Cast: Sarm Heng, Thanawut Kasro, Mony Ros, Saichia Wongwirot, Yothin Udomsanti, Chan Visal
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/2/20
Opens: September 11, 2020

Buoyancy (2019) - IMDb

Watching this movie, I couldn’t help thinking of the line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” “There are lots of good fish in the sea, tra la, there are lots of good fish in the sea.” We are warned that there’s a limit to the number of fish in the world’s oceans just as there’s a limit to the amount of oil in the ground, but you wouldn’t know it from the catches of a small fishing boat under the rule of the Thai captain, the unhappy catch shoveled into a pit for future sale by a group of enslaved Cambodians. Forget Gilbert and Sullivan because there is no comedy in “Buoyancy,” Australia’s entry for an Academy Award for pictures opening in 2019. If you have to compare, think of Nat Turner’s rebellion in the Virginia of 1831 or of Steven Spielberg’s film “Amistad,” its most heartbreaking scene finding a group of enslaved Africans chained together and thrown overboard by the captain.

Filmed by Michael Latham in Cambodia with Khmer and Thai dialogue, “Buoyancy” is directed by its screenwriter Rodd Rathjien, in his freshman full-length offering. This is an intense, slow-burn drama based not only on a singular event in the life of a 14-year-old boy but standing in as well for human slave trafficking in Asia involving some 200,000 victims.

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too bright, to think for yourself, to take risks like the hero of “Buoyancy.” Think of Chakra (Sarm Heng), whose father uses him to carry heavy sacks for use in farming rice in paddies without pay, though his dad simply has too many kids to set up a wage-earning business. Like the human caravans we in the U.S. are familiar with, the thousands of migrants from Central America who cross into the U.S. with the hope of making something of their lives, Chakra seeks to make his fortune by being smuggled into Thailand, where he is told he can make some 8,000 bahts ($255 U.S.) a month in a factory. Instead, after crossing into Thailand, Chakra and his traveling friend are sold to Rom Ran (Thanawut Kasro), the captain of a fishing boat, where they are treated like unwanted animals. Those who grumble learn quickly enough to keep quiet. Instead of complaining verbally, formerly innocent Chakra asks Rom Ran when their debt will be paid. After that he projects his dismay, his rage through his facial expressions. He does not smile once though Thanawut Kasro as the skipper loves to smirk when he announces such finality that Chakra will be on the boat “forever.”

Chakra learns soon enough that he will get nowhere following Martin Luther King Jr.’s counsel to meet hatred with love, and forget about the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi. Violence will be the only way out, leading to the audience-expected treat that finds Chakra executing a coup d’état to take over the captaincy.

Sarm Heng doesn’t say much but his expressions serve as sign language for us in the theater. Yet the real guy to watch is Kasro in the skipper’s role. He toys verbally and physically with Chakra, and in at least one scene you might expect him to make Chakra a sex slave as well. No wonder they say that all actors aspire to the role of villain! What’s more Kasro, unlike Sarm Heng, is a professional actor with an impressive résumé, including a role in “Samurai Ayothaya” ten years ago, based on a historic figure during the Ayothaya Era about a Japanese adventurer who gained influence in Thailand.

I’d be seasick on this small boat every waking hour, which would be enough punishment for me. Yet I would have to count my blessings that I am not one of the tens of thousands of poor, innocent young people caught up in the vile human trafficking industry in the South China sea.

The film won various well-deserved awards including Best First Feature at the Berlin International Film Festival. In Khmer and Thai with English subtitles.

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

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

 

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-

 

SONG WITHOUT A NAME – movie review

SONG WITHOUT A NAME 
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Melina León
Screenwriter: Melina León, Michael J. White
Cast: Pamela Mendoza, Tommy Párraga, Lucio Rojas
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/29/20
Opens: August 7, 2020

Theatrical: Song Without a Name (Canción sin nombre) :: Film Movement

From the looks of the Peruvian scenes in “Song without a Name,” you can bet that if President Trump saw this movie (if indeed he saw anything more recent than “Gone with the Wind”), he would compare the place with an adjective that he would never give to Norway. Melina León, who directs and co-wrote the tale in her freshman entry into full arthouse fare, focuses most of her attention on three people. One is the desperately poor Georgina (Pamela Mendosa), her partner Leo (Lucio Rojas), and an enterprising journalist from Lima, Pedro Campos (Tommy Párraga). They are living in a time that Peru is under constant terrorist attacks during the 1980s from Shining Path or Sendero Luminoso.

The plot kicks in when Georgina, who lives in a remote wooden shack a long bus ride and walk outside of the capital, is shown in her ninth month of pregnancy, perhaps wondering how she will ever raise enough money to find an obstetrician let alone to support her first baby. She is vulnerable enough to be taken in by a radio ad announcing that a clinic is Lima would give her free medical assistance if she chose to give birth there, and without the wherewithal to check out the place—which doesn’t resemble anything I’ve seen in Planned Parenthood clinics—she reports to the place thinking that she lucked out. Women speak gently to her, they help her up from the patient table, and tell her that her child is a girl. The mood changes ominously when she asks to see her daughter but is told to come back tomorrow, which sends Georgina into a screaming fit. She pounds on the doors of the “clinic” the next day only to find out that the place is closed, the staff having moved out swiftly.

The plot is adapted from actual happenings when Peru was scandalized by the thefts of babies to be sold abroad. It’s not clear whether the Shining Path guerrillas were involved in the theft or whether high officials in the government were part of the scheme. With inflation hitting 400%, Peru in 1988 when the film takes place was not unlike Venezuela and not the kind of country that care much about indigenous women like Georgina who follow a bureaucratic maze trying to get government officials even to listen to her.

If this were a Hollywood movie, the differences would be monumental. Assault rifles would make entrances every ten minutes, the photography would be in brilliant color particularly when covering village festivals (remember the opening scene in “Spectre” exhibiting the colorful “Día de los muertos” parade?), and the editing would be racing. Crime would not pay. Instead director León pays great respect to the freshman script co-written by Michael J. White, prioritizing atmosphere over action and dialogue. With a boxy aspect ratio of 4:3 and black-and-white photography, “Song” is replete with long takes with a variety of close-ups, especially during the meetings of the brave reporter with a gay, Havana-born boyfriend, though there is little psychological depth given to any of the characters.

The movie might be compared to “Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón’s awards-winning look at the life of a maid in a rich Mexican household, but aside from the black-and-white photography and the theme of social inequities, “Song without a Name” has no great use for that picture’s flash and images of the upper-middle-class family.

Press notes mention that this film is based partly on the exposé in 1981 of a trafficking ring that smuggled babies for sale to Europeans and Americans, and in fact one senator consulted by the journalist hints that the government was involved. “What can that woman offer to her baby?” yields the politician, the obvious intent being that the newborns will be far better-off in the developed world. The title song is recited by a newly relaxed Georgina when she ultimately realizes that she will never again see her baby. And it’s not only right-wingers in America who would agree with the senator, wondering what in heaven’s name a twenty-year-old woman living in a wooden shack out in nowhere trying to eke out a living selling potatoes and onions in Lima is doing giving birth.

The bold white subtitles translate the story’s Spanish and Quechua into English. Hardly a brash, political doc on the level of “The American President” and “All the President’s Men,” this film is more a poetic tone poem, a Liszt “Les Préludes” compared to Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” and should be enjoyed by an intelligent, patient audience.

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

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

YES, GOD, YES – movie review

YES, GOD, YES
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Karen Maine
Screenwriter: Karen Maine
Cast: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/16/20
Opens: July 27, 2020

giclee Poster - Yes God Yes (Natalia Dyer) 2020 Movie 12"x18"

Horace, one of the wise men of ancient Rome, once said, aturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. Latin may be a dead language but it’s alive enough to know the proverb’s truth, which is: “You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but it will always come back.” In other words, no matter what we say, no matter what homilies we think we live by, we are all hypocrites if we think we can really fight against our natural inclinations, both emotional and sexual. Here’s an example. Some time back some teen-age girls in high school took oaths of virginity administered by the Catholic church and some Baptist denominations—to refrain for intercourse until marriage. According to the poll, by graduation day, 75% of the girls had lost their virginity. Which brings us to this comedy taking place in a Catholic high school somewhere in a rural district composed of handsome homes and youngsters from the middle class.

“Yes, God, Yes” sounds like a stereotyped version of what women scream in the midst of an organism, or it could refer to kids who say “yes” to Jesus but are not likely to abide the strict rules of the church. You’d have to ask Karen Maine, the film’s writer and director in her freshman contribution to the world of narrative comedies. She situates the scene amid high schoolers who are well behaved and who seem not to tell jokes about how nuns rapped their knuckles in grade school or by the funny conversations among a priest, a rabbi and a minister who meet in a bar. There are no gross-out scene that might be typical of the Farrelly brothers in “There’s Something About Mary,” but even better, the comedy comes from situations that might very well take place in a parochial institution.

While the school’s priest, Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) and pregnant teacher Mrs. Veda (Donna Lynne Chaplin) lead a four-day retreat that includes senior class would-be devotees as student leaders, Alice (Natalia Dyer), a bright but confused 16-year-old, recalls the priest’s lecture back in class to the effect that Jesus does not want unmarried women to have sex. He explains that men are like microwave ovens and women are like conventional ovens; the former get turned on in a second, the latter take some more time to be in the mood. We watch nature overcome Catholic rules over the course of the brief, 78-minute story, as even Father Murphy must succumb to the wisdom of Horace’s proverb and so does 17-year-old Nina (Alisha Boe).

Perhaps the boldest epiphany driving the movie occurs during a scene in a lesbian bar a short walk from the retreat when Gina (Susan Blackwell), the owner, asks Alice what goes on in the retreat, and dishes out wise counsel to the young woman who until then thinks she has no choice other than to go to college a half-hour from home. Look into colleges in the east coast and west coast to get your education, she advises—which makes you wonder what she’s doing in a one-horse town. Eat sushi. That half-hour meeting will likely be more convincing to Alice than anything she learns from the school or her home.

If the movie is anti-Catholic, it generally pulls its punches, allowing even the pious in the audience, while listening to an array of songs both original and known, to pick up its gentle message without urging everyone to boycott the picture. As Alicia, Natalia Dyer, who came of age in real life with her role as Nancy Wheeler in the Netflix horror series, “Stranger Things” (33 episodes), is an absolute charmer whose frowns clear up as she knocks her school officials down a peg or two.

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

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

THE PAINTED BIRD – movie review

THE PAINTED BIRD
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Vàclav Marhoul
Screenwriter: Vàclav Marhoul, from the novel by Jerzy Kosinski
Cast: Petr Kotlár Stellan Skarsgård, Harvey Keitel, Barry Pepper, Julian Sands, Udo Kier, Lech Dyblik
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/26/20
Opens: July 17, 2020

Harrowing World War II drama The Painted Bird gets a UK trailer ...

In “Leviathan” (1651) Thomas Hobbes calls life “solitary, nasty, brutish and short,” and “A war of every man against his neighbor.” Every picture of Hobbes shows an unsmiling man, looking disgusted, contemptuous, and constipated. Yet as we know after we lose our innocence that there is more than a smidgen of truth in such a pessimistic manifesto. Still, the dour philosopher may have smiled just once from his grave when the movie “The Painted Bird” was first shown in film festivals. Vàclav Marhoul wrote and directs the epic drama inspired by Jerzy Kosinski’s book about a shattered post-war Europe, which Amazon calls the story of “a dark-haired, olive-skinned boy, abandoned by his parents during World War II, wandering from one village to another, sometimes hounded and tortured, only rarely sheltered and cared for.” (Kosinski committed suicide at the age of 57, his novel available on Amazon for under $14.)

“The Painted Bird,” which was the Czech Republic’s submission for the Academy Awards held in 2020 did not make the short list for Best International Film, but I would rate it as good as South Korea’s “Parasite.” The title is metaphorically taken from an event in which a painted bird, up for sale amid scores of others, is released and promptly killed by a flock flying hither and thither, because they apparently consider him “The Other.” The inability of people to respect those who are not like them, who look different or follow different customs did not die out after World War II but is a concept relevant today as we in America mourn the killing of African-America men by white police officers. The whole of “The Painted Bird,” showing human beings cruel to a cute and polite but mute young man abandoned by his parents is an allegorical tale. Therefore, take “The Painted Bird” as a journey of authorial cherry-picking that displays, with few exceptions, a society of people in war-torn Eastern Europe taking out the misery of their own lives on an innocent boy.

Written and directed by Vàclav Marhoul, whose “Tobruk” deals with a World War 2 battalion of Czech soldiers in the Libyan desert, “The Painted Bird” is seen from the point of view of young Joska (Petr Kotlár) in a startling breakthrough role. Joska wanders through Eastern Europe during the war, only occasionally running into action by German soldiers, Russian Cossacks and regular army, but his troubles come not much from fighting units but mostly from local peasants. The boy is mute throughout but is able to hear dialogue spoken in German, Russian, Czech, and what’s labeled Slavic Esperanto. For most of the running time, Joska, who is Jewish but rarely outed as such, is pleasant looking, obedient, polite, and seemingly able to put up with tortures of ordinary people either driven to hostility from the deprivations of the war or simply full of hate.

In the earlier part of his wanderings, he is picked up by a handful of ignorant peasants, the most gentle of whom calls him a vampire. He becomes enslaved by the superstitious hag. In the movie’s goriest scene, he witnesses a stolid, unsmiling Miller (Udo Kier) who at dinnertime overturns the table on a younger guest because he is convinced that the fellow has been staring with lust at his wife (Michaela Dolezalová). He gouges out the man’s eyes with a spoon and feeds them to the cat, who is too finicky to bother. A sympathetic Joska carries the eyes to the newly blind victim who is lying, sobbing by a tree, beckoning him to replace the eyes in his socket as though they are contact lenses. Later Hans (Stellan Skarsgård), a German soldier, is ordered to take the boy for a walk and shoot him, but Hans, one of the few sympathetic characters, orders Joska to run, firing two shots into the air. Another character who shows a rare humanity is a priest (Harvey Keitel), who takes the boy into his church, fixing him up with a crucifix, asking Garbos (Julian Sands), a pedophile, to take care of him. Bad decision.

In the picture’s most action-filled episode a group of Russian Cossacks gallop into a village, shooting the residents and torching the houses. We hope that no kid in the United States today has to go through what this pre-adolescent lad did—surviving rapes, in one situation thrown into a latrine filled with poop and in another forced by a sex-crazed young blond woman to perform fellatio on her.

“The Painted Bird” is only tangentially a Holocaust film, a subject that the Czech filmmakers know well since releasing “The Shop in Main Street” in Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos’s 1965 “The Shop on Main Street,” in which a carpenter in a Nazi-occupied Slovak state is appointed Aryan Controller of a Jewish widow’s store. That picture won the International Film’s Oscar as did Jirí Menzel’s “Closely Watched Trains” two years later.

Opinions of “The Painted Bird” might vary from those who think the movie is little more than a relentless succession of tortures to those who, like me, consider it an epic drama in sharp black-and-white that both captures human beings acting in extremis during wartime and displaying irrational hated even here in America during a fragile era considered by some to be a relative peacetime.

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

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

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-

I, PASTAFARI: A FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER STORY – movie review

I, PASTAFARI: A FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER STORY
Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Arthur
Screenwriter: Michael Arthur
Cast: Niko Alm, Mathé Coolen, Mienke De Wilde, Daniel C. Dennett, Pedro L. Irigonegaray, Edward J. Larson, Bruder Spaghettus, Derk Venema, Bobby Henderson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/2/20
Opens: July 7, 2020

Poster

What makes a book sacred? Is there anything intrinsically sacred about the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Old Testament, the New Testament? For example, if members of the Guajajara indigenous tribe in Marantao state in Eastern Brazil saw a copy of one of these books, studied it, put a spear into it, would they find anything holy? Not likely. Is “The Art of the Deal” sacred? It is, if at least one American says it is, and you’ll probably find one patriot claiming that it is so. Books and the religious orders they teach are sacred only because people say they are. If you realize that much, you can go into a screening of “I, Pastafari” with an open mind.

Niko Alm (I) in I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story (2019)

When you inspect the title of this movie, which would be better called simply “Pastafari,” you will guess that it has something to do with spaghetti and its cousins like ziti, macaroni, and linguini. Are the Pastafarians a joke? Yes and no. Though the documentary does not support the premise that the Pastafarians are just some jokers on spring break, we discover that they take themselves seriously when they insist that theirs is a religion like Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Mormonism and the like. In fact they make frequent journeys to courtrooms in their home countries, particularly in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria, to prove that they meet the criteria of real religions, because they’re serious. Worshippers of the flying spaghetti monster, the deity that should be put into capital letters as with other faiths The Flying Spaghetti Monster, love their logo featuring two eyes atop a mound of pasta with two meatballs. They even show off a painting of mankind reaching out, naked to the right, to receive the gift of life from a bowl of noodles.

Still of Bruder Spaghettus in I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story (2019)

Still, this is no “Animal House,” but features instead a multi-national group of some young people and some with long white beards who wear colanders on their head. They refuse to remove their respectful metal attire when told that they could not get drivers’ licenses unless they wear the headgear for religious reasons, so they pounce on that loophole and win the right, at least in the ultra-liberal Netherlands, to take their pictures, so long as their faces are clearly shown.

In archival films, we see the Pastafarians with somber faces defending their right to be considered a religion just like the older ones that have established themselves, winning a few court decisions, losing most. Those of us viewing the picture get the point that they are really atheists who piggyback the idea posited by proponents of the theory of intelligent design, that if you cannot prove that it’s wrong, it should be upheld as a legitimate point of view. Some archival shots of the so-called Monkey Trial involving Scopes, a high school teacher who lets himself be arrested when he taught the Theory of Evolution and whose lawyer, Clarence Darrow, trashed the state’s attorney William Jennings Bryan in an eight-hour interrogation (which was the subject of the enormously entertaining play “Inherit the Wind”).

Yes, Virginia, there really are Pastafarians in the world, who, instead of lecturing people, use the arguments of religious people to show the arbitrary nature of a faith in supernatural beings. In fact Franklin Foer did an article in the Atlantic magazine of November 2016 about Flying Spaghetti Monster acolytes across the Continent who are a genuine organized movement “founded in large part to critique organized religion…[with] the trapping and some of the social functions of a real religion.” He notes that their Sabbath is on a “Friday, because our god was faster than the other gods, and he finished with the creation of the Earth earlier.” New Zealand became the first country to legally recognize marriages.

Leave it to the U.S., a generally more religious country than much of Europe, to deny a Nebraska prisoner’s request to practice the Pastafarian faith, ruling FSM a parody and not a religion. The Netherlands went the other way granting the group official status. “If you are not satisfied,” notes 24-year-old Bobby Henderson, “Your old religion will likely take you back.”

“I, Pastafari” is a broadly humorous movie with a consequential metaphysical philosophy, marred only by an insistence on intrusive music in the soundtrack, as though director Michael Arthur in his freshman offering does not trust the theater audience to know when the Pastafarians are messing with our mind. And hey, it’s only 56 minutes long, so what can you lose (except your faith)? R’amen.

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

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

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA – movie review

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA

HBO Documentary FilmsReviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: David France
Writers: David France, Tyler H. Walk,inspired by the New Yorker article “Forbidden Lives: The Gay Men Who Fled Chechnya’s Purge” by Masha Gessen
Cast: Olga Baranova, David Isteev, Maxim Lapunov
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/15/20
Opens: June 30, 2020

Welcome to Chechnya.jpeg

On June 15, 2020 the U.S. Supreme issued a decision that gays people are protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law prohibited discrimination on account of gender. It should be obvious that gays and lesbians are covered. Yet three justices disagreed and look what Trump said: “This is a landmark decision that should be praised throughout the land.” Oops. He did not say that. He said that he would live with the decision. Awfully sporting of him, but of course he has to cater to his base, many of whom might be happier living in Tehran or Kabul or Sanaa. Now we learn that it’s not only in the heart of the Muslim world that gays are not tolerated by their governments but also in Valdimir Putin’s Russia. Putin is no friend of the LGBTQ community but folks who are closeted in Moscow and St. Petersburg have a fighting chance of experiencing love without state interference. Still, in the “Republic” of Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim entity whose officials have made peace with Moscow after attempts to secede, the big enemy is…people who are sexually involved with members of their own gender.

To learn more about this, we need only watch HBO’s bold, fly-on-the-wall coverage of the way homosexuals are intimidated in Grozny and outskirts. No, not intimidated. Killed in some cases. By whom? Maybe by police, but also by their own mothers, fathers, brothers and cousins. It’s a free-for-all where stone-cold bigots claim that their “honor” has been shamed by their kin who are not altogether like them, to such an extent that family members can kill them and authorities will do nothing to punish the killers or torturers.

Director David France, whose “How to Survive a Plague” deals with ACT UP’s successful battle to get needed drugs to people afflicted with AIDS, takes on the political battle of gays in Chechnya to avoid such treatment in police stations as having their fingers entwined with cords to deliver electric shocks should the hapless victims not come up with names of others in the gay community. One person gives up ten, the ten give up another ten, and soon the folks with authority in Chechnya will create a republic whose residents have, “pure blood.”

Obviously this will remind you of the treatment of Jews in Germany, of Rohingyas in Myanmar, of Indians in America, of Tutsis in Rwanda, or Aborigines in Australia, Maoris in New Zealand, to cite a few cases, you’re ready to understand the abnormal psychology of people who cannot tolerate those who are not quite like them. Never mind that all of these people are minding their own business, not rebelling against their governments.

The inspiration for this powerful doc is Masha Gessen’s article in the New Yorker magazine on July 3, 2017 which features prose like “They pushed my head down so I wouldn’t see where we were going,” Ali, who is around thirty years old, told me. “Soon, the car pulled up to an unmarked building. Ali saw two men he knew standing in front, their faces swollen from beatings.” The article names Ramzan Kadyrov who runs Chechnya as though it were his own country (he’s backed by Putin), and who claims that his aim is to cleans the country of gay men. At the same time he makes the absurd comment that “We don’t have any gays.”

The heroes of France’s documentary, which is mostly in Russian with easy-to-read English subtitles, are David Isteev and Olga Baranova. They run a shelter in Moscow that might make you think of Harriet Tubman’s havens for runaway slaves, transporting them to Canada which, by the way, is the country to which many of Chechnya’s gays want to go given that Canada is fairly liberal in granting asylum. One such person is Grisha who went to Chechnya to conduct business there as an event planner when he was picked up and tortured, ultimately heading to Moscow. His troubles were not over since his entire family became the target of threats. All had to be transported out.

Lesbians are not exempt from the reactionary rules of the Chechnya’s government. Anya, just twenty-one years old, has her sexual orientation discovered by her uncle. He threatens to tell her high-ranking father, but wait! He is good enough to allow her to go free if she would have sex with him. Isn’t it great to have pure morals? She complains to her rescue people of claustrophobia, staying in her room for three months and told not to go out even to dump her trash. She bolts, and nobody knows her whereabouts today.

As with his previous films including “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” about that gay rights activist’s mysterious death, David France highlights the heroism of radicals who risk life and limb to move victimized people to locations where they can carry on with their lives without the abhorrent notions of government and family. The heroic guys and gals in this emotionally raw picture have special praise for Canada, which has granted scores of humanitarian visas to people hounded despite minding their own business.

Bulletin: Trump has not authorized a single visa for these victims. Surprise!
106 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE LAST TREE – movie review

THE LAST TREE
ArtMattan Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Shola Amoo
Screenwriter: Shola Amoo
Cast: Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black, Tai Golding, Nicholas Pinnock, Ruthxjiah Bellenea
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/23/20
Opens: June 26, 2020

The Last Tree (2019) - IMDb

Distributed by Artmattan Films which boasts” films about the human experience of people of color,” “The Last Tree” is a coming of age story that focuses on the changes that form the boyhood and teen years of a British man with Nigerian roots. The drama is the second feature of Shola Amoo whose “A Moving Image,” about gentrification in Brixton, England, blurs the line between reality and fiction by incorporating real people affected by gentrification and who consider a young artist to be a symbol of a revitalization that excludes them.

In this latest project, the writer-director gives approximately equal time to Femi as a child (Tai Golding) and to him as a teen (Sam Adewunmi), hinting that we in the audience might take sides as to which incarnation is the more enjoyable. You can’t help noting that the young Femi is the more adorable fellow, his charm arising largely from the happy childhood he enjoys in a bucolic British suburb with Mary (Denise Black), a white foster parent. Femi fits in just fine with white friends his own age. We never find out why Yinka (Gbemisola Ilumel), his biological mother, could not take care of him, but unlike the foster children we hear about on the 6.30 news who had been taken in by exploitative women out for the money, this lad has clearly lucked out.

Too bad, like so many things, his halcyon home life takes a bad turn when his real mother, coming to see him for what is promised to be merely a visit, wants him back. You’ll think that Yinka lacks the stability to keep him for long, the boy remains in the less promising atmosphere of a London slum (“Careful—there’s pee,” warns his mother). After the passage of ten years, Femi, who spent years in what so many children can only dream about, has become sullen. He no longer has white friends, and Mace (Demmy Lapido), presumably a drug seller, has taken a shine to him, coaxing teen however reluctantly into joining a small gang.

Femi treats his mother like an enemy, not only for taking him away from a loving foster parent in a pleasant suburb, but also because she beats him if he does not take care of the house while she is away working as a cleaning woman. While he tries to avoid Mace—a rotund man with a ready smile—he alienates a few other locals by rescuing Tope (Ruthxjiah Bellenea), bullied because of her dyed-blue braids and her studiousness. While his dedicated teacher Mr. Williams (Nicholas Pinnock) takes time out to visit Femi at home, suspecting that he is ignoring his studies and is likely to drop out, the teacher is a good role model, telling the boy that he was not always a preppie and an old, boring teacher, but was once headed in the bad direction of his student.

Stil Williams sharply photographs the bucolic neighborhood, comparing it to the near slum of an inner city, and Segun Akinola’s music may swell at times but is not intrusive. In what amounts to a long coda that changes the tone of the picture, we find Femi and his mother abruptly in Lagos, Nigeria, where he meets his biological father. Though dad is a pastor, he is living in a house that bears comparison to New York’s Trump Tower with his golden staircase, polished marble floor, and enough space to take in a dozen foster children should he so desire. These final scenes are such a precipitous break, the story cries out for some explanation but never finds it.

It’s easy for us in the audience to relish Femi’s good luck as a child with a ready smile, we may find it difficult to empathize with the dour teen. Nonetheless, we leave the theater optimistic that Femi will soon “find” himself. Once that’s achieved, we need not worry about him.

English subtitles on the link that I used are superlative, clear, bold and easy to read, an important feature when those of so many movies and cheap and difficult to read.

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

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

THE AUDITION – movie review

THE AUDITION (Das vorspiel)
Strand Releasing
Reviewed by Harvey Karten for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net
Director:  Ina Weisse
Screenwriter:  Ina Weisse, Daphne Charizani
Cast:  Nina Hoss, Simon Abkarian, Jens Albinus, Ilja Monti, Serafin Mishiev
Running Time:  99 minutes
Reviewed on:  5/19/20
Opening Date: June 26, 2020
The Audition Poster
Just as psychoanalysts go through their own years on the couch to make them realize the effects that their own concerns could negatively affect their therapy of others, so mothers should go to analysts themselves to help prevent them from foisting their own childhood flaws and neuroses on their families and others.   If anyone should have spent as much time on the couch as Woody Allen that would be Anna.  We in the audience don’t know this at least until midpoint, because Anna Brodsky (Nina Hoss) is as controlled and disciplined as she expects her students to be.
Ina Weisse, who acted in some fifty films, now contributes her sophomore feature as director, having been the filmmaker for “The Architect,” about a fellow who returns to a village he had not seen in twenty years and stuns his children about his double life.  Using a script that Weisse co-wrote with Daphne Charizani,  she explores a middle-class family in Germany as they spend their weeks alternating from concern with their ten-year-old boy Jason (Serafin Mishiev) and one of her violin students, Alexander (Ilja Monti).
She might be excused for some neuroticism shown here when she and her husband Phillipe (Simon Abkarian) dine in a bistro.  As Phillipe could have predicted, she regrets that she ordered a pasta dish, sampling and preferring her husband’s steak and potatoes.  The good-natured Phillipe calmly exchanges dishes with her—after first agreeing to her demand to move to another table.
While her restaurant behavior is too trivial to portend a tragic event during the concluding moments, Weisse and Charizani concentrate on the way Anna treats her ten-year-old, who is more himself when in the hockey ring than he is when forced to practice his violin. A scene that finds Jonas finally kicking up a storm, rebelling by refusing to play, will be reflected in a more crucial encounter after a violin lesson that Anna gives to Alexander, for whom she had stood up when he performed in an audition at a Berlin conservatory that can be compared to our Juilliard.
Anna pays enough attention to Alexander, whom she is tutoring for an upcoming audition, to engage the envy of her own son, suffering emotional reactions to the apparently loving care she fosters on the young man who is now practicing four hours a day for the audition.  Alexander is technically competent but he is unable to meet the challenges of his teacher, who in one scene yells at him because he keeps raising his shoulder and because he appears unable to let the music into his body.
The scenes Anna has with Christian (Jens Albinus), a cellist in a chamber group with whom she carries on an affair, and the view of her during a visit to her aging parents, might well have been excised.  Nina Hoss’s performance is as flawless as her character’s perfectionism, a German actress who in her private life lobbies against African genital mutilation and the destruction of Brazil’s rain forest. In “The Audition” she can register emotions from the happiness she feels when the two adult men in her life shower her with attention to the rage and depression as she regrets not becoming a concert violinist.
The picture is in German and a little French with English subtitles.  The music, mostly by Bach including his “Presto,” is wondrous.
© Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online
Story: B
Acting:  B+
Technical:  B
Overall:  B

DISCLOSURE – movie review

DISCLOSURE
Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Bentham
Screenwriter: Michael Bentham
Cast: Geraldine Hakewill, Mark Leonard Winter, Matilda Ridgway, Tom Wren, Greg Stone, Lucy McMurray
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/3/20
Opens: June 30, 2020

Disclosure Poster

To paraphrase Puck in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Lord, what children these adults be!” In a narrative involving four middle-aged adults in Australia (filmed by Mark Carey in Victoria), a conversation begins in a civil way but breaks down into a melodramatic conclusion. The movie “Disclosure,” is written and directed by Michael Bentham in his freshman full-length narrative film. Bentham, who was born in Switzerland, lived much his life in the UK and now resides in Melbourne, is an accomplished viola player and a writer-director who does a smashing job in building tension in this entry. By implication he indicts not only the foursome in “Disclosure” but shows us without mentioning any American government officials that politicians as high up as president can sometimes act like kids. Correct that: can always act like kids. That may go over at a wedding, but politics should demand more mature representatives than we in the U.S. must suffer with now.

“Disclosure” can be compared most closely to Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” which finds two couples meeting cordially to discuss what to do about their children who had been engaged in a fight, ending up shouting and threatening in an increasingly childish manner. Like sons, like adults. Though the performers in “Disclosure” may be little known here in the States, certainly not people with the reputations of Polanski’s Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and Jodie Foster, they do a fine job arguing back and forth about their children’s behavior, attempting to compromise, and showing what could happen when the chance to settle a six-week’s-old event ends in physical violence.

Emily Bowman (Matilda Ridgway) is a documentary filmmaker living with her journalist husband Danny Bowman (Mark Leonard Winter). They are concerned that their four-year-old daughter Natasha has advised them that Ethan, a nine-year-old, did some bad things to her, presumably of a sexual nature. Ethan is the son of Bek Chalmers (Geraldine Hakewill) and her politician husband Joel Chalmers (Tom Wren), a member of Parliament being considered for a high position. It helps to know that though the four individuals are neighbors and friends, both with enough money to own spacious homes with kidney-shaped pools in their backyards, there is a difference in social class not related to money. The politician is straight-as-an-arrow as you might expect a person to be when he needs the votes of a community, while Emily and Danny are hip. In fact the movie begins with an extended period showing the latter two photographing themselves while having sex, blurting out language that would make a sailor blush.

The four exchange pleasantries at first, their conversations becoming steadily more assertive and aggressive. Emily (but not so much her husband) wants to report the alleged behavior of the two children to child protection, which could ruin Joel’s chances to get ahead in his field. (Australian politics is different from that in America. Here a man holding the highest office in the land can grab women in any parts of their bodies and tell strings of obvious lies, thereby actually increasing his popularity with some voters.)

Did Natasha make the story up? Can’t be, insists Emily. Her daughter does not lie. What about Ethan? He doesn’t lie either, say his folks. Somebody’s lying and we cannot be sure which one, but the conflict becomes red hot when events turn up that, allow each couple to blackmail the other.

Though some of the threats and counterthreats are repetitious, the film at 85 minutes does not overstate its time. It features compact editing, colorful cinematography, and a quartet of citizens downunder who recall the antics of George and Martha’s baiting Nick and Honey in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” A good, entertaining and credible show.

Can’t Australians just get along like us here in the States?

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

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

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

SCREENED OUT – movie review

SCREENED OUT
Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jon Hyatt
Screenwriter: Jon Hyatt, Karina Rotenstein
Cast: Jon Hyatt, Alicia Dupuis, Jim Steyer, Syd Bolton, Adam Alter, Jean Twenge, Hilarie Cash, Alex Pang, Ramsay Brown, Mihael Rich, Nir Eyal, Nicholas Kardaras
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/22/20
Opens: May 26, 2020

Screened Out (2020)

One glaring omission from Jon Hyatt’s blandly informative but virtually humorless documentary “Screened Out” is the name Donald J. Trump. CBS news the other day reported that since he took office, he has sent out 50,000 tweets. Was he stupid before computers and the internet were even invented, or did he become the way he is because of all the screen time that he indulges? But wait: his addiction to Twitter may accord with  Hyatt’s thesis that excessive time on smart [sic] phones and computers will mess with your brain, so to the president’s credit, he announced that because Twitter is now fact-checking his tweets for accuracy and truth, he will do what he can to shut the company down. You go, man. Less Twitter, more time for engaging directly with life.

While I do not even have a Twitter account, I was not born into the computer age, so I cannot fully comprehend that men and women below the age of thirty (when home computers started to takeoff) are so dependent on this technology. On Memorial Day, the folks spending six to nine hours daily “talking” to their thousand Facebook friends, retweeted a video of a woman who lost her six-figure job because her racist comments were caught. Thirty million people had seen the altercation when the video went viral (Ugh, that word again). Heaven known how much time many of these followers are spending on their devices rather than looking flesh-and-blood people in the eye and talking to them or gaining genuine wisdom about life by reading “War and Peace” instead.

Other points left out by the doc include the more concrete danger of distraction on your screens while driving your car, resulting in giving some pedestrians nasty bumps, or that of great armies of mostly young people glued to their phones and slamming into people on the sidewalk or falling from cliffs. Still, co-writer and director Hyatt knows whereof he speaks since he was (is?) himself a screen addict. Many years earlier he would play out in the yard with kids his own age, having a ball, learning how to relate directly to others while getting the sufficient amount of vitamin D that others are missing. He now spends more time reading the fiction that was crowded out because of his addiction while his wife has been unable to kick the screen habit. Imagine guys and gals in college assigned to read “Jane Eyre” but glancing every ten minutes at the phone when hearing the buzz or ring or theme song from “Gone with the Wind.” As one talking head advises, multi-tasking does not work.

Among the gems delivered from the documentary which I was watching on my computer when I could have been re-reading “Jane Eyre,” is the concept of intermittent rewards. When a pigeon gets a pellet of food each time it (or he or she) pecks at a button, the bird is rewarded. Soon, however, the pigeon gives up, winded. Everything’s too predictable. When the pigeon does not know which peck at the button will release the food (the mechanism is programmed to release the pellet intermittently), the bird retains excitement. In that regard slot machines keep people glued not because they win a fortune every time they swing the one arm—that would be boring albeit enriching—they are fascinated by wondering when or if the quarters will bounce into the slot. So is it that when people hear the ping of the phone (or the opening bars of “Twist and Shout” as sung by Ferris Bueller), they will salivate at the thought that the texter’s message may be more interesting than their Social Studies teacher’s talk on the Congress of Vienna.

The documentary barely presents another point of view, so intent is Hyatt to list and elaborate the many dangers of social media and other plagues. He might have said that video games improve cognitive function and motor skills, and that at least the youths are reading words. On the other hand, teen suicide is way up since technology allows them to compare their miserable lives with the bragging from their peers who are equally miserable. Then again there’s bullying by callow adolescents, while in my day you could just grab a kid from the street who is half your weight and show him how much better you are.

How’s this for irony. When this movie shown on your computer ends, you get to click, or not click, the button “like.” I thought and debated and meditated and clicked it.

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

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B- (near absence of animation)
Overall – B

THE LAST VERMEER – movie review

THE LAST VERMEER
Tristar Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dan Friedkin
Screenwriter: James McGee, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby based on the book “The Man Who Made Vermeers” by Jonathan Lopez
Cast: Guy Pearce, Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 3/19/20
Opens: November 20, 2020

It’s about time that the film industry has come around to portraying a first class melodrama of one of the great forgeries in art history, one of many that allowed Hans van Meegeren to amass enough of a fortune to buy 52 properties and 15 country homes throughout Europe. Van Meegeren’s story has is covered in an elaborate Wikipedia essay, a fellow well known to the residents of the Netherlands but until now unfamiliar to the average American. “The Last Vermeer” is adapted from a book by Jonathan Lopez, “The Man Who Made Vermeers,” available on Amazon, now brought to life before cinematographer Rami Adefarasin lenses with all the splendor of Fort Widley in Portsmouth, England and Dordrecht, the Netherlands.

The film should cast Dan Friedkin in the limelight as a first-time director with a potential future in uncovering the lives of people as colorful as Van Meegeren, who thanks to this picture will allow us in the U.S. to dig further into aspects of the Third Reich rarely illuminated before. This film is graced by a stunning performance from Guy Pearce in the role of the forger who must have been thankful that he did not make the cut as a grade-A painter, but who amassed a fortune of thirty million dollars (that’s in 1943) by swindling the number 2 man in Hitler’s stable, art lover Hermann Göring. Implied in the tale is the certainty that if Göring knew he was taken advantage of, he would have had Van Meegeren shot. Then again, some of Van Meegeren’s countrymen might have done the deed given that Dutchmen who collaborated with the Nazis were tied behind a pole in a central square and shot before a mass of citizens screaming epithets.

The two central characters are Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) and Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang). The movie, like the book, emphasizes the captain’s Jewish background given his disgust with the Nazis for stealing hundreds of masterworks in the art world when Jews escaping the Nazis in the Netherlands as in most of the rest of Europe had to sell their collections for bargain basement prices. Presumably van Meegeren acquired these paintings partly for his collection, but always conspiring to sell them and accumulate vast riches. What Göring did not know was that the painting of “Christ and the Adulteress” that he bought from van Meegeren was not an original Vermeer and that in fact Vermeer had not been credited with the work at all. One must wonder—though the film does not—why Göring could not check on the complete list of the works of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) where he would discover that no such title exists.

The film is bogged down by a large number of characters, most if not all might be unfamiliar to American viewers. Otherwise the story involves throughout with several melodramatic touches, culminating in a dramatic courtroom scene presided over the three judges, with the Dutch people gathered outside seemingly favorable to van Meegeren as they credit him with swindling the Nazis. On the other hand the judges and the prosecutor are adamant about prosecuting the forger and giving him a death sentence, as they consider him a fellow who enriched himself by collaborating with Nazi bigwigs.

The women in the story get short exposure, lost in the maze of personages, including the forger’s ex-wife and his mistress, while Piller, a handsome Dutch fellow with a clear, penetrating voice, has his own bedmates. Yet Guy Pearce, well known to American audiences for roles in “Mary Queen of Scots,” “The Catcher Was a Spy” and as F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Genius” takes a role in which he is almost unrecognizable, giving support to Claes Bang, recently seen in the wonderful “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” which also deals with the world of painting.

An epilogue that tries to imitate some of the novels of John Grisham—wherein a winning case unravels in the final pages—is unconvincing, dealing with a suggestion that the Dutch painter indeed collaborated with Hitler himself.

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

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