SMALL TIME – movie review

SMALL TIME

Film Arcade
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Niav Conty
Screenwriter: Niav Conty
Cast: Audrey Grace Marshall, Kevin Loreque, Holter Graham, Dominique Johnson, Maria Hasen, Elissa Middleton, Sina Rassi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/15/21
Opens: November 11, 2021 streaming on Amazon, Apple TV, and Google Play

Poster

During his primary battle with Hillary Clinton, Obama was caught in an uncharacteristic moment of loose language. Referring to working-class voters in old industrial towns decimated by job losses, the presidential hopeful declares: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Not the wisest of his aphorisms, one that ranks with Hillary’s comment about Trump supporters’ being “a basket of deplorables.” If they needed an excuse to vote Republican, white folks in the Pennsylvania rust belt and in the small towns of the Midwest had two.

Maybe “Small Time” writer-director Niav Conty was disturbed by Obama’s quote, maybe not. In any case her depiction of people living in what we New York elitists call flyover country aligns with what we city slickers think of “hayseeds.” Conty, whose other full-length narrative film “Un peu plus d’éternité” deals with a woman who “knows she exists but does not know why,” sees life in (judging by a truck registration plate) upstate New York through the eyes of a young girl.

Filming behind the lens as well as in the director’s chair in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, Conty finds Emma (Audrey Graced Marshall) looking back over three and one-half years of her impressionable life. While many a spoiled kid in Manhattan or Berkeley or Shaker Heights would be whining and crying at similar experiences, Emma is upbeat almost throughout. Nary a frown or a scowl, no harsh words, no searingly critical eye.

Though she is supervised by Sadie (Maria Hasen), her grandmother—who doubles as caretaker of her battle-scarred, emotionally disturbed son Lonnie (Kevin Loreque)—she appears confident enough to experience life in a village that appears to have a population of 57. Over the years Emma has seen enough to make her wonder, like Anne in “Un peu plus d’eternité, why she exists and how long she can continue in that state. After all, the opening shows her close up to the embalmed body of one caretaker, staring at him enough to know that perhaps one day she, too, will be decked out for exhibit.

We’re told that the red states are not immune from drug addiction. Emma sees that first-hand in her mom, who she tries to wake up from a drug overdose, a woman who clings not necessary to guns and religion but certainly to the appeal of heroin. Consider it a bad thing when a girl still in elementary school has to be a parent to adults.

A moment of enlightenment comes when Emma places a fallen tooth under the pillow only to find not one dime to replace it the next day. Her grandmother assures her that while there are no fairies, there are demons, that we are in a war, and that we must win it. Emma is the kind of child that many of us wish we had. Though sometimes in public you see a youngster acting with maturity beyond her age, eyes flashing inner light and kindness, you can probably bet that behind the scenes, behind the locked door of her parents’ home, she throws the tantrums that all parents dread, guilty that they are not bringing up their kid the right way. Nobody in “Small Time” thinks like that. The older people take things as they come, they appear to have no plans to watch “Face the Nation” or plan safaris even within our own country. And so does Emma, who though shown over a period of over three years seems just as mature when the film began as she does now.

Marshall is a wonderful performer, seen recently in nine episodes of “The Flight Attendant” (about a reckless flight attendant who wonders whether she killed the dead man in her hotel room), embraces her coming-of-age role in a work that shows once again the virtues of small-budget movies that can command more attention from the film community than anything featuring The Rock.

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

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

NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS – movie review

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

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD TIME – movie review

  • GOOD TIME

     

    A24

    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, 411 Celeb

    Grade: B+

    Director:  Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie

    Written by: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie

    Cast: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi, Buddy Duress

    Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 7/13/17

    Opens: August 11, 2017

    Good Time Movie Poster 

    There are moments that Robert Pattinson, even with a Trump-like blond dye-job on his voluminous hair, resembles Al Pacino in “Dog Day Afternoon.”  And wouldn’t you know that in this performance he may become a heartthrob not so much to teen girls who eat up his full-bloodied role in the “Twilight” saga but to millennial women and more, because in “Good Time,” he has emerges as a genuine actor who could probably do anything.  It helps that he is directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, the latter taking a major role in the Safdies’ latest, because the Safdies, who in “Heaven Knows What” are tuned into the street-wise and the drug culture.  “Good Time” might give the theater audiences the view that dealing liquid LSD would benefit not some 1960’s style hippies but rather the low life elements in New York’s outer borough of Queens.

     “Good Time” is not simply a movie about a bank robbery gone amiss and subsequent attempts to get away from the law, but treats the sensitive role played by Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) as mentor and protector to his intellectually disabled brother Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie).  If you’ve read John Steinbeck’s novella “Of Mice and Men” which is frequently required high-school reading, you’ll immediately recognize the fraternal bonds of Connie and Nick as reflecting the tender relationship of George Milton and Lenny Small.  The former is the more rational guy, the latter the hulking, yet vulnerable brother.  Just when you think that the movie will deal exclusively with Connie and Nick, a clever twist occurs setting Connie up a barely tolerant liaison with motor-mouth parolee Ray (Buddy Duress.)

    The Safdies waste no time setting up the bank robbery complete with a Daniel Lopatin’s pulsating soundtrack.  The brothers Nikas, wearing masks of African-Americans with sunglasses, pass a handwritten scrawl to the teller asking for a specific sum of money, and when the teller assures them that her drawer cannot meet that sum, she is directed to find the rest.  (Though the teller takes her time in the adjacent room, she does not pull the silent alarm, but does something else that will surprise the robbers.)  On the run with the money, the brothers continue with George-and-Lenny syndrome, Connie repeatedly assuring his disabled brother.

    In a botched getaway Connie, who eludes the police, has his girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh in her usual high-pitched flaky role) get up the bail to get Nick out of jail, but when Nick, after a brutal fight with another inmate, winds up at Elmhurst Hospital, Nick has no problem the fellow’s right under the nose of the cop at the door.  When the scene switches through another twist, Connie, and now Ray, become temporarily bonded, and while continuing his escape, Connie winds up in the Queens apartment of a Haitian woman (Gladys Mathon) and her sixteen-year-old granddaughter (Taliah Webster). 

    There you have it; a movie with a major interest in an atmosphere of high tension coupled with the ways that Connie, who is street-wise enough to know how to manipulate Dash (Barkhad Abdi), a security guard at an amusement park that has seen better days; an elderly woman; a teen granddaughter who has no problem handing him car keys to continue the getaway, and most of all his hulking brother who is not only intellectually disabled but wears a hearing aid.  There are sensitive scenes between Nick and a psychologist, who can barely evoke sensible answers to a verbal test.

    “Good Time,” then, juxtaposes Connie’s treatment of his brother and of a stranger, but most of all is a high-tension picture with bold use of music and songs, including Iggy Pop’s “The Pure and the Damned,” and assorted electronica—which could make the picture a Best Music nominee at awards time.  You won’t have time to look at your watch: blink, and you’ve missed a key point.

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

    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

BREAKING BREAD – movie review

BREAKING BREAD

Cohen Media Group
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Beth Elise Hawk
Screenwriter: Beth Elise Hawk
Cast: Dr. Nof Atanmna-Ismaeel, Shlomi Meir, Ali Khattib, Osama Dalal, Han Ferron, Salah Cordi, Tomer Abergel, Shoshi Karaman, Fadi Karaman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/13/22
Opens: February 4, 2022

If you’ve ever seen a bottle of Heinz ketchup, you know that the company is proud to deal with 57 varieties of food. The U.S., by contrast, has perhaps 200 varieties of people, while Israel, a much smaller country, has a mixture of Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, and Jews from Russia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, the United States, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. That’s to name a few. “Breaking Bread” is Beth Elise Hawk’s documentary about how food can bring together the distinct folks who live in Israel proper. Hawk, in her freshman production, allows her focus to be on microbiologist Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, named by Israel a master chef, who serves as narrator, showing groups of people of different backgrounds preparing, commenting upon, and eating food. She believes that people can discover how similar they are to one another through the one thing that everybody does: eat. Though only one half of Jews in Israel are Ashkenazim and Mizrahi, with backgrounds from European countries, Dr. Nof deals almost exclusively with foods of people from the Levant: principally falafel, lamb, tomato-and-cucumber salad, pita bread, hummus and tehina.

The principal characters, a balance of Jews and Arab Muslims including one fellow half Christian and half Jewish, discuss whether the Levantine foods served in Israel—from Jordan, Syria, Morocco, Egypt and Lebanon, can be called Israeli, or whether it’s safer to consider them Arabic. While even Ashkenazi Jews go for falafel and the like, my vote is to call them Arabic. Sadly, there is no Israeli food and many Israeli Jews barely heard of bagels and Matzoh ball soup, nor do they consume them.

The movie takes its prologue from a quote of Anthony Bourdain, “Food may not be the answer to world peace, but it’s a start.”

Some Arabs living in Israel proper, i.e. not including Gaza or the West Bank, would call Nof an Arab in name only, as she was brought up in an Arab village but attended a Jewish elementary school. Most unusual. She is fluent in English, while the Muslims she introduces to us are versed in Hebrew. This is unusual; most Arabs living within Israel’s boundaries refuse to consider themselves Israeli but instead identify as Palestinian.

Stepping outside Haifa, a diverse city which is the country’s third largest, a gent of Syrian background in Akko brings forth his contribution to the A-Sham Food Festival in Haifa. Another shows and discusses what Ashkenazi Jews would consider kreplach, in this case chopped lamb folded into dough like a Chinese wonton. Arab and Jewish chefs talk freely with one another, likely to give some the impression that Arabs living in Israel proper eschew the identity of Palestinian and are fine conversing most of the time in Hebrew. Could it be that many Arabs are hoping to continue living under a Jewish government, given that Israeli Jews have built such an armed force that terrorists like ISIS and Al Aqueda would not dare to launch a frontal attack? Who knows how safe from the tortuous ideology of terrorists these Israeli Arabs would be under an Arabic government?

Americans in big cities would likely be familiar with most or all of the colorful dishes on display, a mouth-watering assortment that would find them heading the next day to the local ethnic restaurants and food emporiums. You come away from this picture realizing that perhaps ten percent of the Arabs living in Israel would be politically hostile to the government, when in fact most of the Muslim population therein, though eligible like anyone else to claim Israeli citizenship and receive passports, decline to do so. In Ofer ben Yehuda’s colorful photography (it’s not easy to photograph food to bring out its savory goodness), we witness the feelings of chefs who appear to be apolitical, even bending over backwards in loyalty to a Jewish government.

In English, Hebrew and Arabic, with English subtitles.

86 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE CARD COUNTER – movie review

THE CARD COUNTER

Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Paul Schrader
Screenwriter: Paul Schrader
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/4/21
Opens: September 10, 2021. September 30, 2021 streaming.

How can I bankrupt this casino?

If you’ve ever had to pay a price for something you did while the person above you who coaxed you to do it gets away, you will empathize and sympathize with the plight of William Tillich (Oscar Isaac). Tillich’s plight is told in “The Card Counter,” directed by Paul Schrader, known for such films as “American Gigolo” (1980) about a Los Angeles escort catering to rich, older women, who is arrested for a murder he did not commit.

Tillich, who goes by the name William Tell, served in the infamous division in Abu Graib prison in Iraq, where American soldiers went beyond what is normally acceptable using the technique of enhanced interrogation.” To gain information from alleged terrorists which would presumably save American lives, the torturers would kick prisoners, waterboard them, sic German Shepherds on them (the Arabic culture does not look kindly on dogs), strip them for presentation to women soldiers. He was trained by Major John Gordo (Willem Dafoe). When the press got hold of the procedures, showing ghastly pictures to the American public, the army cracked down (as though the perps were not directed to do this), and the public was shocked by the degradation and corruption. Tillich was arrested and sent to Leavenworth Prison for eight and one-half years, while his superiors, who ordered the violence, went scotfree.

During his time in a prison, which seems from this film to be not so bad—a clean private cell for each convict—he learns to like reading for the first time and trains himself to count cards. The latter skill would allow him to profit, to make a good living, in fact, by traveling the casino circuit playing blackjack against the house and poker against the competitors. He meets people who will change his life: La Linda (Tiffany Haddish) who wants to introduce him to a stable of poker tournament people who will bank his bets for a fifty percent cut; and Cirk Baufort (Tye Sheridan), a younger man who would hang out with the card counter and whose mounting debt and estrangement from his mother would lead the title character to redeem himself by helping the innocent kid.

Oscar Isaac plays Tillich with a quiet voice, a good looking fellow who raises his fists and his voice in Abu Ghraib and once again in a domestic scene, but throughout “The Card Counter” shows him to be a man who detests violence. (This will not last.) We hear several narrations of his thoughts, which tell us much about his mind set since, after all, movies are not as good as book in that respect. A noirish movie, with most scenes in dark nights and basic motels, “The Card Counter” will suit an audience that prefers high melodrama to be a small segment of a story and which concentrates more on the inner workings of its characters than on plot.

There really are people in the real world who would sacrifice almost everything to relieve their guilt, so Tillich stands in for the sort of person who is willing to give up the pleasures of life because of a high degree of morality. A serious, well-acted story, Dostoevkien if you will.

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

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

SOPHIE JONES – movie review

SOPHIE JONES

Oscilloscope Laboratories
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Jessie Barr
Screenwriter: Jessie Barr, Jessica Barr
Cast: Jessica Barr, Katie Prentiss, Chase Offerle, Claire Manning, Sam Kamerman, Tristan Decker
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/29/21
Opens: March 2, 2021 Streaming

First Trailer for Coming-of-Age-with-Grief Indie Gem ...
How should I treat him?

Don’t look for Ferris Bueller when you’re watching this one. Nobody leads a massive parade singing “Twist and Shout.” Nobody does anything as daring as playing hooky from school, unless you consider sex full clothed to be risqué. Instead the movie is fsas authentic as the name Jones, a name that Sophie (Jessica Barr) inhabits, from a family with a loving sister Lucy (Charlie Jackson) and father (Dave Roberts)in Portland, Oregon. Wearing a farmer’s apron almost throughout, Sophie, like most of her female classmates, wears little makeup. Their talk, not surprisingly, is about boys, all the fellows in the movie as handsome and clean cut as you would expect in a well-to-do suburb, its high school showing an elaborate football field and stands that would not be out of place in a small college.

We don’t see classes in session; all the learning occurs among the students themselves. The title character is played by the co-writer director’s cousin. This is Jessie Barr’s freshman film.

Much of the action takes place at a time that Sophie’s mother has died from an overdose of fentanyl. We watch to see the effect that the loss has on Sophie, who tries to bury her grief in hookups with boys like handsome Kevin (Skyler Verity), who sometimes has to be seduced and who cares about Sophie more than she does about herself. At the same time she is chased by Tony (Chase Offerle) but is warned and scared away by stories told her by her best friend Claire (Claire Manning). Nonetheless she endures one hookup with Tony, who refuses to honor her demand that he stop midway and suffers a bite on his hand.

Though in real life Jessica Barr looks more like 24 than 18, her story will go over well with others about her age, particularly those who have suffered the loss of a parent or sibling much too early. Mature adults will be entertained while at the same gaining insight into the feelings and actions of adolescents, which makes “Sophie Jones” a movie to recommend to a broad age spectrum.

Though “Sophie Jones” opened March 2 of this year, Oscilloscope has tapped the film for end-year awards consideration.

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

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

GEORGETOWN

GEORGETOWN
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christopher Waltz
Writer: David Auburn, based on the NY Times article 7/8/12 “The Worst Marriage in Georgetown” by Franklin Foer
Cast: Christoph Waltz, Vanessa Redgrave, Annette Bening
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/12/21
Opens: May 14, 2021

So you think the Ponzi scheme worked out by the late Bernie Madoff is the most egregious case of its kind? Here’s another one that could take top honors away, though it not only yielded few financial dividends, motivated a murder, and involved people in the highest employ of international government. In his debut as director, Christoph Waltz, who may always be identified principally with his stellar role as a high-level Nazi in “Inglourious Basterds,” plans a scheme, yes a Ponzi scheme indeed. He would make contacts with important people, each of whom would refer him to a person of higher stature (including a former prime minister of France), a scammer who would ultimately be best known for killing his wife. Written by the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright David Auburn, “Georgetown” is more than simply inspired by an actual case in in which Albrecht Muth was convicted of killing his far older wife Viola Herms Drath, inheriting a relativity small sum of just a few hundred thousand dollars, but especially a large house in the tony DC section of Georgetown. In the film Ulrich Mott (Christoph Waltz), and his wife Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave) work together together to give celebrity status to a man who, in the movie, is about 44 while his wife is 91. It’s no wonder that Brecht’s daughter by a first marriage, Amanda (Annette Bening), cast a wary eye on Muth when he announced his engagement at a dinner party, one which he catered himself and which prompted Elsa to call him her butler.

“Georgetown” is one of those films that appropriately avoid conventional chronological telling. After all you wouldn’t think that Vanessa Redgrave, whose body is escorted from the house in a zippered bag near the beginning of the drama, is not to be seen again.

Though the actual story involves a teen aged Albrecht Muth courting is sixty-something widow, we are not totally surprised that in the filmed version, a man in his mid-forties makes contact with Elsa, lavishly praising her journalism. We watch as Elsa, flattered by Ulrich who kisses her hand, agrees to see him again—surprisingly enough since a journalist should be among the first to spot a phony.

Mott begins the scam by simply taking over the name tag and identity of the boss who fired him from an internship as a bad fit, getting him into the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Shortly thereafter Elsa, not really appreciating her spouse’s bringing her breakfast in bed, urges him to be ambitious, to use the energy and charm to ascend the career ladder by meeting and impressing important people. Elsa signs her own death warrant, if you will, by encouraging Ulrich’s design in appropriating a name for a fake NGO, which somehow none of the people who serve as his too-willing abettors can see through. Watch how he works and you may go away from the theater with your own ideas on how to scam. It’s simple. At an event, he heads right over to the former prime minister of France, who looks as though he would like to get away from his intruder pronto, but who ultimately is taken in by the man’s graces and is too willing to believe that Ulrich’s NGO, “Eminent Persons Group,” is not just a sheet of worthless paper. Maybe it helped that George Soros, who never heard of the group and who doesn’t know Ulrich is listed on the board of directors.

Who needs Jimmy Carter to bail out Americans held hostage by hostile nations when you have Ulrich Mott to serve as peacemaker? To that end Ulrich struts about with the uniform of an Iraqi soldier, a Brigadier General at that. Why not? The bigger the lie, as we have seen recently in our own country, the more likely people will believe it.

We see the house of cards collapsing when after explaining to some bigwigs that he was in the French Foreign Legion is challenged by one fellow who asks where those bars on his military jacket are for and suggesting sarcastically that Ulrich should ask the foreign legion for help on a dilemma. The film concludes on a hearing to determine whether he should stand trial for murder. Even his own lawyer begs him for something that could help him win a case that has little to no real defense (he was “out for a walk” when his wife was murdered in a break-in).

The film is bookmarked by a distant shot of a man, later identified as Ulrich, dressed in an Iraqi officer’s uniform, commanding a few dozen men. Ultimately this is Waltz’s movie, as he passes this test: do you really feel bad that his character was indicted for murder and, as shown in an epilogue, sentenced to 50 years in jail? If so, he is even a better charmer than we think, able to move us in our theater seats to his side.

99 minutes. (c) 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online

Story – A-

Acting – A

Technical – A-

Overall – A-

THE GOOD TRAITOR – movie review

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

Poster for The Good Traitor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEST PATTERN – movie review

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

Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DEAR COMRADES – movie review

DEAR COMRADES (Дораги товарищи)

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

Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPOOR – movie review

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

Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Polish with English subtitles.

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

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

 

TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH – movie review

TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH (Tabi no Owari Sekai no Hajimari)
Tokyo Theatres Co./ Loaded Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Atsuko Maeda, Tokio Emoto, Ryô Kase, Adiz Rajabov, Shôta Sometani
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/18/20
Opens: December 11, 2020 at New York’s Metrograph Theater. December18, 2020 streaming nationally.

Atsuko Maeda, a 29-year-old Japanese pop star, once appeared in a horror film, “The Complex” ( Kuroyuri danchi). She goes home to find an empty apartment, becomes hysterical, and finds out later that her family had died in a bus accident. Ms. Maeda is also hysterical at times in her current piece, “To the Ends of the Earth,” but this is far from being a horror film. It’s the latest from Kiyoshi Kurosawa, whose “Cure” in 1997 is about a series of gruesome murders by people who have no idea what they had done, and the more recent “Tokyo Sonata” about a family that disintegrates after its patriarch loses his job.

As Yoko (Atsuko Maeda), the principal character is coming of age, not so much because she has just graduated from college or found a new boyfriend, but because she, like most of us, works at a job that she’s “too good for” (she’s an actress being filmed in a travelogue for Japanese TV). She wants to be singer. She gets an audition in front of us, her movie audience, by twice singing “If You Loved Me (Really Loved Me)” but with invented Japanese lyrics. In the Japanese version which, like the American, notes that all you need is love, she gently and to an invisible orchestra pledges that for her man, she would give up her job, dump all her friends and family, sell out her country. In fact she would go “to the ends of the earth” to be with this lucky guy.

The film is part travelogue and part an exploration of a vulnerable woman traveling with a small film crew including one chap who is fluent in both Uzbek and Japanese. The crew are regularly worried that the views of Tashkent and the outside of Uzbekistan are not what interests their viewers, so there are lots of cuts. Easily the most unfortunate of these cuts shows Yoko riding a two-bit machine that almost as tacky as what you’d find in Coney Island, one that spins her around, knocks her upside down, and results in her throwing up into a plastic bag. And she does this three times! She probably would not mind going back to the beginning of the story and pretend that she likes a dish of uncooked rice offered by a woman and has to lie about how delicious it is.

She goes off on her own at one point to check out Tashkent’s nooks and crannies, and all eyes are on her. The men stare as though they had never seen anyone but an Uzbeki. Everyone on the bus stares. The police stare and even arrest her because she is using a camera to photograph an off-limits area.

She inhabits the feeling of many a person who is not a tourist but a traveler, going off without a group or a guide or an interpreter, speaking not a word of the local language, though with halting English. She rides a bus and has no idea where to get off. The two tourist places she inhabits after looking into the grime and back alleys in the fringe areas of the capital are the humongous Hotel Uzbekistan ($75 a room in May and you get over 10,000 soms for your US. Dollar), and the nearby Navoi Opera House. In that last destination she fantasies herself as a singer, with a full orchestra, letting us know once again that she would sell out her country, family and friends if she found the right guy. It’s a beautiful song, not belted out as would Brenda Lee, Maura O Connell or Jeff Buckley but with the grace and charm of a singer who takes the words genuinely to heart. These are the most effective moments, designed to bring a joyful tear or two to the eyes of a sensitive audience member like me.

Kurosawa punctuates the mixed feelings of global tourism. On the one hand there’s the experience of being in a country in which you don’t know the language and can tear your hair out in frustration with the loneliness of an innocent abroad. On the other hand there is the exhilaration of a new experience, a breaking away from the nine to five job, the TV channel-surfing, the dependence on the i-phone, the same ‘ol same ‘ol. Ultimately this is a lovely movie highlighting the adorability and acting chops of a petite, slim, Japanese woman who has apparently captured the affection of an endeared Japanese public.

In Japanese and Uzbeki with English subtitles.

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

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

 

ANOTHER ROUND MOVIE REVIEW

ANOTHER ROUND (Druk)
Samuel Goldwyn Company
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writer: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/11/20
Opens: December 4, 2020

Druk Movie Poster

If you limit yourself to two glasses of wine per day (one for women) you’ll get a buzz. You will feel high, less inhibited, looser tongued, friendlier, more fun. So why do so many people drink until they’re stone drunk, passing out, vomiting, suffering the next day’s hangover? This life of drinking excess which leads to car accidents, broken homes, and lost jobs is a problem greater than people have faced with marijuana, but try as they may, politicians have been markedly unable to stop the disease of drunkenness whether by the 18th amendment, the Volstead Act that put teeth into it, and lectures from the schools and from Alcoholics Anonymous. In “Another Round,” Thomas Vinterberg, whose has often flirted with Dogme 95 (filming with natural light, unfussy camerawork and minimalism such as in his “The Commune” about life in a Danish commune during the 1970s), looks at a quartet of middle-aged high-school teachers “experimenting” with liquor.

One of the teachers I believe, calls attention of his friends to the theory by one Finn Skårderud that we are all born with a 0.5 percent deficiency of blood alcohol. This flaw can easily be corrected if we drank throughout the day but stopped at 8 pm. This concept works well, but only for a while. Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a history teacher in a school with small classes, a professional sounding choir singing the praises of Denmark, and uniformed kids following their coach’s instructions to a letter, is unlike any public high school I’ve experienced. They’re a rowdy enough group but let loose with dancing and singing only on graduation day.

Martin, enjoying an alcohol high, becomes a better teacher immediately, quizzing his students about which of three powerful political men they would vote for, but he does not give away their names. Turns out that the vegetarian, the teetotaler, who never cheated on anyone, is the dude they would vote for. You probably know which 20th Century character that is. So: the guy who doesn’t drink is the one who turns out to be pure evil. There is yet another reason to hit the bottle, and you might be envious in the friendship that Martin enjoys with his faculty buddies.

A central theme that is virtually ignored for most of the time but takes on a big role in the concluding third of the film, the time that so many comedies turn serious, is Martin’s trouble with his wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie) He asks her if she considers him a bore, to which she replies that “you are not the same Martin that I once knew.” Maybe he should have quit then, but while he and his pals go well beyond the 0.5% blood alcohol, Martin’s marriage is headed for the rocks—not the ice that may be in his glass of Smirnoffs.

Though the quartet, one of whom sponsors his 40th birthday party which is the time that is officially the beginning of middle age, is fun to watch, the movie bogs down during the melodramatic third with a generic look at the final breakup of a marriage and an unfortunate occurrence that befalls one of the four. Despite the performance of the reliable Mads Mikkelsen, who enjoyed roles in “At Eternity’s Gate” as a priest during a film about Vincent Van Gogh, and “Arctic,” as a man who is stranded in the Arctic after a plane crash, his only moments of real drama here occur in the final minutes as he dances along with newly graduated high school students. Otherwise, whether pre-alcohol or post, his character is a bore.

The Danish title “Druk” means binge drinking. The film is in Danish with English subtitles.

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

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

 

BEANPOLE – movie review

BEANPOLE (Dylda)
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kantemir Balagov
Writer: Kantemir Balagov, Aleksadr Terekhov, inspired by Svetlana Alexievich’s book “The Unwomanly Face of War”
Cast: Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Andrey Bykov, Igor Shirokov, Konstantin Balakirev
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/27/20
Opens: January 29, 2020 in theaters. May 5, 2020 streaming

Beanpole

War is hell and Kantemir Balagov has a unique way of making that point. Balagov, whose “Closeness” (Tesnota) hones in a small, squalid town in which a Jewish couple are kidnapped with ransom demanded, paints on a larger canvas with “Beanpole.” Artem Emilianov’s lenses bring us up close to a hospital that is treating war injuries, where notably Stepan (Konstantin Balakirev) has apparently been paralyzed and begs for death, but he is most interested in the ways that two women are adapting to a war that killed some twenty million Soviet citizens, or one out of every ten residents.

The action takes place in Leningrad, the movie obviously affording money and artistry in showing the destruction of Russia’s second largest city, here complete with cars from the 1940s and a tram filled to the roof with people. The title character, hospital worker Beanpole (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and her best friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) have been emotionally injured by the war, relying on each other to find solace. Beanpole has been taking care of Masha’s child Pashka (Timofey Glazkov), who joins in the hospital entertainment playing charades. To further sink in the horror of war, Pashka is asked to play a dog, getting the reply “How would he know how to play a dog when all of them have been eaten?” One day, while the child is playing with Beanpole, he is accidentally suffocated. When Masha gets the bad news, she announces that her friend “owes her,” and since Masha is infertile due to removal of some organs, she demands that Beanpole become pregnant, the newborn to be handed over to Masha.

Beanpole is obviously afflicted with PTSD—she freezes like a statue which can easily be toppled over. In fact the director not only punctuates Beanpole’s traumatic acting act but features a great many shots that last longer than anything you might see in a Hollywood movie. Dialogue, then, is only one aspect of the story: glacially-paced shots of people simply staring at one another makes this a film for an audience that is both patient and responsive to what happens to people in a war.

In a scene that could be called the film’s one burst of humor, Sasha (Igor Shirocov), who could be used to act in a biopic about Putin given his resemblance to the Russian president as a youth, is behind the wheel of his car, but is pulled over the cushions into the back seat for a quickie with Masha. Later Sasha, whose family’s residence recalls Orwell’s “Animal Farm” which holds that “some people are more equal than others, is to introduce Masha as his girlfriend, soon to be his wife. The conversation between Masha and her potential mother-in-law is perhaps the strangest but most entertaining revelation of the film.

Strong performances from both Miroshnichenko and Perelygina anchor the film amid the impressive production design, making this feature Russia’s Oscar entry for the 92nd Academy Awards. As best friends the two women look like the odd couple, as Miroshnichenko, who resembles Tilda Swinton, is just under six feet tall while Perelygina looks barely over five. Both are first-time performers who should have no problem getting a great many more parts.

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

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

 

COLLECTIVE – movie review

COLLECTIVE
Magnolia Pictures/Participant
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alexander Nanau
Writer: Alexander Nanau, Antoaneta Opris
Cast: Narcis Hogea, Catalink Tolontan, Mirela Neag, Camelia Roiu
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/12/20
Opens: November 20, 2020

Collective (2019 film) - Wikipedia

During the final quarter hour of this Romanian documentary, you might swear that citizens of that Eastern European state are under the same pressures and problems as the we have in our U.S. politics. An election is held. Opponents of a party rife with corruption complain that those in awe of that reactionary group want to bring the country back to a former time. We hear that only a small percentage of people age 18-24 are voting—actually five percent, and even we in America have a bigger turnout of youths. Ultimately, the problems of Romania are felt in states around the world, as politics and corruption appear to go hand in hand.

As in Steven Spielberg’s 2017 blockbuster film “The Post,” “Collective” takes us to journalists, this time in Bucharest, though Alexander Nanau’s film deliberately lacks the pizazz brought about by music in the soundtrack (there is none here). Strangely, tales of bribery and mismanagement are being uncovered by a sports magazine. Since this is a documentary, professional actors are not used in favor of giving the cameras’ eyes to the actual people involved.

The writer-director, whose recent doc “Toto and His Sisters” tells of a family awaiting their mother’s return from prison, opens with the movie’s most melodramatic moments, a fire five years ago in a Bucharest nightclub called Collectiv, resulting in the deaths of twenty-seven and injuries over one hundred. Many hospitalized patients who died might have survived had they not been infected by highly resistant bacteria, doing their deed in the absence of effective sterility. In the principal role, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Catalin Tolontan, puts the potential story front and center, his staff taking pictures, following nurses and doctors on their rounds, ultimately to find that contrary to the view of the health minister, whose party will soon be up for re-election, the hospitals are unprepared. The disinfectant, Hexa Pharma, was watered down to just ten percent of its proper strength. The guilty
party is likely not the hospital but the pharmaceutical company, its CEO’s death in a car accident deemed a suicide.

The health minister had to go as well, Vlad Voiculescu taking his place. The genius of the film is that while I thought the meetings he held with his staff are reimagined but are actually photographed by the writer-director who is also behind the lenses. The crew is apparently given full access, a kind of transparency we wish were present within our own federal government.

Bribery is not the only corruption taken to task, as journalists under Tolontan discover that the entire health institution is rotten, bonding hospital administrators to the entire medical establishment presumably dipping their hands in the taxpayers’ money for their own use. The film was shot over fourteen months, with editing taking the better part of year. Aside from the film’s audience good luck in not having to listen to Hollywood-style music in the soundtrack, Nanau uses Tedy Ursuleanu’s testimony and her portraits to punctuate the damage done by the nightclub fire. She has a robotic hand that works just fine but her body is largely covered by burns. Hospitals are so ill equipped throughout the country that tourists should take note: if you get sick or have an accident in Romania, get your butt to Vienna’s treatment centers ASAP.

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

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

ALONE WITH HER DREAMS – movie review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Italian with English subtitles.

95 minutes. © Harvey Karten

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

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-

SHITHOUSE – movie review

SHITHOUSE
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Cooper Raiff
Writer: Cooper Raiff
Cast: Cooper Raiff, Dylan Gelula, Amy Landecker, Logan Miller, Olivia Welch
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/16/20
Opens: October 16, 2020

Cooper Raiff, the 22-year-old director, writer, and star of this small but delicate movie, provides some enlightenment to me, though I had been intellectually aware of how college is different these days from when I went in the mid-1950s. In my day, we had parties in the fraternity house, but the young women were nowhere near as sexually free as today’s coeds. At the junior prom, the dances were more like fox trots, cha-cha’s and rhumbas, the dances which if they were on a completion test for today’s college freshmen would make them wonder what’s amiss in their vocabularies. The women had curfews—no later than midnight on weekends, but the deans need not have worried. A panty raid was as risqué an experience as you might find at that time. As for marijuana—what’s that?

Poster

“Shithouse, which is so low key that while the music at the parties is loud, there is gratefully no music at all in the soundtrack. Raiff wants us to hear the conversations clearly, and given the absence of a traditional plot, there is no need to create suspense, or romance, or whatever else you want music for.

Cooper Raiff plays his role with such authenticity that you’d swear that in real life he is like that. Strikingly handsome, he is unable to parlay his thick hair and all-around good lucks to have what everyone of us needs: attention of others and of course love. But good lucks gets him somewhere with Maggie (Dylan Gelula), the more experienced sophomore he meets at a party who invites him to play spin-the-bottle, but with more action than my 1950s friends and I ever got from that game. They have sex in her room but he is somehow thwarted, so they settle for a long time of shooting the shit in the room and on campus, where he tells Maggie about the stuffed dog he carried with him from home (which he had left only weeks before), and in the movie’s one surreal moment the dog talks to him. Almost needless to say, he has no friends and confesses that lack to Maggie.

He’s a mama’s boy who calls home to get chat with his Mom (Amy Landecker) and his sister Jess (Olivia Welsh).
When he discovers Maggie hooking up with another, he gives her hell, which leads to another long talk with her not realizing that he thinks incorrectly that his hookup and his long conversation with her the night before means less to her than to him.

None of this would likely make Alex think that we would have been better off staying at home and going to a local college. The out-of-town experience for men and women from the ages of eighteen to twenty-two is invaluable. The coursework may be similar, but being away from home for four years minus summers and holidays, and being able to communicate with a roommate who is different form you such as Sam (Logan Miller), a party animal whose dorm-room exercise consists of throwing up after indulgent in some serious alcohol, provides an education in social graces.

This is the kind of movie that fits in with the SXSW festival, where it won best narrative feature. Don’t be misled by the title, which relates to the initial party that Alex attends at the Shit House. In our day the party areas were called by Greek letters, but at least here you can’t say that “Shit House is Greek to me.”

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

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

 

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+

THE WAY I SEE IT – movie review

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

The Way I See It Movie Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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+

BLACKBIRD – movie review

BLACKBIRD
Screen Media
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Roger Michell
Screenwriter: Christian Torpe
Cast: Bex Taylor-Klaus, Sam Neill, Mia Wasikowska, Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, Rainn Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Anson Boon
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/20/20
Opens: September 18, 2020

Poster

A blackbird is a symbol of intuition, wit and knowledge while on the other hand the bird which has sometimes scared people, can represent darkness. The latter symbol may be at work primarily in Roger Michell’s drama about family, euthanasia, and one major twist that occurs late in the drama—though audience members born under the intuition represented by the bird might guess what that may be. “Blackbird is in the hands of director Michell, whose “My Cousin Rachel” is a revenge drama that becomes complicated when the avenger falls under the charms of the beautiful woman he targets.

Still of Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet in Blackbird (2019)

The only kind of revenge that we see in “Blackbird” could be that of a woman who is afflicted with the dread disease ALS (Lou Gehrig’s) raging against nature for giving her a plague that neither she nor anyone else deserves. But Lily (Susan Sarandon) has accepted her fate, and unwilling to die naturally—if you can call waiting until you can’t swallow can’t speak, can’t move your legs and arms and ultimately suffocate natural—she chooses suicide, or euthanasia. Such an exit is legal in only a few states but carried out only when a victim succeeds in jumping through hoops. She is married to Paul (Sam Neill), a doctor, able to acquire enough pentobarbital to kill half an army, as he puts it.

“Blackbird,” a remake of Bille August’s 2014 Danish picture “Silent Heart,” or “Stille hjerte,” closely follows that trajectory of three generations of a family who come together as a final sendoff to Lily. But this is not the lively affair that we see in the 1996 film “It’s My Party,” Randal Kleiser’s look at a mostly young family contingent joined together to say farewell to a man afflicted with AIDS who chooses to die on his own terms. In fact, for most of the story, we watch family and friends gather and socialize in the incredibly spacious and posh home (filmed by Mike Eley in West Sussex, England). The usual pleasantries take up too much time; the hugs, the aimless chit-chat. Still there are moments of grand humor, mostly centered on the Michael (Rainn Wilson), klutzy husband of Paul and Lily’s daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet), a pedant whose wife criticizes his lack of emotions and who guesses that if she threw a glass of wine in his face, she would probably hear in what district the grapes were grown.

As you might expect, not everybody is cool with Lily’s plans, particularly Anna (Mia Waskowska), who has shown up with her girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus), and who is furious that her mother never took the time to get to know her. She asks Lily to delay the plan to allow the two of them to do just that. Not so Lily’s sister Jennifer, who insists that euthanasia is Lily’s decision. And in fact Lily, in the final moments, appears to demand that the guests assembled agree unanimously to her decision, the “jury” threatening to be hung by Anna.

Despite her small role Liz (Lindsay Duncan), Lily’s best friend who sometimes join her and Paul on vacations, plays a key role in the film’s best plot twist. Ultimately, though, “Blackbird” suffers from Sam Neill’s passivity and from Susan Sarandon’s phoning in her performance. Diane Keaton, originally selected to play the part, would have turned in acting better conveying Lily’s controlling decision.

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

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

 

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+

 

MY PRINCE EDWARD – movie review

MY PRINCE EDWARD
Cheng Cheng Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Norris Wong
Writer: Norris Wong
Cast: Stephy Tang, Pak Hon Chu, Hee Ching Paw
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/26/20
Opens: September 2, 2020

Right up until the mid-1960s, all my single friends and I lived with our parents, even though we had already pushed into our early twenties. On second thought not all. One of my pals moved out of Brooklyn into a small apartment in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan. The rest of us thought: what’s wrong with Steve? Doesn’t he get along with his folks? Predictably, our parents did not want to lose us so quickly, insisting “You can move out of here when you get married. You don’t want to go off alone.” What’s wrong with going off while single? Who knows? Happily, times have changed.

This brings us to Norris Wong’s “My Prince Edward” which takes place in the Prince Edward area of Hong Kong’s North Kowloon where most of the action takes place. The principal character, Fong (Stephy Tang), has a rebellious spirit. She no longer wants to “live at home” as we say when we don’t mean “home” but mean “with our parents.” Yet for reasons surrounding Hong Kong’s culture, she thought she would have to get married to do so. So she sets up a sham marriage with Yang Shuwei (Jin Kaiijie) from Fuzou on the Chinese mainland, which “allows” her to move away to the mainland and gain more freedom. In return Yang is able to fulfill his desire get a permit for Hong Kong by marriage to her. Years later she’s back in Hong Kong, this time living with Edward (Pak Hon Chu), and continues to live with him without marriage for years, bristling at Edward’s mother, who dominates her son, and confused because the chemistry with Edward just is not there. The two work in a bridal shop with Edward serving as photographer.

Edward discovers years later that his girlfriend had this fake marriage, is furious, then realizes that she and her fake husband never lived together as man and wife but in fact are trying to jump bureaucratic hoops to get divorced. If we see Edward as representative of the Hong Kong culture, the city does not come off well. Mainland China turns out, contrary to the view most of the world has, to be more culturally progressive than Hong Kong, as Yang, though he is about to marry a woman he got pregnant, wonders why Fong is so intent on marrying. “No one rushes to get married any more,” Yang says, obviously, apparently summing up the view of the people of his mainland city. Presumably, given the steady rioting of Hong Kongers against the incursions of the mainland, politics is a different story.

Norris Wong, who wrote and directs an impressive first film and whose Facebook page can be found here https://www.facebook.com/norrisfilm/, evokes performances all around by characters who are more than representatives of marital ideologies but are sympathetic people: one who is fully independent (Yang), one who is still a schlemiel (Edward), and one (Fong) is in the middle on the cusp of greater maturity, independence and happiness. Perhaps the best representative of a trait is the tortoise that Fong buys because the poor reptile has flipped over on its side, its vulnerability treated with empathy by its purchaser who wishes it to be turned back and regain independence.

The film is in Cantonese and Mandarin with subtitles in both Mandarin and English.

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

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

 

REBUILDING PARADISE – movie review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GUEST OF HONOR – movie review

GUEST OF HONOR
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Atom Egoyan
Screenwriter: Atom Egoyan
Cast: David Thewlis, Luke Wilson, Laysla De Oliveira, Tennille Read, Rossif Sutherland, Tamara Podemski
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/27/20
Opens: July 10, 2020

guest-of-honour-poster-600x867

A sleazy bus driver is obsessed with a beautiful young woman. A depressed and confused father cannot understand why her daughter, in jail for a crime she did not commit, resists all chances for release. While Atom Egoyan, whose “The Sweet Hereafter,” about complications following a tragic accident involving schoolchildren may be his best film, he now presides over a relationship that brings out the character of both Jim (David Thewlis), the dad, and his adult daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira). To the movie’s credit, the performance by David Thewlis, the emotional center of the film, is superb, and Egoyan is able to evoke an accomplished job from De Oliveira. However the zigs and zags of time are so frequent and distracting that we wonder why he could not have played the story straight.

The story is framed by a conference between Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) and Father Greg (Luke Wilson), a priest. After her father dies, Veronica wants to give the minister clues to her dad’s life for the eulogy, though the details she reveals may be simply too truthful for the testimonial. She describes Jim’s profession, that of a food inspector in Ontario with the power to close down small businesses. She seems cheered when remembering how much care and attention he paid to her pet rabbit Benjamin when she was away from home conducting concerts with the school orchestra. But she has no problem raising one issue that caused her trauma. When her mother was ill with cancer, she saw Jim holding hands with another woman, an observation Jim defensively tries to refute.

After driving the teacher and the kids to a concert, Mike (Rossif Sutherland), the driver, gets into Veronica’s cell phone and texts a message pretending it is from one of the youngsters. When Veronica realizes that the driver is the guilty party, she stages a prank in which she pretends to have sex with two of her underage boys in order to drive Mike crazy. She feels so guilty for her own actions that she goes willingly to jail for statutory rape and refuses a chance to be released. Melodramatic as this venture can be, Jim’s search for redemption is the real heart of the film. He is a failed restaurateur turned Ontario food health inspector, willing to close down restaurants with a single inspection almost as if he is getting revenge on those successfully plying the food trade. He finds a rat in one place, sniffs at the temperature of the meat, and in one dastardly deed he plants rabbit poop in the men’s room of one restaurant for reasons that become clear. The highlight occurs when he threatens to close down an Armenian place for processing meat on the premises, a violation of code. When days later when a large, boisterous party enjoys the rabbit meat, honoring him for keeping the place open,even making him the guest of honor. The sad, hesitant speech he delivers to the bemusement of the crowd sums up buried feelings.

In several scenes, Thewlis wears a green shirt with green slacks and jacket amid a background of sickly green, the colors becoming warner as the story continues. While granting that the convoluted plot, a characteristic of Egoyan’s general directing, may keep the audience on edge, withholding information to tease an audience into wondering about a payoff, in this case the technique goes so far that the plot is too muddied.

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

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

MY WONDERFUL WANDA – movie review

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

Wanda, mein Wunder (2020)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE TOBACCONIST – movie review

THE TOBACCONIST (Der trafikant)
Menemsha Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nickolaus Leytner
Screenwriters: Klaus Richter, Nikolaus Leytner, based on Robert Seethaler’s novel
Cast: Simon Morzé, Bruno Ganz, Johannes Krisch, Emma Drogunova
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/29/20
Opens: July10, 2020

Tobacconist-US-Poster-sm.jpg

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” That is probably the best-known quote attributed to Dr. Sigmund Freud, meaning that you don’t have to look deeply into everything to understand; that a cigar is not always a symbol of what’s hiding inside every man’s pants. Now immerse yourself into the world of fiction. Think of a 17-year-old boy who confides to Freud that he simply does not understand love. “You don’t have to understand water. Just jump in,” replies the good doctor in Nickolaus Leytner’s period piece taking place in Vienna during the year 1938. Nickolaus Leytner, whose résumé is chock full of TV movies like “Die Stille danach” (how does a family live when its son has murdered five people and himself?), now directs “The Tobacconist,” from the Man Booker Prize-finalist novel of the same name by Robert Seethaler.

The movie is co-written by Klaus Richter, who wrote the screenplay about the rise and fall of actor Ferdinand Marian (who played the title character in the anti-Semitic “The Jew Suss”). “The Tobacconist” is both a coming of age story and a description of Vienna just before and during its occupation by Germany in 1938. While most Austrians after the war protested that they were victims of the occupation, the historical record (and this movie) indicates that many the German-speaking country welcomed the Nazi presence wholeheartedly.

In the film Franz Huchel (Simon Morzé), a 17-year-old boy, is forced by his promiscuous mother Margarete (Regina Fritsch) to leave their village after the middle-aged woman’s lover is electrocuted while swimming during a storm. (The opening scene is a gem.) Arriving there, he is employed by Otto Trsnjek (Johannes Krisch), the owner of a small tobacco shop and probably one of Margarete’s former lovers. Otto is an ardent anti-Nazi who has philosophic views about his main product. As he tells the easily impressed young apprentice, “A bad cigar is like horseshit… and a great cigar is the world.” (Given the state of the world today and in 1930s Europe, I would probably choose the bad cigar.) Otto welcomes Communists and Jews to the dismay of his neighbor the butcher, who, if he had the chance, would probably turn in both the vendor and Dr. Freud (Bruno Ganz in his last role) to the occupation.

The heart of the movie is the unlikely friendship of the young man with Dr. Freud. Though the father of psychoanalysis treats patients who can afford him, he freely gives advice to Franz, in love with an assertive Czech music hall dancer Anezka (Emma Drogunova). Freud’s family urges him to leave Vienna for London, believing rightly that his life would be in danger if he remained.

The personal story involves a young man who might have remained naïve had he stayed in the village of Attersee and how his boss, who lost a leg in World War I, coached him on tobacco and life. The personal alternates with the political as a drama of a city that appears proudly to hang large Nazi flags on a government building turned into a Gestapo headquarters. Among the treasures of the film is a series of Franz’s dreams, all surreal as dreams tend to be, and exquisitely photographed by cinematographer Hermann Dunzendorfer, filming in Germany, Austria and Italy. Aside from the filming, the highlight would have to be the strong performances by Johannes Krisch as the older tobacconist, a humanist who once rejected the business of a man who asked to buy a National Socialist newspaper; of the late Bruno Ganz, unrecognizable as the famous shrink who is both a fount of wisdom and fearful of his future under Nazism; and Simon Morzé as the young title figure, who learns to stand up to the Nazis like the neighboring butcher and to let go of a woman who would be anything but loyal to one mana.

In German with English subtitles.

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

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

HOMEWRECKER – movie review

HOMEWRECKER
Dark Star Pictures/ Uncork’d Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Zach Gayne
Screenwriter: Precious Chong, Alex Essoe, Zach Gayne
Cast: Precious Chong, Alex Essoe, Tony Mathews, Kris Siddiqi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/26/20
Opens: July 3, 2020

A strange thing about “Homewrecker,” mostly a two-hander theatrical piece that could do well on an off-broadway stage, is that despite some clunky dialogue and obviously fake fights, it dies gave a hold on an audience. This could be in part because at 76 minutes it does not outlast its welcome and because young people, especially, women in the their twenties who may consider having babies will want to think over whether their husbands are the right people to team up with. We get the impression that though sisterhood may not be all that it’s cracked up to be, a liberated woman would do well to choose the right person to be your “sister.” Sometimes a friendly person who believes she has rapport with a potential friend is wrong. The other young woman may be just not into the budding friendship and should not be afraid to tell this individual that discussing husbands and boyfriends is off limits.

In the case of “Homewrecker” Michelle (Alex Essoe), an interior designer working on a laptop in a public space tells Linda (Precious Chong) she appreciates the atmosphere because it’s quiet. But Linda fails to take the hint. Even worse, Michelle, who is so introverted that she can barely construct a sentence without several ums is too nice to tell an aggressive person to buzz off. When Linda asks Michelle take a look at her house and offer suggestions on decorating it, Michelle, who has work to do and should know better, agrees.

Now once a psycho has you inside her quarters, there’s no getting out, unless the house has a door that can be opened from the inside and windows that are not too small and too tightly bound to the wall make that impossible. When Linda shows that she is so desperately lonely that she has gone past the limits of borderline psychosis, the horror begins. Michelle is locked in, willing to take Linda up on the latter’s suggestion to play a board game called Party Hunks. The subtext of the game is that players will reveal things about themselves that they would not consider saying, especially to someone they had just met.

The film goes from horror to temporary truce, back to horror, until Linda makes a move with a hammer on the wall that will make you think of Jack Nicholson’s role in “The Shining.” Summing up, Linda is psychotic and Michelle is neurotic, which is not a good combination for friendship.

The movie is written by the two principal actors plus the director, Zach Gayne in his freshman entry. Gayne also directed “F*ckdrive” which is only seven minutes long, and is likely to be back with something less sophomoric than “Homewrecker.”

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

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

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+

CORPUS CHRISTI – movie review

CORPUS CHRISTI
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jan Komasa
Screenwriter: Mateusz Pacewicz
Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycembel, Tomasz Zietek, Barbara Kurzaj, Leszek Lichota
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/13/20
Opens: June 23, 2020

Corpus Christi Poster

You may leave this film, a rigorous drama embellished with Catholic ritual, with a thought.

When Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) is about to leave juvenile detention in a small Polish community, he tells the institution’s priest, Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlatl), that he wants to work in a seminary. Daniel might be considered teacher’s pet by his youthful fellow convicts who spend their time training to work in a sawmill. He is the one called upon by the priest to add to the devotionals, sings the 23rd Psalm without a trace of self-consciousness or embarrassment, and thinks rightly that he could minister to a small town congregation. But Tomasz cautions that with his record, no seminary would take him on. What’s puzzling is: why is it so difficult for an ex-convict, anywhere, any country, to be trusted with a responsible job, even one that is not known for having cash around?

Daniel eschews working in a sawmill and takes a bus to a distant community where he becomes a fake priest. He convinces the vicar (Zdzislaw Wardejn) that he has been recently ordained in Warsaw, whips out a clerical collar with which he absconded, and is asked by the vicar to take his place for a while as he goes off to take care of health problems.

The dark, intense, absorbing and surprisingly credible tale of revenge and redemption is directed by Jan Komasa, whose “Warsaw 44” is a tale of the uprising against the Nazis, with a story line that features love, friendly and adventure. “Corpus Christi” is a more intimate story which benefits greatly from Bielenia’s stunning performance as twenty-year-old who may be faking his credentials but is the real thing otherwise; a fellow whose ministrations to his small-town flock leads to record numbers at services including absolute trust in him as parishioners go to confession.

Aside from the principal action in which we in the audience may suspect that a reckoning, there is a secondary plot. A middle-aged man had crashed his car into a vehicle holding six youths, killing all. The vicar, with the support of the community including the sacristy caretaker Lidia (Aleksandra Konieczna), refuses to bury the man. Daniel goes against the opinion of everyone except the widow (Barbara Kurzaj) of the “murderer” and the caretaker’s daughter, Marta (Elilza Rycembel), who is sexually attracted to the priest. He bucks even the town mayor and leading employer (Leszek Lichota) who wants the planned burial to just go away, Daniel must face a crossroads when inevitably, people back at “juvie” discover the fraud.

If this were a documentary or a “Christian” feature, the moral would be: give former convicts a chance a redemption. As a drama, the same noble message would come across, but more importantly, “Corpus Christi,” with its powerful performance by a 28-year-old with a passionate gaze, will serve as a dramatized sermon that few actual religious leaders can regularly match.

The movie is in Polish with English subtitles and benefits hugely by the absence of music in the soundtrack. “Corpus Christi” was the Polish entry for the 2020 Academy Awards for International Feature.

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

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

PICTURE OF HIS LIFE – movie review

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

THE DEPARTURE – movie review

THE DEPARTURE
Merland Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Merland Hoxha
Screenwriter: Merland Hoxha
Cast: Jon Briddell, Kendall Chappell, Olivia Lemmon, Austin Lauer, Grant Wright Gunderson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/2/20
Opens: June 12, 2020

The Departure Poster

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive.” So said Sir Walter Scott in 1806 in a historical romance novel. Nobody really thinks times have changed. Scott was writing about events in the 16th century and now Merland Hoxha directs his update on the theme using three major players in a piece that you could easily stream on your small screen now that theaters are closed. In his freshman job as writer-director Hoxha, who may or may not be a relation of Enver, hones in on a modern romance which has moments of comedy but is as serious as you can hope to get with twenty-somethings who will interrupt almost any live conversation to pick up a text message or answer a call. Immaturity abounds in “The Departure,” a cute, theatrical piece involving three major characters, one young woman who quickly leaves the screen, and the boss of a company that sells environmentally-friendly equipment.

People lie all the time, white lies to save people’s feelings and the other kind to advance our objectives. This production highlights the machinations of two best friends Nate (Grand Wright Gunderson) and John (Austin Lauer) and the way they and one young woman, Jessica (Kendall Chappell) manipulate one another. The result of the game may turn out to be other than what each had hoped, but perhaps they had fun playing with one another’s feelings, though not without the guilt that should cloud the emotions of anyone but a sociopath.

For all we know, Hoxha may have been inspired by Pierre Ambroise Francois Choderlos de Laclos’ 18th century novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” which in a filmed version finds Jeanne Moreau coercing her husband Gerard Philippe into ruining the reputation of pious Annette Vadim. Philippe spoils the nasty plan by falling in love with his intended victim. The ultimate punishment in both the classic study and this lighter version is painful.

Nate is assigned by his grateful boss Bruce (Jon Briddell) to go from the West Coast to New York for six months to shape up a team whose manager is inept. Wouldn’t you know that the plum job that could mean a career advancement for Nate occurs just about the time that he asks his steady gal Jessica to move in with him. Wondering whether Jessica would stay loyal to him during the six months’ separation, he asks John to try to seduce her. At first John is dumbfounded but agrees. For a while he is quite pleased the way things are turning out. The wheels turn, the game moves forward, and tensions erupt that threaten to send the entire troupe into soul-searching depression.

The tale is well acted by the threesome; by Kendall Chappell, whose theater major at the University of Michigan is paying off; by Austin Lauer who studied acting at the University of Evansville in Indiana, and by Grant Gunderson who previously appeared in a short about people planning to enter Trump’s private house to steal a billion bucks (though the president may have more experience in that profession).

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

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