SUPER SIZE ME 2: HOLY CHICKEN – movie review

Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Screenwriter: Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick
Cast: Morgan Spurlock
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/14/19
Opens: September 6, 2019

Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken Movie Poster Sizes 11x17" 16x24" 24x36"

When you see what goes into the chicken sold in fast food restaurants (and realize that probably the red meat industry does likewise for its burgers and fish) you may decide to go vegan. It’s not just the unhealthy ingredients and the lack of transparency in the franchises like Popeye’s, KFC, and Chick Fil-A. It’s the way that small farmers that grow the animals that wind up on your dinner plate are shafted by the five big corporations to which they sell the birds, principally Tyson. You may even go further than giving up animal flesh and think that you want nothing to do with capitalism. “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken” provides not only terrific information about the chicken industry. It is so entertaining that you might decide that documentaries, often at the bottom rung of movie popularity, are as worthy of your time and money as dramas and comedies.

There’s no wonder that this movie with its terrific, rapid editing, puts Morgan Spurlock on the same plane as Michael Moore. Like Moore, Spurlock knows how to be political without making you think that “educational” films are like carrots and broccoli: healthful and filling but simply not the kinds of foods you salivate over. You will remember that Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” thirteen years ago took aim at the fast-food burger chains, particularly McDonald’s, where the documentarian took all his meals for thirty days straight at Mickey D’s and wound up feeling ill and carrying around a huge weight gain. Now, paradoxically, in order to satirize the chicken industry, he opens a chicken restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, the center of food marketing experimentation, and buys a farm in Alabama to raise the cluckers. You may wonder whether he is actually doing this, or simply imagining a script for his vivid new doc. After all, how can a filmmaker, however on the A-list of documentaries, manage in a field so different from his own?

If you’re concerned about your health—and surprisingly enough many Americans can’t give two figs for what they put into their bodies—you have probably been impressed by claims made by the food industry such as “natural,” “hormone-free,” “locally grown,” “organic,” “free range,” “sustainable.” Turns out that for the most part these words are simply marketing tools and just a bunch of B.S. Looking at a farm that raises chicken “free range” instead of caged, you find that the chicks are on the big main floor with hardly room to move—so they might as well be caged. Think of the New York City subway system on a work day at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

But what if you really are not a particularly ethical person and you don’t care how the chickens are raised? You don’t mind that the vast majority of chickens are from one breed known for growing so fast that they can hardly walk, and that some will die on the floor of heart attacks and other maladies. Your health is still affected when you eat deep fried chicken, far more caloric and greasy than grilled, but for most of us, taste is the most important factor.

But maybe you care about the small farmers that, being forced to sell to one of the five giant corporations, namely Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms, Perdue Foods and Koch Foods. The biggies like to keep the farmers in debt, paying them less if they have complained or, in this case are giving information to Spurlock about the underside of capitalism. They supply the farmers with housing, land and equipment but make sure that the farmers pay so much for improvements such as heating units that they are like serfs under feudalism rather than workers under capitalism.

Spurlock has a gift for interviewing, peppering his questions with witticisms and employing the talents of people who explain the principles of marketing, all backed up by a bouncy musical score employing passages from Richard Strauss, Camille Saint-Saens and George Frideric Handel. If you’re concerned that the movie provides no solutions, that’s because are none. Eighty-eight percent of Americans will buy chicken each week.

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

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

THE GAME CHANGERS – movie review

OPS Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Louis Psihoyos
Screenwriter: Mark Monroe, Joseph Pace
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/9/19
Opens: September 16, 2019

The Game Changers Movie Poster


With its sharp, rapid editing, colorful action photos, and testimonies of people in the sports field, “The Game Changers” comes across with a thesis that’s not only convincing and entertaining but perhaps the one movie this year that could change your life. Director Louis Psihoyos is known here for his stunning 2009 movie “The Cove,” which might have garnered some death threats by exposing Japanese who trap dolphins (“Who is this foreigner to tell us how to run our country?” replies one opponent). He now puts quite a positive spin on the value of changing to a plant-based diet. While subjects like Arnold Schwarzenegger rivet attention, urging vegans and vegetarians not to ask people to change over quickly from meat products to plant foods (try one meatless day a week, he suggests), other athletes who have made a full correction to abolishing meat, fish, eggs, and cheese seek to prove to us that they are stronger, have more endurance, and most important have stiffer erections than those of us in the majority who cannot imagine giving up the carnivorous pleasures.

“The Game Changers” is not one of those PETA-style broadsides showing naked models saying captions “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” Nobody is hit over the head with how evil we are if we damage our own bodies while destroying the ecology through supporting the livestock industry. The folks who populate the movie keep the pressure low but imply “Just look at me and what I can do, and I do this not only while avoiding steak, eggs, cheese and milk but actually because I have sworn off these products.

Comments by rough, tough athletes are frequently segued to scientists like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who do not simply tell us about the dangers of meat but do so with videos and graphs, the most impressive being two pictures shown by Esselstyn’s son Rip, one of arteries clogged and looking as though serial killers have mutilated them beyond description and contrasting this with a picture arteries that are bright and clear.

We have been worshipping meat for nutrition as well as taste, proclaiming the virtues of a Big Mac or a Popeye Fried Chicken, but chickens, cows, lambs and pigs are only intermediaries who have consumed vegetation and who pass on to us the protein in those plants. The two most impressive subjects are sprinter Scott Jurek who set a new world record in running a one-man marathon across the entire Appalachian trail, and Patrik Baboumian, who likewise made the Guinness Book of Wrold Recrods by lifting over one thousand pounds and walking several feet while doing so.

As for experiments, the most involving finds three football players who are first give meat and told to get a night’s sleep with two bands placed around each of their penises and the next day given only plant food. The study found that the plants increased both the size of sleep-time erections and their hardness. So when PETA says that vegans are sexier, here’s the beginning of actual proof that a plant based diet is good “for people who have penises and for those who like people who have penises.”

“The Game Changers” arrives at theaters just days after the opening of Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken,” which is not about super-sized penises but about the world-wide dangers caused by the poultry industry. Both films are among the most important you may see in 2019.

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

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

WHERE’S MY ROY COHN – movie reveiw

Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Matt Tyrnauer
Screenwriter: Matt Tyrnauer
Cast: Ken Auletta, Roy M. Cohn, Anne Roiphe, Roger Stone, Donald Trump, Barbara Walters, Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 9/17/19
Opens: September 20, 2019

Image result for wheres my roy cohn movie poster

Documentary film-makers have no obligation to be impartial. Some of the best known of the group, Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) and Michael Moore (“Sicko”) gain their audience by being one-sided while at the same time marshalling (or as some would say, cheery-picking), facts. From “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City,” taking aim at an urban developer championing highways over public transport, to “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood,” about a man who was sexual procurer to the stars, the director shows an intent on bringing down celebrities who are not considered among the best of men. His coverage now of Roy M. Cohn, treated like a prince by his mother and emerging with a mind so brilliant that he graduated from law school at the age of twenty, says nothing new. Those of us who remember the Army-McCarthy hearings, Cohn’s standing up for mafia chieftans and such questionable characters as Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy and now President Donald Trump, should give you an idea of his talent and desirability as defense council. But Cohn, who died of AIDS at the age of fifty-nine without even coming out of the closet as a homosexual, was ultimately disbarred.

Director Tyrnauer, who may have gone overboard in implying that Cohn’s very “reptilian” face is a reflection of his sordid sole, may instead be simply the result of his being birthed by Dora Cohn, a woman supposedly so homely that one Al Cohn was offered a judgeship if he would marry her.

Some viewers might disagree that there was anything wrong with the way Cohn prosecuted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who regardless of their treason did not deserve to be executed. To assure that the Rosenbergs would be denied clemency or have their death sentence commuted, he illegally spoke by phone with Judge Kaufman urging him to deliver the ultimate sentence. For that, Cohn was called a self-hating Jew. And since when you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas, Cohn could deserves condemnation for being the chief counsel of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, who built a reputation and following among far-right Americans by falsely stating that our state department and army were infiltrated by members of the Communist Party. In fact during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, when McCarthy accused a member of a Boston law firm of being a front for the Communist Party, army counsel Joseph Welsh, disgusted by the implication, delivered the famous quote, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. “Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?” Eighty million people tuned in to the hearings, many ultimately realizing that McCarthy was not rational in his anti-Communist he purported to be.

Among the charges against Cohn in his disbarment hearings, the lawyer was found to have pressured a dying man to amend his will thereby foreshadowing a windfall of money to Cohn. The signature of the victim looked in no way like anything in the English alphabet, just a bunch of scrawling as the poor fellow was too week to write a single letter. Nonetheless, a viewer knowing little to nothing about Roy Cohn might come away from this documentary without being impressed that Cohn deserved to be disbarred and treated like a villain. Everybody is entitled to a lawyer. Representing alleged Mafioso, being chief counsel to Senator McCarthy, and advising Trump in the developer’s early days do not appear to constitute in my mind a solid case for the ultimate penalty of disbarment.

This documentary is by no means a stale history lesson as Donald Trump is brought into the proceedings with mention of Trump Tower which involved the Trump family’s corruption from the building of the tower to the way that many illegal Polish immigrants working on the project were not paid. As they say, in movies, the villain usually gets the best role, has the sharpest dialogue, and in his excoriation of Roy M. Cohn, Matt Tyrnauer does not disagree.

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

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

VIVARIUM – movie review

Saban Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Screenwriter: Garret Shanley
Cast: Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Senan Jennings, Eanna Harwike, Jonathan Aris
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/3/20
Opens: March 27, 2020

One of the most explosive and controversial books in recent times, David Benatar’s “The Human Predicament,” takes the view that giving birth is bad. Benatar is an anti-natalist not so much because of the usual reasons—too many people in the world leads to disastrous climate change and food shortages—but because, he believes, you are inflicting pain on your children. The happiness our children feel will is subordinate to their pain. Citing Benatar’s example, would you be willing to accept an hour of pain in return for getting an hour of pleasure? Hardly anyone would say yes. Which brings us to “Vivarium,” the word meaning a structure for keeping animals under semi-natural conditions for observation and experimentation.

Director Lorcan Finnegan, whose “Without Name” follows a land surveyor’s measuring an ancient forest, who loses his reason under supernatural conditions, is in his métier with “Vivarium,” a intriguing puzzle of a movie that will evoke several interpretations. The easy one is that the film is a satire on suburban living, which it is, not unlike “Suburbican,,” “The Burbs,” “Pleasantville,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Get Out.” However, think of the movie on deeper terms and you may agree that Garret Shanley’s screenplay is in its way a promulgation of Benatar’s book as the images on the screen for most of its 98 minutes show a young couple whose initial happiness gives way to months of continuing pain.

How so? Watch the progress, or regress, of a young couple on the cusp of life; Gemma (Imogen Poots) and her boyfriend Tom (Jesse Eisenberg). They’re looking for a dream house, white picket fence and spacious rooms, of course, because that’s what America is about. Gemma, an elementary school teacher, is good with her class, putting them through an exercise that has them identify with winged creatures. Just after dismissal she runs into one of her pupils who discovers two dead birds who have fallen out of their nest shortly after birth, a time that finds the young birds with open mouths tasting their first pangs of hunger. Perhaps they have just bird brains or maybe they can tell already that life is a vallis lacrimarum.

When Gemma and Tom consult Martin (Jonathan Aris), a real estate agent whose oddball behavior should have them running for the hills, they are escorted by him to a development called “Yonder,” where they behold a labyrinth of ticky-tacky houses, all painted puke-green. (Great set design by Julia Devin-power.) Impressed by the spaciousness inside number 9, they are surprised to note that the agent has disappeared. Set to go home, they wind up driving in a circular fashion, always landing back on number 9. Life is a circle, isn’t it? They take in a baby deposited in a box outside, a brat who grows daily, who imitates the actions of his, or its, foster parents, screams like the devil, and speaks in a voice not like Linda Blair’s Regan in “The Exorcist,” but like a grown man. Tom is ready to kill. Gemma has not reached that stage but hates the kid’s calling her “mother.” “I’m not your f******mother!”

Already the suburban dream has been smashed. The desire to have a child? Gone. The boxed-in togetherness of the trio drives both off the wall, the child being the only one who, despite screams, is looking to learn. Benatar’s prescription is swallowed with a vengeance, as relative moments of happiness are dissolved into hellish suffering. Like many other psychological thrillers, “Vivarium” begins with a light touch, moments of humor, dissipating in the second half, just as weird as the opening but loaded with misery.

This is a low-key sci-fi adventure with almost bloodless smidgens of horror which, with the crackerjack acting especially of Imogene Poots with Jesse Eisenberg in almost a supporting role is entertaining and enlightening. A fine performance from child actor Senan Jennins, who looks and acts something like CBS’s Young Sheldon, delivering the goods. Think before you marry or before you trust that a long-term relationship is heaven on earth. Think before you have children. Think before you believe suburban life is a cure-all or protective cocoon for life’s misfortunes. The universe is indifferent to you and so is your real estate agent.

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

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


THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET (Der boden unter den fuessen)
Strand Releasing
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Marie Kreutzer
Screenwriter: Marie Kreutzer
Cast: Valerie Pachner, Pia Hierzegger, Mavie Hoerbiger, Michelle Barthel, Marc Benjamin, Alex Sichrovsky
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/26/19
Opens: July 26, 2019 at New York’s IFC

Though much is made of a woman diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Austrian-born writer- director Marie Kreutzer—whose debut feature “The Fatherless” deals as does her current film with the effect on a family of the appearance of their sister—covers considerable ground. “The Ground Beneath My Feet” can be looked upon as an anti-capitalist reach, centered on the relationship of a yuppie business consultant with her lunatic half-sister. Most of all it should compel you to consider people who are always dressed to kill, walking about as an iconic image of success, looking you right in the eye with their perfect complexions and well-trained bodies, with remarkable poise, restrained emotion, and perfect grooming, as likely as not to be harboring barely repressed memories and a conflicted wish to rid themselves of some of the responsibilities dragging them down.

Such is the case with Lola (Valerie Pachner), a slim woman who at the age of thirty is already on the way up in a consulting job that may remind you of George Clooney’s profession in “Up in the Air” as a hit-man of sorts helping companies to downsize their personnel in order to show more health in the bottom line. Kreutzer, though, is not as interested as Jason Reitman in comedy, but in a carefully paced drama that might make you realize that you’ve spent too much time in the office. It helps that the film is anchored by a remarkable performance from Valerie Pachner, who was previously seen in “Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden,” about an artist who scandalized Viennese society in the early 20th century with provocative paintings.

Much is made of Lola’s status as a single woman, an orphan with nobody capable of looking after her, though she is the legal guardian of Conny (Pia Hierzegger), her forty-year-old half sister who spends most of the story hospitalized in a Vienna psychiatric institution, clinging to Lola, complaining that she is being kept against her will and is physically punished for not doing what the staff insists that she do.

Life is particularly complicated for Lola given that her work takes her from her native Vienna to the town of Rostock in North Germany, not exactly a backwater but as I recall a picture-perfect town on the Warnow River. Like other executives on the way up, she tries to keep her personal and private lives separate, inventing excuses when she is actually returning to Vienna to see her sister. That’s not all. She is having a lesbian relationship with Elise (Mavie Hoerbiger), her boss, who in one scene are graphically getting it on during a few erotic moments.

So far, whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, but she may have made a mistake in telling her lover about her schizoid sister, as Elise begins to wonder whether mental illness runs in Lola’s family. Climaxes arrive in both Lola’s professional life and her family bonds, as Elise must make a decision on promotions in her staff, and Lola must bear an even greater burden when her sister is released and set up in her own flat. However, in a small scene that would be comical if it did not strike home here in the U.S., a male executive in the firm that has contracted with Lola’s not only hits on her while having steak in an upscale restaurant but tells her flat-out that many males would put their hands under the table and into her thighs but that “I am not like that.” In another small scene that appears to show her political views, when a homeless woman asks for fifty cents and is ignored by Lola, she curses Lola, calls her a “rich woman” and worse, receiving a curt answer from Lola that the woman’s poverty is her own fault.

This is quite the film, mixing business with, well, some pleasure but mostly family heartache, editor Ulrike Kofler taking us back and forth, exposing what some of us in the audience undoubtedly face: how to spread our lives around from our professional duties to our family obligations without suffering at least one nervous breakdown in our lives. The ensemble do a splendid job, some serving like a Greek chorus to serve as background to Lola while a select few, particularly Pia Hierzegger as her loony sister and Mavie Hoerbiger as her immediate superior represent Lola’s family life and business tensions respectively.

In German with English subtitles.

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

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

PICK OF THE LITTER – movie review


KTF Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Don Hardy, Dana Nachman
Screenwriter:  Dana Nachman
Cast:  Ron, Janet: Patriot, Phil, Potomac, Poppet, Primrose
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/16/18
Opens: June 12, 2018 at Slamdance

The United States gets along with many countries, though admittedly fewer now than before January 2017.  But if there’s one aspect of American culture that puts us squarely against most nations of the Middle East and a few in the Far East, it’s our love of dogs.  Some societies use them for food, and others think simply that they’re dirty.  But with in estimated 40% of American homes where dogs have become parts of families, the U.S. may be statistically ahead of all others.  America first!

It’s not enough that dogs fill the hearts of the good people who share their homes with them.  They are called upon by police to search for drugs and weapons.   Perhaps most of all they serve a purpose above and beyond eliciting the love of people, and that’s to guide the blind.

Don Hardy and Dana Nachman,who spent over two years directing “Pick of the Litter,” succeed beautifully in capturing key moments; those times when Labrador Retrievers are officially handed over to people who are either totally without sight or without peripheral vision.  At the same time that these fantastic animals change hands, there is heartbreak in the homes of people who have raised them since puppyhood, understanding that they must fulfill their part of the bargain in losing them.  At the same time they feel gratification that largely as a result of the training they give to the seeing-eye dogs, the animals are going to be indispensable to up to 1100 sight-disabled people who apply annually to the organization for them.

This is not a simple procedure.  There’s a reason that the movie is called “Pick of the Litter,” because these dogs have to pass a battery of tests in order to participate in graduation ceremonies, where the humans who need them give speeches and the Retrievers, who may not know what applause is for, will content themselves with treats.

Hardy, who co-wrote the script with Dana Nachman, serves also as the film’s editor and director of photography.  His skill in choosing the right scenes to photograph and in putting the show together in an understandable order is without question superb.  Some of the shots that will evoke the “aw” factor from viewers include the only moving photo I’ve seen of a dog actually giving birth.  When the human being in charge of helping a Retriever shed, in this case, five puppies, you may get the impression that the dog is laying an egg.  That’s how small the newborns are, and their miniature size explain just how a mature dog is able to keep the litter within until the time comes to relieve herself of them.  A pup can fit in the palm of the hand.

After several months when the Retrievers are kept behind gates in spotlessly clean surroundings, they are handed out to volunteers who raise them—the folks who give of their time partly because they have a good heart  to helping the blind, and partly because they love the animals they raise and train.  Before a dog is ready for a final test, the volunteer raisers answer questions, such as whether they spotted too much lunging, whether they show fear of shyness, and whether they can heel, sit, stay, lie down.  A veterinarian will inspect the ears, eyes, and take imaging, but simply passing the physical test is a piece of dog treat compared to the obedience demands later.

Dogs must prove especially that they can ignore orders from the blind human beings when the order runs counter to the safety of the pair, such as when a car may be leaving the driveway or when there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood.

Unhappily, many dogs fail, even after retests; I believe out of the stars focused on here—Primrose, Poppet, Potomac, Phil and Patriot, only one or two make the cut.  Phil is judged to be perfect.  Those who fail are either returned to the raisers or serve in another capacity such as animals for diabetics of veterans with PTSD.

It’s a pleasure to witness ecstasy when a dog is handed over to a blind person.  Ron, for example, a man who lost sight in both his eyes from a genetic disease that skips some generations, reports having butterflies, as nervous as he would be when meeting a blind date.

I would like to know what happens to dogs when because of age, they are no longer able to service their people.  Is there a sanctuary available?  Do they go back to the building that houses them?  All in all, America’s Best Friend is given the equivalent of a 21-gun salute by this well-crafted documentary.

Unrated.  81 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

BRIGSBY BEAR – movie review


    Sony Pictures Classics
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, 411 Celeb
    Grade: B+
    Director:  Dave McCary
    Written by: Kevin Costello, Kyle Mooney
    Cast: Kyle Mooney, Greg Kinnear Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Mark Hamill
    Screened at: Sony, NYC, 6/27/17
    Opens: July 28, 2017
    Brigsby Bear Movie Poster
    Have you ever heard of an enlightened kidnapping?  That’s not the one which finds the miscreants looking for ransom or using their victims as sex slaves.  The best kind of kidnapping—at least the kind that’s the least of the evils—involves people who abduct children because they do not have any of their own. They treat their captives with advantages unknown among kids who remain with their own folks—who will likely get divorced or be miserable together.  In describing the “good” abductors, Dave McCary, a Saturday Night Live writer directing his first full-length movie, goes for the offbeat, which is to say a story that takes more risks than he took when he served as director of TV shorts on Medicare, Republican presidential candidates, Freedom and America’s debt.  Yet because he is graced with the acting chops of Kyle Mooney, a co-writer in the title role, his movie could be embraced even outside the art-house crowds and could lead many in the audience to pull out their Kleenex as the final credits roll.

    The story opens on some VHS celluloid about a Teddy bear that’s almost the height of Harvey the invisible Rabbit, an animal that may be too tall and weird to be huggable especially since this Teddy presumes to teach his viewers that “curiosity is an unnatural emotion.” (Sounds like good advice to cats, at least.)  James Pope (Kyle Mooney) memorizes each episode like today’s fanboys for Star Trek, taking charge of a forum to blog on the show.  The 25-year-old James, however, though a happy guy, is being unknowingly kept in a bunker by his alleged parents Ted Hope (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams), hidden him away from the outside world.  When the good-natured adults are busted in an FBI raid, James is befriended by Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear), who introduces James to his biological parents Greg Pope (Matt Walsh) and Louise (Michaela Watkins).  Though his sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins) is embarrassed by James’s dorkiness, he makes friends at a party especially with the super-hip Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). connecting with them over discussions on making new episodes.  He gradually becomes assimilated into the real world.

    Thematically, “Brigsby Bear” is about the creative impulse, as not only does a group of young people succeed in making this new movie, but most significantly, Detective Vogel, who appeared in his earlier days in theater in characterizations such as that of Prospero in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” reignites that spirit to take on a role in the new episode.

    Director McCary and writers Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney succeed in presenting to the movie audience an ode to both creativity and to the movie industry itself, but this film would not have been the success it hopes to be without the terrific work of the whole ensemble, each member of which gets more or less fifteen minutes of fame.  “Brigsby Bear” was filmed  in Salt Lake City and is graced by some magical visual effects, particularly in the opening scenes.

    Rated PG-13.  100 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

THE ICE CREAM TRUCK – movie review


    Uncork’d Entertainment
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B+
    Director:  Megan Freels Johnston
    Written by: Megan Freels Johnston
    Cast: Deanna Russo, Emil Johnsen, John Redlinger, Sam Schweikert, Hilary Barraford, Bailey Anne Borders
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/8/17
    Opens: August 18, 2017
    The Ice Cream Truck Movie Poster
    Just as the murder numbers edge up in Chicago and Baltimore, you might expect people there to dream about moving out of urban jungles into nice, middle-class suburbs—great places for kids to grow up as well.  Writer-director Megan Freels Johnston, might give them pause.  In “The Ice Cream Truck, she continues her look at the anxiety women face when in new situations, in the current case that of a woman who spends several anxious days alone in a new suburban house while waiting for her husband and two kids to return from Seattle.  (Her previous movie, “Rebound,” hones in on a mental break of a woman who discovers that the love of her life is cheating on her, then travels the country meeting hostile strangers.)

    “The Ice Cream Truck” starts as a parody of bourgeois suburban life, then unfolds as a slasher movie, a psychological thriller if you will, and succeeds on both levels.  It has the scares you expect from such a thriller and best of all a dazzling performance by Deanna Russo as Mary, a woman whose anxiety is almost a male fantasy of an attractive female who finds it hard to cope even for a few days without her man.

    Mary regrets the loss of fun that she should have had during her high-school days, as she married young, had one child, and chose not only to give up a potential career but most of all her fantasy of pot smoking and making out with boys her age.  After meeting her mundane neighbors and attending a party where she is hit on by a weirdo, she meets an eighteen-year-old fellow, Max (John Redlinger), who has a steady girlfriend but appears attracted to her.  What she didn’t count on, however, was that even the most pristine neighborhood could harbor a homicidal maniac or two; in her case, the furniture mover who simply refused to head back to his truck after making a delivery, and the driver of an old-fashioned ice cream truck (Emily Johnsen), whose hobby is to lure unsuspecting customers into his truck and deliver cuts of a knife along with vanilla shakes and chocolate cones.

    My understanding of the term “horror film” is that a supernatural element must be present—an octopus crawling out of a person’s stomach, a monster created by a machine, a dinosaur the size of New York’s Chrysler Building creating havoc on Broadway.  There’s nothing supernatural here (or is there?) so let’s call it a slasher movie that concentrates on the sexy meetings between Mary and a forward and horny eighteen-year-old Max, who has as much interest in a woman old enough to be his mother as in her own significant other.  It takes a short time for Max to realize Mary’s eagerness to embrace the years of her life that she missed by marrying too young.  And she can certainly be fooled by a clean-cut ice cream man who might have come out of the 1950s but who has interests going beyond making a few bucks on a shake.

    The pace is slow, nice and slow I should add, as Stephen Tringali, the photographer, uses his lenses to make love with close-ups of the beautiful Deanna Russo.  Some minor roles add greatly to the tension, such as that of the furniture delivery man (Jeff Daniel Phillips) who sees a woman alone in a big house and wants to cure her loneliness, and the Stepford Wives types at a party that introduces the new neighbor to a bourgeois community.

    Unrated.  88 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

DOWNSIZING – movie review


Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shock Ya!
Grade: C+
Director:  Alexander Payne
Written by: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Cast:  Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig
Screened at: Paramount, NYC, 10/27/17
Opens: December 22, 2017
Downsizing Movie Poster
With enough people today struggling to make a living as jobs go overseas and to robots, there’s gotta be a better way to live comfortably, maybe even luxuriously, than we have now.  Along comes a scientist who provides the answer.  He is the first guy to have the solution.  Just think: you can have an apartment the size of the kind inhabited by lower-middle class residents of Tokyo  and yet have an illusion of luxury by cutting yourself down to size.  To get an idea of how this would work, think of the common housefly or even a flea.  To him (or her), a bread crumb that is so small that you can barely notice it on the sink is like a four course meal to our flying friend.  You got it: if you can shrink yourself from six feet tall to just five inches, the Big Mac that you can wolf down and still feel hungry can last you for a week.  And talk about luxury!  A diamond ring for your gal that would have cost you $15,000 can now be bought for $83, meaning a stone that looks to a five-incher the way the full-size one appears. She will love you forever.  Shrinking bank account?  No problem.  Take your life’s savings of $50,000 to a special place and you can retire with it for twenty years.  There’s a catch, though.  You have to submit to surgery—get all your hair shaved because when you’re five inches high you’d be submerged as though in a Costa Rican rainforest.  Then you’d have to give up your friends and find new ones in that special area.  But if you have no money, if you’re in debt, you will still be poor in this area called Leisureland.

Alexander Payne, whose “Nebraska” is his best picture, writes what he knows at least geographically.  He situates the characters in Omaha, where Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is an occupational therapist for the guys in a meat-packing plant.  He has just paid off a student loan when he and his wife Audrey (Kristeen Wiig) are entranced by a lecture from a Dr. Jorgan Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgard), who, having succeeded in experiments with mice has found a procedure to shrink volunteers down to five inches high.  They decide to go through with the deal, get surgery all the while thinking of the good life that will be there’s with other small people, when Audrey gets cold feet and backs out after her husband has been transformed.  Making new friends in Leisureland, Paul runs into some party people, particularly the aging duo Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz) and Konrad (Udo Kier), both intent on making even more riches by smuggling enough tobacco to make cigars for the multitudes and other luxury items as well.

The most interesting new friend is Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese who lost a leg in a Southeast Asian prison, and has escaped—now devoting her life not to the attainment of material goods but to providing for a host of other poor people.  With her pigeon English she makes friends with Paul, who later will fall in love with her while at the same time thinking that he could be part of another experiment: by following the Norwegian cult leader into some sort of Middle Earth-type environs, he could be a part of something great, which is to start a new race of homo sapiens after our planet dies in the same way that our ancestors 200,000 years ago became the nucleus of our present billions.

The film is long at 136 minutes, but not overlong by the standards of movies competing for end-year awards.  During that time we are treated to more than one film, or at least it looks like that.  First we have superficial comedy, watching jokes made by the big guys either against or in favor of the experiment.  One fellow in particular, a bartender, complains that the small people would not be part of the economy, would therefore not pay taxes, and therefore be a burden to people like him.  There’s always another way to look at what at first looks like the ideal solution.  As the story heads toward a conclusion, Payne gets real serious, giving the word that our planet, because of overpopulation, cannot afford enough food for everybody, and come nuclear winter, it’s all over after two million years of human habitation.

Matt Damon has been hot for a while.  Every kid must have seen his blockbuster fare like “Jason Bourne” and “Intersteller.”  Here, puffed off to represent a resident of Middle America (e.g. a Nebraskan), he is sucker bait for the experiment to cut him down to size.  But is Payne telling us that proclamations like “I am going to help solve our environmental problems by agreeing to be shrunk” are hypocrisy?  After all, many people will proclaim how liberal they are looking for solutions to the big problems but this is just a rationalization for accumulating more—here, ironically by being less.  Is that it?  Are liberals like the characters in a better movie like “Get Out” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” who profess their love of everybody, black, white or polka dot, but who are as phony as our present U.S. cabinet?

Generally, though, the movie is disappointing because it presents its lead characters as mere spokespersons for beliefs rather than real human beings.  By doing so, Payne fails to connect emotionally to his audience (my personal view, anyway), and if you don’t connect, you also forget about making an impression.  The only character who is real and who tries mightily to save the movie is Ngoc Lan Tran, who as a dissident went to Vietnamese prison and is now serving the not-well-off with little thought about her own material well-being.  Everything is appropriately in place from costumes and production values to photography and music in the soundtrack.  But these virtues do not succeed in following the advice of E.M Forster, “Only connect.”

Rated PG-13.  136 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

ALIVE AND KICKING – movie review


    Magnolia Pictures
    Director:  Susan Glatzer
    Cast:  Mary Murphy, Norma Miller, Chester A. Whitmore, Chandrae Roettig, Evita Arce, Frankie Manning, Hilary Alexander, Stephen Sayer
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/15/17
    Opens: April 4, 2017
    alive and kicking poster
    This year it’s possible to watch people bumping and grinding, gyrating and flying, in full frontal and back body poses—in other words swingers—without paying a hotel an extra fee for premium TV.  Just go to Amazon and order the  DVD of “Alive and Kicking” (under $19) where you’ll see the highest-spirited documentary of the year, one of the best in fact.  It’s all about the virtues of the Lindy Hop, which came out of Harlem decades ago, went into a coma, and was revived in the 1980s in about a dozen variations.  With enough power to uproot our addiction to oil, the young, middle-aged, and elderly men and women who people this scintillating picture lose their own addition to Prozac and find their depression gone gone gone, the only side effect being ecstasy.  Politically our country may be racing to catch the late 19th century, but for pure joy, we’ve got to wonder at the superior knowledge of our Charleston-loving forbears of the 1920s, who helped during the trying times of the Great Depression and are now spiritually coming to life in our own time’s new jazz age.

    Susan Glatzer in her directing debut allows us in our movie seats some vicarious thrills and chills and hopefully will encourage people of all ages and ethnic groups not only in the U.S. but in places as far as Singapore and South Korea and as iconic as New Orleans to turn off the cell phones, forget about texting and even sexting, put on a pair of flats, find a partner and dance, baby dance.

    Among the bon mots flung out from competitive ballrooms and on the street is that “you can’t hate someone if you dance with them.”  Instead of trading insults and indulging in propaganda warfare, can you imagine Donald J. Trump Lindy-Hopping with Kim Jong Un?  Oops, neither can I, so we’ll have to put the suggestion on hold.  Still perhaps you can start with a weekend frolic of the two Koreas, open up the border, and see what can be done.  As our President said during the campaign, “What have you got to lose?”

    As for the dating game (if you recall the word “dating”), in addition to having three-minute round robins as a meeting game, why not put people of (again) all ages and ethnic groups on the dance floor, let them improvise to the limit of their imagination, and see what happens.  No harmful side effects are likely, nor are any put forth on Glatzer’s movie.

    Behind the camera, John W. MacDonald brings the energetic spirit front and center with Steven Argila’s original, cool soundtrack, particularly with the clarinet, the principal instrument of Dixieland jazz.  As for individuals, Frankie Manning, who died recently at the age of 95, is perhaps the hero of the movie, having choreographed the Lindy Hop, guiding many students to happiness, while the cinematography puts some of the dazzling steps into slow motion with images that will make your eyes widen and your head spin.

    Swing provides a respite, goes a zen-like expression, from isolation, with physical contact and touch touted as the greatest gift we can give each other.  You can’t avoid agreeing with the epilogue summary, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass.  Life is swinging in the rain.”

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

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