THE BIG SCARY ‘S’ WORD – movie review

THE BIG SCARY ‘S’ WORD
At film festivals October & November 2020
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Yael Bridge
Writer: Yael Bridge
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/28/20

The Big Scary 'S' Word Film

The opening question of this heartfelt documentary is a version of the most important political question you could ask yourself. Your answer would determine what you think would be the best society for both you and the rest of the U.S. This is the full version as I recall it from an article years ago: “Pretend you are about to be born. You have no idea whether you will be rich or poor, Black or White, live rural, suburban or big city, have a terrific set of parents or a pretty miserable duo, go to a great Ivy League school or drop out of high school, be mostly unemployed or on minimum wage, or be the CEO making millions annually. Now construct the kind of society you would favor. While this is a tough question for an unborn baby to answer, it is of course hypothetical.

It’s pretty obvious that you would not build an America in which one person, no, change that to five individuals, own as much as the bottom fifty percent of our residents. What’s that? Five people (can you name them?) have as much wealth as 165,000,000 folks combined. Let me guess. You would opt for socialism, wouldn’t you? Forget about the Soviet Union’s failed experiment with its brand of socialism, or China where millions of peasants starved, or Cambodia where everyone was forced to move out of the cities to work on farms for virtually nothing and if you wore glasses, you were as good as dead. We’re talking about American socialism, which, though not mentioned in the documentary, might be similar to Denmark’s.

Do you think you would want health care to be a right of all of our people? Do you favor a high minimum wage? Would you favor being in a union that has clout, and might you want to have union members on the board of the corporations for which you work? Should you be able to afford a home after laboring two thousand hours each year? Or would you build a society where CEOs of Google, Amazon and the like would make hundreds of millions each year—and remember that your chance of being such a captain of industry is less likely than your winning a lottery.

So: it turns out that you, as an unborn baby, would favor socialism. Is the society dreamed up here scary? Not to me, and yet most people who are not millennials for one reason or another think that socialism is un-American, dangerous in that it would lead to authoritarian governments where, as in the Soviet Union, you pretended to work and the government to pay you.

In this film directed by Yael Bridge in her freshman full-length picture (she made shorts like “The Habitat Game” exploring whether people are part of nature or apart from it), we get some archival films of socialists not just Karl Marx, which might be the first theoretician to come to mind, but also others like M.L. King Jr., Eugene Debs, Theodore Roosevelt, the writers of the Pledge of Allegiance and American the Beautiful, Professor Cornel West, and others teaching in prestige colleges. Academics are generally on the left politically if not socialists, and then again those who are socialists may not identify as such. We are introduced to an elementary school teacher, a single mother who cannot make ends meet even with two jobs. Would a socialist government treat the public schools the way our present leaders do, where even in the reasonably well paid New York City you can make about $125,000 a year BUT you must be willing to teach for twenty-five years before you can get what a student just out of law school might make immediately?

Among the industries cited is a co-op laundry in which the worker-owners feel a responsibility to contribute to the best of their ability because each is getting an equal share of the profits. What is not mentioned at all in the film is the concept of co-op housing, in which instead of a landlord’s cutting expenses to the extent possible with cheap paint jobs required every few years and poor responses to tenant grievances, all residents own shares in the co-op thereby having the motivation to keep the building in good shape, the profit motive gone.

Another subject the film should have mentioned is that under the American form of socialism that so many millennials favor, the government would not own the means of product, distribution and exchange, a system that doomed the Soviet Union, Venezuela and Cuba. Socialism means rule by society: that’s us. All of us, not just the society in Mar-a-Lago. And since we own the country, do you think we would tolerate bad air and water by corporations given the green light to pollute the air and water and contribute to climate change with its current effect on the fires in California and Colorado?

Actually America has been moving toward socialism steadily with a great many speed bumps along the way. We have gone from a country in which only rich white men were considered to have a stake, to the freeing of enslaved people, which involved the largest socialist revolution in our history. We have given the right to vote to women and to eighteen-year-olds. We introduced social security, Medicare, Prescription Drug programs, Affordable Health Care, all designed to prevent dire poverty form unemployment. Why not go further and ensure a job for every American? That’s what socialism could theoretically do.

In eighty-two minutes, “The Big Scare ‘S’ Word” is able to touch on examples only briefly, examining the work of some modern socialists like young Lee Carter, who is now serving his second term in the Virginia legislature, the only non-capitalist in the building. Is this because the people of Virginia, like those throughout the fifty states, simply think that socialism is a word that should be bleeped out? I think the makers of this film believe so, and I think that it would not hurt at all for the doc to get a wide audience. In fact, if all Americans saw this movie in January, Bernie Sanders might have swept the primaries and the election; who knows?

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

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

WAITING FOR ANYA – movie review

WAITING FOR ANYA
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ben Cookson
Screenwriter: Ben Cookson, Michael Morpurgo, Toby Torlesse adapting Michael Morpurgo’s book of the same name
Cast: Noah Schnapp, Anjelica Huston, Sadi Frost, Jean Reno, Nicolas Rowe, Thomas Kretschmann, Frederick Schmidt, Gilles Marini, Tómas Lemarquis, Elsa Zylberstein, Joséphine de la Baume
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/23/20
Opens: February 7, 2020

Jean Reno, Sadie Frost, Anjelica Huston, Thomas Kretschmann, Urs Rechn, Nicholas Rowe, Elsa Zylberstein, William Abadie, Tómas Lemarquis, Gilles Marini, Joséphine de La Baume, Phin Glynn, Frederick Schmidt, Raj Awasti, Noah Schnapp, and Lukas Sauer in Waiting for Anya (2020)

Geography is destiny. If you’re born in America or Canada you have less chance of starving to death than if you come from Burkina Faso or Eritrea. If you’re born in Western Europe, you are not much of a candidate for malaria or diphtheria as you would be if you your village is near Mogadishu or Djouba. And if you’ve been privileged to be baptized a Catholic in Sioux City, you are probably not going to be victim of anti-Semites.

However! If you have the distinct disadvantage of entering the world in Germany or Poland during the 1930s and remain there despite warnings, you are in deep defecation. Once the German borders closed, Jews remaining there or in any of that country’s occupations will inevitably be shot or gassed, perhaps tortured in a concentration camp and hanged. So what to do if that’s your state of affairs? You’ve got to forget about your house, your clothing, your bank account, and hightail it into a nearby more tolerant country like Albania and Bulgaria. Ben Cookson’s narrative drama “Waiting for Anya” deals with one hero who escorted a Jewish family over the Pyrenees to safety in (Fascist, ironically) Spain.

Despite how gruesome a movie on this subject looks, you probably should not worry about taking your children, even as young as eight. The movie, like the movie of the same name written by the British laureate author Michael Morpurgo, could not be described as “Holocaust 101,” because that would imply a college level course. This is more like middle school material which might be laughed at by some adults who think that this is a mature film, but clearly the dialogue serves as easily digestible for kids. (Morpurgo’s novel “War Horse” is about a horse fighting in France who longs for the return of his human companion.)

In his sophomore feature, director Ben Cooksen sets his film in the French village of Lescun during the early 1940s and filmed who-knows-where because the IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes are clueless about the breathtaking “Sound of Music”-style mountain range, “Waiting for Anya” centers on Jo (Noah Schnapp), a shepherd in his mid-teens, impressionable, a lad who is obviously not thinking of where can find a date for Saturday night. Why not? He is too busy risking his life to save Jews. Since he and his family—most notably his grandpere (Jean Reno) and a no-nonsense widow, Horcada (Anjelica Huston)—await the return of Jo’s dad (Gilles Marini) from a prisoner of war camp. At the same time Benjamin (Frederick Schmidt), a Jew, had escaped from a train taking his fellow Jews to a concentration camp, not before depositing his little girl Anya through a window into a bus. (Benjamin’s escape is among the less credible points in the movie, as he simply leaves the sealed train, hiding under it until it departs.) Benjamin hangs out hidden in the village, awaiting the return of Anya, who had departed in a different direction by bus.

Though the southern French village is under the Vichy regime, not directly occupied by the Nazis, a group of soldiers under a Lieutenant (Tómas Lemarguis) are guarding the frontier to prevent Jews from escaping over the Pyrenees into Spain. Jo takes time from supervising the sheep and feeding the pigs to make sure a band of Jewish survivors stay hidden in a cave, all means for death (including Jo) if discovered.

Aside from the sheep and pigs, “Waiting for Anya” features a dog, perhaps a Border Collie which is the breed best suited for herding sheep; and a bear, which threatens the life of Jo in one scene. Though the whole town are in on protecting the Jews, there is also one good German, a corporal (Thomas Kretschmann) who may the only one from his country who knows where the Jews are hiding but says nothing. He endears himself to Jo, acting as an unusual mentor to the boy.

A lively performance from Noah Schnapp who is 15 in real life and can be seen on the Netflix series “Stranger Things” should captivate the youngsters in the movie audience with his audacity, his desire to learn (even if it’s from one of the Bosch), and his high ethical conduct. Think of similar Holocaust adventures marketed to kids as well as adults such as “Life is Beautiful” and “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” (which makes you think that the young son of a concentration camp commandant chats amiably with an inmate on the other side of barbed wire). Don’t guffaw at the simple dialogue and the sentiment projected herein, now that you know that Morpugo’s novel is recommended for kids, its scary cover noting that “they only have one chance to escape.”

As Holocaust survivors die off and as teens are riveted to the dumb-phones, many young people have no idea what the word “Holocaust” means. This movie serves as a decent primer. (Hey! It’s not just kids who are uninformed. Even some adults today think that Trump is being impeached for cutting a devil’s bargain with Czechoslovakia.)

Everybody speaking English.

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

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

YOMEDDINE – movie review

YOMEDDINE
Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: A.B. Shawky
Cast: A.B. Shawky
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/4/19Rad
Opens: In Theaters May 31, 2019: September 24, 2019 on DVD

Image result for YOMEDDINE MOVIE POSTER

When I was thirteen I acted like most of the kids around me, belittling people who we saw as “the other.” To lift our fragile egos, we put down people who were too short, too bald, too slow, too klutzy. We even sang a song about leprosy that goes to tune of Frankie Lane’s “Jealousy,” the first lines going: “Leprosy/ night and day you torture me/ there goes my eyeball/ right into your highball/ there goes my ear, dear, right into your beer, dear.” You see, we thought that leprosy involves the steady falling apart of our bodies—our fingers, our feet, and even the organ (not the brain or heart) that we considered our most important possession. Never mind that this infectious disease, however serious, makes people suffer “only” by scarring their skin, causing large bumps about the body, gnarled fingers. In developing countries such people are put away in leper colonies, remaining there even if the malady is cured. Lepers may not lose body parts, but they can be scary, and they can be made fun of, especially by kids who are thirteen years old and adults of arrested mental development.

Along came a movie from Egypt, that country’s candidate for an academy awards for the 91st session, and since it was not nominated for Best Foreign Film, the competition must have been really tough. “Yomeddine,” which means “Judgment Day,” although the Google translator says it means “Extend me,” may not be the best picture I’ve seen so far in 2019 but it is certainly the most moving. A.B. Shawky, who wrote and directs his freshman full-length film, has been active in shorts such as “Things I Heard on Wednesday” (about Egypt’s modern history through the eyes of a middle-class family), and “Martyr Friday” (about demonstrations in Tahir Square in 2011 by crowds opposing the Mubarek regime.) “Yomeddine” centers on forty-year-old Beshay (Rady Gamal) and the teen orphan nicknamed Obama (Achmed Abdelhafiz), who believes his nickname came from “some guy on the TV.” Beshay takes a long road trip, reluctantly allowing the boy to accompany him as the kid has not been happy in the orphanage. His aim is not unlike that of Americans who have been adopted and would like to meet their biological parents. Beshay is off to the town of Qena on the Nile River’s east coast where his father and brother live, eager to find out why he was abandoned by the family at the age of ten. We will discover near the conclusion that his dad loved him but did not want to see him hurt by society. By settling him into a leper colony with people in the same bad shape, he would not be judged.

Surprisingly, as they take off in a cart led by a beloved donkey named Harby (that rhymes with an American name that’s on the tip of my tongue), hopping a ride on the railroad like the hoboes of the American depression, sailing briefly on a ferry across the Nile which neither buddy had seen before, being waved onto a truck heading near the destination city of Qena. Beshay was laughed at only once during the journey, by some jerks, who when asked for the location of the Nile, respond “Up your ass.” If the writer-director’s motif is Beshay’s emotional growth, a man who because of sores and bumps on his face is ashamed of himself, there should have been more insults thrown his way. Instead, he is helped out by quite a few along the way, a momentum of good graces that begins in this story when his wife, hospitalized for a mental illness, dies, is buried with a simple cross, and is offered condolences by a small gathering of Muslims and Coptics at the funeral. That’s not to say that the unlikely road buddies move along as easily as a New Yorker taking a trip to Djerba. The donkey dies (“animals go right to heaven,” he instructs Obama), the boy is injured and is taken to a clinic where the fee to see a doctor is 20 pounds, police officers, annoyed by the absence of regular clothes on Beshay who had been to the beach throw him in jail where his cellmate fears contagion. At any rate, he faces discrimination, but only one group actually laughed at him.

Beshay comes more into his own when he runs into a circle of self-described freaks, including a midget and a man who, because of a road accident, is missing both legs. Thirty years after being abandoned and making a “living” by recycling trash from “Garbage Mountain,” the disgured man had followed the Nike motto “Just Do It,” later to return, homesick no less, to the leper colony just as his young road partner is eager to get back to the orphanage. In Qena where he finally meets his father and drops the netting covering his face to avoid scaring people, he declares, “I am a human being,” which may remind you of Shakespeare’s character Shylock who contends, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”

We’ll all be equals on Judgment day brings us back to the motif; in other words you get pie in the sky when you die. These words have given hope to hundreds of millions of the world’s poor, the wretched of the earth, if you will. The two buddies will not know whether they will meet a gatekeeper on that day, but their optimism is not unlike the confidence that so many in this world feel, the knowledge that the only way to get on with a life touched by some pleasures is to accept a mixture of poverty, disease, and violence.

The DVD for this humanistic film can be ordered from Amazon for $17.99 beginning on its release Sept. 24. 2019. That’s not more than the price of a single admission to a New York multiplex and one that you can treasure forever. Even the bold yellow subtitles, usually missing even for most European films, add to the movie’s grandeur.

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

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