THE CURVE – movie review

Jet Black Iris Production
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Adam Benzine
Writer: Adam Benzine
Cast: Sonia Shah, Wendy Parmet, Dr. Steven Taylor, Ilan Goldenberg, Ed Yong, Jim Rutenberg
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/30/20
Opens: October 27 through Nov. 4 2020 only. Go to

Imagine that a Martian, thinking of emigrating to America, is watching “The Curve” to get a true picture of the U.S. in 2020. She aims her computer to She goes to the concluding minutes, figuring on getting a summing up, and by the time she hears our president rating himself a 10 on a 1 to 10 scale for effectiveness in fighting a virus, she’s ready to pack her family spaceship. But first, she goes back to the beginning of this film which everyone can watch for free on She’s dismayed by the scenes of what looks like a banana republic. Here’s what she sees.

Hospitals are filled. Every bed in every ICU is taken with people who, largely because the 10 out of 10 president did not warn the American people in January 2020 that a pandemic is on its way to our shores. Under pressure, he relents, warns us of a virus, but tells us not to wear masks. He does not wear a mask, though despite his many bankruptcies he can probably still afford one. He sets an example followed by people whose idea of TV news is Fox, because Fox tells its viewers that every other channel has nothing but fake news. The Martian—her name is M’Gann M’Orzz—unpacks the space ship, making sure that she warns her family to watch out, because the virus can reach them some day, so long citizens of China are not satisfied eating pork, beef and chicken but insist on feeding themselves with bat, dog, cat, snake and rat.

The doc by the Toronto-based Adam Benzine is his freshman entry, having previously directed a short “Claude Lanzmann” about Lanzmann’s filming of the Shoah. No question that Benzine’s pic is an antidote to Fox news, a takedown of the president who, if he were running European countries whose legislatures are empowered to deliver votes of no confidence, would have his butt tossed out in a few weeks. Trump is not the only problem. He could not have done his best to destroy our country were he not enabled by a sycophantic Senate, refusing to do the job given to them by the founders of our country, to check a runaway chief executive. Ultimately the people who are not voting give Trump another four years are the real problem, folks who have been bamboozled, people who believe that saving fetuses is more important than preserving the lives of actual human beings, the American people.

For this doc, which Benzine secretly made over a seven-months’ period covering the Covid-19 from mid-January to mid-April, he backs up interviews with analysts, epidemiologists, authors, journalists and politicians, effectively backed up by archival films including several minutes on Liberia—an undeveloped country too poor to be able to contain the virus. What’s our excuse?

The documentary is solidly made, its chief problem being the music, which belongs on the soundtrack of blockbuster thrillers rather than on a film that is a sober meditation on how the world’s richest country with a military that costs more than that of the next ten countries, is being pummeled by a global enemy that nobody can see.

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

Story – A
Acting – B
Technical – C (the music)
Overall – B


SKIN – movie review

A24 & Direct TV
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Guy Nattiv
Screenwriter: Guy Nattiv
Cast: Jamie Bell, Danielle Macdonald, Daniel Henshall, Bill Camp, Louisa Krause, Zoe Colletti, Kylie Rogers, Colbi Gannett, Mike Colter, Vera Farmiga
Screened at: Tribeca Screening Room, NYC, 7/17/19
Opens: July 26, 2019

Skin Movie Poster

White supremacy and neo-Nazism evoke ugly memories as depicted in several movies about its ideology in addition to a wealth of articles in journals. In the 2001 film “The Believer,” Frank Collin is a Jewish Nazi. In “Keep Quiet,” the founder of a Hungarian Nazi party, Csanad Szegedi discovers that his maternal grandparents were Jewish. He embraces the religion during a three-year study with a rabbi. The other day, an online UK journal cites the case of a white supremacist who takes a DNA test and discovers that he’s not pure Caucasion. Some of his colleagues want to throw him out of the party. But another, who is sympathetic and tries to comfort him, states “You know who controls the DNA companies,” obviously meaning Jews, “And they want nothing more than to render the entire population diversified.”

Now with “Skin,” a white power member from the Midwest has second thoughts about his ideology. As played with the intensity that could merit an Oscar nomination, Jamie Bell inhabits the skin and soul of Bryon “Pitbull” Widner in a film based on a true story (the real-life people are shown in the end-credits). Byron is a member of the so-called Vindlanders Social Club stationed in Indiana, though when we first see him we notice that he is not entirely comfortable with either the ideology or the methods of the group. Its leader, Fred “Hammer” Krager (Bill Camp), defines himself in a pep rally, calling on his followers to fight against Blacks, Muslims and Jews, though the terms he uses are not the polite ones. His goals are to organize pogroms against groups he hates and to recruit young, rootless, stupid people to the cause. To bring in new members he relies on his wife Shareen (Vera Farmiga), a den mother of sorts who looks more like a middle-aged girl-next-door than an Ilsa Koch, using her feminine wiles to offer attention and affection to prospective recruits.

When Bryon is disgusted by the one of the group’s activities—to burn four Muslims alive—he has had it, his flight from the organization evoking a chase by the Vinlanders to find a “traitor,” though at that point he had not turned himself in to the Southern Poverty Law Center or to the FBI. The group’s harassment leads him to confess to a spokesman for the SPLC, Daryle Lamont Jenkins (Mike Colter). His decision to “turn” is motivated largely by the love of a woman, his relationship with Julie Price (Danielle Macdonald), who has three children from a previous marriage. Julie shares her man’s conflict with the group—not the best kinds of men and women to influence her adorable young ones.

Flashbacks provide us with another example of violence, of a kind that is self-inflicted by Bryon. A plastic surgeon, subsidized with money from a private donor, uses a laser to wipe away the tattoos through an excruciating process. This is not the kind of laser you may be familiar with when you are getting a tooth filled. As photographed by Arnaud Potier in close-up, it resembles two cylinders, each spewing sparks like a cigarette lighter than tries to light but cannot. Even a tough guy like Bryon cannot help crying in agony, a message that should be spread to members of the general public who are following the unfortunate custom of painting their entire bodies with permanent images—and who may seriously regret doing so when tattooing falls out of fashion.

Bell’s performance lifts a simplistic narrative that follows a predictable curve. This is a tale of falling into a far-right organization, having regrets and conflicts, and getting out ahead of the people who are determined to kill traitor like him. His role can be compared to that of Edward Norton in “American History X,” an examination of the roots of racial hatred in America. Guy Nattiv, an Israeli now living in California, won an Oscar for the best live action short of 2018 with the title “Skin,” which takes flight when a black man in a supermarket smiles at a ten-year-old boy across the checkout lines. Whatever the Academy thinks of the current picture, you can expect that Jamie Bell’s name will come up in the nominations this year.

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

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

TROPHY – movie review


The Orchard
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B+
Director:  Shaul Schwarz, Co-director: Christina Clusaiu
Cast: Philip Glass, John Hume, Michelle Otto, Christo Gomes, Joe Hosmer, Adam Roberts, Craig Packer, Tim Fallon, Richard Hume
Opens: September 8, 2017
Trophy Movie Poster
There are lots of animals in Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, according to Shaul Schwarz, who directed “Trophy” after having made “Aida’s Secrets,” about two brothers born in a displaced persons camp in Bergen-Belsen who are not aware of each other’s existence for seventy years.  His résumé is filled with quite a few documentaries before that.  The first thing that comes to mind when you watch the closing credits of his latest movie, co-directed by Christina Clusaiu, is: where is the Humane Society notice that “no animals were harmed during the making of this film?”  Ah, that’s because quite a few animals were harmed, though they might have been treated like, uh, animals even if the directors’ cameras were not on them.  And that, in turn, is because this is a film about hunting big game, and investigates quite a few complex debate topics, not the least being that people who kill these African rhinos, lions, deer and elephants are helping them.  They’re conservationists, like our own Teddy Roosevelt, a big game hunter who is known particularly as a conservationist.  He signed into law the creation of five national parks, serving to protect the animals residing therein, though in “Trophy,” he gets little mention aside from some neat black-and-white archival films. Talk about ironies, paradoxes, and conundrums!

Filmed in the aforementioned African states, “Trophy” features a group of talking heads, mostly men with accents that should have required subtitles throughout instead of those that appear when they’re speaking Afrikaans of, in some cases (I think), English.  They have assorted opinions just like people in our own red states and blue states, some favoring protection of animals, especially rhinos, which means they favor conservation, while others favor killing animals and consider themselves conservationists as well.

The movie opens with a father-son bonding, where Philip Glass takes his son not to Broadway’s “The Lion King” but instead to showing the lad a gun and helping him to shoot a doe, because that’s a brave, macho thing to do.  After that, we listen to a John Hume over in South Africa who has dedicated fifty million dollars of his own fortune, garnered from his resorts, to protecting rhinos. When we see him and in his indigenous helpers bending over an awfully still animal, we’re sure he killed the beast, but he actually sedated him, and sawed off his horns.  By doing so, he is preventing poachers from killing rhinos in the wild, as the bad guys would saw off the horns and make fortunes. The horns are sold in Yemen, for example, to make that country’s traditional jambias, or curved knives, and in China, where they are said to enhance virility.  (China’s abundant population proves that the horns work.)

Now, that guy who bonded with his son over the killing of a doe, Philip Glass, like his American composer namesake, strikes a discordant note or two, seeking to hunt the Big Five, to wit: lion, buffalo, leopard, elephant, and rhino. The expression Big Five may have come from the annual meetings in Las Vegas of  the Safari Club International, where rich people book hunting trips, in some cases with guaranteed kills.  Members can actually book specific animals, and for $50,000 and up they are assured success.  They can also buy guns, which I don’t think are used in photograph safaris.

Here’s another contradiction, or paradox, if you will. Some of the local Africans want their animals protected, but at the same time they want them killed, a neat trick.  They have good reason for the latter wish: lions eat the cattle of the indigenous people, one family having to put their cows in their home—though the lions are a step ahead of them, as the king of beasts will destroy the homes to get at the cattle.

Here are two particularly stupid remarks.  One of the women at the Las Vegas convention states that it’s OK to kill crocodiles because they’re mean (the crocs, not the women).  Then Philip Glass, he’s back again, states that evolution is a hoax given the beauty of animals, and that he has the Bible-given right to shoot the beasts.  Apparently he does not agree with Matthew Scully’s book “Dominion.” Scully interprets Genesis 1:28 “fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” not as a call to mass murder but rather a responsibility: that people exist to both rule over and to protect other species.

What we have in this doc are viewpoints that on the one hand condemns poachers, most of whom do their killing to make a living, while at the same time refusing to condemn hunters outright—because the money they spend on safaris goes back to conservation, to safeguarding the beasts while (this is confusing to me) even killing animals prevents illegal slaughters by poachers.

If you’re not going to Africa whether to photograph animals or kill them, this movie is not exactly the next best thing.  There are Disney and National Geographic films that do terrific work in showing African denizens close up in gorgeous color, suitable for IMAX.  The Africa photography is fine enough, but more important, “Trophy” does attempt with some success to stimulate the audience to consider the paradox, including (as just stated) that killing animals conserves them.  This is not for the small fry, and in fact the graphic kills could scare adults as well, though in one case, when a recent elephant kill is being chopped up for meat, the camera pulls away from the fallen to focus on the raised axes.  And did I mention that English subtitles should be used throughout instead of occasionally?

Unrated.  108 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?