THE GIG IS UP – movie review

THE GIG IS UP: A Very Human Tech Doc
Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Shannon Walsh
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/2/21
Opens: October 8, 2021

Who gets the fries?

Bosses hire workers to make money from their labors. They may treat them like family while they’re associating with them in close quarters such as in an office, but if they could produce goods and services without human labor, you can be sure they would toss the employees out. One group of workers are treated even more obviously as mere moneymakers. Employers rarely if ever see them, so the human touch in that regard is out. These are gig workers, members of the huge platform economy, so-called independent contractors, which is merely a euphemism for “you’re on your own.” They are not appreciated as human beings by either owners or the people they serve.

Look at the meaning of “gig.” Originally it was a colloquial term referring to musicians. A single job playing for a wedding or Bar Mitzvah was a gig. Merriam-Webster says a gig is a job with a stated end-point, a temp. As the term is used here, a gig is a job that depends on consumers’ use of phone apps. You hail a ride with Uber or Lyft by a few clicks. You order food with Deliveroo. Some gig workers work on fine-tuning artificial intelligence of internet sites. They are metaphorically and often literally unseen by the rest of us. The worst thing about gig work is not that they do not feel respected by their customers, but that they are considered independent contractors, and not employees. That means no overtime pay, no health benefits, no sick leave, no paid vacations. It sucks.

At first director Shannon Walsh, whose “Illusions of Control” deals with people in crisis creating new landscapes, hones in on some happy gig workers, making us think that this is a documentary about the freedom of working outside of offices. You’re out in the street on your bike, digging the sunshine, nobody checking what you’re doing every minutes. What’s more it would not matter what kind of education is required, whether a worker is undocumented, whether you’ve been a felon. But as with pharmaceutical drugs, the side effects could be worse than what’s promised. How can you survive especially in a city like New York or Paris without the benefits to which most of us are accustomed? It’s a wonder that these gig workers, at least in the film, did not become homeless.

The guy you may remember most, fella in his 30s who takes care of his mother, gives the impression that his gold teeth are all natural. He’s massively tattooed, he speaks slowly, his mother spends what little money he can give her on cigarettes and lottery cards, in one case marveling that she won two bucks. A Yemeni American with perfect English shows us how to lead a strike in San Francisco, pushing for recognition as an employee and not an independent contractor.

Among the intellectual talking heads, Prayag Narula predicts that by 2025 the gig economy will become so huge, cutting down the income on the workers, that the Middle Ages would look like paradise. We hear from Mary L. Gray, author of “Ghost Work” and Nick Srnicek of the book “Platform Capitalism.” The latter is a term many of us never heard before. That and the insights given to us throughout the film makes it unique. Can you remember any other movie like it? You might call director Shannon Walsh the equivalent of Britain’s Ken Loach, though Loach’s focus is on regular, normal workers who have it just as bad as of worse than those dealing with platform capitalism.

Special attention is given to gig work in Lagos, Nigeria; Paris, France; and Shenzhen, China.

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

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

THE CARD COUNTER – movie review


Focus Features
Reviewed for &, 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

BENEDETTA – movie review


IFC Midnight
Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Screenwriter: David Birke, Paul Verhoeven, based on the non-fiction book by Judith C. Brown
Cast: Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling, Daphne Patakia, Lambert Wilson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/20/21
Opens: December 3, 2021

Benedetta Poster Wall Art Decor Home - Poster 24x36

Joan of Arc meets Covid in Paul Verhoeven’s “Benedetta,” based on true events that occurred in Pescia, Tuscany, Italy during the 17th Century. If you’re familiar with Verhoeven you already know that this creative director was responsible for what some consider a movie tied with Ed Wood’s 1957 “Planet 9 from Outer Space”– namely Verhoeven’s “Showgirls.” I for one got a kick out of the latter which I interpret as Verhoeven’s bid for satirical honors, but that’s another story. His best film is “Black Book,” about a singer who engaged with the Gestapo for the Dutch Resistance in Nazi occupied Holland.

I cannot get over the feeling that “Benedetta” is something like “Showgirls,” at times laughable, and yet also like “Black Book,” full of thrilling drama. It’s a mixed bag, well worth you time if you go for period pieces, and like to see both religious heroism and the damnation of hell. You can access the story of Benedetta through an extensive article in Wikipedia. Verhoeven changes mostly the part where the title character actually died in prison for something more dramatic (and somewhat laughable as well).

Shot in Tuscany’s Montepulciano, this tale is about life in a nunnery that’s anything but dull in that within the walls, the abbess once spied on Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efira) and her roommate Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) engaged in lesbian sex. Not only is their relationship considered sacrilege—even if it had not included a non-vibrating dildo, a wooden penis carved from one end of the figure of Virgin Mary. Benedetta worshipped Virgin Mary from her childhood (Elena Plonika) and during one prayer witnessed a large statue of the Virgin fall to the floor on top of the poor girl. Much later she is introduced to carnal love by Bartolomea, who strangely does not require Benedetta to satisfy her because she is totally involved with pleasing her partner. The abbess had regularly taught the women that their biggest enemy is their bodies, which is one reason she dresses her flock with itchy cloth. Apparently the abbess (Charlotte Rampling) never took a course in Education because her teachings went into one orifice and out the other.

The picture features full female nudity, the two young women showing off their bikini wax, making us wonder where they got the blades to shave themselves so neatly. By the conclusion, trials are conducted by the papal nuncio Alfonso Giglioli (Lambert Wilson), who is not sure whom to believe—the abbess who swears that she saw the two having sex, or the lovers who insist that they did not. Crowd scenes abound, the plague has hit Europe, but the 17th Century’s Covid-type disease spared the entire town of Pescia. Credit Benedetta, a complex character who is both an aspiring nymphomaniac and a visionary who in one case receives stigmata—the wounds of Christ—on her hands, head and torso.

Nothing by Verhoeven should be missed. The man knows how to run crowd scenes, trials, and best of all, lesbian sex. But of course you did not attend this movie for the last item but for a better understanding of Church politics in the 1600s. You get that and more particularly since the director evokes solid performances from Charlotte Rampling and Virginie Efira.

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

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

PASSING – movie review


Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Rebecca Hall
Screenwriter: Rebecca Hall, based on the novel by Nella Larsen
Cast: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård, Bill Camp
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/12/21
Opens: October 27, 2021. Streaming November 10, 2021

Passing (Movie Tie-In) - by Nella Larsen (Paperback)
Passing as white

Chaz Ebert, the CEO of Ebert Digital, passes along some information on the process of passing white. “Someone was considered Black if she had only one drop of Black blood. An octoroon was someone who had an ancestry that was one-eighth Black. To escape the peculiar institution of slavery or a lifetime of discrimination, some African Americans chose to pass as white. They could then become doctors and lawyers, businessmen and engineers, land owners and teachers. One woman would visit a beauty salon at night to have her blond hair straightened with chemical relaxers.”

To dramatize the custom and for full period detail, Rebecca Hall takes off her actor’s cap to deliver a powerful debut direction, filming in 4:3 boxy aspect ratio and black-and-white to mirror New York in the 1920’s. Her focus is on two Black women who, despite their friendship back in high school and a growing affection in the story’s present time will, their distinct personalities will turn them into hostility bordering on murder. Adapting Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel that takes place during the Harlem Renaissance, Hall evokes terrific performances from Tessa Thompson as Irene and Ruth Negga as Clare as mismatched friends.

For those who may not have lived through a period in New York when racism was even more overt than now, some Black women who were light-skinned tried to pass themselves off as white, not because they believed white was superior but because they believed they could get ahead in a white person’s world more easily than if they denied authenticity. “Passing” is not the first movie to deal with the subject; in fact, John Ford and Elia Kazan’s 1949 film “Pinky” finds a Black woman passing as white, married to a white doctor who does not guess her race.

We get the impression from the first scenes watching Irene a.k.a. Renie, walking in downtown Manhattan, wearing a large hat and avoiding eye contact, that she is the one who is passing. She does in fact, hide her features in a mostly white neighborhood, on this day taking a taxi to the Drayton Hotel to cool off in its tea room on a sweltering day. By coincidence she runs into Clare, an old friend, whose own husband has no idea that she is Black. In fact her man John (Alexander Skarsgård), a well-to-do banker who expresses his hatred of “Negroes” while later speaking to Clare and Irene in his home. Wouldn’t you know that Clare trumps her husband in intolerance, refusing to hire a colored maid.

Months later, Irene, living with her doctor husband Brian (André Holland), reads a letter from Clare who hopes to get together again. When Clare shows up in Harlem and climbs up the walkup, we see that Brian resents a woman who refuses to accept her race, but nonetheless warms up to her sexually making Irene becomes anxious enough to drop and break a treasured teapot. Clare is self-aware, stating that she would do anything to get what she wants, a feeling which, as in a Greek tragedy, will lead to her downfall. Irene’s irritation continues even with her husband, who wants their two young sons to be aware of murderous racism in the country while Irene thinks that the boys should be allowed their innocence.

“Passing” will be especially enlightening to the majority of the country who have no idea that at one time, some African-Americans denied their blackness to get ahead. The film is emotionally vibrant, intellectually honest, and blessed by sterling performances of the two principals and a debut by director Rebecca Hall, who may worry that any second feature she will hopefully present to us will be unable to equal or excel this awesome work.

One more compliment: there is virtually no music on the soundtrack, allowing us in the audience to hear every word without the musical distractions that ruin so many American movies.

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

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


Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Thor Klein
Writer: Thor Klein
Cast: Philippe Tlokinski, Esther Garrel, Fabian Kociecki, Joel Basman, Mateusz Wieclawek, Sam Keeley
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/22/21
Opens: October 1, 2021

I know that 2+2 equals 4 and can even show the extensive work on paper using Core Math. I discovered that A+B sometimes equals 7, sometimes not. But what I do not understand is how mathematics helps scientists to make the atomic bomb. “Adventures of a Mathematician” does not tell you how, since it takes more than 102 minutes to explain, nor is there much of an adventure in the Thor Klein’s film, at least not in the sense of Indiana Jones. Instead this is a staid, conventional, chronological biopic of a guy who, according to his Wikipedia article had a fine head on his shoulders. And we do learn that he is not all numbers and chain-smoking. Maybe the greatest adventure he had was to escape from Poland, where he was a member of a rich, Jewish family, and get a gig teaching mathematics at Harvard—where in one scene he seemed to be teaching the tie-and-jacket adult students card tricks. We know he also flirted with a French woman, Françoise (Esther Garrel) at a party, married her and had a daughter; and that he traveled to New Mexico to take part in creating the atomic bomb. But we don’t even see a mushroom cloud when the bomb was tested. Did I mention that the movie is staid? (sedate · respectable · quiet · serious · steady, serious-minded).

I have a sudden craving for mushrooms.

Stan Ulam is not a household name like Albert Einstein, though he does have a extensive Wikipedia article. And he is played by Philippe Tlokinski, a handsome dude who is fluent in Polish and English, but writer-director Klein, whose first movie “Lost Place” looks more exciting as it is about four teenagers come across an abandoned US military radio tower station that once was part of a secret military program. This is his sophomore feature. We can wonder whether his third film will be like the first or like this one.

Klein touches upon Ulam’s relationship with his younger brother Adam (Mateusz Wieclawek) who came to America, but they worry about their parents who are left in Poland. This may explain in part why Stan Ulam, along with other mathematicians, physicists and engineers are eager to build a bomb before the Nazis produce one, yet hey, the war in Europe is over so who’s left to torment? There’s Japan on whom to test the bomb, though at least one scientist, Sam Keeley (Jack Calkin) delivers an explosion of his own, yells that it is barbaric to burn women and children. Amen.

When Stan hears arguments from Edward Teller (Joel Basman), who pushes for a hydrogen bomb—which may need three baby atomic bombs to light up–he is caught in the middle. He understands and abhors the devastation wrought in Japan and is also aware that the Cold War with the Soviet Union is back on. And one Klaus Fuchs has apparently committed treason to giving the USSR the secret of its making. A final melodramatic burst comes from Stan’s brother, who renounces all ties to Judaism. Huh?

Bringing the key points in the life of a mathematician who has produced far more than chalk writing on a board is a worthy project for director Klein, but…meh!

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

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


POWDER KEG (Krudttønden)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ole Christian Madsen
Writer: Lars Kristian Andersen, Ole Christian Madsen
Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lars Brygmann, Jakob Oftebro, Sonja Richter, Nicolaj Kopernikus, Martin Greis-Rosenthal
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/29/21
Opens: September 3, 2021

Thinking of quitting the SWAT team

The political situation in the U.S. has become so divisive that some say politics has replaced religion as the factor that most divides people. Now, given the satirical banter by late-night comedians like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmerl and Trevor Noah, much of which was taken up with excoriating comments about the former president, you may wonder why religion gets a free pass—aside from commentary about the cover up of sexual abuses among some fathers of the church, not really a challenge to religious beliefs. So: even in free-speech America (free speech, that is, until you are a victim of cancel culture or are threatened with physical violence for advocating masks), religion goes on an unapproachable dais. We respect each other’s faiths. Yet, it’s not every day that Americans are threatened with death for criticizing a religion, but among radical Islamists, there’s a different story to tell. And Ole Christian Madsen, who directs “Powder Keg, with the original title Krudttønden, the name of a culture center in which a fatal shooting took place in Copenhagen in February 2015, tells an involving story albeit one with physical action reserved for the conclusion.

There are two shootings, actually, both by a radicalized Muslim, a frequent felon named Omar El-Hussein (Albert Arthur Amiryan). Despite his crime record, given Denmark’s liberal treatment of offenders who are often put inside luxury prisons, he is out on parole pending an appeal. His is the most sinister character in a film that wisely avoids a straight documentary in favor of a rich narrative. Omar, who kills one innocent person in each of two shootings in Denmark’s wonderful capital, is sought by Rico, a SWAT team member (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who has been battered and is ultimately urged to leave the vigorous requirements of SWAT for a gig that would preserve his life and limbs.

We will meet two other principal characters whose careers in separate avenues of the city will take them together at the conclusion. Welcome Dan Uzan (Adam Buschard), a chief of security at a synagogue who is applying for a better job in logistics; Finn Nørgaard (Lars Brygmann), a journalist-filmmaker who is an advocate of free speech without the “but,” meaning there should be no exceptions, not even against satirical treatment of any religion. When Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist sketches The Prophet as a dog, Omar’s fury passes the point of no return. Though even his buddies at an Islamic club warn him against violent action, he insists, like Rodney Dangerfield, that he gets no respect. What’s more he envisions a caliphate with Islam, “the only true religion,” giving orders to the entire world after the Conquest.

The shoot-up scenes are well done, with one principal character’s becoming a hero and giving his life to stop the gunman when he could have run like the others, though in the second event a man is killed outright. (You can read all about the true story in Wikipedia under Copenhagen terrorist shootings.)I particularly enjoyed Finn’s extended conversation at a dinner in which he tried the patience of his friends, most of whom agreed with Finn, that freedom of speech is freedom of speech. (Though even we in the U.S. can legally bar speech that leads directly to action: applied too late against the former president on January 6.) Characters are given humanity even outside the realm of the central issue. Dan Uzan, ready to move up after delivering security for yet another Bat Mitzvah outside Copenhagen’s Great Synagogue, cannot get a better job for months, rejected by phone time after time. Rico, divorced with two kids, fantasies getting back with his ex-wife. Poor guy has women visiting him for sex, but one of them rejected his call for yet another date saying that he’s too tired for her.

All in all, yet another series of true events done in somewhat fictionalized narrative form, “Powder Keg” is a visceral reminder that when it comes to religion as with politics and opinions of rap music, people do not all think the same. Some will show their differences by damaging the lives and limbs of others.

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

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

TEST PATTERN – movie review

Kino Lorber
Reviewed for & 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


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+


SORRY WE MISSED YOU – movie review

Kino Lorber
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
Cast: Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone, Katie Proctor, Ross Brewster
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/23/20
Opens: March 6, 2020. Streaming June 12, 2020

Front Standard. Sorry We Missed You [Blu-ray] [2019].

The rich get money while the poor get babies. You’ve probably heard that expression, but let’s go farther. The poor regularly get screwed up the arse. Let Ken Loach tells you how. As the leading director of working-class films, Loach is not so concerned about people on the dole in the UK, folks who may have drug addiction, disabilities, even laziness in their character, as he is about the ambitious working class. Call the characters in “Sorry We Missed You” as people who are considered by some sociologists to be the upper lower class, often poor educated, with the kind of cockney or otherwise non-King’s English palaver that could not get them hired for office work. Everyone in the cast appears to say “youse,” as though they did not learn even before high school what is the proper word to describe that entity, and they say “innit” instead of “isn’t it.” If they were interviewed for a cable TV documentary targeted toward woke people, they would not likely drop their slang. They do not use these words only for their friends. They are unable to upgrade for a different audience.

So what’s left for Ricky (Kris Hitchen), a member of the gig economy? Looking for a job, he tells the foreman of an Amazon-like delivery company that he would never go on the dole “I’m too proud for that,” and he is hired by Maloney (Ross Brewster) for a job that does not give Ricky even the right to be called an employee. He is an independent contractor, a term that signs cool but means “more exploited than most workers.” He is responsible for providing his own delivery van, since the company van would deduct 65 quid daily for its use. He sells the car of his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) to get the money for a van, never mind that Abbie needs her own vehicle to get her own low-paying job dealing with elderly, some with dementia, in one situation even have to wipe the poop out of a client’s hair and on the walls.

They have a kid Seb (Rhys Stone) who deep down has a good heart and has a circle of friends, but provokes his father, who lays a hand on him just once in his life when the teen trashes him with curses. When Ricky tears away the kid’s phone, Seb is suspected of hiding his dad’s keys, so he could not go to work. The work is grueling. On Ricky’s best day, he is joined by his young daughter Liza Jae (Katie Proctor), who collects tips and loves her new, temporary job. Interesting, isn’t it, how an outsider can romanticize pure hell. Fourteen hours a day, pay your own traffic tickets, deal with snotty recipients of their packages. If Loach had Amazon in mind, he’s probably on the money.

Loach, in short, is no friend of capitalism. Ricky’s rough tough foreman ironically lectures his independent contractor, noting that the people who receive these packages do not give a crap about the lives of the delivery personnel. “They would not care if you fell asleep in the truck and hit a bus.” The foreman is aware of the evils of the Western economic system, and does his best nonetheless to fit into it. Better to be a straw boss than a prole.

There’s a message in the movie that Loach may not have thought about. Note how the working class in the U.S. are conned by our president, a billionaire, supporting him with protest marches even now as he is preparing to be escorted out of the White House on January 20—by Navy Seals if necessary. Trump exploits the idea that everyone needs someone to look down on. He believes—and he’s probably right—that there’s no better feeling for the poorly educated people who work for minimum wages than to have people to look down upon: immigrants, Black and Brown people, foreigners, even the well-off liberals who, they seem to believe, regularly look down on them as racists from flyover country.

This is a hard-hitting drama that rivets attention throughout its running time and is in full competition of the parade of annual awards.

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

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

CRAZY, NOT INSANE – movie review

HBO Documentary Films and streaming on HBO Max
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alex Gibney
Writer: Alex Gibney
Cast: Dorothy Lewis, Laura Dern (narrator), Park Dietz, Catherine Yeager
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/26/20
Opens: November 18, 2020

Crazy, Not Insane Movie Poster

October 2020 is closing on what is likely the most crazy and insane presidential election in modern history. Millions of citizens are mailing in their ballots hoping that theirs will not be discarded because or some technicality. Apropos, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled a few days ago that if the signatures on the mailed ballots do not match the signatures on the voters’ official records, the ballots still be counted. So if the signatures are not alike, does that evoke thoughts of forgery? Perhaps. But listen to what Dr. Dorothy Lewis might say if she were called in for her opinion as a psychiatrist. “Consider that the individual whose signatures do not match may have DID, or Dissociative Identity Disorder,” which is the name now given to what used to be called multiple personality disorder. (You might have seen this demonstrated in Nannally Johnson’s 1957 movie “The Three Faces of Eve.”) A “different person” may have signed the official registry years ago than the individual who signed this year.

Do you believe a person can morph into a different individual, actually talking to another identity while anybody witnessing this would think he is talking to himself? Dorothy Lewis is convinced. But reading about this is not some hobby that she toys around with, arguing against people like a prosecutor, Paul Dietz, thinks the whole idea is malarkey. People with multiple personalities, appearing even shy and stable to us, may have alters, or alternate identities, that can commit murder. Utilizing that theory, Dr. Lewis, who is the principal character in this HBO documentary, has traveled around at the bequest of defense attorneys to prove to juries that their clients may be crazy, but not insane.

During the two hours we spend with the good doctor in a riveting doc that includes intriguing, home-made pulsating animations and relevant archival films and home movies, director Alex Gibney, whose “Citizen K” uncovers details of a Russian opponent of Putin and whose “Going Clear” penetrates the religion of Scientology, makes the case for the psychiatrist. Lewis, who like a majority of Americans is against the death penalty, is no pushover. She believes that though murderers have been driven to dissociate and to torture and kill thanks to abusive parents and others in their childhoods people sometimes causing permanent brain injury, should be locked up “and throw away the key” to protect those of us fortunate not to have imaginary friends. She also holds that any of us, including she, could under the right circumstances kill, and that nobody is born evil. Evil is a religious term that has no bearing on the subject at hand.

She has been able to charm some serial killers into allowing her to interview them, their perhaps hoping that she could influence juries to get them off or at least avoid the death penalty. Two of special interest are Arthur Shawcross and Ted Bundy. As she chats with Shawcross, who keeps his eyes closed most of the time even when not under Lewis’s hypnosis, she finds that this man who killed eleven women shares an identity with his own vindictive mother and with a 13th century cannibal. In the latter role he ate women’s vaginas. And who can better tell us that some of these abused killers have no idea they’re about to be executed (grounds for commuting their sentences) than Ricky Ray Rector, declared sane, who asked the officers to save the slice of pecan pie given to him as his last meal to eat later?

Ted Bundy is among the most interesting of serial killers, a man who is highly educated (if you consider lawyers to be so), articulate, and handsome who persuaded women to bond with him before killing them and keeping their skulls as souvenirs. He defended himself, agreeing on the day before his execution to several hours’ discussion with Dr. Lewis refuses to believe that Bundy or anyone else was born evil. She holds a fascinating interview with a man who killed more people than any of the aforementioned, Sam Jones, an electrician who picks up gigs traveling the country, pulling the switch on some hapless folks who sit in a wooden chair for the last time. He demonstrates no compunctions about his work, but try as she might have done, she could not find an alternate personality in this legal executioner.

So what do you think after seeing the doc? Do you agree with Park Dietz, who like a typical prosecutor thinks that this psychiatric explanation of murder is a hoax? Or do you buy Dr. Lewis’s point that we might do better to prevent future killings by studying murderers and not simply dispensing with them by injections, gas, the rope, electricity, or as was done in Utah, firing squads? Whatever your view, “Crazy, not Insane” the most provocative documentary so far this year, giving Dorothy Lewis the attention and credit she so richly deserves.

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

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


MR. JONES – movie review

Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for & 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+

ETERNAL BEAUTY – movie review

Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Craig Roberts
Writer: Craig Roberts
Cast: Sally Hawkins, David Thewlis, Billie Piper, Penelope Wilton, Alice Lowe, Robert Pugh, Morfydd Clark
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/22/20
Opens: October 2, 2020

Eternal Beauty Movie Poster

“How are you?” says the psychiatrist (Boyd Clark). “Fine,” replies Jane (Sally Hawkins). “Fine or good?” “Good.” This dialogue occurs session after session as the doctor examines the patient, diagnosed twenty years back as schizophrenic. Later, Jane, recalling her sessions with the shrink asks a photographer, “How are you?” “Normal,” he says. “Boring,” says Jane. Her sister had told her that being normal is difficult. So this movie is about how schizophrenics can have more fun than people who are considered everyday-normal, and mirabile dictu, by the end of the film, you are convinced that Jane, notwithstanding an upbringing by a mean-spirited mother Vivian (Penelope Wilton) and passive father Dennis (Robert Pugh) is happier than most of us. Or at least the most of us who are normal.

In his sophomore offering writer-director Craig Roberts whose “Just Jim” portraits the relationship of a Welsh teen with an American neighbor possesses the soul of a person not content to knock out a normal movie but more interested in the inner life of a schizophrenic, in no way dangerous or likely to be mumbling, homeless, on a New York City street. The surrealism is tailor-made for Sally Hawkins, who, in one of her crowning roles in “The Shape of Water” as Elisa Esposito, a janitor in a research facility with a special relationship to a giant laboratory fish, evoked the joke by a TV film critic, “Are men so bad nowadays that a woman has to date a fish?”

Playing the role chiefly as often zonked but as a woman with the vivid imagination of a mentally unbalanced person, Jane appears in virtually every scene, though often as the younger, twenty-something girl (Morfyedd Clark) whose diagnosis takes place at about the time she was stood up at the altar. We can understand that twenty years later, the voice she hears in her head most prominently is that of the boyfriend Johnny (Robert Aramayo), without an explanation for his caddish treatment but now expressing deep love and a desire to see her again.

One day in the hospital, she meets fellow unbalanced Mike (David Thewlis), and voilá, too nuts “find” each other. Leave it to Jane’s mean sister Nicola, just suffering from the loss of a rich boyfriend Lesley (Tony Leader), to try to ruin Jane’s relationship, driving her back to the hospital.

Perhaps the funniest scene occurs at a Christmas gathering with her sisters Alice (Alice Lowe) and Nicola (Billie Piper). Jane distributes gifts which as usual nobody likes. She presents receipts and expects them to pay her back.

This is a frothy comedy about people who look laid-back, but with spurts of enthusiasm like those of the excitable Michael, expecting to get a gig and pay Jane back for staying at her digs. Director Roberts plays up the surrealism by showing Michael on stage singing with his electric guitar and by repeated images of the younger Jane in her wedding dress clueless about what will soon come. The expertly done color palette mirrors Jane’s feelings throughout as does a multiplicity of Sally Hawkins’s facial expressions. Hawkins is in her oils.

Kit Fraser films in various locations in Wales.

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

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



Kino Lorber
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Justin Pemberton
Screenwriter: Adapted by Matthew Metcalfe, Justin Pemberton, Thomas Piketty, based on Thomas Piketty’s book
Cast: Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz, Gillian Tett, Kate Williams, Gabriel Zucman, Ian Bremmer, Rana Foroohar, Francis Fukuyama
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/5/20
Opens: May 1, 2020

Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2019)

People with any rational perspective in our country are fighting mad. Never mind that Fox News tells us that we have the lowest rate of unemployment in decades, or that what’s good for Wall Street (the booming stock market) is good for Main Street. The trouble is that instead of focusing on the real problem, which is the rising rate of economic inequality, too many people are instead distracting themselves by blaming immigrants, by blaming Muslims, by dispelling their anger is ways that are not only dangerous but ineffective. This brings us to Justin Pemberton’s bold, incisive, riveting documentary, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” based on the dense book by Parisian Thomas Piketty, who gets a considerable platform in this striking new documentary.

Pemberton, whose previous docs run the gamut including “Chasing Great” about a black rugby player, “The Golden Hour” about New Zealand Olympians, and “Is She or Isn’t She” about a hairy woman with a penis, now takes on what is arguably the major economic hazard of our time, which is the inequality of wealth. Piketty, who holds gigs at the London School of Economics among other prestigious institutions, believes that the rate of capital return in the developed countries is greater than rate of economic growth, and that is what is causing inequality. President Reagan offered the view that tax decreases will pay for themselves and afford everyone a slice of a bigger pie. Instead Piketty advocates a global tax on wealth, which would bring about the necessary redistribution of income. After all, it’s not always hard work that thickens your wallet; in fact it’s possession of capital largely brought about through inheritance.

In his book, Piketty goes further than what we see in this movie, heads and tails above what Bernie Sanders bases his campaign on. He wants a schedule of taxation on income and wealth that reaches ninety percent and the elimination of nation-states in favor of a vast transnational democracy securing a universal right to education and the abolition of borders. Among other reforms, this would prevent capital from moving to havens to avoid taxation like Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and even the tiny national state of Vanuatu.

Economics writing can be intimidating, but Pemberton transcends the difficulty of the printed word by supplying a staggering series of archival films, forming the historical background of income inequality. The idea that one percent of the population makes as much money annually as the bottom three hundred eighty billion folks has roots beginning at least as far back as the Eighteenth Century. If you’re a buff of movies like “Downton Abbey,” “The Favourite,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Reign,” “The Medici” and “Dangerous Liaisons,” and you marvel at the costumes and the breathtaking splendor of the land, the minuets, the sumptuous feasts, you are too distracted to get your blood boiling with the knowledge that the aristocracy is only one percent of the Europeans on display while the masses outside are suffering.

You will, however, be impressed with the scenes in this movie about royalty, including a splendid few moments of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Les Miserables,” but your excitement plummets when you watch the black-and-white shots of poverty in times past and, much more recently as the way capital has led us to the near depression of 2008 when banks gave out mortgages to people who shouldn’t have received them, and through the shuffling of paper sold those mortgages to other financial institutions through a mind-boggling template of Wall Street intrigue. Other historic celluloid on display looks into sections of “The Grapes of Wrath,” featuring a farmer telling a dude with a convertible that “Nobody is going to take away my land.”

I love what Amazon does for me, but given Piketty’s focus on redistribution, Jeff Bezos would have to fork over $409,000,000,000 (that’s four hundred nine billion dollars) in year one of the plan. If big corporations continue to take the lion’s share of money, they will be able to continue exerting monumental power. What better example than that of Trump’s getting his Republican congress to lower the corporate tax rate from thirty-five percent to twenty-two percent, one of the major disasters that our great-great grandchildren will pay for as the deficit continues past the stratosphere.

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” then, serves as one of the best documentaries in recent years. There is scarcely a dull moment given the fast editing provided by Sandie Bompar and the deft selection of historic clips that Pemberton uses to nail down his points. Economics is oft considered a dismal science, perhaps much of it is. With the excitement generated by this doc, punctuating the talking heads with dramatic cinematics, you might expect thousands of students to select Economics as their major and adults long past college to inspire vivid discussions around the table about where America is headed. What’s in your wallet?

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

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

ABOUT A TEACHER – movie review

Hanan Harchol Productions
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Hanan Harchol
Screenwriter: Hanan Harchol
Cast: Leslie Hendrix, Dov Tiefenbach, Tibor Feldman, Aurora Leonard, Kate Eastman, Yan Xi, Hanan Harchol
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/26/20
Opens: April 7, 2020

About a Teacher

As a guy who spent a 32-year career in the high school classroom, I sometimes wondered why there are far more movies about police than about teachers. Think of “Training Day,” “Dirty Harry,” “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon,” “The Untouchables,” and the best of all, “Serpico.” After all only a small fraction of us have had careers in law enforcement and most of us were never in real trouble, but we’ve all been in classrooms and we should we fascinated by stories about teachers, comparing the movie pedagogues with our own. Wait. On second thought, there are at least one hundred movies about classrooms that are considered among the best, including “Election,” “Chalk,” “The English Teacher,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” “School of Rock,” and my favorite, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” So maybe our own experience in classrooms is mirrored by quite a number of shows about our favorite mentors and our worst nightmares.

Now comes what the marketing people might call a feel good movie. It’s “About a Teacher,” and though happily not a documentary, it follows the experience of an award-winning instructor who felt like quitting during his first year in an inner-city school. Since his favorite word is “perseverance,” he struggled through the first two years, was almost fired before beginning even a second semester, and went on to guide students into using the imparted knowledge to win many thousands of dollars in awards from festivals and the like.

Writer-director Hanan Harchol also has a bit role of “Mr. Caldwell,” an assistant principal who in real life is the great man who helped create careers of his rambunctious students in a tough school. The title character is played by Dov Tiefenbach, known to his students as Mr. Harchol, or just Mister, or Mr. H. At the same time Harchol’s fellow teachers call each other Mr. or Ms., rarely by first names, which in my experience might have been the case before the mid-1960s when we had to wear jackets and ties but now just first names and a t-shirt are de rigueur. The current dress code is good enough for Mark Zuckerberg, and it was good enough for me—and for Hanan.

You would think that Hanan Harchol would have no problem even from the first day since, after all, he is not teaching algebra, which might be of little interest to teens in almost any high school, but instructs them in film making. Here the kids have something to do with their hands. They don’t sit still facing the front of the room listening to long lectures or trying to participate in subjects they can’t really get their minds into. Instead, Harchol faces the indifference so dismaying in “Precious,” in which that title character, sitting in a history class where students are simply talking to each other and ignoring the instructor, bops a kid on the head with a notebook, demanding that the whole class pay attention.

Because of the discipline problems facing Harchol during his first year, he gets into frequent tiffs with Ms. Murray (Leslie Hendrix), the department chair, who could easily fit into a role as Ilsa Koch, the Nazi commandant at Buchenwald concentration camp. She will turn out to have a heart of gold, though, which makes us recall that people wear masks to cover their real feelings and attitudes.

So the kids are a problem. When one of them refuses to turn off his computer, Harchol moves to turn it off himself. The youngster grabs him by the wrist, inflaming the educator who yells “Get out,” notwithstanding that at a previous time, several of his pupils are roaming around the hall leading to an admonishing by an administrator for sending someone out of the classroom without supervision—which could make him lose his license. Seeking a mentor (not realizing that Ms. Murray has been just that all along), he consults a young, attractive Ana Martinez (Aurora Leonard) whose algebra class quietly works at their desks, seeking to learn what she does to get such attention. After receiving feedback from her, he is startled to hear her ask him a key question: “Do you like the kids?” Aha. A genuine affection for your charges will be felt by them, and you’ve won half the battle.

I related strongly to the discussions in the faculty lounge, which features the burnt-out Mr. McKenna (Tyler Hollinger), whom Ana Martinez calls an a**hole. There is considerable grousing when the department chair conducts a meeting, telling the men and women about the demands of the state: lesson plan every day, suitable for inspection. Call each parent of every failing student. Keep the pace: do not fall behind, spending too much time on one project.

Inevitably Harchol cannot avoid taking his problems home, where his sometimes bored wife has to listen to her husband’s tales of woe when all she wants to do is to get some sleep. But when they clash on whether to start a family, you might think the marriage can go belly-up just as Harchol may get fired from his job. Harchol notes several times that he received an MFA from one of the country’s most prestigious schools, which makes one wonder why he did not opt to get a gig at least in a community college. It’s not as though he carried with him a liking for teens, so what’s the deal? Since the story is based closely on real life, I would like to know the answer, especially since hell, the maximum pay right now in New York City public schools, one of the highest paying municipalities in the country, is $119,000, but you have to work 25 years and have a Master’s plus 60 credits to get there. A lawyer getting a fairly decent job right out of law school can make that at age twenty-four. So can a pharmacist. So can a lot of people.

Harchol deals with individual problems of some of his charges, including one girl who had been “hurt” by her mother’s boyfriend from the age of five to the age of nine, and another who sleeps in class because he has two jobs after school and has to look after a child, though he is only seventeen. In the end comes a Hallmark statement by Ms. Murry, who notes (decades before the coronavirus business), that we have little control over many things, but that “the only thing we have is the ability to give away.”

If you do not expect the movie to be as lively as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” or chaotic and violent like “To Sir With Love,” or as wacky as “Teachers” (an escaped mental patient serves a day as a substitute), or as horrific as “Never Let Me Go,” you should have a good time enjoying the inevitable rise of Harchol from a miserable failure to brilliant educator. No, that’s not a spoiler: you already know the trajectory. It’s quite well played by Dov Tiefenbach, though at the age of 38 he seems long in tooth to perform as a beginning teacher. He has particularly interesting conversations in a coffee shop with his dad (Tibor Feldman), who makes fun of his son’s gig entertaining restaurant guests with his guitar but is proud of the lad’s choice to be a teacher.

The students, who may be improving much of the dialogue, were actual pupils of Harchol who came back to play themselves at age seventeen. As their teacher said to them many time, “good job.” This is Hanan Harchol’s freshman film, though he may be known to some at the helm of the short, animated TV episodes of “Jewish Food for Thought.”We look forward to his next venture.

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

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

THE WOLF HOUR – movie review

Brainstorm Media
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alistair Banks Griffin
Screenwriter: Alistair Banks Griffin
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jennifer Ehle, Emory Cohen, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Brennan Brown, Jeremy Bobb
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/28/19
Opens: December 6, 2019

The Wolf Hour Movie Poster

This claustrophobic film that focuses almost exclusively on an agoraphobic might be considered by some viewers to be a vanity project for Naomi Watts but there are more dimensions to this theatrical piece. Not only is Watts, considered by many to be one of the great actresses of her generation, in her métier, but writer-director Alistair Banks Griffin, following up his freshman feature “Two Gates of Sleep” about a mother’s final request, uses Watts’ impressive acting skills to serve as a metaphor for one of New York City’s darkest years. If you are a New Yorker older than fifty, you will recall how Rudolph Giuliani became one of our most popular mayors by (as he put it himself) cleaning up the mess from the seventies. The women of the city had focused their fears on David Richard Berkowitz, aka the Son of Sam, a smiling sociopath who killed brunette women, leaving notes to provoke the police, promising to continue his favorite hobby.

Somehow Naomi Watts in the role of June Leigh is holed up in an apartment that seems more as though a section of a Bangladesh slum had relocated in South Bronx. She may have been a victim of an unmentioned tragedy, a woman whom you would expect to live in New York’s Silk Stocking District given her placement on best seller lists with her first novel, a guest on a TV interview show answering questions from Hans (Brennan Brown), and refusing to take guff from a William Buckley Jr. type interested in ratings for his intellectual show.

June has kept her publisher waiting for four years for a second novel, since the author’s fears have kept her blocked. But leave it to a tragedy affecting one of her few contacts to pull her out of her funk and set her up with a breakout second book. Apparently her sister Margot (Jennifer Ehle), who forced her way into June’s flat, cleaned up the mess of books, and is rewarded by being told to get out, is no solution for June. An unlikely hero for her is not police officer Jeremy Blake, who offers to help and keep a special watch in return for sexual favors. Nor can Billy (Emory Cohen), an understanding third-rate gigolo, do more than relieve her sexual tensions. Unlikely as you might think, Freddie (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a delivery guy from the local bodega who uses the apartment to wash up and cool off from a frightening hot summer, will serve as a catalyst for her return to society.

The movie would be better on the stage of an off-off-Broadway house given the sparseness of the production design and works OK on the screen thanks to Watts, since she easily project her emotions in many close-up from Kahlid Mohtased’s camera. Strangely the 38 caliber revolver given to her by Margot stays in the drawer and is not retrieved in Act 3, so while the movie is Chekhovian, the gun does not inevitably reappear.

One item is confusing, making the viewer think that Freddie, the delivery guy, is a figment of her imagination. When she calls the bodega he allegedly works for, she’s told that the boss never heard of him. I can’t think of any actress other than Watts who could produce the feeling of terror as she does.

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

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

LUCY IN THE SKY – movie review

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Noah Howley
Screenwriter: Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi, Noah Hawley
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, Zazie Beetz, Ellyn Burstyn
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 10/1/19
Opens: October 4, 2019

Lucy in the Sky Poster

Lucy Cola may be in the sky part of the time, but as storytelling, this Fatal-Attraction-like revenge fantasy lacks wings. Based on an actual tale of a female astronaut, Lisa Marie Nowak, who flew aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 2006, Noah Howley’s dramatization follows her as she is floating on a mission, segueing into her romance with a handsome devil who dumped her, thereby leading to her going insane. Howley’s résumé cites him for directing TV series like “Cat’s Cradle” and “Fargo,” now delivering a freshman feature with a lot more ambition than one would expect from a director with that background.

Howley appears to make up for a lack of solid storytelling (he has two co-writers) for a wealth of cinematic tricks, almost all of which serve nothing more than to distract the audience. He would expand the screen when Lucy’s world opens up, then cut back on the aspect ratio when she is in the doldrums. Credit Natalie Portman with a class act as the title character—she is alternately seductive, pleading, violent, sensitive, running the gamut of emotions depending on the circumstances. As a larger-than-life woman, an astronaut, no less, you might expect her to be so satisfied with her profession, willing and even demanding to take on risky assignments, that she would never fall to murderous rage when a “ladies’ man” drops her for another.

Opening scenes may well remind you of “Ad Astra” and “Gravity,” a slow-moving triptych into outer space which finds Lucy looking exhilarated by her gig. She is like the type of person who risks his life in Afghanistan in 110 degrees, is sent back to the States with an honorable discharge, looks at one hundred cereal boxes in the supermarket, and heads right back to the fighting. He has a nice albeit irresolute husband Drew (Dan Stevens), a grandmother Nana Holbrook who like Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley in “Downton Abbey” has an unlimited supply of witticisms. This earthbound life is simply not enough for someone who finds more thrills being alone in space.

During the second part of the film, in which Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), a fellow astronaut and womanizer hits on her, Lucy is smitten. She is head over heels as she might be when floating in space in the absence of gravity. She should have realized that this fellow is not the settling kind, but in a moment of sexual flush she kisses him, and the affair begins. Lucy will risk all for both her profession and her boyfriend, insisting on the administrator of the space program that she does not like the way he grounds her, taking the big chance of chucking her husband, going nuts, and losing all. In the final scene she is once again courting danger, a scene that should be seen as one providing a strong clue not just to her willingness, but to her real desire to be in danger.

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

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

SERENITY – movie review

Aviron Pictures
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Steven Knight
Screenwriter: Steven Knight
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Djimon Hounsou, Jason Clarke, Jeremy Strong
Screened at: Bryant Park, NYC, 1/17/19
Opens: January 25, 2019

Serenity Movie Poster

By midpoint in “Serenity” you may “get”the mystery behind the bizarre events if you compare this movie to writer-director Steven Knight’s “Redemption.” In that 2013 film a homeless soldier hiding out from a threatened court martial navigates the London underworld adopting another man’s identity. Identity is perhaps the central plot device this time, with Matthew McConaughey in the role of Baker Dill, the captain of a fishing boat on an island off the Miami coast, filmed by Jess Hall on in Mauritius. The country off the coast of East Africa may have been picked for its pure blue water, which serves as backdrop to all the activities, activities that give Baker Dill his context.

There’s Rafael Sayegh in the role of young Patrick Dill, who is Baker’s son; Anne Hathaway as Karen, Baker’s ex-wife married to a violent man (Jason Clarke), Diane Lane as Baker’s love interest though she can be better identified as the woman hiring Dill’s gigolo services, and most bizarre of all, Jeremy Strong as Reid Miller, a clenched salesman that runs after Baker with a pitch to save the captain from committing a murder.

The plot turns on ex-wife Karen’s offer of ten million dollars to Baker if the captain would take her husband out on his fishing boat, get him drunk and toss him overboard to the sharks. As to why she does not simply divorce the guy with whom she has non-stop arguments and is plagued by beatings that leave scratches all over her back, she explains that he “knows too many people,” meaning that he could have her killed. The offer sounds good to Baker since he is regularly hard-up for money, but his conscience, in the form of Duke (Djimon Hounsou), the assistant that he hires to help his clients land the huge fish, warns him to turn down the offer.

What’s strange is how Duke got wind of the unfolding developments in the murder offer and even more puzzling is how the salesman, who appears to want only to give the captain a week’s trial of a new machine, is also aware of what’s going on, likewise warning the man not to go through with the crime.

Meanwhile, back in Miami, Baker’s son Patrick spends ten hours a day on his computer, terrified of his violent stepfather, knocking out numbers and texts that will eventually lead to an explosion of emotions. The film is replete with some interesting absurdities, foremost being the way Reid Miller, running after a potential client who wants nothing to do with him, walks in his suit into the ocean as though posing for a Magritte painting.

The whole idea is solid, but the screenplay is filled with hackneyed dialogue, Anne Hathaway seems modeled to imitate Veronica Lake with her long blond hair reaching almost to her right eye, and McConaughey’s being McConaughey. The handsome actor projects a perpetual suntan, perspiration sometimes pouring from his forehead , and a four-day wisp of facial hair completing the picture of a grizzled fellow swept up in murderous schemes that others in his circle appear to know about. How is this possible considering that the conferences he has with his ex are private and confidential?

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

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

WILDLIFE – movie review


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE, CECIL – movie review


Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Screenwriter:  Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Cast:  Rupert Everett, (narrator). Cecil Beaton, Hamish Bowles, Leslie Caron, David Hockney, Isaac Mizrahi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NY, 6/15/18
Opens: June 29, 2018
Love, Cecil Poster
“I’m an ordinary man,” explains Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” to his best friend Col. Pickering, “Who desires nothing more than just an ordinary chance to live exactly as he likes, and do precisely what he wants. An average man am I, of no eccentric whim, who likes to live his life free of strife, doing whatever he thinks is best for him. Just an ordinary man.”  Of course Higgins was not what he claimed.  Now imagine a person who really does fit the bill as “an ordinary man.” You would be imagining the very opposite of Cecil Beaton, who won Oscars in both production design and costume design for “My Fair Lady” helping to make that musical one of the Broadway icons of the last century.

In Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s love letter to Cecil Beaton, she affords us a look at the career and inner life of an extraordinary man, a man who has created color, imagination, and fantasy; in short a vivid look at all that is beautiful about life.  A Renaissance person who could not sit still and focus on a single career, Beaton was above all a photographer, but exceptional as well as a theatre set designer, a creator of costumes, a lighting designer, and even an actor who appeared in Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermeer’s Fan.”  Not mentioned by this film which, after all, limits itself to a mere 99 minutes, he designed the sets and costumes for a production of Puccini’s “Turandot.”

Vreeland, in her métier as a person who made documentaries on Diana Vreeland and Peggy Guggenheim, is obviously a great supporter of the artist, who died in 1980.  She might be accused of being in love with Sir Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton CBE, though she does point out an unfortunate incident in which Beaton, who published six volumes of diaries, used the word “kike” on one page of Vogue magazine, perhaps the most obscene term used by anti-Semites to describe the Jewish people.  Beaton tells the camera that he has no idea why he wrote this, that he is not anti-Jewish (never mind that a good segment of the British upper classes at the time were indeed), and that he regrets that Vogue had to shred thousands of copies and fire him.

We become privy to vast array of Beaton’s portraits in black-and-white and color and to a few segments of the colorful “My Fair Lady” and “Gigi.”  In the former musical, the song “Ascot Gavotte,” which portraits the British upper class at a racetrack saying how positively ecstatic they are when the horses are running, though with the stiffness and lack of emotion that have become stereotypies of the upper orders.

Of his loves, he cites Greta Garbo, who surprised Beaton by allowing him to photograph the woman who “vant[s] to be left alone.” As the official photographer of the Queen mother,  he is overcome with emotion as he is invited to photograph Queen Elizabeth II in a series of shots that went way over the time limit he is granted.  He left behind photographs of his two male lovers, and cautiously tells us that he did not get along with George Cukor, who directed “My Fair Lady,” and for some reason hated Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

See this on the big screen where you can best revel in the gorgeous costumes, vivid set designs, dramatic sketches and portraits, and snippets from two of the all-time great Broadway musicals.

Unrated.  99 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

WHO WE ARE NOW – movie reveiw


Film Rise
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Matthew Newton
Screenwriter: Matthew Newton
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/1/18
Cast: Julianne Nicolson, Emma Roberts, Zachary Quinto, Jess Weixler, Lea Thompson, Jason Biggs, Jimmy Smitts
Opens: May 25, 2018

Who We Are Now Movie Poster

It’s not unusual for two actress to deliver awards-worthy performances during the prestige season of November-December. But it’s unlikely this early in the year for the academy members and all the other awards organizations to be delighted by two spot-on performances. One such actress would be Toni Collette, already considered by those in the know as one of the greats of her generation, this year delivering her best performance as a jinxed woman in “Hereditary.” The other? Julianne Nicholson, in the role of a desperate woman who, having served a decade in prison for a crime revealed only in the closing moments. Nicholson is not as known as Collette and has been underutilized, but in Matthew Newton’s naturalistic indie, we become patiently aware of not only the situation she has faced as ex-convict, but not so much about a young, not quite mature lawyer who is defender her in a custody battle.

The story unfolds so casually that we in the audience have to wonder just what is happening, what the stakes are. Soon after her release from prison, Beth (Julianne Nicholson) shows up unannounced at the home of her sister Gabby (Jess Weixler) and Gabby’s husband Sam (Scott Cohen), only to be told that next time she’d better phone before visiting. Why so? During Beth’s incarceration Gabby and Sam were granted guardianship over Beth’s ten-year-old boy Alec (Logan Schuyler Smith), a lively kid obviously well-nurtured by his guardians with ambitions to move from second trumpet to principal player at his school. Beth is, after all, the boy’s biological mother but I think her sister is correct in figuring that since Alec had not met Beth at any time and had been told that his guardians are his parents, what’s the point of confusing him now?

The title of the film, “Who We Are Now,” indicates that writer-director Matthew Newton wants us to compare and contrasts the lives of two women. One is a cynical criminal whose maternal talents are unknown and who is desperate for a job paying more than she earns in a nail salon. The other is a young woman recently out of Columbia Law School treated poorly by her Waspish mother (Lea Thompson) who is concerned mostly about her daughter’s upcoming wedding, demanding more of Beth’s time for the family.

Much of the dialogue involving Beth and her women friends is unnecessary and could have been cut to give up more insight into Jess’ conflicts with her job. She works with Carl (Jimmy Smits) who wants her commitment to remain with a pro-bono law firm that works with folks unable to afford lawyers, impressed by her defense of a youthful high-school dropout inside the prison system. By contrast, Beth cannot dream of working at anything better than a job as a waitress, and even for even a chance at that job, she has to sexually service Vince (Jason Biggs), a restaurant manager, if she has any hope of landing the gig. Her hard shell is softened by her casual friendship with Peter (Zachary Quinto), a barfly who had served in Afghanistan, reports that the war is a nightmare, and can’t wait to go back for another stint.

Australian director Matthew Newton has many acting roles in his résumé, both TV spots and feature films, and before taking on this project had been at the helm of three other features including “From Nowhere” (undocumented Bronx high schools try to get papers to stay in the U.S.), and “Three Blind Mice” (Navy officers enjoy one last night in Sydney before shipping off to the fight in the Gulf). Evoking entertainment value out of a film that emphasizes naturalistic conversations is difficult: Newton succeeds admirably.

Unrated. 99 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

WAKEFIELD – movie review


    IFC Films
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B
    Director:  Robin Swicord
    Written by: Robin Swicord
    Cast: Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Garner, Jason O’Mara, Beverly D’Angelo
    Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 5/1/17
    Opens: May 19, 2017
    Wakefield Movie Poster
    Think of Syrian refugees who escape the bombings in Aleppo and arrive to our in tatters without two dimes to rub together. Can you begin to imagine what they would think if they saw Robin Swicord’s movie “Wakefield” (Arabic subtitles)?  “These Americans are completely crazy,” they would say.  “Did we come to a country that’s one big lunatic asylum?”  What would baffle these good folks no end is the idea that an upper-middle-class Wall Street partner, Mercedes car in his two-car garage and a large house in a suburb of New York City, would chuck the whole thing and become a vagabond, a bum.  True, some people in the business world might go into a low-paid teaching job when they retire at 55 or even quit the firm looking for a profession without the pressure of producing for the bosses.  There are even people who desert their families and take off to a distant state and begin a whole new life.  But to give up your wife, your two children, your home, your credit cards, only to move to the attic next door and live there for a year?  To grow a beard like Rip Van Winkle, dumpster-dive for what the perfectly good food that the neighbors have thrown out, including melted Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, segments of a steak, a baked potato that would taste oh-so-good if you’re hungry enough?

    Howard Wakefield is that guy who appears to flip out, tired of the same old routine, driving to the station and taking the train to Grand Central, sitting in on parties initiated by his wife and attended by people including one guy who he thinks is flirting with his wife and one woman, Babs (Beverly D’Angelo)  to whom he accords the epithet “bitch.”  Howard, in fact, looks like somebody out of the casting of TV’s “Mad Men,” one of those handsome, if bland characters with an inflected American pronunciation, who has the usual two kids, and pays the mortgage and the insurance policies.  It helps writer-director Robin Swicord, who was partially responsible for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (surely a more creative project than “Wakefield”), that she enlisted Bryan Cranston for the title role.  Cranston, who showed us that he is one of the great actors of his generation with his portrayal of the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, now follows up with a virtual one-hander as narrator and performer in this theatrical piece of celluloid.

    One day, after having a nervous breakdown, Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) takes the train from Manhattan’s Grand Central station to his suburban home, but after a breakdown of the train and a necessary hike along the tracks, he decides to forego entering his home.  Instead he camps out in the attic next door, using the days, weeks and months to spy on his wife Diana (Jennifer Garner), who always leaves her blinds open.  Diana reports the missing husband, and the police arrival is observed by Howard, who can virtually read his wife’s lips and mimics what she is saying using his impression of her voice.  That he’s talking only to himself and the movie audience probably means that he is psychologically a goner, especially when he laughs hilariously at scenes that would make a normal person cry.

    He is discovered in his lair by two developmentally disabled kids, Emily and Herbert (Pippa Bennett-Warner and Isaac Leyva) who live in the adjacent home under the care of a professor, but they agree to keep his secret—though if you watch the young girl giggling, you realize that she is happier than Wakefield.  He presumes that a fellow employee, Dirk Morrison (Jason O’Mara) is hitting on his wife and unable to think that he might be wrong about her reaction to this flirtation.

    There’s a reason for Howard’s narration.  He is quoting from a short story by E.L. Doctorow, who like John Updike frequently wrote about upper-middle class suburban life.  Such narration does not often work in the movies, where screenplays should be acted and not spoken, and it does not help the film here either.  Still, Bryan Cranston is a superior showman whose virtual one-man show is the movie, though without him probably someone like Kevin Spacey could do the job almost as well.  Note also that Doctorow has virtually taken the story from Nathaniel (“The Scarlet Letter”) Hawthorne’s 1835 study of the same name which took place in London and was published in the New England Magazine in May of that year.  One literary critic noted that “even as Hawthorne castigates Wakefield, he colludes with him relishing an ordinary man’s extraordinary caprice.”  Go the source, namely one of America’s great writer of short stories and full-length fiction, and you’ll see that even in 1835, “Wakefield” seems remarkably modern, treating a man’s escape from marriage and the routine of his life.

    Rated PG-13.  106 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

INDIVISIBLE – movie reveiw

INDIVISIBLE (Indivisibili)

Medusa Film
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B+
Director:  Edoardo De Angelis
Written by: Nicola Guaglianone, Barbara Petronio, Edoardo De Angelis
Cast:  Angela Fontana, Marianna Fontana, Antonia Truppo, Massimiliano Rossi, Tony Laudadio
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/28/17
Opens: September 29, 2017

“Indivisible,” or “Indivisibili” in the original, might remind cinephiles of Josh Aronson’s film “Sound and Fury,” which has the tag line “If you could make your deaf child hear, would you?”  Though to most of us the answer is obvious, one community leader of an anti-implant sect refuses to allow this, saying that being deaf is perfectly normal, and those without hearing should not be coerced into joining the hearing society.  Edoardo De Angelis is concerned with a handicap that similarly finds people divided on how to deal with it.  The director is known, albeit not far and wide, for his 2011 comedy “Mozzarella Stories”—which includes the story of a pop idol stuck for 3 days under his dead, morbidly obese mistress.  Now he helms a serious drama with comic undertones.  “Indivisible” is an original, a tale of conjoined twins at the age of eighteen, facing a handicap that could be overcome by surgery but is not.

For the reason, just follow the money.  The daddy, Alfonso Fasano (Peppe Servillo) is a long-haired poet who writes soulful songs for his daughter to sing usually at parties organized by rich people.  Titti (Antonia Truppo), the mother, is blamed for smoking weed and drinking during the pregnancy, and opposes the way her husband is exploiting the freak-show aspect.  Notwithstanding the beautiful voices of Viola (Angela Fontana) and Dasy (Marianna Fontana), who are named after the actual English twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, they would probably not be much of a draw if they were normal. What’s unusual from the start is that Farren Paredes’s lenses capture the poverty of the Neopolitan family, in a downscale section of town with sad hookers, though the twins’ dad is putting away 80,000 euros a year earned by his daughters’ performances.  When told by a Swiss doctor that the twins could be separated since they are joined only at the hip and do not share major organs, the father insists that the doc should butt out as does the handler for a tattooed woman singing “Ave Maria” for dancing who wants to become the impresario for the twins.

Though the real-life Fontana sisters are twins, you could easy see physical differences, and if you could not, you could spot their individuality in their customs.  Dasy likes to drink wine while Viola has an appetite for sweets.  Dasy wants to be with a man, but for Viola, her sister is everything. Dasy wants to go to Geneva for the operation, while Viola wants to remain connected, believing that she will be alone when the only meaningful person is her life is her Dasy. The twins have a desire to go to Los Angeles where they think they can attract the kind of crowd that Janis Joplin relied upon, and they’re familiar enough with the career of Michael Jackson.  To get the money they would need, they spend one night on a yacht owned by Marco Ferreri (Gaetano Bruno), a Neopolitan Hugh Hefner, who states that he loves Dasa so much he would cut off his head to be with her.

Songs are from Enzo Avitabile, a folk singer who is presumably more talented than the twins’ dad, and though the twins do not harmonize, their voices lend them a charm that makes one wonder whether they could get those gigs if they were separate individuals.

Conjoined births are rare: some say only one birth in every 189,000 results in this handicap, with half still-born, making the whole project more of a fable than a project rooted in realism.  There are some superb casting choices, including, of course, the twins, and also a corrupt priest (Gianfranco Gallo) who attracts support from local Nigerian ex-pats and who advises the sibs to stay as they are—freaks.  The finale is an unexpected twist, also in line with the quality of the film as a fable.  The location outside Castel Volturno is where Matteo Garrone’s violent mafia pic “Gomorra” was shot, but violence in “Indivisible” is a constant threat which is not acted out in this one.  In Italian with English subtitles.

Unrated.  100 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?