THE KEEPER – movie review

THE KEEPER (Trautmann)
Menemsha Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Marcus H. Rosenmüller
Writer: Robert Marciniak, Marcus H. Rosenmüller, Nicholas J. Schofield
Cast: David Kross, Freya Mavor, John Henshaw, Harry Melling, Michael Socha, Dave Johns
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/26/20
Opens: October 2, 2020

The Keeper (Trautmann)

 

Do you think that it’s possible or even praiseworthy to forgive and forget a people for atrocities? Forgiving is difficult. Forgetting is impossible, as it should be. The most impressive sight in Berlin today is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or, in German Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas. An entire city block is covered with 2,711 slabs of concrete as a memorial to the Jewish dead that will hopefully last for centuries. Though Turkey refuses to admit to the genocide of Armenians, Germany’s governments have stepped forward to make sure that their own people, even men and women who had nothing to do with the Holocaust or World War II, never forget. Nor should the world.

In the biopic, “The Keeper“ (Trautmann in the original German title), the Bavaria-born director Marcus H. Rosenmüller, whose Beste Zeit is a frothy look at two country girls seeking love from boyfriends and more freedom from parents, takes on a more serious project. Throughout the two-hour biopic, I think that what Rosenmüller and his co-writers Robert Marciniak and Nicholas J. Schofield, want us to keep in mind is this question: Can we/should we forgive the Germans for starting the most catastrophic war the world has known resulting in deaths in the tens of millions and destruction of a good part of Europe? The ethical question is not really answered, though the film glorifies one man, Bert Trautmann (David Kross), who through his good looks, his charming personality, and most of us his incredible talent as a goalie for the Manchester City football (soccer) team encouraged the Brits to feel warmer toward their enemy.

The film is a good, solid, old-fashioned tale with a tasteful sample of archival films of actual soccer games that appear to be won thanks to Trautmann’s athletic ability. But how did a guy who was not only a soldier but a Nazi gain the respect, admiration, and even the love of British people so quickly after the horrors of war? Rosenmüller takes the story step by step in straight time choosing to show the forest if not the trees. What is not described? One is that Trautmann had a daughter by a previous relationship before he married Margaret (Freya Mavor); another is that the marriage ended in divorce, that Trautmann had three wives, and that he died in Spain at the age of eighty-nine. Here is the time line from the film…

Trautmann is in a British prisoner of war camp in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire, in 1944 toward the end of the war, a place that despite the barking leadership of Sergeant Smythe (Harry Melling) looks more like Stalag 17 than Terezenstadt. The prisoners play football when they are not shoveling shit or doing whatever busywork is required by the camp. Jack Friar (John Henshaw), the manager of a local football team, notes that Trautmann is superb as a goalie, catching everything aimed at the net he guards. He convinces the camp command to let him play for his team, promising to return him daily after each game. Jack’s daughter Margaret, who Trautmann is ordered to help in a general store, is both repelled and fascinated by the German, the disgust taking root when she discovers that Trautmann’s claim that he had no choice other than to serve as a soldier is splintered. She learns that he not only volunteered for the army but had won the Iron Cross.

During the years 1949-1964 Trautmann served as goalie, at first shunned by the team, then razzed by the fans who shout Kraut go home, all of which may make you think of how Jackie Robinson, the first Black man in the majors, was shunned by his fellow Dodgers, the National League threatened with a strike by players with the St. Cardinals. Fans in the stadiuims shouted Go back to the cotton fields.

Because of the old-fashioned nature of the film, dividing time among the prisoner-of-war camp, the football field, and the romantic relationship with Margaret, you may get the impression that this is a Hallmark Hall of Fame type of sentimental piece. You would be partly right. Still, the sincere acting of the players, who look as though they came right out of the forties, jitterbugging to the sound of the Big Bands. There is an able contrast between sombre scenes (the Trautmanns‘ child is killed by a car) and the lighter ones led mostly by John Henshaw’s portrayal of Jack Friar, a tough hombre with a heart of gold. All makes this a movie that’s relevant particularly in light of the protests taking place here in Portland, Louisville, and in big cities around the world. If it seems as though Freya Mavor’s character Margaret changes her attitude too quicky from revulsion to acceptance to love, well, you never know how we human beings can surprise one another by our often unpredictable behavior.

The screener that I used for this review came with English subtitles, and though the Manchester speech is clear enough and even David Kross’s fluent English comes across understandably, the studio should be credited for not assuming that all of us Americans can easily understand our neighbors from across the Atlantic.

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

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

 

FIRE WILL COME – movie review

FIRE WILL COME (O Que Arde)
Kimstim
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Oliver Laxe
Screenwriter: Santiago Fillol, Oliver Laxe
Cast: Amador Arias, Benedicta Sánchez, Inazio Abrao, Elena Mar Fernández, David de Poso, Alvaro de Bazal, Damián Prado
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/3/20
Opens: October 30, 2020

If you are a dedicated film goer especially one who attends highbrow film festivals like NYFF, you might compare Oliver Laxe to Terrence Malick. Malick’s movies, e.g. “Tree of Life” which is about a young man struggling through conflicting parental teachings, have sometimes been compared with watching paint dry. Laxe, who was born in Paris and filmed “Fire With Come” in northwest Spain in a rural area near Lugo, may informally compete this year for directing the most glacially-paced picture. Glaciers notwithstanding, “Fire Will Come” features the hottest, real blazes you are likely to see in the movies this year. The film, which is surely not plot-centered, is not even character-focused but more to the point is nature-dominated. Forest scenes involve three cows, each with its own name, led around the woods to graze, Amador (Amador Arias) leading the pack of three bovine creatures, his German Shepherd Luna bringing up the rear. Laxe, in his third feature following up his movie “Mimosas” (a dying Sheikh wanders about the the Atlas Mountains), wants us to feel the rhythms of rural life a few hundred miles from bustling Barcelona but so apart in culture you might think he is directing on Pluto.

There is but one melodramatic moment involving human beings in a picture that is not unlike last year’s “Honeyland,” about the last female beekeeper in Europe struggling to defend her turf against some competing beekeepers who are vulgar and pushy. The strongest relationship in “O Que Arde,” which is in the Galician language with similarities to Portuguese, is between Amador and his aging mother Benedicta (Benedicta Sánchez). The other melodramatic moments open the film after a long, blank-screen pause, featuring machines blazing through the forest cutting down large trees as though the construction workers are Brazilians ruining the rain forest to make room for animal grazing.

With the principal actors bearing their actual names throughout the film, we get the impression that the fictional aspects of the story are closely based on real events. Amador has just returned to town after a two-year stint in prison for starting a fire. Though a pyromaniac who is looked upon with fear and loathing by the villagers, Amador conveys the impression that he is a simple farmer whose capital goods are three cows that give milk to support him and his mother. Still, the people of the town who are at all close to the small family, are eager to learn about Amador’s health, while a veterinarian who visits to treat a cow backs away from an invitation to share a drink because she is “busy.”

The image that stays with me is that of Amador’s dealing with a reluctant cow, something like my late terriers who loved to challenge their human companion by refusing to move. Amador pulls and tugs, but simply cannot prevail against a huge animal going on strike after producing milk and gaining no particular reward save for the free grass. The unappreciative cow should thank whatever diety he or she favors for living a life out in the open and avoiding obesity as the cow is not forced to eat corn.

You won’t discover Stephen Colbert’s wit in Amador’s conversations with his mama, but if you want to know why one fella in the musical “Tuscaloosa” prefers New York to a small town, you might come away from this movie happy to live in a teeming city with all of its chaos and to visit the outskirts of Lugo for six hours at most.

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

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

MADE IN ITALY – movie review

MADE IN ITALY
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: James D’Arcy
Screenwriter: James D’Arcy
Cast: Liam Neeson, Micheál Richardson, Lindsay Duncan, Valeria Bilello
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: August 7, 2020

Made in Italy (2020)

The most salient feature of “Made in Italy” is that the conflict between father and son is acted by the tale’s actual father and son. This is not unusual: you’ll find similar examples in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1973 feature “Paper Moon,” in which Ryan O’Neal and his real daughter Tatum play out a Depression era film about their partnership. Closer to the “Made in Italy” theme, Kiefer Sutherland portrays a bitter gunslinger, John Henry Clayton, who attempts to make amends with his estranged father Reverend Samuel Clayton (Donald Sutherland), while their community is besieged by ruthless land-grabbers.

If you have ever had not just a disagreement, but more closely a situation in which your conflict with your parent emanates from a lack of emotional closeness, you will relate strongly to “Made in Italy.” As filmed by Mike Eley in the gorgeous Tuscany town of Montalcino in central Italy—perhaps one of the best places that a father and son can work out issues of emotional distance—we see that Robert (Liam Neeson) has not been the most honest and direct guide for his son Jack (Micheál Richardson). (Micheál is the actual son of Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, the story poignantly reviving our memory of the actress who died tragically in 2009 of a head injury while skiing on Mount Tremblant in Quebec. Micheál one of the couple’s two children.)

The story kicks in when Jack, who made a great success managing the art gallery in Britain owned by his wife Raffaella (Helena Antonio), determines to buy the place at about the time the two are finalizing their divorce. Raffaella allows Jack one month to raise the money, which Jack expects to have after he and his dad, each with a half ownership of a house in Tuscany, find a buyer. They discover that the place is a wreck, though filled with memories of Jack’s mother. And what better time for a dad and his twenty-five-year-old son to get to know each other than by taking a road trip, then working together to fix up the dilapidated structure to make it salable? We learn that Jack and Robert have barely spoken with each other for years, and more importantly, that after Jack’s mother died in a car accident, his father sent him away to boarding school as though unable to establish a closeness that such a tragedy could engender.

During their time painting together, fixing up the place, and entertaining prospective buyers, Jack meets Natalia (Valeria Bilello), an accomplished cook who runs a booming restaurant and who wins the hearts of both the young man and his dad by cooking a dish that the two men call “amazing.” (Aside: if you did not have the delightful experience of traveling in Italy, you may not realize that there is no such thing as a bad meal anywhere in that country.)

The film is written and directed by James D’Arcy in his freshman narrative film, the London-born gentlemen having a large résumé of acting roles including that of Colonel Winnant in the spectacular war movie “Dunkirk.” If you can’t get a bad meal in Italy, you’d have difficulty finding a bad performance from Liam Neeson. The big news is that his son Micheál Richardson, with two more movies announced this year and who performed with Liam Neeson in a leading role in the revenge picture “Cold Pursuit,” does such a good turn here that you’d think he was emoting with his real dad!

The story can be sappy and the plot thin, but the picture is a keeper for the sumptuous scenery and a particularly vivacious turn from Valeria Bilello as the bilingual chef. Try not to envy the folks on the night that she served a full house of happy diners, talking, laughing, and eating magnificently.

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

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

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE – movie review

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (Portrait de la jeune fille en fej)
Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Céline Sciamma
Screenwriter: Céline Sciamma
Cast: Noemi Merlant, Adele Haenel, Luana Bajrami, Valeria Golino
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/4/19
Opens: December 6, 2019

Now that Céline Sciamma’s film has been tapped by the New York Film Critics Circle for Best Cinematography, you may be even more curious to find out just how good the movie is. Be assured: it is excellent in every way, from the unusually authentic acting, to the Pinteresque pauses that define the two principal characters’ dialogue; from the composition of the scenes, each one serving as a potential painting in itself; to the remarkable isolation of the scenery shot on location in the French province of Brittany. Sciamma follows up on her previous film “Tomboy” about a ten-year-old girl who presents herself to other children as a boy named Mikhael with her current entry, about two women who are not tomboys but who broaden their concept of sexuality in similar ways.

The title of the film is also that of a painting executed by Marianne (Noemie Merlant), and depicts the sexual awakening of a previously closeted woman who had spent her early years in a monastery. The action, which takes place in 1760, opens as a number of men row Marianne out to the island, complete with her painting gear—which she recovers when it had left the boat and is floating in the water by jumping right in and taking it back. Except for an additional segment of the film that shows bewigged men looking at paintings in a museum, there is no sign of masculinity to be found. This is strictly a study of women, focusing on the way that a liberated Marianne and an isolated woman about her age are ablaze with desire, though spending a fair amount of time before throwing off resistance to action.

How did this lesbian relationship begin? Marianne, who makes her living by receiving commissions from rich and titled women for portraits, shows up at the home of a countess (Valeria Golino), observing a portrait of her sponsor painted by Marianne’s father years back when the countess was a young woman. Yet the countess’ daughter Hèloise, having refused to sit for her own portrait, is reacting to the suicide of her sister who had been pledged by her mother to a rich Milanese man. To ease the way for Hèloise’s eventual surrender to the proposed painting, Marianne has been told to pretend she is merely a walking companion, during which time she understands that Hèloise is enraged by the thought of marriage to a man she had not met.

In a subplot, Sophie (Luana Bajrami), the housekeeper who does embroidery, is pregnant, desperate enough to abort the fetus to go to an abortionist who uses an undisclosed poison to separate the unborn from its mother.

Gratefully the soundtrack is almost bereft of music, the kind of distraction that ruins so many Hollywood movies whose directors do not trust their audience to know when to cry and when to feel joy. As the two women go about walks on the beach, heading back to the quarters to work on the portrait, they are filled with desire. Hèloise begins to ask Marianne whether she had ever “known love,” asks how it feels, and yes, succumbs to the mutual urges of the two women. Their tsunami of forbidden emotions is palpable, the two offering a shower of sparks to display their mutual love. At one point Hèloise even allows her dress to catch afire, taking her good time to put it out.

“Portrait” received not only a best cinematography award from the prestigious NY Film Critics Circle but has been blessed by a best screenplay citation at a Cannes Festival. Photography and screenplay and direction aside, nothing would have come of this film were it not for the passion of the two actresses evoking forbidden love at a time that might surprise moviegoers who believed that lesbianism was created in the 20th century.

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

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

TELL ME WHO I AM – movie review

TELL ME WHO I AM
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ed Perkins
Cast: Alex Lewis, Marcus Lewis
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 10/2/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

Poster

When Cain asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he may have meant the question to be rhetorical and, indeed, he got no response. This is a question that many families around the world ask, with different answers offered depending on whether siblings are close or distant. There’s no doubt that Ed Perkins’ film “Tell Me Who I Am,” to be streamed on Netflix as of Oct. 18, provides an answer for one English family, one with an apparent aristocratic background, living in a spacious country house in one of the Home Counties (those areas that surround London such as Berkshire, Essex and Surrey).

The story written by twin brothers Alex Lewis and Marcus Lewis has been published in 2013, available on Amazon for under $11, doubtless giving the readers more answers and details than can be found in this too-brief documentary. While Alex and Marcus are the same age, we in the audience can believe that Marcus has been the dominant one, his brother’s keeper. And this is all the more so since Alex suffered a traumatic motorcycle accident when he was eighteen, leading to full-scale amnesia. His life is really starting over. His memories are gone, though Marcus has been game to briefing him about their lives together. Yet for over three decades, there is one series of incidents that Marcus had repressed and has been unwilling to tell Alex all these years. A series incidents changed Marcus’s life, made him refuse to forgive his father on the old man’s deathbed while Alex was perfectly willing to do. It’s as though Alex would say to Marcus, “He’ll be dead in days or hours: what’s the problem?” In most cases that’s the least a son can do. Apparently, though, dad has been an enabler in a series of horrendous acts of perversity, and Marcus (correctly, I think) had been reluctant to bringing those childhood events back into Marcus’s mind. Until now.

It would be unfair, a spoiler, for a review to reveal just what happened to cause severe family dysfunction, as if Agatha Christie revealed the name of the murderer on the front page of “And Then There Were None.” Suffice it to say that “Tell Me Who I Am” is not a study of amnesia, but rather than it uses Alex’s amnesia as a catalyst to tell a story. The problem I have, perhaps a minor one, is that this tale of repression would find a better home on the stage. Even the movie divides the 85 minutes into three acts. Ed Perkins, whose short TV documentaries include “Bare Knuckles Fight Club” (Brits competing without boxing gloves), “Comic Store Heroes” (about the largest comic book store in the U.S.) and “If I Die on Mars” (looking into why people would volunteer on a suicide mission), evokes solid performances from Alex and Marcus.

The brothers, who do almost everything together (including some strange activities ending when they were 14), run a successful business. Specifically they are among the founders of Fundu Lagoon in Pemba, Zanzibar, a hotel known throughout Africa. Now if you want to open up “Tell Me Who I Am” into a two-hour action story, you’d do well to follow the lives of the twins from debutante balls in the 1950s to raves on a remote Pacific island in the 1990s right up to the creation of this magnificent hotel on a multi-cultural African island built in part by locals who had never seen a white person before.

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

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

PARASITE – movie review

PARASITE (Gisaengchung)
Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Screenwriter: Bong Joon-ho, Han Jin-won
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Chang Hyae-jin, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ziso, Lee Jung-em, Jung Hyeon-jun
Screened at: Dolby, NYC, 10/8/19
Opens: October 11, 2019

Theatrical one-sheet for Bong Joon Ho's Parasite (2019).

Some say that the best way to disturb and undercut people like Trump is not to criticize him directly but to laugh at him, to consider his administration to be a clown show. Bong Joon-ho, the celebrated South Korean writer-director, would probably agree, though with his latest movie “Parasite,” the good guys act the clown part getting their digs at people who are richer and who think of them as merely useful servants. (Thin, of how an established white family has contempt for and uses their black servants in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” the best movie of 2017).

Bong’s “Okja” that same year tracks a young girl’s introducing of a beast to prevent a kidnapping by a multi-national company, and his “Snowpiercer” finding most people dead after a failed climate change experiment save for lucky people on a train who threaten class warfare. We have no doubt that class inequalities are on top of the fifty-year-old director’s mind. Now with “Parasite” Bong unfolds a combination comedy-horror tale, constructing the inevitable envy of the rich by the poor, the latter wanting either to emulate them or destroy them. The story is involving throughout with a doozy of a concluding half hour, a culmination well earned from the careful exposition.

Though South Korean people have an average income some thirty times that of the fellows north of the thirty-eighth parallel, there is considerable poverty in that country just as there is in ours. In the view of Bong and of his co-scripter Han Jin-won, the Kim family composed of patriarch Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), his wife Kim Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), his son Kim I-woo (Choi Wood-shik) and his pretty daughter Kim Ki-jung (Park So-dam), has good reason to envy the rich given their own bug-infested digs which are occasionally visited outside by a homeless man who urinates on their wall. However given dad’s flexible ethics, these folks have a way of exploiting the fabulously rich family of executive Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun). In a cuttingly humorous manner, 20-year-old Kim Ki-woo forges a college diploma and gets a job tutoring the daughter (Jung Ziso), a high-school sophomore, while Ki-woo’s dad becomes the CEO’s driver and mother uses her wiles to displace the long-term housekeeper. At the same time Ki-tak’s daughter gives “art therapy” to the Parks’ young and bratty kid, demanding a high wage because she can “discover” schizophrenic tendencies in the little kid and help him to overcome these. Through hook and crook, then the four poor folks have insinuated themselves into the huge and beautiful mansion high up in the city, though leaving the previous staff unemployed.

In an elegantly plotted movie, carefully preparing us step by step for the drama that will inevitably follow, Bong evokes terrific performances from the entire ensemble, giving his audience a stark picture of wealth inequality, a situation that Bong presumably believes to be the essence of corrupt capitalism. Hong Kyong-pyo films in the touristic city of Goyang, South Korea, his lensing deftly comparing the squalor of the Kim’s basement apartment with the exquisite residence of the Parks, with a classical music soundtrack serving to give the film the tone of an Asian Downton Abbey.

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

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

DOWNTON ABBEY – movie review

DOWNTON ABBEY
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Engler
Screenwriter: Julian Fellows
Cast: Joanne Froggatt, Mathew Goode, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, Tuppence Middleton, Elizabeth McGovern, Allen Leech, Hugh BonnevilleLaura Carmichael, Raquel Cassidy, Imelda Staunton, Jim Carter, Sophie McShera
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 9/18/19
Opens: September 20, 2019

2019 Downton Abbey movie poster silk art print 12x18  32x48 image 0

Rational people would assume that the folks who most want their country to continue supporting royalty would be the rich, the landed gentry, who look, think and act like kings and queens themselves. And they would think that the detractors of royalty who might favor a republic would be the poor, those who kowtow as servants to their well-to-do employers. The opposite is true. The servant class are in awe of the king and queen while the gentry treat them as scarcely meriting a bow or a curtsey. We know this because Julian Fellows who wrote the script to “Downton Abbey” and Michael Engler who directs the filmed version of the beloved TV series, show us.

When the king and queen announce that they will visit the famed Downton Abbey and spend the night, the servants are exhilarated, while the privileged keeper of the chateau including Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), Lady Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern) and Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) keep the famed British stiff upper lip. If they’re ecstatic there’s not showing it because that’s not the way the British upper class act. The film rides on the concept of the visit of the royal family to Downton Abbey, together with their personal butlers, ladies in waiting, chef and the like. This is a concept that’s original; it’s not in the beloved TV series, so those of us who binge-watched a couple of years ago need not worry that the movie repeats an old approach.

Nonetheless, just as some books should not have been made into movies such as novels in which the thoughts of the characters are paramount, some TV series should not have been done as films. The trouble with “Downton Abbey” the film, is that newcomers who are totally unfamiliar with the characteristics of the characters, imbedded in memory from hour after hour of being engrossed on their TVs, will feel either out of it like students who did not do their homework and cannot follow class discussions the next day. More important, those who are quite familiar with the folks they have cherished on the small screen will feel that too many subplots are thrown at them in just two hours. In small TV segments, by contrast, only one of two themes are dealt with at a time, each given its proper breadth and depth.

Two years after the close of the TV episodes, The Crawleys in Downton Abbey are now facing 1927 during the week that King George V and Queen Mary are to visit. The servants, in a tizzy as mentioned above, feel insulted. They are given time off, the festivities to be handled by the royal couple’s own staff. A snobbish French chef is to cook while the king and queen’s personal waiters are to serve. But the staff at the abbey are excited and won’t have it. They will concoct a scheme that will allow them to do all the honors themselves. They are delighted that Mr. Caron (Jim Carter) is being called out of retirement to manage the crew. This scheme, which serves as considerable comedy and even suspense, anchors the show.

Among the individuals, director Michael Engler ticks off the elements of both comedy and drama. Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery), who would be heir to the abbey after the death of Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), wants to sell the estate but is convinced by her maid, Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt), to hold on in order to preserve the jobs of the staff. The Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), who serves as the story’s repository of Oscar Wilde-like witticisms, battles verbally with the queen’s lady-in-waiting, Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), because the latter is determined to leave all to her maid). Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), the designated gay servant, finds romance. Perhaps the most down-to-each and philosophic aristo Tom Branson (Allen Leech)—who rose from chauffeur to noble by virtue of marriage to an aristocrat—describes how he, an Irishman who believes in the Republican cause, has made his peace with his position in the abbey.

As photographed by Ben Smithard in England and in Highcleer Castle in Hampshire, England and embellished by John Lunn’s musical score, “Downton Abbey” is great to look at, though the dances are not unlike what we’ve seen in many a costume drama before.

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

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

YOMEDDINE – movie review

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

Image result for YOMEDDINE MOVIE POSTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARABY – movie review

ARABY (Arábia)

Grasshopper Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: João Dumans, Affonso Uchôa
Screenwriter:  João Dumans, Affonso Uchôa
Cast:  Aristedes de Sousa, Murilo Caliari, Renata Cabral, Glaucia Vandeveld
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/25/18
Opens: June 22, 2018
Arábia (2017)
João Dumans and Affonso Uchôa, who wrote and direct “Araby,” focus on the type of person who is ignored by politicians whether in Brazil or here in the U.S.  While candidates for office regularly talk about how they are for the middle class (never mind how they are really for the upper 10% or 0.1% with Bernie Sanders as an exception), none are for the poor.  The poor don’t vote.  The homeless certainly do not vote.  So why bother?  With “Araby,” though, we are launched into an episodic struggle of those in Brazil who are uneducated, only partially literate, and having little or no knowledge of how politics makes the world go ‘round—except for them.

But if the world cannot go round for Cristiano (Aristides de Sousa), the principal character can himself go round albeit not worldwide or even Brazil-wide but throughout that wonderful country’s southern state of Minas Gerais.  The province is treated unsympathetically, with Cristiano an allegorical figure representing the difficulty of making even a basic living for someone who is brought up in a small town and probably thinks that Rio is on the other side of the world. In a twenty-minute introduction, one which could be cut without losing the epic quality of the movie, Andre (Murilo Caliari) is a teen lad taking care of his kid brother—who believes in the Devil but not in God because look at all the “shootings and killings.” His life is full of dull routines, but when he finds a memoir written in a notebook and perhaps imagines some of what he reads, he unfolds the tale of the wandering Cristiano.

Cristiano has a sense of adventure.  After all, life looks dreary and mean for a man who stays in a small town and who thinks he can achieve a better living on the road and doubtless could meet people from various backgrounds, each stranger-becoming-friend adding to his memories.  As he says, what do we have except what we remember?  He takes on factory jobs and farm labor, in one case picking tangerines but finding after his hard work that the boss has no money to pay him.  But the foreman allows Cristiano to fill up a bag with tangerines and sell them on the road, which he does, and being without money spends a day or so eating nothing but the fruit.  When he runs into a person who had once become a “troublemaker,” organizing a union of 200 farm laborers, he managed to pull off a strike which left the tangerines about to rot until the owner gives in and pays a living wage.  Cristiano becomes political.

Even this trip, rich in human contacts but pathetic income, beats the year that he had spent in jail after a car theft gone wrong.  The one person who gives him hope is Ana (Renata Cabral), a 35-year-old bookkeeper.  They develop a relationship, she has a miscarriage, he thinks that the woman is not for him–until he reads a love letter from her.  Ultimately, though, he notes that “we sow so much, but reap so little.”

The film is filled with songs particularly absorbing because they are in the lyrical Portuguese language, albeit Brazilian style. The most involving one is Townes Van Zandt’s “I’ll Be Here in the Morning” (available free on youtube, go check it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjGOxo0KDMs.

While some of us will leave the theater wondering whether Cristiano would have been better off staying put, given the crashing of his view that anything can happen, others will conclude that poverty aside, at least he has gained more insight into life than he could not have had without his travels, the trips having the auto-didactic quality of making him realize more about himself and about his world.  This film is for those who do not need flash or pomp but for theatergoers who are patient, appreciative an in-depth view of a single person who is impacted by what he sees and hears.

The title comes from a joke about an Arab–by a worker to his lunch pals. In Portuguese, English subtitles.

Unrated. 96  minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

BEYOND THE CLOUDS – movie review

BEYOND THE CLOUDS

Zee Studios International
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Majid Majidi
Screenwriter:  Majid Mafiji, Mehran Kashani
Cast:  Ishaan Khatter, Malavika Monanan, Gautam Ghose, GV Sharada, Dhwani Rajesh, Amruta Santosh Thakur, Shivan Puj
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/8/18
Opens: April 20, 2018
Beyond The Clouds Poster
Celebrated Iranian director Majid Majidi invites us to a tale that could serve as a fable, pitting good against evil, redemption against corruption, light against darkness, ultimately the glow of the moon against limitless darkness. Majidi, whose “Barat” focuses on a girl who like an Iranian Yentl disguises herself as a man in a Tehran construction site and “Children of Heaven” about a boy who loses his sister’s shoes and ventures to find a pair, this time tells an epic, Dickensian story in a Mumbai slum.  This is hardly the place that rich tourists seek out while preparing to move on to Agra and the Taj.  At its center, Amir (Ishaan Katter), a spirited young man who serves as a drug courier cycling around the neighborhood to deliver the goods, will soon find that he endures a series of events that will both make use of his restless energy and at the same time allow him to struggle against the hardships that are the fate of many of his neighbors in a typical shantytown.

Just as he finds himself heading deeper into trouble, his sister Tara (Malavika Monanan), defends herself against her boss Akshi (Goutam Ghose) who, having advanced money to Tara to allow her a nice apartment now thinks he owns her.  Struggling to avoid being raped by Akshi, Tara clubs him on the head with a stone and is imprisoned.  Her fate rests on whether Akshi, now immobile in a hospital, lives or dies.  If he dies, Tara faces life imprisonment without a trial, and the jail shown here is not designed as a copy of any penitentiary in Norway.  Because of his sister’s situation, Amir must care for the man he hates, hoping that Akshi will survive.  During his stay at the hospital, he meets the man’s mother and his two lovely grandchildren.  When Amir is not caught up with getting the man medicine, even sleeping under his bed to be on the site should a crisis occur, he is frantically trying to get his sister released from prison, even thinking of selling the man’s ten-year-old daughter into prostitution.

Melodramatic runs break up the dialogue, as the curly-haired Amir bolts in an opening scene through a Mumbai market to escape the two police who are making a drug bust, and later bounding forth to escape a couple of goons ordered by a brothel keeper to rough him up.

There’s little question that Amir is quite the performer, seemingly doing his own stunts, as in one episode he is not only beaten but pushed into a landscape of mud just off the Indian Ocean.  While Amir is redeeming himself by caring for Akshi and his two young daughters, Tara is bent on reforming herself by caring for a small boy whose mother is dying in the prison.

We’ve got to wonder whether the Tourist Board of India welcomes such a film, since it shows not only the hardscrabble life of people who have nothing but also the dramatic color of the marketplace including the saris sold on the street that are quite a contrast with the suits-and-ties uniforms of the West.  This is a well-acted piece of cinema backed up by A.R. Rahman’s score and will remind cinephiles not of the typical, light Indian pieces that end with dancing but of more serious films like “Slumdog Millionaire,” centered on a teen’s reflections of his life in a Mumbai shantytown.

Unrated.  120 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE DINNER – movie review

  • THE DINNER

    The Orchard
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: A-
    Director:  Oren Moverman
    Written by: Oren Moverman, based on the novel by the Dutch author Herman Koch
    Cast: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Chloë Sevigny
    Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 4/6/17
    Opens: May 5, 2017
    The Dinner Movie Poster
    Fans of Edward Albee’s shattering play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” are going to eat this movie up.  “The Dinner” joins the many previous films about family dysfunction but writer-director Oren Moverman handles the thematic content with genuine sophistication.  Moverman, whose 2009 movie “The Messenger” deals with the ethical struggle of an American soldier when he becomes involved with the widow of a fallen officer is in his métier with “The Dinner.”  This latest contribution involves the moral battle of two families whose sons have committed an atrocious crime, one father suggesting that he may hold a press conference to turn in the two criminals, his reasoning opposed by his brother, his wife and his brother’s wife who believe that idealism has its place, but not when your own families are involved.  Not only does this release deal with ethics: thematically, Moverman brings in the nature of mental illness, the concept of the trophy wife, and the needs of a weak, cynical, emotionally disturbed man whose wife treats him like a wounded bird—to his disgust.

    This superbly acted ensemble brings together Richard Gere in the role of Stan Lohman, a congressman well on his way to becoming the governor of his state; Steve Coogan as his younger brother and former high school history teacher Paul; Laura Linney as Paul’s wife Claire Lohman; and Rebecca Hall as Katelyn Lohman, Stan’s trophy wife.  Stan, who would probably answer the biblical Cain’s rhetorical assertion “Am I My Brother’s Keeper”? with a resounding “yes” to Paul’s dismay.  Paul has been treated by his wife as a man who needs too much support in order to function, and by his older brother as the emotionally disturbed person that he is.  We find out through the incisive dialogue that mental illness runs in the Lohman family, bypassing Stan, the plague resting on Paul’s shoulders.

    When Stan invites Paul and Claire to a dinner at the poshest restaurant you can imagine—one in which the mäitre d’ Dylan Heinz (Michael Chernus) serves not only as sommelier but as a man who lectures the foursome about the origin of each dish, we know right off that we are in the hands of a writer-director who can deal equally with satire and with melodrama.  It’s difficult to believe that the next governor would have to wait three months for the reservation, but we can easily accept that Paul, who feels vastly inferior to his politician brother.  Paul knows, or thinks, that his mother treated Stan as the favored son, that his wife looks down upon him, and must face the contempt of his teen son Michael (Charlie Plummer) who stands up to him, having no problem with cursing his dad out.

    After some semblance of civilized discussion, they change tables to a private room where Stan has something to say that could alter six or seven lives irrevocably.  Why he would choose a public restaurant to reveal such intimate details, especially in front of Paul’s adviser Nina (Adepero Oduye) is anybody’s guess.  Both the sons had committed a terrible crime, the act destined for social media; but so far nobody knows the identity of the perpetrators.  Paul is willing to destroy his own political career, lose his wife to divorce, create a final break with his brother and sister-in-law, and condemn the young lads to a long term in prison.  This is the nature of idealism.  The other three disagree with this decision and let him know as forcibly as they can without actually raising weapons.  For his part, Paul, quoting from the Civil War battle of Gettysburg (we are actually taken to the scene), decides that he would go to war if necessary to defend his family.

    The story is anything but straightforward.  Bobby Bukowsky behind the lens photographs within the lavish restaurant and outside, the suburban streets being the playground of teens Michael, Rick (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) and Beau (Miles J. Harvey).  They horse around and find the opportunity to deal with a homeless woman inside an ATM with the kind of cruelty that you see publicized now and then whenever the homeless are bullied merely because they are too weak to fight back.

    The spot-on performances find Steve Coogan reacting against type, the British actor utilizing a perfect American accept, demonstrating the view of himself as a loser in one of the most authentic performances one can imagine in such a role.  His monologue to high school students is the kind of lecture many teachers wish they could get away with.  He is contrasted with the character played by Richard Gere, whose puffed-up white hair and puffed-up personaliy contrast with his brother’s near crew-cut and self-deprecating humor.  At the same time Laura Linney affords us with the most superlative job as the wife who wears the family pants and who is the congressman’s equal in debating the ethics of the situation, while for her part Rebecca Hall, acting in a relatively passive state throughout most of the title dinner launches into a harangue against her husband for treating her like a trophy.

    For his part Charlie Plummer takes such pride in his malicious crime that the movie audience would probably want to send him away for life, or possibly to Syria.  “The Dinner” brings out all the complexities of the novel (available for under $10 at Amazon) at once with cinematic flair and stunning performances.

    Rated R.  120 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

LADY MACBETH – movie review

  • LADY MACBETH

    Roadside Attractions

    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes

    Grade:  B+

    Director:  William Oldroyd

    Written by: Alice Birch.  Adapted from the novella “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” by Nikolai Leskov

    Cast: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, Christopher Fairbank

    Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 6/14/17

    Opens: July 14, 2017

    If you read Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and were particularly mesmerized by the role of Lady Macbeth, you might get the impression (if you’re just a naïve high-school junior) that behind every successful male murderer lies an ambitious, cold-blooded woman.  A couple of centuries post-Bard, the Russian author Nikolai Leskov penned a novella which he called by the less-than-compelling title “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District,” and that’s not all.  Dimitri Shostakovich used the tale for his opera of the same title, first performed in Leningrad in 1934—one filled with such godforsaken dissonance that you will turn back a while to a time of less cacophony than that promulgated during the 20th Century to enjoy Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”

    Like Figaro, “Lady Macbeth” focuses on a marriage of the sort not completely unknown in our neck of the Western Hemisphere.  In short, it was short.  And it was unhappy. Writer Alice Birch, faced with the challenge of adapting Leskov’s novella, shifts from Russia of 1865 to 19th Century England.  She creates a good guy who becomes a bad guy; one in which the oppressed becomes the oppressor.  (We need not mention the many areas of the world peopled by victims of imperialism and worse who are accused of becoming despotic today.)

    Since Director William Oldroyd’s reputation is on the line with his first full-length movie, he is fortunate in starring Florence Pugh as title character, a woman whose prior film experience has been only in “The Falling,” wherein she played a charismatic pupil in a 1969 English girls’ school faced with a mysterious fainting epidemic.  Given the superior script of “Lady Macbeth,” Pugh shines.

    Katherine (Florence Pugh) has been sold by her debt-ridden father to a scrofulous gaffer, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), who owns a large house with considerable land and which employs a cook, a housemaid Anna (Naomi Ackie) and groundskeepers, notably Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis).  All are intimidated by the old fella, including Katherine.  Her husband’s erectile dysfunction could symbolize the reactionary British law that allowed women to be sold to men twice their age.  Though Alexander on his wedding night orders his wife to take off her nightclothes and face the wall, he oddly slips into bed and turns to his left side, nodding right off to sleep.  When Alexander must leave town for a while, the sexually frustrated Katherine does what any other subjugated woman would do: she seduces the groundskeeper.  (Feminists in the theater audience might take issue, since the brutish but strangely ethical Sebastian first tries to force himself on the young woman.)  With her new confidence and irrepressible horniness, Katherine can’t get enough of the working-class fellow, but her newfound freedom turns her from victim to victimizer.

    That’s where Katherine turns into her section of merrie England’s Lady Macbeth in a movie that’s minimalist rather than the expected Masterpiece Theatre type of drama.  The dialogue is spare yet energetic, the emotions bold and all-consuming.  In fact Anna, the housemaid who follows orders but is virtually mute, becomes the catalyst for an expose of enough murders which, if actually occurring today, would rate the attention of PM Theresa May and the membership of both the Commons and the House of Lords.  The scenery could be reminiscent of areas in classics like “Wuthering Heights,” all photographed in England’s County Durham, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear.  No attempt is made to embroider the area, and even the old Boris admits that the pasture would not be suitable for the raising of cows.

    Some in the theater audience might embrace Katherine, even excusing her sins, a woman with a force unleashed, possessing an angelic beauty but a person who will stop at absolutely nothing for vengeance and to get what she wants.

    Unrated.  90 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

     

I AM ANOTHER YOU – movie review

  • I AM ANOTHER YOU

    FilmRise
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B
    Director: Nanfu Wang
    Cast: Dylan Olsen, Nanfu Wang, John Olsen
    Screened at:Critics’ link, NYC, 8/30/17
    Opens: September 27, 2017
    I Am Another You poster
    When they see a homeless man lying in the street, the first thing some people want to say to him is “Get a job!”  A cartoon in the New Yorker magazine shows a middle-class couple gazing at such a man, the woman saying to her friend, “Why doesn’t he at least take up an instrument?”  People have all sorts of opinions when passing by those without homes, people bearing simple cardboard signs, sometimes even with a protective pit bull lying beside.  Truth is, not only people who live on the street and get their meals by dumpster diving are the same.  Would you believe that some actually choose to leave their nice, bourgeois homes, even folks who may like their families, but who would rather see what the country is like?  These are people who do not haunt the same stairways, the same park benches, the same winter shelters inside train stations. One such person is Dylan.

    Dylan is not what he seems to Nanfu Wang, who immigrated to New York from China, ambitious to make documentary films.  When she ran into Dylan Olsen, she learns, but is skeptical, that the young man considers himself a citizen of the world.  He tells her that he chooses to be free, and the only way for him to escape the shackles of a bourgeois existence is to put a large camping pack on his back—no shopping carts laden with clothing—and to appear to others like a college student exploring the country.  Wang is fascinated by the idea and wants to learn more. She also wants to contribute a fleshed out look at the young man and of course to add a doc to her résumé.  She finds out more than she expected shortly after meeting the man’s father,who tells all about his son, both the flaws and the joys.

    While Wang adopts the appearance of a homeless person herself, she travels with Dylan, always wondering who this person really is, whether he’s telling the truth, and whether he may even be emotionally unstable—at worst schizophrenic.  She finds out that Dylan and his family are Utah Mormons, politically and socially conservative, that the 22-year-old was a polar opposite from his brother, an accomplished pianist who is to demonstrate his skill on the keys.  Is Dylan a modern-day Jack Kerouac, a beatnik who believes you cannot be free if rooted to a specific point?  Was Dylan born too late, missing out on the glories of hippiedom, the youthful style of the late sixties and early seventies?  Is he bucking for sainthood?

    There’s a little of everything here, as Wang not only directs but mans the camera and uses Nathan Halpern and Chris Ruggiero’s original music to add further drama to what must have originally been hundreds of hours of film stock.  Are there no untoward events in the relationship?  After all, who can be with another person day and night, especially while traveling, and not feel close to breaking down oneself?  The big schism arrived when the film’s subject was generously supplied by a shopkeeper with a free bag of bagels, but Dylan wants to beg.  He doesn’t want anything given to gratuitously, so he throws the bagels out.  That’s when she breaks away from him.

    But wait!  She meets Dylan’s dad, a down-to-earth Mormon who works in the police department sex crimes unit, who testifies that his son has been a handful, while Dylan’s brother, by contrast, is salt-of-the-earth and accomplished on the keyboard.  Then the mystery unravels.  Dylan had been on psychiatric medication, but instead of taking it—which could have resulted in his staying at home—he had sold the meds and instead uses alcohol as his drug of choice.  Yes he is experiencing more freedom combined with his ability to start conversations with others, enough to get invited to their homes.  But he is not a well person.  Yet, except for the times that the doc uses sound effects to give us in the audience a club to what schizophrenia can do to a person, he comes across like a youthful, energetic, handsome specimen who, having experienced what he wanted to do may become as bourgeois as the rest of the family.

    For her part, Nanfu Wang is well on the road to documentary glory, having contributed last year’s “Hooligan Sparrow,” about a fellow who went to China’s Hainan Province to seek justice for six kids who had been abused by their principal, the justice-seeker harassed unmercifully by the government.

    Unrated.  85 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

MAUDIE – movie review

  • MAUDIE

    Sony Pictures Classics
    Director:  Aisling Walsh
    Screenwriter:  Sherry White
    Cast:  Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett, Gabrielle Rose, Zachary Bennett
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/25/17
    Opens: June 16, 2017.  Streaming October 10, 2017
    Maudie Movie Poster
    One might at first wonder why a biopic about a folk artist from a tiny town in Nova Scotia could be made into an involving drama.  Granted: the life of Maud Lewis might make for engaging documentaries, and sure enough the Film Board of Canada did release “Maud Lewis—A World Without Shadows,” “The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis, and “I Can Make Art.”  If any other performer were chosen for a full-scale dramatic work on Maud Lewis, the film could be raising dust.  Consider that Aisling Walsh lucked out by putting Sally Hawkins in the lead with a performance that will be remembered well during awards season.  And pair her up with Ethan Hawke as her abusive husband, and you have a Hawke-Hawkins treat which serves to illuminate the life of a folk artist who is doubtless better known in her native Canada than here in New York.

    “Maudie” opens during the 1930s in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, a town so small that it probably could not support a store for selling fish.  No problem for Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), who peddles his fish door to door to people who earn so little money that he would be regularly owed.  His solitary life is about to change when he advertises for a maid, someone to clean and perhaps to cook, since he is out plying his trade fourteen hours a day.  Everett is a perennial grump who, after telling applicant Maude to “get out” later takes her on.  As for her part, she has had enough of living with a stern maiden aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose), having managed to get stuck with her when her parents died, her cruel brother Charles Cowley (Zachary Bennett) inherits the house, and believes that his sister, afflicted with a serious case of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, needs to be taken care of.

    Not only is Maud the independent sort but she chafes under Aunt Ida’s treatment of her, believing that her charge is feeble-minded.  Nor is Everett much better; he complains that his shack is not clean, regularly threatens to dismiss her, but begins to change when Maud takes up painting and brings money into the household.  That she and Everett would marry seems a long shot as she is considered a cripple, but stranger things go on in this remote corner of Canada.  Who would believe that Sandra (Kari Matchett),a sophisticated woman from New York who is spending time in the town, would take notice of the paintings, buy some, and allow Maud to begin the journey from a hunched over, wisp-talking and complaisant woman to a national celebrity.

    The film strips Maud’s life to essentials: she believes that her baby was deformed and buried; she chafes under the stern rule of her aunt; she meets a fish peddler who hires her as a housekeeper; she paints on the sly, at first, then is encouraged by Everett to continue as money is coming in.  Because of Sally Hawkins’s tour-de-force performance and her chemistry with Ethan Hawke, and against a background of  Nova Scotia winters and hardscrabble life, “Maudie” becomes a movie that could prompt its audience to take out the Kleenex while at the same time being engrossed in one of the year’s most powerful, though understated, performances.

    The film was shot in Newfoundland because the Stephen McNeil government eliminated the Nova Scotia’s film credit program.

    Rated PG-13.  115 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

    Grade – A-