THE MENU – movie review

THE MENU

Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Mark Mylod
Screenwriter: Seth Reiss, Will Tracy
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, Nicholas Hoult, John Leguizamo, Janet McTeer
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: November 18, 2022

Mark Mylod’s dark comedy is not to éparter la bourgeoisie. This is not an indictment of capitalism. You don’t have to be super rich to dine at expensive restaurants serving haute cuisine. If you’re a ordinary guy with an office job you can treat your loved one once a year to a high-end restaurant. So what is this movie? “The Menu” is an indictment of phoniness, fakery. Think of one of the richest men in America, Warren Buffett. He still maintains his home in Omaha, Nebraska and for all we know, he doesn’t spend his $85.2 billion lavishly. He comes across as a mensch, in no way a showoff like the folks who patronize an exclusive restaurant on the fictitious Hawthorne Island. The establishment is as snobbish as you can imagine, but after seeing the extortionate food prepared by an army of chefs with an ungodly woman serving as hostess, you will long for a cheeseburger.

Why might even the posh guests at this dining emporium prefer a cheeseburger? It is honest food, more fulfilling than what costs ten times more, and we would not be surprised if, given truth serum to inject in the diners, they would have to agree. “The Menu” is directed by Mark Mylod in his first feature film (his métier has been TV episodes such as those he helmed for “Game of Thrones.”) Even more impressive than his direction is the writing by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, catapulting this film into awards-winning territory.

The customers include Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), who had expected to take another woman, but after she broke off with him he invited Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy). John Leguizamo is featured as a movie star, the patrons including food critics and similar albeit less pretentious members of the upper middle class. They are escorted by hostess Elsa (Hong Chau), who seems to know everything about them, as does Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). So knowledgeable are these two that when tortillas served despite the chef’s put-down of bread as the cuisine of the poor, that the corn-based bread includes drawing for each customer, presenting him or her in what is not always a favorable light. The staff, who live together in a military-style barracks, act like army personnel, shouting “yes, chef” to Slowik’s every order.

In the midst of the dinner, scheduled to last for over four hours, Chef Slowik sheds his stiff, but welcoming, friendliness for a surliness inspired by his wish for vengeance against the phonies. He will ultimately show his affection for just one guest, Margot, as the one customer who is from Nebraska and acts the part, though she shows herself the brightest, fastest-thinking person in the assemblage. Slowik may be as insecure as his patrons, though with each course he presents he uncovers yet another of their precarious states. The chef determines that this will be a night to remember, as he stands over one guest after another, digging away at their pretensions.

Festivities, then, start with the amuse bouche, segue into selections of wines, one of which the sommelier announces as possessing hints of tobacco, concluding with the dessert that the men and women are guaranteed to forget. And that’s not to criticize the sweets. The film, which embraces thrillers, whodunits, horror and most of all dark comedy, is a feast worthy of its satiric thrusts.

The episode was filmed in Savannah, Georgia, but the major part of the theatrical piece takes place almost entirely within the restaurant. “The Menu” could serve on the stage as well. Learn from this: the next time your girlfrienc has a birthday, take her to Mickey D’s.

107 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE FAREWELL – movie review

THE FAREWELL
A24
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lulu Wang
Screenwriter: Lulu Wang
Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo, Chen Han, Aoi Mizuhara
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 6/19/19
Opens: July 12, 2019

[ FAREWELL POSTER ]

A childhood friend of mine had a father who was dying of cancer though he seemed fine to us. He attended a wedding of his niece. He danced. He gave a lovely speech about his new son-in-law. He had three weeks to live, but didn’t know it, and since all this took place in the early 1960s, he was kept in the dark. “What’s the point of telling him? That will only ruin his last days.” This aspect of American culture seemed to make sense, though nowadays, things are different. We believe that a patient has the right to know what’s going on with his own body.

Chinese families enjoy a culture that in many ways is similar to ours. When writer-director Lulu Wang’s characters in “The Farewell,” were told that their beloved matriarch had Stage IV lung cancer, all are sworn to keep that the secret despite the opinion of Billi (Awkwafina), a granddaughter—as one who left China from an early age and lived in New York. She believed that a lie is a lie. There is no such thing as a good life, a white lie.

In this fictional drama based on “a lie experience,” Billi, a young single woman working in New York, is invited to return to Changchun, China, to celebrate a family wedding whose date may have been pushed ahead so that Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) could attend the festivities. A controlling person, grandma Nai Nai handled all the planning, complaining that the menu mentioned that crab would be the highlight, and not the lobster that she had proposed.

During this time Billi is disturbed that nobody else in the family is willing to tell Nai Nai the truth, but she keeps to the bargain, in one case speaking to the doctor who is treating Nai Nai, knowing that her granny does not know a word of English. Like any American nanna, Nai Nai is ready to fix her granddaughter up with the doctor. Our cultures are not that far apart in many ways.

Filmed by Anna Franquesta Solano on location in Changchun, the largest city and capital of Jilin province with a population of over seven million, “The Farewell” has comic touches particularly in exploring the relationship of the dim marriage couple, Hao Hao (Chen Han) and his Japanese girlfriend Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara)—who had started dating just three months earlier and seem unable to speak to each other in a common language. Writer-director Lulu Wang in her sophomore feature evokes solid work from the entire ensemble, anchoring the story with Awkwafina, who, you may recall, took on the role of Peik Lin Goh in the more commercial movie “Crazy Rich Asians.” Awkwafina presents the granddaughter with all the nuances needed as a woman who reluctantly plays along with the charade. Does she finally break down and tell all or does she remain as shut down as Stormy Daniels in the recent American posturing? What would you recommend?

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

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

WASTED – movie review

  • WASTED: THE STORY OF FOOD WASTE

    Zero Point Zero Films
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B+
    Director:  Anna Chai, Nari Kye
    Written by: Anna Chai, Nari Kye
    Cast:  Anthony Bourdain, Dan Barber, Mario Batali, Mossimo Bottura, Danny Bowien
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/1/17
    Opens: October 13, 2017

    I was around during World War 2 when Europe was in bad shape.  My mother regularly scolded me if I left food over—spinach, broccoli, raw carrots—moralizing that masses of people in Europe would love to have the great stores of food with which Americans are gifted, and the usual reply, “Why not send this food to Europe instead of throwing it out?” was met with a confused reply.  Nowadays kids here might be told of the poor people in rural North Korea who are eating grass, and that because of them and others in “developing” nations, we should eat everything on the plate and waste nothing.

    That advice was not necessarily good: after all we have an obesity epidemic in the U.S. But what should we do if we cannot finish what’s on our plates? More important, what should the giant supermarkets and even industrial farmers do, given the fact that we are now wasting from one-third to forty percent of what we produce?

    Anthony Bourdain comes to the rescue as the narrator of “Wasted,” a master chef whose CNN program “Parts Unknown” reaches us whether Mr. Bourdain is in New York, Singapore, Laos or just about everywhere else in the world.  Firing off statistics right and left, such as “Eight hundred million people are going to bed hungry” and bringing these statistics to splendid life, writer-directors Anna Chai and Nari Kye have filmed in Milan, Tokyo, New York, Seoul, New Orleans, and other spots to show various ways we can either cut back on the waste or do something with the massive amount of food we overbuy and then toss out.

    Through interviews and graphic footage giving the impression that annually a Mount Everest of food is not consumed, the documentarians show us how we can both conserve food and turn it into use rather than throw everything into landfills—where we find out that lettuce takes a year or even far more to disintegrate.

    For example, in our schools, kids are likely to throw out much of the nutritious lunches that they get because they simply do not like anything besides chocolate milk, pizza and potato chips.  At a grade school in New Orleans, the young pupils actually grow vegetables.  It they grow it, they’ll eat it, and that’s good psychology.

    On a larger scale, though, food can be transformed into compost and fed to animals, and what’s more the grub that pigs get makes the meat that they ultimately become “the tastiest pork I’ve ever eaten,” says one interviewee.  One charitable grocer in a poor section of New York is able to get food from supermarkets that are beyond their expiration date and sell it to the folks at a heavily discounted price.  Expiration dates, we learn, are not sacrosanct: most food is perfectly good after the date that the big markets are obliged to trash it.

    You’d think that some of the great chefs of the world would use only the most expensive products to put to the fire, but instead, they tell of how they have successfully experimented with scraps to create new dishes with names that could start the saliva flowing.  Would a seafood house succeed with “junk fish” on the menu?  OK, then change the name of the parts of fish that people eschew and call it bouillabaisse and you’re in business.

    Though documentary lovers and foodies may provide a good audience for “Wasted,” they are of course a tiny segment of the world.  Yet this is a pic that many folks whose idea of a good evening at the theater consists of “Terminator” and “Star Trek” would gain significant knowledge of a concept that they rarely think about.  Do you know exactly what happens to the food that you throw into the trash?  Most go to landfills.  Landfill gas is approximately forty to sixty percent methane, with the remainder being mostly carbon dioxide. Trace amounts of other volatile organic compounds comprise the remainder (<1%). These trace gases include a large array of species, mainly simple hydrocarbons. Of so says Wikipedia.
    Landfill gases have an influence on climate change. The major components are CO2 and methane, both of which are greenhouse gas. In terms of global warming potential, methane is over 25 times more detrimental to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Landfills are the third largest source of methane in the US.  Now what will you do to make your contribution to purer air?

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

STUBER – movie review

STUBER
20th Century Fox
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Dowse
Screenwriter: Tripper Clancy
Cast: Kumal Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Iko Uwais, Natalie Morales, Betty Gilpin
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 7/2/19
Opens: July 12, 2019

Stuber Poster 2019 Movie Dave Bautista Kumail Nanjiani Film Print 24x36" 27x40" - 11x17" / 27.94x43.18 cm

Nobody expects “Downton Abbey” or “Last Year in Marienbad” to open in the summer. We expect movies to take in our air conditioning with violence, with sitcom romances, maybe a few Marvel Studio entries. But “Stuber” represents a new low even for a July opening. It has the violence, the comedy, even a romance of sorts, but the funny parts aren’t, the violence leans toward the non-stop, the romance involves one of the principals emailing a woman he’s been dating, the woman virtually harassing him to come right over and they’ll “have sex.”

Co-star Karachi-born Kumal Nanjiani is best known as a stand-up comedian and for his role in “The Big Sick.” Time magazine calls him one of the hundred most influential people in the world, presumably because he is Pakistani-American, and newscasts rarely focus on Pakistan as one of the world’s centers for comedy. “The Big Sick” deals with cultural barriers; Nanjiani co-wrote that film with his wife Emily Gordon. This time, however, he faces off with a big guy who insists “I’m not white” the difference being of personality rather than ethnicity. Vic (Dave Bautista), a cop, is obsessed with finding and bringing to justice a drug dealer, Teijo (Iko Uwais) who killed his partner during one of the several fight scenes in the film.

The never-ending set-up for jokes takes off from Vic’s Lasik eye surgery, which leaves him legally blind for a day and obviously affects his ability to catch the drug dealers. His daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) sets him up with a phone app to allow him to spend the day Teijo-hunting, but Vic, a virtual techno-phobe, instead hails an Uber driven by Stuber (Kumal Nanjiani), which is not his real name but a combination of “Stu” and “Uber.” The two share a fragile bond: if Stu does not do what the cop says, he may die at the hands of the criminals. Even worse, he will get a one-star review on Yelp, which could sink his career, as he had received a stack of one-star comments from racist passengers.

Believe it or not, in this comedy based on physical violence that has people slammed into walls, shot at, racing around to catch up with Teijo, there is a sentimental core. Two people who only intermittently show themselves not to be dumb as doornails advise each other on dealing with significant others. Stu is in love with Becca, a friend with benefits (Betty Gilpin), but is afraid to declare his secret love for the lass. Vic lets Stu know how to get around the dilemma. To square away an obligation, Vic is required to listen to Stu’s cajoling: Vic does not pay enough attention to his daughter, a sculptor, who in one scene has opened a show, her work going far over her dad’s head.

This road-and-buddy moves along the two drive around California, hitting spots in Koreatown and Compton among other areas. A struggle in a veterinary office, in which Vic winds up adopting a pit bull, does not lead to an arrest, and police captain McHenry may be other than she seems. The story, which lacks anything in the way of nuance and fills the screen with the kind of violence that some audiences are unable to get enough of, may remind you of those Amazon reviewers who say “I would have given this product zero stars if I could.”

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

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

 

PHOTOGRAPH – movie review

PHOTOGRAPH
Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ritesh Batra
Screenwriter: Ritesh Batra
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqi, Sanya Malhotra, Vijay Raaz, Virendra Saxena, Farrukh Jaffar
Screened at: Soho House, NYC, 5/1/19
Opens: May 17, 2019

Photograph Movie Poster

If you’re disgusted by the present status of male-female relationships in the U.S., notably the custom of college students nowadays to abandon the practice of dating in favor of hooking up, and of every young person’s compulsion to text even when in the company of their friends and lovers, you’ll be delighted to see a throwback to the old days in looking at the relationship of two people in Mumbai. If you’re old enough in America, you’ll remember that dating was never casual in the 1950s but marked by curfews of women in college and a dress code that featured more formal attire that is customary today. This is not to say that we should adapt the matchmaking and dating practices in India and so much of the world outside the West, but take a look at what goes on in Ritesh Batra’s “Photograph.” You’ll go to this movie with high expectations if you loved Batra’s film “The Lunchbox”—which emerged from the custom of delivering lunch boxes to workers at mid-day, the drama coming from a misdirected lunch which leads to a correspondence between a widower and an unhappily married woman.

“Photograph,” which juggles differences of caste, religion, class, and age but nonetheless does not try to uproot the custom of matchmaking in India, is a delightful look at an unusual dating scene. A man approaching middle age, seemingly a confirmed bachelor, meets cute a younger woman of a higher, more educated class. Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqi), who barely scrapes by taking pictures with a Nikon at Mumbai’s famous Gateway of India, lives in a cramped, communal setting with other low-level workers. Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), an introverted young woman who never laughs, only occasionally smiles, is lightly pressured by her solidly middle-class family to match up with guys. She is perfectly willing to do so to please her folks, but one day, as she is strolling around the famous Gateway of India, she agrees to be photographed by Rafi. Summoned elsewhere, she runs off without paying him leaving him with her picture. It so happens that gossip is spreading among Rafi’s pals that Rafi’s grandmother Dadi (Farrukh Jaffar), upset that she may never become a great grandmother, has stopped taking her meds. He jumps at the bait, invites the elderly woman to meet him in Mumbai, noting that he would like to introduce her to his fiancé. Fiancé? No such luck. Rafi asks Miloni to play the part, changing her name to Noorie for the role, and she surprisingly agrees, perhaps from a sense of adventure which she does not get from her classes in accounting.

Your heart knows things that your mind can’t explain, the only possible reason for the growing attraction between a shy, introverted girl and a confirmed bachelor. They go on a few dates, not touching each other until Dadi, taking a picture, asks him stand closer to her and to put his arm around her, asking her for good measure to smile. The grandmother may be getting wise to the scam, warning Rafi that she is not the girl for him. “She is not our religion,” having heard a made-up story by Miloni that her parents both died when the walls of a mosque caved in on them.

To illustrate class differences most graphically, director Batra shows Miloni jumping from her seat during a movie date, while her Rafi calms her that “it’s only a rat that crossed by your seat.” Batra takes what could have embraced screwball comedy, transcending the genre in laying out an ultimately sad, but meaningful slice of Mumbai life. In Gujarati and Hindi with the usual faded-white subtitles that are difficult to read against light contrasts.

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

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

 

A WHALE OF A TALE – movie review

A WHALE OF A TALE

Fine Line Media
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Megumi Sasaki
Screenwriter:  Megumi Sasaki
Cast:  Jay Alabaster, residents of the Japanese town of Taiji
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 8/7/18
Opens: August 17, 2018

 

04.jpg

It’s easy for moralists to sit back, sipping their bourbon, smoking their Cuban cigars, and waxing poetic about the need for a universal code of morality.  Never mind that some cultures are so poor that many must kill creatures to make a living, and we’re talking about people who live in countries where earning a dollar a day for mining is acceptable.  Many of us in the U.S. (members of PETA like me) might understand, if not condone, the poaching of elephants in Kenya for their valuable tusks, the clubbing of dogs in China where dog meat is no different from cow meat, and the massive slaughter of animals in our own factory farms.  After all, if most Americans eat beef, pork, lamb and the like, who are we elitists to complain about the killing of any animal?  What about the clubbing of seals in Canada, a rich country, the seals used not for survival but for the making of fur garments.  And we can go on and on about the fur trade in general, a lucrative one, and never mind the torture that animals must go through to provide chinchilla and mink.

There is one form of killing that—at least according to Megumi Sasaki’s documentary “A Whale of a Tale”—is almost universally condemned, and that’s the fishing of dolphins, centered on the village of Taiji which was the subject of the Oscar Best Documentary of 2010, “The Cove.”  It’s not that dolphins feel more pain than halibut, salmon, tuna and swordfish, but that they are creatures of intelligence matching that of human beings.  They are fished out of international waters by the whalers of this Japanese town of 3,000, whaling has been their tradition long before Moby Dick carved out revenge, and they’ll be damned if they let foreigners come in with cameras to tell them what to eat or catch.

As with “The Cove,” with its sobering look at the butchering of scores of dolphins trapped in a cove, the industry has been the focus of mass protests, not only in “the West” as the whalers call the accursed protesters, but also in the Philippines, a march with signs among the images captured in “A Whale of a Tale.”

On the one side are activists who are in Japan and appear 100% from the West, though many of them have been denied re-entry into the country because of their use of Facebook and Twitter to tell the world about what they consider a great evil. On the other are the whalers who depend on dolphins which they catch and kill and sell for food, or if they can manage it, sell the fish to Seaworld-type centers—which in my mind are as immoral as the late, ungreat, Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey circus.  In the middle is Jay Alabaster, an American journalist from Arizona who teaches English in Japan, who is fluent in Japanese, and who serves as a neutral party trying to bring the opposing groups together.  His view is that the small-town Japanese cannot begin to match the power of the foreign protesters because locals are not computer-savvy on Facebook and Twitter and therefore cede the propaganda ground to the protesters.

When the cameras are not on the waters around the village, they are at a press conference bringing the two sides together, including the mayor who would prefer to change the economy to tourism rather than whaling.  It’s probably not because the mayor has had a moral epiphany but rather that the Japanese do not eat much whale meat—the equivalent in a year as a slice of ham—and prices have tumbled.  As Seaworld-type entertainments are biting the dust, there may not be much market for dolphins there either.  And many believe the dolphins have toxic loads of mercury making them inedible.

By the way, from what I get, what the Japanese call whales are what we call dolphins.  The camera-work is stunning, contrasting the bonhomie of a small village with the madhouse atmosphere in overcrowded Tokyo.  The arguments are balanced, the director seeming to be impartial.  In any case the industry is on its last fins, which means that not only the whalers will be deprived of a living, but Hollywood would be deprived of a moral tale to trot out at awards time.

Animal rights activists will rejoice while traditional Japanese fisherman will be outraged by this effective story of the struggle to ban the exploitation in a small Japanese town of whales. A sequel to the Oscar-winning doc “The Cove.”

Unrated.  95 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

DAMSEL – movie reveiw

DAMSEL

Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
Screenwriter:  Nathan Zellner, David Zellnew
Cast:  Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Forster, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Joseph Biligiere
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 4/30/18
Opens: June 22, 2018
Damsel Movie Poster
If you’re a big movie fan, you are likely to be disappointed by same ‘ol same ‘ol.  Revenge stories?  He done me wrong, I made him pay.  Romances? Boy chases girl, girl chase boy, marriage.  Old Westerns?  Cowboys surrounded by Indians, Cavalry comes to the rescue.  Children may like to hear the same story twenty times, but mature adults want change.  And “Damsel” is one picture that offers a change. Quite a change.  But being different, being a maverick film maker like the Zeller brothers, does not necessarily result in entertaining fare.  “Damsel” is an example of a tiresome look at a post-modern picture that may make you crave another look at “High Noon” and “Shane” and “Unforgiven.”

The Zellners’ “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunger” about a Japanese woman who thinks a VHS of “Fargo” is a treasure map leading to a pot of money, is as conventional as “Leave It To Beaver” by comparison with “Damsel.” A few scenes stand out, but then again even “Showgirls” is not a dud throughout its entire running time.

The prologue, for example, focuses on a dialogue, more like a monologue, between a young man and an older preacher, the latter played by the Robert Forster, one of the greats of the business but a performer who has always been seriously underutilized.  The old preacher has had it with trying to convert Indians to Christianity, but they “just ain’t interested,” and probably “there are enough Christians already.” The young fella takes on the identity of the preacher, Parson Henry (David Zellner) and heads out to find love, his quest about to become less remote when he takes a job from Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattison), who pays him to perform a hoped-for wedding between him and Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), a damsel he seeks to rescue from kidnappers.

As the two move westward, leading Butterscotch (Daisy) who is to be Samuel’s wedding gift to his bride, they run into odd characters, ultimately discovering that all their expectations—the parson’s for love, Samuels’ for marriage, and Penelope for happiness– are difficult to meet.

It’s too bad, because the convincing commentary up front from the old preacher, a downright high stepping hoedown between the characters you’ve come to expect from the old Westerns, just about the cutest pony you’re likely to see in other movies, and a look at a broken-down saloon managed by a hostile bartender with a foot-long beard, are not enough to take this parody into high ground.

The photography featuring the standard red rocks that announce The West (taken in the beginning in Utah’s Goblin Valley and later in parts of Oregon) and the music by The Octopus Project are spot-on.  But with a parson who is more irritating than anyone should have to take, a one-note performance by a pretty woman, and the images of a handsome, nattily dressed easterner on the way to rescue his damsel, do not serve to help the story at all.

Unrated.  113 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

 

THE YOUNG KARL MARX – movie review