THE WAY I SEE IT – movie review

THE WAY I SEE IT
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dawn Porter
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/11/20
Opens: September 18, 2020

The Way I See It Movie Poster

This vivid, colorful documentary, some scenes filled with heartbreak and compassion, others with humor and joie de vivre, is as much about the photographer and the way he sees it as about the Presidents that he photographs. Pete Souza, a world-class photographer with a personality to match, is seen here as the chief shutterbug who has spent much of his career almost literally by President Obama’s side. He captures iconic images of Obama, a man he obviously considers not only a good friend but a hero, and adds pungency to the tale by comparing the dignified African-American leader with his ideological and extra-large small man who followed and who thinks nothing of anybody but himself and perhaps his immediately family.

The two million folks who follow Souza on Instagram might be familiar with a previous look of the lenser in the National Geographic 2010 movie “The President’s Photographer,” but while that excellent treatment deals with previous photographers as well, “The Way I See It” gives short shrift to Souza’s predecessor, President Reagan, in order to concentrate more fully on the wonderful personality of the man behind the lenses.

No sooner does Souza state that he believes empathy to be the most important emotion of a national leader than we reflexively see that this is a guy who has no use for Donald J. Trump. This movie comes out just a hop, skip and jump after the publication of the photographer’s book “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents,” which, put simply, sets up two columns. In one lie the hateful tweets of the incompetent bozo now in the White House, a loser who, thanks to the Electoral College was put into office despite being behind Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million votes, with Barack Obama. In fact commenting on the décor in the White House, Souza notes that he “like [s] the old drapes better than the new ones.” Therein lies a clever metaphor by which Souza “dropped shade,” which is to say disrespecting the current resident in the Oval Office, and changed him from being a fly on the wall, albeit a highly talented one, to becomes an outspoken photo-journalist.

Director Dawn Porter, whose “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” about the late member of the House of Representatives from Georgia embracing his sixty years fighting for civil rights, immigration reform and gun control, gives President Obama much of her time in moving picture images but allows Pete Souza to hold forth in a Madison, Wisconsin speech before a packed audience, with many of his favorite photos on the screen. Motion picture imagery aside, Souza makes the point that there is still a need for still photos, hopefully riveting the viewer on key moments in a President’s eight years. One shot that would impress even high school pupils who give the impression that they’ve “seen it all” finds Obama playing a one-on-one basketball game with Reggie Love, former professional athlete and then Obama’s “body man.” Imagine Obama’s pleasure when he discovers that Souza captured his block of his opponent, ordering that it be blown up and signed by Love.

While Ms. Porter uses motion picture film of the dramatic moment when Nancy Pelosi banged the gavel to announce to the House of Representatives that the Affordable Care Act had passed, she finds the former President’s empathy best illustrated in shots showing him shedding genuine tears while hugging the parents of the twenty children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Porter, who in her own medium performs a service as important as Souza’s, highlights the moment during his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, killed at the Charleston church shooting, that Obama says “Amazing Grace” twice, then connects with the vast audience by singing the song.

This is a deeply moving film, one filled with tears and smiles, pathos and laughter, a paean to a President, his photographer, and moments in history which, thanks greatly to still photographs, will never be forgotten.

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

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

 

TAMMY’S ALWAYS DYING – movie review

TAMMY’S ALWAYS DYING
Quiver Distribution
Reviewed for Shockya.com &BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Amy Jo Johnson
Screenwriter: Joanne Sarazen
Cast: Felicity Huffman, Anastasia Phillips, Clark Johnson, Lauren Holly
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/15/20
Opens: May 1, 2020

Sometimes when a little kid cries apparently for no reason, her mother will say, “You ought to be an actress—you cry so easily.” In a story written by Joanne Sarazen in her freshman feature and directed by Amy Jo Johnson, also her first full length narrative film, “Tammy’s Always Dying” finds a the title character’s only daughter Catherine (Anastasia Phillips) able to cry in front of a TV audience so successfully that she receives a new Toyota Camry. For many of us, anything below a Mercedes of a Beamer would be considered chump change, but to Catherine it’s a bigger prize than she had ever seen. Not that her mother Tammy (Felicity Huffman) is better off. Both mother and daughter are sad sacks, losers, the kinds of people who, if American not Canadian, might vote for Trump not realizing that nobody, not even a slick-talking pseudo-populist, could help such deadbeats.

From beginning to end, Tammy and Catherine MacDonald (strangely, in real life mother and daughter are only ten years apart) we can predict that the two are going nowhere in life, having missed any opportunity at the right time to advance a career or even consider such an unusual thing to strive for.

So we’re left with wondering: is there anything about these two women to make us care about them? Do we know anything about why mom is depressed to the point of regularly considering jumping from a bridge, or daughter so easily manipulated by her mother that she has little pleasurable to think about save a quicky against the wall with married Reggie (Aaron Ashmore)? At least she has one person who shows he cares about her, her gay boss in a seedy bar, Doug (Clark Johnson) who treats her occasionally to dinner and doesn’t mind when she sleeps past her alarm and shows up late.

We know nothing about them. No backstory to give clues to why chain-smoking Tammy is always depressed, why she confesses to Catherine that she always loved her but could never show it, and how Catherine winds up like the rotten apple that does not fall far from the tree.

When Dr. Miller (Ayesha Mansur Gonzalves), a poised, confident woman who is the exact opposite of the two women, diagnoses Tammy with Stage 4 cancer, Catherine moves in with her. Yet the younger woman nonetheless on why day shouts “Why don’t you die, already?” With that in mind, she asks to be a guest on a TV show featuring women who cry about their tragic lives, wins a place and is coached by its producer Ilana (Lauren Holly). She invents a tale that her mother had committed suicide, a death wish that could apply to Catherine as well as to Tammy.

From the opening scene, this movie looks like little more than a vanity format for Felicity Huffman, perhaps able to scrounge up an audience based on her recent conviction of trying to buy her daughter a place as a freshman in USC. Otherwise the two people who must carry the film are so empty, so irritating, that the project is difficult to sit through.

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

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

ALTERNATE ENDINGS: SIX NEW WAYS TO DIE IN AMERICA – movie review

ALTERNATE ENDINGS: SIX NEW WAYS TO DIE IN AMERICA
HBO Documentary Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Perri Peltz, Matthew O’Neill
Screenwriter: Perri Peltz, Matthew O’Neill
Cast: Leila Johnson, Guadalupe Cuevas, Barbara Jean, Sara Snider Green, Dick Shannon, Emily and Ryan Matthias
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/12/19
Opens: August 14, 2019

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who ironically died before the age of forty, is best known for a poem that begins like this:

“Do not go gentle into that good night/ Old age should burn and rave at close of day/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

One might presume that the majority of people want to live as long as they can, some terminal patients demanding that hospitals do everything they can regardless of their pain. Most tragic are people with ALS virtually paralyzed and looking toward an end by suffocation but barely considering a voluntary ending their own lives. All of these people rage against the dying of the light. The six families highlighted in Perri Peltz and Matthew O’Neill’s stunning HBO documentary shed tears for the people they are about to miss and who, of course, are destined to miss them as well. Yet all had original ways of dealing with mortality.

Although in 2018 cremations are now more common in the U.S. than burials, notwithstanding the opposition of the Catholic Church and Jewish rabbis, there is nothing common about the way families of six people dealt the end. On my terms” is the theme of each whether five years old or eighty, and this is to the good. Right now only six states and DC have legislation on the books that allow people, usually with six months or fewer to live, to end their own lives with mixtures set up in the regulations—regulation which are strange when you consider how many people have OD’d from opiates which they were able to get on their own. So let’s see what so unusual about the people here, all of whom are now passed away in a film that must have taken years to make.

Leila Johnson allowed her departed father to contribute to nature, to life, really, by placing his cremains in a coral reef. According to officials at the Memorial Reef International, corals are dying, and this kind of burial can create new environments for life. An understanding of this is beyond my pay grade so I connected with Wikipedia and found this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_issues_with_coral_reefs
Now I see the reasons for the demise of corals but not exactly how burying cremains, which Leila mixes with cement, can create new structures for ocean life.

Texan Guadalupe Cuevas give their beloved father, ill with terminal cancer and renal failure, a wake, but Guadalupe is still alive. He and his large family are entertained by a mariachi band and the whole family enjoy the music with the food, which suits Guadalupe just fine.

Afflicted with pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly forms of the dread disease, Barbara Jean does not want to be pushing up daisies while six feet under. Instead she heads to Eloise Woods Back to Nature Burials, selects a plot, and plans for a shallow burial. She even gets a promise from her best friend to wash her body after death. When she dies her body is wrapped in a cloth and laid to rest in a shallow grave next to a tree which her friends plant.

Sara Snider Green has the most unusual burial—in space—which must have cost a pretty penny but led to great joy by a boatload of friends and family. “Tuna,” who loved space travel as much as Leila Johnson’s dad cherished the ocean, had his cremains sent into space which NASA graciously allowed as a secondary payload for its latest ventures into the beyond.

Dick Shannon, afflicted with terminal cancer, his lungs failing, speaks to the camera about his venture with MAID (medical aid in dying). His doctor gives Dick a lethal drug cocktail, four bottles that require mixing, with the injunction that while others can help with the mix, he must drink the cocktail himself. He has a last supper, so to speak, with his family, calmly announcing that he will drink the lethal dose the next morning. We watch him down the liquid, lie on the couch, and within minutes snore and cease breathing.

In the least developed scenario, Emily and Ryan Matthias, who have the terrible misfortune of dealing with a five-year-old’s terminal cancer, explain to the boy about death to the extent that such a child can understand. He does realize what it’s all about when he asks for a party in lieu of a funeral, so his parents, determined to honor their promise, hold a celebration of life, a blast filled with kids eating snow cones, having a ball, and even Batman, the boy’s hero, is in attendance.

The locations include Van Meter, Iowa; Sierra County, New Mexico; Austin, Texas; San Antonio, Texas, and the Gulf of Mexico. The film honors the wishes of those about to depart from the living, and while some viewers might be dismayed by all the talk about death and have nightmares about it, the more likely scenario is that we will appreciate the New Age idea that death is merely a part of life and nothing to fear.

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

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

NEVER LOOK AWAY – movie review

NEVER LOOK AWAY (Werk ohne Autor)

Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Screenwriter: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch, Paula Beer, Saskia Rosendahl, Cai Cohrs, Oliver Masucci, Ina Weisse, Rainer Bock, Johanna Gastdorf, Jeanette Hain, Hinnerk Schönemann, Florian Bartholomäi,Hans-Uwe Bauer, Jörg Schüttauf, Ben Becker, Lars Eidinger
Screened at: SONY, NYC, 11/12/18
Opens: November 30, 2018

When a mother names her newborn baby Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, that kid better do something in his life that justifies the fancy moniker. In this particular fellow’s case he more than meets his family’s expectations. In his Oscar-winning “The Lives of Others,” von Donnersmarck looks at a Stasi official in the 1984’s East Berlin who surveiles a writer and his lover, becoming absorbed in their goings-on, a stunning look at the repressive forces in East Germany. Germans who saw the film were said to be amazed at the authenticity of their lives back then, including the idea that the government was suppressing the elevated number of suicides plaguing the state. And that was just von Donnersmarck’s debut! Now he has done it again, with a film which, to date, should be considered not only for awards in the best foreign language category but, what the heck, the best movie of the year. Period. So far. “Never Look Away,” whose German title “Werk ohne Autor” (Work Without Author) is too bland considering the subject matter, has a better English title, one which is based upon one character’s telling her young nephew to look at life in all aspects with enough curiosity to make informed decisions.

Werk ohne Autor (2018)

If the three and one-quarter hours of running time makes you hesitate to check this film out, ignore indecision. This film is so riveting, so absorbing a story about art and love and politics and finding your identity, that I dare you to look away even once. That’s how brilliant this modern masterpiece is.

Though based loosely on the life of Gerhard Richter, a popular German painter who in this fictional form takes on the name of Dresden citizen Kurt Barnert, “Never Look Away” is an epic work encompassing some almost decades of German civilization from 1937 through the early 1960s. If you did spend a week play hooky from your history class for a week or so, you’ll know that that Central European nation had undergone years of tragedy, as extremist ideas take a role first as a country under National Socialism, then, after the war, shifting gears wholly as the Eastern sector is dominated by pro-Soviet governments. Specifically, von Donnersmarck, using his own script, gifts us by portraying an artist who at first is pressured to conform to Nazi ideology in painting canvasses that eschew so-called degenerate art, later pushed by communists to knock out works of socialist realism (the “boy loves tractor” idea crafted to uplift the people by glorifying workers and farmers).

Nor does it hurt that the writer-director enjoys the talents of Sebastian Koch, Germany’s greatest contemporary actor, here playing an evil s.o.b. that will condemn one young woman to be asphyxiated with carbon monoxide and another, during a different political climate, to have an abortion which may cause her to be unable to produce the children she so resolutely desires.

Prepared to be nailed to your theater seat right from the beginning as in 1937, the Nazi government invites people to visit the Degenerate Art exhibition, the guide (Lars Eidinger) delivering a snarky but captivating lecture to a tour group about the alleged evils of what we today would call contemporary or avant-garde painting. Young Kurt Barnert (Cai Cohrs) will never forget the experience as his favorite Aunt Elizabeth (Saskia Rosendahl) introduces him to a museum that will likely be avoided by people his age who might prefer to play soccer with his pals. Elizabeth, a beautiful young woman with flowing blond hair, may well be the kind of Auntie Mame type we all wanted, a woman who is anything but conventional and whose idea of educating a young boy includes appearing before him in full, frontal, naked beauty. Older relatives catch her the raw, and turn to gynecologist Professor Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch) to send her away to an institution which must decide whether to eliminate her (returning soldiers need more beds) or simply sterilize the poor woman.

When little Kurt, now a young man (Tom Schilling) is admitted to an art academy, he finds that the new Communist regime in East Germany allows socialist realism as the only acceptable art form, warning him that the country does not need more Picassos. The best is to come when Kurt flirts with and eventually marries fashion student Ellie Seeband (Paul Beer), not realizing that her father is the notorious professor who sent his beloved aunt away. The hateful professor continues to spew venom, arguing that Kurt is not good enough for his daughter in part because he considers the handsome young man unemployable. Kurt’s favorable future is virtually assured, however,when he is taught at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf by Antonius Van Werten (Oliver Masucci), a man who covers his deformed head by a hat and who relives his rescue by Tartars when his plane was shot down over Crimea. Now without restrictions—he and Elizabeth had fled to the West—Kurt survives the humiliation of scrubbing hospital floors to pay for his schooling and to go on to find his true identity in his art.

The great changes that befall Germany during a thirty-year period are dealt with flawlessly. You might think the Communists and the Nazis have much in common, at least as their viewpoint on art coincide. It’s almost predictable that a movie with art as a subject would conjure the idea that a great artist must have suffered trauma or be emotionally disturbed. “At Eternity’s Gate,” Julian Schnabel’s new picture about the last days of Vincent Van Gogh, is the latest entry into the subject, though when considering off-center neurotics and psychotics like the professor and Aunt Elisabeth, Kurt is the model of stability and maturity.

The movie soars cinematically under Caleb Duschanel’s lensing. Outdoor scene are of brilliant sunlight of the kind that fought to keep Vincent Van Gogh from going completely bonkers. The historical background is illuminating without being reductive, the passages from Nazism to Communism to democracy seamless and pristine. The mostly large paintings, notably the ones we see when Kurt’s coming into his own, look as though they might be in a museum rather than mediated by the screen in a film that’s in German with English subtitles and photographed in Berlin, Dresden, Dusseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony and the Czech Republic.

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

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

THE LEISURE SEEKER – movie review

  • THE LEISURE SEEKER

    Sony Pictures Classics
    Director:  Paolo Virzi
    Screenwriter:  Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archibugi, Francesto Piccolo, Paolo Virzi based on Michael Zadoorian’s book
    Cast:  Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Christian McKay, Janel Moloney, Dana Ivey, Dick Gregory
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/24/17
    Opens: January 18, 2018
    The Leisure Seeker
    Maurice Chevalier once said “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”  I have experience with the former but not the latter, so I can’t say he’s right.  But as the self-help books on happiness say, people report more delight in their seventies than they felt in their twenties.  You can’t go too wrong for opting for youth.  So should the two principals in “The Leisure Seeker,” Paolo Virzi’s first English language feature, a movie that would not have been so heart-tugging with any other pair of actors.  The action right down to the conclusion may be predictable, but how can anyone miss anything that features Helen Mirren?

    Virzi is fortunate in pairing Mirren with Donald Sutherland, whose chemistry at the supposed age of eighty plus is palpable.  These two, Mirren as Ella Spencer and Sutherland as John Spencer, are runaways.  Paolo Virzi is in his métier, as the director’s “Like Crazy” hones in on two women in a Tuscany facility for emotionally disturbed who run away together.

    Disregarding the regularly telephoned warnings of their two adult children, Will (Christian McKay) and Jane (Janel Moloney, begging them to drive their 1975 Winnebago RV home where they can continue to care for them, the loving couple proceed from their Massachusetts digs to Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West, Florida.  As the road movie continues we note that John, a retired college professor, has dementia, sometimes forgetting his wife’s name but never his love for her.  For her part Ella is hiding her own affliction, an illness for which she has refused treatment but medicates herself with whiskey, pills and a liquid solution to help her sleep.

    We wonder how John is able to drive at all, and in fact he does almost get a ticket for weaving on the scenic and surprisingly empty Route 1 southbound. Aside from their protestations of love, each accuses the other of straying from the marriage, now fifty years old, in a plot device that is a hoary as it is insipid.  They stop at a retirement community facility seeking John’s alleged cheating some forty years ago, as John insists on finding the man for whom she transgressed.  They disturb one Dan Coleman (the late Dick Gregory), now in a wheelchair and ordering them out of his room.

    When they stop at a coffee shop, John insists on quoting from Melville, Hemingway and James Joyce, and gets quite a surprise to find a waitress quite familiar with John’s literary hero.  One might be aghast that John, still remembering the quotes he delivered in lectures to his college classes, now insists on repeating “I want a burger.”We wonder who is in worse shape and who will die first: John with his dementia or Ella with her serious illness. Feel free to take bets because the resolution is not far from coming.

    Surprisingly this is arthouse fare given its distribution by Sony Pictures Classics, yet it comes off as both a sitcom that fails to elicit audience laughs, and a drama that mimics so many other films.  The pleasure of watching two first-class performers in action does, however, succeed in giving this movie your attention, though the surprise element is difficult to find, making the movie too good to be considered a misstep yet not good enough to transcend its form.

    Rated R.  112 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

IN & OF ITSELF – movie review

IN & OF ITSELF
Hulu
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Frank Oz
Writer: Derek DelGaudio
Cast: Derek DelGaudio
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/13/21
Opens: January 22, 2021

DEREK DELGAUDIO’S IN & OF ITSELF Key Art Poster

There are two kinds of audiences for live shows in New York. One is represented by the tourist, perhaps not fluent in English, who would go to a Broadway musical: “Chicago,” “South Pacific,” “Guys and Dolls,” presentations that are a lot of fun. Others are a more intellectual set that would patronize off-Broadway, even off-Broadway; likely to be in a serious vein, knowledge of English indispensable. There is third type of live presentation; the kind that would challenge people who think they know everything and like to brag about going to esoterica. What they see is likely to be a mix of entertainment and a delving into our minds and souls. Such a show played at the Daryl Roth Theatre, off-Broadway in New York in 2017, called “In & Of Itself,” considered to be a one-man exhibition but depending upon enough people in the audience to volunteer to stand up, even to come up on stage.

“In and Of Itself” as presented by Hulu and executive produced by the likes of my favorite TV comic Stephen Colbert, is a filmed play and then some; meaning that the presentation puts together a collage of audiences and evenings, melding some of the stunning 552 displays that ran before an audience of one hundred diverse souls. As directed by Frank Oz (both the stage show and the movie) with generous filming of a diverse audience including African-Americans and Asian-Americans, young, middle-aged and elderly, “In & Of Itself” may require multiple viewings to allow DelGaudio’s message to sink in: that we are not necessarily what we do for a living, even what goes on within our families. Each of us is a multiple, some of our character easily comprehended by others, while the rest of is below the surface, even hidden from ourselves.

In the opening scene, he asks members of the audience to come up before a large board filled with cards, each bearing the title of an occupation: nurse, ophthalmologist, dentist, and the like. Each is an “I am.” Some of the audience members will be called up to the stage, and as we watch the unfolding drama, we may wonder whether some of the folks are shills for the company who make sure that enough volunteers are called up each time. As a whole, nobody seems shy in the audience(s) that we see.

DelGaudio is a gifted man who knows his lines cold, a fellow of medium height, a close haircut, a trace of a beard. He wears a tie but that’s soon to come off to put across his eyes for one of his tricks. He is a master storyteller, segueing from a tale about a man who plays Russian roulette—the image of the person on one of the six diaramas on the wall. The deal is that he has 5 chances out of 6 to win, to save his life, and if he comes out ahead, he is rich. His troubles are over. But then again, as DelGaudio notes, if he loses, his troubles are also over (which brings the first laugh from the audience). This guy raises the ante, putting two bullets into the gun the next night, three the following, until he points the gun with six bullets at his head. How he manages to come out ahead? Find out by seeing the film.

The most dazzling part finds DelGaudio doing card tricks that are absolutely amazing. Ricky Jay is probably envious. If you see how he manipulates the deck to do everything he wants it to do, setting out the spades in order like a super royal flush, you might consider that he is a sorcerer. In the Middle Ages, the peasants would know what to do with him, and it’s not pretty.

Later he will present volunteers from the audience with letters allegedly written by members of their families, letters that bring some of them to tears. What these letters contain are writings that could easily have come from the participants’ mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. That’s how well DelGaudio seems to know his audience.

Then just as you wonder whether these audience members are the sorcerer’s apprentices, he dazzles by getting half of the hundred to stand up in the every-seat-taken theater, looking at the folks, telling each what he or she is: an introvert, a vegan, an optimist, a lover. The audience at no point looks at a cell phone, a watch, his navel, but all eyes are concentrating on the majordomo.

What does it all mean? Paradoxically, we are all many things, and we are all alike. Forget about Superman, Batman, even Wonder Woman. This showman can see into our souls, as you can believe as you watch the audience members, one by one, feeling the magic.

Yep: he is an enchanter.

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

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

 

THE MAURITANIAN – movie review

THE MAURITANIAN
STX Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writers: Michael Bronner, Rory Haines, based on Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s memoir “Guantánamo Diary”
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Jody Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley, Langley Kirkwood, Corey Johnson, Matthew Marsh
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/12/21
Opens: February 19, 2021

Andrew - The mauritanian poster

If you are following the events of the days just preceding the inauguration of Joseph Biden as President, you will see a division into two camps. One group, believing that the election was rigged, might well say that the violence of the far-right extremists who took over the Capitol was justified, given their disgust with what they consider fraud. The other folks, hopefully the greater number, were horrified watching the only attempted coup of the citadel of democracy since the British set fire to the building in 1814. This latter group, the more educated Americans, might well think: “With enemies like these domestic terrorists, who needs enemies?”

And when you consider the way that the American armed forces have acted for years in our country’s prison at Guantánamo, Cuba (itself an example of U.S. imperialism), torturing prisoners by blasting them with music, waterboarding (which gives the hapless victims the feeling of drowning), humiliating them in at least one case by dragging a man around on a leash, putting them into stress positions, i.e. bent over, for hours, you may say as well: If this is American democracy, who needs enemies from authoritarian regimes abroad?

As pointed out in the epilogue of “The Mauritanian,” Kevin Macdonald’s new, exciting, bold and horrifying film, one prisoner, Mohamedou Ould Slahi had been held for seven years without evidence and with just one hearing in a D.C. federal court where he was judged not guilty. And would you believe that the Obama administration appealed, leading the poor man to be kept a total of 14 years before being released to his home in Nouakchott, Mauritania? Filming in Mauritania and South Africa among other locations, Glaswegian director Macdonald, known mostly for his “The Last King of Scotland” about events surrounding the Uganda administration of Idi Amin, offers us an indictment of an infuriated America uninterested in due process. On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, New York’s World Trade Center was attacked by two planes leading to 3,000 deaths. As a result, those charged with terrorism and held at our facility in Cuba would be denied a hearing, much less a fair trial. Seven hundred seventy-nine prisoners had been guests of the facility since 9/11. A mere handful were found not guilty and released.

The most interesting detainee would be Mohamedou Ould Slahi, principally because he wrote a book, actually four books, about his experiences there, adapted for Macdonald’s pulsating drama. The plot is unfolded with its center, Tahar Rahim, a gifted French performer of Algerian descent adept in French, Arabic, English, Scottish Gaelic and Corsican (he used his skills in the dynamic movie “The Prophet” about a prison holding people Corsicans mobsters and Muslims).

It doubtless took a man of exceptional intelligence to compose these tell-all books, and Slahi was exceptional enough to have received a scholarship in 1988 to study in Germany for a degree in electrical engineering. He joined the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, fighting against the Soviet occupation, a war in which the mujaheddin was backed by the U.S. So far so good. He trained with al Qaeda, one of the mujaheddin groups fighting a civil war, but instead of joining the fight he returned to Germany. His cousin al-Walid and other Qaeda members wrote to bin Laden opposing the planned 9/11 attacks. Slahi allegedly lodged three suspects for one night at his home in Germany in 1999. Not so good.

From what we gather in this film, the government had virtually no case, no evidence that Slahi was the prime mover of the 9/11 attacks or took part at all. Habeas corpus, the concept by which an arrested person must be advised of the evidence that causes him to be charged? Forget about it. The fury of President Bush from the first enemy attack in America since Pearl Harbor was joined by the American people, who seemed in no mood for giving those held at Gitmo the time of day. Hence the many years served in that prison camp by people held without charges.

You could not likely pick a better actor for the Slahi role than Rahim, who, judging by his multi-lingual skills comes across believable in his knowledge of English, learned largely from the guards, able to project his case to the movie audience. Serving as defense counsel, Jodie Foster takes the role of Nancy Hollander, determined to force the United States to live by the Constitution. She, together with an associate, Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) who would serve as a translator from French (not needed given the prisoner’s fluency in English), take their time gaining the man’s trust, persuading him to sign documents that would give her the rights of counsel, insisting that there is an attorney-client privilege. Only later did it come out that Slahi confessed, insisting to his counsel that the confession was beaten out of him, to which Hollander replies that the confession could therefore be thrown out. Opposing them for prosecution is Stu Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch)—a British actor who does quite a job with a southern American accent. He seems less than convinced at any point that the defendant is guilty, and will ultimately do the right thing. When he demonstrates his uneasiness, he gets the same kind of hell from the military that Hollander receives from the USA-USA crowd, which cannot believe that an American can plead a case for a man who obviously (they think) had a big role in 9/11.

Director Macdonald occasionally breaks chronology, going back to the accused man’s happy life in Mauritania, the praise he receives from others for getting that scholarship to Germany, the plan opposed by his mother who believes she will lose him. A dramatic scene during the opening shows a cultural festival in a country that most Americans probably never realized could house some of the bad guys, terrorists found largely in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

Surreal tension break out during the final one-third of the film as we watch close-ups of the brutality of the military, sometimes playing good cop but in the end hitting Slahi with the most diabolical series of brutalities—the stress postures, the loud music, the sleep deprivation, even an episode with an army woman costumed in a cat mask humiliating him by sitting astride the man and “talking dirty.”

Jodie Foster may be the name that brings an audience to the theaters, but this is Tahar Rahmin’s movie. He is superb whether showing an ironic sense of humor, straining against his captors’ brutality, serving to convince us if we are not already believing, that some, and probably most of the current detainees in our wretched prison camp abroad are not guilty of the crimes with which they are…not even charged!

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

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

 

SACRED COW – movie review

SACRED COW: The Nutritional, Environmental and Ethical Case for Better Meat

Uncork’d Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Diana Rodgers
Writer: Diana Rodgers
Cast: Nick Offerman, Narrator
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/9/20
Opens: January 5, 2021

Before tackling the points made by this new doc “Sacred Cow,” let’s look at the concept of veganism, a philosophy that would not be in accord with the ideology of this film…

Sacred Cow: The Nutritional, Environmental and Ethical Case for Better Meat Poster

It seems not so long ago that most of us thought that meat was born in plastic wrap, that vegetarians were communists, fascists, or just plain weird, and that if you are not poverty-stricken, why would you ever want to give up meat? Suddenly Hollywood celebs embrace not only vegetarianism (no meat or fish) to veganism (no meat, fish, dairy and eggs). Joaquin Phoenix, Alicia Silverstone, Alec Baldwin among others. Even President Clinton was on the wagon, turning his nose up against flesh and enjoying the cooking of a top vegan chef), but now he’s playing the omnivore card.

There are reasons that people abstain from anything that has a mother. They may do this for aesthetic reasons (decaying animal corpses are gross), taste (you don’t like steak or sausage), environmental (you don’t want to be standing next to a cow when it endangers the atmosphere), health (saturated fat raises bodily cholesterol), economics (the high price of meat and fish), conservationist (rain forests are disappearing to make room for cattle grazing and growing animal feed),and best of all ethical (animals are born, live lives in an earthly hell, and are slaughtered without last rites, on their deathbeds with none of their family present and you don’t want on your conscience that you in effect, hired a hit team to take out a cow or a horse, a lamb or a bat).

Diana Rodgers’ movie, however, might give meat-eaters a further excuse to continue their habit and possibly to justify it if debating vegans. What horrifies some vegetarians and vegans so much is not the actual slaughter of cows and sheep and chickens, but the idea that the animals live horrible lives in huge factory farms. This smart film takes a middle ground, showing that cows and sheep can live happy lives, are slaughtered humanely, and what’s more, they benefit us in ways that factory farms cannot. There is considerable information that can be best absorbed by people who study regenerative agriculture such as in colleges that have that subject as a major. City folks would do well to supplement the considerable factual content of the film with readings, and in fact, you can do just that by entering this address in your URL: SacredCow.info.

Unlike factory farms, which in America supply 95% or more of meat, regenerative farms practice sustainable agriculture, not by fighting nature with chemical pesticides and growing corn or soy in a separate area from grazing animals. They grow crops simultaneously with cattle, allowing the animals to fertilize the soil naturally and making marginal soil more arable.

Diana Rodgers, who directs, takes us first to a farm in Monon, Indiana, then spreads out across the land where we here enthusiastic farmers praise how they are raising cattle and sheep. What’s more their animals feeding on plants not damaged by chemical bring more nutrition to our plates.

In a sense, without mentioning keto diets, the folks covered by Rodgers’s doc note that Americans have become increasingly obese at the same time that they ironically had given up considerable meat eating. One subject states even that the high starches with the extra salt and sugar used to preserve and give a bolder taste to processed foods, have added to this massive weight gain.

According to some of the friendly folks who inform us that eating meat is both nutritious and ethical, people who abjure flesh may not grow sufficiently and can suffer degenerative diseases as well. Perhaps, one states, that it’s not the meat that causes increases in weight and blood pressure and blood sugar, but that people who eat lots of meat are also likely to smoke and avoid exercise.

There is much here to consider, particularly if you, like me (a member of PETA), believe that being vegan is not only good for animals who get to live, but is the most healthful of all possible dietary choices.

If this film whets your appetite for more knowledge, particularly if you would like to counter its arguments, you can check out these other movies which may be available on Amazon Prime, including “Eating You Alive,” “The Invisible Vegan,” “Food Choices,” “The End of Meat,” “From the Ground Up,” “Death on a Factory Farm,” among others. The filmmakers of these items would likely take issue with the ideas raised in “Sacred Cow,” considering them to be a gutless compromise solution.

The music is intrusive. What for? Would it be boring to watch a well-produced film like this without such distraction?

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

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – C+ (intrusive music)
Overall – B+

 

PIECES OF A WOMAN – MOVIE REVIEW

PIECES OF A WOMAN
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kornél Mundruczós
Writer: Kata Wéber
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Ellen Burstyn, Jimmie Fails
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/26/20
Opens: December 30, 2020

Pieces of a Woman (2020) - IMDb

Most of us who have lived at least for thirty years have known the grief that accompanies a loss. But only a woman who loses a just-born baby can attest to the emptiness she feels when she has set aside a room for the newcomer, crib and toys, goes through nine months of pregnancy and feels the baby kicking only to suffer a miscarriage when the newcomer is only minutes old. As the anguished woman who barely dreamed that such a tragedy would occur, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) fills the screen not only throughout but particularly during the initial half hour of the story when the Hungarian-born director, Kornél Mundruczós, watches her in a real-time unbroken take, one of the most wrenching minutes you’re likely to see this year.

In his first feature in English, Mundruczós is known for his “White God,” a tale of a thirteen-year-old girl out to save her dog Hagen when her father releases the animal to the streets. This time he focuses not only on the aborted birth and courtroom aftermath of a botched operation by a midwife but is throwing subtle hints of social class dynamics, including the dramatic turn by Elizabeth (Ellen Burlstyn),an upper-middle-class older woman. She attempts to undo the marriage of her daughter Martha (Vanessa Kirby) to Sean (Shia LaBeouf), a construction worker intending to have his daughter cut the ribbon and be the first to walk through a bridge he is helping to build in Boston’s Charles River. (The filming by Dávid Jancsó takes place in Canada and Norway).

With her white hair neatly glued to her head evoking her wealth, Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) makes her dislike of his rough-hewn, energetic son-in-law clear from the beginning. We in the audience might hold our breath with Elizabeth’s bold, straightforward comment to Sean, “I do not like you…it’s not because you’re poor but because you are not intellectual.” More mannered than Elizabeth and Sean, Martha displays her inability to come to grips with the death of her newborn, exploding only occasionally as when she is disgusted by her mother’s insistence on burying the tiny body and declaring in a huff that she will donate the deceased to a university for research.

Determined to prosecute the case against Eva (Molly Parker), the midwife, in both criminal court and in the civil department, she engages her attorney cousin Suzanne (Sarah Snook) to move the case forward, and during the next seven months, periods designated on the screen, we watch as Sean, staying sober for months, goes back on the bottle as the family begins to disintegrate.

A long take exposes a roundabout involving Martha’s sister Anita (Iliza Shlesinger) and Anita’s car salesman husband Chris (Benny Safdie), discussing the case, during which Elizabeth bursts forth with a speech noting that she was a baby in Europe who survived the Holocaust. LaBeouf is cast as Kirby’s partner for his rage, his general physicality, his temper, still leaving Kirby as the film’s center; a woman who is not all that eager to incriminate her midwife, though she had used her as substitute for the regular person she had chosen, but is swept away by an otherwise unanimous opinion by the extended family to go to court.

If any is up for end-year awards, or for acting in films running up to the Oscar season in late April, that would be Vanessa Kirby. You can see her bottled rage, her hesitancies, her grief with every gesture, her gaze at an apple whose seeds serve as metaphor for rebirth, making “Pieces of a Woman” a must-see for an audience that values such an authentic recreation of instant post-partum depression.

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

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

 

MY LITTLE SISTER – movie review

MY LITTLE SISTER (Schwesterlein)
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Directors: Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond
Writers: Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond
Cast: Nina Hoss, Lars Eidinger, Marthe Keller, Jens Albinus, Thomas Ostermeier, Linne-Lu Lungershausen, Noah Tscharland
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/22/20
Opens: January 5, 2021

Poster

The song that Joan Baez made famous goes “Hard is the fortune of all womankind/ we’re always controlled, we’re always confined,/ And when we get married to end all our strife/ We’re slaves to our husbands for the rest of our lives.” Such is the focus of “My Little Sister,” directed and written by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond, whose “The Little Bedroom” focuses on an older man who accepts the help of a woman, leading to a bond. They are not so far off thematically with their current offering, which finds Lisa (Nina Hoss) pausing her career as a playwright to care for her cancer-stricken twin brother Sven (Lars Eidinger) while at the same time furious that her husband Martin (Jens Albinus) decides unilaterally to remain in Switzerland as a teacher in a posh Swiss school despite their previous agreement to return together to Berlin.

Martin is arrogant in tearing up his agreement with Lisa in order to sign a five-year contract that would keep him where they are in Switzerland. But you can’t fault her brother Sven who suffers from cancer, whose stem-cell transfer was rejected, and who needs his sister to remain with him. At the same time, she is eager to remain in Berlin with her two kids (Linne-Lu Lungershausen and Noah Tscharland) and her mother Kathy (Marthe Keller), who beams with the successes on stage of her famous actor son while thinking little of her daughter’s interest in writing plays with more originality than “Hamlet.”

Though you can see what is going to happen miles away, “My Little Sister” should resonate with an audience familiar with Nina Hoss’s acting smarts. Hoss has entertained her fans in “The Audition,” which sees her imposing her will at a conservatory to admit a student against the wishes of others, and “Return to Montauk” where she meets in New York with a man she had not seen in seventeen years. One particular scene that illustrates her talent involves her breaking down in a hospital, when dialogue is unnecessary since verbal silence enables us to admire her ability to capture a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The ensemble performances are all first-rate. Lars Eidinger performs as Sven, a man eager to return to the theater to play “Hamlet” for almost the four hundredth time, dejected when David (Thomas Ostermeier), the theater director scraps the plan, concerned that his sick actor may not last for fifteen minutes on the stage. Not long after the director’s wise decision, Sven is vomiting into the toilet, sweating and frightened with pain “all over,” giving up plans to try options at the hospital in favor of returning home to die.

Filip Zimbrunn trains his lenses on several Swiss locations, with a remarkable action shot of Sven’s gliding amid the Alps, running as fast as he can, then taking off like an eagle. What you may take away from the film is a view of Switzerland that makes you realize how the Swiss people, with no wars to worry about for hundreds of years and with scenery to die for, can make you envious of the lucky people who are citizens therein and who might laugh at Lisa’s eagerness to remain in Berlin.

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

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

 

NEWS OF THE WORLD – movie review

NEWS OF THE WORLD

Universal Pictures

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Paul Greenglass
Writer: Paul Greengrass, Luke Davies, based on the novel by Paulette Jiles
Cast: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Michael Angelo Covino, Ray McKinnon, Marc Winnigham
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/17/20
Opens: December 25, 2020

News of the World film poster.png

When I was a kid, say 9 years old, I couldn’t get enough of Westerns on TV and in the movies, though in a recent interview Tom Hanks said “they don’t make Westerns any more.” My favorite heroes were Gabby Hayes, who played a toothless, bearded gent for comic relief; Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger. Every story of the Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian scout Tonto, ended with “Hi Yo Silver. Away!” Its only classic notion was the theme music from the overture to the opera William Tell, which I always use first to introduce high school kids to classical music.

Occasionally a Western had real class, with “High Noon” standing so far above the rest that it stayed in my mind as the Greatest of the genre. Westerns today are so rare that “News of the World” can be welcomed indeed. It may or may not have resonance with twelve-year-olds today, though there’s a good chance that one of the two principal actresses, Berlin-born is Helena Zengel, a 12-year-old playing a Johanna Leonberger, may connect with them. Kids today may marvel that she can speak English, German and Kiowa—that last word taken from an Indian tribe that originated in Western Montana and whose name means “principal people.”

We’ve come a long way from the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and any of that genre that portrayed Indians as the bad guys, whooping it up on battle and taking white scalps to show their courage. In these older westerns the U.S. cavalry were the good guys who arrived in the nick of time to save a family, announcing their courageous entry with blasts of the bugle.

In this drama, Tom Hanks in the role of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd in the year 1870 in northern Texas, now makes a living reading newspapers in towns where the people either had no newsstands and were probably illiterate. They were interested in news of their area, though later in the story they would find not only amusement but incitement when Captain Kidd, suddenly turning Marxist, reads to the people of Pennsylvania miners who fought back against their bosses, who were not particularly concerned about the yearly deaths of these employees.

The story turns on the relationship between the Captain and the blond child, the latter having lost her parents via an Indian raid, was adopted by the tribe where she learned the Kiowa language, and has only a rudimentary understanding of German. In fact when Kidd, who finds her and dedicates himself to taking her to her aunt and uncle (whom she hated), refuses to identify herself as Johanna, instead taking her Kiowa name, Cicada.

The road movie involves the growing bond between a man in his sixties and an anxious girl over three-score years his junior. As they ride toward the relatives, they run into problems. The first involves a trio of bad guys with rifles who try to buy the girl from the captain for fifty dollars, set on making money by pimping her out. When he refuses, they chase him. In the story’s best action sequence, the captain has to take out all three, which he does using advanced military strategy of its time—with the help of the girl who in a later action scene saves him again.

The movie has resonance today as the solitary captain, wandering from town to town to deliver the news, finds a tree where a Black man has been lynched, a note on the body inscribed “Texas says no. This is White man’s Country.” When the captain and his young charge ride through a no-man’s land, they find a town seemingly owned by Farley (Thomas Francis Murphy), who brags about how he lorded over the Indians, Mexicans, and Blacks. (Guess who would play Farley most realistically today!) Buffalo bodies are strewn across the land. (Remember them? There must be a few remaining).

Paul Greenglass, who directs and co-wrote, may be best known today for films of greater action such as “Jason Bourne” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” here settling down to concentrate on the bonding experience of man and girl. We all know that Tom Hanks can do no wrong, but we take surprise in the energy cast by young Zengel, who is both vulnerable and fierce, resisting the adult at first based on her memories of older people, and of course yielding to the love that she feels for her new adopted dad.

Here the actions scenes might be considered a temporary relief from the quiet seriousness, but both action and sentiment are conveyed with authenticity as is the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski in the proud blue state of New Mexico.

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

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

THE LAST SERMON – movie review

THE LAST SERMON
Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jack Baxter
Writer: Jack Baxter
Cast: Abdullaziz Ali Abobker, Acram Said Ahmad, Aeham Ahmad, Iyad Al-Dajani, Susan Alamo, Tony Alamo
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/10/20
Opens: December 20, 2020

The Last Sermon_new poster.jpg

You can call this film director Jack Baxter’s vanity project if you like, but in any case “The Last Sermon” mirrors the kind of odyssey that will make you cheer on its filmmaker and hope that he will gain the insights he seeks. Baxter is a New York resident who was injured in the terrorist bombing of Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv in April 2003. Three people were killed and many were injured. Baxter walks around now with a cane, partially paralyzed from the suicide bombing which left piece of shrapnel in his body.

Baxter, a slim fellow standing six feet two inches who has a thick mess of curly white hair and a Bernie Sanders accent, wants to know why radicalized Islamists have actually gone against the teachings of the Koran. Just as one of the principal beliefs of Judaism is “treat others as you want to be treated yourself,” in other words we are all equal, the prophet Mohammad preached in the year 632 his last sermon before a multitude of followers. He said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white. Do not do injustice to others, therefore do not do injustice to yourselves.”

Yet the world has suffered through a plethora of attacks by Muslims who apparently did not read or did not agree with the prophet, our own case here in the U.S. highlighted by 9/11, when almost 3,000 Americans were murdered when three separate aircraft aimed themselves at New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Capitol building.

The doc starts in Jerusalem, introducing Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem outside Mike’s Place. From there the crew traveled to Macedonia, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Germany the Czech Republic, France, and England. Playing the harmonica to get the attention of refugee communities in countries that have allowed Syrians and Afghans safe harbor, he discusses his quest with Muslims and others whom he meets on the way, most sympathizing with his point of view that Islam is a religion of peace. As one fellow tells him, jihadists are little more than murderers, clothing their actions with the material of religion. That in one sentence should satisfy Baxter, an insight that even I could have told him had he interviewed me. One of the refugee areas had a large sign with a picture of President Trump, a circle and a diagonal line drawn through him as though to call him their enemy—which he is.

The only lip he gets is from a far right presidential candidate in Prague, who insists that there is no way the Islamic culture could find a home in her country, that she does not mind a handful of refugees already there nor does she draw back against doing business with Islamic countries. But it is quite clear that she has no use for them in her Eastern Europe domain. In that she reflects the view of the current far-right president of Hungary, one of several authoritarian rulers that our own president admires.

The film picks up near the conclusion when in London, Baxter, unsuccessfully trying to contact the relatives of one of the Tel Aviv bombers, gets literally up on a soapbox in Hyde Park to denounce terrorism before a handful of people, curious about a New Yorker in suit and tie who expresses a point of view with which nobody there can find fault. Then, in a tense meeting with a politician who appears not to take a strong stand against jihadism, Baxter cries out, “They’re murderers! Murderers!” as he at first steps away from the man as though to protect both of them from a potential fight, then returns a few paces to cry “They’re murderers!”

This doc, in its cinema verité style, is not unlike Jack Baxter’s previous “Blues by the Beach,” about a live music blues bar by the beach in Tel Aviv called Mike’s Place. The aim is to show there is more to the Middle East than seemingly endless war and terrorism. Ironically enough, that is the very place that became the scene of a suicide bombing.

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

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

I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS – movie review

I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Writer: Charlie Kaufman, Iain Reid, based on Iain Reid’s book of the same title.
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Guy Boyd, Hadley Robinson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/9/20
Opens: September 4, 2020

A surreal film associated with Charlie Kaufman’s wild imagination comes from a director whose “Anomalisa” hones in on a man who cannot continue tolerating his mundane life, whose “Synecdoche New York” find a man’s creating a life-size warehouse of New York City, and whose script for “Being John Malkovich” lauds a puppeteer who finds a portal leading into the head of the title actor. All are works of a fervent imagination, but perhaps no other film of his has issued such a large amount of moviegoer puzzlement than “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.”

With that as the case, here is a disclaimer. This is my interpretation, one that may be attacked by critics and normal people as too easy; that Kaufman must be traveling a larger road.

Here is a way to think about the picture. Many say that folks on their deathbeds asked for their regrets will never say “I wish I had more time to spend in the office.” Real regrets are far more serious, as illustrated by this film. Here, an elderly janitor (Guy Boyd), a man who is surprisingly well read for someone in his low-skilled trade, may be facing his mortality. He puts down the mop, casts aside the pail, and, being the only character in the hallway of a large high school, he has the time to reflect.

Some of his regrets may be strictly a segment of his imagination. I believe that, allowing for some embellishment, his thoughts run to actual events in his life, something like those of Guido Anselme in Federico’s 1963 classic “8 ½” who retreats into his memories and fantasies. In his younger days he probably dated a number of women, all of whom congeal into the shape of Lucy (Jessie Buckley), or Lucia, or Young Woman. To prove that she is a composite, she is introduced as a painter, a poet, a physicist. The janitor, now in the guise of young Jake (Jesse Plemons), is driving his girlfriend Lucy to the farmhouse of his parents, Mother (Toni Collette) and Father (David Thewlis). It’s a long drive, it’s snowing heavily, the wind is biting. It’s the kind of night that may be part of Jake’s imagination, because what woman is willing to take her chances in such inclement weather when the trip could have been set for another day? What’s more, this may be the last time Lucy sees Jake, her boyfriend for only a few weeks, though he is a man who is mostly self-educated as shown by the books and movies in his childhood room. He is able to discuss Wordsworth and analyze any 19th century poem.

She is smart and well educated, able to respond to him. You might think, then, that they would wind up marrying but though Lucy sees Jake properly as an intelligent person, a nice guy, he is stiff, a bore, a man who probably could not see himself laughing out loud at a joke or telling one himself. Furthermore Jake’s folks are a bizarre couple. Mother laughs too loud and too long. Lucy reports that “Jake told me a lot about you.” She replies, “And you’re willing to come anyway Ha ha ha ha!” Father takes a lesser role in the conversations but like Mother, he disappears into old age and back again, while Mother in one scene is on her bed, wrinkled, taking her last breaths or already dead.

Since much of the movie is a road trip filled with both high-level and vapid conversation, we get to meet three women tending an ice cream bar, two bimbos and one who advises Lucy to “go forward.” In a scene near the conclusion, Jake is thanking everyone in a theater audience for being part of his life, including Lucy, above all, who now appears decades older, and even the bimbos from the ice cream shop are in attendance.

Some moviegoers might say, if this is a dream, I can tell you a weird one I had myself last night. But though fantasies hover around the truths, these are actual people in his life, important ones, also those he conversed with for only minutes. However, what makes “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” on a quality level of classics like “8 1/2” aside from the script, the prescient editing, the spot-on direction, is the performance of Jessie Buckley, who dazzles throughout. She has wowed the movie audience playing Queen Victoria with authenticity in Stephen Gaghan’s “Doolittle,” a troubled woman controlled by her family while at the same time fascinated by a man who could be a killer in Michael Pearce’s “Beast,” and a major role in Rupert Goold’s “Judy.” Her dynamic range includes song, as shown in Tom Harper’s “Wild Rose,” as a Glaswegian dreaming of becoming a country music star in Nashville.

With such talent all around, it’s no wonder that “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is my choice, so far, as best movie of the year, with Buckley as best actress.

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

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

TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH – movie review

TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH (Tabi no Owari Sekai no Hajimari)
Tokyo Theatres Co./ Loaded Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Atsuko Maeda, Tokio Emoto, Ryô Kase, Adiz Rajabov, Shôta Sometani
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/18/20
Opens: December 11, 2020 at New York’s Metrograph Theater. December18, 2020 streaming nationally.

Atsuko Maeda, a 29-year-old Japanese pop star, once appeared in a horror film, “The Complex” ( Kuroyuri danchi). She goes home to find an empty apartment, becomes hysterical, and finds out later that her family had died in a bus accident. Ms. Maeda is also hysterical at times in her current piece, “To the Ends of the Earth,” but this is far from being a horror film. It’s the latest from Kiyoshi Kurosawa, whose “Cure” in 1997 is about a series of gruesome murders by people who have no idea what they had done, and the more recent “Tokyo Sonata” about a family that disintegrates after its patriarch loses his job.

As Yoko (Atsuko Maeda), the principal character is coming of age, not so much because she has just graduated from college or found a new boyfriend, but because she, like most of us, works at a job that she’s “too good for” (she’s an actress being filmed in a travelogue for Japanese TV). She wants to be singer. She gets an audition in front of us, her movie audience, by twice singing “If You Loved Me (Really Loved Me)” but with invented Japanese lyrics. In the Japanese version which, like the American, notes that all you need is love, she gently and to an invisible orchestra pledges that for her man, she would give up her job, dump all her friends and family, sell out her country. In fact she would go “to the ends of the earth” to be with this lucky guy.

The film is part travelogue and part an exploration of a vulnerable woman traveling with a small film crew including one chap who is fluent in both Uzbek and Japanese. The crew are regularly worried that the views of Tashkent and the outside of Uzbekistan are not what interests their viewers, so there are lots of cuts. Easily the most unfortunate of these cuts shows Yoko riding a two-bit machine that almost as tacky as what you’d find in Coney Island, one that spins her around, knocks her upside down, and results in her throwing up into a plastic bag. And she does this three times! She probably would not mind going back to the beginning of the story and pretend that she likes a dish of uncooked rice offered by a woman and has to lie about how delicious it is.

She goes off on her own at one point to check out Tashkent’s nooks and crannies, and all eyes are on her. The men stare as though they had never seen anyone but an Uzbeki. Everyone on the bus stares. The police stare and even arrest her because she is using a camera to photograph an off-limits area.

She inhabits the feeling of many a person who is not a tourist but a traveler, going off without a group or a guide or an interpreter, speaking not a word of the local language, though with halting English. She rides a bus and has no idea where to get off. The two tourist places she inhabits after looking into the grime and back alleys in the fringe areas of the capital are the humongous Hotel Uzbekistan ($75 a room in May and you get over 10,000 soms for your US. Dollar), and the nearby Navoi Opera House. In that last destination she fantasies herself as a singer, with a full orchestra, letting us know once again that she would sell out her country, family and friends if she found the right guy. It’s a beautiful song, not belted out as would Brenda Lee, Maura O Connell or Jeff Buckley but with the grace and charm of a singer who takes the words genuinely to heart. These are the most effective moments, designed to bring a joyful tear or two to the eyes of a sensitive audience member like me.

Kurosawa punctuates the mixed feelings of global tourism. On the one hand there’s the experience of being in a country in which you don’t know the language and can tear your hair out in frustration with the loneliness of an innocent abroad. On the other hand there is the exhilaration of a new experience, a breaking away from the nine to five job, the TV channel-surfing, the dependence on the i-phone, the same ‘ol same ‘ol. Ultimately this is a lovely movie highlighting the adorability and acting chops of a petite, slim, Japanese woman who has apparently captured the affection of an endeared Japanese public.

In Japanese and Uzbeki with English subtitles.

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

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

 

YALDA, A NIGHT FOR FORGIVENESS – movie review

YALDA, A NIGHT FOR FORGIVENESS
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Massoud Bakhshi
Writer: Massoud Bakhshi
Cast: Sadaf Asgari, Behnaz Jafari, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy, Babak Karimi, Faghiheh Soltani, Arman Darvish
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/6/20
Opens: December 11, 2020

Yalda, a Night for Forgivness Poster

If you think that the United States has gone through bizarre times during the last four years—which it has—wait till you see what’s going on in Iran. I don’t mean the general way that religious fanatics have taken over, determined to lash out at = the U.S. The Great Satan, pointing their fingers at us for our promiscuity, our consumerism, our spending more money on the military than the next ten nations, and breaking solid treaties not only with the Islamic Republic but as well with scientific bodies. Consider their system of allowing the families of murder victims to forgive the perpetrators of crime thereby saving them from a hanging, which to their culture involves both following the religious precept “an eye for an eye,” and allowing the felon to give “blood money” to the families of the deceased instead of paying for the crimes with their lives.

This concept of forgiveness is on trial in “Yalda, A Night for Foregiveness,” which (and this is really what’s bizarre) bringing the immediate family of the victim face to face with the felon on a TV reality show, by which the audience of millions at home, at the conclusion of the give and take between victimized and felon, can text their idea of a just verdict to the show’s producer and decide whether to allow the TV station itself to pay the blood money to the family. The ultimate decision, though, is in the hands of the victim’s immediate relative, though there appears to be a conflict of interest. The relative can refuse to forgive and send the offender to the gallows, then windiung up with nothing but satisfaction. Instead, the family can forgive and add quite of number of rials to their account at the Bank of Iran.

As written and directed by Massoud Bakhshi—whose “A Respectable Family” deals with a professor who returns to Iran after two decades abroad—Maryam (Sadaf Asgari) has been convicted of killing her husband, a man several decades older, the alleged motive being that she is after his money. But then, here’s even more bizarro. Iran may not be as bound to puritanical religious ideology as you may think. For reasons that include the fact that many young Iranians have put off marriage for financial and other reasons but still have sexual needs, the country’s law allow for temporary marriages. This might be considered to us a form of legalized prostitution, but it’s a way that the Muslim state puts the cloak of legitimacy on a union—something like what we in the U.S. consider a partnership but with the right of inheritance.

Did she kill her husband for his money, as his daughter Mona (Behnaz Jafari) believes, or was it an accident as Maryam insists? The two are brought face to face in a reality show moderated by Omid (Arman Darvish), after an opening of the story with a stunning view of the Milad Tower in Tehran. The producer is Ayat (Babak Karimi), and, coaching her daughter, her mother (Feresteh Sadre Orafaly) advises her to show humility, to apologize, virtually to kiss Mona’s butt. The daughter, who is about 17 years of age and not yet imbued with the need to compromise, holds that the killing was an accident, so why apologize? Nonetheless, at the appropriate time, she begs Mona to spare her life while Mona, despite being a woman with class and education, is conflicted between wanting the blood money and wanting revenge in the name of her dad.

Everyone but Mona hopes for forgiveness. Even the prosecutor urges Mona to relent, to commute the sentence to no more than six years, provided that enough viewers sympathize with the teen and vote thumbs up through their cell phones.

Though at times you could swear that the whole business is a parody of our own reality shows, junk productions like “The Assistant,” you could forgiven if you are drawn into the emotions of the program, wanting to talk to the screen and tell Mona to spare a life, take the money and run. A further complication centers on Maryam’s mother’s manipulation involving a baby, adding to the melodrama that were it not developed with honesty and authenticity could have landed “Yalda” into soapy territory.

The title of the movie involves a night of celebration (something like our own glorious November 7th, 2020), during the winter solstice when families and friends get together to drink and to eat pomegranates and nuts, a holdover from the ancient Zoroastrian religion. This film won the Sundance Festival Grand Jury prize, doubtless considering the performances of the two female leads—Sadaf Asgari, tight-lipped, confused, virtually shuddering with fear of imminent death, and Behnaz Jafari as a woman of a higher class who had gotten Maryam a job with her father and now regrets ever laying her eyes on her. Up to the final minutes, you will be convinced that she will pardon the offender, but no, maybe she would not, given her contempt for the person of a lowly class who allegedly seduced Mona’s dad but is told that the opposite is true: that the victim, already married, begged the young woman to agree to a temporary marriage provided that no pregnancy take place.

In Farsi with English subtitles.

89 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

 

ASSASSINS – movie review

ASSASSINS
Greenwich Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ryan White
Writer: Ryan White, based on Doug Bock Clark’s 2017 GQ article “The Untold Story of Kim Jong-nam’s Assassination” https://www.gq.com/story/kim-jong-nam-accidental-assassination
Cast: Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-nam, Siti Aisyah, Doan Thi Huong
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/9/20
Opens: December 11, 2020 in theaters. PVOD January 15, 2021

Assassins Poster

The GQ article which Ryan White adapts for his film (see link above) is exciting enough to make anyone think: “A film version. That would be terrific.” Here’s an excerpt: “Already, the liquid that the women had applied was seeping into Jong-nam, rapidly jamming his muscles’ receptors in the ‘on’ position, causing his muscles to constantly contract as if struck by endless cramps. The liquid was VX, a chemical weapon that the CDC calls the most potent of all nerve agents and that the United Nations classifies as a weapon of mass destruction. He absorbed a lethal dose, which could have been as small as a drop.

“Jong-nam started toward the bathroom—and then lost his only chance to wash off the poison and survive when he rerouted to a nearby information desk. There, he moaned in English, “Very painful, very painful, I was sprayed liquid.”

You would never think that two young women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, would be implicated in an international cause celebre, but youths are often tempted to do nutty things when under the illusion that they can become famous and enjoy careers as actresses. Their painful coming of age began when they were told that they could make money doing prank videos. Inspired by the movie “Jackass,” Siti and Doan, who became “like sisters,” are asked to sneak up behind Kim Jong-nam, not told that he was the half brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. When Jong-nam was booking a ticket at the Kuala Lumpur airport, they would successively sneak behind him and run what they thought was simply hand lotion into his face, around the eyes. In truth, their hands were covered with VX, the most potent nerve agent known, which would cause death in fifteen minutes one hour.

As you can guess from the excerpt of the magazine story, Jong-un died painfully, the perps running away, washing their hands, unimpaired thanks to the natural fat in the hands. The North Korean agents took off, and Malaysia, worrying about its global prestige, had to find a scapegoat. The two young women are jailed, tried over a period of some fifty days, facing automatic hanging if found guilty of murder.

Two parts of this film are terrific. One is Helen Kearns’s editing, involving the taking of the airport’s surveillance film, giving it narrative shape, even highlighting the crime under a bright light with imaginative arrows pointing to perps and victim. The other is the suspense. You will wonder about the results of the long trial, the young women obviously scared out of their wits, eager to go home and concerned that they were being railroaded. Politics rears its head when first the ambassador of Indonesia arrives to try to affect the judge’s verdict, then an approach from the Vietnamese ambassador to Malaysia, who for reasons given is not as confident that he can succeed in getting his citizen off.

Director Ryan White made his political interest felt with his film “The Case Against 8,” the attempt to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Here he keeps the tension going as though he were filming a mafia action, with the all-powerful Kim Jong-un (that’s the guy who Trump considers one of his best friends), who must have taken a cue from Putin’s skill in poisoning opponents’ beverages and upping that to VX.

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

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

 

GUNDA – movie review

GUNDA
Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Victor Kossakovsky
Writer: Victor Kossakovsky, Ainara Vera
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/28/20
Opens: December 11, 2020

Poster

Why is Joaquin Phoenix a producer of this movie? That’s a no-brainer. As a vegan (no meat, fish or dairy) he is one among a fair number of actors who allege to be against breeding and eating animals, including Alec Baldwin, Alicia Silverstone, Betty White, Casey Affleck, Ellen DeGeneris and many others. They are putting their mouths where their beliefs are, projecting their love of what most of us consider “product” or “objects” but which they presumably consider subjects with their own lives. Like we human animals, these four-legged and two-legged fellows and even a one-legged chicken in this movie also like to mate, to suckle their babies, to protect their families, and to do what they have been created to do. (Dogs sniff, roosters makes the sun rise, piggies cool off with mud baths.)

“Gunda” may not be an animal rights movie like “The End of Meat,” “From the Ground Up,” “Death on a Factory Farm” and “Food Choices” but makes its points in ways more subtle than what PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk considers effective. (Newkirk’s statement that “A rat is a pig, is a dog is a boy” may be insightful but is not likely to win converts.) Victor Kossakovsky, who co-wrote and directs, focuses regularly on documentaries like “Russia from My Window,” which shows things in St. Petersburg that usually go unnoticed. He does not speak atop a soapbox here, in fact no human speaks at all. “Gunda” is black-and-white, dialog free, and sumptuous.

The film was shot on farms in Britain, Spain and Norway. While three types of farm animals are on display, the pigs are the stars, the animals that hog the limelight, that ham it up to the extent that they can. As seen in high-contrast black-and-white throughout with not a single human in view, “Gunda” shows an enormous sow at the moment a litter of piglets emerges, a dozen or so, button-cute. They compete to drink mother’s milk, happy that she has a generous number of teats, and she in turn takes care of her brood. They follow her around like ducklings paddling after their mom. Sometimes she nuzzles them with her large snout. They all have the run of the farm, and yet often prefer to go indoors through an opening that could barely fit the mom, who has to bend in the middle to squeeze in. They are a lot better off and happier that they are not among the 90% of pigs that are factory farmed, unable to move a muscle as they lie in their crates.

They are an intelligent animal, more so than dogs, and in some cases make good pets who learn quickly and do not bite. Though the farm is the best place for pigs, every morning, noon and night here is like the previous morning, noon and night, month after month, year after year, which may be the origin of the term ground-hog day.

As for the cows and the one-legged rooster that take up the attention of the filming crew, they are, what’s the best word, “meh.” So…if you really really really want to know what it’s like to be pig or a farm animal in general, since you can’t actually be “pig for a day,” the next best thing is to watch the movie. I can’t think of any other film like it, which doesn’t mean it will get your pulse pounding or have you in stitches.

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

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

 

BEANPOLE – movie review

BEANPOLE (Dylda)
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kantemir Balagov
Writer: Kantemir Balagov, Aleksadr Terekhov, inspired by Svetlana Alexievich’s book “The Unwomanly Face of War”
Cast: Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Andrey Bykov, Igor Shirokov, Konstantin Balakirev
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/27/20
Opens: January 29, 2020 in theaters. May 5, 2020 streaming

Beanpole

War is hell and Kantemir Balagov has a unique way of making that point. Balagov, whose “Closeness” (Tesnota) hones in a small, squalid town in which a Jewish couple are kidnapped with ransom demanded, paints on a larger canvas with “Beanpole.” Artem Emilianov’s lenses bring us up close to a hospital that is treating war injuries, where notably Stepan (Konstantin Balakirev) has apparently been paralyzed and begs for death, but he is most interested in the ways that two women are adapting to a war that killed some twenty million Soviet citizens, or one out of every ten residents.

The action takes place in Leningrad, the movie obviously affording money and artistry in showing the destruction of Russia’s second largest city, here complete with cars from the 1940s and a tram filled to the roof with people. The title character, hospital worker Beanpole (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and her best friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) have been emotionally injured by the war, relying on each other to find solace. Beanpole has been taking care of Masha’s child Pashka (Timofey Glazkov), who joins in the hospital entertainment playing charades. To further sink in the horror of war, Pashka is asked to play a dog, getting the reply “How would he know how to play a dog when all of them have been eaten?” One day, while the child is playing with Beanpole, he is accidentally suffocated. When Masha gets the bad news, she announces that her friend “owes her,” and since Masha is infertile due to removal of some organs, she demands that Beanpole become pregnant, the newborn to be handed over to Masha.

Beanpole is obviously afflicted with PTSD—she freezes like a statue which can easily be toppled over. In fact the director not only punctuates Beanpole’s traumatic acting act but features a great many shots that last longer than anything you might see in a Hollywood movie. Dialogue, then, is only one aspect of the story: glacially-paced shots of people simply staring at one another makes this a film for an audience that is both patient and responsive to what happens to people in a war.

In a scene that could be called the film’s one burst of humor, Sasha (Igor Shirocov), who could be used to act in a biopic about Putin given his resemblance to the Russian president as a youth, is behind the wheel of his car, but is pulled over the cushions into the back seat for a quickie with Masha. Later Sasha, whose family’s residence recalls Orwell’s “Animal Farm” which holds that “some people are more equal than others, is to introduce Masha as his girlfriend, soon to be his wife. The conversation between Masha and her potential mother-in-law is perhaps the strangest but most entertaining revelation of the film.

Strong performances from both Miroshnichenko and Perelygina anchor the film amid the impressive production design, making this feature Russia’s Oscar entry for the 92nd Academy Awards. As best friends the two women look like the odd couple, as Miroshnichenko, who resembles Tilda Swinton, is just under six feet tall while Perelygina looks barely over five. Both are first-time performers who should have no problem getting a great many more parts.

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

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

 

SORRY WE MISSED YOU – movie review

SORRY WE MISSED YOU
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net 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-

SOROS – movie review

SOROS
Abramorama
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jesse Dylan
Writer: Jesse Dylan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/16/20
Opens: November 20, 2020

Soros Poster

“No good deed goes unpunished.” In a more metaphoric vein, “The tallest blades of grass get mowed first.” Ironically enough, the more good you do for others, the more people will suspect you, wonder about your motives, become envious of you, finally to hate you enough to slam you on Twitter. In the case of Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, who, if you go along with Jesse Dylan’s presentation about him thinking maybe Soros should be Time magazine’s Person of the Century, you may paradoxically see that he is the world’s most hated man. Judging by his censure all over the world, in those countries that he has helped the most, you don’t wonder that there was an assassination attempt on his life, something that is not covered in this film because enough poison has been splashed his way to make you guess at that.

According to the Wikipedia article, Soros is the target of conspiracy theories: that he was behind the 2017 Women’s March, the fact-checking website Snopes, gun-control activism, protests against the nomination of Justice Kavanaugh. Conspiracy theories the likes of which appear in Q-anon these days either subliminally or right out in public note that Soros is Jewish. So you wonder why Soros has not yet been accused of causing the California wildfires, the tidal waves in Thailand, and if there is such a thing these days, the poisoning of wells throughout the world. Another theory is that Soros was a Nazi collaborator who turned in other Jews and stole their property. Never mind that he was a thirteen-year-old child at the time who had to hide from the Nazi government.

It’s almost understandable that dictators like Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan would blame Soros for financing terrorists, but hey, you don’t expect Americans living in our open society to hold conspiracy theories? They sure do, and the failure of our educational system to inform people about the dangers of people like our president who are undermining our democracy lies heavy on us today.

Director Jesse Dylan’s many videos came out of Wondros, a production company that tells the stories of the most innovative organizations and individuals. He wants to educate us about how innovative individuals are helping to change the world, and makes clear that Soros is resented by right-wingers not only because he is Jewish but because he has made billions. Envy has often been the emotion that triggers hatred of others in much the way that some people conversely hate those they consider below them as well. We see from the archival spots that pop up during the chats by talking heads that he has traveled to problem spots around the world, using his money to effect change, which in itself seems to have caused people to think, “Who is this outsider to tell us how to treat our people?” He opposed apartheid in South Africa. It’s needless to say who would hate him for that.

He is incensed by the genocide against Rohingyas in Myanmar, bringing that country’s government out of the woodwork to hate him, but at the same time Soros considered so-called human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi to be a hero when in fact she joined the haters by calling the Rohingyas terrorists.. He spoke out against the genocide of Bosnians by Serbs under the leadership of Milosevic.

Traveling back and forth from Soros’ childhood in Budapest to today’s ninety-year-old man, Dylan, son of the musician Bob Dylan, gives us a picture of the embattled giant and presumptive savior of the world. I would expect right-wingers and anti-Semites to think (why not?) that this is a vanity project financed by the title character.

The doc is vivid enough without the help of tinkling piano music in the soundtrack, as if the makers of the film worry about our intelligence so much that we would not know whom to cheer and whom to dislike. I think that most movies that are not thrillers should simply stop the nonsense of distracting our attention from the speakers with irrelevant noise.

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

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – C (music)
Overall – B

 

CRAZY, NOT INSANE – movie review

CRAZY, NOT INSANE
HBO Documentary Films and streaming on HBO Max
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net 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-

 

TRUTH IS THE ONLY CLIENT – movie review

TRUTH IS THE ONLY CLIENT
Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Todd Kwait, Rob Stegman
Writer: Todd Kwait, Rob Stegman
Cast: Howard Willens, Judge Burt Griffin, David Slawson, Ruth Paine, Bernie Weismann, Robert Blakey, Vincent Bugliosi, Patricia Johnson McMillan, David Robarge, Judge Brendan Sheehan, Judge Ellen Connally, Steve Barber
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/4/20
Opens: November 17, 2020

Poster

Most Americans alive today were born after President John F. Kennedy was gunned down, so the event has as much emotional impact on them as the assassination of Julius Caesar. If you came into the world after 1963, you can scarcely imagine how much effect the event had, principally because there was, and still is, a big split between those who saw the killing as the act of one disturbed man, and others who believe there was a conspiracy with Lee Harvey Oswald as nothing more than a patsy.

Why do we like to believe in conspiracies? The short answer is: excitement. We want to experience conflict (all film and literature deal with conflict) even while we are working and hopefully while we are dreaming in a deep sleep. That may propel not a few knuckleheads in the U.S., including one Congresswoman elect, to go with QAnon—the belief that dark forces are at work in our country such as pederasts in the Democratic Party who worship Satan, including Hillary Clinton, who used a pizza store to plot the sale of sexual slaves.

So far as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 is concerned, the conspiracy buffs insist that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the sole killer, the man who, like a wartime sniper, hid out in the Texas Book Depository in Dallas and allegedly fired one shot that missed and two that hit the President in the back and in the head. Conspiracy nuts insist that Kennedy was shot on the grassy knoll, in front of the open car as well as in the rear building hiding Oswald, in which the President was riding with Texas Governor Connally and Jackie Kennedy. They point out that Oswald was a patsy set up to be blamed while the real, politically motivated haters of the President were the real assassins.

That is not the only conspiracy trashed by this heavily detailed film consisting of relatively few archival shots and a boatload of talking heads, mostly older men who were around during the tragic event that occurred 57 years ago. One group believes that Jack Ruby, an extrovert who ran a strip club in Dallas contrasting with Oswald, who did not talk much, was connected to organized crime, people who hated JFK and wanted to blame Cuba. Recall that Oswald had traveled to the Soviet Union where his request for citizenship was rejected, then to Mexico City on route to Cuba. Ruby, of course, shot Oswald to death and was sentenced to be executed. Did he do this to cover up the conspiracy?

Opposing the view, the folks in this doc (see their names on top below the title) refuse to believe that anyone would want Oswald to be even a patsy, given his emotional instability, his troubled marriage to Marina, that a more reliable guy would have been set up by any rational group. Much was made in the headlines of a plot by the CIA to kill Castro with the involvement of Kennedy’s attorney-general brother Robert.

Aside from taking down theories about the conspiratorial motivations of people, “Truth is the Only Client” projects spokespersons who challenge the theory that shots were fired by people in addition to Oswald, holding that the way the bullets had hit both Kennedy and Governor Connolly could not have been fired by a lone gunman.

If you are among the 50% of more Americans not alive during the most controversial political assassination in our history, you will be lost without the background. For this you can consult Wikipedia articles, such as one on Jack Ruby https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Ruby, one on Lee Harvey Oswald https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Harvey_Oswald, another on the Warren Commission which found that there was no conspiracy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Commission.

Directors Todd Kwait and Robert Stegman’s previous doc, “Pack Up Your Troubles” about living a healthy life with mental illness, and “Tom Rush: No Regrets” about a musician with great influence on the music scene here beginning in the 1960s, are both non-political and would not have led moviegoers to imagine that such a detailed albeit insufficiently archival film would come out of the Kennedy assassination. They do a fine job, but not only are documentaries perhaps the least favorite kinds of movies by the general public, but this one will require patience given its length and emphasis on one commentator after another.

The music in the soundtrack, particularly Beethoven’s funereal Symphony number 3, is not only unnecessary to set the mood but is downright distracting. I love Beethoven, but not when he is trying to compete with the rich dialogue herein.

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

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B- (the music)
Overall – B

 

THE TEST, & THE ART OF THINKING

THE TEST & THE ART OF THINKING
Abramorama
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Arlen Davis
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/29/20
Opens: November 17, 2020

Poster

As a guy who taught in high schools for 32 years, I couldn’t help getting a charge out of this cartoon in a journal, New Yorker, maybe. A middle-aged man says, “Yet another day that I didn’t need trigonometry.” The idea, of course, is that he, like every poor shlub who needs a high school diploma, had to give up a movie, a TV sitcom, a one-on-one basketball game, to study his butt off for a useless subject. What for? I never found out, though luckily I taught things that you needed for work during today’s technological times; like The French Revolution, The Congress of Vienna, the Code of Hammurabi. Anybody who really wants to revolutionize the high school curriculum would do well to put teenage minds to better use by teaching a second foreign language, current politics, something more useful to everyone than geometry, trig, and algebra.

This brings us to “The Test & the Art of Thinking,” whose talking heads are almost unanimous in supporting a lesser revolution that the one I outlined above. That is, they question the worth that so many colleges put on the SAT, which used to be an abbreviation for Scholastic Aptitude Test but now stands for…SAT. Most colleges seem to require this, thinking that the score indicates students’ chances at their halls of academe. As we speak, the SAT is being changed, with some colleges chucking the whole thing and looking only at high school grades or whether a kid can fill a much-needed spot with the French horn to play with the band on the football field. (I think I got into Tufts University by playing second clarinet in my high school orchestra.)

The folks at the College Board, which administers the test, had always insisted that SAT scores tell not about what a student has learned in high school, but something more like the quality of the teenager’s mind. While the College Board appears in this film to be shifting its attention, looking more in the direction of what was learned, for decades the Board seems to focus its intention on making sure parents are shelling out for test prep tutors.

Tutoring: therein lies the biggest point made in Michael Arlen Davis’s documentary, which is, if a kid’s score can change 100, 200, 300 points in one year simply because he or she has been tutored, then the test is in no way a measurement of anything but how many hours were spent in the tutor’s office. If that’s the case, what is the real reason that colleges value the SAT? According to director Davis, in his freshman film which has him heading to the barricades to smash the test, universities sum up each year’s scores to impress the magazine U.S. News, which regularly ranks colleges for quality. The higher the cumulative SAT scores of the students they accept, and the more youngsters they can drive to depression by rejecting them, the higher is the place in the journal’s rankings—the academy awards for academics. Princeton, by the way, not Harvard or Yale, has been ranking #1.

The most interesting concept brought out by some tutors is their boast that they can get their charges to find the correct answers even if the students did not even look at the question.

The many talking heads include high school seniors, parents they are bankrupting, committees of tutors who want to remain passengers on the gravy train, and just a few defenders of the institution, namely members of the College Board. There are key omissions, though granted that an 83-minute film cannot cover everything. One is that standardized tests of this sort shaft members of minority groups with poor finances may have upbringings do not have them in contact with the culture that such exams explore. Another oversight is the lack of actual exploration: for example, during the past ten years, look at the dropout rate at specific colleges and compare the SAT scores of those who couldn’t cut the mustard—though some of them are possibly entrepreneurs with crackerjack ideas on milking money with new computer software. Who needs college if you’re a seventeen-year-old millionaire?

A lively doc featuring purported experts in the field and the youngsters who are pushed by their parents to give up their youth to study for the test.

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

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

ACASA, MY HOME – movie review

ACASA, MY HOME

Zeitgeist Films/ Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Radu Ciorniciuc
Writer: Lina Vdovî, Radu Ciorniciuc
Cast: Gica Enache, Niculina Nedelcu, and their nine children
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/31/20
Opens: November 11-19, 2020 at Doc NYC. January 15, 2021 in select theaters

Acasa, My Home Poster

You can take people out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of people. This appears the point of “Acasa, My Home,” as described by co-writer and director Radu Ciorniciuc, whose “I Stay Home” became the first movie about Italy’s reaction to the Covid. Not that Gica Enache and Niculina Nedelcu are bringing up their nine kids in a Romanian Walden. The doc challenges viewers to question whether living in primitive conditions just a hop, skip and jump from busy Bucharest can be the preferred abode for people who are by any standards without the accoutrements of civilization. As Mercia Topoleanu and the director’s lenses take the long view—big buildings within walking distance of a wilderness including a stunning birds’ eye view—you might think the film is a sequel to M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit,” about people living seemingly in the 18th century while hidden and protected from modern technology.

Filming over four years, Ciorniuc, a journalist, watches the nine kids ranging in age from eighteen near the conclusion of the story to a couple of infants, utilizing their quarters, swimming and fishing in Lake Vacaresti. The oldest Enache child sells the fish in Bucharest, then retreats to the wilderness to enjoy the fry of the evening. They are wholly unschooled and none the worse, at least while they have what they think the need, though one wonders how they get alone without Charmin. But they have one another, which is fine until city life threatens.

A group of social engineers approach. The eleven folks are told that a nature park is planned on their land—not exactly theirs since they’re squatters—and they will be moved out. The politicians planning the largest such park in Europe lie to Gica, promising to make him a park ranger. How do we know they’re lying? They look like the politicians that they are. They even host Britain’s Prince Charles in a cameo, shoveling some dirt to begin the work.

Surprisingly for a poor country, the social workers have a place in Bucharest for them to stay, and it’s not bad at all, though they’re told that that the government cannot afford electricity, promising to re-house them as soon as the budget permits. By the time the eldest boy in the family is eighteen, he is asserting his independence, challenging dad for bringing them up poorly without schooling. Yet the father doesn’t like his new life, howling that he still does not like “wicked civilization” where he was once a chemistry lab assistant, and is determined to go back to a state of nature.

Among the big shots in addition to Prince Charles, the Prime Minister visits, makes the usual speech boasting his project, while Gica insists that he is on their level: “I have nine children; I’m not a nobody.” The rich become prime ministers, the poor have babies. Nobody’s starving. The kids catch birds with their bare hands, though one lucky duck is released. A pig is squealing, running hopelessly away from the gang of hungry people chasing it for the last time. Ultimately, it’s paradise lost, though one son, Vali, gets a job working construction on the new park.

This is a heartfelt documentary which obviously has had the cooperation of the eleven-member family through the four years of its making, a film that tackles themes of nature vs. civilization, child-rearing without Dr. Spock vs. ruling by the book, social engineering vs. letting it all be. The language is Romanian with adequate English subtitles.

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

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

THE CURVE – movie review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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-

ALONE WITH HER DREAMS – movie review

Alone With Her Dreams (Picciridda – Con i piedi nella sabia)
Corinth Films
Reviewed by Harvey Karten for BigAppleReviews.net
Director: Paolo Licata
Screenwriters: Ugo Chiti, Catena Fiorello, Paolo Licata
Cast: Lucia Sardo, Marta Castiglia , Ileana Rigano, Katia Greco, Claudio Collova, Lorendana Marino, Tania Bambaci, Frederica Sarno
Release Date: October 30, 2020

Many couples with failed marriages avoid separating and divorcing until their children are eighteen years old, able to take care of themselves and old enough to be cushioned against the loss of their moms and dads. Even more concerning, though, is the psychological harm that comes when both parents leave a child, in the case of “Alone With Her Dreams” going from a seacoast town near Messina to somewhere in France to find jobs. During the 1960s, when hell might freeze over before a Sicilian is given employment in Rome or, for that matter, anywhere in Northern Italy, the mother and father of eleven-year-old Lucia (Marta Castigilia) try to sooth their traumatized little girl (known as “little one” by her family) as they board a boat that will take them by train across the border. They took just one of their brood with them, unable to take care of both, leaving Lucia in the hands of her grandmother, Nonna Maria (Lucia Sardo).

As the film progresses, we in the audience might feel angry with Maria, a widow who regularly insists that she would prefer being alone, and who appears to take out her frustrations on her charge—spanking her with a wooden spoon when she comes home late and depriving her of the kind of love a small child should expect of at least someone in the family.

Later, though, we understand why the older woman has been harsh with Lucia, but not until she comes back in the current year, a 41-year-old woman (Federica Sarno), finally hearing the truth of a story that had been a lie promulgated by her uncle, Zio Saro (Claudia Collovà). For his part uncle Saro tells his niece the fake reason that her grandmother refuses to speak to her own sister, Zia Franca (Loredana Marino).

Without question this is a coming-of-age story but rises above the glut of such dramas by Lorenzo Adorisio’s photography on a seacoast area of Sicily that might be sought out by tourists seeking a peaceful vacation away from the treasures of Rome, but an area marked by the poverty of its inhabitants.

As we see daily life of the residents of a small village—fruit and vegetable stands with food that Italians can never get wrong, gossip by the folks which means that everything and then some is everybody’s business, near-curses put on people within families, one of which becomes resolved toward the conclusion of the story—we can empathize with Lucia easily enough, but most of all we can lift our censorious attitude toward granny when you realize that she has Lucia’s long-term interests at heart.

This is Paolo Licata’s freshman offering as director, a person who may have a difficult time carving out a future story as tender and yet as unsentimental as this one, its two principals bonding as though they were parts of an actual family.

In Italian with English subtitles.

95 minutes. © Harvey Karten

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

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-

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT – movie review

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT
Intervention Media
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: James Fletcher
Writer: James Fletcher
Cast: Jerry Springer, Piers Morgan, Van Jones, Anthony Scaramucci, Scott Adams, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Schmidt
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/3/20
Opens: October 16, 2020, streaming October 27, 2020

The Accidental President - IMDb

Let’s take a risk. With all the talk of the chattering classes, the late night shows, the comedians, the pollsters, the professors, the cartoonists—and all the representatives of these groups serve as commentators on this latest film about Trump—“Let’s take a risk” says it all. Granted that Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by almost three million votes, our Electoral College makes a mockery of democracy and put Trump over the top.

Yet though “Let’s make American great again” is still the watchword of the Republicans favoring our current President, “Let’s take a risk” would be a more accurate slogan to put on those red hats, so ubiquitous among voters among the 24% of adults without a four-year college degrees, living in rural areas, working with their hands. Some are racists, some are xenophobic, some are dumb, but many people with the same brains and qualifications of current Republicans in the Senate voted for Trump.

Using colorful film from the rallies, interjecting the opinions of over a dozen commentators, director James Fletcher in his freshman turn as filmmaker seeks to answer “How the hell did he win?” The answers include FBI director Comey’s report 11 days before the election that the agency is investigating Hillary’s 30,000+ emails and 32,000 deleted emails that may have hurt national security: Trump’s promise to brings jobs back from overseas, a pledge welcomed by all who felt ignored by the “regular” or “robotic” politicians: Trump’s simple showmanship, borne from his popular reality show, a charismatic crowd-pleaser on “The Assistant”: A feeling by whites that they are facing minority status in “their own” country: Secretary Clinton’s taking the swing state of Wisconsin so much for granted that she did not visit the state even once but concentrated instead on Texas, which was a sure loser for her.

Even never-Trumpists will be entertained by this documentary simply because they are watching one of America’s greatest showmen speaking to crowds regularly in the tens of thousands, having them eating out of his hand. “The Accidental President” follows on the heads of the excellent doc “Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump,” which takes a more partisan approach.

If you’ve been following politics the way so many Americans follow sports, you will not find a single bit of information that you did not know, but that’s not important. The film stresses entertainment over originality, and isn’t that enough to warrant your time?

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

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

MARTIN EDEN – movie review

MARTIN EDEN
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Pietro Marcello
Writer: Maurizio Braucci, Pietro Marcello, novel by Jack London
Cast: Luca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Denise Sardisco, Vincenzo Nemolato
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/2/20
Opens: October 16, 2020

Martin Eden Movie Poster

In the forceful prose that is the backbone of his writing, Jack London says this in his novel “Martin Eden.”

Who are you, Martin Eden?. He gazed at himself long and curiously.
Who are you? What are you? Where do you belong?
You belong with the legions of toil, with all that is low, and
vulgar, and unbeautiful. You belong with the oxen and the drudges,
in dirty surroundings among smells and stenches.
And yet you dare to open the books, to listen to beautiful music, to
learn to love beautiful paintings, to speak good English, to think
thoughts that none of your own kind thinks, to tear yourself away from the oxen

You need not have a whole lot of insight to note that these are the insights of a man who hates being lower class, who dislikes having to work for bosses who treat the workers like crap, to shoveling manure, toting that barge and lifting that bale. Eden is the name chosen by the author perhaps to sound ironic or maybe to illuminate the higher class to which he aspires. “Martin Eden” is considered a bildungsroman, a novel based closely on the author’s life and feelings and aspirations. The film, like the book, traces Eden’s yearnings for a life of the intellect, a life that would give him ease, and most of all a life to make him a worthy lover of a rich, beautiful woman.

As played with passion by Luca Marinelli and directed by Pietro Marcello, whose “Lost and Beautiful” deals with a man’s promise to a shepherd to save a young buffalo, Eden is a sailor who travels the world and who is told by friends and associates to stay with this kind of existence. It suits him. They warn him not to strive to be something that he is not. This passionate man, who has only a primary education, falls hopelessly in love with Elena (Jessica Cressy) after having met her and her impossibly rich family after saving the family’s young Arturo Orsini (Giustiniano Alpi) from the fists of a brutal security guard.

Given Eden’s sensibilities contrasted with the ethereal personality of Elena (who plays piano, loves paintings, and enjoys the trapping of a life not distracted by the need to work), Eden absorbs the advice given to him by the young woman to first get an education. The lack of formal schooling, however, does not prevent Eden from writing, and given his world-wide experiences at sea, he has experiences to project. But his stories are rejected time after time (think of John Grisham whose manuscripts were rejected some thirty times), so Eden hopes to gain the requisite literary touch as a feverish reader.

He may have gotten nowhere with his writing or his courtship had it not been for a kind widow Maria (Carmen Pommella) who had “known love” and gives him room and board; and Russ Brissenden (Carlo Cecchi), a writer and editor, who sees potential in his prodigy. Still Eden remembers his roots, shown convincingly enough when he picks up a waitress (Denise Sardisco), comparing her favorably with his upper-class love. His desire for Elena, however, is waning.

Eden has a run with politics brought on by the demands of working class people who are fighting for socialism. You might think that Eden would agree, but instead, having read the libertarian writings of Herbert Spencer, he rises to the podium and, to the disgust of the crowd, announces that subordinating the individual to the community is wrong, and that evolution teaches that we will always have masters.

“Martin Eden” is of epic scope, the kind of film that could easily have gone on for three hours, digging ever so much more deeply into the principal character’s metamorphosis. As the picture stands, filmed with evocations of the color of Neapolitan streets by Alessando Abate and Francesco Di Giacomo in Balzana Santa Maria La Fossa and Naples, “Martin Eden” is an enterprise that would likely garner the respect of Jack London.

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

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

 

GHABE – movie review

GHABE (Forest)
GVN Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Markus Castro
Writer: Markus Castro
Cast: Adel Darwish, Nathalie Williamsdotter, Ahmad Fadel
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/22/20
Opens: October 16, 2020

Poster

If Monir (Adel Darwish) had a cairn terrier walking at heel, he might say, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Syria anymore.” And no wonder. In place of the 180,185 kilometers of desert, he’d find a vast forest of Redwood-sized trees. In fact the film’s title, “Ghabe,” is Arabic for “forest.” Taking with him all the memories of the Syrian culture that he must have absorbed during his twenty-five or so years in that current shithole plus the post-traumatic stress he feels not only for the chemical attacks Assad launched on his own people, you can imagine the difficult time he would have adapting to any Western culture. It takes him some coaxing to get out of a car outside a cabin that a progressive Swedish family set aside for the use of Monir, his uncle Farid (Ahmad Fadel) and three other refugees. Of course he will learn to love the place, but not because of what he must consider its strange culture, given the summer festival under a Viking symbol involving the statue of a penis and two testicles. How about his sight of a couple of Swedish women swimming in the nude while he hides behind a tree? Only the love of a local beauty could possibly convert this stressed-out guy into finally embracing his good luck in escaping from the wretched, war-torn Fascist state into perhaps the progressive Western country that welcomes refugees. Recall that Sweden served as a Shangi-Li for thousands of Americans who refused to serve in Vietnam and a refuge for hundreds of Jews that Denmark under wartime occupation shipped to Swedish shores to escape the Holocaust.

When Monir first sees the adorable Moa (Nathalie Williamsdotter), with her thick, red hair and dazzling blue eyes, he is smitten. Believing that he has no chance with her, he is content to watch her swim and masturbate, hiding behind a tree. Little could he imagine that Moa spotted him, accepting his “self-abuse,” even laughing but in a tender way. How different the response from Karin, her racist mother, probably angry that Sweden is accepting Middle Eastern refugees who will try to gain residency after a few months. Moa takes little time in seducing him as they are out with a rowboat, the kind of action that (we think) people from reactionary Arab cultures would consider the satanic work of a hooker. Not Monir. Despite his immaturity, he not only relishes the seduction but falls even more deeply in love with the young woman.

Events come to a melodramatic conclusion involving a police action, one of the officers acting as though he must have been trained in some U.S. red state to shoot a person who not had not attacked him and, in fact had put down the kitchen knife as he was told. A decision by Moa which could threaten Monir’s chance for a residence permit is uncalled for, unpredictable, and plain unimaginable. But here is a love story, a political drama that should make you think of the excesses of police power in our own country, and a meditation on countries like Syria that can kill its own people, most of them innocent of rebellion against the government.

Markus Castro directs his freshman offering with a storyteller’s professionalism, casting a lyrical glow on a section of his country with forests so vast that you’ll think you’re in California. One particular long shot is breathtaking—a view of the lovers in their rowboat set across the vastness of the forest and the universe, constellations brightly shining on two young people who are embracing the risks of a star-crossed romance.

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

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

ALBERT EINSTEIN: STILL A REVOLUTIONARY – movie review

ALBERT EINSTEIN: STILL A REVOLUTIONARY
First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Newman
Writer: Julia Newman
Cast: Michio Kaku, Michael Paley, Alice Calaprice, Herbert Freeman, Jr., Susan Neiman, Barbara Picht, Jürgen Renn, Ze’ev Rosencranz, Robert Schulmann, Milena Wazeck
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/6/20
Opens: On Apple TV, iTunes, Amazon VOD & DVD

Still a Revolutionary - Albert Einstein (2020) - IMDb

Someone once said that the four people who have influenced today’s world the most were Jews: Jesus, Freud, Marx, and Einstein. Jesus influenced one the world’s great religions followed by some two billion people. Marx was the intellectual founder or a religion of its own, communism, which though not so popular today as it once was serves as a leading critique of capitalism. Freud, in his theory of the unconscious, believed that we know not what we do since most of our emotions come from the unconscious, and Einstein said that everything is relative, which is said to be a mighty important insight.

In her freshman documentary, Julia Newman focuses not on Einstein’s contributions to the laws of physics, which many people do not understand and which in my college compelled the professor to boost everybody’s grades or nobody would have passed. Instead she looks at the physicist’s moral code, not greatly different from that of people who are quite spiritual on Sundays. He followed the beat of a different drummer, opposing the rule of conformity that guides everyone with a smart phone.

For one, he opposed war. He criticized the march of extreme nationalism that led to a particularly stupid war in 1914, left Germany to be with his folks in Italy, then returned to his homeland (the only instance in which he was not smart) under the Weimar constitution. Perhaps it was the anti-Semitism of his southern German home that turned him away from the bullying. A teacher once brought a nail to the classroom, noting that Jesus was crucified with such, humiliating Albert who was the only Jewish person in the class.

The key word in this documentary is “compartmentalization,” the idea that we separate our lives into clear divisions: family, friends, work, politics. This explains that under the Nazis (1933-1945) a German soldier could love his kin and his dog, yet harbor murderous hate toward people who are not like him, or who he believes are not like him. Some men do not like women very much. Einstein spoke in favor of women’s rights. He was pro-choice, and being anti-nationalist did not at first believe that Jews should have a state of its own. He came around to favor the creation of Israel and enjoyed a friendship with its founder, David Ben-Gurion. He supported demonstrations for the rights of minorities and was friendly to Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson. Though brought up Jewish, he was a pantheist like Spinoza, believing “the whole universe is God,” a notion that is akin to atheism.

When he escaped from the Holocaust, winding up in New York, he abandoned his pacifism, holding that you have to meet force with force.

Though he was a celebrity, who mixed easily with people and could talk with anyone from kings to children, he was considered a luftmensch, naïve, an absent-minded Princetonian professor, a fellow who did not seem grounded. When he was scheduled to meet some big shot, his wife told him to wear a suit, but he refused. “If they want to see my clothes, they can look in my closet.”

See if you can guess what he would think of the people in power in our present government.

Director Newman’s film has too many talking heads, though their comments are backed up by some valuable archival celluloid. We see Einstein as a man, laughing, talking, a social butterfly really, making us wonder when he had time to make contributions that led to the creation of the atom bomb, to inspire his students at Princeton, and to be a rebel with a cause. Though he was at ease with ordinary people, he was an elitist who preferred to exchange ideas with other intellectuals. Julia Newman shows the man in all of his guises, providing an entertaining enough vehicle for our consumption.

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

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

‘bOOBs: The War on Women’s Breasts

bOOBs: The War on Women’s Breasts
Cinema Libre
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Megan Smith
Writer: Megan Smith
Cast: Otis W. Brawley, Manfred Doepp, Galina Migalko, Ben Johnson, Gloria Jackson, Beth DuPree
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/6/20
Opens: October 6, 2020

Poster

Women are being exploited. Doctors tell women 35+ to take mammograms yearly, yet mammograms are painful, One participant tells men who are clueless about gynecology to think of having their testicles squeezed by two metal plates. They cause patients to absorb radiation, and they yield many false positives and false negatives. What’s more, those women who are diagnosed as positive undergo biopsies, which are painful and often unnecessary. There’s even more. If a biopsy comes back positive, doctors advise patients to undergo mastectomies, resulting in yet additional pain and disfigurement. Sometimes surgeons will admit to some that their mastectomies turned out to be mistakes. (Not covered in this film: In Britain, the National Health Insurance, women with positive diagnoses are encouraged have both breasts removed at once, which is somehow more convenient and efficient for its card-carrying members.)

So what to do? Aided by a clever use of texts covering the screen, the most essential words projected bold and in color, doctors recommend bypassing what they called the standard protocol of mammograms. They accuse hospitals of guiding patients to machines for which they’ve spent millions of dollars and need a return. Instead—and you have to wait until half the doc is over before the epiphany—women should insist on a combination of ultrasound and thermography. Not only do these two machines avoid radiating them and are painless, their accuracy is around the area of ninety-five percent. Yet thermography is usually not covered by insurance, perhaps because the Food and Drug Administration suggests that those who opt for it may miss a chance to discover early cancers.

Huh? While the docs in this doc say more or less the reverse, and though thermography is standard use by firefighters to see through smoke, and building construction people use it to make heating and air conditioning more efficient, it’s just “alternate” medicine? If you’re like me you are likely to have had a love affair in youthful days with the likes of herbal medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, all of which have limited uses if any at all. The doctors seem to agree that even Lancet, the most prestigious medical journal, will some select articles for publication because of money!

This film will likely be seen almost exclusively by prospective women patients, though the idea of nuts being squeezed between two metal plates was the metaphor that got my interest. Given the nice personalities of the professionals used as talking heads, you might be ready to abandon mammography as of tonight (if you’re a woman). But sit back and think: could this movie be nothing more than an infomercial for the thermography protocol which, unless you believe in conspiracy theory (it’s being suppressed because of money-hungry docs and Big Pharma), it’s simply an organ for the promotion of a generally unapproved technology? Could the whole film be little more than analogous to propaganda by the anti-vaccination folks?

Then again, that’s what makes this even more interesting to see. Have a look at it and, as Fox News always says, decide for yourself.

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

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

 

MR. JONES – movie review

MR. JONES
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net 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

ETERNAL BEAUTY
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net 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