WHO WE ARE NOW – movie reveiw

WHO WE ARE NOW

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

Who We Are Now Movie Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SWERVE – movie review

THE SWERVE
Epic Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dean Kapsalis
Writer: Dean Kapsalis
Cast: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell, Zach Rand, Taen Phillips, Liam Seib
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/3/20
Opens: September 22, 2020

The Swerve Movie Poster

Though the movie is called “The Swerve,” a word which means “to change direction abruptly,” we can see where the plot is headed early on. This is a slow-burn film, all the better to watch an impressive performance from Azura Skye in the principal role of Holly. There is something wrong with this middle-aged woman, aside from the anorectic look and face that appears to be reliving past memories that were not too favorable. Her medicine cabinet proves that she’s not well, the shelves loaded with medications, though we don’t know whether her depression is generic or, more likely, the result of living in the suburbs.

Dean Kapsalis’s freshman full-length entry, a meditation on mental illness, proves once again—as though we do not know from the suicides of rich and famous people like Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams—that a nice house, two apple-pie clean kids, and a husband, do not guarantee a grounded life. Correction: one of her kids, an overfed brat who, when asked by her mom to help with something, simply says “no” and walks away. The other lad interrupts her four times when she’s on the phone, asking for his shirt. The husband, Rob (Bryce Pinkham), is fooling around with Holly’s drunken, obnoxious sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) and grabs a little in the storage room of the supermarket where he has just made regional manager.

But wait! She has the loving attention of Paul (Zach Rand), a student in her high-school English class who works after school in that supermarket, and what can be better than for a woman in her late thirties than being followed by a hunky teen with a huge head of hair and the ability to grant her better performances than her husband? And what an opportunity to get revenge on her Rob!

She has nightmares, the coolest one showing her on a dark road followed by a truck with blinding lights and a Yahoo in the shotgun seat who leans out the window to shout insults. Because of her insomnia—which unfortunately does not last all night, resulting in torments of this sort—her doc ups her meds, bad advice, since that’s enough to destroy what little grip she still has on reality.

Non-credited actors in “The Swerve” are a mouse and an apple pie, both playing a role in the Shakespearean outcome of the story. Listen: I’ve got two bits of advice. Watch this movie principally for the stellar acting of Azura Skye, who last appeared in”Alien Code,” which involves otherworldly beings who probably seem like the otherworldly-looking Holly. And don’t even think of moving to the ‘burbs.

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

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

 

THE SWERVE – movie review

THE SWERVE
Epic Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dean Kapsalis
Writer: Dean Kapsalis
Cast: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell, Zach Rand, Taen Phillips, Liam Seib
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/3/20
Opens: September 22, 2020

Poster

Though the movie is called “The Swerve,” a word which means “to change direction abruptly,” we can see where the plot is headed early on. This is a slow-burn film, all the better to watch an impressive performance from Azura Skye in the principal role of Holly. There is something wrong with this middle-aged woman, aside from the anorectic look and face that appears to be reliving past memories that were not too favorable. Her medicine cabinet proves that she’s not well, the shelves loaded with medications, though we don’t know whether her depression is generic or, more likely, the result of living in the suburbs.

Dean Kapsalis’s freshman full-length entry, a meditation on mental illness, proves once again—as though we do not know from the suicides of rich and famous people like Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams—that a nice house, two apple-pie clean kids, and a husband, do not guarantee a grounded life. Correction: one of her kids, an overfed brat who, when asked by her mom to help with something, simply says “no” and walks away. The other lad interrupts her four times when she’s on the phone, asking for his shirt. The husband, Rob (Bryce Pinkham), is fooling around with Holly’s drunken, obnoxious sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) and grabs a little in the storage room of the supermarket where he has just made regional manager.

But wait! She has the loving attention of Paul (Zach Rand), a student in her high-school English class who works after school in that supermarket, and what can be better than for a woman in her late thirties than being followed by a hunky teen with a huge head of hair and the ability to grant her better performances than her husband? And what an opportunity to get revenge on her Rob!

She has nightmares, the coolest one showing her on a dark road followed by a truck with blinding lights and a Yahoo in the shotgun seat who leans out the window to shout insults. Because of her insomnia—which unfortunately does not last all night, resulting in torments of this sort—her doc ups her meds, bad advice, since that’s enough to destroy what little grip she still has on reality.

Non-credited actors in “The Swerve” are a mouse and an apple pie, both playing a role in the Shakespearean outcome of the story. Listen: I’ve got two bits of advice. Watch this movie principally for the stellar acting of Azura Skye, who last appeared in”Alien Code,” which involves otherworldly beings who probably seem like the otherworldly-looking Holly. And don’t even think of moving to the ‘burbs.

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

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

 

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA – movie review

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA

HBO Documentary FilmsReviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: David France
Writers: David France, Tyler H. Walk,inspired by the New Yorker article “Forbidden Lives: The Gay Men Who Fled Chechnya’s Purge” by Masha Gessen
Cast: Olga Baranova, David Isteev, Maxim Lapunov
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/15/20
Opens: June 30, 2020

Welcome to Chechnya.jpeg

On June 15, 2020 the U.S. Supreme issued a decision that gays people are protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law prohibited discrimination on account of gender. It should be obvious that gays and lesbians are covered. Yet three justices disagreed and look what Trump said: “This is a landmark decision that should be praised throughout the land.” Oops. He did not say that. He said that he would live with the decision. Awfully sporting of him, but of course he has to cater to his base, many of whom might be happier living in Tehran or Kabul or Sanaa. Now we learn that it’s not only in the heart of the Muslim world that gays are not tolerated by their governments but also in Valdimir Putin’s Russia. Putin is no friend of the LGBTQ community but folks who are closeted in Moscow and St. Petersburg have a fighting chance of experiencing love without state interference. Still, in the “Republic” of Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim entity whose officials have made peace with Moscow after attempts to secede, the big enemy is…people who are sexually involved with members of their own gender.

To learn more about this, we need only watch HBO’s bold, fly-on-the-wall coverage of the way homosexuals are intimidated in Grozny and outskirts. No, not intimidated. Killed in some cases. By whom? Maybe by police, but also by their own mothers, fathers, brothers and cousins. It’s a free-for-all where stone-cold bigots claim that their “honor” has been shamed by their kin who are not altogether like them, to such an extent that family members can kill them and authorities will do nothing to punish the killers or torturers.

Director David France, whose “How to Survive a Plague” deals with ACT UP’s successful battle to get needed drugs to people afflicted with AIDS, takes on the political battle of gays in Chechnya to avoid such treatment in police stations as having their fingers entwined with cords to deliver electric shocks should the hapless victims not come up with names of others in the gay community. One person gives up ten, the ten give up another ten, and soon the folks with authority in Chechnya will create a republic whose residents have, “pure blood.”

Obviously this will remind you of the treatment of Jews in Germany, of Rohingyas in Myanmar, of Indians in America, of Tutsis in Rwanda, or Aborigines in Australia, Maoris in New Zealand, to cite a few cases, you’re ready to understand the abnormal psychology of people who cannot tolerate those who are not quite like them. Never mind that all of these people are minding their own business, not rebelling against their governments.

The inspiration for this powerful doc is Masha Gessen’s article in the New Yorker magazine on July 3, 2017 which features prose like “They pushed my head down so I wouldn’t see where we were going,” Ali, who is around thirty years old, told me. “Soon, the car pulled up to an unmarked building. Ali saw two men he knew standing in front, their faces swollen from beatings.” The article names Ramzan Kadyrov who runs Chechnya as though it were his own country (he’s backed by Putin), and who claims that his aim is to cleans the country of gay men. At the same time he makes the absurd comment that “We don’t have any gays.”

The heroes of France’s documentary, which is mostly in Russian with easy-to-read English subtitles, are David Isteev and Olga Baranova. They run a shelter in Moscow that might make you think of Harriet Tubman’s havens for runaway slaves, transporting them to Canada which, by the way, is the country to which many of Chechnya’s gays want to go given that Canada is fairly liberal in granting asylum. One such person is Grisha who went to Chechnya to conduct business there as an event planner when he was picked up and tortured, ultimately heading to Moscow. His troubles were not over since his entire family became the target of threats. All had to be transported out.

Lesbians are not exempt from the reactionary rules of the Chechnya’s government. Anya, just twenty-one years old, has her sexual orientation discovered by her uncle. He threatens to tell her high-ranking father, but wait! He is good enough to allow her to go free if she would have sex with him. Isn’t it great to have pure morals? She complains to her rescue people of claustrophobia, staying in her room for three months and told not to go out even to dump her trash. She bolts, and nobody knows her whereabouts today.

As with his previous films including “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” about that gay rights activist’s mysterious death, David France highlights the heroism of radicals who risk life and limb to move victimized people to locations where they can carry on with their lives without the abhorrent notions of government and family. The heroic guys and gals in this emotionally raw picture have special praise for Canada, which has granted scores of humanitarian visas to people hounded despite minding their own business.

Bulletin: Trump has not authorized a single visa for these victims. Surprise!
106 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

TOWERING TASK – movie review

A TOWERING TASK: The Story of the Peace Corps
First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alana DeJoseph
Screenwriter: Shana Kelly
Cast: Annette Bening
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/30/20
Opens: May 22, 2020

A Towering Task

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “If you are in your twenties and you are not idealistic, you have no heart. If you are in your forties and are idealistic, you have no brains.” The idealism in me began when I, a 22-year-old political lefty, cheered JFK’s founding of the Peace Corps. (Also volunteers doing Peace Corps work were in most cases not threatened with the draft to Vietnam.) I voted for JFK not only for his generally progressive views (forget about Castro) but particularly for his plan to found the Peace Corps. Even now as a “senior” who should know better, I confess to having no brains.

After passing several look-sees into my qualities, I was accepted and went with my then wife to Georgetown University to get preparation to teach English to college students in Bogota. Despite being chosen to spend time in a big city, I got more shots from the nurses than Bonnie and Clyde as though they were preparing us to hit the shanties of Sierra Leone. After aceing the classes in Spanish and U.S. history, we found out in the middle of training that the budget was drastically cut. We were sent home, older but scarcely wiser people.

The Peace Corps still exists despite our turn to faux-populist nationalism, and in fact has passed muster with chief executives as far right as Ronald Reagan, Dick Nixon and George Bush. Why should our pals on the far right support a hippie organization? They noted that the Peace Corps was not only an outlet for idealism but a smart geopolitical move. If mostly young Americans are sent to 60+ countries that requested our help—teaching English, scientific farming, building schools—everyone would love us and we would no longer be subjects covered by Lederer and Burdick’s 1958 book “The Ugly American.”

Now, Alana DeJoseph, employing Shana Kelly’s script, has a new documentary to comment on a program that everyone knew about during the JFK administration but is scarcely publicized today. In this documentary, one that does not match the humor of a Michael Moore or a Morgan Spurlock but makes up for the deficiency with heartfelt anecdotes by talking heads. They include veterans of the two-year stint in places that include even Moscow, and former directors of the Peace Corps like my friend and former head of the New York City Council Carol Bellamy. This is DeJoseph’s her freshman direction of a documentary that allows cinematographer Vanessa Carr to splash pictures across the screen exploring places that have benefitted by America’s idealistic people. Archival films as well, of course.

In one African country where people from the slums never got mail because their streets and addresses had no names, the Peace Corps on premises fixed what should have been a simple problem handled by the local government. In another area, a woman who majored in music gives help to a fellow who has been farming for eighty years. Some denizens of areas like Thailand and Cuba had suspicions that some corps people were CIA, but even Fidel Castro, who licked his chops hoping to uncover plots, had to admit that he did not find a single CIA henchman.

The pictures that we see are all positive, and maybe we should not expect a cinema team enthusiastic about the agency to be critical. As you might expect, local people, for example in Africa, crowd around U.S. volunteers in shows of friendship and trust. Even during the Vietnam War, some locals may have been surprised that the American volunteers were neutral, though most probably leaned against our government’s misguided war policies. In one Central American country volunteers witnessed the outbreak of a Communist revolution, yet even the rebels respected and did not harm the Americans.

Among the talking heads are past directors of the Peace Corps and writers of books about the agency. Given its successes, not even Trump threatened to slash the funding. After the movie was made, the coronavirus broke out everywhere and for the first time in history almost all volunteers were called home. There are currently 7800 Peace Corps volunteers in 140 countries. “A Towering Task” is the first doc to cover the institution. It does the job well.

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

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

CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY – movie review

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

Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RICHARD JEWELL – movie review

RICHARD JEWELL
Warner Bros
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriter: Marie Brenner, Billy Ray
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates, Nina Arianda, Paul Walter Hauser
Screened at: Warner, NYC, 11/25/19
Opens: December 13, 2019

Richard Jewell Movie Poster

No good deed goes unpunished. Remember Frank Wills, the security guard at the Watergate Hotel who discovered something funny about the lock on a door and whose discovery brought down President Nixon? Wills was given a $2.50 raise and was denied a promotion that he requested based on his good citizenship. Think of Chesley “Sulley” Sullenberger, rewarded for saving the lives of all aboard his plane, but not before he is baked over the coals for allegedly violating orders from the ground. Sulley, like Richard Jewell, was given his due by Clint Eastwood in the 2016 film “Sully.” The director’s now sets his sites on overzealous police.

If you’re high up, like journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, you will be rewarded, maybe with a Pulitzer, as the two newspaper men got for reporting on the Watergate scandal in the Washington Post. But if you’re low on the totem pole, you may wind up like the title character, Richard Jewell, who saved scores of lives by alerting the authorities of a potential bomb inside a backpack left under a bench at the 1996 Atlantic Summer Olympic games. His reward? Though not under arrest, he remained a suspect as the bomber himself, later remaining for six more years as a suspected accomplice to the terrorist.

Richard Jewell is played remarkably by Paul Walter Hauser, not unknown as an actor but this time given the lead role by director Eastwood. Based on actual events surrounding the bombing of the Atlantic Olympics, “Richard Jewell” is anchored by Hauser’s performance, an overweight guy with a record as a screw-up, a former sheriff’s deputy who is eased out and forced to become a lowly supply clerk at a law firm after a college dean fired him for being overzealous in giving hell two a couple of students with alcohol in their dorm. Your record follows you for life and could help the authorities do a number on you for actions that are completely innocent.

Though already age 33 Jewell still lives with his mother Bobi (Kathy Bates), seems to have no social life, and becomes a punching bag, or doormat, by the FBI, eager for an arrest and conviction for a tragedy that took two lives and injured 111 others. As luck would have it, Jewell had made the acquaintance of a lawyer, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), who is working at a law firm and who joins Jewell in a video shooting gallery. Jewell, a non-entity, is destined to become first a hero, then a terrorist, when on the evening of July 27, 1996 he warns police to clear an area because of the discovery of a suspicious backpack. When the bomb goes off, he is hailed as a hero in the press, particularly by journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who has been given confidential information by FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), with whom she may be having an affair. She is later to turn against Jewell with sensationalized reporting that trashes Jewell, reflecting Tom Shaw’s new, classified information.

Defended by Watson Bryant during questioning by Agent Shaw and his assistant Dan Bennet (Ian Gomez), Jewell becomes chief suspect for fitting the profile: a guy with a modest job, no friends, obese and living with mom, Jewell remains in Agent Shaw’s sites for six years, as the FBI closes the case, though Shaw tells Bryant that he think the lawyer’s client is “guilty as hell.” Watch the awards groups considering Paul Walter Hauser for Best Breakthrough Performance and Sam Rockwell for supporting role. They rivet attention.

This is the year that the movies free the innocents. In “Brian Banks,” a football star is convicted for a crime he did not commit and sentences to ten years of jail and probation. The California Innocence Project gave him back his life. In “Just Mercy,” a man is sentenced to death despite the lack of evidence and is freed thanks to the hard work of a newly graduated Harvard-educated attorney who declined big money jobs to work for virtually nothing. Losers, like starving lawyer Watson Bryant and security guard Richard Jewell become winners, working together in this solid police drama.

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

NEVER AGAIN IS NOW – movie review

NEVER AGAIN IS NOW
Ph.D. Productions/Blaze Documentary
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Evelyn Markus
Screenwriter: Evelyn Markus
Cast: Evelyn Markus, Rosa Zeegers, Ben Shapiro, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Qanta Ahmed, Jozias van Aartsen
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/26/19
Opens: October 23, 2019

Never Again Is Now Button

This marvelous film has been released under the radar

“Never Again is Now” is expertly edited to combine archival films of Hitler and the war with life in Europe today. After the racist attacks and ultimately the deaths of six millions Jews 1941-45, the slogan “Never Again” was heard throughout the world. Those of us who are Jews and people who have moral firmness in their spines thought that we had heard the last of atrocities like those culminating seven decades ago.

Looking now at Europe, we may find it difficult to imagine that France has been the locale of terrible beatings and bombings against Jewish sites, but it’s even more surprising that anti-Semitic attacks are taking place in the Netherlands, particularly in Amsterdam and the Hague. Most of the violence comes from the growing Muslim populations in Europe, but the traditional citizens of sites like Amsterdam and Paris have sometimes caught the disease. We Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, raining criticism of his country’s Muslims. We generally believe that far right politicians in Europe are themselves anti-Semitic, but in this case he receives a filmed audience from the Jewish director.

The most important concept emerging from the film is from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim born in Somalia who had left for Europe and ultimately the United States. When interviewed by Evelyn Markus, the director, who asked whether anti-Semitic incidents would have occurred if there were no Israel, Hirsi Ali delivered a nuanced reply that anti-Semitic sentiment lies buried in some people, with Israel serving merely as an excuse to demonstrate. Hey, it’s not as though everything was peachy for the Jews before the creation of Israel. People have had a need for scapegoats long before the last two centuries and have found victims among minority groups like the Armenians in Turkey, the Rohinga in Myanmar, the Romani in Europe, the Coptic Christians in Egypt, and the Hutus against the Tutsis in Rwanda—among so many others.

Personalizing the film, Evelyn Markus spoke of her parents’ surviving the Holocaust, her mother liberated while on a cattle car heading to a death camp in Eastern Germany. Markus, who notes that she is not only Jewish but gay (her partner, Rosa Zeegers, enjoys a large role, sharing a home with the director for decades.) The two are dismayed that often violent demonstrations against Jews—not Zionists, necessarily, not Israelis, but diaspora Jews—have made their former country unrecognizable thanks to loud demonstrations by Muslims who shout “Kill the Jews wherever they live.” Even non-Jews are marked for assassination if they are critical of Islam. Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker critical of Islam in a short doc, was assassinated: stabbed by a jihadist with an anti-Semitic note stuck to his chest. Zeegers, who had passed by a pro-Palestinian demonstration, could scarcely believe the calls of “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas,” a shout which by the way was duplicated even in football stadiums by the visiting teams.

Still it’s refreshing to hear that most Muslims living in Europe and the U.S. go about their business and are not political, and that a few, like the wonderful Ayaan Hirsi Ali, note that violent demonstrators are not in the spirit of Islam, that they are caused by political Islamists. To prove a point—and without extra dialogue—Markus films a sign during a demonstration that calls for Sharia in the Netherlands! So: that’s what you get when you allow too many political Islamists into your country. Instead of gratitude, they would like to overthrow the government, cover women, maybe even ban music, movies, and “Western” culture. It’s almost enough to turn people on the left political spectrum to become conservative.

By quoting the anti-Nazi Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil,” Markus appears to want us to speak up against, well, evil. People are speaking up, but that does not seem to cut much ice in Europe. At least here in the U.S. where Jews can still walk with kipot on heads, even tallit on their bodies, we could use an administration in D.C. that does not consider the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville to be “fine people.”

This documentary is vivid, it’s riveting, even mesmerizing. It’s a call to action but it does not really tell us what we can do to end the growing divisions in our society since free speech makes the situation even worse. Can anyone?

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

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

AFTER THE WEDDING – movie review

AFTER THE WEDDING
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bart Freundlich
Screenwriter: Bart Freundlich based on “After the Wedding” (2006) written by Anders Thomas Jensen and directed by Susanne Bier
Cast: Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, Abby Quinn
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 7/16/19
Opens: August 9, 2019

After the Wedding Movie Poster

It’s not as though everything that takes place here occurs after the wedding. The cast has a great deal of information to load in to set us up for some plot twists—reversals that occur so frequently that you may be kept on the edge of your chair, wondering what terrible secrets are going to go down next. This is a remake of the Danish movie of the same name, though in Copenhagen they called it “Efter bryllupper,” directed by a woman, Susanne Bier, who made two men the center of her universe. This time Bart Freundlich shows that he knows how to write and direct women, placing two of the greats in the leading roles. In fact were it not for the talent and charisma of Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore and Julio Macat’s stunning photography in India, you might be tempted to write this off as an expensive weepy, a soap, one whose wheels you can see moving, carrying you to a final resolution.

Whereas the Danish version takes place in Mumbai, this one opens in Calcutta where Isabel (Michelle Williams) is an American Mother Teresa by helping to run an orphanage, having adopted eight-year-old Jai (Vir Pachisia) who becomes teacher’s pet and who will eventually be asked whether he wants to move to New York. Isabel’s orphanage is regularly short of money, so miraculously she hears that Theresa (Julianne Moore), a media executive who built her company from scratch, wants to donate two million dollars to the Calcutta institution. Big catch, without which, no movie: Theresa insists that Isabel leave Calcutta to be interviewed in person in New York, which Isabel is reluctant to do since she is so connected to her do-good role in the East. But money talks, Isabel confers with Theresa—who is not yet committal, and is invited to the wedding of Theresa’s daughter Grace (Abby Quinn) to Jonathan (Alex Esola). At the wedding, she spots Oscar (Billy Crudup), who brought Grace up, a single father until he married Theresa, and boom. Isabel is stunned. We know that something’s up, and any attempt to go into detail on their history would be a spoiler.

The two women are opposites in temperament. Theresa is jubilant, a demanding executive who can be brittle especially when chewing out her personal assistant. We are introduced to her as she sings along lustily in her car to Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory.” Isabel is reticent, taking in the scenery, a listener rather than a big talker who nonetheless shows visible disappointment having to leave her profession in India, downcast once again when she finds out that the two million is not necessarily a done deal.

“After the Wedding” is theatrical, centering on some major ethical questions regarding, adoption, marital problems affecting the young bride and groom just weeks after the ceremony, the nature and importance of one giant white lie, the importance of finding an identity in what you do for work and must decide whether to compromise by giving up what you love in exchange for a greater return.

Production values are spot-on; a gorgeous house in suburban New York for the Theresa and Oscar, a sumptuous outdoor wedding presided over by a monk (Hank H. Kim), shots of two tall temples in India. Whether you prefer the Danish version to the Hollywood is a matter of opinion, so after you see the current version you can shell out $3.99 to Amazon Prime and watch Mads Mikkelsen in the Danish.

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

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

THE FAREWELL – movie review

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

[ FAREWELL POSTER ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE WEDDING GUEST – movie review

THE WEDDING GUEST
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Screenwriter: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh
Screened at: Dolby 24, NYC, 2/27/19
Opens: March 1, 2019

The Wedding Guest Movie Poster

“I’ve got a confession to make,” says kidnapper Jay (Dev Patel) to his kidnapee, Samira (Radhika Apte). “I can’t swim.” “No matter,” replies Samira, “I’ll teach you.” This is about the level of dialogue to expect throughout “The Wedding Guest,” a movie that does not do credit to its writer-director, Michael Winterbottom. Winterbottom, whose superb fare includes “24 Hour Party People,” (which brings Manchester’s music to the world), “Welcome to Sarajevo” (during the Bosnian war a journalist takes a kid from an orphanage back to England), and “Code 46” (a romance is doomed by genetic incompatibility), now is at the helm of a thriller with banal dialogue throughout. Actors have not much to do, and a pair of leads’ slow-burning romance never catches fire. What’s more there is little backstory to the Jay and Samira. We know nothing about how British citizen Deepesh (Jim Sarbh) found out that he could hire Jay to kidnap his girlfriend from Pakistan, where she is about to be wed against her will in an arranged marriage. If you know about Pakistani culture, you realize that a woman cannot refuse to marry her parents’ choice lest she be killed, as a refusal would dishonor the family.

This is why when Samira is kidnapped in the dead of night by Jay, she is both frightened and elated. At the same time that she is bound, gagged, and hooded by the abductor, she knows that she has been saved from what would probably be a frightful life, though when thrown into the trunk of his car, she has other thoughts about trusting the kidnapper.

Jay may or may not be a professional criminal with a major in abduction, but he’s in it strictly for the money that has been promised by Deepesh. Yet when a hunk like Jay gets to spend time with Samira, who slowly gets to trust him, you expect a hot romance to follow before she is turned over to the boyfriend. The first flirtatious steps are taken—by her—but despite her beauty, Jay seems reluctant to deal with her other than as his ticket to a fat payment. For her part, Samira’s feelings for Deepesh are not on the up-and-up. She, who at one point is called a “snake” by the guy who dished out thousands of dollars to rescue her, may have been correct about the lass. After some twists and turns in the script, we see that nobody is what he or she seems and everybody is out for something below the surface.

Given the absence of chemistry throughout, we wonder what the picture has to offer. Look then to cinematographer Giles Nuttgens to provide some awards-worthy photography in various locations in India, ranging from a look at fleabag hotels right up to Delhi’s majestic Taj Mahal digs. Filmed in Delhi, Goa, Jaipur and most impressively Amritsar where we get a shot of the temples that jut out in the holy city of the Sikh people, we have a view of both tourist India and what our president calls a sh*hole—the endless traffic of bikes and cars, the honking that fills the air, the shady dealers in forged passports, and one establishment jewelry store that cannot buy a diamond because it would not find a buyer for the $100,000 stone. When the Oscar ceremony takes place Feb. 2, 2020 and the 5,000 or so voters remember “The Wedding Guest,” be ready this picture to go to the top of the class in cinematography. Yet the movie fails to deliver passion or wit or thrills.

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

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

EVERYBODY KNOWS – movie review

EVERYBODY KNOWS (Todos lo saben)
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenwriter: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darín, Eduard Fernandez, Barbara Lennie, Inma Cuesta
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 1/23/19
Opens: February 8, 2019

Todos lo saben Movie Poster

The long-running TV series “Cheers” features the bar as a character in its own right, the bar where everybody knows your name. Many of us would be overjoyed to meet almost daily in a place so friendly, but there is a limit. If everybody knows your name, that’s fine. But would you like everybody to know everything about you? This is the situation in Torrelaguna, an autonomous region of Spain’s Madrid community where Asghar Farhadi’s latest film was photographed. It has the small-town ambiance despite its proximity to the nation’s capital, a fair-sized segment of land given over to a vineyard which is co-owned by Paco (Javier Bardem), a gentleman who will figure greatly in the plot.

“Everybody Knows” is the first movie in Spanish from the Iranian director. Farhadi, whose principal work in my opinion is “A Separation”—about whether a couple will provide a better life for their child by moving out of Iran or whether they should stay in their home country to treat a father with dementia—this time focuses on a large community involving an extended family, groups of neighbors, and an assortment of grade pickers working in a vineyard. At first, the film could be taken as a lively documentary about how people celebrate a wedding, the family members drinking as they would in just about any event of its kind. This looks like a group that seem as close and friendly as you would hope to have in your neighborhood. But when a kidnapping occurs, fissions become active, leading to fights involving Antonio (Ramón Barea), the elderly father of Laura (Penélope Cruz), who is said to have gambled away his share of the vineyard.

Imagine yourself at a large wedding, a friend of the bride who has only a faint idea of the guests invited by the groom. This is the situation you’ll find yourself in while watching the celebration. Allow some time to figure out who is married to whom, who may have fathered someone outside of marriage, who is the young man flirting with the young woman, and then some. After a half hour or so, you’ll get an idea of how everyone fits in, especially the situations of Laura and her husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darín), who spend most of their time in Buenos Aires and travel up to Madrid only for special occasions and brief visits. Some of the principals are afflicted with problems of their own making. Old man Antonio—Laura’s father, remember?—is a drunk who lost his land. Alejandro is a friend of the bottle as well and is unemployed, having gone to Germany to look for a job without success. Paco has a secret life that everyone in the small community knows about.

The kidnapping of high-spirited Irene (Carla Campra), a teen who is drugged at the celebration and kidnapped by what looks like an inside job, is employed by writer-director Farhadi to turn the movie a psychological thriller while at the same time the crime is a catalyst to expose the family secrets. Some of the action borders on soap opera, but a more refined soap than you get on the afternoon TV shows here. When you think about the crime, you try to guess who from the wedding is involved. When you think about the families, you’re in the sphere, of course, of family drama. Dysfunction abounds. The crime aspects are gripping, enough so that you’ll barely notice that two and one-quarter hours have passed since you watched the opening credits amid the background of a church bell tower. Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem have the chemistry you’d expect from two first-grade actors who in real life are married to each other since 2010 (two children), while the entire ensemble portray their qualities in a flawless fashion. The two principals aside, there’s little doubt that “Everybody Knows” is an ensemble piece, eminently watchable, allowing us to project our own lives into the bittersweet muddle that comprise this fine drama.

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

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

ASHES IN THE SNOW – movie review

ASHES IN THE SNOW
Vertical
Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director: Marius Markevicius
Screenwriter: Ben York Jones, based on Ruta Sepetys’ novel “Between Shades of Gray”
Cast: Bel Powley, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Martin Wallstrom, Sam Hazeldine, Peter Franzen, Sophie Cookson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/3/19
Opens: January 11, 2019

click for larger (if applicable)

When Ruta Sepetys’ novel “Between Shades of Gray” came out, it made a hit with some middle school and high school educators and was relegated in some public libraries to the YA sections, meant primarily for youths. Some parents inevitably complained that the book was so bleak, the action so violent, that it was robbing their precious children of their innocence. Innocence: in the 21st Century when kids are likely to witness torture and killing on a mammoth scale on the screen? Maybe. In any case the film’s dialogue, a product of Ben York Jones’s screenplay adaptation of the novel, is simplistic, as though meant for a target audience who barely know that the U.S. fought Germany and not the Soviet Union in the 1940s and could expect to make a chore of several minutes when ordered to find Lithuania on a map of Europe.

Marius Markevicius, who directs his sophomore feature, is in his métier, having presided over the documentary “The Other Dream Team,” about Lithuania’s basketball squad, struggling under Soviet rule, making the hoop sportsmen a symbol of the Baltic country’s independence.

Markevicius assembled actors from the U.K. Norway and Sweden, even one from Finland, and shot the movie almost entirely on location, using a topography as bleak as the story line, with miles of miles of snow that make you want to race from the theater at the conclusion and head for Punta Cana. If this film came out in 1950, when the U.S. and Soviet Union were no longer pals, you’d think it had CIA funding, once again stressing the simplicity of the plot and the dialogue to make clear to all common denominators in the audience that we were the good guys and not those people speaking with strange accents. Though Uncle Joe Stalin is not seen except in a photo on the wall, he is responsible for sending millions to the gulags in Siberia, including a few score folks right now in this movie.

While the Soviets are battling the Nazis in 1942, they have time to dispatch people from occupied Lithuania to the far north for, what exactly? For digging up potatoes? Really? The exploited workers seem to have conditions as bad as inmates in Hitler’s concentration camps, doing penance for crimes that the idiot Nazis considered to be crimes. A whole family are accused of treason, and hauled out of their flats, which gives director Markevicius—who is of Lithuanian heritage—the opportunity to focus on one actress with whom the principal expected audience would identify. That would be English actress Bel Powley, a 26-year-old in the role of one who is but sixteen, and whose agonized face is seen throughout. Hoping to be an artist, she is the pride and joy of her mother, Elena (Lisa Loven Kongsli who is Norwegian). Martin Sallstrom as Nicolai Kretzsky, is a bad guy but not entirely. To one prisoner, he admits that he does not want to be where he is either. Would he prefer to be transferred to the Russian front?

Aside from the acting talents particularly of Wallstrom and Kongsli, a fine job comes from Ramunas Greicius behind the lenses. The makeup team does splendid work in changing the appearance of the happy Lithuanian family to a chorus that could march off the set to the second job in Les Misérables.

Though many a film has Germans speaking English and Scandinavians imitating just about anybody else with their multi-lingual capabilities, the authentic scenes are the ones in which the Russians speak Russian, the Lithuanians speak a language which has roots in Sanskrit, Latin and Ancient Greek. The English language, which takes over the majority of the 100 minutes, could have used subtitles given the forced accents put on by Powley and others.

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

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

MAMMA MIA!HERE WE GO AGAIN – movie reveiw

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN

Universal Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ol Parker
Screenwriter: Ol Parker, Richard Curtis from a story by Ol Parker, Richard Curtis, Catherine Johnson
Cast: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep, Dominic Cooper, Cher, Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Andy Garcia, Stellan Skarsgård
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 7/16/18
Opens: July 20, 2018

Man it’s hot! What are you going to do about it? You’ll go to Coney Island beach and look forward to your Nathan’s hot dog and fries? You don’t mind water that’s polluted, with plastic bags on the beach and not much to do with your time but read “The President is Missing”? Maybe you’d be better off on a Greek island; water clear as crystal, pristine white sands, snacking on Yiaourti me meli and Ekmek kataifi! And you won’t be reading a thick book but would instead be dancing like there’s no tomorrow, and given the present administration in Washington, fill in the blanks. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” a follow-up to the 2008 musical which began as a stage play in 1999, was filmed in Vis, Croatia, where Croatians and foreign travelers might ferry when they get tired of the commercialism of Split and Dubrovnik, also in Croatia.

In the story, the folks—mostly young, handsome and energetic with a few past their prime similarly energetic—are on the (fictitious) Greek island of Kalokairi. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is pregnant via her relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper). She can’t stop thinking of her departed mother Donna (Meryl Streep) and vows to run the hotel as she would have wanted her to. She will learn more about her mother from Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), particularly about how she had three dads Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) and Harry (Colin Firth), all of whom seem deliberately to avoid DNA tests because they love to be together with one another and with the youthful Sophie.

The movie is a mess but a delightful one, full of dancing and singing, a joyful reminder that as Donna (Lily James) notes, life is short. The movie is loaded with ABBA songs, eighteen of ‘em, a few slow and mournful but the bulk rousing and accompanied by superbly choreographed dancing—and I don’t mean tangos, fox trots and what passes for Terpsichore at weddings and bar mitzvahs, but Dionysian revelry that might make moviegoers wonder why they too seem to know intellectually that life is short but are unable or unwilling to act upon it.

Some scenes are standouts, particularly the opening, which zooms in on a college graduation that you wish you had instead of the one you attended to find out that life’s conquests await you. As Donna gives her valedictory address, she flings off her cap and gown ushering in the first sign that this movie is campy. The graduates join her and even the prune-looking vice chancellor (Celia Imrie) joins in. Later you watch the customers in a bar get up and dance, throwing down the tables, climbing on the bar, you know what’s in store for the rest of the action.

The songs from ABBA’s repertory are highlighted by the 1975 “Mamma Mia” sung originally by Donna and the Dynamos, and the whole cast join in with “Super Trouper”—Ruby, Donna, Rosie, Tanya, Sophie, Sky, Sam Bill, Harry, Fernando, Donna, Rosie, Tanya, Bill Sam and Harry.

If you’ve gone to musicals for a long time, you’re probably agreeing that they don’t make ‘em like they used to, which is why Broadway has endless recreations of “My Fair Lady,” “South Pacific” and “The Music Man.” These are musicals with stories to tell, morals to provide, all realistic within their fantasy. While “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” has no real purpose other than the fragile one about a young woman’s wanting to honor her departed mother’s dream of continuing the island hotel, it’s a lot of fun. And for that—to quote Senator Rand Paul’s statement on July 16th about Trump’s appearance with Putin in Helsinki—you’ve got to cut [him] some slack.

Lily James takes on the starring roll—as her character Donna would say based on her three one-night stands with different hunks—with passion. She is beautiful as well, which helps if you’re a star in a musical, and has emerged from roles like “Cinderella,” but this latest movie has little in common with her starring act in “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” (A writer forms an unexpected bond with the residents of Guernsey Island in the aftermath of World War II). Meryl Streep appears in a cameo toward the conclusion but campiness reaches its apotheosis with the arrival of Cher in the role of Sophie’s grandmother, her skin clear as a baby’s.

Ol Parker directs against expectations since we know him for his film “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” about British retirees traveling to India to what they expect to be a remodeled hotel but find that while it is not as advertised, its charm compensates.

Rated PG-13. 114 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

SHOCK AND AWE – movie review

SHOCK AND AWE

Vertical Entertainment & Direct TV
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Rob Reiner
Screenwriter:  Joey Hartstone
Cast:  Woody Harrelson, James Marsden, Rob Reiner, Milla Jovovich, Jessica Biel Tommy Lee Jones, Luke Tennie
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC 6/29/18
Opens: July 13, 2018
Shock and Awe Movie Poster
Our President lies so many times that each successive perseveration has little impact.  Psychologists say that when you say anything that comes to your head, you yourself will probably not realize that you are lying.  However sometimes a single lie is such a blooper, has so much significance, that it reshapes the world.  That lie came from President Bush, although you could say that he believed a lie told by Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi defector who hoped to become his country’s next leader.  That was that Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq whom the U.S. supported when that Middle Eastern country fought against Iran who now has weapons of mass destruction, or WMD’s that he might use against the United States.  Saddam was allegedly working on developing nuclear bombs and that he had, hidden somewhere, chemical and biological weapons that could havoc in the U.S.

Some people believe that Bush had an ulterior motive for attacking Iraq shortly after two planes deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.  Bush’s father, according to the rumor, was being targeted for assassination by Saddam and Dubya, i.e. George W. Bush (as opposed to his father George Herbert Walker Bush) was out for revenge.  Only Bush 43 knows the real reason for going to war in Iraq, a conflict which resulted in 36,000 American deaths and injuries and over one million deaths and injuries in Iraq.

Along comes a newspaper, actually a consortium of newspapers under the Knight Ridder label, the only major media to contradict even the New York Times.  The paper of record goofed by going along with Bush and advocating for military action.  But Knight Ridder did not believe that Saddam had WMD’s, its staff members given death threats for unpatriotic actions, specifically because that paper stood alone in telling the truth.  “Shock and Awe” is based on Knight Ridder’s thorough investigation leading to its big, bold dissent.

However Rob Reiner, who directed and has a principal role, gives us a “War 101” study which however well-meaning is so elementary and so lacking the tension that we experienced with movies like “A Few Good Men” and even the more recent “The Post,”
that journalism students may be bored and so might anyone who had been following U.S. war games for decades, though it could be a primer for people who have even less interest in foreign policy than I have in Major League baseball.

Reiner uses archival films starring higher-ups in government like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (“there are unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know’), Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, President George W. Bush, and featuring a dramatized Ahmed Chalabi.  The major players though are the reporters with Knight Ridder with 32 newspapers throughout the U.S.  As heroes in the struggle for truth, reporter Jonathan Landay is played by Woody Harrelson, James Marsden in the role of Warren Strobel, and Rob Reiner sits in for editor John Walcott, the man who hires Joe Galloway (Tommy Lee Jones), a war correspondent, for confirmation.  The thing about syndicates in America is that not every subsidiary is bound to follow the leader, and in fact The Philadelphia Inquirer refused to join the Knight Ridder people in publishing their scoops.

Moments of tension are dramatized but not followed up.  During one evening as Landay and his wife Vladka (Milla Jovovich) prepare to cuddle, she breaks the mood by arguing with her husband insisting that his investigation will endanger the family (we see one example of a death threat taken against the reporters by Internet trolls). Nothing comes of that. In the movie’s one romantic thread, Warren Strobel and Lisa (Jessica Biel) go on a date in which she lectures the handsome but awkward gent about Middle Eastern politics that leaves him awed, but any intelligent middle school person studying politics at all would consider her information elementary.

The film’s sentimental and heartbreaking scene finds Adam (Luke Tennie) opening the movie by testifying about the Iraq War with a congressional committee, and in fact we see the explosion that severed his spinal cord in his very first day in Iraq and left him in a wheelchair.  The film’s script comes from Joey Hartstone, known for the more intelligent and less schmaltzy “LBJ”

Rated R.  90 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

GENERATION WEALTH – movie review

GENERATION WEALTH

Amazon Studios
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 6/5/18
Opens: July 20, 2018

Laura Greenfield, a photographer who gets the lens turned on herself several times during “Generation Wealth,” indicts consumerism not only in the U.S. but also in countries that have been infected by the disease recently, principally China.  She deals with a wholly different degree of unhappiness than Ken Loach, whose working-class documentaries show empathy with the poorest people in the UK and Europe, particularly migrant workers.  By contrast Greenfield believes that the excesses in the U.S. are driving the country off the cliff, much as (allegedly) Ancient Egypt went over the edge at a time that it was at its greatest prosperity.  One would expect her to draw a parallel as well with the fall of Rome, though it was not the excesses that led to its decline but rather its overextension in the known world that could not be defended by its armies.

Still, she believes that you can understand the mainstream people in the U.S. by dealing with the excesses of a minority but this simply does not make sense. Some Americans work 100 hours a week in law offices and financial firms to build greater fortunes, ignoring their families and depriving both their spouses and children of loving attention and discovering that the gobs of money did not make them happier.  A far greater problem is the need for so many of our people to work two or three jobs simply to make ends meet and thereby spending insufficient time with their families. It’s better to be rich and ignore your families than be poor and doing the same.

At any rate, she does not focus strictly on the desire for a great deal of money especially by today’s young people as shown by polls that find college students overwhelmingly saying that money was their most important goal.  She zeroes in on women who do not want simply to keep up with or even surpass the Joneses but with women who want to look like the entertainers they see on TV and in the movies.  They go in for plastic surgery and after getting the initial treatment they want more of the same.  One woman, Suzanne, is  a hedge fund executive who wakes up at age forty to discover that what she really wanted was children.    Strippers, who actually go to dance school to learn how to massage the poles become celebrities and have money thrown at them by delighted men.

The most interesting character is Florian Homm (see his Wikipedia article), a German businessman who was indicted in the U.S. for investment fraud, fled to Italy which set him up for extradition to the U.S., but wound up back in Germany where his country would not extradite him.  He did not look unhappy as he puffed on a fat cigar.

So let us not feel too sorry for the small minority of folks who are celebrities, or who want to be celebs, and who have the money and the inclination to reshape their figures.  The people here are the extreme.  Why Greenfield understands the majority of people by studying the extreme is beyond me.  What’s more the entire film is unfocused, shifting from a hunger for wealth to a desire for celebrity status, never showing how conspicuous consumption by a relatively small number of people is a real problem for America or even for China and European nations who are generating a love for money beyond what a normal person should want.

Rated R.  107 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE – movie review

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

Amazon Studios
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Directed by:  Lynne Ramsay
Screenwriter: Lynne Ramsay adapted from Jonathan Ames’ novel
Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts
Location:  Park Avenue, NYC, 5/22/18
Opens: April 6, 2018

Novelist Jonathan Ames, whose 112-page novella “You Were Never Really Here” comes across as a book written to be put on the screen, may not have had the current administration in the White House and Capitol Hill in mind when he described the corruption endemic in our system.  No matter.  Corruption is embraced under many generations of politicians in the U.S., which is why this adaptation situates its evil within the East Side-Midtown area of Manhattan, close to the UN and to the purveyors of capital.  It may or may not be a coincidence that the mansion depicted in the final scenes could resemble a likeness of  breathtaking wealth during the gilded age, where money rules, where in fact there are no rules, and to get things done all you have to do is hire the right kind of guy to do it.

In this noirish adaptation, writer-director Lynne Ramsay—whose “We Need to Talk About Kevin” about a mother made meek because of an “incident” must struggle to love her strange child—focuses now on another person of disturbed psyche.  And who can blame Joe (Joaquin Phoenix)?  He was brutalized by his father, became an FBI agent and then a soldier in the Iraq War, and sees ghosts wherever he goes.  The specters are often women with dead eyes who stalk him, evoked by his experience in Iraq where he sees a girl killed.  He simply was never really there for her.  He dedicates his remaining time to the service of a hit man, but so far as we can see he’s a good guy.  He is part of an organization that rescues girls kidnapped for sex slavery, with Nina Voto (Ekaterina Samsonov) standing in for one thirteen-year-old that he rescues, but her own zonked out appearance could have resulted as much from abuse she faced from her father, State Senator Albert Voto (Alex Manette), as from her treatment as a sex slave.  The senator tells Joe, his hit man (for $50,000) that she often ran away from home.  Her unprotected status made her easy prey for the perverted criminals who hooked her into their lair.

The picture is filled with violence, yet don’t expect to see a grand build-up leading to a massive assassination.  The particularly artistic tone of the eighty-nine minute film presents violence often as events that had already happened, as though Joe was conducting the fury and the bloodshed off screen like the ancient Greek tragedians.  His weapon of choice is a hammer, and he appears to buy a different one for each killing.  One of the killings has poetry.  As his victim is on the ground, blood gushing from his stomach, Joe lies down with the man, joins him in singing a song from the radio, and holds his hand—whether to ease his pain of death or to sense when the fellow has taken his final breath.

Joe’s gentle moments appear in his treatment of his mother (Judith Roberts) with whom he lives, and also in his care for the rescued thirteen-year-old.  Most important as we look over the whole scene is that rarely has a crime drama been told with such a lean and mean focus, cutting everything to the bone—with moments of ironic peace such as when Joe buries a victim, large plastic bag and all, into the lake, wading into the water with suit and tie.

This picture is all about Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, one that will hopefully be remembered at end-year awards time.  The grizzled man with a huge beard, glassy eyes, with the aura of someone wandering with seeming aimlessness as though through a dream albeit with a specific purpose, is mesmerizing. Yet the film is for a special taste, for an audience that does not need to see the actual commissions of crimes graphically reproduced, but is more than content to focus primarily not on the brutality but on one disturbed man’s psyche.

Rated R.  89 Minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online

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

LIVES WELL LIVED – movie review

LIVES WELL LIVED

Shadow Distribution
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Sky Bergman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/7/18
Opened: February 16, 2018 in small markets, later tbd

Moe to Joe (both are 50): Hey Joe, would you like to live to 100?
Joe to Moe: Don’t ask me, Moe.  Ask the guy who’s 99.

Being a curious guy who at age fifty is thinking of mortality, Moe should take a look at “Lives Well Lived.”  The characters portrayed in this doc by Sky Bergman (who wrote, directed, edited, produced and photographed the doc) are from 75 to 103.  Spoiler alert: none of the forty folks interviewed, representing 3000 years of wit and wisdom, show interest in dying earlier than 100.  The elderly subjects are from California, where the Philadelphia-born California transplant director teaches photography at California Polytech in San Luis Obispo.  Why doesn’t anyone feel like bowing out of life before 100?  It could be because they are mostly cherry-picked group of citizens, middle-class to upper-middle-class, involved in sculpting, painting, dancing, yoga, reading, and taking long walks along the leafy roads in and about San Luis Obispo.

They do have wisdom to apart, but come up short on wit. In fact the only bon mot came from a fellow who is asked how he happened to have 9 kids.  His reply?  “My wife couldn’t take her hands off me, and since I never have a headache, I had no excuse.”

As for the wisdom, there is nothing that you don’t already know, because, after all, is there anything original on this subject; something that hasn’t been said in hundreds of self-help books, in movies, on TV, and in your own life? Examples: Family is first.  Be kind.  Have curiosity.  Take some risks.  Take one day at a time (whatever that means). Don’t worry about failure: it teaches.  There is one comment on the border of originality: “Never try to change anyone, not one bit.”

Obvious points aside, Bergman has succeeded in accumulating some dandy archival film.  Nazis occupy Europe.  People are poorly clothed during the Depression.  Japanese-Americans in California are interned in camps, though the husband of one inmate fought for the U.S. and is shown in military attire (he was killed in action).  Whites protest school integration with signs like “Racial mixing is Communism.” Shots of the train leading some lucky children out of Vienna on the kindertransport program to Britain.

The most interesting fellow grew up helping his parents make mozzarella in their food establishment, then taking time out to attend medical school while going home daily to continue baking cheese and then studying medical texts until midnight.

Did anything come across that I could relate strongly to?  Of course, but the principal comment to the question “What should young people take away from this” was a wish that young people would stop texting.  “They’re oblivious to the beauty around them.” Amen.

The film was shown at the San Luis Obispo Film Festival, which was attended by Evelyn Ricciardi, who wanted most at the age of 103 to see herself on the screen for her 15 minutes of fame.  She died three weeks after her birthday and is eulogized by Ms. Bergman.

Unrated.  72 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

BEFORE WE VANISH – movie review

BEFORE WE VANISH (Sanpo suru shinryakusha)

Neon
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Screenwriter: Sachiko Tanaka, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, based on the play by Tomohiro Maekawa
Cast: Masami Nagasawa, Ryuhei Matsuda, Atsuko Maeda, Hiroki Hasegawa, Yuri Tsunematsu, Mahiro Takasugi, Masahiro Higashide
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/25/18
Opens: February 2, 2018

If you’re looking for the suspense and melodrama of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” you won’t find it here except in such rare moments that you’ll welcome the mayhem. If, however, you seek a philosophic understand of the concept of love and the dire necessity of it in a world that sometimes seems on the fast track to hell, you may get some satisfaction from “Before We Vanish.”

Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a director who has enough of a reputation to encourage attendance by cinephiles, is best known for films like “Cure,” wherein a detective investigates a series of gruesome murders by people who have no recollection of what they have done. Here the famous Japanese director continues on that theme, soon noting that Akira Tachibana (Yuri Tsunematsu), the daughter of a victim, may be guilty of murdering her family. When Sakurai (Hiroki Hawegawa), a journalist with a weekly magazine, is following the story when he wanders into a more original and involving tale: Amano (Mahiro Takasugi), an alien, asks the journalist to be his guide. One wonders why Sakurai would involve himself at all given that Amano speaks of an imminent invasion of Earth by his fellow aliens. Grudgingly, Sakurai acts as a guide, informing the young man, a fish out of water, of the general culture of his fellow earthlings.

The principal story, however, is a romantic one, one of the redemptive power of love. Narumi (Masami Nagasawa) is having a difficult time getting along with her estranged husband Shinji (Ryuhei Matsuda), who has become like an empty vessel. He has no memory of his life and, resembling an autistic man of about 30, has no knowledge of social graces. When Narumi, an illustrator whose boss is not satisfied with her designs for a festival, finds that Shinji interferes with her work by following her into her office, Shinji, with the touch of a finger, transports the rigid employer into a fun-loving fellow who throws papers around the office and acts like a fellow who’d rather not wait until the Christmas party to act child-like. In other words, sometimes changing people by taking from them their concept of work may not be an altogether bad thing.

Expect people to act odd, whether they are aliens with little knowledge of the culture of earthlings or human beings who have been inhabited by them, but the moments of violence are doled out as though with the annoyance of a director who would rather remain on a philosophic plane. With a Japanese title of Sanpo suru shinryakusha, or “Strolling Invaders,” we can understand that Kurosawa is in no hurry to rush into physical actions.

At 130 minutes with scattershot attempts to discuss the meaning of life, “Before We Vanish” is highbrow sci-fi that could have made its points with a metaphoric red pencil. The film played at the prestigious New York Film Festival in 2017. There are bound to be journalists who consider this the best sci-fi movie of the year, but for me, a more intense and focused narrative would have better served the entry.

Unrated. 130 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

WEST OF THE JORDAN RIVER – movie review

WEST OF THE JORDAN RIVER

Kino Lorber
Director:  Amos Gitai
Screenwriter:  Amos Gitai
Cinematographers:  Oded Kirma, Eitan Hai, Vladimir Truchovski
Cast: Amos Gitai, Yitzhak Rabin, Tzipi Lipni, Tzipi Hotovely, groups of Muslims and Jews
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/9/18
Opens: January 26 at New York’s Quad Cinema

Toward the conclusion of Amos Gitai’s documentary a carousel is spinning, but while its few inhabitants appear to be having a good time, the carousel exists here as a symbol.  Talks between Israelis and Palestinians have been going round and round, a veritable merry-go-roundelay, just like the subjects in Arthur Schnitzler’s play “Der Reigen,” also known as “La Ronde.”  Peace talks between the two sides have occasionally appeared to make progress, such as when Bill Clinton brought Yasser Arafat together with Menachim Begin—and the two adversaries actually shook hands.  In another instance, an extremist Jew was so fearful that Israeli Prime Minister Rabin was on the verge of agreeing to a settlement that Rabin was killed to the cheers of other extremist Jews.  Killed by a fellow Jew!

Here we are today, the sides still apart, no talks scheduled between Abu Mazen on the Palestinian side and Bibi Netanyahu on the Israeli’s.  But not to worry: talks will resume, and a peace agreement will remain somewhere over the horizon.  “West of the Jordan River” is another talk-fest, this one initiated by Amos Gitai (Gitai is a Hebrew translation of his parents’ name Weinraub), an Israeli filmmaker with 62 credits, lots of shorts, the last one being “Rabin: The Last Day” about the aforementioned Israeli leader’s assassination.

Not that the doc will lead to peace and a joint chorus of Kumbaya, but it’s an entertaining enough film, some, but not I, would say hopeful, filled with mournful music (that I could do without) between each segment of chats with the locals. Surprisingly Gitai knows his own language, Hebrew, and also English, plus some French for having lived in voluntary exile in France.

But when he converses with Arabic-speaking people, he needs a translator.  He probably need not worry this time that his movie will inflame his fellow Israelis and force him to bolt to France as he did in 1982 after screening his doc “Field Diary,” which found Gitai chatting in Nablus and surrounding areas, making time to hear a fellow under house arrest.  His leftist credentials never wavered, and there’s an implication even with this current film that he belives Israel’s intransigence is the principal reason for instability between the two peoples.

“West of the Jordan River” is not as antagonistic.  He does not goad Israeli soldiers with his camera as he did in “Field Diary.”  And the folks with whom he chats are friendly, though some get pretty excited even though they do not curse the Israelis.  Not all the action takes place West of the Jordan, as much of the dialogue is within Israel proper and a few clips near the beginning in Gaza.  In Gaza, which the media portray as the home of the most militant faction against “Zionists,” people lean into Gitai’s van to say that they want to work in Israel; that they can build their community just as the Israelis built their land, if only they could have the freedom of their own independent nation.  One gets the impression that these Arabs are told that if they moderated their language and even sounded conciliatory, they would have the most chance of making the final cut of the film.

The trouble with everything here is that while Prime Minister Rabin is interviewed, suggesting that he is not the pacifist hippy that some made him out to be, and while a more militant deputy, Tzipi Hotoveli, is on camera with a mystical explanation of the land, most of the talk is with ordinary people. Ordinary people do not make peace or war with the exception of revolutions that succeed by winning the support of the armed forces. It’s all well and good to sit around like the members of Breaking the Silence, a left-leaning activist group that conveys information on life in the occupied territories; and with Arab and Jewish women forming a support group citing how sons on both their sides lost their lives.  But nothing will get done until those in power can carve a peace with definite borders—less likely than ever, Gitai believes, because a “very reactionary” government under Netanyahu has held power for ages with large support, the prime minister having said during a recent election campaign that he has no use for a two-state solution.

Again blaming his own people for the obstinacy, Gitai interviews a pair of settlers, people living on ground that Arabs vociferously claim as their own. We hear one settler, a young woman who was stabbed by an Arab resident living nearby, state that the land does not  belong to anybody; it belongs to God.  And in the Bible, God promised to rent all the disputed land to the Jews.  Who can argue with God?  Probably the Muslims, whose own Koran probably makes no such promise.  Gitai spends the most interesting minutes with an Arab boy of about ten who says that when he grows up, he wants to be…no, not a fireman or a cop or an astronaut, but a martyr.  Asked whether he likes life, the boy responds, yeah, but martyrdom is better.  Does this say anything about what the upcoming generation might do absent a peace?

Unrated.  84 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE WEDDING PLAN – movie review

  • THE WEDDING PLAN     (Laavor et hakir)

    Roadside Attractions
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B-
    Director:  Rama Burshtein
    Written by: Rama Burshtein
    Cast: Noa Koler, Dafi Alferon, Noa Kooler, Oded Leopold, Ronny Merhavi, Udi Persi, Jonathan Rozen, Irit Sheleg, Amos Tamam, Oz Zehavi
    Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 4/18/17
    Opens: May 12, 2017
    click for larger (if applicable)
    Rami Bushstein, who wrote and directs “The Wedding Plan” (former title “Through the Wall,” in Hebrew Laavor et hakir) contributed a less messy picture in 2012.  In that previous work, an eighteen-year-old Hasidic woman is pressured into marrying an older widower per Levirate custom.  This time around, Burshtein, who is strongly connected to her Hasidic community (see her picture on IMDB.com), takes a somewhat opposite view.  A Michal (Noa Kooler), a thirty-two year old single woman, wants nothing more fervently than to get married.  She wants to give and receive love, she does not want to be alone, and incidentally she does not want the community to pity or disparage her.  Unlike Shira in “Fill the Void,” who wants nothing more than to rid herself of an arranged marriage, Michal is in despair about her single status.  You get the impression that all she wants is a serious proposal: that she will accept anyone, now that Gidi (Erez Drigues) her Hasidic fiancé has dumped her, stating that he does not love her.  Hey, this is something new: that Hasidim insist on loving a proposed bride when, even in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevya’s wife had to think long and hard whether she loves her husband.

    You can learn things in “The Wedding Plan.”  One is that ultra-orthodox women and Hasidic men go on dates.  My impression is that a single woman sits home and waits for the matchmaker to send a potential husband to her whole family.  In the presence of all, they sit on opposite ends of the sofa, stealing a glance here and there, and announcing straight-out whether they like the other’s looks enough to marry and have ten children.

    But then, this independent-minded Michal, having to get over her despair about the rejection, goes on a number of blind dates set up by a matchmaker.  First she visits a homeopathic witch doctor, Hulda (Odelia Moreh-Matalon), who after assigning Michal to pound some dough sits her down and rubs some fish oil into her face to destroy the evil eye.

    We’ve seem movies before about the dating game, whether speed-dating or the traditional kind, but here she goes to restaurants such as with her meeting with a deaf mute(Jonathan Rozen) , whose signing is interpreted by a young man at the table.  Then there’s that weird date with a Hasid (Udi Persi), who refuses to look at her for two hours with the excuse that he wants to believe that Michal is the most beautiful woman in the world.

    A good deal of the tension in this romantic dramedy, which is more drama than comedy, is from audience betting on which man will win her hand.  In any case, she’d better have her hand won fast, because Michal had been independent enough to book a wedding hall for 200 guests with Shimi (Amos Tamam), son of Hulda and owner of the hall.  She pays the 15,000 shekels (about $3700 US) despite having no groom and believes that God will supply her with a man.  She has 22 days. Should she accept the proposal of Yossi (Oz Zehavi), a dreamy singer with a following of beautiful women?.  After all, he asked for her hand while the two were in Ukraine, visiting the shrine of Rabbi Nahman, founder of the Breslov Hasidic sect in the city of Uman (incorrectly named “Uma” in the English subtitles). But he might be too secular for her and would ask for divorce at the drop of a kippa.

    As Michal, Noa Koler is an almost overwhelming force, appearing in virtually every scene, in closeups and surrounded by her friends and family.  This is a slow-moving drama which succeeds quite well in familiarizing people with the customs of Haredim and ultra-orthodox Jews, and its does keep the audience guessing on the mystery man who will hopefully emerge before the eighth day of Chanukah, the date of the wedding.  Too bad Haredim may be sparse in the audience given their custom of refusing to attend the cinema in general.  Still this PG-rated picture could bring in an audience of Jews of other ideologies from secular to Orthodox, and may even cross over to a universal audience, since isn’t marriage the goal of people all over the world?

    This is an Israeli film in Hebrew with English subtitles.

    Rated PG.  110 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

ONE WEEK AND A DAY – movie review

  • ONE WEEK AND A DAY (Shavua ve Yom)

    Oscilloscope Laboratories
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B+
    Director:  Asaph Polonsky
    Written by: Asaph Polonsky
    Cast: Shai Avivi, Evgenia Dodina, Tomer Kapon, Alona Shauloff, Sharon Alexander, Carmit Mesilati-Kaplan, Uri Gavriel
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/14/17
    Opens: April 28, 2017

    Jewish burial customs are different from those of all other faiths.  Judaic law requires that upon death, a body must be buried within twenty-four hours, Sabbath and Holy Days excluded.  At the same time, a week is set aside for shiva, a mourning period attended by the immediate family and friends of the departed.  In Orthodox circles, people observing shiva sit on low stools or boxes to symbolize that they are “brought low,” and customarily visitors to the house of the bereaved take food as well.  Asaph Polonsky’s dramedy, in part the kind of comedy that will bring smiles rather than laughs to those who can appreciate his mumblecore-style dialogue, and the other part the facing of tragedy, opens on the day after the shiva in the home of Eyal Spivak (Shai Avivi) and his wife Vicky (Evgenia Dodina). Most of the time, you’d hardly know that the couple’s son Ronnie had died at the age of twenty-five after a stay at a hospice.  Presumably sitting shiva allowed the couple of grieve and for Eyal to distract himself by playing ping pong.

    As with many films of this sort, dramedies if you will, the first segments will be comic while sadness seeps in during the latter sections.  Eyal, whose part is played by Israeli comic Shai Avivi, who might remind you of Larry David of the TV series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” does not laugh, he rarely smiles, and appears to sit in judgment on everyone.  He complains that his next-door neighbors, Shmulik (Sharon Alexander) and Keren (Carmit Mesilati-Kaplan) are like rabbits, their copulation sounds disturbing, as the houses are spaces just a few meters apart.  Their son Zooler (Tomer Kapon) is a live wire, a delivery boy who is fond of his two neighbors.  He rides a bike on errands but is not afraid of trashing the scooter just to have an excuse to remain with Eyal and to teach him how to roll the medicinal weed Eyal stole from the hospice that housed his late son.  In the one burst of energy in this generally shaggy dog story, Zooler performs a wild, solo dance to some heavy metal music, pretending to play his guitar while jumping over tables and landing on the couch.

    On her side, Vicky, who spends most of the picture disapproving of her husband’s experiments with marijuana (he has to hide the bag he stole from the hospice inside his fly) and wonders how her husband and the young neighbor who frequently visits have anything in common.  The only time any character cries occurs when Vicky is in the dentist’s chair trying to balance x-ray adhesives in her mouth, while the whole episode takes on the tone of sadness when they discover that the burial plots they wanted to reserve for themselves next to their son’s have been taken by another.

    This is the sort of film that might make some in the audience wonder whether it’s a comedy or a drama, but any experienced moviegoer will realize that like our own lives off screen, we could be laughing one moment, crying the next not unlike babies.

    The movie does not go beyond its natural limits in time, is frequently delightful and may even cause some in the audience to shed a tear—particularly those of us who have lost people near and dear.  That their son died of cancer rather than in the military makes the story even more poignant.  The most heart-wrenching moment occurs in the cemetery as another funeral is being performed, the mourner singing a mournful prayer for the dead.

    In Hebrew with English subtitles.

    Unrated.  97 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

THE UNKNOWN GIRL – movie review

THE UNKNOWN GIRL    (La fille inconnue)

IFC Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B
Director:  Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Written by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Cast: Adèle Haenel, Olivier Bonnaud, Jérémie Renier, Louka Minella Christelle Cornil
Screened at:Critics’ link, NYC, 9/1/17
Opens: September 8, 2017
The Unknown Girl Poster #1
At a time that the American people are faced with both threats and exhortations by our president over the future of health care, nobody in Western Europe has any problem with a medical system that is affordable by everyone.  The Dardenne brothers, known for their realism and feeling for social justice, focus their attention on a single doctor in that part of the world, specifically in Liège, Belgium, where a young doctor, Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel), plies her trade in a poor section of town.  During the course of a week or so, we are made privy to her rounds, watching her act out an obsession with the violent death of an African girl, not yet eighteen, and making house calls to people whose lack of education causes many to act with a crassness that more enlightened people would consider taboo.

“The Unknown Girl” combines noir detective drama with moral allegory in a film (French language, English subtitles) that makes us wish the best outcome for the practitioner, who challenges both individuals and police by sticking her nose into affairs that could even get her killed.

There is no music in the film’s soundtrack, a nice plus, something that should be tried by Hollywood for non-blockbuster works to see whether the stories, well told, could involve audiences.

In the drama, Dr. Jenny Davin finds herself overwhelmed by guilt when she and her reluctant intern Julien (Olivier Bonnaud), at work after hours, refuse to answer the bell outside her office.  She finds out that the girl had been desperate to get away from a man who is chasing her.  Since the surveillance camera captures the girl’s image, Jenny carries the photo around the town, asking people whether they had even seen her.  What she finds out is that people lie.  An attendant in a cybercafé never saw her.  A taciturn, rebellious young man, Bryan (Louka Minnella), knows nothing.  Bryan’s father (Jérémie Renier) not only refuse to admit knowledge of the victim but even attacks the doctor for questioning his son.  Her intern is lying to himself, when after five years of studying medicine, he wants to give it all up, because (this is a new one) he cannot get an image of the beatings his father gave him.

The conclusion, that she does solve the mystery, is perhaps obvious to an audience, given our need to see a resolution to her work, but conclusion aside, it’s interesting to note some differences between small-town medicine and doctors as we know them here.  Jenny has an office, but no receptionist.  She has to excuse herself from her patients to answer the door.  She makes house calls and treats an undocumented immigrant who is afraid to go to a hospital lest he be turned in to the police.

Otherwise, she appears to have no relationships outside of her patients, but the Dardennes are not interested in handing us a story with a strong narrative.  We come away with an appreciation of a doctor who, despite telling her intern that emotional connections with patients hinder diagnoses, nonetheless takes time from her busy schedule to track down the victim’s identity so that she can have a proper burial rather than go to an unmarked grave.  And her moral courage does break down the resistance of many others who would otherwise have refused to get involved.  Everything feels naturalistic, proving once again that serious cinema does not need the interference of loud music drowning out dialogue or an array of melodramatic flourishes such as explosions, car crashes and vulgarity.

Unrated.  113 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

WETLANDS – movie review

  • WETLANDS

    Abramorama
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: C
    Director:  Emanuele Della Valle
    Written by: Emanuele Della Valle
    Cast: Adewale Akinnuove-Agbaje, Heather Graham, Jennifer Ehle, Anthony Mackie, Christopher McDonald, Reyna de Courcy
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/6/17
    Opens: September 15, 2017
    Wetlands Movie Poster
    “Wetlands” is not the only police drama cast amid the waves and sands of Atlantic City.  “Boardwalk Empire,” featuring most scenes in Atlantic City, has  TV action that is so good, with so many plots and subplots that merge easily, that it gives credence to the idea that cable is quite often better than the movies.  Atlantic City today is known as a has-been, a place once visited for getting into wheels on the boardwalk, chewing salt water taffy, and gambling in hotels that are now dilapidated, that the whole area seems to have given way to our jet age, making cross-country and intercontinental visits so alluring that New Jersey can no longer attract a tourist-hungry crowd.  At least its murky, foggy, and shoddy façade makes for detective-noir films, especially outside the three or four months that still beckon waves of visitors.

    Now, Emanuele Della Valle in his freshman expedition as writer and director, attempts an arty version of a detective tale, or at least he may think that having characters talk in low tones with only a modicum of melodrama gives the picture class.  Instead it comes off as a soporific take on people who are down on their luck, having some hope of redemption and recovery from some bad habits.  Those bad habits on display here are not only about heroin and liquor, but are the more dangerous ones: estrangement and infidelity.

    In the story Babs Johnson (Adewale Akinnuove-Agbaje), a top Philadelphia cop who is caught up in corruption and drug addiction, goes to Atlantic City to try his luck with his family, namely his ex-wife Savannah (Heather Graham) and teen daughter Amy (Celeste O’Connor).  He has a lot of work to do if he wants to turn the clock back, as his daughter gives him the bird and his ex-wife, still hostile, prefers to company of a woman (Reyna de Courcy).  Wearing the badge of a detective, Babel Johnson is embraced by his new, ebullient partner, Detective Paddy Sheehan (Christopher McDonald), a lover of gambling and of life itself.  But Sheehan has a family problem as well as his wife Kate (Jennifer Ehle), a newscaster on local TV who pops pills to keep thin and youthful, is proven unfaithful.  When a local girl is found murdered, the plot turns into a whodunit, with even Babs considered a person of interest.

    The plot lurches forward in fits and starts, with Kate’s newscasts more excited about an upcoming storm that Babs’s interest in solving a murder has to take a raincheck.  Among the cast, Ms. Ehle stands out as a woman who, because of age, worries that she may be cast aside to make way for someone younger.

    Unrated.  98 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

SWEET VIRGINIA – movie review

  • SWEET VIRGINIA

    IFC Films
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B
    Director:  James M. Dagg
    Written by: Ben China, Paul China
    Cast:  Jon Bernthal, Christopher Abbott, Imogen Poots, Rosemarie DeWitt, Odessa Young
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/19/17
    Opens: November 17, 2017
    Sweet Virginia Movie Poster
    We in New York may think of Alaska as the place to tour once in a lifetime, usually by cruise ship because of the dearth of navigable roads.  But there are people living there for reasons other than to make money on oil rigs, and the folks in the small town that seems as though it had broken off from a mainland and disappeared into the sea (filmed in Hope, British Columbia), are not making great sums of cash.  This is a backwoods place that evokes the spirit of folks who may be at the end of their rope, often because of the death of a spouse or the alienation of a daughter.  The scene is worked out by Jamie M. Dagg in his sophomore feature, his other work being “River” which takes place also in a remote region–of southern Laos.
    a
    The noirish atmosphere makes a character of the darkness while prodding us to see the action on the big screen, and I missed something viewing it through a link on my computer.  The film opens on three men playing cards in a café after midnight, its door open (a tragic mistake), leading to a visit by the cold-blooded Elwood (Christopher Abbott), who insistence that he’s hungry.  Seemingly in a huff because he is told to leave, he returns with a revolver killing all three card players.  We find that he was hired as a hit man to take out the no-good husband of Lila (Imogen Poots) because, she says, he cheated on her. But the real motive is money, which she expects to collect upon his death. Trouble brews when she cannot come up with the cash, which causes him to remain and look for other sources of income in the town.

    There are moments of extreme violence but Dagg’s principal interest is in a psychological study of flawed characters, brought out principally by the friendship of the killer with Sam Rossi (Jon Bernthal) an ex-rodeo champion and now owner of the motel “Sweet Virginia,”  Both are lonely men, heartbroken, attempting to relieve their pain through human some connection.  Elwood does this, sadly, by hiring a hooker for his motel room.  Sam’s solution is a better one: a friendship with benefits with Bernadette (Rosemarie De Witt).  Bernadette is newly widowed by the murder, and much is made of the tenderness they feel for each other discerned poetically by the way she cuts his Samson-like hair, which comes across almost like sexual foreplay.

    The film can be compared to the Coen Brothers’ masterwork “No Country for Old Men,” with its greater dark humor such as killer Anton Chigurh’s making life-and-death decisions by flipping a coin.  There is abundant quiet dialogue in a film that does succeed in evoking the misery of men and women in an Alaskan town as remote as you can get, and the ensemble performances are spot-on.  Still one could hope for more tension to replace some of the soft-spoken, often aimless dialogue.

    Rated R.  93 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

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-

SHITHOUSE – movie review

SHITHOUSE
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Cooper Raiff
Writer: Cooper Raiff
Cast: Cooper Raiff, Dylan Gelula, Amy Landecker, Logan Miller, Olivia Welch
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/16/20
Opens: October 16, 2020

Cooper Raiff, the 22-year-old director, writer, and star of this small but delicate movie, provides some enlightenment to me, though I had been intellectually aware of how college is different these days from when I went in the mid-1950s. In my day, we had parties in the fraternity house, but the young women were nowhere near as sexually free as today’s coeds. At the junior prom, the dances were more like fox trots, cha-cha’s and rhumbas, the dances which if they were on a completion test for today’s college freshmen would make them wonder what’s amiss in their vocabularies. The women had curfews—no later than midnight on weekends, but the deans need not have worried. A panty raid was as risqué an experience as you might find at that time. As for marijuana—what’s that?

Poster

“Shithouse, which is so low key that while the music at the parties is loud, there is gratefully no music at all in the soundtrack. Raiff wants us to hear the conversations clearly, and given the absence of a traditional plot, there is no need to create suspense, or romance, or whatever else you want music for.

Cooper Raiff plays his role with such authenticity that you’d swear that in real life he is like that. Strikingly handsome, he is unable to parlay his thick hair and all-around good lucks to have what everyone of us needs: attention of others and of course love. But good lucks gets him somewhere with Maggie (Dylan Gelula), the more experienced sophomore he meets at a party who invites him to play spin-the-bottle, but with more action than my 1950s friends and I ever got from that game. They have sex in her room but he is somehow thwarted, so they settle for a long time of shooting the shit in the room and on campus, where he tells Maggie about the stuffed dog he carried with him from home (which he had left only weeks before), and in the movie’s one surreal moment the dog talks to him. Almost needless to say, he has no friends and confesses that lack to Maggie.

He’s a mama’s boy who calls home to get chat with his Mom (Amy Landecker) and his sister Jess (Olivia Welsh).
When he discovers Maggie hooking up with another, he gives her hell, which leads to another long talk with her not realizing that he thinks incorrectly that his hookup and his long conversation with her the night before means less to her than to him.

None of this would likely make Alex think that we would have been better off staying at home and going to a local college. The out-of-town experience for men and women from the ages of eighteen to twenty-two is invaluable. The coursework may be similar, but being away from home for four years minus summers and holidays, and being able to communicate with a roommate who is different form you such as Sam (Logan Miller), a party animal whose dorm-room exercise consists of throwing up after indulgent in some serious alcohol, provides an education in social graces.

This is the kind of movie that fits in with the SXSW festival, where it won best narrative feature. Don’t be misled by the title, which relates to the initial party that Alex attends at the Shit House. In our day the party areas were called by Greek letters, but at least here you can’t say that “Shit House is Greek to me.”

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

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

 

ON THE ROCKS – movie review

ON THE ROCKS
A24
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, Jenny Slate, Barbara Bain
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/15/20
Opens: October 23, 2020

On the Rocks (2020) - IMDb

Human beings are a sociable lot, unable to cope with loneliness for long stretches. But there are distinct ways that we socialize. Introverts have something going for them. They listen, and oh do we like people who listen. They are better in one-to-one relationships and, according to the cliché, they might rather read a book than stay too long at a boisterous party. Extraverts are more superficial. They’re back-slappers. They celebrate life boldly; they’re the life of the party. And while most of us lie on a spectrum making us neither extreme introverts nor dyed-in-the-wool extraverts, extraverts have more fun.

You don’t believe me? Take a look at the character Felix, played by Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks.” He can talk his way out of a speeding ticket, jumping out of his antique Italian sports car and, wouldn’t you know—he is familiar with the officer’s dad? “How is he doing?” and the like. He even introduces his daughter Laura (Rashida Jones), his passenger, to each of the men in blue, and has the two cops not only forget that they should ticket speeders, but actually help push until his stalled engine runs again.

Laura, whose eyes roll a some of the things her dad does, but deep down she may be like the rest of us, I’m guessing the majority of sons of daughters who would like their dads to be more like Felix than like their own loving, lovable, but staid givers of life. He can go with Laura to Manzanillo and be the aforementioned life of the party by singing to an appreciative audience accompanied by a local on a guitar. But he can be bookish as well, enlightening Laura about the only breed of monkey in which the females dominate. And how way back when, men, crawling on all fours, would be attracted to women by their butts, and how the breast symbolizes the paleolithic rear today, which explains the hold on men.

The plot is screwball, but not the far-out slapstick that would often find Marlon Wayans in his métiér. Here Wayans performs in the role of Dean, who may not yet be a rich as his father-in-law but he’s getting there, affording a loft in Tribeca. By the way the whole picture puts New York City in there as a character and makes you wonder why anybody would want to leave, Covid or otherwise. Laura thinks he’s cheating on her, tells her dad, and presto. The late middle-aged playboy is on it, following Dean around the city, even persuading Laura to join him on a flight to Manzanillo, Mexico where her husband is having a meeting that includes some women colleagues.

Here is not the place to reveal the answer to the big question: is he or isn’t he? The answer is not the important thing. Coppola, who made good use of Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation” (a fading movie star bonds with a woman in Tokyo) and was at the helm in “The Virgin Suicides” (men become obsessed with five sisters who are ruled strictly by their religious parents), provides continuous amusement with the help of two girls playing Felix’s granddaughters. And Marlon Wayans convinces in a serious role of a successful businessman. For all the riches he represents, Bill Murray remains happily in his signature attitude: one of the great examples of actors entertaining with dry humor.

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

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

 

RADIUM GIRLS – movie review

RADIUM GIRLS
Cine Mosaic
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ginny Mohler, Lydia Dean Pilcher
Writer: Ginny Mohler, Brittany Shaw
Cast: Joey King, Abby Quinn, Cara Seymour, Scott Shepherd, Susan Heyward, Neal Huff, Collin Kelly-Sordelet
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/28/20
Opens: October 23, 2020

Poster

Pity executive in our poor corporations. You guys make nice products for us Americans, and for that we are grateful. You’ve learned how to put tobacco plants into cigarettes. You can’t go to the tobacco fields and smoke, can you? And the gasoline for our cars. You guys found a way to get the oil from the ground, get it to the local gas station, and off we go. So what happens? You guys get sued. They say you pollute the water, you destroy the air, you cause cancer, you gouge the customers, you destroy the Amazon rain forests. Maybe you corporate guys, especially the founders should have stayed in bed.

Look at radium. We honor Marie Curie for isolating it on April 20, 1902. Radium is used for calibrators and other medical equipment, lighting rods, luminous paints. But pessimists were right. When radium was used for painting the hands of watches to allow you to read time in the dark, big problems arose that continued until radium ceased being used for watches in 1970. “Radium Girls” is a disease-of-the-week-type movie to show the heroism of one teen-aged girl who in 1925 was busy with a group of others, all women, in painting the hands of watches with radium. They were told to lick the radium-soaked brushes to give them a fine tip, and then some used it to paint their fingernails, faces, teeth. The bosses at the American Radium Company told the women that there was nothing wrong with doing this, and that it was even healthy. People drank radioactive water for health and generally, Americans believed that radium had no bad side effects.

But here is the key point. The owners of American Radium knew that dipping brushes on tongues could cause serious, even fatal illnesses, but they hid that information; just as the American tobacco lobby knew well in advance that cigarettes cause cancer but did not inform the rest of the country about this.

This brings us to “Radium Girls,” based on the true story involving the women working in the factories painting watch hands eight hours a day, piecemeal work that awarded them twelve cents for each watch. In today’s money that would be about $1.78. The film does not go into how much time one watch would take so we cannot calculate what a woman’s wage would be today, but it’s not enough to live on then or now.

Bessie Cavallo (Joey King) and her sister Jo (Abby Quinn) live with their grandfather in a New Jersey dump. Bessie somehow avoids licking the camel’s hair brush, but Jo does, and as a result succeeds in being employee of the month. The seventeen-year-old Bessie becomes worried when Jo falls ill, particularly since she is the better breadwinner, is somewhat less anxious when she is diagnosed by the company doctor with flu. A short time later, the doctor reports that she has syphilis, not an easy thing to get if you’re a virgin like Jo. Other girls show symptoms—dizziness and the like. Jo goes to a labor organization under Wiley Stephen (Cara Seymour) to find help in getting a lawyer, but in her spare time she begins a relationship with Walt (Collin Kelly-Sordeldet), who introduces her to an integrated group of progressives that includes Etta (Susan Heyward), who would feel at ease protesting today in Portland or Minneapolis.

The company tries to buy off the two girls but instead the case goes to trial and gets worldwide attention. Once again: it’s not that radium is dangerous, but that the company knew it was toxic and did nothing. The rest of the film goes by predictably albeit with one major twist involving the testimony of a one Mr. Leech (Scott Shepherd), an exec with American Radiuim.

In the co-director’s seat, Lydia Dean Pilcher has shown her interest in women’s issues, as her “A Call to Spy” finds Churchill looking to dig up a women’s spy group. This is Ginny Mohler’s first film as co-director. They include archival films, each on screen for seconds, including women with signs urging everyone to join the Communist party, a fashionable choice during the Depression.

Needless to say the war against well-heeled corporations who know things but don’t tell (nicotine is addicting, guns kill, alcohol causes auto accidents, fracking ruins property, animal diets cause obesity and cancer and destroy the rain forests). Not mentioned in this film, which is acted with passion especially by Joey King in the star role as Bessie and edited chronologically, is that the real radium girls died miserably thanks to Big Corporate’s treatment of their employees as wage slaves depending on their jobs and willing to continue licking the brushes even after hearing of the dangers.

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

Story – B+
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

THE SOUNDING – movie review

THE SOUNDING
Giant Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Catherine Eaton
Writer: Catherine Eaton, Bryan Delaney
Cast: Catherine Eaton, Teddy Sears, Harris Yulin, Frankie Faison, Danny Burstein, David Furr, Lucy Owen
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/1/20
Opens: October 20, 2020

Catherine Eaton in The Sounding (2017)

As a former high school teacher, I have this question for you. Shakespeare is probably taught in most high schools, and is an elective or part of required English literature in most liberal arts college. The aim of the folks who decide curricula is hopefully not simply to have students pass tests but to give them a love of literature, particularly the plays of the Bard. Then how come maybe one percent of adults go voluntarily, willingly, excitedly to performances of Shakespeare’s plays? Surely we should not be so elitist to think that every teen through 22-year-old must know at least one play, so as Joe Biden would say, here’s the deal.

Catherine Eaton, who directs “The Sounding” and serves as its star, might give you the impression that as long as you reach one person out of a hundred who becomes enamored with Shakespeare’s works, that’s enough. Eaton, in the role of Olivia or Liv, becomes the kind of fan beyond what anyone would imagine. First she refuses to speak for years; then when she finally lets loose, every word is a quote from Shakespeare that fits the occasion she’s in. Lionel (Harris Yulin), her grandfather, had home-schooled her on Monhegan Island in Maine where David Kruta films the action, a popular tourist destination for hiking and sailing. The place is nearly deserted with few year-round inhabitants, and that’s perfectly fine for Liv, though granddad, a psychiatrist, first tries to treat her silence, then gives up, realizing that maybe the young woman has no intention of communicating, of being what’s considered normal.

However, not ready to leave things be, he persuades Michael (Teddy Sears), a former pupil of his, to be her advocate, insisting that he not try to cure her nor, heaven forbid, to allow her to be hauled away to a psychiatric institution, even though one day she nearly drowns and is considered a harm to herself. She is sent on Michael’s insistence to a psychiatric hospital where she becomes a rebel, like “cuckoo” Jack Nicholson, entertaining the other inmates with Shakeseare’s quotes fitting each occasion and nothing else. Since she pushes back regularly, the shrinks believe she may have to be institutionalized for a long time. Goodbye ocean, hiking paths, freedom.

There’s a joke that the motto of the American Medical Association is “If it ain’t broke, we fix it until it is,” and this movie illustrates the saying—which, it turns it, is not a joke at all. Michael feels guilty, and despite enjoined by a restraining order, he determines to let nothing stand in the way of having her regain her freedom. The shrinks are the crazies here.

In some film festivals, for her performance in resisting the powers in the island’s snake pit, Catherine Eaton has won some best actress awards in a role that decades ago would played by Olivia de Havilland. The story is paced slowly, then picks up speed as she gathers into herself the emotions that the Bard himself must have felt. Wouldn’t it be a nice addition if we had subtitles each time Eaton delivers a quote, together with its source? So: brush up your Shakespeare: start quoting him now.

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

Story – B
Acting – A-
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+

 

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+

THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS – movie review

THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Directors: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Writers: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/3/20
Opens: December 25, 2020

The Truffle Hunters: Luca Guadagnino brings Alba to the Sundance 2020 - La  Cucina Italiana

If you go swimming a lot and do not take care to dry yourself thoroughly, you may be visited by a fungus, which will cause an itch in the last place you want to itch. But did you know that some fungi will fetch $2500 a pound and up? The costly food item is the truffle, an acquired taste like caviar and even more difficult to find. The white Alba truffle, the most prized, is found in the Piedmont area in northwest Italy. But don’t worry. This documentary is not middle-school biology presentation about the fungus, dealing instead with the mischievous octogenarian men in the area and the dogs that always try to upstage their human companions. The canines almost do, but they cannot win our aww’s the way the men do. This, then, is a look at the folks who harvest the morsel so prized by diners who have the restaurant staffs grate the truffles over their fried eggs as if they were parmesan cheese.

Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw direct their sophomore movie, having immersed themselves in the birthplace of stock car racing in the film “The Last Race” (2018).

There is only a single scene near the end focusing on a gourmet whose server shaves a truffle over a fried egg while the restaurant is playing “Tosca.” Otherwise we are looking at the forests of Piedmont where men in their eighties search the land with their trained dogs, animals that they love and would not dream of parting with notwithstanding an offer one gent received for thousands of euros if he would sell. “Do you have children?” he asked the prospective buyer. “Yes? If I take 50,000 euros from the bank, would you sell me one of them?” (Watch out: you might be surprised at how many fathers would jump at the chance.)

If you’ve spent your life living in a big city and take a look at these men communing with nature under the moonlight, you may be excused if you feel envy. But would you trade your condo for a spartan lodge, throwing logs into the antique stove for heat and for cooking, trading your bidet-furnished bathroom for an outhouse?

A good deal of the film shows truffle hunters living under a code of behavior not unlike that of sellers of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. The codgers must guard their turfs. They sometimes have to muzzle their dogs because the competition is leaving strychnine for them. One fellow with a long gray beard, using a Olivetti about the same age, types a manifesto that the youths are no longer respecting the honorable codes of the past, thinking only of the money they can make in the business. He is disgusted to such an attempt that he is backing out of the game, retiring despite pleas from a buyer with deep pockets who trusts him and wants to buy only from him.

By contrast, Carlo, another fellow of 87 is badgered by his wife to retire on his pension. He had already injured himself on a tree branch walking with his dog Barbi at night, but he and others of his trade may realize that the hunt is the only thing keeping them alive.

Would it be ageist to say that these old guys are adorable? The really are. Barbi’s human companion talks to his Lagotto Romagnolo (a breed well known for nasal abilities) because dogs are the greatest listeners you can find. Another shares a bathtub with his dog, the latter loving the shampoo, then having his fur blow-dried.

The film is awash in color: green for the forest, of course, yellow for the abbondanza of grapes being prepared for home-brewed wine, white for the snow and red for the tomatoes with a taste that you’ll never find among those fruits in the U.S. The best shots, however, are filmed by a dog. A camera is attached to the body, and as the dog scampers excitedly across the woodland, we get the impression that he can outrun even a cheetah.

Wouldn’t this be a better world if the only living creature being hunted down would be the truffle?

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

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

 

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+