THE MENU – movie review

THE MENU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LIVING – movie review

LIVING

Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Screenwriter: Kazuo Ishiguro, Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Bill Nighy, Alex Sharp, Adrian Rawlins, Hubert Burton, Oliver Chris, Michael Cochrane, Anant Varman, Aimee Lou Wood
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/4/22
Opens: December 23, 2022

Do you ever wonder what clothing people will wear 50 years from now? A hundred years? You can be sure that what you wear today not be in fashion decades from now. If you calculate from, say, the Victorian age, when women took on layers upon layers of clothing, went to the beach covering virtually their entire bodies, you might predict that in 2070 we will put on unisex clothing, perhaps similar to what we think Martians are wearing today.

Absurd clothing fashions decorated bodies as recently as 1950, when men both in the U.S. and in the UK wore silly hats. Fedoras in our country and maybe fedoras in London. Vests were de rigueur, pocket watches in trousers. Double-breasted suits which seem to have gone the way of hula hoops. As Oliver Hermanus directs Bill Nighy and his colleagues in this 1952 remake of Kurosawa’s 1952 classic “Ikiru,” clothing reflects the repression of the conservative but prosperous fifties.

Can you believe today that when men and women went on dates, they continued to call each other Mr. and Mrs.? Nowadays even the use of Ms has given way to calling people, even your bosses, simply with their first names. Repression is on display in “Living,” with Bill Nighy’s representation of Williams, a low-level boss with a handful of subordinates working in a government office in London. This is the kind of bureaucratic job that should not have required suits and ties since no customers visited, but there you go. Stuffy stuffy stuffy. The job requires a veritable skyscraper of documents, the kind that offices are decorated with two boxes, “in” and “out” on every worker’s desk, and which you would be advised not to go through the material too quickly lest you work yourself out of a job.

When Williams learns from his doctor that he has six months to live, he makes up his mind to spend his final months away from what has repressed him for so long. What does he do? He goes with a new, young friend to night clubs, strip joints really. He plays the one-armed bandits. Soon enough he realizes that this is not going to fire his imagination for even his limited lifeline, and he opts to do something meaningful for once in his life. But what he chooses is not what you might think he’d go for. He doesn’t take a trip around the world or even get to know the rest of the UK, which he could have done since he takes a train every workday anyway. He dates a young woman in his section—no he doesn’t think of it as a date and neither does the much younger woman he befriends. In fairness let’s leave his choice as a surprise to entice you to see this film. Suffice it to say that you will have seen Bill Nighy in a role he was meant for .

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

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

WILDCAT – movie review

WILDCAT

Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Trevor Frost, Melissa Lesh
Screenwriter: Trevor Frost, Melissa Lesh
Cast: Harry Turner, Samantha Zwicker, Keanu, Khan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/29/22
Opens: December 21, 2022 in theaters. December 30, 2022 streaming on Amazon

Whoever said that dogs grovel with gratitude toward their human companions wherever they go while cats, at least above the stage of kittens, are independent and more judgmental, has not seen Trevor Frost and Melissa Lesh’s documentary “Wildcat.” The directors in their debut feature might want to look forward to first-picture awards, adept at capturing the behavior of Khan, an ocelot, who dies after being shot, and Keanu, likewise an ocelot pup, who will come of age during the picture’s 106 minutes of spectacular photography in Peru’s Amazon jungle. (Is it a coincidence that Amazon picked up the film for distribution?)

If the duo who trained the cats early on preparing to release them into the wild after eighteen months were ciphers, this would be no more than a Disney special, and a good one at that. But Harry Turner captures our attention as a British man who took a six-months’ tour of duty in Afghanistan, came back with PSTD, and makes no effort to hide his vulnerabilities. You would think that after seeing the horrors in that sad Middle Eastern nation, Harry would want to live nowhere but in big cities, but ironically, by his own admission, he finds solace deep in the Peruvian rain forest. He attaches himself to Melissa Lesh, an American doctoral candidate, who supports her long-term friend until even she is ready to give up on this fellow who simply cannot break away completely from psychological disorders.

The directors together with others film the action, human animals and four-legged felines, capturing the love that Harry pours into raising the young kitty, all of which is returned in force by ocelots Khan and Keanu. Unlike Disney specials that shy away from filming the violence of the jungle, “Wildcat” treats us to a survival battle between the cat and a pissed off caiman, angered about the claws it finds on its leathery back. Harry and his partner Samantha agree that their animal friends must learn to live in the jungle where every day can provide a fight for one’s life by enemies who are about as ethical in treating their future dinners as Putin in his relations to a neighboring country.

Though Harry has an adoring family—his parents and younger brother fly from the UK to Peru projecting nothing but sweetness and light—Samantha has been traumatized by her own dealing with her abusive dad. When witnesses report sightings of Keanu, mature and wild enough to survive its natural adversaries, we agree: job well done. Harry, however, may need lifetime treatment for his emotional trauma courtesy of the military. War is hell. We cannot help thinking that like Keanu and Khan, we human beings are living in a jungle.

This is the only movie in cinema history to be dedicated to the memory of an ocelot.

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

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

TANTURA – movie review

TANTURA

Reel Peak Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Alon Schwarz
Screenwriter: Alon Schwarz, Shaul Schwarz, Halil Efrat
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/26/22
Opens: December 2, 2022

Tantura (2022)

Anti-Semites sometimes charge that Jewish Americans are more loyal to Israel than to their own country. While this is absurd (nobody took a poll), there may be an explanation, a reason that such a charge may have at least a shadow of validity. The U.S. is a powerful country protected by two oceans with the most powerful military in history, spending more on armaments than the next five nations put together. When our country uses obscene weapons like napalm on a little state like Vietnam, intervening in a civil war that was not America’s business, moral Americans criticize justly. By contrast Israel is younger, precariously situated in a largely hostile Middle East whose people outnumber Israeli Jews one hundred to one. If a Jewish American criticizes the U.S. yet holds back on giving voice to moral wrongs by Israelis, the difference lies in the vulnerability of the Jewish state, a tiny nation whose existence was challenged by five wars.

Maybe films about the Vietnam War should proliferate while this film should be suppressed.

That said, it’s to the credit of Alon Schwarz in his sophomore feature to awaken our consciences to some alleged savagery of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) during the 1948 war of independence, called the Nakba, or catastrophe, by Arabs. Just as Germany has with a vengeance acknowledged its shame during the Nazi era in so many ways, so has the director of “Tantura” opened up wounds that Israelis might have wanted healed and forgotten. The Israeli government could presumably have censored the film, just as Iran does the same for movies that show Iranian vulnerability, so it’s to the credit of the powers-that -be to allow the release of Tantura.

Summing up, director Schwarz, with a script that he wrote together with Shaul Schwarz and Halil Efrat, wants us to know that during the 1948 war that earned Israel’s survival, the soldiers of the Alexandroni Brigade may not have committed genocide, but they were responsible (though some authorities dispute this) for lining up and shooting residents of Tantura village even after the fighting had ended. This documentary is filled with talking heads—divided into those with three attitudes: A) It never happened. Israeli is a particularly moral state that would never shoot unarmed people who had surrendered; B) it happened, but why open wounds now? C) It may have happened and may not, but who cares? Don’t give it more thought.

The interviewed speakers are backed up by archival still shots and motion picture films of scores of Arabs with their hands up who had surrendered, many of whom are seen bused out of the village. The excuse given by IDF people who may have carried out the massacre of up to two hundred eighty Arabs is that Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion had said, in effect, “do what you can to empty out the village.” After the dispersion of the Arabs, the village becomes populated with Israelis, who allegedly want to make sure that the Arabs do not try to return to their homes. Buildings are razed, flattened to the ground. People now relaxing on the village beach may be walking on mass graves.

The most important character is Teddy Katz, now in his nineties and weakened by a series of strokes. He and others relate how his Master’s thesis at the University of Haifa is responsible for raising the issue to a large audience. He now defends his point of view, though the entire validity of his scholarship is questioned by one professor, who believes that the writing is so sloppy that Katz should have been thrown out of the college.

At this point I would opine that the documentary should be seen by a wider audience, but at a time that anti-Semitism has grown in the U.S.—with that idiot “Ye” not helping at all—would Jewish Americans be masochistic to root for the spread of this doc?

In Hebrew, Arabic and English with English subtitles

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

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

EO – movie review

EO

Janus Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Screenwriter: Ewa Piaskowska, Jerzy Skolimowski
Cast: Hola, Tako, Marietta, Ettore, Rocco, Mela, Sandra Drzymalska, Isabelle Huppert, Lorenzo Zurzolo, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Tomasz Organek, Lolita Chammah
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/19/22
Opens: November 18, 2022

Travel broadens. When you leave our shores for a few weeks in Europe or Asia or South America, you see and mostly enjoy people who are different from you. That is certainly the case with EO, a donkey, who walks, hee-haws, and runs into living beings in Poland and Italy who are not like him. Even people who are justifiably called asses by others are not like him, or her, depending on which of the six actor-donkeys show up in the lead role. The movie does not have a feel-good ending and, for that matter, runs through an alternation of feel-good scenes and bummers. It’s all about EO’s odyssey; running into horses, cows, pigs, and the most conspicuous animals, those that walk on two legs. No, they’re not all favorites of his, but he simply cannot forget Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska), his loving caretaker who caresses him with such ecstasy that you may wonder whether she has some perv blood in her veins.

There is not much dialogue and only a vague likeness to a tightly-woven story. The people are different not only from EO but from one another. Some are kind, others brutal. I am reminded of a you tube video posted by Animal Aid India of a donkey which had been beaten with a lead pipe, leaving him with a swollen eye. He is loved at last by people who tend to his pain and feed him antibiotics.

EO is first featured in a circus and whipped by a man who is marching the donkey to another destination. Animal rights people protesting the very idea of a circus take him away under the authority of a Polish statute. Somehow Jerzy Skolimowski, who directs and who for the most part has little problem with animal stubbornness, senses that no matter where EO travels, he believes that there’s no place like home and family. Cue Kasandra.

EO thrives when in a petting zoo he is, well, petted by a group of special-ed schoolkids. But when he’s on a horse farm, he does not play even second fiddle. The beautiful horses and their human groomers treat EO as though he were not there. When the winning team in a local soccer game raucously celebrate their victory in a bar, their cheers do not go over well with a bunch of young thugs from the losing team. While the latter are at it, they beat EO as well. Such is the life of a would-be mascot.

“EO” might not have been such a hit were it not for exceptional lensing by Michal Dymek, the cameras catching a traveling robot like the kind shown in a recent episode of “60 Minutes.” The opening scene is dizzying; a shaking camera doused in reds and blues. Throughout the episodic tale, EO watches the passing parade as though serving as an assistant director to Fred Wiseman exploring human institutions: generally blasé when caressed but of course disturbed when beaten.

Isabelle Huppert, who is given billing above the line just after Sandra Drzymalska, does not belong in this movie, even while we agree that the film is episodic. She appears as a countess who may be the mother of a priest. The camera pans away when the priest seems about to kiss her on the lips.

I am reminded of the many people who have told me “I love animals,” often while cutting into a one-pound slice of sirloin. Goes to show how the English language, said to have the largest vocabulary of any idiom, evokes meanings that that subvert the definitions you assume.

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

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

NO BEARS – movie review

NO BEARS

Sideshow/ Janus Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Jafar Panahi
Screenwriter: Jafar Panahi
Cast: Naser Hashemi, Reza Heydrari, Mina Kavani, Bülent Keser, Mina Khosrovani, Vahid Mobasheri, Jafar Panahi, Bakhtiyar Panjeei, Sinan Yusufoglu
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/13/22

“No Bears” might get the attention of movie fans outside the elite community that watch less commercial, more artistic fare, since Jafar Panahi, in prison since July 2022 on yet another charge of creating anti-government propaganda, was unable to be present at the Venice Film Festival to receive the Grand Jury prize. One of Iran’s most influential filmmakers, Panahi refuses to be intimidated, making “No Bears” secretly within Iran, including a set that serves as a Turkish village.

In one sense a tribute to the art of filmmaking, “No Bears” opens on a scene in a Turkish village right on the Iranian border, where Zara (Mina Kavani) and Bakhtiar (Bakhtiar Penjei) seek false passport that would allow them to flee to France. Because the documents did not arrive on time, Bakhtiar urges Zara to continue without him, but Zara, who in a later scene will remove her blond wig, cries that she can never leave without him. At that point the assistant director calls “cut,” while just over the border, Panahi is smoking a cigarette and directing remotely on his laptop. We will later see how life follows fiction, but the easiest theme to appreciate is the difference between tradition and the contemporary life, between the culture of a village and that of a big city like Tehran.

Panahi does not take all the credit for himself. He sees his host Ghanbar (Vahid Mobaseri) heading to an engagement party in which in the interest of purity, women will watch the feet of the bride while the groom gets his cleansed by men. He asks Ghanbar to shoot as much film as he can. (The purity exercise may remind some of the Mikvah bath that Orthodox Jewish women take here in the U.S.

Tradition is about to blow up against Panahi when he is accused of taking a picture of the aforementioned bride and groom while the two are sitting under a walnut tree. The woman has been promised to another, and the villagers, sticking up for the young couple, seem willing to tear Panahi to pieces if he does not hand over the picture. Sounds like the kind of dispute that could arise here even in a modern city if a guy expects to pass around a nude photo of a girl, who is terrified that such an event could take place. Panahi repeats his innocence to the sheriff, but the villagers are not buying.

A side trip by Panahi to his assistant Ghanbar’s mother (Narjes Delarem) in which the elderly woman cooks for the director could remind us here of the stereotypical Jewish mother who makes sure that her children’s friends are plied with food as though they would starve without the largesse.

The bears in the film’s title refer to a superstitious fear of the animal, symbolic of the government’s oppression, its using everything it can think of to keep the people down. Panahi comes across this time with subdued filmmaking, a treasure to the audience that can appreciate his modus operandi. In Farsi with English subtitles.

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

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

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER – movie reviews

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Jason Kohn
Cast: Dusan Simic, Martin Rapaport, Aja Raden, Tehmasp Printer, Stephen Lussier, John Janik, Melvyn Thomas, Chandu Sheta
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/10/22

“Diamond are Forever” may be the and subject of a 1971 James Bond movie, but documentary director Jason Kohn begs to disagree with the title. The idea of his “Nothing Lasts Forever” is that not even the precious stone that American women want from their boyfriends to show commitment could disappear, a status symbol shredded to dusk like the Rolex watches sold in Chinatown for fifty bucks or that Gucci knockoff that only an expert can challenge.

Taking us to New York diamond district where the gems are sold, to Botswana where they are mined, Kohn evokes interviews from some of the industry leaders, the most colorful of whom is Martin Rapaport who is at the helm of the pricing organ called the Rapaport Group, an international network of companies providing added-value services that support the development of fair, transparent, efficient, and competitive diamond and jewelry markets. He warns scores of industry colleagues that the prices of diamond are going downhill, while several other guests raise concerns that not only are synthetics threatening to destroy the industry by undercutting the real thing by ninety percent, but that in a more insidious way, synthetics are mixed in with naturals to make their presence even more difficult to detect.

You can call the movie yet another critique of capitalism, a system of economics that knows how to use sophisticated marketing. Marketing, not rarity, is what makes the gems command top dollars, specifically by telling the people that if you get a genuine diamond ring for your engagement, you have definitive proof that your lover is into you, that he cherishes you. Conversely if you receive a synthetic and the guy lies about it, consider the betrothal kaput. (Not raised in the film is that many semi-precious stones like rubies and emeralds are not only more economical but are prettier.)

New York scores as a location not only for its famed 47th Street, which is to diamonds what Chinatown is to restaurants but for Roosevelt Island where we hear a gemologist tell of ways that might protect the real thing from its synthetic cousin—both of which are produced in China and India.

As though the subject were not interesting enough, Kohn directs it like a thriller, employing music that is among the most intrusive that I have ever witnessed short of what dominates superhero movies. At least when Rapaport is talking, Kohn respects the man enough to allow him to deliver his spiels without trying to cover the dialogue as though we have a concert blaring interference from another channel.

The film is available to Showtime subscribers.

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

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

SOFT & QUIET – movie review

SOFT & QUIET

Momentum Pictures/Blumhouse Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Beth de Araújo
Screenwriter: Beth de Araújo
Cast: Stefanie Estes, Olivia Luccardi, Eleanore Pienta, Dana Millican, Melissa Paulo, Jon Beavers, Cissy Ly, Nina E. Jordan, Rebekah Wiggins, Jayden Leavitt, Jovita Molina, Shannon Mahoney
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/8/22
Opens: November 4, 2022

The Supreme Court will shortly hand down a ruling on affirmative action which, if the court decides that previous rulings were wrongly determined will put a dent in the policy. Specifically, the justices will decide whether colleges can consider race among the factors to determine admissions. Now, if you are against affirmative action, this does not make you a racist. There are legitimate grounds to believe, as does Chief Justice Roberts, that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” If the colleges lose their prerogative, it is not likely that even those who are denied admission to prestigious universities will pick up guns and commit violence.

Really? Once you watch Beth de Araújo’s debut as writer-director of “Soft & Quiet,” you may change your mind. Araújo believes that hate could transform into violence, as we saw most dramatically in the January 6 riots in the Capitol, when a large group that included members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, extreme white supremacists, turned their hatred of what some had believed was a fraudulent attempt to throw out moderates and overturn the election.

The lesson: hate may lead to violence even in the most unlikely people. Consider a group of women led by Emily (Stefanie Estes), a kindergarten teacher in a Midwestern rural area. She and a group of other white Christian women are about to transform their political right to hold extreme views into a blood-curdling episode of stomach-churning ferocity. Holding an evening meeting in a church that at first looks as though they were planning a bake sale, Emily turns up with a cherry pie (how American can you get?) but with a swastika drawn across its dimensions (not so American). The group refer to themselves as Aryans, each of the pissed off women exposing her hostility to people of color. Emily had opened the tale by telling a kid in her kindergarten class to tell off the school’s janitor, ostensibly for washing the floor even though the boy might slip and hurt himself. “Stand up for yourself,” she notes, which she will soon do in a way that you would never think these ladies would do.

Leslie (Olivia Luccardi), a former jailbird, goes to the meeting when invited by Kim (Dana Millican), owner of a grocery store in the town. Marjorie (Eleanore Pienta) is denied a promotion in a favor of a woman from Colombia and refuses to believe the boss’s explanation that the Colombian had better leadership abilities. The usual right-wing laundry list of grievances gets heard, as the women blame people of color for their problems. “The Jew banks love to say ‘no’ to borrowers.” “The Blacks are loud and disrespectful.” “Jews run the media.” Surprisingly, Hollywood does not come into their grievances.

So far, these characters are doing nothing illegal. They are free to speak as long as they do not provoke violence or commit illegal acts themselves. But here is what makes this film unusual. For one thing, the writer-director captures images on a single take, to give the impression that what will occur is a train wreck. For another, she wants to wake the country up to a dangerous possibility that mayhem will occur. By presenting the chaos with the kind of violence that would in the past have given this movie an NC-17 rating, Beth de Araújo demands that her audience witness such atrocities that they would have trouble turning away. That, she appears to believe, is what is in store for America if hatred, based on racism, transforms into pandemonium.

When the women, after being chased out of the church by the pastor, go to Kim’s convenience store for wine, they get into an argument with two Asian customers Anne (Melissa Paulo) and Lily (Cissy Ly). They “Aryans” want to teach them a lesson that they will never forget. They break into their expensive house, the two residents arrive home before they were expected, and the bedlam erupts.

As for why Araújo introduces her feature with holy terror, as the women all shout at the two hapless homeowners, beat them, strangle them, the director has stated that “independent films have been coddling audiences,” that “KKK member[s]…movements are growing, not shrinking” She opposes “films that seek to comfort their audiences around racism and white supremacy—to remind them of the same old false narratives that…uphold white supremacy.”

With this film, Emily, who had urged her followers to avoid hard selling of their views by being soft and quiet, appears unable to stick to her plans simply to send out newsletters, or known on doors, or do peaceful things that are within the law. The message is that once you hate, there is no telling what you may do. Mission accomplished.

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

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

MY POLICEMAN – movie review

MY POLICEMAN

Prime Video
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Grandage
Screenwriter: Ron Nyswaner, based on the novel by Bethan Roberts
Cast: Gina McKee, Linus Roache, Rupert Everett, Harry Styles, Emma Corrin, David Dawson, Kadiff Kirwan
Screened at: Prime Video streaming
Opens: October 21, 2022 in theaters. November 4, 2022 streaming

When Oscar Wilde was convicted of a homosexual affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, sixteen years his junior, we can see that the pendulum swings back and forth, from a perverse interest in jailing people for victimless crimes to a broad acceptance today of gay relationships. In fact, so far as historians know, beginning in 600 B.C., in Celtic Britain when a man hosted a gathering, a dinner party, or whatever and his male guest rebuffed his advances, the host would feel insulted just as he might if you refused today to share scones with him at tea. Diodorus Siciulus, a Sicilian historian during the 1st century BC, noted “Though Celtic women were beautiful, men preferred to sleep with each other.” (Courtesy Wikipedia.)

Homosexual relations are legal today in the UK, via bills introduced in 1958 to decriminalize them. Bethan Roberts in his year 2021 novel “My Policeman,” adapted for the screen by scripter Ron Nyswaner, focuses on a just three people with various nuanced feelings about gay activity. “My Policeman” is directed by Yorkshire-born Michael Grandage, whose “Genius” deals with Max Perkins as book editor of Scribner. Now he makes a dramatic turn, honing on three people as they were in 1958 and as they are forty-one years later on the cusp of a new century.

Often films that alternate between two eras can be confusing, but here they compliment each other to a fault. Opening on a miserable, wheelchair-bound Patrick (Rupert Everett), felled by a serious stroke and virtually incapable of clear speech, “My Policeman” shows the poor man cared for by Marion (Gina McKee) but resented by Marion’s husband Tom (Linus Roach) who wants his wife to send Patrick to a nursing home. You might wonder about the division in loyalties, given that four decades earlier Tom (Harry Styles) is a best friend with benefits to Patrick (David Dawson).

Tom is bisexual, a poorly educated cop, whose life changes when attended to by Patrick, a museum curator whose mission becomes helping Tom to better himself aesthetically. Tom, a beer drinker who might well be a fan of Donald Trump were he born in the U.S., is attracted to the sophisticated Patrick, who if born in the States could be a Bernie Sanders voter. Posing for Patrick, an accomplished sketcher, Tom is seduced and swept into a new kind of life: Scotch instead of beer, Verdi and “Anna Karenina” opposed to TV, the two become enmeshed in a new passion, in one instance escaping from a police bust when they are discovered kissing in a dark alley. Patrick is beaten and imprisoned: Tom escapes.

At the same time Tom, who would have it both ways, is conflicted. He also wants a wife and a family. Marrying Marion (Emma Corrin), an elementary school teacher, he keeps his other love interest from her, lying about his involvement with the man who had introduces them to concerts and museums. Marion, wanting to put the past away and move on with her marriage, nevertheless comes to Patrick’s aid at a trial, serving as a character witness while trying to avoid implicating her husband.

Grandage does not shy away from nude sex scenes, which are graphic yet not sensationalized. Ben Davis behind the lenses shows a Brighton that can be compared with Coney Island, a depressing place with cheap amusements not unlike the penny arcades of its Brooklyn counterpart. Emma Corrin stands out as one who would go along with the 93% of Brits who in the mid-20th century considered the gay life with disgust, trying to save her marriage even while pondering whether to throw in the towel and walk away for good. As the story gives way to a melodramatic conclusion, we viewers can look back and marvel how well the tale has been told, how the six characters change from youthful passions to people who in some ways have not really grown. “My Policeman” is a class act with political dimensions; an endearing but not sentimentalized picture which nonetheless may find enlightened viewers reaching for Kleenex.

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

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

UTAMA – movie review

UTAMA (Our House)

Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Alejandro Loayza Grisi
Screenwriter: Alejandro Loaya Grisi
Cast: José Calcina, Luisa Quispe, Santos Choque
Screened at: Critics’ Link, NYC, 10/6/22
Opens: November 4, 2022 in New York’s Film Forum

Nowadays in the U.S., people are divided between those who like Republicans and others who favor Democrats. That’s not the only split. Folks are either owners of iPhones who spend their leisure time on the sidewalks buried in their messages or others who think (as I do) that the mostly youthful people should spend more of their time appreciating the beauty around them. On the other hand, there may be millions who do without iPhones, carrying on with the traditional trades of their ancestors. Similarly, in “Utama,” there are young Bolivians who are tech savvy and prefer to live in cities like La Paz and Sucre, and others who prefer to farm on the countryside. The major theme of the Bolivian entry to our Oscar competition is this: should grandpa listen to his grandson and leave his desolate rural home in favor of moving to the city, or should he obey his own heart and stay where he is—without electricity or running water—herding his llamas as his ancestors have done.

In one of his movies, American comedian Chevy Chase was asked what he did for a living. “Shepherd,” he replied, a response meant to be a joke (albeit a lame one), because in highly industrialized U.S., would such a category exist? Now director Alejandro Loayza Grisi, in his freshman film, wants to show you just how different a place can be when a shepherd, or in this case one a llama-herd, would be far from anything you’d see in the States. That’s just what is there for us to appreciate in “Utama,” which is Aymara for “our house.”

It’s not the kind of house that any of us would live in or aspire to, yet inside a shack on a part of a mountain 12,000 feet above sea level reside Virginio (José Calcina) and his wife Sisa (Luisa Quispe). They are old people, yet they are far from retired. In the parched area that had seen no rain in ages where there is no water in the couple’s local well, Sisa’s job is to trudge with a couple of buckets to a lake that seems like a mirage—that’s how out of place it looks—and fetch. Meanwhile Virginio grazes the llamas, though the poor flock of animals seem to have nothing growing to eat, but there’s enough to drink. (By the way llama farming exists in the U.S., a lucrative trade as the animals are used for making wool clothing of a material that contains no lanolin and therefore causes no itch.)

Their young grandson Clever (Santos Choque) is a city cat who visits from La Paz and occasionally looks at his iPhone, trying to encourage the old man to leave the hell-hole habitation and go with him to the city, especially since his chronic cough means he may need medical care. But the elderly guy simply will not move, and he will not go to a hospital in La Paz to die. Really, though, the countryside people, who look out for each other, would probably refuse to leave as well, given their camaraderie. Clever speaks Spanish, Virginio and Sisa speak Quechua. The rurals and the urbans do not have even the same language, which could be true in the U.S. as well, given the hostility of the Red states and the Blue states.

Barbara Alvarez photographs the beauty of the area, the endless plains and the morning sun, in a country that should beckon travel-happy Americans whose South American tourism may be limited to Brazil and Argentina. The principal actors had to be convinced to take part, and Calcina and Quispe do quite a good job of expressing themselves without the extensive training that professional actors go through. If there were an Oscar for ensemble acting, the llamas would walk away with it, a dignified looking bunch of animals except for the unfortunate one that gets sacrificed so that the gods who reign will produce rain. (They do.)

Bolivia’s entry to the Oscar competition is in Quechua and Spanish with English subtitles.

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

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

ETERNAL SPRING – movie review

ETERNAL SPRING

Lofty Sky Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Jason Loftus
Screenwriter: Jason Loftus
Cast: Daxiong, Jin Xuezhe, Lan Lihua, Wang Jianmin, Zhang Zhongyu, Wang Liansu, Wang Huilian
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/11/22
Opens: October 14, 2022 at New York’ Film Forum

In the United States, you can be for immigration or against, for gun control or against, for abortion or against, and still be elected to political office depending on your constituency. If you are Donald Trump you can grab women by their [private parts] and shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, and no one will care. They may even vote for you. But there is one belief in America that would doom your chances of election: being an out-of-closet atheist. Strangely enough, in China, you have a far better chance of being elected to office if you are a non-believer, since atheism is the state religion. If you are affiliated with what looks like an innocent membership in the Falun Gong which is practiced in one hundred countries, you could be arrested, tortured with electric shocks, psychiatric brain washing, beaten regularly, and housed in solitary confinement. What is this group, founded in China—a mafia? Drug dealers? Rapists? None of the above. All they practice if you believe what you see in Jason Loftus’s partly live and partly 3D animation movie “Eternal Spring” is that practitioners do prescribed exercises and meditate, leading a spiritual life; what look to me like Tai Chi which I had to get up at 6 a.m. in Hong Kong to witness.

According to Daxiong, the 3D animation artist and principal spokesperson for “Eternal Spring,” when the Chinese Communist government came across a thousand people practicing the guide, they thought that this was too large a group. That could serve as a threat to the status quo. The government banned the practice which it had encouraged at first. But when Falun Gong members hijacked a TV station and broadcast their propaganda in 2002, the police took the violent action such as that mentioned above, determined to put an end to anything that threatens the dictates of the authoritarian one-party system. We see in Daxiong’s drawings a recreation showing an electrician climbing a pole to make the technical adjustments, connecting the video therein. TV broadcast the documentary.

Daxiong holds forth with his stunning animation, showing police raids in Changchun City which arrested scores and forced others to flee. In fact Daxiong now lives in New York and other dissidents are shown in Toronto and Seoul. Not so lucky was a man named Big Truck who thought he could escape via a hunger strike, which sent him to the hospital where he would prepare to climb the walls. He died, not strangely, at the hands of the police.

The movie was featured at the London and New York Human Rights Watch Film Festival, won the audience award at Toronto’s Hot Docs, and is Canada’s submission to the 95th Academy Awards. But consider “Eternal Spring” to be a one-sided propaganda show. Funny how director Jason Loftus forgets that the Falun Gong, which I used to see handing out leaflets in New York’s Greenwich Village, are extreme opponents of homosexuality, the founder in a speech in Switzerland in 1998 holding that 1998 speech in Switzerland that, “Gods’ first target of annihilation would be homosexuals.” (Lewis, James R. 3 May 2018. Falun Gong: Spiritual Warfare and Martyrdom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-1108445658.) They also spread Q-anon conspiracy theories, are anti-vax, and Donald Trump is their preferred presidential candidate here in the States. See the Wikipedia article under “Falun Gong.”

In Mandarin and English with English subtitles.

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

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

CONCEPTION – movie review

CONCEPTION

Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Tarun Verma
Screenwriter: Tarun Verma
Cast: Kareem Ghuneim, Simren Lalani, Anjel Goldmine, Mai Le, Joe Grisaffi, Jessica Law-Davis
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/8/22
Opens: October 11, 2022

Conception (2022)

When I was dating, I became accustomed to hearing my prospective girlfriends say, “You men. When you see a woman, you have only one thing on your mind.” I couldn’t very well counter such a truth, but I was able to respond, “You women have only one thing on your mind.” We all know what that is and it’s a six-letter word, hint: “babies.” Maybe the situation is not dire, since what’s on our mind can meet what’s on theirs.

Tarun Verma, whose 2010 freshman movie “Aaj Kal” is about singles coming of age in their relationships, does not stroll far from his base with “Conception.” His new film is simple enough, dealing with what so many couples must be going through long before Federerico García Lorca made that clear in his 1934 play “Yerma”—about a childless woman who becomes so obsessed with having a baby that she commits a horrific crime. “Conception” is in no way on the same page as the Spanish classic but should find an audience especially of young people who may be thinking of what might happen if they get together and agree to have a little one, but fail.

In this tale Vic (Kareem Ghuneim) and Ami (Simren Lalani) open up with typical dating dialogue, two people successful in their professions. Vic tries to impress his date with some lame jokes which, later on, become a source of hostility once he and Ami get married. He’s a city cat, an adventurer who toys with the idea of a pleasure trip to Dubai but who, in the interest of being supportive, agrees to try to start a family and to move to the suburbs—where he does not fit in. They find that after 24 months they could be the only couple in a suburban neighborhood without children. And this is certainly not for lack of trying.

They go through the steps in some order that must have been devised by sadistic scientists, ending up with trying IVF (n vitro fertilization), which I had thought would be the first step but I stand corrected by Mr. Verma. Their Dr. Barry (Joe Grisaffi) is sympathetic, warning them that IVF will not be covered by insurance and involves expensive capsules, injections, and of course the visits to the doctor. The bliss that Ami and Vic felt before they attempted to make a copy of themselves turns to arguments; she feels bad on strong medications and he, who never shows much passion for making babies, is fed up with the ‘burbs.

The acting is competent, a pair of young people trying to deal with a banal script, the cinematography undemanding. “Conception” offers enlightenment for people who never heard of the struggles that some go through without success. Otherwise, there’s not much here unless you are an undemanding audience.

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

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

A PIECE OF SKY – movie review

A PIECE OF SKY (Drii Winter)

Switzerland’s Entry to the Academy Awards
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Koch
Screenwriter: Michael Koch
Cast: Michèle Brand, Simon Wisler, Elin Zgraggen, Daniela Barmettler, Josef Aschwanden
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/4/22

Switzerland must be as close to Utopia as you can get on this Earth. The most aggressive foreign countries do not bother its residents, none of whom having to fight in both world wars. Folks in German-speaking Zurich, French-speaking Geneva, and Italian-speaking Lugano get along. Industries are light: chocolates, watches, tourism and cheese, thus limiting the pollution that most of us to face. The mountain scenery is awe-inspiring. But what good is all that if you don’t have your health? “A Piece of Sky” looks at a Swiss man who is married to a woman passionately in love with him but whose life—and the life of his wife—go South when he is diagnosed with a brain tumor.

In his second film, Michael Koch slowly examines what happens to a family when a member receives a death-sentence diagnosis, allowing us to feel what it’s like to deal with an existential tragedy. To ramp up these feelings, Koch has a Greek chorus-like choir stand perfectly still amid the snow-capped mountains, to sum up the conveyed emotions. The most noteworthy is a chorus of death: the end that comes when we are “world-weary and longing for rest.”

Aside from being known for chocolate, cheese and fine watches, the Swiss have the most exquisite notions of time. Some of their highway signs tell you not just the number of kilometers remaining in your road trip but the number of hours and minutes you should expect to drive. If you have been to a bank in Zurich, you would marvel at the speed that the tellers count and dispense money. In that regard, “A Piece of Sky” is ironic, because in the Alpine village, life moves a snail’s pace. In fact, the opening scene, one that lasts some three minutes, we gaze at a bunch of rocks, capturing the perception that these stones are in no hurry, and neither are Anna (Michèle Brand) and her husband Marco (Simon Wisler).

Koch immerses us in the life of a place that is not simply a village like what you might expect here in the U.S., but a place so remote that you would have to drive up to an hour through the snow on a winding road to get to something that looks like civilization. The village residents hang out in a bar, shooting the breeze, while they order beers served by Anna, a waitress who also serves as a mail carrier to support herself and her daughter Julia. Marco, a farmer from the lowlands, might be mistaken for a bear or an ox if you spotted him from a distance. He is large, a man of few words, but articulate enough to propose marriage to Anna. You would be hard-pressed to find a movie showing their passion better than the long-take scene of the two dancing at their reception.

When Marco, afflicted with headaches that he tries to ignore, is diagnosed with a tumor on the part of the brain that governs impulsivity, Anna is confronted with a choice: leave him with a clinic, or take care of him at home. Her choice would seem obvious when she witnesses her husband committing a violation in front of young Julia.

In photographing the Alpine scenery, Armin Dierolf does not settle for simply capturing the allure of a skier’s paradise. He captures the heavy labor required of farmers to make ends meet, such as arranging the sexual bonding of a bull and a cow (who get right to business, no foreplay), showing us what happens to a cow that does not become pregnant. (Hint: though the bull may be infertile for all we know, the cow goes to the slaughterhouse.) The farmers do not employ harvesters, which would be useless given the levels of the mountains, but use scythes, a farming instrument sometimes used to portray Old Father Time on New Year’s Eve. Bales of hay are not harvested with steam shovels but simply rolled down to where needed.

“A Piece of Sky” shows us the reality of mortal illness with the long takes that American movies might not get away with. That these are first-time actors convincing in their shows of emotions is testament to director Koch’s professional competence.

In Swiss German with English subtitles.

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

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

LIKE LIKE IT RARE – movie review

SOME LIKE IT RARE (Barbaque)

Brainstorm Media
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Fabrice Eboué
Screenwriter: Fabrice Eboué, Vincent Solignac
Cast: Fabrice Eboué, Marina Foïs, Jean-François Ceyrey, Lisa Do Cuoto Texeira
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/30/22
Opens: October 14, 2022

A cannibal is a human being who eats human flesh, the word entering the world in 1550. No human society today takes part in what may well be a delicacy, but vegans are likely to extend the word “cannibal” to the eating of any animal. “Some Like It Rare” is a French entry that is one of the few non-documentary films that deal with the antipathy of some vegans toward the vast majority of people who eat red meat, its comic features interacting with slasher elements. Fabrice Eboué, who directs, co-stars and has co-writtten the offering, has previously directed “Simply Black,” billed as a politically incorrect look at the role of Black people in French society.

Vincent Pascal (Fabrice Eboué) takes on the role of a demon butcher of meat street and should remind film buffs of his closest relation, Sweeney Todd, which is Tim Burton’s look at a London fellow wrongfully imprisoned who seeks revenge for the rape and death of his wife. Todd teams up with a tenant just as Vincent teams up with his wife Sophie (Marina Foïs).

Vincent is a butcher who, together with his wife Sophie, fears that his business is soon to go belly-up, no thanks in part to competition from Marc Brachard (Jean-François Cayrey) and his wife Chloé (Lisa Do Couto Texeira), who manage four boucheries. As though Vincent’s troubles are not enough, he is facing attacks by vegan activists who smash up the store and drench its walls with fake blood. Sophie becomes the story’s Lady Macbeth, threatening to leave her unexciting husband for someone who does not always play it safe. Their marriage is saved by a stroke of luck. Their car runs over one of the vegans at night, and with no witnesses to the accident, they plan the perfect crime. They will butcher the body and, like the aforementioned Mr. Todd will serve the human meat to customers. Almost needless to say, the customers begin to line up around the block for slices of what the butchers call Iranian pork.

Realizing their sudden good fortune, the couple go out to avenge themselves on the vegans by hunting them down, finding that these herbivorous creatures taste great—just like the hens that organic farmers suggest are fed nothing but vegetables. Pushed relentlessly by his wife, Vincent reluctantly continues the serial killings, noting that his business is saved and his wife now pays attention to him. The couple aspire to the money being made by their friends Marc and Chloé, who brag unashamedly about their life of luxury. The satirical thrusts are best when we hear from the Marc, who considers himself a bourgeois gentilhomme.

In much that way that Sweeney Todd not only gets revenge from slaughtering his enemies but learns that he enjoys the killing, so does Sophie, who sees herself acting out what she sees on crime TV programs—and then some. Ultimately, albeit with Vincent’ reluctance, they proceed after their prey with out-and-out serial killing.

If you’re going to compare this film with “Sweeney Todd” or even with Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeune’s 1991 “Delicatessan,” you may be disappointed. The comedy is muted rather than belly-laugh assured, and the butchery of human beings is brought to a peak only near the conclusion as knives and cleavers take flight. This is an amiable entertainment that could be enjoyed even by folks who are repelled by the thought of attending a horror picture.

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

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

BLONDE – movie review

BLONDE

Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Andrew Dominik
Screenwriter: Andrew Dominik adapting Joyce Carol Oates’s novel
Cast: Ana de Armas, Lily Fisher, Julianne Nicholson, Colleen Foy, Tygh Runyan, Michael Drayer, Sara Paxton
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/29/22
Opens: September 16, 2022

You cannot dismiss history. If both your parents are depressed or schizophrenic, you’ve got a tough struggle ahead of you to stay normal. Such was the case with Norma Jeane aka Marilyn Monroe, whose mother Gladys (Julianne Nicholson) once tried to drown her daughter in the bathtub and wound up in a hospital for those with serious mental problems. We don’t know about her father (Tygh Runyan), who may or may not have been emotionally unstable, but we do know that his absence throughout Norma’s life, when coupled with her abusive mother’s negative upbringing, could have predicted her fate. Norma was a young woman who spent her brief life hallucinating about him and begging her mother to take her to see him. Kiwi-born writer-director Andrew Dominik, whose “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is, like his “Blonde,” a fictionalized account, adapts Joyce Carol Oates’ novel. This time his approach is fragmented, picking and choosing the events that he finds best (while eliminating Ms. Monroe’s famous song to JFK “Happy Birthday Mr. President.”)

Played by the adorable Lily Fisher as Norma in her childhood, seemingly spending every other day begging her mom to take her to her dad, “Blonde” pictures Norman Jeane as a mighty unhappy, rich celebrity who is demeaned, insulted, vocally and physically abused by men who are pictured throughout as a bunch of howling freaks. She is also shown on her belly allowing a prospective director to take her from behind, screwing up her face to show her displeasure while accommodating the fashion: if you want to be cast, you’ve got to suck up to the director.

As the title character Ana de Armas gives the picture a solid performance but looks too ethnic to capture the lily-white looks of her namesake. She is courageous enough to do her work throughout an abysmally long 166 minutes, which even at that looks at only a highly selective stack of events in the life of a woman who died of a barbiturate overdose at 36. Conspiracy theorists will dismiss the official cause of death saying that she may have been injected between the toes a day before she was to press conference possibly about the president. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) comes off (literally) as an evil horndog, lying in bed while enjoying a job Monica-Lewinsky style.

You may think it’s absurd to see that Norma had an affair with two movie stars Charles Chaplin Jr. (Xavier Samuel) and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams), though Joyce Carol Oates’ novel throws that event into her highly fictionalized account. Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) marries and beats her, opposing her nude and near-nude photos while Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), one of the great American playwrights, is believable as an intellectual who could not resist Norma’s less-than-analytical mind.

“Blonde” is a downer, which is not a criticism, but it trashes every principal character in the overlong work. This is a slog to get through. The movie is rated NC-17 for nudity and faux intercourse.

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

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

BANDIT – movie review

BANDIT

Quiver Distribution
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Allan Ungar
Screenwriter: Kraig Wenman based on Robert Knuckle’s novel “The Flying Bandit: Bringing Down Canada’s Most Daring Armed Robber”
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Elisha Cuthbert, Mel Gibson, Olivia d’Abo, Nestor Carbonell, Haley Webb, Rachael Markarian
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/27/22
Opens: September 23, 2022

When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “That’s where the money is.” Money is not all that banks have. They fertilize the ground from which entertainment grows. If you’re a movie fan, you’re of course familiar with films known as capers or heists, using armed robbery as vehicles of fun such as “Oceans 12”; and if questioned about the best heist movies you’ve seen, you’ll drop names like “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Heat,” “The Italian Job,” and my personal favorite, “Bonnie and Clyde.” “Allan Ungar’s “Bandit” may not become seared in your memory as one of the classics, but it’s a damn good film particularly since it dramatizes the career of an actual fellow who set Canada’s record by taking cash from fifty-nine banks in that country. In fact he covered seven of the nine provinces of our neighbors to the north, missing out on Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. That leaves territory ripe for bank hits should someone else aim for the Guinness Book of World Records.

The movie is based on Robert Knuckle’s novel that brought in the new year 1996, “The Flying Bandit,” on sale at Amazon for just $191.93, which means you may have to rob a bank to afford it. Director Ungar, whose blockbuster policier “Gridlock” finds a police training academy attacked by a team of mercenaries, makes sure to keep Gilbert Galvan Jr aka Robert Whiteman (Josh Duhamel) on the screen constantly, a handsome, smooth-talking man down on his luck whose life is about to improve when he escapes from a Michigan facility by climbing the security fence, running for his life, and heading not to Mexico as you might expect but to Canada. There he begins a three-year spree that will net him $2.3 million, which seems not a helluva lot when you consider that was his take from 59 banks and a jewelry emporium.

Known as The Flying Bandit for trips involving some two-propeller planes from rural airports, he is a master of disguises which he adapts after visiting a small store selling props for actors. He meets loan shark Tommy (Mel Gibson) in a strip club, reeling him in as a partner, but more important hooks up with Andrea (Elisha Cuthbert), who becomes the love of his life. Determined to impress her, he begins his new career, and though in real life she did not know that her man was anything but a salesman on the road, she too becomes a partner in crime on whom he lavishes a diamond ring and a fur coat.

Here’s a guy who never trained for his lucrative career, yet he becomes good at it partly because of his friendly patter with tellers at least one of whom even smiles after stuffing the loot in a bank bag. (He is so naïve that he robbed his first bank without a backpack or suitcase, and, having to board a domestic flight, stuffs the money into his underwear and coats.)

Mel Gibson’s role is not a big one, but when he appears as Tommy Kay he is as smooth and laid-back a talker as his partner. It becomes the project of a detective Snydes (Nestor Carbonell) to bring him down and at the same time to get the goods on the loan shark that gave Galvan a financial start. In real life, however, Galvan was trapped when walking out of a supermarket with 24 bottles of liquor, motivated perhaps by the fact that he appears to have been broke by end of his capers. None of the money was recovered.

The 6’4” Josh Duhamel was a wise choice for the title role, known to a large audience by two releases of “Transformers.”

126 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Onlin

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

YOUNG PLATO – movie review

YOUNG PLATO

Soilsiú Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Directors: Neasa Ni Chianáin, Declan McGrath
Screenwriters: Neasa Ni Chianain, Etienne Essery, Declan McGrath
Cast: Kevin McArevey, Jan-Marie Reel
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/31/22
Opens: September 23, 2022

Does anybody major in anything these days outside of computer science and business management, focused on companies they hope will recruit them for big bucks? Oh, you say you heard that a few are taking Poli Sci, History, Cinema Studies? How about philosophy? There was a report a few months ago holding that some corporations are actually going all out to hire philosophy majors. Why? They know how to think. That’s what philosophy teaches you. And while Spinoza and Kierkegaard are too difficult even for graduate students, they have no problem with Plato and Seneca in one primary school in Catholic-majority Northern Belfast. Yes, students there up to the age of ten lap it up because they have a super teacher as principal.

Let’s be realistic. These kids are not going to be turned on by Plato’s theory of the tri-partite soul or pay rapt attention to Sartre’s “No Exit.” But they can think for themselves on their own level. What principal Kevin McArevey of the Holy Cross Boys School wants them to learn, especially in an area that has seen enough violence involving British troops and Irish armies, is anger management. When you think with the help of philosophy, you realize that violence does not solve anything but leads only to more violence, and this principal, with the aid of a few teachers, makes his presence felt. Though some children still fight in the schoolyard now and then, they are brought to task, made to apologize to their combatant friends, and express remorse—real remorse as they cry with shame and hug their sparring partners.

Just like young people here especially from the ghettoes where drive-by shootings and random violence affect their lives, so do kids in Belfast, one of whom noting that his grandmother still keeps a bullet in her back as though a souvenir from the Troubles of the 1980s. Directors Neasa Ní Chianáin and Declan McGrath bring archival black-and-white shots to show the class to remind them of how brutal lives were then before they were born.

McArevey, a big fan of Elvis judging by the chachkas in his office, goes over just as well with the parents, who sit rapt in attention as he explains to them how to use the examples of philosophy to deal with their own children. He is also physically fit, leaping up three stairs at a time, doing chins in the gym along with a few colleagues, kicking and punching a bag and pedaling furiously on the stationary bike.

Children often lose their enthusiasm for school as they get older. They raise their hands furiously in primary school, holding on to some enthusiasm, by Middle grades, but are typically silent when asked questions by teachers as though to show their classmates that they are too cool to bother answering. Yet these poor kids from Northern Belfast may reject the philosophy of the typical high school student in America, retaining their enthusiasm thanks to their experience with this incredible Renaissance man.

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

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

CARMEN – movie review

CARMEN

GDE Good Deed Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Valerie Buhagiar
Screenwriter: Valerie Buhagiar
Cast: Natascha McElhone, Michela Farrugia, Steven Love, Richard Clarkin, Henry Zammit Cordina, Peter Galea
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: September 23, 2022

Natascha McElhone in Carmen (2022)

Americans are generally more religious than Europeans, but there are exceptions. Of the five countries where the Catholic church is so strong that abortions are prohibited without exceptions, two are in Europe: Vatican City and Malta. So it’s easy to accept a tradition in Malta that might bewilder even us on our side of the pond. The sister of a priest is expected to cater to her brother so completely that she must live a life of servitude so bleak that she has little chance for normal relationships.

That brings us to Carmen (Natascha McElhone) whose older brother Father Francis (Henry Zammit Cordina) is so rigid that even parishioners in his small village church make jokes about him. In one service a mother and her daughter sit near the rear of the sparsely attended Sunday gathering expressing their pity for Carmen who they consider a lost soul—alone except for her brother. Yet they cannot blame her completely, because they are sorry that she has to serve such a prig as Father Francis, who in his sermon bellows that “if your child is sinful, throw him out!”

Carmen is about to be thrown out herself since a new priest is coming to town, the priest’s sister Rita (Michaela Farrugia) leading the way. We can foreshadow that Rita will live the same life without charm, but when the brother is late in arriving and Carmen takes a seat inside the priest’s confessional box, villagers think that she is the priest and tell her their troubles. When she gives one woman’s advice on dealing with her drunk husband that is far from what any man of the cloth would give, she is on her way to becoming the most popular “priest” in town.

The Malta-born writer-director Valerie Buhagiar, whose 2013 film “Expecting” finds a woman’s giving her one-night-stand-newborn to her infertile best friend, this time delivers what could be called a Maltese feminist story taking place in the eighties about a fifty-year-old woman who has an epiphany after her brother’s death. Becoming homeless, she witnesses romance around her involving one Tonio (André Agius) and becomes determined to make up for lost time. Meeting Paulo (Steven Love), a much younger man who owns a pawnshop and takes her for a few spins around town including the country’s capital, Valletta, she is exhilarated by his attention and not long after that goes for a boat ride with Tom (Richard Clarkin), a date that does not turn out as well. Whether she will continue to find romantic relationships is anybody’s guess, but in a feel-good conclusion, she enjoys the most thrilling day of her life.

Natasha McElhone is in virtually every frame, speaking just a few words of Maltese and getting by in English with a southern European accent. This makes us wonder how so many people in the small country—one which, by the way, is one of the most expensive for tourists—choose to speak English as their first language. You’ll have to suspend disbelief just as you did when you saw movies in which both Nazis and their foes in the Resistance spoke in our official American language.

The film as a whole has dimensions of a fable with a few dream sequences and includes a colorful pigeon which, like the Maltese Falcon, is a symbol of loyalty to the lonely woman, leading her into adventures. The story is as simple as the villagers in the Maltese archipelago, one which can be enjoyed (as movie advertisements so often say) by the whole family. McElhone is burdened with speaking English throughout with a strange accent, delivering the goods nicely. As she and her young male friend zip around, we get to see parts of Malta without paying the stiff tariffs of that country’s hotels and restaurants.

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

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

FOUR WINTERS – movie review

FOUR WINTERS

New Moon Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Mintz
Screenwriter: Julia Mintz
Cast: Michael Stoll, Isadore Farbstein, Chayele Palevsky, Sara Ginaite, Faye Shulman, Shalom Yoran, Moshe Baran, Frank Blaichman, Luba Abramowitz, Gertrude Boyarski
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/9/22
Opens: September 16, 2022 at New York’s Film Forum

Imagine this. You are a Jewish woman living in Poland. For your prom, your date is a Polish Christian. World War 2 breaks out. You are captured by the enemy, by the Nazis. Then, mirabile dictu, your prom date shows up! Is he going to be a hero and rescue you from these bad men? Think again. He tells you, this prom date of yours, “You are a Jew. You must die.” Sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel? Could be, but this actually happened. And if you recall one of the great classic horror films, “Carrie,” you become like a prequel of Carrie and you get revenge on this miserable, sick-in-the-head Pole. When that man is captured, you are given the opportunity to take revenge, but you’re a woman, so you’re going to let him go. Nope. You kill him. Why? Because you are no longer a woman you are a soldier. Therein lie the most dramatic pieces of dialogue in the documentary “Four Winters,” which is one more movie overthrowing the passive-aggressive comment from people who wonder: Why didn’t the Jews fight back?

To be sure, many Jews were in no condition when the Final Solution is declared by Germany. They were shot on sight, they were put on trains with the big lie that they were going to be treated well, that Germany needed them for work. By the time they arrived at a concentration camp, maybe Auschwitz-Birkenau, maybe Treblinka, and if they were “lucky,” to Theresienstadt. Women who were either too young or too old were stripped naked and sent to the “showers.” However, some Jews were fortunate in jumping from the death trains and racing to the large Eastern European forests. “Four Winters” is the story of a handful of survivors, still alive today, enlightening us about the incredible but true four years that they spent in the forest, meeting up with Polish and later Russian resistors, some forming their own company of Jewish partisans.

With guns and bullets that they smuggled out of a makeshift factory where they were working for the Nazis and later with weapons that they captured from those left behind, they survived and killed as many Germans as they could. In one instance, they acted not like folks to be pitied but with toxic masculinity because this was the time that such behavior was called for. They stole pigs from farmers. They threatened a rich farmer: “turn over your stock of weapons or we will burn this village down.” They got what they came for.

With black-and-white photographs that one woman took while hiding in the woods using a blanket as a darkroom, we get an inkling of what it’s like to be them. Director Julia Mintz, whose short film “Wait for Me” is a psychological character study of a woman who needed to kill only her past rather than German soldiers, brings in some archival films of the period before and during World War 2, but gives these survivors, all of whom speaking fluent albeit accented English, most of the time. This is wise because some of their testimony is riveting. We do not know, however, where they are living today; most likely America or Israel, but imagine them taking part not simply escaping from the ovens, the gas chambers, the mass shootings, but having the chutzpah to sabotage the Nazi war effort—to derail and dynamite trains (which somehow our President FDR forgot to do, allowing the Nazis the freedom to load millions of Jews onto the cattle cars and into the camps).

Twenty-five thousand Jews took part as partisans, most of whom, of course, cannot be seen in this film including two of my brave ancestors, Isidore and Hersch Karten who escaped from the village of Swirz, sneaking into ghettoes urging Jews behind barbed wire to escape with them and join the partisans. See the Wikipedia article Isidore Karten. https://www.jewishpartisancommunity.org/partisans/isidore-karten/

Credit Faye Schulman in her leopard coat acting as photographer, the one mentioned above who used a blanket for her darkroom, allowing her to share her experience with us today. “Four Winters” will doubtless have a largely Jewish audience at New York’s Film Forum, though the film should be shared nationally to educate the one in ten Americans who never heard the word “Holocaust”; the sixty-three percent of those surveyed who did not know that six million Jews were murdered in said Holocaust; the fifty percent of the “enlightened” who believe that the death toll was fewer than two million. And of over forty thousand concentration camps and ghettos that were established during World War 2, half of respondents in a poll could not name a single one. Can you get a high-school diploma without taking a single course in world history?

Even if you know nothing about the Nazi resolve to kill all Jews, if you see this film you will see the fierce spirit, the determination, the will to survive of these partisans; these attributes will give you an idea of the resolution of an oppressed people to create the state of Israel three years after the war and make it thrive.

All testimony is in English.

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

BREAKING – movie review

BREAKING

Bleecker Street
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Abi Damaris Corbin
Screenwriter: Abi Damaris Corbin, Kwame Kwei-Armah
Cast: John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva, Michael Kenneth Williams, Connie Britton
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/20/22
Opens: August 26, 2022

Forget “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Mesrine,” and “Dog Day Afternoon.” Abi Damaris Corbin and Kwame Kwei-Armah introduce us to a bank robber like no other; a guy who walks into the Wells Fargo Bank without a mask, without showing a gun, and hands the teller a withdrawal slip with his real name to take $25 out of his account. He then announces his plan. He’s polite, though he sometimes loses control, and tells the two bank employees what has led him to risk his life or liberty. Wait, there’s more. He orders the employees to call the police and the news media and refuses to accept a dime from the bank he is allegedly robbing. This is one unique dude.

The most amazing thing is that “Breaking is based on a real event that took place in an Atlanta suburb; the filmmakers even shows a picture of the guy who died in 2017. Corbin in her freshman feature ,clearly needs you to sympathize with the criminal who wants only the $892.34 that the Veterans Administration owes him from a disability he incurred during the Iraq War and who, despite professing that he has a bomb in his backpack, has no intention of putting anyone’s life in danger—except, of course, his own.

Although the various police agencies are gathering outside the bank, including a sniper looking for the first moment that intruder shows his face, “Breaking” is not for an audience that wants a “Bonnie and Clyde,” and in fact proceeds at a snail’s pace. Its appeal comes from the performance of John Boyega as Brian Brown-Easley. He whines, he cries, he appears clear as a sunlit Georgian day, all emotions that you’ll probably expect from a guy who received an honorable discharge as a Marine, serving his country only to be ignored by the VA for reasons about which we never find out.

Brown-Easley has an ex-wife Cassandra (Olivia Washington) and a young daughter Kiah (London Covington) who, based on phone conversations with her dad clearly loves him and has every right to expect him to keep his promise to get her a puppy. Never mind that he lacks even enough money to claim a dog from the pound, living in a third-rate motel and about to be on the street. That is no way to treat a man who risked his life serving his country. It’s probably safe to say that the two bank employees (Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva) become so forgiving of the man who holds them hostage that they display instant cases of Stockholm Syndrome.

He gets his wish to tell the sad story of VA treatment while discussing his case with a hostage negotiator (the late Michel Kenneth Williams), which allows us in the theater audience to wonder what part of Brown is a mental case and what part is heroic. When he is on the phone with his daughter, the director Corbin milks human emotion, the little girl responding “daddy” right on cue. Yes, there is a manipulative gene in Corbin’s body, but the film, like the true story, should have awoken the VA to injustice. To this day, Brian Brown-Easley did not get the money he believes he deserves.

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

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

FREE PUPPIES! – movie review

FREE PUPPIES!

First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes & IMDB by Harvey Karten
Director: Christina Thomas, Samantha Wishman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/22/22
Opens: August 12, 2022

A neighbor who is among the most ethical people I know (a vegetarian, of course) always has four dogs in a two-bedroom apartment.  And these dogs, forgive me to say, are the ugliest mutts I have ever seen.  They compensate for their looks by biting residents waiting for the elevator.  They were all rescued from the streets because nobody I know would have bought them much less take even a half hour to dump them into the pound shortly thereafter.  Her motive?  She says, “I don’t do cute.  I don’t do adorable.  I rescue dogs that nobody else would consider saving.”  I picture her one day a long time from now being comforted by Jesus, Matthew, Luke and John, because up there she will be without a single pet, as St. Peter would not admit these homely hounds past the pearly gates.

Where do all these street dogs come from?  Well, when a bitch is in heat, she does not have to be last year’s best in show at Westminster.  She will attract male attention by her aroma; never mind if she is missing teeth, and has heartworm, and fleas.  And there are no incels among the males who have cojones.  If they cannot have their way, they will commit rape and will not take care of the offspring.  It’s up to us people to take it from there.

That is where the women of “Free Puppies” come in.  Directed by Cristina Thomas and Samantha Wishman in their debut feature length film, the documentary traces the hobbies of several southern women who are doing good by our four-legged pals and through this movie get their fifteen minutes + of fame.  They are saving dog lives that might be in the hundreds, picking them up from kill shelters in the South, even freeing them from chains, and transporting them mostly to the North, the Harriet Tubmans of the canine fraternity. 

As you might expect, the vast majority are not pure-bred—not that there’s anything wrong with mongrels when you consider that “pedigree” is little more than a human construct.  Some are them are cute, depending on what floats your boat, since after all some of us think bull terriers are the cat’s meow (to mix synecdoche and metaphor), while others want beauty contest favorites like Afghans.

How do dogs wind up on the street?  As you might expect, some are tossed into the road by people who will not even take the trouble to deliver them to the pound.  Maybe they’ve been behavior problems as puppies, and their owners might or might not realize that there is no such thing as an ill-behaved dog: only ill-behaved people (who don’t know how to train their pups).   These street dogs are generally not “fixed,” so when the heat’s on, a single canine might produce ten spawn.  If they are not rescued from the shelters, they are either euthanized there, at one time via a gas chamber in Georgia and Tennessee but nowadays with lethal injections.  Even the no-kill shelters must farm out the unwanted dogs to a kill facility.

A few men in the film are what we, at least in the north, like to call “characters,” including a fellow who claims to have served in Vietnam.  The rescue women, especially one who runs a store selling flooring, will take their dogs to a veterinarian who at low cost with neuter and spay them, even imprinting microchips for identity, then return them to the “characters.” 

What do we come away with?  Unless you are the kind of dog person who likes all breeds, mongrels included, you’re not so likely to say “aw,” at least not after the first one or two “aw’s” because the film is repetitious and does not feature a small number of starring dogs from whom we can learn their backstories.  The evening before I saw this film, I was watching my favorite comic, Stephen Colbert, on the June 22nd Late Show.  A small number of dogs being offered to the TV audience are shown in a better light than the ones in Georgia and Tennessee because they are seen against a backdrop of New York’s Paramount studios and introduced, one by one, by the comedian and by the actress Emma Thompson. With production values like these, it’s no wonder that Colbert has a 100% record in getting all featured dogs adopted.

All in all “Free Puppies!” is a pleasant enough diversion giving a few heroic women the opportunity to take credit for saving lives.

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

Story – B

Acting – B

Technical – B

Overall – B

IMAGE OF VICTORY – movie review

IMAGE OF VICTORY (Tmunat Hanitzahon)

Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Avi Nesher
Screenwriter: Avi Nesher, Liraz Brosh, Ehud Bleiberg
Cast: Joy Rieger, Amir Khoury, Ala Dakka, Eliana Tidhar, Tom Avni
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/14/22
Opens: July 15, 2022 streaming on Netflix

Israel is a small country surrounded by Muslim nations—whose population outnumbers Israeli Jews 100 to 1. Historically, Muslim nations are not great supporters of Israel, having fought five wars against the Jewish nation. Yet Israel has survived and prospered. When Israel defeated Egypt and Syria in the six-day war in 1967, you could not blame people for believing that Israelis could not be defeated, yet as we see in “Image of Victory,” though Egypt lost the 1948 war of independence, it succeeded in temporarily conquering some land, notably a kibbutz (collective farm) in the South near the border of Egyptian-controlled Gaza.

You would not expect a film that glorifies a victory by Egypt to be shown to Israeli audiences, much less to be financed and directed by Israelis, but “Tmunat Hanitzahon as the movie is called in Hebrew was shown at the Haifa International Festival and garnered three Ophirs, which are Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars.

Avi Nesher, who directs and co-write the film, is no stranger to courageous films such as his “The Other Story,” about the meeting of two women, one disgusted with the hedonistic secular life seeking the discipline of Judaism, the other wanting to break through the oppressiveness of religion. Here he takes us first to kibbutz Nitzanim showing us life in a primitive farm that sells it produce to Tel Aviv, then to an Egyptian settlement so close that with a good pair of binoculars you might almost capture scenes highlighting the ambitions of Hassanein Heikal (Amir Khoury) , a 24-year-old filmmaker in love with cinema who is eager to knock out a propaganda film for Egypt’s leader, King Farouk. The film opens as the now middle-aged man is angered that Sadat signed a peace with Israel at Camp David, complaining, what’s the sense of fighting wars when the politicians sell us out?

In the kibbutz we witness the songs and fights among an ensemble of Jews from South America and Europe, some who are Holocaust survivors, speaking a flurry of language but communicating through Hebrew which they were compelled to learn if they wanted to have a sustainable community. The non-conforming Mira Ben-Ari’s (Joy Rieger), marriage is on the rocks through no fault of her husband (Elisha Banai)with whom she had fallen out of love. She will show her bravery by refusing to evacuate when a conflict with the enemy is imminent. Her son sleeps in a separate room since at that time, kibbutzniks believed in a communal life in which every mother has an almost equal standing with every child: it takes a village.

It should be known that while Jewish settlers in Israel at about the time of independence were known to take over Arab lands by force, this kibbutz, founded in 1943 with fewer than 150 members, was purchased with money raised by the Jewish National Fund. (I recall that when I was ten years old I helped to raise money, asking donors to put their quarters inside a collection box and handing each contributor a symbolic carnation.)

When Nesher focuses on the Egyptian side, we see that Hassanein’s films are periodically sent to Cairo where an audience vets the content for later release to all of Egypt. Some are annoyed with what appears to be a neutrality by the director who is not unsympathetic to the Israeli cause and, in fact, when the kibbutz ultimately has to surrender because it had not received the weapons and reinforcement it needed, Hassanein appears to fall in instant love with Mira’s image.

Much of the film looks like a reenactment of small-town life in an American Western; the Jews are in their basic living quarters situated on 400 acres; the Egyptians, just kilometers away, have forays against the Jews but everything is pared down, just a few players on each side. By contrast, cinematographer Amit Yasur splashes a scene in Cairo on New Year’s Eve, 1947 turning into the year that Israel declares independence. There is lively music and dancing which would not be out of place in an American banquet hall, a guy with a fez standing out to project that this is nothing less than the capital of a Middle Eastern country.

“Image of Victory” will be looked at by the scores of awards groups perhaps not so much as a best international film but as a winning ensemble feature. The characters on the Jewish side display a spirit of joy destroyed obviously, by their ultimate defeat by Egyptians, who are helped by scores of soldiers with tanks and bazookas, who succeed in killing 37 residents and taking others prisoner.

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

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

MURINA – movie review

MURINA

Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic, based on her short film “Into the Blue”
Screenwriters: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovi, Frank Graziano
Cast: Gracija Filipovic, Danica Curcic, Leon Lucev, Cliff Curtis, Jonas Smulders
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/6/22
Opens: July 8, 2022 at New York’s Metrograph Theater. September 13, 2022 streaming.

Even rebellious teens here in America might enjoy this striking debut feature by the Croatian director and co-writer of “Murina.” But the adolescent Americans must be sensitive enough to appreciate the beauty of a remote, rocky Adriatic Sea coastline which provides a frugal life for seventeen-year-old Julija (Gracija Filipovic), her mother Nela (Danica Curcic) and father Ante (Leon Lucev). As a retired high school teacher, I’m thinking of kids having to go to summer school in the sweltering July in New York and comparing themselves to Julija, who really should have not a care in the world, spending her days in a bathing suit diving for eel with her dad. When Javier (Cliff Curtis), a handsome, rich developer who had once employed Ante and enjoyed an affair with Nela arrives with plans to buy the property to build a resort, the family dreams of using the money to buy an apartment in Zagreb, which to me seems like a step down for them given the natural beauty, the sport of diving, and the Spartan but livable accommodations.

“Murina” has moments of violence, particularly one which will threaten the family’s dream of escape and cause Javier to consider abandoning his own plans. Julija delivers verbal barbs to her mother for staying with her boorish husband, a man who resents not only his hostile daughter but also the rich and handsome visitor. Julija has fantasies of freedom including traveling the world with Javier, even enrolling in Harvard. Yet her life, like that of her mom, is crushed by a patriarchal society, her dad in his worst burst of fury imprisoning his daughter, putting her essentially in solitary confinement without food and without light.

The title “Murina” stands in metaphorically for the moray fish that Julija and Ante hunt with spears, a member of the eel family with sharp teeth and a bite that its hunters would not like any more than would Ante during the many times his rebellious daughter drags him down verbally in front of a coterie of Javier’s employees. So too does the sea stand in for both freedom and isolation, the sparkling waters both imprisoning the girl and serving her fantasies of escape.

Cinematographer Hélène Louvart captures the mood of an area of Croatia which may look to us as a paradise—provided that you do not have to live in squalid quarters–the only chance of escape being to sell the land and move to the city. Gracija Filipovic and Leon Lucev appear to do their own stunts, the teen sometimes staying underwater without oxygen for several minutes, the two carrying spears to catch the local delicacy. Cliff Curtis may be playing a rich European but he is in real life a Maori born in New Zealand. (As one reviewer points out, he gives away his ethnicity with a tattoo.)

“Murina” provides stunning ensemble acting with Kusijanovic’s providing direction that brings the conflicted feelings of a nuclear family boldly to the surface.

In Croatian and English with English subtitles.

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

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

THE FORGIVEN – movie review

THE FORGIVEN

Roadside Attractions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: John Michael McDonagh from Lawrence Osborne’s novel “The Forgiven”
Screenwriter: John Michael McDonagh, Lawrence Osborne
Cast: Abbey Lee, Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Matt Smith, Celeb Landry Jones, Saïd Taghmaoui, Christopher Abbott
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/8/22
Opens: July 1, 2022

If this is what the super-rich do with their money, I’m content being plain ol’ middle class. Who needs to snort coke, to commit adultery, engage in dirty dancing, drink the night away, have servants that would be the envy of the nobility in “Downton Abbey,” and soak up the atmosphere of the desolate though spectacular desert scenery in the Moroccan Atlas? The people who inhabit John Michael McDonagh’s film, written by the director inspired by Lawrence Osborne’s novel of the same name, think they have life figured out. We’re all going to die, so why not party?

This brooding, compelling picture which opens on the kind of party we middling characters have never had and moves with just a few flashbacks to a dramatic denouement, has a cast headed by Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain. The back-and-forth commentary in their car will seem to us movie viewers as clever repartee but sets forth a twelve-year-old marriage that has been headed for the skids for a long time. One might wonder whether David Henniger (Ralph Fiennes) and Jo Henniger (Jessica Chastain) would have cemented their nuptials if they—a doctor and a failed writer of children’s books—stayed home, gave up the booze and coke, and lived like well-heeled folks with birthday parties to celebrate their children rather than themselves.

Filmed by Larry Smith on location in Morocco, “The Forgiven” sweeps us away with wide lensing-looks at miles and miles of desert, sometimes providing the kinds of views that would have tour busses stopping to announce “everybody out, take pictures, fifteen minutes.” David and Jo had another destination in mind: a lavish party at a renovated, gated ksar, food and drink served under the direction of English-speaking Hamid (Mourad Zaoui). David, though, has an unsettling story to tell. Fortified by drink and driving too fast, the desert sand blasting the windshield, he has had a terrible accident. His car hit Driss, a Moroccan boy who is ostensibly selling fossils but actually planning with his friend to steal the car. Though the couple might have run from the accident, they inexplicably (given their low moral bar) carry the boy’s body back to the ksar and brought in the local police.

When Driss’s father Abdellah (Ismael Kanater) and an English-speaking guide Anouar (Saïd Taghmaoui) show up at the villa after a long drive, they demand that David accompany them back to their isolated Berber home to atone for Driss’s death, we may wonder why David is willing to do so when his party pals, including Tom (Christopher Abbott) and Dickie (Matt Smith) advise him simply to pay 1000 Euros. We in our theater seats wonder: will David be killed, or will the Berber father honor Arab hospitality and require the Englishman simply to attend the burial?

Director McDonagh, whose 2014 film “Calvary” focuses on a priest falling to dark forces, switches from the deadly serious scenes in the Berber home to the over-the-top party in the ksar. In the latter scenes David wife’s Jo carries on an adulterous affair with Tom (Christopher Abbott), signaling to us that she need not fear the end of a marriage which has bored her and which is filled with David Mamet-style barbs.

Getting past the events of a vacation with its mixture of bonhomie among the rich and deadly scenarios in the Berber home, McDonagh makes us aware that the colonialism that has poisoned relations between the haves and have nots is still alive. Call it neo-colonialism if you will. Though Westerners like these people have provided jobs for the local people, the Moroccans, who had been under the thumbs of the French until 1956, cannot be expected to sing Kumbaya with the party people who consist of Americans, French and English. By contrast, Anouar, who speaks perfect English and acts as interpreter and guide, is torn between loyalty to his people and a desire to live in Sweden. That dream becomes part of the dark humor that embraces the proceedings, leaving us to recall how Syrian refugees find new homes in Western Europe (especially Germany) and wondering whether the political left in our own country may be exaggerating the hostility that formerly colonialized people have for us. Almost needless to say, Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain make a perfect picture of marital discord.

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

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

THE COURTROOM – movie review

THE COURTROOM

Topic
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Lee Sunday Evans
Screenwriter: Arian Moayed
Cast: Kristin Villanueva, Linda Powell, Michael Chernus, Mike Braun, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Kathleen Chalfant, BD Wong
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/7/22
Opens: June 16, 2022 at New York’s Metrograph Theatre

'The Courtroom' Trailer Teases a Deportation Film Made Entirely of Court Transcripts

After teaching high school for five years, I met a new, twenty-two-year-old faculty member who almost lost his career before it started. In the lunchroom he related how he mistakenly checked a box on his license application that states, “I am a member of a fascist political party.” The examiner, happily, told him to recheck that answer, which he did, and thus, thanks to a sympathetic employee, he began his life as a teacher.

A similar situation took place in an Illinois courtroom in 2008. A woman from the Philippines who married an American and lived in Bloomington, Illinois, was filling out a license form in the Illinois motor vehicle department, and with only a knowledge of English that she gained in her home country where English is a second language, mistakenly checked a box declaring that she is an American citizen. She relies on the examiner who does not ask her whether this is true. She receives a voting card and, together with her husband, votes for her district congressman. When she applies for a green card, the examiner calls her attention to this lie and apparently forwards papers to the Department of Homeland Security, which acts in court to throw her back to the Philippines, leaving her husband, her child, and a stepdaughter to fare for themselves.

The film “The Courtroom” deals with the case in a theatrical manner, almost all the action taking place inside courtrooms except for a final rah-rah talk by a person giving the oath to a group of new citizens. The film uses the verbatim transcript from the actual trial.

The first thing that comes to mind is, hey! We’re faced now by an epidemic of jerks with assault rifles who use them to kill multiple persons all over the country. We’ve got fifteen million undocumented immigrants pursuing their lives in this country, in effect hiding out from Homeland Security. The U.S. is going to make a big production to deport a lovely woman, no convictions, a family values individual if there ever was one according to her husband, who rose up from a failed marriage to bring her into the country because, he states, she meets the ethical values that he was seeking?

The film follows a production in my neighborhood theater, St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn Heights. The players are all actors including Marsha Stephanie Blake as Judge Zerbe, Michael Braun as the agent for Homeland Security, Linda Powell as defense lawyer Richard Hanus, Kristin Villanueva as defendant Elizabeth Keathley, Michael Chernus as the defendant’s husband John, and Kathleen Chalfant as Judge Easterbrook.

One of the interesting quirks is that the judge asks the defendant whether she needs an interpreter, which leads to a back-and- forth conversation indicating that she speaks not Tagalog, the official language of her home country, but Visayan, a dialect, which, good luck finding an interpreter. She deals with English just fine. The key defense point is that the state official rushed her through the motor vehicle application, leading her to improperly state that she is an American citizen, but the charge comes because she received a voting card and actually casts a vote. Federal law states that anyone doing so shall be deported. Sounds clear enough, albeit heartless. The defense points out that she is a victim of “entrapment by estoppel,” meaning that she was urged by the official to submit the application. Think of this: you are approached by a treasury agent who wants to trap a criminal. You are told to sell $10,000 in counterfeit bills to a suspect. The suspect would be nailed as soon as he makes the purchase. Are you, the person told to help the department, guilty of a crime? Of course not. But does this concept apply in a civil case as well? That’s what the immigration case turns on.

Among my surprises is the courtroom which I would have expected to be mayhem, like New York’s housing court, our city’s Small Claims Court, and even criminal cases that are each allegedly dispensed in a matter of minutes. The modern courtroom is empty except for the people connected with the case, and plenty of time is allowed for all sides to be heard.

“The Courtroom” may not be “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial” but it commands audience attention in the suspense created. Most of us would probably side with the defendant, a good person who should remain with her family and be excused for doing what anyone, especially without fluent English, might make. Then again, why didn’t her husband tell her that she is not permitted to vote?

This is director Lee Sunday Evans’ debut film, playing out with appropriate tension even though we’re not dealing with the Johnny Depp Amber Heard proceedings or a mafia showdown, but just a nice woman trapped by the letter of the law. There is happily no music in the soundtrack to distract from the verbal sparring.

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

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

MORPHINE – movie review

MORPHINE (Morphia)

MUBI
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Aleksey Balabanov
Screenwriter: Sergey Bodrov, from short stories by Mikhail A. Bulgakov
Cast: Leonid Bichevin, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Andrey Panin, Svetlana Pismichenko, Katarina Radivojevic, Yuri Gertsman, Aleksandr Mosin
Screened at: MUBI.com
The folks in the rural Russia of 1917 may not have predicted that the West would have an opioid crisis decades later, but they sure had one in miniature during that fateful year that upended their society. The film is “Morphine,” directed by Aleksey Balabanov, who died five years after its making at the age of fifty-four, leaving behind an impressive resume. Balabanov, whose “The Stoker” deals with an ethnic Yakut shell-shocked after serving in the Afghan-Soviet war, takes on this film written by Sergei Bodrov based on short stories by Mikhail A. Bulgakov. (Several books by Bulgakov are available in English from Amazon, including the 50th anniversary edition of “The Master and Margarita” but if you act fast you can pick up the novelist’s “Notes of a Young Doctor,” the last available copy selling for $94.01, and that’s for the used edition.)

Aleksandr Simohnov is behind the lens in the film’s settings, a rural area with primitive accommodations that promises to show a character’s fetching a ladder and climbing up to sing “If I Was a Rich Man,” but this remains a promise unfulfilled. Instead of a Hasidic community, though, we get a look at people who in 1917 still believed in Jesus, but they’d better alter their religious ideology overnight if they want to in with the workers’ paradise. The action takes place during the Russian Revolution, specifically between February 1917 when nice moderate socialists like Alexander Kerensky were defeated just months later as the Bolsheviks swept them away and took Russia out of the First World War.

If you’re an action fan, you’ll see plenty of that, though there are only a few scenes of Bolshevik soldiers demanding to see papers and, in one case, bashing an aristo taking his last ride on his horse and carriage. The action in this film is largely interior, though you’ll often see a group of nurses dressed like nuns racing hither and thither to save potential patients breathing their last in the snow. The film may look as though it were taking place around Yakuts, the world’s coldest place which once scored a Fahrenheit temperature of 84 below zero, but incredibly it’s only 126 miles as the crow flies from Moscow.

In the central role, Leonid Bichevin inhabits the role of Doktor Polyakov, a 23-year-old who must have been moved kicking and screaming from Moscow to the rural town around Uglich, which is today a tourist location in the Yaroslavl administrative district. Polyakov is virtually, even actually in two cases, bowed down to by residents who have been without a physician since the departure of one Leopold, a stroke of luck since on a busy day, the new sawbones has twenty-two patients. But here is a case of “Doctor, heal thyself.” Treating a dying patient by pumping on his chest and breathing into his mouth, he contracts diphtheria. Suffering pain form the malady, he has access to morphine, which serves like a beginner’s guide to heroin in those days. Since there may have been a shortage of Tylenol and Advil, he injects himself with morphine. When that wears off, another dose, until predictably enough he is addicted.

And boy, can Polyakov show you what it’s like to go through withdrawal, which he had to suffer several times when a nurse guards the limited supply and urges him to get treatment. He may have been angry with the woman, but he receives a door prize: an affair with nurse Anna Nikolayevna (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) and, in a couple of cases has his way with an aristocratic woman who does an FDR impersonation with a long cigarette holder while the doc fiddles around with her body.

And what’s a movie about a doctor without showing some gore? In one scene he amputates a woman’s leg after it was shredded in a flax grinder. Balabanov gets us a closeup of the poor lady’s limb. In another case—you vote on which is gorier—he performs a tracheotomy on a teen girl who could scarcely breathe, first looking up the procedure in a book, then moving on to slice open the patient’s neck. The internist-cum-obstetrician-cum-otolaryngologist-cum general surgeon delivers a baby after cleaning up a botched technique by a midwife who powdered the new mother’s vagina with sugar to tempt the unborn baby to come out.

To assure his credentials as a supply of artful indies, the director presents the action with desaturated color, helping to project the miserable atmosphere of the countryside, while trying to match the carnage on the operating tables with scenes of the doctor vomiting—in one situation throwing up on a toilet filthier than the worst facilities in Danny Boyle’s 1996 movie “Trainspotting.”

I suppose that the closest scenes of idiosyncratic rural life in American movies is “Twin Peaks,” but the shacks there are Trump towers compared to the snow-bound dwellings here. The film is well worth your attention, the chapters marked off in an idiosyncratic way as well as though this were a Lillian Gish entertainment. The people are all flawed—even the nurse having an affair with the doctor injects herself with morphine, envious, perhaps, and wanting to shake like her doctor boyfriend as would a person without clothes walking in the Uglich snow. The melodramatic finale, which takes place in a movie house offering a film that has the doctor and the entire audience laughing hysterically, is quite a surprise.

You can stream this movie by subscribing to MUBI, where you can get a taste of the indie films free for seven days.

In Russia with English subtitles.

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

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

REFLECTION – movie review

REFLECTION (Vidblysk)

Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Valentyn Vasyanovych
Screenwriter: Valentyn Vasyanovych
Cast: Roman Lutskiy, Nika Myslytska, Nadia Levechenko, Andriy Rymaruk, Ihor Shulha
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/22/22

“Reflection” is a follow-up to the director’s “Atlantis, which won top prize in Venice’s Horizons program. Valentyn Vasyanovych’s latest is a film that comes across almost as two studies centered on key months in the life of a surgeon. Serhiy (Roman Lutskyi), who has not yet volunteered to fight the Russians who had invaded Ukraine in 2014, has a talk with Andrii (Andriy Rymaruk), the latter giving up-to-the-moment revelations of mayhem when he was at the front. Serhiy has a twelve-year-old daughter Polina (Nika Myslytska—the director’s own child) and an ex-wife Olha (Nadia Levchenkio), Olha now taking the role of Andriy’s current girlfriend.

An opening scene finds Polina playing paintball, a present for her birthday—a game whose popularity at the time could be a reflection of the war going on miles away. Suddenly the screen blacks out and we see Serhiy taking care of battle-scarred Ukranians, concentrating on chest compressions to a soldier who is covered with blood and who cannot be saved.

Later, Serhiy and Andrii drive toward the front and are captured by the mercenaries who shoot up the car leaving Andrii seriously wounded and both taken captive. Serhiy is tortured under the command of a Russian officer who, if the adversaries were using common sense would employ Serhiy in saving their own men. The surgeon must watch his good friend hung up by his arms, punched, and having a power drill invade his thigh. This is enough to cause PTSD in both the victim and witness. The Russians use a mobile crematory not unlike what they are using today in their cowardly invasion of a country that had already been forced to secede Crimea years back (an area with a majority of Russian ethnics), now intent on annexing the Donbas region in the East and taking over the whole country.

Serhiy, freed via a prisoner exchange, reestablishes a relationship with his ex-wife, particularly bonding with his daughter, who had been injured by falling off a horse but suffers greater inner pain wondering about the fate of Andrii, with whom she has been close and who wants him to be her godfather. Serhiy holds back on the bad news until the time comes to identify a body.

If this were a simple story about inhabitants of a war zone, it might lack originality. Instead Vasyanovych, who wrote, directs, filmed and edited the whole shebang, feels free to manipulate the proceedings artistically. He has no use for close-ups, filming most of the scene in middle-long. He will try audience patience by static shots where they seem to have no relevant impact. Close-ups are avoided in the torture scenes, making the movie difficult enough to watch, where some distance between subject and camera is justified. However, why have static, contemplative scenes such as one where the daughter does exercises on the sofa; or where Serhiy simply sits at his desk? A simple enough plot appears to serve largely as an excuse for cinematic flourishes.

However the director, thanks to a fine performance from his daughter, does provide a look at how an girl approaching her teens is growing up too fast. The war has caused a personal hardship for her—she has lost her best adult friend—and has witnessed a tragedy that should never have occurred save for the greed of a country’s president eager to restore the empire that had been lost to the Russian Federation three decades ago.

In Russian and Ukrainian with English subtitles.

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

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

AHED’S KNEE – movie review

AHED’S KNEE (Ha’berech)

Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Nadav Lapid
Screenwriter: Nadav Lapid
Cast: Avshalom Pollak, Nur Fibak, Oded Azulay, Michal Benkovitz Sasu, Roni Boksbaum
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/21/22
Opens: May 3, 2022 on Apple TV, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, Kino Now. May 31, 2022 on VOD

Some fans of Broadway theater (not many) complain that the stage tries too hard to mimic the style of movies. Likewise, some moviegoers (also not many) complain that films try too hard to imitate the style of TV. (What’s left for TV fans to debate: whether that medium imitates radio?) Nadav Lapid would be in the company of those who want movies to do what is not usually done on the small screen. Remember his “Synonyms,” which centers on an Israeli man, dictionary in hand, who experiments with giving up his nationality?

With “Ahed’s Knee,” he goes further than with “Synonyms” in the spirit of suggesting Israeli nationality is not as great as some claim it to be. The film was presented at the Palme d’Or at Cannes where it won the Jury prize. One must wonder what kind of reception it would enjoy if shown in Jerusalem to a Jewish-Israeli audience.

Y (Avshalom Pollak), a middle-aged filmmaker who heads off to a small, remote village in the desert, is presenting “Ahed’s Knee” to a likewise small audience in the town’s library. His is a courageous decision given the small-town Israelis are likely to be more conservative, more nationalistic, than a typical, cosmopolitan resident of Tel Aviv. The reception he is to receive is based not on what residents have seen on the screen but rather what they hear during the Q&A afterwards. His diatribe, his broadside against his country mimics what he in confidence tells his host, Yahalom David (Nur Fibak), a monologue that is near-biblical in its resonance, spewing his disgust with what he calls the racist, nationalistic spirit in his government and in a broad majority of its people. One must wonder whether this venom rages partly because he, who appears close enough emotionally to his mother judging by his emails to her, is distraught about her diagnosis of lung cancer.

A filmmaker who in his words wants “to puke Israel out with a scream” is one-upping the countries worst enemies—in Syria, Lebanon, and with ISIS, Al-Queda, Hezbollah, Hamas, among others. The film starts with an exposition about Ahed, a protestor, threatened on Twitter with being shot in the kneecap. Such is the anger of the right-wing Israelis who probably vote Likud, a party that the filmmaker obviously detests. In fact when a farmer points out the effects of climate change on his pepper crop—now wilted and rotten—Y notes that he could be stating a metaphor about Israeli itself.

With cinematographer Shai Goldman’s hand-held cameras spinning dizzyingly, “Ahed’s Knee” catches how Y imagines his younger days in the Israeli army when the contingent of soldiers are told to take cyanide because they are surrounded by the Syrian army. A wild dance scene to heavy metal joined by female Israeli soldiers that could have lost each person five pounds in ten minutes precedes what may have been a false alarm. Though the dance may appear to be out of the blue, having little to do with the plot, Lapid may have used the break to show his love for what cinema can show.

In the end, Lapid, using Avshalom Pollak’s character Y as a stand-in for himself, may know that many in his audience will want to stone him for his anti-government ideas. He is content to be himself, to call attention to his grievances not necessary to change minds—this is not likely. It is enough that he employs his cinematic imagination to cut to his leftist beliefs in what he considers the rot that has spread within the ruling party; a disease that hardly existed in the days of the country’s founding when Jews “made the desert bloom,” when the thought of Arab resistance was not yet considered at least among Israeli’s friends in America.

While not as opaque as “Synonyms” appears to many moviegoers, “Ahed’s Knee” is a refreshing and deeply felt look at one Israeli’s rage, when Y’s threat to email a conversation he had with his host serves like an Uzi, keeping a hostile crowd at bay.

In Hebrew with English subtitles.

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

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

SEXUAL DRIVE – movie review

SEXUAL DRIVE

Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Kôta Yoshida
Screenwriter: Kôta Yoshida
Cast: Manami Hashimoto, Ryô Ikeda, Mukau Nakamura, Honami Satô, Tateto Serizawa, Shogen, Rina Takeda
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/25/22
Opens: April 22, 2022

Poster

No film will ever match the conflating of food and sex as well as does the 1963 movie “Tom Jones, and surely “Sexual Drive,” which exhibits not a single body even half nude, is no competition. Tragedies are elevated, whereas comedies have no problem dealing with the body, especially the mouth and the lower regions. “Sexual Drive,” however, flirts with both the high and the low; metaphorically Kôta Yoshida, who wrote and directs the film partly devoted to the workings of the mind, particularly to the narratives of a fellow in the third part of this three-part series, but in every case drives home the point that people in bespoke suits and fashionable dresses are doing little more than covering up their innermost desires for food and sex.

Think of Odysseus who in the classic myth addresses the king of the Phaecians after being shipwrecked on an island, asking for time to finish his dinner before he tells his story: “Eat, drink!” It blots our all the memory of pain, commanding “Fill me up!”“Sexual Drive” deals with people in pain who long to be filled up and whose anxieties revolve around their sexual longings which they try to satisfy with food.

For example, in the first episode called Natto, Kiru (Tateto Serizawa), a shabbily dressed man, enters the home of a fellow whose wife is a nurse, called away on a Sunday for a hospital emergency. Kiru is everyman, confronting people with what is lacking in their lives. In the case of Natto, the reluctant host allows Kiru to present him with his principal concern, but he somehow cannot throw the man out. Kiru chats about the affair he is having with the man’s wife, presenting some truths that any of us men who have had surgery would like to forget—the most painful being the insertion of a catheter into the urethra to drain urine. Kiru calls himself a masochist. The pain turns him on. And somehow observing Kiru’s pain, the nurse is similarly excited. By the time the nurse comes home, starving, her husband has to watch her devouring a bowl of Natto with sexual pleasure, making the man all the more depressed with his own sexless life.

In Mapo Tofu, the second episode, Kiru appears again, this time throwing himself against a car and writhing in pain. The driver, who has panic attacks, is delighted that he is not going to sue her (does anyone sue anybody in Japan?) and gives him a ride to his home. During the ride she has the panic attacks to which she has become accustomed, while her would-be therapist, Kiru, hints that sexual dissatisfaction is the cause of the shaking.

In a more surreal vein, the third chapter, Ramen with Extra Backfat, a woman drinks alone in a bar, then proceeds to one of those noodle shop popular with people who want to save money and avoid self-consciousness of eating alone. A narrator speaks into the earpiece of a well-dressed man, probably an executive, directed toward Momoka who is the only woman in the ramen shop and who is herself trying to drown her lack of sexual satisfaction in food and drink.

This is a niche movie that could divide some folks who love indies and low-budget oddities. One group might turn on from the provocative nature of the movie, since after all it has originality, but others, like me, will be frustrated. Repeat that: frustrated. Those of us in that latter category may wonder whether getting laid before they watch it might change their opinion to a more positive one.

In Japanese with English subtitles.

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

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

THE QUEST FOR SLEEP – movie review

THE QUEST FOR SLEEP

Abramorama and Osmosis Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Rachel Mills
Screenwriter: Josh Adler
Cast: Olivia Spencer (narrator); Andre Iguodala, Emma Coburn, Rick Lynch, Dayna A. Johnson, Meeta Singh, Michael Grandner
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/12/22
Opens: March 16, 2022

We may not be a nation of shepherds, but a lot of sheep are being counted in our country, and the wooly animals are not doing much good. Many of us are getting by on four hours sleep, although getting by is an exaggeration. Some of the folks discussing their sleep problems in director Rachel Mills’s “The Quest for Sleep” are fully aware of the dangers they are creating for themselves and others, particularly by falling asleep at the wheel. And college students, under great pressure to succeed in our competitive society, may pull all-night study sessions, not taking the advice of one professional in this documentary; that sleep consolidates memory and that presumably if you get your eight hours before the test and have prepared days in advance, you’re more likely to score high.

One of the director’s previous contributions, “The Magnitudinous Illuminous,” is about a 66-year-old bartender-philosopher in Brooklyn who would give his customers lessons on how to live a creative life, but she may have fallen asleep after filming for twelve minutes. This time Mills is up to seventy-three minutes, knocking out a doc that some viewers will itself consider a remedy for insomnia—especially if they do not manage to complete the watch. Others (like me) may note that there’s nothing in this soporific documentary that you don’t already know if you were as interested in the science of sleep to choose to attend this movie, though there are cool picture of the brain where things are going on—in most people.

The principal gem of wisdom that overlooks the project is this: that human beings like other animals need three things in life: oxygen, food, and the “s” word. Sleep. As the talking heads note, that you simply cannot do a competent job if you consistently enjoy fewer than six hours, which may explain the problems facing this country under the leadership of a man whose mornings were taken up with watching “Fox and his Friends.” (This point is not made in the doc, for some reason. Must have slipped the mind of the creative people like writer Josh Adler.)

So we hear from a military man, a night club singer who tries to stay aware enough to keep his day job; a beautician who notes that it doesn’t matter how well she does women’s hair, that it’s her relationship with customers; and a fellow who moved to Costa Rica, married a local, and works on wind tunnels when he’s not feeding the adopted dogs.

The usual solutions are listed. Meditation (but not yoga?); turning the lights down when you’re ready for bedtime and putting them back up when you arise; drugs, include caffeine drinks, which may cause dependency and solve the insomnia problem only sometimes.

There’s not a helluva lot of enlightenment here and what’s more, the intrusive, tinkling music that seeks to drown out the performers’ words of wisdom can drive some viewers crazy. Is this movie a concert or a treatise on the zzzzs? The movie premiered as a live Facebook performance on March 16th.

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

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

PLAYGROUND (Le monde) – movie review

PLAYGROUND (UN MONDE)

Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Laura Wandel
Screenwriter: Laura Wandel
Cast: Maya Vanderbeque, Günter Duret, Lena Girard Voss, Simon Caudry, Thao Maerten, James Sequy, Naël Ammama, Émile Salamone, Karim Leklou
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/5/22
Opens: May 10, 2022

Wasn’t former first lady Melania’s “Be Best” campaign a plea to stop bullying? Judging by the film “Playground,” she was no more successful in her job than her husband in his. Guns may be an American thing, but fists and pushing and screaming probably occur everywhere. Note that the original title of this Belgian drama is “Un monde.”

Nor does bullying occur only in tough neighborhoods. Parents and teachers, no matter how understanding and loving, cannot prevent it. Take a look at the adorable children expertly directed by the Belgian director Laura Wandel in her freshman offering. Nora (Maya Vanderbeque), a girl of about seven who is likely in second grade of a public school, is at first afraid to go when the school year opens. A new arrival whose family had just moved, she clings at first to her father (Karim Leklou) and then to her older brother Abel (Günter Duret). Upset by the chaos of the halls, she does eventually make some friends. We in the audience cannot help smile when we see a broad grin on her face for the first time, but not before a teacher insists that she sit not with her brother but with kids from her own class.

Tension erupts on the playground when Abel, who hangs out with a group of bullies, is himself tormented, but he insists that Nora not snitch. That’s not the schoolyard code of behavior. Teachers allegedly supervising arrive either too late or not at all, though in one case Abel and his tormentor are dressed down in the principal’s office where one lad is forced to apologize, and thereby a final peace treaty is signed. Not. What really happens is almost predictable. Abel himself picks on a weaker child, putting a plastic bag over his head, and Nora might as well have the letter “S” tattooed on her neck. Nobody likes a snitch.

As Nora, Maya Vanderbeque could not be better. The seven-year-old thesp can be seen also in “Was zählt” (What Counts) and as herself in the TV drama L’invité.” She exudes a roller coaster of emotions from crying to lighting up the room with her smile; from disgust and despair to anger at her brother, in one scene wishing he were dead. To her dad, who seems unemployed but takes time to visit the playground and to dress down a bully, she can be clinging and she can be dismissive. “Playground” avoids even a hint of “documentarianism,” coming across instead as a fleshed-out look at the variety of tensions facing kids when they should not have to suffer the torment of their peers and of those who are slightly older.

The Brussels-born director certainly has a way with this assortment of sprouts.

In French with English subtitles.

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

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

RIDE TILL I DIE – movie review

RIDE TILL I DIE

Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Tony Rammos
Cast: Ricky Ringer, Ricky Ringer Jr., Ernie Courson, Marilee Ringer, Renee Ringer, Cynthia Kimbrell, Kenneth Kimbrell
Screened at: Critics’ link 4/5/22
Opens: April 8, 2022

Training his lenses on the Florida rodeos and cutting away to get insights about a man committed to riding bulls for a living, first-time director Tony Rammos seeks to answer two questions: What sort of person is willing to suffer broken ribs, perforated lungs, facial scars, and assorted injuries to other body parts and come back another day for more? What is it about riding bulls in rodeos that make this the most dangerous eight seconds in all sports?

Rammos could not have found a better man to answer these questions than Ricky Ringer. His first riding at age fifteen won him $97, which at the time, he says, was a nice chunk of money. Later he would compete in three areas of Florida—Tampa, West Palm Beach and Estero—for a purse that could net him $60,000. Ricky admits that it’s a good living, though one that you could pursue until you’re in your thirties (he lasted to age forty-one!), and more important, it’s a sport that he loves, one that makes him want to ride until he dies. Spoiler: he does not die in the ring but has to be dragged into retirement on the cusp of middle age. In a happy ending, he makes a living now as a heavy equipment operator.

We see Ricky in a picture with a white cutaway jacket, maybe the only time he got out of his colorful sport shirts and boots. We hear him encouraging his son Ricky Jr. to follow in his footsteps, and we learn from junior that he loves the sport as well. Not so much Ricky Ringer’s mother, who like any other parent who is not a child abuser discouraged him from riding, nor is his charming wife gung-ho about the injuries that befall her man while at the same time eagerly following him in the stands.

During much of the film time, Ricky talks to the cameras, in close ups and at medium range, scarcely able to get out a sentence without the obligatory “you know.” If scenes of the man riding a variety of bulls do not convince you of his love affair with the ring, his own words do the trick.

Natch there are many scenes of the action inside the ring, where each contestant must keep one hand free while trying to stay on a bucking bull for at least eight seconds. Ricky manages off and on, winning money by being among the top competitors, but we also see him thrown within as short a time as two or three seconds. Close-ups? Of course.

There is a major problem with the movie, one of omission. What’s on the screen is fine, but we who do not live in Texas or Florida or any other state that sponsors our country’s most dangerous sport would have no idea of the rules. Can you be excited watching a chess match if you don’t know chess from checkers? Is it true that riding a bull for more than eight seconds is irrelevant since only that initial time is considered? How is the sport judged? Are the bulls given points as well? Lest you think it’s nuts for the bull to be competing for sports points, remember that if at some time the animal is tired, does not feel like bucking, should the rider be awarded the same number of points as others who have more difficult animals? The Wikipedia article “Bull Riding” notes that the bull and rider share points equally, one hundred points being perfect while even in the seventies is considered good. Also, like the riddle of how to get the toothpaste back into the tube, how in heaven do these bulls get coaxed back home for the night? There is not a single clip showing how the assistants coax the brave animals back to await another exciting day of making men look like major rodeo competitor Matt Bright—if not like a patient in traction.

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

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

BALLAD OF A WHITE COW (Movie review)

BALLAD OF A WHITE COW

Mubi
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Directors: Maryam Moghadam, Behtash Sanaeeha
Screenwriters: Mehrdad Kouroshniya, Maryam Moghadam, Behtash Sanaeeha
Cast: Maryam Moghadam, Alireza Sani Far, Pouria Rahimi Sam, Avin Poor Raoufi, Farid Ghobadi, Lili Farhadpour
Screened at: Critics’link, NYC, 2/8/22
Opens: February 10, 2022

Ballad of a White Cow

Only fourteen countries still have the death penalty, most of them in Asia and Africa, and to the shame of our Western democracy some of our own states still live in the Middle Ages in that regard. A principal argument against its use is that it has not proved to inhibit would-be killers, which means, let’s admit it: we execute people for revenge. While I cannot think of many cases in the U.S. in which an innocent man has been punished with death, there is nonetheless the cardinal argument: that judges and juries can make mistakes and, once a man is given the needle or the rope, he is never coming back.

Iran, interestingly enough, may allow the family of a condemned man to forgive him, thus releasing him from the extreme penalty. In the case of Maryam Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha’s “Ballad of a White Cow,” remarkably, when the Iranian government discovers that it had executed an innocent man, it takes steps to admit its mistake and to give his widow a cash settlement.

In directing what is more or less a chamber piece with two principals, Maryam Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha situate director Moghadam in the principal role as Mina, shown early on making a final visit to her husband in prison, implicitly believing like most others that he is guilty of the crime. She is herself treated like a guilty widow who is fired from her job in a factory making beverages, thrown out of her apartment because a man unrelated to her had an innocent conversation with her behind closed doors, and is chased by her brother-in-law (Pourya Rahimiam) who is hitting on her. How does the society expect her to care for her deaf and mute daughter Bita (Avin Poor Raoufi), who is told that her dad is “far away” and that when they both get old they will see him again?

As the story progresses with thankfully no music in the soundtrack to tell us how to react emotionally, Maryam is grateful to Reza (Alireza Sanifar), who gives her money, though she does not realize at first that the donations are to assuage his guilt feelings for being one of the judges that sentenced him to death. (He did not participate in the court proceedings but made up his mind solely from the written testimony.) He is guilty as well of a lesser lapse in judgment when, because he caused the woman’s eviction from her apartment by visiting her behind closed doors.

We in the United States, who consider Iran to be along with China, Russia and North Korea our principal adversary, are eager to point out Iran’s limitations on a woman’s freedom: forcing women to wear head scarves while men have no required “fashions,” disallowing even the most innocent visit to a woman’s residence by someone unrelated, and leaning on religion to such an extent than when a mistake results in an innocent man’s hanging it’s “God’s will.” The cow of the title refers to a passage in the Quran when Moses orders a cow to be sacrificed for a man’s death—the animal shown near the opening as a computerized white cow being prepared for slaughter. A metaphor is offered upon metaphor when Mina serves a glass of warm milk to Reza, who, slowly realizing that Mina has learned the truth may now serve as an offering to Allah for an innocent man’s death.

Chamber pieces like this one are necessarily disciplined and restrained, giving us in the audience a chance to observe Mina’s humanism. “Ballad of a White Cow” punctuates co-director Maryam Moghadam’s dignified performance as an aggrieved woman, perhaps wearing black for a year after her husband’s death. Her silence while serving the judge who essentially killed her husband hits home with the audience better than melodramatic flourishes with music or a stab at outright revenge could not.

In Farsi (Persian) with English subtitles.

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

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

BREAKING BREAD – movie review

BREAKING BREAD

Cohen Media Group
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Beth Elise Hawk
Screenwriter: Beth Elise Hawk
Cast: Dr. Nof Atanmna-Ismaeel, Shlomi Meir, Ali Khattib, Osama Dalal, Han Ferron, Salah Cordi, Tomer Abergel, Shoshi Karaman, Fadi Karaman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/13/22
Opens: February 4, 2022

If you’ve ever seen a bottle of Heinz ketchup, you know that the company is proud to deal with 57 varieties of food. The U.S., by contrast, has perhaps 200 varieties of people, while Israel, a much smaller country, has a mixture of Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, and Jews from Russia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, the United States, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. That’s to name a few. “Breaking Bread” is Beth Elise Hawk’s documentary about how food can bring together the distinct folks who live in Israel proper. Hawk, in her freshman production, allows her focus to be on microbiologist Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, named by Israel a master chef, who serves as narrator, showing groups of people of different backgrounds preparing, commenting upon, and eating food. She believes that people can discover how similar they are to one another through the one thing that everybody does: eat. Though only one half of Jews in Israel are Ashkenazim and Mizrahi, with backgrounds from European countries, Dr. Nof deals almost exclusively with foods of people from the Levant: principally falafel, lamb, tomato-and-cucumber salad, pita bread, hummus and tehina.

The principal characters, a balance of Jews and Arab Muslims including one fellow half Christian and half Jewish, discuss whether the Levantine foods served in Israel—from Jordan, Syria, Morocco, Egypt and Lebanon, can be called Israeli, or whether it’s safer to consider them Arabic. While even Ashkenazi Jews go for falafel and the like, my vote is to call them Arabic. Sadly, there is no Israeli food and many Israeli Jews barely heard of bagels and Matzoh ball soup, nor do they consume them.

The movie takes its prologue from a quote of Anthony Bourdain, “Food may not be the answer to world peace, but it’s a start.”

Some Arabs living in Israel proper, i.e. not including Gaza or the West Bank, would call Nof an Arab in name only, as she was brought up in an Arab village but attended a Jewish elementary school. Most unusual. She is fluent in English, while the Muslims she introduces to us are versed in Hebrew. This is unusual; most Arabs living within Israel’s boundaries refuse to consider themselves Israeli but instead identify as Palestinian.

Stepping outside Haifa, a diverse city which is the country’s third largest, a gent of Syrian background in Akko brings forth his contribution to the A-Sham Food Festival in Haifa. Another shows and discusses what Ashkenazi Jews would consider kreplach, in this case chopped lamb folded into dough like a Chinese wonton. Arab and Jewish chefs talk freely with one another, likely to give some the impression that Arabs living in Israel proper eschew the identity of Palestinian and are fine conversing most of the time in Hebrew. Could it be that many Arabs are hoping to continue living under a Jewish government, given that Israeli Jews have built such an armed force that terrorists like ISIS and Al Aqueda would not dare to launch a frontal attack? Who knows how safe from the tortuous ideology of terrorists these Israeli Arabs would be under an Arabic government?

Americans in big cities would likely be familiar with most or all of the colorful dishes on display, a mouth-watering assortment that would find them heading the next day to the local ethnic restaurants and food emporiums. You come away from this picture realizing that perhaps ten percent of the Arabs living in Israel would be politically hostile to the government, when in fact most of the Muslim population therein, though eligible like anyone else to claim Israeli citizenship and receive passports, decline to do so. In Ofer ben Yehuda’s colorful photography (it’s not easy to photograph food to bring out its savory goodness), we witness the feelings of chefs who appear to be apolitical, even bending over backwards in loyalty to a Jewish government.

In English, Hebrew and Arabic, with English subtitles.

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

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

THE AUTOMAT – movie review

THE AUTOMAT

A Slice of Pie Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Lisa Hurwitz
Screenwriter: Michael Levine
Cast: Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Colin Powell, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/21/22
Opens: February 18, 2022 at New York’s Film Forum

Poster
The Great Mel Brooks

If you want to know the date that America began her descent, look not to her defeat in Afghanistan or, farther back, the election of Donald Trump. Defeat in the Vietnam War? Not then. America became a banana republic when Horn and Hardart’s signature cafeteria closed forever in 1991. After that the dominos fell. Almost all of New York’s cafeterias went belly-up, including New York’s Dubrow’s and Belmore.

Horn and Hardart’s Automat, which began in 1902 in Philadelphia and closed near New York’s Grand Central Station in 1991, was unique. The only one of its kind. A cafeteria that the poorest person can afford and yet was patronized by executives during coffee breaks, even for breakfast. The chain was booming until our federal highway program encouraged people to leave the cities, so they no longer had dinner in the big cities but went home for heartier, albeit more expensive fare.

This brief documentary includes looks at several films from the silent days such as “The Early Bird” (1925) and a few from the 1950s that featured the brain-child of Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart. The two founders believed in democracy (unlike many of today’s Republicans); that people from all walks of life, all ethnic groups and races, and all bank accounts could gather at the tables, head to the automatic food dispensers, insert nickels (one cashier in one H&H restaurant was able to grab exactly 20 nickels every time she received a one dollar bill), and get your lemon meringue pie, peach pie, mac and cheese and best of all the baked beans.

The hot foods remained piping hot even though the Automat used a single commissary to churn out its dishes, then, like magic, when the dish of baked beans would disappear from the window, a new plate would pop up in its place. The cafeteria workers behind the walls would never be seen and receive proper credit for filling the boxes.

Mel Brooks handled the narration, using the doc’s time to reminisce about the good old days before Mickey D’s and Burger King replaced some of the automats, breaking up that old gang of mine.

In her interview the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg praised the diversity of people who patronized the H&H’s, where even the derelicts could sit all day without being chased out. For his part the late Colin Powell talks of the times he was growing up in the Bronx, feasting on the Automat during family outings.

Aside from the intrusive music and the repetitive nature of the documentary, “The Automat,” a look down memory lane, joins the films about restaurants as the low-budget choice that may not have won even a single Michelin star, but supplied nourishment to young and old, rich and poor, whites and folks of color.

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

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