APOLLO 11 – movie review

APOLLO 11
Neon and CNN Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Cast: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldren, Richard Nixon
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 2/14/19
Opens: March 1, 2019

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If Frank Sinatra were an astronaut on the Apollo 11 mission, he would make these lyrics popular:

It’s very nice to go traveling,
With Houston control to the moon,
It’s oh so nice to go traveling,
But let’s hope we get to home soon.

Why did we have to wait fifty years to watch scenes never before released to the world? The big plus in Todd Douglas Miller’s heavily researched and competently edited documentary is that after a half century, there are archival clips that we’re seeing for the first time giving viewers a more comprehensive, even a rah rah, look at a buddy road movie to make others of the sub-genre seem so provincial. After all we’re talking about sending three men on a mission more risky, more likely to crash and burn, than would face a guy and his gal fortified with a liter of Dewar’s, setting out without head gear on a hundred-miles-an-hour jaunt through the California coast.

America’s trip to the moon in 1969, which might seem to today’s millennials as a time hopelessly backward in technology, is a key moment in history when the American people and, in fact, the five hundred million people worldwide who tuned in to the drama, feel a togetherness never sent since in quite the same way. Still, outside of the minutes in which the space ship is prepared for takeoff with just minutes to go before ignition—and ultimately the blastoff that illuminates the heavens—there is not much here to lead Americans in the chant USA! USA! USA! Most of the film conveys technical details, showing how many scores, perhaps hundreds of engineers sit at their desks, short-sleeve white shirts and ties setting of their closely cropped hair, each fulfilling one specific function needed to make the trip a rousing success.

Thankfully there are no talking heads here, no people sitting in chairs across from the subjects filling their heads with questions that everyone knows are coming and which garner predictable enough replies. Instead, Walter Cronkite, the journalist most trusted by Americans, conveys the excitement of the people who have napped on Florida beaches waiting for perhaps the most dramatic single moment in U.S. history.

The backstories of the three buddies, tossed in while Commander Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin are suiting up, display wedding pictures, kids, other tidbits to show that the three are not robots but vulnerable human beings with families, some members of whom may or may not have encouraged their heroes to take part in a mission. Remember that any hitch in the engineering would mean that their children would never see their fathers again.

Scenes taken right from the space ship are of the highest value, particularly the moments that the ship is about to land on the crater-filled surface of the moon and setting down in such a hitch-free style that they trio appear to be gliding to earth on a slow-moving helicopter. President Nixon’s message to the astronauts conveys the Oval office occupant’s bursting pride, and much earlier, President Kennedy delivers a speech in 1962 introducing the project that would reach fruition in July of 1969. The entire film serves to punctuate the banality of our politics today, our country irreparably divided into political viewpoints so far apart that compromise no longer appears possible; the unity that existed at least for a short time, on that propitious July day.

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

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

CLIMAX – movie review

CLIMAX
A24
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Gaspar Noë
Screenwriter: Gaspar Noë
Cast: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 2/13/19
Opens: March 1, 2019

Climax Movie Poster

When the most mature person in an ensemble of some fifteen adults is a 7-year-old kid, you know that you’re in for a cynical view of civilization. And cynical this is, as you might expect from writer-director Gaspar Noë, whose “Love” deals with an American in Paris with an unstable girlfriend who invites a pretty neighbor into their bed. Now he pulls out all the stops in a movie that could be called for want of a more specific title than this, “Lord of the Flies 2: Fifteen Years Later.” Except that the adults are the ones who need chaperoning while the young lad, Tito (Vince Galliot Cumant), the only sober fellow on the screen, gets locked in a room, unable to rescue the adults who are out of control.

Some of the film is fantastic. A later segment, though, is a downer that goes on for too long, some dancers becoming violent, others declaring their love. Opening on a scene in the snow, a look at a woman stretching all body parts therein, Benoît Debie, who is behind the lens somewhere in France listens in. The dancers, all in their twenties, gush about their profession, one saying that dance is everything and that she has no idea what she would do if she were not favored by Terpsichore.

The action takes place in the mid-nineties, far enough past the lifetime of Tchaikovsky who, if he is listening from the grave which accommodated him at age 53, might actually approve. He would realize that Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, however many times they are repeated (that’s what classics are), would give way to body work that would express their own time.

The racially diverse cast put on quite a show, with enough energy to light up a small town that would otherwise be too dependent on coal. And there’s lots and lots of foot work, arm work, and chit-chats about dick work. Characters during a break discuss how many women they’ve balled, whom they would like to ball, and who would be most responsive to their infinite charm.

As for the music, the techno is terrific, with a drumbeat that would drive the mice and bugs screaming from your apartment. The cast rivets. However, Noë should have quit while he was ahead. The word from Cannes is the audience thought that when the movie went on for less than an hour, they figured that it was over. Not so. Someone laced the sangria with LSD, and the results are not pretty. Nobody becomes enlightened. Sorry, Timothy Leary, your theory of the benefits of the hallucinatory drug does not stand up. As the drugged dancers bounce around, this time in slower motion than when they were sober, violence erupts. The young folks are not at all happy that someone dropped the drug into the punch. Accusations are made. Did the guy who does not drink do it? How about the woman who says that she is pregnant and therefore cannot touch the stuff? More flirtations take place, including Valentine-type “you are everything to me” line, while almost everyone is in pain.

At one time we human beings are in paradise. We were chased out, and while we have our moments of bliss, we are a fallen people. This does not mean that we are bound to be intensely involved in the overlong period when the thin veneer of civilization falls away. Given the excitement of the first half, you would do well to see this film.

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

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

SOMETHING – movie review

SOMETHING   
Subspin Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Stephen Portland
Screenwriter:  Stephen Portland
Cast: Michael Gazin, Jane Rowen, Joel Clark Ackerman, Eric Roberts
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/21/19
Opens: March 1, 2019

Something

If you want to make a horror film to catch on with the typical fans—teens, maybe 20-somethings—you may need name actors and an expense account to hire a crew of animators, set designers, costumers and the like.  In his debut feature, though, Stephen Portland goes with a true, low-budget movie, though it’s clearly not the kind of picture you could make at home behind your iPhone as director, writer, editor and cinematographer.  In his “Something” everything takes place inside a spacious ranch house with just a shot or two of the land outside.  The focus is on just two people, one named Man (Michael Gazin) and the other, his wife Woman (Jane Rowen).  Later, Portland, who wrote the script as well, will bring in a couple of cops, one named Cop (Joel Clark Ackerman) and the other named Rookie (Evan Carter); then finally, Eric Roberts, wearing a frightful rug, takes a role with a job that should not be revealed in a review to avoid giving away a surprise.

Actually “Something,” while remaining in the horror genre, is really a mood piece.  If you’re a mature moviegoer who realizes that nothing made after William Friedkin’s 1973 movie “The Exorcist” has been able to hold a candle to that classic in the horror genre, you will be pleased watching this movie.  This is the kind of pic that people like us can identify with, whether you’re in your late 20’s or early 30’s like Man and Woman or whether you have ever lived in a house or apartment with another person.  (Michael Gazin in his sophomore feature film role is 34 while Jane Rowen looks about the same age.)

If you pay close attention, you will notice a couple of hints early on that will allow you to guess the surprise ending.  Most of the story is a dialogue between Man and Woman, the type of talk that could take place in any household with a new baby, with a mother who may love her little man but is also frustrated with latter’s crying.  Both are sleepy: he, possibly a freelancer, is about to take a business trip out of the country to the dismay of woman, who is frightened.  He finds a knife in the baby’s crib.  He chews her out, wondering how she could do such a thing.  Twice, the door to the nursery is locked requiring Man to force the lock.  He blames her for that as well.  He finds his passport in the trash, and he naturally blames her since she had a strong motive to sabotage his trip.  When the baby carriage is outside during the night in the cold, she again states that she doesn’t know what she’s doing lately.  That could have just about broken up their marriage.

As if their marriage bonds have not been frayed enough, a ghostly presence appears several times inside the house, disappearing without having to open and close the windows and the screens.  She sees it.  He sees it.  At least one other person is going to spot the creature as well.

Have you guessed the identity of the intruder?  I did not because I probably was not paying close enough attention to the unfolding of the story.  There is reasonable chemistry between Man and Woman, though three nights straight they both go to bed in their street clothes, wishing each other a good night.  The dialogue is naturalistic; the sorts of subjects that married people who are not cast in a Shakespearean tragedy say to each other.  As a whole this modest picture, notwithstanding the lack of conspicuous cleverness in the writing or bells and whistles is an enjoyable enough experience.

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

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

TRANSIT – movie review

TRANSIT
Music Box Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christian Petzold
Screenwriter: Christian Petzold, based on the novel by Anna Seghers
Cast: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Lilien Batman, Maryam Zaree
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/15/19
Opens: March 1, 2019

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The first lesson that a teacher gives in introducing the story of humankind’s past is that “History repeats itself.” Throughout the course, whether U.S. history, European, Asian, African or what-have-you, this slogan, if you will, will pop up in quite a few lessons. And why not? People are from different countries, with various cultures, but wherever you may be, what is happening to you right now has occurred to people last year a decade ago, and centuries past. Conquests take place, occupation soldiers solidify their rule. Economics goes boom and go bust. The cycle of life assures us that whatever Mr. Trump does now has been done by presidents in the past. OK maybe that’s an exception. Now Christian Petzold gives us a film that has us visualize such a cycle. He has stated that he could have made a movie set in Europe in 1942 but chooses to make the occupation, the anxieties of the people trying to escape, the brutality of the conquering regime, all the stuff that took place with a vengeance in the early forties in Europe is occurring today. Does ISIS ring a bell? The Syrian Civil War that has caused hundreds of thousands to flee to refuges willing to accept them?

The characters are in good hands with Christian Petzold in the director’s chair, since in 2014 his film “Phoenix,” about a disfigured Holocaust survivor, a Jewish woman eager to discover whether her husband betrayed her hiding place during the German occupation, gets vengeance in the final two or three minutes. Those moments are a gem, a classic, inflicting harm on the weasel without having even to touch him. Now, as in “Phoenix,” Petzold deals with life, with death, and with the ghosts that flow between these two extremes. Petzold, then, takes the chaos in Europe during the early forties, transposes it to the near future, and shows how the Nazi “cleansing” then is leading to a similar fate now, as many in population are desperate to escape to Mexico, to Spain, to the U.S. and anywhere else that is far away from the front. It’s a doozy of a picture.

Petzold’s central character, Georg (Franz Rogowski), is a German refugee fleeing from the ongoing troops occupying one French city after another. He has no papers but as luck would have it he has picked up the identity of a novelist, Weidel, who has committed suicide in his fleebag hotel, leaving the bathtub flooded with his blood. He uses the papers to negotiate with the Mexican consul in Marseilles, where only those who can prove that they’re on their way out of the country are allowed to stay in the hotels. He—in transit, so to speak, between the old world and the current one–seeks what else? A transit visa. Then, complications. The wife of the novelist feels guilty that she left him and is now taken with refugee Richard (Godehard Giese), a doctor. In fact every refugee has a story to tell, slim parts of which Georg hears while waiting on line in a consulate. Further complicating the plot, Georg becomes fond of a boy named Driss (Lilien Batman) with whom he plays a quick pickup game of soccer.

Getting back to our theme of history’s repeating itself, the looks of Marseilles are such that had we not known when the action takes place, we would not be able to figure the year. Presumably if a Burger King appeared in the set, takes would wind up on the floor. “Transit” is adapted from the novel by Anna Seghers (1900-1983) published in 1942 and now reprinted in English. The book is from the hands of a woman born into an upper-class Jewish family in Mainz, Germany, who fled (surprise!) from Marseilles to Mexico to escape the Nazis. Director Petzold, who notes that the Nazis destroyed German culture with its propaganda, herein uses the character of Georg to assert the fate of the refugee, always moving around, rootless and lonely until he meets the woman he loves since with the novelist’s identity he has become as centered as one can be in his situation.

The film, which is in German and French with English subtitles, is one of those works that reward viewers who have the patience to allow the different fragments of the story to become solidified. Did I say reward? Yes I did.

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

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

PATRICK – movie review

PATRICK
Buena Vista International (a Walt Disney Pictures Label)
Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director: Mandie Fletcher
Screenwriter: Mandie Fletcher, Paul de Vos, Beattie Edmondson, Ed Skrein, Tom Bennett
Cast: Beattie Edmondson, Ed Skrein, Gemma Jones, Jennifer Saunders, Tom Bennett
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/24/18
Opens: February 15, 2018

Poster

Patrick would be a fitting name for a Wolfhound, a Setter, a breed of terrier perhaps, but the Patrick in this movie, a Pug, would more appropriately bear a name like Zhang, or Wang, or Li. Maybe this one eschewed a Chinese name because no emperor would want such a neurotic animal on his lap. Contrary to what people may think, this alleged lap dog is a mischievous, neurotic little dog who might stay on your lap for a half minute or so but who has the energy of a Jack Russell terrier as he scratches on doors while jumping, runs away and is considered lost, and trashes a house when its reluctant owner is busy teaching equally mischievous high-school kids.

Filmed by Chris Goodger in Chiswick, London—also the setting for other movies like “Never Let Me Go”–the west London location thirty minutes from the city center by tube is a lovely spot, a favorite of tourists, local joggers, boat lovers, and quaint little fairs you can picture hosting community pot luck suppers.

The family-friendly movie is as bland as the pastoral atmosphere, featuring an over-the-top performance by Sarah Francis (Beattie Edmondson) as an English teacher who feels guilty about leaving the pug she inherits from her granny home alone. She sneaks the flat-nosed canine into the school to the dismay of her conventional headmaster. Her boyfriend has left her because he needs “space,” and Sarah unwittingly finds that the dog has attracted two joggers in the park—one a narcissistic veterinarian and the other the dutiful son of his disabled father. She makes friends with the other female teachers in her school, which is filled with boys and girls sporting the school colors in their uniforms.

“Patrick” is as bland as you might expect for a movie created for the small fry whose moms will escort them to the picture, which understandably plays up to the kiddies with poop, pratfalls and potential paramours but lacks the heart and soul of other doggie fare like “Hachi,” “Marley and Me,” “Benji,” and the greatest of them all, Fred M. Wilcox’s 1943 “Lassie Come Home.”

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

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

BIRDS OF PASSAGE – movie revie

BIRDS OF PASSAGE (Pájaros de verano)
The Orchard
Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra
Screenwriter: Maria Camila Arias, Jacques Toulemonde based on an original idea by Cristina Gallego
Cast: Carmeña Martinez, José Acosta, John Nurváez, Natalia Reyes, JoséVicente Cotes, Juan Martinez, Greider Meza
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 1/10/19
Opens: February 13, 2018
Pájaros de verano Movie Poster
If you visit Panama city on vacation, you would do well to visit the Embera Indians in Darién province. They live as you would imagine indigenous people live, using little electricity, dressing in colorful albeit minimalist garb, and putting on a great show for tourists who are treated as well to a fantastic lunch of fried fish, caught that day. You may think that they are amazed every time they see Americans (other than Native Americans) but it turns out that these folks are quite educated, cultured, with many having traveled worldwide. They live as they are partly because they like it but also because the Panama government gives them special financial benefits provided that they continue welcoming tourists, thereby raising the chance of attracting more people to their shores than otherwise. You might think that this is corruption via money, and perhaps it is, but only a really small scale. If you want to see large-scale degeneracy, take in Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s “Birds of Passage,” or “Pájaros de verano” in the original, Spanish title.

What you see here could be called “Godfather 3,” simplistic though that is, because the body count is high (most violence off screen, though) and because the various indigenous clans of Colombia’s Guajira region in that country’s northeast have gone to war with each other, most having fallen under the influence of blood money. At the same time, there is a struggle between tradition and commerce, between doing things the way they have been done for a thousand years, of falling prey to the competition and evils of modern times. “Birds of Passage,” the title’s referring both to the one-engine planes that carry marijuana from Colombia to the U.S. for a special of fowl that have lived there at least as long as the indigenous people.

Before money makes its entrance, the clan is living according to tradition. Under the guidance of Ursúla (Carmiña Martinez), a strong leader and matriarch, her daughter Zaida (Natalia Reyes) is declared “a woman,” as would a debutante in our own society. As the group dance, Raphayet (José Acosta), following a long-standing mating ritual, proposes, but the dowry demanded by the girl’s uncle Peregrino (José Vicente Cotes) is too high for the newly engaged man. Ironically, the old tradition of the dowry is to cause the conflicts which will destroy the indigenous society.

The action of the movie takes place from 1960 to 1980. A clash of civilizations occurs when Raphayet and Moíses (Jhon Narvaez) run into young Peace Corps workers who are not the idealistic youths you’d expect. Their goal is to buy marijuana from the locals and have it flown back to the States, not the way our President believes that drugs are being imported by land. With the jungle-based plantation run by Aníbal (Juan Martinez), Raphayet becomes a businessman, trading in his traditional hut for some lavish digs, thereby uprooting everything the clan had stood for over the centuries. When the pilots of the one-engine planes are discovered hiding weed, thereby indicating that they are buying from other clans against their agreement, the killings begin, families fighting families like the violence prone mafia in the “Godfather” series.

One cast member performs as a Greek chorus, reciting poetry and singing hymns both announcing and foreshadowing the gunplay to follow. Tradition simply cannot compete with the love of money, which is the root of this evil, in a movie that’s surprisingly slow-moving for most of the way but exploding in mayhem during the concluding scenes. This is an epic tale involving communities that most of us rarely see on the screen or in real life, an involving story that takes us step by step toward the breaking up of a rich culture.

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

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

EVERYBODY KNOWS – movie review

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

Todos lo saben Movie Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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