CURVATURE – movie review

CURVATURE

Screen Media Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Diego Hallivi
Screenwriter:  Brian DeLeeuw
Cast:  Lyndsy Fonseca, Alex Lanipekun, Glenn Morshower, Linda Hamilton, Noah Bean
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/17/18
Opens: February 23, 2018
Curvature Movie Poster
The use of time travel by movies is old hat.  Any new sci-fi tale using the hackneyed jargon is bound to be looked on as derivative and therefore without much entertainment value.  On the one hand we’ve got high box-office dramas like the “Terminator” series, and the more cerebral comic episodes of “Back to the Future.”  On the other hand you have films with genuine entertainment value for adults like “Brigadoon” and perhaps the best of all, “Groundhog Day.”

“Curvature” travels somewhere between the two extremes.  It involves time travel all right, though the actual experiments showing people zooming into the past and future are downplayed.  The performers are fine, principally Lyndsy Fonesca’s in the role of Helen, present in most of the scenes, as is the execution of his part by Zack Avery as Alex, a friend of Helen working with her in the robotics industry.

However something seems to be amiss with Brian DeLeeuw’s script.  Connections between Helen in the present and her dopplegänger in the past are cloudy.  It’s never clear just how Helen, having traveled in time to stop herself from a revenge killing Tomas (Glenn Morshower) the murderer and research partner of her husband, has two separate beings.  It’s bizarre enough to hear Helen answering her phone to hear herself give warnings about a BMW whose occupants mean her harm, but despite Diego Hallivi’s direction, the plot falters into incomprehensibility because of a confused screenplay.

As for the ethical dilemma that caused Wells (Noah Bean), her husband, to seek the end of experimentation with the time machine, that is anybody’s guess.  One wonders why Wells would want to conclude the research while his partner, who accuses Wells of being self-righteous, wants to continue.  The film could have been improved by an out-and-out understandable discussion of contemporary ethics.

The director’s only other feature film, “The Duel,” is more realistic, focusing on a man and his mother who move to a new city to start over.

Unrated.  89 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE YOUNG KARL MARX – movie review

OH LUCY! – movie review

OH LUCY!

Film Movement
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Atsuko Hirayanagi
Screenwriter:  Atsuko Hirayanagi, Boris Frumin
Cast:  Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett, Kaho Minami, Koji Yakusho, Shioli Kutsuna, Megan Mullally, Reiko Aylesworth
Screened at: Critics’ Link, NYC, 1/18/18
Opens: February 23, 2018
Inline image 1
In Japan where suicide is not looked upon as an entrance to an eternity in hell, we may wonder if occasionally the principal character in Oh Lucy! might be a candidate for oblivion. She’s a sad sack, working as a data-processor in a claustrophobic office, seeing her future in the form of  an elderly spinster whose retirement party she attends.  With a mean spirit, she assures the new retiree that behind her back her colleagues call her a fat pig and a waste, and her testiness will emerge later with her sister.  Her home life is worse.  Lucy might seem an odd name for a Japanese woman (played by Shinobu Terajima) but we find out soon enough how she got this nom de étudiante though she spent some forty years as Setsuko.   The woman, a spinster in her forties with little hope of a lasting relationship with a man, certainly tries her best anyway, and in the hands of director and co-scripter Atsuko Hirayanagi in her freshman full-length feature which has been expanded from a 22-minutes thesis short, we can accept that a movie starting as absurdist comedy turns to melodrama and even tragedy.

The film will probably benefit from the casting of Josh Hartnett as John, a teacher of English in Tokyo, who has an unusual way of loosening up his Japanese students.  Recognizing that Japan is a more rigid and conservative society than Los Angeles where he lives, he starts by hugging new pupils (which would probably get him bounced on the spot in today’s Me-Too America) but is tentatively accepted, even sought by his charges.  That’s not all.  To make students lose their Japanese self-consciousness, John fixes Lucy up with a wig, a whole new identity.   Yet when the teacher, on whom she has a crush, leaves the school suddenly to return home to L.A. with Lucy’s young and pretty niece Mika (Shiloi Kutsuna) in tow, Lucy, that is Setsuko, gets a vacation and travel to the coast of continue her relationship but has to put up with her dragon of a sister Ayako (Kaho Minami) yapping behind her in search of her daughter.

The film starts with a suicide: a passenger grabs Setsuko, whispers “Goodbye,” and jumps in front of the train, a scene that may foreshadow miserable times ahead for Setsuko, her brittle sister, and even the young niece.  “Oh Lucy!” thematically contrasts Japanese customs with those of the most laid-back of Americans (SoCal), the chance for a new life and a new identity, and the perpetual hunt for love that defines any society that does not keep the tradition of arranged marriage.  There is a revenge motif as well: Setsuko’s sister way back stole her boyfriend, who became no more than her brother-in-law, a situation that does not help to make blood sisters sing Kumbaya to each other.

The director with the help of co-writer Boris Frumin adds a clumsy scene in a car where John and Setsumo act like two spontaneous teens, and the film concludes on a sad note showing the difficulty of romance across the Pacific when the couple know little of each other’s native language.  There is not much chance for hope to bear fruit. The picture ends not with a sentimental tug but with the ambiance of a downer.

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

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

THE PARTY – movie reveiw

THE PARTY

Roadside Attractions
Reviewed by : Harvey Karten
Director: Sally Potter
Screenwriter: Sally Potter
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/8/18
Opens: February 16, 2018

The Party Movie Poster

This is the kind of party that only academics might enjoy, professors in a graduate faculty at that. Despite the numerous bon mots and the writer-director’s attempts to have the ensemble cast show their fangs, as a locus for the release of emotional tensions this film cannot begin to compare with the king of the circuit, Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” We may have a case of a viewer’s preference for a more American style of browbeating, which I offer by way of declaimer.

The chatter of this strange assortment of upper-middle class Brits might work better in the theater, since the action takes place in real time set wholly in an extensively furnished London home (actually filmed in a West London studio), with the women doing most of the talk and much of the witty liftings.

The dull and conventional ambiance here is a surprise given that Sally Potter has previous contributed “Orlando,” with the great Tilda Swinton performing in the role of a nobleman who stays forever young and moves through periods of British history, thereby giving the film a broad canvas on which to paint differences in centuries. Nor does “The Party” stand up to Potter’s “The Tango Lesson,” which finds Sally taught to dance by Pablo, forming a bond which later breaks when the two find that they want different things in a relationship.

Like the duo in “The Tango Lesson,” an ensemble of people who presumably were friends discover that maybe they don’t belong together, considering the barbs that emerge when some of the attendees discover what they must have barely suspected.

With soundtrack music at a minimum and black-and-white photography giving a more intimate feel for the occasion, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) invites pals to a night of talk as she celebrates her promotion to British Health Minister by an opposition party. Her hirsute husband Bill (Timothy Spall) seems comatose, having sat in a chair with wide eyes nursing a glass of red wine but otherwise keeping his body still.

The most entertaining guest (a low hurdle), Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), performs in the role of an aromatherapist, lecturing the group about the body’s capacity to heal itself without medicine and praising doctors who prescribe placebos to help further the cure. As April (Patricia Clarkson), once a leftist but now cynical about everything makes generic statements about civilization while Jinny (Emily Mortimer), pregnant with three triplets presumably not based on her lesbian relationship with Martha (Cherry Jones). Completing the ensemble, banker Tom (Cillian Murphy) is the most agitated of all not necessarily because he snorts a line in the hostess’ lavatory and packs a gun on his shoulder.

Secrets emerge: terminal illness meets extramarital affairs, the whole episode designed also to make points about the inability of establishment politicians to make real change and the changing nature of the women’s rights movement. The majority of critics so far appear to believe that humor can indeed travel well across the Atlantic, but to that concept I’ll have to join the loyal opposition.

Unrated. 71 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

TEHRAN TABOO – movie review

TEHRAN TABOO

Kino Lorber
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ali Soozandeh
Screenwriter: Ali Soozandeh
Cast: Elmira Rafizadeh, Zara Amir Ebrahimi, Arash Marandi, Bilal Yasar, Negal Mona Alizadeh, Payam Madjilessi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/26/18
Opens: February 14, 2018

Naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. The Roman poet Horace said this. Translated: You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but it keeps coming back. When human beings have their natural implications aborted with repressive laws, you can expect blowback. We learned this with our own horrendous experience with prohibition. Our attorney general still has not learned this as he tries to override California’s legal acceptance of recreational marijuana. Add sex to the package: think of the absurd and hopefully dead U.S. laws against same-sex cohabitation, against the use of birth control, even against same-sex marriage. Ultimately our natural inclinations will win.

Iran is still back in the 19th century with its rigid legislation against unrelated people holding hands; against the use of any drug; against disco-type parties. The young people are smarting. Some desire nothing more than to leave the country for the U.S. or Germany, while others protest in the streets as we’ve seen in the recent demonstrations. To get a solid look at the ways the religious government in Iran punishes people for what we in the U.S. consider wholly inoffensive, watch Ali Soozandeh’s animated story “Tehran Taboo,” which uses rotoscope to avoid the need to film in a place like Jordan and Morocco since surely Iran is outside of what’s possible.

Rotoscoping involves tracing the movement of live actors to convert their story to animation, a technique now done with computers. (See the Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotoscoping). While the technology is mind-boggling, of course what is important is the story unfolded under Ali Soozandeh’s direction. The writer-director was born in Iran and lived there to the age of 25. He was alarmed that after the Islamic revolution, boys and girls were separated in school. Now living as a citizen in Germany, he sought to break the silence and protest restrictions, opining that the Iranian people are adept with working around the restrictions. For this film, he was motivated by a conversation between two Iranian men in the subway who noted that a prostitute would take her child along on the job. What may bother him most now is that individuals and their entire families can lose honor for an extramarital relationship.

Though you may root for some people in “Tehran Taboos,” all the individuals are flawed, even the small mute boy who observes everything like a Greek chorus and gets his fun from dropping water balloons from a roof onto the people below. It would not be spoiling the movie to tell you that the taboos that are broken include restrictions against watching porn, getting married when you are no longer a virgin, judges who tilt the balance scales in a petitioner’s favor if she gives her favor to the bench, disco parties, all illegal drugs including weed, and possession of girlie magazines. The most amusing albeit sad problem faces a woman who is deflowered at a party shortly before her wedding and must find a way to become a virgin once again.

Soozandeh opens with a bang, or more accurately a shot of Pari (Elmira Rafizadeh) giving a blow job to a man inside his car. Before you cast blame on her, note that she is desperate to split from a drug addict who is in prison and must ply her trade with a judge to get his signature on a divorce document. In fact she becomes his concubine, living in his apartment together with her son Elias (Bilal Yasar). Even middle-class people have needs: Sara (Zara Amir Ebrahimi), married to Mohsen (Alireza Bayram), a banker, wants to get a job, “not about the money,” she advises the husband who says he can support both, but to get out of the house of his parents.

The men don’t have it so bad, or do they? After a party in which Babak (Arash Marandi) shares a pill and then sex with Donya (Negar Mona Alizadeh), he must raise the money to get her…not an abortion…but a fake hymen! He is threatened with repercussions from her tough fiancé if he discovers what’s missing, and the musician cannot raise the money for the operation. The doctor who is to perform this illegal procedure is pictured as seedy as a doctor can get. (Oops, I forgot about Dr. Larry Nassar, who “harassed” some 150 Olympic gymnasts.)

We get a brief glimpse of people hanging on poles right in the heart of the city, nor does the cat fare much better. It is put into a trash bag, banged against a wall three times, and popped into a dumpster.

There’s nothing unpredictable here if you know anything at all about repressed societies, but at least we can leave the movie feeling good that we live in a progressive country cared for by a genial congress and a sophisticated philosopher-king for a president.

Unrated. 96 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B

Technical – B+
Overall – B

DOUBLE LOVER – movie review

DOUBLE LOVER (L’amant double)

Cohen Media Group
Director:  François Ozon
Screenwriter:  François Ozon, loosely based on Joyce Carol Oates’ “Lives of the Twins”
Cast:  Marine Vacth, Jéremié Renier, Jacqueline Bisset, Myriam Boyer, Dominique Reymond
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/10/18
Opens: February 14, 2018
L'amant double Movie Poster
In middle-class households, the favorite question that family friends and relatives ask of children is “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  In the early years, fireman, policeman, astronaut.  Later on events occur in youthful lives that coax them into becoming neurologists (they had a history of headaches), optometrists (they wore glasses from age 5), and best of all, psychiatrists (they have a history of emotional problems).  In fact it’s sometimes said that psychoanalysts are more disturbed than their patients, and this is the likely reason.

“Double Lover,” based loosely on Joyce Carol Oats’ erotic thriller “Lives of the Twins,’ is about two such psychotherapists, twin brothers, in fact, who ply their trade with radically different ideologies.  One is the mild-mannered Paul Meyer (Jérémie Renner); the other a wacko!  Rougher, Paul’s more physically direct twin Louis Delord (Jérémie Renner again!—but forget that there’s any symbolism in the latter’s name though patients often make the mistake of thinking that their shrinks are gods.)

Paris-born writer-director François Ozon is well known among cineastes for “8 Women,” about the search by these folks for a murderer among them, an Agatha-Christie style movie quite a bit tamer than his current work.  In fact this time Ozon wants to break through his typical fare, much as the principal character of “Double Lover” seeks to punch through her obsessions and repressions.  At the same time Ozon is having fun with the cineastes, challenging them to recall movies with similar themes such as “Rosemary’s Baby” (some bizarre neighbors seem to have plans for the upcoming infant), “Dead Ringers” (twin gynecologists have run challenging women to guess who’s who), and even “50 Shades of Gray” (a co-ed gets more than she bargained for with her new boss).

Here’s the thing about “Double Love.”  It’s probably as incoherent and unrealistic as the Oates novel from which is loosely adapted. But it makes the audience work to deconstruct the plot, wondering how many of the principal character’s fantasies are real.  And it’s filled with style, style, style; and when a film succeeds in doing what movies can do best, which is to avoid telling a story in too literal a way, we’ve got to allow the director to afford the filmmaker a loose leash over the material.

Ozon’s focus is on Chloé (Marine Vacth), done with her modeling career, shown in dramatic closeup getting her locks cut and transforming her into a pixie-like beauty.  She goes to doctors complaining about stomach pains—somehow the physicians neglect to give her an ultrasound or CT-scan—and is told what all of us would-be patients hate to hear: “It’s all in your head.”  She nods, agreeing to see Dr. Paul Meyer (Jérémie Renner), a psychiatrist, the sort who frustrates patients by talking little, not even the traditional “How does it make you feel?”  When Meyer falls in love with her, he is ethical: he wants to refer her to another, ending his therapy.  With this therapy over, they discover mutual attraction: she moves with her cat Milo into his spacious Paris apartment.

The piece de résistance: she discovers an old passport with his picture but with a different name: Delord.  As a museum attendant, a hideously dull job for a pretty, educated woman, she has time to look up Louis Delord, discovering that he is Paul’s identical twin, born 15 minutes after Meyer.  She soon finds that Delord’s methodology is quite different from Meyer’s.  Whereas Meyer ethically stopped therapy because of his attraction, Delord uses the attraction to engage in rough sex with Chloé, who is at first repelled, then returning, obsessed.

Some plot details are one thing, but like reading classic comics and thinking that you know all there is to know about “War and Peace,” you may find that plot takes a backstage turn in favor of Ozon’s stylistic agenda.  With the first analyst, she sits facing him.  In the next shot, they’re inches apart as though about to kiss.  Then she looks at the two in the mirror.  At one point she is having sex with both psychoanalysts at once—or is she?  The threesome becomes a foursome, as she miraculously doubles (but you already knew that this would happen from the movie’s title).  In one of the most intimate shots you see in movies, Ozon takes a few seconds to show the ululations of the vagina in orgasm, and in stark closeup.

You’d think that Ozon prides himself in being able to write about women, one of the many male fantasies such as that skill actually possessed by Jack Nicholson’s character Melvin Udall in James L. Brooks’ “As Good as it Gets.” Ozon also re-introduces one of his favorite motifs, the impossibility of knowing someone else no matter how intimate you may be with that person. (In fact the real problem is our inability to know much about ourselves, which drives us into psychotherapy.)

The director is more playful now than he was in his more serious, classic films like “Under the Sand,” “Frantz,” and “Criminal Lovers.”  Now in his 51st year, having used his skills and art to make forty films, he’s entitled to have fun, n’est-ce pas?

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

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

THE NEIGHBOR – movie reveiw

THE NEIGHBOR

Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Aaron Harvey
Screenwriter: Richard Byard, Aaron Harvey
Cast: William Fichtner, Jessica McNamee, Jean Louisa Kelly, Michael Rosenbaum, Colin Woodell
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/30/18
Opens: January 26, 2018

The Neighbor Trailer

Since Aeschylus popularized the Greek myth of King Agamemnon, who was killed by his wife Clytemnestra for parading a concubine in their home, men have been warned. Don’t fool around with other women if you’re married. Nothing good will come of a sexual adventure; not in the long run at least, as we learn once again from Aaron Harvey’s movie “The Neighbor.” Harvey, whose “Catch .44” finds a trio tasked with capturing a drug shipment for their own crime boss, takes on a more domestic theme with this, his sophomore full-length feature.

You soon get the impression that this “Neighbor” joins the ranks of satires of suburbia, whether the recent “Suburbicon” or the classic “Stepford Wives.” We should note that the violence between neighbors of this community would probably not occur in apartment houses, where we keep our doors locked and would never admit people who, with good intentions, mean us harm. The film succeeds well enough as both a satire and a thriller, thanks in large part to its acting ensemble led by the always reliable William Fichtner—veteran of video games, shorts, and especially of the remarkable 2004 picture “Crash,” which interweaves stories of race and attempts at redemption in L.A.

We are asked to believe, however, that Fichtner at the age of 62 could attract the sensual attentions of a new neighbor, played by Jessica McNamee, who in real life is 31 and who, as we hear from the older man that she could easily be his daughter. This is a classic male fantasy. “The Neighbor” takes place in a bright, middle-class area where houses are so close together that you’d better watch how loud you play your music and how you might want to avoid rafter-shaking arguments.

Mike (William Fichtner) watches the arrival of two newcomers to the house next door, Jenna (Jesccia McNamee) and Scott (Michael Rosenbaum), from different generations and with different personalities. Mike, who works from home as a technical writer (a good career for introverts), watches as loudmouth Scott (a Corvette salesman, also a good match), has periodic arguments with his wife of four months. In one case at their pool, Scott, enraged by his wife over who-knows-what, kicks the chair, the whole brouhaha witnessed by Mike. So far Mike is wary but non-interventional. When ultimately Mike believes that Jenna—whom he has regularly offered to help with moving furniture and with gardening—is in danger, he takes action personally rather than call the police. Meanwhile, though Mike has done nothing wrong on a romantic level, he is confronted by his wife Lisa (Jean Louisa Kelly), who in my opinion is cuter than the young Jenna, leading to a mid-life crisis that worries him and his adult son Alex (Colin Woodell).

There’s nothing especially original about Richard Byard and the director’s screenplay, but if you’re a married, middle-aged man with thoughts of tarrying with someone half your age—wait, even if you’re a single man dreaming of the same—let this movie be a warning. In that sense, it’s worth your ten or fifteen bucks, handing you a lesson that you’ll forget at your own risk.

Rated R. 97 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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