GRIPPED: CLIMBING THE KILLER PILLAR – movie review

GRIPPED: CLIMBING THE KILLER PILLAR
1091
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Benjamin Galland
Screenwriter: Corey Fischer, Benjamin Galland, Donna Laemmlen
Cast: Kaiwi Lyman, Megan Hensley, Amanda Maddox, Natalie Duran, Bryce Wissel, Jacki Florine
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/4/20
Opens: August 17, 2020

Gripped Film Picked Up for Distribution, Announces Release Date ...

If you want a climbing movie with a plot, you’ll want to look back to Clint Eastwood’s 1975 “The Eiger Sanction,” wherein a a hit man, who is an experienced climber, is ordered to take out a climber. He sees three men scaling the Eiger in the Swiss Alps and does not know who is the true target. The plot is unbelievable, but so what? It makes for interesting action fare, scenes of the Alps, and an exciting motif. “The Vertical Limit” is another, also a ridiculous plot, but keeps the viewers glued as a young climber seeks to save his sister and a summit team before time runs out. “Shivaay” focuses on a skilled mountain climber whose daughter is kidnapped while he seems helpless to save her. Eleven percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but then again, there’s a plot.

The plot is not ridiculous in “Gripped: Climbing the Killer Pillar,” but Benjamin Galland in his sophomore full narrative feature doesn’t have much of a story, which makes one wonder why three screenwriters were needed when the chatter on level ground could have been improvised. The story takes place in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains featuring one thousand foot rock cliffs with enough cracks to place your fingers to propel you from the ground up.

The two leads, Bret (Kaiwi Lyman) and Rose (Amanda Maddox) meet up with others on the grouind, spending the first night drinking beer and partying. You can believe that Kaiwi Lyman would know how to scale a cliff given that he’s an outdoorsman, having played water polo, sailed, indulged in Brazilian jiu jitsu, surfed and acted as a magician, but as his bio states, nothing excites his more than being on the stage. It’s not that he should stick to the stage. The trouble is that the rock-climbing movie which is billed as a comedy but is really a romance in the great outdoors is not much of a watch unless you are yourself a rock climber.

In the movie’s favor is that there are no stunt people. The actors do their own rope-climbing and must worry that the head and shoulder injury faced by Bret would not be too serious. There is excellent cinematography by John Garrett, who may have done even more than the two climbers by lugging heavy equipment up the rocks—if indeed he got the close-ups and far shots from a neighboring peak.

Rose falls for Bret, not unusual given the man’s chick-bait looks with long blond hair and beard, a kerchief tied to his forehead, and since there’s nothing like danger to arouse the passions, the two hit it off hundreds of feet up, kid each other, find time to kiss, and Rose is able to save Bret (not the other way around) when the gent slips and hits his head and shoulder. While the folks back on land, Jade (Megan Hensley) and company rush into action when the two injured daredevils do reach the land, whatever amounts to a story is predictable. Still it’s a woman-empowerment film especially since the woman saves the rugged man.

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

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

APOCALYPSE ’45 – movie review

APOCALYPSE ‘45
Abramorama/ Discovery
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Erik Nelson
Screenwriter: Erik Nelson
Cast: Members of the Great Generation Who Fought in World War 2
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/10/20
Opens: August 14, 2020

AP45_SHIP_EXPLOSION_POSTER_small.jpg

Two quotes in this film stand out from the members of the Great Generation who fought in World War 2. Quote one: My favorite, “I wish politicians cared more about their country than their party.” Is this veteran hinting that he might vote Democratic this year? Quote two: One that’s laughable if it were not sad: “The Japanese should thank us for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki!” Why? Because we saved the lives of thirty million to forty million Japanese people that would result if we attacked their homeland.

Quotes, though, are not the principal selling point of this remarkable documentary. The visuals are, particularly since some of the narration sounds garbled. In fact “Apocalypse ‘45” presents considerable file film never before shown. Now that technology allows us to go beyond even the big plus in 1945, the year that color film technology allowed for higher production values, one hundred forty reels selected from over thousands screened by the producer are digitally restored using natural color, now transferred into 4K. While that restoration went on, the filmmaking crew found veterans now in their nineties including one who is one hundred and one to add their modern voices to the seventy-five-year-old events.

“Apocalypse ‘45” concentrates on the final six months of World War 2, a conflict which dragged on past the May 1945 surrender of Germany into September 2 of that year because the Japanese, unlike the Germans, seemed ready to fight until the last man, woman and child were killed. As one narrator indicates, during the battle for Saipan, Japanese soldiers threw themselves over a rocky cliff rather than be taken captive. (Trump might be impressed by that since, after all, he likes people who are not captured.) It was that fanaticism that led to America’s being the first and only country to use atomic bombs, the devastating weapon now in the possession of nine countries—bombs that would supposedly make the ’45 ones seem like firecrackers. (I live in New York, ground zero in the eyes of our adversaries. Should I worry? You bet I should.)

Recall that some fine narrative films have been made in the U.S. about the Pacific theater of World War 2, my favorite being “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” starring Van Johnson, my first war movie, terribly exciting in its illustrating of American planes firing upon and being fired upon by Japanese zeroes. Not even the visuals of Japanese planes of Japanese Kamikaze pilots (Kamikaze, actually Tokobetsu Kogekitai, or special attack unit) deliberately committing suicide by diving straight into U.S. battleships could compare with that. But just the knowledge that these attacks actually took place seventy-five years ago elevates the material considerably.

Perhaps the most thrilling shot is the raising of the American flag over Iwo Jima, the scene of a bloody battle that took place because the U.S. strategy was to get close to the mainland by first conquering the islands. You doubtless know of the iconic photo and statue commemorating the most dramatic moment of the war and of Clint Eastwood’s movie “Flags of our Father,” wherein five Marines and one Navy corpsman raised old glory. See the statue, the largest bronze memorial figure in the world, when you next visit our nation’s capital.

We see lots of shots of Japanese planes lit up by tracer bullets and hit from guns on U.S. ships. Visuals aside, we hear some heartfelt narration by veterans of the war, one of whom was horrified by the war altogether because “I am a Christian and I believe in the 10 Commandments. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ allows no exceptions. Sorry, that’s incorrect. That commandment actually translates as “Thou shalt not murder,” or lo tirtzach. Self defense is not murder. So far as dying is concerned, one former soldier narrates that dying was not the principal fear of Americans. It was going home minus an arm or other body part.

Oh, yes, other inaccuracy in the narration. World War II in the Pacific did not end September 2, 1945. It ended Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, when the first Japanese bomb was dropped on Pearl Harbor.

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

Story – B+
Acting – n/a
Technical – A
Overall – B+

 

THE BAY OF SILENCE – movie review

THE BAY OF SILENCE
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Paula Van Der Oest
Screenwriter: Caroline Goodall from the novel by Lisa St. Aubin de Terán
Cast: Claes Bang, Olga Kurylenko, Brian Cox, Assaad Bouab, Alice Krige, Caroline Goodall, ShalishaJames-Davis
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/2/20
Opens: August 14, 2020

Poster

In what some may believe to be Hitchcockian, “The Bay of Silence” is a thriller that is too convoluted to thrill, filled with characters who may or may not know the secrets involving the disappearance of a woman and the death of their child. The principal couple are Rosalind (Olga Kurylenko) and her husband Will (Claes Bang), who open the movie with romantic scenes in Liguria, Italy. They are a successful, middle-class couple living in London. She is an artist, he an engineer, whose lives together are complicated by the presence of Rosalind’s former stepfather, Milton (Brian Cox), who will do anything to protect Rosalind, even offering money to her husband.

Rosalind, who in one scene may be sleepwalking, or may be fully awake but in a schizophrenic break seems to peels the wallpaper of their home. When Rosalind and her nanny Candy (Shalisha James-Davis) disappear with Rosalind’s two eight-year-old girls and Will and Rosalind’s newborn son Amadeo, Will finds her in Normandy but little Amadeo is dead. He buries the child, determined to leave the police out of the situation in order to protect his wife.

The picture may require multiple viewings, moving ever-so-slowly until in a melodramatic flourish near the conclusion involving a mysterious fellow, Pierre Laurent (Assaad Bouab) who is the key to the mystery. The movie is adapted from the novel by Lisa St. Aubin de Terán. No doubt a reading of the book will serve to uncover the dreary film.

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

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

FIRE WILL COME – movie review

FIRE WILL COME (O Que Arde)
Kimstim
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Oliver Laxe
Screenwriter: Santiago Fillol, Oliver Laxe
Cast: Amador Arias, Benedicta Sánchez, Inazio Abrao, Elena Mar Fernández, David de Poso, Alvaro de Bazal, Damián Prado
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/3/20
Opens: May 8, 2020

If you are a dedicated film goer especially one who attends highbrow film festivals like NYFF, you might compare Oliver Laxe to Terrence Malick. Malick’s movies, e.g. “Tree of Life” which is about a young man struggling through conflicting parental teachings, have sometimes been compared with watching paint dry. Laxe, who was born in Paris and filmed “Fire With Come” in northwest Spain in a rural area near Lugo, may informally compete this year for directing the most glacially-paced picture. Glaciers notwithstanding, “Fire Will Come” features the hottest, real blazes you are likely to see in the movies this year. The film, which is surely not plot-centered, is not even character-focused but more to the point is nature-dominated. Forest scenes involve three cows, each with its own name, led around the woods to graze, Amador (Amador Arias) leading the pack of three bovine creatures, his German Shepherd Luna bringing up the rear. Laxe, in his third feature following up his movie “Mimosas” (a dying Sheikh wanders about the Morocco’s Atlas Mountains), wants us to feel the rhythms of rural life a few hundred miles from bustling Barcelona but so apart in culture you might think he is directing on Pluto.

There is but one melodramatic moment involving human beings in a picture that is not unlike last year’s “Honeyland,” about the last beekeeper in Europe struggling to defend her turf against some competing beekeepers who are vulgar and pushy. The strongest relationship in “O Que Arde,” which is in the Galician language with similarities to Portuguese, is between Amador and his aging mother Benedicta (Benedicta Sánchez). The other melodramatic moments open the film after a long, blank-screen pause, featuring machines blazing through the forest cutting down large trees as though the construction workers are Brazilians ruining the rain forest to make room for animal grazing.

With the principal actors bearing their actual names throughout the film, we get the impression that the fictional aspects of the story are closely based on real events. Amador has just returned to town after a two-year stint in prison for starting a fire. Though a pyromaniac who is looked upon with fear and loathing by the villagers, Amador conveys the impression that he is a simple farmer whose capital goods are three cows that give milk to support him and his mother. Still, the people of the town who are at all close to the small family, are eager to learn about Amador’s health, while a veterinarian who visits to treat a cow backs away from an invitation to share a drink because she is “busy.”

The image that stays with me is that of Amador’s dealing with a reluctant cow, something like my late terriers who loved to challenge their human companion by refusing to move. Amador pulls and tugs, but simply cannot prevail against a huge animal going on strike after producing milk and gaining no particular reward save for the free grass. The unappreciative cow should thank whatever diety he or she favors for living a life out in the open and avoiding obesity as the cow is not forced to eat corn.

You won’t discover Stephen Colbert’s wit in Amador’s conversations with his mama, but if you want to know why one fella in the musical “Tuscaloosa” prefers New York to a small town, you might come away from this movie happy to live in a teeming city with all of its chaos and to visit the outskirts of Lugo for six hours at most.

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

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

AN AMERICAN PICKLE – movie review

AN AMERICAN PICKLE
HBO Max
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Brandon Trost
Screenwriter: Simon Rich adapted from his novella “Sell Out” in New Yorker Magazine
Cast: Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Sean Whalen, Jorma Taccone, Joanna Adler, Jeff Daniel Phillips, David Mattey
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/30/20
Opens: August 6, 2020

An American Pickle' trailer: Seth Rogen talks 'unique' HBO Max comedy

Rip van Winkel fell asleep in the borscht belt and woke up twenty years later. Or so he thought. “Fiddler on the Roof” focuses on the Jewish community in 19th Century Eastern Europe, its residents always watching out for the Cossacks. In the movie “Borat,” the title character, Borat Sagiyev, wanders to the U.S. from the Kazakh backwaters to interview people in the modern U.S. In David Mamet’s “Homicide” (1991), Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna), a police detective investigating a murder that takes place within an Orthodox Jewish community, is criticized by a Hasidic Jew for being secular, the latter wondering whether there is anything spiritually real in a cop who does not embrace his religion. All of these and more are channeled in “An American Pickle,” directed by Brandon Trost in his freshman offering and written by Simon Rich, based on the writer’s novella “Sell Out” which appeared in New Yorker magazine January 28, 2013. By the very title of this HBO Max production, you’d figure that it would be a comedy since, after all, isn’t Seth Rogen, veteran of “The End,” “Super Bad,” “Sausage Party” and “Sorority Rising,” one of the great comic artists in the movies today?

Seth Rogen's An American Pickle finds a home at HBO Max

Truth to tell, “An American Pickle,” which bills itself as a comedy-drama, or dramady, is sadly unfunny and its lesson on the importance of religion and family is generally superficial. The one big plus is that it takes place not only in Eastern Europe but mostly in my home town, Brooklyn. Oh but wait. It was filmed in Pittsburgh.

Let’s look at an example of Simon Rich’s original novella in the New Yorker.

One day at work I fall into brine and they close the lid above me by mistake. Much time passes; it feels like long sleep. When the lid is finally opened, everybody is dressed strange, in colorful, shiny clothes. I do not recognize them. They tell me they are “conceptual artists” and are “reclaiming the abandoned pickle factory for a performance space.” I realize something bad has happened in Brooklyn. The science men come and explain. I have been preserved in brine a hundred years and have not aged one day. They describe to me the reason (how this chemical mixed with that chemical, and so on and so on) but I am not paying attention. All I can think of is my beautiful Sarah. Years have passed and she is surely gone.

The initial twenty minutes or so takes place in Eastern Europe in 1820 when Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) courts and weds Sarah (Sarah Snook), supporting his new family with a job in a pickle factory. Assigned to swatting innumerable rats who begin to attack him, he falls into a barrel of pickles just as the factory is closing down for good. The lid is placed on the barrel, and the factory is unoccupied until Herschel wakes up one hundred years later, preserved in brine so that he has aged not at all. He goes to America where he learns of a relative, Ben Greenbaum (Seth Rogen in his second role!), who has been working on providing a logo for a website called Boop Bop. With a full beard and an Eastern Europe hat, Herschel quickly learns the meaning of “logo,” and is of course astonished by what he sees in Brooklyn and Manhattan—just as you and I would be if we woke up in one hundred years to observe people wearing strange outfits and speaking Esperanto.

He works at what he knows, selling pickles, obtaining cucumbers from a dumpster and sinking them in rain water and salt. At first he is a success covered by TV but has a falling out from his envious brother who retaliates against Herschel for involving him in criminal activities—seemingly ending Ben’s career.

Seth Rogen's An American Pickle Gets A UK Trailer

The virtues of national attention through TV interviews and features in lecture halls appear to propel the man onward and upward but he makes one mistake, and it’s a mistake that makes me worry about how the Christians in the audience for this movie will react. I’m all for free speech, but even the First Amendment (like the Second) has its limits. What Herschel states in answer to a question about Jesus and Mary is so despicable that it has no place in such a film. Couldn’t the producers have found some other screw-ups if they wanted to show the evanescence of fame? We get enough racist crap and Islamophobia weekly from Donald Trump. There’s no need for disparagement of a religion with billions of followers. Sure it’s OK to kid as does the movie “I, Pastafari” (a bizarre group of people follow a religion whose god is a flying spaghetti monster) which opened July 7th and has all of eight reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. But this is going too far.

Ultimately, the picture turns sentimental, when the brothers reunite after their schism, announcing that family is important, and (according to this picture) so is religious ritual. But there is not much in the way of either comedy or drama, though the visuals—which allow Seth Rogen to play both roles, even to hug each other seamlessly—are awesome.

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

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

MADE IN ITALY – movie review

MADE IN ITALY
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: James D’Arcy
Screenwriter: James D’Arcy
Cast: Liam Neeson, Micheál Richardson, Lindsay Duncan, Valeria Bilello
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: August 7, 2020

Made in Italy (2020)

The most salient feature of “Made in Italy” is that the conflict between father and son is acted by the tale’s actual father and son. This is not unusual: you’ll find similar examples in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1973 feature “Paper Moon,” in which Ryan O’Neal and his real daughter Tatum play out a Depression era film about their partnership. Closer to the “Made in Italy” theme, Kiefer Sutherland portrays a bitter gunslinger, John Henry Clayton, who attempts to make amends with his estranged father Reverend Samuel Clayton (Donald Sutherland), while their community is besieged by ruthless land-grabbers.

If you have ever had not just a disagreement, but more closely a situation in which your conflict with your parent emanates from a lack of emotional closeness, you will relate strongly to “Made in Italy.” As filmed by Mike Eley in the gorgeous Tuscany town of Montalcino in central Italy—perhaps one of the best places that a father and son can work out issues of emotional distance—we see that Robert (Liam Neeson) has not been the most honest and direct guide for his son Jack (Micheál Richardson). (Micheál is the actual son of Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, the story poignantly reviving our memory of the actress who died tragically in 2009 of a head injury while skiing on Mount Tremblant in Quebec. Micheál one of the couple’s two children.)

The story kicks in when Jack, who made a great success managing the art gallery in Britain owned by his wife Raffaella (Helena Antonio), determines to buy the place at about the time the two are finalizing their divorce. Raffaella allows Jack one month to raise the money, which Jack expects to have after he and his dad, each with a half ownership of a house in Tuscany, find a buyer. They discover that the place is a wreck, though filled with memories of Jack’s mother. And what better time for a dad and his twenty-five-year-old son to get to know each other than by taking a road trip, then working together to fix up the dilapidated structure to make it salable? We learn that Jack and Robert have barely spoken with each other for years, and more importantly, that after Jack’s mother died in a car accident, his father sent him away to boarding school as though unable to establish a closeness that such a tragedy could engender.

During their time painting together, fixing up the place, and entertaining prospective buyers, Jack meets Natalia (Valeria Bilello), an accomplished cook who runs a booming restaurant and who wins the hearts of both the young man and his dad by cooking a dish that the two men call “amazing.” (Aside: if you did not have the delightful experience of traveling in Italy, you may not realize that there is no such thing as a bad meal anywhere in that country.)

The film is written and directed by James D’Arcy in his freshman narrative film, the London-born gentlemen having a large résumé of acting roles including that of Colonel Winnant in the spectacular war movie “Dunkirk.” If you can’t get a bad meal in Italy, you’d have difficulty finding a bad performance from Liam Neeson. The big news is that his son Micheál Richardson, with two more movies announced this year and who performed with Liam Neeson in a leading role in the revenge picture “Cold Pursuit,” does such a good turn here that you’d think he was emoting with his real dad!

The story can be sappy and the plot thin, but the picture is a keeper for the sumptuous scenery and a particularly vivacious turn from Valeria Bilello as the bilingual chef. Try not to envy the folks on the night that she served a full house of happy diners, talking, laughing, and eating magnificently.

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

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

SONG WITHOUT A NAME – movie review

SONG WITHOUT A NAME 
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Melina León
Screenwriter: Melina León, Michael J. White
Cast: Pamela Mendoza, Tommy Párraga, Lucio Rojas
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/29/20
Opens: August 7, 2020

Theatrical: Song Without a Name (Canción sin nombre) :: Film Movement

From the looks of the Peruvian scenes in “Song without a Name,” you can bet that if President Trump saw this movie (if indeed he saw anything more recent than “Gone with the Wind”), he would compare the place with an adjective that he would never give to Norway. Melina León, who directs and co-wrote the tale in her freshman entry into full arthouse fare, focuses most of her attention on three people. One is the desperately poor Georgina (Pamela Mendosa), her partner Leo (Lucio Rojas), and an enterprising journalist from Lima, Pedro Campos (Tommy Párraga). They are living in a time that Peru is under constant terrorist attacks during the 1980s from Shining Path or Sendero Luminoso.

The plot kicks in when Georgina, who lives in a remote wooden shack a long bus ride and walk outside of the capital, is shown in her ninth month of pregnancy, perhaps wondering how she will ever raise enough money to find an obstetrician let alone to support her first baby. She is vulnerable enough to be taken in by a radio ad announcing that a clinic is Lima would give her free medical assistance if she chose to give birth there, and without the wherewithal to check out the place—which doesn’t resemble anything I’ve seen in Planned Parenthood clinics—she reports to the place thinking that she lucked out. Women speak gently to her, they help her up from the patient table, and tell her that her child is a girl. The mood changes ominously when she asks to see her daughter but is told to come back tomorrow, which sends Georgina into a screaming fit. She pounds on the doors of the “clinic” the next day only to find out that the place is closed, the staff having moved out swiftly.

The plot is adapted from actual happenings when Peru was scandalized by the thefts of babies to be sold abroad. It’s not clear whether the Shining Path guerrillas were involved in the theft or whether high officials in the government were part of the scheme. With inflation hitting 400%, Peru in 1988 when the film takes place was not unlike Venezuela and not the kind of country that care much about indigenous women like Georgina who follow a bureaucratic maze trying to get government officials even to listen to her.

If this were a Hollywood movie, the differences would be monumental. Assault rifles would make entrances every ten minutes, the photography would be in brilliant color particularly when covering village festivals (remember the opening scene in “Spectre” exhibiting the colorful “Día de los muertos” parade?), and the editing would be racing. Crime would not pay. Instead director León pays great respect to the freshman script co-written by Michael J. White, prioritizing atmosphere over action and dialogue. With a boxy aspect ratio of 4:3 and black-and-white photography, “Song” is replete with long takes with a variety of close-ups, especially during the meetings of the brave reporter with a gay, Havana-born boyfriend, though there is little psychological depth given to any of the characters.

The movie might be compared to “Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón’s awards-winning look at the life of a maid in a rich Mexican household, but aside from the black-and-white photography and the theme of social inequities, “Song without a Name” has no great use for that picture’s flash and images of the upper-middle-class family.

Press notes mention that this film is based partly on the exposé in 1981 of a trafficking ring that smuggled babies for sale to Europeans and Americans, and in fact one senator consulted by the journalist hints that the government was involved. “What can that woman offer to her baby?” yields the politician, the obvious intent being that the newborns will be far better-off in the developed world. The title song is recited by a newly relaxed Georgina when she ultimately realizes that she will never again see her baby. And it’s not only right-wingers in America who would agree with the senator, wondering what in heaven’s name a twenty-year-old woman living in a wooden shack out in nowhere trying to eke out a living selling potatoes and onions in Lima is doing giving birth.

The bold white subtitles translate the story’s Spanish and Quechua into English. Hardly a brash, political doc on the level of “The American President” and “All the President’s Men,” this film is more a poetic tone poem, a Liszt “Les Préludes” compared to Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” and should be enjoyed by an intelligent, patient audience.

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

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

SUMMERLAND – movie review

SUMMERLAND
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jessica Swale
Screenwriter: Jessica Swale
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Lucas Bond, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Penelope Wilton, Siân Phillips, Tom Courtenay, Amanda Root
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/22/20
Opens: July 31, 2020

Poster

If you’re a fan of World War 2 movies you might have seen the stirring Warner Bros. films “Into the Arms of Strangers” (2000) about the Kindertransport, wherein thousands of children were sent from Nazi-dominated Europe to relative safety in the UK. Now comes something similar; a tale of heroic actions by which women in the rural areas of the UK were volunteered temporarily to take in kids living in London during the blitz, transported to the safety of the sticks. “Summerland,” which gets its title from a pagan heaven, is Jessica Swale’s freshman output as a narrative film, a solikd beginning which is mostly a casually-paced drama of a solitary writer with a cantankerous personality that makes none of us wonder why she is still single. However, in flashes of her backstory, we find her living happier moments during a romantic relationship with another woman who must sadly abandon her because she wants nothing more than having a regular family.

The picture is bookmarked by the older Alice (Penelope Wilton) who in 1975 pecks away at her typewriter, having completed a novel based on her wartime experiences. During the early stages of World War II, Alice (Gemma Arterton), then in her mid-thirties, learns that she has been drafted to take in Frank (Lucas Bond in his third feature film), a boy of about 13 who has arrived from London with a father who is in the British army and a mother who is looking out for the lad’s safety during the blitz. Since Alice has been attacked by the local riff-raff kids who consider her a witch because she is a woman living alone, we don’t need to wonder that she agrees, kicking and screaming, to take the kid in “for a week.” Predictably enough, young Frank is about to find a place in her heart, an organ that appears semi-comatose since her lover Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) left her to find a man and raise some kids.

At first Alice barely speaks to Frank, who is expected to clean and cook while she is writing a thesis debunking pagan myths, including that of Summerland, a land of eternal summer, with grassy fields and sweet flowing rivers, perhaps the Earth before the advent of humans. a Frank is not deterred. He shows genuine interest in a picture book about the legends and in one situation actually “sees” this Summerland, which is nothing more than a fata morgana.

Given the place in which women have been kept for centuries as people who should keep quiet unless spoken to but should relish nothing more than baking cookies, raising kids, and cleaning, this woman is among those who, when the men are off fighting, are called for tasks needed for the war effort. In this case it’s for the vitally important job of taking in children to save them from the bombings in London. In the movie’s major twist, we learn more about how Alice was picked for this particular child.

The story is deepened by the companions that Frank makes in the new school, particularly of Edie (Dixie Egerickx), who at first is afraid to join her new boyfriend Frank at the home of “the witch” but softens up when she discovers that Alice may be a normal woman after all. Tom Courtney, sounding like Peter O’Toole as Mr. Sullivan, the school’s headmaster, is well cast as a good soul who, now about eighty years old is doing what he can do best for the war effort.

“Summerland” is a woman-centered film bolstered by Gemma Arterton’s role through a variety of emotional storms—heartbroken to lose her lover, fearful of having to give up the boy when his mother is ready to take him back. This is a gentle tale with moments of high drama. filmed by Laurie Rose at Seaford, East Sussex, in England’s south coast.

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

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

REBUILDING PARADISE – movie review

REBUILDING PARADISE
National Geographic Documentary Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ron Howard
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/23/20
Cast: Erin Brockovich, Michelle John, Phil John, Matt Gates
Opens: July 31, 2020

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water, the fire next time!”

Before peace can rain with Satan cast into a bottomless pit and world peace is symbolized when the lion will eat straw like the cow, our earth will be cleansed by fire. Part of that prophesy comes true though nobody in Paradise, California considers themselves cleansed when on November 8, 208, the town of Paradise looked more like hell than like the geographical entity it was named for. Whether the mother of all fires could have been prevented were it not for climate change is surprisingly glided over in this heartfelt documentary. For those of us who live in big cities, we get quite a picture of what it’s like to live in a small California town. What comes across by the film’s conclusion is that Paradise is a community in which the people are not the types who go bowling alone and who do not join groups, but rather down-to-earth, get-the-job-done sorts of folks that have the spirit, the gumption, the cojones to rebuild after mourning the 85 people killed in the fire—one while in his wheelchair and others who could not escape the flames in their cars.

A documentary about the Camp Fire recovery efforts was premiered ...

Most Americans are familiar with California names like L.A., San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, and the like but may be appraised of Paradise when global news in November 2018 reported the disaster felt by the 26,000-strong residents of Paradise. The film’s director Ron Howard boasts a long résumé of acting and directing credits including his “Frost/Nixon” which is a retelling of the famous interview between David Frost and the disgraced President (“When the President does it, it’s not illegal). This time he visits the besieged town, allowing us to eavesdrop at a series of meetings filled with people both tearful and angry, though the most dramatic moments, which pop up now and then, are scenes of fires that appear to presage the end of the world.

Though perhaps hundreds, even thousands of residents are determined to leave the place for good given the possibility of yet another conflagration in these days of rapid climate change, others are staying put, emboldened by large groups of supporters who fill large auditoriums with their meetings and hear of contacts with bureaucrats in FEMA who may or may not kick in adequate funds to rebuild as though this were Europe in 1945. FEMA did, at least, provide mobile homes temporarily to house the newly homeless, probably doing a better job than any government group did when in 2005 New Orleans was turned into an American Venice.

Matt Gates is in the hero’s seat, a local police officer who on November 8 helped his townspeople to get to safety even as his own digs are wiped out by the flames. Erin Brockovich, who built a case in 1993 against the villainous Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), takes a cameo, while schools superintendent Michelle John, whose husband makes sure that the class of 2019 gets a full-scale outdoor graduation, presides of the ceremony. (By the way, at the packed-to-the-gills meetings of the community, where are the high-school kids?)

The doc seems made by National Geographic Documentary Films primarily for TV use. More information should have been forthcoming about how or whether PG&E—who sent an executive to the meeting to apologize for the corporation’s negligence—will make the residents whole and to what extent the residents are helped by their homeowners’ insurance.

95 minutes. 132 minutes with a Q&A. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

YES, GOD, YES – movie review

YES, GOD, YES
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Karen Maine
Screenwriter: Karen Maine
Cast: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/16/20
Opens: July 27, 2020

giclee Poster - Yes God Yes (Natalia Dyer) 2020 Movie 12"x18"

Horace, one of the wise men of ancient Rome, once said, aturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. Latin may be a dead language but it’s alive enough to know the proverb’s truth, which is: “You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but it will always come back.” In other words, no matter what we say, no matter what homilies we think we live by, we are all hypocrites if we think we can really fight against our natural inclinations, both emotional and sexual. Here’s an example. Some time back some teen-age girls in high school took oaths of virginity administered by the Catholic church and some Baptist denominations—to refrain for intercourse until marriage. According to the poll, by graduation day, 75% of the girls had lost their virginity. Which brings us to this comedy taking place in a Catholic high school somewhere in a rural district composed of handsome homes and youngsters from the middle class.

“Yes, God, Yes” sounds like a stereotyped version of what women scream in the midst of an organism, or it could refer to kids who say “yes” to Jesus but are not likely to abide the strict rules of the church. You’d have to ask Karen Maine, the film’s writer and director in her freshman contribution to the world of narrative comedies. She situates the scene amid high schoolers who are well behaved and who seem not to tell jokes about how nuns rapped their knuckles in grade school or by the funny conversations among a priest, a rabbi and a minister who meet in a bar. There are no gross-out scene that might be typical of the Farrelly brothers in “There’s Something About Mary,” but even better, the comedy comes from situations that might very well take place in a parochial institution.

While the school’s priest, Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) and pregnant teacher Mrs. Veda (Donna Lynne Chaplin) lead a four-day retreat that includes senior class would-be devotees as student leaders, Alice (Natalia Dyer), a bright but confused 16-year-old, recalls the priest’s lecture back in class to the effect that Jesus does not want unmarried women to have sex. He explains that men are like microwave ovens and women are like conventional ovens; the former get turned on in a second, the latter take some more time to be in the mood. We watch nature overcome Catholic rules over the course of the brief, 78-minute story, as even Father Murphy must succumb to the wisdom of Horace’s proverb and so does 17-year-old Nina (Alisha Boe).

Perhaps the boldest epiphany driving the movie occurs during a scene in a lesbian bar a short walk from the retreat when Gina (Susan Blackwell), the owner, asks Alice what goes on in the retreat, and dishes out wise counsel to the young woman who until then thinks she has no choice other than to go to college a half-hour from home. Look into colleges in the east coast and west coast to get your education, she advises—which makes you wonder what she’s doing in a one-horse town. Eat sushi. That half-hour meeting will likely be more convincing to Alice than anything she learns from the school or her home.

If the movie is anti-Catholic, it generally pulls its punches, allowing even the pious in the audience, while listening to an array of songs both original and known, to pick up its gentle message without urging everyone to boycott the picture. As Alicia, Natalia Dyer, who came of age in real life with her role as Nancy Wheeler in the Netflix horror series, “Stranger Things” (33 episodes), is an absolute charmer whose frowns clear up as she knocks her school officials down a peg or two.

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

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

MOST WANTED – movie review

MOST WANTED
Saban Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Daniel Roby
Screenwriter: Daniel Roby
Cast: Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Josh Hartnett, Stephen McHattie, Jim Gaffigan, J.C. MacKenzie, Rose-Marie Perreault
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/4/20
Opens: July 24, 2020

When I was in third grade in 1945 I learned that the policeman is my friend. In fact the teacher said that we should call policemen “officers,” and “police” and never use the word “cop” because that was a slang term that the authorities would not like. It means we do not respect them. Things have changed since 1945 when the worst thing a policeman would do was to get a doughnut in the local coffee house and not pay for it.

In June, as though the coronavirus was not enough of a burden for us, the country faced an uproar of protests against the senseless killing of a suspect who was murdered by four cops for the horrendous offence of paying for cigarettes with a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. The idea that there is a thin line between a cop and a criminal, that a policeman can either way, may be extreme, but on top of that we have racist officers not just in the south but in a midwestern blue state, Minnesota. For those who still doubt that the law can be a rogue, just check out movies like “Training Day” (2001), “Bad Lieutenant” (1992), and “Internal Affairs” (1990). A new, sad tale of corruption among the people who are supposed to protect act comes out of Saban Films, and it’s “Most Wanted” written and directed by Daniel Roby, following up “Hold Your Breath” about the struggle of a family to survive while Paris fills with a deadly gas. “Most Wanted” is more down-to-earth with some enlightening shots of Bangkok, surprisingly filmed on location though one would expect the Thai government would object to having a scandal rubbed into its face.

“Most Wanted” is inspired by a true story that takes place mostly in 1989, when Daniel Léger (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), a low-life heroin addict with no criminal record, is set up by rogue cops in Vancouver, though the police are not so much interested in entrapping the usually penniless guy than in having him negotiate the purchase of ten kilos of heroin—for which they could get far more money in Canada than they would have to pay in Bangkok. Légar was caught, found guilty, and escaped the death penalty for heroin smuggling by pleading guilty (after his conviction!), then sentenced to one hundred years in a jail that would make you wish you had not pled guilty and accepted the death penalty. (For stark contrast compare the jails in Norway where prisoners get their own private rooms with cooking equipment.) He would have been incarcerated still were it not for Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett), a journalist who acted as a one-man Innocence Project, searching for a way to get a page one scoop for his newspaper, desperate for money since he had just had a baby.

Convincing the editor to finance a trip and warned that if he did not come back with a scoop he would never find a job again in the newspaper business, he is motivated even more when his gut tells him that the man may still be guilty, but that as an ameliorating factor the police had paid for his trip from Vancouver to Bangkok: hotels, meals, the works. The film meanders with several time changes, catching up with Légar as he gets a job on a fishing boat from Picker (Jim Gaffigan) who seems like a nice guy but who is involved with the conspiracy to get the heroin. Similarly guilty are a trio or quartet of shady police who, together with Picker pay so much attention to a loser like Légar that he gets sucked into the sordid plan.

Best performer is Montréal-born Antoine Olivier Pilon as Daniel Léger, with twenty-three film credits in his résumé, quite an accomplishment for a twenty-three-year old. Josh Hartnett exudes the electricity running through his body when he is on a mission, buffeted by several roadblocks. However, the movie is so spliced up that you might have to watch for a half hour before you realize the zig-zaginess of the editing. For that reason, “Most Wanted” cannot be enthusiastically recommended.

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

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

THE PAINTED BIRD – movie review

THE PAINTED BIRD
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Vàclav Marhoul
Screenwriter: Vàclav Marhoul, from the novel by Jerzy Kosinski
Cast: Petr Kotlár Stellan Skarsgård, Harvey Keitel, Barry Pepper, Julian Sands, Udo Kier, Lech Dyblik
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/26/20
Opens: July 17, 2020

Harrowing World War II drama The Painted Bird gets a UK trailer ...

In “Leviathan” (1651) Thomas Hobbes calls life “solitary, nasty, brutish and short,” and “A war of every man against his neighbor.” Every picture of Hobbes shows an unsmiling man, looking disgusted, contemptuous, and constipated. Yet as we know after we lose our innocence that there is more than a smidgen of truth in such a pessimistic manifesto. Still, the dour philosopher may have smiled just once from his grave when the movie “The Painted Bird” was first shown in film festivals. Vàclav Marhoul wrote and directs the epic drama inspired by Jerzy Kosinski’s book about a shattered post-war Europe, which Amazon calls the story of “a dark-haired, olive-skinned boy, abandoned by his parents during World War II, wandering from one village to another, sometimes hounded and tortured, only rarely sheltered and cared for.” (Kosinski committed suicide at the age of 57, his novel available on Amazon for under $14.)

“The Painted Bird,” which was the Czech Republic’s submission for the Academy Awards held in 2020 did not make the short list for Best International Film, but I would rate it as good as South Korea’s “Parasite.” The title is metaphorically taken from an event in which a painted bird, up for sale amid scores of others, is released and promptly killed by a flock flying hither and thither, because they apparently consider him “The Other.” The inability of people to respect those who are not like them, who look different or follow different customs did not die out after World War II but is a concept relevant today as we in America mourn the killing of African-America men by white police officers. The whole of “The Painted Bird,” showing human beings cruel to a cute and polite but mute young man abandoned by his parents is an allegorical tale. Therefore, take “The Painted Bird” as a journey of authorial cherry-picking that displays, with few exceptions, a society of people in war-torn Eastern Europe taking out the misery of their own lives on an innocent boy.

Written and directed by Vàclav Marhoul, whose “Tobruk” deals with a World War 2 battalion of Czech soldiers in the Libyan desert, “The Painted Bird” is seen from the point of view of young Joska (Petr Kotlár) in a startling breakthrough role. Joska wanders through Eastern Europe during the war, only occasionally running into action by German soldiers, Russian Cossacks and regular army, but his troubles come not much from fighting units but mostly from local peasants. The boy is mute throughout but is able to hear dialogue spoken in German, Russian, Czech, and what’s labeled Slavic Esperanto. For most of the running time, Joska, who is Jewish but rarely outed as such, is pleasant looking, obedient, polite, and seemingly able to put up with tortures of ordinary people either driven to hostility from the deprivations of the war or simply full of hate.

In the earlier part of his wanderings, he is picked up by a handful of ignorant peasants, the most gentle of whom calls him a vampire. He becomes enslaved by the superstitious hag. In the movie’s goriest scene, he witnesses a stolid, unsmiling Miller (Udo Kier) who at dinnertime overturns the table on a younger guest because he is convinced that the fellow has been staring with lust at his wife (Michaela Dolezalová). He gouges out the man’s eyes with a spoon and feeds them to the cat, who is too finicky to bother. A sympathetic Joska carries the eyes to the newly blind victim who is lying, sobbing by a tree, beckoning him to replace the eyes in his socket as though they are contact lenses. Later Hans (Stellan Skarsgård), a German soldier, is ordered to take the boy for a walk and shoot him, but Hans, one of the few sympathetic characters, orders Joska to run, firing two shots into the air. Another character who shows a rare humanity is a priest (Harvey Keitel), who takes the boy into his church, fixing him up with a crucifix, asking Garbos (Julian Sands), a pedophile, to take care of him. Bad decision.

In the picture’s most action-filled episode a group of Russian Cossacks gallop into a village, shooting the residents and torching the houses. We hope that no kid in the United States today has to go through what this pre-adolescent lad did—surviving rapes, in one situation thrown into a latrine filled with poop and in another forced by a sex-crazed young blond woman to perform fellatio on her.

“The Painted Bird” is only tangentially a Holocaust film, a subject that the Czech filmmakers know well since releasing “The Shop in Main Street” in Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos’s 1965 “The Shop on Main Street,” in which a carpenter in a Nazi-occupied Slovak state is appointed Aryan Controller of a Jewish widow’s store. That picture won the International Film’s Oscar as did Jirí Menzel’s “Closely Watched Trains” two years later.

Opinions of “The Painted Bird” might vary from those who think the movie is little more than a relentless succession of tortures to those who, like me, consider it an epic drama in sharp black-and-white that both captures human beings acting in extremis during wartime and displaying irrational hated even here in America during a fragile era considered by some to be a relative peacetime.

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

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

GUEST OF HONOR – movie review

GUEST OF HONOR
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Atom Egoyan
Screenwriter: Atom Egoyan
Cast: David Thewlis, Luke Wilson, Laysla De Oliveira, Tennille Read, Rossif Sutherland, Tamara Podemski
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/27/20
Opens: July 10, 2020

guest-of-honour-poster-600x867

A sleazy bus driver is obsessed with a beautiful young woman. A depressed and confused father cannot understand why her daughter, in jail for a crime she did not commit, resists all chances for release. While Atom Egoyan, whose “The Sweet Hereafter,” about complications following a tragic accident involving schoolchildren may be his best film, he now presides over a relationship that brings out the character of both Jim (David Thewlis), the dad, and his adult daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira). To the movie’s credit, the performance by David Thewlis, the emotional center of the film, is superb, and Egoyan is able to evoke an accomplished job from De Oliveira. However the zigs and zags of time are so frequent and distracting that we wonder why he could not have played the story straight.

The story is framed by a conference between Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) and Father Greg (Luke Wilson), a priest. After her father dies, Veronica wants to give the minister clues to her dad’s life for the eulogy, though the details she reveals may be simply too truthful for the testimonial. She describes Jim’s profession, that of a food inspector in Ontario with the power to close down small businesses. She seems cheered when remembering how much care and attention he paid to her pet rabbit Benjamin when she was away from home conducting concerts with the school orchestra. But she has no problem raising one issue that caused her trauma. When her mother was ill with cancer, she saw Jim holding hands with another woman, an observation Jim defensively tries to refute.

After driving the teacher and the kids to a concert, Mike (Rossif Sutherland), the driver, gets into Veronica’s cell phone and texts a message pretending it is from one of the youngsters. When Veronica realizes that the driver is the guilty party, she stages a prank in which she pretends to have sex with two of her underage boys in order to drive Mike crazy. She feels so guilty for her own actions that she goes willingly to jail for statutory rape and refuses a chance to be released. Melodramatic as this venture can be, Jim’s search for redemption is the real heart of the film. He is a failed restaurateur turned Ontario food health inspector, willing to close down restaurants with a single inspection almost as if he is getting revenge on those successfully plying the food trade. He finds a rat in one place, sniffs at the temperature of the meat, and in one dastardly deed he plants rabbit poop in the men’s room of one restaurant for reasons that become clear. The highlight occurs when he threatens to close down an Armenian place for processing meat on the premises, a violation of code. When days later when a large, boisterous party enjoys the rabbit meat, honoring him for keeping the place open,even making him the guest of honor. The sad, hesitant speech he delivers to the bemusement of the crowd sums up buried feelings.

In several scenes, Thewlis wears a green shirt with green slacks and jacket amid a background of sickly green, the colors becoming warner as the story continues. While granting that the convoluted plot, a characteristic of Egoyan’s general directing, may keep the audience on edge, withholding information to tease an audience into wondering about a payoff, in this case the technique goes so far that the plot is too muddied.

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

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

THE TWO OF US – movie review

TWO OF US (Deux)
Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Filippo Meneghetti
Screenwriter: Filippo Meneghetti, Malysone Bovorasmy, additional writing by Florence Vignon
Cast: Barbara Sukowa, Martine Chevallier, Léa Drucker Muriel Benazeraf, Jérôme Varanfrain, Herve Sogne
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 2/19/20
Opens: July 10,  2020

Deux (2019)

A nine-year-old boy learns all about sex in his hygiene class at P.S. 103 augmented by discreet animated visuals that show him how it’s done. “EEEEEUUUU Gross,” he shouts, “My mom and dad would never do that!” Now imagine that a woman in her forties is about to discover that her mother, now in her seventies, is “doing it.” She realizes that granny must have done something or mom would not be here, but “at age seventy? And what? Wait a sec. With another woman!” Still this is France, not Saudi Arabia, so many middle-aged moms will come around. After all, Professor Henry Higgins (“My Fair Lady”) suggested, “The French don’t care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.”

Joshing aside, “Two of Us” is a remarkably well-acted, exquisitely photographed chamber piece featuring two stellar performers who act out a scenario that must have jogged the imagination of so many of us, meaning: do people in their seventies have sex lives? And more specifically, do lesbians in their seventies have sex lives? If so, are their sons and daughters aware of this? (Yes Virginia, some lesbians have children of their own through marriage or less perilous means.) In this case Madeleine or Mado (Martine Chevallier) and Nina (Barbara Sukowa) have been lovers for decades. Living next door to each other in a town in the South of France, they have to sneak into each other’s apartment because theirs is a romance that not all French people can understand, least of all Madeleine’s mother Anne (Léa Drucker) and Anne’s brother Frédéric (Jérôme Varanfrain).

It may be hard to believe in these times, when most of the West—certainly France—has come to accept lesbianism, but sneak around they will, and their almost daily pas de deux gives this slice of life a comic touch. Filippo Meneghetti, who directs and co-wrote “Deux” as his first narrative feature scores big, and will hopefully evoke a deep emotional impact from his theater audience. The story begins simply, becoming more complex when the two principals realize that deux en compagnie de trois est une foule.

German expatriate Nina is next-door neighbor to Madeleine. They should have been able to be roommates but Madeleine, at any rate, fears the opprobrium of her daughter Anne. They plan to spend the rest of their lives in Rome but Madeleine gets cold feet and backs out of selling. Madeleine determines to come out of the closet with her daughter and son who are sure that their father was adored by her.

Their secret is complicated by Madeleine’s caregiver Muriel (Muriel Benazeraf) who believes that her job is being taken over by Nina, and senses the secret that Madeleine has kept from her son and daughter. At long last Anne and Frédéric are on to Madeleine, are understandably shocked, though the single moment when Anne discovers her mother’s secret is both amusing and melodramatic.

No scenes are wasted in a pas de deux that could easily fit on your TV or on an off-Broadway stage. The storytelling is crisp, to the point and forms a terrific palette for a dance that to my memory is thoroughly original.

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

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

MY WONDERFUL WANDA – movie review

MY WONDERFUL WANDA (Wanda, mein wunder)
The Match Box
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bettina Oberli
Screenwriter: Cooky Ziesche, Bettina Oberli
Cast: Agnieszka Grochowska, Marthe Keller, Birgit Minichmayr, Jacob Matschenz, André Jung, Anatole Taubman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/15/20
Opens: TBD at Tribeca Film Festival in New York

Wanda, mein Wunder (2020)

A 2013 film by Bettina Oberli, “Lovely Louise,” shows how a charismatic American, arriving to the home of a taxi driver living quietly with his mother, turns their lives upside down. Similarly, the Swiss director in a stunning entry to be shown at this year’s Tribeca Festival, shows how the arrival of a caregiver in Poland to a wealthy family in Switzerland turns the lives of an elderly man, his wife, his son and others will upset their staid but lavish home life while at the same time getting more than she bargained for as well.

Set in three chapters and an epilogue, the Swiss language production “My Wonderful Wonder” finds Wanda, the title figure, barely able to cope back in Poland with parents who, despite their education, are not employed but who are taking care of her two children while she is away on her new job. Since Josef (the Luxembourg-born André Jung), the seventy-year-old Swiss paterfamilias, is bedridden having suffering a stroke. He needs to be fed, exercised and bathed, and who better to do that not his wife Elsa (Marthe Keller), but the thirty-five-year old Polish helper, Wanda (Agnieszka Grochowska). Now Josef may be ill but he’s not dead and, despite the stroke has sexual needs which Wanda fulfills (the extra CHF’s will come in handy).

Once Wanda is pregnant, she puts the family in such a tizzy that only their dog Mephisto takes things as calmly as ever. Secrets are revealed regarding Elsa’s inability to have a child, and in a dinner party that begins to take on reverberations that we’ve seen in the Danish film “Celebration), the master’s son Gregi (Jacob Matschenz), due to take over the corporation upon his father’s death, is shown to be as incompetent as our own chief executive. At the same time Sophie (Birgit Minichmayr), suspicious of the alleged conspiracy by the maid, pressures her to go back to Poland.

As Wanda is accused of theft of the money from the household and a belief that she will blackmail the household for a large payment, several twists appear. When Wanda’s Polish parents show up, charges and countercharges show that there is much business to settle before the newborn baby’s fate is sealed.

“My Wonderful Wanda” is a delightful comedy of manners satirizing people previously living in insulated contentment with their spectacular Swiss villa by a lake, their complacency shattered by events led by a poor Polish woman who can speak fluent German despite the low pay she initially accepts. The dialogue is sharp and revealing, though English subtitles, too small and too indistinct to be followed easily, are about as bad as you’ve ever seen. Perhaps when the film is shown on the big screen—should the Tribeca Festival be revived after its postponement from the coronavirus—the translation will show up with greater clarity.

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

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – C (because of poor subtitles)
Overall – B+

THE ARTIST’S WIFE – movie review

THE ARTIST’S WIFE
Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Tom Dolby
Screenwriter: Nicole Brending, Tom Dolby, Abdi Nazemian
Cast: Lena Olin, Bruce Dern
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/28/20
Opens: April 3, 2020

The Artist's Wife (2019)

Memo to women asked to give up promising careers to support their husband’s rise to prominence: think twice before doing this. No, don’t even think about it. You have a responsibility to develop your own talents. If you want to give some time to aiding the man in your life, fine. (Of course you want to be reasonably sure that you have the talent to get your own fifteen minutes of fame.)

The principal character, Joan Castleman, is like the title woman in Björn Runge’s 2017 movie the wife—that’s the woman who wrote the books credited to her husband who won the Nobel that she should have picked up. Claire Smythson (Lena Olin) gave up her potential in order to support the career of her world-famous painter husband Richard Smythson (Bruce Dern). This is the kind of story that is up the alley of director Tom Dolby, whose sophomore movie recalls his work on “Last Weekend,” whose Celia Green (Patricia Clarkson), a wealthy matriarch, is forced to reevaluate her role in the family. In both cases, it’s better late than never.

In “The Artist’s Wife,” Richard is as narcissistic as Jonathan Pryce’s character, Joe Castleman in “The Wife.” They live in a luxurious, modern California house, one large room devoted to the large canvasses that absorb the dramatic colors of Richard’s contemporary paintings. Not all is well. For one thing, Richard has never “been there” for his estranged daughter, Angela Smythson (Juliet Rylance), nor does his six-year-old grandson Gogo (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) have memories of the celebrity artist. Angela’s stepmother, Claire, has triple duty. She has spent much of her life supporting her famous husband’s career; she is trying to bring Angela back into the family fold; and now she must cope with her husband’s progressing dementia. For his part, the Alzheimer’s-sufferer is acting off-the-wall, delivering profanities to his class of young painters, even smashing the work of one of the young men in the group. In one scene he has trashed his own living room, leaving Claire to pick up the pieces just as she is trying to deal with the new challenges of her aging husband.

Tom Dolby, using a script that he co-wrote with Nicole Brending and Abdi Nazemian, could have tured this into a soap, particularly given the sometimes obtrusive piano pounding on the soundtrack, but instead lifts the material into art in a way similar to that exercised by Eugene O’Neill in his classic family drama “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” In a triumphant conclusion Claire may be on the way to giving herself some of the fame that her husband might never have enjoyed save for the loving support of his wife. And with a sensitive, nuanced performance by the classically trained, Stockholm-born Lena Olin in a drama that opens as a chamber piece, then brings in other members of the extended family, “The Artist’s Wife” is likely to be compared favorably to the award-winning “The Wife.”

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

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

I, PASTAFARI: A FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER STORY – movie review

I, PASTAFARI: A FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER STORY
Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Arthur
Screenwriter: Michael Arthur
Cast: Niko Alm, Mathé Coolen, Mienke De Wilde, Daniel C. Dennett, Pedro L. Irigonegaray, Edward J. Larson, Bruder Spaghettus, Derk Venema, Bobby Henderson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/2/20
Opens: July 7, 2020

Poster

What makes a book sacred? Is there anything intrinsically sacred about the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Old Testament, the New Testament? For example, if members of the Guajajara indigenous tribe in Marantao state in Eastern Brazil saw a copy of one of these books, studied it, put a spear into it, would they find anything holy? Not likely. Is “The Art of the Deal” sacred? It is, if at least one American says it is, and you’ll probably find one patriot claiming that it is so. Books and the religious orders they teach are sacred only because people say they are. If you realize that much, you can go into a screening of “I, Pastafari” with an open mind.

Niko Alm (I) in I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story (2019)

When you inspect the title of this movie, which would be better called simply “Pastafari,” you will guess that it has something to do with spaghetti and its cousins like ziti, macaroni, and linguini. Are the Pastafarians a joke? Yes and no. Though the documentary does not support the premise that the Pastafarians are just some jokers on spring break, we discover that they take themselves seriously when they insist that theirs is a religion like Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Mormonism and the like. In fact they make frequent journeys to courtrooms in their home countries, particularly in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria, to prove that they meet the criteria of real religions, because they’re serious. Worshippers of the flying spaghetti monster, the deity that should be put into capital letters as with other faiths The Flying Spaghetti Monster, love their logo featuring two eyes atop a mound of pasta with two meatballs. They even show off a painting of mankind reaching out, naked to the right, to receive the gift of life from a bowl of noodles.

Still of Bruder Spaghettus in I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story (2019)

Still, this is no “Animal House,” but features instead a multi-national group of some young people and some with long white beards who wear colanders on their head. They refuse to remove their respectful metal attire when told that they could not get drivers’ licenses unless they wear the headgear for religious reasons, so they pounce on that loophole and win the right, at least in the ultra-liberal Netherlands, to take their pictures, so long as their faces are clearly shown.

In archival films, we see the Pastafarians with somber faces defending their right to be considered a religion just like the older ones that have established themselves, winning a few court decisions, losing most. Those of us viewing the picture get the point that they are really atheists who piggyback the idea posited by proponents of the theory of intelligent design, that if you cannot prove that it’s wrong, it should be upheld as a legitimate point of view. Some archival shots of the so-called Monkey Trial involving Scopes, a high school teacher who lets himself be arrested when he taught the Theory of Evolution and whose lawyer, Clarence Darrow, trashed the state’s attorney William Jennings Bryan in an eight-hour interrogation (which was the subject of the enormously entertaining play “Inherit the Wind”).

Yes, Virginia, there really are Pastafarians in the world, who, instead of lecturing people, use the arguments of religious people to show the arbitrary nature of a faith in supernatural beings. In fact Franklin Foer did an article in the Atlantic magazine of November 2016 about Flying Spaghetti Monster acolytes across the Continent who are a genuine organized movement “founded in large part to critique organized religion…[with] the trapping and some of the social functions of a real religion.” He notes that their Sabbath is on a “Friday, because our god was faster than the other gods, and he finished with the creation of the Earth earlier.” New Zealand became the first country to legally recognize marriages.

Leave it to the U.S., a generally more religious country than much of Europe, to deny a Nebraska prisoner’s request to practice the Pastafarian faith, ruling FSM a parody and not a religion. The Netherlands went the other way granting the group official status. “If you are not satisfied,” notes 24-year-old Bobby Henderson, “Your old religion will likely take you back.”

“I, Pastafari” is a broadly humorous movie with a consequential metaphysical philosophy, marred only by an insistence on intrusive music in the soundtrack, as though director Michael Arthur in his freshman offering does not trust the theater audience to know when the Pastafarians are messing with our mind. And hey, it’s only 56 minutes long, so what can you lose (except your faith)? R’amen.

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

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

HAMILTON – movie review

HAMILTON
Disney+
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Thomas Kail
Book Music, Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by Alexander Hamilton’s biography by Ron Chernow
Cast: Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jonathan Groff Christopher Jackson, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Okieriete Onadowan, Anthony Ramos, Phillips Soo, Carleigh Bettiol, Ariana DeBose, Hope Easterbrook, Sydney James Harcourt, Sasha Hutchings, Thayne Jasperson, Elizabeth Judd, Jon Rua, Austin Smith, Seth Stewart, Ephraim Sykes
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/2/20
Opens: July 3, 2020

hamilton posters

As one opponent of Alexander Hamilton states in the musical “Hamilton,” “He’s a threat as long as he holds a pen.” Would this insight be a dated one, or would it apply to the resident of the Oval Office today? History repeats itself. Every person in power has enemies, every ideology has its suggested modifications. After the American Revolution, opposition did not end but continues to this day. Everybody is unique and therefore everyone has a point of view.

Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury, had opposition early on in both the political and the personal all creatively evoked in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster musical, which played to full houses in the Richard Rodgers Theater beginning August 6, 2015. Seats are filled by people who paid upward of $1,000 (to brokers) for tickets. Now, after almost five years since its opening, it hits the big screen, or rather, it opened on July 3, 2020 streaming only, for a while depriving the lush, glorious musical of venues where it would best be enjoyed.

There is an advantage to the film version, which is that we get to see the original cast with particular focus on an absolute genius, Lin-Manual Miranda, who composed the book, the music and the lyrics and plays the title character. He has a powerful singing voice, a presence that illuminates the room whether you’re watching from your computer or, perhaps later, in the multiplex. Though many movies deal with World War II, only a handful, like this one, are inspired by the American Revolution and the people in the colonies.

In our current year, the persecution of Black people seems finally to hit home even with people who think Obama’s election meant that racism was over. By contrast, what a representation of Blacks and Hispanics in “Hamilton,” a majority of the performers! The play was filmed in situ at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2016 with cameras that are not simply anchored to the floor but moving with the performers under Declan Quinn lenses, all under the direction of Thomas Kail in his big-screen freshman narrative movie. Dolly shots, closeups, and overhead filming adds to the wide scenes of bodies in motion, capturing the stillness of the intimate songs and the bouncing rhythms of jazz, rap and rhythm and blues.

Paul Tazewell’s costumes portray the Redcoats in their uniformed glory, while the colonists planning revolution don their colorful, but by contrast muted, colors. David Lorins’ scenic design emphasizing wooden scaffolds avoids the usual Broadway custom of being wheeled out and replaced depending on the action. Andy Blankenbuehler’s super-charged choreography evokes dancing that is anything but the sort popularized by the 18th century Puritans. Though some songs display moments of intimacy such as “Wait for it” sung by Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), the general tone is bouncy and loud. The opening, Alexander Hamilton,” brings down the house in short order. Jasmine Cephas Jones captivates as both Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds, though every scene involving King George (Jonathan Groff), who shows up on stage usually alone to warn the colonists not to come back crawling to him, is the musical’s comic highlight. Think of the insight Groff belts out “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.” Know any current government officials who think that way, also without irony.

Theater fans who mourn that so many Broadway shows are retreads of the oldies; “South Pacific,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Music Man,” will cheer that “Hamilton” is thoroughly original. There is nothing quite like it in Broadway’s history, with top audience seats prohibitively expensive. Now you can stream it with a Disney + accouint while you wait for the virus to calm down allowing it to make history at the multiplex.

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

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

THE TOBACCONIST – movie review

THE TOBACCONIST (Der trafikant)
Menemsha Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nickolaus Leytner
Screenwriters: Klaus Richter, Nikolaus Leytner, based on Robert Seethaler’s novel
Cast: Simon Morzé, Bruno Ganz, Johannes Krisch, Emma Drogunova
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/29/20
Opens: July10, 2020

Tobacconist-US-Poster-sm.jpg

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” That is probably the best-known quote attributed to Dr. Sigmund Freud, meaning that you don’t have to look deeply into everything to understand; that a cigar is not always a symbol of what’s hiding inside every man’s pants. Now immerse yourself into the world of fiction. Think of a 17-year-old boy who confides to Freud that he simply does not understand love. “You don’t have to understand water. Just jump in,” replies the good doctor in Nickolaus Leytner’s period piece taking place in Vienna during the year 1938. Nickolaus Leytner, whose résumé is chock full of TV movies like “Die Stille danach” (how does a family live when its son has murdered five people and himself?), now directs “The Tobacconist,” from the Man Booker Prize-finalist novel of the same name by Robert Seethaler.

The movie is co-written by Klaus Richter, who wrote the screenplay about the rise and fall of actor Ferdinand Marian (who played the title character in the anti-Semitic “The Jew Suss”). “The Tobacconist” is both a coming of age story and a description of Vienna just before and during its occupation by Germany in 1938. While most Austrians after the war protested that they were victims of the occupation, the historical record (and this movie) indicates that many the German-speaking country welcomed the Nazi presence wholeheartedly.

In the film Franz Huchel (Simon Morzé), a 17-year-old boy, is forced by his promiscuous mother Margarete (Regina Fritsch) to leave their village after the middle-aged woman’s lover is electrocuted while swimming during a storm. (The opening scene is a gem.) Arriving there, he is employed by Otto Trsnjek (Johannes Krisch), the owner of a small tobacco shop and probably one of Margarete’s former lovers. Otto is an ardent anti-Nazi who has philosophic views about his main product. As he tells the easily impressed young apprentice, “A bad cigar is like horseshit… and a great cigar is the world.” (Given the state of the world today and in 1930s Europe, I would probably choose the bad cigar.) Otto welcomes Communists and Jews to the dismay of his neighbor the butcher, who, if he had the chance, would probably turn in both the vendor and Dr. Freud (Bruno Ganz in his last role) to the occupation.

The heart of the movie is the unlikely friendship of the young man with Dr. Freud. Though the father of psychoanalysis treats patients who can afford him, he freely gives advice to Franz, in love with an assertive Czech music hall dancer Anezka (Emma Drogunova). Freud’s family urges him to leave Vienna for London, believing rightly that his life would be in danger if he remained.

The personal story involves a young man who might have remained naïve had he stayed in the village of Attersee and how his boss, who lost a leg in World War I, coached him on tobacco and life. The personal alternates with the political as a drama of a city that appears proudly to hang large Nazi flags on a government building turned into a Gestapo headquarters. Among the treasures of the film is a series of Franz’s dreams, all surreal as dreams tend to be, and exquisitely photographed by cinematographer Hermann Dunzendorfer, filming in Germany, Austria and Italy. Aside from the filming, the highlight would have to be the strong performances by Johannes Krisch as the older tobacconist, a humanist who once rejected the business of a man who asked to buy a National Socialist newspaper; of the late Bruno Ganz, unrecognizable as the famous shrink who is both a fount of wisdom and fearful of his future under Nazism; and Simon Morzé as the young title figure, who learns to stand up to the Nazis like the neighboring butcher and to let go of a woman who would be anything but loyal to one mana.

In German with English subtitles.

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

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

HOMEWRECKER – movie review

HOMEWRECKER
Dark Star Pictures/ Uncork’d Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Zach Gayne
Screenwriter: Precious Chong, Alex Essoe, Zach Gayne
Cast: Precious Chong, Alex Essoe, Tony Mathews, Kris Siddiqi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/26/20
Opens: July 3, 2020

A strange thing about “Homewrecker,” mostly a two-hander theatrical piece that could do well on an off-broadway stage, is that despite some clunky dialogue and obviously fake fights, it dies gave a hold on an audience. This could be in part because at 76 minutes it does not outlast its welcome and because young people, especially, women in the their twenties who may consider having babies will want to think over whether their husbands are the right people to team up with. We get the impression that though sisterhood may not be all that it’s cracked up to be, a liberated woman would do well to choose the right person to be your “sister.” Sometimes a friendly person who believes she has rapport with a potential friend is wrong. The other young woman may be just not into the budding friendship and should not be afraid to tell this individual that discussing husbands and boyfriends is off limits.

In the case of “Homewrecker” Michelle (Alex Essoe), an interior designer working on a laptop in a public space tells Linda (Precious Chong) she appreciates the atmosphere because it’s quiet. But Linda fails to take the hint. Even worse, Michelle, who is so introverted that she can barely construct a sentence without several ums is too nice to tell an aggressive person to buzz off. When Linda asks Michelle take a look at her house and offer suggestions on decorating it, Michelle, who has work to do and should know better, agrees.

Now once a psycho has you inside her quarters, there’s no getting out, unless the house has a door that can be opened from the inside and windows that are not too small and too tightly bound to the wall make that impossible. When Linda shows that she is so desperately lonely that she has gone past the limits of borderline psychosis, the horror begins. Michelle is locked in, willing to take Linda up on the latter’s suggestion to play a board game called Party Hunks. The subtext of the game is that players will reveal things about themselves that they would not consider saying, especially to someone they had just met.

The film goes from horror to temporary truce, back to horror, until Linda makes a move with a hammer on the wall that will make you think of Jack Nicholson’s role in “The Shining.” Summing up, Linda is psychotic and Michelle is neurotic, which is not a good combination for friendship.

The movie is written by the two principal actors plus the director, Zach Gayne in his freshman entry. Gayne also directed “F*ckdrive” which is only seven minutes long, and is likely to be back with something less sophomoric than “Homewrecker.”

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

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

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA – movie review

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA

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

Welcome to Chechnya.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LAST TREE – movie review

THE LAST TREE
ArtMattan Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Shola Amoo
Screenwriter: Shola Amoo
Cast: Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black, Tai Golding, Nicholas Pinnock, Ruthxjiah Bellenea
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/23/20
Opens: June 26, 2020

The Last Tree (2019) - IMDb

Distributed by Artmattan Films which boasts” films about the human experience of people of color,” “The Last Tree” is a coming of age story that focuses on the changes that form the boyhood and teen years of a British man with Nigerian roots. The drama is the second feature of Shola Amoo whose “A Moving Image,” about gentrification in Brixton, England, blurs the line between reality and fiction by incorporating real people affected by gentrification and who consider a young artist to be a symbol of a revitalization that excludes them.

In this latest project, the writer-director gives approximately equal time to Femi as a child (Tai Golding) and to him as a teen (Sam Adewunmi), hinting that we in the audience might take sides as to which incarnation is the more enjoyable. You can’t help noting that the young Femi is the more adorable fellow, his charm arising largely from the happy childhood he enjoys in a bucolic British suburb with Mary (Denise Black), a white foster parent. Femi fits in just fine with white friends his own age. We never find out why Yinka (Gbemisola Ilumel), his biological mother, could not take care of him, but unlike the foster children we hear about on the 6.30 news who had been taken in by exploitative women out for the money, this lad has clearly lucked out.

Too bad, like so many things, his halcyon home life takes a bad turn when his real mother, coming to see him for what is promised to be merely a visit, wants him back. You’ll think that Yinka lacks the stability to keep him for long, the boy remains in the less promising atmosphere of a London slum (“Careful—there’s pee,” warns his mother). After the passage of ten years, Femi, who spent years in what so many children can only dream about, has become sullen. He no longer has white friends, and Mace (Demmy Lapido), presumably a drug seller, has taken a shine to him, coaxing teen however reluctantly into joining a small gang.

Femi treats his mother like an enemy, not only for taking him away from a loving foster parent in a pleasant suburb, but also because she beats him if he does not take care of the house while she is away working as a cleaning woman. While he tries to avoid Mace—a rotund man with a ready smile—he alienates a few other locals by rescuing Tope (Ruthxjiah Bellenea), bullied because of her dyed-blue braids and her studiousness. While his dedicated teacher Mr. Williams (Nicholas Pinnock) takes time out to visit Femi at home, suspecting that he is ignoring his studies and is likely to drop out, the teacher is a good role model, telling the boy that he was not always a preppie and an old, boring teacher, but was once headed in the bad direction of his student.

Stil Williams sharply photographs the bucolic neighborhood, comparing it to the near slum of an inner city, and Segun Akinola’s music may swell at times but is not intrusive. In what amounts to a long coda that changes the tone of the picture, we find Femi and his mother abruptly in Lagos, Nigeria, where he meets his biological father. Though dad is a pastor, he is living in a house that bears comparison to New York’s Trump Tower with his golden staircase, polished marble floor, and enough space to take in a dozen foster children should he so desire. These final scenes are such a precipitous break, the story cries out for some explanation but never finds it.

It’s easy for us in the audience to relish Femi’s good luck as a child with a ready smile, we may find it difficult to empathize with the dour teen. Nonetheless, we leave the theater optimistic that Femi will soon “find” himself. Once that’s achieved, we need not worry about him.

English subtitles on the link that I used are superlative, clear, bold and easy to read, an important feature when those of so many movies and cheap and difficult to read.

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

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

THE AUDITION – movie review

THE AUDITION (Das vorspiel)
Strand Releasing
Reviewed by Harvey Karten for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net
Director:  Ina Weisse
Screenwriter:  Ina Weisse, Daphne Charizani
Cast:  Nina Hoss, Simon Abkarian, Jens Albinus, Ilja Monti, Serafin Mishiev
Running Time:  99 minutes
Reviewed on:  5/19/20
Opening Date: June 26, 2020
The Audition Poster
Just as psychoanalysts go through their own years on the couch to make them realize the effects that their own concerns could negatively affect their therapy of others, so mothers should go to analysts themselves to help prevent them from foisting their own childhood flaws and neuroses on their families and others.   If anyone should have spent as much time on the couch as Woody Allen that would be Anna.  We in the audience don’t know this at least until midpoint, because Anna Brodsky (Nina Hoss) is as controlled and disciplined as she expects her students to be.
Ina Weisse, who acted in some fifty films, now contributes her sophomore feature as director, having been the filmmaker for “The Architect,” about a fellow who returns to a village he had not seen in twenty years and stuns his children about his double life.  Using a script that Weisse co-wrote with Daphne Charizani,  she explores a middle-class family in Germany as they spend their weeks alternating from concern with their ten-year-old boy Jason (Serafin Mishiev) and one of her violin students, Alexander (Ilja Monti).
She might be excused for some neuroticism shown here when she and her husband Phillipe (Simon Abkarian) dine in a bistro.  As Phillipe could have predicted, she regrets that she ordered a pasta dish, sampling and preferring her husband’s steak and potatoes.  The good-natured Phillipe calmly exchanges dishes with her—after first agreeing to her demand to move to another table.
While her restaurant behavior is too trivial to portend a tragic event during the concluding moments, Weisse and Charizani concentrate on the way Anna treats her ten-year-old, who is more himself when in the hockey ring than he is when forced to practice his violin. A scene that finds Jonas finally kicking up a storm, rebelling by refusing to play, will be reflected in a more crucial encounter after a violin lesson that Anna gives to Alexander, for whom she had stood up when he performed in an audition at a Berlin conservatory that can be compared to our Juilliard.
Anna pays enough attention to Alexander, whom she is tutoring for an upcoming audition, to engage the envy of her own son, suffering emotional reactions to the apparently loving care she fosters on the young man who is now practicing four hours a day for the audition.  Alexander is technically competent but he is unable to meet the challenges of his teacher, who in one scene yells at him because he keeps raising his shoulder and because he appears unable to let the music into his body.
The scenes Anna has with Christian (Jens Albinus), a cellist in a chamber group with whom she carries on an affair, and the view of her during a visit to her aging parents, might well have been excised.  Nina Hoss’s performance is as flawless as her character’s perfectionism, a German actress who in her private life lobbies against African genital mutilation and the destruction of Brazil’s rain forest. In “The Audition” she can register emotions from the happiness she feels when the two adult men in her life shower her with attention to the rage and depression as she regrets not becoming a concert violinist.
The picture is in German and a little French with English subtitles.  The music, mostly by Bach including his “Presto,” is wondrous.
© Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online
Story: B
Acting:  B+
Technical:  B
Overall:  B

MADAGASIKARA MOVIE REVIEW

MADAGASIKARA
Global Digital
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Cam Cowan
Screenwriter: Cam Cowan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/7/20
Opens: June 26, 2020

Madagasikara Poster

Though Republican politicians in the U.S. don’t know or don’t care, the largest economic problem here is the inequality of income. So let’s look for places that have little inequality. Try Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world with sandy beaches and the pure waters of the Indian Ocean. If there is little inequality there perhaps it’s because 98% of the country live on less than $2 a day! And boy do they have children! Maybe those earning $2 a day are envied by those making $1.50, but it’s probably unlikely that the 2% who make money are gobbling up almost all the wealth of the island.

So how do you live on two bucks a day, supporting children, paying rent, eating mostly white rice? Not too well, and yet there are smiling faces that we see in Cam Cowan’s documentary. This is Cowan’s freshman entry, though his next feature, “Opeka” to be released in 2020, deals with a similar subject: how an Argentine priest is teaching people who live in a Madagascar landfill to build a functional city.

In this mostly Catholic island that practices traditional religions as well, Pedro Opeka, a priest with a large white beard and shocks of snow-white hair complains that when he arrived to the island in 1970, the poverty rate was thirty percent, then became worse: in 2009 the rate hit ninety percent and by now it’s even worse. So much for calling this part of the world a “developing nation.”

The name of the movie, “Madagasikara,” sound like something Disney would call it if that company were to set up a Disneyland of sorts, but instead it is simply the name that the local people of the island call their nation. Though there have been protests with populations marching on the capital city, there has been no civil war, no foreign expeditions of conquest, and no natural disasters.

Then again, maybe a Trump-like poltician is responsible for some of the starvation there as one half of the children are malnourished, affecting their growth and intellectual potential. A rich guy who assumed the office of president despite losing an election (apparently the military supported him) aimed to sell off half of the good land to South Korean businesses. President Obama hit the land with sanctions, perhaps not realizing that Madagascar desperately needs foreign aid.

However most of the film focuses on a few women, one of whom named Lin is busy raising seven children and one grandchild on, yes, under $2/day. She takes in nine batches of laundry to earn the equivalent of 28 cents, which is 1,066 MGA or Malagasy Ariary. That gets her 2 cups of white rice, hardly enough to put meat on the bones of the kids and worth virtually nothing nutritionally.

Deborah, another woman who once had to resort to sex work beginning at age 12, complains that some of the men do not even pay her and some even beat her up. And don’t forget the wives of these “men,” instead of beating the crap out of their husbands, took out their venom on the poor woman. She had determined to stay in school to become a lawyer, though I can barely think of what people would have the money to hire attorneys but had to drop out, now hoping that some of her offspring could do what she had been unable to. Not likely, though we do see one school with kids crammed on makeshift desks watching teacher put mathematical formulas on the board.

A vocation that attracts some is breaking big rocks into small ones to make gravel, a task that looks similar to what U.S. prisoners on chain gangs had to do. The folks do not even wear gloves to protect their hands, nor can they presumably even afford them.

The production team encourages people to make the long journey to what is called one of the most beautiful islands on earth, but at present there are few if any international hotels, though prices are incredibly low. The Anjiamaranco is $29 a night with free breakfast, the Sakamanga is $20. The most expensive hotel is about $350 a night. Now none of this is mentioned since the focus is on the lives of some women living without running water and presumably no toilets. Still the doc, in addition to enlightening us, may encourage us to look up most facts about this island in Wikipedia and to price hotels via Trip Advisor and Trivago. I also discovered, though not particularly dealt with, that the country provides the world with 80% of its vanilla and a majority of its cloves, while having coffee, lychees, shrimp and providing one half of the world’s sapphires plus some titanium, chromite, coal, iron cobalt, copper and nickel.

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

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

DISCLOSURE – movie review

DISCLOSURE
Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Bentham
Screenwriter: Michael Bentham
Cast: Geraldine Hakewill, Mark Leonard Winter, Matilda Ridgway, Tom Wren, Greg Stone, Lucy McMurray
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/3/20
Opens: June 30, 2020

Disclosure Poster

To paraphrase Puck in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Lord, what children these adults be!” In a narrative involving four middle-aged adults in Australia (filmed by Mark Carey in Victoria), a conversation begins in a civil way but breaks down into a melodramatic conclusion. The movie “Disclosure,” is written and directed by Michael Bentham in his freshman full-length narrative film. Bentham, who was born in Switzerland, lived much his life in the UK and now resides in Melbourne, is an accomplished viola player and a writer-director who does a smashing job in building tension in this entry. By implication he indicts not only the foursome in “Disclosure” but shows us without mentioning any American government officials that politicians as high up as president can sometimes act like kids. Correct that: can always act like kids. That may go over at a wedding, but politics should demand more mature representatives than we in the U.S. must suffer with now.

“Disclosure” can be compared most closely to Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” which finds two couples meeting cordially to discuss what to do about their children who had been engaged in a fight, ending up shouting and threatening in an increasingly childish manner. Like sons, like adults. Though the performers in “Disclosure” may be little known here in the States, certainly not people with the reputations of Polanski’s Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and Jodie Foster, they do a fine job arguing back and forth about their children’s behavior, attempting to compromise, and showing what could happen when the chance to settle a six-week’s-old event ends in physical violence.

Emily Bowman (Matilda Ridgway) is a documentary filmmaker living with her journalist husband Danny Bowman (Mark Leonard Winter). They are concerned that their four-year-old daughter Natasha has advised them that Ethan, a nine-year-old, did some bad things to her, presumably of a sexual nature. Ethan is the son of Bek Chalmers (Geraldine Hakewill) and her politician husband Joel Chalmers (Tom Wren), a member of Parliament being considered for a high position. It helps to know that though the four individuals are neighbors and friends, both with enough money to own spacious homes with kidney-shaped pools in their backyards, there is a difference in social class not related to money. The politician is straight-as-an-arrow as you might expect a person to be when he needs the votes of a community, while Emily and Danny are hip. In fact the movie begins with an extended period showing the latter two photographing themselves while having sex, blurting out language that would make a sailor blush.

The four exchange pleasantries at first, their conversations becoming steadily more assertive and aggressive. Emily (but not so much her husband) wants to report the alleged behavior of the two children to child protection, which could ruin Joel’s chances to get ahead in his field. (Australian politics is different from that in America. Here a man holding the highest office in the land can grab women in any parts of their bodies and tell strings of obvious lies, thereby actually increasing his popularity with some voters.)

Did Natasha make the story up? Can’t be, insists Emily. Her daughter does not lie. What about Ethan? He doesn’t lie either, say his folks. Somebody’s lying and we cannot be sure which one, but the conflict becomes red hot when events turn up that, allow each couple to blackmail the other.

Though some of the threats and counterthreats are repetitious, the film at 85 minutes does not overstate its time. It features compact editing, colorful cinematography, and a quartet of citizens downunder who recall the antics of George and Martha’s baiting Nick and Honey in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” A good, entertaining and credible show.

Can’t Australians just get along like us here in the States?

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

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

CORPUS CHRISTI – movie review

CORPUS CHRISTI
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jan Komasa
Screenwriter: Mateusz Pacewicz
Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycembel, Tomasz Zietek, Barbara Kurzaj, Leszek Lichota
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/13/20
Opens: June 23, 2020

Corpus Christi Poster

You may leave this film, a rigorous drama embellished with Catholic ritual, with a thought.

When Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) is about to leave juvenile detention in a small Polish community, he tells the institution’s priest, Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlatl), that he wants to work in a seminary. Daniel might be considered teacher’s pet by his youthful fellow convicts who spend their time training to work in a sawmill. He is the one called upon by the priest to add to the devotionals, sings the 23rd Psalm without a trace of self-consciousness or embarrassment, and thinks rightly that he could minister to a small town congregation. But Tomasz cautions that with his record, no seminary would take him on. What’s puzzling is: why is it so difficult for an ex-convict, anywhere, any country, to be trusted with a responsible job, even one that is not known for having cash around?

Daniel eschews working in a sawmill and takes a bus to a distant community where he becomes a fake priest. He convinces the vicar (Zdzislaw Wardejn) that he has been recently ordained in Warsaw, whips out a clerical collar with which he absconded, and is asked by the vicar to take his place for a while as he goes off to take care of health problems.

The dark, intense, absorbing and surprisingly credible tale of revenge and redemption is directed by Jan Komasa, whose “Warsaw 44” is a tale of the uprising against the Nazis, with a story line that features love, friendly and adventure. “Corpus Christi” is a more intimate story which benefits greatly from Bielenia’s stunning performance as twenty-year-old who may be faking his credentials but is the real thing otherwise; a fellow whose ministrations to his small-town flock leads to record numbers at services including absolute trust in him as parishioners go to confession.

Aside from the principal action in which we in the audience may suspect that a reckoning, there is a secondary plot. A middle-aged man had crashed his car into a vehicle holding six youths, killing all. The vicar, with the support of the community including the sacristy caretaker Lidia (Aleksandra Konieczna), refuses to bury the man. Daniel goes against the opinion of everyone except the widow (Barbara Kurzaj) of the “murderer” and the caretaker’s daughter, Marta (Elilza Rycembel), who is sexually attracted to the priest. He bucks even the town mayor and leading employer (Leszek Lichota) who wants the planned burial to just go away, Daniel must face a crossroads when inevitably, people back at “juvie” discover the fraud.

If this were a documentary or a “Christian” feature, the moral would be: give former convicts a chance a redemption. As a drama, the same noble message would come across, but more importantly, “Corpus Christi,” with its powerful performance by a 28-year-old with a passionate gaze, will serve as a dramatized sermon that few actual religious leaders can regularly match.

The movie is in Polish with English subtitles and benefits hugely by the absence of music in the soundtrack. “Corpus Christi” was the Polish entry for the 2020 Academy Awards for International Feature.

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

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

PICTURE OF HIS LIFE – movie review

PICTURE OF HIS LIFE (תמונה של חייו)
Oded Horowitz/Panorama Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dani Menkin, Yonatan Nir
Screenwriter:  Dani Menkin, Yonatan Nir
Cast: Amos Nachoum and colleagues
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/19/20
Opens: June 19, 2020
Running Time: 71 minutes. 
People who go to foreign lands during their vacations, stay in good hotels, dine in fine restaurants, do some sightseeing and attend to some group trips are tourists, not travelers.  Perhaps one step higher on the ladder  would be those who go to Portillo in August to ski or to Botswana to take picture of animals in the wild.  At the highest level, literally, would be those challenged to climb Mt. Everest, but that’s been done.  Here’s something that has not been done until now, something you probably all dream of doing at least once in your life: that’s photographing polar bears while swimming alongside them, trying not to be eaten at least until you’ve given them your best shot and have the folks in the boat scoop up your camera.
Now comes a movie that shows just what it’s like, particularly if your trips to Canada have been only to film festivals in Montreal and Toronto or to see some actual filming in Vancouver.  “Picture of His Life,” which has archival film of Israel during the 1973 war and some shots of Tel Aviv, spends most of its brief running time in the Canadian Arctic, home of Inuits, some of whom consider theirs a dying culture as their children move to the cities.  An ensemble of travelers fall under Yonatan Nir and Adam Ravetch’s lenses, all of which is directed by Nir and Dani Menkin.  You know the last two for their documentary “The Dolphin Boy,” about a lad who, having been traumatized by a violent attack, is taken by his father to be treated by …dolphins.  What better candidates to do this movie than these?
Though he could not have taken pictures of polar bears under water without the help of Joe the Inuit and a few others, there is probably not a single narcissistic bone in Amos Nachoum’s body.  When Narcissus looked at a body of water, he saw his reflection and fell in love.  When Amos does the same, he sees large animals and is head over heels in love, not with himself but with bears, sharks, whales and the like.  Merely to get to the Canadian Arctic where most of the story takes place required Amos to take five flights from Tel Aviv, stopping among other places at San Francisco, Vancouver, and Winnipeg  and finally with a small wind-shaken plane that had a difficult time finding a place to land in one of the most remote places on earth.
Having photographed seals, whales, sharks, marlins and alligators, he is obsessed with capturing polar bears,  not like Disney but alongside these huge, sometimes aggressively hungry mammals that can outswim humans with even with rubber fins twice over.   The directors want us to realize that Amos, having served in the 1973 Yom Kippur war which resulted in 20,000 deaths on both sides, may have received increased motivation to take on this risky project because of the scars caused by the violence.  He is shown as a younger man and now, at an age that puts some people in rocking chairs, Amos, sporting a full mop of graying hair, heads into the water believing that “without learning, there is no reason to be here,” which sounds something like Socrates’ advice that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  Amos wants to be relevant at his age, when much of the world has little use for older people calling them, not without condescension, senior citizens.
In the action scenes, Amos dives backward with so much equipment that you wonder how all five of his planes did not crash.  In one climactic moment, he confronts a bear, tries for a shot, and fails, barely escaping with his life.   We wonder: is that all there is?  Tune in when the movie opens June 19 to find out whether he gets an iconic shot of a rare event: a mother bear swimming with her two cubs.  Did I mention that now he is the founder of a travel business called Big Animals, that takes people who think they can duplicate Amos’s adventure?
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+
© Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online

CREATING A CHARACTER: THE MONI YAKIM LEGACY – movie review

CREATING A CHARACTER: THE MONI YAKIM LEGACY
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rauzar Alexander
Screenwriter: Rauzar Alexander
Cast: Moni Yakim, Laura Linney, Michael Urie, Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Mackie, Alex Sharp, Kevin Kline, Mina Yakim, Charles E. Gerber, Peter Jacobson, Michael Stuhlbarg
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/2/20
Opens: June 19, 2020

Creating a Character: The Moni Yakim Legacy

When I taught a drama class in an urban high school, I won a grant that would enable students interested in acting to be graced by a few lessons from teachers at New York’s prestigious Juilliard School. The lessons would take place in the school auditorium with twenty students participating, no audience in the 800 seats. Each time I observed the classes, I noted that the instructors put emphasis on body movements, in the service of loosening the emotions of the performers and enabling them to express their inner selves not through words but through movement. The movements of these seventeen-year-olds, as lithe and full of energy as teens could be, would not duplicate what goes on in the Juilliard School’s drama division. In this brief documentary, director Rauzar Alexander in his freshman project gives us a rare look at some of the classes that took place in the school’s four-year drama program. The aim is to look in awe at the talent of Moni Yakim, a founding member of the school since the 1970s, with some insight into why the students love him. And you can see that affection daily as they laugh at his mild jokes (in on introductory class he asks for the students’ names because “I forgot them,” then adding “You all know my first name, but I forgot it. -Laughter)

Moni Yakim, who was born in Jerusalem, got a start not as a teacher but as a performer himself, taking part in classics like Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man,” but this background did not become a major part of the film, though some interesting archival film of Jerusalem especially at the time of Israeli independence in 1948 makes an impression.

Moni’s heroes are Étienne Decroux, who created mime, and Stella Adler, who believed that actors must master techniques beyond their own knowledge and experience in order to portray a variety of characters. Moni gives over much of his teaching time to having his gifted young actors imitate mime, but spends most of the class time in getting them to twist their bodies every which way—the gymnastics forming the main interest of the movie. In one class he has the students yell gibberish, in another to crawl on the floor like commandoes on D-Day. “The more you free the body, the freer the imagination is to go wherever it needs to go,” he insists.

The doc does not make clear whether the students go to another studio in the school to learn to project their voices and to do other verbal work that actors are required to perform, so the impression is that Moni puts 90% of his energy into the physical work. He takes students beginning in their second year, his wife Mina dealing with the lucky freshmen. Not mentioned is that the Juilliard acting division goes through at least 1800 applicants yearly, takes 40 or 50 who try out, and selects only eighteen. Take that, Harvard and MIT with their generous 4% selection rate.

Interviews with proud alumni include Jessica Chastain, Michael Stuhlbarg, Oscar Isaac, Kevin Kline, Laura Linney and Anthony Mackie. Watch particularly former student Alex Sharp who went on to win a best actor Tony for his lead role in “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time.” We documentary-loving viewers saw the lad when he was working in Moni’s class.

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

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

7500 – movie review

7500
Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Patrick Vollrath
Screenwriter: Patrick Vollrath, Senad Halibasic
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Ayilin Tezel, Carlo Kitzlinger, Murathan Muslu, Paul Wollin
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/8/20
Opens: June 18, 2020

7500 Poster

Movies that respect the 3 Greek unities, taking place within a day in the same place with a single action are rare, something you will find in some Greek tragedies but considered too theatrical for the big screen. “7500” is this year’s Aristotelian drama, all photographed not only in the same plane but in the cockpit, with some screen time given to the havoc in the passenger seats. This is the kind of nail-biter that will have the audience yelling “No, no, no, that’s your girlfriend and mother of your child being threatened with death unless you open the door, but don’t do it!” “7500” exploits the danger that some of feel every time we fly that the aircraft will be highjacked, a feeling more likely after 9/11 when movies like “Gaganam” (2011), “Snakes on a Plane” (2006), “Kandahar” (2010) and “Nonstop” (2014) came out. To stand out from the others, new movies on that theme try to be different in some way. “7500” does this by taking place in a claustrophobic place that has room under normal conditions for just a pilot and first officer.

The opening scene is strictly preparation for a flight from Berlin to Paris, just 530 air miles, seemingly too short for would-be terrorists to do what they have to do, though that may depend on just what the bad guys want. Do they want to hijack the aircraft to Kabul? To Teheran? To Sanaa? At first we don’t know, but as things turn out neither does one of the three extremist Islamic, at least one and probably all of Turkish ethnicity living in Germany.

A number of air criminals who commandeered planes on that dark day in 9/11 may not have realized that the plan of the leaders was to crash and die. Similarly Vedat (Omid Memar), one of the three desperadoes, has no idea that taking the plane down and killing the crew and all passengers is the motive for avenging the deaths of Muslims in the hands of Westerners. The Captain, Michael (Carlo Kitzlingler) and his first officer Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) run through the usual flight prep just after Tobias gets to kiss his flight attendant girlfriend Gökce (Ayilin Tezel). No sooner does the German plane reach cruising altitude then Kinan (Murathan Muslu), taking advantage of the momentary opening of the cockpit door, lands inside brandishing a knife made of glass.

Director Patrick Vollrath, veteran of eight shorts including “Ketchup Kid” (an eleven-year-old outsider makes a friend), takes off with his first narrative feature film, one which shows that the German born fellow is destined to be in the director’s chair for a number of thrillers to come. He makes the smart move of eschewing music in the soundtrack, preventing us from being distracted by anything but the noise of the bad guys outside the cockpit pounding on the door, making us in the audience wonder whether this is the way they will get inside.

What happens during Tobias’s tête-à-tête with eighteen-year-old Vedat (Omid Memar) need not be revealed here, but suffice it to say that Tobias, without agreeing in the slightest with the Islamist argument that revenge is necessary because the West has made war on Islamic radicals, develops Stockholm Syndrome. He hopes first to get out alive, then to make sure that his new “buddy” will be treated well if he decides to surrender to the German police.

At just 39, Gordon-Levitt has been busy, with 84 acting credits. He can do what he does in “7500” in his sleep. To see what the actor can really do, you’ll want to take in his role as the title character in Oliver Stone’s “Snowden.” Because of the fierce acting by Memar and Gordon-Levitt, the latter fluctuating between grabbing a glass knife to kill or injure Memar and making sure that Memar is treated fairly, “7500” (the code name for a hijacked flight) is better than the typical B movie. But it is still a B movie.

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

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

THE DEPARTURE – movie review

THE DEPARTURE
Merland Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Merland Hoxha
Screenwriter: Merland Hoxha
Cast: Jon Briddell, Kendall Chappell, Olivia Lemmon, Austin Lauer, Grant Wright Gunderson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/2/20
Opens: June 12, 2020

The Departure Poster

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive.” So said Sir Walter Scott in 1806 in a historical romance novel. Nobody really thinks times have changed. Scott was writing about events in the 16th century and now Merland Hoxha directs his update on the theme using three major players in a piece that you could easily stream on your small screen now that theaters are closed. In his freshman job as writer-director Hoxha, who may or may not be a relation of Enver, hones in on a modern romance which has moments of comedy but is as serious as you can hope to get with twenty-somethings who will interrupt almost any live conversation to pick up a text message or answer a call. Immaturity abounds in “The Departure,” a cute, theatrical piece involving three major characters, one young woman who quickly leaves the screen, and the boss of a company that sells environmentally-friendly equipment.

People lie all the time, white lies to save people’s feelings and the other kind to advance our objectives. This production highlights the machinations of two best friends Nate (Grand Wright Gunderson) and John (Austin Lauer) and the way they and one young woman, Jessica (Kendall Chappell) manipulate one another. The result of the game may turn out to be other than what each had hoped, but perhaps they had fun playing with one another’s feelings, though not without the guilt that should cloud the emotions of anyone but a sociopath.

For all we know, Hoxha may have been inspired by Pierre Ambroise Francois Choderlos de Laclos’ 18th century novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” which in a filmed version finds Jeanne Moreau coercing her husband Gerard Philippe into ruining the reputation of pious Annette Vadim. Philippe spoils the nasty plan by falling in love with his intended victim. The ultimate punishment in both the classic study and this lighter version is painful.

Nate is assigned by his grateful boss Bruce (Jon Briddell) to go from the West Coast to New York for six months to shape up a team whose manager is inept. Wouldn’t you know that the plum job that could mean a career advancement for Nate occurs just about the time that he asks his steady gal Jessica to move in with him. Wondering whether Jessica would stay loyal to him during the six months’ separation, he asks John to try to seduce her. At first John is dumbfounded but agrees. For a while he is quite pleased the way things are turning out. The wheels turn, the game moves forward, and tensions erupt that threaten to send the entire troupe into soul-searching depression.

The tale is well acted by the threesome; by Kendall Chappell, whose theater major at the University of Michigan is paying off; by Austin Lauer who studied acting at the University of Evansville in Indiana, and by Grant Gunderson who previously appeared in a short about people planning to enter Trump’s private house to steal a billion bucks (though the president may have more experience in that profession).

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

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

EXIT PLAN – movie review

EXIT PLAN (Selvmordsturisten)
Screen Media
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jonas Alexander Arnby
Screenwriter: Rasmus Birch
Cast: Nickolaj Coster-Waldau, Kate Ashfield, Jan Bïjvoet, Tuva Novotny, Robert Aramayo
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/30/20
Opens: June 12, 2020

Exit Plan Poster

To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s comment about the Soviet Union, “Exit Plan” is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Just when you think you’ve figured it out—is it a dream? A tumor-inspired hallucination? A strange, horrifying reality? Anything is possible in this Danish movie with English subtitles and some spoken English (Scandinavians are famous for fluency in English) but by the time the film is over, you’re not sure what happened. To its credit, this is a horror movie without the slashing, a psychological thriller without car chases or explosions. “Exit Plan” is a virtually a chamber piece whose focus is fixed on the principal character, who by his expressions tries to tell us in the audience what he’s thinking and feeling. He takes off his glasses and leans his head on the table. He stares at a loved on as if afraid to tell her what he’s feeling. He even smiles sometimes, which is not easy if you have a terminal, growing brain tumor that, as one knowledgeable person notes, might make you mistake your wife for a dog–not an entirely bad idea since you’ll probably give her some affection for a change.

This is a star vehicle for Nikolai Coster-Waldau, who you’ll remember in the role of Jaime Lannister from “Game of Thrones.” He is directed in a sophomore feature by Jonas Alexander Arnby, whose previous movie, “When Animals Dream” finds 16-year old Marie living on a small island with her seriously ill mother and her father. When suddenly mysterious deaths happen and Marie can feel something strange happening to her body. You’ll see that the Copenhagen-born director is right in his métiér with this one.

Max Isaksen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) learns that he has terminal brain cancer. To avoid a painful demise, he opts to travel by car and small plane to the frosty north (could be Denmark, Norway, Finland or Sweden), registering with the Hotel Aurora. The management therein provides assisted suicide fantasies allowing guests to have dream suicides, choosing the landscape, the method, the whole shebang. The trouble is that the Aurora is like the Roach Motel. You go in, but you can’t come out. Yep. Once you sign the register, you are not allowed to leave. In fact bolting is more difficult than breaking an apartment lease in New York.

While clad in pajamas, Max waits out the few days till his demise, chatting with one woman who will try to escape, but each time he has a talk back home with his wife Lærke (Tuva Novotny) he does not know how to raise the topic. Most of the time, director Arnby, using a script by Rasmus Birch, whose “Brotherhood” deals with Danish servicemen thrown together in a neo-Nazi group, tries to penetrate Max’s mind, his expertise being able to let us in the audience know what it’s like to be in an extreme existential crisis.

The pace is slow, picking up during the final fifteen minutes when Max decides whether he wants to go through with the plan or has cold feet. (When in one scene he falls through the ice, his extremities are literally freezing.) A good indie for a patient audience.

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

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

MOPE – movie review

MOPE
Quiver Distribution
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lucas Heyne
Screenwriter: Lucas Heyne,  story by Michael Louis Albo 
Cast: Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Kelly Sry, Brian Huskey, David Arquette, Tonya Cornelisse, Annie Cruz
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/7/20
Opens: June 16, 2020

Take the word “mope.” You may think that it means a person with generally low spirits, and it is. But look at an urban dictionary and you get that it’s “a person with negative contribution to society.” One character in Lucas Heyne’s move is that, but he’s trying to fit in, to contribute something, but because of emotional problems he has been unable to find a talent that would allow others to hire him. There’s an additional definition that fits the two principals in the film, “a person who is a lowlife who would like to be a star in the porn industry.” Porn is profitable for those who produce the kinds of films that people want to see, but as with the acting profession in general, most people simply do not make it, their dreams of stardom defeated.

“Mope” is Lucas Heyne’s freshman direction of a full-length narrative, his previous short, “Tohm Lev: Legalize Nudity, a four-minute pro-animal-rights look at the selling of furs and other skins of animals. Now he jumps into a field that people generally do not like to admit they partake of, highlighting the sleazy people who turn hard-core sex into profit. It’s also about friendship, about two people who are virtually joined at the hip with an undying kinship, best pals who are likely to cause heartbreak if one cuts the cord. But Tom Dong (Kelly Sry), a Chinese-American, has a talent for designing websites which should have proved profitable enough, yet his real ambition is to be a porn star. His best friend, Steve Driver (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), is less talented but even more obsessed with being so famous that his face would be on the cover of DVDs. He is held back not only by a lack of acting talent but, as one member of the porn studio staff says, he is not “endowed” sufficiently. Even worse, he is borderline psychotic, failing to succeed in college and convicted of a crime for which he served house arrest. He does have one other interest, one in which he excels, so it’s hard to see why he had not been encouraged to use a 16th century sword and act in Japanese films about a time gone by.

The two pair up, try out in front of director Eric (Brian Huskey) who at first wants to dismiss them but allows them to remain because Tom can fix up the studio website. As their performances deepen (so to speak) with the cheap gals who do everything from one’s enjoying a gang cum that sprays all over her face to accepting sexual congress with any and all actors, with one exception. Both the girls and the director do not appreciate Steve’s smell, urge him regularly to take a shower, and become increasingly aggressive trying to get him to leave the studio while keeping Tom on the payroll. When Tom finally agrees to leave his best friend to his fate after sticking up for him in front to the director (Huskey has the most amusing role throughout), Steve’s borderline psychosis goes over the border.

This is based on a true story, a dark comedy indeed, one with an ending that earns its melodramatic finale. Performances are fine: you probably could not believe that Tom would even leave Steve to continue with the studio, but credibly enough he is ready to split to further his own ambition. A meeting of Steve in a restaurant with his father (Clayton Rohner) and stepmother (Peggy Dunne) as Steve is pitching for his dad’s investment is both comical and heartbreaking. Ultimately “Mope” opens up to what resembles a look at the sleaze of the industry but concludes with both terror and anguish. All is set forth with crackerjack performances from not only the Stewart-Jarrett and Sry but some over-the-top acting from David Arquette as director with a successful porn enterprise.

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

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

AVIVA – movie review

AVIVA
Outsider Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Boaz Yakin
Screenwriter: Boaz Yakin
Cast: Zina Zinchenko, Bobbi Jene Smith, Tyler Phillips, Or Schraiber, Omri Drumlevich, Mouna Soualem
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/28/20
Opens: June 12, 2020

Writer-director Boaz Yakin may lead a life full of conflicts—a good thing because that is how people become creative—but his characters are certainly not lacking in bodily motion. His personal movie “Aviva” is chock-full of nudity, writhing bodies and modern dance and would have probably received an NC-17 rating rather than opting for NR, or not rated. It is not only about to be the year’s horniest film; it has the kind of dancing by veterans of Israel’s Batsheva troupe that Tschaikowsky (“Swan Lake,” Sleeping Beauty”) would not have understood. For that matter I wonder how many viewers will understand the film, given its use of masculine and feminine characterizations that serve to show us women with masculine sides and men with their feminine proclivities. Not that gender bending is unknown to the cinema, as it is expressed also by Luis Buñuel in his 1977 film “The Obscure Object of Desire,” in which a former chambermaid is played by two persons who differ physically as well as temperamentally.

In an interview, Yakin had said that his “adult creative life has been this very, very upsetting push and pull between trying to find a way to fit myself…This time I didn’t want to limit myself at all.” There it is: the background of a film seemingly without limits, one that deserves a second and third viewing to sort out the confusion as you watch a woman played in some scenes by a man and a man performing in the physical persona of a woman.

There are two principal players, the title character Aviva (Zina Zinchenko) and a man (Tyler Phillips), and then again Aviva as a man (Or Schraiber) and Eden as a woman (Bobbi Jene Smith). When Aviva moves from Paris to New York to be with Eden, the gent gets cold feet, conflicted over whether to marry her. (We are told in press notes that Aviva is based on the director’s relationship with his ex-wife Alma Har’el.) To understand this difficult, theatrical movie you must be aware that Aviva becomes a man unpredictably while Eden morphs into a woman, the idea being that they are expressing, respectively, their masculine and feminine sides.

As with any love affairs, most of the excitement is in the early stages, shown creatively enough in Eden and Aviva’s dancing through city streets—which may remind you of Gene Kelly’s resonating with an umbrella, singing in the rain. Aren’t first love and hormonal youth exhilarating? Eden and Aviva’s relationship are on and off, filled with both anticipation and heartbreak. When Eden is dabbling with his feminine side he changes from an indecisive male to a female full of hormonal tension. There are repeated scenes of sexual congress that border on hard core, with male and female frontal nudity displayed as though nakedness should be embraced (literally).

The best scenes, though, are those involving dances, particularly from a trio of thirteen-year-olds meant presumably to reflect the director’s childhood in the happiest moments, played here by Roman Maldenda. He and his two pals rap and show off terpsichorean talents in Coney Island, the iconic Wonder Wheel serving as background. Equally electrifying is a dance number in a bar as a group of denizens acting like Greek men showing their camaraderie with their footwork, burst forth with enough energy to light up the city.

The movie is overlong, though, and too intent on sexual scenes which seem thrown in to turn on a theater audience with vicarious thrills, the men, at least while they are still men, performing energetic thrusts to the gasps of the women who seem unable to get enough. Still, given the way that commercial films are equally repetitive, albeit with guns and car crashes rather than sex serving as melodrama, “Aviva” is an offering that deserves the attention of a patient audience open to its experimental nature.

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

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

SHIRLEY – movie review

SHIRLEY
Neon
Review by Harvey Karten for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net
Directed by: Josephine Decker
Screenplay by: Sarah Gubbins, based on the novel by Susan Scarf Merrell
Cast:  Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Logan Lerman, Odessa Young
Reviewed from a critics’ link on 5/15/20
Opening:  June 5, 2020
Running Time:107 minutes
What gives one person the impetus to become a psychoanalyst, another an optometrist, yet a third individual a teacher and a fourth a writer?  In these cases consider the possibility that the optometrist had early onset myopia, was prescribed coke-bottle glasses, and is determined to help others by inventing thinner lenses; the teacher had unfortunate experiences with her own pedagogues and knows she can do better; and the psychoanalyst suffered from childhood anxiety and depression, spending long, creditable hours on the couch and hoping later to sit on a padded chair rather than the sofa.  This last scenario could apply to Shirley Jackson, a prolific writer with 200 magazines articles to her credit, an impressive contribution of novels, and a home library with 25,000 volumes.  She did not become a shrink but penned psychological/horror stories to exorcise her demons.
Shirley Poster
One of her shorter novels, “The Lottery,” which became a short movie, is a hair-raising, nightmare-causing story of a bucolic region of farmers in which, to further the fertility of crops, the town holds an annual lottery of all residents.  The “winner” of the lottery is sentenced to death by stoning, presumably donating blood to the fields.  Jackson did not herself live in a farming community but rather in North Bennington, Vermont, the location in the early 1960s setting of the movie an all-girls’ college until 1969. She suffered considerable neuroses, even borderline psychosis, her anxieties, her agoraphobia that essentially sentenced her to her house for months as though a plague  infested the outdoors.  She may not have been cured of her psychological problems, but at least she could use them to create great art.  And so she did.
The film directed by Josephine Decker, an actress and who as a director gave us movies like “Madeleine’s Madeline” (a theater director’s young actress takes her performance too seriously), is adapted from Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel by Sarah Gubbins, scripter for TV episodes of “I Love Dick.” The movie lifts off by Elisabeth Moss’s electrifying performance in the title role.  Not only that: take a look at Shirley Jackson’s picture on Wikipedia or on Amazon books and you’ll find quite a likeness—except that Moss does not have the weight problem of her character which, together with Jackson’ chain smoking led to the novelist’s death from cardiac arrest at the age of 48.
While Moss carries the principal focus, Decker and Gubbins provide the film with an ensemble performance—three characters given about equal time to express their disappointments, their frustrations, their happy moments, in short, their personalities.  Consider Shirley’s husband Stanley Edgar Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor at Bennington where he enjoys sexual favors at the women’s college.  He is extroverted, peering at the world though thick glasses with the black frames no longer fashionable in our times.  He insists on originality, on creativity, exhibiting his persona by playing a record by jazz and folk musician Lead Belly, who died in 1949 and seems to be unknown to the bright young co-eds.  At home, he shows his dismay with his wife’s habit of staying home, often skipping dinner to work on her stories, leaving him to dine alone as she would clack away speedily on her standard typewriter.
As though there were not enough drama in the household, enter a “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” scenario when a young couple arrive, invited by Stanley to remain in the couple’s home.  Rose Nemser (Odessa Young) is nervous and pregnant, and her classically handsome husband Fred (Logan Lerman) are soon to incur the wrath of the residents.  The young couple are regularly baited, but Fred is staying on, hoping to get Stanley to recommend him to teach English at the college.  Though Rose is naïve and trusting, she is soon to find out that her husband is following the same path of infidelity as his new mentor.  Among the barbs: Stanley has read the young man’s dissertation.  At the dinner table he announces that the paper lacks originality and is mediocre.  “Have you considered teaching at the high school level?”  If that were not enough to make Fred bolt from the dinner table, what is?
Anyone who has seen Elisabeth Moss knows that she is among the best actresses of all generation.  Her work on Margaret Atwood’s TV episodes “The Handmaid’s Tale” as June Offred Osborne, gave her the extra push to work for women’s causes and led to her telling an interviewer that it made her “a stronger woman.”  She needs no dialogue in “Shirley” to signal her every emotion.  Coiling like a snake, a fierce look at her husband and guests, she could keep you up nights if you were her guest.  Rose is eager to leave this house, virtually haunted by its occupants, but nonetheless she is drawn to Shirley, considering her a friend notwithstanding the difference in age.  It helps that she responds to Shirley’s sexual advances, their playing footsies under the dining table being one of the comic moments in the film.
And Stuhlbarg is no mere straight man to Moss’s manipulations.  His is a formidable performance whether leading a group dance at the college dean’s party, barking at his wife to leave the house, or baiting the poor young man who has been effectively relegated to teaching high school.   As for Odessa Young’s Rose, we can see how Stanley uses her to help his wife complete her latest book, which, in fact, is based on the author’s experiences with her husband and the young boarders.  Write what you know.
The film appears to toy with two endings: one which results in Rose’s suicide, the other finding her sitting in the back seat of the car driven by her Tom-cat husband.
Kudos to Tamar-Kali’s use of music, largely jazz tracks, and Sturla Brandth Grovlen’s lensing, making good use of  the house’s interiors, the lively faculty party, and the rural pleasures of a state whose slogan, “Freedom and Unity,” is, judging by this movie, surely ironic.
Story – A-
Acting – A
Technical – B
Overall – B+
© Harvey Karten, Director, NY Film Critics Online

SCREENED OUT – movie review

SCREENED OUT
Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jon Hyatt
Screenwriter: Jon Hyatt, Karina Rotenstein
Cast: Jon Hyatt, Alicia Dupuis, Jim Steyer, Syd Bolton, Adam Alter, Jean Twenge, Hilarie Cash, Alex Pang, Ramsay Brown, Mihael Rich, Nir Eyal, Nicholas Kardaras
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/22/20
Opens: May 26, 2020

Screened Out (2020)

One glaring omission from Jon Hyatt’s blandly informative but virtually humorless documentary “Screened Out” is the name Donald J. Trump. CBS news the other day reported that since he took office, he has sent out 50,000 tweets. Was he stupid before computers and the internet were even invented, or did he become the way he is because of all the screen time that he indulges? But wait: his addiction to Twitter may accord with  Hyatt’s thesis that excessive time on smart [sic] phones and computers will mess with your brain, so to the president’s credit, he announced that because Twitter is now fact-checking his tweets for accuracy and truth, he will do what he can to shut the company down. You go, man. Less Twitter, more time for engaging directly with life.

While I do not even have a Twitter account, I was not born into the computer age, so I cannot fully comprehend that men and women below the age of thirty (when home computers started to takeoff) are so dependent on this technology. On Memorial Day, the folks spending six to nine hours daily “talking” to their thousand Facebook friends, retweeted a video of a woman who lost her six-figure job because her racist comments were caught. Thirty million people had seen the altercation when the video went viral (Ugh, that word again). Heaven known how much time many of these followers are spending on their devices rather than looking flesh-and-blood people in the eye and talking to them or gaining genuine wisdom about life by reading “War and Peace” instead.

Other points left out by the doc include the more concrete danger of distraction on your screens while driving your car, resulting in giving some pedestrians nasty bumps, or that of great armies of mostly young people glued to their phones and slamming into people on the sidewalk or falling from cliffs. Still, co-writer and director Hyatt knows whereof he speaks since he was (is?) himself a screen addict. Many years earlier he would play out in the yard with kids his own age, having a ball, learning how to relate directly to others while getting the sufficient amount of vitamin D that others are missing. He now spends more time reading the fiction that was crowded out because of his addiction while his wife has been unable to kick the screen habit. Imagine guys and gals in college assigned to read “Jane Eyre” but glancing every ten minutes at the phone when hearing the buzz or ring or theme song from “Gone with the Wind.” As one talking head advises, multi-tasking does not work.

Among the gems delivered from the documentary which I was watching on my computer when I could have been re-reading “Jane Eyre,” is the concept of intermittent rewards. When a pigeon gets a pellet of food each time it (or he or she) pecks at a button, the bird is rewarded. Soon, however, the pigeon gives up, winded. Everything’s too predictable. When the pigeon does not know which peck at the button will release the food (the mechanism is programmed to release the pellet intermittently), the bird retains excitement. In that regard slot machines keep people glued not because they win a fortune every time they swing the one arm—that would be boring albeit enriching—they are fascinated by wondering when or if the quarters will bounce into the slot. So is it that when people hear the ping of the phone (or the opening bars of “Twist and Shout” as sung by Ferris Bueller), they will salivate at the thought that the texter’s message may be more interesting than their Social Studies teacher’s talk on the Congress of Vienna.

The documentary barely presents another point of view, so intent is Hyatt to list and elaborate the many dangers of social media and other plagues. He might have said that video games improve cognitive function and motor skills, and that at least the youths are reading words. On the other hand, teen suicide is way up since technology allows them to compare their miserable lives with the bragging from their peers who are equally miserable. Then again there’s bullying by callow adolescents, while in my day you could just grab a kid from the street who is half your weight and show him how much better you are.

How’s this for irony. When this movie shown on your computer ends, you get to click, or not click, the button “like.” I thought and debated and meditated and clicked it.

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

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B- (near absence of animation)
Overall – B