SPOOR – movie review

SPOOR (Pokot)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Writer: Olga Tokarczuk, Agnieszka Holland, adapted from Olga Takorczuk’s novel
Cast: Agnieszka Mandat, Wiktor Zborowski, Miroslav Krobot, Jakub Gierszal, Patricia Volny, Tomasz Kot
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/9/21
Opens: January 22, 2021


The difference between a B-movie crime story/TV episode like NCIS and an art movie that deserves greater concentration, is that the crimes, be they murder, robbery, rape, kidnap, and arson, should be entertaining thrillers, while the more intellectual dramas use the crimes as stepping-stones to the development of characters. “Spoor”is a good example of the latter. The title refers to the scent, droppings, even the trails trodden by animals. Animals, specifically dogs, boars, and antelopes, each have their brief starring roles, quite necessary to the development of plot. Since this is a film by the Polish director Agnieszka Holland, you would expect the story to be similar to that of her other contributions, such as her 2011 film “In Darkness” about one man’s rescue of Jews in the German-occupied city of Lvov. “Spoor” is more about the intended rescue of animals which are shot for fun, each month a different creature made legal to kill, in a small, southwest Polish town near the Czech border.

Holland, who studied filmmaking in Prague, focuses primary attention on Duszejko, an elderly woman who is the town’s only, animals rights advocate. Her personality might convince some diners that vegetarians and spokespersons for the four-legged are eccentric at least, crazy at most. Duszejko (Agnieska Mandat), a woman who objects vigorously to being called Janina though we do not find out why, is a part-time teacher in the local school whose 8-year-old kids love her, even hugging as you’d expect a dog to hug its human partner. She has studied astrology for years—not in itself eccentric, since even former first lady Nancy Reagan was a fan of the pseudoscience as well. When she protests against town laws that allow hunting, she undercuts her points with the police by screaming. The police have other concerns on their minds when bloodied bodies turn up in the snow, the film audience presuming that the wolf-hugger is the perp.

Though photographers Jolanta Dylewskh and Rafal Paradowski’s lenses are on Duszejko throughout, there are an abundance of secondary characters ranging from the wolves, boars, deer, foxes and even insects to people who enter in and exit from the scenes regularly. Among the folks introduced in this hayseed village are the priest, a man she should not have bothered to confide in, given that he considers equating dogs with people (my dogs are my daughters, insists Duszejko) with blasphemy since God gave us dominion over them and besides, animals do not have souls and therefore cannot be candidate for salvation. She has a brief affair with Boros (Miroslav Krobot), a wandering professor of her own age, an entomologist who advises her about how dead bodies can attract certain types of beetles.

Of the side roles, the most meaty, so to speak, is that of young Dyzio (Jakub Gierszal) who works for the police setting up and instructing them in how computers can help and who fears that he will lose his job because he has seizures. He will obviously team up with Dobra Nowina (Patricia Volny),the only twenty-something female in town.

Some of the material is rambling that would not be hurt by more attention from Pavel Hrdlika, its editor, but supplemented by more activity form the forest creatures that sometimes run quickly through the snow, and other times, as with deer that come over across the Czech border, and stand still, too dumb to be unafraid of humans.

Don’t expect too much blood, though one animal, apparently really gunned down by a hunter, is hugged and prayed over by Duszeklo. The principal reason for seeing this movie is the performance of Kraków-born Mandat, 64-years old when this was filmed, well known in her own country for roles in a host of TV dramas. Otherwise there are too many moments of tedium in this overlong, 128-minute offering, but enlivened by many of the secondary characters coming across not as salt-of-the-earth just-folks but mostly as fierce adversaries of animals, from the priest to the types you probably found climbing the walls of the capitol to protest a fair U.S. election.

In Polish with English subtitles.

128 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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


IN & OF ITSELF – movie review

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Frank Oz
Writer: Derek DelGaudio
Cast: Derek DelGaudio
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/13/21
Opens: January 22, 2021


There are two kinds of audiences for live shows in New York. One is represented by the tourist, perhaps not fluent in English, who would go to a Broadway musical: “Chicago,” “South Pacific,” “Guys and Dolls,” presentations that are a lot of fun. Others are a more intellectual set that would patronize off-Broadway, even off-Broadway; likely to be in a serious vein, knowledge of English indispensable. There is third type of live presentation; the kind that would challenge people who think they know everything and like to brag about going to esoterica. What they see is likely to be a mix of entertainment and a delving into our minds and souls. Such a show played at the Daryl Roth Theatre, off-Broadway in New York in 2017, called “In & Of Itself,” considered to be a one-man exhibition but depending upon enough people in the audience to volunteer to stand up, even to come up on stage.

“In and Of Itself” as presented by Hulu and executive produced by the likes of my favorite TV comic Stephen Colbert, is a filmed play and then some; meaning that the presentation puts together a collage of audiences and evenings, melding some of the stunning 552 displays that ran before an audience of one hundred diverse souls. As directed by Frank Oz (both the stage show and the movie) with generous filming of a diverse audience including African-Americans and Asian-Americans, young, middle-aged and elderly, “In & Of Itself” may require multiple viewings to allow DelGaudio’s message to sink in: that we are not necessarily what we do for a living, even what goes on within our families. Each of us is a multiple, some of our character easily comprehended by others, while the rest of is below the surface, even hidden from ourselves.

In the opening scene, he asks members of the audience to come up before a large board filled with cards, each bearing the title of an occupation: nurse, ophthalmologist, dentist, and the like. Each is an “I am.” Some of the audience members will be called up to the stage, and as we watch the unfolding drama, we may wonder whether some of the folks are shills for the company who make sure that enough volunteers are called up each time. As a whole, nobody seems shy in the audience(s) that we see.

DelGaudio is a gifted man who knows his lines cold, a fellow of medium height, a close haircut, a trace of a beard. He wears a tie but that’s soon to come off to put across his eyes for one of his tricks. He is a master storyteller, segueing from a tale about a man who plays Russian roulette—the image of the person on one of the six diaramas on the wall. The deal is that he has 5 chances out of 6 to win, to save his life, and if he comes out ahead, he is rich. His troubles are over. But then again, as DelGaudio notes, if he loses, his troubles are also over (which brings the first laugh from the audience). This guy raises the ante, putting two bullets into the gun the next night, three the following, until he points the gun with six bullets at his head. How he manages to come out ahead? Find out by seeing the film.

The most dazzling part finds DelGaudio doing card tricks that are absolutely amazing. Ricky Jay is probably envious. If you see how he manipulates the deck to do everything he wants it to do, setting out the spades in order like a super royal flush, you might consider that he is a sorcerer. In the Middle Ages, the peasants would know what to do with him, and it’s not pretty.

Later he will present volunteers from the audience with letters allegedly written by members of their families, letters that bring some of them to tears. What these letters contain are writings that could easily have come from the participants’ mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. That’s how well DelGaudio seems to know his audience.

Then just as you wonder whether these audience members are the sorcerer’s apprentices, he dazzles by getting half of the hundred to stand up in the every-seat-taken theater, looking at the folks, telling each what he or she is: an introvert, a vegan, an optimist, a lover. The audience at no point looks at a cell phone, a watch, his navel, but all eyes are concentrating on the majordomo.

What does it all mean? Paradoxically, we are all many things, and we are all alike. Forget about Superman, Batman, even Wonder Woman. This showman can see into our souls, as you can believe as you watch the audience members, one by one, feeling the magic.

Yep: he is an enchanter.

90 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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


THE MAURITANIAN – movie review

STX Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writers: Michael Bronner, Rory Haines, based on Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s memoir “Guantánamo Diary”
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Jody Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley, Langley Kirkwood, Corey Johnson, Matthew Marsh
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/12/21
Opens: February 19, 2021

Andrew - The mauritanian poster

If you are following the events of the days just preceding the inauguration of Joseph Biden as President, you will see a division into two camps. One group, believing that the election was rigged, might well say that the violence of the far-right extremists who took over the Capitol was justified, given their disgust with what they consider fraud. The other folks, hopefully the greater number, were horrified watching the only attempted coup of the citadel of democracy since the British set fire to the building in 1814. This latter group, the more educated Americans, might well think: “With enemies like these domestic terrorists, who needs enemies?”

And when you consider the way that the American armed forces have acted for years in our country’s prison at Guantánamo, Cuba (itself an example of U.S. imperialism), torturing prisoners by blasting them with music, waterboarding (which gives the hapless victims the feeling of drowning), humiliating them in at least one case by dragging a man around on a leash, putting them into stress positions, i.e. bent over, for hours, you may say as well: If this is American democracy, who needs enemies from authoritarian regimes abroad?

As pointed out in the epilogue of “The Mauritanian,” Kevin Macdonald’s new, exciting, bold and horrifying film, one prisoner, Mohamedou Ould Slahi had been held for seven years without evidence and with just one hearing in a D.C. federal court where he was judged not guilty. And would you believe that the Obama administration appealed, leading the poor man to be kept a total of 14 years before being released to his home in Nouakchott, Mauritania? Filming in Mauritania and South Africa among other locations, Glaswegian director Macdonald, known mostly for his “The Last King of Scotland” about events surrounding the Uganda administration of Idi Amin, offers us an indictment of an infuriated America uninterested in due process. On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, New York’s World Trade Center was attacked by two planes leading to 3,000 deaths. As a result, those charged with terrorism and held at our facility in Cuba would be denied a hearing, much less a fair trial. Seven hundred seventy-nine prisoners had been guests of the facility since 9/11. A mere handful were found not guilty and released.

The most interesting detainee would be Mohamedou Ould Slahi, principally because he wrote a book, actually four books, about his experiences there, adapted for Macdonald’s pulsating drama. The plot is unfolded with its center, Tahar Rahim, a gifted French performer of Algerian descent adept in French, Arabic, English, Scottish Gaelic and Corsican (he used his skills in the dynamic movie “The Prophet” about a prison holding people Corsicans mobsters and Muslims).

It doubtless took a man of exceptional intelligence to compose these tell-all books, and Slahi was exceptional enough to have received a scholarship in 1988 to study in Germany for a degree in electrical engineering. He joined the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, fighting against the Soviet occupation, a war in which the mujaheddin was backed by the U.S. So far so good. He trained with al Qaeda, one of the mujaheddin groups fighting a civil war, but instead of joining the fight he returned to Germany. His cousin al-Walid and other Qaeda members wrote to bin Laden opposing the planned 9/11 attacks. Slahi allegedly lodged three suspects for one night at his home in Germany in 1999. Not so good.

From what we gather in this film, the government had virtually no case, no evidence that Slahi was the prime mover of the 9/11 attacks or took part at all. Habeas corpus, the concept by which an arrested person must be advised of the evidence that causes him to be charged? Forget about it. The fury of President Bush from the first enemy attack in America since Pearl Harbor was joined by the American people, who seemed in no mood for giving those held at Gitmo the time of day. Hence the many years served in that prison camp by people held without charges.

You could not likely pick a better actor for the Slahi role than Rahim, who, judging by his multi-lingual skills comes across believable in his knowledge of English, learned largely from the guards, able to project his case to the movie audience. Serving as defense counsel, Jodie Foster takes the role of Nancy Hollander, determined to force the United States to live by the Constitution. She, together with an associate, Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) who would serve as a translator from French (not needed given the prisoner’s fluency in English), take their time gaining the man’s trust, persuading him to sign documents that would give her the rights of counsel, insisting that there is an attorney-client privilege. Only later did it come out that Slahi confessed, insisting to his counsel that the confession was beaten out of him, to which Hollander replies that the confession could therefore be thrown out. Opposing them for prosecution is Stu Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch)—a British actor who does quite a job with a southern American accent. He seems less than convinced at any point that the defendant is guilty, and will ultimately do the right thing. When he demonstrates his uneasiness, he gets the same kind of hell from the military that Hollander receives from the USA-USA crowd, which cannot believe that an American can plead a case for a man who obviously (they think) had a big role in 9/11.

Director Macdonald occasionally breaks chronology, going back to the accused man’s happy life in Mauritania, the praise he receives from others for getting that scholarship to Germany, the plan opposed by his mother who believes she will lose him. A dramatic scene during the opening shows a cultural festival in a country that most Americans probably never realized could house some of the bad guys, terrorists found largely in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

Surreal tension break out during the final one-third of the film as we watch close-ups of the brutality of the military, sometimes playing good cop but in the end hitting Slahi with the most diabolical series of brutalities—the stress postures, the loud music, the sleep deprivation, even an episode with an army woman costumed in a cat mask humiliating him by sitting astride the man and “talking dirty.”

Jodie Foster may be the name that brings an audience to the theaters, but this is Tahar Rahmin’s movie. He is superb whether showing an ironic sense of humor, straining against his captors’ brutality, serving to convince us if we are not already believing, that some, and probably most of the current detainees in our wretched prison camp abroad are not guilty of the crimes with which they are…not even charged!

129 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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


SACRED COW – movie review

SACRED COW: The Nutritional, Environmental and Ethical Case for Better Meat

Uncork’d Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Diana Rodgers
Writer: Diana Rodgers
Cast: Nick Offerman, Narrator
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/9/20
Opens: January 5, 2021

Before tackling the points made by this new doc “Sacred Cow,” let’s look at the concept of veganism, a philosophy that would not be in accord with the ideology of this film…

Sacred Cow: The Nutritional, Environmental and Ethical Case for Better Meat Poster

It seems not so long ago that most of us thought that meat was born in plastic wrap, that vegetarians were communists, fascists, or just plain weird, and that if you are not poverty-stricken, why would you ever want to give up meat? Suddenly Hollywood celebs embrace not only vegetarianism (no meat or fish) to veganism (no meat, fish, dairy and eggs). Joaquin Phoenix, Alicia Silverstone, Alec Baldwin among others. Even President Clinton was on the wagon, turning his nose up against flesh and enjoying the cooking of a top vegan chef), but now he’s playing the omnivore card.

There are reasons that people abstain from anything that has a mother. They may do this for aesthetic reasons (decaying animal corpses are gross), taste (you don’t like steak or sausage), environmental (you don’t want to be standing next to a cow when it endangers the atmosphere), health (saturated fat raises bodily cholesterol), economics (the high price of meat and fish), conservationist (rain forests are disappearing to make room for cattle grazing and growing animal feed),and best of all ethical (animals are born, live lives in an earthly hell, and are slaughtered without last rites, on their deathbeds with none of their family present and you don’t want on your conscience that you in effect, hired a hit team to take out a cow or a horse, a lamb or a bat).

Diana Rodgers’ movie, however, might give meat-eaters a further excuse to continue their habit and possibly to justify it if debating vegans. What horrifies some vegetarians and vegans so much is not the actual slaughter of cows and sheep and chickens, but the idea that the animals live horrible lives in huge factory farms. This smart film takes a middle ground, showing that cows and sheep can live happy lives, are slaughtered humanely, and what’s more, they benefit us in ways that factory farms cannot. There is considerable information that can be best absorbed by people who study regenerative agriculture such as in colleges that have that subject as a major. City folks would do well to supplement the considerable factual content of the film with readings, and in fact, you can do just that by entering this address in your URL: SacredCow.info.

Unlike factory farms, which in America supply 95% or more of meat, regenerative farms practice sustainable agriculture, not by fighting nature with chemical pesticides and growing corn or soy in a separate area from grazing animals. They grow crops simultaneously with cattle, allowing the animals to fertilize the soil naturally and making marginal soil more arable.

Diana Rodgers, who directs, takes us first to a farm in Monon, Indiana, then spreads out across the land where we here enthusiastic farmers praise how they are raising cattle and sheep. What’s more their animals feeding on plants not damaged by chemical bring more nutrition to our plates.

In a sense, without mentioning keto diets, the folks covered by Rodgers’s doc note that Americans have become increasingly obese at the same time that they ironically had given up considerable meat eating. One subject states even that the high starches with the extra salt and sugar used to preserve and give a bolder taste to processed foods, have added to this massive weight gain.

According to some of the friendly folks who inform us that eating meat is both nutritious and ethical, people who abjure flesh may not grow sufficiently and can suffer degenerative diseases as well. Perhaps, one states, that it’s not the meat that causes increases in weight and blood pressure and blood sugar, but that people who eat lots of meat are also likely to smoke and avoid exercise.

There is much here to consider, particularly if you, like me (a member of PETA), believe that being vegan is not only good for animals who get to live, but is the most healthful of all possible dietary choices.

If this film whets your appetite for more knowledge, particularly if you would like to counter its arguments, you can check out these other movies which may be available on Amazon Prime, including “Eating You Alive,” “The Invisible Vegan,” “Food Choices,” “The End of Meat,” “From the Ground Up,” “Death on a Factory Farm,” among others. The filmmakers of these items would likely take issue with the ideas raised in “Sacred Cow,” considering them to be a gutless compromise solution.

The music is intrusive. What for? Would it be boring to watch a well-produced film like this without such distraction?

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

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



Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kornél Mundruczós
Writer: Kata Wéber
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Ellen Burstyn, Jimmie Fails
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/26/20
Opens: December 30, 2020

Pieces of a Woman (2020) - IMDb

Most of us who have lived at least for thirty years have known the grief that accompanies a loss. But only a woman who loses a just-born baby can attest to the emptiness she feels when she has set aside a room for the newcomer, crib and toys, goes through nine months of pregnancy and feels the baby kicking only to suffer a miscarriage when the newcomer is only minutes old. As the anguished woman who barely dreamed that such a tragedy would occur, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) fills the screen not only throughout but particularly during the initial half hour of the story when the Hungarian-born director, Kornél Mundruczós, watches her in a real-time unbroken take, one of the most wrenching minutes you’re likely to see this year.

In his first feature in English, Mundruczós is known for his “White God,” a tale of a thirteen-year-old girl out to save her dog Hagen when her father releases the animal to the streets. This time he focuses not only on the aborted birth and courtroom aftermath of a botched operation by a midwife but is throwing subtle hints of social class dynamics, including the dramatic turn by Elizabeth (Ellen Burlstyn),an upper-middle-class older woman. She attempts to undo the marriage of her daughter Martha (Vanessa Kirby) to Sean (Shia LaBeouf), a construction worker intending to have his daughter cut the ribbon and be the first to walk through a bridge he is helping to build in Boston’s Charles River. (The filming by Dávid Jancsó takes place in Canada and Norway).

With her white hair neatly glued to her head evoking her wealth, Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) makes her dislike of his rough-hewn, energetic son-in-law clear from the beginning. We in the audience might hold our breath with Elizabeth’s bold, straightforward comment to Sean, “I do not like you…it’s not because you’re poor but because you are not intellectual.” More mannered than Elizabeth and Sean, Martha displays her inability to come to grips with the death of her newborn, exploding only occasionally as when she is disgusted by her mother’s insistence on burying the tiny body and declaring in a huff that she will donate the deceased to a university for research.

Determined to prosecute the case against Eva (Molly Parker), the midwife, in both criminal court and in the civil department, she engages her attorney cousin Suzanne (Sarah Snook) to move the case forward, and during the next seven months, periods designated on the screen, we watch as Sean, staying sober for months, goes back on the bottle as the family begins to disintegrate.

A long take exposes a roundabout involving Martha’s sister Anita (Iliza Shlesinger) and Anita’s car salesman husband Chris (Benny Safdie), discussing the case, during which Elizabeth bursts forth with a speech noting that she was a baby in Europe who survived the Holocaust. LaBeouf is cast as Kirby’s partner for his rage, his general physicality, his temper, still leaving Kirby as the film’s center; a woman who is not all that eager to incriminate her midwife, though she had used her as substitute for the regular person she had chosen, but is swept away by an otherwise unanimous opinion by the extended family to go to court.

If any is up for end-year awards, or for acting in films running up to the Oscar season in late April, that would be Vanessa Kirby. You can see her bottled rage, her hesitancies, her grief with every gesture, her gaze at an apple whose seeds serve as metaphor for rebirth, making “Pieces of a Woman” a must-see for an audience that values such an authentic recreation of instant post-partum depression.

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

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



Bleecker Street
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: John Patrick Shanley
Writer: John Patrick Shanley based on his play “Outside Mulligar”
Cast: Jamie Dorman, Emily Blunt,
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/27/20
Opens: December 11, 2020

Wild Mountain Thyme Movie Poster

John Patrick Shanley, who directs and wrote both the movie and the four-character play on which it’s based, must have French-kissed the Blarney Stone for inspiration once again. His delightfully stereotyped look at an Irish family that is not as traditionally-oriented as it appears is not unlike his equally stereotypical look at an widowed Italian-American woman in “Moonstruck,” who falls for her fiancés’ energetic brother. The movie opens with a drone shot of rural land in Ireland (is there any other?) that could have been made by the Irish Tourist board and has a musical soundtrack that leads the viewer into a mood of enchantment. “Wild Mountain Thyme” considers a 75-year-old man’s decision to leave the land he owns with its sheep and adorable dog to his American relative rather to his local grandson, who deals with the passion of his neighbor whose romantic entreaties he ignores.

In traditional rom-com mode, the young pair remain apart though they are meant for each other, and surely, though we may think we want a non-traditional conclusion to upend a Hollywood ending, we hope that Anthony (Jamie Dorman) will end up with his soul-mate, the pipe-smoking Rosemary (Emily Blunt), who had the hots for Anthony since she was a little girl.

Jamie Dorman, in a role as far apart from that of a veritable sex counselor in “Fifty Shades of Gray,” hangs out regularly with Rosemarie, and given that women are more assertive nowadays than they were when they had the excuse of Sadie Hawkins day to become the pursuers, we can accept her fevered attempts to get Anthony to propose to her. After all she has loved him for the past quarter-century, as we find out when she looks with frustration at the boy’s attraction to another.

Believing that he will be embraced with first dibs on the farm he wants to buy from Tony Reilly (Christopher Walken), Adam (Jon Hamm) takes off from New York where he has a successful career in finance to try his luck as a farmer. Adam would be Anthony’s opposite, asserting his charm to capture Rosemary’s heart, but his city-slicker mentality does not work on Rosemary. Though she meets him in New York for a ballet and dinner, hers is a one-day stand; that is, she has a return ticket to Ireland the following day! “How yer gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree? Just watch Rosemary who has seen enough of the big city for the next ten years.

The movie is so charming, not in spite of, but because of its kitsch, and did I imply that Emily Blunt is hot?

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

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

MY LITTLE SISTER – movie review

MY LITTLE SISTER (Schwesterlein)
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Directors: Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond
Writers: Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond
Cast: Nina Hoss, Lars Eidinger, Marthe Keller, Jens Albinus, Thomas Ostermeier, Linne-Lu Lungershausen, Noah Tscharland
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/22/20
Opens: January 5, 2021


The song that Joan Baez made famous goes “Hard is the fortune of all womankind/ we’re always controlled, we’re always confined,/ And when we get married to end all our strife/ We’re slaves to our husbands for the rest of our lives.” Such is the focus of “My Little Sister,” directed and written by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond, whose “The Little Bedroom” focuses on an older man who accepts the help of a woman, leading to a bond. They are not so far off thematically with their current offering, which finds Lisa (Nina Hoss) pausing her career as a playwright to care for her cancer-stricken twin brother Sven (Lars Eidinger) while at the same time furious that her husband Martin (Jens Albinus) decides unilaterally to remain in Switzerland as a teacher in a posh Swiss school despite their previous agreement to return together to Berlin.

Martin is arrogant in tearing up his agreement with Lisa in order to sign a five-year contract that would keep him where they are in Switzerland. But you can’t fault her brother Sven who suffers from cancer, whose stem-cell transfer was rejected, and who needs his sister to remain with him. At the same time, she is eager to remain in Berlin with her two kids (Linne-Lu Lungershausen and Noah Tscharland) and her mother Kathy (Marthe Keller), who beams with the successes on stage of her famous actor son while thinking little of her daughter’s interest in writing plays with more originality than “Hamlet.”

Though you can see what is going to happen miles away, “My Little Sister” should resonate with an audience familiar with Nina Hoss’s acting smarts. Hoss has entertained her fans in “The Audition,” which sees her imposing her will at a conservatory to admit a student against the wishes of others, and “Return to Montauk” where she meets in New York with a man she had not seen in seventeen years. One particular scene that illustrates her talent involves her breaking down in a hospital, when dialogue is unnecessary since verbal silence enables us to admire her ability to capture a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The ensemble performances are all first-rate. Lars Eidinger performs as Sven, a man eager to return to the theater to play “Hamlet” for almost the four hundredth time, dejected when David (Thomas Ostermeier), the theater director scraps the plan, concerned that his sick actor may not last for fifteen minutes on the stage. Not long after the director’s wise decision, Sven is vomiting into the toilet, sweating and frightened with pain “all over,” giving up plans to try options at the hospital in favor of returning home to die.

Filip Zimbrunn trains his lenses on several Swiss locations, with a remarkable action shot of Sven’s gliding amid the Alps, running as fast as he can, then taking off like an eagle. What you may take away from the film is a view of Switzerland that makes you realize how the Swiss people, with no wars to worry about for hundreds of years and with scenery to die for, can make you envious of the lucky people who are citizens therein and who might laugh at Lisa’s eagerness to remain in Berlin.

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

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


NEWS OF THE WORLD – movie review


Universal Pictures

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Paul Greenglass
Writer: Paul Greengrass, Luke Davies, based on the novel by Paulette Jiles
Cast: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Michael Angelo Covino, Ray McKinnon, Marc Winnigham
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/17/20
Opens: December 25, 2020

News of the World film poster.png

When I was a kid, say 9 years old, I couldn’t get enough of Westerns on TV and in the movies, though in a recent interview Tom Hanks said “they don’t make Westerns any more.” My favorite heroes were Gabby Hayes, who played a toothless, bearded gent for comic relief; Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger. Every story of the Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian scout Tonto, ended with “Hi Yo Silver. Away!” Its only classic notion was the theme music from the overture to the opera William Tell, which I always use first to introduce high school kids to classical music.

Occasionally a Western had real class, with “High Noon” standing so far above the rest that it stayed in my mind as the Greatest of the genre. Westerns today are so rare that “News of the World” can be welcomed indeed. It may or may not have resonance with twelve-year-olds today, though there’s a good chance that one of the two principal actresses, Berlin-born is Helena Zengel, a 12-year-old playing a Johanna Leonberger, may connect with them. Kids today may marvel that she can speak English, German and Kiowa—that last word taken from an Indian tribe that originated in Western Montana and whose name means “principal people.”

We’ve come a long way from the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and any of that genre that portrayed Indians as the bad guys, whooping it up on battle and taking white scalps to show their courage. In these older westerns the U.S. cavalry were the good guys who arrived in the nick of time to save a family, announcing their courageous entry with blasts of the bugle.

In this drama, Tom Hanks in the role of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd in the year 1870 in northern Texas, now makes a living reading newspapers in towns where the people either had no newsstands and were probably illiterate. They were interested in news of their area, though later in the story they would find not only amusement but incitement when Captain Kidd, suddenly turning Marxist, reads to the people of Pennsylvania miners who fought back against their bosses, who were not particularly concerned about the yearly deaths of these employees.

The story turns on the relationship between the Captain and the blond child, the latter having lost her parents via an Indian raid, was adopted by the tribe where she learned the Kiowa language, and has only a rudimentary understanding of German. In fact when Kidd, who finds her and dedicates himself to taking her to her aunt and uncle (whom she hated), refuses to identify herself as Johanna, instead taking her Kiowa name, Cicada.

The road movie involves the growing bond between a man in his sixties and an anxious girl over three-score years his junior. As they ride toward the relatives, they run into problems. The first involves a trio of bad guys with rifles who try to buy the girl from the captain for fifty dollars, set on making money by pimping her out. When he refuses, they chase him. In the story’s best action sequence, the captain has to take out all three, which he does using advanced military strategy of its time—with the help of the girl who in a later action scene saves him again.

The movie has resonance today as the solitary captain, wandering from town to town to deliver the news, finds a tree where a Black man has been lynched, a note on the body inscribed “Texas says no. This is White man’s Country.” When the captain and his young charge ride through a no-man’s land, they find a town seemingly owned by Farley (Thomas Francis Murphy), who brags about how he lorded over the Indians, Mexicans, and Blacks. (Guess who would play Farley most realistically today!) Buffalo bodies are strewn across the land. (Remember them? There must be a few remaining).

Paul Greenglass, who directs and co-wrote, may be best known today for films of greater action such as “Jason Bourne” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” here settling down to concentrate on the bonding experience of man and girl. We all know that Tom Hanks can do no wrong, but we take surprise in the energy cast by young Zengel, who is both vulnerable and fierce, resisting the adult at first based on her memories of older people, and of course yielding to the love that she feels for her new adopted dad.

Here the actions scenes might be considered a temporary relief from the quiet seriousness, but both action and sentiment are conveyed with authenticity as is the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski in the proud blue state of New Mexico.

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

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

THE LAST SERMON – movie review

Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jack Baxter
Writer: Jack Baxter
Cast: Abdullaziz Ali Abobker, Acram Said Ahmad, Aeham Ahmad, Iyad Al-Dajani, Susan Alamo, Tony Alamo
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/10/20
Opens: December 20, 2020

The Last Sermon_new poster.jpg

You can call this film director Jack Baxter’s vanity project if you like, but in any case “The Last Sermon” mirrors the kind of odyssey that will make you cheer on its filmmaker and hope that he will gain the insights he seeks. Baxter is a New York resident who was injured in the terrorist bombing of Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv in April 2003. Three people were killed and many were injured. Baxter walks around now with a cane, partially paralyzed from the suicide bombing which left piece of shrapnel in his body.

Baxter, a slim fellow standing six feet two inches who has a thick mess of curly white hair and a Bernie Sanders accent, wants to know why radicalized Islamists have actually gone against the teachings of the Koran. Just as one of the principal beliefs of Judaism is “treat others as you want to be treated yourself,” in other words we are all equal, the prophet Mohammad preached in the year 632 his last sermon before a multitude of followers. He said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white. Do not do injustice to others, therefore do not do injustice to yourselves.”

Yet the world has suffered through a plethora of attacks by Muslims who apparently did not read or did not agree with the prophet, our own case here in the U.S. highlighted by 9/11, when almost 3,000 Americans were murdered when three separate aircraft aimed themselves at New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Capitol building.

The doc starts in Jerusalem, introducing Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem outside Mike’s Place. From there the crew traveled to Macedonia, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Germany the Czech Republic, France, and England. Playing the harmonica to get the attention of refugee communities in countries that have allowed Syrians and Afghans safe harbor, he discusses his quest with Muslims and others whom he meets on the way, most sympathizing with his point of view that Islam is a religion of peace. As one fellow tells him, jihadists are little more than murderers, clothing their actions with the material of religion. That in one sentence should satisfy Baxter, an insight that even I could have told him had he interviewed me. One of the refugee areas had a large sign with a picture of President Trump, a circle and a diagonal line drawn through him as though to call him their enemy—which he is.

The only lip he gets is from a far right presidential candidate in Prague, who insists that there is no way the Islamic culture could find a home in her country, that she does not mind a handful of refugees already there nor does she draw back against doing business with Islamic countries. But it is quite clear that she has no use for them in her Eastern Europe domain. In that she reflects the view of the current far-right president of Hungary, one of several authoritarian rulers that our own president admires.

The film picks up near the conclusion when in London, Baxter, unsuccessfully trying to contact the relatives of one of the Tel Aviv bombers, gets literally up on a soapbox in Hyde Park to denounce terrorism before a handful of people, curious about a New Yorker in suit and tie who expresses a point of view with which nobody there can find fault. Then, in a tense meeting with a politician who appears not to take a strong stand against jihadism, Baxter cries out, “They’re murderers! Murderers!” as he at first steps away from the man as though to protect both of them from a potential fight, then returns a few paces to cry “They’re murderers!”

This doc, in its cinema verité style, is not unlike Jack Baxter’s previous “Blues by the Beach,” about a live music blues bar by the beach in Tel Aviv called Mike’s Place. The aim is to show there is more to the Middle East than seemingly endless war and terrorism. Ironically enough, that is the very place that became the scene of a suicide bombing.

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

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

DA 5 BLOODS – movie review

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/14/20
Opens: June 13, 2020

Da 5 Bloods Film Poster

Spike Lee’s testosterone picture is no mere action-adventure film. The war scenes play out to evoke Lee’s overriding message: African-Americans have fought for our country in the Civil War, two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and assorted skirmishes, but the promise of America has not been kept. Police racism, Presidential bigotry, and general all-purpose fear and hatred have been part of our DNA’s since the first slave ship arrived in 1619. In fact Trump’s popularity is engendered in large part by his put-downs of Black and brown people, whether curtailing immigration from countries with people or color or advising us that militias like the Proud Boys are filled with good people. Lee throws in archival films not only of scenes from the Vietnam War but also of speeches by Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali, and others, all hinting that the promise to African-Americans has not been fulfilled.

“Da 5 Bloods” enjoys a script from the minds of Kevin Willmott, who co-wrote “BlacKkKlansman” with a screenplay by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo.

Vietnam, where the five title African-Americans had served, illustrates the bond that the quintet had formed since their service in what Vietnam calls “The American War.” They had made the long journey from the United States to bring back the body of Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), one of their fighters, killed in action some five decades earlier. The discovery of gold bars which the American forces had left behind after a military aircraft was wrecked, leads them into battles with Vietnamese, who claim the riches as theirs, resulting in the deaths of some of the “bloods” by adversaries that include a French fortune hunter and a group of near-crazed locals.

As Paul, Delroy Lindo, best known to TV viewers for his role as a partner in a law firm in “The Good Fight” often
considered the best show on the tube, has suffered from PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder since his soldier days in the Vietnam War.

Using identifying handshakes and lots of excited talk, Paul (Delroy Lindo) Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Eddie (Norm Lewis) meet up in Saigon, sharing their dismal treatment by Americans who called them baby killers (never mind that they were drafted and that the real killer was sitting in the Oval Office). Vinh (Johnny Tri Nguyen) serves as their guide, though some of the bloods believe that he is ideologically “in” with the Viet Cong communists. During their adventure, Otis visits his lover from the war days, finding out that she has a kid and that Otis is the dad. Among the real heroes, Hedy (Mélanie Thierry) shows up, announcing that she has repudiated her family’s fortune and is now altruistically with a group dedicated to removing old land mines.

Naturally the African-American adventurers do not always agree with one another. Otis does not entirely trust Paul, and David (Jonathan Majors), who turns up with the group, has had difficulties connecting with his father, largely because of the latter’s PTSD. Though “Da 5 Bloods” is an ensemble piece and will compete for end-year awards as such, each character has his own identity, from the hotblooded Paul to the generally calmer Melvin. Cameos include a re-creation of a Tokyo-Rose type of newscaster who, during the war, broadcasts to the Americans that racism exists at home, implying that the Vietnamese communists are not their real enemy. She notes that eleven percent of America is African-American, yet they comprise thirty-two percent of soldiers in the war.

Action scenes, archival films, evocations of racism in America down to this day make “Da 5 Bloods” my choice for Best Ensemble, allowing me to vote for the picture when New York Film Critics Online considers the best in fifteen categories.

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

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



Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Emerald Fennell
Writer: Emerald Fennell
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Adam Brody
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/5/20
Opens: December 25, 2020

Promising Young Woman

If your cable TV viewing is restricted to the output of the NFL you may not see how Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” should remind moviegoers of a real-life drama involving Mr. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, sworn into the highest judicial office in the land despite some credible evidence accusing him of immoral behavior. Just over two years ago, Blasey Ford, a psychology professor, accused Kavanaugh of having sexually assaulted her when they were in high school. Allegedly, a 15-year-old woman was physically restrained by the 17-year-old Kavanaugh, who tried to pull off her clothes and covered her mouth with his hand when she tried to scream. She escaped. During the Senate hearings, Republicans criticized Blasey Ford for bringing up the accusation so many years later. She may have been secretly believed by some of Kavanaugh’s supporters, who may also have been thinking “boys will be boys,” and “they were just kids in high school.” He was confirmed in a divided Senate vote.

In “Promising Young Woman,” the stakes are similar, but different in that the plot revolves around not boys who will be boys but grown men in medical school. Nina, a med student, was assaulted sexually by male students in the school, most notably by one future doctor now living large, the primary offender. Nina, who is not shown in this film, dropped out of school, hopelessly distraught, while her best friend, Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas (Carey Mulligan), dropped out as well to take care of her. This is not the only aspect of the script that challenges credibility, but given the riveting nature of the entire production, we can overlook a certain absence of pure logic.

Cassie, now thirty years old, still living with her parents (they gifted her on her birthday with a suitcase as a hint), because she cannot make enough money as a lowly barista to be on her own. Of course she has never forgotten her friend Nina, whose victimhood still affects her life eight years later. And she is determined to get revenge on everyone involved in Nina’s sexual assault, including Dean Walker (Connie Britton), director of admissions at the school who covered up for the young man guilty of the rape. During the hearing, Jordan (Alfred Molina) the man’s lawyer, has apparently been covering up for several defendants, but is off the hook with Cassie because he now has remorse. She is to get retribution confronting the guilty men, but on a more global scale, by entrapping bar-hopping gents in general by pretending to be drunk, agreeing to follow them to their apartments and homes, and suddenly “sobering up,” confronting them with their amorality in taking advantage of a drunk. What the plot does not explain is how she believes the men would all back off at this point, retreating in their shame and allowing her to escape unmolested from their domains.

Along with such lapses of logic and dismissals by Cassie of the harm into which she places herself is a police investigation in the concluding scenes, solving a crime as though they were psychics. But let even that pass since the film is embraced by a terrific script from writer-director Emerald Fennell in her freshman narrative feature. (Her short, “Careful How You Go,” is about malevolent women, as though giving balance to the current tale of dirty young men.) Anchoring all most famously is Carey Mulligan in the title role, an actress who can scracely do wrong, whether in the role of the headstrong Victorian woman Bathsheba Everdene in “Far From the Madding Crowd,” Daisy Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby,” or Jennie Mellor as a woman coming of age in “An Education.” The London-born marvel has no problem with an American accent.

I know a lot of men who would shrink under their theater seats while watching this with their girlfriends, but lucky enough the film is being streamed, so they can disappear under their desks. This is Christmas fare for all those who would prefer their Hallmark love stories to turn out as dark comedy.

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

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



Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Writer: Charlie Kaufman, Iain Reid, based on Iain Reid’s book of the same title.
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Guy Boyd, Hadley Robinson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/9/20
Opens: September 4, 2020

A surreal film associated with Charlie Kaufman’s wild imagination comes from a director whose “Anomalisa” hones in on a man who cannot continue tolerating his mundane life, whose “Synecdoche New York” find a man’s creating a life-size warehouse of New York City, and whose script for “Being John Malkovich” lauds a puppeteer who finds a portal leading into the head of the title actor. All are works of a fervent imagination, but perhaps no other film of his has issued such a large amount of moviegoer puzzlement than “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.”

With that as the case, here is a disclaimer. This is my interpretation, one that may be attacked by critics and normal people as too easy; that Kaufman must be traveling a larger road.

Here is a way to think about the picture. Many say that folks on their deathbeds asked for their regrets will never say “I wish I had more time to spend in the office.” Real regrets are far more serious, as illustrated by this film. Here, an elderly janitor (Guy Boyd), a man who is surprisingly well read for someone in his low-skilled trade, may be facing his mortality. He puts down the mop, casts aside the pail, and, being the only character in the hallway of a large high school, he has the time to reflect.

Some of his regrets may be strictly a segment of his imagination. I believe that, allowing for some embellishment, his thoughts run to actual events in his life, something like those of Guido Anselme in Federico’s 1963 classic “8 ½” who retreats into his memories and fantasies. In his younger days he probably dated a number of women, all of whom congeal into the shape of Lucy (Jessie Buckley), or Lucia, or Young Woman. To prove that she is a composite, she is introduced as a painter, a poet, a physicist. The janitor, now in the guise of young Jake (Jesse Plemons), is driving his girlfriend Lucy to the farmhouse of his parents, Mother (Toni Collette) and Father (David Thewlis). It’s a long drive, it’s snowing heavily, the wind is biting. It’s the kind of night that may be part of Jake’s imagination, because what woman is willing to take her chances in such inclement weather when the trip could have been set for another day? What’s more, this may be the last time Lucy sees Jake, her boyfriend for only a few weeks, though he is a man who is mostly self-educated as shown by the books and movies in his childhood room. He is able to discuss Wordsworth and analyze any 19th century poem.

She is smart and well educated, able to respond to him. You might think, then, that they would wind up marrying but though Lucy sees Jake properly as an intelligent person, a nice guy, he is stiff, a bore, a man who probably could not see himself laughing out loud at a joke or telling one himself. Furthermore Jake’s folks are a bizarre couple. Mother laughs too loud and too long. Lucy reports that “Jake told me a lot about you.” She replies, “And you’re willing to come anyway Ha ha ha ha!” Father takes a lesser role in the conversations but like Mother, he disappears into old age and back again, while Mother in one scene is on her bed, wrinkled, taking her last breaths or already dead.

Since much of the movie is a road trip filled with both high-level and vapid conversation, we get to meet three women tending an ice cream bar, two bimbos and one who advises Lucy to “go forward.” In a scene near the conclusion, Jake is thanking everyone in a theater audience for being part of his life, including Lucy, above all, who now appears decades older, and even the bimbos from the ice cream shop are in attendance.

Some moviegoers might say, if this is a dream, I can tell you a weird one I had myself last night. But though fantasies hover around the truths, these are actual people in his life, important ones, also those he conversed with for only minutes. However, what makes “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” on a quality level of classics like “8 1/2” aside from the script, the prescient editing, the spot-on direction, is the performance of Jessie Buckley, who dazzles throughout. She has wowed the movie audience playing Queen Victoria with authenticity in Stephen Gaghan’s “Doolittle,” a troubled woman controlled by her family while at the same time fascinated by a man who could be a killer in Michael Pearce’s “Beast,” and a major role in Rupert Goold’s “Judy.” Her dynamic range includes song, as shown in Tom Harper’s “Wild Rose,” as a Glaswegian dreaming of becoming a country music star in Nashville.

With such talent all around, it’s no wonder that “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is my choice, so far, as best movie of the year, with Buckley as best actress.

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

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

TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH – movie review

TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH (Tabi no Owari Sekai no Hajimari)
Tokyo Theatres Co./ Loaded Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Atsuko Maeda, Tokio Emoto, Ryô Kase, Adiz Rajabov, Shôta Sometani
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/18/20
Opens: December 11, 2020 at New York’s Metrograph Theater. December18, 2020 streaming nationally.

Atsuko Maeda, a 29-year-old Japanese pop star, once appeared in a horror film, “The Complex” ( Kuroyuri danchi). She goes home to find an empty apartment, becomes hysterical, and finds out later that her family had died in a bus accident. Ms. Maeda is also hysterical at times in her current piece, “To the Ends of the Earth,” but this is far from being a horror film. It’s the latest from Kiyoshi Kurosawa, whose “Cure” in 1997 is about a series of gruesome murders by people who have no idea what they had done, and the more recent “Tokyo Sonata” about a family that disintegrates after its patriarch loses his job.

As Yoko (Atsuko Maeda), the principal character is coming of age, not so much because she has just graduated from college or found a new boyfriend, but because she, like most of us, works at a job that she’s “too good for” (she’s an actress being filmed in a travelogue for Japanese TV). She wants to be singer. She gets an audition in front of us, her movie audience, by twice singing “If You Loved Me (Really Loved Me)” but with invented Japanese lyrics. In the Japanese version which, like the American, notes that all you need is love, she gently and to an invisible orchestra pledges that for her man, she would give up her job, dump all her friends and family, sell out her country. In fact she would go “to the ends of the earth” to be with this lucky guy.

The film is part travelogue and part an exploration of a vulnerable woman traveling with a small film crew including one chap who is fluent in both Uzbek and Japanese. The crew are regularly worried that the views of Tashkent and the outside of Uzbekistan are not what interests their viewers, so there are lots of cuts. Easily the most unfortunate of these cuts shows Yoko riding a two-bit machine that almost as tacky as what you’d find in Coney Island, one that spins her around, knocks her upside down, and results in her throwing up into a plastic bag. And she does this three times! She probably would not mind going back to the beginning of the story and pretend that she likes a dish of uncooked rice offered by a woman and has to lie about how delicious it is.

She goes off on her own at one point to check out Tashkent’s nooks and crannies, and all eyes are on her. The men stare as though they had never seen anyone but an Uzbeki. Everyone on the bus stares. The police stare and even arrest her because she is using a camera to photograph an off-limits area.

She inhabits the feeling of many a person who is not a tourist but a traveler, going off without a group or a guide or an interpreter, speaking not a word of the local language, though with halting English. She rides a bus and has no idea where to get off. The two tourist places she inhabits after looking into the grime and back alleys in the fringe areas of the capital are the humongous Hotel Uzbekistan ($75 a room in May and you get over 10,000 soms for your US. Dollar), and the nearby Navoi Opera House. In that last destination she fantasies herself as a singer, with a full orchestra, letting us know once again that she would sell out her country, family and friends if she found the right guy. It’s a beautiful song, not belted out as would Brenda Lee, Maura O Connell or Jeff Buckley but with the grace and charm of a singer who takes the words genuinely to heart. These are the most effective moments, designed to bring a joyful tear or two to the eyes of a sensitive audience member like me.

Kurosawa punctuates the mixed feelings of global tourism. On the one hand there’s the experience of being in a country in which you don’t know the language and can tear your hair out in frustration with the loneliness of an innocent abroad. On the other hand there is the exhilaration of a new experience, a breaking away from the nine to five job, the TV channel-surfing, the dependence on the i-phone, the same ‘ol same ‘ol. Ultimately this is a lovely movie highlighting the adorability and acting chops of a petite, slim, Japanese woman who has apparently captured the affection of an endeared Japanese public.

In Japanese and Uzbeki with English subtitles.

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

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



Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Massoud Bakhshi
Writer: Massoud Bakhshi
Cast: Sadaf Asgari, Behnaz Jafari, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy, Babak Karimi, Faghiheh Soltani, Arman Darvish
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/6/20
Opens: December 11, 2020

Yalda, a Night for Forgivness Poster

If you think that the United States has gone through bizarre times during the last four years—which it has—wait till you see what’s going on in Iran. I don’t mean the general way that religious fanatics have taken over, determined to lash out at = the U.S. The Great Satan, pointing their fingers at us for our promiscuity, our consumerism, our spending more money on the military than the next ten nations, and breaking solid treaties not only with the Islamic Republic but as well with scientific bodies. Consider their system of allowing the families of murder victims to forgive the perpetrators of crime thereby saving them from a hanging, which to their culture involves both following the religious precept “an eye for an eye,” and allowing the felon to give “blood money” to the families of the deceased instead of paying for the crimes with their lives.

This concept of forgiveness is on trial in “Yalda, A Night for Foregiveness,” which (and this is really what’s bizarre) bringing the immediate family of the victim face to face with the felon on a TV reality show, by which the audience of millions at home, at the conclusion of the give and take between victimized and felon, can text their idea of a just verdict to the show’s producer and decide whether to allow the TV station itself to pay the blood money to the family. The ultimate decision, though, is in the hands of the victim’s immediate relative, though there appears to be a conflict of interest. The relative can refuse to forgive and send the offender to the gallows, then windiung up with nothing but satisfaction. Instead, the family can forgive and add quite of number of rials to their account at the Bank of Iran.

As written and directed by Massoud Bakhshi—whose “A Respectable Family” deals with a professor who returns to Iran after two decades abroad—Maryam (Sadaf Asgari) has been convicted of killing her husband, a man several decades older, the alleged motive being that she is after his money. But then, here’s even more bizarro. Iran may not be as bound to puritanical religious ideology as you may think. For reasons that include the fact that many young Iranians have put off marriage for financial and other reasons but still have sexual needs, the country’s law allow for temporary marriages. This might be considered to us a form of legalized prostitution, but it’s a way that the Muslim state puts the cloak of legitimacy on a union—something like what we in the U.S. consider a partnership but with the right of inheritance.

Did she kill her husband for his money, as his daughter Mona (Behnaz Jafari) believes, or was it an accident as Maryam insists? The two are brought face to face in a reality show moderated by Omid (Arman Darvish), after an opening of the story with a stunning view of the Milad Tower in Tehran. The producer is Ayat (Babak Karimi), and, coaching her daughter, her mother (Feresteh Sadre Orafaly) advises her to show humility, to apologize, virtually to kiss Mona’s butt. The daughter, who is about 17 years of age and not yet imbued with the need to compromise, holds that the killing was an accident, so why apologize? Nonetheless, at the appropriate time, she begs Mona to spare her life while Mona, despite being a woman with class and education, is conflicted between wanting the blood money and wanting revenge in the name of her dad.

Everyone but Mona hopes for forgiveness. Even the prosecutor urges Mona to relent, to commute the sentence to no more than six years, provided that enough viewers sympathize with the teen and vote thumbs up through their cell phones.

Though at times you could swear that the whole business is a parody of our own reality shows, junk productions like “The Assistant,” you could forgiven if you are drawn into the emotions of the program, wanting to talk to the screen and tell Mona to spare a life, take the money and run. A further complication centers on Maryam’s mother’s manipulation involving a baby, adding to the melodrama that were it not developed with honesty and authenticity could have landed “Yalda” into soapy territory.

The title of the movie involves a night of celebration (something like our own glorious November 7th, 2020), during the winter solstice when families and friends get together to drink and to eat pomegranates and nuts, a holdover from the ancient Zoroastrian religion. This film won the Sundance Festival Grand Jury prize, doubtless considering the performances of the two female leads—Sadaf Asgari, tight-lipped, confused, virtually shuddering with fear of imminent death, and Behnaz Jafari as a woman of a higher class who had gotten Maryam a job with her father and now regrets ever laying her eyes on her. Up to the final minutes, you will be convinced that she will pardon the offender, but no, maybe she would not, given her contempt for the person of a lowly class who allegedly seduced Mona’s dad but is told that the opposite is true: that the victim, already married, begged the young woman to agree to a temporary marriage provided that no pregnancy take place.

In Farsi with English subtitles.

89 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+


ASSASSINS – movie review

Greenwich Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ryan White
Writer: Ryan White, based on Doug Bock Clark’s 2017 GQ article “The Untold Story of Kim Jong-nam’s Assassination” https://www.gq.com/story/kim-jong-nam-accidental-assassination
Cast: Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-nam, Siti Aisyah, Doan Thi Huong
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/9/20
Opens: December 11, 2020 in theaters. PVOD January 15, 2021

Assassins Poster

The GQ article which Ryan White adapts for his film (see link above) is exciting enough to make anyone think: “A film version. That would be terrific.” Here’s an excerpt: “Already, the liquid that the women had applied was seeping into Jong-nam, rapidly jamming his muscles’ receptors in the ‘on’ position, causing his muscles to constantly contract as if struck by endless cramps. The liquid was VX, a chemical weapon that the CDC calls the most potent of all nerve agents and that the United Nations classifies as a weapon of mass destruction. He absorbed a lethal dose, which could have been as small as a drop.

“Jong-nam started toward the bathroom—and then lost his only chance to wash off the poison and survive when he rerouted to a nearby information desk. There, he moaned in English, “Very painful, very painful, I was sprayed liquid.”

You would never think that two young women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, would be implicated in an international cause celebre, but youths are often tempted to do nutty things when under the illusion that they can become famous and enjoy careers as actresses. Their painful coming of age began when they were told that they could make money doing prank videos. Inspired by the movie “Jackass,” Siti and Doan, who became “like sisters,” are asked to sneak up behind Kim Jong-nam, not told that he was the half brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. When Jong-nam was booking a ticket at the Kuala Lumpur airport, they would successively sneak behind him and run what they thought was simply hand lotion into his face, around the eyes. In truth, their hands were covered with VX, the most potent nerve agent known, which would cause death in fifteen minutes one hour.

As you can guess from the excerpt of the magazine story, Jong-un died painfully, the perps running away, washing their hands, unimpaired thanks to the natural fat in the hands. The North Korean agents took off, and Malaysia, worrying about its global prestige, had to find a scapegoat. The two young women are jailed, tried over a period of some fifty days, facing automatic hanging if found guilty of murder.

Two parts of this film are terrific. One is Helen Kearns’s editing, involving the taking of the airport’s surveillance film, giving it narrative shape, even highlighting the crime under a bright light with imaginative arrows pointing to perps and victim. The other is the suspense. You will wonder about the results of the long trial, the young women obviously scared out of their wits, eager to go home and concerned that they were being railroaded. Politics rears its head when first the ambassador of Indonesia arrives to try to affect the judge’s verdict, then an approach from the Vietnamese ambassador to Malaysia, who for reasons given is not as confident that he can succeed in getting his citizen off.

Director Ryan White made his political interest felt with his film “The Case Against 8,” the attempt to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Here he keeps the tension going as though he were filming a mafia action, with the all-powerful Kim Jong-un (that’s the guy who Trump considers one of his best friends), who must have taken a cue from Putin’s skill in poisoning opponents’ beverages and upping that to VX.

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

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


NOEMÍ GOLD – movie review


Topic Original Film
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dan Rubenstein
Writer: Dan Rubenstein
Cast: Catalina Berarducci, Martina Juncadella, Amelia Repetto, Alexandra Velascom
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/4/20
Opens: November 20, 2020


Dan Rubenstein in his freshman entry as a writer-director tells a rambling coming-of-age story of a woman in her twenties with a Master’s Degree in architecture, who is pregnant and a resident of Buenos Aires in a country that does not allow abortion. In Latin America, in fact, only Uruguay and Guyana permit the procedure, which makes us think immediately that her solution is either to take the abortion pill which can be obtained on the black market or hop a ferry to Uruguay.

The title character, Noemí Gold (Catalina Berarducci in her first role in a full narrative film), is featured in this tale of an intelligent, educated woman whose boyfriend denies impregnating her and though he allegedly has money is unwilling to come up with the $500, half the price needed for a Uruguay procedure. She first asks a local gynecologist for help, is lied to that “there has been an emergency requiring a 45-minute wait,” and is confronted by the police, who let her go because she is still pregnant.

As she goes through her 27th year, seeming to be barely worried about what to do with the pregnancy, distracted as she relates to various people in her life including her laid-back cousin David from L.A. who is funded to make commercials on his smart phone, her grandmother, who comes up with the money, and her extroverted friend Rosa (Martina Juncadella). There is not much of what most American moviegoers consider drama, since Dan Rubenstein is more involved with looking into Noemí’s psyche, her mood, often morose though picking up emotional energy when on a ferry she meets a young man that she once knew, the two of them working out their specialties: she will teach him drawing and he will instruct her in guitar—when they meet again.

This is not summer vacation, but nobody appears to do any work. Why should an architect in her late twenties be unable to come up with $500 that she needs so badly? And what’s she doing hanging out for even an hour with a rich guy who denies that he is the prospective father of her baby? (She should have threatened him with his obligation to pay child support until their joint creation is eighteen, an investment far greater than the $500 she seeks from him.)

While people in their twenties are physically in their prime and should have no worries, some sociologists insist that it’s one of the most worrisome decades in our lives, as they try to fit into professions, worried much of the time about holding on to the jobs and advancing. The are often short of money and often having to go back to living with our parents as many young people find now during the Covid 19 crisis. “Noemí Gold” comes off as a shaggy dog story, a slice of life that does not follow the usual trajectory involving twists and suspense; just a bunch of young folks going about their business, or rather, their leisure. The film is, what can we say, just OK, neither experimental nor completely conventional, and Catalina Berarducci in the major role is believable.

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

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




Music Box Home Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Valeria Sarmento
Writer: Carlos Saboga, from the novel by Camilo Castelo Branco
Cast: Lou de Laâge, Stanislas Merhar, Niels Schneider, Jenna Thiam, David Caracol
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/13/20
Opens: December 8, 2020

The Black Book of Father Dinis

This is a costume drama whose slow, methodical pace and decorous set designs bring to fictional life the story centered on Laura (Lou de Laâge), a servant whose birth is other than what she and most others knew. The story, which opens in the year 1780 and proceeds toward the French Revolution of 1789 and the rule of Napoleon is based on a novel of the Portuguese writer Camilo Castelo Branco—whose “Mysteries of Lisbon” follows a jealous countess, a wealthy businessman, and a young orphaned boy across Portugal, France, Italy and Brazil where they connect with a variety of mysterious individuals. There is considerable travel in “The Black Book” as well, London and Paris, for example, as in “A Tale of Two Cities” and Italy before that country’s unification.

As Laura/Leila (that second name becomes clear later in the drama), Laâge is both narrator and a refined, perhaps distant, woman with a maternal love of young orphan Sebastían (played by are different ages by Tiago Varela da Silva and Vasco Varela da Silva). She is in the employ of a count who leaves the film in a hurry, having been poisoned by a mean cardinal. Promising the count to take care of the boy, his friend the Marquis Lusault (Niels Schneider), becomes Laura’s boss with benefits, as a fairly erotic love scene makes clear. When he marries a woman of his own noble stature, Suzanne de Montfort (Jenna Thiam), Laura is crushed. In a scene that made me exclaim “male fantasy,” Laura screams with heartbreak and falls to the ground.

The second part of the drama comes across almost like a separate film, punctuating the life of Cardinal Rufo (Stanislas Merhar) whose black servant Antonio (David Caracol) tags around with him and with Laura like Mike Pence with Donald Trump. (Mike: Invoke the 25th amendment and all if forgiven.) Valeria Sarmento, the Chilean director based in France since 1974, is fond of the 18th century, as he “Lines of Wellington” considers the defeat of French troops in 1810 by an Anglo Portuguese army under Wellington. While there are no grand battles here, the melodrama consists of just a few assassinations including those of two counts, a near-murder of Napoleon himself, and true to the century’s love of tuberculosis, a near death from that disease and the almost campy way that Laura faints dead away whenever her emotions get the better of her rationality.

The film is a special treat for those who like period drama with its cool costumes (authentically mid- to late-18th century I’m guessing) and the use of candlelight, the kind that might get your imagination running as you read some Harlequin romances. Lou de Laâge anchors the movie quite effectively, making some of us wonder whether the erotic trysts of the time period are preferable to our own century’s passionless hookups.

In French with English Subtitles.

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

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

GUNDA – movie review

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Victor Kossakovsky
Writer: Victor Kossakovsky, Ainara Vera
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/28/20
Opens: December 11, 2020


Why is Joaquin Phoenix a producer of this movie? That’s a no-brainer. As a vegan (no meat, fish or dairy) he is one among a fair number of actors who allege to be against breeding and eating animals, including Alec Baldwin, Alicia Silverstone, Betty White, Casey Affleck, Ellen DeGeneris and many others. They are putting their mouths where their beliefs are, projecting their love of what most of us consider “product” or “objects” but which they presumably consider subjects with their own lives. Like we human animals, these four-legged and two-legged fellows and even a one-legged chicken in this movie also like to mate, to suckle their babies, to protect their families, and to do what they have been created to do. (Dogs sniff, roosters makes the sun rise, piggies cool off with mud baths.)

“Gunda” may not be an animal rights movie like “The End of Meat,” “From the Ground Up,” “Death on a Factory Farm” and “Food Choices” but makes its points in ways more subtle than what PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk considers effective. (Newkirk’s statement that “A rat is a pig, is a dog is a boy” may be insightful but is not likely to win converts.) Victor Kossakovsky, who co-wrote and directs, focuses regularly on documentaries like “Russia from My Window,” which shows things in St. Petersburg that usually go unnoticed. He does not speak atop a soapbox here, in fact no human speaks at all. “Gunda” is black-and-white, dialog free, and sumptuous.

The film was shot on farms in Britain, Spain and Norway. While three types of farm animals are on display, the pigs are the stars, the animals that hog the limelight, that ham it up to the extent that they can. As seen in high-contrast black-and-white throughout with not a single human in view, “Gunda” shows an enormous sow at the moment a litter of piglets emerges, a dozen or so, button-cute. They compete to drink mother’s milk, happy that she has a generous number of teats, and she in turn takes care of her brood. They follow her around like ducklings paddling after their mom. Sometimes she nuzzles them with her large snout. They all have the run of the farm, and yet often prefer to go indoors through an opening that could barely fit the mom, who has to bend in the middle to squeeze in. They are a lot better off and happier that they are not among the 90% of pigs that are factory farmed, unable to move a muscle as they lie in their crates.

They are an intelligent animal, more so than dogs, and in some cases make good pets who learn quickly and do not bite. Though the farm is the best place for pigs, every morning, noon and night here is like the previous morning, noon and night, month after month, year after year, which may be the origin of the term ground-hog day.

As for the cows and the one-legged rooster that take up the attention of the filming crew, they are, what’s the best word, “meh.” So…if you really really really want to know what it’s like to be pig or a farm animal in general, since you can’t actually be “pig for a day,” the next best thing is to watch the movie. I can’t think of any other film like it, which doesn’t mean it will get your pulse pounding or have you in stitches.

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

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


MAYOR – movie review


Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: David Osit
Writer: David Osit
Cast: Musa Hadid
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/31/20
Opens: December 2, 2020


It’s too bad our constitution does not allow a naturalized citizen to run for President. If it did, I would recommend that we recruit Musa Hadid, the mayor of Ramallah (the city which is the “temporary” capital of Palestine), give him citizenship, and let him run in 2024. He has no ego. When he patrols his city, he needs no security. Little kids come up to him and shake his hand. As a civil engineer, he believes in building—not walls, but beautiful structures to make his town livable, handsome enough to bring in tourists who may now be afraid to go there. While he is obviously critical of the Israeli occupation, soldiers who are there to guard the Jewish settlements that surround the place, he, unlike our chief executive, seeks out advice on everything from how to remove the sewage that sometimes seeps into the city (he blames the settlers), to how to give the city a branding.

Ramallah already has a slogan found in the main section along with the big, beautiful City Hall, similar to our letters for Hollywood. It’s WeRamallah. Get it? From what the movie shows, there may be some tourists there, some women wearing shorts, enjoying the big, lit-up Christmas tree, albeit minus the snow.

Where did all the money come from that allowed mayor Musa to beautiful the city? No mention at all in this documentary, but the Wikipedia article on Ramallah, which I recommend, indicates only that it comes from “Western donors.” I’d have guessed Qatar, which financed the big statue in the center of Tirana, Albania.

The mayor goes through the usual list of complaints about the Israeli occupation, including the fact that the Ramallah Arabs must use the Israeli shekel as the medium of exchange; that the settlements are “choking” the city; that they cannot even visit the sea; that Trump named Jerusalem the capital of Israel though the Palestinians want at least the Eastern part of the holy city.

The mayor even took a risk standing by a window in a darkened room watching Israeli soldiers tear-gassing a crowd of protesters—which Musa believes is just another attempt to humiliate his people. The film was shot during the 2017 holiday season and is directed by Tuckahoe, New York resident David Osit, who co-directed “Thank You for Playing”about a video game that tells the story of a young son battling with cancer.

Good luck to Musa Hadid and to Ramallah. Ultimately the city will gain its independence—it’s inevitable, isn’t it—and perhaps the mayor can rise to the Prime Ministership.

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

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



Samuel Goldwyn Company
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writer: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/11/20
Opens: December 4, 2020

Druk Movie Poster

If you limit yourself to two glasses of wine per day (one for women) you’ll get a buzz. You will feel high, less inhibited, looser tongued, friendlier, more fun. So why do so many people drink until they’re stone drunk, passing out, vomiting, suffering the next day’s hangover? This life of drinking excess which leads to car accidents, broken homes, and lost jobs is a problem greater than people have faced with marijuana, but try as they may, politicians have been markedly unable to stop the disease of drunkenness whether by the 18th amendment, the Volstead Act that put teeth into it, and lectures from the schools and from Alcoholics Anonymous. In “Another Round,” Thomas Vinterberg, whose has often flirted with Dogme 95 (filming with natural light, unfussy camerawork and minimalism such as in his “The Commune” about life in a Danish commune during the 1970s), looks at a quartet of middle-aged high-school teachers “experimenting” with liquor.

One of the teachers I believe, calls attention of his friends to the theory by one Finn Skårderud that we are all born with a 0.5 percent deficiency of blood alcohol. This flaw can easily be corrected if we drank throughout the day but stopped at 8 pm. This concept works well, but only for a while. Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a history teacher in a school with small classes, a professional sounding choir singing the praises of Denmark, and uniformed kids following their coach’s instructions to a letter, is unlike any public high school I’ve experienced. They’re a rowdy enough group but let loose with dancing and singing only on graduation day.

Martin, enjoying an alcohol high, becomes a better teacher immediately, quizzing his students about which of three powerful political men they would vote for, but he does not give away their names. Turns out that the vegetarian, the teetotaler, who never cheated on anyone, is the dude they would vote for. You probably know which 20th Century character that is. So: the guy who doesn’t drink is the one who turns out to be pure evil. There is yet another reason to hit the bottle, and you might be envious in the friendship that Martin enjoys with his faculty buddies.

A central theme that is virtually ignored for most of the time but takes on a big role in the concluding third of the film, the time that so many comedies turn serious, is Martin’s trouble with his wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie) He asks her if she considers him a bore, to which she replies that “you are not the same Martin that I once knew.” Maybe he should have quit then, but while he and his pals go well beyond the 0.5% blood alcohol, Martin’s marriage is headed for the rocks—not the ice that may be in his glass of Smirnoffs.

Though the quartet, one of whom sponsors his 40th birthday party which is the time that is officially the beginning of middle age, is fun to watch, the movie bogs down during the melodramatic third with a generic look at the final breakup of a marriage and an unfortunate occurrence that befalls one of the four. Despite the performance of the reliable Mads Mikkelsen, who enjoyed roles in “At Eternity’s Gate” as a priest during a film about Vincent Van Gogh, and “Arctic,” as a man who is stranded in the Arctic after a plane crash, his only moments of real drama here occur in the final minutes as he dances along with newly graduated high school students. Otherwise, whether pre-alcohol or post, his character is a bore.

The Danish title “Druk” means binge drinking. The film is in Danish with English subtitles.

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

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


BEANPOLE – movie review

Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kantemir Balagov
Writer: Kantemir Balagov, Aleksadr Terekhov, inspired by Svetlana Alexievich’s book “The Unwomanly Face of War”
Cast: Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Andrey Bykov, Igor Shirokov, Konstantin Balakirev
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/27/20
Opens: January 29, 2020 in theaters. May 5, 2020 streaming


War is hell and Kantemir Balagov has a unique way of making that point. Balagov, whose “Closeness” (Tesnota) hones in a small, squalid town in which a Jewish couple are kidnapped with ransom demanded, paints on a larger canvas with “Beanpole.” Artem Emilianov’s lenses bring us up close to a hospital that is treating war injuries, where notably Stepan (Konstantin Balakirev) has apparently been paralyzed and begs for death, but he is most interested in the ways that two women are adapting to a war that killed some twenty million Soviet citizens, or one out of every ten residents.

The action takes place in Leningrad, the movie obviously affording money and artistry in showing the destruction of Russia’s second largest city, here complete with cars from the 1940s and a tram filled to the roof with people. The title character, hospital worker Beanpole (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and her best friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) have been emotionally injured by the war, relying on each other to find solace. Beanpole has been taking care of Masha’s child Pashka (Timofey Glazkov), who joins in the hospital entertainment playing charades. To further sink in the horror of war, Pashka is asked to play a dog, getting the reply “How would he know how to play a dog when all of them have been eaten?” One day, while the child is playing with Beanpole, he is accidentally suffocated. When Masha gets the bad news, she announces that her friend “owes her,” and since Masha is infertile due to removal of some organs, she demands that Beanpole become pregnant, the newborn to be handed over to Masha.

Beanpole is obviously afflicted with PTSD—she freezes like a statue which can easily be toppled over. In fact the director not only punctuates Beanpole’s traumatic acting act but features a great many shots that last longer than anything you might see in a Hollywood movie. Dialogue, then, is only one aspect of the story: glacially-paced shots of people simply staring at one another makes this a film for an audience that is both patient and responsive to what happens to people in a war.

In a scene that could be called the film’s one burst of humor, Sasha (Igor Shirocov), who could be used to act in a biopic about Putin given his resemblance to the Russian president as a youth, is behind the wheel of his car, but is pulled over the cushions into the back seat for a quickie with Masha. Later Sasha, whose family’s residence recalls Orwell’s “Animal Farm” which holds that “some people are more equal than others, is to introduce Masha as his girlfriend, soon to be his wife. The conversation between Masha and her potential mother-in-law is perhaps the strangest but most entertaining revelation of the film.

Strong performances from both Miroshnichenko and Perelygina anchor the film amid the impressive production design, making this feature Russia’s Oscar entry for the 92nd Academy Awards. As best friends the two women look like the odd couple, as Miroshnichenko, who resembles Tilda Swinton, is just under six feet tall while Perelygina looks barely over five. Both are first-time performers who should have no problem getting a great many more parts.

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

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


SORRY WE MISSED YOU – movie review

Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
Cast: Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone, Katie Proctor, Ross Brewster
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/23/20
Opens: March 6, 2020. Streaming June 12, 2020

Front Standard. Sorry We Missed You [Blu-ray] [2019].

The rich get money while the poor get babies. You’ve probably heard that expression, but let’s go farther. The poor regularly get screwed up the arse. Let Ken Loach tells you how. As the leading director of working-class films, Loach is not so concerned about people on the dole in the UK, folks who may have drug addiction, disabilities, even laziness in their character, as he is about the ambitious working class. Call the characters in “Sorry We Missed You” as people who are considered by some sociologists to be the upper lower class, often poor educated, with the kind of cockney or otherwise non-King’s English palaver that could not get them hired for office work. Everyone in the cast appears to say “youse,” as though they did not learn even before high school what is the proper word to describe that entity, and they say “innit” instead of “isn’t it.” If they were interviewed for a cable TV documentary targeted toward woke people, they would not likely drop their slang. They do not use these words only for their friends. They are unable to upgrade for a different audience.

So what’s left for Ricky (Kris Hitchen), a member of the gig economy? Looking for a job, he tells the foreman of an Amazon-like delivery company that he would never go on the dole “I’m too proud for that,” and he is hired by Maloney (Ross Brewster) for a job that does not give Ricky even the right to be called an employee. He is an independent contractor, a term that signs cool but means “more exploited than most workers.” He is responsible for providing his own delivery van, since the company van would deduct 65 quid daily for its use. He sells the car of his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) to get the money for a van, never mind that Abbie needs her own vehicle to get her own low-paying job dealing with elderly, some with dementia, in one situation even have to wipe the poop out of a client’s hair and on the walls.

They have a kid Seb (Rhys Stone) who deep down has a good heart and has a circle of friends, but provokes his father, who lays a hand on him just once in his life when the teen trashes him with curses. When Ricky tears away the kid’s phone, Seb is suspected of hiding his dad’s keys, so he could not go to work. The work is grueling. On Ricky’s best day, he is joined by his young daughter Liza Jae (Katie Proctor), who collects tips and loves her new, temporary job. Interesting, isn’t it, how an outsider can romanticize pure hell. Fourteen hours a day, pay your own traffic tickets, deal with snotty recipients of their packages. If Loach had Amazon in mind, he’s probably on the money.

Loach, in short, is no friend of capitalism. Ricky’s rough tough foreman ironically lectures his independent contractor, noting that the people who receive these packages do not give a crap about the lives of the delivery personnel. “They would not care if you fell asleep in the truck and hit a bus.” The foreman is aware of the evils of the Western economic system, and does his best nonetheless to fit into it. Better to be a straw boss than a prole.

There’s a message in the movie that Loach may not have thought about. Note how the working class in the U.S. are conned by our president, a billionaire, supporting him with protest marches even now as he is preparing to be escorted out of the White House on January 20—by Navy Seals if necessary. Trump exploits the idea that everyone needs someone to look down on. He believes—and he’s probably right—that there’s no better feeling for the poorly educated people who work for minimum wages than to have people to look down upon: immigrants, Black and Brown people, foreigners, even the well-off liberals who, they seem to believe, regularly look down on them as racists from flyover country.

This is a hard-hitting drama that rivets attention throughout its running time and is in full competition of the parade of annual awards.

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

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


Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ferzan Ozpetek
Writer: Ferzan Ozpetek, Silvia Ranfagni, Gianni Romoli
Cast: Stefano Accorsi, Edoardo Leo, Jasmine Trinca, Sara Ciocco, Edoardo Brandi, Barbara Alberti, Serra Yilmaz
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/18/20
Opens: November 17, 2020

The Goddess of Fortune

The slings and arrows of a gay relationship turn out to be not at all different from the same discords in straight couples. Two gay men with different backgrounds, Alessandro (Edoardo Leo), a muscular plumber, and Arturo (Stefano Accorsi), an academic translator, are on the verge of spliting. Being Italian, they are of course part of a large family, a group that knows how to celebrate, eating and drinking as though life were a European banquet. Like many comedies that begin with high spirits, “The Goddess of Fortune” will gradually and heartbreakingly face crises, affecting not only the two whose passions have long diminished, but two children, Martina (Sara Ciocca) and Sandro (Edoardo Brandi), as well.

Film Review: THE GODDESS OF FORTUNE [LA DEA FORTUNA] (directed by Ferzan  Özpetek)

The dramedy is the work of Ferzan Ozpetek, whose “Naples in Veils” treats the existence of Adriana, whose life changes from a sudden love and a violent crime. In this current picture, Ozpetek hones in on Alessandro, furious that his partner has been involved with another boyfriend for two years, which gives the plumber enough reason to break up then and there. But family situations turn up to alter their heartbreaking plans, giving both a reason to stay together in caring for the children as well as they cared for and loved Annamaria (Jasmine Trinca). The warm and friendly Annamaria’s children are by different men. When she, burdened with migraines, gets a painful diagnosis from the hospital requiring a sensitive operation, she leaves the eleven-year-old girl and the nine-year-old boy (played superbly, by the way), with the men whom they love.

You will probably guess where the story is headed, given its predictable conclusion when the two middle-aged men, being too busy to take care of the young ones, put them up with a bitch of a grandmother (Barbara Alberti), a baroness with a huge chateau near Rome whose attitude toward gay men is the least of her problems. The principal one is the way she has treated her own daughter, and now follows suit with her two grandchildren. (That chateau, all of which is inhabited by only the grandmother and her loyal servant, was filmed near Palermo at the Seventeenth Century Villa Valguarnera.)

The picture includes good food, of course, even on the cheap ferry that takes the children and the two men from Sicily to the North. But the pleasures that Italians take seriously are threatened throughout most of the final segments of the movie by conflicts of the two men, one of whom gives Alessando the guilt trip “I could have been a professor,” while Alessandro knows how to make a mockery of his partner’s Trumpian whining.

“The Goddess of Fortune,” whose message is to closely stare at a partner, then close your eyes. You will remember him or her forever. In the same way, the film covers the emotions from joy to tragedy smoothly, making this almost a holiday movie given the happy and credible ending.

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

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

SOROS – movie review

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jesse Dylan
Writer: Jesse Dylan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/16/20
Opens: November 20, 2020

Soros Poster

“No good deed goes unpunished.” In a more metaphoric vein, “The tallest blades of grass get mowed first.” Ironically enough, the more good you do for others, the more people will suspect you, wonder about your motives, become envious of you, finally to hate you enough to slam you on Twitter. In the case of Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, who, if you go along with Jesse Dylan’s presentation about him thinking maybe Soros should be Time magazine’s Person of the Century, you may paradoxically see that he is the world’s most hated man. Judging by his censure all over the world, in those countries that he has helped the most, you don’t wonder that there was an assassination attempt on his life, something that is not covered in this film because enough poison has been splashed his way to make you guess at that.

According to the Wikipedia article, Soros is the target of conspiracy theories: that he was behind the 2017 Women’s March, the fact-checking website Snopes, gun-control activism, protests against the nomination of Justice Kavanaugh. Conspiracy theories the likes of which appear in Q-anon these days either subliminally or right out in public note that Soros is Jewish. So you wonder why Soros has not yet been accused of causing the California wildfires, the tidal waves in Thailand, and if there is such a thing these days, the poisoning of wells throughout the world. Another theory is that Soros was a Nazi collaborator who turned in other Jews and stole their property. Never mind that he was a thirteen-year-old child at the time who had to hide from the Nazi government.

It’s almost understandable that dictators like Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan would blame Soros for financing terrorists, but hey, you don’t expect Americans living in our open society to hold conspiracy theories? They sure do, and the failure of our educational system to inform people about the dangers of people like our president who are undermining our democracy lies heavy on us today.

Director Jesse Dylan’s many videos came out of Wondros, a production company that tells the stories of the most innovative organizations and individuals. He wants to educate us about how innovative individuals are helping to change the world, and makes clear that Soros is resented by right-wingers not only because he is Jewish but because he has made billions. Envy has often been the emotion that triggers hatred of others in much the way that some people conversely hate those they consider below them as well. We see from the archival spots that pop up during the chats by talking heads that he has traveled to problem spots around the world, using his money to effect change, which in itself seems to have caused people to think, “Who is this outsider to tell us how to treat our people?” He opposed apartheid in South Africa. It’s needless to say who would hate him for that.

He is incensed by the genocide against Rohingyas in Myanmar, bringing that country’s government out of the woodwork to hate him, but at the same time Soros considered so-called human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi to be a hero when in fact she joined the haters by calling the Rohingyas terrorists.. He spoke out against the genocide of Bosnians by Serbs under the leadership of Milosevic.

Traveling back and forth from Soros’ childhood in Budapest to today’s ninety-year-old man, Dylan, son of the musician Bob Dylan, gives us a picture of the embattled giant and presumptive savior of the world. I would expect right-wingers and anti-Semites to think (why not?) that this is a vanity project financed by the title character.

The doc is vivid enough without the help of tinkling piano music in the soundtrack, as if the makers of the film worry about our intelligence so much that we would not know whom to cheer and whom to dislike. I think that most movies that are not thrillers should simply stop the nonsense of distracting our attention from the speakers with irrelevant noise.

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

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


COLLECTIVE – movie review

Magnolia Pictures/Participant
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alexander Nanau
Writer: Alexander Nanau, Antoaneta Opris
Cast: Narcis Hogea, Catalink Tolontan, Mirela Neag, Camelia Roiu
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/12/20
Opens: November 20, 2020

Collective (2019 film) - Wikipedia

During the final quarter hour of this Romanian documentary, you might swear that citizens of that Eastern European state are under the same pressures and problems as the we have in our U.S. politics. An election is held. Opponents of a party rife with corruption complain that those in awe of that reactionary group want to bring the country back to a former time. We hear that only a small percentage of people age 18-24 are voting—actually five percent, and even we in America have a bigger turnout of youths. Ultimately, the problems of Romania are felt in states around the world, as politics and corruption appear to go hand in hand.

As in Steven Spielberg’s 2017 blockbuster film “The Post,” “Collective” takes us to journalists, this time in Bucharest, though Alexander Nanau’s film deliberately lacks the pizazz brought about by music in the soundtrack (there is none here). Strangely, tales of bribery and mismanagement are being uncovered by a sports magazine. Since this is a documentary, professional actors are not used in favor of giving the cameras’ eyes to the actual people involved.

The writer-director, whose recent doc “Toto and His Sisters” tells of a family awaiting their mother’s return from prison, opens with the movie’s most melodramatic moments, a fire five years ago in a Bucharest nightclub called Collectiv, resulting in the deaths of twenty-seven and injuries over one hundred. Many hospitalized patients who died might have survived had they not been infected by highly resistant bacteria, doing their deed in the absence of effective sterility. In the principal role, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Catalin Tolontan, puts the potential story front and center, his staff taking pictures, following nurses and doctors on their rounds, ultimately to find that contrary to the view of the health minister, whose party will soon be up for re-election, the hospitals are unprepared. The disinfectant, Hexa Pharma, was watered down to just ten percent of its proper strength. The guilty
party is likely not the hospital but the pharmaceutical company, its CEO’s death in a car accident deemed a suicide.

The health minister had to go as well, Vlad Voiculescu taking his place. The genius of the film is that while I thought the meetings he held with his staff are reimagined but are actually photographed by the writer-director who is also behind the lenses. The crew is apparently given full access, a kind of transparency we wish were present within our own federal government.

Bribery is not the only corruption taken to task, as journalists under Tolontan discover that the entire health institution is rotten, bonding hospital administrators to the entire medical establishment presumably dipping their hands in the taxpayers’ money for their own use. The film was shot over fourteen months, with editing taking the better part of year. Aside from the film’s audience good luck in not having to listen to Hollywood-style music in the soundtrack, Nanau uses Tedy Ursuleanu’s testimony and her portraits to punctuate the damage done by the nightclub fire. She has a robotic hand that works just fine but her body is largely covered by burns. Hospitals are so ill equipped throughout the country that tourists should take note: if you get sick or have an accident in Romania, get your butt to Vienna’s treatment centers ASAP.

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

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


CRAZY, NOT INSANE – movie review

HBO Documentary Films and streaming on HBO Max
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alex Gibney
Writer: Alex Gibney
Cast: Dorothy Lewis, Laura Dern (narrator), Park Dietz, Catherine Yeager
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/26/20
Opens: November 18, 2020

Crazy, Not Insane Movie Poster

October 2020 is closing on what is likely the most crazy and insane presidential election in modern history. Millions of citizens are mailing in their ballots hoping that theirs will not be discarded because or some technicality. Apropos, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled a few days ago that if the signatures on the mailed ballots do not match the signatures on the voters’ official records, the ballots still be counted. So if the signatures are not alike, does that evoke thoughts of forgery? Perhaps. But listen to what Dr. Dorothy Lewis might say if she were called in for her opinion as a psychiatrist. “Consider that the individual whose signatures do not match may have DID, or Dissociative Identity Disorder,” which is the name now given to what used to be called multiple personality disorder. (You might have seen this demonstrated in Nannally Johnson’s 1957 movie “The Three Faces of Eve.”) A “different person” may have signed the official registry years ago than the individual who signed this year.

Do you believe a person can morph into a different individual, actually talking to another identity while anybody witnessing this would think he is talking to himself? Dorothy Lewis is convinced. But reading about this is not some hobby that she toys around with, arguing against people like a prosecutor, Paul Dietz, thinks the whole idea is malarkey. People with multiple personalities, appearing even shy and stable to us, may have alters, or alternate identities, that can commit murder. Utilizing that theory, Dr. Lewis, who is the principal character in this HBO documentary, has traveled around at the bequest of defense attorneys to prove to juries that their clients may be crazy, but not insane.

During the two hours we spend with the good doctor in a riveting doc that includes intriguing, home-made pulsating animations and relevant archival films and home movies, director Alex Gibney, whose “Citizen K” uncovers details of a Russian opponent of Putin and whose “Going Clear” penetrates the religion of Scientology, makes the case for the psychiatrist. Lewis, who like a majority of Americans is against the death penalty, is no pushover. She believes that though murderers have been driven to dissociate and to torture and kill thanks to abusive parents and others in their childhoods people sometimes causing permanent brain injury, should be locked up “and throw away the key” to protect those of us fortunate not to have imaginary friends. She also holds that any of us, including she, could under the right circumstances kill, and that nobody is born evil. Evil is a religious term that has no bearing on the subject at hand.

She has been able to charm some serial killers into allowing her to interview them, their perhaps hoping that she could influence juries to get them off or at least avoid the death penalty. Two of special interest are Arthur Shawcross and Ted Bundy. As she chats with Shawcross, who keeps his eyes closed most of the time even when not under Lewis’s hypnosis, she finds that this man who killed eleven women shares an identity with his own vindictive mother and with a 13th century cannibal. In the latter role he ate women’s vaginas. And who can better tell us that some of these abused killers have no idea they’re about to be executed (grounds for commuting their sentences) than Ricky Ray Rector, declared sane, who asked the officers to save the slice of pecan pie given to him as his last meal to eat later?

Ted Bundy is among the most interesting of serial killers, a man who is highly educated (if you consider lawyers to be so), articulate, and handsome who persuaded women to bond with him before killing them and keeping their skulls as souvenirs. He defended himself, agreeing on the day before his execution to several hours’ discussion with Dr. Lewis refuses to believe that Bundy or anyone else was born evil. She holds a fascinating interview with a man who killed more people than any of the aforementioned, Sam Jones, an electrician who picks up gigs traveling the country, pulling the switch on some hapless folks who sit in a wooden chair for the last time. He demonstrates no compunctions about his work, but try as she might have done, she could not find an alternate personality in this legal executioner.

So what do you think after seeing the doc? Do you agree with Park Dietz, who like a typical prosecutor thinks that this psychiatric explanation of murder is a hoax? Or do you buy Dr. Lewis’s point that we might do better to prevent future killings by studying murderers and not simply dispensing with them by injections, gas, the rope, electricity, or as was done in Utah, firing squads? Whatever your view, “Crazy, not Insane” the most provocative documentary so far this year, giving Dorothy Lewis the attention and credit she so richly deserves.

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

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



Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Todd Kwait, Rob Stegman
Writer: Todd Kwait, Rob Stegman
Cast: Howard Willens, Judge Burt Griffin, David Slawson, Ruth Paine, Bernie Weismann, Robert Blakey, Vincent Bugliosi, Patricia Johnson McMillan, David Robarge, Judge Brendan Sheehan, Judge Ellen Connally, Steve Barber
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/4/20
Opens: November 17, 2020


Most Americans alive today were born after President John F. Kennedy was gunned down, so the event has as much emotional impact on them as the assassination of Julius Caesar. If you came into the world after 1963, you can scarcely imagine how much effect the event had, principally because there was, and still is, a big split between those who saw the killing as the act of one disturbed man, and others who believe there was a conspiracy with Lee Harvey Oswald as nothing more than a patsy.

Why do we like to believe in conspiracies? The short answer is: excitement. We want to experience conflict (all film and literature deal with conflict) even while we are working and hopefully while we are dreaming in a deep sleep. That may propel not a few knuckleheads in the U.S., including one Congresswoman elect, to go with QAnon—the belief that dark forces are at work in our country such as pederasts in the Democratic Party who worship Satan, including Hillary Clinton, who used a pizza store to plot the sale of sexual slaves.

So far as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 is concerned, the conspiracy buffs insist that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the sole killer, the man who, like a wartime sniper, hid out in the Texas Book Depository in Dallas and allegedly fired one shot that missed and two that hit the President in the back and in the head. Conspiracy nuts insist that Kennedy was shot on the grassy knoll, in front of the open car as well as in the rear building hiding Oswald, in which the President was riding with Texas Governor Connally and Jackie Kennedy. They point out that Oswald was a patsy set up to be blamed while the real, politically motivated haters of the President were the real assassins.

That is not the only conspiracy trashed by this heavily detailed film consisting of relatively few archival shots and a boatload of talking heads, mostly older men who were around during the tragic event that occurred 57 years ago. One group believes that Jack Ruby, an extrovert who ran a strip club in Dallas contrasting with Oswald, who did not talk much, was connected to organized crime, people who hated JFK and wanted to blame Cuba. Recall that Oswald had traveled to the Soviet Union where his request for citizenship was rejected, then to Mexico City on route to Cuba. Ruby, of course, shot Oswald to death and was sentenced to be executed. Did he do this to cover up the conspiracy?

Opposing the view, the folks in this doc (see their names on top below the title) refuse to believe that anyone would want Oswald to be even a patsy, given his emotional instability, his troubled marriage to Marina, that a more reliable guy would have been set up by any rational group. Much was made in the headlines of a plot by the CIA to kill Castro with the involvement of Kennedy’s attorney-general brother Robert.

Aside from taking down theories about the conspiratorial motivations of people, “Truth is the Only Client” projects spokespersons who challenge the theory that shots were fired by people in addition to Oswald, holding that the way the bullets had hit both Kennedy and Governor Connolly could not have been fired by a lone gunman.

If you are among the 50% of more Americans not alive during the most controversial political assassination in our history, you will be lost without the background. For this you can consult Wikipedia articles, such as one on Jack Ruby https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Ruby, one on Lee Harvey Oswald https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Harvey_Oswald, another on the Warren Commission which found that there was no conspiracy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Commission.

Directors Todd Kwait and Robert Stegman’s previous doc, “Pack Up Your Troubles” about living a healthy life with mental illness, and “Tom Rush: No Regrets” about a musician with great influence on the music scene here beginning in the 1960s, are both non-political and would not have led moviegoers to imagine that such a detailed albeit insufficiently archival film would come out of the Kennedy assassination. They do a fine job, but not only are documentaries perhaps the least favorite kinds of movies by the general public, but this one will require patience given its length and emphasis on one commentator after another.

The music in the soundtrack, particularly Beethoven’s funereal Symphony number 3, is not only unnecessary to set the mood but is downright distracting. I love Beethoven, but not when he is trying to compete with the rich dialogue herein.

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

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B- (the music)
Overall – B



Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Arlen Davis
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/29/20
Opens: November 17, 2020


As a guy who taught in high schools for 32 years, I couldn’t help getting a charge out of this cartoon in a journal, New Yorker, maybe. A middle-aged man says, “Yet another day that I didn’t need trigonometry.” The idea, of course, is that he, like every poor shlub who needs a high school diploma, had to give up a movie, a TV sitcom, a one-on-one basketball game, to study his butt off for a useless subject. What for? I never found out, though luckily I taught things that you needed for work during today’s technological times; like The French Revolution, The Congress of Vienna, the Code of Hammurabi. Anybody who really wants to revolutionize the high school curriculum would do well to put teenage minds to better use by teaching a second foreign language, current politics, something more useful to everyone than geometry, trig, and algebra.

This brings us to “The Test & the Art of Thinking,” whose talking heads are almost unanimous in supporting a lesser revolution that the one I outlined above. That is, they question the worth that so many colleges put on the SAT, which used to be an abbreviation for Scholastic Aptitude Test but now stands for…SAT. Most colleges seem to require this, thinking that the score indicates students’ chances at their halls of academe. As we speak, the SAT is being changed, with some colleges chucking the whole thing and looking only at high school grades or whether a kid can fill a much-needed spot with the French horn to play with the band on the football field. (I think I got into Tufts University by playing second clarinet in my high school orchestra.)

The folks at the College Board, which administers the test, had always insisted that SAT scores tell not about what a student has learned in high school, but something more like the quality of the teenager’s mind. While the College Board appears in this film to be shifting its attention, looking more in the direction of what was learned, for decades the Board seems to focus its intention on making sure parents are shelling out for test prep tutors.

Tutoring: therein lies the biggest point made in Michael Arlen Davis’s documentary, which is, if a kid’s score can change 100, 200, 300 points in one year simply because he or she has been tutored, then the test is in no way a measurement of anything but how many hours were spent in the tutor’s office. If that’s the case, what is the real reason that colleges value the SAT? According to director Davis, in his freshman film which has him heading to the barricades to smash the test, universities sum up each year’s scores to impress the magazine U.S. News, which regularly ranks colleges for quality. The higher the cumulative SAT scores of the students they accept, and the more youngsters they can drive to depression by rejecting them, the higher is the place in the journal’s rankings—the academy awards for academics. Princeton, by the way, not Harvard or Yale, has been ranking #1.

The most interesting concept brought out by some tutors is their boast that they can get their charges to find the correct answers even if the students did not even look at the question.

The many talking heads include high school seniors, parents they are bankrupting, committees of tutors who want to remain passengers on the gravy train, and just a few defenders of the institution, namely members of the College Board. There are key omissions, though granted that an 83-minute film cannot cover everything. One is that standardized tests of this sort shaft members of minority groups with poor finances may have upbringings do not have them in contact with the culture that such exams explore. Another oversight is the lack of actual exploration: for example, during the past ten years, look at the dropout rate at specific colleges and compare the SAT scores of those who couldn’t cut the mustard—though some of them are possibly entrepreneurs with crackerjack ideas on milking money with new computer software. Who needs college if you’re a seventeen-year-old millionaire?

A lively doc featuring purported experts in the field and the youngsters who are pushed by their parents to give up their youth to study for the test.

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

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

ACASA, MY HOME – movie review


Zeitgeist Films/ Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Radu Ciorniciuc
Writer: Lina Vdovî, Radu Ciorniciuc
Cast: Gica Enache, Niculina Nedelcu, and their nine children
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/31/20
Opens: November 11-19, 2020 at Doc NYC. January 15, 2021 in select theaters

Acasa, My Home Poster

You can take people out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of people. This appears the point of “Acasa, My Home,” as described by co-writer and director Radu Ciorniciuc, whose “I Stay Home” became the first movie about Italy’s reaction to the Covid. Not that Gica Enache and Niculina Nedelcu are bringing up their nine kids in a Romanian Walden. The doc challenges viewers to question whether living in primitive conditions just a hop, skip and jump from busy Bucharest can be the preferred abode for people who are by any standards without the accoutrements of civilization. As Mercia Topoleanu and the director’s lenses take the long view—big buildings within walking distance of a wilderness including a stunning birds’ eye view—you might think the film is a sequel to M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit,” about people living seemingly in the 18th century while hidden and protected from modern technology.

Filming over four years, Ciorniuc, a journalist, watches the nine kids ranging in age from eighteen near the conclusion of the story to a couple of infants, utilizing their quarters, swimming and fishing in Lake Vacaresti. The oldest Enache child sells the fish in Bucharest, then retreats to the wilderness to enjoy the fry of the evening. They are wholly unschooled and none the worse, at least while they have what they think the need, though one wonders how they get alone without Charmin. But they have one another, which is fine until city life threatens.

A group of social engineers approach. The eleven folks are told that a nature park is planned on their land—not exactly theirs since they’re squatters—and they will be moved out. The politicians planning the largest such park in Europe lie to Gica, promising to make him a park ranger. How do we know they’re lying? They look like the politicians that they are. They even host Britain’s Prince Charles in a cameo, shoveling some dirt to begin the work.

Surprisingly for a poor country, the social workers have a place in Bucharest for them to stay, and it’s not bad at all, though they’re told that that the government cannot afford electricity, promising to re-house them as soon as the budget permits. By the time the eldest boy in the family is eighteen, he is asserting his independence, challenging dad for bringing them up poorly without schooling. Yet the father doesn’t like his new life, howling that he still does not like “wicked civilization” where he was once a chemistry lab assistant, and is determined to go back to a state of nature.

Among the big shots in addition to Prince Charles, the Prime Minister visits, makes the usual speech boasting his project, while Gica insists that he is on their level: “I have nine children; I’m not a nobody.” The rich become prime ministers, the poor have babies. Nobody’s starving. The kids catch birds with their bare hands, though one lucky duck is released. A pig is squealing, running hopelessly away from the gang of hungry people chasing it for the last time. Ultimately, it’s paradise lost, though one son, Vali, gets a job working construction on the new park.

This is a heartfelt documentary which obviously has had the cooperation of the eleven-member family through the four years of its making, a film that tackles themes of nature vs. civilization, child-rearing without Dr. Spock vs. ruling by the book, social engineering vs. letting it all be. The language is Romanian with adequate English subtitles.

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

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

DIRTY GOD – movie review

Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sacha Polak
Writer: Sacha Polak, Susie Farrell
Cast: Vicky Knight, Katherine Kelly, Eliza Brady-Girard, Rebecca Stone, Bluey Robinson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/12/20
Opens: November 13, 2020

Acid attack drama Dirty God gets a poster and trailer

Big surprise: the poor get shafted. Unlike the title character in Dutch director Sacha Polak “Hemel” who in the end finds true love , Jade (Vicky Knight) does not fare as well. Not only did she pick the wrong boyfriend who, after leaving her with a two-year-old child, disfigured her face and chest by throwing acid at her. She is disrespected by her mother Lisa (Katherine Kelly) who often has to take care of Rae (Eliza Brady-Girard), the toddler. Jade is red meat to the types of scammers who go after the elderly, the desperate and the ignorant; and she is given the cold shoulder by the hospital which, working under the cash-strapped National Health refuses to give her the additional plastic surgery that she deserves.

In a promising debut performance by Vicky Knight, who herself is disfigured but is made worse by the film’s makeup department, Jade gains some support from her best friend Shami (Rebecca Stone), an extrovert whose gentle boyfriend Naz (Bluey Robinson) also has had carnal knowledge of Jade knows . He knows what to say: when Jade blames a “dirty God” for her troubles, Naz notes that God had nothing to do with her concerns. The guilty party has been sentenced to a long term in court. But Jade needs more attention than she is able to get post-acid attack and turns to chat sites that are only somewhat comforting but mostly humiliating. The chat sites, however, are a piece of cake compared to one that advertises cheap plastic surgery in Marrakesh.

What more can Jade do to deal with her disfigurement? In one scene that would be comical if it were not sad, she wraps herself in a niqab to resemble Britain’s Islamic women, dancing about while covering her scars completely.
As a further sign that the poor do self-destructive actions that keep them in their unenviable cast, we see that Jade’s mother Lisa looks no more than seventeen years older than she, a condition repeated by Jade whose two-year-old is going to have a young mother if she’s ever around, and whose culture will doubtless be imitated by Rae some fifteen years from now.

Despite her immaturity or perhaps even because of it, Jade becomes a likable person, one that might tempt us in the audience to shout to her that she can rise at least somewhat out of her social class with just a few changes. If British director Ken Loach may be the foremost diarist for the working class, noting its inhabitants’ alienation from society, then credit Sacha Polak with offering a look at the underclass, whose members appear to lack any understanding of politics and are clueless about how to do better. Perhaps Jade needs the counsel of Professor Henry Higgins, whose tutelage gets a street flower seller to pass for a princess.

Excellent performance from newcomer Vicky Knight, a big plus being photographer Ruben Impens’s camerawork in Morocco, contrasting its warm tones with England’s more frigid ambiance.

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

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


DIVINE LOVE – movie review

DIVINE LOVE (Divino Amor)
Outsider Pictures & Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Gabriel Mascaro
Writer: Gabriel Mascaro, Rachel Daisy Ellis, Esdras Bezerra
Cast: Dira Paes, Juliio Machado, Antonio Pastich, Rubens Santos, Clayton Mariano
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/21/20
Opens: November 13, 2020

Divine Love' Review: Gabriel Mascaro's Neon Brazilian Dystopia - Variety

Maybe it’s grandiose to think that directors outside the United States are using cinema to channel their disgust with customs and politics here in the United States. Maybe Brazilians never heard of Trump. When I was in Panama, I asked people on the street whether they were familiar with John McCain, who as born in Panama’s Canal Zone—at the time that he was running for President. Nope. Never heard of him.

Still it’s convenient to wonder whether Gabriel Mascaro, who gave us the wonderful film “Neon Bull” about a rodeo hand who dreams of working in his region’s blossoming clothing industry, is thinking of Trump’s faux conservatism in making the allegorical “Divine Love,” but it’s more likely that he’s sending up Brazil’s autocratic leader Jair Bolsonaro who is among our President’s heroes. More specifically, Mascaro takes aim at his country’s conservatism, which like that sensibility in the U.S. favors religious oppression. (Brazil has outlawed abortion with almost no exceptions.)

However, reactionary anti-abortion notions are the flip side of the coin here. The leads in “Divine Love,” Joana (Dira Paes) and her husband Danilo (Julio Machado) are not looking for abortion. On the contrary they are desperate for a baby. Emílio de Melle is their drive-through pastor, regularly consulted by Joana, who makes her living as a notary who deals with divorce documents, but who uses her position to sneak in advice to divorcing couples as she is eager to save their marriages. The pastor advises them to pray for a baby, as God is listening. Joana’s own nuptials are fragile, since try as they may, Joana and Danilo cannot conceive. In a bizarre train of events, the couple take part in a practice by an evangelical group called Divino Amor, a cult believing that to bring back the spark in couples, they should swing. Yes, swing. The members have sex, then switch partners. Hey, I’m not complaining, but Mascaro so much wants us in the audience to believe that they really are swinging that he indulges in long takes with full frontal nudity in a display of soft-core porn.

Say what you want about the excesses of evangelism, but Joana comes through during the third act. Or does she? When she gets what she thinks she wants, her anxieties increase, she is virtually threatened with excommunication, and her husband is ready to bolt. Is “Divine Love” really a criticism of Brazilian extremist politics, a put-down of evangelism with its concurrent hypocrisies? Viewers will likely leave the theaters with much to discuss in a film that introduces many questions with fewer answers. All is told with the benefits of cinematographer Diego García’s vivid colors to complement the sensuality, and best of all a riveting performance by Dira Paes who, like many women worldwide obsessed with getting pregnant, throws the dice with conservative Christianity.

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

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


THE CURVE – movie review

Jet Black Iris Production
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Adam Benzine
Writer: Adam Benzine
Cast: Sonia Shah, Wendy Parmet, Dr. Steven Taylor, Ilan Goldenberg, Ed Yong, Jim Rutenberg
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/30/20
Opens: October 27 through Nov. 4 2020 only. Go to TheCurveDoc.com/watch

Imagine that a Martian, thinking of emigrating to America, is watching “The Curve” to get a true picture of the U.S. in 2020. She aims her computer to TheCurve.Doc.com/watch. She goes to the concluding minutes, figuring on getting a summing up, and by the time she hears our president rating himself a 10 on a 1 to 10 scale for effectiveness in fighting a virus, she’s ready to pack her family spaceship. But first, she goes back to the beginning of this film which everyone can watch for free on TheCurveDoc.com/watch. She’s dismayed by the scenes of what looks like a banana republic. Here’s what she sees.

Hospitals are filled. Every bed in every ICU is taken with people who, largely because the 10 out of 10 president did not warn the American people in January 2020 that a pandemic is on its way to our shores. Under pressure, he relents, warns us of a virus, but tells us not to wear masks. He does not wear a mask, though despite his many bankruptcies he can probably still afford one. He sets an example followed by people whose idea of TV news is Fox, because Fox tells its viewers that every other channel has nothing but fake news. The Martian—her name is M’Gann M’Orzz—unpacks the space ship, making sure that she warns her family to watch out, because the virus can reach them some day, so long citizens of China are not satisfied eating pork, beef and chicken but insist on feeding themselves with bat, dog, cat, snake and rat.

The doc by the Toronto-based Adam Benzine is his freshman entry, having previously directed a short “Claude Lanzmann” about Lanzmann’s filming of the Shoah. No question that Benzine’s pic is an antidote to Fox news, a takedown of the president who, if he were running European countries whose legislatures are empowered to deliver votes of no confidence, would have his butt tossed out in a few weeks. Trump is not the only problem. He could not have done his best to destroy our country were he not enabled by a sycophantic Senate, refusing to do the job given to them by the founders of our country, to check a runaway chief executive. Ultimately the people who are not voting give Trump another four years are the real problem, folks who have been bamboozled, people who believe that saving fetuses is more important than preserving the lives of actual human beings, the American people.

For this doc, which Benzine secretly made over a seven-months’ period covering the Covid-19 from mid-January to mid-April, he backs up interviews with analysts, epidemiologists, authors, journalists and politicians, effectively backed up by archival films including several minutes on Liberia—an undeveloped country too poor to be able to contain the virus. What’s our excuse?

The documentary is solidly made, its chief problem being the music, which belongs on the soundtrack of blockbuster thrillers rather than on a film that is a sober meditation on how the world’s richest country with a military that costs more than that of the next ten countries, is being pummeled by a global enemy that nobody can see.

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

Story – A
Acting – B
Technical – C (the music)
Overall – B


FIRE WILL COME – movie review

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Oliver Laxe
Screenwriter: Santiago Fillol, Oliver Laxe
Cast: Amador Arias, Benedicta Sánchez, Inazio Abrao, Elena Mar Fernández, David de Poso, Alvaro de Bazal, Damián Prado
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/3/20
Opens: October 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE BIG SCARY ‘S’ WORD – movie review

At film festivals October & November 2020
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Yael Bridge
Writer: Yael Bridge
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/28/20

The Big Scary 'S' Word Film

The opening question of this heartfelt documentary is a version of the most important political question you could ask yourself. Your answer would determine what you think would be the best society for both you and the rest of the U.S. This is the full version as I recall it from an article years ago: “Pretend you are about to be born. You have no idea whether you will be rich or poor, Black or White, live rural, suburban or big city, have a terrific set of parents or a pretty miserable duo, go to a great Ivy League school or drop out of high school, be mostly unemployed or on minimum wage, or be the CEO making millions annually. Now construct the kind of society you would favor. While this is a tough question for an unborn baby to answer, it is of course hypothetical.

It’s pretty obvious that you would not build an America in which one person, no, change that to five individuals, own as much as the bottom fifty percent of our residents. What’s that? Five people (can you name them?) have as much wealth as 165,000,000 folks combined. Let me guess. You would opt for socialism, wouldn’t you? Forget about the Soviet Union’s failed experiment with its brand of socialism, or China where millions of peasants starved, or Cambodia where everyone was forced to move out of the cities to work on farms for virtually nothing and if you wore glasses, you were as good as dead. We’re talking about American socialism, which, though not mentioned in the documentary, might be similar to Denmark’s.

Do you think you would want health care to be a right of all of our people? Do you favor a high minimum wage? Would you favor being in a union that has clout, and might you want to have union members on the board of the corporations for which you work? Should you be able to afford a home after laboring two thousand hours each year? Or would you build a society where CEOs of Google, Amazon and the like would make hundreds of millions each year—and remember that your chance of being such a captain of industry is less likely than your winning a lottery.

So: it turns out that you, as an unborn baby, would favor socialism. Is the society dreamed up here scary? Not to me, and yet most people who are not millennials for one reason or another think that socialism is un-American, dangerous in that it would lead to authoritarian governments where, as in the Soviet Union, you pretended to work and the government to pay you.

In this film directed by Yael Bridge in her freshman full-length picture (she made shorts like “The Habitat Game” exploring whether people are part of nature or apart from it), we get some archival films of socialists not just Karl Marx, which might be the first theoretician to come to mind, but also others like M.L. King Jr., Eugene Debs, Theodore Roosevelt, the writers of the Pledge of Allegiance and American the Beautiful, Professor Cornel West, and others teaching in prestige colleges. Academics are generally on the left politically if not socialists, and then again those who are socialists may not identify as such. We are introduced to an elementary school teacher, a single mother who cannot make ends meet even with two jobs. Would a socialist government treat the public schools the way our present leaders do, where even in the reasonably well paid New York City you can make about $125,000 a year BUT you must be willing to teach for twenty-five years before you can get what a student just out of law school might make immediately?

Among the industries cited is a co-op laundry in which the worker-owners feel a responsibility to contribute to the best of their ability because each is getting an equal share of the profits. What is not mentioned at all in the film is the concept of co-op housing, in which instead of a landlord’s cutting expenses to the extent possible with cheap paint jobs required every few years and poor responses to tenant grievances, all residents own shares in the co-op thereby having the motivation to keep the building in good shape, the profit motive gone.

Another subject the film should have mentioned is that under the American form of socialism that so many millennials favor, the government would not own the means of product, distribution and exchange, a system that doomed the Soviet Union, Venezuela and Cuba. Socialism means rule by society: that’s us. All of us, not just the society in Mar-a-Lago. And since we own the country, do you think we would tolerate bad air and water by corporations given the green light to pollute the air and water and contribute to climate change with its current effect on the fires in California and Colorado?

Actually America has been moving toward socialism steadily with a great many speed bumps along the way. We have gone from a country in which only rich white men were considered to have a stake, to the freeing of enslaved people, which involved the largest socialist revolution in our history. We have given the right to vote to women and to eighteen-year-olds. We introduced social security, Medicare, Prescription Drug programs, Affordable Health Care, all designed to prevent dire poverty form unemployment. Why not go further and ensure a job for every American? That’s what socialism could theoretically do.

In eighty-two minutes, “The Big Scare ‘S’ Word” is able to touch on examples only briefly, examining the work of some modern socialists like young Lee Carter, who is now serving his second term in the Virginia legislature, the only non-capitalist in the building. Is this because the people of Virginia, like those throughout the fifty states, simply think that socialism is a word that should be bleeped out? I think the makers of this film believe so, and I think that it would not hurt at all for the doc to get a wide audience. In fact, if all Americans saw this movie in January, Bernie Sanders might have swept the primaries and the election; who knows?

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

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

ALONE WITH HER DREAMS – movie review

Alone With Her Dreams (Picciridda – Con i piedi nella sabia)
Corinth Films
Reviewed by Harvey Karten for BigAppleReviews.net
Director: Paolo Licata
Screenwriters: Ugo Chiti, Catena Fiorello, Paolo Licata
Cast: Lucia Sardo, Marta Castiglia , Ileana Rigano, Katia Greco, Claudio Collova, Lorendana Marino, Tania Bambaci, Frederica Sarno
Release Date: October 30, 2020

Many couples with failed marriages avoid separating and divorcing until their children are eighteen years old, able to take care of themselves and old enough to be cushioned against the loss of their moms and dads. Even more concerning, though, is the psychological harm that comes when both parents leave a child, in the case of “Alone With Her Dreams” going from a seacoast town near Messina to somewhere in France to find jobs. During the 1960s, when hell might freeze over before a Sicilian is given employment in Rome or, for that matter, anywhere in Northern Italy, the mother and father of eleven-year-old Lucia (Marta Castigilia) try to sooth their traumatized little girl (known as “little one” by her family) as they board a boat that will take them by train across the border. They took just one of their brood with them, unable to take care of both, leaving Lucia in the hands of her grandmother, Nonna Maria (Lucia Sardo).

As the film progresses, we in the audience might feel angry with Maria, a widow who regularly insists that she would prefer being alone, and who appears to take out her frustrations on her charge—spanking her with a wooden spoon when she comes home late and depriving her of the kind of love a small child should expect of at least someone in the family.

Later, though, we understand why the older woman has been harsh with Lucia, but not until she comes back in the current year, a 41-year-old woman (Federica Sarno), finally hearing the truth of a story that had been a lie promulgated by her uncle, Zio Saro (Claudia Collovà). For his part uncle Saro tells his niece the fake reason that her grandmother refuses to speak to her own sister, Zia Franca (Loredana Marino).

Without question this is a coming-of-age story but rises above the glut of such dramas by Lorenzo Adorisio’s photography on a seacoast area of Sicily that might be sought out by tourists seeking a peaceful vacation away from the treasures of Rome, but an area marked by the poverty of its inhabitants.

As we see daily life of the residents of a small village—fruit and vegetable stands with food that Italians can never get wrong, gossip by the folks which means that everything and then some is everybody’s business, near-curses put on people within families, one of which becomes resolved toward the conclusion of the story—we can empathize with Lucia easily enough, but most of all we can lift our censorious attitude toward granny when you realize that she has Lucia’s long-term interests at heart.

This is Paolo Licata’s freshman offering as director, a person who may have a difficult time carving out a future story as tender and yet as unsentimental as this one, its two principals bonding as though they were parts of an actual family.

In Italian with English subtitles.

95 minutes. © Harvey Karten

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