HOLIDAY – movie review

Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Isabella Eklöf
Screenwriter: Isabella Eklöf, Johanne Algren
Cast: Victoria Carmen Sonne, Lai Yde, Thijs Romer
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/1/19
Opens: February26, 2019

Victoria Carmen Sonne in Holiday (2018)

In one of the few, though absorbing, moments in which cast members exchange real ideas, a side character gives his view of life. He was in sales. He was disgusted by the deceit that exists in the world, in how making money requires companies to lie about toilet paper, insisting that the blue toilet paper is better than the green one. He feels empty. So he walks out one day, buys a boat, and sails the seven seas. Michael (Lai Yde), a man whom he had just met and who invited him to stay in his quarters, leans forward and asks whether that change of life has made him feel less empty. This is telling. Michael, a mobster dealing in drugs, may have had the same notion, that maybe chucking normal responsibilities and doing whatever you want—given that the money is no problem—is not what it’s cracked up to be. Maybe there is something else that needs to be done to try to fill that spiritual emptiness. Michael finds that something else, and it’s not what viewers of this gutsy film would approve of. He has assembled a group of people who could not fit into the regular world, makes them into his gangster family, and with the aid of several young women who have also made a career of luxury, he rules over his roost. If anyone screws up, e.g. with a botched drug sale, that unfortunate fellow gets slapped around, even thrown down the stairs.

The real kicker, though, is that Michael gets off on dominating women, women who cannot give up the luxury he has afforded them, Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne), Michael’s girlfriend du jour, not only gets knocked around. She is completely within Michael’s circle of power. Michael gets action when he wants, even when Sascha is prone on the hard floor. He even gives her a data rape drug, though you’d think that would hardly be necessary. The strange thing is that he never has sex with her. When she is unconscious from the drug, he simply plays with parts of her body like a puppeteer. He is the ultimate sadist lording it over her and she puts up with it to continue her life of leisure, one that given her probable paucity of talent she would not come close to having otherwise.

While some feminists may rebel at the sado-masochism on the screen, I think that director Isabella Eklof means her feature work to be a warning to women, even if the final scene is not what the good people in the audience are hoping for. Ms. Eklöf states in the press notes that she is illustrating one instance of a woman’s reacting in a man’s world. Like the men in Michael’s group, Sascha needs a family as well as the trapping of unearned success. There is one point that finds Sascha considering the ideas of a handsome, younger man that she has met in an ice cream shop near this coastal Turkish airport. Thomas (Thijs Romer) is horrified to hear about the life that Sascha has chosen, but his reward for opening up a potential new way of living is not what he expects. Director Eklöf believes that like Sascha, “we live off the backs of others…and we all turn a blind eye.”

Eklöf respects an audience that will patiently watch the first half of the film roll out as a tranche de vie, a slice of life. She then rewards us with several acts of violence that we have been expecting all along. The grossly unequal relationship of Michael and Sascha is sizzling. We can be easily carried away with the dynamics of their sick relationship. We should leave the theater with a lesson learned, one that we, of course, will forget soon enough as we forget most other lessons. Yet this is a daring debut feature of Eklöf, filmed by Nadim Carlsen on location in Bodrum, Turkey, in that country’s southwest Aegean province. English, Dutch and Danish are spoken, with some titles that are of awesome clarity.

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

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

COLD PURSUIT – movie review

Summit Entertainment
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Screenwriter: Frank Baldwin, Kim Fupz Aakeson, loosely based on Moland’s 2014 movie “In Order of Disappearance”
Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, David O’Hara, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emma Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi
Screened at: Dolby 88, NYC, 1/29/19
Cold Pursuit - Poster GalleryOpens: February 8, 2019



If you’ve given up sugar because you think it’s white poison, what can you use as a calorie-free substitute? Try a movie with a theme of revenge. It’s sweet, so they say, and the public must love the theme or why else would there be umpteen pictures about it? Yet happily, “Cold Pursuit” is not just one of those umpteen pictures about revenge. This is no horror tale written and acted for the benefit of teens and sadistic high-school kids who want nothing more than for heads to roll. Of course heads do roll in “Cold Pursuit,” or how could you otherwise call it a revenge picture? But using Frank Baldwin and Kim Fupz Aakeson’s screenplay, director Han Petter Moland is able to weave in quite a bit of wry humor, self-deprecating manifestoes, and down-home looks at what two of the good guys (they’re police) talk about when they don’t talk about crime.

Hans Petter Moland is known for “In Order of Disappearance,” taking place in the snowy peaks of the director’s Norway, involving igniting a war between a vegan gangster and a Serbian mafia boss. The mere mention of “vegan gangster” in his 2014 black comedy clues you in on a director who would not be content with running a cast through the motions of a genre gangster movie, and in fact “Cold Pursuit” highlights a regional drug lord who is a loving father to a 10-year-old boy who micromanages the kid’s diet. (Never mind that somehow the boy downs a bowl of Fruit Loops.) “Cold Pursuit,” following the themes of Moland’s previous movie, pits a regional drug lord in Denver and surroundings who becomes involved in a turf war with an indigenous gang and who, by killing the innocent son of a man whose job is to keep the roads clear in a Kehoe Colorado ski town, in tracked down by the lad’s father out for blood as well.

Dramatic action begins when the son of snowplow driver Nels Coxman (Liam Neesen) and his wife Grace (Laura Dern) is kidnapped on the orders of Viking (Tom Bateman), injected with heroin, and dumped in the snow to lead authorities to believe he overdosed. Knowing that his boy was never a druggie, Nelson “Nels” Coxman (Liam Neesen) is determined to find the killer or killers, setting out in Kehoe, Colorado, to bring justice in a place where you could not expect much from the two town cops Gip (John Doman) and his partner (Emma Rossum). Gip in an early scene dissuades his partner, aggressive about upholding the strict word of law, to ignore a group of kids smoking weed. “I know it’s legal to buy and smoke, but only in your own house,” she demurs.

As Nels proceeds to pick up the gang members one by one, including the owner of a bridal gown establishment who, upon seeing Nels suspects the man’s motives and reaches for his gun, the various groups chit chat, building a character study to what could have been a juvenile horror tale. Officer Gip encourages his partner to get back together with her boyfriend leading her flirtatiously to converse with the ex on the phone promising a good time if he would give me information on the perps. Viking for his part must negotiate custody for their ten-year-old son Ryan with his estranged wife, who appears to be the only person not worried about the consequences of dealing with a serial killer.

The whole ensemble rises to the occasion with particular credit to White Bull (Tom Jackson), who is as determined to get rid of the white gang in a turf war as is Nels.

This is a first-rate thriller designed to bring in the crowd that would never bother with simple revenge movies and features terrific scenery captured by Philip Øgard in the town of Kananaskis Alberta, and Fernie, Victoria and Vancouver in British Columbia standing in for the Colorado ski resort. The outstanding performance from Liam Neeson should surprise no-one, yet who would have suspected that a 66-year-old actor could play through a great role as the angel of vengeance, taking down some gangsters with his bare fists?

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

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

THE GOLEM – movie review

Epic Pictures
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Doran Paz, Yoav Paz
Screenwriter: Ariel Cohen
Cast: Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golen, Brynie Furstenbwerg, Daniel Cohen, Adi Kvetner, Lenny Ravich, Alex Tritenko, Olga Safronova
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/8/19
Opens: February 1, 2019

“The Golem” is a folklore story that over the years, at least since 1915, has been reinterpreted to bring the action up to what modern audiences crave. For example, the original, the 1915 version “Der Golem” shown in the U.S. as “The Monster of Fate,” was the opener of a trilogy that continued with versions in 1917 and 1920. (The 1920 version was shown years ago at Lincoln Center with a live organist to replicate the way that folks saw silent movies a century ago.)

Generally, the entire series of Golem films revolve around the way Jews discover a chance to defend themselves against the anti-Semitic Christians (so-called Christians would be more accurate for the haters). There is also the element that recalls the proverb, “Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.” This would apply as well to the Frankenstein episodes wherein Dr. Frankenstein creates what was looked upon as a monster though he was in truth a gentle person, persecuted by the population until the monster turned killer.

In the current version scheduled to open in New York’s Jewish Community Center or JCC February 1, the Israeli Paz brothers utilize the tropes of modern horror. But there’s a difference. Here lies notable element that would resonate with any persecuted people, in this case Jews who because they form only a minority wherever they live are picked on, oppressed, persecuted, and condemned, usually by anti-Semites who need scapegoats for their own problems. That’s where “The Golem” resonates with real life. In 1948, after centuries of being a minority in every country, Jews took Israel as their homeland and acted quite differently from the way they lived their lives in the diaspora—meaning outside of the homeland. Realizing the absurdity of trying to reason with the enemy, Israelis were forced to fight five wars, when losing a single one would mean the end of the Jewish State. Without a golem to protect them in 17th century Lithuania, village Jews would have been destroyed.

Doran and Yoav Paz are known primarily for their 2015 film “Jeruzalem”—scheduled for a sequel shortly—and which deals with a flight of young adults to Jerusalem where they encounter a Biblical nightmare. Similarly, in 17th century Lithuania, a woman becomes a hero by conjuring a powerful figure, a golem, to save her village from anti-Semites who blame them for a plague. Specifically, Hanna (Hani Furstenberg), unable to provide her husband Benjamin (Ishai Golan) with a son after the loss of their child, violates the standards of the Jewish community by seeking solutions to two problems. One is that she wants to create a figure out of mud to replace the boy she lost. Second is the need for protection against hostile men on horseback. A plague makes Vladimir (Alex Tritenko) suspect that the Jews are at fault, as his young daughter has become frightfully ill. He gathers his landsmen with the aim of wiping out all the Jews and burning down their entire village. When Hanna sculpts the figure of a boy in the mud, she has someone who can save the Jews, but at the same time, like the Frankenstein monster, he will turn on the community, which makes for a rousing, violent, bloody conflict. See it on the big screen.

In this community in 1673, women did not have nearly as great a role in Jewish prayers as men. Under Judaic law, ten men would form a minyan. Without the minyan, prayer would not be effective. Women were not allowed to join any minyan, which makes this “Golem” a horror tale that shows how Hanna has been seriously underrated by the men—though she got substantial help from a male, the title golem (Daniel Cohen), able to wave his arms and decapitate the enemy one by one. If he turns on his own people, it’s the fault of the folks he saved. The town healer Perla (Brynie Furstenberg) wants to destroy the boy as a freak of nature who could, and does, turn violent even against the Jews.

Some might argue that the dialogue is not on a Shakespearean level, but the picture’s simplicity will draw young audiences, including young women who would not usually be caught dead in a horror show. Fine performances abound by Ishai Golan, and especially Furstenberg. The orthodox Jews serve as a splendid Greek chorus.

Filmed in Ukraine and Israel, “The Golem” is in English with no subtitles.

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

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


Uncork’d Entertainment
Reviewed for & by Harvey Karten
Director: Mads Brügger
Screenwriter: Lærke Sanderhoff
Cast: Frederik Cilius Jørgensen, Rasmus Bruun, Odessa, Flemming Sørensen, Vibeke Manniche, Mohamed Ali Osman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/18/19
Opens: February 1, 2019

The Saint Bernard Syndicate Movie

You’ve probably heard of American business tycoons who have gone to China to take advantage of cheaper labor but who have returned to the U.S. frustrated by the different cultural aspects of Chinese business as well as the difficulty of managing an operation from thousands of miles away. Mads Brügger, in directing “The Saint Bernard Syndicate,” knows what cultural dissonance is all about. This time he focuses on the difficulties of negotiating with people from a foreign culture. This is his first fiction film, having previous contributed documentaries “The Ambassador, wherein he goes to uncover the blood diamond trade in Africa, and served as co-writer of “The Great European Cigarette Mystery,” dealing with a European politician involved in being in the pocket of the tobacco companies.

With “The Saint Bernard Syndicate,” he serves up his celluloid with a lighter touch, though the absurdist comedy at times comes across as zany to the point of embarrassment. As with his tobacco doc, he takes pot shots at business again, but this time zeroes in on a couple of dorks who consider themselves entrepreneurs and who seem destined to suffer the fate of many another enterprising person with no aptitude for business despite a plan that looks like a slam dunk.

Brügger chose his actors well. As Frederik (Frederik Cilius Jørgensen and Rasmus (Rasmus Bruun) are known in their native Denmark for comedy, they are ideal in situations that apparently call for some major improvisation. At the same time he takes his chances with some Chinese subjects who are non-professional actor. “The Saint Bernard Syndicate” is unlike any American sitcom as it’s not the kind of story that requires an audience laugh every twenty seconds. It embraces a serious overlay in that Rasmus has just been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, so with imminent paralysis and death looming, he figures, what the hell, might as well go with his chum Frederick despite having been bulled by him in an elite private school.

This is the kind of story that may make you think more than once about investing with start-up companies involving foreign countries. As written by Lærke Sanderhoff, the two go to Chongqing, a major business center in China and so polluted you’d not expect many tourists to visit. They set up embarrassing interviews for a staff of bilingual secretaries. After failing with an expensive party complete with confetti, bands and dancers, they manage to bait a wealthy investor, not realizing that he is a scammer with possible ties to organized crime. He is the only Chinese investor that allegedly believes that the rich countrymen will buy Saint Bernard dogs to add to their prestige, and therefore is willing to risk a large sum to set up a center that will breed the dogs, allow buyers to buy food from that center, and go with the veterinary care that it would provide.

Odessa the dog improvises as the big, lovable St. Bernard, while Rasmus Bruun was named best actor at the recent Tribeca Film Festival. Now and then Frederik Cilius Jørgensen playing CEO of the Saint Bernard Syndicate insists on pulling rank on his buddy, but both are klutzes—something like Danish Laurels and Hardys. Since every dog has its day, we are pulling for the two businessmen because deep down many of us realize that whatever talent we have, it’s not for business. “The Saint Bernard Syndicate” is a Monty-Pythonesque tale of missed connections, as embarrassing as it’s funny, and with a serious streak involving the horror of taking a final, big chance when your weeks are numbered.

In Danish, Mandarin and English with English subtitles.

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

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

ARCTIC – movie review

Bleecker Street
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Joe Penna
Screenwriter: Joe Penna, Ryan Morrison
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 1/7/19
Opens: February 1, 2019

So whaddya like on vacation: the beach or the mountains? If you’re a skier the answer is obvious. Same if you snorkel. If you’re chased by a shark and barely get out of the water with limbs intact, you may choose the mountains next time. If you’re in a plane crash and survive in a remote mountain area, you’ll pledge that if you ever get out alive, it’s beaches for you. Here’s a great example of the latter. Though we don’t hear Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) express a preference, he has crash landed in the Arctic (filmed by Tómas Örn Tómasson in the highlands of Iceland), has been there, we estimate, for two months, and doesn’t like his condition at all. Based on what his jacket says, he’s employed by a cargo company to deliver something or other and is now alone in the vast land mass of ice and snow with only the broken plane for shelter and heavy coats for warmth.

Arctic Movie Poster

Look at the kind of conflict he’s in. Remember that there is no such thing as a drama without conflict. Whether we deal with humans against humans (wars, fights), humans against themselves (suicide, depression), or humans against nature, we hope to be riveted by a good story. Perhaps humans against nature is the largest conflict: disease, starvation, volcanic eruptions, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes—these are our pressing problems and worthy subjects for movies. “Arctic,” for example, takes off by focusing on a man who has not invited conflict, he is not picking a fight against nature. He is brought down probably by fierce winds which will take a toll on a helicopter as well. Specifically, Joe Penna in his freshman turn as feature film director, motivates the actions of Overgård in a movie in which the only speech from the man is “Hey, hey!” or, when he meets-cute a woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) whose chopper has crashed, killing her husband and leaving her unconscious, implores her not to sleep.

We know nothing about the back stories of these two individuals. This movie will not likely win an award for its screenplay. For cinematography and make-up, perhaps more plausible. As a result the movie lacks suspense, is missing the thing that so many stories depend on, namely whether we know enough about him to care. Nor are there major dramatic concerns other than one that also ends an act of Shakespeare’s play when Antigonus is pursued by a bear. Yes, there is a real live polar bear as a supporting player, a creature without the ethical motivation to save Overgård’s life but likely compelled to uproot and eat the human being who is trespassing in his digs.

I’d venture a guess that the folks making this movie depend on Mads Mikkelsen’s star power. After all, this Danish-born heartthrob has appeared as Rochefort in “The Three Musketeers,” as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the TV series “Hannibal,” and is wrapping up for his star turn this year in “Polar,” which surprisingly enough has nothing in common with “Arctic.” Handsome Mads Mikkelsen comes across here as an altruist who, though overwhelmed with the need to save himself, reaches out to prevent an unconscious woman from dying within hours from the icy, blizzard-wracked, tundra. He is a survivor. He catches fish through the ice and eats their insides raw as though feasting in the kind of Japanese restaurant that knows how to serve sushi fresh from the water.

He has come equipped for such accidents, principally a flair to attract choppers with altruistic pilots and to make animals think twice before serving themselves lunch. He must keep a woman communicating in a language she may not know. But other than a bout with a bear and a bad fall that cut his leg so deeply that you dread thinking that his leg will go the way of James Franco’s arm in “127 Hours,” all is repetitive.

The cinematography is minimalist. There are no sets to navigate other than the plane and a chopper. There is only one person moving, virtually speechless. There are few is any digital effects. Like Overgård himself, Penna’s movie is not likely to be going anywhere.

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

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



Final Cut
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Simon Lereng Wilmont
Screenwriter: Simon Lereng Wilmont
Cast: Oleg Afanasyev, Alexandra Ryabichkina, Yarik
Screened at: Neuehouse Madison Screening Room, NYC, 1/9/19
Opens: February 1, 2019 in LA


Oleg Afanasyev is a cute ten-year-old boy living in what our President would call a s…hole. There is this village in Ukraine of Hnutove, which has a population of 700, it’s just empty space with nothing growing and sporting no particular buildings, and worst of all it’s a short distance from the gunfire and mines and missiles set up by agents of the so-called Donetsky People’s Republic. Or maybe the Ukranian army is responsible. Ukraine has been at war with Russian separatists in their country who are backed by Putin in Russia, a miserable fight with cease fires that are routinely ignored. However, there’s a fairy story happening there. Young Oleg and his beloved grandmother Alexandra Ryabichkina were scooped up by Simon Lereng Wilmont, who directs a documentary called “The Final Barking of Dogs” and taken to New York where I had the pleasure of listening to them discuss their roles in the making of the film. We in the audience may have expected both Ukranians to say that they love New York, that they love America, and they can’t wait to file for asylum because of their anxiety-ridden lives on the battlefield. But no, both said that New York City is “nice” but they want to go home. Grandma is specific: “We are part of the place, part of the land.” There’s no second-guessing people. They love their land and wouldn’t trade it for a secure for life in New York, where they could presumably fit in with either the Ukranian section in Manhattan’s East Village or the Russian sector in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach. Surprisingly their talk is so apolitical that we do not know even whether they are ethnically Russian or full-scale Ukranian. (For more info on the war, check here:

Simon Lereng Wilmont, in his debut as sole director of a full-length movie, watches over Oleg and his grandmother as would a fly on the wall, apparently succeeding in coaxing them to behave normally and not to look at the camera. Little Oleg has pillow fights with his cousin Yarik, heartbroken when his pal leaves a for safer haven, but overjoyed when his cousin returns. They have an older friend Kostya, who acts like a big brother to them, showing Oleg how to hold a pistol and fire at bottles—though Oleg winds up with a fairly deep cut on his leg from a ricocheted bullet and is calmly and lovingly censured by his grandmother for shooting and killing a frog, making him promise never to that again.

This is the kind of documentary that happily is not the kind with dozens of talking heads. Nobody is interviewed. The three or four people do behave as though the director-cinematographer is not around, though we wonder how much landed on the cutting room floor during the year and a half that the movie was shot. If anything, Oleg is often curious about the waging of war, examining a mine, though carelessly zipping around the neighborhood without a thought that he could be blown up in an instant. This documentary landed on the Oscar short list for best doc where it will compete with the likes of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” “Free Solo,” and “RBG.”

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

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

SERENITY – movie review

Aviron Pictures
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Steven Knight
Screenwriter: Steven Knight
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Djimon Hounsou, Jason Clarke, Jeremy Strong
Screened at: Bryant Park, NYC, 1/17/19
Opens: January 25, 2019

Serenity Movie Poster

By midpoint in “Serenity” you may “get”the mystery behind the bizarre events if you compare this movie to writer-director Steven Knight’s “Redemption.” In that 2013 film a homeless soldier hiding out from a threatened court martial navigates the London underworld adopting another man’s identity. Identity is perhaps the central plot device this time, with Matthew McConaughey in the role of Baker Dill, the captain of a fishing boat on an island off the Miami coast, filmed by Jess Hall on in Mauritius. The country off the coast of East Africa may have been picked for its pure blue water, which serves as backdrop to all the activities, activities that give Baker Dill his context.

There’s Rafael Sayegh in the role of young Patrick Dill, who is Baker’s son; Anne Hathaway as Karen, Baker’s ex-wife married to a violent man (Jason Clarke), Diane Lane as Baker’s love interest though she can be better identified as the woman hiring Dill’s gigolo services, and most bizarre of all, Jeremy Strong as Reid Miller, a clenched salesman that runs after Baker with a pitch to save the captain from committing a murder.

The plot turns on ex-wife Karen’s offer of ten million dollars to Baker if the captain would take her husband out on his fishing boat, get him drunk and toss him overboard to the sharks. As to why she does not simply divorce the guy with whom she has non-stop arguments and is plagued by beatings that leave scratches all over her back, she explains that he “knows too many people,” meaning that he could have her killed. The offer sounds good to Baker since he is regularly hard-up for money, but his conscience, in the form of Duke (Djimon Hounsou), the assistant that he hires to help his clients land the huge fish, warns him to turn down the offer.

What’s strange is how Duke got wind of the unfolding developments in the murder offer and even more puzzling is how the salesman, who appears to want only to give the captain a week’s trial of a new machine, is also aware of what’s going on, likewise warning the man not to go through with the crime.

Meanwhile, back in Miami, Baker’s son Patrick spends ten hours a day on his computer, terrified of his violent stepfather, knocking out numbers and texts that will eventually lead to an explosion of emotions. The film is replete with some interesting absurdities, foremost being the way Reid Miller, running after a potential client who wants nothing to do with him, walks in his suit into the ocean as though posing for a Magritte painting.

The whole idea is solid, but the screenplay is filled with hackneyed dialogue, Anne Hathaway seems modeled to imitate Veronica Lake with her long blond hair reaching almost to her right eye, and McConaughey’s being McConaughey. The handsome actor projects a perpetual suntan, perspiration sometimes pouring from his forehead , and a four-day wisp of facial hair completing the picture of a grizzled fellow swept up in murderous schemes that others in his circle appear to know about. How is this possible considering that the conferences he has with his ex are private and confidential?

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

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