ASSASSINS – movie review

ASSASSINS
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

NOEMÍ GOLD

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

Poster

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-

 

THE BLACK BOOK OF FATHER DINIS – movie review

THE BLACK BOOK OF FATHER DINIS

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

GUNDA
Neon
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

Poster

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

MAYOR

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

Poster

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

 

ANOTHER ROUND MOVIE REVIEW

ANOTHER ROUND (Druk)
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

BEANPOLE (Dylda)
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

Beanpole

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

SORRY WE MISSED YOU
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-

THE GODDESS OF FORTUNE – movie review

THE GODDESS OF FORTUNE (La dea fortuna)
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

SOROS
Abramorama
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

COLLECTIVE
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

CRAZY, NOT INSANE
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-

 

TRUTH IS THE ONLY CLIENT – movie review

TRUTH IS THE ONLY CLIENT
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

Poster

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

 

THE TEST, & THE ART OF THINKING

THE TEST & THE ART OF THINKING
Abramorama
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

Poster

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

ACASA, MY HOME

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

DIRTY GOD
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

THE CURVE
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

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

THE BIG SCARY ‘S’ WORD
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-

FIRE WILL COME – movie review

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

BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIE – movie review

BORAT SUBSEQUENT FILM
Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jason Woliner
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimmer & Peter Baynham & Erica Rivinoja & Dan Mazer & Jena Friedman & Lee Kern
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Baklova
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/20/20
Opens: October 23, 2020

borat, sacha baron cohen

“Borat Subsequent Film” is subsequent to “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation Kazakhstan.” It’s difficult to believe fourteen years have passed from the film that at least one journalist thinks is the funniest movie ever made. If this is your first trip to Kazakhstan, movie-wise, you will probably be more delighted than those of us who are veteran “Borat” fans, but if you’re not new to the genre (simply calling it “comedy” would not do justice to such an original), you will find the gags more predictable and less amusing. And the gags come thick and fast thanks to the genius of Sasha Baron Cohen in the title role, a fellow who is Jewish and tends to speak Hebrew a lot in the film as he is probably more versed in the language than he is in Kazakh or even Tatar. Why is it significant to note that Boris is Jewish? Chances are if he were not, he would not get away with some depictions of anti-Semitic humor, all of which are really a send-up of slogans and faux-philosophies that blame Jews for everything.

The loose plot, serving as a foundation for a series of vaudeville-like comedy both verbal and physical, finds the title character (Sasha Baron Cohen) ordered by the Kazakh ministry to go to the U.S. and deliver the gift of a monkey named Johnny to Vice President Mike Pence. His fifteen-year-old daughter Sandra Sarah Parker Sagiyev (Maria Bakalova) has smuggled herself out of the country in a large box meant for Johnny, and what’s more has eaten the monkey (though she insists the animal had eaten himself). Borat notes that the monkey is “not as alive as he used to be.” The gift idea has changed: Sandra is to be given as a gift to a former mayor of a large U.S. city, but first she has to get out of those peasant clothes, color her hair blond, and learn how to out as a big-city journalist that would convince people in both Washington DC and deep into Trump country.

During the odyssey of this odd couple, they visit a baker who inscribes a greeting on the cake, a slogan that begins to make some people nervous as similar actions did in the original movie. What if some people watching the movie take everything seriously, their ethnic prejudices catered to? She decides that she needs a larger bosom or she would not be worthy of a man, and visits a plastic surgeon who does not approve of simply putting potatoes inside her blouse. (He probably could not charge $21,000 for that.) She upsets a debutante ball in Macon, Georgia with the kind of dance you would not expect among Republican woman and is clued in by Luenell (Luenell) about how to act like a confident woman who does not need a larger breast in the film’s most sensible celluloid.

The physical humor finds Cohen dressed in a bikini, with a fake (I think) phallus, and in a succession of disguises that introduces a fellow with a nose longer than Pinocchio’s (two women in the synagogue try to prove that Jews do not necessarily have long shnozzes) and a guy with a large beard who encourages a crowd of rural folks to sing a racist song. (Again: what if members of the movie audience are literal folks without a sense of irony?)

“Borat 2” was written by eight people which might qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records and looks it. The sketches are sufficiently different, albeit delightfully vulgar (not so charming to Republican women, perhaps), always fitting right into this mockumentary. Jason Woliner has a stack of TV episodes in his résumé but for him this is a refreshing, funny, vulgar, satiric sendup of Americans who believe everything they hear and Americans who probably do not. This is also the freshman performance of Irina Novak who can persuade you that she can play a village maid from a backward country and a sophisticated feminist that could be a New York TV journalist.

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

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

SHITHOUSE – movie review

SHITHOUSE
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Cooper Raiff
Writer: Cooper Raiff
Cast: Cooper Raiff, Dylan Gelula, Amy Landecker, Logan Miller, Olivia Welch
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/16/20
Opens: October 16, 2020

Cooper Raiff, the 22-year-old director, writer, and star of this small but delicate movie, provides some enlightenment to me, though I had been intellectually aware of how college is different these days from when I went in the mid-1950s. In my day, we had parties in the fraternity house, but the young women were nowhere near as sexually free as today’s coeds. At the junior prom, the dances were more like fox trots, cha-cha’s and rhumbas, the dances which if they were on a completion test for today’s college freshmen would make them wonder what’s amiss in their vocabularies. The women had curfews—no later than midnight on weekends, but the deans need not have worried. A panty raid was as risqué an experience as you might find at that time. As for marijuana—what’s that?

Poster

“Shithouse, which is so low key that while the music at the parties is loud, there is gratefully no music at all in the soundtrack. Raiff wants us to hear the conversations clearly, and given the absence of a traditional plot, there is no need to create suspense, or romance, or whatever else you want music for.

Cooper Raiff plays his role with such authenticity that you’d swear that in real life he is like that. Strikingly handsome, he is unable to parlay his thick hair and all-around good lucks to have what everyone of us needs: attention of others and of course love. But good lucks gets him somewhere with Maggie (Dylan Gelula), the more experienced sophomore he meets at a party who invites him to play spin-the-bottle, but with more action than my 1950s friends and I ever got from that game. They have sex in her room but he is somehow thwarted, so they settle for a long time of shooting the shit in the room and on campus, where he tells Maggie about the stuffed dog he carried with him from home (which he had left only weeks before), and in the movie’s one surreal moment the dog talks to him. Almost needless to say, he has no friends and confesses that lack to Maggie.

He’s a mama’s boy who calls home to get chat with his Mom (Amy Landecker) and his sister Jess (Olivia Welsh).
When he discovers Maggie hooking up with another, he gives her hell, which leads to another long talk with her not realizing that he thinks incorrectly that his hookup and his long conversation with her the night before means less to her than to him.

None of this would likely make Alex think that we would have been better off staying at home and going to a local college. The out-of-town experience for men and women from the ages of eighteen to twenty-two is invaluable. The coursework may be similar, but being away from home for four years minus summers and holidays, and being able to communicate with a roommate who is different form you such as Sam (Logan Miller), a party animal whose dorm-room exercise consists of throwing up after indulgent in some serious alcohol, provides an education in social graces.

This is the kind of movie that fits in with the SXSW festival, where it won best narrative feature. Don’t be misled by the title, which relates to the initial party that Alex attends at the Shit House. In our day the party areas were called by Greek letters, but at least here you can’t say that “Shit House is Greek to me.”

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

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

 

ON THE ROCKS – movie review

ON THE ROCKS
A24
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, Jenny Slate, Barbara Bain
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/15/20
Opens: October 23, 2020

On the Rocks (2020) - IMDb

Human beings are a sociable lot, unable to cope with loneliness for long stretches. But there are distinct ways that we socialize. Introverts have something going for them. They listen, and oh do we like people who listen. They are better in one-to-one relationships and, according to the cliché, they might rather read a book than stay too long at a boisterous party. Extraverts are more superficial. They’re back-slappers. They celebrate life boldly; they’re the life of the party. And while most of us lie on a spectrum making us neither extreme introverts nor dyed-in-the-wool extraverts, extraverts have more fun.

You don’t believe me? Take a look at the character Felix, played by Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks.” He can talk his way out of a speeding ticket, jumping out of his antique Italian sports car and, wouldn’t you know—he is familiar with the officer’s dad? “How is he doing?” and the like. He even introduces his daughter Laura (Rashida Jones), his passenger, to each of the men in blue, and has the two cops not only forget that they should ticket speeders, but actually help push until his stalled engine runs again.

Laura, whose eyes roll a some of the things her dad does, but deep down she may be like the rest of us, I’m guessing the majority of sons of daughters who would like their dads to be more like Felix than like their own loving, lovable, but staid givers of life. He can go with Laura to Manzanillo and be the aforementioned life of the party by singing to an appreciative audience accompanied by a local on a guitar. But he can be bookish as well, enlightening Laura about the only breed of monkey in which the females dominate. And how way back when, men, crawling on all fours, would be attracted to women by their butts, and how the breast symbolizes the paleolithic rear today, which explains the hold on men.

The plot is screwball, but not the far-out slapstick that would often find Marlon Wayans in his métiér. Here Wayans performs in the role of Dean, who may not yet be a rich as his father-in-law but he’s getting there, affording a loft in Tribeca. By the way the whole picture puts New York City in there as a character and makes you wonder why anybody would want to leave, Covid or otherwise. Laura thinks he’s cheating on her, tells her dad, and presto. The late middle-aged playboy is on it, following Dean around the city, even persuading Laura to join him on a flight to Manzanillo, Mexico where her husband is having a meeting that includes some women colleagues.

Here is not the place to reveal the answer to the big question: is he or isn’t he? The answer is not the important thing. Coppola, who made good use of Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation” (a fading movie star bonds with a woman in Tokyo) and was at the helm in “The Virgin Suicides” (men become obsessed with five sisters who are ruled strictly by their religious parents), provides continuous amusement with the help of two girls playing Felix’s granddaughters. And Marlon Wayans convinces in a serious role of a successful businessman. For all the riches he represents, Bill Murray remains happily in his signature attitude: one of the great examples of actors entertaining with dry humor.

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

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

 

RADIUM GIRLS – movie review

RADIUM GIRLS
Cine Mosaic
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ginny Mohler, Lydia Dean Pilcher
Writer: Ginny Mohler, Brittany Shaw
Cast: Joey King, Abby Quinn, Cara Seymour, Scott Shepherd, Susan Heyward, Neal Huff, Collin Kelly-Sordelet
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/28/20
Opens: October 23, 2020

Poster

Pity executive in our poor corporations. You guys make nice products for us Americans, and for that we are grateful. You’ve learned how to put tobacco plants into cigarettes. You can’t go to the tobacco fields and smoke, can you? And the gasoline for our cars. You guys found a way to get the oil from the ground, get it to the local gas station, and off we go. So what happens? You guys get sued. They say you pollute the water, you destroy the air, you cause cancer, you gouge the customers, you destroy the Amazon rain forests. Maybe you corporate guys, especially the founders should have stayed in bed.

Look at radium. We honor Marie Curie for isolating it on April 20, 1902. Radium is used for calibrators and other medical equipment, lighting rods, luminous paints. But pessimists were right. When radium was used for painting the hands of watches to allow you to read time in the dark, big problems arose that continued until radium ceased being used for watches in 1970. “Radium Girls” is a disease-of-the-week-type movie to show the heroism of one teen-aged girl who in 1925 was busy with a group of others, all women, in painting the hands of watches with radium. They were told to lick the radium-soaked brushes to give them a fine tip, and then some used it to paint their fingernails, faces, teeth. The bosses at the American Radium Company told the women that there was nothing wrong with doing this, and that it was even healthy. People drank radioactive water for health and generally, Americans believed that radium had no bad side effects.

But here is the key point. The owners of American Radium knew that dipping brushes on tongues could cause serious, even fatal illnesses, but they hid that information; just as the American tobacco lobby knew well in advance that cigarettes cause cancer but did not inform the rest of the country about this.

This brings us to “Radium Girls,” based on the true story involving the women working in the factories painting watch hands eight hours a day, piecemeal work that awarded them twelve cents for each watch. In today’s money that would be about $1.78. The film does not go into how much time one watch would take so we cannot calculate what a woman’s wage would be today, but it’s not enough to live on then or now.

Bessie Cavallo (Joey King) and her sister Jo (Abby Quinn) live with their grandfather in a New Jersey dump. Bessie somehow avoids licking the camel’s hair brush, but Jo does, and as a result succeeds in being employee of the month. The seventeen-year-old Bessie becomes worried when Jo falls ill, particularly since she is the better breadwinner, is somewhat less anxious when she is diagnosed by the company doctor with flu. A short time later, the doctor reports that she has syphilis, not an easy thing to get if you’re a virgin like Jo. Other girls show symptoms—dizziness and the like. Jo goes to a labor organization under Wiley Stephen (Cara Seymour) to find help in getting a lawyer, but in her spare time she begins a relationship with Walt (Collin Kelly-Sordeldet), who introduces her to an integrated group of progressives that includes Etta (Susan Heyward), who would feel at ease protesting today in Portland or Minneapolis.

The company tries to buy off the two girls but instead the case goes to trial and gets worldwide attention. Once again: it’s not that radium is dangerous, but that the company knew it was toxic and did nothing. The rest of the film goes by predictably albeit with one major twist involving the testimony of a one Mr. Leech (Scott Shepherd), an exec with American Radiuim.

In the co-director’s seat, Lydia Dean Pilcher has shown her interest in women’s issues, as her “A Call to Spy” finds Churchill looking to dig up a women’s spy group. This is Ginny Mohler’s first film as co-director. They include archival films, each on screen for seconds, including women with signs urging everyone to join the Communist party, a fashionable choice during the Depression.

Needless to say the war against well-heeled corporations who know things but don’t tell (nicotine is addicting, guns kill, alcohol causes auto accidents, fracking ruins property, animal diets cause obesity and cancer and destroy the rain forests). Not mentioned in this film, which is acted with passion especially by Joey King in the star role as Bessie and edited chronologically, is that the real radium girls died miserably thanks to Big Corporate’s treatment of their employees as wage slaves depending on their jobs and willing to continue licking the brushes even after hearing of the dangers.

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

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

 

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT – movie review

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT
Intervention Media
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: James Fletcher
Writer: James Fletcher
Cast: Jerry Springer, Piers Morgan, Van Jones, Anthony Scaramucci, Scott Adams, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Schmidt
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/3/20
Opens: October 16, 2020, streaming October 27, 2020

The Accidental President - IMDb

Let’s take a risk. With all the talk of the chattering classes, the late night shows, the comedians, the pollsters, the professors, the cartoonists—and all the representatives of these groups serve as commentators on this latest film about Trump—“Let’s take a risk” says it all. Granted that Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by almost three million votes, our Electoral College makes a mockery of democracy and put Trump over the top.

Yet though “Let’s make American great again” is still the watchword of the Republicans favoring our current President, “Let’s take a risk” would be a more accurate slogan to put on those red hats, so ubiquitous among voters among the 24% of adults without a four-year college degrees, living in rural areas, working with their hands. Some are racists, some are xenophobic, some are dumb, but many people with the same brains and qualifications of current Republicans in the Senate voted for Trump.

Using colorful film from the rallies, interjecting the opinions of over a dozen commentators, director James Fletcher in his freshman turn as filmmaker seeks to answer “How the hell did he win?” The answers include FBI director Comey’s report 11 days before the election that the agency is investigating Hillary’s 30,000+ emails and 32,000 deleted emails that may have hurt national security: Trump’s promise to brings jobs back from overseas, a pledge welcomed by all who felt ignored by the “regular” or “robotic” politicians: Trump’s simple showmanship, borne from his popular reality show, a charismatic crowd-pleaser on “The Assistant”: A feeling by whites that they are facing minority status in “their own” country: Secretary Clinton’s taking the swing state of Wisconsin so much for granted that she did not visit the state even once but concentrated instead on Texas, which was a sure loser for her.

Even never-Trumpists will be entertained by this documentary simply because they are watching one of America’s greatest showmen speaking to crowds regularly in the tens of thousands, having them eating out of his hand. “The Accidental President” follows on the heads of the excellent doc “Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump,” which takes a more partisan approach.

If you’ve been following politics the way so many Americans follow sports, you will not find a single bit of information that you did not know, but that’s not important. The film stresses entertainment over originality, and isn’t that enough to warrant your time?

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

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

THE SOUNDING – movie review

THE SOUNDING
Giant Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Catherine Eaton
Writer: Catherine Eaton, Bryan Delaney
Cast: Catherine Eaton, Teddy Sears, Harris Yulin, Frankie Faison, Danny Burstein, David Furr, Lucy Owen
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/1/20
Opens: October 20, 2020

Catherine Eaton in The Sounding (2017)

As a former high school teacher, I have this question for you. Shakespeare is probably taught in most high schools, and is an elective or part of required English literature in most liberal arts college. The aim of the folks who decide curricula is hopefully not simply to have students pass tests but to give them a love of literature, particularly the plays of the Bard. Then how come maybe one percent of adults go voluntarily, willingly, excitedly to performances of Shakespeare’s plays? Surely we should not be so elitist to think that every teen through 22-year-old must know at least one play, so as Joe Biden would say, here’s the deal.

Catherine Eaton, who directs “The Sounding” and serves as its star, might give you the impression that as long as you reach one person out of a hundred who becomes enamored with Shakespeare’s works, that’s enough. Eaton, in the role of Olivia or Liv, becomes the kind of fan beyond what anyone would imagine. First she refuses to speak for years; then when she finally lets loose, every word is a quote from Shakespeare that fits the occasion she’s in. Lionel (Harris Yulin), her grandfather, had home-schooled her on Monhegan Island in Maine where David Kruta films the action, a popular tourist destination for hiking and sailing. The place is nearly deserted with few year-round inhabitants, and that’s perfectly fine for Liv, though granddad, a psychiatrist, first tries to treat her silence, then gives up, realizing that maybe the young woman has no intention of communicating, of being what’s considered normal.

However, not ready to leave things be, he persuades Michael (Teddy Sears), a former pupil of his, to be her advocate, insisting that he not try to cure her nor, heaven forbid, to allow her to be hauled away to a psychiatric institution, even though one day she nearly drowns and is considered a harm to herself. She is sent on Michael’s insistence to a psychiatric hospital where she becomes a rebel, like “cuckoo” Jack Nicholson, entertaining the other inmates with Shakeseare’s quotes fitting each occasion and nothing else. Since she pushes back regularly, the shrinks believe she may have to be institutionalized for a long time. Goodbye ocean, hiking paths, freedom.

There’s a joke that the motto of the American Medical Association is “If it ain’t broke, we fix it until it is,” and this movie illustrates the saying—which, it turns it, is not a joke at all. Michael feels guilty, and despite enjoined by a restraining order, he determines to let nothing stand in the way of having her regain her freedom. The shrinks are the crazies here.

In some film festivals, for her performance in resisting the powers in the island’s snake pit, Catherine Eaton has won some best actress awards in a role that decades ago would played by Olivia de Havilland. The story is paced slowly, then picks up speed as she gathers into herself the emotions that the Bard himself must have felt. Wouldn’t it be a nice addition if we had subtitles each time Eaton delivers a quote, together with its source? So: brush up your Shakespeare: start quoting him now.

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

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

 

MARTIN EDEN – movie review

MARTIN EDEN
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Pietro Marcello
Writer: Maurizio Braucci, Pietro Marcello, novel by Jack London
Cast: Luca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Denise Sardisco, Vincenzo Nemolato
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/2/20
Opens: October 16, 2020

Martin Eden Movie Poster

In the forceful prose that is the backbone of his writing, Jack London says this in his novel “Martin Eden.”

Who are you, Martin Eden?. He gazed at himself long and curiously.
Who are you? What are you? Where do you belong?
You belong with the legions of toil, with all that is low, and
vulgar, and unbeautiful. You belong with the oxen and the drudges,
in dirty surroundings among smells and stenches.
And yet you dare to open the books, to listen to beautiful music, to
learn to love beautiful paintings, to speak good English, to think
thoughts that none of your own kind thinks, to tear yourself away from the oxen

You need not have a whole lot of insight to note that these are the insights of a man who hates being lower class, who dislikes having to work for bosses who treat the workers like crap, to shoveling manure, toting that barge and lifting that bale. Eden is the name chosen by the author perhaps to sound ironic or maybe to illuminate the higher class to which he aspires. “Martin Eden” is considered a bildungsroman, a novel based closely on the author’s life and feelings and aspirations. The film, like the book, traces Eden’s yearnings for a life of the intellect, a life that would give him ease, and most of all a life to make him a worthy lover of a rich, beautiful woman.

As played with passion by Luca Marinelli and directed by Pietro Marcello, whose “Lost and Beautiful” deals with a man’s promise to a shepherd to save a young buffalo, Eden is a sailor who travels the world and who is told by friends and associates to stay with this kind of existence. It suits him. They warn him not to strive to be something that he is not. This passionate man, who has only a primary education, falls hopelessly in love with Elena (Jessica Cressy) after having met her and her impossibly rich family after saving the family’s young Arturo Orsini (Giustiniano Alpi) from the fists of a brutal security guard.

Given Eden’s sensibilities contrasted with the ethereal personality of Elena (who plays piano, loves paintings, and enjoys the trapping of a life not distracted by the need to work), Eden absorbs the advice given to him by the young woman to first get an education. The lack of formal schooling, however, does not prevent Eden from writing, and given his world-wide experiences at sea, he has experiences to project. But his stories are rejected time after time (think of John Grisham whose manuscripts were rejected some thirty times), so Eden hopes to gain the requisite literary touch as a feverish reader.

He may have gotten nowhere with his writing or his courtship had it not been for a kind widow Maria (Carmen Pommella) who had “known love” and gives him room and board; and Russ Brissenden (Carlo Cecchi), a writer and editor, who sees potential in his prodigy. Still Eden remembers his roots, shown convincingly enough when he picks up a waitress (Denise Sardisco), comparing her favorably with his upper-class love. His desire for Elena, however, is waning.

Eden has a run with politics brought on by the demands of working class people who are fighting for socialism. You might think that Eden would agree, but instead, having read the libertarian writings of Herbert Spencer, he rises to the podium and, to the disgust of the crowd, announces that subordinating the individual to the community is wrong, and that evolution teaches that we will always have masters.

“Martin Eden” is of epic scope, the kind of film that could easily have gone on for three hours, digging ever so much more deeply into the principal character’s metamorphosis. As the picture stands, filmed with evocations of the color of Neapolitan streets by Alessando Abate and Francesco Di Giacomo in Balzana Santa Maria La Fossa and Naples, “Martin Eden” is an enterprise that would likely garner the respect of Jack London.

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

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

 

GHABE – movie review

GHABE (Forest)
GVN Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Markus Castro
Writer: Markus Castro
Cast: Adel Darwish, Nathalie Williamsdotter, Ahmad Fadel
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/22/20
Opens: October 16, 2020

Poster

If Monir (Adel Darwish) had a cairn terrier walking at heel, he might say, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Syria anymore.” And no wonder. In place of the 180,185 kilometers of desert, he’d find a vast forest of Redwood-sized trees. In fact the film’s title, “Ghabe,” is Arabic for “forest.” Taking with him all the memories of the Syrian culture that he must have absorbed during his twenty-five or so years in that current shithole plus the post-traumatic stress he feels not only for the chemical attacks Assad launched on his own people, you can imagine the difficult time he would have adapting to any Western culture. It takes him some coaxing to get out of a car outside a cabin that a progressive Swedish family set aside for the use of Monir, his uncle Farid (Ahmad Fadel) and three other refugees. Of course he will learn to love the place, but not because of what he must consider its strange culture, given the summer festival under a Viking symbol involving the statue of a penis and two testicles. How about his sight of a couple of Swedish women swimming in the nude while he hides behind a tree? Only the love of a local beauty could possibly convert this stressed-out guy into finally embracing his good luck in escaping from the wretched, war-torn Fascist state into perhaps the progressive Western country that welcomes refugees. Recall that Sweden served as a Shangi-Li for thousands of Americans who refused to serve in Vietnam and a refuge for hundreds of Jews that Denmark under wartime occupation shipped to Swedish shores to escape the Holocaust.

When Monir first sees the adorable Moa (Nathalie Williamsdotter), with her thick, red hair and dazzling blue eyes, he is smitten. Believing that he has no chance with her, he is content to watch her swim and masturbate, hiding behind a tree. Little could he imagine that Moa spotted him, accepting his “self-abuse,” even laughing but in a tender way. How different the response from Karin, her racist mother, probably angry that Sweden is accepting Middle Eastern refugees who will try to gain residency after a few months. Moa takes little time in seducing him as they are out with a rowboat, the kind of action that (we think) people from reactionary Arab cultures would consider the satanic work of a hooker. Not Monir. Despite his immaturity, he not only relishes the seduction but falls even more deeply in love with the young woman.

Events come to a melodramatic conclusion involving a police action, one of the officers acting as though he must have been trained in some U.S. red state to shoot a person who not had not attacked him and, in fact had put down the kitchen knife as he was told. A decision by Moa which could threaten Monir’s chance for a residence permit is uncalled for, unpredictable, and plain unimaginable. But here is a love story, a political drama that should make you think of the excesses of police power in our own country, and a meditation on countries like Syria that can kill its own people, most of them innocent of rebellion against the government.

Markus Castro directs his freshman offering with a storyteller’s professionalism, casting a lyrical glow on a section of his country with forests so vast that you’ll think you’re in California. One particular long shot is breathtaking—a view of the lovers in their rowboat set across the vastness of the forest and the universe, constellations brightly shining on two young people who are embracing the risks of a star-crossed romance.

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

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

ALBERT EINSTEIN: STILL A REVOLUTIONARY – movie review

ALBERT EINSTEIN: STILL A REVOLUTIONARY
First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Newman
Writer: Julia Newman
Cast: Michio Kaku, Michael Paley, Alice Calaprice, Herbert Freeman, Jr., Susan Neiman, Barbara Picht, Jürgen Renn, Ze’ev Rosencranz, Robert Schulmann, Milena Wazeck
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/6/20
Opens: On Apple TV, iTunes, Amazon VOD & DVD

Still a Revolutionary - Albert Einstein (2020) - IMDb

Someone once said that the four people who have influenced today’s world the most were Jews: Jesus, Freud, Marx, and Einstein. Jesus influenced one the world’s great religions followed by some two billion people. Marx was the intellectual founder or a religion of its own, communism, which though not so popular today as it once was serves as a leading critique of capitalism. Freud, in his theory of the unconscious, believed that we know not what we do since most of our emotions come from the unconscious, and Einstein said that everything is relative, which is said to be a mighty important insight.

In her freshman documentary, Julia Newman focuses not on Einstein’s contributions to the laws of physics, which many people do not understand and which in my college compelled the professor to boost everybody’s grades or nobody would have passed. Instead she looks at the physicist’s moral code, not greatly different from that of people who are quite spiritual on Sundays. He followed the beat of a different drummer, opposing the rule of conformity that guides everyone with a smart phone.

For one, he opposed war. He criticized the march of extreme nationalism that led to a particularly stupid war in 1914, left Germany to be with his folks in Italy, then returned to his homeland (the only instance in which he was not smart) under the Weimar constitution. Perhaps it was the anti-Semitism of his southern German home that turned him away from the bullying. A teacher once brought a nail to the classroom, noting that Jesus was crucified with such, humiliating Albert who was the only Jewish person in the class.

The key word in this documentary is “compartmentalization,” the idea that we separate our lives into clear divisions: family, friends, work, politics. This explains that under the Nazis (1933-1945) a German soldier could love his kin and his dog, yet harbor murderous hate toward people who are not like him, or who he believes are not like him. Some men do not like women very much. Einstein spoke in favor of women’s rights. He was pro-choice, and being anti-nationalist did not at first believe that Jews should have a state of its own. He came around to favor the creation of Israel and enjoyed a friendship with its founder, David Ben-Gurion. He supported demonstrations for the rights of minorities and was friendly to Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson. Though brought up Jewish, he was a pantheist like Spinoza, believing “the whole universe is God,” a notion that is akin to atheism.

When he escaped from the Holocaust, winding up in New York, he abandoned his pacifism, holding that you have to meet force with force.

Though he was a celebrity, who mixed easily with people and could talk with anyone from kings to children, he was considered a luftmensch, naïve, an absent-minded Princetonian professor, a fellow who did not seem grounded. When he was scheduled to meet some big shot, his wife told him to wear a suit, but he refused. “If they want to see my clothes, they can look in my closet.”

See if you can guess what he would think of the people in power in our present government.

Director Newman’s film has too many talking heads, though their comments are backed up by some valuable archival celluloid. We see Einstein as a man, laughing, talking, a social butterfly really, making us wonder when he had time to make contributions that led to the creation of the atom bomb, to inspire his students at Princeton, and to be a rebel with a cause. Though he was at ease with ordinary people, he was an elitist who preferred to exchange ideas with other intellectuals. Julia Newman shows the man in all of his guises, providing an entertaining enough vehicle for our consumption.

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

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

‘bOOBs: The War on Women’s Breasts

bOOBs: The War on Women’s Breasts
Cinema Libre
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Megan Smith
Writer: Megan Smith
Cast: Otis W. Brawley, Manfred Doepp, Galina Migalko, Ben Johnson, Gloria Jackson, Beth DuPree
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/6/20
Opens: October 6, 2020

Poster

Women are being exploited. Doctors tell women 35+ to take mammograms yearly, yet mammograms are painful, One participant tells men who are clueless about gynecology to think of having their testicles squeezed by two metal plates. They cause patients to absorb radiation, and they yield many false positives and false negatives. What’s more, those women who are diagnosed as positive undergo biopsies, which are painful and often unnecessary. There’s even more. If a biopsy comes back positive, doctors advise patients to undergo mastectomies, resulting in yet additional pain and disfigurement. Sometimes surgeons will admit to some that their mastectomies turned out to be mistakes. (Not covered in this film: In Britain, the National Health Insurance, women with positive diagnoses are encouraged have both breasts removed at once, which is somehow more convenient and efficient for its card-carrying members.)

So what to do? Aided by a clever use of texts covering the screen, the most essential words projected bold and in color, doctors recommend bypassing what they called the standard protocol of mammograms. They accuse hospitals of guiding patients to machines for which they’ve spent millions of dollars and need a return. Instead—and you have to wait until half the doc is over before the epiphany—women should insist on a combination of ultrasound and thermography. Not only do these two machines avoid radiating them and are painless, their accuracy is around the area of ninety-five percent. Yet thermography is usually not covered by insurance, perhaps because the Food and Drug Administration suggests that those who opt for it may miss a chance to discover early cancers.

Huh? While the docs in this doc say more or less the reverse, and though thermography is standard use by firefighters to see through smoke, and building construction people use it to make heating and air conditioning more efficient, it’s just “alternate” medicine? If you’re like me you are likely to have had a love affair in youthful days with the likes of herbal medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, all of which have limited uses if any at all. The doctors seem to agree that even Lancet, the most prestigious medical journal, will some select articles for publication because of money!

This film will likely be seen almost exclusively by prospective women patients, though the idea of nuts being squeezed between two metal plates was the metaphor that got my interest. Given the nice personalities of the professionals used as talking heads, you might be ready to abandon mammography as of tonight (if you’re a woman). But sit back and think: could this movie be nothing more than an infomercial for the thermography protocol which, unless you believe in conspiracy theory (it’s being suppressed because of money-hungry docs and Big Pharma), it’s simply an organ for the promotion of a generally unapproved technology? Could the whole film be little more than analogous to propaganda by the anti-vaccination folks?

Then again, that’s what makes this even more interesting to see. Have a look at it and, as Fox News always says, decide for yourself.

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

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

 

THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS – movie review

THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Directors: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Writers: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/3/20
Opens: December 25, 2020

The Truffle Hunters: Luca Guadagnino brings Alba to the Sundance 2020 - La  Cucina Italiana

If you go swimming a lot and do not take care to dry yourself thoroughly, you may be visited by a fungus, which will cause an itch in the last place you want to itch. But did you know that some fungi will fetch $2500 a pound and up? The costly food item is the truffle, an acquired taste like caviar and even more difficult to find. The white Alba truffle, the most prized, is found in the Piedmont area in northwest Italy. But don’t worry. This documentary is not middle-school biology presentation about the fungus, dealing instead with the mischievous octogenarian men in the area and the dogs that always try to upstage their human companions. The canines almost do, but they cannot win our aww’s the way the men do. This, then, is a look at the folks who harvest the morsel so prized by diners who have the restaurant staffs grate the truffles over their fried eggs as if they were parmesan cheese.

Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw direct their sophomore movie, having immersed themselves in the birthplace of stock car racing in the film “The Last Race” (2018).

There is only a single scene near the end focusing on a gourmet whose server shaves a truffle over a fried egg while the restaurant is playing “Tosca.” Otherwise we are looking at the forests of Piedmont where men in their eighties search the land with their trained dogs, animals that they love and would not dream of parting with notwithstanding an offer one gent received for thousands of euros if he would sell. “Do you have children?” he asked the prospective buyer. “Yes? If I take 50,000 euros from the bank, would you sell me one of them?” (Watch out: you might be surprised at how many fathers would jump at the chance.)

If you’ve spent your life living in a big city and take a look at these men communing with nature under the moonlight, you may be excused if you feel envy. But would you trade your condo for a spartan lodge, throwing logs into the antique stove for heat and for cooking, trading your bidet-furnished bathroom for an outhouse?

A good deal of the film shows truffle hunters living under a code of behavior not unlike that of sellers of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. The codgers must guard their turfs. They sometimes have to muzzle their dogs because the competition is leaving strychnine for them. One fellow with a long gray beard, using a Olivetti about the same age, types a manifesto that the youths are no longer respecting the honorable codes of the past, thinking only of the money they can make in the business. He is disgusted to such an attempt that he is backing out of the game, retiring despite pleas from a buyer with deep pockets who trusts him and wants to buy only from him.

By contrast, Carlo, another fellow of 87 is badgered by his wife to retire on his pension. He had already injured himself on a tree branch walking with his dog Barbi at night, but he and others of his trade may realize that the hunt is the only thing keeping them alive.

Would it be ageist to say that these old guys are adorable? The really are. Barbi’s human companion talks to his Lagotto Romagnolo (a breed well known for nasal abilities) because dogs are the greatest listeners you can find. Another shares a bathtub with his dog, the latter loving the shampoo, then having his fur blow-dried.

The film is awash in color: green for the forest, of course, yellow for the abbondanza of grapes being prepared for home-brewed wine, white for the snow and red for the tomatoes with a taste that you’ll never find among those fruits in the U.S. The best shots, however, are filmed by a dog. A camera is attached to the body, and as the dog scampers excitedly across the woodland, we get the impression that he can outrun even a cheetah.

Wouldn’t this be a better world if the only living creature being hunted down would be the truffle?

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

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

 

MR. JONES – movie review

MR. JONES
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Screenwriter: Andrea Chalupa
Cast: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Kenneth Cranham, Krzysztof Pieczynski, Celyn Jones, Patricia Volny
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/7/20
Opens: June 19, 2020

Mr. Jones (2019)

“Mr. Jones” should be required viewing in every school of journalism from Columbia University down to the smallest community college in Nebraska. The true events on which “Mr. Jones” is based focus in part on the newspaper industry which was far more important in its time when everybody read the papers daily, a practice now largely abandoned by people absorbed more in their I-Phones than on reading about something greater than themselves. An intelligent viewer of this picture could not be faulted for noting the current relevance on display, when fake stores from Russia corrupt social media and when every paper whose editorial board leans left and Democratic is considered by the White House to be “failing.”

Warsaw-born Agnieszka Holland, whose “Europa Europa” unfolds a story of a Jewish boy hiding his religion by joining Hitler Youth, is a director who obviously thinks well beyond the rom-com and hyped-up melodrama, is well suited for the task, promoting the central motif that journalists must tell the truth as they see it. There is only one truth, and journalists who for material gain or sensationalist hype do anything to cover up the truth, they are guilty of hypocrisy and an outright betrayal of their (once) revered profession.

Mr. Jones (James Norton) pursues a fascinating story so perilous, so important to tell, that he appears willingly to risk his comfort and even his life. The tale tells of the Soviet Union’s starvation of at least five million peasants in Soviet dominated Ukraine, their farms collectivized and much of their produce shipped out of the country to Moscow. That view is considered controversial, even untrue, particularly by Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), a reporter for the NY Times who made his mark after being accorded a private interview with Stalin. From that time he became the mouthpiece of the communist nation, and awarded a Pulitzer for his reporting of what became known as fake news. If Duranty’s sucking up to Russia no matter his personal feelings makes you think of what’s happening on Capitol Hill, you know enough about politics to join the audience of Saturday Night Live.

When Gareth Jones first appears in this shattering narrative film, he’s a kid, yet Britain’s Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham) employs him as an adviser—a gig that ends when he is laughed out of a Cabinet meeting for suggesting that the UK would soon go to war against the Soviet Union. Out of the mouth of babes. He is given a reference by the prime minister upon which Jones commits forgery by erasing the sentence about his “former” service to the prime minister, changing that to “valued” service. He receives a journalist’s visa to the Soviet Union where he is expected to write about a Potemkin Village setup, refused admittance to the Ukraine where he smuggles himself in and sees first-hand the starvation and despair of farmers either driven from the land or forced to work in collectives.

Traveling by train as though a first-class tourist, he moves into the third-class compartment finding people without a crust of bread. Walking through the frozen depths of Ukraine farmland after trading a bit of food for a passenger’s overcoat, he finds vast reaches peopled by peasants without hope. (Not mentioned in the movie is that fact that the rich peasants were sent to the gulag or killed, while the masses who work the land have little motivation to produce anything save for their own private needs.)

One comes away from the picture assuming that Ms. Holland’s politics are as Orwellian as George Orwell himself, the latter played by Joseph Mawle. Mawle opens the movie by advising that he will discuss the failures of communism simply, in a book peopled by farm animals substituting for the various personages in a communist state.

Given the poignant scenes of starvation and frozen land with a particularly vivid coverage of a heroin-soaked party attended by a naked, drunk Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, “Mr. Jones” can he heartily recommended not only to the aforementioned journalism students but also to students on the secondary school level who have probably read “Animal Farm” and would be further enlightened by observing Soviet criminality on the screen.

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

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

ETERNAL BEAUTY – movie review

ETERNAL BEAUTY
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Craig Roberts
Writer: Craig Roberts
Cast: Sally Hawkins, David Thewlis, Billie Piper, Penelope Wilton, Alice Lowe, Robert Pugh, Morfydd Clark
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/22/20
Opens: October 2, 2020

Eternal Beauty Movie Poster

“How are you?” says the psychiatrist (Boyd Clark). “Fine,” replies Jane (Sally Hawkins). “Fine or good?” “Good.” This dialogue occurs session after session as the doctor examines the patient, diagnosed twenty years back as schizophrenic. Later, Jane, recalling her sessions with the shrink asks a photographer, “How are you?” “Normal,” he says. “Boring,” says Jane. Her sister had told her that being normal is difficult. So this movie is about how schizophrenics can have more fun than people who are considered everyday-normal, and mirabile dictu, by the end of the film, you are convinced that Jane, notwithstanding an upbringing by a mean-spirited mother Vivian (Penelope Wilton) and passive father Dennis (Robert Pugh) is happier than most of us. Or at least the most of us who are normal.

In his sophomore offering writer-director Craig Roberts whose “Just Jim” portraits the relationship of a Welsh teen with an American neighbor possesses the soul of a person not content to knock out a normal movie but more interested in the inner life of a schizophrenic, in no way dangerous or likely to be mumbling, homeless, on a New York City street. The surrealism is tailor-made for Sally Hawkins, who, in one of her crowning roles in “The Shape of Water” as Elisa Esposito, a janitor in a research facility with a special relationship to a giant laboratory fish, evoked the joke by a TV film critic, “Are men so bad nowadays that a woman has to date a fish?”

Playing the role chiefly as often zonked but as a woman with the vivid imagination of a mentally unbalanced person, Jane appears in virtually every scene, though often as the younger, twenty-something girl (Morfyedd Clark) whose diagnosis takes place at about the time she was stood up at the altar. We can understand that twenty years later, the voice she hears in her head most prominently is that of the boyfriend Johnny (Robert Aramayo), without an explanation for his caddish treatment but now expressing deep love and a desire to see her again.

One day in the hospital, she meets fellow unbalanced Mike (David Thewlis), and voilá, too nuts “find” each other. Leave it to Jane’s mean sister Nicola, just suffering from the loss of a rich boyfriend Lesley (Tony Leader), to try to ruin Jane’s relationship, driving her back to the hospital.

Perhaps the funniest scene occurs at a Christmas gathering with her sisters Alice (Alice Lowe) and Nicola (Billie Piper). Jane distributes gifts which as usual nobody likes. She presents receipts and expects them to pay her back.

This is a frothy comedy about people who look laid-back, but with spurts of enthusiasm like those of the excitable Michael, expecting to get a gig and pay Jane back for staying at her digs. Director Roberts plays up the surrealism by showing Michael on stage singing with his electric guitar and by repeated images of the younger Jane in her wedding dress clueless about what will soon come. The expertly done color palette mirrors Jane’s feelings throughout as does a multiplicity of Sally Hawkins’s facial expressions. Hawkins is in her oils.

Kit Fraser films in various locations in Wales.

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

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