THE RESCUE – movie review

National Geographic Documentary Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/7/21
Opens: October 8, 2021

Several people in a cave.
We can’t breathe!

There are many terrible ways to die aside from what you see in some movies like the “Saw” series. How about becoming asphyxiated on your own saliva? Talk about your own body turning on you! Yet this is one of the principal fears of the people from England, Australia, China and Thailand as they map out a strategy to rescue twelve male children and their soccer coach figuratively imprisoned inside a cave in Chiang Mai. In a movie featuring terrific editing and cinematography, using both clear and colorful file film and some reenactments, National Geographic, taking good advantage of the direction by the husband and wife team of Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, give us a front-row seat on a drama. Had we not known the ending, this could have been the suspense thriller of the year. There is no way that a typical audience member could have conceived that any of the lads would emerge alive after spending over two weeks deep inside their tour of a cave with only occasional bits of food supplied by their rescuers. One thing the heroes could not have given to them was oxygen. The biggest concern was that the kids and their coach would run out of air, which at one time was three points under the amount needed for survival.

In the same way that Americans are transfixed these days on the plight of the murdered woman Gabby Petito and the chief suspect Brian Laundrie, the entire world followed the disaster facing the children in 2018, the efforts of the trained adults to reach them and bring them all out was flashed around the world with TV newscasters relying on the emotions of their listeners to keep tuned in.

The directing duo, known by some for the 2015 “Meru” about the efforts by three elite climbers to conquer the Himalayan Mount Meru, outdo themselves this time around. Instead of dealing with mature, adult mountain climbers, their stars include vulnerable children ages eleven to sixteen who, in the many shots appear to take their danger in stride. They smile at the camera, their clasp their hands together as though in prayer, and while they sometimes say that they are hungry, they appear to react in a more grown-up way than you might expect if they were Americans trapped in one of the scores of caves found in our own country. Doubtless many who followed the action inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Mai which trapped the thirteen after heavy rains flooded potential escape routes believed that the potential rescue was hopeless. And when you see the monsoons that made the job even more difficult, and how thousands of liters of water get pumped out yet only a few centimeters of depth are created, you figure a major national tragedy is at hand.

The biggest heroes are not the brave folks of the Thai Navy Seals who are not trained for this but are Rick Stanton and John Volanthen who import themselves into Northern Thailand and may prompt many to wonder what two middle-aged guys can do that the military could not. These UK citizens had to navigate the cave for almost three miles, and though they come face to face with the hapless kids, they are unable to do anything for them immediately. In fact during one of the rescue missions they took fifteen body bags with them which, if seen by the children would not exactly inspire their good spirits.

The problem? How to escort them through the waters for a journey that would take hours. Nor did it raise the spirits of the rescue party that one Thai Seal died from lack of oxygen. Enter injections of Ketamine and Atropine to anesthetize the kids and off everyone goes to the surface, the English heroes to receive an awards from the queen.

A documentary that includes interviews along with some file film not previously wraps up, the production team presumably hoping that those of us watching from our safe movie seats (vaccinated and masked and in less danger than the cave dwellers) with be choked up with emotion. Prepare to see this drama considered by awards groups for Documentary Movie, Cinematography and Editing.

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

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


ONLY THE ANIMALS (Seules les bêtes)
Cohen Media Group
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dominik Moll
Writer: Dominik Moll, Gilles Marchand. Adapted from Colin Niel’s novel ‘Seules les bêtes’
Cast: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Denis Ménochet Laure Calamy, Damien Bonnard, Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Guy Roger “Bibisse” N’drin
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/21/21
Opens: October 29, 2021

Where did I put that body?

Let’s see. Near the opening we hear reports on the radio that a woman is missing. At this point her body has not been found but her abandoned car has been located on the road. That’s a no-brainer: “Only the Animals” is a documentary about Gabby Petito. Already? That was quick. No wait, oops: “Only the Animals” is a French drama, though more accurately a dark comedy, more dark than comic. Writers Dominik Moll and the director adapt Colin Niel’s novel “Seules les bêtes” (available in French at Amazon for $33.07 but if you want to save money get the German paperback “Nur die Tiere” for $19.86). The plot takes off from the central mystery, the disappearance of one Evelyne Ducat (Valería Bruni Tedeschi) during a blizzard in Lozère, France (inland in the south). Told under German-born Dominik Moll’s direction in five chapters, “Only the Animals” brings five lives together as additional proof that there are only six degrees of separation between us and everyone else in the world. Each character is given his or her own point of view, “Rashoman” style.

The acting all-around is terrific particularly that of Côte d’Ivoire native Guy Roger “Bibisse” N’drin as an internet scammer in his debut role. His actions on a laptop computer surrounded by his pals, who egg him on to success in lightening the wallets of white guys in France, are responsible for the connection between the West African nation and the farming community in Southern France.

The film opens in Abidjan with a bizarre scene featuring Armand (N’drin) carrying a goat to a room, plying one of his varied freelance trades, and ending with Michel Farange (Denis Ménochet), a Frenchman, laughing while typing on a laptop. Michel winds up psychologically crushed but appreciates the comic nature of his troubles. Each chapter is named for a character, the first being Alice (Laure Calamy), who is having an affair with Joseph Bonnefille (Damien Bonnard), plying her trade as a home care nurse whose sex with the depressed man is explained as her attempt to revive his spirits. She loves him, but unhappily his response to that affection is “Get out!” Not good news for her, especially since her marriage to farmer Michel is moribund.

Michel returns home bloodied, making us think that he killed Evelyne, and from time to time we, sitting in the theater, think back to the disappeared dead woman, trying to outsmart the characters by guessing the identity of the murderer. Alice and Joseph make way for Marion (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), a pretty blonde waitress having a liaison with Evelyne (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), great sex ‘n’ all but Evelyne is concerned that she is twenty years older than her soulmate and is about to drop her. Does this give Marion the motive to kill Evelyne? Maybe.

Filmed on location in both France and Africa by Patrick Ghringhelli, the film stock making a sad comment about Abidjan’s slums and the depressed farms of Lozère at the same time hinting that the latter region has promise as a tour destination for skiing and scenic drives. “Only the Animals” features an extended final chapter in Abidjan, the capital of a country that won independence from France in 1960, highlighting an internet scammer whose lively-turned-morose character makes us root for him despite his dabbling in crime.

In my view “Only the Animals” is running next-and-next with Julia Ducournau’s “Titane” as this year’s two best French films so far, the former emphasizing the bizarre connections between its people than on American-style suspense. The picture is in French with English subtitles and happily without the intrusive music that ruins so many of our own American pictures.

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

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

NOT GOING QUIETLY – movie review

Greenwich Entertainment
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nicholas Bruckman
Writer: Nicholas Bruckman, Amanda Roddy
Cast: Ady Barkan, Tracey Corder, Elizabeth Jaff, Rachael King, Ana Maria Archila, Nate Smith, Jeff Flake, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/10/21
Opens: October 5, 2021

Ady Barkan and son Carl

Life is a crapshoot. When a couple decide to have children to complete a family, their fingers are likely crossed that they will bring forth a healthy birth and that their offspring will enjoy full happy lives albeit with the strong possibility that their health will deteriorate in old age. A two-year-old with leukemia puts all heaven in a rage, as the poet William Blake might say. A person in mid-thirties who acquires Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease (after the famous baseball player with the Brooklyn Dodgers), may well make religious folks question God’s motives. While some adults with the disease—it’s idiopathic, i.e. of unknown origin, unavoidable even by strenuous exercise, a Mediterranean diet, yoga, meditation, or picking the right parents—may resign themselves to the wasting of their muscles in this neurological nightmare, Ady Barkan is not going quietly. After receiving the crushing diagnosis from his neurologist, who gave him three to four years to live, Barkan became an activist in Congress, demanding with his group of followers that our government pass legislation for Medicare for All or Universal Health Care and to stop messing around with the reactionary idea of cutting Social Security and Medicare to allow corporations and the wealthy to pay taxes that today are way too low.

Since “Not Going Quietly” is not a biopic, we hear nothing about Barkan’s parents—one of whom is Romanian and the other Israeli—nor are we shown that he was brought up in a secular Jewish-American household and graduated from Yale Law School. Director Nicholas Bruckman, whose “Valley of Saints” is a narrative of a poor Kashmiri citizen who tries to run away, chased by the military, does not shrink away from capturing the deterioration in Barkan’s body as he goes downhill from being wheelchair bound to losing the clarity of his speech and movement in most of his body. But Barkan, who has a wife Rachael and a young son Carl who calls his daddy by the Hebrew word Abba, becomes a figure not of pity but one that thrusts him into such strenuous political activism that Time magazine has called him one of the world’s one hundred most influential people.

In addition to fighting against Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court of Brett Kavanaugh, whose politics might lead him to hand down decisions that would financially impact the health of disabled Americans, he is caught on camera buttonholing then Senator Jeff Flake on a commercial flight, begging him to vote against a right-wing supported tax bill. Despite Flake’s willingness to listen, standing up in a plaid shirt and showing empathy with the fellow in a wheelchair, he did not promise to vote the way Barkan would like. Still, this confrontation may give viewers the faulty impression that Flake was one of the large majority of ultra-conservative Republican lawmakers when in fact he was among that party’s most reasonable members (not a high bar to overcome). The talk on the aircraft went viral on social media, giving people who do not read newspapers new insight into the divisiveness of current American politics, highlighting the cruelty of self-serving politicians.

Barkan’s story is an inspiring one with limited sentimental goo, one that should give viewers the idea that perhaps our government should spend more on medical research, authorizing more money for seriously disabled people than fighting hopeless, unnecessary wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq. Thankfully ALS is a rare disease usually picked up in late middle age and not in one’s thirties as was the case with Barkan. It will make you wonder why Republicans speak and vote as though social services for ordinary people are disposable while expanding the Monroe Doctrine to cover not just the Western Hemisphere but the entire world commands the attention of today’s oft-times cruel and thoughtless policy makers.

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

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

TITANE – movie review

Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Jacques Akchoti, Simonetta Greggio, Jean-Christophe Bouzy
Cast: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Lais Salameh, Bertrand Bonello, Dominique Frot
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/24/21
Opens: October 1, 2021

Do you like my implant?

During the early 1960s Joan Baez made an imprint on the women’s liberation movement with her song, “Wagoner’s Lad,” which begins “Hard is the fortune of all woman kind/ She’s always controlled, she’s always confined…” In a tale of riveting horror, director Julia Ducournau, whose “Raw” about a woman studying to be a vet who has a craving for human flesh, contributes a new movie that is right up her alley. Though some might find it difficult to consider “Titane” principally an allegory–of a woman who is “always controlled, always confined,” nor do you need to do so. This film, which won a Palme D’Or for Ducournau at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, just might knock your socks off. In fact, the energy is so visceral, one might even anticipate a few sensitive souls in the audience heading for the exits, which would be a shame. Moviegoers should be prepared for anything that takes them out of their comfort zones.

In a stunning performance whether playing the part of a woman, Alexia, or of a young man, Adrien, Agathe Rousselle dominates the proceedings, creating potential gasps from the audience whether she uses a knitting needle to kill an aggressive man, or has sex with a car at an auto show, or dances on top of a vehicle at the show or a fire truck. When she gets bored doing this, she kills a few people as though executing a knit-one, pearl-two. It’s not long before the French authorities are after her, transmitting a picture throughout the country. However, Alexia, like our own Brian Laundrie who is suspected of killing his fiancé Gabby, is equally determined to evade the authorities. She could travel the Pyrenees just as Laundrie may be hiking the Appalachian Trail, but she is even more creative. She shaves her head, wraps cloth around her breast to compress it, and invites herself to the home of Vincent Legrand (Vincent Lindon), whose son disappeared ten years earlier and would now be seventeen. At that point, “Titane” enters the territory of John Guare and Fred Schepisi’s 1993 movie “Six Degrees of Separation,” wherein a young scammer introduces himself to a couple as their long lost son.

The film starts at a furious pace. A young girl is injured in a car crash and is fixed up with a titanium plate in her head. Titane means titanium—which reminds me of a dental implant I recently received which, hopefully, does not mess me up the way Alexia’s does. Years late she performs as a showgirl at a motor show, getting off by humping a car and, as we all know what happens when you have sex with a car. You become pregnant. When her knitting needle fails to abort the early pregnancy, she uses the tool as a weapon to kill an obnoxious man, but when one of the women she is fighting escapes to report her to the gendarme, she enters the disguise.

What a show, enhanced by cinematographer Ruben Impens’ bright colors and terrifically realistic fires. Agathe Rousselle, who could be up for year-end awards for an arresting performance in her first professional role, plays neatly off Vincent Lindon, chief of a fire department whose life changes when he becomes involved with his lost-and-found “son” Adrien. Adrien has quite the job to fool the heretofore depressed father, since tightening cloth around your chest is only the beginning of the scam. She refuses to talk, hinting that she had been traumatized during her ten years’ separation, and what’s more she had previously broken her own nose and punched herself around to make the falsification credible. Adrien’s mother (Myriem Akheddiou), who visits the house, becomes suspicious but is willing to play along since “Adrien” is making dad happy again. Not so happy are the young firefighters, who envy the attention that Vincent is giving his “son,” their antipathy leading to some major bullying.

All hell breaks out when Alexia is about to give birth with the help of her putative dad but without the presence of the car she humped. Motor oil drips from her body, a fitting summing up of what is probably going to compete with Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Icelandic entry “Lamb” for the year’s most imaginative picture.

In French with English subtitles.

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

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


Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Thor Klein
Writer: Thor Klein
Cast: Philippe Tlokinski, Esther Garrel, Fabian Kociecki, Joel Basman, Mateusz Wieclawek, Sam Keeley
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/22/21
Opens: October 1, 2021

I know that 2+2 equals 4 and can even show the extensive work on paper using Core Math. I discovered that A+B sometimes equals 7, sometimes not. But what I do not understand is how mathematics helps scientists to make the atomic bomb. “Adventures of a Mathematician” does not tell you how, since it takes more than 102 minutes to explain, nor is there much of an adventure in the Thor Klein’s film, at least not in the sense of Indiana Jones. Instead this is a staid, conventional, chronological biopic of a guy who, according to his Wikipedia article had a fine head on his shoulders. And we do learn that he is not all numbers and chain-smoking. Maybe the greatest adventure he had was to escape from Poland, where he was a member of a rich, Jewish family, and get a gig teaching mathematics at Harvard—where in one scene he seemed to be teaching the tie-and-jacket adult students card tricks. We know he also flirted with a French woman, Françoise (Esther Garrel) at a party, married her and had a daughter; and that he traveled to New Mexico to take part in creating the atomic bomb. But we don’t even see a mushroom cloud when the bomb was tested. Did I mention that the movie is staid? (sedate · respectable · quiet · serious · steady, serious-minded).

I have a sudden craving for mushrooms.

Stan Ulam is not a household name like Albert Einstein, though he does have a extensive Wikipedia article. And he is played by Philippe Tlokinski, a handsome dude who is fluent in Polish and English, but writer-director Klein, whose first movie “Lost Place” looks more exciting as it is about four teenagers come across an abandoned US military radio tower station that once was part of a secret military program. This is his sophomore feature. We can wonder whether his third film will be like the first or like this one.

Klein touches upon Ulam’s relationship with his younger brother Adam (Mateusz Wieclawek) who came to America, but they worry about their parents who are left in Poland. This may explain in part why Stan Ulam, along with other mathematicians, physicists and engineers are eager to build a bomb before the Nazis produce one, yet hey, the war in Europe is over so who’s left to torment? There’s Japan on whom to test the bomb, though at least one scientist, Sam Keeley (Jack Calkin) delivers an explosion of his own, yells that it is barbaric to burn women and children. Amen.

When Stan hears arguments from Edward Teller (Joel Basman), who pushes for a hydrogen bomb—which may need three baby atomic bombs to light up–he is caught in the middle. He understands and abhors the devastation wrought in Japan and is also aware that the Cold War with the Soviet Union is back on. And one Klaus Fuchs has apparently committed treason to giving the USSR the secret of its making. A final melodramatic burst comes from Stan’s brother, who renounces all ties to Judaism. Huh?

Bringing the key points in the life of a mathematician who has produced far more than chalk writing on a board is a worthy project for director Klein, but…meh!

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

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

EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS – movie review

Quiver Distribution
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: S.J. Chiro
Writer: David Guterson, Thane Swigart
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Tom Skerritt, Annie Gonzalez, Victoria Summer Felix, Wally Dalton
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/21/21
Opens: September 24, 2021

Rex – retrieve that bird

You would be hard put to find a better, more succinct summary of the nature of human beings than in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” II,vii. Babyhood is not that terrific, “Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms,” nor is youth, “And then the whining schoolboy with his satchel…creeping like snail unwillingly.” Worst of all is old age, the seventh stage, “second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” The final stage is the canvas onto which S.J. Chiro paints, and for the most part it’s not pretty. And yet, given that old age is being performed by the eighty-eight-year-old Tom Skerritt as Ben Givens, you may come away from the film with the idea that even with cancer, old age has redeeming features.

In the 1999 novel by David Guterson, Ben Givens is by comparison a young man of seventy-three, but given his diagnosis of colon cancer, there is no chance that he can live to the ripe old age portrayed by the Givens in the movie. And if we can go back and steal the best-known line of Shakespeare, Chiro, using a script by Thane Swigart and adapting the novel of David Guterson “to be or not to be” is the choice. The conflict is not man vs. man, or man vs. nature, but man against himself.

Throughout Chiro’s film, you may be haunted by the portrait of Ben’s inner battle. Given is a retired cardiac surgeon in Seattle who a year back had lost his beloved wife and now calculates that without treatment he has one year to live. The death will not be pretty, as he matter-of-factly relates, blisters, pneumonia, suffocation. When he fails to pull the trigger of his rifle at home, he intends to finish the deed outdoors, heading from Seattle to rural Washington state where he meets the kinds of people that big city cats cannot believe.

Oh we can believe Bill Harden (John Paulsen), the only bad guy. His coyote dog mauls Bill’s four-legged hunting companion, and Ben shoots the runaway animal. Bill, the attack dog’s owner, takes no responsibility for the aggression and takes away Ben’s rifle. On the other hand, abandoning his car after it breaks down, Ben meets the nicest folks after accepting a ride to a motel from a passing motorist. He then discovers a veterinarian, Anita (Annie Gonzalez), willing to drive out at night to stitch up the dog and keep the animal for observation.

Maybe he should have listened to his daughter, Renee Givens (Mira Sorvino), who advised Ben to give up thoughts of the road trip, but then we would not have been able fully to enjoy the performance of Tom Skerritt, whose movie résumé stretches back to 1962 but has regularly been featured heretofore mostly in supporting roles. Soft-focus flashbacks to his adolescence in East Washington State finds him a handsome young man, courting young Rachel (Victoria Summer Felix), though we learn little from the meetings, which is fine since we are really interested in his feelings as an old man bereft of his early dreams, expecting to die painfully in one year or more immediately by his own hand.

The mountainous regions of Washington State are photographed in their natural beauty by Sebastien Sandiuzzi; the river, the brush, the evocation of God’s country coupled with a look at the friendliness of a nearby village where, like with “Cheers,” everybody knows your name.

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

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


A LA CALLE (To the Streets)

Warner Media 150 for HBO Max
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nelson G. Navarrete, Maxx Caicedo
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/13/21
Opens: September 15, 2021 on HBO Max

A La Calle (2020) - IMDb
Political Activism

Some American Marxists have a habit of endorsing the government or any country that calls itself socialist, as though each of these authoritarian regimes have not wound up with firmly statist roles. So it is that in Venezuela, American socialists and their sympathizers virtually deified Hugo Chavez for breaking up big estates and handing them over to “the people.” His successor, however, never had the Chavez’s charisma, and what’s more he has been blamed for turning his once rich Venezuela into a nation rife with starvation and hyperinflation. There is little doubt that Nicolás Maduro rigged elections and, in fact, our own previous president recognized his major opponent as the actual interim president of Venezuela. In this documentary, Nelson G. Navarrete and Maxx Caicedo make the case that Maduro does hold his post illegally as do hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who line the streets demanding his ouster.

“A la calle” calls dramatic attention to the situation in Venezuela, once the richest country in Latin America, now perhaps the poorest. But in giving so much attention to the street protests, where opposition leaders like Leopoldo Lopéz and Juan Guaidó bring out hundreds of thousands of citizens of Caracas a la calle—directors Nelson G. Navarrete and Maxx Caicedo do make crystal clear why so many people treat these opponents as though they are messiahs.

Instead of doing their best to try to block out the speeches with intrusive music, the directors could have made clear why the country blames the current president for sinking the country’s economy. The economy is contracting as the country is almost wholly dependent on the world price of oil—which it does not control. At the same time, prices for goods are sky high, so that a family might be able to afford a kilo of cheese and a couple of plátanos, they would have to choose between the two. If it were not tragic, it would be humorous to note as we see one head of family plunk down bankrolls of bolivars as though he had just robbed a bank, but all of that paper is worth just enough to get some pasta and rice Can you imagine what would happen in our country if inflation hit 450% a year as it does in Venezuela? Some years ago a U.S. dollar would net you 100 bolivars. Now one dollar can get you 404,296,000,000 bolivars. Need wallpaper, anybody?

When the government–imposed price ceilings on food, the supermarket shelves were cleared out in days. Now that the government has backtracked, milk, eggs, flour, soap and toilet paper are unaffordable to most. But here’s the rub. While Venezuelans and an increasing number of soldiers have crossed the bridge to Colombia, the film does not explain why so many folks believe their problems would be over if Maduro departed: a corrupt dictator who refuses to allow humanitarian aid from Brazil and Colombia since that would be an admission of failure. If opposition leaders like Juan Guaidó, once head of the Venezuelan National Assembly—which at one point was dissolved by Maduro—took power in Miraflores–he is recognized as the current interim president by fifty countries—how would that solve the food and medicine shortages? Even the brief allowances that Maduro made by distributing food to his supporters among the poor through the CLAP program is corrupt. It is said that Maduro owns the company from which the food was bought, but we do not learn this from the film.

While it’s true that Maduro and his inner circle have gained weight on lavish meals while 78% of his people are starving, we’ve got to ask: once again, how would a new leadership change the situation when the country depends so much on the price of oil? We wind up with a film full of sound and fury (and did I mention the intrusive, unrelenting music?) signifying little other than rah rah speeches and impressively filmed street demonstrations.

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

Story – C-
Acting – n/a
Technical –B
Overall – C


POWDER KEG (Krudttønden)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ole Christian Madsen
Writer: Lars Kristian Andersen, Ole Christian Madsen
Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lars Brygmann, Jakob Oftebro, Sonja Richter, Nicolaj Kopernikus, Martin Greis-Rosenthal
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/29/21
Opens: September 3, 2021

Thinking of quitting the SWAT team

The political situation in the U.S. has become so divisive that some say politics has replaced religion as the factor that most divides people. Now, given the satirical banter by late-night comedians like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmerl and Trevor Noah, much of which was taken up with excoriating comments about the former president, you may wonder why religion gets a free pass—aside from commentary about the cover up of sexual abuses among some fathers of the church, not really a challenge to religious beliefs. So: even in free-speech America (free speech, that is, until you are a victim of cancel culture or are threatened with physical violence for advocating masks), religion goes on an unapproachable dais. We respect each other’s faiths. Yet, it’s not every day that Americans are threatened with death for criticizing a religion, but among radical Islamists, there’s a different story to tell. And Ole Christian Madsen, who directs “Powder Keg, with the original title Krudttønden, the name of a culture center in which a fatal shooting took place in Copenhagen in February 2015, tells an involving story albeit one with physical action reserved for the conclusion.

There are two shootings, actually, both by a radicalized Muslim, a frequent felon named Omar El-Hussein (Albert Arthur Amiryan). Despite his crime record, given Denmark’s liberal treatment of offenders who are often put inside luxury prisons, he is out on parole pending an appeal. His is the most sinister character in a film that wisely avoids a straight documentary in favor of a rich narrative. Omar, who kills one innocent person in each of two shootings in Denmark’s wonderful capital, is sought by Rico, a SWAT team member (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who has been battered and is ultimately urged to leave the vigorous requirements of SWAT for a gig that would preserve his life and limbs.

We will meet two other principal characters whose careers in separate avenues of the city will take them together at the conclusion. Welcome Dan Uzan (Adam Buschard), a chief of security at a synagogue who is applying for a better job in logistics; Finn Nørgaard (Lars Brygmann), a journalist-filmmaker who is an advocate of free speech without the “but,” meaning there should be no exceptions, not even against satirical treatment of any religion. When Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist sketches The Prophet as a dog, Omar’s fury passes the point of no return. Though even his buddies at an Islamic club warn him against violent action, he insists, like Rodney Dangerfield, that he gets no respect. What’s more he envisions a caliphate with Islam, “the only true religion,” giving orders to the entire world after the Conquest.

The shoot-up scenes are well done, with one principal character’s becoming a hero and giving his life to stop the gunman when he could have run like the others, though in the second event a man is killed outright. (You can read all about the true story in Wikipedia under Copenhagen terrorist shootings.)I particularly enjoyed Finn’s extended conversation at a dinner in which he tried the patience of his friends, most of whom agreed with Finn, that freedom of speech is freedom of speech. (Though even we in the U.S. can legally bar speech that leads directly to action: applied too late against the former president on January 6.) Characters are given humanity even outside the realm of the central issue. Dan Uzan, ready to move up after delivering security for yet another Bat Mitzvah outside Copenhagen’s Great Synagogue, cannot get a better job for months, rejected by phone time after time. Rico, divorced with two kids, fantasies getting back with his ex-wife. Poor guy has women visiting him for sex, but one of them rejected his call for yet another date saying that he’s too tired for her.

All in all, yet another series of true events done in somewhat fictionalized narrative form, “Powder Keg” is a visceral reminder that when it comes to religion as with politics and opinions of rap music, people do not all think the same. Some will show their differences by damaging the lives and limbs of others.

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

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

WILDLAND – movie review

WILDLAND (Kød & blod)
Film Movement
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jeanette Nordahl
Writer: Ingeborg Topsøe
Cast: Sandra Guldberg Kampp, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Joachim Fjelstrup, Elliott Crosset Hove, Besir Zeciri
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/13/21
Opens: August 20, 2021 at New York’s Film Forum

Criminal family values

“Wildland,” whose Danish title means “flesh and blood,” is a gangster film, a crime drama, one in which a murder takes place which leads police to intimidate the person they believe should be easiest to crack and confess. But if you’re looking for another “Godfather” (though a loyal family is involved), you’ll have to look a lot father than Denmark where the action takes place. (Given that “Wildland” is filmed in the Danish ‘burbs, you would not guess the location unless you spotted the spoken language as Danish.)

This is a muted story, too low key for a Hollywood-only audience, more suited to the kinds of indie-lovers that may have seen it at a festival. In her freshman entry, one that will lead the proper audience to keep their eyes on direktør Jeanette Nordahl to watch for later contributions, the film, which highlights strong female performances, opens with a car turned upside down. Seventeen-year-old Ida (Sandra Guldberg Kampp) survives, walking away later to receive a cast on her arm, but her alcoholic mother dies. What’s to become of Ida, who not surprisingly asks her social walker to set her up in her own apartment?

No deal: she is sent to live with her long-estranged aunt Bodil (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who demonstrates throughout the story her love for her three sons Jonas (Fjel Joachim Fjeolstrup), David (Elliott Crosset Howe) and Mads (Besir Zeciri). A good deal of the time, Ida acts as would an American high-school senior, who would doodle while her teacher drones on about the Congress of Vienna. She is understandably upset, not acting hysterical as some kids might, but appearing so indifferent to her new family that you might wonder why they do not return her to the social worker as though she were a phlegmatic Basset hound.

She bonds with one boy’s girlfriend, shows signs of life at a dance hangout, then slowly becomes more attached and at home to such an extent that when she is driving with the boys and witnesses a murder, she knows that she is dealing with a loan-sharking, criminal gang. Will she testify against them when the cops browbeat her, or will she obey the iron-fisted family matriarch who pleads with her to keep silent because “family is everything.”

Happily, direktør Nordahl does not fill the soundtrack with music as a Hollywood regisseur might do but instead opts to give Frederikee Hoffmeier permission to include pulsating music at the film’s major climactic moment. All leads are doing stærkt arbejde (strong work), with young Sandra Guldberg Kampp delivering a thoroughly believable set of reactions each time she discovers something new about this atypical suburban clan.

“Wildland” was featured at the 2020 Berlin Festival. In Danish with English subtitles.

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

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

PIG – movie review

Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Sarnoski
Writer: Michael Sarnoski, story by Michael Sarnoski, Vanessa Block
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin, Nina Belforte, Cassandra Violet, Julia Bray, Elijah Ungvary
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/2/21
Opens: August 3, 2021 (streaming)


If you were tempted to see this film thinking that it’s about the title character, you might be disappointed. “Pig,” despite enjoying lavish attention and great respect by her human companion, does not have much of a role, save for a few attempts to talk Latin, which is indigenous to porkers. But she is nice looking; colorful, not the typical white pig you will find suffering hell in any one of America’s pig farms and processing plants. Even Gunda had a bigger role in Viktor Kosakovskiy’s documentary.

But you say, “No problem?” That you really went to writer-director Michael Sarnoski’s picture to enjoy Nicolas Cage’s magnificent performance as Robin Feld? There’s a reason that Cage is great, aside from the fact that he is such a world-class actor. Sarnoski’s script gives him the chance to show emotions all the way from A to R if not to Z. Sarnoski, whose “Olympia” is about a farm girl who wants more than to be a farm girl (the opposite, if you will, from Nic Cage’s Rob, who goes from his life in the big city to what he might consider a farm), has an easy job with his first full-length film given Cage’s doubtless ability to direct his own performance.

Rob is so traumatized by the loss of his wife Lori years back that he shed his fame as a master chef to retreat to a log cabin that not even Thoreau would go near. He lives, albeit not intimately, with Pig who he uses to search the woods for truffles. He sells the truffles to Amir (Alex Wolff), who drives by from downtown Portland every Thursday to pick up the week’s catch to deliver to tony restaurants. Later Rob will admit that he could gather truffles without his companion but lives with her to avoid loneliness, which may be why he is devastated when a couple of hoodlums break into the shack and kidnap her. Anyone who dotes on such a pet (pigs are smarter than dogs) would be as heartbroken.

There follow a series of strange events that would make “Pig” a super indie; really indie-ish, that is. In search of Pig, he thumbs a ride with Amir, patronizes an illegal fight club of restaurant employees presumably to find out the pig’s location and getting the crap beaten out of him without resisting. He dines, bloody face and unkempt beard to the restaurant Eurydice, where he criticizes a former employee chef (David Knell), for opening a contemporary, successful establishment rather than the pub that he had dreamed of owning. Ultimately he faces the perpetrator who admits to ordering the kidnapping and promises $25,000 if Rob would walk away.

This is not the revenge fantasy that some moviegoers might expect seeing the Nicolas Cage, who in other pics was set on fire and endured flipped cars, is the principal performer, but it is rather a study of regret. That’s what most of us who are unfortunately equipped with enough brains to examine our lives, which is supposedly what makes life living, one which leads caused Rob to throw off his success as a restaurateur and to live in a cabin with his one endearing companion. When you here Amir’s father calling his son a mediocrity, you’ve got to have empathy for Amir as well as for Rob, the former a man who could never become the success enjoyed by his dad Darius (Adam Arkin). At least he has a bond with Rob, with Alex Wolff pairing off nicely as straight man in this odd couple, in a picture that’s filmed on location near Mount Hood which is East of Portland.

Next time a maître d’ asks you to leave his restaurant because you’re not wearing a tie, show him a photo of Rob Feld in one of Portland’s trendy establishments, bloody face, scruff beard, shaggy clothes, yet having a conversation with a chef who is deeply affected.

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

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

THE CONDUCTOR – movie review

Nylon Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bernadette Wegenstein
Writer: Bernadette Wegenstein, Stefan Fauland
Cast: Marin Alsop, Christanne de Bruijn, Benjamin Wainwright, Scott Turner Schofield, Seumas F. Sargent, Annet Malherbe
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/10/21
Opens: June 15, 2021

Even some feminists understand that few women should qualify as firefighters. Can they lift 300 pounds, the weight of the average American? That’s a job for men, for the most part. But a baton: how much does it weigh? Under a pound? Then there is every reason that a woman can do the job of conducting an orchestra as well as a man. Yet there are probably more female doormen in Manhattan than women who aspire to be orchestral conductors.

So along comes U.S. born Marin Alsop, determined to break the sound barrier. “The Conductor” is directed by Bernadette Wegenstein (yes, women get directing jobs), obviously a progressive, given that her doctoral degree from Vienna University is accomplished with a dissertation on the portrayal in the media of the ActUp movement. And in one of her films, “The Good Breast,” she criticizes the overuse of mastectomies.

Marin Alsop anchors the documentary, leading us in the audience to see how with determination she becomes the first woman to direct an American classical group of musicians, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She becomes a mentor to other women who dream of becoming conductors including one African-American man who notes that conducting has been his lifelong dream. I know that every kid dreams of being an astronaut, and even musical tots may want to be the next Benny Goodman or Louis Armstrong, Artur Rubenstein or Glenn Gould. But conductor?

What does a conductor do anyway? In the film’s most incisive scene, Leonard Bernstein, the last century’s most gifted and versatile composer-conductor-pianist-lecturer, steps away from a rehearsing orchestra for a moment and asks: Do these people need a conductor? Aren’t they doing just fine without one? Sadly, the question is not really answered, so viewers may still think that conductors are little more than human metronomes.

Alsop is nothing if not cosmopolitan. She has spent eight years conducting in Sao Paulo, apparently picking up the Portuguese language, speaking German while she conducts the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Nor is she a snob that would not listen to anything not seriously classical, having directed an all-women’s swing band, playing such great hits as “In the Mood.” (If you like films about music, be sure to check out the 1953 movie of that title starring James Stewart.) This swing band brings me back to my days at Tufts when each year, Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops, does renditions of such serious classical greats as “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

By way of instruction, she tells one young woman studying to be a conductor to be like the person who is suddenly confronted by an angry bear. No…don’t play dead. Bad advice. Instead make yourself as big as you can. There’s an attitude that happily many women, at least in the West, have taken to heart.

The soundtrack is as stirring as anything from the huge musical “In the Heights,” with more than just ten-second snippets from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Shostakovich’s Fifth, Mahler’s Fifth, the famous opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth, some of Rimski-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. (Considering some of these picks, one wonders whether the folks making “The Conductor” have liquor on their minds.)

Where there’s music, there is hope for humanity. This optimism comes up near the conclusion, which makes one think that instead of selling assault rifles and fighter jets to our allies, we should just train them to make music, not war.

The film has been selected to play at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. In English with snippets of German and Portuguese, English subtitles.

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

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

A PERFECT ENEMY – movie review

Brainstorm Media
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kike Maíllo
Writers: Cristina Clemente, Kike Maíllo, Fernando Navarro, from Amélie Nothomb’s novel “Cosmétique de l’ennemi.
Cast: Athena Strates, Tomasz Kot, Marta Nieto, Dominique Pinhon
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/8/21
Opens: June 11, 2021

The way the plot is constructed reminds me of the opening lines of my favorite poem:

“It is an ancient mariner
And he stoppeth one of three,
‘By thy long gray beard and glittering eye,
Wherefore stoppeth thou me?’”

Top architect Jeremiasz August (Tomasz Kot) delivers a talk at a Ted-type conference, where his best line is that perfection is reached when there is nothing more to take away. He is on the way to Charles deGaulle airport where he expects to board a flight from Paris to Warsaw when Texel Textor (Athena Strates), a woman of about twenty years, pounds on the taxi door. She asks for a lift to the airport since she cannot find a taxi. He reluctantly offers her a seat, though he is running late for his flight. Incredibly, when she fears that she left her luggage and passport behind, he allows the taxi to reverse course so she can find it.

What Barcelona-born director Kike Maíllo will be dealing with for most of the story is like what rivets wedding guest in Coleridge’s poem; rooted to the ground although he “heard the loud bassoon,” unable to walk away from the cursed sailor. Texel serves, if you will, as a modern ancient mariner (oxymoron intended), relishing the famous man’s attention, and if he had any doubts about giving the woman his time, her question, “Have you ever killed anybody?” rivets him. Her story will come to near completion when she describes the person that she murdered.

Opposites attract. The architect is a perfectionist; his philosophy apparently one of minimalism. By contrast she is like the kid who is sent to the principal’s office almost daily; impulsive, driven, and imaginative where he favors the concrete. Jeremiasz’s own imagination, however, is not restricted to counting sheep. Unlike the impression he gives to his audience at the Ted-type talk, that he is wedded to the concrete, to what can be proved (he does not believe in God), he will fool the modern mariner and, like the song from Anna in “The King and I” song “Whenever I’m afraid…I whistle a happy tune…and fool myself as well,” he deceives himself.

The two have started off as strangers, although Texel may or may not have been at Jeremiasz’s lecture, they have someone in common, Isabella (Marta Nieto), a beautiful woman whose own story seems so compelling per Texel’s narration that the architect may miss his flight and not care. Such is the power of a good storyteller, and Textor, whose name means “weaving a text,” is magnificent.

This is an imaginative tale full of human emotion that at some point reaches a boiling point. A person’s head comes crashing into a mirror in the airport men’s room. A knife is drawn, which will predictably be used. So no, Jeremiasz, you may wish the world to be rational, but it is anything but. After a few hours of conversation with Texel, who is the architect’s unequal, too young to be a college graduate, the architect has been taken down, his view of the world deconstructed.

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

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

IN THE HEIGHTS – movie review

Warner Bros.
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jon M. Chu
Writer: Quiara Alegria Hudes, based on the musical stage play with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, concept by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV
Opens: June 11, 2021

In The Heights Movie Poster (h) : 11 X 17 Inches

If home is where the heart is, the one concept that you can predict from the first minutes of this dazzling musical is this: Though the people of this neighborhood may have come from the Dominican Republic, Washington Heights is home. Unless you can play spectacular baseball, you can dream more of success in Nueva York than in Santo Domingo. What’s more, the people surrounding the subway stop at W. 181 Street in northern Manhattan have created their own DR, perfectly willing to put up with the summer’s heat and the occasional loss of electric power since they have the ambition to work hard, hearing that the money will come. Or so we American optimists believe.

Director Jon M. Chu, best known in these parts for the runaway hit “Crazy Rich Asians” about well-to-do people in New York, one of whom goes to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family, now takes on people who are rich at least in spirit. As we learn from a variety of Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs and lyrics and a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, the Tony-awards winning, three-years’-running Broadway play is gloriously taken to the big screen. The musical loses nothing by the transfer and even gains, as the neighborhood by the George Washington Bridge is sometimes filled with a near-mile of dancing people, all of whom could get places on TV’s Dancing with the Stars.

Anthony Ramos holds the story together as Usnavi, who runs a bodega with his cousin, his unique name taken from a U.S. Navy ship, perhaps the first English letters his parents saw upon their arrival in Nueva York. Director Cho, knowing that people who attend musicals live for song and dance just as opera lovers live for the arias, gives Ramos and company a chance to show their mettle in hip-hop (though not taking up the same time as it did in Miranda’s “Hamilton”), in jazz, and in Latin dances namely salsa and merengue. Ramos, the 29-year-old actor known to cinephiles for his roles in “Hamilton” as Philip Hamilton and Ramon in “A Star is Born” gets the tale rolling by telling a long story to a group of young people on the beach, including the adorable Iris played by Olivia Perez in her sophomore movie role.

Usnavi, having come here with his parents, wants to move up the ladder more quickly than he could as a New York bodega owner, and dreams of going back to a Caribbean paradise. He saves his dollars to buy a kiosk in the DR that had been owned by his father. He is fond of his one employee, his teen cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), and tries to coax him into changing his roots as well. But Sonny, despite living with an alcoholic dad, still prefers New York over any move. Usnavi has longed for a hotter relationship with Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who wants to move up the social ladder by getting into the downtown Manhattan fashion industry. If Usnavi is the movie’s center, Claudia (Olga Merediz), the entire neighborhood’s would-be abuela (grandmother), takes the role of mentor, watching lovingly over her flock.

The story’s other romance, between Benny (Corey Hawkins), a taxi dispatcher, and Nina (Leslie Grace), is noted particularly for Nina’s apparent going the wrong way on the road to success. Though a freshman at Stanford, she has dropped out, concerned that her father Kevin (Jimmy Smits) cannot afford the tuition, but mostly because as a Latino she feels a fish out of water in the prestigious California institution. This is a surprise considering that Stanford, like so many other top universities in the U.S., make a point to have a diverse body of students. (She might feel more comfortable at NYU or Columbia, where she may have been accepted as well.)

But hey, this is a musical, the crowd-pleasing scene taken over by song and dance. Of particularly merit is a Busby Berkeley-like scene in a pool, the wall-to-wall dancing in the neighborhood where cinematographer Alice Books trains her lenses on location, the audience wondering how the company was able to take up so many blocks in a normally busy neighborhood with no interference by passers-by.

Politics is not ignored. There lies a worrisome threat of a potential cancellation of DACA by some undocumented folks, and gentrification is raising rents in the area, so salon proprietor Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega) cannot afford the increases and is moving—but not to the DR, only up north to Bronx’s Grand Concourse. It’s a shame that she is on her last days in the town considering the delicious gossip that these customers spread while getting their hair done and their nails painted. The most imaginative song-and-dance is by Benny and Nina who appear to be Mr. and Mrs. Spiderman, walking straight up and down the walls of an old apartment building. (If you watched Stephen Colbert doing push-ups in a recent show when he was in truth simply extending his arms, you realize that all that had to be done was to move the camera on its side.)

If you liked “Hamilton” for its sense of history (lacking in this show) and its emphasis on a steady diet of rap, you might find that artistry less developed in “In the Heights.” Still, the lenses are in love with all these people. The musical on the whole is provocative, engrossing, poignant; a high-voltage treasure.

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

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

SHEPHERD: The Story of a Jewish Dog

SHEPHERD: The Story of a Jewish Dog
JDog Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lynn Roth
Writer: Lynn Roth, Based on Asher Kravitz’s novel “The Jewish Dog”
Cast: August Maturo, Ken Duken, Ayelet Zurer, Ádám Porogi, Viktória Stefanovszky
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/21/21
Opens: May 28, 2021

If you have even been owned by a dog or two, if you have felt the reciprocal love that comes from this lucky break, prepare to shed a tear. “Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog,” tells of the separation and the ultimate reunion of a 12-year-old boy Joshua (August Maturo) and his German Shepherd Caleb (Hebrew for “dog” also connoting “as if it understands”). But if you are the kind of person who, when told by a friend that her dog got lost, or died, and you respond, “So what? It’s a dog and you can get another,” you might miss the emotional impact evoked in this film or, who knows…you might see and feel the tragedy when dog and human are separated.

The idea of a Jewish dog may be ironic, or maybe not, but in any case Lynn Roth, who directs and co-wrote, adapted Israeli Asher Kravitz’s novel “The Jewish Dog” translated into English by Michal Kessler, which on Amazon states that it is meant for people fourteen years of age and up. It is, I believe, meant for the entire family, if you overlook its basic simplicity (meant as a compliment because it is kid-friendly) and the fact that everyone speaks good English—the Germans played largely by Hungarians, the folks playing Yugoslav partisans, and to a lesser extent the American actors.

Surveys have found that forty percent of Americans have no idea what the Holocaust was all about, certainly true of the “Proud Boys” and Oath Keepers who are sure that it was all made up by Jews who pushed for the creation of Israel, and who spread the fake news via the “worldwide Jewish control of the media.” There is a direct line from the movie “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and “Life is Beautiful,” made largely for teens, so you don’t have to worry that your adolescent girls and boys will hear any curse word stronger than the “damn,” or that any dog would have the bad manners to pee and poop for the camera, or even to sniff another canine butt. But you will see the phenomenal brutality of the Nazis save for one guy, Ralph (Ken Duken), who adopts “Shepherd” with the job of chasing runaway Jews, calls him “Blitz,” and gives him love. Never mind that he is ready to kill young Joshua, a resident of the Treblinka concentration camp, for stealing crumbs meant for the camp animals.

The tale opens on the Berlin of 1935 when Jews are increasingly oppressed by signs on stores “No Jews allowed.” Joshua’s mother Shoshonna (Ayelet Zurer) and father Samuel (Ádám Porogi) break the news that Jews have been forbidden to have pets and that all their dogs were impounded. Shepherd is adopted first by the housekeeper’s husband Frank (Miklós Kapácsy), who calls him “Wilhelm,” and is henpecked by his mean wife Greta (Lois Robbins) who uses the opportunity to tell Frank how worthless he is.

Shepherd runs away, finds his way home, sees that his family is missing, and is caught on the street by the dogcatchers. In short order, he’s chosen by Nazi Ralph (Ken Duken) who now tells the dog his name is Blitz. Blitz is so brilliant that he learns to give the Heil Hitler salute, ingratiating him with the German officer corps who assign Ralph the job of training him to cut down anyone wearing a yellow star.

Life as shown in the Treblinka barracks is neither “Stalag 17” nor “Escape from Sobibor.” Little Joshua is assigned to feed the camp’s ducks, chickens, pigs and dogs, at which time Shepherd/Wilhelm/Blitz excitedly sees the boy and Joshua excitedly sees “Shepherd/Wilhelm/Blitz. The rest follows the tenets of historical fiction, though the movie ends before the book does so we do not see the death of the dog or Joshua.

The key conversation in this film takes place early on, as Joshua’s family tries to sell Caleb in the park. They are confronted by a potential sale, but the interested gentleman takes a pass because he cannot get the dog’s papers and therefore may not be pure. Call this a subtle dig at the show dog world, but more important, the passerby has internalized the absurd idea of the purity of blood. As sixty percent of Americans know, Jews, gypsies, even Jehovah’s Witnesses went to death camps because of the so-called impurity of their red stuff in a film which avoids graphic scenes like prisoners hanging (though a few get electrocuted on the camp fence, but that’s a distant shot).

This is a compelling enough movie, an effective Holocaust 101 course, entertaining enough for the big fry and likely absorbing the teens and prepubescent. The show’s star, the title character, is uncredited in the IMDB may be played by more than one dog.

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

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

200 METERS – movie review

Odeh Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ameen Nayfeh
Writer: Ameen Nayfeh
Cast: Ali Suliman, Anna Unterberger, Lana Zreik, Gassan Abbas, Nabil Al Raee, Motaz Malhees, Mahmoud Abu Eita, Samia Bakri Qazmuz
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/14/21
Opens: May 19-27, 2021 at the Human Rights Festival Watch Film Festival


To get an idea of what it’s like to be separated from your family like the people in this film, unable to meet with them without putting up with humiliating hassles, think of this. Brooklyn joined the rest of New York City in 1898. Imagine that Brooklyn and Manhattan are now hostile to each other. The U.S. government makes people go through a bureaucratic maze if they want to directly cross the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan or to travel from Manhattan to Brooklyn. There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is you cannot sneak from your busy family’s Brooklyn apartment to visit your mistress in Manhattan. The good news is your in-laws from Manhattan may not visit you in Brooklyn. Similarly, in “200 Meters” Palestinians living in the West Bank cannot cross over into Israel proper without ID cards, regular permits and work permits. By controlling passages between Israel and the West bank, the Israeli government has succeeded in stopping at least 75% of the terror incidents that the country faced previously. What’s going down now, in mid-May 2021, shows how suppressed feelings over the hassles can boil over violently.

The title comes from the distance that Mustafa (Ali Suliman) lives from his wife Salwa (Lana Zreik). Mustafa lives with his mother in the West Bank near the city of Tulkarem (the writer-director’s birthplace) and Salwa lives with her kids in Israel. Why are they not living in the same house? Mustafa wants nothing to do with Israeli citizenship and refuses to hold an Israeli ID. Salwa wants her child to go to a Macabee Camp in Haifa under Jewish auspices, which infuriates her husband, while at the same the more practical Salwa does not understand why he cannot live with her in Israel. Thing is, Mustafa can see his wife’s apartment house from his window (just as Sarah Palin can see Russia from her Alaska digs). She can signal him with lights. She can talk on the phone with him. They simply have different politics.

If you think the tension between them can be a catalyst for an exciting movie, you’re on the shekels, because this is one of the best road trip films in years. “200 Meters” is a thriller which at the same time educates the moviegoing public about what it’s like to make a choice. Should you go the 200 meters through a busy, crowded checkpoint to cross the big wall that the Jewish state has erected separating the West Bank from Israel, or, if you are missing a permit, should you wait over the weekend to renew your permit? Or should you take a trip of several hours catered by smugglers who make money ferrying people via a back way? It is not that Mustafa refuses to go through the checkpoint. The problem is that his permit has expired, so he is determined to stay put until he renews it after the weekend. However, when his son Majd (Tawfeeq Nayfeh) is hit by a car and is in an Israeli hospital, Mustafa wants to get to Israel pronto. Thus the payment to smugglers and the long road trip with the possibility of being caught by Israeli soldiers and paying a stiff fine. On top of that, smuggler Nader (Nabil Al Raai), though receiving shekels worth $100 U.S. from Mustafa, takes his time, awaiting other passengers to make his job more lucrative.

A motley crew join Mustafa, including 17-year-old Rami (Mahmoud Abu Eita), militant Palestinian Kifah (Motaz Malhees), and beautiful Anne (Anna Unterberger), who carries a large camera, identifying herself as a German filmmaker who wants her public to see what the Palestinians have to go through.

The story, filmed by Elin Kirschfink completely in the West Bank (I’m guessing) as there are no real-life Jewish Israelis who would be permitted to take part therein. I see only Arabic names in the cast list except for the blond pony-tailed Unterberger who speaks English and who comes close to being slugged by a fellow passenger when she speaks fluent Hebrew. The trip involves not just the chance of being busted by soldiers but also a fight with Palestinian thugs who declare that a wall encountered along the way is “our wall,” demanding additional tariffs.

Kudos to writer-director Armeen Nayfeh for his first full-length narrative film. Of course if he were in the cast, he would be the guy with the big camera rather than the German woman. He has a way with creating tension while enlightening us about traveling difficulties borne by Palestinians who want to work or visit in Israel. His characterizations are also nuanced: Mustafa, though refusing to take advantage of his right to an Israeli ID by marriage to an Israeli, never comes across as a hate-field, vituperative seeker of vengeance. It helps that his cast is led by Nazareth-born Ali Suliman, who trained at the Acting School in Tel Aviv and who you may have seen in eight TV episodes of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”

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

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


Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christopher Waltz
Writer: David Auburn, based on the NY Times article 7/8/12 “The Worst Marriage in Georgetown” by Franklin Foer
Cast: Christoph Waltz, Vanessa Redgrave, Annette Bening
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/12/21
Opens: May 14, 2021

So you think the Ponzi scheme worked out by the late Bernie Madoff is the most egregious case of its kind? Here’s another one that could take top honors away, though it not only yielded few financial dividends, motivated a murder, and involved people in the highest employ of international government. In his debut as director, Christoph Waltz, who may always be identified principally with his stellar role as a high-level Nazi in “Inglourious Basterds,” plans a scheme, yes a Ponzi scheme indeed. He would make contacts with important people, each of whom would refer him to a person of higher stature (including a former prime minister of France), a scammer who would ultimately be best known for killing his wife. Written by the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright David Auburn, “Georgetown” is more than simply inspired by an actual case in in which Albrecht Muth was convicted of killing his far older wife Viola Herms Drath, inheriting a relativity small sum of just a few hundred thousand dollars, but especially a large house in the tony DC section of Georgetown. In the film Ulrich Mott (Christoph Waltz), and his wife Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave) work together together to give celebrity status to a man who, in the movie, is about 44 while his wife is 91. It’s no wonder that Brecht’s daughter by a first marriage, Amanda (Annette Bening), cast a wary eye on Muth when he announced his engagement at a dinner party, one which he catered himself and which prompted Elsa to call him her butler.

“Georgetown” is one of those films that appropriately avoid conventional chronological telling. After all you wouldn’t think that Vanessa Redgrave, whose body is escorted from the house in a zippered bag near the beginning of the drama, is not to be seen again.

Though the actual story involves a teen aged Albrecht Muth courting is sixty-something widow, we are not totally surprised that in the filmed version, a man in his mid-forties makes contact with Elsa, lavishly praising her journalism. We watch as Elsa, flattered by Ulrich who kisses her hand, agrees to see him again—surprisingly enough since a journalist should be among the first to spot a phony.

Mott begins the scam by simply taking over the name tag and identity of the boss who fired him from an internship as a bad fit, getting him into the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Shortly thereafter Elsa, not really appreciating her spouse’s bringing her breakfast in bed, urges him to be ambitious, to use the energy and charm to ascend the career ladder by meeting and impressing important people. Elsa signs her own death warrant, if you will, by encouraging Ulrich’s design in appropriating a name for a fake NGO, which somehow none of the people who serve as his too-willing abettors can see through. Watch how he works and you may go away from the theater with your own ideas on how to scam. It’s simple. At an event, he heads right over to the former prime minister of France, who looks as though he would like to get away from his intruder pronto, but who ultimately is taken in by the man’s graces and is too willing to believe that Ulrich’s NGO, “Eminent Persons Group,” is not just a sheet of worthless paper. Maybe it helped that George Soros, who never heard of the group and who doesn’t know Ulrich is listed on the board of directors.

Who needs Jimmy Carter to bail out Americans held hostage by hostile nations when you have Ulrich Mott to serve as peacemaker? To that end Ulrich struts about with the uniform of an Iraqi soldier, a Brigadier General at that. Why not? The bigger the lie, as we have seen recently in our own country, the more likely people will believe it.

We see the house of cards collapsing when after explaining to some bigwigs that he was in the French Foreign Legion is challenged by one fellow who asks where those bars on his military jacket are for and suggesting sarcastically that Ulrich should ask the foreign legion for help on a dilemma. The film concludes on a hearing to determine whether he should stand trial for murder. Even his own lawyer begs him for something that could help him win a case that has little to no real defense (he was “out for a walk” when his wife was murdered in a break-in).

The film is bookmarked by a distant shot of a man, later identified as Ulrich, dressed in an Iraqi officer’s uniform, commanding a few dozen men. Ultimately this is Waltz’s movie, as he passes this test: do you really feel bad that his character was indicted for murder and, as shown in an epilogue, sentenced to 50 years in jail? If so, he is even a better charmer than we think, able to move us in our theater seats to his side.

99 minutes. (c) 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online

Story – A-

Acting – A

Technical – A-

Overall – A-


THERE IS NO EVIL (Sheytan Vojud Nadarad)
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Mohammad Rasoulof
Writer: Mohammad Rasoulof
Cast: Ehsan Mirhosseini, Shaghayegh Shourian, Kaveh Ahangar, Mohammad Valizadegan, Mahtab Servati, Mohammad Seddighimehr, Baran Rasoulof, Jilla Shahi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/4/21
Opens: May 14, 2021

There Is No Evil - Wikipedia

Jean-Paul Sartre once said that “It is only in our decisions that we are important.” “There Is No Evil” is a feature film with four stories, unrelated to one another except in the theme of how decisions make each central character important. The first three deal with executions in Iran: how the principal character in each story makes up his mind whether to go along with orders or to defy them, which tells us much about the writer-director, Mohammad Rasoulof, who has been sentenced to prison and whose every feature film has been banned from exhibition in his country.

One can see how the absolutist government of Iran would not want citizens exposed to people who make personal decisions to override what others expect of them or, in one case, to go along without compunction to perform a task that few of us would agree to voluntarily.

The first episode is untitled, and though this is the one that has the least melodrama, it has the most effect. Rasoulof respects his audience to the extent that he will show his protagonist, Heshmat (Ehsan Mirhosseini), driving around Tehran, seemingly aimless, with no consequential occurrences anticipated. When he picks up his schooolteacher wife Razieh (Shaghayegh Shourian), she bickers and complains about little things, projecting the ease with which she trusts her husband not to go ballistic with anything she says. She picks up his check in the bank, complaining about red tape that she must go through to have the salary released to her. Razieh must wonder what he does on the night shift when he gets up at three in the morning and pulls away with his car. When he goes about his task without thinking or considering its ethics, we know more about him than his wife does.

The second installment, with the title “She said, you can do it,” is the kind of episode that a general American audience would like given the histrionics that take place in a military detention center. In Rasoulot’s most theatrical story given how much of the action unfolds inside the barracks among a group of soldiers, Pouya (Kaveh Ahangar) trusts his fellows to sympathize with his terror. He has been ordered to execute a man by pushing the stool out from under him, which would result in the man’s death by hanging. But his fellows, with one exception, debate as though in a college freshman bull session about whether a person under orders has the right, even the duty, to disobey if he considers the order immoral. When the time comes for Pouya to obey, which would give him the chance to be released from the prison and get some time off, we leave the theatrical in favor of upheaval.

In “The Birthday,” Javad (Mohammad Valizadegan), a soldier with a three-day pass takes a bath in the woods before visiting his fiancée, Nana (Mahtab Servati). We can see that the immersion in water is a self-designed baptism: the news he feels compelled to give is hardly designed to allow her and her family to reconsider whether his visit is a good one. Sometimes the less you say—becoming more like Heshmat in the first episode—is the most desirable way to go. In any case, going back to Sartre’s quote “It is only in our decisions that we are important,” Javad becomes the man of the hour: his fifteen minutes of fame or infamy.

“Kiss Me” is unusual in that it does not feel it belongs with the other three under the theme of executions. Bahram (Mohammad Seddighimehr), is a dying man who lives with his wife Zaman (Jilla Shahi) in a remote area cut off from other people but immersed in the raising of bees. He picks up his young niece Darya (Baran Rasoulof, who is the director’s daughter) on a visit from Germany where she lives with Bahram’s brother. She becomes attached to Bahram, disturbed when he coughs up blood, and could have returned to Germany with tender views of her uncle. However, there is tension in the air. We wait for an announcement that will change the college girl’s attitude forever. Given the overlong running time of the film, “Kiss Me” could have easily been left for a future narrative, assuming that the next offering could be smuggled out of the country like this one. We can see how in an absolutist nation like Iran, none of the writer-director’s films have been exhibited at home.

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

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


Music Box Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Writer: Haifaa Al-Mansour, Brad Niemann
Cast: Mila Azahrani, Sara Nora Al Awadh, Dhay, Khalid Abdulrahim
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/6/21
Opens: May 14, 2021

You may be able to get gasoline in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for $2.15 a gallon, but what’s the advantage if you cannot use your car to drive to the movies? Update: As of 2018, the Saudis ended a 35-year ban on movie theaters and have begun getting the public’s enjoyment. AMC is betting that the industry will explode, expecting to put up forty additional theaters in fifteen Saudi cities. Why is this important when judging Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “The Perfect Candidate?” Because this represents change and is just one of the developments that are taking off despite the opposition by extremists who believe the movies are ungodly. (They’re right on target if they’re going to talk about some of the lemons that Hollywood churns out yearly.)

And with change comes more change. When segments of the public get new freedoms, then voices are raised in support. After all, when France and the U.S., notable by comparison with the Third World for accepting at least a near equality of women, that’s when modern feminism took hold. Countries in which women are wholly oppressed, such as in parts of the Middle East, had seen few demonstrations in favor of more freedoms.

This brings us to “The Perfect Candidate,” entered into our own 92nd Academy Award competition for Best International Film, a worthy achievement despite its failure to be nominated. Al-Mansour’s “Wadjda” in 2012 deals with a girl’s desire to win a Koran recitation competition in order to win a green bicycle, and “Mary Shelley” in 2017, finds her moving out of the Middle Eastern culture to examine the title character’s writing of “Frankenstein.” She continues to look at the role of women–this time in Riyadh and its outskirts.

Filmed by Patrick Orth on location, the film opens on Maryam (Mila Azahhrani) in a car, but sends a message up front: Hey! She’s driving! This is something women would not do until the laws changed in 2017, a harbinger of progressive things to come. Who knows? The Saudi monarchy might next allow women to go to medical school! Update: Already done. Maryam is a full-fledged doctor, the only woman with that certification in an emergency clinic that does not even have a paved road to get people quickly into the building when they most need quick help.

Her father, Abdulaziz (Khalid Abdulrahim), grieving for his wife, is a band leader whose profession is under attack by far-right radicals at the very time that women are moving ahead. Doctor or not, Maryam still need her father’s permission to travel to a conference in Dubai. Update: that has changed too. Guardians need not grant permission. Since feminist enthusiasm rises not when women are totally oppressed but when they are given some agency, Maryam becomes a candidate for her municipal council on a platform of paving the road to her clinic, raising her father’s blood pressure and raising doubts that even women would vote for her over her male opponent.

“Hope for the best” is her dad’s motto, which he states to a fellow musician on a concert tour when the orchestra is in danger of being canceled, and is likewise Maryam’s view as she runs for office. In one humorous incident she tries to get the cooperation of an elderly male patient who shouts “get away from me” when she is trying to save her life, and prefers a male nurse to fix a problem and save his life.

The dialogue is workmanlike at best. If this were a Hollywood dramedy with American actors in middle-class American sitcom situations, it could be panned. But it is not. One might get the notion that the director, who co-wrote the movie with Brad Niemann in his freshman script, is far more interested in giving her audience a narrative view of things to come in her country than in calling the shots for a complex work of artistic merit. And there’s nothing wrong with that. As cinema grows, especially given the ambition of AMC to bust the place wide open with multiplexes, we can expect Al-Mansour to develop when no longer confronted principally with educating us about Saudi cinematic progress.

You may enjoy some of the music on display as Maryam’s father leads an orchestra with the oud as principal instrument. A wedding scene near the conclusion and especially sightings of women who are among just themselves without covering their faces gives us the idea that if real progress is made and women are as equal to men as they may some day be in America, Saudi Arabia will burst forth with new ideas from a gender that until recently has been kept in the kitchen.

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

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

HOPE – movie review

HOPE (Håp)
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Maria Sødahl
Writer: Maria Sødahl
Cast: Andrea Bræin Hovig, Stellan Skarsgård, Elli Müller Osborne, Alfred Vatne Brean
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/14/21
Opens: 93RD Academy Awards Candidate Best International Film. Spring 2021 TBD.

Image result for hope movie poster norway

Don’t expect a miraculous cure like the one that Queen Latifah’s character Georgia Byrd is given in “Last Holiday” under a cancer diagnosis. She goes to a posh hotel in the Czech Republic to live it up in her final weeks only to discover that the diagnosis was a mistake. That’s comedy for ya. There is some hope, just some, in “Hope,” Maria Sødahl’s drama of a woman who likely has three months to live, but not really much. After all, this is Norway, and Scandinavia is the home of Ingmar Bergman. Could it be that these people are depicted in so many movies as folks who don’t like to laugh if they can help it?

Norwegian-born writer-director Sødahl’s recent movie “Limbo,” about a woman who moves to Trinidad with her kids and discovers that her husband has had affairs, is only slightly related to the theme in “Hope,” principally the part about an affair. Mostly, this latest contribution, which is Norway’s candidate for Best International Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards celebration, is about an unusual relationship, a partnership between Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård) and Anja (Andrea Bræn Hovig). Both are theater people. She is a dancer and he a theater director, so it’s not unusual to find her executing some choreography in the film’s happiest segment—right at the start. It’s downhill from there as Anja complains of constant headache, sleeplessness, blurred vision to find that the lung cancer that was treated not long ago had metastasized to her brain.

Norwegian socialized medicine being what it is (sorry Bernie), the specialists are all off for the Christmas holidays, so Anja has to suffer the anxiety of an indefinite prognosis. She’s on a powerful steroid meanwhile, which makes her jumpy and particularly sensitive to the callousness of her husband, whose kids from his previous marriage and those from her partnership with him make this a big family affair. Little irritations add up, such as her partner’s inviting guests for Christmas lunch without consulting her.

The partners question how to break the news to the kids, who are of various ages, though she does confess to her best friend Vera (Gojertrud Louis Kynge) who has promised to help take care of the kids if “something should happen” to Anja. Aside from family matters, her two conferences with doctors show different degrees of sensitivity. One tells her not to try experimental treatments such as are found in the U.S. but instead to live it up like the aforementioned Georgia Byrd. The neurosurgeon, said to be the best in the business, wants to go through with the operation on January 2nd, which sets the mood for Anja and Tomas’s discussion about whether to marry on New Year’s Eve. This sets the stage for the film’s major conflict: Anja on the one hand explodes that she should have left Tomas long ago. On the other hand, she is desperate for a closer union with her partner at this time of great stress. Emotional discussions follow between Anja and the children and Anja with Tomas, more than had taken place in all the previous years.

This is a film with a soundtrack that is happily free of Hollywood-style soundtracks to allow a few classical pieces to have a strong effect on the audience. The performances of Skarsgård and Hovig, each having characteristics of both angels and sinners, make this a film that is far from being a saccharine Hallmark offering or a TV disease-of the-week venture. You come away with the feeling that everything taking place in the story is authentic. This is the way mature adults are likely to compress the rest of their lives into days of their most intense distress.

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

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

THE VIRTUOSO – movie review

Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nick Stagliano
Writer: James C. Wolf
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Abbie Cornish, Anson Mount, Eddie Marsan, Diora Baird, David Morse
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/8/21
Opens: April 30, 2021

The Virtuoso - IMDb

Once back in high school when we were sitting around having a bull session, he gave us advise. “The way to attract girls is to be a man of mystery. Don’t reveal too much about yourself. Don’t show much emotion.” This is probably not bad advice, because if you watch the title character (Anson Mount) in “The Virtuoso” as he drives around a rural section of our country, you can’t help wondering about this “lonesome stranger.” Lonesome, mostly taciturn stranger is exactly what he wants people to think. Just ask the waitress (Abbie Cornish), whose name tag reads Dixi. She is taken at first sight when he walks in the diner’s door of the one-horse town. What’s he doing here? Why does he talk so little? Why isn’t he coming on to me? And, oh yes, it helps that he’s handsome, projecting the good looks of a George Clooney.

If you must know, though, he’s not a traveling salesman, he’s not trying to disappear from the earth to avoid the FBI. He’s a hit man, not wandering around with little to do, but a man with a mission. We get an idea about his profession near the opening when, accepting a job from The Mentor (Anthony Hopkins), who hires him to take out specific targets, he plans carefully, as when he shoots out the tire from a speeding car driven by a victim, knowing that the driver would make an overcorrection that would lead him crashing into a wall and making him a steady target. But professional though he is, he makes an error; or, not really his error, but the car’s. The vehicle hits a truck which blows up frying an innocent bystander. Collateral damage. That should be no problem for a virtuoso.

Anthony Hopkins, The Mentor, plays little more than a cameo role, another man of mystery albeit one not as handsome of The Virtuoso. He sits in a dark studio wearing a pair of dark shades, delivering messages to The Virtuoso, in this case telling him his mission is to take out a rogue hit person with the code “White River.” Somehow, if he asks strangers around town to tell him who or what is white river, he will find his quarry.

Bodies pile for one reason or another. One guy die of a heart attack, and The Virtuoso sets up a scenario to make the killing look like a burglary, the usual steps to take if you want to get away with murder. But his professionalism may be tainted when he meets The Waitress, who flirts with him, seems surprised that he is not taking the bait, her ego resting more easily when he invites her to stay in his motel room “until the snow stops.”

The Virtuoso is, as said, the man of mystery, but sometimes he is too mysterious for the audience to accept in good nature. He speaks little, smiles almost never, is just too aloof for us to take him as a real human being. What’s more this film is marred by this flaw: too much on narration. A film is not a book. We hear him thinking now and then, about how a professional should act. Don’t let the heart race. Slow the breath. Further, unless the streaming delivery that I received is not the final product, the words are difficult to understand, muted and coming across like people mumbling.

In the end, with a denouement which some astute followers of noir fiction might predict, all is explained, all becomes almost believable. The movie is directed by Nick Stagliano, his fourth feature, his work including “Good Day For It” about a man who had abandoned his wife, and “The Florentine,” about the lives of an ensemble of people who patronize a bar. This is James C. Wolf’s second full-length feature as a scripter.

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

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

SLALOM – movie review

Kino Lorber
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Charlène Favier
Writer: Charlène Favier, Marie Talon
Cast: Noée Abita, Jérémie Renier, Marie Danarnaud, Muriel Combeau, Maïra Schmitt, Axel Auriant
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/6/21
Opens: April 9, 2021

Slalom (2020) - IMDb

Take it from me. If you have ever taught in regular New York City public high schools, do not expect students to be motivated, to be eager to learn about the Congress of Vienna, to recite answers longer than 20 seconds lest they incur the ribbing of their friends, or even to show interest that they genuinely feel. Coaching sports; that’s different. Put the trainer on the basketball court, on the baseball diamond, on the 50 yard line, and you’ll get quite a different response. However even there, coaches may find that their junior varsity troupe will not put up with solid, tough preparation for the game.

In France, things may be different as co-writer and director Charlène Favier finds in her first full-length narrative film. Having given us “Odol Gorri” about a fifteen-year-old who escapes from a juvenile center, hides in a fishing boat, and finds herself and the crew at sea, Favier, with the input of co-writer Marie Talon (in her first screenplay), takes us to the French Alps. There coach Fred (Jérémie Renier) is the star attraction at an elite French ski school. Though teachers are not supposed to show favoritism, Fred is taken by Lyz Lopez (Noée Abita), who is the most likely to bring back the gold in an upcoming ski-race competition.

Fifteen-year-old Lyz (twenty-one at the time of the filming) is in virtually every frame, the teen showing in D.P. Yann Maritoud’s close-ups almost all the conflicted expressions that a young woman can exude. Feeling great joy at one moment, she is depressed and disgusted with herself in another. Physically attracted to the coach (who in real life is forty at the time of the filming), she needs a father figure since her own has been absent. Since Fred appears with her day and night, even boarding her with him and his girlfriend Lilou (Marie Denarnaud) to enable the failing student to catch up academically with her classes, we know where this is headed. Fred soon escalates the abuse he gives her in the training. Making her lift weights that look to compete with her own weight of 110, he erupts with passion as she needs next to him in the car, later consummating the sexual act which will make the virginal girl both elated and confused.

Is Fred acting professionally? Hardly. His girlfriend quickly sees what’s going on, though the girl’s mother, who is unable to spend much time with her because of a job in Marseilles and who from time to time reminds Lyz how much she is sacrificing for her, remains clueless. Of course the whole story reminds us of gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall who abused 700 women over a 17-year-period, but there are differences. The age of consent in France is 15, though there may be a question of legality when an older man with influence on a teen takes advantage of the situation.

The movie is set in Les Arcs ski station which cinephiles will recognize as the location of the wonderful “Force Majeure” about a man who, during an avalanche, runs from his family in search of safety for himself. Noée Abita is a find, a young woman who made her debut as the title character in “Ava,” about a 13-year-old who knows that she will lose her sight earlier than expected. There are a few shots of professional skiers slaloming down the slope, zig-zagging between markers in races where both speed and agility are everything. In the dramatic conclusion, Lyz must decide what to do when Fred promises to remain virtually her private trainer, looking forward to a competition in the U.S. at Beaver Creek, Colorado. You may recall a similar, momentary decision of a young delinquent, Colin Smith, in Tony Richardson’s 1962 “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.”

The movie is a Cannes selection. In French with English subtitles.

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

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

SHIVA BABY – movie review

Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Emma Seligman
Writer: Emma Seligman
Cast: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Diana Agron, Danny Deferrari, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/19/21
Opens: April 2, 2021

Image result for shiva baby poster

If you want to know what it’s like to sit shiva, think of an Irish wake minus the drinking and multiply the eating. Different religions and ethnic groups have distinct customs for grieving the dead, but given the importance of the family in the Jewish tradition, the shiva can be a festive occasion marked with bagels and lox and maybe a little Manischewitz. The first day of the commemoration brings together folks from an extended family, who engage in conversation, looking at pictures of grandchildren, some hoping to find an excuse to leave early without insulting the hosts.

The title character, who is uncredited, is an eighteen-months’-old infant whose idea of conversation is crying his heart out and, with some luck, catching up on sleep. Emma Seligman, who wrote and directs her freshman offering, is in Woody Allen territory, putting together a group of people of all different ages who, as stereotypes have it, wonder, “Do you have a boyfriend yet?” “You’re skin and bones; you’re not eating!” “What are you going to do after you graduate?” Aside from the usual catching-up by people who may not have been together for years, Seligman focuses on Danielle (Rachel Sennott), seeing all activity from her point of view, as she tries to satisfy everyone’s nosy queries about her plans.

Danielle, or Dani as her mother Debbie (Polly Draper) calls her, is a bisexual college senior whose mom is wise to some of her sexual inclinations. “No funny business with Maya” (Molly Gordon), she warns, realizing that her daughter and Maya had been an item in the recent past whose embers may be kindled after their meeting at the shiva. Though Maya is about to enter law school, Danielle appears without insight into what she might be doing, which may have something to do with her less-than-jobs-worthy major of gender studies. (Think of Bill Murray’s character, Phil, in “Groundhog Day,” who upon learning that a woman majored in 19th century French literature responds, “What a waste of time!”)

Maybe Danielle’s gender studies curriculum considers women who sleep around for money to be perfectly legitimate sex workers, in fact that is what Danielle does for cash. She meets now and then in Max’s (Danny Deferrari) bachelor apartment, faking an orgasm and gaining an expensive bracelet and some cash. And wouldn’t you know that Max would show up at the shiva with whom guests would call a shicksa wife, Kim (Dianna Agron). One guest suggests “I hear her father is Jewish” to which another responds “That doesn’t count.”

Rachel Sennott communicates her anxiety in this claustrophic setting to such an extent that we in the audience are bound to recall events in our own lives that have made us blush, cry, wish-we-had-done-something-differently, all the while laughing nervously at this recognition. Though “Shiva Baby” recalls a tradition that is central in Judaism, it aims for universality as do many of Woody Allen’s movies. We may come away figuring things will work out for Danielle—who is on the way up, just like the film’s writer-director whose next satirical contribution we eagerly await.

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

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

ATOMIC COVER-UP – movie review

Exposed Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Greg Mitchell
Cast: Greg Mitchell, Daniel McGovern, Herbert Sussan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: March 20, 2021 through March 30, 2021 at Cinequest in San Jose, California and streaming.

Atomic Cover-up (2021) - IMDb

Bumper stickers on the backs of cars provide sound bites of their drivers’ political views. You may think you can avoid getting parking tickets from traffic cops with the sticker, “Support your local police.” If you do not like U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, you sport the saying, “We’re creating terrorists faster than we can kill them.” Shortly after World War 2 (as I recall) and even in recent years, there is the bumper sticker “No Pearl Harbor, then no Hiroshima,” which some people today would assume is the motto of fellows on the political right. However, left-leaning folks today would find a major flaw in that last motto: the bombing of Pearl Harbor killed mostly sailors, military people, a total of some 2500. The American bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed over 200,000, at least 80% civilians; that includes old men, women and children. In fact the Hiroshima bombing was directed toward the center of the city and not to the military base.

Nowadays we have so many issues to think about that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings fade into obscurity. But thanks to the people who filmed “Atomic Cover-Up,” which includes grainy black-and-white celluloid taken by Japanese journalists shortly after the bombing in addition to color shots by the U.S., we get to see not only the devastation to buildings (just a few remain almost intact) but more poignantly to the people who fell victims to the heat and radiation. One poor guy lying in his stomach had a back as raw as a skinless-and-boneless salmon. Red from neck to waist. He was in agony and begged to be put out of his misery, but the doctors and nurses who heroically treated victims of the bombs were determined to treat him. He survived and is now married with kids.

Despite the intrusive music in the soundtrack, there is much praise due to the showing of this film at the Cinequest Festival in California’s San Jose, and further, that the film was declared top secret by the U.S. for decades gives it the resonance of a forbidden fruit. Shots taken immediately post-war portray and apocalyptic vision of a Hiroshima virtually leveled, and remember that this hear 1945 bomb is a pup compared to what nine countries possess today. As one commentator notes, the next nuclear war will be “the end of everything.”

The irony of it all is that a military man, Dwight D. Eisenhower, called the bombing unnecessary as Japan was already defeated, thereby attacking arguments by some that the atomic bomb saved tens of thousands of American lives, soldiers who would have to stage a land invasion of the Japanese archipelago in order to end the war.

After being declassified the film aired in 1970 on PBS and is available now as a streaming. Moreover film-maker Greg Mitchell had written a book on the history of the footage, now available on Amazon, though the small number of reviews there indicate that not that many prospective readers consider it a hot political issue today. Its 52 minutes’ length and its selection of only a small amount of devastating human suffering makes John Hersey’s classic “Hiroshima” the more heartbreaking.

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

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


THE GOOD TRAITOR – movie review

THE GOOD TRAITOR (Vores mand i Amerika)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christina Rosendahl
Writers: Kristian Bang Foss, Danja Gry Jensen, Christina Rosendahl
Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Burn Gorman, Ross McCall, Zoë Tapper, Denise Gough, Pixie Davies, Henry Goodman, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Nicholas Blane
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/25/21
Opens: March 26, 2021

Poster for The Good Traitor

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, capital city of a country that heroically ferried its Jewish population of 7200 to safety in neutral Sweden, thereby saving their lives from Nazi onslaught. Denmark, which is now among the most progressive countries in the world embracing what may be called Medicare for All, generous parental leave, long time off in the summer, has a problem in its twentieth century history. There was, I fear, something rotten in the state of Denmark, because when Hitler invaded the small country, the Danish government offered virtually no resistance, negotiating with the Hun almost immediately. The cowardly action gained more opprobrium when its king and prime minister fired its ambassador to the U.S., an action resisted by the person holding that office, which called its outpost in Washington the official government of Denmark in exile.

“The Good Traitor” is a biopic, well not exactly since it is “inspired” by the tale of Henrik Louis Hans von Kauffmann (Ulrich Thomsen), focuses almost equally on domestic melodrama as on political gamesmanship. The title character is considered a hero if you look backward from the present year but considered by the Danish government during World War II a traitor. Ordinarily a fellow who may represent only a small country but whose bravery catapults him to modern heroism would be too busy giving the middle finger to King Christian X to have time for a 51-year-old’s hanky-panky. But Kauffmann, married to Charlotte MacDougall (Denise Gough), is in love with Charlotte’s sister Zilla Sears (Zoë Tapper). The affair had been going on for years, leading to a melodramatic confrontation when Charlotte discovers the two kissing in the ample grounds of the Danish embassy in Washington.

Charlotte, however, has an important role to play, being an American, the daughter of U.S. Navy Rear Admiral William Dugald MacDougall, giving her a special “in” with President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Henry Goodman)– played with laid-back, aw-shucks behavior. While the war in Europe is raging, Henrik uses Charlotte’s influence with POTUS to help push a reluctant America into the war, noting that Hitler is not going to stop his conquests at the water’s edge. He wins the gold. Literally. He names himself the legal government rep of Denmark when he is merely its fired ambassador, which allows him to unlock the gold bars in New York’s Federal Reserve Bank to finance liberation activities in at least ten other Danish embassies including those in Iran and Egypt. He also has the chutzpah to sign away part of Denmark’s colony of Greenland to the U.S. for air force bases in perpetuity. It’s no wonder that the cowardly government in Copenhagen and a surprising number of pro-Nazi Danes consider Kauffmann an enemy of the state. History now judges the man a good traitor.

The film includes a meeting of FDR and Churchill (the latter looking more bloated than our previous U.S. president) in the presence of the Danish ambassador, who simply acts as though his firing never took place It reaches toward soap opera whenever Kauffmann, who has juice with the President for Pete’s sake, cannot get his wife to excuse his peccadilloes with her own sister. In defense of his extra-curricular recreation with Zilla, he reminds his wife that he loves Zilla’s… eyes. Who could resist? Who is so hardhearted not to excuse him, for the flesh is weak?

The movie makes no attempt to build up to a surprise conclusion that could be copied in a future horror movie by Dario Argento or Wes Craven or Eli Roth, giving us much of the final scene in the opening moments. This is a respectful projection of the crucial war years involving Kauffmann, and old-fashioned biopic complete with the beautiful ballads of the thirties and forties in America on the soundtrack. Jo Stafford’s “The Things We Did Last Summer” would have been most appropriate. Danish-born Christine Rosendahl, whose “The Idealist” deals with a nuclear disaster during the Cold War, is in the director’s seat.

The film is in English and in Danish with English subtitles.

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

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

SIX HOURS TO MIDNIGHT – movie review

IFC Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Andy Goddard
Writer: Andy Goddard, Eddie Izzard, Celyn Jones
Cast: Judi Dench, Eddie Izzard, Carla Juri, Kevin Eldon, David Schofield
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/8/21
Opens: March 26, 2021


Just when you think you’ve seen movies on every political aspect of Europe on the brink of World War 2, along comes an original film of international intrigue, a spy story with the usual basket of twists, leading up to a series of exciting chase scenes for which director Andy Goddard prepared us for quite well. Goddard, who has an impressive résumé of made-for-TV movies and TV episodes (including many for the great “Downton Abbey”), now tackles his sophomore full-length feature. That “Six Minutes of Midnight” is based on the true story of incidents surrounding Augusta-Victorian college, a finishing school for girls on England’s south coast, might make us wonder just how many original cusp-of-war stories must be available for writers and filmmakers.

You can tell that this is a finishing school rather than a real college as you watch the girls walking about, each with a book on her head, casting fierce glances at the one pupil whose book drops noisily to the floor. There’s an even better example. When Thomas Miller (Eddie Izzard), who had been hired by headmistress Miss Rocholl (Judy Dench) after the suspicious death of his predecessor, Mr. Wheatley (Nigel Lindsay, playing a flawless death body washed up on the beach), asks what book the girls had been reading, they reply “no book.” They insist that Wheatley told them stories. To conform to the culture of the school, Miller does likewise and is well liked by the young people and by the headmistress as well.

This is no “Room 222,” however. Miller is a British agent, the girls are German, sent via the Anglo-German Fellowship to represent the best of Nazi youth. As September 1, 1939 approaches, which will signal the opening of World War 2 in Europe, Hitler’s plan is to evacuate the girls suddenly. At the same time Whitehall wants to hold them hostage—though the UK’s motives are not entirely clear.

The major segment of the film takes place within the school. We see that headmistress Rocholl considers her charges to be “her girls” despite their nationality, and is highly motivated to do the best job in teaching them notwithstanding their being daughters of members of the Nazi high command. By contrast Ilse Keller (Carla Juri), a young, pretty teacher, is a dedicated Nazi who makes sure that the girls listen to propaganda on the radio and is soon to become more than a mere, quiet cog in the German war machine. In fact Ilse’s murderous action outside the school will lead to the dramatic chase scenes, the arrest of Thomas Miller who is now considered by authorities to be a British traitor, and a series of twists that turn the movie into a real thriller.

Judi Dench can do no wrong and is ideally suited to be the dedicated head of the school, a woman who would likely protect her girls even as war with Germany begins. But the picture belongs to Eddie Izzard, known to British audiences as a stand-up comedian. He convinces us of his ability to play a teacher who must conform to the culture of a finishing school and yet act as a prized spy for Britain, infiltrating the soon-to-be-defunct Anglo-German Fellowship.

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

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


QUO VADIS, AIDA? – movie review


Neon Super Ltd.

Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jasmila Zbanic
Writer: Jasmila Zbanic
Cast: Jasna Djricic, Izudin Bajrovic, Boris Isakovic, Johan Heldenberg
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/16/21
Opens: March 5, 2021 at Angelica Theatre in NY. VOD March 15, 2021

Quo Vadis, Aida?

I recall in my high-school days the units on World War 1 and World Was II that emphasized that all wars are caused by four general conditions. They are: Imperialism, Nationalism, Alliances, and the fourth is given the fancy term “international anarchy.” That last item means nothing more than there were no effective peacekeeping forces able to intercede against the warring parties to force them into peace. We do have the United Nations now, the UN does send well-armed peacekeeping forces to war zones, but that international organization has been criticized for its impotence against aggression.

Among the best examples of this deficiency is the genocide conducted particularly in 1995 during a war between Bosnian Serbs who are Orthodox Christians and Bosnian Muslims, sometimes called Bosniaks, who inhabit the same country—itself an offshoot of the former Yugoslavia. Sarajevo-born Jamila Zbanic, who dealt with the Serbian rapes of Muslim women in“Grbavica: the Land of Our Dreams,” brings to vivid life the barbaric killings by members of the Serbian army together with paramilitary units of innocent Bosnian Muslims in the village of Srebrenica. Under the command of the brutal Ratko Mladic (Boris Isakovic), the soldiers emptied out the village, sending up to 8,000 civilians of all ages to the death by machine guns while escorting the women away. (Zbanic does not go into what happened to the women, implying that they may have been given safe conduct though the reality is that they were raped and possibly killed.)

Everything is seen through the eyes of Aida (Jasna Djuricic), the energetic Bosniak interpreter who had been a teacher in the town, called upon now to translate the Bosnian into English for the benefit of the Dutch UN forces. The UN under Colonel Thom Karremans (Johann Heldenbergh) is surprisingly (or unsurprisingly if you are cynical enough) inept, unable to prevent the Serbs from doing whatever they felt like doing, notwithstanding that Srebrenica was called a safe town under UN protection. Given the incompetence of UN peacekeepers, Serb army units did not fear threats to call in air strikes if necessary, which may remind you of how former President Obama threatened Bashir Assad’s Syrian government with military action should the Assad unleash gas during the civil war there, then did nothing when provoked.

Aida acts heroically, negotiating with the Serbs but is furious at the UN for allowing only 5,000 people to remain within a gated area while others are stuck outside. (This is an expensive production as the company has obviously hired hundreds of extras to take the roles of the oppressed Muslims.) But she is human as well, giving special attention to saving her husband and her two boys from being gunned down on the spot.

In the role of Aida, we may find it curious that Jasna Djuricic is Serbian, while one would think that nobody from that ethnic group would be willing to take part in a film that is anti-Serb. The scenes are horrific, the only sentimentalism coming from a woman who gives birth on the grounds. It is impossible to look away, so vividly is the toxic toying by the Serb general of the populace dependent for the lives on his orders.

As for the puzzling title “Quo Vadis, Aida,” the term means “Where are you going,” referring to a legend that Peter comes to a crossroads where the Appian Way meets the Via Ardeatina, which he means the risen Jesus. The reply: “Romam vado iterum crucifigi” or “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” It’s anybody’s guess how the title applies, but perhaps it means that after the peace, the teacher remains in the town to conduct classes. To be oppressed again?

The film is a co-production of twelve production companies from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Germany, France, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Turkey.It is the Bosnian entry for best international film in the 93rd Academy Awards competition, and has been deservedly shortlisted into the top fifteen.

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

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



See the Exclusive First Look at Tina Fey & Amy Poehler's Golden Globes  Billboards

Best Motion Picture, Drama

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Best Director, Motion Picture
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Andra Day, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Rosamund Pike, “I Care a Lot”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture
Jodie Foster, “The Mauritanian”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Sacha Baron Cohen, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture
Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Best Original Score, Motion Picture
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste, “Soul”

Best Original Song, Motion Picture
“Io Sì (Seen),” “The Life Ahead”

Best Motion Picture, Animated

Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language


ADAM – movie review

Strand Releasing
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Maryam Touzani
Writer: Maryam Touzani in association with Nabil Ayouch
Cast: Lubna Azabal, Nisrin Erradi, Douae Belkhaouda, Aziz Hattab, Hasnaa Tamtaoui
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/11/21
Opens: March 5, 2021

Adam (2019)

You don’t want to know what happens in some Muslim societies to women without husbands who become pregnant. Happily for the characters in “Adam,” Morocco is not what of the ultra-conservative countries but is in fact wide open to Western film-makers who want to take advantage of its fascinating cities (Fez, Marrakesh, and Meknes particularly) and desert landscapes. “Adam”, is a Moroccan-made film by a Tangier-born director, Mayam Touzani, who is known for co-writing “Razzia,” five stories that come together in Casablanca. “Adam” is her first feature film, though you would think it’s a work by a director with an extensive résumé. It’s a woman’s story whose only men other then as customers of a woman’s snack food is a suitor, Slimani (Aziz Hattab) and the title character (uncredited) in his debut performance. (Adam shows his acting chops, able to cry on cue and dissolve into pure pleasure in the presence of a woman.)

Lubna Azabal in the role of Abla and Nisrin Erradi performing as Samia have about equal time in front of Adil Ayoub and Virginie Surdej’s lenses. Both are living in Casablanca in a section that’s considered poor but which American visitors would label quaint, with its narrow sidewalks and a plethora of vendors. Abla, a single mother with an eight-year-old daughter Warda (Douae Belkhaouida), sells pancake-like snack foods like rziza and msemmen right from her modest home but so far appears to have only a moderate clientele. That will change when Simia, in her eighth month of pregnancy and homeless, asks for work, any kind, and receive a tentative welcome from the dour Abla. Taking homeless people into your residence is not a popular pastime in the U.S. but Abla, feeling sorry for Samia who is sleeping outside, takes her in for one night. The invitation is extended when the adorable Warda takes an immediate liking to the new guest and when Samia proves to be an excellent chef, turning out better rziza and msemmen because when she kneads the dough, she feels it.

Not much happens during the first hour or so. Abla loses patience with Samia, kicks her out, then races through the Casablanca streets to find her and coax her back. In the film’s most poignant scene, Abla, who continues to grieve for her dead husband, is forced by Samia to listen to Abla’s favorite music on the radio, one that might be considered in the American culture to be a couple’s wedding song. Approaching that point, Samia takes charge of her hostess and boss, forcing her to listen carefully, to close her eyes and sway, and loosen up on her wicked witch act. For comic relief, now and then Abla’s suitor Slimani (Aziz Hattab) has marriage on his mind, asking Samia to tell her boss that his father had always had hair and that Slimani’s receding hairline constitutes the most locks that he will ever lose.

Maybe in the U.S. and Sweden, where one born out of wedlock is called a love child, at least by progressives. In Morocco, such a baby is dirt, although as Samia advises us, the baby himself is wholly without sin. Because of this, Samia seems determined to give Adam up to a good family despite Abla’s suggestion that she keep the infant. The women—Abla, Samia, and the precocious Warda, are fleshed-out human beings who have emotional ups and downs and happily, their relationship has changed them for the better. As the uneducated country girl with an eight-month unborn child, Nisrin Erradi stands out, a woman who has had to go from house to house asking for work and ending up with an inadequate resolution to her dilemma but able to turn her uptight hostess into a more caring person.

You may not want to live in Casablanca’s old Medina, but for Abla, the neighborhood provides work without a commute and for little Warda the chance to make something of herself by taking her studies seriously under her mother’s watch. A charming, low-key adventure well worth your custom.

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

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


ALLEN v. FARROW – movie review

HBO Documentary Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Directors: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
Writers: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Dylan O’Sullivan Farrow, Ronan Farrow, Carly Simon, Frank Maco
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/24/21
Opens: February 21, 2021 on 4 Sunday nights at 9p for one approximately hour each


Who do you believe? Woody Allen was accused of sexually molesting his partner’s adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, when she was seven. That was twenty-eight years ago. Woody Allen’s defense is that Mia Farrow, who is Dylan’s adoptive mother and Allen’s girlfriend, manipulated the child to accuse her stepdad. Why? According to Allen, Mia Farrow is a vengeful woman not all-that-right in the head. Allen was never found guilty in a court of law because Frank Maco, the prosecutor, believed the little girl “too fragile” to be put on the stand. HBO Documentary Films now presents four episodes to examine the case, each about an hour beginning February 21, 2021.

Never mind that Allen was never convicted. During the past year or two, various people who starred in his movies, Timothée Chalamet, Griffin Newman, Rebecca Hall among others (but not Diane Keaton who remains a big fan) are donating their salaries from those films, some to anti-abuse organizations. Amazon, its distributor, refused to air “A Rainy Day in New York” in any U.S. theaters, but folks in Poland somehow were exempt from the boycott. “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred in their bones.” [Marc Anthony].

Some critics have complained that writer-directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, whose “The Bleeding Edge” indicts some modern medical technology, are biased. They must be convinced that Allen’s calling his partner not right in the head sounds overblown. Also, that child reported that her father took her into the attic on one day and touched her in the butt and the vagina, an accusation that she has upheld consistently since the incident, sounds spot-on. They add that this was not a one-time, twenty-minutes’ molestation, showing pictures of Allen and Dylan in awfully tight hugs and improper looks. That Allen married Mia Farrow’s stepdaughter, Soon-Yi Previn in 1997 despite an age difference of thirty-five years, becomes part of the heap of “evidence” that Allen likes ‘em young.

Needless to say, Mia Farrow, who thoroughly believes her child, broke up with Allen, saying she wishes he had never entered her life, and proves this in a flurry of taped phone conversations. The filmmakers more than imply that Woody Allen is a hero to New Yorkers given the major works filmed in the Big Apple and his view that he feels stifled in the countryside.

This is a well-paced doc, giving us a breather after every hour, presumably showing us all the evidence we need to know. Detractors include Ronan Farrow, a journalist who wrote a scathing anti-Allen article in the New Yorker, and who titillates readers of “People” magazine and the like suggesting that he is the son of Frank Sinatra. Allen defends himself rather well not only in press conferences but in his memoir “Apropos of Nothing,” which makes Allen wish that he never met Mia Farrow. So feelings are reciprocal.

Believe it or not stepfathers and even biological daddies rape their young charges, whether in the statutory form or via outright violence. But if you are a celeb like Woody Allen or like Roman Polanski (who had statutory relations with a thirteen-year-old and is unable to set foot in the U.S. lest he go to jail), you get the book thrown at you. Though IndieWire’s critic states that “after this documentary, no one should want to hear from Allen for a very long, long time, how about reserving judgment? I recognize the writer-directors’ one-sided treatment. I believe one is innocent until proven guilty. Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby went to jail but only after being found guilty of sexual misconduct in courts of law. Making charges against people without clear evidence, unproven in a fair trial, may have worked during the Spanish Inquisition, but some of us like to think we are (after a four-years’ respite) a democracy.

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

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

‘TIL KINGDOM COME – movie review

Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Maya Zinlshtein
Writer: Mark Monroe
Cast: Pat Robertson, Paula White Boyd Bingham IV, Yael Eckstein
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/3/21
Opens: February 25, 2021

Image result for 'til kingdom come posters movie

It’s a well-known fact that many Christians believe that Jesus, “Our Savior,” The Messiah, will return to earth: the Second Coming, as they call it. Less known is that many Orthodox Jews also that a savior is coming as well, but they would call the event the First Coming. “We want Mossiach Now!” is the rallying cry. Christians and Jews both look forward to the event, or events, because they believe the savior will do just what saviors are meant to do: usher in a world of peace. Orthodox Jews do not see something tragic occurring before the event of the Mossiach. Evangelical Christians see the return of the Messiah will come only after Armageddon, the end of the world, ushering in the Rapture: the rise of heaven of all who accept Jesus as Lord. As for what will happen to people who do not accept Jesus as savior, there is some controversy. Some think Jews in particular who do not convert to Christianity will suffer “tribulation.” Whether that means an eternity in hell or something less pleasant is…who knows? Hey: I went to college and even I don’t know. Why should anyone else?

Image result for 'til kingdom come posters movie

Then there are those who say that both sides are cuckoo. Don’t look at me: I’m only the messenger. Segue into “’Till Kingdom Come,” a documentary praising the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which has donated over a billion dollars to Israel, given that Christians think that the Return and the Rapture will come only when Israeli Jews have a homeland. There is already a Jewish homeland in Israel, but the Messiah, or the Mossiach, maybe both, are patient. Stay tuned.

If you are Jewish, the chances are that if you know you are Jewish, you will be pro-Israel. That does not necessarily mean supporting every policy of the present government under Bibi Netanyahu or the past governments beginning with David Ben-Gurion. But Israel is likely to be in your heart even as you are a patriotic American or Brit or French or whatever. If that’s the case, then you’ll be ever so excited to see Evangelical Christians (25% of Americans, or so they say) and Jews (2% of our country’s folks), come together, all lovey-dovey. Some say (maybe I, maybe not) that Trump showed his pro-Israel stance by being the first President to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That is among the policies that got Trump the votes of some 80% of Evangelical Christians. Could it be that Trump is not really excited about Israel even though his daughter is an Orthodox Jew? Something to think about.

The current Israeli government under Bibi loves Trump, the most pro-Israel President of the U.S. ever. They love the contributions coming in from Evangelical Christians by the millions. They welcome the tens of thousands of Christians who visit Israel annually, getting bussed around, looking at holy sites such as the location of Jesus’ birth and of the crucifixion, and maybe even sending written prayers at the Western Wall. Back to the movie: a pastor in Kentucky from a town that once provided jobs in the mines preaches to poverty-stricken people. No matter how poor they are, many contribute specifically to a foreign country, meaning that they are spiritually uplifted as the pastor tells them they would be. When pastors are not preaching, Sondra Oster Baraz, founder of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities and a settler in Israel’s West Bank, speaks her love of the Evangelical Christians; never mind that the latter appear to overlook the fact that the Jewish settlers are living on Arab land.

The big question, though, is virtually ignored by the movie. What’s not to love about these Christians? For one thing, two thousand years of persecution of Jews may not be erased so easily. Many still accuse Jews of crucifying Jesus, not just then, but now; even if you’ve lived in Brooklyn and never went to the Holy Land. Since 80% of Evangelicals voted for Trump, maybe Trump’s (hypocritical) anti reproductive rights stance swayed them, but still, huge numbers appear to believe every one of the ex-president’s 20,000 to 30,000 lies. Call it an irony, a paradox, or something else: pro-Israel but anti-Semitic? What do they think will happen when the Rapture comes? Bluntly: the reason Israel and Jews are so important and deserving of support is because of the belief that Christians won’t get raptured in the end times unless Jews and Israel fulfill their part of the prophecy including being slaughtered into becoming Christians.

Still ‘n’ all, you can’t win ‘em all: take what you can get. And did I mention that some believe that both sides are cuckoo?

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

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

SEX, DRUGS & BICYCLES – movie review

Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jonathan Blank
Writer: Jonathan Blank
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: February 26, 2021 on PBS

“Sex, Drugs & Bicycles” really is about sex, drugs and bicycles with the implication throughout the documentary that the more you have of each, the happier you will be.

Considering the high taxes of countries with Holland’s social welfare programs and policies, you might be surprised to find out that in their lust for life, the Netherlands joins the equally social democratic countries of Scandinavia. This might seem surprising to people here in the U.S., often called the world’s richest country (as though that leads to happiness as does the night the day), but the view of our Republican politicians and the moderate Democrats who sometimes resemble them is that socialism is the monster you found under your bed when you were six years old.

Directed, written, edited and whatever by Jonathan Blank, whose sense of humor is most like that of Michael Moore, this doc moves forward like a stiff dose of amphetamines with a love for Holland that might make you think that Blank is high on Ecstasy. As for the multiple organisms and the ease of finding partners to achieve same, who’s got the time to worry about the headaches of owning cars when bicycles are the favored mode of travel and the most serious crime that Blank finds in his favorite nation-state is that the two-wheelers often get stolen. Since there are more bikes than people—which means there are more than seventeen million of ‘em—who has the need to add another to their stable?

With snappy and often hilarious animation where Blank morphs into Rembrandt, “Sex, Drugs & Bicycles” lauds, among other things, the four+ weeks of holiday that the Dutch are required to take, even getting paid for their extra month off. And unfortunately for us cinephiles, director Blank seems to have taken far more time off than that. His previous picture, “Anarchy TV,” which features teens doing nude television on the station that they capture, was released twenty-two years ago. It’s therefore not at all puzzling that Blank includes an annual naked bicycling day as one of the great things going for the Dutch.

And how can they pay attention to the windmills, which are the most notable symbol of the Netherlands, when there’s so much sex to concentrate on? Every traveler knows about the sex shops where sex workers, fully legal and licensed, get to parade their wares on storefronts in the tourist-heavy neighborhood that is the main attraction. Not only that. Kids get sex education beginning in primary school, and perhaps as a result, the Dutch abortion rate is much lower than that in our country.

As for medical care, it’s not free but it’s mandatory. Basic coverage is required and 99% are insured. Insurance is sold by private companies, and you can kick in extra cash to get more than the usual services. Even in the land of windmills, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Marijuana can be sold in legal neighborhood coffee shops, such as the one on display named “Smokes.” Teens also take drugs on TV, though Blank briefly mentions that Holland had a problem with legalize hard drugs and pushed back somewhat against it.

Bernie Sanders might be considered a “moderate” by Holland’s standards. Does Bernie believe that transgender surgery should be covered by the government health plan as do the Nederlanders? How about sex workers making the disabled happy? Holland is in the forefront of LGBTQ equality, so there’s none of the fanfare such as here when Barack Obama had to say that he’s “evolved” on his position regarding gay marriage and LGBTQ protections.

Blank takes little time reviewing what’s bad, though he does point out that the liberal policy on accepting Muslim refugees has brought right-wing politicians out of the woodwork. The press notes state “Is having month-long double-paid vacations, no fear of homelessness and universal healthcare the nightmare we’ve been warned about?” More a wet dream than a nightmare, though Holland has an increasing problem of homelessness. According to the Wikipedia article “Netherlands and Homelessness,” in 2018 there were 39,000 without roofs over their heads, afflicting mostly Muslim refugees.

As you might expect, Holland’s seventeen million people would be lost if traveling outside their borders if Dutch were their only language. Everybody interviewed in this doc spoke perfect English. So…if you’re a Michael Moore fan and you had not heard of Jonathan Blank before (as stated, he had no released a film for twenty-two years), you are likely to enjoy this movie’s eight-five minutes and get depressed when you realize that the U.S. ranks so low in the developed world in education, affordable health care (though Medicare is fantastic making it great to be old), and harbors a puritanical fear of recreational drugs.

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

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

THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN – movie review

THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN (L’homme qui vendu sa peau)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kaouther Ben Hania
Writer: Kaouther Ben Hania
Cast: Yahya Mahayni, Dea Liane, Koen De Bouw, Monica Bellucci, Saad Lostan, Darina Al Joundi, Jan Dahdouh, Christian Vadim
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/21/21
Tunisia’s entry to the 93rd Academy Awards

Image result for the man who sold his skin poster

Sylvia Sims sang the classic song that opens: “You’d never think they go together/ But they certainly do/ The combination of English muffins/ And Irish Stew.” Top chefs know how to mix quite a number of things that would not have been attempted years ago. In the same way, stories combine groups from different classes, nationalities, and religions. Suprisingly, sometimes they find common ground. One example is found in female director Kaouther Ben Hania’s sophomore feature, which is the official entry of Tunisia into the 93rd Academy Awards competition. She mixes Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni) a poor, uneducated Syrian, one who has been arrested for comically inciting rebellion on a train, with Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw), a world-renowned contemporary artist. They find that they can do business together profitably, but in signing a contract that represents a document that binds Faust together with Mephistopheles, the oppressed Arab sells his soul and is ultimately disgraced. Or is he? Ben Hania, whose first film, “Beauty and the Dogs,” tracks a college student brutally assaulted by police officers, turns now to a topic of more international resonance, bringing Syria, Lebanon and Belgium into the bargain.

“L’homme qui vendu sa peau,” the original title which translates directly into the English, begins smashingly on a rail car filled with people who break into cheers when Sam announces that he is in love with his seatmate, Abeer (Dea Liane). His love is requited, and in his moment of ecstasy, he calls for freedom for Syria and is arrested. The plot turns, in fact, on whether Sam himself is a free man or one who in later moments has lost all dignity, shaming his country as well. As our President would say, here’s the deal: When Sam breaks out of jail and meets Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw) and his elegant assistant Saroya (Monica Bellucci) in Lebanon, he is offered unusual work. The artist will tattoo a huge Schengen visa on Sam’s back. Sam will be at Jeffrey and Soraya’s beck-and-call to show up in museums and galleries, his back exposed, his head down in a pose of humiliation. In return Sam will be able to travel throughout Europe and receive a sizable commission when the artwork is sold to a collector. Here’s quite a new form of slavery, one that leads an organization that opposes the exploitation of Syrian refugees to sue against mortification of any of its citizens.

Today’s so-called political far-left calls capitalism nothing more than the turning of human beings in commodities, possibly using this film to advance its case. Yet Sam may be able to stay in five-star hotels, “bought off and sold out” as some would say, while Sam enjoys room service caviar, but in the end he is expected (by the movie audience) to regret his agreement to the Faustian deal. Look: Sam becomes a celebrity, able to meet up in Brussels with Soroya—who had entered into her own Faustian bargain by marrying Ziad (Saad Lostan), a rich diplomatic official at the embassy in Brussels.

Concluding moments come off like an exhibition of sedate fireworks that had turned into a thunderous climax. The film’s underlying dark humor comes to the fore, leading to a satisfying conclusion. This is a bold, original work, full of twists, enjoying an ensemble of superb performances especially by Mahayni in only his second full narrative performance.

In Arabic, French, Flemish and English with English subtitles (displayed even when English is spoken!)

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

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

TEST PATTERN – movie review

Kino Lorber
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Shatara Michelle Ford
Writer: Shatara Michelle Ford
Cast: Brittany S. Hall, Will Brill, Gail Bean, Drew Fuller, Ben Levin, Amani Starnes, Caroline Bloom
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/6/21
Opens: February 19, 2021


Although “Test Pattern” is reasonably entertaining given the sympatico of the principal couple, the movie comes off more as a didactic fable, perhaps targeted to high-school seniors and college freshman. “Watch what you do” is the message, “Because you never really know what kind of person is showing interest in you.” The plot focuses on Renesha (Brittany S. Hall), a Black woman, and Evan (Will Brill), a White male, who meet at a party in Austin, Texas. Given the general nature of two events, one an outdoor get-together, the other a young people’s bar, you get the idea that we are indeed a post-racial culture, and this in Texas (although Austin, a college town, is known as a place that culturally could be Boston or Minneapolis or L.A.).

When Evan approaches a group of young women and asks Renesha for her phone number, the twenty-something women at her table giggle like a gaggle of high school kids, as though the request came from Brad Pitt or Robert Pattinson. In fact Evan is a tattoo artist who appears to make enough of a living to be independent with an SUV and appears to be outclassed by Renesha, who is more educated and living in a spacious, well-appointed flat. Social class notwithstanding, they click immediately, proceeding happily to the bedroom in what may me their first or second date.

Some time later, Renesha insists that she has a boyfriend at what was supposed to be a girls’ night out. She is chatted up by Mike (Drew Fuller) while Mike’s friend Chris (Ben Levin) displays her charm to Renesha’s friend Amber. (Once again, an indication of a post-racial society.) After being given a drink and a suspicious gummy bear, Renesha is hustled off to a hotel where she is unable to offer physical resistance to what essential is non-consensual sex, i.e. rape. Hearing about the disastrous evening, boyfriend Evan does not break up with her but instead drives her around to hospitals trying to get a rape kit, which she succeeds in receiving after being turned away at two medical centers. Will the rape kit indicate forcible sexual activity? More important, how is a young woman supposed to prove that she was sexually assaulted when she accompanied Mike to a hotel, seemingly penetrated without physical violence? If DNA inspected at police headquarters links to the guy, so what? Indications are consensual sex.

The film is sympathetically acted by Hall and Brill, who do not really look like a pair, as she dresses with classical taste while he dons a fashionably (?) torn white T-shirt. The film is billed as part psychological thriller, but that part is microscopically small. Save it for the sex-ed classrooms.

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

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


MAFIA INC. movie review

Film Movement
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Daniel Grou
Writer: André Cédilot, Sylvain Guy, André Noël  Mafia Inc: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada’s Sicilian Clan by journalists André Cédilot and André Noël,
Cast: Sergio Castellitto, Marc-André Grondin, Gilbert Sicotte, Mylèlen Mackay, Donny Falsetti
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/7/21
Opens: January 29, 2021

Mafia Inc Large Poster

Names of countries and provinces are flying here as though the actors are playing a game of geography. Lugano, Switzerland, Italy, Sicily, Lichtenstein, Venezuela, Quebec, Canada, Montreal, Cayman Islands. All of these areas (even Venezuela in better times) accommodate people who want to launder money, to hide deposits from the authorities. It’s a wonder that mafia members ever get caught, but Daniel Grou’s “Mafia Inc” shows what many of us in the audience know. Fallings out within gangster families in addition to wars between rival gangs lead to actions, reactions, and these guys don’t fool around. They get revenge when somebody squeals to the cops, when others are found to wear wires to lessen their sentences, and in the case of this movie, when one commits a crime so horrible that even his fellow members ostracize him.

The Quebecois director Daniel Grou, whose “Miraculum” is an ensemble work about people exploring their passions, deals now with people at least equally passionate, though a subplot around a controversial romance is thrown in to complicate a story that, like “Miraculum” is an ensemble piece. There are many characters with so many conflicting emotions and desires that a second showing may be needed to assemble the puzzle.

The two principals are Frank Paternò (Sergio Castellitto), the godfather of an ethnically Italian clan living in Montreal, and Vince Gamache (Marc-André Grondin), a young member committed to violent actions meant not only to earn great sums of money (by hiding drugs inside corpses with removed organs and smuggling them through customers), but also to impress Frank. The film is based on a true story uncovered by Canada’s Woodward and Bernstein-like journalists André Cédilot and André Noël. The action takes place in Montreal in 1994 with flashbacks to 1980 to show the lives of upcoming mafioso Vince.

The godfather is played by a smartly-dressed, articulate, person who you might think is the CEO of Italian airlines and whose idea of making money is not by Bonnie-and-Clyde bank heists but by getting involved in a proposed bridge between Sicily and Italian mainland. You would not be surprised to see that the smooth-talker is proud of his anticipated construction as he frequently refers to his roots in the “motherland.” What will eventually take down the scheme is that Frank’s son Giaco (Donny Falsetti) is the man he wants as his successor, and ambitions of rival Vince, who is the son of a tailor (Gilbert Sicotte) known for custom-dressing the Paternò clan.

These are not a pleasant ensemble of people but Vince, a firebrand on his way up, believes more than the others that the end justifies the means. His is the idea of crashing a school bus in Venezuela sacrificing children to pick up bodies to transport drugs through customs. The romance between Giaco’s brother Pat (Michaela Ricci) and Vince’s sister Sofie (Mylène) adds complexity to the story, which features large groups of people in ornate houses and reception halls, a concrete sign of the millions sent by the families to banks around the world.

As in “The Godfather,” which is probably the best known classic film on the subject atop a slew of others like “Once Upon a Time in America,” (an almost four-hour look at a Jewish prohibition gangster coming to terms with his life), “Eastern Promises” (a Russian crime family), and “Scarface” (a Cuban immigrant in Miami takes over a drug cartel). If we are to believe the two journalists who covered the Quebec-based mob, their story involves everything you expect in an action drama, including the blowing up a custom men’s wear shop with a pipe bomb, shootouts that make “High Noon” appear like a child’s game of tiddle-de-winks, dancing by ornately dressed couples in the most gaudy reception rooms, and the like.

What is different here is that the gangsters easily adapt their perfectly accented speech among Quebec French, English and Italian. The film also shows what’s left of the mafioso humanity: they may cry when family members wind up dead and they are sentimental about budding romances among the clan. “Sicko,” one of Michael Moore’s documentaries, purports to show how civilized Canada is when compared to the U.S. Some of us here in America have fantasies that the Canadians, with their seeming cooperation among political parties and normal prime ministers, must be an idyllic place to live. “Mafia Inc” however points out the flaws within the boundaries of our neighbors to the north and does a more than adequate job albeit with some confusion.

In French (or should we say “French”), Italian, and English with English subtitles where necessary.

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

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


Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dea Kulumbegashvili
Writer: Dea Kulumbegashvili, Rati Oneli
Cast: Ia Sukhitashvili, Rati Oneli, Kakha Kintsurashvili, Saba Gogichaishvili
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/4/21
Opens: January 29, 2021


Beginning (film).jpg

One of the long gags about the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the U.S. is that when you hear your doorbell ring on Sunday morning, you pretend you’re not home. This is because the religious sect, intent on awakening religious awareness and hopefully finding new members for the church are so assertive, so confident in their morality that they can barely believe that others might not find them so. If you invite them in for tea, and by “them” we mean that there is always a pair of missionaries, you might find them to be utterly pleasant people who could win you over despite yourself. But how much do we know about their culture?

You won’t find all that much about the general ethics of the religion in “Beginning,” set in a boxy 1:33 aspect ratio that symbolically imprisons the viewer in the story. But you will find a woman, the principal character who is in most frames, to be so oppressed by the small town, by the feeling that she is invisible with no effect on anyone but her pre-pubescent child, and most of all so ignored by her husband who is the leader of a small congregation. This is not the year or the decade of the woman everywhere. If we can stretch a point made in Georgia’s entry to the 93rd Academy Awards competition, women are still controlled by their environment, by the overriding culture, and most of all by their husbands.

Not that David (Rati Oneli) is an evil man. In fact he is the pastor of the congregation, preparing the youths for baptism, questioning even the adults who meet in the church about the meaning of the sacrifice that Abraham is about to make of his son Isaac to God. When in one of the film’s rare, melodramatic scenes the church is firebombed by extremists during a service, the domestic terrorists caught by the surveillance cameras, the police are unwilling to bring charges against the perpetrators. The attack prompts Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili) to feel even more invisible: not only does she stay with her husband who refuses to get a transfer out of the suffocating town near Georgia’s capital, but he refuses to allow her agency if her wishes go against his career moves. Insisting that she accompany him to a meeting with the elders, she refuses. “I want to be alone,” she insists, mimicking the famous quote of Greta Garbo in “Mata Hari.”

A former actress (“you were a terrible actress” notes her husband who ironically claims that he rescued her from the depths of despair), she puts up with ill treatment by her man, even criticized by her mother who advises her that she too put up with hers. When a detective (Kakha Kintsurashvili) shows up, asking her to use her charm to convince David to withdraw her complaint about the destruction of his meeting hall, he segues into a discussion of Yana’s most personal activities, asking her whether she lies when her husband makes love (not his exact word) to her. He asks her to sit next to him on the couch, proceeding to advance sexually, behavior that should horrify feminists but appears to “turn on” Yana, who has been living with a passionless marriage.

This is Dea Kulumbegashvili’s freshman feature film, from a director who was raised in Georgia and studied film direction in New York at Columbia University and the New School. She has her D.P., Arseni Khachaturan, hold his camera still, barely moving the lenses during the tracking shots, and keeping himself at a distance particularly in a scene of violent rape. The film’s most famous scene, a long, seven-minute take with a stationary camera finding Yana with eyes closed, the sun caressing her face, signals one attempt by the frustrated former actress, mother, and obedient wife to meditate on her life’s renewal. The scene gives way, the beauty of the landscape belying the desolation of her life.

“Beginning” looks at first like an ironic title, a bad joke when the woman is doomed to live as each twenty-four hours are like Groundhog Day. Still, a horrifying twist in the final scene could signal the start of a new chapter in her life, one that is anything but encouraging. This is not for those who want Hollywood endings or who can’t imagine watching a woman motionless on the grass for seven minutes. “Beginning,” which happily does not cater to the Hollywood audience with music in the soundtrack, existsfor folks who are fond of learning about human nature in all of its aspects.

In Georgian with English subtitles.

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

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