STAGE: THE CULINARY INTERNSHIP – movie review

STAGE: THE CULINARY INTERNSHIP
Butternut Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Abby Ainsworth
Screenwriter: Abby Ainsworth
Cast: Andoni Luís Adúriz, Kim Joon, Alexandre Castelló, Pawel Poljanski, Sara Merendes
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/22/20
Opens: May 29, 2020

Stage: The Culinary Internship

Technology changes, forcing people to give up some of what they learn while training for a career, but there is one thing they can’t take away from you, and that is the ability to think and feel. That is the message that oversees what goes on in God’s country in the Northeast corner of Spain, where thirty applicants are chosen out of fifteen hundred to take part in a nine-month program as unpaid interns at the Mugaritz Restaurant. In this brief documentary writer-director Abby Ainsworth gives her movie audience a look at what goes on in the kitchen of one of the world’s top fifty restaurants, as chef interns with an average age of twenty-four come together to learn technique, of course, but more importantly to put their very souls into the preparation of food.

Among the words of wisdom: “It’s better to show disgust at a dish than to feel nothing at all.” Those who persevere through the rigorous training program are letting us in the audience know that while talent is important, stick-to-ivness is mandatory. In other words, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice.”)

Abby Ainsworth, whose envious career immerses her in the food industry, tries to “find the beauty of a story outside its face value” as she states in production notes. While she spends a considerable time in a restaurant kitchen watching the thirty interns prepare dishes with designs that would make even top French chefs envious, she is as interested in showing us what these interns are made of, allowing them to discuss their backgrounds with one another, principally how they became passionate about cooking.

The Mugaritz Restaurant (“muga” means “border”), located in Errenteria, Guipúzcoa in Spain’s Basque country, is one of the world’s most celebrated places to chow down. Its founder and chef, Andoni Luís Adúriz, closes the restaurant four months of each year, when much of the training of interns takes place. The movie title “Stage” is a French term meaning “unpaid position.” focusing on two-star Michelin restaurant’s program of mentoring the great chefs of tomorrow.

Ainsworth concentrates on four interns. Kim Joon from South Korea has served in his country’s army and speaks fluent English but is likely under stress because he must follow instructions in Spanish. Alexandre Castelló from Spain has experience cooking in his father’s family restaurant. Pawel Poljanski is from Poland, failing three times to be accepted to the stage program, but he perseveres and, though accustomed to working on his own must acclimate to the group of twenty-nine others. Sara Merendes from Spain wonders why she majored in graphic design in college when her real métiér is cooking.

All are competing to be among a select circle to be chosen for an advanced position in the restaurant’s Research and Development program, which brings us to how this restaurant is probably unlike any for which you’ve dined. The food consists admittedly of dishes that a diner may either hate or love. The design is avant-garde given that some of the dishes include aged mole leaves and bone marrow; natto pie with palo cartado; snails in ceviche over frozen teff; pinecut kagami; and the one that impresses me the most, oyster frozen kiss. This last item, which Aduriz’s wife called “cold,” looks bizarre, but so does almost everything that these interns in their mid-twenties are preparing. (Incidentally, they do not use gloves.)

On a technical note, the music in the soundtrack is intrusive. This is not a thriller and no music at all would for me be a desideratum. English subtitles are available throughout with Spanish and English each the lingua franca of the production.

While the internship does not pay, you get room and board—and my, what board and what a view from the room!—so presumably you need to lay out only for air fare and for occasional personal needs. Feel free to make reservations at the restaurant, and take a trip to Spain’s autonomous Basque country. You can call 34-943-52-24-55, pay a 50€ deposit based on the expected cost (without drinks) of 220€. Then head to Aldura ladea 20 in Errenteria and enjoy.

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

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

THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF – movie review

THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF
Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Benjamin Ree
Cast: Barbora Kysilkova, Karl-Bertil Nordland
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/29/20
Opens: May 22, 2020

The title thief of this unusual and arresting (so to speak) documentary sometimes wears a shirt that says “Crime Pays.” Not surprisingly, it really does, because Karl-Bertil Nordland not only avoids prison when he is nailed as a thief but he gets some life-affirming lessons from the victim, Barbora Kysilkova. Emerging from Benjamin Ree’s film (the director’s sophomore feature follows his “Magnus” from four years back, a study of a Norwegian chess prodigy) is that the relationship drawn here could serve to motivate meetings between criminals and victims together, the former trying to understand the bad guy’s motivation while the crook learns that the person he harmed has actual feelings.

Largely a two-hander though Ree brings in side characters such as the painter’s girlfriends and the artist’s partner, “The Painter and the Thief, organized in a helter-skelter way (that’s a compliment in this case), focuses on the Karl-Bertil Nordland and Barbora Kysilkova’s meetings and chats together, then splitting them up to watch each acting and reacting as separate individuals, each with their own difficulties and moods.

Of course criminals are not the only people with severe problems. Barbora describes how in Berlin she was abused by her boyfriend, made to feel insignificant and unworthy of attention in the art world or anywhere else. For his part Karl-Bertil Nordland has more serious problems as a junkie who in one scenes scores heroin while on the way to rehab and had already spent eight years in jail. And speaking of jail you’ve got to admire the Norwegians, benefactors of a social democratic state (a nanny state in the words of some of our right-wing friends). The prison provides Karl with a private room and a desk, a modern phone, a nice bed, all bringing to mind Michael Moore visit to a Norwegian prison and a similar look at the country-club atmosphere from “Breaking the Cycle.”

Karl gets a sentence of an additional year not because he stole a painting but because he violated the penal code in a vehicular accident that could have paralyzed him. For her part Barbora comes across at times as emotionally paralyzed. She is three months behind in rent and could afford the produce from a supermarket only by asking the checker to remove the grapes.

Special praise for the filmmaker who evokes natural performances from the duo while keeping the appropriate distance. The film is mostly in English with considerable Norwegian, highlighting the idea that Norwegians, and perhaps most Europeans, learn English as a second language given the difficulty of understanding the world in a tongue spoken only in one country.

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

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

TOWERING TASK – movie review

A TOWERING TASK: The Story of the Peace Corps
First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alana DeJoseph
Screenwriter: Shana Kelly
Cast: Annette Bening
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/30/20
Opens: May 22, 2020

A Towering Task

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “If you are in your twenties and you are not idealistic, you have no heart. If you are in your forties and are idealistic, you have no brains.” The idealism in me began when I, a 22-year-old political lefty, cheered JFK’s founding of the Peace Corps. (Also volunteers doing Peace Corps work were in most cases not threatened with the draft to Vietnam.) I voted for JFK not only for his generally progressive views (forget about Castro) but particularly for his plan to found the Peace Corps. Even now as a “senior” who should know better, I confess to having no brains.

After passing several look-sees into my qualities, I was accepted and went with my then wife to Georgetown University to get preparation to teach English to college students in Bogota. Despite being chosen to spend time in a big city, I got more shots from the nurses than Bonnie and Clyde as though they were preparing us to hit the shanties of Sierra Leone. After aceing the classes in Spanish and U.S. history, we found out in the middle of training that the budget was drastically cut. We were sent home, older but scarcely wiser people.

The Peace Corps still exists despite our turn to faux-populist nationalism, and in fact has passed muster with chief executives as far right as Ronald Reagan, Dick Nixon and George Bush. Why should our pals on the far right support a hippie organization? They noted that the Peace Corps was not only an outlet for idealism but a smart geopolitical move. If mostly young Americans are sent to 60+ countries that requested our help—teaching English, scientific farming, building schools—everyone would love us and we would no longer be subjects covered by Lederer and Burdick’s 1958 book “The Ugly American.”

Now, Alana DeJoseph, employing Shana Kelly’s script, has a new documentary to comment on a program that everyone knew about during the JFK administration but is scarcely publicized today. In this documentary, one that does not match the humor of a Michael Moore or a Morgan Spurlock but makes up for the deficiency with heartfelt anecdotes by talking heads. They include veterans of the two-year stint in places that include even Moscow, and former directors of the Peace Corps like my friend and former head of the New York City Council Carol Bellamy. This is DeJoseph’s her freshman direction of a documentary that allows cinematographer Vanessa Carr to splash pictures across the screen exploring places that have benefitted by America’s idealistic people. Archival films as well, of course.

In one African country where people from the slums never got mail because their streets and addresses had no names, the Peace Corps on premises fixed what should have been a simple problem handled by the local government. In another area, a woman who majored in music gives help to a fellow who has been farming for eighty years. Some denizens of areas like Thailand and Cuba had suspicions that some corps people were CIA, but even Fidel Castro, who licked his chops hoping to uncover plots, had to admit that he did not find a single CIA henchman.

The pictures that we see are all positive, and maybe we should not expect a cinema team enthusiastic about the agency to be critical. As you might expect, local people, for example in Africa, crowd around U.S. volunteers in shows of friendship and trust. Even during the Vietnam War, some locals may have been surprised that the American volunteers were neutral, though most probably leaned against our government’s misguided war policies. In one Central American country volunteers witnessed the outbreak of a Communist revolution, yet even the rebels respected and did not harm the Americans.

Among the talking heads are past directors of the Peace Corps and writers of books about the agency. Given its successes, not even Trump threatened to slash the funding. After the movie was made, the coronavirus broke out everywhere and for the first time in history almost all volunteers were called home. There are currently 7800 Peace Corps volunteers in 140 countries. “A Towering Task” is the first doc to cover the institution. It does the job well.

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

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

THE LAST VERMEER – movie review

THE LAST VERMEER
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dan Friedkin
Screenwriter: James McGee, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby based on the book “The Man Who Made Vermeers” by Jonathan Lopez
Cast: Guy Pearce, Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 3/19/20
Opens: May 22, 2020

It’s about time that the film industry has come around to portraying a first class melodrama of one of the great forgeries in art history, one of many that allowed Hans van Meegeren to amass enough of a fortune to buy 52 properties and 15 country homes throughout Europe. Van Meegeren’s story has is covered in an elaborate Wikipedia essay, a fellow well known to the residents of the Netherlands but until now unfamiliar to the average American. “The Last Vermeer” is adapted from a book by Jonathan Lopez, “The Man Who Made Vermeers,” available on Amazon, now brought to life before cinematographer Rami Adefarasin lenses with all the splendor of Fort Widley in Portsmouth, England and Dordrecht, the Netherlands.

The film should cast Dan Friedkin in the limelight as a first-time director with a potential future in uncovering the lives of people as colorful as Van Meegeren, who thanks to this picture will allow us in the U.S. to dig further into aspects of the Third Reich rarely illuminated before. This film is graced by a stunning performance from Guy Pearce in the role of the forger who must have been thankful that he did not make the cut as a grade-A painter, but who amassed a fortune of thirty million dollars (that’s in 1943) by swindling the number 2 man in Hitler’s stable, art lover Hermann Göring. Implied in the tale is the certainty that if Göring knew he was taken advantage of, he would have had Van Meegeren shot. Then again, some of Van Meegeren’s countrymen might have done the deed given that Dutchmen who collaborated with the Nazis were tied behind a pole in a central square and shot before a mass of citizens screaming epithets.

The two central characters are Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) and Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang). The movie, like the book, emphasizes the captain’s Jewish background given his disgust with the Nazis for stealing hundreds of masterworks in the art world when Jews escaping the Nazis in the Netherlands as in most of the rest of Europe had to sell their collections for bargain basement prices. Presumably van Meegeren acquired these paintings partly for his collection, but always conspiring to sell them and accumulate vast riches. What Göring did not know was that the painting of “Christ and the Adulteress” that he bought from van Meegeren was not an original Vermeer and that in fact Vermeer had not been credited with the work at all. One must wonder—though the film does not—why Göring could not check on the complete list of the works of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) where he would discover that no such title exists.

The film is bogged down by a large number of characters, most if not all might be unfamiliar to American viewers. Otherwise the story involves throughout with several melodramatic touches, culminating in a dramatic courtroom scene presided over the three judges, with the Dutch people gathered outside seemingly favorable to van Meegeren as they credit him with swindling the Nazis. On the other hand the judges and the prosecutor are adamant about prosecuting the forger and giving him a death sentence, as they consider him a fellow who enriched himself by collaborating with Nazi bigwigs.

The women in the story get short exposure, lost in the maze of personages, including the forger’s ex-wife and his mistress, while Piller, a handsome Dutch fellow with a clear, penetrating voice, has his own bedmates. Yet Guy Pearce, well known to American audiences for roles in “Mary Queen of Scots,” “The Catcher Was a Spy” and as F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Genius” takes a role in which he is almost unrecognizable, giving support to Claes Bang, recently seen in the wonderful “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” which also deals with the world of painting.

An epilogue that tries to imitate some of the novels of John Grisham—wherein a winning case unravels in the final pages—is unconvincing, dealing with a suggestion that the Dutch painter indeed collaborated with Hitler himself.

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

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

THEY CALL ME DR. MIAMI – movie review

THEY CALL ME DR. MIAMI
Cargo Film & Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jean-Simon Chartier
Cast: Michael Salzhauer as Dr. Miami
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/1/20
Opens: May 14, 2020

Let’s say you walk into a medical arts building to take care of an infected wound on your hand. You pass by a group of medical offices and on the way you can’t help noticing that one office housing a surgeon has a large colorful sign “Make Butts not War.” Would you make a run for it, thinking the entire building may be loco? Would you whip out your i-phone to call the authorities? You’re thinking: maybe there’s a reason for the sign, so to assure yourself you open the door and find a few young women laughing and photographing the surgeon with material that will appear on Snapchat. You’re convinced. Something’s going on here.

But wait. Is there any chance that you, a resident of South Florida, had not even heard of Dr. Salzhauer? No chance. You recall the name and feel more at ease. But you’re not the only person who thought something was wrong. There are important people who even now might like to shut down the doctor’s practice, and Jean-Simon Chartier gives some Salzhauer negative reactions. Never mind that he is already world famous, as big a name even in Antigua—where women unhappy about their appearance travel to South Florida to get a procedure—as Dr. Oz is in our own country.

Do you think it’s right for a surgeon to create rap videos, culturally appropriating part of African-American culture to advertise his name and practice, and to clown around with various audiences including his own assistants and other young women who crowd around him in his office as though he were a rock star? The ethical implications—that perhaps a man of medicine should not be doing rap and sending videos through Snapchat—are given short shrift, with just one physician given time to testify his concern to the camera, but maybe he should be written off as an envious fellow with a short sense of humor.

I would tell him what Salzhauer himself states in this intriguing, entertaining documentary, one which breaks new ground on the subject of plastic surgery, that is: it makes no difference what a person does for entertainment provided that he or she is competent in the profession. (Think of Trump: he clowns around too, but is he competent)?

Salzhauer is one of the men who would be loved by the Lubavitcher folks here in Brooklyn who go around asking people on the street “Are you Jewish?, invite them into a van called a Mitzvah tank, and try to upgrade their religion from secular to Orthodox. Indeed we see several clips of the plastic surgeon laying Tefillen, clothing himself with a Tallit, and davening in fluent Hebrew. He had upgraded himself from Reform or Conservative or even secular and is married with kids to an Orthodox wife. His home life is as enviable as his office politics, his spacious home serving to give us a short piano recital from one of his accomplished kids, even allowing us to witness a brit on an 8-day old baby.

If you like entertainment but recoil at seeing close-up images of tummy-tucks, breast augmentation, and particularly butt enhancement, you will get that too, but the short 76 minutes are taken up mostly with an exploration of the doc’s personality. By the way, I understand how women may want breast augmentation, but here they seem to want bigger butt. Shouldn’t it be the opposite, with women requesting butt-tucks?

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

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

THE TRAITOR – movie review

THE TRAITOR
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Screenwriters: Marco Bellochio, Ludovica Rampoldi, Valia Santela, Francesco Piccolo
Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Luigi Lo Cascio, Fausto Russo Alesi, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Fabrizio Ferracane, Nicola Calì
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/8/20
Opens: May 12, 2020

What is most impressive about “The Traitor” is that this film perhaps more than any other presents the true story of the Cosa Nostra. Marco Bellochio, whose “Sweet Dreams” focuses on a child whose idyllic childhood is crushed by the death of his mother, paints on a broader canvas in directing and co-writing “The Traitor.” “Il Traditore,” the original Italian name of his current offering, hones in on one person, Tommasco Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino), who is responsible more than any other informant for destroying the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, not because he is a saint but because he did not approve of the mob’s increasingly violent manner. For him, cigarette smuggling appears sufficient enough, but when the organization moves into heroin pushing and members of his own family are targeted by cold blooded bosses like Pippo Calò (Fabrizio Ferracane) and Totò Riina (Nicola Calì), Buscetta turns informer.

All names are actual in this biopic of the title traitor, including that of Judge Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi), who took Buscetta’s testimony and, like others on the side of the law, treated the informer well. Buscetta’s testimony brought other would-be informers out of the woodwork to turn state’s evidence in a trial that lasted 1986-1992. As you might expect, since Bellocchio and his co-writers Ludovica Rampoldi, Valia Santela and Francesco Piccolo are dealing with biography, the movie is not as commercial as “The Godfather Part I,” meaning that there are no horse’s heads under the bedcovers and only a minimum of gunplay and explosions.

The hostility between the old mafia (which includes Buscetta) and the Corleone faction led by Totò Riina is almost as intense as that between our current Democratic and Republican Parties, but unlike our own political chaos, the Italians find a way to call a truce. Meanwhile Buscetta moves with his family to Rio, but the plot thickens when he learns that his boys, now in their twenties, are missing.

Truces do not last long. When warfare continues between the two mafia organizations, Buscetta, still in Rio, is arrested by a Swat team of the Italian army, who are then unable to coax a confession out of him even when they dangle his third wife from a chopper. Instead he is extradited to Italy to face Judge Falcone and is treated like a rock star, perceived as the kingpin not to push drugs but to rat on the Cosa Nostra. When the big shots are arrested, they are put behind a cage in a large Italian courtroom, which houses the defendants in a cage, all of whom taunt the traitor particularly with what the Sicilians consider the ultimate insult, “cuckold.” Ultimately Buscetta rats out a prominent Italian politician, and he is given witness protection in the U.S. where he must look over his shoulder even when shopping for food.

The acting all around is appropriately scary, the audience probably feeling the paranoia during the closing scenes when Buscetta notes that he doesn’t give a crap any more if he is taken out by the remnants of the Italian mafia. Great use of operatic music when appropriate, and at two and one-half hours the picture never loses its puls ating momentum.

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

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

HOPE GAP – movie reviews

HOPE GAP
Roadside Attractions/Screen Gems
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: William Nicholson
Screenwriter: William Nicholson based on his play “The Retreat from Moscow”
Cast: Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/5/20
Opens: March 6, 2020

In one scene Grace (Annette Bening) sighs that after a while, unhappiness ceases to be interesting. This may be true but “Hope Gap,” filled with unhappiness and meditative poetry, remains interesting throughout. Perhaps the major reason for this is the near-miraculous performance of the kind that Annette Bening gives. Or maybe because the film written by directed by Williams Nicholson in his sophomore contribution (his play “The Retreat from Moscow” compares the costly withdrawal of Napoleon’s forces from Moscow to the end of a three decades’ long marriage), pairs two thesps who work so well together that they convince of their inability to get along. The story is based on the marriage dissolution of the writer-director.

As you watch Grace and her long-term husband Edward (Bill Nighy) argue, you might be tempted to side with Edward, who has been worn down by his more outgoing wife’s insistence that he talk, even fight. In fact her nagging gives the appearance that she is a shrew who wants to make her man not what he really is, and in fact Edward states that she has been in love with her fantasy of a husband. Then again, you’d want to consider that she may have a good point. Women generally like to talk while men like to act, or so Esquire Magazine sometimes tells us, and Edward, who is a high-school teacher who discusses poetry as though he were declaiming to college majors in English literature, is clearly introspective.

Though Edward is actually in love with one Angela (Sally Rogers), the mother of one of the pupils, he has waited to tell Grace of his unhappiness and his wish to change gears somewhat past middle age. He wonders, as do we in the audience, whether he has been unhappy during the entire length of the marriage. He uses his own son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) as a sounding board, is advised by the twenty-something lad who lives alone and so far as we see has no girlfriend or love life, to keep the bond with his wife. When Edward tells Grace “I’m no good for you,” he uses the standard self-deprecation that both sexes have employed in efforts to mitigate their guilt.

Like Jamie, who is given a considerable role to show his personality when he is with two friends his own age, Jess (Aiysha Hart) and Gary (Nicholas Burns), Nicholson does not take sides, allowing us in the audience to spend the evening with our own friends discussing who is more at fault. Edward’s guilt aside, what is most fascinating is watching how Annette Bening, the only one in the cast who is not British, takes on the king’s English in registering a wide range of emotions, particularly the rage that is covering up the intense feeling of abandonment and lack of agency in negotiating with the person she has lived with for twenty-nine years. Yet she has only a vague inkling that they may have been a mismatch from the start.

There is an extra dose of disappointment to see that Seaford is a spot perfect for a romance of people during their mature years. Anna Valdez Hanks films on location in the south of England which looks over the English Channel from its white cliffs. Some may argue that we do not know enough about the couple, something that may give us insight into the one-sidedness of their split, but we see enough to fill in the backstory with our imagination.

The film will be appreciated by a prospective audience in middle age or beyond, though it’s a pity that dramas focusing on the mature are rarely attended by the callow.

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

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

ON A MAGICAL NIGHT – movie review

ON A MAGICAL NIGHT
Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christophe Honoré
Screenwriter: Christophe Honoré
Cast: Chiara Mastoianni, Benjamin Biolay, Vincent Lacoste, Kolia Abiteboul, Camille Cottin, Carole Bouquet
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/4/20
Opens: May 8, 2020

“The French don’t care what they do, actually, so long as they pronounce it properly.” So says Professor Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” and if Higgins were present at the Cannes Film Festival watching “On a Magical Night,” he would be doubly assured. Under the direction of Christophe Honoré, a busy man whose “Les chansons d’amour” deals with a threesome evoking the mysteries and fragilities of love, is in his métier with “On a Magical Night.” When one character says “When should we die: in our 30’s, our 40’s?” we know we are dealing thematically with people who regret the passing years but who had used those periods to accumulate multiple partners. Maria Mortemart (Chiara Mastroianni) and Richard Warrimer (Benjamin Biolay) have been married for twenty-five years, affording Maria a bounty of male lovers, none gay even if the writer-director’s previous picture, “Sorry Angel” finds one Jacques in love with Arthur. Since Richard claims never to have cheated on Maria, he resents her infidelity.

The movie is theatrical, most action taking place in Room 212 (the original title is “Chambre 212”) and across the street in a hotel. Bringing to mind the Beatles’ “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64,” Honoré considers a question that has must have been asked by anyone with a pulse, “Would I have done anything different if I could reconsider my choice for a life’s partner?” The question is not resolved, but Honoré uses magical realism to examine the fantasies of Maria when, after an argument with Richard she moves to a hotel across the street and considers all the men she slept with during her marriage and the two principal women in her life as well.

So this time the cheater is not the man. Maria, a glamorous law professor, looks through the hotel window at Richard who, by now, is kicking up a storm, and spends the night receiving “visits” by Richard’s piano teacher Irène Haffner (Carole Bouquet at 60 years and Camille Cottin at 40), by her dead mother (Marie-Christine Adam), and by a succession of past lovers including one present one, Asdrubal Electorat (Harrison Arevalo). The men include Richard as a young adult (Vincent Lacoste) and as her teen student(Kolia Abiteboul). Stéphane Roger performs as La Volonté, a one-man Greek chorus singing like Charles Aznavour.

Much of the time she ponders her bedding Richard decades ago, which might have the audience wonder whether this technicality means that she is not really committing infidelity. Since this is a French movie, there’s lots of talk, largely of regrets, the veritable platoon of men and women taking up the space of the hotel room but giving Maria the freedom to conduct most of her truth-seeking chats with the piano teacher.

Light and fluffy like a French farce but played on a more somber and less over-the-top performances of Feydeau’s plays, “Chambre 212” might be just the thing we need since our globe went viral. The conclusion, a dance to forget your troubles to the bouncy tunes of Barry Manilow, may have been planned to have us in the audience forget for a while the seriousness of love and sex and life. For those of us curious to soak in trivia, you probably guessed that Chiara Mastroianni is the daughter of Marcello Mastroianni’s and Catherine Deneuve and that the two principals, Mastroianni and Biolay were once romantic partners.

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

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

DEERSKIN – movie review

DEERSKIN (Le daim)
Greenwich Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Screenwriter: Quentin Dupieux
Cast: Jean Duojardin, Adèle Haenel, Albert Delpy, Coralie Russier, Laurent Nicolas, Marie Bunel, Pierre Gommé
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/14/20
Opens: May 1, 2020

Melbourne International Film Festival 2019 Review – Deerskin

Near the opening of “Deerskin,” Georges (Jean Dujardin) checks into a cheap motel in a one-horse town asking to stay for one month because he wants to be alone. But Georges may have been alone before the check-in but he is not a single person any more. He had purchased a deerskin jacket, willing to buy it with a dated movie camera thrown in, because he considers it the most beautiful jacket in France. In fact to prove he is not alone, when he is in the motel room, he talks to the jacket, and lo, the jacket talks back in Georges’s own voice. So this is not a film so bizarre that the writer-director wants you to think that the jacket is really alive, but it’s bizarre enough. And no wonder. Its regisseur, Quentin Dupieux, is credited with “Réalité,” about a director who wants to hire a person who can deliver a groan worthy of an Oscar. Even more off the beaten track, literally, his “Rubber” follows the exploits of a homicidal tire obsessed with a mysterious woman in the desert.

For his part Jean Dujardin, whom you may remember from the boldly original silent film “The Artist” in which he takes second billing to a Jack Russell Terrier, is virtually unrecognizable under his thick beard and some weight he either put on since “The Artist” or had the make-up person bulk him up artificially. His character Georges is convinced by his deerskin jacket that the article of clothing should be the only one in existence; meaning, not just the only deerskin in existence but the only jacket. To fulfill the jacket’s plan he sets out to film a movie with his newly bought camera, offering euros to several people if they would remove their jackets and put them into his car trunk. When they do so, he takes off. Later it becomes difficult to con people into the donations, and that’s where the film turns to dark comedy.

The principal attraction of “Deerskin” is the relationship between Georges and Denise (Adèle Haenel)—whom movie buffs will quickly recall for her startling lesbian role in “Portrait of a Woman on Fire.” Denise serves in a bar with only one or two customers but her passion is to edit movies. (That’s a new one: not a desire to act or direct!) Georges picks up on this, hires her as an editor, gets her to cough up money which she withdraws from an ATM. She proceeds to put his spontaneous film takes into an editing machine, and before you know it, her obsession with cutting film matches Georges’ preoccupation with his jacket.

Dupieux knows not to overstay his welcome as the film has barely enough material for a short. Denise congratulates herself with an interpretation of the jacket as “we all hide behind a shell,” which Dupieux may have thrown in to satirize the predilection of serious moviegoers to find meaning where symbolism does not exist. Look, the guy is simply obsessed with a deerskin jacket which, Georges thinks, feels anger that other jackets exist in France. This is a kooky picture, but not difficult or “artsy.” It exists largely to have us feast on the talents of the always imposing Dujardin.

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

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

TAMMY’S ALWAYS DYING – movie review

TAMMY’S ALWAYS DYING
Quiver Distribution
Reviewed for Shockya.com &BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Amy Jo Johnson
Screenwriter: Joanne Sarazen
Cast: Felicity Huffman, Anastasia Phillips, Clark Johnson, Lauren Holly
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/15/20
Opens: May 1, 2020

Sometimes when a little kid cries apparently for no reason, her mother will say, “You ought to be an actress—you cry so easily.” In a story written by Joanne Sarazen in her freshman feature and directed by Amy Jo Johnson, also her first full length narrative film, “Tammy’s Always Dying” finds a the title character’s only daughter Catherine (Anastasia Phillips) able to cry in front of a TV audience so successfully that she receives a new Toyota Camry. For many of us, anything below a Mercedes of a Beamer would be considered chump change, but to Catherine it’s a bigger prize than she had ever seen. Not that her mother Tammy (Felicity Huffman) is better off. Both mother and daughter are sad sacks, losers, the kinds of people who, if American not Canadian, might vote for Trump not realizing that nobody, not even a slick-talking pseudo-populist, could help such deadbeats.

From beginning to end, Tammy and Catherine MacDonald (strangely, in real life mother and daughter are only ten years apart) we can predict that the two are going nowhere in life, having missed any opportunity at the right time to advance a career or even consider such an unusual thing to strive for.

So we’re left with wondering: is there anything about these two women to make us care about them? Do we know anything about why mom is depressed to the point of regularly considering jumping from a bridge, or daughter so easily manipulated by her mother that she has little pleasurable to think about save a quicky against the wall with married Reggie (Aaron Ashmore)? At least she has one person who shows he cares about her, her gay boss in a seedy bar, Doug (Clark Johnson) who treats her occasionally to dinner and doesn’t mind when she sleeps past her alarm and shows up late.

We know nothing about them. No backstory to give clues to why chain-smoking Tammy is always depressed, why she confesses to Catherine that she always loved her but could never show it, and how Catherine winds up like the rotten apple that does not fall far from the tree.

When Dr. Miller (Ayesha Mansur Gonzalves), a poised, confident woman who is the exact opposite of the two women, diagnoses Tammy with Stage 4 cancer, Catherine moves in with her. Yet the younger woman nonetheless on why day shouts “Why don’t you die, already?” With that in mind, she asks to be a guest on a TV show featuring women who cry about their tragic lives, wins a place and is coached by its producer Ilana (Lauren Holly). She invents a tale that her mother had committed suicide, a death wish that could apply to Catherine as well as to Tammy.

From the opening scene, this movie looks like little more than a vanity format for Felicity Huffman, perhaps able to scrounge up an audience based on her recent conviction of trying to buy her daughter a place as a freshman in USC. Otherwise the two people who must carry the film are so empty, so irritating, that the project is difficult to sit through.

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

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

CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY – movie review

CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Justin Pemberton
Screenwriter: Adapted by Matthew Metcalfe, Justin Pemberton, Thomas Piketty, based on Thomas Piketty’s book
Cast: Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz, Gillian Tett, Kate Williams, Gabriel Zucman, Ian Bremmer, Rana Foroohar, Francis Fukuyama
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/5/20
Opens: May 1, 2020

Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2019)

People with any rational perspective in our country are fighting mad. Never mind that Fox News tells us that we have the lowest rate of unemployment in decades, or that what’s good for Wall Street (the booming stock market) is good for Main Street. The trouble is that instead of focusing on the real problem, which is the rising rate of economic inequality, too many people are instead distracting themselves by blaming immigrants, by blaming Muslims, by dispelling their anger is ways that are not only dangerous but ineffective. This brings us to Justin Pemberton’s bold, incisive, riveting documentary, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” based on the dense book by Parisian Thomas Piketty, who gets a considerable platform in this striking new documentary.

Pemberton, whose previous docs run the gamut including “Chasing Great” about a black rugby player, “The Golden Hour” about New Zealand Olympians, and “Is She or Isn’t She” about a hairy woman with a penis, now takes on what is arguably the major economic hazard of our time, which is the inequality of wealth. Piketty, who holds gigs at the London School of Economics among other prestigious institutions, believes that the rate of capital return in the developed countries is greater than rate of economic growth, and that is what is causing inequality. President Reagan offered the view that tax decreases will pay for themselves and afford everyone a slice of a bigger pie. Instead Piketty advocates a global tax on wealth, which would bring about the necessary redistribution of income. After all, it’s not always hard work that thickens your wallet; in fact it’s possession of capital largely brought about through inheritance.

In his book, Piketty goes further than what we see in this movie, heads and tails above what Bernie Sanders bases his campaign on. He wants a schedule of taxation on income and wealth that reaches ninety percent and the elimination of nation-states in favor of a vast transnational democracy securing a universal right to education and the abolition of borders. Among other reforms, this would prevent capital from moving to havens to avoid taxation like Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and even the tiny national state of Vanuatu.

Economics writing can be intimidating, but Pemberton transcends the difficulty of the printed word by supplying a staggering series of archival films, forming the historical background of income inequality. The idea that one percent of the population makes as much money annually as the bottom three hundred eighty billion folks has roots beginning at least as far back as the Eighteenth Century. If you’re a buff of movies like “Downton Abbey,” “The Favourite,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Reign,” “The Medici” and “Dangerous Liaisons,” and you marvel at the costumes and the breathtaking splendor of the land, the minuets, the sumptuous feasts, you are too distracted to get your blood boiling with the knowledge that the aristocracy is only one percent of the Europeans on display while the masses outside are suffering.

You will, however, be impressed with the scenes in this movie about royalty, including a splendid few moments of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Les Miserables,” but your excitement plummets when you watch the black-and-white shots of poverty in times past and, much more recently as the way capital has led us to the near depression of 2008 when banks gave out mortgages to people who shouldn’t have received them, and through the shuffling of paper sold those mortgages to other financial institutions through a mind-boggling template of Wall Street intrigue. Other historic celluloid on display looks into sections of “The Grapes of Wrath,” featuring a farmer telling a dude with a convertible that “Nobody is going to take away my land.”

I love what Amazon does for me, but given Piketty’s focus on redistribution, Jeff Bezos would have to fork over $409,000,000,000 (that’s four hundred nine billion dollars) in year one of the plan. If big corporations continue to take the lion’s share of money, they will be able to continue exerting monumental power. What better example than that of Trump’s getting his Republican congress to lower the corporate tax rate from thirty-five percent to twenty-two percent, one of the major disasters that our great-great grandchildren will pay for as the deficit continues past the stratosphere.

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” then, serves as one of the best documentaries in recent years. There is scarcely a dull moment given the fast editing provided by Sandie Bompar and the deft selection of historic clips that Pemberton uses to nail down his points. Economics is oft considered a dismal science, perhaps much of it is. With the excitement generated by this doc, punctuating the talking heads with dramatic cinematics, you might expect thousands of students to select Economics as their major and adults long past college to inspire vivid discussions around the table about where America is headed. What’s in your wallet?

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

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

STRAY DOLLS – movie review

STRAY DOLLS
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sonejuhi Sinha
Screenwriter: Sonejuhi Sinha, Charlotte Rabate
Cast: Geetanjali Thapa, Olivia DeJonge, Cynthia Nixon, Robert Aramayo, Samrat Chakrabarti
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/8/20
Opens: April 27, 2020

Riz (Geetanjali Thapa) is an immigrant whom Trump would like to put in the gallery during his delivery of the State of the Union message, not as his hero (Rush Limbaugh is more his type) but representing the threat that immigrants supposedly pose to our country. Riz, a petty thief who runs out of her native India before she becomes a hardened criminal, comes to the U.S. to pursue the American dream. Though wanting to follow the rules at first, she realizes that a newcomer to our shores has to do a lot more than serve as a chambermaid in the Poughkeepsie, New York motel owned by Una (Cynthia Nixon). Though she starts out an immigrant that the American people with good, progressive souls insist are a treasure, she falls into felonious violence after meeting Dallas (Olivia DeJonge), the sleazy roommate that Una makes her share her room as though she would ever have a “no vacancy” sign on the grounds outside.

The story’s setup is intriguing. Put two people together who appear with opposite personalities—Dallas, a blond who works on narcotic sales partnered with Una’s son Jimmy (Robert Aramayo—who could play Dr. Oz should a doc be considered; and Riz, a dark-haired woman about the same age who Dallas at first thinks is “a Mexican or something,”a relatively quiet gal learning the ropes from someone with considerable knowledge of the drug trade and with a sexual partner.

Strangely it is Riz, not Dallas, who takes the initiative early on by stealing a brick of coke from motel guest Sal Samrat Chakrabarti), though not until Sal offers her compatriot money if she would let him see herself “with a towel around her.” He accuses Una, though everyone knows that the first person who gets accusations is the room’s maid. When he rightly suspects Riz and Dallas he launches a spiral of violence that will motivate the two to leave town fast.

Everyone in the movie is flawed. Una, an immigrant herself, shreds Riz’s passport as though she were running a den of prostitution, though she had insisted that her new maid forget about making money with sex. Riz, who calls home from a public phone, lies about how she is enjoying America, swimming and anticipating sending money back to her folks in India, though she will never be able to do so without criminal activities. Dallas, the fast-talking maid, is tough as nails and taking no crap from her boyfriend, comes around to planning an escape from Poughkeepsie.

This is director Sonejuhi Sinha’s first feature narrative, though her shorts could be looked as a almost prequels to this work. Her “Miles of Sand” is about a single mother in India determined to repay her debts, while “Love Comes Later” focuses on an undocumented motel employee. In her notes Sinha advises that motels are a hotbed of crime and that crimes committed by women have gone up ten times over in the 1990s. If you want to take her “Stray Dolls” (the title presumably comparing the marginal characters to pathetic, scruffy and unwanted stray dogs) to be about female empowerment, that would not be unreasonable, though these are not the kinds of people who would be models that a feminist politician like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez would embrace. Still, they do what they think they have to do, when following the law would guarantee them the equivalent of a life spent in Poughkeepsie. Should we root for them?

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

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

UNTIL THE BIRDS RETURN – movie review

UNTIL THE BIRDS RETURN (En attendant les hirondelles)
1091
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Karim Moussaoui
Screenwriter: Karim Moussaoui, Maud Ameline
Cast: Mohamed Djourhi, Sonia Mekkiou, Mehdi Ramdani, Hania Amar, Hassan Kachach
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/20/20
Opens: April 28, 2020

Until The Birds Return (2017) Movie Review from Eye for Film

An intriguing first feature by Karim Moussaoui filmed in Algeria is an eye-opener, not the least because it gives us in the West a picture of a country that some of us believe to be merely developing. Instead, by opening up parts of the country via a road trip, we can see well-built highways albeit with a lack of traffic that could make Angelenos turning green with envy. The three stories are only slightly connected, an Altmanesque format is not used, but through a look at three generations of Algerians, we get a picture of a place that few of us here in the U.S. have visited (Morocco gets the lion’s share of the Mahreb’s tourism). In fact much of what we see indulges scenes that I thought would be censored by the Algerian government, showing the cavorting of men and women, the latter taking off their hijabs and shaking up their hair and their hips, which would be obviously condemned by any Saudi official. The freedom exhibited here is mighty refreshing.

The middle story is easily the most interesting, as Moussaoui and his co-writer Maud Ameline appear merely to be warming us up for the delicious tale to come. But first: Mourad (Mohamed Djourhri) is a builder whose problems are not so much with his professional life but with family hassles. His ex-wife Lila (Sonie Mekkious), whom he visits in order to see his son, pressures him to motivate their son to become a doctor, but the lad cannot be budged. At the same time his second wife (Aure Atika) is fed up with Algeria and wants to return to France. In addition, on the road Mourad gets a flat tire and, in a dark, remote area he witnesses a man being beaten “to a pulp,” as he puts it to Lila, who criticizes him for not reporting the action to the police—even when he is safely home.

Better luck comes to Djali (Mehdi Ramdani), Mourad’s employee, who gets a few days off to drive a neighbor to a wedding, though he and Aïcha (Hania Amar), had been secret lovers. Aïcha is in no mood to celebrate the upcoming nuptials to “a good man,” so when her father takes ill and must be hospitalized overnight, he entrusts Djali to drive his daughter to place to spend the night, paying him to get separate rooms at a hotel for the night. Taking a break from the driving, Djali walks behind her and is repelled as though dealing with a woman playing hard to get, but lust will out. When they enter an empty bar, the musicians strike up a vigorous tune. A seductive Aïcha asks Djali to dance, and while waiting for him to make up his mind, she proceeds to shed inhibitions in the film’s most exciting part. Like a Greek chorus, a large group of dancers and musicians follow the two back to their car.

Shades of Harvey Weinstein in the final episode, as Dahman (Hassan Kachach), a neurologist intent on a promotion to a hospital directorship, is caught up in an accusation. The woman (Nadia Kaci) has spent months looking for the physician whom she is accusing of rape during a time that a group of terrorists during the Algeria’s sectarian war of the 1990s subjected her to gang rape. He threatens her, but she sits, confidently crosses her legs, and insists that he is guilty. What’s more she has an autistic son in the rickety house. The doctor is charged not with taking part in the rape but in doing nothing to stop the men. (This is a possible reference to the incident with Mourad in the opener who refuses to call the police upon witnessing a beating.)

Among the happier moments in a generally somber tale the doctor, who is marrying a much younger woman, takes part in a wedding dance to the accompaniment of a large group of enthusiastic guests. Among the good qualities of the movie is that aside from the time that music is actually needed as part of the action, “Until the Birds Return” avoids Hollywood movies’ often intrusive music in the soundtrack.

In Arabic and French with English subtitles.

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

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

ASIA – movie review

ASIA
Tribeca International Film Festival 2020
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ruthy Pribar
Screenwriter: Ruthy Pribar
Cast: Alena Yiv, Shira Haas, Tamir Mulla, Gera Sandler
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/17/20
Opens: TBD

Asia (2020)

Israel has been academy-award nominated more times than any other country in the Middle East, not surprising given that the Jewish state is considered the freest in that area of the world. Among the Israeli films this year is “Asia,” Ruthy Pribar’s freshman offering, not a political film. Pribar does not cover the tensions between Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic, nor the seemingly intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. However among its attributes is its implicit signaling that while Israeli Jews are Jewish by religion, they are a diverse lot depending on their places of birth. Those who are not sabras, i.e. born in Israel, have made alyiah from many corners of the world. In this case, Pribar, whose 22-minutes short “Last Calls” finds a Russian-born woman dialing the mobile phone of her sister who died six months earlier to put together a sense of her last day. Similiarly, Pribar focuses on the last weeks of a teenager whose mother, just fifteen years her senior, faces her daughter’s rebellious search for independence. Yet her daughter’s desire to lose her virginity is turning out difficult given her fear in one case when she tells a boyfriend to stop, and in a latter case because she is dying too quickly and too soon from a neurological disease.

Largely a two-hander, theatrical enough to find a place on an off-Broadway stage, “Asia” deals principally with the relationship of the title character (Alena Yiv), so young that you might confuse her with her daughter Vika (Shira Haas), thinking that they are sisters. While Asia, a single mother and a nurse, leads a life largely for her own pleasure—going to bars and indulging an affair with Shas (Gera Sandler), a doctor in the West Jerusalem hospital—she has a sudden change of priorities when her daughter is diagnosed with a neurological disease. Gaining the support of Gabi (Tamir Mula), a high-school dropout who serves on the staff of the hospital and agrees to babysit on his free time with homebound Vika, she dedicates herself to being there for Vika, whose adolescent moodiness allows her ultimately to appreciate her love for her mom.

The film is tragic with none of the Hollywood glitz of a similar downers like “Love Story,” “P.S. I Love You,” and “What Dreams May Come,” introducing a film director who bears watching. Tender without being sloppily sentimental, “Asia” is a realistic look at a mother who must experience the most difficult episode in her life, the approaching loss of her daughter.

The film is in Hebrew and Russian and has been selected for the Tribeca Festival of 2020.

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

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

NINA WU – movie review

NINA WU
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Midi Z
Screenwriters: Ke-Xi Wu, MidiZ
Cast: Ke-Xi Wu, Yu-Hua Sung, Yu-Chiao Hsia, Ming-Shuai Shih
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/10/20
Opens: TBD

Could it be that even in faraway Taiwan, the people who make films are inspired by the justice meted out to Harvey Weinstein? If only it were true that the former Miramax producer is the only man to take advantage of his power in assigning roles to women, but we suspect that some men, not all, I’m told, will use whatever authority they have to ease or frustrate the ambitions of women whose careers and even their very lives rest in the hands of manipulative people with power. In the Weinstein case, the jury had little reason to doubt the testimony of women he is accused of exploiting sexually, though some have waited two decades to come forward, since Weinstein would allegedly threaten to blackball any woman who resisted his advances so they will never work in Hollywood again.

Now comes Midi Z, the Myanmar-born director, whose “The Road to Mandalay” about two Burmese who flee from a government with a succession of authoritarian political leaders to find new opportunities in Thailand, shows him eager to enlighten the public about class struggle. Morever Ke-Xi Wu, who appears in almost every scene, also co-wrote the drama, indicating that for her this is likely a personal film. The woman she portrays projects her depression, her very post-traumatic stress after a single event that changed her life and pushed her down the road to terrible fantasies and paranoid notions. She handles the role with so much fervor and such authenticity that we cannot help thinking that she is portraying actual events in her own life or outright delusions.

Having played on the stage in her rural town, Nina Wu seeks to advance her career by moving to Taipei. She has to settle for bit parts. She is getting older and yet hesitates when her manager suggests the chance she has for a big role in a 60’s thriller provided that (he is diplomatic about this) she is willing to play sex scenes with full frontal nudity. Wu, who spends a good part of the movie projecting psychological conflict and neurosis, gives it some thought and goes for the gold. She is not aware that playing a part like this is the least of her problems. She suspects that the producer of the film is either not too right in his head or simply taking advantage by lining up six actresses, humiliating them by asking them to play dogs and drink wine while they are doing this. All six go along until the competition comes down to two, just like the current Democratic candidates rivalry. One woman, her chief opponent, remains on all fours, looks up at the producer, and states that she would do anything. Does Wu have a chance against that?

The scenes involving Wu’s sick mother and financially unwise father, are really unnecessary. They do not further the plot except to make us wonder whether Wu inherited some of her dad’s recklessness. The story does not progress in chronological order, handing us the key scene near the end, the one that makes us realize what turns Wu’s paranoia over the top. Some of the action is Wu’s fantasies acted out, or are they? What about the one in which the person giving her a beauty treatment threatens her, accusing her of getting the role despite being not as meritorious an actress as she? How about the fantasy of the nurse who climbs into her mother’s bed and begins to strangle her?

We can assume that Midi Z gives his principal performer much latitude in this feminist tale about one of the world’s industrially advanced nation that like America has no problem putting men and women on the screen in suggestive poses. Some men who have seen the film say that they felt pain in having to watch what women have to go through. This is one of those stories that could find men with dates hiding under the theater chairs, ashamed of what people of their gender do to the fair sex. Outside of the extraneous scenes mentioned here, “Nina Wu” has the feel of a psychological thriller, all actions both physical and emotional bearing the soul of the actress-screenwriter.

Behind the lens, Florian Zinke throws in a good look at the city of Taipei and one of its neighboring villages. The picture is in Mandarin and Taiwanese.

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

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

ABE

ABE
Blue Fox Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Fernando Grostein Andrade
Screenwriter: Lameece Issaq, Jacob Kader
Cast: Noah Schnapp, Seu Jorge, Dagmara Dominczyk, Arian Moayed, Mark Margolis, Salem Murphy
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/7/20
Opens: April 17, 2020

“Abe” opens like the CBS sitcom “Sheldon,” dealing with parents who wonder how to get their precocious nine-year-old to fit in, segues into an American version of Thomas Vinterberg’s Danish drama “Celebration” wherein dangerous hidden truths are revealed at a 60th birthday celebration, and concludes Hollywood style, the opposing sides meeting in the middle. The dramedy stars Noah Schnapp in the title role, in real life a 16-year-old inhabiting the enthusiastic soul and creative mind of a young man on the cusp of an upcoming Bar Mitzvah who has an identity crisis brought on my his feuding parents and grandparents. The movie is a delight, light and fluffy for the most part, a model of a story that like President Trump is all for motherhood and world peace, perhaps targeted to a Y/A (young adult) audience but which is in every way suitable for all ages, religions, and identities.

The story is unfolded by Fernando Grostein Andrade, a Brazilian filmmaker from São Paulo making himself quite at home shooting scenes in Brooklyn, which I would guess takes place at least in part in the fashionably youthful Dumbo neighborhood.

The film is all about fusion in food and in people, made all the more appropriate given the lush land and variety of cultures in Brazil, more specifically Bahia. Abe is the kind of person who though not fitting in with his own age group and who inevitably is (lightly) bullied and kidded by classmates, seems happy enough—though his parents and grandparents seem to take pleasure in raising the roof at the boy’s birthday party. The attention paid to him by his family is intrusive (as is some of the music in the soundtrack), not only because he is an only child but because two groups—Muslims and Jews who get together (though they shouldn’t)—are trying to influence the boy to follow their cultural traditions. We should mention as well that the kid’s dad Amir (Arian Moayed) is Muslim but identifies as atheist. In that last regard, Abe wonders at a outdoor fair whether it’s sinful to eat pork and is told by his dad, whose birth religion should eschew pig as much as that of kosher Jews, that restrictive customs like those forbidding certain foods are ridiculous. Amir is my kind of guy.

Instead of going to summer camp, Abe plays hookey, befriending Chico (Seu Jorge), a Brazilian chef, who at first shoos the kid away, then takes him on as an intern who must first wash the pots and haul out the trash, and then will be given pointers on cooking. Experimenting successfully for the most part with fusion cooking, melding popsicles with hemp seeds, he introduces and goes with the film’s great metaphor—that his parents and grandparents may be from different, even hostile religious traditions, but need to be fused, i.e. “saved,” by this young would-be messiah.

There is no way that we in the audience would believe that the arguments at the table between the Zionist side and the Palestinain proponents would be so basic and repetitive, so “Middle East 101,” given that these people must have been together for similar feasts for years. Perhaps that is part of why the movie may be targeted to young adults who spend their days and night texting banalities, leaving them no time for geopolitics. Anyway, the whole smorgasbord, or fused falafel and Manischewitz, works well. The few sentences spoken in Hebrew, Arabic and Portuguese are given nice, bright, yellow subtitles. It’s a small world after all.

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

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

SAME BOAT – movie review

SAME BOAT
Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Chris Roberti
Screenwriter: Josh Itzkowitz, Mark Leidner
Cast: Chris Roberti, Tonya Glanz, David Bly, David Carl, Katie Hartman, Evan Kaufman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/25/20
Opens: April 7, 2020 on disc/streaming

Let’s say this guy, call him Matthew, finds out that his wife Susan is cheating on him. He has money, so he hires a hit man, pays him $50,000 to take her out. Hitman confronts Susan, who has even more money than Matthew, and offers to pay the cleaner double if he would take Matthew out. He’s sold. That sounds like an overdone theme, seen first decades ago on a Twilight Zone episode. But how about a new take on that theme? James (Christ Roberti), working with a partner Mot (Julia Schonberg), are from the 28th Century with a mission to assassinate specific people who had harmed the planet. You would expect them to go after Hitler, but no: they pick on a fellow who in 1989 is working in TV, making reality shows! That sounds like someone who is not necessarily a bad man but one who creates a mission to make our earth less happy.

As for the next one, the assignment is to kill Lilly (Tonya Glanz), a free-spirited lawyer who has dumped her boyfriend and shipmate Rob (Evan Kaufman) just as a cruise ship is leaving the dock. That doesn’t sound like someone so immoral that she would entice whoever in the 28th century to order her killed, but the script tells us all too fleetingly that she has found a loophole in the law that caused massive pollution. So James takes a gadget looking like the kind of thermometer used nowadays to screen people for coronavirus intending to do this alleged mercy killing for the world, but lo! He does not get a counter-offer from her as did Matthew’s hit man but instead he falls in love with her, all in four days it’s possible, in fact about the only thing possible in the story.

They flirt, they cruise, they get off the boat at Key West to look at the Hemingway trinkets, they get off next at Cozumel, but most of the action takes place on the ship. At the same time they are surrounded by a side show of characters including a magician who is on the staff and whose job is cleaning the toilets and the banisters, also Carlo (David Carl) and Katja (Katie Hartman), part of the housekeeping staff, who use empty cabins to get it on with each other.

Much of the dialogue is awkward, particularly when four people are in the same room. But the movie is anchored by a sometimes ethereal James, who has an awful lot of hair and whose big dilemma is talking his partner into abandoning the assignment.

This is a low budget movie that makes you wonder how Dark Star Films hired all those extras but which, so I’ve heard from a not-always-reliable source, that the company photographed the whole thing on a regular cruise ship without drawing the attention of the hundreds of fun-loving guests on board. Despite the sometimes silly dialogue—one critic has stated that the movie does not have many laughs, a writer who did consider that the writers and director are not milking the show for that—there is a fascinating imagination at work as executed by principal actor and director Chris Roberti, known for some TV shorts and episodes, in his freshman narrative feature.

A metaphoric Hallmark card sneaks into the action; the idea that to stop evil, you don’t have to kill the bad guys. You need only to be kind to them. Vienna Academy of Fine Arts: why oh why did you not admit Hitler as a student?

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

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

SLAY THE DRAGON – movie review

SLAY THE DRAGON
Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Barak Goodman, Chris Durrance
Screenwriter: Barak Goodman, Chris Durrance
Cast: Ari Berman, David Daley, Margaret Dickson, Anita Earls, Katie Fahey, Ruth Greenwood, Chris Jankowski, Justin Levitt, Vann Newkirk
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/12/20
Opens: April 3, 2020

Poster

 

The United States is not only a democratic country; it is a Democrat nation. This means that theoretically if every eligible adult voted, the Democrats would regularly take a majority of seats in Congress and in state legislatures. The Democratic Party has grown because of immigration and through the ability of formerly minority groups to increase their numbers. Minorities like Hispanics and African-Americans tend to vote Demoratic. Then how did it happen that Republicans captured majorities in so many state legislative houses and Congressional elections? Some say it’s because the poor are less likely to vote than the middle class and the rich. Others say it’s because some states are now requiring photo id’s at the voting booths, which the poor are somehow less likely to acquire. According to Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance who direct “Slay the Dragon”—a logo on the T-shirt of a successful young activist—the reason is the corrupt practice of gerrymandering.

Every ten years a census is carried out. Each state legislature is allowed to redistrict the territory since some districts lose so much population that their representatives are out of their jobs while others gain population and may be able to elect more legislative reps and members of Congress. However, wanting to hold on to their jobs and their power, states’ partisan commissions have gerrymandered, which means they have carved up districts not like boxes and rectangles but in such a way that their opponents are tossed away into a just a few districts where they can elect whom they wish, giving most other areas majorities that they would not have had if the opponents remained where they were. The new district had weird shapes: some look like salamanders, others like bats. Many other strange designs make clear that corrupt political considerations have gone through the map to keep more of their own party in power. (For more detail on the process of gerrymandering, check out the Wikipedia article.) For purposes of this left-leaning documentary, we are led to believe that the Republicans do this more than the Democrats, because, as stated above this is a Democratic (capital D) country which would have captured more seats if the districts were drawn fairly.

Why do Goodman and Durrance blame the Republicans? Because only recently they have embarked on a major plan to overturn the natural Democratic majorities in this country by their corrupt redistricting plans. Is gerrymandering just an abstract idea that should not worry us? No. Look at what happened to Flint, after the GOP had redrawn the map of the Michigan to allow Republican districts to predominate. The party hired finance managers allegedly to manage Michigan’s financial woes. These people turned the Flint River into the city’s water supply. Thus the brown water coming from the faucets such that, as one person states, “Even my dog would not drink that.”

Since state legislatures do the gerrymandering, Republicans hit on the super-rich like the Koch Brothers to finance campaigns in the individual states, outspending the Democrats and carrying districts that they ordinarily would not have had a chance to do. The principal character in the doc, a young woman, Katie Fahey who peppers her lively sentences with “like” and “awesome,” shows how she carried out a massive job in getting the required 350,000 signatures of Michigan citizens to get a proposition on the ballot. Her group, called Voters Not Politicians, is able to win the cause: that henceforth independent groups would do the redistricting rather than the politicians. Meanwhile in Wisconsin, similar grass roots movements got a case up to Supreme Court, also determined to end political gerrymandering. Ultimately, than to Kavanaugh’s rising to the Supreme Court when Anthony Kennedy resigned, the Wisconsin activists did not succeed

It’s now easy to see that just as the Electoral College, designed by rich white men, thwarted the elections of Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, most state legislatures are dominated by Republicans despite the fact that in a recent election, tabulating all the votes of all the states, Democrats took 60% of the vote. We’re not a banana republic quite yet, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the U.S. to become an ideal democracy.

The doc is forceful, correctly partisan, and the smell of corruption should enrage right-thinking people.

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

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

ABOUT A TEACHER – movie review

ABOUT A TEACHER
Hanan Harchol Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Hanan Harchol
Screenwriter: Hanan Harchol
Cast: Leslie Hendrix, Dov Tiefenbach, Tibor Feldman, Aurora Leonard, Kate Eastman, Yan Xi, Hanan Harchol
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/26/20
Opens: April 7, 2020

About a Teacher

As a guy who spent a 32-year career in the high school classroom, I sometimes wondered why there are far more movies about police than about teachers. Think of “Training Day,” “Dirty Harry,” “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon,” “The Untouchables,” and the best of all, “Serpico.” After all only a small fraction of us have had careers in law enforcement and most of us were never in real trouble, but we’ve all been in classrooms and we should we fascinated by stories about teachers, comparing the movie pedagogues with our own. Wait. On second thought, there are at least one hundred movies about classrooms that are considered among the best, including “Election,” “Chalk,” “The English Teacher,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” “School of Rock,” and my favorite, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” So maybe our own experience in classrooms is mirrored by quite a number of shows about our favorite mentors and our worst nightmares.

Now comes what the marketing people might call a feel good movie. It’s “About a Teacher,” and though happily not a documentary, it follows the experience of an award-winning instructor who felt like quitting during his first year in an inner-city school. Since his favorite word is “perseverance,” he struggled through the first two years, was almost fired before beginning even a second semester, and went on to guide students into using the imparted knowledge to win many thousands of dollars in awards from festivals and the like.

Writer-director Hanan Harchol also has a bit role of “Mr. Caldwell,” an assistant principal who in real life is the great man who helped create careers of his rambunctious students in a tough school. The title character is played by Dov Tiefenbach, known to his students as Mr. Harchol, or just Mister, or Mr. H. At the same time Harchol’s fellow teachers call each other Mr. or Ms., rarely by first names, which in my experience might have been the case before the mid-1960s when we had to wear jackets and ties but now just first names and a t-shirt are de rigueur. The current dress code is good enough for Mark Zuckerberg, and it was good enough for me—and for Hanan.

You would think that Hanan Harchol would have no problem even from the first day since, after all, he is not teaching algebra, which might be of little interest to teens in almost any high school, but instructs them in film making. Here the kids have something to do with their hands. They don’t sit still facing the front of the room listening to long lectures or trying to participate in subjects they can’t really get their minds into. Instead, Harchol faces the indifference so dismaying in “Precious,” in which that title character, sitting in a history class where students are simply talking to each other and ignoring the instructor, bops a kid on the head with a notebook, demanding that the whole class pay attention.

Because of the discipline problems facing Harchol during his first year, he gets into frequent tiffs with Ms. Murray (Leslie Hendrix), the department chair, who could easily fit into a role as Ilsa Koch, the Nazi commandant at Buchenwald concentration camp. She will turn out to have a heart of gold, though, which makes us recall that people wear masks to cover their real feelings and attitudes.

So the kids are a problem. When one of them refuses to turn off his computer, Harchol moves to turn it off himself. The youngster grabs him by the wrist, inflaming the educator who yells “Get out,” notwithstanding that at a previous time, several of his pupils are roaming around the hall leading to an admonishing by an administrator for sending someone out of the classroom without supervision—which could make him lose his license. Seeking a mentor (not realizing that Ms. Murray has been just that all along), he consults a young, attractive Ana Martinez (Aurora Leonard) whose algebra class quietly works at their desks, seeking to learn what she does to get such attention. After receiving feedback from her, he is startled to hear her ask him a key question: “Do you like the kids?” Aha. A genuine affection for your charges will be felt by them, and you’ve won half the battle.

I related strongly to the discussions in the faculty lounge, which features the burnt-out Mr. McKenna (Tyler Hollinger), whom Ana Martinez calls an a**hole. There is considerable grousing when the department chair conducts a meeting, telling the men and women about the demands of the state: lesson plan every day, suitable for inspection. Call each parent of every failing student. Keep the pace: do not fall behind, spending too much time on one project.

Inevitably Harchol cannot avoid taking his problems home, where his sometimes bored wife has to listen to her husband’s tales of woe when all she wants to do is to get some sleep. But when they clash on whether to start a family, you might think the marriage can go belly-up just as Harchol may get fired from his job. Harchol notes several times that he received an MFA from one of the country’s most prestigious schools, which makes one wonder why he did not opt to get a gig at least in a community college. It’s not as though he carried with him a liking for teens, so what’s the deal? Since the story is based closely on real life, I would like to know the answer, especially since hell, the maximum pay right now in New York City public schools, one of the highest paying municipalities in the country, is $119,000, but you have to work 25 years and have a Master’s plus 60 credits to get there. A lawyer getting a fairly decent job right out of law school can make that at age twenty-four. So can a pharmacist. So can a lot of people.

Harchol deals with individual problems of some of his charges, including one girl who had been “hurt” by her mother’s boyfriend from the age of five to the age of nine, and another who sleeps in class because he has two jobs after school and has to look after a child, though he is only seventeen. In the end comes a Hallmark statement by Ms. Murry, who notes (decades before the coronavirus business), that we have little control over many things, but that “the only thing we have is the ability to give away.”

If you do not expect the movie to be as lively as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” or chaotic and violent like “To Sir With Love,” or as wacky as “Teachers” (an escaped mental patient serves a day as a substitute), or as horrific as “Never Let Me Go,” you should have a good time enjoying the inevitable rise of Harchol from a miserable failure to brilliant educator. No, that’s not a spoiler: you already know the trajectory. It’s quite well played by Dov Tiefenbach, though at the age of 38 he seems long in tooth to perform as a beginning teacher. He has particularly interesting conversations in a coffee shop with his dad (Tibor Feldman), who makes fun of his son’s gig entertaining restaurant guests with his guitar but is proud of the lad’s choice to be a teacher.

The students, who may be improving much of the dialogue, were actual pupils of Harchol who came back to play themselves at age seventeen. As their teacher said to them many time, “good job.” This is Hanan Harchol’s freshman film, though he may be known to some at the helm of the short, animated TV episodes of “Jewish Food for Thought.”We look forward to his next venture.

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

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

SOUTH MOUNTAIN – movie review

SOUTH MOUNTAIN
Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Hilary Brougher
Screenwriter: Hilary Brougher
Cast: Talia Balsam, Scott Cohen, Andrus Nichols, Violet Rea, Michael Oberholtzer, Macaulee Ruosnak Cassaday
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/9/20
Opens: April 3, 2020

South Mountain (2019)

New York State’s Catskill Mountains, where the events of “South Mountain” take place, was once in its glory as a locale for a slew of large hotels catering in part to singles who came up from the city, each to find the man or woman of the single person’s dreams. Since jet planes had been taking college kids and other youths to Europe and beyond—not right now with the coronavirus as our president has banned a considerable amount of travel between us and the continent—the grand hotels like the Concord and Grossingers are gone. Instead the former borscht belt now serves as summer homes largely for middle-aged people who drive up the mountain with their kids, giving us in the movie audience a chance to look away from the masses who used to go there on spring break and delve into the relationship of one family whose marriage is in trouble.

Benefitting the film is the idea that this is one of a growing number of celluloids from female directors, in this case starring the immensely talented Talia Balsam in the role of Lila, who discovers that her husband Edgar, played by Scott Cohen, is leading two lives. When he makes trips away from his family allegedly to meet producers to peddle his scripts, he has a girlfriend in Brooklyn. Every time he says he has to take a phone call from his producers, he is actually talking to his significant other, giving us in the audience a chance to see an actual birth on his I-phone. When Lila discovers all, the marriage may be destined to go south, but in this case there’s a chance for a friendship to remain and for the new baby to be introduced to Lila and to Lila’s daughters. Vacationing with Lila and Edgar is Lila (Andrus Nichols), a good friend going through chemotherapy. Divorce as a finale to a couple’s nuptials? Not so simple.

The entire project might be compared to Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage,” though that would be trivializing the Swedish giant. Yet “South Mountain” is delightful in its own terms, dealing with scenes leading to a divorce of a middle-aged couple with teen kids, though principally the story takes second billing to the performers. Clearly character trumps plot, not a bad idea considering how terrific Balsam is in the role of a woman who, in one startling scene, tries to poison her husband but realizes the monstrosity of the crime and takes action to reverse the damage.

Hilary Brougher, whose “Innocence” is based on a dark secret threatening a Manhattan prep school and “Stephanie Daley” about a 16-year-old suspected of concealing her pregnancy and murdering her infant, may be committed to movies on women’s issues, works we need a lot more of. This mature, quiet study of a vacationing family with a brief affair between Lila and Jonah (Michael Oberholtzer) , who is a friend of the couple’s daughters and who reads Kant for fun, is thrown in to reveal additional complexity, all wrapped up in a neat package about splits among the 50-somethings.

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

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

VIVARIUM – movie review

VIVARIUM
Saban Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Screenwriter: Garret Shanley
Cast: Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Senan Jennings, Eanna Harwike, Jonathan Aris
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/3/20
Opens: March 27, 2020

One of the most explosive and controversial books in recent times, David Benatar’s “The Human Predicament,” takes the view that giving birth is bad. Benatar is an anti-natalist not so much because of the usual reasons—too many people in the world leads to disastrous climate change and food shortages—but because, he believes, you are inflicting pain on your children. The happiness our children feel will is subordinate to their pain. Citing Benatar’s example, would you be willing to accept an hour of pain in return for getting an hour of pleasure? Hardly anyone would say yes. Which brings us to “Vivarium,” the word meaning a structure for keeping animals under semi-natural conditions for observation and experimentation.

Director Lorcan Finnegan, whose “Without Name” follows a land surveyor’s measuring an ancient forest, who loses his reason under supernatural conditions, is in his métier with “Vivarium,” a intriguing puzzle of a movie that will evoke several interpretations. The easy one is that the film is a satire on suburban living, which it is, not unlike “Suburbican,,” “The Burbs,” “Pleasantville,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Get Out.” However, think of the movie on deeper terms and you may agree that Garret Shanley’s screenplay is in its way a promulgation of Benatar’s book as the images on the screen for most of its 98 minutes show a young couple whose initial happiness gives way to months of continuing pain.

How so? Watch the progress, or regress, of a young couple on the cusp of life; Gemma (Imogen Poots) and her boyfriend Tom (Jesse Eisenberg). They’re looking for a dream house, white picket fence and spacious rooms, of course, because that’s what America is about. Gemma, an elementary school teacher, is good with her class, putting them through an exercise that has them identify with winged creatures. Just after dismissal she runs into one of her pupils who discovers two dead birds who have fallen out of their nest shortly after birth, a time that finds the young birds with open mouths tasting their first pangs of hunger. Perhaps they have just bird brains or maybe they can tell already that life is a vallis lacrimarum.

When Gemma and Tom consult Martin (Jonathan Aris), a real estate agent whose oddball behavior should have them running for the hills, they are escorted by him to a development called “Yonder,” where they behold a labyrinth of ticky-tacky houses, all painted puke-green. (Great set design by Julia Devin-power.) Impressed by the spaciousness inside number 9, they are surprised to note that the agent has disappeared. Set to go home, they wind up driving in a circular fashion, always landing back on number 9. Life is a circle, isn’t it? They take in a baby deposited in a box outside, a brat who grows daily, who imitates the actions of his, or its, foster parents, screams like the devil, and speaks in a voice not like Linda Blair’s Regan in “The Exorcist,” but like a grown man. Tom is ready to kill. Gemma has not reached that stage but hates the kid’s calling her “mother.” “I’m not your f******mother!”

Already the suburban dream has been smashed. The desire to have a child? Gone. The boxed-in togetherness of the trio drives both off the wall, the child being the only one who, despite screams, is looking to learn. Benatar’s prescription is swallowed with a vengeance, as relative moments of happiness are dissolved into hellish suffering. Like many other psychological thrillers, “Vivarium” begins with a light touch, moments of humor, dissipating in the second half, just as weird as the opening but loaded with misery.

This is a low-key sci-fi adventure with almost bloodless smidgens of horror which, with the crackerjack acting especially of Imogene Poots with Jesse Eisenberg in almost a supporting role is entertaining and enlightening. A fine performance from child actor Senan Jennins, who looks and acts something like CBS’s Young Sheldon, delivering the goods. Think before you marry or before you trust that a long-term relationship is heaven on earth. Think before you have children. Think before you believe suburban life is a cure-all or protective cocoon for life’s misfortunes. The universe is indifferent to you and so is your real estate agent.

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

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

BLOW THE MAN DOWN – movie review

BLOW THE MAN DOWN
Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Danielle Krudy, Bridget Savage Cole
Screenwriter: Danielle Krudy, Bridget Savage Cole
Cast: Morgan Saylor, Sophie Lowe, Margo Martindale, June Squibb, Annette O’Toole, Marceline Hugot, Ebon Moss-Bachrach
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/20/20
Opens: March 20, 2020

Early on we see a sign in one house “Bed and Breakfast,” which coyly hides the term “Bordello,” which would have completed the alliteration. The real problem is that if the Bed and Breakfast place were really open for innocent enough tourists, where would they get the business? The small town in Maine is utterly provincial, and to top it off the area is regularly snowed in with damp weather that might make London seek like a climatic dream. This is a bad location for tourism but a good one for mystery. Bodies turn up including one of a hooker, but the real interest of writer-directors Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole is the dark secret that involves not just the madam but a trio of elderly women who appear ready for redemption.

“Blow the Man Down” is a sea shanty sung in the opening scene with delightful harmony by a group of grizzled fishermen, and another shanty will serve to bookmark this movie, which was awarded best screenplay at the Tribeca Film Festival. The script is an original, nicely combining a detective story with a look at an ambiance of a part of America not often seen in the movies.

Priscilla Connolly (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) do not look like sisters and what’s more, despite their kinship they exhibit different personalities. When their mother dies, the sisters are determined to continue the fish business, though Mary Beth, unlike her sister, talks often of wanting to bolt from the town. They have occasional chats with their mother’s pals Susie (June Squibb), Gail (Annette O’Toole), and Doreen (Marceline Hugot).

Mary Beth, always the adventurer, picks up a guy at the bar, becoming anxious when she sees a gun in the glove compartment and a trunk filled with blood. He calls her “cute,” touches her leg, finally attacking her, resulting in his being harpooned in the neck and as dead as a punctured lobster. You and I would probably plead self defense, but the defender instead informs her sister who help in burying the body in the deep.

The person of major audience interest is Margo Martindale as the town madam, Enid, longtime friend of the trio of elderly ladies, any one of whom could serve as the lead in Joseph Kesselring’s play “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Nobody will mess with Enid until somebody does, when her three pals, after hearing that one of her hookers has been shot in the head. Gayle Rankin performs as a character who is one of Enid’s workers, and Will Brittain pounds the beat as Justin, a young police officer who has a liking for Priscilla and, in one scene as you think that he will collar the two sisters, he instead follows up his undeaclared courtship by accepting an invitation to the sisters’ fish dinner.

At our time, when women are increasingly empowering themselves, “Blow the Man Down” serves as another example of how the sisterhood look out for one another. The film does not try to satirize small-town living or houses of ill repute but accepts the flaws of this remote coastal village of Easter Cove without judging.

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

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

YOU GO TO MY HEAD – movie review

YOU GO TO MY HEAD
First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dimitri de Clercq
Screenwriter: Dimitri de Clercq, Pierre Bourdy, Rosemary Ricchio
Cast: Delfine Bafort, Svetozar Cvetkovic, Arend Pinoy, Omar Sarnane, Laurence Trémolet
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/25/20
Opens: February 14, 2020

 

“You Go to My Head,” the title taken from the 1938 song by J. Fred Coots, is about the nature of identity, with the specific exploration of what happens to a woman who has lost her memory and whose life is taken over by a lonely architect who convinces her that he is her husband. As we watch the two performers,Kitty (Delfine Bafort) and Jake (Svetozar Cvetkovic) engaging in a slow burn, appearing together in most of the film’s nearly two hours, we are likely to wonder what will happen when Kitty, whose real name is Dafne, recovers her memory. Will her new insight lead her to embrace her life, which despite its inauthenticity involves a sizzling romance, or will she abandon the man who saved her life, disgusted by the perverted game he is playing and sending him back to the loneliness he has endured for years?

Jake is an architect living in the Sahara—actually filmed in a house that must have once been featured in Architectural Digest magazine. When he discovers that a slim, beautiful, blond woman has been the victim of a car accident killing the man who had driven the car, he carries her back to his home, nurses her back to health, and pretends to be her husband. Though Kitty, the fictitious name he had given her, is eager to recall events in her life, she is slowly falling in love with her “husband,” exhilarated by the life she shares with him under the clear desert skies. Convincing Kitty has been easy as he has given her the clothing of the woman who had once shared his domain, even putting a wedding band on her finger while she is asleep under a doctor’s sedation.

The cracks developing in his swimming pool—into which she indulges displaying full-frontal nudity—serve as metaphor for the crumbling of the woman’s amnesia. All takes place within the dreamy landscape of Southern Morocco exquisitely filmed by Stijn Grupping with elements of fantasy embellished by Hacène Larbi’s music with startling, climactic notes ninety-three minutes into the drama.

This is a winning job all around, co-written and directed by Dimitri de Clercq in his freshman feature—following up his 1995 film “The Blue Villa,” about a ghostly return of a man into bordello of a Mediterranean island. At the time of this review we learn that the movie has already won Best Picture in film festivals in Bogota, Houston and Orlando with nominations for cinematography, score and acting among thirty-six wins and one hundred sixteen nominations.

In English and a little French spoken by the Yugoslav-born actor and his Belgian-born partner.

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

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

NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS – movie review

NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eliza Hittman
Screenwriter: Eliza Hittman
Cast: Sidney Flanagan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/18/20
Opens: March 13, 2020

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

In her third feature movie, writer-diector Eliza Hittman continues to explore people who are vulnerable, youths who are missing the proper guidance in life and who are put into positions that they would not have found themselves if they had the proper direction. In the director’s “It Felt Like Love,” a young woman dreams of emulating the sexual exploits of a more experience person, putting herself into a dangerous situation. In “Beach Rats” a teen “experiments” with drugs and looks to meet older men. Now with “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” Hitmann focuses on “Autumn” (Sidney Flanigan), a seventeen-year-old girl who must deal with a pregnancy that she never wanted but with the good luck to have a friend like Skylar (Talia Ryder), who acts more like Autumn’s older
sister willing to go the distance with Autumn during a difficult time in the younger girl’s life.

After Trump was elected president largely with the support of rural Americans, voters in small towns and farms complained that city people consider them racists, sexists, homophobic and the like. We would like to think that this is true, yet as Hitmann portrays small-town Pennsylvania, at least through the eyes of people on the cusp of mature adulthood, a large number of these Americans are what they say they are not. For example, when Autumn is performing in a talent show, one guy yells out “slut” in the middle of her song, and the attendees including even Autumn’s young parents, appear to think nothing of it.

Autumn, who appears not to realize that she is pregnant until eighteen weeks have passed since her last menstrual period, tries to self-abort the fetus by taking a slew of Vitamin C pills, then punches her belly without much result save for some large bruises. Stealing some money from the supermarket with the help of her cousin, she takes a bus to New York, not even considering that she would need to get a round-trip ticket, that she lacks money for a hotel, that she would have to stay in New York two nights. On the bus Skylar is hit on by a young passenger (Théodore Pellerin), who will try to encourage Skylar to go with him “downtown” and who the girls will later exploit for money.

In this slice-of-life drama, Hittman takes us first to a rural clinic, the agent explaining that there are alternatives to abortion, that there are people who would gladly adopt the future child. Since it’s too late for Autumn to get an abortion in her area, she and Skylar take two buses toward New York’s Port Authority Terminal, going to Planned Parenthood on 44 Court Street in downtown Brooklyn, and back up to a Manhattan facility which would be able to conduct the procedure.

Autumn has no particular support from her parents, and in fact by showing us the youthful age of the father and mother in the audience of the talent show, Hitmann may be making the point that they too had babies while they were teens. Hélène Louvart films all in 16mm, from the broken-down areas of rural Pennsylvania to the chaos of New York.

Here is an ideal slice of life drama. No melodrama, no frantic behavior, with Autumn’s emotions showing only when she began to cry during a social worker’s interview. At that meeting, she is asked a series of questions such as “Were you ever forced to have sex when you did not want to” for which she needed to answer “Never, rarely, sometimes or always.” In Hitmann’s hands, the two young performers, Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder relate to each other as though they knew each other for a decade. But even to her cousin and best friend, Autumn never opens up. She does not tell her even that she’s pregnant, just that she has “cramps.” These are inarticulate people, the sort that just might vote for politicians who do not necessary offer much but who are grand showmen who can entertain and who do not evoke articulate responses from their audience.

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

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

THE MISOGYNISTS – movie review

THE MISOGYNISTS
Oscilloscope Laboratories/Factory 25
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Onur Tukel
Screenwriter: Onur Tukel
Cast: Dylan Baker, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Ivana Milicevic, Lou Jay Taylor, Matt Walton, Christine Campbell
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/2/20
Opens: February 14, 2020

In just 85 minutes writer-director Onur Tukel compresses three years of seemingly endless political discussion into a stagy tale spotlighting Dylan Baker, whose somber performance as a Russian spy in “The Americans,” goes against type as Cameron in “The Misogynists.” This hilarious tale, one that sends up Cameron who stands in for a type of Trump supporter that Hillary once called “deplorables,” deliberately portrays Cameron as a one-dimensional racist, homophobic, prejudiced, misogynistic citizen and voter, standing in as a the kind of person who may not express his bigoted ideas at the workplace or at home but is free to let loose in locker talk with his best male friend.

Cheering as he probably had done many times in his life, this wealthy businessman, separated for four months from his wife and living in a luxury hotel in Manhattan, is over the moon when on election night in 2016 the media calls Donald J. Trump the winner of the presidential election. His pal Baxter (Lou Jay Taylor) is a more nuanced gent, possibly a liberal at heart but seemingly able to be convinced under the right circumstances, with the right shots of Vodka and lines of coke, to find common ground with his boorish compatriot.

The Misogynists (2017)

For the most part what Cameron likes about Trump is only partly the commander-in-chief elect’s plan to build a fortress America on our southern border but mostly because this victory will symbolize man as ruler, leaving woman to cook steaks in the kitchen. Cameron cannot credibly be called the voice of the Christian Right, the Evangelicals, who may have held their noses when they voted for the developer, but more akin to the white nationalists, the anti-elitists, the know-nothings, really, like the folks in that political party who in the 1840s bonded with like-minded Protestants who feared a conspiracy to undermine their religious and political values.

Playing the part of Cameron’s straight-man, Taylor evokes the impression of a klutz who is likely in conflict with all sorts of things in his life, including his ties to his wife Alice (Christine M. Campbell), who calls him on her cell demanding that he come home, the controlling woman who is often the target of Cameron’s wrath. His own political beliefs in conflict, Baxter would like to fit in with the views of Cameron, the dominant male, but he is neither a Hillary voter nor a Trump supporter. Given the curfews that Alice appears to set down, Baxter could readily go whole-hog over to Cameron’s position that men should rule.

Some of the sharpest dialogue occurs between the hotel guests and a Mexican-American busboy (Rudy de la Ctuz), inviting the lad to extend his break and do some lines. While you might expect the busboy to be anti-Trump, he, like some of friends, simply did not vote. He cares not a whit what the resident in the Oval Office has in store for people like him. Best of all is the exchange of obscenities between Cameron and the two hookers, Sasha (Ivana Milicevic) and Amber (Triests Kelly Dunn), who for their part get thrown out of the cab by the driver, Cairo (Hemang Sharma) for insulting Muslim men.

Dylan Baker turns in a spot-on performance, emerging from his previous, quieter roles in “The Good Fight” on TV and “Anchorman 2.” Almost all the action takes place in a single room, the TV performing as a separate character turning itself on and off and showing clips in reverse order.

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

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

ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA – movie review

ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA
Entertainment One
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Francis Annan
Screenwriter: Francis Annan, L.H. Adams, Karol Griffiths, from Tim Jenkin’s book “Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison”
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ian Hart, Daniel Webster
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/4/20
Opens: March 6, 2020

Whenever I need to have a key made I go to Bruno’s hardware down the block. Half the time the keys do not work. I twist and I turn and practically break the fragile metal. What this country needs is not more MBA’s but some good, reliable locksmiths. Now Tim Jenkin can make keys for me any time. He’s a real live character played by Daniel Radcliffe in the prison thriller “Escape from Pretoria.” He is not only a crackerjack locksmith but an author, having written the book by a similar name in 2005. I cannot tell whether Francis Annan’s movie is based closely on the contents of the book or simply inspired by the heroic plot—especially since on Amazon, the book costs $899.99. And that’s the paperback! Perhaps an upcoming movie about rare books “The Booksellers” would tell us why.

The film which is virtually bereft of women focuses on the leadership of Tim Jenkin (Daniel Radcliffe), who together with Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber) gets into trouble with white-dominated regime in South Africa when apartheid was the norm. Fifteen percent of the popular were white but dominated the 85% of people with color. The grip on the country was resisted by the African National Congress, under which Nelson Mandela eventually got elected president and now stands as one of history’s great heroes.

Some folks might be surprised to note that the ANC was a movement that enjoyed the membership of several white people, considered by the apartheid government to be traitors to their race. For example: when Jenkin and Lee set off an unusual string of “bombs” in Pretoria that liberate not explosives but reams of paper announcing the manifesto of the congress, they are caught and receive stiff sentences in a jail that was not quite as comfortable as the prisons in Norway. Jenkin gets 12 years as the leader, and his pal Lee receives eight. Inside the jail the two meet up with other whites involved in wresting the South African government away from the white leaders. These are people who from the moment they were beaten were determined to escape, notwithstanding the prospect of a sentence of another twenty-five years plus the potential to be tortured.

Theirs was a unique method. Jenkin, apparently graced with spatial skills, drew blueprints for not just one key but a successive battery of them that would lead them to the street and freedom. They keys were made of wood. As the plot thickens, the initial attempts to fit these keys into the doors would fail. Sometimes a piece of evidence would fall to the floor outside Jenkin’s reach, so we in the audience sit and hold out breaths as does Jenkin to hide the evidence from the regularly scheduled checks by the guards.

Guards were awfully mean, and not just the warden (Paul Harvey) who must be addressed as “Captain” by the inmates. They appear to hold a special animosity to whites who help the blacks.

All action takes place in 1979, but if the prisoners only had the patience to wait until 1994 when apartheid fell apart, Mandela would have freed all, a welcome break especially for Denis Goldberg (Ian Hart) who was serving four life sentences. Behind his large aviator type glasses fashionable at the time, Daniel Radcliffe is able to free himself without needing the magic he embraced at the Hogwarts School. He exudes a tension that should resonate with the movie audience in a film that’s not much on dialogue but which, guaranteed, will have you keyed up.

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

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

THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY – movie review

THE BURNT ORANGE HERSY
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Giuseppe Capotondi
Screenwriter: Scott B. Smith based on a novel by Charles Willeford
Cast: Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Donald Sutherland, Mick Jagger
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/21/20
Opens: March 6, 2020

There are more ways to commit high crimes and misdemeanors than those we’ve seen recently at a trial in the United States Congress. Typical are large ones like bank robberies, smaller ones like street muggings. Fascinating movies have been made about the former like “Bonnie and Clyde” and the latter by the 2004 movie “Mugged.” Now “The Burnt Picture Hersey embraces an unusual crime, its execution exquisitely planned and carried out by a people with an intimate knowledge of the art world. It helps mightily that Giuseppe Capotondi, whose “La dopia Ora,” about an ex-cop and a chambermaid who meet at a speed dating event, indulges a witty, fast-talking script by Scott B. Smith and a pair of actors who are adept at the verbal sparring that is so much a feature of Charles Willeford’s noir novels.

Like Capotondi’s “La dopia ora,” (“The Double Hour”), the first part of the film features dialogue you might expect at a classy and prestigious off-Broadway theater like The Promenade and The Cherry Lane. There is not a wasted word in the repartee enjoyed by Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki) and Claes Bang (James Figueras). (Bang is Danish while Debicki’s roots are Polish and Irish.) During an extended date at Italy’s Lake Como, the American and the European delight in sparring like the candidates in the Democratic Party debates. Just when the theater audience believe that they are in for an evening of a simple romantic fling before the couple go to their separate homes, the plot spins delightfully out of control. If you are familiar with Charles Willeford’s fiction, you can see why that author’s 1971 novel from which the movie is adapted is considered by critics to be his best work.

The opening scene features art critic James Figueras in the midst of wowing an American audience in Milan, explaining a surreal painting on the wall. The painting may not look like much, yet Figueras calls it virtually a masterpiece—wrapping up his spiel with an acutely comic finale. This is where he meets Minnesotan tourist Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki), who comes on to him and is invited on a trip to the Lake Como estate of art collector and gallery owner Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger), who has invited Figueras to use him for a job that will leave Cassidy with clean hands.

Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), a recluse who is living on the estate, shows up, allowing himself to be interviewed by Figueras, the two guests charmed by the world-famous painter. At the same time Figueras figures that he can further his languishing career. He increases his creds as a critic, but far more important for him is a chance to make millions, and therein lies the thriller.
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What does director Capotondi want us to take away from the story aside from providing us with some breathtaking chills and thrills? Probably the idea that we do not really know each other whether from simple meetings like a weekend date or even after years of thinking that we can see beneath the surface of our friends and associates. Scott B. Smith’s script is largely responsible for the wit and razzle-dazzle of the conversations, and the quartet of Sutherland, Debicki, Bang and Jagger provide the human touch that do justice to the words.

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

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

BURDEN – movie review

BURDEN
101 Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Andrew Heckler
Screenwriter: Andrew Heckler
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Tom Wilkinson, Andrea Riseborough, Tess Harper, Crystal Fox, Usher
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/24/20
Opens: February 28, 2020

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/ You’ve got to be taught from year to year
Its got to be drummed in your dear little ear, You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

We learn from these lyrics from “South Pacific” that we are not born with hate. Hate is evoked by the environment, not the genes. The negative emotion may be given birth by your parents, later by your friends and what you see on TV and in the movies. This does not mean that we should not hate Hitler and Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. That hatred is rational. To feel this animosity to an entire people because of their skin color or religion is irrational.

Andrew Heckler, who directs and wrote “Burden,” has been heretofore known mostly for his acting. However he contributes an incisive portrait of hatred based closely on a true story (we see some of the actual characters in the epilogue). In this case the focus is on the Ku Klux Klan which, surprisingly, was alive and well as recently as 1996, albeit in one small South Carolina town. Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson), the head of the sheeted warriors, had the brilliant idea to invigorate a dump of a one-screen cinema house by converting it into a museum of the Klan, with Confederate flags prominently displayed. One woman involved in the structure might be called a moderate in that she announces that Blacks are welcome as well as Whites because “Blacks also fought and died for the Confederacy.” A shrine to the KKK would seem bad enough but the place is used for headquarters of an actual Klan group, one of its members, Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), serving as grand dragon.

Not much is told about Burden’s youth aside from his statement that he once coaxed a deer to come right up to him fearlessly (the animal senses the boy’s friendliness) only to be shot by Burden’s father. Burden is poor, badly educated, orphaned, seeking a family as do so many young gang members, though he finds familial warmth from Tom Griffin, who assures him that he treats the young man as his own son. In fact he is so enamored of Mike that he hands over the deed to the Klan museum, giving title to him upon his death.

Two forces counteract the racist group. One is Judy (Andrea Riseborough), a single mom, who is instrumental in turning around the emotionally unstable Mike. The other is David Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), the local reverend, who active not only in his fire-and-brimstone sermons on Sunday but throughout the week gathering crowds of other Black people including a few Whites, demanding that the Klan museum be destroyed.

Much of the movie is taken up with the gentle and sometimes fiery relationship between Judy, who is actively anti-Klan, and Mike Burden, who treats her as lovingly as he treats the local Black people with contempt and with his fists. In one scene he targets the reverend for assassination with a high-powered rifle, but on further consideration he puts down the weapon (he “lays the burden down” as we hear from a song on the soundtrack) and reconsiders his fury at the African-Americans.

Many of the scenes come across as if the movie were endorsed by the church, given the loving attention that Reverend Kennedy gives to the repenting Klan member, affection that means a lot to Burden after he quits the Klan and is targeted for beatings at Tom Griffin’s order. The reverend’s “chasing hate with love” is not popular with his own family, which recalls the many beatings that the gang members gave to the African-Americans.

Garrett Hedlund’s terrific performance anchors the story, turning the individual into a thoroughly credible action to redeem himself. Many of the scenes, however, are not modulated, the physical actions and obscenity-laced words appearing one after the other. We in the audience are coaxed to consider whether we should treat our enemies with love, as “brothers in Christ” as the reverend notes, or to feel emboldened temporarily by taking vengeance against those who have wronged us.

Save the for cursing, you might almost take this film as a Hallmark Hall of Fame episode, one that could be appreciated by a wide audience as a supplement to a Sunday sermon.

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

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

BLOOD ON HER NAME – movie review

BLOOD ON HER NAME
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Matthew Pope
Screenwriter: Don M. Thompson, Matthew Pope
Cast: Bethany Anne Lind, Will Patton, Jimmy Gonzales, Jared Ivers, Jack Andrews
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/29/20
Opens: February 28, 2020

Blood on Her Name Large Poster

When you see Leigh Tiller (Bethany Anne Lind) with blood on her hands and cuts on her face, looking over a dead body surrounding by a puddle of blood, you may think for a second that the title is “Blood on Her Hands.” However among the wise choices made by director Matthew Pope in his debut feature (one previous 15-minutes short, “The Echo Construct,” is about a technological breakthrough to help solve crimes), is to evoke the view that Leigh is doomed perhaps from the time she was born.

Pope’s principal character who is in virtually every scene and delivers a compelling performance, would be better served by a good screenplay. As the situation stands now, the genre movie, a slow burn for the most part until an explosive conclusion, would not in my opinion be well served on the big screen, more likely the type of picture that should do better on cable TV. Pope shows rural America—perhaps the American South given some dialogue about iced tea—as a pit of depravity, the type of place which in this case is home for a group of deplorables.

Save for two guys, Leigh’s helper Rey (Jimmy Gonzales) and a parole officer (Tony Vaughn), the characters are all compromised. Leigh’s husband is in jail. Her father, Richard Tiller (Will Patton) is a corrupt sheriff who is estranged from his daughter. Her son Ryan Tiller (Jared Ivers) is on parole, and the dead body, about whom we know little, though we find out that he had a girlfriend Dani Wilson (Elisabeth Röhm), winds up in his unhappy state for reasons not made clear.

Notwithstanding the misery of Leigh’s life, she has the decency not to dump the body into the lake, but instead return it to the ground close to the scene—which could prove to be her downfall. In flashbacks, we see Leigh with a drug habit, we know that because of her failing business she could not made court-ordered restitution to the family of a victim beaten and blinded in one eye by Leigh’s son. In the depths of her desperations she offers to take her son on a two-weeks’ vacation (he wants to do white water rafting), an impossible dream for someone with blood on her name.

Are these the kinds of people who vote for Trump? Do they vote at all? Have they ever heard of Trump? If you’re a bit city dweller, you’ll get a picture of how many millions of Americans live, people who are employed like Leigh but who are unable to make ends meet—never mind the full employment of which the Republicans are proud.

Bethany Anne Lind has great promise, with an acting résumé full of TV movies, now cast in a film that should have been on Cable TV.

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

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

GREED – movie review

GREED
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Screenwriter: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Asa Butterfield, Sarah Solemani, Shirley Henderson, Isla Fisher
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 2/11/20
Opens: February 28, 2020

Greed - Poster Gallery

Jeff Bezos, founding director of Amazon, is the richest man in the world, with assets of $120 billion, at least that’s before his recent divorce. I’m puzzled, though. He recently was praised by Senator Bernie Sanders for setting a minimum wage for his packers at $15 an hour. This is arguably a decent wage for starting a career, but let’s consider why Bezos insists on playing the capitalist game like a small merchant, determined to make some profit just to keep a business afloat. If he raised the minimum wage to $20, what would happen? He would not likely grow broke notwithstanding the thousands of packers that work for the company, nor might even his accountant notice the difference. “It’s not a charity,” say some. True, but if you’ve got the money, why no flaunt it by really paying the workers for their hours of backbreaking work timed on a machine that acts like a stopwatch? Let’s go further. Instead of doling out the money through his foundation which now goes to young people training for executive positions, couldn’t he cut loose with twenty billion immediately to aid worthy charities particularly serving the poverty-stricken in the developing world?

That’s where Michael Witnerbottom’s movie “Greed” cuts in. Winterbottom, who is not as far left politically as Ken Loach, nonetheless opens up an indictment of capitalism, but one filled with so many episodes and such rapid, non-chronological editing, that he is more interested in a general entertainment before he gets down and dirty to expose a British billionaire. By extension the principal character, Sir Richard McCreadle (Steve Coogan), acts as a metaphor for the industrialized capitalist countries that prey not only on their own countrymen but more on draining the very lives of tens of millions of people who make the clothing that we consume. We can go even further and say that each of us who scores a pair of jeans for twenty-five bucks or a T-shirt for $2.99 are profiting from the exploitation from big corporations, perhaps without a thought about what they are doing. (We have long ago done away with the once-strong International Garment Workers Union supporting American workers in the rag trade, as competition from China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and others virtually destroyed this American empire.)

For those of us concerned purely with the entertainment value of “Greed,” the folks who do not go to the movies to hear mainly political manifestos played out, there is considerable fun in watching Steve Coogan portray a guy whose nickname might well be Greed. Planning to give a lavish party on the Greek island of Mykonos for his sixtieth birthday, the billionaire garment king is treated by Winterbottom to a dramatized biographical sketch. When the planned party has a hitch, Richard tries to shoo away a group of Syrian refugees that have camped out on the public Mykonos beach, but exploits even them by manipulating them to put on uniforms for the big toga party to come.

Many years earlier he proves his determination to get the capital goods that he wants at the lowest possible price, sometimes dealing with a wholesaler who stubbornly refuses to come down with his offering price by pretending to walk out and buy nothing. Nonetheless as he predicts, he is called back into the room to carry on negotiations that will allow him to walk away with huge bargains.

Since the apple does not fall far from the tree, his teen son, Finn McCreadie (Asa Butterfield) follows in his dad’s footsteps, determined to take over the corporation sooner rather than later. He resents his father though eager to win over the hot women who are on loving terms with Sir Richard.

For me, the comic entertainments take second billing to the anti-capitalist thrust, though Winterbottom, using his own script, shows us the poverty-stricken garment workers who are filmed by Giles Nutgens on site in Greece, India, Sri Lanka, London and Monaco. This is a big, expensive production also highlighting Amanda (Dinita Gohil), a young, pretty Sinhalese-British woman who has a major role at the party, who is not at all impressed by Richard’s wealth and power, and who returns to England as a still exploited garment worker.

Everything is seen through the eyes of Nick (David Mitchell), a shlubby journalist who is writing Richard’s biography.

The combination of political message and lavish entertainment makes “Greed” a welcome addition to the cinema scene despite a paucity of real jokes

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

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

THE CALL OF THE WILD – movie review

THE CALL OF THE WILD
20th Century Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Chris Sanders
Screenwriter: Michael Green, book by Jack London
Cast: Karen Gillan, Harrison Ford, Cara Gee, Dan Stevens, Bradley Whitford, Jean Louisa Kelly, Wes Brown, Omar Sy
Screened at: AMC Lincoln Square, NYC, 2/13/20
Opens: February 21, 2020

THE CALL OF THE WILD MOVIE POSTER 2 Sided ORIGINAL 27x40 HARRISON FORD

Dogs have been bred by us sapiens for ten thousand years, and through that brief period of evolution have emerged as both a help and a best friend. They have been used by the British aristocracy for fox hunting, by lesser Brits for catching rats, by some for pulling sleds up north, and now in America for sniffing out drugs and explosives. What happens to Buck, the principal character in the current version of Jack London’s most famous, short novel “The Call of the Wild” should not happen to a dog. The St. Bernard, Scotch, Collie mix goes through a lifetime of experiences, not all bad by any means, but how he comes of age makes for an appealing adventure, especially for kids. As for the nature of the animals in Chris Sanders’s dog opera, there’s much to be said for substituting animation for the real four-legged creatures. Not only would Lassie, Snoopy, Toto, Marley, Beethoven, Skip, Hachiko and Benji resist some of the scenes in this “Wild.” You would not want even Cujo to be whipped by the cruel masters, forced to pull sleds with some passengers as obnoxious as you would find on the NY subways. Falling through ice while trying to save a drowning woman despite the way some human beings had treated him proves that dogs will give unconditional love to people unless pushed to even further limits.

Jack London has published the novel at first by a series in the Saturday Evening Post, a work considered cinematic enough to warrant the productions of movies in 1923 (where he opens as a puppy and never barks), in1935 (where the romance between Clark Gable and Loretta Young has priority over dog doings); also in 1972, 1976, 1996, 2009, and now. Some, like this one, are loosely adapted from the London novel.

With stunning mountain views and scenes set in Wild West studios, the story opens on the 140 pound (mostly) St. Bernard (actually mostly an animatronic animal) living in Santa Clara, California toward the end of the 19th century. The dog is a handful, in one scene knocking over a large table set for a banquet and eating enough to allow a month’s hibernation. Kidnapped by a bad man seeking money, Buck is sold, trained as a sled dog, and driven through ice and snow delivering mail to miners prospecting for gold. Ownership is taken by a rich woman and her evil brother Hal (Dan Stevens), who has no problem using a club on the growling Buck. They ignore advice from a grizzled prospector John Thornton (Harrison Ford) to wait until the spring melt. The dog attaches himself to Thornton, who talks to Buck about his desire to return home. Later adventures pit Buck and Thornton against Hal with climactic results.

If your kids were not told that the dogs were not real, only the most astute would recognize that Buck and an assortment of dogs, wolves, rabbits, and birds are not flesh and blood. This is a dandy adventure for the small fry and should be tolerated well enough by the adults. Some of the more sensitive youngsters might be started by a few scenes of violence, but in this adaptation the directors have cut around the most egregious cases of mayhem such as the falling of a team of men and dogs together with the sleds into the river to drown.

At an hour and forty minutes, the movie does not outlast its welcome and might even encourage your little ones later to put down their phones and read some of Jack London’s adventure tales. All is told in chronological order in a story that ultimately and perversely goes against the idea that dogs prefer people more than their own kind.

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

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

BALLOON – movie review

BALLOON
Distrib Films US
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Herbig
Screenwriter: Kit Hopkins, Thilo Röscheisen, Michael Herbig
Cast: Freidrich Mücke, Karoline Schuch, David Kross, Alicia von Rittberg, Thomas Kretschmann
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/6/20
Opens: February 21, 2020

Poster

The Jews in Germany had a real problem during the 1930’s, the situation escalating rapidly right up to the extreme dangers they faced in the forties. By contrast, the people of East Germany, mainly Christian, could hardly consider themselves similarly persecuted by the Communist regime. I fear that Director Michael Herbig, best known in the German comedy scene by performing and directing works like the parody “Bullyparade: The Film,” does not get across with his feel-good thriller “Balloon,” why families are so eager to escape from the Communist sector into the Western area that they would risk their lives. Still, since this is based on a true story, two heroic families go through a lifetime of anxiety in just a few weeks to get out of the land where everyone is under surveillance by the Stasi (police). We see that people seek a new life in the West where they would lose their furniture, their money, and visits with grandparents, in order to go to another part of their own country.

The families on exhibited here are not outliers. A large number of East German citizens tried to escape to the West, some from East Berlin where the distance to a new life is almost as close as that between North Korea and South in the DMZ. But under the leadership of Peter Strelzyk (Friedrich Mücke), a not-so-merry band of travelers need to go from their village across to Bavaria. They plan to do this in an almost unique way, however, by building a balloon just as you and I would build a kite and float above the clouds, descending slowly into the forest across its informal border. Since “Balloon” is a thriller, and since the Strelzyks and another family actually make the trip, we visualize that the heroic people would meet with so many failures that you can see them spending their lives in a Stasi jail—though they would be free when the country became unified.

Peter and his wife Doris (Karoline Schuch) live in town of Possneck where Peter makes a living as an electrician—not the best training for building a balloon. Yet they have a car, a TV, and through their friendship with the people next door whose household head (Ronald Kukulies) happens to be Stasi, they are able to take a vacation at an East Berlin hotel. At the same time their oldest child is being “hit on” by the Stasi official’s daughter, the whole setup reminding Amazon Prime customers of the friendship between an FBI agent and a Soviet spy in the wonderful series “The Americans.”

Together with their friends Petra (Alicia von Rittberg) and Günter (David Kross), who at first were unwilling to take the risk, they build the balloon, somehow unnoticed by the local Stasi head Lieutenant Colonel Seidel (Thomas Kretschmann). As if the perils of the balloon trip were not enough, Doris accidentally drops her bottle of thyroid medication in the woods, recovered by the police who begin a search of the three pharmacies that may have filled it.

If you saw “The Aeronauts,” about pilots launching a historic balloon flight in 1862 for scientific purposes, you would be privy to all the things that might go wrong. But that picture lacks the excitement of “Balloon,” which could be appreciated not only by people who are political wonks but by those who don’t know Berlin from Ouagadougou. The thriller aspect reaches its climax when it appears that the entire East German military are in the chase, using helicopters and cars and communicating with frantic phone calls. You’d think that these were important nuclear scientists carrying their secrets into unchartered territory. You might wonder: if these people got away with their scheme—as they did—would the entire Communist system collapse (as it actually did after the collapse of the Berlin wall, built in 1961 allegedly to prevent Western “fascists” from entering the East to destroy the socialist system)?

Whether that frantic pursuit of these humble people took place as we see on the screen or not, this is not a documentary but a well-made narrative dramatizing a heartwarming tribute to the men and women who shed their property and risked their very lives simply to go from one part of the country to another.

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

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

THE NIGHT CLERK – movie review

THE NIGHT CLERK
Saban Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Cristofer
Screenwriter: Michael Cristofer
Cast: Ana de Armas, Helen Hunt, Tye Sheridan, John Leguizamo, Johnathan Schaech, Jacque Gray
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/31/20
Opens: February 21, 2020

You might expect Michael Cristofer’s “The Night Clerk” to be in tune with his directing interests, given that his previous film, “Original Sin,” unravels a scheme by a woman and her lover wherein the woman is to marry a rich man and run off with his money. The plot fails when Angelina Jolie’s character, Julia Russell, falls in love with the guy she marries. (We won’t talk about the reviews.) This time Cristofer is at the helm of a crime story that focuses on Bart Bromley (Tye Sheridan), a 23-year-old fellow with Asperger’s syndrome, who runs the night shift at a small hotel. Because of his impairment, he is unable to make eye contact with others, and speaks formally with too much detail, which is a symptom of high intelligence. Nor can he pick up on social cues.

Bart Bromely, the title character played by Tye Sheridan, is afflicted with this neurobiological condition. Nevertheless he has a job as a hotel night clerk because, the manager says, the company has a policy of hiring people with impairments. In order to learn how to speak informally, Bart, who is a wiz at camera technology, sets up hidden cameras in the rooms not because he is a perv voyeur but because he uses the guests to instruct him in how to speak. This provides some of the movie’s comedy, as when the beautiful Andrea (Ana de Armas) is checking in, getting an earful from robotic Bart on the amenities the hotel provides.

“The Night Clerk” moves into crime territory when Bart’s camera captures a struggle between a man, Nick (Johnathon Schaech) and a woman, Karen (Jacque Gray), an argument that results in the woman’s murder—all picked up by Bart. He interferes with the body, gets blood on himself, and is considered by police detective Johnny Espada (John Leguizamo) to be the prime suspect. At this point the movie breaks away from a crime genre to explore a relationship showing Andrea, a new guest who is charmed by Bart’s awkwardness, particularly when Bart discusses like a walking Wikipedia how love is an addiction, like cocaine, releasing a flood of endorphins, and how heartbreak occurs when the love (like cocaine) is withdrawn.

Helen Hunt appears from time to time as Ethan Bromley, Bart’s mother, who tries to defend her “fragile” boy from the detective’s interrogation. Here and there, Cristofer’s script establishes comic points, as when Bart, who like Jim Carrey’s Fletcher Reede in “Liar Liar,” not only cannot lie but insists on proactively telling people truths they don’t want to hear. A used car salesman (D.L. Walker), hears from Bart not only that the dealer is obese but that obesity can cause cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. Nor is a clothing salesman (Walter Platz) off the hook, informed by Bart that he would never wear slacks recommended by the dealer because the dealer is “old.”

Activities surrounding the murder of a blond woman in a hotel room pop up now and then during Espada’s interrogation, but this is primarily a film about a tender but unconsummated affection between Andrea and Bart, though there is some reason to believe that Andrea is using the night clerk, setting him up along with her boyfriend Nick, to take the blame for the killing.

Tye Sheridan, whose performance might be compared to that of Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt in “Rain Man” and Tom Hanks’ title performance in “Forrest Gump,” is solid and delivers visual understanding of a condition that affects one person in every five hundred. Sheridan is perhaps best known as Ellis in Jeff Nichols’’Mud,” about two boys who help a fugitive to avoid capture by vigilantes. His job this time is so good that you in your theater seat might feel like getting up, frustrated by the projection of his autism, to shout, “What’s the big deal? Just look him in the eye and stop talking!”

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

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

ORDINARY LOVE – movie review

ORDINARY LOVE
Bleecker Street
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Lyburn
Screenwriter:  Owen McCafferty
Cast: Lesley Manville, Liam Neeson, David Wilmot, Amit Shah
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/10/20                                                                                
Opens: February 14, 2020

Liam Neeson & Lesley Manville in First UK Trailer for ...

People go to movies because they like to laugh, but they also like to cry.  In the classic downer, Arthur Hiller’s 1970 movie “Love Story,” a young couple fall in love.  Death strikes, especially tragic since the couple have their whole lives ahead of them.  You would expect the primary audience to be people of about the same age, 20-somethings.  On Valentine’s day comes a new weepie, “Ordinary Love,” which deals with people in the sixties, now retired.  You might expect an audience to be older than the ones that attended the Hiller film, but that’s just a guess.  Though neither of the principal characters passes away, the story is filled with the ways that the two cope with a diagnosis that confirms that the lump that Joan (Lesley Manville) feels in her breast while in the shower is cancer.  Though her hopes were up at first when the doctors were not sure, they were dashed after the final test.  Since Joan has a partner, her husband Tom (Liam Neeson), is drawn into the drama.  Tom has the time free to escort his wife to and from the hospital, though whatever physical difficulties are involved in transporting from a Belfast suburb to the big city hospital is nothing compared to the emotional torment that such a situation provokes.

Some psychoanalysts tell us that when two married people, even those who have lived together for decades, encounter a serious illness, the sick person, who faces surgery, mastectomy, reconstruction of the breast, all followed up by a course in chemotherapy, is not the only individual who suffers. A serious sickness could threaten a marriage, no matter how fond the husband is of his wife. Petty arguments notwithstanding. Tom sometimes baits Joan with comments that he considers witty but which are taken in a negative way by Joan.  Now, however, the normal, quiet household of an average couple is strained to such an extent that when Tom lets slip a thoughtless comment—“We’re in this together” as though they share a burden equally—you can sympathize with Joan’s fury.

The directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Lyburn, who worked together in 2012 on the film “Good Vibrations,” may be stepping out of their comfort zone by morphing from a duo about a story of a man who developed Belfast’s punk-rock scene into tackling one of a generally stay-at-home couple giving each other ordinary love.

Since Owen McCafferty, whose script for “Mikybo and Me”—about two young pals obsessed with “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” who run away to Australia–contributes ordinary dialogue for this ordinary couple, the principal joy of “Ordinary Love” is in the acting.  Giving themselves over this a slice of life, Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville come across so bonded with each other that you might swear they were actually married.  They take us from their suburb of Belfast into the big city medical system (filmed on location by Piers McGrail), allowing us to see UK’s health coverage up close and personal.   The sadness mounts when we are introduced to Peter (David Wilmot), whom the couple run into at the hospital, where they learn that Peter has terminal cancer.  Peter had once taught Joan and Tom’s daughter.  Oh, and young Debbie, perhaps the only child of the marriage, had died a decade ago.

This, then, is a story well told, one that expects a mature audience as drawn into the ordinary lives of these people as youngsters might be riveted by “Lord of the Rings.”

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

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

YOU GO TO MY HEAD – movie review

YOU GO TO MY HEAD
First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dimitri de Clercq
Screenwriter: Dimitri de Clercq, Pierre Bourdy
Cast: Delfine Bafort, Svetozar Cvetkovic, Arend Pinoy, Omar Sarnane, Laurence Trémolet
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/25/20
Opens: February 14, 2020

 

“You Go to My Head,” the title taken from the 1938 song by J. Fred Coots, is about the nature of identity, with the specific exploration of what happens to a woman who has lost her memory and whose life is taken over by a lonely architect who convinces her that he is her husband. As we watch the two performers,Kitty (Delfine Bafort) and Jake (Svetozar Cvetkovic) engaging in a slow burn, appearing together in most of the film’s nearly two hours, we are likely to wonder what will happen when Kitty, whose real name is Dafne, recovers her memory. Will her new insight lead her to embrace her life, which despite its inauthenticity involves a sizzling romance, or will she abandon the man who saved her life, disgusted by the perverted game he is playing and sending him back to the loneliness he has endured for years?

Jake is an architect living in the Sahara—actually filmed in a house that must have once been featured in Architectural Digest magazine. When he discovers that a slim, beautiful, blond woman has been the victim of a car accident killing the man who had driven the car, he carries her back to his home, nurses her back to health, and pretends to be her husband. Though Kitty, the fictitious name he had given her, is eager to recall events in her life, she is slowly falling in love with her “husband,” exhilarated by the life she shares with him under the clear desert skies. Convincing Kitty has been easy as he has given her the clothing of the woman who had once shared his domain, even putting a wedding band on her finger while she is asleep under a doctor’s sedation.

The cracks developing in his swimming pool—into which she indulges displaying full-frontal nudity—serve as metaphor for the crumbling of the woman’s amnesia. All takes place within the dreamy landscape of Southern Morocco exquisitely filmed by Stijn Grupping with elements of fantasy embellished by Hacène Larby’s music with startling, climactic notes ninety-three minutes into the drama.

This is a winning job all around, co-written and directed by Dimitri de Clercq in his sophomore feature—following up his 1995 film “The Blue Villa,” about a ghostly return of a man into bordello of a Mediterranean island. At the time of this review we learn that the movie has already won Best Picture in film festivals in Bogota, Houston and Orlando with nominations for cinematography, score and acting among thirty-six wins and one hundred sixteen nominations.

In English and a little French spoken by the Yugoslav-born actor and his Belgian-born partner.

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

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