A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN – movie review

A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN

A24 and DIRECTV
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Screenwriter:  Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Cast:  Joe Cole, Billy Moore, Preecha Vithaya, Pansrigarm, Pornchanok Mabklang, Panya Yimmumphai
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/20/18
Opens: August 10, 2018
Hurricane Films » A Prayer Before Dawn
Prisons in Norway allow even murderers to have their own rooms complete with kitchen knives and the accoutrements of middle-class living.  If you think those cells are more comfortable than the jails in Thailand, you’re just guessing, aren’t you?  To check your answer, you’ll have to see “A Prayer Before Dawn,” based on the memoir written by Billy Moore in 2014 which went on to the best-seller lists.  One might wonder whether the horrors of the Klong Prem prison in Thailand, nicknamed the “Bangkok Hilton” by people who are aware that Senator John McCain stayed for five years in the so-called Hanoi Hilton, can be brought out by the book. After all, with  Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s movie, the pure physicality is in your face.  Sauvaire, whose freshman narrative feature “Johnny Mad Dog” deals with child soldiers in an African country, is the obvious man to chart the true story of a British boxer and heroin smuggler who, in Thailand, becomes addicted to ya ba (a particularly potent Thai crack cocaine) and makes a living selling drugs.

The book cannot replicate the punches and kicks and the torment from fellow prisoners at Klong Prem, but with some imagination, the powerful writing of Billy Moore draws you into the violence you’ll see in this film.  Take for example this wording: “The first time Billy Moore walked into his cell packed with seventy prisoners, the floor resembled a mass grave, with intertwined arms and legs, and the smell of human feces was so strong he almost vomited.  That night, he slept next to a dead man.  It wouldn’t be the last.”

Sauvaire does indeed show Billy sleeping next to a dead man, who is carted off nonchalantly by the staff, and the most horrific scene does not take place in the boxing ring where the Thai brand of fisticuffs is called Muay Thai.  It is Billy’s brutal gang rape that forms the prison’s rite of initiation.  Though the editing is itchy, you get the point that you’re better off going straight all your life.

The film does frustrate the viewer in that we don’t know why Billy Moore (Joe Cole) went to Thailand where he appears to be the only farang, or foreigner, but his memoir notes that he went abroad to escape a life of heroin addiction and alcoholism in England.  That’s strange.  Would he not be better off staying in Western Europe to attack his demons?  Perhaps he thought that indulging in Muay Thai, which allows pugilists to use stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques, would draw the drugs out of his system. This discipline is known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins.  And the masochists who indulge are lucky if the Thai promoters bother giving you a mouth guard, but I would not personally indulge even if they gave me knee pads, a helmet, a bulletproof vest, and an opponent who weighs 90 pounds.

When Billy is not in the ring, he is tormented by the prisoners, who have contempt for a foreigner who doesn’t speak a word of Thai, has no money, allegedly has no family, and cannot even let a fellow bum a cigarette.  The boxing is filmed in the usual way with restless editing, which may be necessary if you want your actors to emerge alive but which can nonetheless be frustrating.  Some of the Thai dialogue has English subtitles but most of the palaver of the prisoners can be understood without translations.

This is all about Billy’s redemption, a man who emerges after three years in a Thai hell-hole, then serves time in the UK.  He converts to Islam; strange since 95% of Thais are Buddhists and most of the rest Islamic.  As principal actor Joe Cole has had prominent roles in other physical dramas, a standout being the character Reece in Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room” which finds a punk rock band forced to fight for survival after witnessing a murder at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar.  “A Prayer Before Dawn” shows him with mostly neutral emotional makeup, until he gets a legitimate chance to let it all out in the ring.  In a final scene we see Billy’s father who in real life is…Billy!  He looks terrific but who needs to go through the crunches and the displaced bones before being redeemed?  Outside of Joe Cole, the actors are all Thai and, I believe, mostly former prisoners. You can catch an interview with the director here: https://deadline.com/2018/03/a-prayer-before-dawn-jean-stephane-sauvaire-sxsw-interview-1202339121/

Rated R.  116 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

SKATE KITCHEN – movie review

SKATE KITCHEN

Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Crystal Moselle
Screenwriter: Aslihan Unaldi, Crystal Moselle, Jennifer Silverman. Story by Crystal Moselle
Cast:  Rachel Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Jaden Smith, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 7/18/18
Opens: August 10, 2018
Skate Kitchen Movie Poster
If you’re accustomed to hanging out with middle-class people who send their kids to pre-school and buy them Harvard sweatshirts when they’re five, you and your kids are missing a view of an urban subculture of teenagers who are likely having more fun skateboarding on the streets of Manhattan’s Chinatown than you had when you were a kid.   The youngsters who are the focus of Crystal Moselle’s largely improvised, full of street-smarts, and energetic cast have a lot to say to one another, thanks largely to their refusal to spend all their time starting at the small screens that Samsung makes, i-phones that you might swear are designed to sweep away the natural spontaneity of childhood.

Director Moselle, whose “The Wolfpack” deals with a group of brothers who are locked away from society in a Lower East Side Manhattan apartment whose pastime is re-enacting scenes from films, again focuses on what for a better term are called “urban”people—generally meaning African-American and Hispanic youths living on mean city streets.  With a screenplay by the director together with Aslihan Unaldi and Jennifer Silverman, “Skate Kitchen” is similar to “The Wolfpack” in that its principal character is also locked away from society at least metaphorically.  Eighteen-year-old Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), living with her single mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez), is too distant from the hip streets of New York’s Chinatown.  She is still a virgin who has to ask “How do you know when you like a boy?” and “How do you know that a boy likes you?”  She had been a tomboy, bonded with her father until the age of eleven when she switched loyalty to her mom as she wanted to learn the joys of womanhood.

With her skateboard, she travels to Chinatown, meets members of a group called Skate Kitchen about whom she learned on her i-phone.  She is shy and must take her time before she is accepted by an assertive group of skateboarders who admire the risks she takes in the playground—that seems built primarily to allow skateboarders to practice their hobby amid elevations and hurdles.  She takes the Long Island Railroad regularly—it’s summer—and soon fits in just fine, whether hitching to the back of a bus, rolling through city streets and never-mind-the-traffic, or enjoying herself in the playground.  She becomes interested in Devon (Jaden Smith), a young man who works with her in a supermarket, spends one-on-one time with him, and is ejected from the group for horning in on the boyfriend of Janay (Delia Lovelace).

Some of the skateboarding techniques are a joy to watch.  Obviously these kids have been on the boards long before the director ever met them.  And given their patter, including a professional rendition by one rapper, they are comfortable enough to improvise in front of the camera and to provide the audience with a fly-on-the-wall view of what it’s like to be “urban” in our liberated twenty-first century.  As the principal character, Rachelle Vinberg, in her acting debut (this is the director’s non-documentary feature film debut as well), is perfect for the role.  Introverted at first as a kid unfortunate enough to be shut away from real life in a suburb, she emerges pretty quickly, coming of age, as they say, when she—and we in the audience—emotionally understand the importance of fitting in, finding your own groove.

Rated R.  105 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+

Overall – B+

THE SWAN – movie revei

THE SWAN (Svanurinn)

Synergetic Distribution
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir
Screenplay by: Guðbergur Bergsson, Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir, novel by Guðbergur Bergsson
Cast: Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Thor Kristjansson, Gríma Valsdóttir
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/28/18
Opens: August 10, 2018 in NY August 17, 2018 in LA
Svanurinn (2017)
Kids know more about life than we acknowledge.  Before computers and i-phones they read Dr. Seuss and were looked upon as innocent about real life.  It seems now that adults are more ready to talk to children as though they were adults and not too cautious about what they let the little ones see.  This point is made in Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s freshman full-length feature which stars the adorable Gríma Valsdóttir as a nine-year-old who is bright, curious, and a veritable sponge, picking up new things that she learns every day and trying to parse the emotions on display from a group of farmers in rural Iceland.

As Sól, the child—who was cast in “The Swan” after a far-and-wide search and eventually scouted when the director saw her in a staged version of Pippi Longstocking—is sent by her mother to the child’s great aunt north of the capital.  Though she a first resents the move—her mom was motivated because the girl was caught stealing and the farm was seen as a corrective—she soon adapts to the various folks in the family which boards her.  She becomes particularly close to Jón (Thor Kristjansson), who spends every summer with them doing chores and using his free time to write voluminous notes in a journal. (Somebody in the crew seems to have spent long days and nights copying Icelandic notes longhand, filling several notebooks which are vetted by the young girl.)

These farmers are not the happy workers depicted in kids’ picture-books—the ones that are mistakenly given to urban youngsters who cannot relate to any of the nonsense.  Nobody here resembles “Heidi’s Farm Friends,” “Mrs. Wishy-Washa’s Farm,” “Down by the Farm,” and “Jigaree.”  Collegian daughter Ásta, just back from college in Reykjavik, is morose, as her boyfriend ditched her for another.  She complains to her parents that they are using medieval techniques to milk the cows and will be crushed by the big guys.  For his part Jón, who writes for therapy as he confesses that his life has been a mess, takes advantage of Ásta’s misery with a one-night stand that is witnessed by Sól.  He feels a kinship with the child who he believes could herself become a writer.  Sol helps deliver a calf, shown in full detail by German cinematographer Martin Neumeyer, but even that happy event becomes a source of more misery for Sol when the calf is slaughtered despite being treated as a pet by the child.

The fairy-tale nature of the tale is climaxed when Sól goes to the lake in the mountains where a swan, a monster by myth, is said to lure people to their deaths.  She is determined to face up to the handsome creature, given emotional fortitude by her summer’s life with this melancholy family, which gives her resolve never to depend on people again because they are at least as fragile and vulnerable as she feels.

Sól captures the director’s interest, the girl appearing in most frames with a look of curiosity to the strange people surrounding her, obviously learning more about both physical nature and human nature than she could from a schoolbook.  The actress, whose real age is not revealed by internet sources like the IMDB, has a remarkable debut and can expect other offers to follow.  The film as a whole, which was shown at the Scandinavian Film Festival, is slow moving and mostly evenly pitched.  The relationship of the girl to the summer worker, which appears to be headed into pervert territory as he wraps his arms around her at bedtime, is innocent enough in a picture that is a pleasure to watch, a coming of age story that in fact reveals changes in outlook not only of Sól but of the summer farmhand and the family college girl as well.

Unrated.  91 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

COLETTE – MOVIE REVIEW

COLETTE

Bleecker Street and 30 West
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Screenwriter: Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Fiona Shaw
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 8/1/18
Opens: September 21, 2018

Colette Movie Poster

If you think that Paris has always been a sophisticated city with a reputation for progressivism, think again. Though Renoir’s paintings were accepted by Parisians, the impressionist painter had to bear with years of bad reviews. And in 1913, when Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” was first performed on the Paris stage, there were outright riots as the audience had never heard tones such as those played by the mournful bassoon, the dissonance that has become the watchword of contemporary music, or the knock-kneed women that appeared on the stage when the overture was completed. The public, in fact, had been prepared with choice vegetables, looking for a fight, people who, if they were an elite attending a concert, could be mistaken for some of the deplorables that Hillary cited in her campaign.

But, you say, Paris is still the city of love! Yes, except that while women could be accepted as companions for men three times their age, not so long ago, homosexuality could not. In one of the melodramatic incidents in a movie that moves along smoothly without Hollywood-style mayhem, the crowd became antagonistic only when two women kiss each other on stage. Director Wash Westmoreland, whose “Still Alice” investigates problems when a linguistics professor and family have their bond tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, now finds the title character’s bond with her husband tested as well. There’s plenty of conflict in his “Colette,” a biopic of one of France’s great novelists, who during most of her career suffered the indignity of ghost-writing salacious novels for her husband Willy (Dominic West), the much older husband who notes that a woman simply could not be published in Europe in the early twentieth century. Like the couple in Björn Runge’s “The Wife,” dealing with a talented woman whose books were published under the name of her husband, “Colette” demonstrates yet another way that today’s #MeToo feminism is the happy background for writers and directors who try to compensate for society’s prejudice against creative females.

“Colette” could probably do just fine with any reputable star in the lead role, but Keira Knightley’s awards-worthy performance allows the film to soar both emotionally and intellectually. Though some will grouse that a French woman is the subject of a movie produced in the UK with British actors, you would do well to overlook that and enjoy the delightful unfolding of a career centered on a woman who could have spent her life in obscurity had she not decided to break away from her husband and knock out novels with her own name.

The film opens in 1893 when Colette (Keira Knightley), a country girl from Burgundy, is whisked away to Paris by Willy (Dominic West), a fake novelist who runs a stable of ghost writers and is now to include his beautiful wife among the serfs. One may wonder how Colette put up with the womanizer who even at age 46 had women in the early twenties throwing themselves at him. Noting that his wife, who in at least one instance is locked up in a room with the demand that she spend four hours writing before being freed, emerges with pages showing considerable spice. Willy sees a way out of his perpetual poverty brought about by gambling, dining and whoring. After the repo guys take away his furniture, he is saved financially when Colette” Claudine at School” becomes a best seller.

Colette turns out to be bisexual, carrying on an affair with an American from Louisiana (Eleanor Tomlinson), using her experiences as juice for future novels. The most interesting attraction is between Colette and Missy (Denise Gough), a woman who resembles Ellen De Generis with her suit, close hair style, and masculine carriage.

As with blockbuster thrillers, the women come out on top, so to speak, Colette gets revenge, divorcing her miserable husband, and goes on to write thirty novels. The picture, scripted by the director, Richard Glatzer, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is constructed in a conventional manner (unusual, perhaps, considering the sexual progressivism of the theme) and is not only a great story but highlights a marvelous Keira Knightley as a turn-of-20th-century feminist.

Unrated. 111 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST – movie review

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST

Film Rise
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Screenwriter:  Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele, book by Emily M. Danforth
Cast:  Chloë Grace Moretz, John Gallagher Jr., Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Jennifer Ehle, Emily Skeggs, Owen Campbell
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 7/27/18
Opens: August 3, 2018
The Miseducation Of Cameron Poster
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals of Mental Disorders, which classifies emotional problems with codes, eliminated homosexuality as an illness in 1973 but still calling it a “sexual orientation disturbance.”   In 1987 the term was dropped entirely.  That did not stop millions of Americans from dissenting from that view, with religious organizations particularly mean-spirited in their outright disagreement with the shrinks.  Our Supreme Court legalized gay marriage and legislatures codified gay rights in general, but as recently as the 1990’s, some parents, guardians and religious organizations pushed for what is called gay conversion therapy.

Desiree Akhavan, whose freshman feature “Appropriate Behavior” focuses on a Persian daughter struggling with her identity as a bisexual, is in her métier with “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.”  This feature is satirical but never lowers itself to sit-comish, three-laughs-a-minute clichés.  Its theme should be old-hat to Americans who tuned into the weekly sitcom “Will & Grace” which arguably helped Americans to moderate and even reverse their antipathy to homosexuality.  “Miseducation” has humorous moments but at base it’s a serious drama about adolescents, some miserable not because of their so-called same sex attraction, but because elements of society continue to denigrate them to this day and beyond. Their parents and guardians—not the type to carry signs “I’m pride of my gay son”—would rather to spend their money on trying to “cure” their children.

Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz), the orphaned title character who prefers to be called Cam, is sent by Ruth (Kerry Butler), her guardian to “God’s Promise,” a camp that deals with curing what is not in any way an emotional illness.  She is outed as gay after the boy who escorts her to the school prom discovers her in the back seat of his car making out with her best friend Coley (Quinn Shephard).  Internalizing the views of the straight adults in her life and believing that she needs saving, she is impressed by the camp’s counselor, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), who claims to have been “cured” and Rick’s sister Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), who runs the camp.

The biggest problem with God’s Promise is not that it fails to “cure” young people with same sex attractions, but in a way, the reverse.  It causes them, or at least some, to hate themselves for having a “sickness,” a hatred that will turn one boy into such a self-destructive act that the camp may be closed by the authorities.  Most of the action revolves around Cameron’s relationships with the others, especially Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane), who in one scene removes weed from her prosthetic leg, Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck), whose hair is shorn by the director, and pixie-like Erin (Emily Skeggs).   Surprisingly each camper gets a same-sex roommate instead of a private room but Lydia and Rick make calls at random times with flashlights to ensure that nobody is “sinning” against God.

The strangest statement is by Lydia, who announces that “there is no such thing as homosexuality,” preferring to believe as do some deplorable Americans that being gay is a choice.  Twenty-year-old Chloë Grace Moritz comes across as the least idiosyncratic member of the group, preferring to be a good listener rather than acting out.  She does come out of her shell near the conclusion in a dramatic move that she makes with Adam Red Eagle and Jane Fonda.

Director Akhavan does not play around with melodrama, preferring to let the camp’s wrongheadedness play out to an organically believable climax.  She shows a genuine affection for the adolescents and for Reverend Rick, even holding back against demonizing the director—who also displays an affection for her charges.  The film fits right into the Sundance Festival scheme where it won the U.S. dramatic grand jury prize.  Get the book from Amazon for eight bucks.

Unrated.  91 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B

Overall – B

GAVAGAI – movie review

GAVAGAI

Shadow Distribution
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Rob Tregenza
Screenwriter:  Kirk Kjeldsen, Rob Tregenza
Cast: Andreas Lust, Mikkel Gaup, Anni-Kristiina Juuso, Joakim Nango, Kim Robin Svartdal
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/3/18
Opens: August 3, 2018 in NY.  August 10, 2018 in L.A.
Gavagai
“Gavagai” is an invented word in an imagined language that is subject to different interpretations. The term comes from the book “Word and Object” from W.V.O. Quine—a major philosopher whose Wikipedia article challenges us to understand his point of view.
“Gavagai” the film is from an American director, Rob Tregenza, using an Austrian actor, Andreas Lust as the principal character, a Finnish girl in the role of a woman being courted, and a Norwegian, Mikkel Gaup, who serves as a safari guide to Norway’s elk country.  Written by the director with co-writer Kirk Kjeldsen, the film adds class in the form of frequent quotes from the poetry of Tarjei Vesaas (1897-1970).  The spare dialogue is mostly English though the tour guide speaks to his countrymen in Norwegian.

This is a most unusual film, one that is boldly original and exceptionally lyrical, rejected by several film festivals including those in Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto and London perhaps because it is too highbrow even for the judges.  Yet it is in no way a complex puzzle of the sort that makes people wonder, such as “Last Year at Marienbad” and “Veronique,” but is for the patient viewer who  revels in the type of cinema that penetrates life as shown by the contrasting personalities of a grief-stricken foreign tourist and his earthbound guide.

This is a road-and-buddy movie, the buddy part coming alive during the concluding moments when the two travelers for the first time laugh out loud at a mishap in the Mercedes.  The German businessman who is not named (Andreas Lust) carries an urn with the ashes of his recently departed wife, a woman who appears as an apparition as though stalking her ex-lover.  He is on the way to Vinje, Norway, the home of the poet Tarjei Vesaas with the elite project: to translate the poet’s works into Chinese. But he does not know how to drive.  In a village in the Telemark region of Norway, he hires a guide who advertises elk safari tours, offering 3000 kronas ($367) each way if he would take the grieving fellow to a remote destination unreachable by other means.  For most of the trip the traveler keeps to himself, even refusing the invitation to share the front seat with the guide.  In one scene, the guide takes a break to try to reconcile himself with an angry girlfriend (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), bringing her flowers but achieving nothing.

Doubling as cinematographer, Rob Tregenza unfolds the beauty of Norwegian heartland, hilly and green, indicating how few people live in the small towns that each house is remote from its nearest neighbor’s.  Mari (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), who is being courted, hangs her wash outside barely paying attention to the entreaties of her lover, with whom she has obviously had an argument.

Tregenza’s most notable previous feature, “Talking to Strangers,” found the American developing nine incidents in the same non-jazzy style of his current offering, which will appeal to an audience that does not require either bursts of melodrama or whodunit mystery.  The rewards are there for such people, though you would not expect this to open in many areas outside New York (August 3, 2018) and Los Angeles (August 10, 2018).

Tarjei Vesaas would be thrilled by the film.  His poems deal with the big issues: death, guilt, angst, intractable grief, all artfully embedded here.  Among his quotes, one that would apply beautifully to this film is: “Anyone who absolutely has to understand everything he sees misses a lot.”

Unrated.  90 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

HER COMPOSITION – movie review

HER COMPOSITION

Picturetrain Company
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Stephan Littger
Screenwriter: Stephan Littger
Cast: Joslyn Jensen, Heather Matarazzo, Lulu Wilson, Christian Campbell, Margot Bingham, Rachel Feinstein, Kevin Breznahan, John Rothman, Meg Gibson
Screened at: Amazon Prime, NYC, 7/27/18
Opens: On DVD May 1, 2018. Originally viewed theatrically in 2015 and available now to Amazon Prime members for no extra charge.

Her Composition (2015)

Artists are different from you and me. They see and hear things more creatively than the masses of people. Because of this, while they may have more joy from what they’re doing than accountants and burned-out physicians, most find it difficult to pay the bills. What artists crave above all, maybe even more than money, is inspiration, without which they will feel unfulfilled and ultimately driven into the cruel world of routine jobs.

Do you know people like that? If not, you will meet one such person, maybe even an icon in her ability to demonstrate the frustrations that come from a failure of inspiration. Maybe they will blame others, as this young woman did, and maybe they realize that fifty percent of the problem is not from society but from their own paucity of imagination. This young women, Malorie Gilman (Joslyn Jensen), is having difficulties, both financial and artistic. As a student in one of New York’s most prestigious conservatories, Malorie is told by the dean that the scholarship she needs to continue her studies has been awarded instead to a man. She blames the patriarchy at first before realizing that while women are still not treated right in our republic, moaning about injustices will neither pay the landlord nor give her satisfaction. So her Brooklyn apartment is going up $200 a month. So her dull accountant boyfriend Arthur (Ryan Metcalf), is dropping her. So she’s about to be discarded by the conservatory. Happily, help comes along that will solve her problems, both financially and artistically. We should all be so lucky.

Her friend Gila (Margot Bingham) works for a women’s rights organization, attracting the attentions of Kim (Okwui Okpokwasili), who is willing to turn over a list of her clients for possible FBI prosecution. Kim wants the info to be delivered to Gila, a list of clients with each one’s fetishes, though she praises her favorite guy as “romantic.” Instead Malorie keeps the documents and, bypassing escort agencies, contacts a few of the men herself. Somehow, though these fellows all dug a black escort, they are all fine with a skinny white woman who is on the shy side and at first does not really know what to do in bed to warrant payments of $1500 to $4500 a night. She makes heaps of money, but mirabile dictu, she uses her sexual experiences to write a thesis project for the school, one which she hopes would allow her to proceed with her doctoral studies.

In fact she mixes her bed times with sounds of the city—African drummers in Washington Square park, the vroom of the subway, people’s chit-chat. Now she is not only a composer: she is a painter who, after rolling white paint on her walls uses her new creativity in the service of an unusual cartography. She knocks out a map of New York on the wall with arrows pointing to the men she has been servicing. I don’t know if you find this concept appealing. In fact you may be more interested in the sex scenes, a few of which could qualify as soft porn in the style of “Fifty Shades of Gray.” The most sensual scenes are with the romantic, a hip bearded fellow who, given the sculptures in his apartment could mark him as a world traveler. The scariest is with a guy in a New York Sheraton Hotel who makes sure to double lock the door and who in one scene does something to cause Malorie to fight him off.

This movie is the feature of Stephan Littger, who also wrote and edits the film and whose previous work, “Toxic Oranges:* a Wall Street Fairy Tale” is about a homeless seller of oranges on Wall Street who gains success by inventing a credit system. This marks him as a man with the imagination to create movies with fairy tale implications, the trippiness of “Her Composition” serving as a sharply edited bit of cinema with stunning sound effects, segments of musical compositions, and a story that makes the most of sounds—city scenes and sexual unions—that are transformed by one creative person into surprisingly absorbing music.

As for Malorie, Joslyn Jensen is in virtually every frame captured by Andres Karu’s lenses, sometimes in extreme close-up, sometimes with her hair in a bun (not attractive) and other times free flowing (yes!). Her emergence from a timid, frustrated near-failure to an assertive woman thanks to her sexual experiences (which only an artist would be able to translate into painting and music) is oddly credible. And the film is a love letter to New York; its subways, its diversity, its schools, and the creativity it offers to those who can profit artistically.

Unrated. 92 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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