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