LOVING PABLO – movie review

LOVING PABLO

Universal Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Fernando León de Aranoa
Screenwriter:  Fernando León de Aranoa, based on Virginia Vallejo’s novel “Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar”
Cast:  Javier  Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Peter Sarsgaard
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/20/18
Opens: June 15, 2018

The most disappointing thing about “Loving Pablo” is that the Colombians, especially members of the drug cartel, mix their Spanish with a great deal of English.  It’s pretty certain that in real life they would not be speaking our language, so the suspicion is that the filmmakers were afraid that a major potential audience would resist reading anything that doesn’t come from their friends on iPhones.  Otherwise there is much to praise about the project, including an insight for us into the lives of people with vast sums of money and an array of weaponry that makes the standard police revolver about as potent as a cap pistol.

The movie deals with two realities in the life of Pablo Escobar: one is the cartel he ran in Colombia’s Medellin (now a cleaned-up, renovated tourist attraction); the other is his love first for his family, including his wife and two young children despite his broken promises to abandon the glamourous TV journalist Virginia Vallejo—whose novel has been adapted by writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa—he can’t get enough of Vallejo. (An English language edition of the book will be available May 29 of this year.)

Madrid-born director León’s film résumé includes “A Perfect Day” (aid workers resolve a problem in a conflict zone) and “Mondays in the Sun” (former dockworkers, now unemployed, treat every day as though it were Sunday).  He is not the sort of filmmaker interested in small romances.

“Loving Pablo” would be his most glossy film using the epic-style associated with the “Godfather” films given the number of incidents scattered throughout which can satiate action-adventure types of audience members.  At the same time the family drama  involves a major journalist who loses her job because of her connection with Escobar.

The opening party scene is loaded with glitz.  Escobar (Javier Bardem) flies Virginia Vallejo (Penélope Cruz) to his ranch home, making use of her to promote his reputation as a Robin Hood who is interested in feeding and housing the slum kids of the city and the homeless in general. (He will later arm the youths with powerful assault weapons to take out figures of authority as low in status as traffic cops.)  She is smitten with the man, though later he will ask her rhetorically whether he would have had a chance with her if he were an ordinary middle-class citizen.

The hands-down best action scene finds Escobar’s men using a large truck to block traffic on a 3-lane highway in Florida to allow a small plane to land with cocaine.  His men lug huge bags of the powder for shipment which, when cut and processed will be worth some 30 times more than the raw product.  The plane, likely to cost an average person’s lifetime income, is so unimportant to the cartel that it is abandoned on the highway when the powder is trucked away.

When Escobar causes mayhem in Medellín, his slum boys killing anything in a uniform while he, elected to congress, orders a hit on the Minister of Justice after a rousing speech calling for Escobar’s ouster from the House.  By the time DEA agent Shepard (Peter Sarsgaard) gets as much information as he can from Vallejo, she is desperate and feels in danger of his life.  Crime doesn’t always pay.

Bardem, whose weight was pumped up for the role and who shows off his hanging belly without shame, plays the gangster with a monotone, mumbling much of the time, which could make literate audiences wonder why they could not have seen this picture in Spanish with English subtitles.  Despite his speech, he is charismatic, a slimy goon despite the worth of his estate judged to be $30 billion in the 1990s, which would mean that by today’s standards his wealth would rival that of Bill Gates.  Just the deal he is able to make with the government in return for turning himself in (he doesn’t stay turned in) is the revocation of the extradition treaty that would allow American agents to seize drug criminals on the grounds that the product is sold in the U.S.

Rated R.  125 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B- (for use of English instead of the native Spanish)
Overall – B

HOTEL ARTEMIS – movie reveiw

HOTEL ARTEMIS

Global Road Entertainment
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Drew Pearce
Screenwriter:  Drew Pearce
Cast:  Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 6/4/18
Opens: June 8, 2018
Hotel Artemis - Poster Gallery
You might be a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s mindset and of the Jack Wick pictures but that does not guarantee affection got “Hotel Artemis.  Though there are three fine performances here—those of Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown and Sofia Boutella—the movie is lacking in a solid story and depends on episodic incidents, some violent, also considerable copy-cat fighting particularly involving a woman who speaks French but can take care of herself even when attacked by four male thugs.

This is Foster’s first film since “Elysium” in 2013– yet another dystopian feature but with a more interesting story about how the rich live on a man-made space station while the rest of us must bide our time on an earth ruined  by climate change and other man-made disasters.  While “Elysium” is set in 2174, “Hotel Artemis” moves on only until 2028. The good news is that the earth has survived. The bad news is: why bother?  Los Angeles is in a state of anarchy, each day like the 24-hour period that motivates “The Purge.”  While criminals are at risk, there is just one safe house that virtually guarantees protection.  The Hotel Artemis, a well-known old structure that freely advertises its location is secretly available only to members.  And to be a member you must be a dangerous criminal, a fact not likely mentioned by Trivago.

The structure is run by “Nurse,” who has available some of the most modern robotic surgery equipment with corresponding computer screeners from the floor to the ceiling.  When criminals begin checking in by showing their membership cards, she opens the gate, a woman whose use of a rotary dial telephone and hi fi turntable seems an anomaly when set against her high tech equipment.

When she admits hotel owner “Niagara” (Jeff Goldblum) violence is triggered inside the safe house involving rival gangs.  Guests include “Waikiki” (Sterling K. Brown), “Nice” (Sofia Boutella), “Honolulu” (Brian Tyree Henry) and others, including a policewoman, Morgan (Jenny Slate) whom she admits for reasons of her own despite the cop’s non-membership.  With the marmoreal “Everest” (Dave Bautista) running security, “Nurse” insists that the rules are paramount, that nobody is above the law.  When the rules are broken, havoc reigns within as well as without.

The usual gunplay, knifings, strangulations, death by hard objects and even elevator shafts keeping the energy flowing, the episodic nature of the short movie (actually a mere 85 minutes without the end-credits) has no way of being redeemed by the dystopian ambiance filmed well by Chung Hoon-Chung behind the lens or by the eight-person make-up team which gave Jodie Foster an eerie look of a woman a decade or more her age.

Writer-director Drew Pearce in his freshman role as director of a full length feature, is in his métier, having scripted  “Iron Man 3” and “Mission Impossible—Rogue Nation.”

 

Unrated.  96 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

THE QUEST OF ALAIN DUCASSE – movie review

THE QUEST OF ALAIN DUCASSE (La quête d’Alain Ducasse)

Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Gilles de Maistre
Screenwriter:  Gilles de Maistre
Cast:  Alain Ducasse, François Hollande, Massimo Bottura, Prince Albert II of Monaco
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/20/18
Opens: June 8, 2018

Film journalists in New York have the good fortune to be invited to screenings in elegant rooms reserved for the press.  The Dolby is a favorite room because of its awesome acoustics, plush seating, and wide screens.  Its location is not far from Columbus Circle, the center of the universe. Just next door on W. 55 St. between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is the Benoit Restaurant, a place that might be intimidating for us working critics but after seeing “The Quest of Alain Ducasse,” I suspect that many of us might be curious enough to dig up the funds needed to finance a brunch, a lunch, or a dinner.  The Benoit is just of the many establishments owned and astonishingly personally visited by the master chef, who has amassed three-star Michelins like magic wherever he treads.   In directing a documentary about the chef and owner, Gilles de Maistre, whose impressive résumé includes 19 entries, mostly for TV, is known by cinephiles in part for his 2002 movie “Ferocious,” about a French Arab who infiltrates a far right sect.  This time he affords us documentary about a man who knows how to live, not surprising for a Frenchman.

Ducasse is in the enviable position of being not only highly successful as both a chef and a food entrepreneur but also as the owner of 24 restaurants in eight countries.  Now 61 years old and surprisingly of a healthy weight considering how he tests rich French food regularly, he is the sole survivor of a plane crash who nonetheless spends a good deal of life traveling by air.  It’s no wonder: with all those businesses covering so many different nationalities—French, Monégasque, Japanese, Chinese, Brazilian, Filipino, even Mongolian—he has given jobs to hundreds of people and even sponsors a cuisine school in Manila set up with scholarships for young folks who are not especially moneyed.  Of course to make haute cuisine, you need good chefs, but just as important, Ducasse insists on using locally sourced ingredients which he often tastes right out in the fields where they are harvested.  You would not expect to find Navel oranges in New York in August or cherries from Chile in Fargo.

As a celebrity he mc’s public events and is shown by the director who doubles as cinematographer chatting amiably with then President Hollande, with public figures from Mongolia, no less, and receiving profound affection from the young students that have been financed to become the future leaders of Philippines cuisine.   He is a democrat (small d), a man who shakes hands and shows real devotion to the hundreds of people in white chef’s uniforms and hats, and like an excellent teacher goads them to surpass themselves.  As he tastes food he comments “too bland,” “very good,” and an assortment of do’s and do not’s, always delivering his suggestions in a calm, cool manner.

The film builds to a climax, charting the move to open a restaurant in Versailles: “3 months before,” “1 month before opening,” “one hour before opening,” though throughout the tale there is so much to marvel at that we don’t look at our watches to think “when is that climax to come?”

Without mentioning the U.S. by name, he is probably appalled that the typical middle-class household here throws out 40% of the food that’s bought, as he believes nothing, yes nothing, should be thrown out and people do not need complex layers of French seasonings and sauces to serve delicious meals.

With Armand Amar’s score, which suggests a thriller rather than a cerebral look at food and its creators, Alain Ducasse, known to be a private person who had to be coaxed to do this project, should find this foodie film completely to his liking and to his quest to make good food a must for the world’s people.

Unrated.  84 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

HEARTS BEAT LOUD – movie review

HEARTS BEAT LOUD

Gunpowder & Sky
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Brett Haley
Screenwriter:  Brett Haley, Marc Basch
Cast:  Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Toni Collette, Sasha Lane, Blythe Danner
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 5/16/18
Opens: June 8, 2018

Young people about to head off to out-of-town colleges are naturally excited about the idea, though they may think they will become homesick missing the folks and local friends.  An equal reaction can be found in the parents who have been exposed to the anxieties of empty nest syndrome.  You might be surprised to know that marriages can break up when the kids are gone.  What’s left to talk about when you’re just husband and wife?  There’s no wife in “Hearts Beat Loud,” since the woman of the house had died eleven years before, and the bereaved husband, Frank (Nick Offerman), dreads what’s coming–living alone under his roof.  He has been quite a satisfactory father to his one daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), their bond remaining strong because they have an equal love for songs—he on the electric guitar and she with an angelic voice that can really hit the high registers.  But Frank is faced with losing his vinyl record store in Brooklyn’s colorful Red Hook section at the same time that Sam is about to depart for UCLA.  With his friendly landlady Leslie (Toni Collette) insisting that she has been forced to raise his rent, he has no choice but to close down and wonder how he will meet his 18-year-old’s tuition and other expenses when she is 3,000 miles away.

“Hearts Beat Loud” is a low-key coming of age drama, a musical, and at the same time a focus on Frank who goes so far as to ask his daughter to take a year off and work on playing together in a musical enterprise now that he has received a flurry of hits when he uploaded a new song to Spotify.  He thinks he can even carve out a living since, of all things, the song is on a playlist with Iron & Wine and Spoon.  Sam, a top student bound for a pre-med curriculum at UCLA,has a love interest, Rose (Sasha Lane), though not much more than kissing is shown on screen.  To relieve his worries, Frank stops often by Sunny’s bar where Dave (Ted Danson) relives his “Cheer” days mixing drinks and serving as Frank’s pal as well.

This is not the kind of musical you’d expect on Broadway.  It’s no “Chicago” or the new version of “My Fair Lady,” but it does have songs now and then, all with bouncy beats.  Still, aside from sweetness which is always in style when the tone is not down-and-out saccharine, there is not enough going from the plot, and we might have expected more to come from director Brett Haley, whose “I’ll See You in My Dreams” about a widow and a songstress show that life can begin anew at any age and whose “The Hero” starring Sam Elliot about an ailing movie star confronting his mortality has more depth.  Blythe Danner shows up almost in cameo as a dotty grandmother to the budding young vocalist.

Rated PG-13.  97 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? – movie review

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

Focus Features
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Morgan Neville
Cast: Joanne Rogers, McColm Cephas Jr., François Scarborough Clemmons, Kailyn Davis, Yo-Yo Ma, Joe Negri, David Newell, Fred Rogers
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 5/10/18
Opens: June 8, 2018

In a key point made by Fred Rogers during one of his 895 shows, the country’s greatest friend of children asks the audience, “All of us have special ones who have helped you become who you are.” And he meant business, waiting in silence until some came up with answers. How about you, dear reader? Who helped you become the person you are today? Mom? Dad? Grandpa who explains his COPD to his granddaughter? Batman? There’s an implication here that not only might some of us be unable to name a single person for that award, though one would not be surprised to name Fred Rogers. In addition, are there any heroes out there, not Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman but a real hero: one who can connect with children, keep them awestruck, give them the feeling that life is good and that they are protected. And that would be Mr. Rogers. From 1968 through 2001 Fred Rogers taped his shows, always starting with the same motif, because presumably children, who often ask to see a movie twenty times, would appreciate the stability.

In “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” Rogers would come home, open the door, and sing his theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, change into blue tennis sneakers, put on a cardigan sweater, though changing the colors, giving him a Jimmy Carter look. And in fact, like President Carter, Rogers placed a great value on religion–having attended a seminary with the thought of becoming a reverend. But he did not want to preach: he wanted to connect, and there’s a difference. A trolley car would lurch forward, passing a castle, and focus largely on a puppet named King Friday XIII, who built a wall around his kingdom because he did not like change. Could Fred Rogers have forecast the present administration? He would bring the little guests up to the stage for interaction. And he would feed a tank of fish, taking care to lift a dead creature from the bottom of the tank to give it a proper burial.

Ironically he did not like television with its fast editing and especially despised cartoons featuring exploding heads, falling bodies of animals, and lots of noise. His aim was to help protect kids, and when you think about it, isn’t that the most important job a parent has? But you cannot prevent young people from watching the fate of the Challenger and the assassination of Robert Kennedy (one puppet on the stage asks the meaning of the word “assassination” and got an honest answer). He did not shy away from talking about divorce, given the rising propensity of people to bolt whenever the dinner is not out on time, stating that sometimes two people prefer to live apart because they are not happy together.

He worried about shows depicting Superman, fearing that some kids might put on red capes, sport the big “S” on their shirts, and try to fly from buildings, as some actually did. For that, he gently warned his listeners that they should not try duplication as flying is a job for professionals. To counteract racism he would occasionally bath his feet in a basin of water, inviting a man of color to take off his shows and share the bowl—which he always did.

Once Eddie Murphy did a satirical sketch of the show, fortunately shown at night when protected kids would not be awake. Even more dangerous, Fox News lashed out at Rogers’ repeated message that each child is special. “Does he mean that even if someone does nothing in his life, he or she is still special?” is what Fox more or less said, demonstrating the same kind of stupidity that they continue to spew at their audiences daily.

For Fred Rogers, the most important puppet was probably Daniel Tiger, his alter ego, a friendly creature who worried that he was a mistake, because he knows nobody else like him. This plays right into Rogers’ ideology, telling children that the beauty of each individual is that everybody is like nobody else on the planet.

The documentary is huggable. It’s a wonderful show that should leave the audience with good feelings, despite being thought too saccharine by some in the audience. Though Rogers meant to talked to the older folks, he was concerned almost totally with connecting with the small fry, a feat that he likely thought to be absent from all other TV programs. Kudos to PBS for continuing the show through the almost 900 episodes, the similarities among them not something to be criticized because, after all, kids feel protected when they can readily identify the entrances and exits, enjoying Rogers at the piano, even digging the man’s slow and careful delivery and a singing voice that would hardly rival that of Pat Boone.

Talking heads pop up throughout, unanimously embracing everything that Rogers is doing for the children, including Joanne Rogers, McColm Cephas Jr., François Scarborough Clemmons, Kailyn Davis, Yo-Yo Ma, Joe Negri, and David Newell. Given the way Morgan Neville—who had contributed such fare as “Best of Enemies,” a wholly adult pic pitting liberal Gore Vidal against conservative William Buckley—you may find it compelling that this director would be at home with both the headiest of intellectual debates and the magical, wonderful world of youngsters.

Unrated. 94 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

EN EL SEPTIMO DIA – movie review

EN EL SÉPTIMO DÍA (On the Seventh Day)

Cinema Guild
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jim McKay
Screenwriter: Jim McKay
Cast: Fernando Cardona, Gilberto Jimenez Núñez, Abel Perez, Genoel Ramírez, Alfonso VelazquezScreened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/29/18

Poster

On the seventh day God rested, never worrying that a boss would tell him that he has to work on Sunday. Not the case for an ordinary mortal like José, an immigrant from Mexico working as a delivery man for a high-end restaurant in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. José is not only the best worker that restaurateur Steve (Gabriel Núñez) has on his staff. He is also captain and best player of a soccer team named for the Mexican town of Puebla. Here’s the movie’s big conflict. The Puebla team has made the semi-finals in soccer. The group will play the finals on a Sunday and without José they are sure to lose. When La Frontera restaurant schedules a birthday party on Sunday funded by a high roller, Steve needs his entire staff present. Days off are canceled. If José chooses to play in the finals, he will be fired. If he chooses work at the restaurant on what should have been his day off, his team will lose. How would you choose?

“En el Séptimo Día is under the direction of Jim McKay using his own script, a filmmaker best known for directing some TV episodes like “The Good Fight,” “Law and Order,” and “Bosch” but whose last full-length feature “Everyday People” about the closing of restaurant resulting in a loss of jobs, shows that he has the common touch. Here McKay has picked up a group of young, energetic, non-professional actors, Mexicans who live together at a place in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. They horse around, they give advice, they tease one another and are an all-around bunch of good guys. José gets conflicting counsel from the people in his circle. The more reasonable ones, knowing that he expects to bring his pregnant wife Elizabeth (Loren Garcia—seen only on Skype) up to Brooklyn to be with him, requiring him to make enough money and get good references to support her and the child she is carrying. To most of us in the movie audience, the choice is clear, particularly since he knows he can get another job in a similar capacity though he insists that he wants to work only at La Frontera.

Yet José refuses to let his team down. How he manages to solve the problem and with the help of Elmer (Gilberto Jimenez) a young man who watches the game behind the fence and roots for the Pueblas, becomes the film’s most engaging and humorous action. Cinematographer Charles Libin knows how to give the working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn a look at a place that the great borough must have appeared decades ago before gentrification, not the kind of location that would prompt many of us in audience to visit where the big attraction is the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with its spectacular nighttime view of the city skyline.

Throughout the movie José is riding his bike, pumping away vigorously even in the pouring rain when the wind blows his plastic raincoat into a balloon-like shape. He takes dangerous actions without wearing protective headgear (I say from experience that delivery people in Brooklyn simply don’t go for the prissy protection on their heads). That one of his teammates is sidelined with a knee injury received on the field does not worry him. When needed inside, he busses tables and washes dishes, trying now and then without success to convince manager Steve to give him the day off. Some of these young people may be undocumented but in New York City we fight to keep I.C.E. out of our territory. In the lead role Fernando Cardona does such a terrific job at projecting the life of a bilingual working class stiff that he can look forward to a bright future in the business. A solid entry by McKay after a fourteen-year break.

Unrated. 97 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

WHO WE ARE NOW – movie reveiw

WHO WE ARE NOW

Film Rise
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Matthew Newton
Screenwriter: Matthew Newton
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/1/18
Cast: Julianne Nicolson, Emma Roberts, Zachary Quinto, Jess Weixler, Lea Thompson, Jason Biggs, Jimmy Smitts
Opens: May 25, 2018

Who We Are Now Movie Poster

It’s not unusual for two actress to deliver awards-worthy performances during the prestige season of November-December. But it’s unlikely this early in the year for the academy members and all the other awards organizations to be delighted by two spot-on performances. One such actress would be Toni Collette, already considered by those in the know as one of the greats of her generation, this year delivering her best performance as a jinxed woman in “Hereditary.” The other? Julianne Nicholson, in the role of a desperate woman who, having served a decade in prison for a crime revealed only in the closing moments. Nicholson is not as known as Collette and has been underutilized, but in Matthew Newton’s naturalistic indie, we become patiently aware of not only the situation she has faced as ex-convict, but not so much about a young, not quite mature lawyer who is defender her in a custody battle.

The story unfolds so casually that we in the audience have to wonder just what is happening, what the stakes are. Soon after her release from prison, Beth (Julianne Nicholson) shows up unannounced at the home of her sister Gabby (Jess Weixler) and Gabby’s husband Sam (Scott Cohen), only to be told that next time she’d better phone before visiting. Why so? During Beth’s incarceration Gabby and Sam were granted guardianship over Beth’s ten-year-old boy Alec (Logan Schuyler Smith), a lively kid obviously well-nurtured by his guardians with ambitions to move from second trumpet to principal player at his school. Beth is, after all, the boy’s biological mother but I think her sister is correct in figuring that since Alec had not met Beth at any time and had been told that his guardians are his parents, what’s the point of confusing him now?

The title of the film, “Who We Are Now,” indicates that writer-director Matthew Newton wants us to compare and contrasts the lives of two women. One is a cynical criminal whose maternal talents are unknown and who is desperate for a job paying more than she earns in a nail salon. The other is a young woman recently out of Columbia Law School treated poorly by her Waspish mother (Lea Thompson) who is concerned mostly about her daughter’s upcoming wedding, demanding more of Beth’s time for the family.

Much of the dialogue involving Beth and her women friends is unnecessary and could have been cut to give up more insight into Jess’ conflicts with her job. She works with Carl (Jimmy Smits) who wants her commitment to remain with a pro-bono law firm that works with folks unable to afford lawyers, impressed by her defense of a youthful high-school dropout inside the prison system. By contrast, Beth cannot dream of working at anything better than a job as a waitress, and even for even a chance at that job, she has to sexually service Vince (Jason Biggs), a restaurant manager, if she has any hope of landing the gig. Her hard shell is softened by her casual friendship with Peter (Zachary Quinto), a barfly who had served in Afghanistan, reports that the war is a nightmare, and can’t wait to go back for another stint.

Australian director Matthew Newton has many acting roles in his résumé, both TV spots and feature films, and before taking on this project had been at the helm of three other features including “From Nowhere” (undocumented Bronx high schools try to get papers to stay in the U.S.), and “Three Blind Mice” (Navy officers enjoy one last night in Sydney before shipping off to the fight in the Gulf). Evoking entertainment value out of a film that emphasizes naturalistic conversations is difficult: Newton succeeds admirably.

Unrated. 99 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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