THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT – movie review

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT
Intervention Media
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: James Fletcher
Writer: James Fletcher
Cast: Jerry Springer, Piers Morgan, Van Jones, Anthony Scaramucci, Scott Adams, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Schmidt
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/3/20
Opens: October 16, 2020, streaming October 27, 2020

The Accidental President - IMDb

Let’s take a risk. With all the talk of the chattering classes, the late night shows, the comedians, the pollsters, the professors, the cartoonists—and all the representatives of these groups serve as commentators on this latest film about Trump—“Let’s take a risk” says it all. Granted that Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by almost three million votes, our Electoral College makes a mockery of democracy and put Trump over the top.

Yet though “Let’s make American great again” is still the watchword of the Republicans favoring our current President, “Let’s take a risk” would be a more accurate slogan to put on those red hats, so ubiquitous among voters among the 24% of adults without a four-year college degrees, living in rural areas, working with their hands. Some are racists, some are xenophobic, some are dumb, but many people with the same brains and qualifications of current Republicans in the Senate voted for Trump.

Using colorful film from the rallies, interjecting the opinions of over a dozen commentators, director James Fletcher in his freshman turn as filmmaker seeks to answer “How the hell did he win?” The answers include FBI director Comey’s report 11 days before the election that the agency is investigating Hillary’s 30,000+ emails and 32,000 deleted emails that may have hurt national security: Trump’s promise to brings jobs back from overseas, a pledge welcomed by all who felt ignored by the “regular” or “robotic” politicians: Trump’s simple showmanship, borne from his popular reality show, a charismatic crowd-pleaser on “The Assistant”: A feeling by whites that they are facing minority status in “their own” country: Secretary Clinton’s taking the swing state of Wisconsin so much for granted that she did not visit the state even once but concentrated instead on Texas, which was a sure loser for her.

Even never-Trumpists will be entertained by this documentary simply because they are watching one of America’s greatest showmen speaking to crowds regularly in the tens of thousands, having them eating out of his hand. “The Accidental President” follows on the heads of the excellent doc “Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump,” which takes a more partisan approach.

If you’ve been following politics the way so many Americans follow sports, you will not find a single bit of information that you did not know, but that’s not important. The film stresses entertainment over originality, and isn’t that enough to warrant your time?

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

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

MARTIN EDEN – movie review

MARTIN EDEN
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Pietro Marcello
Writer: Maurizio Braucci, Pietro Marcello, novel by Jack London
Cast: Luca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Denise Sardisco, Vincenzo Nemolato
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/2/20
Opens: October 16, 2020

Martin Eden Movie Poster

In the forceful prose that is the backbone of his writing, Jack London says this in his novel “Martin Eden.”

Who are you, Martin Eden?. He gazed at himself long and curiously.
Who are you? What are you? Where do you belong?
You belong with the legions of toil, with all that is low, and
vulgar, and unbeautiful. You belong with the oxen and the drudges,
in dirty surroundings among smells and stenches.
And yet you dare to open the books, to listen to beautiful music, to
learn to love beautiful paintings, to speak good English, to think
thoughts that none of your own kind thinks, to tear yourself away from the oxen

You need not have a whole lot of insight to note that these are the insights of a man who hates being lower class, who dislikes having to work for bosses who treat the workers like crap, to shoveling manure, toting that barge and lifting that bale. Eden is the name chosen by the author perhaps to sound ironic or maybe to illuminate the higher class to which he aspires. “Martin Eden” is considered a bildungsroman, a novel based closely on the author’s life and feelings and aspirations. The film, like the book, traces Eden’s yearnings for a life of the intellect, a life that would give him ease, and most of all a life to make him a worthy lover of a rich, beautiful woman.

As played with passion by Luca Marinelli and directed by Pietro Marcello, whose “Lost and Beautiful” deals with a man’s promise to a shepherd to save a young buffalo, Eden is a sailor who travels the world and who is told by friends and associates to stay with this kind of existence. It suits him. They warn him not to strive to be something that he is not. This passionate man, who has only a primary education, falls hopelessly in love with Elena (Jessica Cressy) after having met her and her impossibly rich family after saving the family’s young Arturo Orsini (Giustiniano Alpi) from the fists of a brutal security guard.

Given Eden’s sensibilities contrasted with the ethereal personality of Elena (who plays piano, loves paintings, and enjoys the trapping of a life not distracted by the need to work), Eden absorbs the advice given to him by the young woman to first get an education. The lack of formal schooling, however, does not prevent Eden from writing, and given his world-wide experiences at sea, he has experiences to project. But his stories are rejected time after time (think of John Grisham whose manuscripts were rejected some thirty times), so Eden hopes to gain the requisite literary touch as a feverish reader.

He may have gotten nowhere with his writing or his courtship had it not been for a kind widow Maria (Carmen Pommella) who had “known love” and gives him room and board; and Russ Brissenden (Carlo Cecchi), a writer and editor, who sees potential in his prodigy. Still Eden remembers his roots, shown convincingly enough when he picks up a waitress (Denise Sardisco), comparing her favorably with his upper-class love. His desire for Elena, however, is waning.

Eden has a run with politics brought on by the demands of working class people who are fighting for socialism. You might think that Eden would agree, but instead, having read the libertarian writings of Herbert Spencer, he rises to the podium and, to the disgust of the crowd, announces that subordinating the individual to the community is wrong, and that evolution teaches that we will always have masters.

“Martin Eden” is of epic scope, the kind of film that could easily have gone on for three hours, digging ever so much more deeply into the principal character’s metamorphosis. As the picture stands, filmed with evocations of the color of Neapolitan streets by Alessando Abate and Francesco Di Giacomo in Balzana Santa Maria La Fossa and Naples, “Martin Eden” is an enterprise that would likely garner the respect of Jack London.

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

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

 

GHABE – movie review

GHABE (Forest)
GVN Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Markus Castro
Writer: Markus Castro
Cast: Adel Darwish, Nathalie Williamsdotter, Ahmad Fadel
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/22/20
Opens: October 16, 2020

Poster

If Monir (Adel Darwish) had a cairn terrier walking at heel, he might say, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Syria anymore.” And no wonder. In place of the 180,185 kilometers of desert, he’d find a vast forest of Redwood-sized trees. In fact the film’s title, “Ghabe,” is Arabic for “forest.” Taking with him all the memories of the Syrian culture that he must have absorbed during his twenty-five or so years in that current shithole plus the post-traumatic stress he feels not only for the chemical attacks Assad launched on his own people, you can imagine the difficult time he would have adapting to any Western culture. It takes him some coaxing to get out of a car outside a cabin that a progressive Swedish family set aside for the use of Monir, his uncle Farid (Ahmad Fadel) and three other refugees. Of course he will learn to love the place, but not because of what he must consider its strange culture, given the summer festival under a Viking symbol involving the statue of a penis and two testicles. How about his sight of a couple of Swedish women swimming in the nude while he hides behind a tree? Only the love of a local beauty could possibly convert this stressed-out guy into finally embracing his good luck in escaping from the wretched, war-torn Fascist state into perhaps the progressive Western country that welcomes refugees. Recall that Sweden served as a Shangi-Li for thousands of Americans who refused to serve in Vietnam and a refuge for hundreds of Jews that Denmark under wartime occupation shipped to Swedish shores to escape the Holocaust.

When Monir first sees the adorable Moa (Nathalie Williamsdotter), with her thick, red hair and dazzling blue eyes, he is smitten. Believing that he has no chance with her, he is content to watch her swim and masturbate, hiding behind a tree. Little could he imagine that Moa spotted him, accepting his “self-abuse,” even laughing but in a tender way. How different the response from Karin, her racist mother, probably angry that Sweden is accepting Middle Eastern refugees who will try to gain residency after a few months. Moa takes little time in seducing him as they are out with a rowboat, the kind of action that (we think) people from reactionary Arab cultures would consider the satanic work of a hooker. Not Monir. Despite his immaturity, he not only relishes the seduction but falls even more deeply in love with the young woman.

Events come to a melodramatic conclusion involving a police action, one of the officers acting as though he must have been trained in some U.S. red state to shoot a person who not had not attacked him and, in fact had put down the kitchen knife as he was told. A decision by Moa which could threaten Monir’s chance for a residence permit is uncalled for, unpredictable, and plain unimaginable. But here is a love story, a political drama that should make you think of the excesses of police power in our own country, and a meditation on countries like Syria that can kill its own people, most of them innocent of rebellion against the government.

Markus Castro directs his freshman offering with a storyteller’s professionalism, casting a lyrical glow on a section of his country with forests so vast that you’ll think you’re in California. One particular long shot is breathtaking—a view of the lovers in their rowboat set across the vastness of the forest and the universe, constellations brightly shining on two young people who are embracing the risks of a star-crossed romance.

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

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

ALBERT EINSTEIN: STILL A REVOLUTIONARY – movie review

ALBERT EINSTEIN: STILL A REVOLUTIONARY
First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Newman
Writer: Julia Newman
Cast: Michio Kaku, Michael Paley, Alice Calaprice, Herbert Freeman, Jr., Susan Neiman, Barbara Picht, Jürgen Renn, Ze’ev Rosencranz, Robert Schulmann, Milena Wazeck
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/6/20
Opens: On Apple TV, iTunes, Amazon VOD & DVD

Still a Revolutionary - Albert Einstein (2020) - IMDb

Someone once said that the four people who have influenced today’s world the most were Jews: Jesus, Freud, Marx, and Einstein. Jesus influenced one the world’s great religions followed by some two billion people. Marx was the intellectual founder or a religion of its own, communism, which though not so popular today as it once was serves as a leading critique of capitalism. Freud, in his theory of the unconscious, believed that we know not what we do since most of our emotions come from the unconscious, and Einstein said that everything is relative, which is said to be a mighty important insight.

In her freshman documentary, Julia Newman focuses not on Einstein’s contributions to the laws of physics, which many people do not understand and which in my college compelled the professor to boost everybody’s grades or nobody would have passed. Instead she looks at the physicist’s moral code, not greatly different from that of people who are quite spiritual on Sundays. He followed the beat of a different drummer, opposing the rule of conformity that guides everyone with a smart phone.

For one, he opposed war. He criticized the march of extreme nationalism that led to a particularly stupid war in 1914, left Germany to be with his folks in Italy, then returned to his homeland (the only instance in which he was not smart) under the Weimar constitution. Perhaps it was the anti-Semitism of his southern German home that turned him away from the bullying. A teacher once brought a nail to the classroom, noting that Jesus was crucified with such, humiliating Albert who was the only Jewish person in the class.

The key word in this documentary is “compartmentalization,” the idea that we separate our lives into clear divisions: family, friends, work, politics. This explains that under the Nazis (1933-1945) a German soldier could love his kin and his dog, yet harbor murderous hate toward people who are not like him, or who he believes are not like him. Some men do not like women very much. Einstein spoke in favor of women’s rights. He was pro-choice, and being anti-nationalist did not at first believe that Jews should have a state of its own. He came around to favor the creation of Israel and enjoyed a friendship with its founder, David Ben-Gurion. He supported demonstrations for the rights of minorities and was friendly to Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson. Though brought up Jewish, he was a pantheist like Spinoza, believing “the whole universe is God,” a notion that is akin to atheism.

When he escaped from the Holocaust, winding up in New York, he abandoned his pacifism, holding that you have to meet force with force.

Though he was a celebrity, who mixed easily with people and could talk with anyone from kings to children, he was considered a luftmensch, naïve, an absent-minded Princetonian professor, a fellow who did not seem grounded. When he was scheduled to meet some big shot, his wife told him to wear a suit, but he refused. “If they want to see my clothes, they can look in my closet.”

See if you can guess what he would think of the people in power in our present government.

Director Newman’s film has too many talking heads, though their comments are backed up by some valuable archival celluloid. We see Einstein as a man, laughing, talking, a social butterfly really, making us wonder when he had time to make contributions that led to the creation of the atom bomb, to inspire his students at Princeton, and to be a rebel with a cause. Though he was at ease with ordinary people, he was an elitist who preferred to exchange ideas with other intellectuals. Julia Newman shows the man in all of his guises, providing an entertaining enough vehicle for our consumption.

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

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

‘bOOBs: The War on Women’s Breasts

bOOBs: The War on Women’s Breasts
Cinema Libre
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Megan Smith
Writer: Megan Smith
Cast: Otis W. Brawley, Manfred Doepp, Galina Migalko, Ben Johnson, Gloria Jackson, Beth DuPree
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/6/20
Opens: October 6, 2020

Poster

Women are being exploited. Doctors tell women 35+ to take mammograms yearly, yet mammograms are painful, One participant tells men who are clueless about gynecology to think of having their testicles squeezed by two metal plates. They cause patients to absorb radiation, and they yield many false positives and false negatives. What’s more, those women who are diagnosed as positive undergo biopsies, which are painful and often unnecessary. There’s even more. If a biopsy comes back positive, doctors advise patients to undergo mastectomies, resulting in yet additional pain and disfigurement. Sometimes surgeons will admit to some that their mastectomies turned out to be mistakes. (Not covered in this film: In Britain, the National Health Insurance, women with positive diagnoses are encouraged have both breasts removed at once, which is somehow more convenient and efficient for its card-carrying members.)

So what to do? Aided by a clever use of texts covering the screen, the most essential words projected bold and in color, doctors recommend bypassing what they called the standard protocol of mammograms. They accuse hospitals of guiding patients to machines for which they’ve spent millions of dollars and need a return. Instead—and you have to wait until half the doc is over before the epiphany—women should insist on a combination of ultrasound and thermography. Not only do these two machines avoid radiating them and are painless, their accuracy is around the area of ninety-five percent. Yet thermography is usually not covered by insurance, perhaps because the Food and Drug Administration suggests that those who opt for it may miss a chance to discover early cancers.

Huh? While the docs in this doc say more or less the reverse, and though thermography is standard use by firefighters to see through smoke, and building construction people use it to make heating and air conditioning more efficient, it’s just “alternate” medicine? If you’re like me you are likely to have had a love affair in youthful days with the likes of herbal medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, all of which have limited uses if any at all. The doctors seem to agree that even Lancet, the most prestigious medical journal, will some select articles for publication because of money!

This film will likely be seen almost exclusively by prospective women patients, though the idea of nuts being squeezed between two metal plates was the metaphor that got my interest. Given the nice personalities of the professionals used as talking heads, you might be ready to abandon mammography as of tonight (if you’re a woman). But sit back and think: could this movie be nothing more than an infomercial for the thermography protocol which, unless you believe in conspiracy theory (it’s being suppressed because of money-hungry docs and Big Pharma), it’s simply an organ for the promotion of a generally unapproved technology? Could the whole film be little more than analogous to propaganda by the anti-vaccination folks?

Then again, that’s what makes this even more interesting to see. Have a look at it and, as Fox News always says, decide for yourself.

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

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

 

MR. JONES – movie review

MR. JONES
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Screenwriter: Andrea Chalupa
Cast: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Kenneth Cranham, Krzysztof Pieczynski, Celyn Jones, Patricia Volny
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/7/20
Opens: June 19, 2020

Mr. Jones (2019)

“Mr. Jones” should be required viewing in every school of journalism from Columbia University down to the smallest community college in Nebraska. The true events on which “Mr. Jones” is based focus in part on the newspaper industry which was far more important in its time when everybody read the papers daily, a practice now largely abandoned by people absorbed more in their I-Phones than on reading about something greater than themselves. An intelligent viewer of this picture could not be faulted for noting the current relevance on display, when fake stores from Russia corrupt social media and when every paper whose editorial board leans left and Democratic is considered by the White House to be “failing.”

Warsaw-born Agnieszka Holland, whose “Europa Europa” unfolds a story of a Jewish boy hiding his religion by joining Hitler Youth, is a director who obviously thinks well beyond the rom-com and hyped-up melodrama, is well suited for the task, promoting the central motif that journalists must tell the truth as they see it. There is only one truth, and journalists who for material gain or sensationalist hype do anything to cover up the truth, they are guilty of hypocrisy and an outright betrayal of their (once) revered profession.

Mr. Jones (James Norton) pursues a fascinating story so perilous, so important to tell, that he appears willingly to risk his comfort and even his life. The tale tells of the Soviet Union’s starvation of at least five million peasants in Soviet dominated Ukraine, their farms collectivized and much of their produce shipped out of the country to Moscow. That view is considered controversial, even untrue, particularly by Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), a reporter for the NY Times who made his mark after being accorded a private interview with Stalin. From that time he became the mouthpiece of the communist nation, and awarded a Pulitzer for his reporting of what became known as fake news. If Duranty’s sucking up to Russia no matter his personal feelings makes you think of what’s happening on Capitol Hill, you know enough about politics to join the audience of Saturday Night Live.

When Gareth Jones first appears in this shattering narrative film, he’s a kid, yet Britain’s Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham) employs him as an adviser—a gig that ends when he is laughed out of a Cabinet meeting for suggesting that the UK would soon go to war against the Soviet Union. Out of the mouth of babes. He is given a reference by the prime minister upon which Jones commits forgery by erasing the sentence about his “former” service to the prime minister, changing that to “valued” service. He receives a journalist’s visa to the Soviet Union where he is expected to write about a Potemkin Village setup, refused admittance to the Ukraine where he smuggles himself in and sees first-hand the starvation and despair of farmers either driven from the land or forced to work in collectives.

Traveling by train as though a first-class tourist, he moves into the third-class compartment finding people without a crust of bread. Walking through the frozen depths of Ukraine farmland after trading a bit of food for a passenger’s overcoat, he finds vast reaches peopled by peasants without hope. (Not mentioned in the movie is that fact that the rich peasants were sent to the gulag or killed, while the masses who work the land have little motivation to produce anything save for their own private needs.)

One comes away from the picture assuming that Ms. Holland’s politics are as Orwellian as George Orwell himself, the latter played by Joseph Mawle. Mawle opens the movie by advising that he will discuss the failures of communism simply, in a book peopled by farm animals substituting for the various personages in a communist state.

Given the poignant scenes of starvation and frozen land with a particularly vivid coverage of a heroin-soaked party attended by a naked, drunk Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, “Mr. Jones” can he heartily recommended not only to the aforementioned journalism students but also to students on the secondary school level who have probably read “Animal Farm” and would be further enlightened by observing Soviet criminality on the screen.

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

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

ETERNAL BEAUTY – movie review

ETERNAL BEAUTY
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Craig Roberts
Writer: Craig Roberts
Cast: Sally Hawkins, David Thewlis, Billie Piper, Penelope Wilton, Alice Lowe, Robert Pugh, Morfydd Clark
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/22/20
Opens: October 2, 2020

Eternal Beauty Movie Poster

“How are you?” says the psychiatrist (Boyd Clark). “Fine,” replies Jane (Sally Hawkins). “Fine or good?” “Good.” This dialogue occurs session after session as the doctor examines the patient, diagnosed twenty years back as schizophrenic. Later, Jane, recalling her sessions with the shrink asks a photographer, “How are you?” “Normal,” he says. “Boring,” says Jane. Her sister had told her that being normal is difficult. So this movie is about how schizophrenics can have more fun than people who are considered everyday-normal, and mirabile dictu, by the end of the film, you are convinced that Jane, notwithstanding an upbringing by a mean-spirited mother Vivian (Penelope Wilton) and passive father Dennis (Robert Pugh) is happier than most of us. Or at least the most of us who are normal.

In his sophomore offering writer-director Craig Roberts whose “Just Jim” portraits the relationship of a Welsh teen with an American neighbor possesses the soul of a person not content to knock out a normal movie but more interested in the inner life of a schizophrenic, in no way dangerous or likely to be mumbling, homeless, on a New York City street. The surrealism is tailor-made for Sally Hawkins, who, in one of her crowning roles in “The Shape of Water” as Elisa Esposito, a janitor in a research facility with a special relationship to a giant laboratory fish, evoked the joke by a TV film critic, “Are men so bad nowadays that a woman has to date a fish?”

Playing the role chiefly as often zonked but as a woman with the vivid imagination of a mentally unbalanced person, Jane appears in virtually every scene, though often as the younger, twenty-something girl (Morfyedd Clark) whose diagnosis takes place at about the time she was stood up at the altar. We can understand that twenty years later, the voice she hears in her head most prominently is that of the boyfriend Johnny (Robert Aramayo), without an explanation for his caddish treatment but now expressing deep love and a desire to see her again.

One day in the hospital, she meets fellow unbalanced Mike (David Thewlis), and voilá, too nuts “find” each other. Leave it to Jane’s mean sister Nicola, just suffering from the loss of a rich boyfriend Lesley (Tony Leader), to try to ruin Jane’s relationship, driving her back to the hospital.

Perhaps the funniest scene occurs at a Christmas gathering with her sisters Alice (Alice Lowe) and Nicola (Billie Piper). Jane distributes gifts which as usual nobody likes. She presents receipts and expects them to pay her back.

This is a frothy comedy about people who look laid-back, but with spurts of enthusiasm like those of the excitable Michael, expecting to get a gig and pay Jane back for staying at her digs. Director Roberts plays up the surrealism by showing Michael on stage singing with his electric guitar and by repeated images of the younger Jane in her wedding dress clueless about what will soon come. The expertly done color palette mirrors Jane’s feelings throughout as does a multiplicity of Sally Hawkins’s facial expressions. Hawkins is in her oils.

Kit Fraser films in various locations in Wales.

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

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

 

NOMADLAND – movie review

NOMADLAND
Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Chloé Zhao
Writer: Chloé Zhao, adapted from Jessica Bruder’s book by the same name
Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/23/20
Opens: December 4, 2020

Nomadland Movie

The people shown here may just be among those Americans who believe that the regular politicians never understood their way of life. After all, most people in Congress are well-to-do, almost all college graduates, many with degrees in law, finance, economics and even medicine. By contrast the itinerants in Chloé Zhao’s film are not likely to have seen the halls of academe. They do not live in big cities, they do not teach their kids how to ride a bicycle in the ‘burbs. These are the rural folks who, statisticians tell us. are the biggest fans of Donald Trump, who they believe is the first candidate for President who can relate to their way of life, however impossible this seems (if you see “Nomadland” and then take a look at Trump Tower in Manhattan, you may agree).

The film is adapted from Jessica Bruder’s 2018 book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century” by writer-director-editor Zhao, whose film “The Rider” is about a young cowboy whose head injury sends him on a quest for new identity in America’s heartland. Taking place not simply in our heartland but in what might be considered a rural enclave of any heartland, the story features Frances McDormand as Fern, in her mid-sixties, whose husband had died and whose town of Empire, Nevada suffers a similar fate when the gypsum mine for which everyone depends on employment goes belly-up. Even the zip code passes away in an area that could not be considered even a one-horse town.

Like Brady Blackburn, the injured cowboy in “The Rider,” Fern goes through a crisis. She takes off in her small rec vehicle, carving a new identity, wondering whether she can handle her unwelcome new independence. She runs into a virtual commune of elderly people who appear not to complain about their lives in the American West, taking warmth from the companionship of people like them. (Most are played by non-professional actors.) They take odd jobs to make ends meet, including temp work with Amazon during the Christmas season, and even there, as Fern tapes the boxes that are en route to tens of millions of homes, she looks so relaxed that you wonder about people who complain that Amazon exploits its workers—limited bathroom breaks, stop-watch timing and the like.

I think Zhao wants us in the audience to put ourselves in place of these people, and no doubt many of us imagine ourselves away from the hamster wheel, the rat-race, the belief that the American dream may consist not of the home with the white picket fence, two kids and a golden retriever, but at the same time not like that of the unfortunate homeless people who live in cardboard boxes in heartless big cities. Covering towns in what we new Yorkers may consider flyover country—Quartzite, Arizona, and bitter-cold South Dakota warmed by the campfire and the camaraderie of what some refer to wistfully as the real Americans… while enjoying sushi in a cozy restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side.

There’s even a chance of sixties-plus romance, as Dave (David Strathairn) shows how flirtation is easy when everyone is naturally friendly and non-exploitative. They part. They meet again. But what about money? Is working odd jobs in Amazon and baking doughnuts in fast-food joints able to satisfy the basics? You probably can guess the biggest expense. Remember that nomads, unless they are thumbing rides, are traveling in their own vans. What happens when they need not only gas money but a complete restructuring of their vehicles? Fern, for example, is quoted $5000 to get her broken-down wheels running again, and here’s where complete independence ends as she must hit up her sister for the money.

As you’d expect, this film does not follow the usual plot lines of commercial productions with beginnings, middles and ends, maybe some flashbacks and a slew of twists. The action is circular, and there really is not a heck of a lot of variety in Fern’s life. But isn’t there something enviable about enjoying the friendship of people who ask nothing in return, who are not out to pick your pockets?

The best thing about the enterprise is Frances McDormand’s awards-worthy performance. She is no longer the assertive but pregnant presence of Marge Gunderson in the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” or the justice-seeking Mildred of Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.” Here she is just another American seeking the American Dream in her own way, looking relaxed throughout but perhaps wondering whether she can spend the rest of her life as a wanderer.

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

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

A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK – movie review

A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK
MPI and Signature Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Liev Schreiber, Suzanne Smith, Olivia Boreham-Wing, Ben Warheit, Griffin Newman, Selena Gomez, Diego Luna
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/23/20
Opens: October 9, 2020 in the U.S.

A Rainy Day in New York Movie Poster

My fellow Americans, we’re in luck. There was a delay in opening “A Rainy Day in New York” until after Poland had seen this movie. This has something to do with objections that Amazon Studios had to its director, Woody Allen, who has never been found guilty of anything besides being our country’s top maker of sophisticated comedies and playing a mean Klezmer clarinet. Filmed in Woody’s favorite city, this latest entry features Timothée Chalamet as Gatsby, a rich college student who finds himself more creative amidst the carbo monoxide of New York’s than listening to the sound of Arizona crickets. Chalamet who introduced himself to the movie audience with “Men, Women and Children,” about life among high school students and parents changed by the internet, but he made it big in the starring role of a seventeen-year-old student in “Call Me By Your Name.”

Here Chalamet’s character Gatsby, son of a fabulously rich mother (Cherry Jones) who, near the conclusion explains to her son the unusual way she fell into money, has been dating the effervescent co-ed Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) at one Yardsley College. The young woman’s life changes when she makes her third trip to Manhattan.

Nothing much happens other than a roundelay that threatens their relationship, specifically Gatsby’s meeting with the witty Chan (Selena Gomez) who is taking part in a film and Ashleigh’s meeting with Roland Pollard, a director—who is probably not a stand-in for Woody Allen given Pollard’s drunkenness and rage when a movie cut is not going according to his liking.

All is filmed on location in some spots that no tourist leaves without seeing and other areas that are home to died-in-the-wool New Yorkers—including Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Carlyle Hotel, a director’s screening room. The picture belongs to both Chalamet and Fanning, though the twenty-five-year-old man may or may not be serving as a stand-in for Mr. Allen’s signature characters. He is confused, eccentric, at war with his rich mother who doesn’t “see” him and instead tries to mold him into the shape of her society. But he is not a nebbish, preferring to spend some time winning fortunes at the blackjack table, fitting in quite nicely with the older players who think mistakenly that they can take him for a ride.

The two anticipate a romantic getaway from college, spending a weekend during a moderately strong storm, but as they say, man plans and God laughs. She goes to interview Roland Pollard for her college paper; he has his own liaisons while she is busy. She is hit on by Francisco Vega (Diego Luna), who is followed madly by paparazzi, obviously sexier than her steady boyfriend. While he is trying to avoid a party thrown by his family in a palatial East Side home, he runs into Chan, the sister of a former girlfriend.

He has more in common with Chan, who is quick with the one-liners. When she hears that Gatsby’s girl is from Arizona, she wonders: “What do you talk about, cactus?” And, “I would invite you to lunch, but I’m all out of beef jerky.” In other words this is not the kind of movie that people in the red states might adore, given that many of them seem to think that “Make America Great Again” is Shakespeare.

The movie as a whole lacks the classic look and sophisticated charm of “Manhattan,” “Annie Hall,” and “Match Point,” and the delightful fantasy of “Midnight in Paris,” which makes one think that now at the age of 84 he may have to settle for “just pleasant.” I may be wrong: we’ll be sure to check out his upcoming “Rifkin’s Festival” (a married American couple go to the San Sebastian Festival, and who can resist any film with Christoph Waltz and Wallace Shawn?

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

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

 

THE SWERVE – movie review

THE SWERVE
Epic Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dean Kapsalis
Writer: Dean Kapsalis
Cast: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell, Zach Rand, Taen Phillips, Liam Seib
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/3/20
Opens: September 22, 2020

The Swerve Movie Poster

Though the movie is called “The Swerve,” a word which means “to change direction abruptly,” we can see where the plot is headed early on. This is a slow-burn film, all the better to watch an impressive performance from Azura Skye in the principal role of Holly. There is something wrong with this middle-aged woman, aside from the anorectic look and face that appears to be reliving past memories that were not too favorable. Her medicine cabinet proves that she’s not well, the shelves loaded with medications, though we don’t know whether her depression is generic or, more likely, the result of living in the suburbs.

Dean Kapsalis’s freshman full-length entry, a meditation on mental illness, proves once again—as though we do not know from the suicides of rich and famous people like Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams—that a nice house, two apple-pie clean kids, and a husband, do not guarantee a grounded life. Correction: one of her kids, an overfed brat who, when asked by her mom to help with something, simply says “no” and walks away. The other lad interrupts her four times when she’s on the phone, asking for his shirt. The husband, Rob (Bryce Pinkham), is fooling around with Holly’s drunken, obnoxious sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) and grabs a little in the storage room of the supermarket where he has just made regional manager.

But wait! She has the loving attention of Paul (Zach Rand), a student in her high-school English class who works after school in that supermarket, and what can be better than for a woman in her late thirties than being followed by a hunky teen with a huge head of hair and the ability to grant her better performances than her husband? And what an opportunity to get revenge on her Rob!

She has nightmares, the coolest one showing her on a dark road followed by a truck with blinding lights and a Yahoo in the shotgun seat who leans out the window to shout insults. Because of her insomnia—which unfortunately does not last all night, resulting in torments of this sort—her doc ups her meds, bad advice, since that’s enough to destroy what little grip she still has on reality.

Non-credited actors in “The Swerve” are a mouse and an apple pie, both playing a role in the Shakespearean outcome of the story. Listen: I’ve got two bits of advice. Watch this movie principally for the stellar acting of Azura Skye, who last appeared in”Alien Code,” which involves otherworldly beings who probably seem like the otherworldly-looking Holly. And don’t even think of moving to the ‘burbs.

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

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

 

KAJILLIONAIRE – movie review

KAJILLIIONAIRE
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Miranda July
Screenwriter: Miranda July
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: September 25, 2020

Kajillionaire (2020) - IMDb

This is a movie for those who enjoyed the bizarre strains of Jared Hess’s “Napoleon Dynamite” about a red-haired oddball running for class president who gets help from a friend, and more particularly for fans of its writer-director, Miranda July, whose “Me and You and Everyone We Know” is about how people struggle to connect with one another in our contemporary world. Though petty crime is a subject, the need for human connection is the principal theme of “Kajillionaire.” The effort of one twenty-six year old girl to see what the normal world is all about makes this a (late) coming of age tale for one Old Dolion—whose very name is a signifier for the kind of strange person her family has made her out to be.

Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) is lacking the kind of love that we in the land of people pursuing happiness should want and expect. Like poor Oliver Twist, who joins a gang of pickpockets and knows little of the world other than that of petty scams, Old Dolio is not only lacking the intimacy parents should provide but serves as a scammer for her father Robert Dynes (Richard Jenkins) and mother Theresa Dynes (Debra Winger). Living in an office building next to a bubble factory owned by oddball Stovik (Mark Ivanir), the three are months behind on their rent of $500—overpriced even for L.A. where the dump should attract only squatters. The con game, in other words, has not been lucrative. What’s more the bubble factory next door leaves mountains of suds on their walls which have to be cleaned off regularly.

One of their most lucrative schemes finds them winning a trio of round-trip tickets to New York, which finds them heading right back to the West coast, claiming $1575 for lost baggage (Dad removes Old Dolio’s from the premises). Squeezed together in threes on the way back, they meet the excitable Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) who becomes a partner in crime with an “in.” At her mall job, she is invited into homes by elderly customers, where she suggests returning to one of the lonely people, a man in bed dying, who thinks that the two young women are family. They quickly appraise the antiques. Having lived in a box, Old Dolio now sees how normal people live and what’s more, a visit to a Positive Parenting class, she learns the kind of tender loving care that good mothers should give to their little ones.

Evan Rachel Wood, best known by large segments of people for her role as Dorothy Abernathy in the TV episodes “Westworld,” is a gifted actress whose performance here is matched by that of Gina Rodriguez, known for a similar role of female friendship as Jenny Young in last year’s “Someone Great.” As I specified earlier, this film is for a special audience who enjoy the kind of quirkiness that in a repetitious, roundabout way (in this case) a woman in her mid-twenties experiences the real world for the first time as though trapped all her life by a perv kidnapper. Not for me.

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

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

 

THE SWERVE – movie review

THE SWERVE
Epic Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dean Kapsalis
Writer: Dean Kapsalis
Cast: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell, Zach Rand, Taen Phillips, Liam Seib
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/3/20
Opens: September 22, 2020

Poster

Though the movie is called “The Swerve,” a word which means “to change direction abruptly,” we can see where the plot is headed early on. This is a slow-burn film, all the better to watch an impressive performance from Azura Skye in the principal role of Holly. There is something wrong with this middle-aged woman, aside from the anorectic look and face that appears to be reliving past memories that were not too favorable. Her medicine cabinet proves that she’s not well, the shelves loaded with medications, though we don’t know whether her depression is generic or, more likely, the result of living in the suburbs.

Dean Kapsalis’s freshman full-length entry, a meditation on mental illness, proves once again—as though we do not know from the suicides of rich and famous people like Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams—that a nice house, two apple-pie clean kids, and a husband, do not guarantee a grounded life. Correction: one of her kids, an overfed brat who, when asked by her mom to help with something, simply says “no” and walks away. The other lad interrupts her four times when she’s on the phone, asking for his shirt. The husband, Rob (Bryce Pinkham), is fooling around with Holly’s drunken, obnoxious sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) and grabs a little in the storage room of the supermarket where he has just made regional manager.

But wait! She has the loving attention of Paul (Zach Rand), a student in her high-school English class who works after school in that supermarket, and what can be better than for a woman in her late thirties than being followed by a hunky teen with a huge head of hair and the ability to grant her better performances than her husband? And what an opportunity to get revenge on her Rob!

She has nightmares, the coolest one showing her on a dark road followed by a truck with blinding lights and a Yahoo in the shotgun seat who leans out the window to shout insults. Because of her insomnia—which unfortunately does not last all night, resulting in torments of this sort—her doc ups her meds, bad advice, since that’s enough to destroy what little grip she still has on reality.

Non-credited actors in “The Swerve” are a mouse and an apple pie, both playing a role in the Shakespearean outcome of the story. Listen: I’ve got two bits of advice. Watch this movie principally for the stellar acting of Azura Skye, who last appeared in”Alien Code,” which involves otherworldly beings who probably seem like the otherworldly-looking Holly. And don’t even think of moving to the ‘burbs.

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

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

 

PAPER SPIDERS – movie review

PAPER SPIDERS
Cranium Entertainment/Idiot Savant Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Inon Shampanier
Writer: Natalie Shampanier & Inon Shampanier
Cast: Lily Taylor, Stefanía LaVie Owen, Peyton List, Ian Nelson, David Rasche, Max Casella, Michael Cyril Creighton,
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/18/20

You do not often see a movie featuring the closeness that a mother and daughter can have for each other, which makes it all the more fortunate that Dawn (Lili Taylor), a middle-aged widow, might be helped to a semblance of emotional health by her daughter Melanie (Stefanía LaVie Owen). Bearing the possibility that “Paper Spiders” is semi-autobiographical, given the details cited by the husband-wife writing team of Natalie Shampanier and Inon Shampanier and directed by Inon Shampanier, “Paper Spiders” gives its audience the feel of what it’s like to be not schizophrenic, but almost hopelessly delusional (if that brings to mind anybody in the present U.S. government, you’ve been following politics).

You can almost swear that Owen and Taylor are an actual mother-daughter team; that’s how empathetic they are, and that’s how convincing albeit unwise that an eighteen-year-old girl might actually give up a full scholarship to a prestigious college and transfer to a local one to take care of her mom. There’s nothing fancy about the direction here; little of no animation, special effects, flashbacks, all the more bringing a sense a authenticity into the action which is at first comic, then spiraling into a more serious analysis of what it means to have a treateable, but uncurable, emotional condition.

Lacy’s paranoia would be comical if it were not pressing. She believes her neighbor is spying on her, throwing rocks at her house, stalking her; even at one turn when she develops a serious pain in her head, she is certain that he has a machine in his home that can mess with her mind. She is a constant embarrassment to her daughter; causing an uproar at her high school graduation that stops the proceedings, and earlier, during a tour of potential students, suggests that a library open to students even at 4 a.m. is flirting with danger, and by the way “What are the crime statistics of the college?”

For her part, Dawn possesses maturity in her sacrifices to help her delusional mother but enters movie coming-of-age territory when she learns, through Daniel (Ian Nelson), a persistent, handsome and rich boyfriend with a Beemer convertible, to drink beverages stronger than Virgin Mary and at about the same time to lose her virginity.

Comic interludes include meetings of the principal characters with Mr. Wessler (Michael Cyril Creighton), an awkward campus social counselor who relies on reading descriptions of mental illness right out of the DSM, the antics of a private investigator, Gary (Max Casella), and the frustrations of Lacy’s lawyer boss Bill Hoffman (David Rasche) who after six years finally gets the nerve to fire his paralegal.

If the writers and director are getting things right, we find out that paranoia does not come up to the surface at every moment, but relaxes enough to allow for unforced comic moments from the fine acting of Lily Taylor.

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

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

 

THE CLIMB – movie review

THE CLIMB
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Angelo Covino
Screenwriter: Michael Angelo Covino, Kyle Marvin
Cast: Kyle Marvin, Michael Angelo Covino, Gayle Rankin, Talia Balsam, George Wendt, Judith Godreche
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 11/4/19
Opens: TBD

As Cole Porter so eloquently composed,

“Friendship, friendship,
Just a perfect blendship,
When other friendships have been forgot,
Ours will still be hot.”

We like to think that our childhood friendships would last forever, but while the Four Aces note “those wedding bells are breaking up those old friends of mine,” adultery could have the same effect. At least that’s what we learn from Michael Angelo Covino, who directs and co-stars in “The Climb,” which he wrote with Kyle Marvin. And wouldn’t you know that the director and both writers are in the starring roles as well?

“The Climb” is a shaggy dog story, the kind of picture that true lovers of small indies adore. Avoiding a formulaic, tightly constructed tale of bromance (a close but nonsexual partnership of two or more men, one that goes beyond mere friendship,) director Covino expands on his eight-minute Sundance short to unfold the off-again, on-again lifelong pal concept, winding up by showing that no matter high the hills that these two guys climb on their bikes, notwithstanding the threats to their bond that would surely tear most people’s friendship asunder, they wind up where they started. Have they changed during six or more years in which the events take place? Yes, but not all that much.

Toying with a series of vignettes as though each scene were parts of continuing shorts that takes place a day, a week a month, or half a dozen years apart, Covino opens his movie as two bikers traverse the beautiful scenery of the South of France, the huffing and puffing symbolizing, perhaps, that life has its, well, huffs and its puffs, its highs and its lows. The principals of the movie use their own names, which should signal that this could well be a biopic of two characters whose diverse personalities complete each other. Kyle (Kyle Marvin) is a shlubby fellow, the kind that women like to marry because, as one woman states, they “will always be there.” But Mike (Michael Angelo Covino) is a daredevil, a risk-taking ladies’ man, the sort that honorable women would love for a fling but would steer clear of marrying. But Mike is something more, something that’s not at all nice. He interferes with his pal’s love life, doing his best to break up Kyle’s liaisons as though fearing that he would lose his bosom buddy to a woman.

Much of the humor is deadpan, dry, the kind of jocularity that some people cannot understand (“Huh, you think that’s funny”?) but others practice regularly as though to test the intelligence of their listeners. Mike breaks up Kyle’s engagement to Ava (Judith Godreche), who insists that she loves Kyle even while Mike is kissing her. Conveniently she dies, leaving Mike to challenge and try to disrupt Kyle’s engagement to Marissa (Gayle Rankin). He has the audacity, though with a secret plan, to tear into Kyle once again: While they bike in France, he blurts out “I slept with Ava.” Later, during Kyle’s courtship with Marissa, he announces, “I slept with Marissa.” You usually do not find these admissions freely made, but of course Mike opts for the statements with his own narcissistic glee.

Covino and Marvin, real-life best friends with more than enough artistry to evoke a story that seems only partially fictionalized, but do not dominate the entire movie. We don’t know much about Ava who died soon enough, but Marissa has a sturdy segment focused on her character—a strong woman who pushes the mostly passive Kyle to be a better man (he loves her for that) and who declares her love for Kyle right up to a riotous wedding scene turns physical. An extended look at a family Thanksgiving feast but one without a turkey (the Golden Retriever manages to grab and eat the whole bird, leaving a digested turkey on the floor) highlights Mike’s alcoholism. In one scene he topples the Christmas tree but Sara Shaw’s excellent editing of Zach Kuperstein’s lensing highlights moments of such high drama by cutting away quickly, leaving us in the audience to figure out what happens seconds later, and even to wonder how much time has passed between each vignette.

The writer-director shares with his co-writer a love for French songs as the soundtrack is filled with big, bold music that might remind you of the wit and wisdom of Jacques Brel. Marriages come and go, but friendships like those of Kyle Marvin and Michael Angelo Covino are for life.

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

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

LOVE CHILD – movie review

LOVE CHILD
PBS
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eva Mulvad
Writer: Eva Mulvad
Cast: Sahand, Mani, Leila
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/14/20
Opens: September 14, 2020

love child

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his people asked him how it went. The good news is “I got him down to ten,” the lawgiver said. “The bad news is that adultery is still one of them.” Commandments notwithstanding, adultery is probably more common than killing, stealing, even dissing your mother and father. I’ll bet more people say OMG than drink Coca-Cola, so forget enforcing decrees against taking The Name in vain. While we in the West love soap operas with every kind of description of sex outside marriage, parts of the world are just no fun. In Iran, if you’re guilty of violating the Sixth Commandment, you are in deep doody.

The government of Iran says not only Death to America but when they get a chance they think Stone the Adulterers. In this doc, a dramatized one which makes it the kind of nonfiction story that evokes the same audience interest as a narrative drama, Sahand and Leila have a love child conceived four years earlier in Tehran. Mani, the title character, does not understand why her mother and dad are eager to leave everything behind in Iran, but in a way it’s because of him. He is the physical evidence that he was created by his mom, but not by the guy back home who somehow, after three years of marriage to Leila, left her, well, a virgin. The Iranian court would not grant Leila a divorce which even our Catholic church would make short shrift of with an annulment. Instead the judge said “Pray and watch TV.” Maybe they don’t have good stuff on TV like our Drew Barrymore show, and yet somehow, not explained, she does get the divorce.

They’re not looking for a place to exploit workers and make a fortune like people in some countries. They want only to live. They are an educated couple, speaking Farsi, Turkish, English, even Azeri which should make them welcome in many countries, but first they fly to Istanbul and begin a paper chase. They seek refugee status from the UN High Commission for Refugees, which sends their fate into the hands of a byzantine bureaucracy; not ironic considering that they’re filing from Byzantium. They check the UNHCR website eager to hear whether their plea for refugee status is granted, which would allow them to apply for passage to Canada or Australia among other places, but Mani decides for them. He wants America. He never heard of Trump. But Turkey is inundated with Syrian refugees—give the Turks credit for opening their borders to (shock) Muslims (!) and appearing ready to allow them to stay for years if they wish.

As stated above, this is a doc that’s in the welcome format of a narrative drama, one that even takes on the momentum of a thriller. The three stars are not professional actors, but you’d never know. Their lovey-dovey chats and arguments are likely to have been scripted by Danish writer-director Eva Mulvad, whose doc “A Modern Man” is about a Norwegian-English elite violinist, but they sure seem real. Makes you wonder why people go to acting school when all you need is a good director like Ms. Mulvad.

A compelling drama with subtitles in Farsi, Turkish, English and Azeri.

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

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

 

A CHEF’S VOYAGE – movie review

A CHEF’S VOYAGE
First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rémi Anfosso, Jason Matzner
Cast: David Kinch, Jean-André Charial, Glenn Viel, Alain Soliveres, Gérald Passédat, Koji Yokoyama, Courtney Weyl, Chkristine Muhklke, Jenny Yun, Mitch Lienhard, Jim Rollston, Julie Strangier, Grant Waller, Jean-Benoit Hughes, Eloi Dürrbach, Renata Ameni, Kristopher Lord
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/21/20
Opens: September 18, 2020

Poster

There are some things I didn’t know before seeing “A Chef’s Voyage.” For example, did you know that the word “restaurant” derives from “restore” or “refresh?” Do you feel either restored or refreshed when you finish a Happy Meal at Mickey D’s? Oh, the banality of that corporation’s food—though they should be praised for giving their customers affordable meals. One wonders whether people even think of what they’re eating since Big Mac, medium fries and a Coke are indulged in so frequently that you can’t blame customers for spending more time texting their Facebook friends even when seated with a real live pal who gets ignored. But enough snobbery.

A Chef's Voyage - A Chef's Voyage $4.99 - SOMM TV

Now David Kinch, the star of this documentary, knows how to refresh and restore his customers and his staff alike, though his cuisine is likely more expensive than a Happy Meal. The red-haired, blued-eyed, scruffy-bearded owner of a 3-star Michelin restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos, California since 2002 also wrote a 328 page cookbook “Manresa: An Edible Reflection” together with Christine Muhlke, but Kinch did not get a coveted third Michelin star by reading someone else’s cookbooks. Though the movie does not bring out his training, he started at New York’s “The Quilted Giraffe” and worked his way up, cooking even at a place in Fukuoka, Japan, learning from the great chefs of Europe like Dieter Müller.

What we do know about David is that he’s quite a personable fellow, speaking to his movie audience with humility, intent on telling us that to get those Michelin stars he needed not only to know how to use ingredients but also to motivate his staff since, “Who wants to train new people every year?” And his staff seems to love him especially since he took this contingent of people in their mid-twenties to France, presumably paying their fare, but that’s not clear. As the group plans the trip—some of whom had never traveled outside the country—they wondered what they should carry and even whether the airport officials would seize the sauce which took five days to prepare, but David assured them to be minimalist: underwear and abalone.

He was invited by top chefs in Marseilles, Paris, and a village Les Baux in Provence to show what he’s got, that perhaps even Californians can teach the great French a thing or two. So, with his own crew, he would get up a seven in the morning to start preparations which, in Marseilles, could mean catching fish which must be used on that same day. As the French restaurateurs look on, he and his young staff would prepare food California style for the customers, whom we never see.

The areas are striking, beckoning us not only to salivate on the food but to walk about picturesque Marseilles whose chefs use olive oil but never butter or cream, the medieval-looking village of Les Baux in Provence, and also Paris, whose chefs make omelets like David with both oil and butter. The owner of the Marseilles establishment emphasizes the need for a staff to respect one another, and allow each person to adapt an identity—a personal style like a film director.

The most savory dish to me is the combination of duck, lobster, clams and mussels which, if soup is added, would be a nifty bouillabaisse.

The film has value to us in the audience less from the food—which may be awesome but you can’t taste it from your movie seat especially if you’re indulging in popcorn. More from watching and listening to David dressed in a sweatshirt with the word “bread,” talk about his experiences, how he grew into loving food, how he worked his way to that coveted Michelin third star, and how, when all is said and done, he can be perfectly happy making an omelet—with oil and butter.

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

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

 

STARS AND STRIFE – movie review

STARS AND STRIFE
Starz
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: David Smick
Screenwriter: David Smick
Cast: Alan Greenspan, Alice Rivlin, Amy Chua, Arthur Brooks, Chrissy Houlahan, David Ignatius, Derek Black, others
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/17/20
Opens: September 21, 2020

Stars and Strife Poster

Are we Americans destined to have the Stars and Strife forever, or are we simply at a crossroads today when so many formerly in the majority middle are increasingly separating into hostile forces reminiscent of Civil War times? David Smick’s documentary feature puts together a rousing bunch of leaders in both politics and economics to debate the current state of the U.S. while at the same time setting forth their views on our political divisions. Some spokespersons—and there are quite a few—believe the problems of democracy center on class differences while others believe that differences of race and religion are big factors. All believe that we can get together as we thought we were during the post-war period of prosperity in the 1950s and a largely global belief that America was where it’s at—though this would obviously dismiss the segregation that persisted well after the Civil War right into the present.

Stars and Strife Doc Trailer

Perhaps the best quote summing up the picture is the view that the opposite of hate is not love; it’s empathy. You’re not going to sing Kumbaya with people who do not see the world as you do, but listen listen listen. Implicit is the thought that what turned people in the rust belt, the rural areas, the blue-collar workers against the so-called elites in the coastal areas is that they have been looked upon by large segments of our people and politicians as hicks, racists, backward people living in flyover country. Democrats have lost many of these folks who believe that the party has been concentrating too much on ideas like gay rights, gay marriage, civil rights, all associated with identity politics, when they should have followed the wisdom of Franklin D. Roosevelt who, though a member of the aristocracy, won successive terms by showing regular people that he was on their side. (The FDR bit is not in the film, but a thought that came to me while watching a host of ideas sent out with the speed usually associated with blockbuster films.)

The most entertaining aspect of the picture is the use of animation and especially silent films starring Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd when the subject matter of each illuminated the issues in discussion. A lot of excellent editing by six film professionals kept the film moving ahead enjoyably. While twenty-four spokespersons introduced their pet ideas, President Trump is neither mentioned nor seen throughout, which is strange, since his actions are largely what informs the commentary.

Speakers who impressed me most include Hawk Newsome, President of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, who in one stirring evocation of his civil rights plank actually led to his being hugged by two members who appeared to be of white supremacists’ ideology. To further that end, Derek Black, the Godson of Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, appears in various sections explaining his abandonment of white supremacy ideas, as though he had an epiphany in college. Some fellow students googled his name, deciding to have nothing to do with him when he was found out.

What causes hatred? One speaker noted that the resentment of Germans after World War I led to the most vicious authoritarianism and that similarly, there is resentment by the aforementioned blue-collar, working class people, who lost their promised careers when factories closed and work was sent overseas. Resentment leads to humiliation, which gives birth to anger and finally hate.

One way to curb extremism in politics involves putting aside the two-party system, which encourages extremism of both the left and the right to get votes, and to allow independents the chance to win local and national elections. Voters check off their preferences in order: 1,2,3,4. Say you have four candidates. If the first candidate does not get 50.1% of the vote, a clear majority, the person coming in fourth is eliminated and the remaining three may get a clear majority when second and third choices are utilized in the voting. (This is a fairly complex procedure that my group, New York Film Critics Online  uses, as in each category, we write up to three choices.)

Here’s a point not directly mentioned in the film but which I come away with. The speakers, like so many of us in the fifty states, would like to come together, some willing to compromise as was the case when Democrats and Republicans were still speaking to one another. But take abortion. Would the so-called pro-life people be willing to compromise and allow abortion on demand during the first trimester? And would the so-called pro-choice folks be willing to give up the possibility of banning second- and third-trimester procedures? And immigration. Would the forces on the right wing of the spectrum be willing to accept a substantial number of immigrants from, say, Central America? And would they be willing to give up all possibilities of buying AK-47 rifles and other assault weapons while the left ponders whether to allow guns in most civilian hands at all?

Because “Stars and Strife” is fast moving, the spokespeople not acting like the usual ponderous talking heads of so many docs, the film can surely be recommended to a general audience. While those of us who are “woke” are familiar with just about everything mentioned during the 97 minutes, many Americans follow politics the way I follow basketball, which is not at all. This is obviously a film more interested in compromise than the excellent “#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump,” it may lack some of the rah-rah feelings that anti-Trump residents would come away with. But it’s fine as both a primer for those alienated from the fighting and an entertaining, informal piece for all.

The film is directed by David Smick, whose recent book The Great Equalizer: How Main Street Capitalism Can Create an Economy for Everyone warns of the dangers of the present subpar global economic growth rates.

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

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

 

SYBIL – movie review

SIBYL
Music Box Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Justine Triet
Screenwriter: Arthur Harari, David H. Pickering, Justine Triet
Cast: Virginie Efira, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Gaspard Ulliel, Sandra Hüller, Laure Calamy, Niels Schneider
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/11/20
Opens: September 11, 2020

Poster

There are reasons that people choose the professions that they do. If you needed glasses at age five, you learn about eyesight and become an optometrist. If your life was saved by a surgeon, you think of going to medical school. If you love films, you want to promote them and you become a publicist. If you hate films, you become a critic. So what makes people want to be psychotherapists? Going by the presumptions shown here, you’ve had problems since childhood. The result? You deal with other people’s issues, and by lying on the couch yourself, you learn about your own. This appears to sum up the principal character in Justine Triet’s “Sibyl,” by a director whose “Sur Place” (2007) tries to analyze the student protests in France a year earlier.

Still of Virginie Efira in Sibyl (2019)

In this case the title character Sibyl (Virginie Efira), a young psychoanalyst, peels off many of her patients in order to find time to devote to writing novels. How to overcome potential writers’ block? Her choice is to use her patients’ narration of problems in the proposed book, and for that she centers her novel on Margot Vasilis (Adèle Exarchopoulos) because of Margot’s intensity. Tearful to a fault as well as conflicted about (it seems) everything, Margot is pregnant by accident, wants an abortion because she needs to work full time in her profession as an actress, schedules the abortion, then cancels, schedules it again, cancels again. Igor (Gaspart Ulliel), the father, is the lead performer in a love story directed by Mika (Sandra Hüller), alias “the bitch,” as some of her stars justly call her.

While Sibyl secretly records Margot’s rants, she brings up memories of Gabriel (Niels Schneider), a previous boyfriend, since isn’t that the kind of thing that shrinks do when they’re bored silly by their patients’ jibber-jabber? You wonder, sometimes, why Sibyl is willing to give up a good part of her income in paring down her patient load to write, when she is advised that in our current age of distraction, writers “have little influence.” With the extra time, she agrees to follow Margot to her romantic film location, since after all, Margot asked her to go and what psychoanalyst would refuse such a reasonable request from a patient?

Mixed in are two occasions of Sybil getting hand jobs from two guys, and one intense scene that finds her on the carpet with a lover getting it on. The film is marred in a few ways. One is that the scenes are constantly changing abruptly when Sibyl’s imagination takes hold. A more straightforward chronological approach might have worked better. On the streamed version that I saw, much of the dialogue was badly dubbed to the extent that words would come out though a character’s lips are no longer moving. Still, Sibyl is an interesting character, one who wants to break free of the daily chatter of her patients—including her youngest client with whom she plays Monopoly as a way to get him to talk more of his hangups—to live more dangerously, including drinking to excess.  In French, Russian and English with English subtitles.

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

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

 

BUOYANCY – movie review

BUOYANCY
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rodd Rathjien
Writer: Rodd Rathjien
Cast: Sarm Heng, Thanawut Kasro, Mony Ros, Saichia Wongwirot, Yothin Udomsanti, Chan Visal
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/2/20
Opens: September 11, 2020

Buoyancy (2019) - IMDb

Watching this movie, I couldn’t help thinking of the line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” “There are lots of good fish in the sea, tra la, there are lots of good fish in the sea.” We are warned that there’s a limit to the number of fish in the world’s oceans just as there’s a limit to the amount of oil in the ground, but you wouldn’t know it from the catches of a small fishing boat under the rule of the Thai captain, the unhappy catch shoveled into a pit for future sale by a group of enslaved Cambodians. Forget Gilbert and Sullivan because there is no comedy in “Buoyancy,” Australia’s entry for an Academy Award for pictures opening in 2019. If you have to compare, think of Nat Turner’s rebellion in the Virginia of 1831 or of Steven Spielberg’s film “Amistad,” its most heartbreaking scene finding a group of enslaved Africans chained together and thrown overboard by the captain.

Filmed by Michael Latham in Cambodia with Khmer and Thai dialogue, “Buoyancy” is directed by its screenwriter Rodd Rathjien, in his freshman full-length offering. This is an intense, slow-burn drama based not only on a singular event in the life of a 14-year-old boy but standing in as well for human slave trafficking in Asia involving some 200,000 victims.

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too bright, to think for yourself, to take risks like the hero of “Buoyancy.” Think of Chakra (Sarm Heng), whose father uses him to carry heavy sacks for use in farming rice in paddies without pay, though his dad simply has too many kids to set up a wage-earning business. Like the human caravans we in the U.S. are familiar with, the thousands of migrants from Central America who cross into the U.S. with the hope of making something of their lives, Chakra seeks to make his fortune by being smuggled into Thailand, where he is told he can make some 8,000 bahts ($255 U.S.) a month in a factory. Instead, after crossing into Thailand, Chakra and his traveling friend are sold to Rom Ran (Thanawut Kasro), the captain of a fishing boat, where they are treated like unwanted animals. Those who grumble learn quickly enough to keep quiet. Instead of complaining verbally, formerly innocent Chakra asks Rom Ran when their debt will be paid. After that he projects his dismay, his rage through his facial expressions. He does not smile once though Thanawut Kasro as the skipper loves to smirk when he announces such finality that Chakra will be on the boat “forever.”

Chakra learns soon enough that he will get nowhere following Martin Luther King Jr.’s counsel to meet hatred with love, and forget about the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi. Violence will be the only way out, leading to the audience-expected treat that finds Chakra executing a coup d’état to take over the captaincy.

Sarm Heng doesn’t say much but his expressions serve as sign language for us in the theater. Yet the real guy to watch is Kasro in the skipper’s role. He toys verbally and physically with Chakra, and in at least one scene you might expect him to make Chakra a sex slave as well. No wonder they say that all actors aspire to the role of villain! What’s more Kasro, unlike Sarm Heng, is a professional actor with an impressive résumé, including a role in “Samurai Ayothaya” ten years ago, based on a historic figure during the Ayothaya Era about a Japanese adventurer who gained influence in Thailand.

I’d be seasick on this small boat every waking hour, which would be enough punishment for me. Yet I would have to count my blessings that I am not one of the tens of thousands of poor, innocent young people caught up in the vile human trafficking industry in the South China sea.

The film won various well-deserved awards including Best First Feature at the Berlin International Film Festival. In Khmer and Thai with English subtitles.

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

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

 

THE MOLE AGENT – movie review

THE MOLE AGENT
Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Maite Alberdi
Screenwriter: Maite Alberdi
Cast: Detective Romulo, Sergio
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/6/20
Opens: September 1, 2020

A still from The Mole Agent by Maite Alberdi, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Alvaro Reyes.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

You will not be able to see the new James Bond thriller, “No Time to Die” until November, but you might consider “The Mole Agent” a story that will tide you over until then. Like 007’s “Quantum of Solace,” this one is filmed in Chile but with an all Chilean cast. Directed by documentary filmmaker Maite Alberdi, whose “The Grown Ups” takes on a group of friends with Down Syndrome attending the same school for forty years, “The Mole Agent” may look like a scripted drama but is a surprisingly adept documentary. There are three deaths and several robberies involved, yet there is not a gun, a knife or an axe to be found. Instead of an Aston Martin, a jet boat or a ski lift, there’s just one wheelchair and an array of benches. And instead of prison, you have an old folks’ home, but the characters may not consider the place much better. Replacing Q is a private eye named Romulo, and the most danger that faces Sergio, an 83-year-old spy, is being proposed to, even physical mauled, by a woman about his own age.

The Mole Agent poster

Though the unusual ad in the newspaper asks for a man between the ages of eighty and ninety, a reader might suspect that something is fishy. As Sergio says in his interview, old people are never recruited for paying jobs, which is one thing that Chileans and Americans have in common. Though some technical proficiency is required, Sergio has to be trained to use a cellphone: how to communicate with the detective, what buttons to click and when. And he must memorize the face of Sonia, called in code the “target” of the investigation.

The motif is that a middle-aged woman whose mother is in a nursing home in Chile suspects that the older woman may be the subject of abuse, not an unusual idea since even some expensive assisted living dwellings involve unprofessional caretakers who take out their frustrations on the defenseless clients. Since some filming had been done at the home earlier, nobody need suspect that Sergio is not a new patient but a man hired to spy on them for three months. Since women live on average six years or more than men, Sergio is the talk of the elderly women from the time he arrives, particularly since he is gentlemanly, courteous, well dressed, ready to start conversations with any who might respond. All but one cranky woman express themselves.

The one problem they seem all to have is loneliness. Sure, they’re surrounded by women about their own age but these people are not their families. And as my mother used to tell me “Old people do not want to be surrounded by old people.” They long for visits from their sons and daughters, and one woman of about ninety years converses on the phone with her mother who is criticized for never visiting. (The home has one of its staff pretend to be the 125-year-old woman.)

It’s obvious that there would be no abuse in the nursing home when cameras are trained on the staff and their clients and, indeed, the place looks like it could be mistaken for a comfortable, albeit not luxurious retirement community. The floors shine, the rooms, except for one, are clean. The staff are ready to help is someone falls.

Sergio may have no favorites, certainly not the unfortunate two or three women who are completely bedridden, but he does listen to one woman’s poetry, though he is critical: his favorite poems rhyme and these do not. The strangest thing is that you may wonder why these women have to be in nursing homes at all, with the exception of a few who have Alzheimer’s and cannot remember having conversations with Sergio just hours earlier. They are not in wheelchairs, they do not watch TV or play bingo, so the documentary filmmaker can concentrate on the chats that Sergio has with several women.

Pablo Valdes films the proceedings in San Francisco, Chile, with almost all the action taking part within the building and in the surrounding grounds, where only the solitary cat seems happy to be alone all day, his time occupied by cleaning himself. Near the conclusion, a woman with a stroke is taken away in an ambulance, in a scene that reminds us that this is not narrative fiction. One critic notes that this is the most heartwarming spy movie of all time, and though I haven’t scene all in the genre, I’ll take his word for it. You may come away recalling the expression “Old age is bad but it beats the alternative,” but given the dreariness and sameness of the days here, you would not be blamed for challenging its veracity.

In Spanish with English subtitles.

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

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

MY PRINCE EDWARD – movie review

MY PRINCE EDWARD
Cheng Cheng Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Norris Wong
Writer: Norris Wong
Cast: Stephy Tang, Pak Hon Chu, Hee Ching Paw
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/26/20
Opens: September 2, 2020

Right up until the mid-1960s, all my single friends and I lived with our parents, even though we had already pushed into our early twenties. On second thought not all. One of my pals moved out of Brooklyn into a small apartment in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan. The rest of us thought: what’s wrong with Steve? Doesn’t he get along with his folks? Predictably, our parents did not want to lose us so quickly, insisting “You can move out of here when you get married. You don’t want to go off alone.” What’s wrong with going off while single? Who knows? Happily, times have changed.

This brings us to Norris Wong’s “My Prince Edward” which takes place in the Prince Edward area of Hong Kong’s North Kowloon where most of the action takes place. The principal character, Fong (Stephy Tang), has a rebellious spirit. She no longer wants to “live at home” as we say when we don’t mean “home” but mean “with our parents.” Yet for reasons surrounding Hong Kong’s culture, she thought she would have to get married to do so. So she sets up a sham marriage with Yang Shuwei (Jin Kaiijie) from Fuzou on the Chinese mainland, which “allows” her to move away to the mainland and gain more freedom. In return Yang is able to fulfill his desire get a permit for Hong Kong by marriage to her. Years later she’s back in Hong Kong, this time living with Edward (Pak Hon Chu), and continues to live with him without marriage for years, bristling at Edward’s mother, who dominates her son, and confused because the chemistry with Edward just is not there. The two work in a bridal shop with Edward serving as photographer.

Edward discovers years later that his girlfriend had this fake marriage, is furious, then realizes that she and her fake husband never lived together as man and wife but in fact are trying to jump bureaucratic hoops to get divorced. If we see Edward as representative of the Hong Kong culture, the city does not come off well. Mainland China turns out, contrary to the view most of the world has, to be more culturally progressive than Hong Kong, as Yang, though he is about to marry a woman he got pregnant, wonders why Fong is so intent on marrying. “No one rushes to get married any more,” Yang says, obviously, apparently summing up the view of the people of his mainland city. Presumably, given the steady rioting of Hong Kongers against the incursions of the mainland, politics is a different story.

Norris Wong, who wrote and directs an impressive first film and whose Facebook page can be found here https://www.facebook.com/norrisfilm/, evokes performances all around by characters who are more than representatives of marital ideologies but are sympathetic people: one who is fully independent (Yang), one who is still a schlemiel (Edward), and one (Fong) is in the middle on the cusp of greater maturity, independence and happiness. Perhaps the best representative of a trait is the tortoise that Fong buys because the poor reptile has flipped over on its side, its vulnerability treated with empathy by its purchaser who wishes it to be turned back and regain independence.

The film is in Cantonese and Mandarin with subtitles in both Mandarin and English.

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

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

 

#UNFIT: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DONALD TRUMP MOVIE REVIEW

#UNFIT: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DONALD TRUMP
Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dan Partland
Screenwriter: Dan Partland
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/1/20
Opens: September 1, 2020

Poster

I think that the best way for a political documentary to get its points across is with humor. In that way, a filmmaker can undercut potential opponents who would be so entertained that even they would appreciate what they are seeing. Think of Michael Moore’s exposing of political foibles in “Fahrenheit 11/9,” in “Bowling for Columbine,” and especially in “Sicko” where Moore attacks the sorry state of American medicine, how it provides great benefits only for those who can afford expensive insurance or have terrific jobs like members of Congress and the Supreme Court. But “#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump” is one major exception to the humor rule. Dan Partland’s doc is so hard-hitting, so exquisitely edited, with so many people who are tops in their fields making major points against Trump, that this would probably be the year’s best non-fiction offering.

Poster #unfit: The Psychology of Donald J. Trump  n. 0

Not that it tells us anything new! That’s not what is so important. If you are politically woke, if you follow the news channels, especially the most truthful ones (i.e. those that Trump brushes aside as deliverers of fake news), you will not be surprised by the revelations here. The great benefit is that Partland hits us in the guts, drums in the danger that our republic is facing as we head down the road to fascism, and how fascistic leaders are taking power in countries as diverse as Brazil, the Philippines, Poland, Hungary and Turkey. (Duterte in the Philippines has no problem advocating the execution of the country’s three million drug pushers and addicts.)

Image result for UNFIT THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DONALD TRUMP POSTERS

But wait! There is some humor here after all. What you may remember most is a comment by Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted all of eleven days as Trump’s flack because his followers in the White House could not forget that he voted for Hillary and that he antagonized them, a hedge fund winner who could not adapt to the requirements of the political world. “Trump is not a racist,” he announces, to which the audience for the doc wonders whether he is sneaking in support for the President. “He treats everybody like shit.” Good one. Think about that. Is it true? We hear that he provides a toxic work environment, that those he praises one day he trashes the next. He thinks the world of Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, John F. Kelly, Kirstjen Nielsen, Steve Bannon (good riddance), John Bolton, H.R. McMaster and scores of others. He changes his mind not only about his staff, whose members are fired regularly, but about policy. He announces an attack on Iran but cancels ten minutes before the bombs start falling.

Definitive analysis of Trump by top US mental health experts. Science. Truth. Duty to Warn. We ALL have an interest in this discussion. THIS KICKSTARTER HAS ENDED - CLICK BELOW, VISIT OUR WEBSITE, SUPPORT THE FILM, CLAIM A REWARD.

The most damaging accusations, at least in this film, are from psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, who are obligated to remain silent about people’s personalities unless they have seen them and put them on the couch. But there is an exception: shrinks are allowed to go public with other confidential information when they believe a patient is a danger to others, such as when a patient on the couch announces that he is going to go home and kill his girlfriend. (In that case, the psychologist remained silent: the patient went home and killed his girlfriend.)

Trump is like that person, except that as one interviewer notes, his narcissism, his paranoia, his sadism and his anti-social personality are a threat to all of us, not only domestically but globally. When members of the cast talk about the President’s power to unleash a thermonuclear war, we should worry. In fact the accusations against the man in the White House are so incisive that the documentary’s viewers may wonder why he has not unleashed the dogs of war, particularly when he said (he was not joking) that what is the purpose of nuclear weapon if we do not use them?

If you watch the news, think about his speeches. He unloads statements not once or twice, but three times or more. He may use the term “fake news” three times in one speech. By the third time, the crowd believes him. He follows the tactics of other authoritarians around the world like Duterte in the Philippines, Bolsanaro in Brazil, Erdogan in Turkey, to rally the people. One person who knew Trump up close said that he read Hitler’s speeches. No, he is not Hitler, but he uses the same template to sway the population. There exists in this country a broad swath of people, those whom Hillary unfortunately labeled “deplorables,” who believe that they have been ignored by politicians. They went for Trump because he spoke their language, he convinced them that he hears them and that he vows to make the country great again. The wonder is, given his shrugging off of the dangers of the coronavirus and the fact that these people have not done any better economically during his tenure, they continue to support him wildly.

Some time is given over to animations, a particularly good cartoonish one shows an obese man with yellow hair marching quickly to his own drummer. Jane Goodall gets some photographic time studying chimps, noting that while at first they cooperate with one another under a head chimp, eventually the crew become so large that they break into two groups. One group attacks the other, beating the animals to death. Their own kind! Therein lies an incisive metaphor for our polarized society today.

There is one major point that Partland glides over. One man cannot do what Trump is accused of doing. He might have added that Hitler would not be able to kill six million Jews if he did not have enablers; that is, people in various countries as well as in Germany who helped him with that gruesome job. Trump could have been stopped in his tracks if he did not get the political support from a Supreme Court whose votes can be predicted with fair accuracy in advance of any case. Nor could he have had reactionary federal judges appointed if he did not control a Republican majority in the Senate, who, despite previous opinions they may have had about Trump’s inability to lead the nation, now praise him with obnoxious sycophancy. Mitch McConnell is another hypocrite who years ago denied even a hearing for Obama’s choice for a Supreme Court vacancy because he said that a President in his final year should have to wait until after the election. Now, the Senate majority leader notes that in the case of a Supreme Court vacancy during Trump’s last six months, “Oh, we’ll fill it.”

Dan Partland’s first documentary feature is astonishingly good.

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

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

MADE IN BANGLADESH – movie review

MADE IN BANGLADESH
Art Mattan Productions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rubaiyat Hossain
Screenwriter: Rubaiyat Hossain, Philippe Barriere
Cast: Rikita Nandini Shimu, Novera Rahman, Deepanwita Martin, Parvin Paru
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/13/20
Opens: August 28, 2020

Poster

According to Shimu Akhtar (Rikita Nandini Shimu), women “are screwed if we are married and screwed if we are not.” What we have here is a film about female empowerment and at the same time a plea to working women of Bangladesh, single or otherwise, to unionize their factories. Why do they deserve to be empowered as females? Because they’re tired of being pushed around by men. As for why unionization is important, take a look at your T-shirt from The Gap or Lands’ End or Macys. See if the label says “Made in Bangladesh.” Or El Salvador, Honduras, India, and Vietnam. What did you pay for a trio of these garments? Forty dollars? Did you know that such a sum could pay a woman who made those shirts, just three miserable shirts, for an entire month? Exploitation is rampant in struggling countries like dirt-poor Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), as factory owners can sell their clothing to buyers in the west for a price that the rich countries can well afford, and their use of downtrodden help can reap enormous profits—while at the same time screwing labor in the rich countries like the U.S. by smashing their garment workers’ unions like our ILGWU, denying them jobs altogether.

Made in Bangladesh (2019)

Rubaiyat Hossain, who directs and co-wrote “Made in Bangladesh,” is a female director now enlightening us in the theater audience with her third feature. She follows up her “Meherjaan,” an antiwar film about the dangers of extreme nationalism, and “Under Construction,” which like her current feature is about a Bangladeshi woman finding her way. With Shimu as principal focus, she highlights the pitfalls of marriage, a woman who dodges pressure to hitch up with a man twenty years older but is oppressed by her husband Reza (Shatabdi Wadud), who despite having no job and being supported by his wife demands her obedience to his dictates. What’s more she, her husband, and presumably most of the people living and working in the capital of Dhaka, are ground down in a poor country that Trump would call the opposite of his favorite foreign place, Norway.

After a fire in a deathtrap of a clothing factory causes the death of one worker, Shimu is asked by Nasima Apa (Shahana Goswami) to visit her office for an interview where she encourages Shimu to lead a struggle to unionize. She would need signatures of thirty percent of the workers to register the factory as a union plant, and while she succeeds, she is also taunted by the very people who signed who are now worried that they will be fired. Never mind that even if she wins the battle, if she overcomes the bureaucrat in the Ministry of Labor who tries to sabotage the attempt, she will get her sisters a monthly raise to a mere 4250 takas ($50 U.S. dollars), because geography is destiny.

Salbine Lancelin behind the lenses captures the hellhole of Dhaka, which can make us in America wonder why we call that Asian country “developing.” It has been developing since its creation March 26, 1971 in a split with Pakistan (also “developing”). We see the interiors, namely the factory and the sad excuse for a home for which Shimu is behind in payments. The bad guys are the men—all the bosses and oversees are male, and all of the workers are female, usually young.

This is a drama that may prompt us not only to admire the tenacity of a twenty-three-year old Bangladeshi Norma Rae, but to think about how we should spend our money. We could refuse to buy clothing made in countries that pay workers $40 a month, more or less, but then who would hire women like Shimu who could wind up living on the street? The plot is not complex and the good gals and bad guys are not nuanced, but literary value notwithstanding, “Made in Bangladesh” is an interesting movie to watch with the added benefit of evoking political discussions.

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

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

 

THE AUGUST VIRGIN MOVIE REVIEW

THE AUGUST VIRGIN (La virgin de Agosto)
Outsider Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jonás Trueba
Screenwriter: Itsaso Arana, Jonás Trueba
Cast: Itsaso Arana, Vito Sanz, Isabelle Stoffel, Joe Manjóln, María Herrador
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/1/20
Opens: August 21, 2020

The August Virgin (2019) - IMDb

Francisco Franco is turning in his grave, but that’s nothing new. The Fascist former dictator of Spain who took over the reins of government in 1939 after a bloody civil war is in hell, where Satan is forcing him to watch scenes of the new Madrid, the new Barcelona, places where even in 1972 when I visited, my wife’s travelers’ cheques in her own name could not be cashed without my written permission. Now all of Spain swings, the youth generation enjoying the freedoms which America is steadily losing under the thumb of our own Fascist-like leader. Eva (Itasaso Arana), the principal character in the film “The August Virgin” is testing this new abandon in Spain though is no longer eighteen to twenty-one years old, the years when college students engage in all-night bull sessions, aiming to discover the purpose of the universe.

Think about Eva, the primary focus of this tale told by the thirty-eight-year-old Madrid-born director whose third film, “The Romantic Exiles,” centers on three friends exploring and enjoying life, all to the end of showing the audience the joys of friendship and commitment. By co-writing and directing “The August Virgin,” he unwinds a story that resonates with his own existential condition, as he is in his thirties and a Madrileño. Eva, who has a background as an actress, is thirty-two years old, no longer committed to her former lovers, who wonders, like the rest of us, “Is this all there is?” Determined to reboot her life, to challenge herself to get out of her comfort zones, she behaves like someone still in college or trying to “find” herself belatedly. Many of us would consider the thirties and beyond too late to find the passion we may have had a decade earlier. To do this she leaves her living accommodations away from the center of Madrid, renting a room on her own, directly in the center. Giving herself the month of August to reconnect with life, she goes into the street during a month that the local people are away in Italy, Greece, whatever, though from what we see through Santiago Racaj’s photography is a bustling city filled (it seems) mostly with young people.

At first, without seeking men out, she and a girlfriend are flirted with by two Brits, one who has been teaching English for the past ten years, the other a Welshman who is visiting his friend. Nothing much comes of this save for a day or two of tentative friendship. At the cinema, she overhears two women of about her age discussing thoughts about having children. One is involved with a holdover from the late sixties and early seventies. She speaks of Reiki chakras—a laying on of hands with the aim of healing. Eva invites her to cast her spell on her. Eva’s major encounter, though, is with Agos (Vito Sanz). In the same way that she had taken the first step in introducing herself to the healer, she sees a gent about her own age staring at the water, smoking, and thinking that he may be contemplating jumping in, since he stands at a forbidden area closed to the public. She makes the first move. She sees him again mixing drinks behind a bar, walks with him back to his flat, and suggests to him that she might want to rent a room therein.

The director has sometimes been compared to Érich Rohmer, whose “My Night at Maud’s” is about a puritanical engineer marooned in a snowstorm who takes refuge in the apartment of an attractive divorcée. She tries to seduce him and fails: they spend the night shooting the bull. In other words, Rohmer’s film, like others of that director, is more talk, less action. We come away with the same thought from “The August Virgin,” whose title makes sense near the conclusion with a religious reference, signifying that you may invite each day without preconceived notions. That is the best way to discover new things, the spice of life. The tale is well acted by Itsaso Arana, who is also the co-writer, and should appeal to patient, intelligent people who are willing to forget that every film, theater piece and novel must contain conflicts. Eva may have internal conflicts, but without the usual ones—human against human or human against nature, “The August Wife” is, in the end, dull fare. Still, it could make you dream of a visit to Spain (when the Covid is over, of course).

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

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

TESLA – movie review

TESLA
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Almereyda
Screenwriter: Michael Almereyda
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Eve Hewson, Hannah Gross, Kyle MacLachlan, Lois Smith, Josh Hamilton, Jim Gaffigan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/4/20
Opens: August 21, 2020

Tesla (2020 film) - Wikipedia

Every American has heard of Thomas Edison, considered by some to be the greatest inventor of all time, but Tesla? This is a name made familiar to some of us for the electric car that could revolutionize the auto industry. Look at the 20,000-word article on the man in Wikipedia, note that he had 300 patents in his name, that he slept for two hours a night, that he wiggled his toes because that recharged his brain, that he remained unmarried and celibate because that influenced his work in a positive way. Then you realize that here is a man who not only changed the world with his inventions but whose very life should be explored given talents that would make him one-in-a-million. Make that ten million.

As played by Ethan Hawke, who bears a physical resemblance to his character, Tesla is a man of many ideas, selling some of his patents to Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) while in his employ. He tries to sell Edison on perhaps his greatest dream, alternating current, which he believes will revolutionize communication, but Edison, who talks much and listens little shows no interest. At any rate, MacLachlan’s Edison is the only gent in the film with a sense of humor, by which filmmaker Almereyda, whose “Marjorie Prime” about holographic recreations of deceased loved ones to allow a woman to see younger version of her late husband shows the Kansas-born writer-director to be a man interested in the influence of invention on a global future.

While we see so much of Nikola Tesla’s inventions at work, there is little doubt that Almereyda wants to explore the character of the man, who, despite needing money from J.P. Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz) resists love signals from the multi-millionaire’s daughter Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson). One look at a sporting event might cast cries of fraud from a movie audience, as J.P. Morgan hits the ball with his racquet while dressed in a suit and bowtie, while his two female opponents wear long dresses.

Though at times the film looks as though it could pass for an undergraduate class in physics, the film plays with surreal images and an imaginative reach that gives hints of how Tesla’s inventions would change the future, i.e. our present. At intervals Anne opens a laptop to Google Tesla and other figures, and Edison has no difficulty consulting his smartphone at a bar.

There is one scene that could involve even high-school students, most of whom would consider the movie too highbrow for their taste and age. William Kemmler (Blake DeLong) in 1890 became the first person to be legally executed by the electric chair, actually developed by a New York dentist using alternate current. The “hot seat” was promoted as more humane than hanging, but the debut execution in Auburn prison in New York State did not go well. The guards failed to see that, the convicted axe-murderer should have had his head shaved, though there is almost a comic way that Kemmler, fully dressed, wanders into the chamber to face a dozen or more witnesses standing near him, and sits down casually in the chair saying “I’m ready to go.”

All in all “Tesla” is brainy, imaginative, surreal and inventive, a drama which without MacLachlan’s Edison would be bereft of humor. It’s a highbrow version of what could have been a less daring and duller biopic, making its technique a welcome entertainment for the right audience.

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

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

GRIPPED: CLIMBING THE KILLER PILLAR – movie review

GRIPPED: CLIMBING THE KILLER PILLAR
1091
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Benjamin Galland
Screenwriter: Corey Fischer, Benjamin Galland, Donna Laemmlen
Cast: Kaiwi Lyman, Megan Hensley, Amanda Maddox, Natalie Duran, Bryce Wissel, Jacki Florine
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/4/20
Opens: August 17, 2020

Gripped Film Picked Up for Distribution, Announces Release Date ...

If you want a climbing movie with a plot, you’ll want to look back to Clint Eastwood’s 1975 “The Eiger Sanction,” wherein a a hit man, who is an experienced climber, is ordered to take out a climber. He sees three men scaling the Eiger in the Swiss Alps and does not know who is the true target. The plot is unbelievable, but so what? It makes for interesting action fare, scenes of the Alps, and an exciting motif. “The Vertical Limit” is another, also a ridiculous plot, but keeps the viewers glued as a young climber seeks to save his sister and a summit team before time runs out. “Shivaay” focuses on a skilled mountain climber whose daughter is kidnapped while he seems helpless to save her. Eleven percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but then again, there’s a plot.

The plot is not ridiculous in “Gripped: Climbing the Killer Pillar,” but Benjamin Galland in his sophomore full narrative feature doesn’t have much of a story, which makes one wonder why three screenwriters were needed when the chatter on level ground could have been improvised. The story takes place in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains featuring one thousand foot rock cliffs with enough cracks to place your fingers to propel you from the ground up.

The two leads, Bret (Kaiwi Lyman) and Rose (Amanda Maddox) meet up with others on the grouind, spending the first night drinking beer and partying. You can believe that Kaiwi Lyman would know how to scale a cliff given that he’s an outdoorsman, having played water polo, sailed, indulged in Brazilian jiu jitsu, surfed and acted as a magician, but as his bio states, nothing excites his more than being on the stage. It’s not that he should stick to the stage. The trouble is that the rock-climbing movie which is billed as a comedy but is really a romance in the great outdoors is not much of a watch unless you are yourself a rock climber.

In the movie’s favor is that there are no stunt people. The actors do their own rope-climbing and must worry that the head and shoulder injury faced by Bret would not be too serious. There is excellent cinematography by John Garrett, who may have done even more than the two climbers by lugging heavy equipment up the rocks—if indeed he got the close-ups and far shots from a neighboring peak.

Rose falls for Bret, not unusual given the man’s chick-bait looks with long blond hair and beard, a kerchief tied to his forehead, and since there’s nothing like danger to arouse the passions, the two hit it off hundreds of feet up, kid each other, find time to kiss, and Rose is able to save Bret (not the other way around) when the gent slips and hits his head and shoulder. While the folks back on land, Jade (Megan Hensley) and company rush into action when the two injured daredevils do reach the land, whatever amounts to a story is predictable. Still it’s a woman-empowerment film especially since the woman saves the rugged man.

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

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

AN AMERICAN PICKLE – movie review

AN AMERICAN PICKLE
HBO Max
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Brandon Trost
Screenwriter: Simon Rich adapted from his novella “Sell Out” in New Yorker Magazine
Cast: Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Sean Whalen, Jorma Taccone, Joanna Adler, Jeff Daniel Phillips, David Mattey
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/30/20
Opens: August 6, 2020

An American Pickle' trailer: Seth Rogen talks 'unique' HBO Max comedy

Rip van Winkel fell asleep in the borscht belt and woke up twenty years later. Or so he thought. “Fiddler on the Roof” focuses on the Jewish community in 19th Century Eastern Europe, its residents always watching out for the Cossacks. In the movie “Borat,” the title character, Borat Sagiyev, wanders to the U.S. from the Kazakh backwaters to interview people in the modern U.S. In David Mamet’s “Homicide” (1991), Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna), a police detective investigating a murder that takes place within an Orthodox Jewish community, is criticized by a Hasidic Jew for being secular, the latter wondering whether there is anything spiritually real in a cop who does not embrace his religion. All of these and more are channeled in “An American Pickle,” directed by Brandon Trost in his freshman offering and written by Simon Rich, based on the writer’s novella “Sell Out” which appeared in New Yorker magazine January 28, 2013. By the very title of this HBO Max production, you’d figure that it would be a comedy since, after all, isn’t Seth Rogen, veteran of “The End,” “Super Bad,” “Sausage Party” and “Sorority Rising,” one of the great comic artists in the movies today?

Seth Rogen's An American Pickle finds a home at HBO Max

Truth to tell, “An American Pickle,” which bills itself as a comedy-drama, or dramady, is sadly unfunny and its lesson on the importance of religion and family is generally superficial. The one big plus is that it takes place not only in Eastern Europe but mostly in my home town, Brooklyn. Oh but wait. It was filmed in Pittsburgh.

Let’s look at an example of Simon Rich’s original novella in the New Yorker.

One day at work I fall into brine and they close the lid above me by mistake. Much time passes; it feels like long sleep. When the lid is finally opened, everybody is dressed strange, in colorful, shiny clothes. I do not recognize them. They tell me they are “conceptual artists” and are “reclaiming the abandoned pickle factory for a performance space.” I realize something bad has happened in Brooklyn. The science men come and explain. I have been preserved in brine a hundred years and have not aged one day. They describe to me the reason (how this chemical mixed with that chemical, and so on and so on) but I am not paying attention. All I can think of is my beautiful Sarah. Years have passed and she is surely gone.

The initial twenty minutes or so takes place in Eastern Europe in 1820 when Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) courts and weds Sarah (Sarah Snook), supporting his new family with a job in a pickle factory. Assigned to swatting innumerable rats who begin to attack him, he falls into a barrel of pickles just as the factory is closing down for good. The lid is placed on the barrel, and the factory is unoccupied until Herschel wakes up one hundred years later, preserved in brine so that he has aged not at all. He goes to America where he learns of a relative, Ben Greenbaum (Seth Rogen in his second role!), who has been working on providing a logo for a website called Boop Bop. With a full beard and an Eastern Europe hat, Herschel quickly learns the meaning of “logo,” and is of course astonished by what he sees in Brooklyn and Manhattan—just as you and I would be if we woke up in one hundred years to observe people wearing strange outfits and speaking Esperanto.

He works at what he knows, selling pickles, obtaining cucumbers from a dumpster and sinking them in rain water and salt. At first he is a success covered by TV but has a falling out from his envious brother who retaliates against Herschel for involving him in criminal activities—seemingly ending Ben’s career.

Seth Rogen's An American Pickle Gets A UK Trailer

The virtues of national attention through TV interviews and features in lecture halls appear to propel the man onward and upward but he makes one mistake, and it’s a mistake that makes me worry about how the Christians in the audience for this movie will react. I’m all for free speech, but even the First Amendment (like the Second) has its limits. What Herschel states in answer to a question about Jesus and Mary is so despicable that it has no place in such a film. Couldn’t the producers have found some other screw-ups if they wanted to show the evanescence of fame? We get enough racist crap and Islamophobia weekly from Donald Trump. There’s no need for disparagement of a religion with billions of followers. Sure it’s OK to kid as does the movie “I, Pastafari” (a bizarre group of people follow a religion whose god is a flying spaghetti monster) which opened July 7th and has all of eight reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. But this is going too far.

Ultimately, the picture turns sentimental, when the brothers reunite after their schism, announcing that family is important, and (according to this picture) so is religious ritual. But there is not much in the way of either comedy or drama, though the visuals—which allow Seth Rogen to play both roles, even to hug each other seamlessly—are awesome.

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

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

MADE IN ITALY – movie review

MADE IN ITALY
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: James D’Arcy
Screenwriter: James D’Arcy
Cast: Liam Neeson, Micheál Richardson, Lindsay Duncan, Valeria Bilello
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: August 7, 2020

Made in Italy (2020)

The most salient feature of “Made in Italy” is that the conflict between father and son is acted by the tale’s actual father and son. This is not unusual: you’ll find similar examples in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1973 feature “Paper Moon,” in which Ryan O’Neal and his real daughter Tatum play out a Depression era film about their partnership. Closer to the “Made in Italy” theme, Kiefer Sutherland portrays a bitter gunslinger, John Henry Clayton, who attempts to make amends with his estranged father Reverend Samuel Clayton (Donald Sutherland), while their community is besieged by ruthless land-grabbers.

If you have ever had not just a disagreement, but more closely a situation in which your conflict with your parent emanates from a lack of emotional closeness, you will relate strongly to “Made in Italy.” As filmed by Mike Eley in the gorgeous Tuscany town of Montalcino in central Italy—perhaps one of the best places that a father and son can work out issues of emotional distance—we see that Robert (Liam Neeson) has not been the most honest and direct guide for his son Jack (Micheál Richardson). (Micheál is the actual son of Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, the story poignantly reviving our memory of the actress who died tragically in 2009 of a head injury while skiing on Mount Tremblant in Quebec. Micheál one of the couple’s two children.)

The story kicks in when Jack, who made a great success managing the art gallery in Britain owned by his wife Raffaella (Helena Antonio), determines to buy the place at about the time the two are finalizing their divorce. Raffaella allows Jack one month to raise the money, which Jack expects to have after he and his dad, each with a half ownership of a house in Tuscany, find a buyer. They discover that the place is a wreck, though filled with memories of Jack’s mother. And what better time for a dad and his twenty-five-year-old son to get to know each other than by taking a road trip, then working together to fix up the dilapidated structure to make it salable? We learn that Jack and Robert have barely spoken with each other for years, and more importantly, that after Jack’s mother died in a car accident, his father sent him away to boarding school as though unable to establish a closeness that such a tragedy could engender.

During their time painting together, fixing up the place, and entertaining prospective buyers, Jack meets Natalia (Valeria Bilello), an accomplished cook who runs a booming restaurant and who wins the hearts of both the young man and his dad by cooking a dish that the two men call “amazing.” (Aside: if you did not have the delightful experience of traveling in Italy, you may not realize that there is no such thing as a bad meal anywhere in that country.)

The film is written and directed by James D’Arcy in his freshman narrative film, the London-born gentlemen having a large résumé of acting roles including that of Colonel Winnant in the spectacular war movie “Dunkirk.” If you can’t get a bad meal in Italy, you’d have difficulty finding a bad performance from Liam Neeson. The big news is that his son Micheál Richardson, with two more movies announced this year and who performed with Liam Neeson in a leading role in the revenge picture “Cold Pursuit,” does such a good turn here that you’d think he was emoting with his real dad!

The story can be sappy and the plot thin, but the picture is a keeper for the sumptuous scenery and a particularly vivacious turn from Valeria Bilello as the bilingual chef. Try not to envy the folks on the night that she served a full house of happy diners, talking, laughing, and eating magnificently.

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

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

SONG WITHOUT A NAME – movie review

SONG WITHOUT A NAME 
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Melina León
Screenwriter: Melina León, Michael J. White
Cast: Pamela Mendoza, Tommy Párraga, Lucio Rojas
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/29/20
Opens: August 7, 2020

Theatrical: Song Without a Name (Canción sin nombre) :: Film Movement

From the looks of the Peruvian scenes in “Song without a Name,” you can bet that if President Trump saw this movie (if indeed he saw anything more recent than “Gone with the Wind”), he would compare the place with an adjective that he would never give to Norway. Melina León, who directs and co-wrote the tale in her freshman entry into full arthouse fare, focuses most of her attention on three people. One is the desperately poor Georgina (Pamela Mendosa), her partner Leo (Lucio Rojas), and an enterprising journalist from Lima, Pedro Campos (Tommy Párraga). They are living in a time that Peru is under constant terrorist attacks during the 1980s from Shining Path or Sendero Luminoso.

The plot kicks in when Georgina, who lives in a remote wooden shack a long bus ride and walk outside of the capital, is shown in her ninth month of pregnancy, perhaps wondering how she will ever raise enough money to find an obstetrician let alone to support her first baby. She is vulnerable enough to be taken in by a radio ad announcing that a clinic is Lima would give her free medical assistance if she chose to give birth there, and without the wherewithal to check out the place—which doesn’t resemble anything I’ve seen in Planned Parenthood clinics—she reports to the place thinking that she lucked out. Women speak gently to her, they help her up from the patient table, and tell her that her child is a girl. The mood changes ominously when she asks to see her daughter but is told to come back tomorrow, which sends Georgina into a screaming fit. She pounds on the doors of the “clinic” the next day only to find out that the place is closed, the staff having moved out swiftly.

The plot is adapted from actual happenings when Peru was scandalized by the thefts of babies to be sold abroad. It’s not clear whether the Shining Path guerrillas were involved in the theft or whether high officials in the government were part of the scheme. With inflation hitting 400%, Peru in 1988 when the film takes place was not unlike Venezuela and not the kind of country that care much about indigenous women like Georgina who follow a bureaucratic maze trying to get government officials even to listen to her.

If this were a Hollywood movie, the differences would be monumental. Assault rifles would make entrances every ten minutes, the photography would be in brilliant color particularly when covering village festivals (remember the opening scene in “Spectre” exhibiting the colorful “Día de los muertos” parade?), and the editing would be racing. Crime would not pay. Instead director León pays great respect to the freshman script co-written by Michael J. White, prioritizing atmosphere over action and dialogue. With a boxy aspect ratio of 4:3 and black-and-white photography, “Song” is replete with long takes with a variety of close-ups, especially during the meetings of the brave reporter with a gay, Havana-born boyfriend, though there is little psychological depth given to any of the characters.

The movie might be compared to “Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón’s awards-winning look at the life of a maid in a rich Mexican household, but aside from the black-and-white photography and the theme of social inequities, “Song without a Name” has no great use for that picture’s flash and images of the upper-middle-class family.

Press notes mention that this film is based partly on the exposé in 1981 of a trafficking ring that smuggled babies for sale to Europeans and Americans, and in fact one senator consulted by the journalist hints that the government was involved. “What can that woman offer to her baby?” yields the politician, the obvious intent being that the newborns will be far better-off in the developed world. The title song is recited by a newly relaxed Georgina when she ultimately realizes that she will never again see her baby. And it’s not only right-wingers in America who would agree with the senator, wondering what in heaven’s name a twenty-year-old woman living in a wooden shack out in nowhere trying to eke out a living selling potatoes and onions in Lima is doing giving birth.

The bold white subtitles translate the story’s Spanish and Quechua into English. Hardly a brash, political doc on the level of “The American President” and “All the President’s Men,” this film is more a poetic tone poem, a Liszt “Les Préludes” compared to Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” and should be enjoyed by an intelligent, patient audience.

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

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

SUMMERLAND – movie review

SUMMERLAND
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jessica Swale
Screenwriter: Jessica Swale
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Lucas Bond, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Penelope Wilton, Siân Phillips, Tom Courtenay, Amanda Root
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/22/20
Opens: July 31, 2020

Poster

If you’re a fan of World War 2 movies you might have seen the stirring Warner Bros. films “Into the Arms of Strangers” (2000) about the Kindertransport, wherein thousands of children were sent from Nazi-dominated Europe to relative safety in the UK. Now comes something similar; a tale of heroic actions by which women in the rural areas of the UK were volunteered temporarily to take in kids living in London during the blitz, transported to the safety of the sticks. “Summerland,” which gets its title from a pagan heaven, is Jessica Swale’s freshman output as a narrative film, a solikd beginning which is mostly a casually-paced drama of a solitary writer with a cantankerous personality that makes none of us wonder why she is still single. However, in flashes of her backstory, we find her living happier moments during a romantic relationship with another woman who must sadly abandon her because she wants nothing more than having a regular family.

The picture is bookmarked by the older Alice (Penelope Wilton) who in 1975 pecks away at her typewriter, having completed a novel based on her wartime experiences. During the early stages of World War II, Alice (Gemma Arterton), then in her mid-thirties, learns that she has been drafted to take in Frank (Lucas Bond in his third feature film), a boy of about 13 who has arrived from London with a father who is in the British army and a mother who is looking out for the lad’s safety during the blitz. Since Alice has been attacked by the local riff-raff kids who consider her a witch because she is a woman living alone, we don’t need to wonder that she agrees, kicking and screaming, to take the kid in “for a week.” Predictably enough, young Frank is about to find a place in her heart, an organ that appears semi-comatose since her lover Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) left her to find a man and raise some kids.

At first Alice barely speaks to Frank, who is expected to clean and cook while she is writing a thesis debunking pagan myths, including that of Summerland, a land of eternal summer, with grassy fields and sweet flowing rivers, perhaps the Earth before the advent of humans. a Frank is not deterred. He shows genuine interest in a picture book about the legends and in one situation actually “sees” this Summerland, which is nothing more than a fata morgana.

Given the place in which women have been kept for centuries as people who should keep quiet unless spoken to but should relish nothing more than baking cookies, raising kids, and cleaning, this woman is among those who, when the men are off fighting, are called for tasks needed for the war effort. In this case it’s for the vitally important job of taking in children to save them from the bombings in London. In the movie’s major twist, we learn more about how Alice was picked for this particular child.

The story is deepened by the companions that Frank makes in the new school, particularly of Edie (Dixie Egerickx), who at first is afraid to join her new boyfriend Frank at the home of “the witch” but softens up when she discovers that Alice may be a normal woman after all. Tom Courtney, sounding like Peter O’Toole as Mr. Sullivan, the school’s headmaster, is well cast as a good soul who, now about eighty years old is doing what he can do best for the war effort.

“Summerland” is a woman-centered film bolstered by Gemma Arterton’s role through a variety of emotional storms—heartbroken to lose her lover, fearful of having to give up the boy when his mother is ready to take him back. This is a gentle tale with moments of high drama. filmed by Laurie Rose at Seaford, East Sussex, in England’s south coast.

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

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

REBUILDING PARADISE – movie review

REBUILDING PARADISE
National Geographic Documentary Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ron Howard
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/23/20
Cast: Erin Brockovich, Michelle John, Phil John, Matt Gates
Opens: July 31, 2020

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water, the fire next time!”

Before peace can rain with Satan cast into a bottomless pit and world peace is symbolized when the lion will eat straw like the cow, our earth will be cleansed by fire. Part of that prophesy comes true though nobody in Paradise, California considers themselves cleansed when on November 8, 208, the town of Paradise looked more like hell than like the geographical entity it was named for. Whether the mother of all fires could have been prevented were it not for climate change is surprisingly glided over in this heartfelt documentary. For those of us who live in big cities, we get quite a picture of what it’s like to live in a small California town. What comes across by the film’s conclusion is that Paradise is a community in which the people are not the types who go bowling alone and who do not join groups, but rather down-to-earth, get-the-job-done sorts of folks that have the spirit, the gumption, the cojones to rebuild after mourning the 85 people killed in the fire—one while in his wheelchair and others who could not escape the flames in their cars.

A documentary about the Camp Fire recovery efforts was premiered ...

Most Americans are familiar with California names like L.A., San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, and the like but may be appraised of Paradise when global news in November 2018 reported the disaster felt by the 26,000-strong residents of Paradise. The film’s director Ron Howard boasts a long résumé of acting and directing credits including his “Frost/Nixon” which is a retelling of the famous interview between David Frost and the disgraced President (“When the President does it, it’s not illegal). This time he visits the besieged town, allowing us to eavesdrop at a series of meetings filled with people both tearful and angry, though the most dramatic moments, which pop up now and then, are scenes of fires that appear to presage the end of the world.

Though perhaps hundreds, even thousands of residents are determined to leave the place for good given the possibility of yet another conflagration in these days of rapid climate change, others are staying put, emboldened by large groups of supporters who fill large auditoriums with their meetings and hear of contacts with bureaucrats in FEMA who may or may not kick in adequate funds to rebuild as though this were Europe in 1945. FEMA did, at least, provide mobile homes temporarily to house the newly homeless, probably doing a better job than any government group did when in 2005 New Orleans was turned into an American Venice.

Matt Gates is in the hero’s seat, a local police officer who on November 8 helped his townspeople to get to safety even as his own digs are wiped out by the flames. Erin Brockovich, who built a case in 1993 against the villainous Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), takes a cameo, while schools superintendent Michelle John, whose husband makes sure that the class of 2019 gets a full-scale outdoor graduation, presides of the ceremony. (By the way, at the packed-to-the-gills meetings of the community, where are the high-school kids?)

The doc seems made by National Geographic Documentary Films primarily for TV use. More information should have been forthcoming about how or whether PG&E—who sent an executive to the meeting to apologize for the corporation’s negligence—will make the residents whole and to what extent the residents are helped by their homeowners’ insurance.

95 minutes. 132 minutes with a Q&A. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

YES, GOD, YES – movie review

YES, GOD, YES
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Karen Maine
Screenwriter: Karen Maine
Cast: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/16/20
Opens: July 27, 2020

giclee Poster - Yes God Yes (Natalia Dyer) 2020 Movie 12"x18"

Horace, one of the wise men of ancient Rome, once said, aturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. Latin may be a dead language but it’s alive enough to know the proverb’s truth, which is: “You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but it will always come back.” In other words, no matter what we say, no matter what homilies we think we live by, we are all hypocrites if we think we can really fight against our natural inclinations, both emotional and sexual. Here’s an example. Some time back some teen-age girls in high school took oaths of virginity administered by the Catholic church and some Baptist denominations—to refrain for intercourse until marriage. According to the poll, by graduation day, 75% of the girls had lost their virginity. Which brings us to this comedy taking place in a Catholic high school somewhere in a rural district composed of handsome homes and youngsters from the middle class.

“Yes, God, Yes” sounds like a stereotyped version of what women scream in the midst of an organism, or it could refer to kids who say “yes” to Jesus but are not likely to abide the strict rules of the church. You’d have to ask Karen Maine, the film’s writer and director in her freshman contribution to the world of narrative comedies. She situates the scene amid high schoolers who are well behaved and who seem not to tell jokes about how nuns rapped their knuckles in grade school or by the funny conversations among a priest, a rabbi and a minister who meet in a bar. There are no gross-out scene that might be typical of the Farrelly brothers in “There’s Something About Mary,” but even better, the comedy comes from situations that might very well take place in a parochial institution.

While the school’s priest, Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) and pregnant teacher Mrs. Veda (Donna Lynne Chaplin) lead a four-day retreat that includes senior class would-be devotees as student leaders, Alice (Natalia Dyer), a bright but confused 16-year-old, recalls the priest’s lecture back in class to the effect that Jesus does not want unmarried women to have sex. He explains that men are like microwave ovens and women are like conventional ovens; the former get turned on in a second, the latter take some more time to be in the mood. We watch nature overcome Catholic rules over the course of the brief, 78-minute story, as even Father Murphy must succumb to the wisdom of Horace’s proverb and so does 17-year-old Nina (Alisha Boe).

Perhaps the boldest epiphany driving the movie occurs during a scene in a lesbian bar a short walk from the retreat when Gina (Susan Blackwell), the owner, asks Alice what goes on in the retreat, and dishes out wise counsel to the young woman who until then thinks she has no choice other than to go to college a half-hour from home. Look into colleges in the east coast and west coast to get your education, she advises—which makes you wonder what she’s doing in a one-horse town. Eat sushi. That half-hour meeting will likely be more convincing to Alice than anything she learns from the school or her home.

If the movie is anti-Catholic, it generally pulls its punches, allowing even the pious in the audience, while listening to an array of songs both original and known, to pick up its gentle message without urging everyone to boycott the picture. As Alicia, Natalia Dyer, who came of age in real life with her role as Nancy Wheeler in the Netflix horror series, “Stranger Things” (33 episodes), is an absolute charmer whose frowns clear up as she knocks her school officials down a peg or two.

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

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

MOST WANTED – movie review

MOST WANTED
Saban Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Daniel Roby
Screenwriter: Daniel Roby
Cast: Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Josh Hartnett, Stephen McHattie, Jim Gaffigan, J.C. MacKenzie, Rose-Marie Perreault
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/4/20
Opens: July 24, 2020

When I was in third grade in 1945 I learned that the policeman is my friend. In fact the teacher said that we should call policemen “officers,” and “police” and never use the word “cop” because that was a slang term that the authorities would not like. It means we do not respect them. Things have changed since 1945 when the worst thing a policeman would do was to get a doughnut in the local coffee house and not pay for it.

In June, as though the coronavirus was not enough of a burden for us, the country faced an uproar of protests against the senseless killing of a suspect who was murdered by four cops for the horrendous offence of paying for cigarettes with a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. The idea that there is a thin line between a cop and a criminal, that a policeman can either way, may be extreme, but on top of that we have racist officers not just in the south but in a midwestern blue state, Minnesota. For those who still doubt that the law can be a rogue, just check out movies like “Training Day” (2001), “Bad Lieutenant” (1992), and “Internal Affairs” (1990). A new, sad tale of corruption among the people who are supposed to protect act comes out of Saban Films, and it’s “Most Wanted” written and directed by Daniel Roby, following up “Hold Your Breath” about the struggle of a family to survive while Paris fills with a deadly gas. “Most Wanted” is more down-to-earth with some enlightening shots of Bangkok, surprisingly filmed on location though one would expect the Thai government would object to having a scandal rubbed into its face.

“Most Wanted” is inspired by a true story that takes place mostly in 1989, when Daniel Léger (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), a low-life heroin addict with no criminal record, is set up by rogue cops in Vancouver, though the police are not so much interested in entrapping the usually penniless guy than in having him negotiate the purchase of ten kilos of heroin—for which they could get far more money in Canada than they would have to pay in Bangkok. Légar was caught, found guilty, and escaped the death penalty for heroin smuggling by pleading guilty (after his conviction!), then sentenced to one hundred years in a jail that would make you wish you had not pled guilty and accepted the death penalty. (For stark contrast compare the jails in Norway where prisoners get their own private rooms with cooking equipment.) He would have been incarcerated still were it not for Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett), a journalist who acted as a one-man Innocence Project, searching for a way to get a page one scoop for his newspaper, desperate for money since he had just had a baby.

Convincing the editor to finance a trip and warned that if he did not come back with a scoop he would never find a job again in the newspaper business, he is motivated even more when his gut tells him that the man may still be guilty, but that as an ameliorating factor the police had paid for his trip from Vancouver to Bangkok: hotels, meals, the works. The film meanders with several time changes, catching up with Légar as he gets a job on a fishing boat from Picker (Jim Gaffigan) who seems like a nice guy but who is involved with the conspiracy to get the heroin. Similarly guilty are a trio or quartet of shady police who, together with Picker pay so much attention to a loser like Légar that he gets sucked into the sordid plan.

Best performer is Montréal-born Antoine Olivier Pilon as Daniel Léger, with twenty-three film credits in his résumé, quite an accomplishment for a twenty-three-year old. Josh Hartnett exudes the electricity running through his body when he is on a mission, buffeted by several roadblocks. However, the movie is so spliced up that you might have to watch for a half hour before you realize the zig-zaginess of the editing. For that reason, “Most Wanted” cannot be enthusiastically recommended.

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

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

GUEST OF HONOR – movie review

GUEST OF HONOR
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Atom Egoyan
Screenwriter: Atom Egoyan
Cast: David Thewlis, Luke Wilson, Laysla De Oliveira, Tennille Read, Rossif Sutherland, Tamara Podemski
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/27/20
Opens: July 10, 2020

guest-of-honour-poster-600x867

A sleazy bus driver is obsessed with a beautiful young woman. A depressed and confused father cannot understand why her daughter, in jail for a crime she did not commit, resists all chances for release. While Atom Egoyan, whose “The Sweet Hereafter,” about complications following a tragic accident involving schoolchildren may be his best film, he now presides over a relationship that brings out the character of both Jim (David Thewlis), the dad, and his adult daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira). To the movie’s credit, the performance by David Thewlis, the emotional center of the film, is superb, and Egoyan is able to evoke an accomplished job from De Oliveira. However the zigs and zags of time are so frequent and distracting that we wonder why he could not have played the story straight.

The story is framed by a conference between Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) and Father Greg (Luke Wilson), a priest. After her father dies, Veronica wants to give the minister clues to her dad’s life for the eulogy, though the details she reveals may be simply too truthful for the testimonial. She describes Jim’s profession, that of a food inspector in Ontario with the power to close down small businesses. She seems cheered when remembering how much care and attention he paid to her pet rabbit Benjamin when she was away from home conducting concerts with the school orchestra. But she has no problem raising one issue that caused her trauma. When her mother was ill with cancer, she saw Jim holding hands with another woman, an observation Jim defensively tries to refute.

After driving the teacher and the kids to a concert, Mike (Rossif Sutherland), the driver, gets into Veronica’s cell phone and texts a message pretending it is from one of the youngsters. When Veronica realizes that the driver is the guilty party, she stages a prank in which she pretends to have sex with two of her underage boys in order to drive Mike crazy. She feels so guilty for her own actions that she goes willingly to jail for statutory rape and refuses a chance to be released. Melodramatic as this venture can be, Jim’s search for redemption is the real heart of the film. He is a failed restaurateur turned Ontario food health inspector, willing to close down restaurants with a single inspection almost as if he is getting revenge on those successfully plying the food trade. He finds a rat in one place, sniffs at the temperature of the meat, and in one dastardly deed he plants rabbit poop in the men’s room of one restaurant for reasons that become clear. The highlight occurs when he threatens to close down an Armenian place for processing meat on the premises, a violation of code. When days later when a large, boisterous party enjoys the rabbit meat, honoring him for keeping the place open,even making him the guest of honor. The sad, hesitant speech he delivers to the bemusement of the crowd sums up buried feelings.

In several scenes, Thewlis wears a green shirt with green slacks and jacket amid a background of sickly green, the colors becoming warner as the story continues. While granting that the convoluted plot, a characteristic of Egoyan’s general directing, may keep the audience on edge, withholding information to tease an audience into wondering about a payoff, in this case the technique goes so far that the plot is too muddied.

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

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

MY WONDERFUL WANDA – movie review

MY WONDERFUL WANDA (Wanda, mein wunder)
The Match Box
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bettina Oberli
Screenwriter: Cooky Ziesche, Bettina Oberli
Cast: Agnieszka Grochowska, Marthe Keller, Birgit Minichmayr, Jacob Matschenz, André Jung, Anatole Taubman
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/15/20
Opens: TBD at Tribeca Film Festival in New York

Wanda, mein Wunder (2020)

A 2013 film by Bettina Oberli, “Lovely Louise,” shows how a charismatic American, arriving to the home of a taxi driver living quietly with his mother, turns their lives upside down. Similarly, the Swiss director in a stunning entry to be shown at this year’s Tribeca Festival, shows how the arrival of a caregiver in Poland to a wealthy family in Switzerland turns the lives of an elderly man, his wife, his son and others will upset their staid but lavish home life while at the same time getting more than she bargained for as well.

Set in three chapters and an epilogue, the Swiss language production “My Wonderful Wonder” finds Wanda, the title figure, barely able to cope back in Poland with parents who, despite their education, are not employed but who are taking care of her two children while she is away on her new job. Since Josef (the Luxembourg-born André Jung), the seventy-year-old Swiss paterfamilias, is bedridden having suffering a stroke. He needs to be fed, exercised and bathed, and who better to do that not his wife Elsa (Marthe Keller), but the thirty-five-year old Polish helper, Wanda (Agnieszka Grochowska). Now Josef may be ill but he’s not dead and, despite the stroke has sexual needs which Wanda fulfills (the extra CHF’s will come in handy).

Once Wanda is pregnant, she puts the family in such a tizzy that only their dog Mephisto takes things as calmly as ever. Secrets are revealed regarding Elsa’s inability to have a child, and in a dinner party that begins to take on reverberations that we’ve seen in the Danish film “Celebration), the master’s son Gregi (Jacob Matschenz), due to take over the corporation upon his father’s death, is shown to be as incompetent as our own chief executive. At the same time Sophie (Birgit Minichmayr), suspicious of the alleged conspiracy by the maid, pressures her to go back to Poland.

As Wanda is accused of theft of the money from the household and a belief that she will blackmail the household for a large payment, several twists appear. When Wanda’s Polish parents show up, charges and countercharges show that there is much business to settle before the newborn baby’s fate is sealed.

“My Wonderful Wanda” is a delightful comedy of manners satirizing people previously living in insulated contentment with their spectacular Swiss villa by a lake, their complacency shattered by events led by a poor Polish woman who can speak fluent German despite the low pay she initially accepts. The dialogue is sharp and revealing, though English subtitles, too small and too indistinct to be followed easily, are about as bad as you’ve ever seen. Perhaps when the film is shown on the big screen—should the Tribeca Festival be revived after its postponement from the coronavirus—the translation will show up with greater clarity.

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

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – C (because of poor subtitles)
Overall – B+