MIDNIGHT FAMILY – movie review

MIDNIGHT FAMILY
1091
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Luke Lorentzen
Screenwriter: Luke Lorentzen
Cast: Juan Ochoa, Fernando Ochoa, Josué Ochoa, Manuel Hernández
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/1/19
Opens: December 6, 2019

Midnight Family Movie Poster

Question: When is an ambulance chaser not a hungry lawyer? Answer: When it is another ambulance. In Mexico City where the population is a hefty nine million, there are only forty-five certified, government vehicles to transport people to hospitals during emergencies. What’s more, the government hospitals are not as equipped as the private ones. So what happens to a victim of a car crash? What is a baby falls from a window and lands four stories later with a concussion? How do Mexicans pay for their rides in an ambulance, much less have money left over for a private hospital? In some respects “Midnight Family” takes the side of capitalism. Government is limited. Enter the private sphere where ambitious drivers chase accident victims and often try to outrun competing ambulances.

Watch this documentary, for which Stanford graduate Luke Lorentzen, an Art History and Film major spent six months riding in the back of an ambulance. He observed the Ochoa family during that time to gain just eighty minutes of prime footage. By the time you complete the visit, you might move politically to left (put more pesos into the public sector so that Mexicans, like Scandinavians, Germans, French and British are not bankrupted by the health care industry), or you might move to the right (leave it to the private market and you will find enough people motivated by money to take up the slack). But politics aside, this is an exciting picture that does not overstate its welcome, a documentary that eschews the old tried-and-boring interview process, showing, rather than telling, about how Mexico City handles its patients in emergencies.

Before you begin to think about the ethics of the Ochoa family, the most mature being seventeen-year-old Juan, put yourself in the back seat of a private ambulance, at the spot where sits the pudgy, chips-eating small fry who might be of the next generation of ambulance chasers. You pick up a guy with a bullet in his foot, fully conscious, and complaining that the ropes keeping him in place are too tight: “My foot! I can’t take it any more!” Feel awfully sad when the mother of an infant who has fallen from the fourth story in the pleasant residential area that the Ochoas cover worries that her child will not survive. Most interesting is the case of a high-school student whose boyfriend socked her one and broke her nose, an incident that might have active moviegoers compare the scene to one in the film “Waves,” wherein an eighteen-year-old receives a life sentence for killing his girlfriend with a single punch to the head. The young woman, who sits up, worries that the trip will be expensive. She also asks for a hug to “calm me.”

If you can take your attention away from the awe-inspiring mileage tracked by the ambulance, nicely photographed by the director, you may consider some ethical issues. It seems clear that while the Ochoas are performing an important service that the government lacks the political will to handle, and that they often come out broke when their passengers have no money and no health insurance, they may be crossing some legal lines. For example, we don’t know whether the Ochoas are in a vehicle that is fully registered with the proper license plates on the back that could ensure the respect of the populace. We are not sure that they have all the legally required equipment, though Juan does put the car through a check.

Are they always driving their patients to the nearest hospital, or do they sometimes take them to a more distant building which can pay them more pesos? And is the money they receive from one private hospital a legal fee to which they are entitled, or is it a kickback? Is it right for the Ochoas to chase other private ambulances to such an extent that they risk mowing down pedestrians to cut off their rival paramedics and be first at the scene? Given that there really is no alternative to private ambulances that may skirt legal issues and that the family may often be transporting money-challenged accident victims that cannot pay for their services, the Ochoas are heroes. One way or another, you are urged to go along for the ride. And look both ways when you cross the street.

80 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE WOLF HOUR – movie review

THE WOLF HOUR
Brainstorm Media
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alistair Banks Griffin
Screenwriter: Alistair Banks Griffin
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jennifer Ehle, Emory Cohen, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Brennan Brown, Jeremy Bobb
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/28/19
Opens: December 6, 2019

The Wolf Hour Movie Poster

This claustrophobic film that focuses almost exclusively on an agoraphobic might be considered by some viewers to be a vanity project for Naomi Watts but there are more dimensions to this theatrical piece. Not only is Watts, considered by many to be one of the great actresses of her generation, in her métier, but writer-director Alistair Banks Griffin, following up his freshman feature “Two Gates of Sleep” about a mother’s final request, uses Watts’ impressive acting skills to serve as a metaphor for one of New York City’s darkest years. If you are a New Yorker older than fifty, you will recall how Rudolph Giuliani became one of our most popular mayors by (as he put it himself) cleaning up the mess from the seventies. The women of the city had focused their fears on David Richard Berkowitz, aka the Son of Sam, a smiling sociopath who killed brunette women, leaving notes to provoke the police, promising to continue his favorite hobby.

Somehow Naomi Watts in the role of June Leigh is holed up in an apartment that seems more as though a section of a Bangladesh slum had relocated in South Bronx. She may have been a victim of an unmentioned tragedy, a woman whom you would expect to live in New York’s Silk Stocking District given her placement on best seller lists with her first novel, a guest on a TV interview show answering questions from Hans (Brennan Brown), and refusing to take guff from a William Buckley Jr. type interested in ratings for his intellectual show.

June has kept her publisher waiting for four years for a second novel, since the author’s fears have kept her blocked. But leave it to a tragedy affecting one of her few contacts to pull her out of her funk and set her up with a breakout second book. Apparently her sister Margot (Jennifer Ehle), who forced her way into June’s flat, cleaned up the mess of books, and is rewarded by being told to get out, is no solution for June. An unlikely hero for her is not police officer Jeremy Blake, who offers to help and keep a special watch in return for sexual favors. Nor can Billy (Emory Cohen), an understanding third-rate gigolo, do more than relieve her sexual tensions. Unlikely as you might think, Freddie (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a delivery guy from the local bodega who uses the apartment to wash up and cool off from a frightening hot summer, will serve as a catalyst for her return to society.

The movie would be better on the stage of an off-off-Broadway house given the sparseness of the production design and works OK on the screen thanks to Watts, since she easily project her emotions in many close-up from Kahlid Mohtased’s camera. Strangely the 38 caliber revolver given to her by Margot stays in the drawer and is not retrieved in Act 3, so while the movie is Chekhovian, the gun does not inevitably reappear.

One item is confusing, making the viewer think that Freddie, the delivery guy, is a figment of her imagination. When she calls the bodega he allegedly works for, she’s told that the boss never heard of him. I can’t think of any actress other than Watts who could produce the feeling of terror as she does.

99 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE AERONAUTS – movie review

THE AERONAUTS
Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Tom Harper
Screenwriter: Jack Thorne, story by Tom Harper, Jack Thorne,s 2013 book “Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air.”
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Phoebe Fox, Himesh Patel, Rebecca Front
Screened at: Whitby Hotel, NYC, 11/28/19
Opens: December 6, 2019

The Aeronauts Movie Poster

Human beings have dreamed of flying since the Greek mythology adventurer Icarus, son of Daedelus, was given wings of wax and feathers. He was warned not to fly too close to the sun, but Icarus was ecstatic at his ability to zoom through the air, ignoring the warning by flying close to the sun. His wings melted and he fell to the earth. Well, there’s a fellow willing to risk his life for his dream, while some years later, the Wright brothers took their lives into the hands in 1903 from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in a flight that lasted only minutes. Between the Wright brother and the ancient Greeks, we have conquered flight by way of balloons at least since the mid-18th century. “The Aeronauts” tells us, for example, in a movie inspired by an actual event, that the fictitious character Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) and the actual character James Glaisher, took a chance on breaking a balloon record by flying 38,000 feet, or about seven miles closer to the sun. Instead of melting, however, they wound up freezing their buns off at five degrees of temperature and a scant ability to breathe when they reached a height greater than that of Mount Everest. Too bad the snobbish, insular, stuffy old men with long white beards claiming to be scientists would not think of allowing a woman to take part in the noble experiment—which is why director Tom Harper’s use of Amelia is fiction.

Almost nobody believed that weather could be predicted by any means whatever, but Glaisher, a scientist, is motivated to break barriers of technology while his companion Wren is simply an adventurer. When they take off in 1862—during a year that Americans were battling one another in the War Between the States—they feared only that they might lose the war against nature. There were fearsome winds, rain before they ascended past the clouds, and possibilities that their balloon might burst, but given the physically challenging work especially of Amelia Wren (while her partner was busy writing in the record book), they fought against Mother Nature particularly when they had ascended to the record-breaking height and their breathing was so shallow that they could have died. The movie unfolds virtually in running time, broken up through several flashbacks that indicate the motivations of the duo.

Histrionics are on display now and then. Cheered by a crowd of 10,000 spectators who paid tickets to watch them take off, Amelia would enter the ring with a flourish, turning somersaults and making announcements to the crowd that belie the idea that women would be such exhibitionists during those pre-feminist times. Amelia even threw her Jack Russell Terrier from the balloon at a flight of a thousand feet or so, the automatic parachute opening just as the shocked crowd is about to boo the explorers. If the pigeons that James used to carry messages to earth were real and not animations, the movie could not show in end credits that “no animals were harmed in the making,” since one of the birds had died from the sparse oxygen within the basket.

Director Tom Harper is in his métier, following up last year’s “Wild Rose,” about a Glaswegian dreaming of becoming a country singer. “The Aeronauts” is PG-13, suitable for kids, especially those who when asked what they want to be opt to become astronauts. The film is a wild ride with interesting characters, crack cinematography by George Steele aiming his lenses over several parts of England. Toward the conclusion it looks as though the twosome, inches apart, might kiss—and more—but this is out of the question given the hoped-for size of its movie audience.

101 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

UNCUT GEMS – movie review

UNCUT GEMS
A24
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Screenwriter: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Cast: Adam Sandler, Lakeith Sanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 11/29/19
Opens: December 13, 2019

If you like your movies over-the-top like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Inglorious Basterds,” then has A24 a movie for you! The pace doesn’t let up for a second, the photography evokes New York on amphetamines, and Adam Sandler gives the performance of his lifetime. Yes, that Adam Sandler, moving up from a waterboy for a football team, a manchild with a stutter, to a jewelry merchant on New York’s 47th street with a gambling disability. “Uncut Gems,” directed by Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie following up their New York-centered pic “Good Time,” about an attempt by a guy to get his younger brother out of jail. Given that “Uncut Gems” shoots many of its scenes inside a midtown jewelry store which has a way of locking people inside, the Safdies are right in their métier.

Even if you have a hearing disability you’ll have no problem understanding the dialogue. The shouting is combination of the floor of the Chicago Futures Market and Donald J. Trump’s ersatz press conferences that are drowned out by his chopper. Anchoring the proceedings, Adam Sandler in the role of Howard Ratner knows and loves gem stones.  He does not think that he could make the kind of life he wants at his desk in the back room, preferring to gamble on basketball games, chiefly because he has faith that his main man, Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics (who plays himself), will sink enough baskets and pick up enough rebounds to make him an instant millionaire.

The shouting, in fact, starts right in the beginning, not in New York but in Ethiopia, where a large group of miners who had just extracted a fellow worker from a grievous accident. The bosses are getting hell for allowing unsafe conditions, but when two miners re-enter the tunnel they find a large rock with brilliant opal stones imbedded as though fashioned by an expert cutter.

On a hunch, Howard buys the rock, then lends it out to KG who convinces Howard that he will buy it. To contrast Howard with his long-suffering wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), who is aware that Harold has a woman, Julia (Julia Fox) on the side, the couple are at a theater to watch their daughter perform in a play. Dinah is sitting with her teen son, but Harold who should be with them, is running about outside, all in the service of making his fortune while at the same time avoiding or putting off his creditors.

Harold is larger than life, just like Trump, and like the president he is wrapped up in himself, playing a high-wire act that finds him tending to his business but more involved in actions that could make big trouble for him. He is a rabid sports fan, liking the Celts not as a mere hobby but as his chance to make it big financially. It would be nice to say that a win that bring him over a million dollars would allow him to retire, but you can bet that he will gamble it away within a month.

Daniel Lopatin’s score, particularly in the miners’ scenes, can be madly intrusive, making one wonder why the bold and furious action would not serve to excite the moviegoers. For Darius Khondji who is behind the lenses, no action that he captures is too fast. The ensemble cast are terrific, but wouldn’t it be great if Adam Sandler, seeking the big movie guild prizes this year, winds up competing for the over-the-topness with “Dolemite”’s Eddie Murphy?

135 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

RICHARD JEWELL – movie review

RICHARD JEWELL
Warner Bros
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriter: Marie Brenner, Billy Ray
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates, Nina Arianda, Paul Walter Hauser
Screened at: Warner, NYC, 11/25/19
Opens: December 13, 2019

Richard Jewell Movie Poster

No good deed goes unpunished. Remember Frank Wills, the security guard at the Watergate Hotel who discovered something funny about the lock on a door and whose discovery brought down President Nixon? Wills was given a $2.50 raise and was denied a promotion that he requested based on his good citizenship. Think of Chesley “Sulley” Sullenberger, rewarded for saving the lives of all aboard his plane, but not before he is baked over the coals for allegedly violating orders from the ground. Sulley, like Richard Jewell, was given his due by Clint Eastwood in the 2016 film “Sully.” The director’s now sets his sites on overzealous police.

If you’re high up, like journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, you will be rewarded, maybe with a Pulitzer, as the two newspaper men got for reporting on the Watergate scandal in the Washington Post. But if you’re low on the totem pole, you may wind up like the title character, Richard Jewell, who saved scores of lives by alerting the authorities of a potential bomb inside a backpack left under a bench at the 1996 Atlantic Summer Olympic games. His reward? Though not under arrest, he remained a suspect as the bomber himself, later remaining for six more years as a suspected accomplice to the terrorist.

Richard Jewell is played remarkably by Paul Walter Hauser, not unknown as an actor but this time given the lead role by director Eastwood. Based on actual events surrounding the bombing of the Atlantic Olympics, “Richard Jewell” is anchored by Hauser’s performance, an overweight guy with a record as a screw-up, a former sheriff’s deputy who is eased out and forced to become a lowly supply clerk at a law firm after a college dean fired him for being overzealous in giving hell two a couple of students with alcohol in their dorm. Your record follows you for life and could help the authorities do a number on you for actions that are completely innocent.

Though already age 33 Jewell still lives with his mother Bobi (Kathy Bates), seems to have no social life, and becomes a punching bag, or doormat, by the FBI, eager for an arrest and conviction for a tragedy that took two lives and injured 111 others. As luck would have it, Jewell had made the acquaintance of a lawyer, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), who is working at a law firm and who joins Jewell in a video shooting gallery. Jewell, a non-entity, is destined to become first a hero, then a terrorist, when on the evening of July 27, 1996 he warns police to clear an area because of the discovery of a suspicious backpack. When the bomb goes off, he is hailed as a hero in the press, particularly by journalist Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who has been given confidential information by FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), with whom she may be having an affair. She is later to turn against Jewell with sensationalized reporting that trashes Jewell, reflecting Tom Shaw’s new, classified information.

Defended by Watson Bryant during questioning by Agent Shaw and his assistant Dan Bennet (Ian Gomez), Jewell becomes chief suspect for fitting the profile: a guy with a modest job, no friends, obese and living with mom, Jewell remains in Agent Shaw’s sites for six years, as the FBI closes the case, though Shaw tells Bryant that he think the lawyer’s client is “guilty as hell.” Watch the awards groups considering Paul Walter Hauser for Best Breakthrough Performance and Sam Rockwell for supporting role. They rivet attention.

This is the year that the movies free the innocents. In “Brian Banks,” a football star is convicted for a crime he did not commit and sentences to ten years of jail and probation. The California Innocence Project gave him back his life. In “Just Mercy,” a man is sentenced to death despite the lack of evidence and is freed thanks to the hard work of a newly graduated Harvard-educated attorney who declined big money jobs to work for virtually nothing. Losers, like starving lawyer Watson Bryant and security guard Richard Jewell become winners, working together in this solid police drama.

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

LITTLE WOMEN – movie review

LITTLE WOMEN
Columbia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Greta Gerwig
Screenwriter: Greta Gerwig, adapting the Louisa May Alcott novel
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell, Abby Quinn
Screened at: SONY, NYC, 11/21/19
Opens: December 25, 2019

Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen in Little Women (2019)

When I attended middle school, on the last day of classes before summer vacation the teacher gave us a list of books that she recommended for summer reading. One list headed “For Boys” recommended “Johnny Tremain,”about the American Revolution, while the other list titled “For Girls” lobbied for “Little Women.” At the time I had no problem with that, since after all, boys will be boys and will want books with action, while girls, wearing pink, would like romance. But now, the practice of separating the genders in reading lists is obsolete because, gee, how are boys to supposed to know what girls think about and what they’re like if they don’t read books that focus on women? As a result of this hopefully obsolete practice in schools, men know more about what women are like. But since I did not read Louisa May Alcott when I was twelve, to this day I do not understand women. But wait! Here comes another adaptation of the 1868 novel on the screen to make up for everything missed in middle school. Take advantage and go to the movie. On the whole it’s delightful, really gets into the heads of the fair sex, shows them concerned not only about boyfriends, believe it or not, but ambitious, talented, wanting to get ahead in the world on their own terms and not depend on men for emotional and financial support.

Greta Gerwig, following up her “Lady Bird” two years back about an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl–which included some of the performers in this picture–adapts Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1868 novel which deals also with an artistically inclined quartet of sisters. I think that Ms Alcott would have been pleased with the adaptation since we come away knowing what by now even I understand about women. They want financial security, sure, so do men, and like men they want to be loved, and even more important if you follow the trajectory of Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) who anchors the film, they want to be able to love others. Jo March, like her three sisters, wants love, but she is unsure whether she can areciprocate that affection with any man. Like Alcott, who never married, preferring the liberties that come with those unencumbered by family restrictions, Jo, who stands in for the author in a movie that is loosely based on the novel, is concerned primarily with her ability to write stories and novels.

In fact judging by the movie, Jo’s sisters are all talented, each with a special skill to show to the public. Meg March (Emma Watson), likes acting. Amy March (Florence Pugh), is a painter. And Beth (Eliza Scanlen), is an accomplished pianist. To follow their lives from adolescence to young adulthood, Gerwig presents the story in two time frames seven years apart, a choice that can cause confusion but at the same time allows us to watch their growth as though this were a Michael Apted type of documentary about people during each seven years of their lives. (Apted’s“63 up” is playing in New York.) If you’re surprised by the feminist theme, wondering whether such ideas were prevalent in the mid-19th century, you need only turn to the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 in with the theme “We wish to be free as man is free” which launched the women’s suffrage movement. Like Louisa May Alcott’s own mother, who encouraged her creativity as a writer—luckily because “Little Women” flew off the shelves as soon as it came out—Marmee March (Laura Dern) nurtures each of her daughters’ talents while not pushing them into marriage. In that sense she is somewhat unlike the girl’s wealthy aunt March (Meryl Streep), who is not so crass as to say “marry for money” but advises rather “Marry well.”

The most humorous scenes take place between Jo and her publisher, Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts), who at first lets her down, telling her that the stories are not commercial, but that she should send more as she churns them out. Ultimately he is excited by the manuscript of “Little Women,” urging her to marry the principal character off because otherwise the book would not sell. As for the other men in the movie, none of whom really in the center of things, Timothée Chalamet in the role of Theodore “Laurie” Laurence claims his long-term love for Jo, who turns him away, given her insistence on being unburdened by marriage. For her part Meg March has committed herself almost from the beginning to marriage, going with John Brooke (James Norton) who is barely getting by on a teacher’s salary, while Laurie Laurence discovers that he can love two sisters at once, getting Amy March as his bride. The story’s tragedy unfolds on Beth, the recipient of a free piano as the March family could not possibly afford such an instrument. She dies of scarlet fever.

Filmed by Yorick Le Saux in Boston, Concord, Harvard, Lawrence, Stoughton in Massachusetts to stand in for Concord, Mass., “Little Women” profits from exquisite, sometimes even painterly photography, while Alexandre Desplaut’s music hits a highlight in the athletic Irish dances, the stomping on the floor, the physical exuberance of the young women matching that of their male counterparts.

Greta Gerwig, able not only to write and direct but is featured largely in quirky acting roles such as Florence Marr in Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg.” A woman of impressive, all-around talent, she continues to play up her principal theme of female dynamics, and does so here with aplomb.

135 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

63 UP – movie review

63 UP
BritBox
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael AptedTony, Lynn, Nick, Neil, Peter
Cast: Charles Furneaux, Lynn Johnson, Nicholas Hitchon, Tony Walker, Neil Hughes, Bruce Balden, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Dewey, Symon Basterfield, John Brisby, Andrew Brackfield, Susan Sullivan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/22/19
Opens: November 27, 2019 at New York’s Film Forum

63 Up Poster

Breathes there a kid who has never been asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In my day the two most popular answers were fireman and policeman. While politically correct youngsters nowadays would more likely say firefighter or police officer, the most popular ambition now is to be an astronaut. And don’t think that children would automatically adjust their thinking when they turn twenty-one and are ready to make a living. As Michael Apted repeatedly notes in his monumental, epic spot of moviemaking, “Show me the child and I’ll show you the man.” Apted give us a documentary unique in its aspirations, having begun interviewing fellow Brits when they were seven and continuing the “Seven Up” tradition now. With archival films that he uses to show us a select group of people at age 63, flashing back to 7 or 14 or 21 or 28 and beyond, he allows us to come to the conclusion that people generally turn out at least somewhat as you might expect them to be when they were 7.

Yes, it’s amazing that every seven years he has been able to go find and go back to the people he interviewed at seven. Most people might wonder whether he would even locate them over such a long life span, whether they would agree to continue with him every seven years, and mirabile dictum, there was only one death, one serious illness, and a small group who opted out.

The kids are all wonderful. They sound more articulate than the American youngsters with whom I’ve been in contact, and yet they have not all been chosen for their intellectual gifts. Only Lynn had passed away,and that from a freak accident. She was hit while playing on a park swing with her grandchildren. She was beloved in her career as a school librarian who because of government cutbacks lost her job more than once, and not ironically was an advocate of stronger government spending on social services.

The saddest story is that of Nick who had just been diagnosed at 63 with throat cancer, a gifted professor who appears shaken given that the diagnosis was given just days before the filming. Some were married more than once, and given the merit of film, we are able to see their spouses now, seven years back, then seven years back again and again. Not surprisingly they look older now having lost the gift of youth which seems to confer the adjective “adorable” on the lot of them.

When asked their opinions of Brexit, all appear to be opposed, one suggesting that 52% of Britons voted to leave the EU not because they really wanted to separate from Europe but because they were getting revenge on the whole political apparatus. In that our cousins across the Atlantic are akin to us here in the States.

Though a large number of the fourteen subjects were in occupations to envy—one a solicitor, another a professor, which might reinforce the idea that Britain is a class society that might predict what people would be in glamorous professions while others may drive a cab (and be annoyed by the competition of Uber), at least one suggests that things are different now. Now, an employer would look at the résumés and backgrounds and hire based on ability. If only that were true.

Neil is the only person who might be called a loser, and then only during certain periods of his life. He had been homeless and he had roamed the country, now and then. But even he gets elected to local political office, buys a home in France, and serves as a lay minister in churches.

Though Michael Apted gets full directing credit for the entire 55 years, a number of photographers had been on hand to capture the words, emotions and philosophies of the selected candidates. Will there be a “70 Up?” Cross your fingers. The current film is a lengthy 139 minutes but given the work that the crew and actors have put in, they certainly deserve your attention the full time. Apted himself remains in the background the entire time, posting questions in an empathetic style that is probably what is responsible for the continued appearances of his cast.

139 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

1917 – movie review

1917
Universal Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenwriter: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Cast: Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dean-Charles Chapman, Richard Madden, Mark Strong, Colin Firth
Screened at: Lincoln Square, NYC, 11/23/19
Opens: December 25, 2019

1917 - Poster Gallery

There’s a reason that for Sam Mendes, landing the slot as director of this movie about a single mission during the First World War is his most heartfelt project. “1917” is based on an actual episode in northern France taken from an account told to Mendes by his paternal grandfather, Alfred Mendes. Mendes is following up his direction of such films as “Spectre,” based on a mission executed by James Bond, and “Skyfall,” based on a threat to Britain’s MI6 that Bond must destroy. If “1917” were a James Bond vehicle, the title character would likely be called upon by his country’s military to prevent the British army from falling prey to an ambush that would have resulted in a massacre: the deaths of the entire unit of 1600 men. This war movie will doubtless remind cinemaphiles of Peter Weir’s 1981 movie “Gallipoli,” in which Australian troops were massacred in Turkey by following terrible orders.

The mission here to which two lower officers Corporals Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are assigned to a perilous mission to go through German-hold territory in France and warn a division under Col. MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch in his smallest role) to stand down from a plan to attack Germans when the enemy are allegedly on the run. The truth is that the Germans encouraged the attack given the ambush that they had in store. At the same time Schofield makes a promise to Blake, his partner in the mission, to find Blake’s brother in case Blake were to die during the run, a theme that will remind you of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” an attempt to find Ryan and send him home since his brothers had all been killed in the Second World War.

What proceeds largely as a two-hander, Schofield and Blake, becomes a one-man project as Schofield must survive a booby-trapped shack abandoned by the Germans, in which a rat crosses a trip wire that the retreating foe had left to blow up trespassers. Schofield falls into ditches, he dodges bullets with only a grenade, his primitive single shot rifle, and assorted packs on his back. He must deal with a German pilot whose plane had been downed just a few steps from where he is standing, and fight to the death, hand to hand, with a German soldier that had remained back from the front. You may wonder how the Germans (luckily) are such bad shots that they are unable to get Schofield in their metaphoric cross-hairs.

When Schofield does ultimately make contact with the division, he receives retorts from a Lieutenant Leslie (Andrew Scott) and Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbath). They refuse to accept the plea to abandon the wave, so sure are they that they could knock out an entire German division.

George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman perform their roles with aplomb, running, jumping, shooting, seeming to do their own stunts. In a period in which the #Me-Too movement is ascendant, only one woman, a French lass with a baby who have survived the massacre of her village by Germans.

Thomas Newman’s music on the soundtrack does much to pump up the thrills while Roger Deakins, behind the camera, films the horrors of war fought in mud and raging waters. The production design team under Dennis Gassner does indeed transport us to the year 1917, to a war that historians are still trying to discover which country was the guiltiest party. In fact, since the victors write the histories, many believe that the harsh treatment of the defeated Germans under the Versailles Treaty was the principal factor leading to the rise of the Nazi party and the next world war.

110 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE TWO POPES – movie review

THE TWO POPES
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Screenwriter: Anthony McCarten
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujin
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 11/18/19
Opens: November 27 in theaters and Dec. 20 streaming

The Two Popes (2019) movie photo

Much of the humor of Fernando Meirelles’s fictional encounter between two popes whose ideologies are almost polar opposites comes from what Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI did for amusement. Audience laughs purportedly come from the mysterious idea that “Wow. These heads of church are not gods, they’re not saints, they’re human.” For example in one scene they shares a pizza. Imagine that! In other we see Pope Francis (when he was Cardinal Bergoglio) watching soccer and rooting for his home team from Argentina. And Bergoglio even tells a joke. A follower of the church asked whether he could smoke while praying. “Of course not,” replied the church official. Then he was advised that the question needed re-framing and became “Can I pray while smoking?” The answer presumably changed. It’s how you express yourself that counts.

Brazilian born director Meirielles follows up his famed “City of God” (2005) about two boys from the Rio slums whose paths diverge, just as Bergoglio and Benedict could be said to argue from different opinions. And writer Anthony McCarten (not my Irish cousin) takes off from “The Theory of Everything” encompassing the differences and similarities between Stephen Hawking with his wife. So what is “The Two Popes” about? It’s mostly about performance. We watch two veterans of the cinema Anthony Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Bergoglio meet. What do they talk about? Does either fellow change his opinions based on the chit-chat? Benedict is Bavarian, a status quo pope, whom some people might consider a reactionary given that he wants to go back to the Latin mass (which, by the way, Mel Gibson prefers). By contrast Bergoglio, an Argentinian, emphasizes the needs of the poor while serving as the Holy Father. He even carries his own luggage (like Jimmy Carter), does not live in the Vatican, and visits Lampedusa to welcome the African refugees.

What is not emphasized, however, is that they agree on the basics. Meirelles and McCarten glide over the fact that Bergoglio, as Pope Francis, endorses the usual views on the Catholic Church against divorce, homosexuality, clerical marriage, abortion and contraception. He is, however, more forceful in dealing with priests who stray by exploiting their choir boys, but even there we don’t hear much about this.

The most trenchant archival film puts us up close to the brutality of the Argentine military after a coup under which opponents disappeared, were tortured, kidnapped, placed in secret concentration camps. The film suggests that since Bergoglio as a high church official was silent during the reign of military dictator Jorge Raphael Videla, he feels so guilty that he asks the pope for permission to resign from the church. For his part, the conventional Benedict is about to make the most unconventional decision to retire from the papacy, the first time in some seven hundred years that such an action would occur. Whether he was burdened by any guilt for serving in the German military during the World War 2 some time after being drafted at fourteen into the Hitler youth is glossed over. The bottom line is the big surprise: that Benedict, knowing the liberal views of the man who succeeded him, refuses his offer to resign and suggests that Bergoglio get right into the running of pope following Benedict’s retirement.

You might want to take the civilized interchange between these two larger-than-life people as a sign that the nations of the world which appear to have irreconcilable differences might actually come together in compromise, or even the more unlikely idea that Republicans and Democrats would become the tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum that they used to be when I was a kid.

126 Minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

ATLANTICS – movie review

ATLANTICS
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Mati Diop
Screenwriter: Mati Diop, Olivier Demangel
Cast: Mama Sane, Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traore, Nicole Sougou, Aminata Kane
Screened at: Soho House, NYC, 11/17/19
Opens: November 15 in theaters and November 29 streaming

Atlantics (2019) movie photo

Senegal’s Oscar candidate is part ghost story, part romance, with even a dollop of social commentary and criticism. The film is anchored by the lovely 17-year-old Marne Bneta Sane as Ada in a breakthrough performance as a woman who is destined to marry Omar (Babacar Sylla), a rich individual who spends nine months in Italy each year. When Ada confesses to her friends that she is in love with Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) and that she has no interest in coupling with Omar, they advise to suck it up. After seeing Omar’s house with a bed that is large enough to carry a man with four wives comfortably, they are envious. Given the tight economic times in this third-world country, you can’t blame them for the chance at being taken care of in style.

Director Mari Diop, who is the first female black person to present a film in competition at Cannes plays down the supernatural aspects of her new film in favor of stressing the romance, though given the shabby neighborhoods covered on location in Dakar (specifically the Plage du Virage, Plage de Yoff, and Thiarove though with key moments at the Radisson-Blu Hotel) you will not find lovers cavorting in an ersatz Paris. With a bunch of eager, nonprofessional actors photographed amid a Dakar community with a tower block under construction, “Atlantics” faces off with a group of pissed-off construction workers who have not been paid for three months. They have just about given up the possibility of getting their due, instead taking off in a rickety board for Spain Souleiman among them.

Being stiffed from wages becomes a concept that will appear toward the conclusion of the film, but the constant, understandable obsession with money finds Ada’s friends Fanta (Amina Kane) and Marianna (Mariama Gassama) hanging out at a night club on the beach looking for sugar daddies that will allow them to remain in Senegal rather than having to take off for Europe.

A fire burns down the aforementioned detective Issa (Amadou Mbow) is assigned to the case, but the police work is already beginning when the eyes of the women at the night club turn white, corneas only, crash the home of the construction boss N’Diaye (Diankou Sembene), demanding that they pay the wages owed even though the men are out to sea, dead, or already in Spain. Wherever they are, you will likely suspect that Souleiman will return to his great love, whether with milk-white eyes or seeing normally, to spend at least one night with the heartbroken Ada.

“Atlantics” is a compelling work that will disappoint those who like their zombie movies filled with terror but will be embraced by folks who like their films nuanced with supernatural elements that genuinely expand and interpret the plot.

95 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

AMERICAN WOMAN MOVIE REVIEW

AMERICAN WOMAN
Roadside Attractions/ Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jake Scott
Screenwriter: Brad Ingelsby
Cast: Sienna Miller, Christina Hendricks, Aaron Paul, Will Sasso, Amy Madigan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/16/19
Opens: June 14, 2019

American Woman Movie Poster

As you watch “American Woman,” you will soon see why its star, Sienna Miller, could rise to the top of Oscar candidates for best actress and also of the various organizations and guilds that announce awards annually. Her performance as Debra (Sienna Miller), a single mother whose reliance on men will gradually wear away as she gains in maturity, wisdom and specific experiences. Jake Scott, the director, whose “Welcome to the Rileys” focuses on an emotionally distraught man who, like Debra, finds a modicum of salvation by taking care of a woman, is obviously in his métier with the current offering. Scott’s people living hardscrabble lives in rural Pennsylvania with clouded political horizons to such an extent that they vote for Republicans if they bother casting ballots at all. The movie’s writer, Brad Ingelsby, implies that these folks are representative of a broad swath of Americans who have been cast aside as factories close down in our country.

Debra has had to overcome emotional handicaps early on as she has had a baby at the age of sixteen, had considered abortion, but decided that she wants the little fella enough to fight against more rational thoughts. She is dependent enough on man to put up with an abusive Ray (Pat Healy), who thinks nothing of hitting her and of laying down the law to her son, who is now seven years old. As though the kind of life she dreams of is not unattainable enough, she suffers the loss of her daughter Bridget (Sky Ferreira), a kidnap victim who has most likely been murdered, perhaps by teen Tyler (Alex Neustaedter), who is Bridget’s absent dad. By contrast Deb’s sister Kath (Christina Hendricks), who lives across the street, is content with her devoted husband Terry (Will Sasso), a mensch who is willing to do whatever is needed to help Deb and other neighbors.

Six years go by. Bridget is still missing. Deb tries to elevate her station by taking accounting classes while raising Jesse (Aidan McGraw), now age seven. Then zap. Ten more years pass by and Deb is now attached to Chris (Aaron Paul), a devoted family man happy to become Jesse’s role model, until yet another domestic issue appears to cast Deb into blackness.

While the plot is nothing new—woman desperate for stability and affection, realizing the bad choices she has made—“American Woman” is all about Sienna Miller’s riveting performance as a lower-middle class woman whose growth comes in spurts but has never realized contentment. Her roller coaster emotions sees her at times desperate, at other moments optimistic, an American woman whose life may never reach true fruition.

111 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

MARRIAGE STORY – movie review

MARRIAGE STORY
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Noah Baumbach
Screenwriter: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Larua Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 11/13/19
Opens: November 6, 2019  Streaming December 6, 2019

Marriage Story Movie Poster

Divorce is a traumatic event for many, and considering that fifty percent of marriages end up that way, many of us in the U.S. have undergone its agony. These are the people who can immerse themselves in “Marriage Story” and be particularly caught up in the emotions on display. What’s more, since it is based on what the writer has experienced—specifically Noah Baumbach’s divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh—the exposure becomes even more arresting.

While some get divorced because their partners commit adultery (surprisingly, in a liberal state like New York, adultery was once the only allowable argument for a split), others get bored with their partners, maybe some more have changed emotionally and intellectually, growing apart from their spouses. In the case of “Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach—whose “The Squid and the Whale” in 2005 finds two boys in Brooklyn trying to cope with their parents’ separation—the split is not desired mutually. The woman, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) seeks divorce from her husband Charlie (Adam Driver). Neither of them is a typical nine to five worker. Both are directors, though Nicole is primarily an actress. Nicole feels slighted for having obeyed Charlie’s insistence that she remain with him in New York City where he is an up-and-coming director of off-Broadway plays, while she has repeatedly had to turn down offers for movie roles in Hollywood.

The divorce could have been amicable, or as amicable as you sometimes think when you read about celebrities who say they “remains friends.” But a child is involved, and children complicate lives. Disputes over custody of eight-year-old Henry (Azhy Robertson) turns what could have been as close to “let’s be friends” to matches of yelling and screaming, in one case their raised voices and just a threat of physical violence puts you on notice that they will rehash the histrionics of “The War of the Roses,” when Michael Douglas’s Oliver Rose and Kathleen Turner’s Barbara Rose virtually reenacting the American Civil War in their fight to determine who moves out of the house.

In what could be regarded as playing the feminist card, Nora (Laura Dern), serving as Nicole’s aggressive lawyer, notes that fathers get away with near murder. The society expects women, says Nora, to be like the Virgin Mary, perfect, while men can get away with doing as little as possible, that the world expects men to be screw-ups. For his part Charlie hires Bert Spitz to be his lawyer, a laid-back fellow with some old-fashioned jokes at $450 an hour, but Charlies fires him for the more aggressive Jay (Ray Liotta), $950 an hour with $25,000 retainer. Since Charlie insists on continuing his job directing plays in Brooklyn while Nicole is determined to remain in L.A. to continue her career with films, the battle is fought out in court, the sparring of the counselors, particularly Nora, scoring points for those of us in the audience who sympathize with her.

We may be manipulated into sympathizing with her from the beginning, but as the story goes on, Charlie, and especially Nicole,go through emotional changes, sometimes showing vulnerability, other times a rugged determination to win custody of the boy. With a terrific performances all around. Special kudos to young Azhy Robertson as a boy who wants to remain in L.A. and appears to lean toward siding with his mom.

“Marriage Story” is far from a downer, but is instead mixed with comic moments at some times hilarious, and other times examples of pure entertainment. Julie Hagerty turns on an eccentric performance as Nicole’s mom who, rather than having the traditionally suspect relationship with her son-in-law loves the poor guy and appears almost ready to marry him as soon as the divorce becomes final. Score one for a male director’s empathy for feminism, ready and able to sign on to the idea that in marriage as in the corporate sphere, women are getting shafted.

136 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

SCANDALOUS – movie review

SCANDALOUS
Magnolia
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Mark Landsman
Screenwriter: Mark Landsman
Cast: Gereroso Pope, Jr., David Pecker, Carl Bernstein, Arnold Schwarzenegger,
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: November 15, 2019

Scandalous Movie Poster

How does a journal get a wide circulation? The same rules apply here as those which drive movie box office returns. A blockbuster movie like “Terminator,” or “Purge,” or “Joker,” lots of violence and some sex, will attract a larger box office than a picture like “Frankie,” or “Jojo Rabbit,” or “Little Jo.” A movie aiming for big box office is going to be more expensive than one catering to an elite, so in that sense an investor can wind up ahead of the game by taking chances on an indie. Now with newspapers and magazines, the ones that hope to capture a large share of the American audience are bound to be simple, like “Readers Digest,” which does not exploit sex and violence, or like AARP journals that go to members of the huge older community. Both of these have to cater to the lowest common denominator. If ever a magazine in our country had a chance of going viral, or whatever the equivalent of viral is to print journals, it would be the National Enquirer, given its splashy headlines about sex scandals, celebrity divorces, politicians’ career suicides. In the early days the Enquirer would concentrate on UFOs, in other words false news designed to capture the attention of people who believe in such nonsense. Now, the Enquirer concentrates on what is partially true, blowing up those events for maximum melodrama.

Using impressive archival footage wedding to ultra-fast editing, director Mark Landsman who made the scene with “Thunder Soul,” about a high school band in Houston that returned 35 years later to pay tribute to its beloved leader, takes on a story with national interest. This time, the Enquirer, which started as a New York paper, was converted under Gereroso Pope’s leadership to a national format. Pope had an idea that people might be ashamed to tell pollsters what they are truly interested in but will have no problem stopping their cars on a highway to rubber-neck a gory accident. These folks, who both envy celebrities while wishing these reputations to be marred, will go for anything that given them schadenfreude. Think of Princess Diana’s death in a car accident, or Gary Hart’s undoing when a candidate for president found to be cavorting with beautiful women. Consider Elvis’s death, or Trump’s marriage to Marla Maples. Big, big interest.

Currently, UFOs and violent stories take a back seat to celebrity take-downs, its most recent philosophy to advance the cause of political candidates it favors.

Landsman shows us how political the paper can be. In 2016 the Enquirer endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time. When ownership fell to David Pecker, often seen in photos with Donald Trump, his paper refused to publish a story from Karen McDougal about an alleged affair she had with the president in 2006. Pecker bought out her story for $150,000 for exclusive rights to any relationship she had with a married man, and buried the whole account.

If some people believe everything in the Enquirer on the grounds that if it’s in print it must be true, you can easily see how Trump’s lies, also published in national newspapers, are believed. This is a hard-hitting documentary, lots of footage including items on Bill Clinton and Hillary (“Hillary has six months to live”). Trump has said that being “presidential” is boring, an attitude that captivates tens of millions of Americans. In like manner, a “gray lady” like the NY Times, considered to be the world’s most trustworthy and comprehensive newspaper, cannot compete in sales with the National Enquirer, a periodical pandering to the average Joe.

94 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

I LOST MY BODY – movie review

I LOST MY BODY (J’ai perdu mon corps)
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jérémy Clapin
Screenwriter: Jérémy Clapin, Guillaume Laurant, adapted from Laurant’s novel “Happy Hand”
Cast: Voices of Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois, Patrick D’Assumcao
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 10/30/19
Opens: November 15, 2019

Poster

You’ve got to hand it to Jérémy Clapin, who co-wrote and directed this remarkable movie in an adaptation from Guillaume Laurant’s novel “Happy Hand.” His handsome, animated feature could become a hands-down favorite of the Academy along with the many guilds and critics’ groups. The movie idea was presumably exploited by Clapin from the book—which has not yet been translated from the French and whose plot can be summarized by “Naoufel -dit Nafnaf-est un jeune Marocain, né de parents professeurs de littérature française, lui ayant enseigné un français de salon, un rien désuet. Lorsqu’il arrive en France, vers 12 ans…” The movie, confusing enough at first since it does not roll chronologically, becomes clear at about the mid-point.

In fact a little spoiler can’t hurt since it could clear up the film right from the beginning. So…the whole story is told from the point of view of a hand, the first original idea. Not even the 1946 pic “The Beast with Five Fingers” about a wheelchair-bound one-handed pianist’s murder, is quite like this. Naoufel (Hakim Faris), whose childhood happiness in North Africa is upended when a car crash kills his parents. Traumatized, the orphan boy tries for nothing more ambitious than being a pizza delivery guy, who is always late and who agrees with his boss that he is, more or less, a loser. But delivery boys meet lots of pizza-loving people. Naoufel lucks out, flirted with by Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois), a resident in an apartment house, who sets him up with her uncle (Patrick D’Assumcao) in a carpentry job through which he has an accident severing his hand.

The plot is of secondary importance. The principal virtue of this French movie, complete with the artistry of a skilled animator (director Clapin), is its originality. There has been nothing quite like this one, which helped the picture win top prize in “Critics’ Week”and to become the first animated film ever to win the Nespresso Award at Cannes. You’ll wonder why the principal character is so focused on catching flies, a most difficult job according to the lad’s father (I concur), but the common housefly has a major role, in fact perhaps the most important role a fly has had in a movie since David Cronenberg’s 1986 horror tale entitled, of course, “The Fly.” The hand goes through a series of adventures, using its wisdom to play piano, riding atop a pigeon and rewarding it by snapping its neck, saving his (its?) life from a group of hand-eating rats, and exploiting the talents of a seeing-eye dog.

Losers can be winners, which makes this a feel-good picture, using the metaphor of a hand’s seeking its body to make it whole, just as the lovely Gabrielle may become the part that will complete young Naoufel. Indie films generally feature more thoughtful sounds and sights than blockbuster commercial items, but even among the indies out there this year or any other, “I Lost My Body” is a pioneer.

81 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Onli

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

QUEEN OF HEARTS – movie review

QUEEN OF HEARTS
Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: May el-Toukhy
Screenwriter: Maren Louise Kaehne, May el-Toukhy
Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav, Lindh, Magnus Krepper
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/8/19
Opens: November 1 in theaters. November 19 Streaming/DVD

Dronningen Movie Poster

There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. May el-Toukhy, following up her “Long Story Short” about a group of Danes meeting at different parties, shows in her third feature movie that there’s no murder involved in “Queen of Hearts,” but there is certainly an element of revenge. Most important, while nobody is having his way the wife of the murdered king as in “Hamlet,” we’re dealing with another sordid affair–between Anna (Tryne Dyrholm) a woman in her late forties, and her sixteen-year-old stepson Peter (Magnus Krepper).

A common theme in literature, theater and film is the idea that if you peel back the outer layers of even our most civilized and financially comfortable people, you will find emotions that could well suit up a film of horror and desolation. Director el-Toukhy and her co-writer Maren Louise Käehne dig into the intrigues involving three people living under one roof in a lavish home with acres of grounds—a doctor, a lawyer, and a disturbed teenager whose father was “not there for him” during the kid’s early years.

While Peter (Magnus Krepper), the guilt-ridden divorced father whose son Gustav (Gustav Lindh) is now taken back into the older man’s home, Peter’s wife Anne, who is not having enough sex with Peter, opens up to the boy while her husband is away. After allowing the teen to put a symbolic tattoo on her arm, she takes a bold and misguided chance on leaving a dinner party with the boy, taking him to a bar, and kissing him on the lips. There is an implication that at her age, she realizes that the wrinkles are inevitable, the limited sex with her husband just OK, and that she wants to prove that she’s still hot and able to seduce someone one-third her age. You would think that a successful lawyer would be enjoined by the illegality, being instead simply fearful of discovery by someone in her family such as her grown sister.

“Queen of Hearts” has no problem showing some hardcore sex with the boy, doggy style, and with her husband, missionary choice, because, well, it sells, and Denmark’s being Denmark can’t hurt. And since the shots are taken in Denmark and not Alabama or Mississippi, there is no implication that she feels sinful. The only thing that concerns her is being caught. Perhaps she is a Danish Donald Trump—not that she would try getting away with shooting someone on Jægersborggade, the busiest street in Copenhagen, but that under her husband’s nose she can cuddle up with a young lad, a disturbed one at that, without harmful consequences.

The film is as sophisticated as is Scandinavia, and dare one say that in fashioning the principal woman as one with the feeling that she is rich, educated, and superior and can get away with anything, that Ms. El-Toukhy is satirizing our own president?

127 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE REPORT – movie review

THE REPORT
Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Scott Z. Burns
Screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns
Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Corey Stoll, Jon Hamm, Linda Powell, John Rothman
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 11/7/19
Opens: November 15, 2019. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video November 29, 2019

The Report Movie Poster

The title, which has a cute redaction of the middle word (hint: the word is “torture”), covers the antics over several years during the current century of CIA operatives assigned to get confessions and information from alleged terrorists. The agency wants especially to find out the dates and times and locations of the next attack. The goal is prevent another 9/11, the only foreign attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor.

The Senate investigation committee under Dianne Feinstein (Annete Bening), who relies on special investigator Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), seeks to know two things. 1) Are the CIA interrogators of suspected terrorists using methods that are immoral, that go against America’s stated traditional values? 2) More important, are the interrogators getting valid information that could lead to the capture of terror leaders like Osama bin Laden and could allow the U.S. to thwart future attacks within the United States? The answer, as known now by anybody with the slightest interest in following politics, is “yes” to the first, and a resounding “no” to the second question.

This is a serious movie, one with nary a smidgen of humor. It is needed to educate the public, now regularly taken for a ride by the White House which pretends it is acting in the interests of the people, but it is likely that the core audience will already be familiar with just about everything that emerges. Though “The Report” is a dramatization, which is usually the kind of treatment that is more exciting and hard-hitting than a documentary, just think of what Michael Moore could have done with this kind of subject matter.

There is limited archival film, briefly showing waterboarding, involving throwing a towels around the face of a prisoner and pouring water through the towel giving the suspected terrorist not just the feeling of drowning but actually drowning himself. Another brief shot of rectal hydration that could have you swear off enemas forever features a prisoner on his back, water thrust as threw a fire hose into his anus. Yet another hapless victim is naked, hanging by a wall, while other individuals are being sleep-deprived thanks to heavy metal blasted into the room more loudly than anything you have ever heard in the multiplex.

Writer-director Scott Z. Burns has supplied us with more entertaining scripts, principally “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “The Informant!” but also had produced “An Inconvenient Truth,” which bears at least tangential similarities to “The Report” in advising about global warming and environmental dangers. Anchoring the role of investigator under Senator Dianne Feinstein looking into the secret goings-on of the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation (a euphemism for torture), Driver’s character, Daniel Jones, works tirelessly for several years putting his nose into buried secrets that in a spy movie would lead to his assassination.

Annette Bening is dolled up to look at least a passable variation of Senator Feinstein, never going overboard with emotions, contrasted against Adam Driver’s barely controlled rage that might make you think that real fireworks will start from him that will turn this into an action thriller.

Ultimately a tells-all report of almost seven thousand pages clears a Senate committee, most Republicans voting to keep it secret and even suggesting that a mere leak of this damning information would be treasonous. Perhaps those of us who believe Edward Snowden to be a hero would be most in favor of releasing the full report without redactions, while those who condemn Snowden might like the nefarious CIA activities to remain secret.

“The (partially redacted) Official Senate Report on CIA Torture” can be had by anyone for $12.99 on Amazon, the company that is now distributing the film. Additionally you can watch the movie on Amazon Prime Video beginning November 29.

118 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

HONEY BOY – movie review

HONEY BOY
Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alma Har’el
Screenwriter: Shia LaBeouf
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKA twigs
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 10/17/19
Opens: November 8, 2019

Noah Jupe in Honey Boy (2019)

Thematically “Honey Boy” is focused about the kind of father played by James Lort (Shia LaBeouf) in the way he treats his twelve-year-old son Otis Lort (Noah Jupe). He beats him in one caustic scene, but on the other hand he is a loving fellow in those moments when he acts like a real dad. While you wish he would treat the young lad in a kinder fashion, the way you’d expect in a family like the one in “Leave It to Beaver,” he is still an active person, taking an active interest in the goings on of the boy. So many fathers these days are either passive, too laid-back to give firm support to their little ones, or even worse, they disappear, sometimes for good, other times when on alcoholic binges. This kid on the cusp of adolescence is so cute, really adorable, truly looking for more kindness from James that you wonder how anybody could treat him badly. What’s more, he may be too cute for the father, who has a low-paying job clearing highway trash on the outskirts of L.A., because the boy is actually the breadwinner. He is a child actor preparing for a screen shot in Vancouver, making the father envious of the kid’s talent while at the same time he is so humiliated by being supported by little Otis that in one scene he breaks down and cries.

The script is written by Shia LaBeouf as the principal actor, inspired by the actor’s own childhood, his own feelings about his treatment a couple of decades earlier. The gimmick is that LaBeouf is now playing his father! LaBeouf’s son is played also at the age of twenty-two by Lucas Hedges, his magnificent hair shorn into a crew cut. He is still acting, and in fact the story begins with a bang, as Otis is seen beside a crashed plane, an explosion throwing him back twenty feet in a scene from a “Terminator”-type movie. To an extent, because of his upbringing, the older Otis is a troubled man. After a car crash, Otis, playing out the actual car accident that LaBeouf caused during a drunk driving accident in 2008, is injured in a car crash which lands him in rehab.

The scenes involving the younger boy are the more interesting ones, as we see a child who is coming of age, who continues to film movies while escorted around the set by his dad. One wonders why they’re living in a shabby Motel 6 type of residence given the money that the child is bringing in, surrounded by misfits, one of whom, played by FKA Twigs cuddles with the twelve-year-old in what may or may not be a completed sexual encounter. If the kid is losing his virginity, he is also losing the innocence of childhood by smoking, his father handing him the butts, encouraging his unhealthy habit.

Alma Har’el, the Israeli-born music video and film director, is perhaps best known for her “Bombay Beach,” which won top prize at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. That pic deals with three troubled people in a poor community in Southern California, which bears comparison with her current fare. But “Honey Boy” is too loosely constructed with the usual stereotypical life around rehab to be as involving as her earlier contribution.

95 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

JUST MERCY – movie review

JUST MERCY
Warner Bros
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Screenwriter: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson
Screened at: Warner, NYC, 11/2/19
Opens: December 25, 2019

Just Mercy (2019)

Freeing wrongfully convicted people is an excellent theme for fiction as well as for documentaries. Think of John Grisham’s latest novel “The Guardians,” in which Quincy Miller, a black man, is convicted of a murder that has no witnesses and no apparent motive. Languishing in jail for 21 years, he has his case picked up by Collen Post of the Guardian organization, which can accept only a small percentage of cases that come to its attention. There are people who don’t want Miller freed: his lawyer’s life is in danger. In Ton Shadyac’s movie “Brian Banks,” a football star is convicted of a crime he did not commit, and is later freed thanks to Justin Brooks of the Florida Innocence Project.

In time for Christmas, a season of good feelings by people who want feel-good movies, “Just Mercy” enters the genre, a film by Hawaiian-born Destin Daniel Cretton following up his “The Glass Castle,” about a young woman brought up by unconventional parents, often living in poverty, whose folks now criticize her for marrying a financial analyst in New York thereby trashing their values. While “The Glass Castle” is not about the judicial system, its theme embraces the idea of giving up a conventional life, one that everyone expects you to pursue, in favor of helping the people who need you the most—the post, the disenfranchised, the wrongfully convicted.

The most surprising thing about Cretton’s new film, “Just Mercy,” is that it is based closely on an actual case. As the plot rolls out, you might scarcely believe that a guy fresh out of law school, albeit Harvard, without prior experience and with a view that the impossible takes just a little longer, succeeds in winning a case full of obstacles. The principal obstacle is the desire of an Alabama town sheriff (filmed in Georgia) and young D.A. to hold on to their reputations, which depends on keeping the town safe. That’s safe for the white folks on the right side of the track, since for African-Americans there never is a feeling of safety from an oppressive local and state government and hostile townspeople.

The fall-guy, Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) enjoys what could have been his last day of freedom, felling a tree and being arrested for the murder of an eighteen-year-old white girl. Though he has a strong alibi, it is backed up only by the local black community. A white felon, Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), is promised a lighter sentence if he testifies against McMillian, who perjures himself leading to a conviction (I just corrected a typo, the more adept “confiction”). Enter Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), out of Harvard Law School, heading from a lucrative career in Delaware but choosing instead to drive south to defend hapless people who may have been wrongfully jailed. He is lucky to get out alive, drawing hostile stares from the white community and especially its lawmen, even strip-searched before the first conference with his client. Aided by Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), his white paralegal who sets him up in her home pending the rental of an office,

McMillian who at first does not trust that this young man can do anything for him but soon shakes his hand in agreement. Stevenson moves for a re-trial but is buffeted by the establishment until he winds his way through the judicial process to get just mercy.

Some of the interesting side lines include the conversations that McMillian has on death row with his neighbors, all in solitary confinement. The most stellar scene in the work finds Stevenson interviewing Ralph Myers to get an admission that he lied when he accused McMillian of standing over the body of the dead girl. Tim Blake Nelson, his bottom lip twisted to the side as though a victim of a stroke, his eyes blinking, head swiveling, turns in what in my mind should make him a candidate for best supporting role awards.

For those who have never seen this type of courtroom drama, never exposed to “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” “Conviction” with Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell, “The Green Mile” based on a Stephen King novel, or “The Shawshank Redemption,” will be particularly riveted by this intense drama. An older audience might challenge this movie’s value on the grounds that it’s a straightforward biopic in strict chronology, those people wanting more free-floating imagination in their courtroom dramas. Nevertheless, for all potential audiences, “Just Mercy,” given its fiercely motivated performances, is a delight, a Christmas feel-good drama which even at over two hours does not overstay its welcome.

136 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

CLEMENCY – movie review

CLEMENCY
Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Chinonye Chukwu
Screenwriter: Chinonye Chukwu
Cast: Alfre Woodard, Richard Schiff, Aldis Hodge, Wendell Pierce, Danielle Brooks
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 11/1/19
Opens: December 27, 2019

 

Someone says to you “It’s Christmas! Let’s go to the movies!” You’re probably thinking, oh, it’s going to be one of those like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” or “It’s a Wonderful Life,” maybe “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” But no. He suggests one opening right in the middle of Christmas week that will swing into the new year about a conflicted woman working in a prison with a flourishing death row. OK, then. You’re in, but only because you heard that Alfre Woodard is in the major role in what many will consider the best performance of her illustrious career. That might be difficult to image considering the dynamic jobs she has done with “Burning Sands” as a professor in a college with a tragic hazing incident, or as the narrator in “Nat Turner,” maybe in one of her many TV performances like “Gray’s Anatomy,” “Steel Magnolias” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Few actors this year have expressed their fictional job conflicts like Woodard in “Clemency,” a film by Chinonye Chukwu in her sophomore feature, a woman whose debut directing was of “alaskaLand” –about an estranged Nigerian brother and sister forced to reconnect in their hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska.

“Clemency” is bookended by scenes of almost unbearable tension: opening as Woodard’s character, Warned Bernadine Williams, deals with the botched execution of a Hispanic man—who undergoes the strapping into the gurney as though paralyzed rather than the expected screaming and crying—but who will let loose after the prison staff has difficulty finding a proper vein in his arm or leg. As “Clemency” concludes, Bernadine walks down the hall lost in thought about her entire career, wondering whether it’s worth continuing to be a martinet who refuses to bend past a single rule, but at the same time finding a connection to Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge) who is scheduled to die for killing a police officer during a robbery fifteen years back.

We know more about the warden by scenes in her home where her husband Jonathan Williams (Wendell Pierce), a teacher, is getting increasingly fed up with her distance from him, her insomnia, her nightmares, her protestations that she does not want to be touched. On the professional level, she spends time with her deputy warden drinking in bars, then reluctantly handing him her keys when he insists on driving her home. Her job requires her to deal with Woods’s lawyer, Mary Lumetta (Richard Schiff), who is burned out from a thirty-year career trying to save condemned prisoners and announceing that he will retire after the case against Woods is finally adjudicated.

We don’t know whether Bernadine is pro- or anti-capital punishment. She hides her views but in her contacts with the condemned Woods, she conveys the impression that she has spent enough time on her job and that she might prefer to ask for a transfer to a prison where the death penalty is not carried out. As a whole, writer-director Chukwu, the first Black woman to win the Grand Jury Prize at last January’s Sundance Festival, leaves it up to us in the audience to interpret her views on the death penalty.

There is virtually no music on the soundtrack, a condition that many a film should try to duplicate to avoid annoying intrusions into dialogue. Here ambiance reigns supreme in a drama you should feel free to attend unless you prefer the more melodramatic cases as shown in “Pierrepont: The Last Hangman” based on the life and times of Albert Pierrepont who slipped a rope around hundreds of necks until he burned out, and “I Want to Live!” starring Susan Hayward as a habitual criminal facing execution. Happy Christmas viewing!

113 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

SEFARAD – movie review

SEFARAD
Veranda Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Luís Ismael
Script History: Research Center of the Jewish Community of Oporto, Portugal
Cast: Rodrigo Santos, Pedro Galiza, Ana Vargas, Gabriela Relvas, Jorge Fernandes, Rui Spranger, Pedro Frias, José Neto
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, November 1, 2019
Opens: December 15, 2019

Sefarad (2019)

In my neighborhood, young Hasidic men and women spend much of each Friday walking around, judging whether the people they see on the street are Jewish. It’s quite common for a fourteen-year-old pair of girls to approach a woman, and for a fifteen-year-old man to close in on a man, asking “Are you Jewish?” Anyone who replies “yes” might be taken inside a “mitvah tank” to get a tefillen wrapped around his arm, get a blessing, and be sent away with the hope that yet another secular Jewish person will come back to the fold. This is a half-hour procedure the closest thing to what Christian missionaries do around the world, but there’s a difference. Judaism is not looking to convert people of other religions, only to awaken the latent Judaism in those who are members of the tribe. This is not unlike situation taking place on a grander scale in Oporto, Portugal, a city to which Jews returned in the Nineteenth Century to form a small community, the leaders of which are determined to bring the “real” Judaism to a group of so-called Marranos, or Crypto Jews, living in semi-isolated mountainous villages.

These Marranos (an offensive term that should give way to the more neutral “Crypto Jews”) were Jews who during and after the Inquisition in Spain converted to Catholicism to avoid the fate of these landsmen who were massacred in 1391. Hundreds of thousands of Jews became outwardly Christians, but the Crypto-Jews are those who practiced Judaism in secret. When beginning in 1923 Portuguese army captain Artur Barros Basto became involved in reclaiming these mountain people who did not pray in the same way as do the Jews who never had to convert. Moreover they were not even considered Jews by some, especially by one London-based financier. Barros Basto recruits a segment of these people and brings them into a classroom where he teaches them the “real” literature, culture and rituals of Judaism. He insists that they be circumcised because, he notes, nobody can be accepted into the embrace of Israel without a small, symbolic penile cut. For this latter act Barros Basto, a hero of World War I, is tossed out of the army and becomes the Portuguese Captain Alfred Dreyfus.

Luís Ismael, who directs this look at specific periods in Jewish history, is known for “Balas and Bolinos” about a gang that robs a gas station, following up with additional dramas about the leader of the gang. Not quite what we would expect from this director. Now he manages an epic story that covers five centuries in ninety minutes in a movie named Sefarad for an Iberian region where Sephardic Jews originated. Inspired by a true story of Artur Carlos de Barros Basto (1887-1961) who is portrayed here by Rodrigo Santos, this idealistic leader determines to establish a strong Jewish community in Oporto including the construction of the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue in 1938, the largest on the Iberian Peninsula.

This is a story without humor, a serious drama whose director is obviously inspired by one man who performs a minor revolution by getting a synagogue financed and built and means for all Jews in Oporto, but who admits ultimately that he failed. He faces resistance from the Marranos, many of whom had no intention or desire to change their ways, leaving behind a large synagogue with too small a congregation. As a former high school teacher I found the liveliest scene to take place in a modest classroom where the teens look at each other with shock and disbelief when told that they would have to undergo the placement of a knife to the penis. Inspiring is the scene of the captain as the stereotypical man on horseback, trudging through the tiny, mountainous villages and addressing the residents as if to say “Are you Jewish?” Rodrigo Santos anchors the film, speaking in fluent Portugese and English, relying on the help of his right-hand man Menasseh Ben Dov (Pedro Galiza) who will ultimately leave Portugal for what was then called Palestine.

The actors can sometimes deliver their lines too stiffly, particularly those playing British financiers with disagreements about recognizing Crypto-Jews as Jews (with good reason as many continue to attend Catholic church services), and much of the dialogue is didactic as though it were being presented to a middle school classroom. Despite these reservations, we should welcome “Sefarad” as a look at clash between Marranos culture, as these converted Jews over the centuries may have forgotten everything about the religion or, if they retained it would practice in a different way from those who never had to convert. Interestingly Barros Basto had thought of himself as a Catholic until his dying grandfather confessed to Jewish family origins. He converted to Judaism, was circumcised in Tangier, and changed his name to Abraham Israel Ben Rosh. His own converso story was passed over too lightly in the film.

In Portuguese, English and Hebrew.

90 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN – movie review

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN
Warner Bros Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Edward Norton
Screenwriter: Edward Norton, based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem
Cast: Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Cherry Jones, Bobby Canavale, Dallas Roberts
Screened at: Warner, NYC, 10/12/19
Opens: November 1, 2019

I’ve lived in Brooklyn all my life, the only living fellow my age who has loved the borough enough never to move. During the 1950s when I came of age and didn’t particularly follow politics as I do now when it’s as entertaining as any Broadway tragedy, I had the name Robert Moses imbedded in my memory. All I heard was that he did this and he did that; that he headed a dozen government bureaus and, while never elected, had more power than even the New York mayor or governor. He was honored to have bridges and parks named after him not only in Gotham but throughout New York State. His is a major role in “Motherless Brooklyn,” considered by Warner Bros to be a contender for end-year awards. Thinly disguised as the character Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), he would probably be considered by the movie’s audience a stand-in for today’s Trump, although Robert Moses died in 1981. And you can consider the parallel that Moses Randolph is played by Baldwin, one of the most popular guests on Saturday Night Live given his caricatures of our president. But I never knew that his character was a racist and an elitist who did not care for minorities or for poor people, that he contributed his talent to keep African-Americans out of New York by building overpasses that were a foot too short for buses. In fact he considered cars to be a pleasure vehicle for the elite and did not care that they are used today for business.

In any case, his role stands out in a picture by Edward Norton in which the celebrated actor serves not only as a thesp but as the film’s writer and director. Too bad, though, that this overlong picture (close to two and one-half hours and easily edited down had Norton wished) is convoluted, and requiring at least an extra viewing for understanding, which makes it a good choice for the DVD or the streaming services when they inevitably come out.

Using Jonathan Lathem’s novel, which won the National Book Critics Circle Awards and is available at Amazon for under a sawbuck, Norton changed the 1990 setting to 1957, in a Brooklyn whose cars could make you think that you’re in Cuba. Norton stars as a gumshoe, a private eye, who could never have been assigned to the police force because he had Tourette’s Syndrome, which afflicts him with uncontrollable tics both bodily and through speech. He would make odd noises, and only occasionally a taboo word like “tits” escapes from his mouth. His name is Lionel Essrog but as an orphan in his outer borough he acquired the nickname Brooklyn. At one point he is ejected from a Harlem jazz club. The rest of the time he gets slammed around a lot, so you’d think he’s on to something big. And he is.

Working in a shabby office with Tony Vermonte (Bobby Cannavale), Gil (Ethan Suplee), Danny (Dallas Roberts) and Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) he is upset when Frank, his best friend, is shot by a group of goons. This becomes the first plot point that’s difficult to figure out. So Motherless is determined to get to the bottom of things, discovering that African-Americans are highly critical of Moses Randolph’s plan to eject them from their homes in order to build highways—which Randolph pretties up by calling them slum clearance. Befriending Laura Rose (Gugu Mabatha-Raw), he finds that she is a lawyer concerned with the fate of her community. She clues Lionel in to the Moses Randolph plans and takes him to a Harlem jazz club where he enjoys the sounds from the trumpet of Wynton Marsalis (Michael Kenneth Williams), dubbing in the actual music of Marsalis. And he gets slammed around.

Expect to get tired of the tics. You’ll think, OK, Lionel, you made your point so you don’t have to let us keep seeing how the outside world thinks that you’re either amusing or nuts. More important you may wind up unclear about why Lionel’s idol, Frank Minna, is shot by people with whom he is negotiating. Further you watch the theme of brotherly hate as Paul Randolph (Willem Dafoe), the builder’s brother who has with him more than simply sibling rivalry, but his passion is over the top. Cherry Jones turns in a brief look at Gabby Horowitz, a community leader opposing Moses Randolph and perhaps a stand-in for Bella Abzug. And the entire design including a look at a huge Penn Station set up as it looked in the fifties is grand. If this film does not try your patience, you’re the type of person whose hunger is for watching “Chinatown” again and again.

144 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

HARRIET – movie review

HARRIET
Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Screenwriter: Gregory Ellen Howard, Kasi Lemmons
Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn, Jennifer Nettles, Clarke Peters
Screened at: Bryant Park, NYC, 9/11/19
Opens: November 1, 2019

Harriet Movie Poster (2019)

You’ve got to hand it to Canada. They have nationwide government health coverage just like the countries of Western Europe. They welcomed Americans who did not want to serve in the immoral war with Vietnam. They welcome immigrants even now! Even Ivanka has been seen checking out their Prime Minister. And they provided a safe haven for enslaved people in the U.S. who were able to travel, say, the 600 miles from Maryland to the Canadian border, some by boat from Lake Erie and Lake Ontario where many settled and found jobs. O Canada: can you take us in today when we need you so badly?

Hundreds of thousands of people in the early 19th century would have flocked to you, O Canada, to escape their status as property, where some of the opposition refused even to consider each to be 3/5 of a person. Otherwise a slave was considered property, and Harriet Tubman wanted none of that for herself, her family, her friends, and provided the energy and spark for John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. After seeing “Harriet,” you will not wonder why President Obama proposed her image on the $20 bill. You can probably forget that for now, since Trump is a big admirer of Old Hickory, even visiting his grave. But he would “love” to see Tubman’s face on another denomination, like the $2 bill. Yes, he really said that, which is to his credit. After all, he could have suggested the $3 bill. Which gets us back to Araminta Ross, called “Minty” by the slave owners in Dorchester County, Maryland. She had been thrashed by some of the farm owners under the direction of the handsome but villainous Gideon (Joe Alwyn), who took over the family estate after the death of his mean father, and may have been responsible for particular thrashings that injured Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo) in the head, causing pain and dizziness and a series of seizures that caused her to dream, to hallucinate, and as an already devout Christian to hear messages from God. Cultural appropriation of Joan of Arc?

When she is not acting, Director Kasi Lemmons has a long c.v. of TV serials, her film direction including “Eve’s Bayou,” which relates just what happens when a woman witnesses her father’s having an affair. The “Harriet” screenplay, which she co-wrote with Gregory Ellen Howard (“Remember the Titans” about a newly assigned African-American coach), plays out events in chronological order, with some hallucinations and dreams serving as an intermittent backdrop to a colorful biopic.

Determined to breathe free, she runs away from the farm that owns her chased by three bloodhounds, depending on her two legs to carry her but getting the help of a sympathetic white man in his covered wagon. She reaches Philadelphia in the free state of Pennsylvania where she connects with an anti-slavery society under the direction of William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) and is eventually given room and board in a hotel owned by Marie (Janelle Monáe), a sophisticated African-American who not only accepts Harriet but also takes in several members of her family whom she picked when Harriet—get this—returned from freedom, going back to the slave state of Maryland several times to pick up others.

“Harriet” is peppered with monologues form the title character, who invokes God’s communications with her, with dialogues among farmers who want Gideon’s family to pay them since Gideon’s slave has been taking them away to freedom, with tete-a-tetes especially between Harriet and Marie. But also there is considerable melodrama each time the dogs are sent to sniff out her path and one climactic face-off between good and evil: between Harriet and Gideon. Limiting herself to 125 minutes, Lemmons does not continue with Tubman’s working for the Union Army as a cook and nurse and later—as if she needs to do another miracle to attain an informal sainthood—with guiding a raid at Combahee Ferry which liberated 700 enslaved people. And she became the first woman to lead an armed expedition of men in the Civil War. She found time later in life to lobby for women suffrage.

Harriet Tubman must be grinning widely in her grave at Auburn, New York where she died in 1913, as this is a handsome movie that shows her in such a positive light that she appears to have not a single human flaw. For her part, look for Cynthia Erivo’s nominations by a host of awards groups including the Academy and even New York Film Critics Online.

125 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

FRANKIE – movie review

FRANKIE
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ira Sachs
Screenwriter: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear, Jérémie RenierPascal Greggory, Vinette Robinson, Ariyon Bakare, Carloto Cotta Sennia Nenua
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 10/4/19
Opens: October 25, 2019

Frankie Movie Poster

If you seek the answer to the age-old question “What is the meaning of life?” look no further than Ira Sachs’s picture “Frankie.” Sachs, whose “Keep the Lights On” deals with friendship, intimacy, love, addictions, compulsions, highs and lows pretty much covers the answer already. To that add the coming of death and you pretty much have it all. “Frankie” deals with all of the above, is graced by the usual charismatic performance by Isabelle Huppert, and takes place in Sintra, Portugal, one of the world’s most beautiful UNESCO Heritage sites. Too bad some people in a potential audience will continue to search for life’s meaning, turned off by the way Sachs unfolds the plot; namely, through talk. More conversation than you’d find in a French movie, just about as much as a picture done by Eric Rohmer, who has refused to be concerned with plot but deals only with people’s thoughts and feelings. “Frankie,” in like manner, introduces us to the woman’s extended family, called together to meet at Sintra when Frankie seeks a final closure with fewer than six months to live.

At some point in the film you get the relationships down almost pat. Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) was married first to Michel (Pascal Greggory) who learned that he was gay, leading her to hitch up with Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson). She is an actress on her final vacation, eager to marry off her perpetually single son from a previous marriage Paul (Jérémie) to her movie hairdresser Irene (Marisa Tomei). He is uninterested, though Irene is pursued by budding film director Gary (Greg Kinnear), who lives in New York’s Upper West Side but now wants to “settle down” in a country home with Irene—who is coy, leading him on but no willing to be penned up in an isolated area. Sylvia (Vinette Robinson), Jimmy’s daughter from a previous marriage, is married to Ian (Ariyon Bakare) but that entente looks frayed and about to topple. With one woman about to die, a marriage ready to fall apart, an older man virtually in tears contemplating his wife’s imminent death, this is a sad situation, taking place ironically in such a splendid location.

The only cheerful family member, teen Maya (Sennia Nanua), spends the day with a local boy she meets on the tram going from Sintra to the beach, has little idea what life has to offer, though one might infer from the adults around her that, giving her time, she’ll see how much melodrama and tragedy await. Even the Portuguese guide Tiago (Carloto Cotta) is involved with a strange marital situation, spouting the usual tourist palaver about which building comes from the 16th century and which fountain will cure all illness.

One-on-one exchanges give way at midpoint once to a vivacious birthday party thrown by locals for Frankie, who is recognized by the community from her pictures on magazine covers. The movie’s most tender scene finds Frankie and her second husband Jimmy hugging in bed, Jimmy appearing more concerned by thoughts of his wife’s approaching death than is she.

Call this Eric Rohmer-light, “Frankie,” which takes place in a single day in a single location, falls short of embracing the Classical Unities by its involving subplots. Though hardly needed, Schubert is introduced on the piano, punctuating the loveliness and the fragility of life.

98 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

BY THE GRACE OF GOD – movie review

BY THE GRACE OF GOD
Music Box Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: François Ozon, Anais Duran
Screenwriter: François Ozon
Cast: Melvil Poupaud, Denis Menochet, Swann Arlaud, Eric Caravaca, François Marthouret
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/15/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

By the Grace of God  movie poster 12x18  32x48 inch image 0

If I’m correct, the Catholic Church is the only religious institution that forbids the entire hierarchy of anointed officials from getting married, from having sexual relationships, from masturbation. Presumably the Church allows for nocturnal emissions, provided, of course that the officials are asleep during those times. Is it possible that this is the cause of so many charges of priestly molestations? That while there is no legal or ethical excuse for a member of the clergy to take sexual advantage of children, this can serve as a partial defense? This particular issue seems never to be discussed in media reports on pedophiles, nor to my memory have any priests charged with sexual offenses used this plea to lessen the severity of their crimes. (I use the term “his” because the Church does not allow women to be priests This is based on canon law passed by the clergy in 1024, requiring the excommunication of any woman ordained to be a priest together with the bishop who ordains her.)

Nor do my concerns find celluloid in “By the Grace of God,” a film which is not entirely an unusual departure for François Ozon, as his “Double Lover” focuses on a fragile woman’s relationship with her psychoanalyst, the latter acting beyond ethical norms like the priest who is front and center in Ozon’s latest contribution.

Like so many other French movies, “By the Grace of God” is talky. There is little melodrama, though there is considerable tension in a film that takes down Bernard Praynat (Bernard Verley), a priest, and his boss, Cardinal Phillipe Barbarin (Bernard Marthouret). If you’re looking for anything but a token display of Ozon-ite humor, you’re going to the wrong place. Looking like a docudrama though it is fully a narrative film, “By the Grace of God” is a heavy, long drama, its denouement known to people who follow such doings.

The acting is so believable that you might think events are running in real time rather than by thoroughly professional actors. Stories by the three alleged victims of abuse come together smoothly, though Ozon gives each man time to argue his case separately and to show how the abuse by the same priest affects their lives today. You are likely to consider the principal character, Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud), the most anchored, a bank executive with a spacious house in Lyon who never has doubt about pressing charges against Praynat. He has five children with the kind of family that the Church would favor, and states that he is not looking for revenge, only for justice and the opportunity to prevent abuses from going on. He is also a role model for his children, stating that they should never be afraid to speak out.

And speaking out is something that all three victims had refused to do for twenty years and more, the French statute of limitations making it difficult to find Praynat guilty of a felony—though he certainly may be defrocked. Though Alexandre’s wife (Aurelia Petit) wants her man to “go for it,” his mother advises him to stop “stirring up shit” against an old man. And she may be right! At least that’s the impression I get, my own sympathies being that if Praynat was not properly accused at the times of the molestations (“It’s our secret,” he says), maybe this should be water under the bridge.

Surprisingly, Praynat has not denied Alexandre’s accusations, even agreeing to meet with him in the presence of another church official, Regine Maire (Martine Erhel), admitting that he has an attraction to young boys. But strangely, he does not ask for forgiveness, which might have mollified Alexandre. That’s not all. Even though Alexandre speaks with Cardinal Barbarin, who could have defrocked the priest, this archbishop of Lyon had not stopped the priest from being with children and appears to minimize the offenses.

Alexandre’s woes are confirmed by François (Denis Menochet), a husky gent who calls himself an atheist and who is furious as well, even going to the press and arranging for a website “Lift the Burden of Silence” designed to rally other victims to the cause. Finally Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud), whose girlfriend accuses him of grandstanding and will take a break from their relationship due to her man’s hostility and aggressiveness, finds that her boyfriend is a “zebra,” a label to designate people with IQ’s over 140. He blames his own intelligence for an inability to adapt to the world, an unemployed guy who believes he has no future. In the film’s only real burst of melodrama, François’ brother goes ballistic, accusing François of loving his status as the center of the family’s attention.

What might turn off potential viewers is that sparseness of flashbacks to dramatize the predicaments of the three men, and even those look simply at a younger Prayat’s beckoning his favorite scout to leave the group for a while “to pray.” Nothing there to warrant anything but a PG-13 rating for the movie. Notwithstanding, for the appropriate audience, the film is thoroughly absorbing, though it’s not likely to raise the blood pressure of anyone in the audience.

137 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

JOJO RABBIT – movie review

JOJO RABBIT
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Taika Waititi
Screenwriter: Taika Waititi based on on the book “Caging Skies” by Chrstine Leunens
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Sam Rockwell, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Scarlett Johansson
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/14/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

The time is long past that we did not dare to treat Hitler and the Holocaust with broad comedy. Hitler was a demon, the most evil man of the 20th century, so how can we deal with him other than with serious documentaries and dramas? Must everything be as serious as Berthold Brecht’s 1941 play “The Resistable Rise of Urturo Ui”? No. Charlie Chaplin knew that the best way to take such people down is to laugh at them, thus “The Great Dictator,” though in 1940 Chaplin could scarcely have known just how evil the German chancellor was. “The Producers” could be considered the first major movie that laughs at Hitler, and now comes “Jo Jo Rabbit” that mocks Hitler as a fool but hardly shows the depths of depravity in his characterization by Taika Waititi. If you’re wondering about the name of this inventive director, Waititi hails from the Raukokore region of the East Coast of New Zealand, and is the son of Robin Cohen, a teacher, and Taika Waiti, an artist and farmer. His father is Maori (Te-Whanau-a-Apanui), and his mother is of Ashkenazi Jewish, Irish, Scottish, and English descent.

While the director has twenty-two credits, largely from overseeing TV episodes, his “What We Do in the Shadows” about vampires who worry more about paying the rent than about nourishing themselves, gives us a hint of the oddball and original works to come. The title figure in “Jojo Rabbit” is a ten-year-old boy from a German village played by Roman Griffin Davis, the son of Rosie Betzler, (Scarlett Johansson), who has an adult playmate in his spacious house named Adolf Hitler (the director himself). In the opening scenes which are the movie’s fastest-moving and zaniest, he attends a Hitler Youth camp taught by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), where the young men are taught military skills while the girls, scarcely teens, are instructed in how to get pregnant. (Truth to tell, the Nazi government cared not a whit about marriage. Women’s purpose was to give birth as many times as they could to populate the Reich with Aryan babies.) The girls here are instructed by Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) who gave the Fatherland eighteen of ‘em.

When Jojo Belcher is injured by a grenade he is drummed out of the camp but not before taking part in such fun activities as burning books. When he refused orders to kill a rabbit, he is derided by the counselors, given the nickname Jojo Rabbit. Filled with ridiculous tales of alleged Jewish depravity he is shocked to discover that his mother is hiding Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish woman of about eighteen years of age. You might expect that Elsa, when discovered by this young nazi kid, would cower, but instead she boldly declares that if Jojo turns her in, she would tell the Gestapo that he and his mother were hiding her, even using some physical force to show her lack of fear. Eventually, as everyone in the audience knew, he would hear about the Jewish tradition, how Jews were chosen by God, and comes around even to falling in love with her.

Brief archival shots show the genuine love for Hitler as thousands lined the streets when he passed in his car, reminding us that the people in charge of governments, the CEOs as you will, are often hardly the types of people that Plato advocated to be leaders. Few of them even now are Platonic philosopher kings, and many subjects are blown away by their vulgarity and cannot understand how their decisions could spell disaster for themselves and their country.

This is a remarkable feel-good movie in the style of Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful,” about a Jewish-Italian book shop owner who must shield his young son from the terrors of the Nazis. Eleven-year-old Roman Griffin Davis is the actor to watch, having turned in an astonishing role, evoking the full range of emotions from surprise to joy to terror. “Jojo Rabbit” was filmed in the Czech Republic.

108 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

SYNONYMS – movie review

SYNONYMS
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nadav Lapid
Screenwriter: Nadav Lapid, Haïm Lapid
Cast: Tom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevilotte
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/5/19
Opens: October 25, 2019

Synonyms Large Poster

Thomas Wolfe said you Can’t Go Home Again, in fact that is the title of a novel published in 1940. The novel tells the story of George Webber, a fledgling author, who writes a book that makes frequent references to his home town of Libya Hill which was actually Asheville, North Carolina. The book is a national success but the residents of the town had been unhappy with what they view as Webber’s distorted depiction of them, send the author menacing letters and death threats. Nadav Lapid, a brilliant director whose “The Kindergarten Teacher” tells of a New York teacher who becomes obsessed with a five-year-old’s gift for poetry, now takes tackles a film thematically alike Wolfe’s novel, about a 20-something who not only can’t go home again: he does not want to. You can’t blame some critics who, like the writer for “The Jerusalem Post,” in effect blames director Lapid for washing Israel’s dirty laundry in public in a similar way that Thomas Wolfe disturbed his townspeople.

“Synonyms” is a bold, original, impressive movie that has critics divided though it took top prize at the Berlin Film Festival this year. That’s not surprising. The best movies are strong enough to divide audiences, since unlike pics that are febrile, that do not hurt anybody’s feelings, controversial ones may have some people hating while picking up other people’s praise.

As for the fellow who has no intention of ever going back to his homeland, Yoav (Tom Mercier) left Israel after fulfilling his military duties, traveled to France without a shekel in his pocket, and refuses to speak Hebrew. He pores over grammar books, walking the streets around the Seine mumbling words together with their synonyms, takes a demanding and exciting citizenship class where he is required to sing the second stanza of the Marseilles, and even when visited by his father who is worried that his son is not eating and is living in a shoebox refuses to respond to the older man in Hebrew.

But he is not at all out of luck. In the film’s opening he visits a strangely vacant Left Bank apartment, wakes up nude (full frontal nudity: beware), discovers that someone has stolen his backpack with all his clothes and wakes up in the home of Émile (Quentin Dolmarie) and Caroline (Louise Chevillotte). Émile finds Yoav an impressive young man, given that Yoav is filled with stories about his life in Israel, making analogies to the Greek legends about Homer’s Hector, represented as the ideal warrior. By contrast Émile responds that his own life is boring, that he has no stories to pay his new guest back. For her part Caroline (Louise Chevillotte), an oboist with the local symphony orchestra, is likewise fascinated by the immigrant, not surprising since he has sworn off Hebrew, knows the complete French national anthem, and is more Gallic than the typical person born in France and knowing no other tribe.

Despite his reverse nationalism, Yoav appears qualified only to be a security guard at the Israeli consulate, where one officer goads him into a fight as though training him for the Israeli Defense Forces. Yoav is slim, yet seems rock hard from his army training and is occasionally interested in starting a fight—particularly with a member of Caroline’s orchestra who chastises him for rudeness.

Émile soon sense that Caroline is more interested in Yoav than in him, no considering that Caroline and Yoav fell into each other’s arms—Caroline muttering that she “always knew that we would sleep together.” Perhaps the most emotional scene occurs when Yoav, determined to flee the militaristic country of his birth, becomes enrapt hearing a classmate in his French class sing the first stanza of the Marseilles, following up with the next which speaks of the “purity of the French blood” and the needs to spill the blood of the enemy.

All this makes “Synonyms” as arresting a film that you’ll see this year, perhaps later competing against great movies like the South Korean “Parasite” for Best Foreign Picture. Note especially the great performance coming from Tom Mercier in his early career, a likely candidate for those organizations like NY Film Critics Online which give awards for Best Actor.

123 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

TELL ME WHO I AM – movie review

TELL ME WHO I AM
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ed Perkins
Cast: Alex Lewis, Marcus Lewis
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 10/2/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

Poster

When Cain asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he may have meant the question to be rhetorical and, indeed, he got no response. This is a question that many families around the world ask, with different answers offered depending on whether siblings are close or distant. There’s no doubt that Ed Perkins’ film “Tell Me Who I Am,” to be streamed on Netflix as of Oct. 18, provides an answer for one English family, one with an apparent aristocratic background, living in a spacious country house in one of the Home Counties (those areas that surround London such as Berkshire, Essex and Surrey).

The story written by twin brothers Alex Lewis and Marcus Lewis has been published in 2013, available on Amazon for under $11, doubtless giving the readers more answers and details than can be found in this too-brief documentary. While Alex and Marcus are the same age, we in the audience can believe that Marcus has been the dominant one, his brother’s keeper. And this is all the more so since Alex suffered a traumatic motorcycle accident when he was eighteen, leading to full-scale amnesia. His life is really starting over. His memories are gone, though Marcus has been game to briefing him about their lives together. Yet for over three decades, there is one series of incidents that Marcus had repressed and has been unwilling to tell Alex all these years. A series incidents changed Marcus’s life, made him refuse to forgive his father on the old man’s deathbed while Alex was perfectly willing to do. It’s as though Alex would say to Marcus, “He’ll be dead in days or hours: what’s the problem?” In most cases that’s the least a son can do. Apparently, though, dad has been an enabler in a series of horrendous acts of perversity, and Marcus (correctly, I think) had been reluctant to bringing those childhood events back into Marcus’s mind. Until now.

It would be unfair, a spoiler, for a review to reveal just what happened to cause severe family dysfunction, as if Agatha Christie revealed the name of the murderer on the front page of “And Then There Were None.” Suffice it to say that “Tell Me Who I Am” is not a study of amnesia, but rather than it uses Alex’s amnesia as a catalyst to tell a story. The problem I have, perhaps a minor one, is that this tale of repression would find a better home on the stage. Even the movie divides the 85 minutes into three acts. Ed Perkins, whose short TV documentaries include “Bare Knuckles Fight Club” (Brits competing without boxing gloves), “Comic Store Heroes” (about the largest comic book store in the U.S.) and “If I Die on Mars” (looking into why people would volunteer on a suicide mission), evokes solid performances from Alex and Marcus.

The brothers, who do almost everything together (including some strange activities ending when they were 14), run a successful business. Specifically they are among the founders of Fundu Lagoon in Pemba, Zanzibar, a hotel known throughout Africa. Now if you want to open up “Tell Me Who I Am” into a two-hour action story, you’d do well to follow the lives of the twins from debutante balls in the 1950s to raves on a remote Pacific island in the 1990s right up to the creation of this magnificent hotel on a multi-cultural African island built in part by locals who had never seen a white person before.

85 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

#FEMALE PLEASURE – movie review

#FEMALE PLEASURE

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Barbara Miller
Screenwriter: Barbara Miller
Cast: Deborah Feldman, Leyla Hussein, Rokudenashiko, Doris Wagner, Yithika Yadav
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/23/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

#Female Pleasure (2018)

During the Age of Aquarius in America, Joan Baez would sing “Hard is the fortune of all womankind/ She’s always controlled, she’s always confined/ Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife/ A slave to her husband for the rest of her life.” You might not think that in free America—as compared, for example with Saudi Arabia—that women have it so bad, but of course there’s room even in our country before we can declare the two sexes absolutely equal. Things are worse, then, in some parts of the world, and Barbara Miller, who wrote and directs “#Female Pleasure,” takes us around the globe from Brooklyn to Japan to India and to the UK and to Italy, where women activists are challenging the rules enforced upon them by religion or by culture. You come away with the impression that Karl Marx was right in saying that religion was invented by men to keep women down–though he could add repressive cultures in general.

The Swiss director hones in on five women, capturing their legitimate beefs through both the interview format and through observing them living their lives. In one case she indicts entire societies in discussing the evil practice of FGM, or female genital mutilation, in which babies, really, five-year-old girls, are held down and have their clitoris cut out so that they cannot feel sexual pleasure. Strangely, though, the women do not explain why this is done. Presumably this is to prevent women from straying from their husbands. In other cases, religion, which of course is part of a culture, is indicted, interpreted by men to pronounce themselves superior to women and to exploit them for their own satisfaction.

The woman whose story meant the most for me was Deborah Feldman, as I had read her book “Unorthodox,” there describing her view of the Hasidic religious sect in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She was one of the few who actually left, taking off on her own, living in Greenwich Village, her book describing her dismal view of the highly Orthodox people who do not allow women to choose their mates. (I think she did a disservice on those pages in which she tells all, describing the sexual practices of her ex-husband which must have humiliated him.) Feldman is seen driving her son inside the Hasidic community, asking him whether she should return to the fold and getting the obvious answer from the young man, “Let’s get out.” And that’s a male talking! We see films of Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, where the residents post large signs about respecting the local culture. Women are told to dress modestly—long sleeve shirts, skirts down about her ankles, though what Feldman could have added is that tourists who walk through the community with outfits that the residents consider immodest are spat upon, the women addressed as whores.

At least nobody in the Hasidic culture favors FGM. The bizarre custom of cutting a woman’s genitals when she is but a small child occurs largely in North Africa—Egypt, Somalia, for example, but also in Kenya. We hear from Leyla Hussein, who had the procedure forced on her. Like Feldman, she ultimately escaped the repressiveness by moving to the UK. At the very least she has convinced women in the expate Somali community to the anti-FGM cause, and when she visited the Masai in Kenya, learning that these women too had been mutilated, she gets their pledge not to do the same to their own daughters. As for the view that, hey, men, too are mutilated by some cultures by having their foreskins removed, she counters that the equivalent would be to have their entire penises removed.

Rokudenashiko, the nickname of manga artist Megumi Igarashi which means “good for nothing,” put vaginas in her cartoons for which she was arrested, tried, and acquitted of that charge, but she was convicted for making 3D images of the vagina, creating necklaces, iPhone cases and even a kayak using her own vulva as the design.

Miller also gives time to Doris Wagner, a German nun who claims that she was raped more than once by a priest, though we wonder why she would remain in the convent after a single instance, particularly since her charge was not taken seriously. She had written to Pope Francis, receiving no response, and is now a free woman who loves pop songs which, unlike what she heard in the convent deals with real human emotions.

Vithika Yadav, a feminist activist in India, makes us aware that the government in India appears not to take rape seriously, thinking, perhaps, that “Boys will be boys.” A street demonstration cast with men sympathetic to her cause reenacts the humiliation that women go through.

Some might say that the film is “all over the place,” since it deals with a variety of themes from genital mutilation to arranged marriage, but all falls under the umbrella of ways that women are not valued as much as are men, looked upon—except by me and you—as nothing more than baby-making machines whose pleasure is considered unimportant by men. If you are “woke,” i.e. socially aware, you know and rejects the attitude of male supremacy unearthed by this fascinating trip around the globe. Even so, you will be attentive to the sharp visuals in Jiro Akiba, Gabriela Betschart and Anne Misselwitz’s photography.

The film garnered awards and nominations at film festivals in Locarno, Leipzig, Austria and Thessalonika.

101 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

CYRANO, MY LOVE – movie review

CYRANO, MY LOVE
Roadside Attractions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director:Alexis Michalik
Screenwriter: Alexis Michalik
Cast: Thomas Solivérès, Olivier Gourmet, Mithilde Seigner, Tom Leeb, Lucie Boujenah, Alice De Lencquesaing
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/24/19
Opens: October 18, 2019

Cyrano, My Love poster

We go to movies to see stories of lovers and criminals, cops and robbers, Batman and Robin, but who would think that a story about a writer could be both funny and sad, bubbly and mournful, especially about a playwright whose magnum opus is known by everyone but whose name slips our mind? With “Cyrano, My Love,” director Alexis Michalik, a handsome young fellow with a long résumé as an actor, slips into the director’s chair with a first feature that mimics the trajectory of Edmond Rostand. With this wonderful, effervescent movie, Michalik hits pay dirt much like Rostand, a Parisian who, in 1897, had not written for two years only to rise above his station. Filled with both boisterous moments and expression of deep loneliness, “Cyrano, My Love” finds Rostand at age twenty-nine in Paris, desperate for money to pay the rent and to support his wife and two kids.

Rostand, given stunning new life by newcomer Thomas Solivérès, shares the glory in this film with Olivier Gourmet in the role of noted French actor Constant Coquelin, who is about to take on the costume, the poetic wit, and most of all the nose of Cyrano. Herein is a fanciful re-creation of Rostand’s struggle to make a name for himself after the turkey he had written for Sarah Bernhardt (Clementine Celarie). Since necessity is the mother of invention, Rostand’s recovers his ambition and his hopes, investing everything in a new play that seems unlikely to draw much of an audience given his previous flop. Enlightenment comes from the local restaurateur Honoré, a black man, who suggests the plot lines for Cyrano, holding that like Honoré, Cyrano has been treated like an insignificant soul.

Since a cardinal rule is to write what you know, Rostand bears witness to the plight of his friend Léonidas Léo Volny (Tom Leeb). Volny is in love with a theater costume designer Jeanne (Lucie Boujenah) and, given his good looks should be able to connect with the pretty young woman. But looks aren’t everything (or so some people think). Volny is unable to speak what he feels, and what a woman wants in Paris at least during the fin de siècle is a lover who can sweep her off her feet with words, verses preferred over mere prose. By contrast, Rostand is flawed with his ordinary appearance, his only hope lying in his words. While Volny pretends to speak passionately with Jeanne, who stands on a balcony, Rostand hides beneath delivering Volny’s words of love, making Jeanne fall in love with the poetry.

This being Paris, love and sexuality are more open than they had been for, say, the U.S. during the 1950s, which makes one wonder why the City of Lights needs brothels at all. Director Michalik, who by the way takes on the role of George Feydeau known and celebrated for his one-act farces, chooses to shoot a scene in a brothel which he could have left on the cutting-room floor, perhaps spending more time fleshing out some of the minor characters like Feydeau and some of the women including Mathilde Seigner as Maria Legault, who in the re-enactment of the play falls twice through a trap door, and Rostand’s wife Rosemonde (Alice de Lencquesaing), who fears that the passion in her marriage is gone.

This is an expensive production given the hundreds of well-dressed extras that fill all of the theater’s 1050 seats and the rentals of expensive costumes probably from the Barrandov Studios in the Czech Republic where much of the movie was filmed. “Cyrano, My Love” is a fast-moving comedy-drama that builds excitement from the scores of mishaps that threaten to close the play even before opening night, including a police action that would ban the presence of the title character and the disappearance on opening night of a major player. However the show must go on. See this obvious crowd-pleaser for scenes that are partly highbrow but with a strong emphasis on the down-to-earth hilarity that can be appreciated by theater snobs and groundlings alike.

110 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE LAUNDROMAT – movie review

THE LAUNDROMAT
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns, Jake Bernstein, from Bernstein’s book “Secrecy World”
Cast: Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, Gary Oldman, Sharon Stone
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/10/19
Opened: September 27, 2019. October 18, 2019 streaming.

The Laundromat Movie Poster

You may think that the revelations of the Panama Papers in 2015 are ancient history, that they have little bearing on the world of 2019, but in the film’s conclusion—a manifesto by Meryl Streep who is in the principal role—Soderbergh is indicting the current administration on Capitol Hill and in the White House. He makes clear to those who are following politics today that the working class people who voted for Trump and support him to this day are being screwed over. They may think it’s great that Trump talks like ordinary people in our country, but that’s just a distraction. The government makes it possible for the rich to become richer, enabling them to avoid paying taxes (some billionaire corporations today pay no tax at all), and handing big business a major tax break that is increasing the deficit by $300 billion in just the past three years.

You don’t have to be familiar with the Panama Papers to understand this movie, though it helps..maybe. There are so many stories, such a load of subplots in the film that marks Steven Soderbegh’s coming out of retirement to direct once again, that you might be better off streaming it from Netflix when it becomes available October 18. In that way you can stop the proceedings, re-wind, and re-wind again. However because of the terrific editing job done by the director, the jumble of subplots congeal by the conclusion.
As stated in Wikipedia, The Panama Papers are 11.5 million leaked documents that detail financial and attorney–client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities. The documents, some dating back to the 1970s, were created by, and taken from, Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca, and were leaked in 2015 by an anonymous source. The documents contain personal financial information about wealthy individuals and public officials that had previously been kept private. While offshore business entities are legal, some of the Mossack Fonseca shell corporations were used for illegal purposes, including fraud, tax evasion, and evading international sanctions.

Director Soderbergh, whose “The Informant!” shows the U.S. going after agro-business for price fixing, is surely following the political scene closely. Now he uses Meryl Streep in the key role of Ellen Martin, an elderly, biddie-ish woman caught in a tragic boating accident in New York State, suffering the loss of her husband Joseph David Martin (James Cromwell). Expecting to get a settlement from the boat company’s insurance, she learns of skullduggery involving the sale of the insurance company to a shell group, which is to say that the company exists only as a piece of paper and a mailbox somewhere outside of the U.S.

Avoiding broad comedy but instead relying on arch humor, Soderbergh piles on the tales of corruption. Ellen is cheated out of the Las Vegas condo that she wanted: it faced the area in which she had met her husband. Serving as a Greek chorus, Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca, played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, meet us on screen in an array of bespoke suits, representing the law firm catering to the upper one percent, giving these corporations advice on laundering money (hence the picture’s title) avoiding taxes thereby. In the most interesting subplot, a rich, imposing gent originally from Africa cheats on his wife, his daughter threatening to tell her mother that dad has a whole separate married family. She is offered a $20 million company to keep quiet. Did she really get that amount, or is the company worth more like $100? A Chinese official poisons a British businessman, the Chongking police chief “in” on the situation, involved in the bribery. A character in a West Indian country is arrested at airport, fainting when he is confronted by the police.

Soderbergh brings together a group of people more interesting than we in the audience have ever met, all scalawags who evoke our smiles until we realize that each of us is too meek to do anything about it. Meryl Streep provides the picture’s greatest plot twist, waiting until the final minutes to cause us to gasp. For a better understanding of the bribery, tax evasion and money laundering, spend $12.64 at Amazon to get Jake Bernstein’s “Secrecy World,” drawing from millions of leaked documents, explaining how criminals are enabled by authorities who look the other way.

96 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

PARASITE – movie review

PARASITE (Gisaengchung)
Neon
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Screenwriter: Bong Joon-ho, Han Jin-won
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Chang Hyae-jin, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ziso, Lee Jung-em, Jung Hyeon-jun
Screened at: Dolby, NYC, 10/8/19
Opens: October 11, 2019

Theatrical one-sheet for Bong Joon Ho's Parasite (2019).

Some say that the best way to disturb and undercut people like Trump is not to criticize him directly but to laugh at him, to consider his administration to be a clown show. Bong Joon-ho, the celebrated South Korean writer-director, would probably agree, though with his latest movie “Parasite,” the good guys act the clown part getting their digs at people who are richer and who think of them as merely useful servants. (Thin, of how an established white family has contempt for and uses their black servants in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” the best movie of 2017).

Bong’s “Okja” that same year tracks a young girl’s introducing of a beast to prevent a kidnapping by a multi-national company, and his “Snowpiercer” finding most people dead after a failed climate change experiment save for lucky people on a train who threaten class warfare. We have no doubt that class inequalities are on top of the fifty-year-old director’s mind. Now with “Parasite” Bong unfolds a combination comedy-horror tale, constructing the inevitable envy of the rich by the poor, the latter wanting either to emulate them or destroy them. The story is involving throughout with a doozy of a concluding half hour, a culmination well earned from the careful exposition.

Though South Korean people have an average income some thirty times that of the fellows north of the thirty-eighth parallel, there is considerable poverty in that country just as there is in ours. In the view of Bong and of his co-scripter Han Jin-won, the Kim family composed of patriarch Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), his wife Kim Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), his son Kim I-woo (Choi Wood-shik) and his pretty daughter Kim Ki-jung (Park So-dam), has good reason to envy the rich given their own bug-infested digs which are occasionally visited outside by a homeless man who urinates on their wall. However given dad’s flexible ethics, these folks have a way of exploiting the fabulously rich family of executive Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun). In a cuttingly humorous manner, 20-year-old Kim Ki-woo forges a college diploma and gets a job tutoring the daughter (Jung Ziso), a high-school sophomore, while Ki-woo’s dad becomes the CEO’s driver and mother uses her wiles to displace the long-term housekeeper. At the same time Ki-tak’s daughter gives “art therapy” to the Parks’ young and bratty kid, demanding a high wage because she can “discover” schizophrenic tendencies in the little kid and help him to overcome these. Through hook and crook, then the four poor folks have insinuated themselves into the huge and beautiful mansion high up in the city, though leaving the previous staff unemployed.

In an elegantly plotted movie, carefully preparing us step by step for the drama that will inevitably follow, Bong evokes terrific performances from the entire ensemble, giving his audience a stark picture of wealth inequality, a situation that Bong presumably believes to be the essence of corrupt capitalism. Hong Kyong-pyo films in the touristic city of Goyang, South Korea, his lensing deftly comparing the squalor of the Kim’s basement apartment with the exquisite residence of the Parks, with a classical music soundtrack serving to give the film the tone of an Asian Downton Abbey.

131 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME – movie review

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Craig Brewer
Screenwriter: Larry Karaszewski, Scott Alexander
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Noop Dogg
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 10/3/19
Opens: October 4, 2019

Dolemite Is My Name Movie Poster

Eddie Murphy is back and back big! “Dolemite is My Name” is a vastly entertaining, noisy, chaotic and wonderful comedy which takes off from the principal character’s thesis that “Black people like explosions, car crashes and titties.” Sounds like something that transcends race, but in many ways, Craig Brewer’s biopic finds that blacks and whites may have different senses of humor. Never mind: spun by this mostly African-American cast, the jokes and situations can be universally understood and embraced.

Under the direction of Craig Brewer, the perfect guy for the task having made films like “Hustle & Flow” (Memphis pimp in midlife crisis tries to become a hip-hop emcee), Murphy anchors the comedy as a man down on luck. Like Terrence Howard’s character Dj in “Hustle and Flow,” Rudy Ray Moore is not satisfied being a mere record store clerk, eager to break out with his own music, frustrated that nobody would touch his singles. Moore is compelled to work a shift in a nightclub where he bombs. Unable to catch the attention he needs as either a singer or a stand-up comic, he runs into a homeless man who is a repository of stories, which Moore appropriates for his own nightclub act and voilá: he has his crowd screaming. The more obscene the better. When he can’t sell the disc to a local JD as it’s too dirty to put on the air, he successfully markets it from his car trunk. He takes on the name Dolemite, and he’s on his way up.

Moore, dressed in a huge array of costumes, the pimp-ier the better, excites his all African-American crowd. He hits on one Lady Reed (D’Vine Joy Randolph), convincing her to team up with him. He watches the movie “Front Page” in a theater with an appreciative white audience, looking around and wondering why he’s the only person who doesn’t get it. That gives him an idea. Why not open up a movie starring him, all-black cast, giving his target audience what they want most: white guys as baddies, taken down with karate chops and automatic gunfire, a sex scene (which, though meant to be romantic turns out hilarious), and all-around mayhem. Plans get realized when he rents a run-down hotel, hires white guys from the local film school who know how to put a movie together, and lands a celeb, D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) to co-star with Moore and to direct.

Eddie Murphy is a spellbinder, set to rivet his real movie audience as he does the folks in the cast, a Horario Alger story, if you will, about picking yourself up from the ground, dusting yourself off, and making it big. With a large and delightfully vulgar ensemble, especially Wesley Snipes and Da’Vine Joy Randolph and lots of loud songs to keep our blood flowing, “Dolemite is My Name” is not only a blast but informs us about the rules of the marketing game and how they can be embraced and overturned as well.

117 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

LUCY IN THE SKY – movie review

LUCY IN THE SKY
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Noah Howley
Screenwriter: Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi, Noah Hawley
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, Zazie Beetz, Ellyn Burstyn
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 10/1/19
Opens: October 4, 2019

Lucy in the Sky Poster

Lucy Cola may be in the sky part of the time, but as storytelling, this Fatal-Attraction-like revenge fantasy lacks wings. Based on an actual tale of a female astronaut, Lisa Marie Nowak, who flew aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 2006, Noah Howley’s dramatization follows her as she is floating on a mission, segueing into her romance with a handsome devil who dumped her, thereby leading to her going insane. Howley’s résumé cites him for directing TV series like “Cat’s Cradle” and “Fargo,” now delivering a freshman feature with a lot more ambition than one would expect from a director with that background.

Howley appears to make up for a lack of solid storytelling (he has two co-writers) for a wealth of cinematic tricks, almost all of which serve nothing more than to distract the audience. He would expand the screen when Lucy’s world opens up, then cut back on the aspect ratio when she is in the doldrums. Credit Natalie Portman with a class act as the title character—she is alternately seductive, pleading, violent, sensitive, running the gamut of emotions depending on the circumstances. As a larger-than-life woman, an astronaut, no less, you might expect her to be so satisfied with her profession, willing and even demanding to take on risky assignments, that she would never fall to murderous rage when a “ladies’ man” drops her for another.

Opening scenes may well remind you of “Ad Astra” and “Gravity,” a slow-moving triptych into outer space which finds Lucy looking exhilarated by her gig. She is like the type of person who risks his life in Afghanistan in 110 degrees, is sent back to the States with an honorable discharge, looks at one hundred cereal boxes in the supermarket, and heads right back to the fighting. He has a nice albeit irresolute husband Drew (Dan Stevens), a grandmother Nana Holbrook who like Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley in “Downton Abbey” has an unlimited supply of witticisms. This earthbound life is simply not enough for someone who finds more thrills being alone in space.

During the second part of the film, in which Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), a fellow astronaut and womanizer hits on her, Lucy is smitten. She is head over heels as she might be when floating in space in the absence of gravity. She should have realized that this fellow is not the settling kind, but in a moment of sexual flush she kisses him, and the affair begins. Lucy will risk all for both her profession and her boyfriend, insisting on the administrator of the space program that she does not like the way he grounds her, taking the big chance of chucking her husband, going nuts, and losing all. In the final scene she is once again courting danger, a scene that should be seen as one providing a strong clue not just to her willingness, but to her real desire to be in danger.

126 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

PAIN AND GLORY – movie review

PAIN AND GLORY (Dolor y Gloria)
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Screenwriter: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, César Vicente, Asier Flores, Penélope Cruz, Cecilia Roth, Susi Sánchez, Raúl Arévalo, Pedro Casablanc, Julián López
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 9/12/19
Opens: October 4, 2019

Image result for pain and glory movie poster

Dedicated Almodóvar fans may be disappointed with his latest venture, a thinly disguised biopic of his own life or, as the woman performing as his mother complains, afraid that auto-fiction will reveal too much. The director is known for pictures as daring as the titles such as his dark comedy “Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (a woman seeks to discover the reason her lover left her); the romantic comedy “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” (a former mental patient kidnaps a porn star hoping to convince her to marry him); and the psychological thriller “The Skin I Live In” (a plastic surgeon experiments on a skin he develops to withstand damage). Now in his sixties Salvador (Antonio Banderas), standing in for Almodóvar, is wracked by ailments; by migraines, tinnitus, back pain after spinal surgery, and near the conclusion a potential tumor causing him to choke on food and drink. Aside from his physical pain, he feels isolated. His health prevents him from making movies, work which keeps him going and which, when halted, leaves him feeling isolated (as he shows early on immersed in water) and depressed. His life is not as interesting as his movies, but then again how could it be, considering that the director himself is A-list, one of the great living filmmakers of our time.

Nonetheless Almodóvar believes that a selective memoir could involve an audience. We see Salvador’s life divided into three periods: the 1960s as a nine-year-old boy; the 1980s, which is given the least amount of celluloid, where he has had an affair with Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia); and the current year when the suffering filmmaker depends on the care of his assistant Mercedes (Nora Navas). The narrative is not chronological. The man in the current year lives in a large house, cabinet painted bright red, filled with paintings that made one of his visitors think he was in a museum. Salvador frequently drifts off dreaming of what he may consider the idyllic time of his life, when though poor and living in a cave, he is excited by reading and gets his first sexual fantasy that is so strong that it knocks him off his feet.

This early segment is the most interesting unless you have been going to a series of doctors yourself trying to get a diagnosis that nobody can give you, and you relate strongly to the pain that Salva feels. The nine-year-old future filmmaker (Asier Flores) living with his patient mother Jacinta (Penélope Cruz) in a cave—not considered bad digs by the people of the village—is obviously a prodigy, playing piano, lead singer in the church choir where comic touches feature a few boys with atrocious voices, and teaching an illiterate painter Eduardo (César Vicente) to read. When Eduardo washes himself, barely covered by a towel, Salva faints with the intensity of the feeling and, yes folks, your nine-year-old has sexual feelings as well. His mother senses the attraction and hides a sensual painting that Eduardo does of her son.

Two men capture Salvador’s attention in the present years. Federico, with whom Salva had a love affair in the eighties, visits the ailing filmmaker after decades of separation. In an emotional scene they reminisce about those good years and part with a long kiss. And Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), an actor who visits, having appeared in a Salvador’s eighties picture and has not spoken with his director after being insulted by him thirty-two years back. He introduces Salvador to heroin—which for the movie audience supplies the beauty of Salva’s dreams of his childhood. Having not acted in years and feeling as useless as Salvador, Alberto finds purpose in delivering a monologue on the stage, witnessed by Salvador’s former lover Federico.

Though this is arty theater, there is nothing difficult to follow in case you happen upon the film and as a lover of commercial movies may never have heard of Almodóvar. It approaching the stereotypical French style by being talky, and it’s good talk, much delivered with hallucinatory images in Salvador’s mind. As in all of the director’s films, we are treated to his basic themes of desire, passion, family and identity all against bright, colorful backgrounds. If you’re over 60, you have likely been exposed to the vicissitudes of life: the pain that tags along with the glory. If a teen, you recall the desires of a young person often unfulfilled because of innocence. And parts of the film may reflect the melodrama that accompanies you during the most exciting, yet anxiety-producing moments.

113 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

NEVER AGAIN IS NOW – movie review

NEVER AGAIN IS NOW
Ph.D. Productions/Blaze Documentary
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Evelyn Markus
Screenwriter: Evelyn Markus
Cast: Evelyn Markus, Rosa Zeegers, Ben Shapiro, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Qanta Ahmed, Jozias van Aartsen
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/26/19
Opens: October 23, 2019

Never Again Is Now Button

This marvelous film has been released under the radar

“Never Again is Now” is expertly edited to combine archival films of Hitler and the war with life in Europe today. After the racist attacks and ultimately the deaths of six millions Jews 1941-45, the slogan “Never Again” was heard throughout the world. Those of us who are Jews and people who have moral firmness in their spines thought that we had heard the last of atrocities like those culminating seven decades ago.

Looking now at Europe, we may find it difficult to imagine that France has been the locale of terrible beatings and bombings against Jewish sites, but it’s even more surprising that anti-Semitic attacks are taking place in the Netherlands, particularly in Amsterdam and the Hague. Most of the violence comes from the growing Muslim populations in Europe, but the traditional citizens of sites like Amsterdam and Paris have sometimes caught the disease. We Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, raining criticism of his country’s Muslims. We generally believe that far right politicians in Europe are themselves anti-Semitic, but in this case he receives a filmed audience from the Jewish director.

The most important concept emerging from the film is from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim born in Somalia who had left for Europe and ultimately the United States. When interviewed by Evelyn Markus, the director, who asked whether anti-Semitic incidents would have occurred if there were no Israel, Hirsi Ali delivered a nuanced reply that anti-Semitic sentiment lies buried in some people, with Israel serving merely as an excuse to demonstrate. Hey, it’s not as though everything was peachy for the Jews before the creation of Israel. People have had a need for scapegoats long before the last two centuries and have found victims among minority groups like the Armenians in Turkey, the Rohinga in Myanmar, the Romani in Europe, the Coptic Christians in Egypt, and the Hutus against the Tutsis in Rwanda—among so many others.

Personalizing the film, Evelyn Markus spoke of her parents’ surviving the Holocaust, her mother liberated while on a cattle car heading to a death camp in Eastern Germany. Markus, who notes that she is not only Jewish but gay (her partner, Rosa Zeegers, enjoys a large role, sharing a home with the director for decades.) The two are dismayed that often violent demonstrations against Jews—not Zionists, necessarily, not Israelis, but diaspora Jews—have made their former country unrecognizable thanks to loud demonstrations by Muslims who shout “Kill the Jews wherever they live.” Even non-Jews are marked for assassination if they are critical of Islam. Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker critical of Islam in a short doc, was assassinated: stabbed by a jihadist with an anti-Semitic note stuck to his chest. Zeegers, who had passed by a pro-Palestinian demonstration, could scarcely believe the calls of “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas,” a shout which by the way was duplicated even in football stadiums by the visiting teams.

Still it’s refreshing to hear that most Muslims living in Europe and the U.S. go about their business and are not political, and that a few, like the wonderful Ayaan Hirsi Ali, note that violent demonstrators are not in the spirit of Islam, that they are caused by political Islamists. To prove a point—and without extra dialogue—Markus films a sign during a demonstration that calls for Sharia in the Netherlands! So: that’s what you get when you allow too many political Islamists into your country. Instead of gratitude, they would like to overthrow the government, cover women, maybe even ban music, movies, and “Western” culture. It’s almost enough to turn people on the left political spectrum to become conservative.

By quoting the anti-Nazi Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil,” Markus appears to want us to speak up against, well, evil. People are speaking up, but that does not seem to cut much ice in Europe. At least here in the U.S. where Jews can still walk with kipot on heads, even tallit on their bodies, we could use an administration in D.C. that does not consider the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville to be “fine people.”

This documentary is vivid, it’s riveting, even mesmerizing. It’s a call to action but it does not really tell us what we can do to end the growing divisions in our society since free speech makes the situation even worse. Can anyone?

90 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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