ASIA – movie review

Tribeca International Film Festival 2020
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ruthy Pribar
Screenwriter: Ruthy Pribar
Cast: Alena Yiv, Shira Haas, Tamir Mulla, Gera Sandler
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/17/20
Opens: TBD

Asia (2020)

Israel has been academy-award nominated more times than any other country in the Middle East, not surprising given that the Jewish state is considered the freest in that area of the world. Among the Israeli films this year is “Asia,” Ruthy Pribar’s freshman offering, not a political film. Pribar does not cover the tensions between Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic, nor the seemingly intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. However among its attributes is its implicit signaling that while Israeli Jews are Jewish by religion, they are a diverse lot depending on their places of birth. Those who are not sabras, i.e. born in Israel, have made alyiah from many corners of the world. In this case, Pribar, whose 22-minutes short “Last Calls” finds a Russian-born woman dialing the mobile phone of her sister who died six months earlier to put together a sense of her last day. Similiarly, Pribar focuses on the last weeks of a teenager whose mother, just fifteen years her senior, faces her daughter’s rebellious search for independence. Yet her daughter’s desire to lose her virginity is turning out difficult given her fear in one case when she tells a boyfriend to stop, and in a latter case because she is dying too quickly and too soon from a neurological disease.

Largely a two-hander, theatrical enough to find a place on an off-Broadway stage, “Asia” deals principally with the relationship of the title character (Alena Yiv), so young that you might confuse her with her daughter Vika (Shira Haas), thinking that they are sisters. While Asia, a single mother and a nurse, leads a life largely for her own pleasure—going to bars and indulging an affair with Shas (Gera Sandler), a doctor in the West Jerusalem hospital—she has a sudden change of priorities when her daughter is diagnosed with a neurological disease. Gaining the support of Gabi (Tamir Mula), a high-school dropout who serves on the staff of the hospital and agrees to babysit on his free time with homebound Vika, she dedicates herself to being there for Vika, whose adolescent moodiness allows her ultimately to appreciate her love for her mom.

The film is tragic with none of the Hollywood glitz of a similar downers like “Love Story,” “P.S. I Love You,” and “What Dreams May Come,” introducing a film director who bears watching. Tender without being sloppily sentimental, “Asia” is a realistic look at a mother who must experience the most difficult episode in her life, the approaching loss of her daughter.

The film is in Hebrew and Russian and has been selected for the Tribeca Festival of 2020.

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

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

EIGHTH GRADE – movie review


Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bo Burnham
Screenwriter:  Bo Burnham
Cast:  Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Daniel Zolghadri, Fred Hechinger
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 6/21/18
Opens: July 13, 2018
Eighth Grade Trailer for Bo Burnham's SXSW Hit
In the Jewish religion a boy becomes a man at the age of thirteen.  Fashionably enough, particularly in an age that women demand equality with men, a girl becomes a woman at thirteen as well.  Notwithstanding assertions at Bar Mitzvahs and Bas Mitzvahs, thirteen-year-olds are hardly men and women, though perhaps in Biblical times when folks had a life expectancy of fifty (Methuselah among the exceptions), teens became adults.  Nowadays, let’s compromise and say that we start thinking of ourselves as adults at that age while still anchored in childhood.  We want to be adults but are wondering what responsibilities will bring.  Most of all, at the age of thirteen we are afraid of not fitting in.  If you go through school thinking and acting awkwardly, if you don’t have friends, you will not look back kindly at early adolescence.  That’s where Kayla (Elise Fisher) comes in.

Like some of her classmates, she has a face covered by acne—except in scenes where she doesn’t—but that’s not her concern.  She’s not bullied; more like she’s ignored, and that is a worry for anyone her age and also for their caregivers. Kayla’s dad Mark (Josh Hamilton) is a single father who worries about her.  He tries to talk with her at the dinner table but she does not look at him, she does not hear him with those infernal ear buds in her head, and she’s irritated when he tries to converse with her.

Twenty-eight-year-old writer-director Bo Burnham’s “The Big Sick” focuses on a comedian, so we figure we’re not going to get another “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” Todd Solondz’s caustic look at an unattractive seventh grader who has good reason to feel anxiety.  “Eighth Grade” by contrast is a feel-good treatment of a thirteen-year-old middle schooler who hates when people call her “quiet,” though she herself does not agree with that label.  Trying to prove this, she knocks out a series of videos in her bedroom giving advice to others of her generation, counsel that she tries, with only limited success, to follow in her own life.

At a pool party given by one of the school’s rich kids, she spots others having great fun, shooting one another with water cannons, showing off as one boy does when fitted with goggles that fit over his nose he tries without success to do hand-stands.  The tentative conversation between him and Kayla is rich with insight into the minds of people their age, just as all the chit-chat, the addiction to smart phones, the separation of pupils in cliques are spot-on.

Try not to get irritated at the opening scene.  Kayla is giving one of her Ann Landers’style advice to fellow teens, using terms like “you know” even more than the newscasters on CNN, “like” several times in a sentence, and “OK” so many times you may want to shake her up and say “Hey, you’re not OK, at least not yet.”   She enjoys bursts of conversations from a variety of people such as Gabe (Jake Ryan), the aforementioned fellow with the hand-stands who challenges her to a breath-holding contest.  She is afraid when a high-school junior (Daniel Zolghadri) asks her to remove her shirt just as he removed his.  Though “not comfortable” in that situation as she explains, she privately looks forward to sending sexy pictures to her boyfriend, whenever she lands someone on her wave length.  She enjoys a big breakthrough just her father does, when around a campfire, she realizes how lucky she is to have a dad like Mark who struggles with bringing up a girl without help from a partner.

The picture belongs to Elsie Fisher, a fifteen-year-old who has a remarkably long résumé in the TV and films business and who you may have seen before in “McFarland USA” or heard her voice in “Despicable Me.”  This is a breakthrough performance that may well be remembered at end-year awards time and should prove a movie that can fill far more seats at the multiplex than did “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”  Andrew Wehde filmed the action in White Plains (upstate) New York.

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

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

JESUS – movie review


Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B
Director:  Fernando Guzzoni
Written by: Fernando Guzzoni
Cast:  Nicolás Durán, Alejandro Goic, Gastón Salgado, Sebastían Ayala, Esteban González
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/14/17
Opens: September 1, 2017 with September 19, 2017 DVD/VOD


In the superb episodic TV drama “Homeland,” a 16-year-old girl involved in a hit-run accident leading to the victim’s death, feels so guilty that she wants to turn herself in to the police.  She is protected by her parents, who assure her that nothing can now be done to help the victim, so why waste your life in prison?  Quite a similar occurrence takes place in Fernando Guzzoni’s “Jesús,” wherein the title figure, involved with his friends in beating to near-death a drunk, vulnerable young man in a cemetery, is overwhelmed with guilt.  As in “Homeland,” Jesús (Nicolás Durán) turns to his father for sympathy and help, but he and his dad, Hector (Alejandro Goic) have been estranged.  Hector, a widower, travels for his job, leaving the boy alone in the house, which the young man frequently leaves in a mess to the complaints of his dad.

“Jesús is a film by the Chilean writer-director Fernando Guzzoni, whose previous work “Dog Flesh” focuses on a solitary man who is crushed by his mysterious past. Guzzoni, then, is in his element in putting the 17-year-old Jesús in almost every frame, involving close-ups with hand-held cameras to project Jesús’s psychological pain.  We can see that Hector, despite carping about the boy’s aimlessness—the kid is not in school and does not work—genuinely cares for him but is clueless on how to connect.  This changes when the boy pleads with his dad for help.

Guzzoni paces the film in a way that might alienate those in a movie audience impatient with long takes such as the scene near the conclusion that finds Hector walking slowly and tearfully on the road and a similarly extended look at the Jesús’s competition in a K-pop band, dancing in ways that could remind us of a similar, solo exhibition by John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.”  You would think that the fellows doing their energetic steps would become too exhausted to commit the horrendous act that is the centerpiece of the film, showing how easy it is for gentle teasing of an unconscious lad to lead to the fierce beating.  Perhaps this is of a part with their interest in snuff movies, showing drug cartel torturous assassinations.

When the word gets out that Jesús is preparing to snitch to the police about the gang killing, he is threatened by his male lover, which raises the boy’s anxiety to such a level that he is forced to go to his dad for help.  The sexual play between the two young men is virtually hard core as is the scene involving Jesús’s sex with a girl.  The principal point made throughout is that Jesús has taken everything in his life with a cool indifference, projecting the aimlessness that has been his life until the group’s beating of a boy brings him to tears.

If this were a detective story, it would be called noirish.  Everything is done in shades of gray, probably to accentuate the grayness of Jesús’s life.  It is filmed by Uruguayan cinematographer Barbara Alvarez and takes place on location in Santiago Chile and the city’s outskirts.  Santiago has apparently changed culturally since I was last there in 1970 before the Pinochet authoritarian regime put a damper on the country, and just as Spain now swings after the demise of a similarly authoritarian leader, Franco—when couples could not go on dates without chaperones—Chile has striven to become a major tourist destination.  If you are caught up by the frenetic dancing in one of Santiago’s clubs, be sure to put the country on your to-visit lists.

Rated R.  83 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

I LOVE YOU DADDY – movie review


    The Orchard
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
    Grade: B
    Director:  Louis C.K.
    Written by: Louis C.K., Vernon Chatman
    Cast:  Louis C.K., Chloë Grace Moretz, Charlie Day, Edie Falco, John Malkovich, Rose Byrne, Helen Hunt
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/12/17
    Opens: November 17, 2017 Release has been cancelled by the distributor
    I Love You, Daddy Poster #1
    When a critic for the trade magazine Variety reviewed this picture at the Toronto International Film Festival some months back, he had no idea that the off-screen Louis C.K would become more discussed than his movie.  Louis C.K., of Mexican-American heritage, directs, has co-written and stars in the mostly comic look at the lives of entertainment people.  Given its black-and-white filming, and the big statement “The End” at the conclusion, we’re obviously seeing a modern look at the TV business but in the style of the forties and not with implied references to Woody Allen.

    Louis C.K., perhaps the only celebrity who in real life has freely admitted the charge that he sexually harassed the five women who recently filed complaints, does not in my view deserve to have the studio cancel the distribution of this entertaining and insightful film.  Nor should Stephen Colbert have canceled this director’s show one night before he was to appear since, after all, given Louis C.K.”s willingness to come clean (I should probably rephrase that), he would have made a stellar guest.

    The “I Love You, Daddy” title is taken from the overly-frequent expression of China (Chloë Grace Moretz), the beautiful, blond 17-year-old daughter of Glen Topher (Louis C.K.).  China should be grateful for the life of wealth that his divorced dad has given her (she had expressed her desire to be under the custody of her dad rather than of her mother played by Helen Hunt).  Glen has been awfully lenient with her. He’s just a guy who can’t say no when she wants to go to Florida on Spring Break  and hardly protests when she asks to return just a week or so later.  He has given her no direction, has drawn no boundaries, and yet thinks he deserves to be praised simply because he lavishes his wealth on her.  She is so spoiled that she chooses not to go on to college, since with all the wealth in her family, why bother?

    Glen is faced by two problems. After spectacular successes with TV episodic shows, he now has writers’ block, but given his fame, a desirable actress, Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne), wants desperately to be cast.  Further, he is putting his foot down, albeit not with much impact, by forbidding his daughter from accepting an invitation to Paris from Lesley Graham (John Malkovich), a celebrated filmmaker with a taste for young women, preferably before they reach 18.  It’s no surprise that she goes, and we are not given clues to what exactly she does with him beyond drinking expensive wine and listening to his sophomoric philosophy of life.

    The film blends  queasy drama with mostly sit-comish comedy, the latter contributed heavily by Ralph (Charlie Day), who hangs out regularly on Glen’s couch and serves as the vulgar clown, including a spell of simulated masturbation at the mere mention of the sexy actress Grace Cullen.  In that last regard, those of us with a knowledge of the specific charges in real life against the comedian cannot help saying that art follows life.  Put me down as considering it a shame that what an actor does that’s not according to Hoyle means that the public will be unable to partake of this entertainment, as though the man’s peccadilloes should put him on a blacklist.  There is some doubt as well that DVD sales are forthcoming, meaning that the only people who see this movie are critics and the audience at the Toronto Film Festival.

    Rated R.  123 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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