RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR – movie review

RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Milorad Krstic
Screenwriter: Milorad Krstic, Radmila Rockov
Screened at: SONY, NYC, 1/24/19
Opens: February 15, 2019

Ruben Brandt, Collector Poster

Why do some people become optometrists? Chances are they got interested in the field because of their own need for eyeglasses. What about dentists? These are people who may have had trouble losing their baby teeth: maybe they failed to get the tooth fairy to reward them since they had nothing to give her in return. And psychotherapists? That’s easy. They’re crazy. Why else would someone become interested in the field? Ruben Brandt is just one of the crazies serving to shrink heads when his own head needs to be whittled down to a more compact size. How do we know? He has nightmares, but not just any dreams about the boogie man hiding under the bed, but dreams in full, vivid color, with enough violence to satisfy Steven King, John Carpenter and Wes Craven combined. Ruben Brandt, analyzing himself, decides that to end nightmares that plague him nightly, he would have to steal thirteen works of great art. Why so? The subjects of these painting are attacking him without mercy. The best—or worst—of the nightmares occur quickly after the start of the film. The title character is riding a train when suddenly, on the outside, a bizarre passenger who at first appears to be hitching a ride without paying is instead intent on sinking her teeth into the therapist. Who could it be? No other than the not-so-innocent Infanta Margarita, blood pouring from her head, obsessed with gaining entrance into Ruben’s cabin to do nasty things.

Putting aside thoughts of suicide, Ruben gathers four of his patients, people already experienced with larceny and worse, bidding them to steal paintings not just from the Guggenheim but requiring them to travel the world snatching canvases from the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Tate, our own MoMA and others. The entire film thematically lauds Picasso, so we see characters along the way with three eyes, one with two heads like the Roman god Janus, but featuring one woman, Mimi, with a soft, sexy voice who when not driving her Mercedes is a gifted gymnast. How are the paintings stolen? In some cases the foursome simply enter a hall, cut the canvas from the frame, wrap it up, and its Rubens’. In one case Mimi shoots an arrow to pierce the apple on the head of a modern William Tell. When the arrow lands on a canvas, she uses the point to encircle the painting and wraps it up. Simple enough especially if you’re a cartoon character.

Once the police determine that the paintings could not be fenced or sold because they are too well known, they decide that the thief is a collector, one with the combined name of Rubens and Rembrandt (Ruben Brandt; get it?) Rewards are posted. When the amount goes to $100 million for the lucky guy who provides information leading to his arrest, the underworld is brought into the fray. At the same time Kowalski, a private eye, sets out on the mission, appearing ultimately in the final scene as a reflection in the window of the train that Ruben is riding.

Considering the work that went into both the hand-drawn and the computer animated, you might expect the movie to be slow-moving, allowing the artists who designed the film to have a job that would allow them to see their families at night. But no: this is as fast-paced as a James Bond picture, featuring in several scenes a Mercedes Benz going at full speed down French city streets to evade equally fast-moving cars determined to block its path. Similarly the characters talk fast, act quickly, and show purpose, though the narrative itself is difficult to follow. That’s how rapidly the story unfolds.

Co-writer and director Kristic, a 66-year-old visual artist working in Hungary, had a crew of 150 animation pros, knocking out this visual candy for just $4.25 million—with support of the Hungarian National Film Fund. Believing that story, graphics, animation, music and sound are equally important, Kristic senses when the music is not right, a shot should be longer or shorter, the camera angle should be at the right height, close-ups should be extreme. This film took him six and one-half years to complete. He asks audiences to give his work their undivided attention for just ninety-five minutes, and, I might add, given how reasonable the time demands are on the audience, this feature deserves not two but multiple viewings to assimilate the various scenes.

We’ve come a long way from Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy, Mickey, Minnie, Tom, Jerry and Woody, who animated the memories of those of us who have been around for half a century.

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

Story – B
Acting – N/R
Technical – A
Overall – B+

TEHRAN TABOO – movie review

TEHRAN TABOO

Kino Lorber
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ali Soozandeh
Screenwriter: Ali Soozandeh
Cast: Elmira Rafizadeh, Zara Amir Ebrahimi, Arash Marandi, Bilal Yasar, Negal Mona Alizadeh, Payam Madjilessi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/26/18
Opens: February 14, 2018

Naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. The Roman poet Horace said this. Translated: You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but it keeps coming back. When human beings have their natural implications aborted with repressive laws, you can expect blowback. We learned this with our own horrendous experience with prohibition. Our attorney general still has not learned this as he tries to override California’s legal acceptance of recreational marijuana. Add sex to the package: think of the absurd and hopefully dead U.S. laws against same-sex cohabitation, against the use of birth control, even against same-sex marriage. Ultimately our natural inclinations will win.

Iran is still back in the 19th century with its rigid legislation against unrelated people holding hands; against the use of any drug; against disco-type parties. The young people are smarting. Some desire nothing more than to leave the country for the U.S. or Germany, while others protest in the streets as we’ve seen in the recent demonstrations. To get a solid look at the ways the religious government in Iran punishes people for what we in the U.S. consider wholly inoffensive, watch Ali Soozandeh’s animated story “Tehran Taboo,” which uses rotoscope to avoid the need to film in a place like Jordan and Morocco since surely Iran is outside of what’s possible.

Rotoscoping involves tracing the movement of live actors to convert their story to animation, a technique now done with computers. (See the Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotoscoping). While the technology is mind-boggling, of course what is important is the story unfolded under Ali Soozandeh’s direction. The writer-director was born in Iran and lived there to the age of 25. He was alarmed that after the Islamic revolution, boys and girls were separated in school. Now living as a citizen in Germany, he sought to break the silence and protest restrictions, opining that the Iranian people are adept with working around the restrictions. For this film, he was motivated by a conversation between two Iranian men in the subway who noted that a prostitute would take her child along on the job. What may bother him most now is that individuals and their entire families can lose honor for an extramarital relationship.

Though you may root for some people in “Tehran Taboos,” all the individuals are flawed, even the small mute boy who observes everything like a Greek chorus and gets his fun from dropping water balloons from a roof onto the people below. It would not be spoiling the movie to tell you that the taboos that are broken include restrictions against watching porn, getting married when you are no longer a virgin, judges who tilt the balance scales in a petitioner’s favor if she gives her favor to the bench, disco parties, all illegal drugs including weed, and possession of girlie magazines. The most amusing albeit sad problem faces a woman who is deflowered at a party shortly before her wedding and must find a way to become a virgin once again.

Soozandeh opens with a bang, or more accurately a shot of Pari (Elmira Rafizadeh) giving a blow job to a man inside his car. Before you cast blame on her, note that she is desperate to split from a drug addict who is in prison and must ply her trade with a judge to get his signature on a divorce document. In fact she becomes his concubine, living in his apartment together with her son Elias (Bilal Yasar). Even middle-class people have needs: Sara (Zara Amir Ebrahimi), married to Mohsen (Alireza Bayram), a banker, wants to get a job, “not about the money,” she advises the husband who says he can support both, but to get out of the house of his parents.

The men don’t have it so bad, or do they? After a party in which Babak (Arash Marandi) shares a pill and then sex with Donya (Negar Mona Alizadeh), he must raise the money to get her…not an abortion…but a fake hymen! He is threatened with repercussions from her tough fiancé if he discovers what’s missing, and the musician cannot raise the money for the operation. The doctor who is to perform this illegal procedure is pictured as seedy as a doctor can get. (Oops, I forgot about Dr. Larry Nassar, who “harassed” some 150 Olympic gymnasts.)

We get a brief glimpse of people hanging on poles right in the heart of the city, nor does the cat fare much better. It is put into a trash bag, banged against a wall three times, and popped into a dumpster.

There’s nothing unpredictable here if you know anything at all about repressed societies, but at least we can leave the movie feeling good that we live in a progressive country cared for by a genial congress and a sophisticated philosopher-king for a president.

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

Story – B
Acting – B

Technical – B+
Overall – B

WINDOW HORSES – movie review

  • WINDOW HORSES: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming

    First Pond
    Director:  Ann Marie Fleming
    Screenwriter:  Ann Marie Fleming, Maryam Najafi
    Cast:  Voices of Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ellen Page Sandra Oh, Navid Negahban, Nancy Kwan, Omid Abtahi
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/21/17
    Opens: September 29, 2017

    If you don’t like poetry because you cannot understand its meanings, you’d do fine by watching “Window Horses.”  Ann Marie Fleming’s animated creation evokes poetry in the exotic scenery, and the verses read especially by the awkward Rosie Ming (Sandra Oh) are as clear as good writing can be.  This is animation created for adults, although responsible children can surely profit from watching and hearing from the stick figure of Rosie and the more elaborate designs of all the others.  The story would be found particularly poignant by people whose fathers had abandoned them, and when Rosie discovers the real reason she was lost to her dad, you may find sympathy for the man who left his daughter through no conscious fault of his own.

    Rosie Ming, who is half Chinese and half Iranian lives in North Vancouver with her supportive grandparents, who, upon hearing that she is invited to a poetry festival in Shiraz, Iran, have mixed feelings.  They know that she loves Paris, though she has never been there, and try to persuade her to shift her travel plans—but at the time she had no invitations to similar festivals in the French capital.  Rosie’s best friend Kelly (Ellen Page) did not know even that Rosie was a poet, though Rosie explains that “it’s nothing,” an indication of her self-denigrating posture.

    Arrival in Shiraz wearing a black chador—whose symbolic meaning she probably does not know—she is encouraged by people she meets that she has no real need to dress that way.  She makes friends with a scruffy German, Dietmar (Don McKellar), fascinated that the fellow with a straggly beard lives in the city of her dreams.  Warmly met by fellow poets and by the festival’s cultural ambassador Mehrnaz (Shohreh Aghdashloo), she reads on two occasions from her poetry. When the festival’s MC Cyrus (Camyar Chaichian) tells her the reason for her father’s disappearance, her principal fear (that she was not wanted) and hostility (how could he do such a thing?) melt away.

    Criticism of the present government of Iran is so subtle that one might expect that country’s censorship people to OK the animation, at least for export.  Political satire is hardly the point of the 89-minute film by Ann Marie Fleming who directs her first feature since 2003, but there is no small feminist message throughout.  We learn something of the history of Persia, a glorious chapter in the world’s record of the past, the brilliance of a fourteenth century’s beloved Persian scribe seemingly snuffed by a government that cares more about arming terrorists in Hezbollah than in reflecting on the country’s humanistic past.

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

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