MY LITTLE SISTER – movie review

MY LITTLE SISTER (Schwesterlein)
Film Movement
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Directors: Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond
Writers: Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond
Cast: Nina Hoss, Lars Eidinger, Marthe Keller, Jens Albinus, Thomas Ostermeier, Linne-Lu Lungershausen, Noah Tscharland
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/22/20
Opens: January 5, 2021


The song that Joan Baez made famous goes “Hard is the fortune of all womankind/ we’re always controlled, we’re always confined,/ And when we get married to end all our strife/ We’re slaves to our husbands for the rest of our lives.” Such is the focus of “My Little Sister,” directed and written by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond, whose “The Little Bedroom” focuses on an older man who accepts the help of a woman, leading to a bond. They are not so far off thematically with their current offering, which finds Lisa (Nina Hoss) pausing her career as a playwright to care for her cancer-stricken twin brother Sven (Lars Eidinger) while at the same time furious that her husband Martin (Jens Albinus) decides unilaterally to remain in Switzerland as a teacher in a posh Swiss school despite their previous agreement to return together to Berlin.

Martin is arrogant in tearing up his agreement with Lisa in order to sign a five-year contract that would keep him where they are in Switzerland. But you can’t fault her brother Sven who suffers from cancer, whose stem-cell transfer was rejected, and who needs his sister to remain with him. At the same time, she is eager to remain in Berlin with her two kids (Linne-Lu Lungershausen and Noah Tscharland) and her mother Kathy (Marthe Keller), who beams with the successes on stage of her famous actor son while thinking little of her daughter’s interest in writing plays with more originality than “Hamlet.”

Though you can see what is going to happen miles away, “My Little Sister” should resonate with an audience familiar with Nina Hoss’s acting smarts. Hoss has entertained her fans in “The Audition,” which sees her imposing her will at a conservatory to admit a student against the wishes of others, and “Return to Montauk” where she meets in New York with a man she had not seen in seventeen years. One particular scene that illustrates her talent involves her breaking down in a hospital, when dialogue is unnecessary since verbal silence enables us to admire her ability to capture a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The ensemble performances are all first-rate. Lars Eidinger performs as Sven, a man eager to return to the theater to play “Hamlet” for almost the four hundredth time, dejected when David (Thomas Ostermeier), the theater director scraps the plan, concerned that his sick actor may not last for fifteen minutes on the stage. Not long after the director’s wise decision, Sven is vomiting into the toilet, sweating and frightened with pain “all over,” giving up plans to try options at the hospital in favor of returning home to die.

Filip Zimbrunn trains his lenses on several Swiss locations, with a remarkable action shot of Sven’s gliding amid the Alps, running as fast as he can, then taking off like an eagle. What you may take away from the film is a view of Switzerland that makes you realize how the Swiss people, with no wars to worry about for hundreds of years and with scenery to die for, can make you envious of the lucky people who are citizens therein and who might laugh at Lisa’s eagerness to remain in Berlin.

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

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


7500 – movie review

Amazon Studios
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Patrick Vollrath
Screenwriter: Patrick Vollrath, Senad Halibasic
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Ayilin Tezel, Carlo Kitzlinger, Murathan Muslu, Paul Wollin
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/8/20
Opens: June 18, 2020

7500 Poster

Movies that respect the 3 Greek unities, taking place within a day in the same place with a single action are rare, something you will find in some Greek tragedies but considered too theatrical for the big screen. “7500” is this year’s Aristotelian drama, all photographed not only in the same plane but in the cockpit, with some screen time given to the havoc in the passenger seats. This is the kind of nail-biter that will have the audience yelling “No, no, no, that’s your girlfriend and mother of your child being threatened with death unless you open the door, but don’t do it!” “7500” exploits the danger that some of feel every time we fly that the aircraft will be highjacked, a feeling more likely after 9/11 when movies like “Gaganam” (2011), “Snakes on a Plane” (2006), “Kandahar” (2010) and “Nonstop” (2014) came out. To stand out from the others, new movies on that theme try to be different in some way. “7500” does this by taking place in a claustrophobic place that has room under normal conditions for just a pilot and first officer.

The opening scene is strictly preparation for a flight from Berlin to Paris, just 530 air miles, seemingly too short for would-be terrorists to do what they have to do, though that may depend on just what the bad guys want. Do they want to hijack the aircraft to Kabul? To Teheran? To Sanaa? At first we don’t know, but as things turn out neither does one of the three extremist Islamic, at least one and probably all of Turkish ethnicity living in Germany.

A number of air criminals who commandeered planes on that dark day in 9/11 may not have realized that the plan of the leaders was to crash and die. Similarly Vedat (Omid Memar), one of the three desperadoes, has no idea that taking the plane down and killing the crew and all passengers is the motive for avenging the deaths of Muslims in the hands of Westerners. The Captain, Michael (Carlo Kitzlingler) and his first officer Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) run through the usual flight prep just after Tobias gets to kiss his flight attendant girlfriend Gökce (Ayilin Tezel). No sooner does the German plane reach cruising altitude then Kinan (Murathan Muslu), taking advantage of the momentary opening of the cockpit door, lands inside brandishing a knife made of glass.

Director Patrick Vollrath, veteran of eight shorts including “Ketchup Kid” (an eleven-year-old outsider makes a friend), takes off with his first narrative feature film, one which shows that the German born fellow is destined to be in the director’s chair for a number of thrillers to come. He makes the smart move of eschewing music in the soundtrack, preventing us from being distracted by anything but the noise of the bad guys outside the cockpit pounding on the door, making us in the audience wonder whether this is the way they will get inside.

What happens during Tobias’s tête-à-tête with eighteen-year-old Vedat (Omid Memar) need not be revealed here, but suffice it to say that Tobias, without agreeing in the slightest with the Islamist argument that revenge is necessary because the West has made war on Islamic radicals, develops Stockholm Syndrome. He hopes first to get out alive, then to make sure that his new “buddy” will be treated well if he decides to surrender to the German police.

At just 39, Gordon-Levitt has been busy, with 84 acting credits. He can do what he does in “7500” in his sleep. To see what the actor can really do, you’ll want to take in his role as the title character in Oliver Stone’s “Snowden.” Because of the fierce acting by Memar and Gordon-Levitt, the latter fluctuating between grabbing a glass knife to kill or injure Memar and making sure that Memar is treated fairly, “7500” (the code name for a hijacked flight) is better than the typical B movie. But it is still a B movie.

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

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

SUSPIRIA – movie review


Amazon Studios
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Screenwriter: David Kajganich, based on Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi’s original screenplay
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Lutz Ebersdorf, Angela Winkler, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sylvia Testud
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 10/22/18
Opens: October 26, 2018

While you watch the overlong, drawn-out visuals in this remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 film of the same name, you may wonder whether its sinister doings and bizarre rituals are meant to be campy or hope to be taken by the audience as arty horror. As a horror film it bears as much resemblance to cheap pictures highlighting the mad exploits of Freddy Krueger as it does to “Singing in the Rain.” There is little question that much of what passes is eye candy, the violent, modern dances of a Berlin-based company reflecting the more melodramatic incidents outside. This is 1977. The far left, pro- Palestinian Baader-Meinhof Group terrorize the city, warning the authorities that unless all Red Army prisoners are released, each passenger on the hijacked Lufthansa plane will be burned alive. Luca Guadagnino, fresh from his hit movie “Call Me By Your Name” about the romance between a 17-year-old student and an older man, brings the audience back from time to time to what’s going on outside in divided Berlin. However, most of the action takes place within the dance hall used for rehearsals, auditions of new candidates for the modern choreography, and an audience.


With outside terrorism serving the initial plot, a secondary one involves Dr. Jozef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton in one of three roles, exquisitely disguised by prosthetics as an 80-year-old man). We learn in time, in bits and pieces, that during the bombing of Berlin in 1943 he had the chance to escape with his wife and now feels guilty that his inaction led to her death in a concentration camp. (The remarkable Ms. Swinton will be seen in the role of a dancer, though principally as a director of the group.)

The movie opens on American dancer Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz) in full-blown psychotic break, prancing around psychotherapist Dr. Klemperer’s office shouting that she has witnessed a coven of witches at work in the dance academy. While the doctor calmly writes notes about his patient’s “paranoia,” her assertions turn out to be true. The company indeed includes witches in its membership, all the better considering how much more vibrant the members slam, crackle and pop out their interpretive moves. The three witches, who could have come out of a first-act staging of “Macbeth,” are Mother Suspiriorum, Mother Tenebrarum, and Mother Lachryharum.

As principal character, Dakota Johnson takes on the role of Susie Bannion, who left a Mennonite group in Ohio, strangely enough accepted into the company with a full scholarship and lodging despite her lack of training. She impresses the troupe’s director Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) to such an extent, providing energy to the whole company, that Blanc takes her on as her private mentor, feeding her counsel on how best to use her talent. From what we make out, it’s not how high you jump as much as how you carve out space on the floor, which sounds puzzling enough for a potential movie audience. For her part, Madame Blanc is engaged in a power struggle for the group’s directorship, losing her status by three votes as the members of the troupe cast their vocal ballots as though members of the U.S. Senate. You may wonder whether Susie Bannion will make a pact with the witches rather than becoming one of their victims as the tale grinds on, each segment announced as Act one, Act two, etc.

What can we say about a film that has such striking visuals, augmented by an inventive lighting design and fueled by women whose floor pounding and seizure-like posturings make this a pleasure for the eyes? Alas: coherence is lacking. The narrative is spread out with an epilogue that should have brought the random parts together but wind up merely making a bold statement about Germany’s guilt for the war and the Holocaust. The real stars of the film are the prosthetic designers in the make-up department, particularly in turning Tilda Swinton into an 80-year-old psychotherapist. The only film that year that can begin to compare with their talent is another horror feature, Ali Abbasi’s “Border,” featuring two grotesque-looking yet still human characters serving as a Swedish customs inspector and a traveler for whom she orders a full-body search.

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

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