COLLECTIVE – movie review

Magnolia Pictures/Participant
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alexander Nanau
Writer: Alexander Nanau, Antoaneta Opris
Cast: Narcis Hogea, Catalink Tolontan, Mirela Neag, Camelia Roiu
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/12/20
Opens: November 20, 2020

Collective (2019 film) - Wikipedia

During the final quarter hour of this Romanian documentary, you might swear that citizens of that Eastern European state are under the same pressures and problems as the we have in our U.S. politics. An election is held. Opponents of a party rife with corruption complain that those in awe of that reactionary group want to bring the country back to a former time. We hear that only a small percentage of people age 18-24 are voting—actually five percent, and even we in America have a bigger turnout of youths. Ultimately, the problems of Romania are felt in states around the world, as politics and corruption appear to go hand in hand.

As in Steven Spielberg’s 2017 blockbuster film “The Post,” “Collective” takes us to journalists, this time in Bucharest, though Alexander Nanau’s film deliberately lacks the pizazz brought about by music in the soundtrack (there is none here). Strangely, tales of bribery and mismanagement are being uncovered by a sports magazine. Since this is a documentary, professional actors are not used in favor of giving the cameras’ eyes to the actual people involved.

The writer-director, whose recent doc “Toto and His Sisters” tells of a family awaiting their mother’s return from prison, opens with the movie’s most melodramatic moments, a fire five years ago in a Bucharest nightclub called Collectiv, resulting in the deaths of twenty-seven and injuries over one hundred. Many hospitalized patients who died might have survived had they not been infected by highly resistant bacteria, doing their deed in the absence of effective sterility. In the principal role, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Catalin Tolontan, puts the potential story front and center, his staff taking pictures, following nurses and doctors on their rounds, ultimately to find that contrary to the view of the health minister, whose party will soon be up for re-election, the hospitals are unprepared. The disinfectant, Hexa Pharma, was watered down to just ten percent of its proper strength. The guilty
party is likely not the hospital but the pharmaceutical company, its CEO’s death in a car accident deemed a suicide.

The health minister had to go as well, Vlad Voiculescu taking his place. The genius of the film is that while I thought the meetings he held with his staff are reimagined but are actually photographed by the writer-director who is also behind the lenses. The crew is apparently given full access, a kind of transparency we wish were present within our own federal government.

Bribery is not the only corruption taken to task, as journalists under Tolontan discover that the entire health institution is rotten, bonding hospital administrators to the entire medical establishment presumably dipping their hands in the taxpayers’ money for their own use. The film was shot over fourteen months, with editing taking the better part of year. Aside from the film’s audience good luck in not having to listen to Hollywood-style music in the soundtrack, Nanau uses Tedy Ursuleanu’s testimony and her portraits to punctuate the damage done by the nightclub fire. She has a robotic hand that works just fine but her body is largely covered by burns. Hospitals are so ill equipped throughout the country that tourists should take note: if you get sick or have an accident in Romania, get your butt to Vienna’s treatment centers ASAP.

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

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


THE LAUNDROMAT – movie review

Reviewed for & 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+