EN EL SEPTIMO DIA – movie review

EN EL SÉPTIMO DÍA (On the Seventh Day)

Cinema Guild
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jim McKay
Screenwriter: Jim McKay
Cast: Fernando Cardona, Gilberto Jimenez Núñez, Abel Perez, Genoel Ramírez, Alfonso VelazquezScreened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/29/18

Poster

On the seventh day God rested, never worrying that a boss would tell him that he has to work on Sunday. Not the case for an ordinary mortal like José, an immigrant from Mexico working as a delivery man for a high-end restaurant in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. José is not only the best worker that restaurateur Steve (Gabriel Núñez) has on his staff. He is also captain and best player of a soccer team named for the Mexican town of Puebla. Here’s the movie’s big conflict. The Puebla team has made the semi-finals in soccer. The group will play the finals on a Sunday and without José they are sure to lose. When La Frontera restaurant schedules a birthday party on Sunday funded by a high roller, Steve needs his entire staff present. Days off are canceled. If José chooses to play in the finals, he will be fired. If he chooses work at the restaurant on what should have been his day off, his team will lose. How would you choose?

“En el Séptimo Día is under the direction of Jim McKay using his own script, a filmmaker best known for directing some TV episodes like “The Good Fight,” “Law and Order,” and “Bosch” but whose last full-length feature “Everyday People” about the closing of restaurant resulting in a loss of jobs, shows that he has the common touch. Here McKay has picked up a group of young, energetic, non-professional actors, Mexicans who live together at a place in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. They horse around, they give advice, they tease one another and are an all-around bunch of good guys. José gets conflicting counsel from the people in his circle. The more reasonable ones, knowing that he expects to bring his pregnant wife Elizabeth (Loren Garcia—seen only on Skype) up to Brooklyn to be with him, requiring him to make enough money and get good references to support her and the child she is carrying. To most of us in the movie audience, the choice is clear, particularly since he knows he can get another job in a similar capacity though he insists that he wants to work only at La Frontera.

Yet José refuses to let his team down. How he manages to solve the problem and with the help of Elmer (Gilberto Jimenez) a young man who watches the game behind the fence and roots for the Pueblas, becomes the film’s most engaging and humorous action. Cinematographer Charles Libin knows how to give the working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn a look at a place that the great borough must have appeared decades ago before gentrification, not the kind of location that would prompt many of us in audience to visit where the big attraction is the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with its spectacular nighttime view of the city skyline.

Throughout the movie José is riding his bike, pumping away vigorously even in the pouring rain when the wind blows his plastic raincoat into a balloon-like shape. He takes dangerous actions without wearing protective headgear (I say from experience that delivery people in Brooklyn simply don’t go for the prissy protection on their heads). That one of his teammates is sidelined with a knee injury received on the field does not worry him. When needed inside, he busses tables and washes dishes, trying now and then without success to convince manager Steve to give him the day off. Some of these young people may be undocumented but in New York City we fight to keep I.C.E. out of our territory. In the lead role Fernando Cardona does such a terrific job at projecting the life of a bilingual working class stiff that he can look forward to a bright future in the business. A solid entry by McKay after a fourteen-year break.

Unrated. 97 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THY FATHER’S CHAIR – movie review

THY FATHER’S CHAIR

No Permits Produktions
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Àlex Lora, Antonio Tibaldi,
Cast:  Abraham, Shraga, Hanan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/23/18
Opens: In Theaters Oct. 13, 2017. Available on VOD March 30, 2018.

When you really dislike a film, perhaps the worst insult you can throw its way is that “it’s like watching paint dry.”  How about a film that’s about a  crew’s cleaning out a filthy house in Brooklyn?  It’s tempting to say the same, but Spaniard Àlex Lora and Australian Antonio Tibali deliver a documentary that at first appears like an instructional film for house cleaning trainees.  However given the rich conversations that they evoke while at the same time avoiding interviews, often the worst part of documentaries, they give us a rich, fly-on-the-wall look at two brothers, Abraham and Shraga, who worship in a Hasidic synagogue though not quite Haredim themselves.  Whether we come out of the brief seventy-five minutes understanding why this pair have filled their inherited home with the detritus of years is debatable.  I’m guessing that since their mom and dad died, they did not want to lose memories of their beloved parents.  This may explain why they kept the books intact, though some were not picked up in years (a set was upside down).  But why keep stuff that they picked up during the past months and years including trash bags from the supermarket, bedbug-infested mattresses, crumbling newspapers, and sour milk, plus some strange mixture in a pot, all of which smelled to high heaven (perhaps not the best word to describe it) as did their rooms?

In fact the twins, especially the more highlighted Abraham (two minutes younger than Shraga), call a professional clean-up crew when their upstairs tenants threaten a rent strike, complaining about the stench and maybe about the pereginating roaches that they would inevitably inherit if they had not already been so visited.  Like the stereotypical little old ladies who fill their homes with cats, Abraham and Shraga have the neshama to open their abode to the lucky felines, who did not seem to mind the filth and stench at all.  In fact in the movie’s most ironic scene, one of the nameless kitties spends her entire screen time cleaning herself on one of the several mattresses that the brothers had collected.

Abraham sports a huge gray beard and speaks English throughout without a trace of a Yiddish accent (there’s a touch of Brooklynese in some of the words, though), even chatting with his brother in English.  He is of course fluent in Hebrew, delivering an all-too-brief, mellifluous concert from a Jewish scroll.  Yet while Hanan, the Israeli head of the cleaning agency, professes his atheism, he is probably be surprised that Abraham, with all the trapping of Orthodoxy, labeled himself agnostic.  He uses the word “God” two or three times, a practice considered taboo outside the synagogue by Orthodox Jews, who refer to the Deity instead as “Hashem” or “Adoshem.”

You of course know the directors from their movie “Godka Circa,” a ten-minute look at one Alifa, who looks up at the Somai sky, contemplating her life as a shepherdess, and knowing that some time soon, her life will change.  The theme is obviously present in “Thy Father’s Chair,” since the brothers are about to embark on a new phase of their lives.

Hanan, who invades the house, finding the toilet packed with schmutz (probably not kept so in remembrance of the occupants’ parents), works with an a group of understanding Black employees, who take a week, maybe more, turning out a spacious abode that portends a new beginning for the brothers.  Or does it?

Unrated.  75 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

BUSHWICK – movie poster

  • BUSHWICK

    RLJ Entertainment
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: D+
    Director:  Cary Murnion, Jonathan Milott
    Written by: Nick Damici, Graham Reznick
    Cast: Dave Bautista, Brittany Snow, Angelic Zambrana, Jeremie Harris
    Screened at: Critics’ Link, NYC, 8/9/17
    Opens: August 25, 2017

    click for larger (if applicable)

    August 2017 might be called the Black Lives Matter in the Movies month.  Four films about neighborhood protests in Crown Heights, Brooklyn (“Crown Heights”), Ferguson, Missouri (“Whose Streets?”), Detroit, Michigan  (“Detroit”) and Bushwick, Brooklyn (“Bushwick”) make the scene.  Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott, who directed “Bushwick,” are known for “Cooties” (a virus turns elementary school kids into savages) bearing the cute tagline “You are what they eat.”  You can hardly expect these gentlemen, then, to contribute a staid documentary with talking heads, and they do not. This time, though, Bushwick is not a serious look at race relations even though the Brooklyn neighborhood has a large African-American population.  Bushwick is chosen because in the context of the film, the bad guys think that a multi-ethnic neighborhood would offer little resistance to a takeover.

    While some reviewers might praise the film as a solid B-movie, the silly dialogue and mindless shooting scenes are not conducive to viewer patience, even among the target audience of young males of all races. To its credit, however, the production team capitalizes on what the media have been saying for months, maybe years.  That is the idea, given the polarization of the country into red states and blue states, and given the way that congress is badly split with only a semblance of bi-partisanship, that we are on the brink of a second civil war.    Nick Damici and Graham Reznick, who wrote the script, are on the side of those who want to keep America united, and opposed to the militia sent by Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and a few other southern states who want to use Bushwick as a zone of operations.  Remember, also, that former Texas governor Rick Perry suggested that after the election of Obama, his state could consider seceding; a statement that put him right up there with Donald Trump for idiocy.

    The plot, with dialogue that appears so dumb that it might have been improvised given the regular use of the f-work, and repeated exclamations of omigod, is almost painful to sit through.  The story finds Lucy (Brittany Snow), a graduate student in civil engineering, heading to her grandma’s house with her boyfriend—who gets killed upon exiting the Church Avenue subway station.  Lucy is on her own until she runs into ex-Marine Stupe (David Bautista) and, both armed, they proceed block by block to an evacuation center, dodging bullets, occasionally giving some help to downed neighbors.  When one of the soldiers (Alex Breaux) is captured, he confesses that he is just following orders: that the southern states want to force Congress to ratify a secession.    Among the losers they find on the way is Lucy’s pothead sister Belinda (Angelic Zambrana), who minutes after shouting “Who is that guy?” upon seeing Stupe is attempting to seduce him.

    The film concludes open-ended.  We have to wait for a potential sequel to see whether the southern states secede.  I can wait.

    Unrated.  94 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

WONDER WHEEL – movie review

  • WONDER WHEEL   


    Amazon Studios
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B+
    Director:  Woody Allen
    Written by: Woody Allen
    Cast:  Kate Winslet, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, James Belushi
    Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/20/17
    Opens: December 1, 2017
    click for larger (if applicable)
    Location is a major character in Woody Allen’s pictures, and the great director often uses different time periods in the same way that “Boardwalk Empire” used the 1920s for Atlantic City. So let me tell you something about Brooklyn’s Coney Island, where Woody Allen’s 45th movie takes place In 1950, when “Wonder Wheel” takes place, Coney Island was going to seed.  In fact I can’t remember a time that the place was anything but.  However when I was a kid, a year younger than Woody Allen, my friends and I would go to Coney almost every weekend, usually to use the crowded beach.  People of different groups stayed in the “Bay” on the beach with others of their age.  Vendors would trod the sands like nomads on the Sahara, offering ice cream pops and hot dogs.  My mother would give me one dollar for the afternoon: ten cents for the round trip on the subway, fifteen cents for a hot dog at Nathan’s, another fifteen for the French fries, and the rest to splurge at Steeplechase where the wonder wheel and roller coaster were the big sellers.

    Everything in “Wonder Wheel” takes place in the shadow of the eponymous ride, and I can’t imagine how Allen arranged for hundreds of extras to lie on the beach, but with modern cinematography just about anything is possible. “Wonder Wheel” is partly a crime drama, partly a look at a dysfunctional family.  There are genuinely comic moments throughout especially whenever Jim Belushi rants and raves.  The focus is principally on Kate Winslet in the role of Ginny, and almost needless to say she’s as wonderful as the wheel that goes round and round a hundred meters or so from her.

    The story opens on the pretty Carolina (Juno Temple), who is on the run from a gang intent on cutting her life short at her tender 26 years.  Some gangsters and maybe even her criminal husband think she knows too much and she’s too likely to “sing,” so she returns to her father Humpty’s (Jim Belushi) seedy flat, trying to reconcile with him as they had no contact for the last five years. Ginny (Kate Winslet), her stepmom, is maintaining a loveless marriage to the rather large and tantrum-friendly husband, so forty-year-old Ginny, who wanted to be an actress but settled for being a waitress in a clam house, is delighted to begin an affair with a handsome young lifeguard, Mickey (Justin Timberlake).  Trouble brews when Mickey seems to prefer Carolina.  As Ginny realizes the power of her competition, she may no longer be worried that mobsters are after Carolina.

    Woody Allen’s theatrical script, which drops names like Eugene O’Neill, Hamlet, and Oedipus, wrestles with serious themes: marriage and the family; the sadness of aging; mind-boggling envy; but he does this with a lighter touch than what inspired him in some previous serious dramas. All the funny parts fade away during its shattering ending, probably to go down as one of the most emotional finales of 2017.  In the last few moments, Kate Winslet delivers a poignant monologue that might be felt full of frustration that could be felt by other women when they reach middle age, or for that matter like all middle-aged folks when they see youth pounding on the door.

    Woody Allen’s 45th, then, may not be “Annie Hall,” his masterpiece, but it sure as hell is not “Bananas.”  While it’s true that no-one can deliver like Kate Winslet for the eighty-one year old director who has knocked out a film almost every year, but Allen is working with a terrific ensemble; one in the role of a pretty young woman who gave up her chances when she married a thug; another as a lifeguard who has eyes for the forty-year-old until she meets her stepdaughter; a third as a frustrated ex-drunk who at first wants to kick her daughter out until he bonds with her; last and best a woman who has just crossed over into middle age and whose tragedy is that her big dream of romance with a younger man may be nothing more than fantasy.

    Rated PG-13.  101 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

    Grade – B