GREED – movie review

Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Screenwriter: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Asa Butterfield, Sarah Solemani, Shirley Henderson, Isla Fisher
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 2/11/20
Opens: February 28, 2020

Greed - Poster Gallery

Jeff Bezos, founding director of Amazon, is the richest man in the world, with assets of $120 billion, at least that’s before his recent divorce. I’m puzzled, though. He recently was praised by Senator Bernie Sanders for setting a minimum wage for his packers at $15 an hour. This is arguably a decent wage for starting a career, but let’s consider why Bezos insists on playing the capitalist game like a small merchant, determined to make some profit just to keep a business afloat. If he raised the minimum wage to $20, what would happen? He would not likely grow broke notwithstanding the thousands of packers that work for the company, nor might even his accountant notice the difference. “It’s not a charity,” say some. True, but if you’ve got the money, why no flaunt it by really paying the workers for their hours of backbreaking work timed on a machine that acts like a stopwatch? Let’s go further. Instead of doling out the money through his foundation which now goes to young people training for executive positions, couldn’t he cut loose with twenty billion immediately to aid worthy charities particularly serving the poverty-stricken in the developing world?

That’s where Michael Witnerbottom’s movie “Greed” cuts in. Winterbottom, who is not as far left politically as Ken Loach, nonetheless opens up an indictment of capitalism, but one filled with so many episodes and such rapid, non-chronological editing, that he is more interested in a general entertainment before he gets down and dirty to expose a British billionaire. By extension the principal character, Sir Richard McCreadle (Steve Coogan), acts as a metaphor for the industrialized capitalist countries that prey not only on their own countrymen but more on draining the very lives of tens of millions of people who make the clothing that we consume. We can go even further and say that each of us who scores a pair of jeans for twenty-five bucks or a T-shirt for $2.99 are profiting from the exploitation from big corporations, perhaps without a thought about what they are doing. (We have long ago done away with the once-strong International Garment Workers Union supporting American workers in the rag trade, as competition from China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and others virtually destroyed this American empire.)

For those of us concerned purely with the entertainment value of “Greed,” the folks who do not go to the movies to hear mainly political manifestos played out, there is considerable fun in watching Steve Coogan portray a guy whose nickname might well be Greed. Planning to give a lavish party on the Greek island of Mykonos for his sixtieth birthday, the billionaire garment king is treated by Winterbottom to a dramatized biographical sketch. When the planned party has a hitch, Richard tries to shoo away a group of Syrian refugees that have camped out on the public Mykonos beach, but exploits even them by manipulating them to put on uniforms for the big toga party to come.

Many years earlier he proves his determination to get the capital goods that he wants at the lowest possible price, sometimes dealing with a wholesaler who stubbornly refuses to come down with his offering price by pretending to walk out and buy nothing. Nonetheless as he predicts, he is called back into the room to carry on negotiations that will allow him to walk away with huge bargains.

Since the apple does not fall far from the tree, his teen son, Finn McCreadie (Asa Butterfield) follows in his dad’s footsteps, determined to take over the corporation sooner rather than later. He resents his father though eager to win over the hot women who are on loving terms with Sir Richard.

For me, the comic entertainments take second billing to the anti-capitalist thrust, though Winterbottom, using his own script, shows us the poverty-stricken garment workers who are filmed by Giles Nutgens on site in Greece, India, Sri Lanka, London and Monaco. This is a big, expensive production also highlighting Amanda (Dinita Gohil), a young, pretty Sinhalese-British woman who has a major role at the party, who is not at all impressed by Richard’s wealth and power, and who returns to England as a still exploited garment worker.

Everything is seen through the eyes of Nick (David Mitchell), a shlubby journalist who is writing Richard’s biography.

The combination of political message and lavish entertainment makes “Greed” a welcome addition to the cinema scene despite a paucity of real jokes

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

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

SUPER SIZE ME 2: HOLY CHICKEN – movie review

Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Screenwriter: Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick
Cast: Morgan Spurlock
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/14/19
Opens: September 6, 2019

Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken Movie Poster Sizes 11x17" 16x24" 24x36"

When you see what goes into the chicken sold in fast food restaurants (and realize that probably the red meat industry does likewise for its burgers and fish) you may decide to go vegan. It’s not just the unhealthy ingredients and the lack of transparency in the franchises like Popeye’s, KFC, and Chick Fil-A. It’s the way that small farmers that grow the animals that wind up on your dinner plate are shafted by the five big corporations to which they sell the birds, principally Tyson. You may even go further than giving up animal flesh and think that you want nothing to do with capitalism. “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken” provides not only terrific information about the chicken industry. It is so entertaining that you might decide that documentaries, often at the bottom rung of movie popularity, are as worthy of your time and money as dramas and comedies.

There’s no wonder that this movie with its terrific, rapid editing, puts Morgan Spurlock on the same plane as Michael Moore. Like Moore, Spurlock knows how to be political without making you think that “educational” films are like carrots and broccoli: healthful and filling but simply not the kinds of foods you salivate over. You will remember that Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” thirteen years ago took aim at the fast-food burger chains, particularly McDonald’s, where the documentarian took all his meals for thirty days straight at Mickey D’s and wound up feeling ill and carrying around a huge weight gain. Now, paradoxically, in order to satirize the chicken industry, he opens a chicken restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, the center of food marketing experimentation, and buys a farm in Alabama to raise the cluckers. You may wonder whether he is actually doing this, or simply imagining a script for his vivid new doc. After all, how can a filmmaker, however on the A-list of documentaries, manage in a field so different from his own?

If you’re concerned about your health—and surprisingly enough many Americans can’t give two figs for what they put into their bodies—you have probably been impressed by claims made by the food industry such as “natural,” “hormone-free,” “locally grown,” “organic,” “free range,” “sustainable.” Turns out that for the most part these words are simply marketing tools and just a bunch of B.S. Looking at a farm that raises chicken “free range” instead of caged, you find that the chicks are on the big main floor with hardly room to move—so they might as well be caged. Think of the New York City subway system on a work day at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

But what if you really are not a particularly ethical person and you don’t care how the chickens are raised? You don’t mind that the vast majority of chickens are from one breed known for growing so fast that they can hardly walk, and that some will die on the floor of heart attacks and other maladies. Your health is still affected when you eat deep fried chicken, far more caloric and greasy than grilled, but for most of us, taste is the most important factor.

But maybe you care about the small farmers that, being forced to sell to one of the five giant corporations, namely Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms, Perdue Foods and Koch Foods. The biggies like to keep the farmers in debt, paying them less if they have complained or, in this case are giving information to Spurlock about the underside of capitalism. They supply the farmers with housing, land and equipment but make sure that the farmers pay so much for improvements such as heating units that they are like serfs under feudalism rather than workers under capitalism.

Spurlock has a gift for interviewing, peppering his questions with witticisms and employing the talents of people who explain the principles of marketing, all backed up by a bouncy musical score employing passages from Richard Strauss, Camille Saint-Saens and George Frideric Handel. If you’re concerned that the movie provides no solutions, that’s because are none. Eighty-eight percent of Americans will buy chicken each week.

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

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

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU – movie review


Annapurna Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Kartne
Director: Boots Riley
Screenwriter: Boots Riley
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Terry Crews, Steven Yeun, Omari Hardwick, Jermaine Fowler, Danny Glover
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 6/13/18
Opens: July 6, 2018

Boots Riley’s “Sorry To Bother You” is an Orwellian kick in the groin of capitalism with one scene sending up a form of communism that has a labor force working and sleeping in the same dormitory, China style. In other words, it’s a satire like that combines the contradictions of communism in “Animal Farm” with a caustic look at a modern “1984.” The first two-thirds, which constitute a clever look at the job of telemarketers selling print encyclopedias (encyclopedias? In 2018?), which is imaginative enough even while looking Kafkaesque yet rooted in reality, while the final segment, which turns to full-blown surrealism, is surprisingly the less interesting part.

Rapper Boots Riley, the picture’s Chicago-born African-American director and screenwriter, unfolds his freshman feature with a focus on Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), an out-of-work dude who gets along just great with his significant other, Detroit (Tessa Thompson—who you’ll remember for her role as Samantha White in Justin Simeon’s “Dear White People”). However he might question whether his Afro in 2018 would make him a hit with potential employers in corporate settings. However, as a telemarketer, with Regalview, he need not be groomed for success, though he is advised by the gent in the next cubicle (Danny Glover) to use a white voice.

All is under the supervision of his manager (Michael X Sommers), who reminds the workers to STTS (Stick to the Script), an unusual request given that “Sorry to Bother You” does not stick to any script familiar to rank and file filmmakers. Though his name sounds like “Cash is Green,” he needs a job badly as he is in debt to his uncle (Terry Crews) with four months’ rent due on his garage that serves as his living quarters. Regalview comes across as just the thing to get him out of the poorhouse when he turns into a crack salesman, but he is about to sell out to his working-class stiffs when Squeeze (Steven Yeun) organizes a strike just as Cassius is promoted to the upper level where the big boss, Steven Lift (Armie Hammer), lets him on a secret: the company uses telemarketers as a front. Its real goal has nothing to do with pushing encyclopedias but is engaged in a revolutionary system that will find its stock soaring through the roof.

Riley uses special effects that are usually the purview of more experienced filmmakers. For example, when Cassius phones a potential customer, he does not stay in his cubicle but crashes (surrealistically) into the homes of the people who are more disturbed by his in-person pitch than you have ever been when you have the option of hanging up the phone.

As the film progresses, strikes are called, cops are brought in to break through the picket lines, and Cassius must regularly go through the line to get to his upper floor where he is free to sniff Steve Lift’s coke (though the big boss has increased strength of the white powder to strange effect), listen to the Man’s convincing talk on why he must continue with his new job, and is promised a salary of one hundred million dollars if he goes with a five-year contract. Steve Lift must be hallucinating with the coke or giving young Cassius the job of a lifetime—or over one hundred lifetimes.

When the movie goes gonzo, boredom may set in and scripter Riley’s train does not only threaten to go off the rails but turns somersaults and lands upside down. But a demonic imagination is at play in a film that may be this year’s biggest challenge to more formula-bound film releases, egging them to ditch the tried-and-true in favor of trippy hallucinations.

Unrated. 111 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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



Icarus Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ilan Ziv
Scipt by: Ilan Ziv and Bruno Hahon
Cast: Dr. Robert Boyer, Dr. H-Joon Chang, Prof. Noam Chomsky, Dr. Alan Ebenstein, Prof. Stuart Ewen, Mary Gabriel, Prof. James Kenneth Galbraith, Dr. Lewis Gordon, Dr. David Graeber, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, Dr. Michael Hudson, Ho Fung Hung, Kari Polanyi Levett, Dr. Philippe Norel, Prof. Nicholas Philipson, Prof. Thomas Piketty, Prof. Abraham Rotstein, Lord Robert Skidelsky, Prof. Yanis Varouyfakis,
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 5/7/18

Opens: May 1, 2018 on DVD from Icarus Films

From the vast library of Icarus Films, a major distributor of DVD’s, comes “Capitalism.” The commentators are talking heads mostly in the field of Economics with some on related subjects like Anthropology. One thing must be made clear: This is not a Michael Moore treatment from the person I consider the foremost documentarian of satirical left-biased treatment in the entertaining “Capitalism: A Love Story” (an ironic title, of course, considering the filmmaker’s ideology). By contrast the episodes in Ilan Ziv’s film, which total 320 minutes, are more like the fare you expect in a college classroom, each unit’s becoming the subject of from a variety of academics in several languages according to each person’s home idiom.

It may be true that you will learn more from this series than from any course you might take at the university level, as then again, each unit is handled by experts—who may be more knowledgeable and even have a greater gift for language than your own professors.

If Economics is a popular major in college, it may be not so much that our young people are fascinated by the subject but rather that they perceive the study will enhance their lifetime earnings. This may or may not be true, but you will probably earn more than if you studied anthropology or theater.

For non-Economics people such as I, the episodes are on the whole as informative as they are dry (where is Michael Moore when we need him?) The DVD comes with a glossy booklet giving full descriptions of the storytellers, writers and director if you want to check that these are authentic and reliable voices. Ilan Ziv, who sits in the director’s chair, is Israeli-born, fought in the October 1973 war in his home country, and founded Icarus Films. After he left that auspicious company, he made oodles of documentary films mostly on human rights, such as “An Eye for an Eye,” which deals with crime in Texas.

“Capitalism” was broadcast on ARTE in October 2014, made up of six episodes, available on three separate DVDs. They are: Capitalism, Adam Smith, another on Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, Keynes vs. Hayek and The Human Factor. Each episode delves deeply into the subject. For example, the initial one broadly entitled “Capitalism,” takes us before Adam Smith’s famous book “The Wealth of Nations,” indicating that during the Age of Exploration, slaves were treated as capital goods, bought and sold. The essay on Karl Marx takes us to the mid-19th Century, indicating that Marx published The Communist Manifesto too late. The revolutions in Europe were already going strong, meaning that his printed materials did not inspire the violence in the way that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a forerunning of the U.S. War Between the States.

At least one pundit notes that 1991 marks the date that Communism ended in most of the world, but in 2008, Capitalism met its potential death throes. The series would be of great interest to Economics majors but is unlikely to find a happy home with folks who look for more entertainment with their scholarly leanings.

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

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

THE REAGAN SHOW – movie review


Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B+
Director:  Pacho Velez, Sierra Pettengill
Written by: Josh Alexander, Pacho Velez
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/18/17
Opens: June 30 in NY and LA; July 4 on VOD
The Reagan Show Movie Poster
Elderly woman to General Secretary Gorbachev of the Soviet Union:

Woman: “Who invented Communism: a politician or a scientist?”
Gorbachev: “A politician.”
Woman: “I thought so.  A scientist would have tried it on mice first.”

This is one of the gags in a vivid documentary about President Ronald Regan, a man whom conservatives today  lionize as the greatest commander-in-chief of his century, one responsible for much of the progress that the United States has made during his two terms in office.  Reagan himself would doubtless get a charge out of the joke.  He was not fond of Communism.  He called the Soviet Union part of an Evil Empire.  But like Dick Nixon, similarly conservative yet the man who “opened” China, Reagan would change his mind and confess that his view of the USSR might have been true then, but were hardly the same now.

In dealing with the Soviet Union, Reagan’s most famous quote is “Trust but verify” regarding his way to handle America’s chief adversary, a term he used over and over during photo-ops and was kidded about it by Gorbachev during one of the times they got together. The two leaders competed for the world’s attention not so much by talking about guns and bombs, but who could be the more effective communicator.

Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill’s stunning documentary is unusual in that it throws aside the dull convention of interviewers getting answers from subjects.  Instead, “The Reagan Show” is composed one hundred percent of archival films, the directors going through one thousand hours of tape to cherry-pick the most entertaining moments of Reagan’s presidency, and that would include the bloopers he made in his TV addresses.

It’s called “The Reagan Show” for a reason, as the fortieth president (1981-89) was the first to take on the Oval Office as a former Hollywood actor.  Though Ronald Reagan was a B-list performer throughout his career with fifty-three Hollywood films under his belt, he was a class act in front of the TV camera, able to charm the American people as well as he did a chimp when he appeared in “Bedtime for Bonzo” in 1951.

Missing from the doc was the tragic scene of his attempted assassination which he miraculously survived, since Velez and Pettengill are intent to focus on his abilities under the camera, and especially the way he competed with the Soviet counterpart who was as equally seductive.  A highlight of the movie is the outtakes, comments made by the president before or after the taping sessions, such as when he has to read his campaign message for John Sununu who was running for New Hampshire governor on a program to lower taxes. Reagan had to go through the speech three times as he seemed unable to pronounce “Sununu.”  In another situation he practiced two or three words of Russian, for use in a broadcast to the people of the Soviet Union, wishing them a happy new year as though the U.S. and the Soviet Union were the best of friends.

When members of the press or the public would shout after him with their questions, Reagan would dodge and wave as though he needed a consultant to write  polished replies, though this tactic could be said to improve his popularity as he avoided saying something that might alienate either the right or the left.  In one major issue he held a firm opinion, and that was to draw an agreement with the Soviets on reducing arsenals of weapons. Gorbachev insisted Reagan give up the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) known as Star Wars, by which the president claimed to be able to shoot down enemy missiles in the air—a provocative policy in that this technology would upset the balance of power between the two countries.  In one of the film’s rare use of graphics, we get to see how this would work.  So far as we know today, Star Wars either functions on a limited basis or is of no use at all.

Some opponents of Reagan like to say that the president did not have a grip on reality.  He thought for eight years that he was in a movie. Somehow we all pulled through without getting blown up, a blessing we hope for during the term of the present administration which is led by a fellow who may think that he’s in a reality show.  Mostly we come away after seeing this highly absorbing, entertaining and laid-back documentary with the view that acting skills win votes. If you can communicate with the public, there is no limit to what you can politically achieve.  John F. Kennedy became aware of that concept when he showed the TV audience that he was no naïve kid and could easily handle the challenge from Richard Dixon.  Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California, defeating sixty opponents.  Do you think that’s because of his experience in government?  Donald Trump, a TV actor as well as developer, emerged the victor from a group of sixteen Republican primary opponents, following a win over the expected Hillary Clinton administration.  There is little doubt that Trump’s advisers, at least those whose counsel he is willing to accept, have learned the lesson taught by Ronald Reagan.  Since TV has become the leading medium, the ability to charm, seduce, transfix the American people is the key to the Oval Office.

Unrated.  74 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

SAVING CAPITALISM – movie review


    Director:  Jacob Kornbluth, Sari Gilman
    Written by: Jacob Kornbluth, Sari Gilman
    Cast:  Robert Reich
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/13/17
    Opens: November 21, 2017
    Saving Capitalism Poster #1
    If you knew nothing about Robert Reich; never read his books, never followed his work with several Presidential administrations including the post of Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary; the first thing you’ll notice is his height.  Robert Reich is under five feet tall, courtesy of Fairbanks disease which is a bone disorder that made him a target of bullies in his early years.  Perhaps this bullying had much to do with his progressive politics, the view that the weak should not be pushed around by the strong.  It helps, of course, that he graduated from Dartmouth College summa cum laude, and is an excellent speaker and professor who, in Jacob Kornbluth and Sari Gilman’s documentary “Saving Capitalism,” finds him on metaphoric soapboxes in colleges, in bookstore signings, and now, in a Netflix film.

    If you sit back after seeing him discuss his many positions, you come away with his basic theme: that what ails our society today most is inequality.  Vast sums of money go to the top; to the executive boards of big oil, pharmaceuticals, and what-have-you on the list of the Forbes 500 largest businesses in the United States. The result is manifold: for one thing, the workers are not getting their proper share of what they produce since too large a percentage of profits go to the suits; and for another, the difference between the average worker’s salary in a given company may be only one-hundredth or less of what the big bosses get.  The result is political disaster.  The politicians—some say in both parties notwithstanding the relative progressivism of Democrats—is more money going to policy-makers for their campaigns, thereby ensuring that they, and not the workers will set the tone for America.

    Reich receives many appreciative laughs from his educated audiences in colleges, graduate schools and bookstores.  Near the opening, he suggests two questions: he looks at the theme of the film, “Saving Capitalism,” and notes how conservatives and progressives might respond.  The former might say, “You mean there’s something wrong with capitalism?”  The latter, though, will query, “Why should we save it?”

    Interestingly, Reich is not opposed to capitalism.  He simply wants his version of our economic system to prevail, which is to say “People matter.”  In an alarming statistic he points to the way the opinions of ordinary people on a particular piece of legislation may not mean much.  Our lawmakers are heeding the words of lobbyists, the well-paid folks who pace about the lobbies of the House and Senate, a large percentage being former congressional reps who work for the corporations.

    President Trump gets mention, shown in a segment of the G.O.P. primary debates, stating that as a businessman, he contributed to groups with various political agendas, which is to say that he did not give money only to the groups he favors.  Then, he adds as though self-deprecating, when I need something from these legislators, I give them a call.  They respond.

    There is nothing in the film that you have not heard before, assuming that you’re in any way wonkish.  If you’ve seen him in films like “Inequality for All,” “Made in America,” “The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom,” and “Century of Self;” if you’ve looked at his publications: “Economics in Wonderland,” “Beyond Outrage,” “After Shock,” “Supercapitalism,” and of course “Saving Capitalism,” you make Dean’s list.  Still, it’s refreshing to watch the guy after you’ve had it up to your neck in Trumpian lies; Reich is not quite the antidote, but every bit of resistance helps.

    Rated PG.  72 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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