YES, GOD, YES – movie review

YES, GOD, YES
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Karen Maine
Screenwriter: Karen Maine
Cast: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/16/20
Opens: July 27, 2020

giclee Poster - Yes God Yes (Natalia Dyer) 2020 Movie 12"x18"

Horace, one of the wise men of ancient Rome, once said, aturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. Latin may be a dead language but it’s alive enough to know the proverb’s truth, which is: “You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but it will always come back.” In other words, no matter what we say, no matter what homilies we think we live by, we are all hypocrites if we think we can really fight against our natural inclinations, both emotional and sexual. Here’s an example. Some time back some teen-age girls in high school took oaths of virginity administered by the Catholic church and some Baptist denominations—to refrain for intercourse until marriage. According to the poll, by graduation day, 75% of the girls had lost their virginity. Which brings us to this comedy taking place in a Catholic high school somewhere in a rural district composed of handsome homes and youngsters from the middle class.

“Yes, God, Yes” sounds like a stereotyped version of what women scream in the midst of an organism, or it could refer to kids who say “yes” to Jesus but are not likely to abide the strict rules of the church. You’d have to ask Karen Maine, the film’s writer and director in her freshman contribution to the world of narrative comedies. She situates the scene amid high schoolers who are well behaved and who seem not to tell jokes about how nuns rapped their knuckles in grade school or by the funny conversations among a priest, a rabbi and a minister who meet in a bar. There are no gross-out scene that might be typical of the Farrelly brothers in “There’s Something About Mary,” but even better, the comedy comes from situations that might very well take place in a parochial institution.

While the school’s priest, Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) and pregnant teacher Mrs. Veda (Donna Lynne Chaplin) lead a four-day retreat that includes senior class would-be devotees as student leaders, Alice (Natalia Dyer), a bright but confused 16-year-old, recalls the priest’s lecture back in class to the effect that Jesus does not want unmarried women to have sex. He explains that men are like microwave ovens and women are like conventional ovens; the former get turned on in a second, the latter take some more time to be in the mood. We watch nature overcome Catholic rules over the course of the brief, 78-minute story, as even Father Murphy must succumb to the wisdom of Horace’s proverb and so does 17-year-old Nina (Alisha Boe).

Perhaps the boldest epiphany driving the movie occurs during a scene in a lesbian bar a short walk from the retreat when Gina (Susan Blackwell), the owner, asks Alice what goes on in the retreat, and dishes out wise counsel to the young woman who until then thinks she has no choice other than to go to college a half-hour from home. Look into colleges in the east coast and west coast to get your education, she advises—which makes you wonder what she’s doing in a one-horse town. Eat sushi. That half-hour meeting will likely be more convincing to Alice than anything she learns from the school or her home.

If the movie is anti-Catholic, it generally pulls its punches, allowing even the pious in the audience, while listening to an array of songs both original and known, to pick up its gentle message without urging everyone to boycott the picture. As Alicia, Natalia Dyer, who came of age in real life with her role as Nancy Wheeler in the Netflix horror series, “Stranger Things” (33 episodes), is an absolute charmer whose frowns clear up as she knocks her school officials down a peg or two.

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

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

CORPUS CHRISTI – movie review

CORPUS CHRISTI
Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jan Komasa
Screenwriter: Mateusz Pacewicz
Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycembel, Tomasz Zietek, Barbara Kurzaj, Leszek Lichota
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/13/20
Opens: June 23, 2020

Corpus Christi Poster

You may leave this film, a rigorous drama embellished with Catholic ritual, with a thought.

When Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) is about to leave juvenile detention in a small Polish community, he tells the institution’s priest, Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlatl), that he wants to work in a seminary. Daniel might be considered teacher’s pet by his youthful fellow convicts who spend their time training to work in a sawmill. He is the one called upon by the priest to add to the devotionals, sings the 23rd Psalm without a trace of self-consciousness or embarrassment, and thinks rightly that he could minister to a small town congregation. But Tomasz cautions that with his record, no seminary would take him on. What’s puzzling is: why is it so difficult for an ex-convict, anywhere, any country, to be trusted with a responsible job, even one that is not known for having cash around?

Daniel eschews working in a sawmill and takes a bus to a distant community where he becomes a fake priest. He convinces the vicar (Zdzislaw Wardejn) that he has been recently ordained in Warsaw, whips out a clerical collar with which he absconded, and is asked by the vicar to take his place for a while as he goes off to take care of health problems.

The dark, intense, absorbing and surprisingly credible tale of revenge and redemption is directed by Jan Komasa, whose “Warsaw 44” is a tale of the uprising against the Nazis, with a story line that features love, friendly and adventure. “Corpus Christi” is a more intimate story which benefits greatly from Bielenia’s stunning performance as twenty-year-old who may be faking his credentials but is the real thing otherwise; a fellow whose ministrations to his small-town flock leads to record numbers at services including absolute trust in him as parishioners go to confession.

Aside from the principal action in which we in the audience may suspect that a reckoning, there is a secondary plot. A middle-aged man had crashed his car into a vehicle holding six youths, killing all. The vicar, with the support of the community including the sacristy caretaker Lidia (Aleksandra Konieczna), refuses to bury the man. Daniel goes against the opinion of everyone except the widow (Barbara Kurzaj) of the “murderer” and the caretaker’s daughter, Marta (Elilza Rycembel), who is sexually attracted to the priest. He bucks even the town mayor and leading employer (Leszek Lichota) who wants the planned burial to just go away, Daniel must face a crossroads when inevitably, people back at “juvie” discover the fraud.

If this were a documentary or a “Christian” feature, the moral would be: give former convicts a chance a redemption. As a drama, the same noble message would come across, but more importantly, “Corpus Christi,” with its powerful performance by a 28-year-old with a passionate gaze, will serve as a dramatized sermon that few actual religious leaders can regularly match.

The movie is in Polish with English subtitles and benefits hugely by the absence of music in the soundtrack. “Corpus Christi” was the Polish entry for the 2020 Academy Awards for International Feature.

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

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

POPE FRANCIS: A Man of His Word – movie review

POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD

Focus Features
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Wim Wenders, David Rosier
Screenwriter:  Wim Wenders
Cast:  Pope Francis, Recep Tayvip Erdogan, John Kerry, Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Shimon Peres, Vladimir Putin, Donald J. Trump, Melania Trump, Win Wenders
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 5/14/18
Opens: May 18, 2018

As an occasionally lapsed member of PETA, I have a favorite saint, which of course would be St. Francis.  He once had birds surround him, intrigued by the power of his voice.  As he preached, not one of them flew away. He is often portrayed with a bird, typically in his hand. Even more sensational, in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals.” Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and so he went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon, fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, though Francis pressed on. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at Francis’ feet, at which time he lectured the animal, warning him to stop devouring the aforementioned men and animals.

Given my affection for the man who did his good deeds during the first half of the 13th Century, I’m surprised that no other pope beginning with the first one, St. Peter, took his name, though a few were members of the Franciscan order.  What impressed the current holder of the office most is arguably his medieval namesake’s embrace of poverty.  Though the son of a rich silk merchant whose father gave him (if you’ll allow) hell for hand alms to the poor, he redeemed himself from the sinful life of the haute bourgeoisie by giving himself to a life of poverty.  For his part, Pope Francis eschewed living in luxury, instead resting his head in a small apartment near the Vatican—at least when he is not traveling outside Argentina to places like Bangui in the Central African Republic and the favelas of Rio, where somehow the residents are not especially pleased with their own penurious condition.  The Cariocas on display in this documentary do not consider picking up food and clothes dropped by the neighborhood dumpster to be an act of holiness, and would probably give up their chance to go through the eye of a needle if by consolation they could dine on oysters at Marius Degustare’s place at Avenida Atlantica 290.

Wim Wenders, whose best work in my view is the mystical “Wings of Desire,” spends much of his time listening to Pope Francis one-on-one, where the Pontiff elucidates his philosophy without the buzz of the tens of thousands of people he gathers whenever he visits a foreign country, blesses the crowd at the Vatican, or entrances the multitude in his own Buenos Aires.  He is called a charismatic man, but would surely not be classified with JFK or Churchill as a rousing speaker.  Rather, his charisma, his hold on vast numbers of Catholics and other too, comes from the fact that, well, he does hold the highest office in the Church and receives a pope’s share of publicity.

What are his views?  Principally, though he extols his 13th Century namesake for choosing poverty, and is angry at the world’s inequality, wherein 20% of the global population holds 80% of its wealth.  (Even more dramatic statistics come out of the U.S.)

Also he wants governments to build bridges, not walls, wants people to stop ruining their mental health by getting off the accelerator because “we’re not machines,” and praises Judaism for founding the Shabbat when no work is done.  Gays? He tells people on a special flight that “Who am I to judge?”and wants couples whose arguments sometimes lead to “plates flying” (which draws a big laugh from the audience though if you or I said this there would be stony silence), to make peace before bedtime.  Unlike U.S. politicians who preach to the middle class but act to enrich the upper classes, his constituency is the poor.

With all these praiseworthy beliefs in his DNA, it’s no wonder that, as he puts it, the cardinals sought him out “from the end of the world,” meaning Argentina.

Also impressive is director Wenders’ use of his and Lisa Rinzler’s shoots in Assisi, black-and-white, deliberately faded and silent film, showing an actor playing St. Francis who at the key point in his life heard God tell him to restore a dilapidated church—which I believe he did thinking that God’s will is more important than his father’s rage at the saint’s alleged throwing away his money.

The film got added publicity five days before its May 18th opening when CBS’ Sixty Minutes showed excerpts.  Now if the movie crowd is anything like the 10,000 folks who line up every time he speaks, the box office should exceed that of “Black Panther.” After all, what other movie has a cast that includes Barack Obama, Donald J. Trump, Melania Trump, Simon Peres (hugging Abu Mazen, believe it or not), Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, John Kerry, John Boehner, Joe Biden, and  hundreds of extras in the U.S. Congress who give the pope standing ovations.

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

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

THE LITTLE HOURS – movie review

  • THE LITTLE HOURS

    Gunpowder & Sky
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: C+
    Director:  Jeff Baena
    Written by: Jeff Baena
    Cast: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Mucucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon
    Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 6/8/17
    Opens: June 30, 2017
    The Little Hours Movie Poster
    Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret.  You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she always comes back.  Repress people’s natural inclinations long enough, and you’re setting up an explosion.   This is illustrated in “The Decameron,” Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th Century masterpiece filled with vivid stories, the basis for the adaptation of one or two of the tales.

    In “The Little Hours,” Jeff Baena bases his comedy on the first tale of the third day in Boccaccio’s “The Decameron.”   Boccaccio knew in his own Fourteenth Century that sex sells, and similarly, Geoffrey Chaucer over in England at about the same time included considerable risqué parts in his “Canterbury Tales,” considered the greatest book of the Middle Ages.  We know as well that the Bible is studded with sexual references, both in its stories and in its prohibitions (which, alas, includes the no-no about having sex with donkeys—Exodus 22:19).

    These concepts become the background for writer-director Jeff Baena, whose 2016 movie “Joshy” deals with the ways the title character’s friends cheer him up after a broken engagement by having a raucous weekend filled with drugs, debauchery, and hot tubs.  He is thus in his métier with “The Little Hours.”  However he makes an error of judgment early on in the story by exposing the nuns as vulgar, using the f-word freely and taking their frustrations out on a gardener whom they accuse of ogling them, beating him to a pulp.  Wouldn’t the better move be to show the sisters as innocent virgins who become horny when a handsome replacement for the gardener is placed in their midst?

    The central characters in this film located in a convent near a European castle in 1347.  Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie), Sister Ginevra (Kate Micucci) and Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) are members of the convent for various reasons, though only one, Alessandra, is biding her time until her father (Paul Reiser) scrapes up some dowry money to allow her to get married.  Enter handsome Masseto (Dave Franco), who has served as a servant in the castle for Lord Bruno and who enjoys escapades with the lord’s wife (Lauren Weedman).  When he’s caught by the lord, he runs for the convent, where Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) sets him up to replace the gardener.  While Masseto plays deaf and mute, the sisters—all virgins—prove that, as previously stated, you can drive nature out with a pitchfork but she comes back.

    For his part Father Tommasso, who hears confessions and metes out predictable punishments (say 10 Hail Marys, etc.), is himself involved with Sister Marea (Molly Shannon), the Mother Superior.  It’s all a repetitive merry-go-roundelay of affairs, even a witches’ dance that find the nuns frolicking naked.  One of the nuns is exposed as a Jew, to round out the physical comedy with some attempts at verbal wit.

    “The Little Hours,” the title’s coming from fixed daytime hours of prayer, psalms, hymns and readings, is lacking in surprises, skimpy on wit, and anarchic in physical displays.

    Rated R.  90 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
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