SHITHOUSE – movie review

IFC Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Cooper Raiff
Writer: Cooper Raiff
Cast: Cooper Raiff, Dylan Gelula, Amy Landecker, Logan Miller, Olivia Welch
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/16/20
Opens: October 16, 2020

Cooper Raiff, the 22-year-old director, writer, and star of this small but delicate movie, provides some enlightenment to me, though I had been intellectually aware of how college is different these days from when I went in the mid-1950s. In my day, we had parties in the fraternity house, but the young women were nowhere near as sexually free as today’s coeds. At the junior prom, the dances were more like fox trots, cha-cha’s and rhumbas, the dances which if they were on a completion test for today’s college freshmen would make them wonder what’s amiss in their vocabularies. The women had curfews—no later than midnight on weekends, but the deans need not have worried. A panty raid was as risqué an experience as you might find at that time. As for marijuana—what’s that?


“Shithouse, which is so low key that while the music at the parties is loud, there is gratefully no music at all in the soundtrack. Raiff wants us to hear the conversations clearly, and given the absence of a traditional plot, there is no need to create suspense, or romance, or whatever else you want music for.

Cooper Raiff plays his role with such authenticity that you’d swear that in real life he is like that. Strikingly handsome, he is unable to parlay his thick hair and all-around good lucks to have what everyone of us needs: attention of others and of course love. But good lucks gets him somewhere with Maggie (Dylan Gelula), the more experienced sophomore he meets at a party who invites him to play spin-the-bottle, but with more action than my 1950s friends and I ever got from that game. They have sex in her room but he is somehow thwarted, so they settle for a long time of shooting the shit in the room and on campus, where he tells Maggie about the stuffed dog he carried with him from home (which he had left only weeks before), and in the movie’s one surreal moment the dog talks to him. Almost needless to say, he has no friends and confesses that lack to Maggie.

He’s a mama’s boy who calls home to get chat with his Mom (Amy Landecker) and his sister Jess (Olivia Welsh).
When he discovers Maggie hooking up with another, he gives her hell, which leads to another long talk with her not realizing that he thinks incorrectly that his hookup and his long conversation with her the night before means less to her than to him.

None of this would likely make Alex think that we would have been better off staying at home and going to a local college. The out-of-town experience for men and women from the ages of eighteen to twenty-two is invaluable. The coursework may be similar, but being away from home for four years minus summers and holidays, and being able to communicate with a roommate who is different form you such as Sam (Logan Miller), a party animal whose dorm-room exercise consists of throwing up after indulgent in some serious alcohol, provides an education in social graces.

This is the kind of movie that fits in with the SXSW festival, where it won best narrative feature. Don’t be misled by the title, which relates to the initial party that Alex attends at the Shit House. In our day the party areas were called by Greek letters, but at least here you can’t say that “Shit House is Greek to me.”

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

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


A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK – movie review

MPI and Signature Entertainment
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Liev Schreiber, Suzanne Smith, Olivia Boreham-Wing, Ben Warheit, Griffin Newman, Selena Gomez, Diego Luna
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/23/20
Opens: October 9, 2020 in the U.S.

A Rainy Day in New York Movie Poster

My fellow Americans, we’re in luck. There was a delay in opening “A Rainy Day in New York” until after Poland had seen this movie. This has something to do with objections that Amazon Studios had to its director, Woody Allen, who has never been found guilty of anything besides being our country’s top maker of sophisticated comedies and playing a mean Klezmer clarinet. Filmed in Woody’s favorite city, this latest entry features Timothée Chalamet as Gatsby, a rich college student who finds himself more creative amidst the carbo monoxide of New York’s than listening to the sound of Arizona crickets. Chalamet who introduced himself to the movie audience with “Men, Women and Children,” about life among high school students and parents changed by the internet, but he made it big in the starring role of a seventeen-year-old student in “Call Me By Your Name.”

Here Chalamet’s character Gatsby, son of a fabulously rich mother (Cherry Jones) who, near the conclusion explains to her son the unusual way she fell into money, has been dating the effervescent co-ed Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) at one Yardsley College. The young woman’s life changes when she makes her third trip to Manhattan.

Nothing much happens other than a roundelay that threatens their relationship, specifically Gatsby’s meeting with the witty Chan (Selena Gomez) who is taking part in a film and Ashleigh’s meeting with Roland Pollard, a director—who is probably not a stand-in for Woody Allen given Pollard’s drunkenness and rage when a movie cut is not going according to his liking.

All is filmed on location in some spots that no tourist leaves without seeing and other areas that are home to died-in-the-wool New Yorkers—including Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Carlyle Hotel, a director’s screening room. The picture belongs to both Chalamet and Fanning, though the twenty-five-year-old man may or may not be serving as a stand-in for Mr. Allen’s signature characters. He is confused, eccentric, at war with his rich mother who doesn’t “see” him and instead tries to mold him into the shape of her society. But he is not a nebbish, preferring to spend some time winning fortunes at the blackjack table, fitting in quite nicely with the older players who think mistakenly that they can take him for a ride.

The two anticipate a romantic getaway from college, spending a weekend during a moderately strong storm, but as they say, man plans and God laughs. She goes to interview Roland Pollard for her college paper; he has his own liaisons while she is busy. She is hit on by Francisco Vega (Diego Luna), who is followed madly by paparazzi, obviously sexier than her steady boyfriend. While he is trying to avoid a party thrown by his family in a palatial East Side home, he runs into Chan, the sister of a former girlfriend.

He has more in common with Chan, who is quick with the one-liners. When she hears that Gatsby’s girl is from Arizona, she wonders: “What do you talk about, cactus?” And, “I would invite you to lunch, but I’m all out of beef jerky.” In other words this is not the kind of movie that people in the red states might adore, given that many of them seem to think that “Make America Great Again” is Shakespeare.

The movie as a whole lacks the classic look and sophisticated charm of “Manhattan,” “Annie Hall,” and “Match Point,” and the delightful fantasy of “Midnight in Paris,” which makes one think that now at the age of 84 he may have to settle for “just pleasant.” I may be wrong: we’ll be sure to check out his upcoming “Rifkin’s Festival” (a married American couple go to the San Sebastian Festival, and who can resist any film with Christoph Waltz and Wallace Shawn?

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

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


PAPER SPIDERS – movie review

Cranium Entertainment/Idiot Savant Pictures
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Inon Shampanier
Writer: Natalie Shampanier & Inon Shampanier
Cast: Lily Taylor, Stefanía LaVie Owen, Peyton List, Ian Nelson, David Rasche, Max Casella, Michael Cyril Creighton,
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/18/20

You do not often see a movie featuring the closeness that a mother and daughter can have for each other, which makes it all the more fortunate that Dawn (Lili Taylor), a middle-aged widow, might be helped to a semblance of emotional health by her daughter Melanie (Stefanía LaVie Owen). Bearing the possibility that “Paper Spiders” is semi-autobiographical, given the details cited by the husband-wife writing team of Natalie Shampanier and Inon Shampanier and directed by Inon Shampanier, “Paper Spiders” gives its audience the feel of what it’s like to be not schizophrenic, but almost hopelessly delusional (if that brings to mind anybody in the present U.S. government, you’ve been following politics).

You can almost swear that Owen and Taylor are an actual mother-daughter team; that’s how empathetic they are, and that’s how convincing albeit unwise that an eighteen-year-old girl might actually give up a full scholarship to a prestigious college and transfer to a local one to take care of her mom. There’s nothing fancy about the direction here; little of no animation, special effects, flashbacks, all the more bringing a sense a authenticity into the action which is at first comic, then spiraling into a more serious analysis of what it means to have a treateable, but uncurable, emotional condition.

Lacy’s paranoia would be comical if it were not pressing. She believes her neighbor is spying on her, throwing rocks at her house, stalking her; even at one turn when she develops a serious pain in her head, she is certain that he has a machine in his home that can mess with her mind. She is a constant embarrassment to her daughter; causing an uproar at her high school graduation that stops the proceedings, and earlier, during a tour of potential students, suggests that a library open to students even at 4 a.m. is flirting with danger, and by the way “What are the crime statistics of the college?”

For her part, Dawn possesses maturity in her sacrifices to help her delusional mother but enters movie coming-of-age territory when she learns, through Daniel (Ian Nelson), a persistent, handsome and rich boyfriend with a Beemer convertible, to drink beverages stronger than Virgin Mary and at about the same time to lose her virginity.

Comic interludes include meetings of the principal characters with Mr. Wessler (Michael Cyril Creighton), an awkward campus social counselor who relies on reading descriptions of mental illness right out of the DSM, the antics of a private investigator, Gary (Max Casella), and the frustrations of Lacy’s lawyer boss Bill Hoffman (David Rasche) who after six years finally gets the nerve to fire his paralegal.

If the writers and director are getting things right, we find out that paranoia does not come up to the surface at every moment, but relaxes enough to allow for unforced comic moments from the fine acting of Lily Taylor.

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

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


SUBMISSION – movie reveiw


Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Richard Levin
Screenwriter: Richard Levin based on Francine Prose’s novel “Blue Angel
Cast: Stanley Tucci, Kyra Sedgwick, Addison Timlin, Janeane Garofalo, Peter Gallagher, Ritchie Coster, Jessica Hecht
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 1/22/18
Opens: March 2, 2018 in NY.

Submission Movie Poster

Time’s up! This is the call of women who are infuriated about sexual harassment by powerful men. They’re not going to take it any longer. Many men are implicated, some having to leave their positions, the most unfortunate case being the resignation of Senator Al Franken for a few hi-jinx he engaged in before becoming a senator and during the time he was writing copy for Saturday Night Live.

Since accusations are often made years after the alleged sordid events, we should expect some to question the veracity of the charges—even if only five percent of the accusations are either false or not as defamatory as they are made to seem. In fact what occurs in Richard Levin’s movie “Submission” is enough to make progressive people turn into conservatives–unless they have also moved politically rightward after seeing David Mamet’s play “Oleanna.” In that sharply written drama, a college student accuses her professor of making sexual remarks several times in class, though it later comes out that a woman’s group on campus had put her up to the accusations. He loses his chance for tenure with a nice raise. His life unravels.

Along comes “Submission,” in which Angela (Addison Timlin) a crafty, manipulative student taking a writing class in a small liberal arts college with Ted Swenson (Stanley Tucci), shows enough promise to be taken seriously by the teacher. Ted, married to Sherrie (Kyra Sedgwick), a school nurse, is disgusted with the smug colleagues and having to suffer through pretentious dinners and parties at what is best a second-tier, albeit beautifully situated campus. Frustrated by writer’s block after having published one novel, he becomes enthusiastic about the one student in the small seminar who shows promise. He meets with her frequently in his office, and in a day that proves unfortunate, he agrees to come to her room to set up her computer after she requests his aid. He is about to be seduced, abandoned, and charged with sexual harassment.

Agreed: Ted is acting mighty naïve, especially since he has a loving marriage with the beautiful Sherrie. Alone in a room with a student who own erotic writings prove that he she has experience in such matters, he succumbs, and she, believing that he did not show her developing novel to his publisher (Peter Gallagher) as he promised (she’s wrong), asks the administration under the dean (Ritchie Coster) to take disciplinary action.

In other words what transpires here is quite reminiscent of similar scenes in “Oleanna,” though that writer, David Mamet, is known to oppose the use of legal solutions to problems that can be better sorted out informally.

Stanley Tucci looks amazingly good with the large hairpiece which he appears able to use when he climbs into the shower with his wife Sherrie. With the fashionable two-day facial hair (a fashion I can’t understand) and a pair of serious glasses, he looks like the academic and novelist that he is playing. His chemistry with Sedgwick is palpable, and his growing attraction to the student believable. Tucci and Timlin make this movie engrossing, and the lovely Kyra Sedgwick adds greatly to its atmosphere.

I’m angry at the way women can manipulate men. I’m angry at the way men manipulate women. Admittedly, though, the way our society is set up, men appear to have the advantages of power to manipulate the fair sex. “Submission” is based on Francine Prose’s novel some 17 years ago (prophetic, it seems), called “Blue Angel,” the title inspired by Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 classic “The Blue Angel,” starring Marlene Dietrich as a cabaret performer who ruins the reputation and the life of a naïve teacher.

Unrated. 107 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

LADY BIRD – movie review


    Director:  Greta Gerwig
    Screenwriter:  Greta Gerwig
    Cast:  Saoirse Ronan, Lucas Hedges, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/4/17
    Opens: November 3, 2017
    Extra Large Movie Poster Image for Lady Bird (#1 of 2)
    Some say that the best years of our lives occur in high school; others hold that adolescence is hell.  Who’s right?  Greta Gerwig, one of the most delightfully quirky actresses in Hollywood, now sits in the director’s chair analyzing the question through the experiences of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), the twenty-three-year-old Ms. Ronan playing a high school senior at the age of seventeen.  (To see her comedic charm on a less three-dimensional stage than she plays in the movie, you’ll want to check out her M.C. role on Saturday Night Live on the air December 2.)

    Christine calls herself Lady Bird perhaps to frustrate her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a woman who—we learn later—genuinely loves her only daughter but is unable to express her feelings except in writing.  Though Lady Bird accuses her mother of passive aggression, she is a prime example as well, often baiting her mom and getting into needless arguments whether in her parents’ car or in her own room.  There is a serious money problem in the McPherson household, partially brought on by her parents’ adoption of two children, one of whom, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), ironically competes successfully against his stepfather Larry McPherson (Tracy Letts), for a much needed job.

    A major bone of contention finds Lady Bird and her mom arguing about the young woman’s desire to go to a college in New York as she is sick of living in the suburbs and especially hard on their location on the other side of the tracks in Sacramento.  The best parts of the dramedy occur not in the McPherson household but in the Catholic high school that she attends, as she runs through two boy friends in a months of so, which is probably typical of high-school kids nowadays.  Danny, one of the boyfriends whom she welcomes as the guy who will deflower her, says that he respects her too much to even touch her breasts, though it turns out that respect is hardly the reason he is so gallant.  Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) is the handsomest boy in the school who welcomes the chance to help her lose her virginity, though he is odd for a high-school kid, believing that the government is tracking our movements and will soon plans devices in our heads.  (For a deeper role, catch Mr. Chalamet in the film “Call Me by Your Name,” in the awards-worthy role of an awkward gay lad who is feeling out his identity through a relationship with an older student in Italy.)

    The side roles are spot on.  Laurie Metcalf shines as a penny-pinching mother who takes out her frustrations on her daughter, whether she complains about the way Lady Bird keeps a messy room and, more important, worried that her daughter will be admitted to an expensive college far from home.  For his part, Tracy Letts plays an understanding father, one who “protects” Lady Bird from the onslaughts of her other, but who is an alcoholic who has long been fighting depression.

    If you’re looking for a list of high-school movies that are pure fun, you can’t go wrong to lead with “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”  For a more three-dimensional and realistic portrayal of adolescence, “Lady Bird” is the ticket.

    Rated R.  94 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

BRAD’S STATUS – movie review


Amazon Studios
Director:  Mike White
Screenwriter:  Mike White
Cast:  Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jermaine Clement, Jenna Fischer, Shazi Raja
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/22/17
Opens: September 15, 2017


The way any movie is crafted makes it excellent, good, bad or indifferent.  But regardless of craft, it’s safe to say that if you in the audience can identify strongly with the story and the characters, you’re going to be absorbed in the plot, perhaps even wishing that the people portrayed will have a good day.  Of all the 150 films I’ve seen this year, “Brad’s Status” is the one with which I identify most in that the title character’s existential fantasy is that he’s a failure when compared with the people he knows or with whom he graduated.  My own fascination with the plot is that I graduated from a top college and became “only” a high school teacher, while my best friends took loftier professions in medicine, dentistry law and accounting.  One of the colleagues in this high school, call him Fred, graduated from Columbia University, an Ivy-League college.  He regularly joked in a mordant way that when he went to a college reunion and told his old friends that he was a high-school teacher, they responded, “Come on, Fred, you always were a good joker.  What do you really do?”

Happily, writer-director Mike White, whose métier is quirky movies like “Year of the Dog” in which a secretary’s life changes when her dog dies, is not so arty this time.  In the more conventional story now, comedy turns regularly to affecting drama, giving Ben Stiller the chance to star in a more complex role that he had in such childish comedies as “Night at the Museum.”  Stiller’s performance in “The Meyerowitz Stories” is more akin to what he is doing here.

Though Brad (Ben Stiller) is  manager of a non-profit through which he is aware he is helping people, he is competitive—like most of us. He compares himself not to Bill Gates but to people in his circle, principally those in his classes at Tufts where he (like meat Tufts) majored in Government.  He is a luckier guy than he realizes.  He has an adorable, loving wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer—so charming on TV in “The Office”) and a whip-smart son Troy (Austin Abrams), who has a realistic chance for acceptance to Harvard given his talent in music.

He doesn’t measure up to those he knows from his college days, particularly Craig (Michael Sheen), a best-selling author with frequent TV appearances and fabulously wealthy.  Nor can he match up to Jason (Luke Wilson), a hedge-fund manager whose company has its own jet; Nick (Mike White), a movie director who married his boyfriend; and Billy (Jermaine Clement) who retired early and is now, according to Brad’s fantasies, living in Maui with two gorgeous bikini-clad girlfriends.

Escorting his son Troy to a Harvard interview, he arrives in Boston (with Montreal standing in for Beantown) to discover there was a date mixup.  The interview was scheduled for the day earlier, but Brad saves the day by using his contacts, particularly Craig, to allow his son to be interviewed the next day.  In the most sensitive scene, Ananya (Shazi Raja), who knew Troy in high school and is now a Harvard student, hears Brad’s moans about his problems only to be told to wake up, that some people must deal with making two dollars a day and that he is guilty of white male privilege.  “You have enough,” she retorts, and Brad takes her seriously, marking the beginning of his road to redemption.

The pace is brisk, the dialogue scintillating, the performances on target, all this from a movie that I would call under the radar so far as end-year awards go.  It’s absolutely a must see for people who are generally comparing themselves to others because that’s the American way, and not a healthy attitude at all.

Rated R.  111 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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