I LOST MY BODY – movie review

I LOST MY BODY (J’ai perdu mon corps)
Netflix
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jérémy Clapin
Screenwriter: Jérémy Clapin, Guillaume Laurant, adapted from Laurant’s novel “Happy Hand”
Cast: Voices of Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois, Patrick D’Assumcao
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 10/30/19
Opens: November 15, 2019

Poster

You’ve got to hand it to Jérémy Clapin, who co-wrote and directed this remarkable movie in an adaptation from Guillaume Laurant’s novel “Happy Hand.” His handsome, animated feature could become a hands-down favorite of the Academy along with the many guilds and critics’ groups. The movie idea was presumably exploited by Clapin from the book—which has not yet been translated from the French and whose plot can be summarized by “Naoufel -dit Nafnaf-est un jeune Marocain, né de parents professeurs de littérature française, lui ayant enseigné un français de salon, un rien désuet. Lorsqu’il arrive en France, vers 12 ans…” The movie, confusing enough at first since it does not roll chronologically, becomes clear at about the mid-point.

In fact a little spoiler can’t hurt since it could clear up the film right from the beginning. So…the whole story is told from the point of view of a hand, the first original idea. Not even the 1946 pic “The Beast with Five Fingers” about a wheelchair-bound one-handed pianist’s murder, is quite like this. Naoufel (Hakim Faris), whose childhood happiness in North Africa is upended when a car crash kills his parents. Traumatized, the orphan boy tries for nothing more ambitious than being a pizza delivery guy, who is always late and who agrees with his boss that he is, more or less, a loser. But delivery boys meet lots of pizza-loving people. Naoufel lucks out, flirted with by Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois), a resident in an apartment house, who sets him up with her uncle (Patrick D’Assumcao) in a carpentry job through which he has an accident severing his hand.

The plot is of secondary importance. The principal virtue of this French movie, complete with the artistry of a skilled animator (director Clapin), is its originality. There has been nothing quite like this one, which helped the picture win top prize in “Critics’ Week”and to become the first animated film ever to win the Nespresso Award at Cannes. You’ll wonder why the principal character is so focused on catching flies, a most difficult job according to the lad’s father (I concur), but the common housefly has a major role, in fact perhaps the most important role a fly has had in a movie since David Cronenberg’s 1986 horror tale entitled, of course, “The Fly.” The hand goes through a series of adventures, using its wisdom to play piano, riding atop a pigeon and rewarding it by snapping its neck, saving his (its?) life from a group of hand-eating rats, and exploiting the talents of a seeing-eye dog.

Losers can be winners, which makes this a feel-good picture, using the metaphor of a hand’s seeking its body to make it whole, just as the lovely Gabrielle may become the part that will complete young Naoufel. Indie films generally feature more thoughtful sounds and sights than blockbuster commercial items, but even among the indies out there this year or any other, “I Lost My Body” is a pioneer.

81 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Onli

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

QUEEN OF HEARTS – movie review

QUEEN OF HEARTS
Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: May el-Toukhy
Screenwriter: Maren Louise Kaehne, May el-Toukhy
Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav, Lindh, Magnus Krepper
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/8/19
Opens: November 1 in theaters. November 19 Streaming/DVD

Dronningen Movie Poster

There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. May el-Toukhy, following up her “Long Story Short” about a group of Danes meeting at different parties, shows in her third feature movie that there’s no murder involved in “Queen of Hearts,” but there is certainly an element of revenge. Most important, while nobody is having his way the wife of the murdered king as in “Hamlet,” we’re dealing with another sordid affair–between Anna (Tryne Dyrholm) a woman in her late forties, and her sixteen-year-old stepson Peter (Magnus Krepper).

A common theme in literature, theater and film is the idea that if you peel back the outer layers of even our most civilized and financially comfortable people, you will find emotions that could well suit up a film of horror and desolation. Director el-Toukhy and her co-writer Maren Louise Käehne dig into the intrigues involving three people living under one roof in a lavish home with acres of grounds—a doctor, a lawyer, and a disturbed teenager whose father was “not there for him” during the kid’s early years.

While Peter (Magnus Krepper), the guilt-ridden divorced father whose son Gustav (Gustav Lindh) is now taken back into the older man’s home, Peter’s wife Anne, who is not having enough sex with Peter, opens up to the boy while her husband is away. After allowing the teen to put a symbolic tattoo on her arm, she takes a bold and misguided chance on leaving a dinner party with the boy, taking him to a bar, and kissing him on the lips. There is an implication that at her age, she realizes that the wrinkles are inevitable, the limited sex with her husband just OK, and that she wants to prove that she’s still hot and able to seduce someone one-third her age. You would think that a successful lawyer would be enjoined by the illegality, being instead simply fearful of discovery by someone in her family such as her grown sister.

“Queen of Hearts” has no problem showing some hardcore sex with the boy, doggy style, and with her husband, missionary choice, because, well, it sells, and Denmark’s being Denmark can’t hurt. And since the shots are taken in Denmark and not Alabama or Mississippi, there is no implication that she feels sinful. The only thing that concerns her is being caught. Perhaps she is a Danish Donald Trump—not that she would try getting away with shooting someone on Jægersborggade, the busiest street in Copenhagen, but that under her husband’s nose she can cuddle up with a young lad, a disturbed one at that, without harmful consequences.

The film is as sophisticated as is Scandinavia, and dare one say that in fashioning the principal woman as one with the feeling that she is rich, educated, and superior and can get away with anything, that Ms. El-Toukhy is satirizing our own president?

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

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

HONEY BOY – movie review

HONEY BOY
Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alma Har’el
Screenwriter: Shia LaBeouf
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKA twigs
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 10/17/19
Opens: November 8, 2019

Noah Jupe in Honey Boy (2019)

Thematically “Honey Boy” is focused about the kind of father played by James Lort (Shia LaBeouf) in the way he treats his twelve-year-old son Otis Lort (Noah Jupe). He beats him in one caustic scene, but on the other hand he is a loving fellow in those moments when he acts like a real dad. While you wish he would treat the young lad in a kinder fashion, the way you’d expect in a family like the one in “Leave It to Beaver,” he is still an active person, taking an active interest in the goings on of the boy. So many fathers these days are either passive, too laid-back to give firm support to their little ones, or even worse, they disappear, sometimes for good, other times when on alcoholic binges. This kid on the cusp of adolescence is so cute, really adorable, truly looking for more kindness from James that you wonder how anybody could treat him badly. What’s more, he may be too cute for the father, who has a low-paying job clearing highway trash on the outskirts of L.A., because the boy is actually the breadwinner. He is a child actor preparing for a screen shot in Vancouver, making the father envious of the kid’s talent while at the same time he is so humiliated by being supported by little Otis that in one scene he breaks down and cries.

The script is written by Shia LaBeouf as the principal actor, inspired by the actor’s own childhood, his own feelings about his treatment a couple of decades earlier. The gimmick is that LaBeouf is now playing his father! LaBeouf’s son is played also at the age of twenty-two by Lucas Hedges, his magnificent hair shorn into a crew cut. He is still acting, and in fact the story begins with a bang, as Otis is seen beside a crashed plane, an explosion throwing him back twenty feet in a scene from a “Terminator”-type movie. To an extent, because of his upbringing, the older Otis is a troubled man. After a car crash, Otis, playing out the actual car accident that LaBeouf caused during a drunk driving accident in 2008, is injured in a car crash which lands him in rehab.

The scenes involving the younger boy are the more interesting ones, as we see a child who is coming of age, who continues to film movies while escorted around the set by his dad. One wonders why they’re living in a shabby Motel 6 type of residence given the money that the child is bringing in, surrounded by misfits, one of whom, played by FKA Twigs cuddles with the twelve-year-old in what may or may not be a completed sexual encounter. If the kid is losing his virginity, he is also losing the innocence of childhood by smoking, his father handing him the butts, encouraging his unhealthy habit.

Alma Har’el, the Israeli-born music video and film director, is perhaps best known for her “Bombay Beach,” which won top prize at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. That pic deals with three troubled people in a poor community in Southern California, which bears comparison with her current fare. But “Honey Boy” is too loosely constructed with the usual stereotypical life around rehab to be as involving as her earlier contribution.

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

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

YOMEDDINE – movie review

YOMEDDINE
Strand Releasing
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: A.B. Shawky
Cast: A.B. Shawky
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/4/19Rad
Opens: In Theaters May 31, 2019: September 24, 2019 on DVD

Image result for YOMEDDINE MOVIE POSTER

When I was thirteen I acted like most of the kids around me, belittling people who we saw as “the other.” To lift our fragile egos, we put down people who were too short, too bald, too slow, too klutzy. We even sang a song about leprosy that goes to tune of Frankie Lane’s “Jealousy,” the first lines going: “Leprosy/ night and day you torture me/ there goes my eyeball/ right into your highball/ there goes my ear, dear, right into your beer, dear.” You see, we thought that leprosy involves the steady falling apart of our bodies—our fingers, our feet, and even the organ (not the brain or heart) that we considered our most important possession. Never mind that this infectious disease, however serious, makes people suffer “only” by scarring their skin, causing large bumps about the body, gnarled fingers. In developing countries such people are put away in leper colonies, remaining there even if the malady is cured. Lepers may not lose body parts, but they can be scary, and they can be made fun of, especially by kids who are thirteen years old and adults of arrested mental development.

Along came a movie from Egypt, that country’s candidate for an academy awards for the 91st session, and since it was not nominated for Best Foreign Film, the competition must have been really tough. “Yomeddine,” which means “Judgment Day,” although the Google translator says it means “Extend me,” may not be the best picture I’ve seen so far in 2019 but it is certainly the most moving. A.B. Shawky, who wrote and directs his freshman full-length film, has been active in shorts such as “Things I Heard on Wednesday” (about Egypt’s modern history through the eyes of a middle-class family), and “Martyr Friday” (about demonstrations in Tahir Square in 2011 by crowds opposing the Mubarek regime.) “Yomeddine” centers on forty-year-old Beshay (Rady Gamal) and the teen orphan nicknamed Obama (Achmed Abdelhafiz), who believes his nickname came from “some guy on the TV.” Beshay takes a long road trip, reluctantly allowing the boy to accompany him as the kid has not been happy in the orphanage. His aim is not unlike that of Americans who have been adopted and would like to meet their biological parents. Beshay is off to the town of Qena on the Nile River’s east coast where his father and brother live, eager to find out why he was abandoned by the family at the age of ten. We will discover near the conclusion that his dad loved him but did not want to see him hurt by society. By settling him into a leper colony with people in the same bad shape, he would not be judged.

Surprisingly, as they take off in a cart led by a beloved donkey named Harby (that rhymes with an American name that’s on the tip of my tongue), hopping a ride on the railroad like the hoboes of the American depression, sailing briefly on a ferry across the Nile which neither buddy had seen before, being waved onto a truck heading near the destination city of Qena. Beshay was laughed at only once during the journey, by some jerks, who when asked for the location of the Nile, respond “Up your ass.” If the writer-director’s motif is Beshay’s emotional growth, a man who because of sores and bumps on his face is ashamed of himself, there should have been more insults thrown his way. Instead, he is helped out by quite a few along the way, a momentum of good graces that begins in this story when his wife, hospitalized for a mental illness, dies, is buried with a simple cross, and is offered condolences by a small gathering of Muslims and Coptics at the funeral. That’s not to say that the unlikely road buddies move along as easily as a New Yorker taking a trip to Djerba. The donkey dies (“animals go right to heaven,” he instructs Obama), the boy is injured and is taken to a clinic where the fee to see a doctor is 20 pounds, police officers, annoyed by the absence of regular clothes on Beshay who had been to the beach throw him in jail where his cellmate fears contagion. At any rate, he faces discrimination, but only one group actually laughed at him.

Beshay comes more into his own when he runs into a circle of self-described freaks, including a midget and a man who, because of a road accident, is missing both legs. Thirty years after being abandoned and making a “living” by recycling trash from “Garbage Mountain,” the disgured man had followed the Nike motto “Just Do It,” later to return, homesick no less, to the leper colony just as his young road partner is eager to get back to the orphanage. In Qena where he finally meets his father and drops the netting covering his face to avoid scaring people, he declares, “I am a human being,” which may remind you of Shakespeare’s character Shylock who contends, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”

We’ll all be equals on Judgment day brings us back to the motif; in other words you get pie in the sky when you die. These words have given hope to hundreds of millions of the world’s poor, the wretched of the earth, if you will. The two buddies will not know whether they will meet a gatekeeper on that day, but their optimism is not unlike the confidence that so many in this world feel, the knowledge that the only way to get on with a life touched by some pleasures is to accept a mixture of poverty, disease, and violence.

The DVD for this humanistic film can be ordered from Amazon for $17.99 beginning on its release Sept. 24. 2019. That’s not more than the price of a single admission to a New York multiplex and one that you can treasure forever. Even the bold yellow subtitles, usually missing even for most European films, add to the movie’s grandeur.

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

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

MOONLIGHT SONATA – Deafness in Three Movements – movie review

MOONLIGHT SONATA: Deafness in Three Movements
Abramorama
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Irene Taylor Brodsky
Cast: Jonas Brodsky, Sally Taylor, Paul Taylor, Irene Taylor Brodsky,
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/25/19
Opens: September 13, 2019

Poster

Ludwig Van Beethoven would be mighty proud if he could see “Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements.” He would be thrilled even more if he received a cochlear implant and actually heard the world’s most famous sonata thanks to the inventive genius of André Djourno and Charles Eyriès who contributed the original cochlear implant in 1957. What’s more Ludwig Van would be amazed to note that the device is covered by Medicare, which makes the composer eligible for free surgery now that he’s 249. The film is directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky who in 2007 gave us a prequel “Hear and Now” about her deaf parents, which puts this film squarely in her métier. Nor is there anything particularly political on the subject as is Josh Aronson’s “Sound and Fury.”

 

There are abundant both animated shorts and archival films of the director’s parents and of the star, Jonas Brodsky. “Moonlight Sonata” shows that handicaps can be overcome given the kind of motivation possessed by the principal character or, when necessary as with Jonas’s grandfather, given up with dignity as grandpa Paul Taylor was urged to do when early onset dementia made driving safely no longer guaranteed.

Jonas stars as a strikingly handsome lad shown mostly when he is thirteen or fourteen years of age, with clear skin and a thick mop of light brown hair, often relating to his 78-year-old grandfather Paul whom he obviously loves, the feeling fiercely reciprocated. He is fond of his piano teacher, who is not the type to robotically boost the lad’s ego like so many school teachers today but who insists on long practice. She tells him when his playing rates a 2 out of 6. Strict teachers who demand much of their students wind up either causing the young ‘uns to drop out or to shine with the satisfaction of accomplishment—a feeling you get only when you have worked diligently toward perfection.

Jonas’ folks are obviously upper-middle class given their spacious, split level home nicely furnished and providing warmth for its residents—who include the filmmaker, her husband, Jonas, and the boy’s two brothers. It’s not clear whether Ms. Brodsky’s parents live within but they surely spend considerable time with the Brodskys and talk a lot with the kind of speech that is intelligible but challenging. Their cochlear implants may have given them the gift of sound, but as that they would born deaf cannot allow them the clear speech that most of us take for granted.

Jonas may be a musical prodigy albeit one whose piano playing does not match that of the child Mozart, but he is always a kid who acts his age, having fun through puppyish discussions with his piano teacher, sometimes shaking his head as would a dog when splashing off rain. Still, he takes music seriously enough to be frustrated at every mistake and tries to interpret his teacher’s meaning when she insists that her pupil is technically proficient but falling short of expressing Beethoven’s sadness in becoming deaf.

An exhilarating moment arrives at the conclusion as Jonas wows the crowd at a concert organized by his teacher, who has given joy to a group of young people through their experience with music. The HBO documentary released by Abramorama a must-see for those who want more insight into the disability of deafness and folks who enjoy watching coming-of-age docs that are brimming with emotion without syrupy melodrama. “Moonlight Sonata” is filmed in beautiful Portland, Oregon by the director and Nick Midwig.

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

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-

PROMISE AT DAWN – movie review

PROMISE AT DAWN (La promesse de l’aube)
Menemsha Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eric Barbier
Screenwriters: Eric Barbier, Romain Gary, Marie Eynard
Cast: Pierre Niney, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Didier Bourdon, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Catherine McCormack, Finnegan Oldfield
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/31/19
Opens: September 6, 2019 at New York’s Quad Cinema

La promesse de l'aube (2017)

In an internet article by Adina Kay Gross et al “My Jewish Learning: What it means to be a Jewish mother today,” the columnists note that people think of Jewish mothers as mddle-aged women with a nasal New York accent who sweat over a steaming pot of matzo balls while screaming at their kids; or she could be the one who sits poolside in Florida jangling her diamonds and guilt-tripping her children into calling her more often. “She is sacrificing, yet demanding, manipulative and tyrannical devoted and ever-present. She loves her children fiercely, but man, does she nag.”

The surprising thing as that the bloggers wrote this years before the release of “Promise at Dawn,” but then again, maybe Eric Barbier, who directed by picture using a script he wrote with Marie Eynard (with a posthumous credit to Romain Gary), copied the theme from that article. Nah, but it sure seems that way. “Promise at Dawn” is not simply a biopic honoring the great writer-adventurer Romain Gary, who, while not fighting the Germans from a base in England penned thirty-four novels and collaborated with Cornelius Ryan on the great war movie “The Longest Day.” It is a quintessential treatment—one of the best in recent memory—of the love-hate feelings that a demanding Jewish mother evokes from her only son—yet we can credit her for pushing her boy to be what he became, oh, just a winner of the Goncourt Prize for French literature twice. Never mind that French law prohibits the giving of such an award more than once to the same writer.

And yes, Charlotte Gainsbourg delivers such a fierce, over the top performance as Nina Kacew, a Jewish mother that you may want to raise your champagne glass to her and say “mazel tov and Le Haim!” It helps that she’s playing against terrific performances by Pierre Niney as her son Romain Kacew, who later changes his name to Romaine Gary, and by Pawel Puchalski and Némo Schiffman as Romain from ages eight and ten and then as an adolescent respectively. Director Barbier is in his métier having served at the helm for “Le brasier” about, among other things, the relationship of father and son.

You’ll come away comparing Romain Gary to Ernest Hemingway, meaning that he was a writer who did not sit in his room pecking away at the typewriter without living life and without rugged experiences as his guide. Here is a fellow who could help land a plane during World War 2 after his pilot is blinded by an enemy bullet, and who is able even to stand up (a little, at least), to a mother who knows that her brilliant son could write prize-winning literature while serving as a French ambassador. If you’re an only son, as I am, you’ll probably relate all the more to the subject matter, perhaps swinging your view of your own mom from wanting to say “Get the hell out of my room and mind your own business” to “Mom, I love you; why don’t you come over and visit more often?”

The movie, based on Romain Gary’s best-selling autobiography of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, is framed in Mexico, opening on a celebration of Día de los muertos (you’ve seen that event in a most stunning form in the 007 movie “Spectre”). He has become exhausted while writing “Promise at Dawn,” his wife Lesley Blanch (Catherine McCormack) looking on. Changing quickly to Romain’s childhood in Vilnius in the Russian Empire where Romain’s mother Nina made a living selling hats to women (including at least one anti-Semite), the Francophone Nina moves to Nice, France, to give her son a better environment to pursue a career in literature. She opening a hotel there, taking a little time to advise her son to get a pistol, go to Berlin and kill Hitler.

During one of his early trysts with women, Romain is caught by his mother in bed with the maid leading her to fire the servant—too much competition for Nina, presumably. Romain tries to write, is rejected four times, and appears to get his mojo in the military despite being the only recruit out of 300 who does not receive stripes as a officer. “Dreyfus had it worse,” his commanding officer consoles, selecting Romain to go with him to England to continue the war. We can imagine that the officer does not relish Romain’s remaining in France after that country’s defeat as his fate as a Jewish prisoner of war would not be enviable.

I would have liked to know more about Gary’s suicide, since he does not appear a victim of serious depression, but then, as with Anthony Bourdain’s similar taking of life we may never really know. If you look at the Wikipedia article on Romain Gary, you may find that the director honors the man by following his actual life story, giving the French hero all the accolades and avoiding fictional embellishment. Gary’s mother really was like that helicopter parent, and Romain really performed heroic service in the military despite the humiliation of earning no stripes in his graduating class. Romain Gary: novelist, diplomat, film director and World War II aviator. It’s all in the movie and well-serviced especially by Charlotte Gainsbourg under the director’s period look at the twenties through the end of the war and beyond.

In French, English subtitles, filmed in Hungary, Belgium, Morocco, and Italy.

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

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-

BOOKSMART – movie review

BOOKSMART
Annapurna Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Olivia Wilde
Screenwriters: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman
Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Mason Gooding, Skyler Gisondo, Victoria Ruesga
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 5/20/19
Opens: May 24, 2019

 

The typical high school movie notes that kids sit in the lunchroom according to their personalities. You have the jocks, the nerds, the goths, with further divisions that are unfortunately along racial lines. We never see the students (with the word used loosely) in the cafeteria, but we see a helluva lot of them at parties, in the hall, in the home and in their cars in “Booksmart.” The picture is all the more of interest given that this is actress Olivia Wilde’s (“Life Itself”) freshman contribution to the celluloid pile, and since it’s written by four women—avoiding the usual problem of having script-by-committee emerge as something that none of the scripters want—it looks as though it comes from the pen of a single writer. Whereas as the greatest of the high-school movies, John Hughes’ “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” gets its speed-up from a climactic rally led by the title character, “Booksmart” almost never lets up its pace, bounding along at a furious clip save for its obligatory sentimental ending.

While the entire ensemble plays the tale without flaws—though some of the “high-school students” look like they might be doing graduate studies for their MBA’s—the picture is carried by the friendship of Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein). Though Molly is class president despite here lack of popularity with her peers, the two nerdie girls regret that they spent their four pre-college years hitting the books when they could have been partying non-stop like their classmates. The reason? They are determined to get into elite colleges, looking down on the others for seeming not to care about their education, but are hit hard psychologically when they discover that the fun-loving seventeen-year-olds have been accepted to Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Georgetown. Even one (Molly Gordon) girl who brags about her skill with hand jobs which she refers to as roadside pleasures is headed off to the Ivies. The only notion that adolescents are sexual creatures occurs when Amy notes that she “came out” as a lesbian in tenth grade and has waited until just before high school graduation to get it on.

With just hours to go before commencement exercises, which will star Molly in a valedictory speech, they decide to make up for four years of grinding the books instead of doing same with all the others during their final school night. Of course they are not invited to Nick’s party and have to spend some times locating the address—which leads them into a cab driven by principal Brown (Jason Sudeikis) of all people and by hitching with a pizza delivery guy (Michael Patrick O’Brien). At the party Molly plays up to Nick (Mason Gooding), having entertained a crush the past year, and her best pal hides underwater. While a few hours of treating the guys who at first they consider nobodies but ultimately respect cannot make up for wasting four years of fun that only teens can imagine, the two bond with their classmates and draw even closer to each other.

Wilde uses a soundtrack designed to deafen those in the audience not already hearing disabled from rock bands and rappers, including songs from Salt-N-Pepa and Alanis Morissette. The director hits us with a look at secondary education in America that might frighten some of the fuddy-duddies in the audience who still think that children should be seen but not heard. For the young and young-in-heart, “Booksmart”—which at the time of this writing boasts a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes out of sixty reviews—will appeal to a broad market but may dismay some of us who wonder why their own educations were so dull and predictable.

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

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

THE DISTANT BARKING OF DOGS – MOVIE REVIEW

THE DISTANT BARKING OF DOGS

Final Cut
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Simon Lereng Wilmont
Screenwriter: Simon Lereng Wilmont
Cast: Oleg Afanasyev, Alexandra Ryabichkina, Yarik
Screened at: Neuehouse Madison Screening Room, NYC, 1/9/19
Opens: February 1, 2019 in LA

Poster

Oleg Afanasyev is a cute ten-year-old boy living in what our President would call a s…hole. There is this village in Ukraine of Hnutove, which has a population of 700, it’s just empty space with nothing growing and sporting no particular buildings, and worst of all it’s a short distance from the gunfire and mines and missiles set up by agents of the so-called Donetsky People’s Republic. Or maybe the Ukranian army is responsible. Ukraine has been at war with Russian separatists in their country who are backed by Putin in Russia, a miserable fight with cease fires that are routinely ignored. However, there’s a fairy story happening there. Young Oleg and his beloved grandmother Alexandra Ryabichkina were scooped up by Simon Lereng Wilmont, who directs a documentary called “The Final Barking of Dogs” and taken to New York where I had the pleasure of listening to them discuss their roles in the making of the film. We in the audience may have expected both Ukranians to say that they love New York, that they love America, and they can’t wait to file for asylum because of their anxiety-ridden lives on the battlefield. But no, both said that New York City is “nice” but they want to go home. Grandma is specific: “We are part of the place, part of the land.” There’s no second-guessing people. They love their land and wouldn’t trade it for a secure for life in New York, where they could presumably fit in with either the Ukranian section in Manhattan’s East Village or the Russian sector in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach. Surprisingly their talk is so apolitical that we do not know even whether they are ethnically Russian or full-scale Ukranian. (For more info on the war, check here:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_military_intervention_in_Ukraine_(2014%E2%80%93present).

Simon Lereng Wilmont, in his debut as sole director of a full-length movie, watches over Oleg and his grandmother as would a fly on the wall, apparently succeeding in coaxing them to behave normally and not to look at the camera. Little Oleg has pillow fights with his cousin Yarik, heartbroken when his pal leaves a for safer haven, but overjoyed when his cousin returns. They have an older friend Kostya, who acts like a big brother to them, showing Oleg how to hold a pistol and fire at bottles—though Oleg winds up with a fairly deep cut on his leg from a ricocheted bullet and is calmly and lovingly censured by his grandmother for shooting and killing a frog, making him promise never to that again.

This is the kind of documentary that happily is not the kind with dozens of talking heads. Nobody is interviewed. The three or four people do behave as though the director-cinematographer is not around, though we wonder how much landed on the cutting room floor during the year and a half that the movie was shot. If anything, Oleg is often curious about the waging of war, examining a mine, though carelessly zipping around the neighborhood without a thought that he could be blown up in an instant. This documentary landed on the Oscar short list for best doc where it will compete with the likes of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” “Free Solo,” and “RBG.”

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

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

SHOPLIFTERS – movie review

SHOPLIFTERS (Manbiki Kazoku)

Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Kore-eda Hirokazu
Screenwriter:  Kore-eda Hirokazu
Cast:  Lily Franky, Ando Sakura, Matsuoka Mayu, Kiki Kilin, Jyo Kairi, Sasaki Miyu
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/31/18
Opens: November 23, 2018
Manbiki kazoku Movie Poster
It could be an ordeal for a typical American audience to watch two hours of a film with such a measured pace as “Shoplifters,” but for those who appreciate a deeply humanistic look at a scruffy, odd-ball Japanese family, the film offers rewards.  The director, Kore-eda Hirokazu, in fact, is known for stories about folks who are living on the edge, barely getting by, or families that are faced with momentous decisions.  Consider “Like Father, Like Son,” in which a businessman is told that babies were switched at birth.  He faces the decision of a lifetime: to keep the boy that he and his wife raised from birth, or to tell the truth and replace him with his biological son.  In “Our Little Sister,” a group of sisters living with their grandmother prepare for the arrival of a 13-year-old half-sister.

“Shoplifters,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May, is all about a rag-tag group of people who consider one another as though they are legally or biologically related.  Husband, wife, children—all are together in a small rickety suburban home. They are led by a good-natured man, Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) who makes the young ones earn their keep by shoplifting.  Osamu is Fagin to his Oliver Twist-like “son” Shota Shibata (Kairi Jo) and “daughter” Yuri (Miyu Sasaki).  Shota looks about 14 years old, having lived for a while with Osamu and Osamu’s “wife” Nobuyo Shibata.  Five-year-old Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) is picked up by the family, the product of an abusive home, and she is treated like their own.  In fact, it’s not completely clear just which people have makeshift identities and which are genuine.  But all little Yuri had to do was show the burn on her arm, and she is immediately taken in and fed, no matter how poor her new family is.  What income the family uses is largely from the alleged pension collected by Granny (Kiki Kilin), an elderly lady who seems always to be eating, schlurping up noodles or biting into croquettes.

When we meet Osamu and his “son” Shota, they have been shoplifting on a freezing winter’s night at the local grocery store.  Back in the shack, the family ponders the danger of taking in five-year-old Yuri.  Isn’t that kidnapping?  It certainly is, but surely if anyone in the family were charged with the crime, they could always plead “guilty with an explanation” as we would do in traffic court.

Just as Osamu trains Shota to shoplift, so Shota trains Yuri.  In one scene, Shota takes off with a pair of fishing rods, a theft made easy as Yuri pulls the plug on the alarmed door and replaces it when her “big brother” has done the deed.  If this family were treated by the strict laws of kidnapping and shoplifting, the “dad” and “mom” would go to jail.  But a wise judge would consider the circumstances, and a kidnapping charge would be reduced to probation.  They have performed a service, taking in people from abusive homes and making them happy and healthy.

The sparks fly only in the final half hour, as police move in to enforce the law.  Granny’s demise has much to do with the penalties they face, and while we root for everything to turn out according to true justice rather than the formal laws, we wonder what will happen to Shota, who obviously would like to stay forever with these quirky people, and to Yuri, who has been treated with kindness for the first time in her life.

The acting is naturalistic, standouts being Lily Franky as the putative head of the family and Kairi Jo as his teen “son.”  Behind the lenses, Kondo Ryuto captures a part of Tokyo probably no tourist ever sees, while Hosono Haruomi issues a score that makes the proceedings look like a fairy tale—which, I suppose, it is.  In Japanese with English titles.

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

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

BECOMING ASTRID – movie reveiw

BECOMING ASTRID (Unga Astrid)
 
Music Box Films
Reviewed for BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Pernille Fischer Christensen,
Screenwriterd:  Kim Fupz Aakeson, Pernille Fischer Christensen
Cast:  Alba August, Maria Bonnevie, Trine Dyrholm, Henrik Rafaelsen, Magnus Krepper, Björn Gustafsson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/14/18
Opens: November 23, 2018
Unga Astrid Movie Poster
Pippi Långstrump, Pippi Longstocking as we know her here in America, is the principal character in a series of books translated into eighty-five languages.  The little girl is a red-head, unconventional, strong enough to lift and carry a horse with one arm.  She has contempt for adults for their pomposity and condescension (kutchi-koo, presumably, and “you look like your mother”).  Her sense of morality is as strong as her muscular arm, as she cannot tolerate a man’s beating his horse.  All this comes from being the daughter of a buccaneer captain, who provides her with a solid role model or inner and outer strength, the ability to tackle just about anything, including dedicating hours daily to cleaning a house and cooking.  It’s no wonder that the book series itself provides a terrific model for the readers the world over.  In fact, I would opine that if you find high-school students today who can barely read, who have no idea of emotions behind the words in a book, those youngsters probably did not have moms and dads to read stories as they tucked them into bed.  (I know this from personal experience with hundreds of such high-school boys and girls.)
Yet the words “Pippi Longstocking” gets nary a mention in a movie loosely based on the author’s early life.  Co-writer and director Pernille Fischer Christensen bookends her charmer of a movie with the author, now an elderly woman receiving sacks upon sacks of mail from youngsters everywhere, many of whom ask the key question, “How do you write so well about childhood when you’re are not yourself a child?  How can you write about PippI, monkey, horse, Tommy and Annika?  What comes across in “Becoming Astrid” is that by the time the movie wraps up, you have a good idea of the experiences she has from age 16 to about age 23, the hardships faced, all fueling her vivid imagination. Her books enjoy the popularity of those written by Theodor Seuss Geisel. She’s a Dr. Seuss on the loose. 

Ms. Christensen may be best known for “A Soap,” hardly as conventional a movie as her latest, as the 2006 film deals with the relationship of the owner of a beauty clinic and a transgender woman.  Now she takes a break and goes conventional, tackling her subject in strict chronological order from ages sixteen to about twenty-three.  That should appear to a wider audience rather than the small arthouse crowd that indies often have to accept.  Not that this is a sentimental, Hallmark-type film, considering what happens to the principal subject, Astrid Lindgren (Alba August), despite spending her youthful days with religious parents Marie (Trine Dyrholm) and Samuel (Magnus Krepper) and listening to Sunday sermons of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Under Erik Molberg Hansen’s lensing, we get the feel of the life in a small farming village in the Sweden of the twenties where Astrid begins to display the unconventional behavior of her favorite character Pippi.  Bored with the Saturday night dancing and from the exhausting work on the small farm, she is discovered by Reinhold (Henrik Rafaelsen), a newspaper editor who has read some of her essays and hires her to intern on the paper.  Instead of settling for routine, she branches out with articles of her own and falls under the influence of fashion magazines.  She has the barber cut her braids and becomes a thoroughly modern Astrid.

The editor becomes more than a boss, falling in love with her despite an age difference of some twenty years, and gets her pregnant despite his promise to be careful.  Abortion in freewheeling Sweden did not become legal until 1938, leaving the young woman without quite the dilemma.  To avoid the censure of her whole family by the locals, she goes to Copenhagen by train where she lucks out by finding one Marie (Trine Dyrholm), who takes care of the babies of women like Astrid.  Though Astrid could take the easy way out by accepting the father’s marriage proposal, she refuses his entreaties and develops the strength that even nowadays could label her a liberated woman.

It’s not that anyone who makes strong choices is able to write children’s books.  The problems faced by Astrid might appear resolved, as she had the option of leaving Lasse, the child—played by Sigrid af Ekström at three weeks of age, Ludvig V Görensson at six months, and an already accomplished performer, Marius Damslev, at three years.  None of these experiences really explain how the woman who would become Astrid Lindberg became such a popular writer, so maybe we should forget about Pippi Longstocking and not worry about the fictional changes the director and writers make.  This is an involving enough tale brought nicely up to date as in 1987, Astrid (Maria Fahl Vikander) makes room in her home for the sacks of mail from appreciative kids whose missives are in plain envelopes and in sturdy wrappings alike.  Those of us born before the digital revolution might wonder whether such hero worship of a writer of children’s books could ever come to pass in 2018.  But take a look at any Barnes and Noble store, go to the children’s section, and you’ll find young mothers sitting on the carpet with their small fry as though they are monitor-hating intellectuals who keep reading and books alive in the marvelous sci-fi picture “Fahrenheit 451.”  In Swedish and Danish with English subtitles.

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

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

OF FATHERS AND SONS – movie review

OF FATHERS AND SONS

KINO LORBER
Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director: Talal Derki
Screenwriter: Talal Derki
Cast: Abu Osama
Screened at: Crosby St. Hotel, NYC, 11/7/18
Opens: November 16, 2018

What informal outdoor games did you play with your pals when you were a kid? When I was 12 we played stick-ball in the street, watching out for cars and dodging them as best we could. Punch ball was a variety of this without the technology of the stick. We relied on our own fists to knock out what we called spaldeens (acutally Spaldings). My favorite indoor game was spin the bottle. What do kids in Northern Syria do for fun? In their bombed-out country, courtesy of Bashar al-Assad with the help of the Russians, they play war. There’s not much else to do, as we can see from Talal Derki’s sophomore feature documentary. Derki, whose prize-winning 2013 doc “The Return to Homs” filmed over 3 years, is about a 19 year-old militia leader in a city in Syria’s West, virtually destroyed by Assad’s forces. Homs is a city full of history but is now pockmarked, block after block, its citizens largely having deserted.

This time the brave, even audacious Derki spends two years in Northern Syria as a war journalist who feigns sympathies with the jihadists, gains their confidence, and serves up his documentary as though a drama, full of action, with no tedious interviews—just people chatting with the camera as though it were an old friend, presumably excited to give their views to what they think will be millions of movie fans.

There is plenty of hated among the particular family being filmed by the writer-director’s photographer, Kahtan Hassoun, but though you might expect half the movie to be broadsides against America and Israel, only a token conversation bothers to mention the two states. Even stories of Moses and Abraham are treated warmly. Instead the hatred is directed against Bashar al-Assad who destroyed a good deal of his own country, gassing his own people, welcoming Russian jets into his air space to create more havoc against who he calls “terrorists.” What comes across most vividly, however, is something not overtly covered in the film. This is this: while a large percentage of Americans believe that our government should be arming the rebels against the Syrian dictator, it’s possible that most of the rebels themselves are members of a branch of al-Qaida, a terrorist group that may have contempt for ISIS but is just as much in favor of occupying a vast amount of Middle-East space to form an Islamic caliphate.

As principal character, Abu Osama, is proud of his eight sons—his daughters are not part of the conversation at all and in fact the camera captures only seconds of girls in school. He is proudest of the oldest boy, Osama, who he is training along with the others to become, if necessary, martyrs in the fight against the Syrian government. He passes his hatred down to his offspring, who when not play war games with live ammunition, their faces covered by balaclavas, wrestle with one another and practice throwing rocks at invisible enemies. Sadly, for the forty-something father, he steps on a mine and loses a foot, all of which occur during the two-year time period that Derki patiently spends in the company of what we in America would call terrorists.

Abu Osama is no one-dimensional foe. In a nuanced portrait, we see that he has justifiable rage against the Syrian president who obviously does not drop bombs and engage in chemical and biological warfare for fun. Assad is under attack for years now and has no problem gassing people as collateral damage rather than trying to pick out who are the actual combatants. We in the audience could not be blamed for treating Abu Osama as a character we can to some extent sympathize with, a father who is adored by all eight of his male children, who must suffer the loss of a foot with corresponding pain that is not treated with palliatives. The women who are wailing in sympathy are not shown, presumably because Abu Osama would not permit them to be filmed.

Derki, who lives in Berlin and has received considerable funds from Germany for the making of this film, has succeeded admirably with the risk of his own life and limb to capture the lifestyle—if you can call it that—of people under siege in a battle to which they have committed themselves for revenge against the destruction of their country. It is intimate, a fly-on-the-wall treatment of a single family, while broadly capturing the mind of the jihadist close up.

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

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

BOY ERASED – movie review

BOY ERASED

Focus Features
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Joel Edgerton
Screenwriter:  Joel Edgerton, based on Garrard Conley’s memoir
Cast:  Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan, Cherry Jones
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/2/18
Opens: November 2, 2018
Boy Erased - Poster Gallery
When you live in New York, the most progressive large city in America, you may not realize what’s going on in broad swaths of our country.  Look at a map and you’ll find that blue states are largely in coastal areas while broad reaches of the South and Mid-West are red.  And since New Yorkers live in a state where parents have been noted to demonstrate with signs saying “I am proud of my gay son,” we are unaware that millions of parents of gay children are either in denial or coerce their gay kids into pursuing change.  These guardians, perhaps because they want to be grandparents or they believe erroneously that they are guilty of “making” their children homosexual, may opt to enroll their young ‘uns in gay conversion therapy.  Never mind that this technique has been proven worthless and that few if any graduates change their sexual orientation.

Thanks to the writings of Garrard Conley, whose memoir “Boy Erased: A Memoir” recounts his weeks in an Arkansas center claiming to reverse the sexual orientation of their charges, we now have a movie adapting his book.  “Boy Erased” could be called a biopic, though the names of the characters have been changed.  Though Joel Edgerton, the director who plays a major role of a counselor, is known principally as an actor. “Boy Erased” is his sophomore entry in filmmaking.

You might expect a writer or director to come out forcefully and with brutal satirical edges in describing what goes on in gay conversion centers, but Edgerton’s character are appropriately nuanced.  The head counselor at an Arkansas center, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), is not the sort of person you might want to have a beer with since he does carry on with a project that endorses some sadism.  Though he seems to have no professional qualifications for the job, he treats the mostly young class of gays with tough love, breaking into some brutal treatment about midway into the story.

The nonlinear story is loaded with flashbacks which seem to me entirely unnecessary, as a straightforward chronological approach would have been less confusing.  We are introduced to Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe), the father of Jaren Eamons (Lucas Hedges) and husband of Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman).  Since Marshall is a Baptist pastor who wants his son to marry his girlfriend and make him a grandfather, he sees his chances fading when the 18-year-old confesses to being homosexual.  With the support of his religious wife, he enrolls the boy in a 23-weeks’ indoctrination program that pledges to bring the men and women back into the Lord’s fold.  The principal problem with the program is its worthlessness, not the brutality, which is shown in two scenes involving beating a boy on the back with the Bible.  Mostly the folks are treated with compassion.

Jared goes along with everything, sucking up his antipathy for the class, releasing his anger toward the movie’s conclusion, in effect dropping out while he still has some feelings of independence.  Hedges, whom you may have seen in “Manchester by the Sea,” conveys his mixed emotions exquisitely, filling almost every scene with his presence, and is particularly watchable when bouncing his emotions off his mother, who ultimately accepts her son’s homosexuality; his father, who refuses to keep the lad under his roof unless he changes; and especially against the counselor. Given today’s efforts by Judge Kavanaugh to defend himself against charges of involvement in a near rape, we are particularly horrified to watch Jared’s being raped by his college roommate, reinforcing the idea that he has been too passive for much of his life and needs to break out or be emotionally crushed for decades.

One hopes that in states that still allow conversion therapy of minors—that’s all but a handful—people will go to screenings, which might inspire them to do their own research.  A dispassionate look at the many reports that indicate that conversion therapy is not only cruel but worthless if the aim is to convert gays into hetero might convince some people but will likely be dismissed by Trump supporters who care little about science and more about mythology.

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

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

BEN IS BACK – movie review

BEN IS BACK

Roadside Attractions/ Lionsgate
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Peter Hedges
Screenwriter:  Peter Hedges
Cast:  Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton, Rachel Bay Jones
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 10/16/18
Opens: December 7, 2018

Climate change, the economy, immigration, wars—these are global problems that cannot be solved by one country alone.  But the opioid epidemic, the thousands of deaths yearly from overdosing on prescription drugs; that appears to be a problem largely within our own United States.  The pundits and the medical community are not sure why this is so, but people of all ages have become devastated by a problem that they brought upon themselves, perhaps by being too trusting of the doctors who prescribe Oxycodone, Vicodin, Percocet and the like, all legal pharmaceuticals that should be used sparingly if at all to avoid dependence and addiction.

Substance abuse could be treated as a documentary, but more interestingly, Peter Hedges’ “Ben is Back” does the job of being both didactic and entertaining, however morbid the subject matter.  The action takes place in upstate New York (filmed largely in Nyack and Yonkers), centering on Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges) and his mom Holly Burns (Julia Roberts).  If you can picture Julia Roberts living in the ‘burbs, wearing an apron, and being married to an overly formal and strict husband, you can ride with the show.  In fact what gives the picture is heft is a stellar performance only somewhat by Julia Roberts but in this case more by the upcoming Lucas Hedges, who is the writer-director’s son and who has appeared winningly as Jared in “Boy Erased,” a splendid take-down of the Christian Right’s rooting for gay conversion therapy to convert homosexuals into what they consider normal people.  Never mind that it doesn’t work while it seeks to change identities that people have from the time they are born.

Ben is about twenty years old (Hedges is 22) and had spent the last 77 days in an expensive program to convert him from an opioid addict into someone who can carry on a normal life without the sickness and expense of a drug dependency.  Unlike conversion therapy, the treatment for addicts can work, though I’ve heard it said that you can be “clean” for even 30 years and yet become newly attracted to the very medications that have driven both you and your loved ones crazy.

On Christmas Eve, Ben, the family’s black sheep, comes home to celebrate the holidays, though his arrival has taken his mother, Holly (Julia Roberts), his sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) and his stepfather Neal (Courtney B. Vance) by surprise.  Thinking that he should not be spending even a day away from the institution, the family are properly concerned about the visit.  And they should be.  During the course of Christmas, already a season that drives quite a few people into depressive states, Ben will run into old friends and acquaintances, including the drug seller for whom he had operated as a runner and a fellow addict desperate for money to buy a fix and relieve his sickness.

Holly shows her tough love for the young man by insisting that he never leave her sight. She watches him while he is urinating, she hides her jewelry and every kind of pill that he might experiment with, and sits behind him at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting where the members applaud him for being sober for 77 days.

The movie is filled with melodramatic moments when a home burglary leads to the kidnapping of the family Cairn terrier, who has been taken from the home for purposes other than a cash ransom.  When Lucas steals his mother’s car, the story ends with a frantic chase, by which time Holly realizes that her son cannot be trusted for even an hour outside of her presence.

The end credits tell us where to go if you or someone you know has a substance abuse problem, but didacticism is hardly the principal purpose.  Perhaps the awards-worthy performance of young Lucas Hedges might be the principal reason for attending a screening, a solid detective story, a coming of age tale, and a dramatic look at why Christmas is not always a time for rejoicing.

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

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

WILDLIFE – movie review

WILDLIFE

IFC Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Paul Dano
Screenwriter:  Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano
Cast:  Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp, Jake Gyllenhaal
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 10/11/18
Opens: October 19, 2018
Wildlife Movie Poster
Should parents who are having arguments stick out their marriage for the sake of the kids, or would the children be better off if their parents split, thereby ending the confrontations?  This question comes to mind when you’re watching “Wildlife,” which looks at parental conflict through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy.  Based on a novel that first appeared in Atlantic magazine in 1990 by Richard Ford and set in the town of Great Falls, Montana, “Wildlife” finds Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould) staring with owlish eyes at events surrounding him that he cannot much alter.  He is caught between what actually appears to be flirtations from his own mother, Jeanette Brinson (Carey Mulligan), a woman who is only twenty years older than her son, and the affection he harbors for his dad, Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal), who practices tossing the football around and encourages his son to play the game in high school.

Director Paul Dano, known to cinephiles for diverse acting roles such as in “Little Mary Sunshine” (family wants their young daughter to compete in the beauty finals) and in “Swiss Army Man” (guy stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body), now comes through with his freshman directorial debut, and it’s looks like a movie from a director who has had considerable experience in the field.

As young Joe stares at the unfolding scene in school, on a job as a photographer’s assistant, and most of all at home, he keeps his emotions to himself until cutting loose toward the tale’s conclusion.  But this is Carey Mulligan’s picture.  The wonderful British actress, playing the role of a person of her own early-thirties age, runs the gamut of emotions.  At first she supports her husband, Jerry, who has just been fired from a job as an assistant to pros on a golf course, urging him to find another lest she would have to enter the employment market herself.  When Jerry refuses to return to that job (the boss said firing him was a mistake) and not open to a gig bagging groceries (“I won’t do a teenager’s job”), Jeanette begins to lose patience.  When Jerry compounds the problem by hiring himself out to fight forest fires as a dollar a day, not great pay even in 1960, she looks for opportunities, finding one as a swimming teacher.

At the pool, she teaches Warren Miller (Bill Camp), a wealthy businessman with his own plane, who begins to court her.  Despite his unattractive demeanor—he’s portly, balding, a drinker and cigar smoker—she responds to his invitations, all to the growing dismay of the boy.  Still, Miller has a glib way of expressing himself, introducing the kid to a scene which found him 4000 feet up, watching a gaggle of honking geese, so entranced that he turned off the motor thinking that this is what it must mean to be an angel.

What’s in the Brinson family for the future?  Will Jeanette and Jerry break up, leaving the 14-year-old to an uncertain fate?  In this case we really do care about these people.  We hope that she does not team up with the divorced Warren Miller despite the financial boon for mother and son, confirming “Wildlife” as a feminist film that may have us rooting for her to find her own steady job rather than depend on her need to find a man.  It looks as though all’s well that may end well, a coming-of-age tale just as it is a feminist film, well designed for a potential audience of moviegoers who do not need much melodrama and have contempt for formulaic soap operas.

Rated PG-13.  104 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

ONE WILD MOMENT – movie review

ONE WILD MOMENT (Un moment d’égarement)

Under the Milky Way
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Jean-François Richet
Screenwriter:  Claude Berri, Lisa Azuelos, Lisa Azuelos
Cast:  Vincent Cassel, François Cluzet, Lola Le Lann, Alice Isaaz, Louka Meliava, Noémie Merlant
Screened at: Critics’ link,  NYC, 9/7/18
Opens: September 25, 2018 on VOD
Vincent Cassel and Lola Le Lann in Un moment d'égarement (2015)
When you see a guy about 45 years old in a New York’s expensive Per Se restaurant seated opposite a woman about half his age, how do you react?  Chances are you’ll guess that she is an executive assistant playing up to her boss, wouldn’t you?  Or do you think that the gentleman instigated the liaison and is, perhaps, exploiting the assistant such as we’ve all heard in the #MeToo complaints?  Jean-François Richet, who directs “One Wild Moment,” could have taken the latter stand, a satiric look at an older man taking advantage of the cute young thing, but instead, Richet, who makes a complete about-face since his previous work.  Richet’s “Mesrine”  stands today as one of the great cops and robbers thriller ever, yet voilá: Richet is equally adept with romantic comedy as shown in his “Un moment d’égarement,” which depicts an underage girl who may love to dance with guys about her own age but who seeks a mature man who is all of forty-five years old.

Louna (Lola Le Lann), the seductive young woman about sixteen years of age has her eye on Laurent (Vincent Cassel) who is well over twice the girl’s age and who is drawn into a sexual connection with Louna, one which he tries to avoid, but as they say, “A stiff penis has no conscience.”  If you are a frequent moviegoer you’ll recall the plot from the 1984 American movie, Stanley Donen’s “Blame It on Rio” starring Michael Caine and Joseph Bologna, which in turn is copied from Claude Berri’s classic 1977 work, also called “One Wild Moment.”  And why not copy, have sequels, give it your best shot when you have such a great premise; one which does not find the older guy preying on a young innocent but instead puts the blame not on Rio this time but on the young woman?

When Maureen Daly wrote “Seventeenth Summer” in 1970 about a romance between one Jack and one Angie, she did not have this idea in mind.  Her couple, in puppy love, are about the same age.  The age difference here makes all the difference, propelling “One Wild Moment” into a hilarious comedy of two middle-aged best friends, Laurent and Antoine (François Cluzet) who take their vacation in an old house near the beach in Corsica—which, as portrayed here, looks as close to paradise as you can get.  And the movie is blessed with one of France’s great actors, nay one of the world’s best and most versatile performers, Vincent Cassel in the principal male role.  Cassel’s character Laurent has a platonic interest in Louna, which is fine, except that his mild feelings toward her are beefed up.  Though Laurent’s own daughter, Marie (Alice Isaaz) becomes increasingly suspicious that her dad is a “pervert,” Laurent’s best friend Antoine is clueless.  When Antoine hears that a much older man may have deflowered his precious teen, he storms about, shouting that he will kill the guy just as he shot a wild boar (and killed a neighbor’s dog by mistake).  The film gets much of its humor from dramatic irony; the idea originating in Greek tragedy when the audience knows more than the characters.

The actual seduction is explicit featuring full frontal and back nudity for Louna (the actress who plays her is 22 so that’s OK) and, as usual, no such exposure in the male.  It’s a clear night, the water is pleasantly warm, the seduction is easy, or at least it looks easy despite Laurent’s belief that he could stop it at any time.

Some viewers whose commentaries and reviews appear in the ‘net say that they felt uneasy by the reverse Lolita effects, but the age of consent in France is fifteen, so the only problem is that Laurent could not possibly feel safe, dreading the moment that his friend will know the truth. For her part, Louna, whose home life is troubled because his father is about to separate from his wife, appears to get some joy in watching her mature man unease, his feelings of guilt.

So, don’t be troubled.  There’s nothing perverse here, at least in French law.  As Professor Henry Higgins states in Lerner and Loewe’s musical “My Fair Lady,” “The French don’t care what they do; as long as they pronounce it properly.”  Louna doesn’t care in the slightest, enjoying her satisfaction in losing her virginity to Laurent.  In fact, the entire story, so well photographed in gorgeous Corsica, is a dream of a comedy.

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

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-

MADELINE’S MADELINE – movie review

MADELINE’S MADELINE

Oscilloscope
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Josephine Decker
Screenwriter:  Josephine Decker
Cast:  Helena Howard, Molly Parker, Miranda July
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 7/10/18
Opens: August 10 in NY; August 17 in L.A.
Poster
Josephine Decker’s latest film is emotionally explosive to such an extent that “Madeline’s Madeline” could be called a stab at expressionism.  Expressionism, which is better known in painting and theater than in the cinema, is the practice of revealing an emotional inner life rather than an objective impression of the world, and has been used most effectively on stage in such works as Elmer Rice’s “The Adding Machine.”  As the taut bundle of inner turmoil, Decker’s “Madeline” is played by a newcomer, Helena Howard), who lets loose with all her inner demons, a role reversal in which she plays her mother, Regina (Miranda July) during a rehearsal by a New York theater group under the direction of Evangeline (Molly Parker).

Decker is in her mystical métier, having made the film “Butter on the Latch,” wherein fantasy plays with reality at a California camp as a camper sings about dragons who entwine themselves in women’s hair and carry them off through the forest, burning the trees as they go.

At base, the film is about the theater director’s use of a mentally ill title figure—seen in the opening when a blurred figure of a nurse talks to the 16-year-old.  Since her prescription for possible schizophrenia has run out, there’s no stopping Madeline from expressing her demons during a rehearsal where she is utilized by director Evangeline as her principal performer.  Madeline uses her own paranoia with touches of anorexia to give her all to the part during the improvisations attempted by the theater group.  Like other members of the troupe, she acts out the part of a turtle.  She also dons pig’s masks as though rehearsing for Greek tragedy.  In the most excoriating scene she gives her mother hell, the middle-aged now single woman having to walk out despite the congratulations that the young actress receives from the director and the troupe.  Her acting is so dramatic—both within the stage rehearsal and in the film itself—that the director invites her home, where she declares to the director’s husband that she is determined on her 17th birthday to lose her virginity.  She makes it fairly clear that the husband George (Curtiss Cook) is her choice to be the lucky guy.

Race plays a role as well.  Madeline’s mother is white; her daughter is black.  At one point the teenager, hearing the mother tell her that the young woman is “different,” wonders whether she is honing in on the girl’s race.  This becomes part of the tension released by the girl in her role reversal, contributing mightily to Madeline’s explosion of theatrical emotion.  Joys of motherhood indeed.  As for the two older women, Evangeline and Regina, particularly involving is the former’s attempts to pull her star student away from her mother’s influence and into her own inner circle.

One would not be surprised if members of the audience, particularly critics, would find Helena Howard’s performance among the great débuts of recent years—which could catapult her into notice by awards organizations voting breakthrough performance at the end of this year.  Nonetheless, “Madeline’s Madeline” is so experimental, so non-linear, with photography often deliberately blurred, that a positive reception by a majority of ordinary film-goers is hardly guaranteed.

Unrated.  93 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

SKATE KITCHEN – movie review

SKATE KITCHEN

Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Crystal Moselle
Screenwriter: Aslihan Unaldi, Crystal Moselle, Jennifer Silverman. Story by Crystal Moselle
Cast:  Rachel Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Jaden Smith, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 7/18/18
Opens: August 10, 2018
Skate Kitchen Movie Poster
If you’re accustomed to hanging out with middle-class people who send their kids to pre-school and buy them Harvard sweatshirts when they’re five, you and your kids are missing a view of an urban subculture of teenagers who are likely having more fun skateboarding on the streets of Manhattan’s Chinatown than you had when you were a kid.   The youngsters who are the focus of Crystal Moselle’s largely improvised, full of street-smarts, and energetic cast have a lot to say to one another, thanks largely to their refusal to spend all their time starting at the small screens that Samsung makes, i-phones that you might swear are designed to sweep away the natural spontaneity of childhood.

Director Moselle, whose “The Wolfpack” deals with a group of brothers who are locked away from society in a Lower East Side Manhattan apartment whose pastime is re-enacting scenes from films, again focuses on what for a better term are called “urban”people—generally meaning African-American and Hispanic youths living on mean city streets.  With a screenplay by the director together with Aslihan Unaldi and Jennifer Silverman, “Skate Kitchen” is similar to “The Wolfpack” in that its principal character is also locked away from society at least metaphorically.  Eighteen-year-old Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), living with her single mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez), is too distant from the hip streets of New York’s Chinatown.  She is still a virgin who has to ask “How do you know when you like a boy?” and “How do you know that a boy likes you?”  She had been a tomboy, bonded with her father until the age of eleven when she switched loyalty to her mom as she wanted to learn the joys of womanhood.

With her skateboard, she travels to Chinatown, meets members of a group called Skate Kitchen about whom she learned on her i-phone.  She is shy and must take her time before she is accepted by an assertive group of skateboarders who admire the risks she takes in the playground—that seems built primarily to allow skateboarders to practice their hobby amid elevations and hurdles.  She takes the Long Island Railroad regularly—it’s summer—and soon fits in just fine, whether hitching to the back of a bus, rolling through city streets and never-mind-the-traffic, or enjoying herself in the playground.  She becomes interested in Devon (Jaden Smith), a young man who works with her in a supermarket, spends one-on-one time with him, and is ejected from the group for horning in on the boyfriend of Janay (Delia Lovelace).

Some of the skateboarding techniques are a joy to watch.  Obviously these kids have been on the boards long before the director ever met them.  And given their patter, including a professional rendition by one rapper, they are comfortable enough to improvise in front of the camera and to provide the audience with a fly-on-the-wall view of what it’s like to be “urban” in our liberated twenty-first century.  As the principal character, Rachelle Vinberg, in her acting debut (this is the director’s non-documentary feature film debut as well), is perfect for the role.  Introverted at first as a kid unfortunate enough to be shut away from real life in a suburb, she emerges pretty quickly, coming of age, as they say, when she—and we in the audience—emotionally understand the importance of fitting in, finding your own groove.

Rated R.  105 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+

Overall – B+

THE SWAN – movie revei

THE SWAN (Svanurinn)

Synergetic Distribution
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir
Screenplay by: Guðbergur Bergsson, Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir, novel by Guðbergur Bergsson
Cast: Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Thor Kristjansson, Gríma Valsdóttir
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/28/18
Opens: August 10, 2018 in NY August 17, 2018 in LA
Svanurinn (2017)
Kids know more about life than we acknowledge.  Before computers and i-phones they read Dr. Seuss and were looked upon as innocent about real life.  It seems now that adults are more ready to talk to children as though they were adults and not too cautious about what they let the little ones see.  This point is made in Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s freshman full-length feature which stars the adorable Gríma Valsdóttir as a nine-year-old who is bright, curious, and a veritable sponge, picking up new things that she learns every day and trying to parse the emotions on display from a group of farmers in rural Iceland.

As Sól, the child—who was cast in “The Swan” after a far-and-wide search and eventually scouted when the director saw her in a staged version of Pippi Longstocking—is sent by her mother to the child’s great aunt north of the capital.  Though she a first resents the move—her mom was motivated because the girl was caught stealing and the farm was seen as a corrective—she soon adapts to the various folks in the family which boards her.  She becomes particularly close to Jón (Thor Kristjansson), who spends every summer with them doing chores and using his free time to write voluminous notes in a journal. (Somebody in the crew seems to have spent long days and nights copying Icelandic notes longhand, filling several notebooks which are vetted by the young girl.)

These farmers are not the happy workers depicted in kids’ picture-books—the ones that are mistakenly given to urban youngsters who cannot relate to any of the nonsense.  Nobody here resembles “Heidi’s Farm Friends,” “Mrs. Wishy-Washa’s Farm,” “Down by the Farm,” and “Jigaree.”  Collegian daughter Ásta, just back from college in Reykjavik, is morose, as her boyfriend ditched her for another.  She complains to her parents that they are using medieval techniques to milk the cows and will be crushed by the big guys.  For his part Jón, who writes for therapy as he confesses that his life has been a mess, takes advantage of Ásta’s misery with a one-night stand that is witnessed by Sól.  He feels a kinship with the child who he believes could herself become a writer.  Sol helps deliver a calf, shown in full detail by German cinematographer Martin Neumeyer, but even that happy event becomes a source of more misery for Sol when the calf is slaughtered despite being treated as a pet by the child.

The fairy-tale nature of the tale is climaxed when Sól goes to the lake in the mountains where a swan, a monster by myth, is said to lure people to their deaths.  She is determined to face up to the handsome creature, given emotional fortitude by her summer’s life with this melancholy family, which gives her resolve never to depend on people again because they are at least as fragile and vulnerable as she feels.

Sól captures the director’s interest, the girl appearing in most frames with a look of curiosity to the strange people surrounding her, obviously learning more about both physical nature and human nature than she could from a schoolbook.  The actress, whose real age is not revealed by internet sources like the IMDB, has a remarkable debut and can expect other offers to follow.  The film as a whole, which was shown at the Scandinavian Film Festival, is slow moving and mostly evenly pitched.  The relationship of the girl to the summer worker, which appears to be headed into pervert territory as he wraps his arms around her at bedtime, is innocent enough in a picture that is a pleasure to watch, a coming of age story that in fact reveals changes in outlook not only of Sól but of the summer farmhand and the family college girl as well.

Unrated.  91 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST – movie review

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST

Film Rise
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Screenwriter:  Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele, book by Emily M. Danforth
Cast:  Chloë Grace Moretz, John Gallagher Jr., Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Jennifer Ehle, Emily Skeggs, Owen Campbell
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 7/27/18
Opens: August 3, 2018
The Miseducation Of Cameron Poster
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals of Mental Disorders, which classifies emotional problems with codes, eliminated homosexuality as an illness in 1973 but still calling it a “sexual orientation disturbance.”   In 1987 the term was dropped entirely.  That did not stop millions of Americans from dissenting from that view, with religious organizations particularly mean-spirited in their outright disagreement with the shrinks.  Our Supreme Court legalized gay marriage and legislatures codified gay rights in general, but as recently as the 1990’s, some parents, guardians and religious organizations pushed for what is called gay conversion therapy.

Desiree Akhavan, whose freshman feature “Appropriate Behavior” focuses on a Persian daughter struggling with her identity as a bisexual, is in her métier with “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.”  This feature is satirical but never lowers itself to sit-comish, three-laughs-a-minute clichés.  Its theme should be old-hat to Americans who tuned into the weekly sitcom “Will & Grace” which arguably helped Americans to moderate and even reverse their antipathy to homosexuality.  “Miseducation” has humorous moments but at base it’s a serious drama about adolescents, some miserable not because of their so-called same sex attraction, but because elements of society continue to denigrate them to this day and beyond. Their parents and guardians—not the type to carry signs “I’m pride of my gay son”—would rather to spend their money on trying to “cure” their children.

Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz), the orphaned title character who prefers to be called Cam, is sent by Ruth (Kerry Butler), her guardian to “God’s Promise,” a camp that deals with curing what is not in any way an emotional illness.  She is outed as gay after the boy who escorts her to the school prom discovers her in the back seat of his car making out with her best friend Coley (Quinn Shephard).  Internalizing the views of the straight adults in her life and believing that she needs saving, she is impressed by the camp’s counselor, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), who claims to have been “cured” and Rick’s sister Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), who runs the camp.

The biggest problem with God’s Promise is not that it fails to “cure” young people with same sex attractions, but in a way, the reverse.  It causes them, or at least some, to hate themselves for having a “sickness,” a hatred that will turn one boy into such a self-destructive act that the camp may be closed by the authorities.  Most of the action revolves around Cameron’s relationships with the others, especially Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane), who in one scene removes weed from her prosthetic leg, Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck), whose hair is shorn by the director, and pixie-like Erin (Emily Skeggs).   Surprisingly each camper gets a same-sex roommate instead of a private room but Lydia and Rick make calls at random times with flashlights to ensure that nobody is “sinning” against God.

The strangest statement is by Lydia, who announces that “there is no such thing as homosexuality,” preferring to believe as do some deplorable Americans that being gay is a choice.  Twenty-year-old Chloë Grace Moritz comes across as the least idiosyncratic member of the group, preferring to be a good listener rather than acting out.  She does come out of her shell near the conclusion in a dramatic move that she makes with Adam Red Eagle and Jane Fonda.

Director Akhavan does not play around with melodrama, preferring to let the camp’s wrongheadedness play out to an organically believable climax.  She shows a genuine affection for the adolescents and for Reverend Rick, even holding back against demonizing the director—who also displays an affection for her charges.  The film fits right into the Sundance Festival scheme where it won the U.S. dramatic grand jury prize.  Get the book from Amazon for eight bucks.

Unrated.  91 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B

Overall – B

EIGHTH GRADE – movie review

EIGHTH GRADE

A24
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bo Burnham
Screenwriter:  Bo Burnham
Cast:  Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Daniel Zolghadri, Fred Hechinger
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 6/21/18
Opens: July 13, 2018
Eighth Grade Trailer for Bo Burnham's SXSW Hit
In the Jewish religion a boy becomes a man at the age of thirteen.  Fashionably enough, particularly in an age that women demand equality with men, a girl becomes a woman at thirteen as well.  Notwithstanding assertions at Bar Mitzvahs and Bas Mitzvahs, thirteen-year-olds are hardly men and women, though perhaps in Biblical times when folks had a life expectancy of fifty (Methuselah among the exceptions), teens became adults.  Nowadays, let’s compromise and say that we start thinking of ourselves as adults at that age while still anchored in childhood.  We want to be adults but are wondering what responsibilities will bring.  Most of all, at the age of thirteen we are afraid of not fitting in.  If you go through school thinking and acting awkwardly, if you don’t have friends, you will not look back kindly at early adolescence.  That’s where Kayla (Elise Fisher) comes in.

Like some of her classmates, she has a face covered by acne—except in scenes where she doesn’t—but that’s not her concern.  She’s not bullied; more like she’s ignored, and that is a worry for anyone her age and also for their caregivers. Kayla’s dad Mark (Josh Hamilton) is a single father who worries about her.  He tries to talk with her at the dinner table but she does not look at him, she does not hear him with those infernal ear buds in her head, and she’s irritated when he tries to converse with her.

Twenty-eight-year-old writer-director Bo Burnham’s “The Big Sick” focuses on a comedian, so we figure we’re not going to get another “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” Todd Solondz’s caustic look at an unattractive seventh grader who has good reason to feel anxiety.  “Eighth Grade” by contrast is a feel-good treatment of a thirteen-year-old middle schooler who hates when people call her “quiet,” though she herself does not agree with that label.  Trying to prove this, she knocks out a series of videos in her bedroom giving advice to others of her generation, counsel that she tries, with only limited success, to follow in her own life.

At a pool party given by one of the school’s rich kids, she spots others having great fun, shooting one another with water cannons, showing off as one boy does when fitted with goggles that fit over his nose he tries without success to do hand-stands.  The tentative conversation between him and Kayla is rich with insight into the minds of people their age, just as all the chit-chat, the addiction to smart phones, the separation of pupils in cliques are spot-on.

Try not to get irritated at the opening scene.  Kayla is giving one of her Ann Landers’style advice to fellow teens, using terms like “you know” even more than the newscasters on CNN, “like” several times in a sentence, and “OK” so many times you may want to shake her up and say “Hey, you’re not OK, at least not yet.”   She enjoys bursts of conversations from a variety of people such as Gabe (Jake Ryan), the aforementioned fellow with the hand-stands who challenges her to a breath-holding contest.  She is afraid when a high-school junior (Daniel Zolghadri) asks her to remove her shirt just as he removed his.  Though “not comfortable” in that situation as she explains, she privately looks forward to sending sexy pictures to her boyfriend, whenever she lands someone on her wave length.  She enjoys a big breakthrough just her father does, when around a campfire, she realizes how lucky she is to have a dad like Mark who struggles with bringing up a girl without help from a partner.

The picture belongs to Elsie Fisher, a fifteen-year-old who has a remarkably long résumé in the TV and films business and who you may have seen before in “McFarland USA” or heard her voice in “Despicable Me.”  This is a breakthrough performance that may well be remembered at end-year awards time and should prove a movie that can fill far more seats at the multiplex than did “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”  Andrew Wehde filmed the action in White Plains (upstate) New York.

Unrated.  94 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY – movie review

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY (Hva vil folk si)

KINO LORBER
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Iram Haq
Screenwriter:  Iram Haq
Cast:  Maria Mozhdah, Adil Hussain, Rohit Saraf, Ali Arfan, Sheeba Chaddha, Lalit Parimoo, Ekavali Khanna
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/26/18
Opens: July 13, 2018

It’s lucky that President Trump does not read movie subtitles or he’d be sure to boot up “What Will People Say” into his propaganda machine.  With the backing of our reactionary Supreme Court, or at least 0.56% of it, he has succeeded in justifying his travel ban on Muslims in several countries.  So what would be better than to show what it’s like to try to assimilate people of a different culture from our mainstream?  Not too promising according to writer-director Iram Haq, a woman who is in her métier, having previously made the film “I Am Yours,” about a Norwegian Pakistani woman looking for love in the wrong places.

“What Will People Say,” or “Hva vil folk si” in the original Norwegian, is a thoroughly absorbing tale of Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) a sixteen-year-old woman of Pakistani descent living in Norway, perhaps since birth. Her father Mirza (Adil Hussain), who claims to live for his daughter who he hopes will become a doctor, is now doing factory work “which Norwegians do not want to do.”  In school Nisha has assimilated with white Norwegian friends, especially Daniel (Isak Lie Harr), a redheaded boy who has his sights on her.  One night, she allowed him to climb through her window doing some kissing, though when her father discovered the two together, he assumed that they had sex and gave the boy a beating while insisting that Nisha marry the lad (unusual, isn’t it, that he’s willing to allow a cross-cultural matchup so that her neighbors won’t talk?)

Nisha pushes the conflict up a notch by signing into a safe house, courtesy of a friendly social worker, but then misses her family, goes back to them, only to be kidnapped by Mirza forcing her to return to Pakistan with him and to put her up with his extended family there.  She is treated poorly by her aunt (Sheeba Chaddha) and uncle (Lalit Parimoo), is later picked up by her father whose plans for her are not paternal especially when hearing that she was caught kissing her cousin Amir (Rohit Saraf) and humiliated by three rogue cops who make her strip and threaten to put her photo on the ‘net.

Yes, President Trump, there is a wide gulf between the culture of a place like Norway (Trump likes!) and Pakistan.  And our President can point out that Muslims might put a great burden on social workers and teachers in the U.S. when cultural gaps turn bloody.  Still, Nisha dad is not an altogether bad guy, but his fear of neighbors’ talking turns him into a tyrant—though one wonders why the fight with his daughter need be made public, specifically his catching Nisha with a guy in her room.

Lots of comedies have been made about cultural differences between Christian residents and Muslim immigrants, but this is no “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  Do not expect a Hollywood ending for this remarkable indie, filmed in Norway and India with English subtitles for Norwegian and Urdu.  This is serious stuff, an eye opener even for those of us who are already aware of points of friction between immigrant communities and natives, wherein in this case the daughter could be called a Norwegian native out of step with her extended family.  Top notch acting come from the ensemble with gorgeous photography of mountains in India, contrasted with the benign look of a village outside Oslo.  Special kudos for Maria Mozhdah in her stunning freshman role in a feature film which, by the way, is autobiographical (the director was really kidnapped back when!)

Unrated.  106 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

HEARTS BEAT LOUD – movie review

HEARTS BEAT LOUD

Gunpowder & Sky
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Brett Haley
Screenwriter:  Brett Haley, Marc Basch
Cast:  Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Toni Collette, Sasha Lane, Blythe Danner
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 5/16/18
Opens: June 8, 2018

Young people about to head off to out-of-town colleges are naturally excited about the idea, though they may think they will become homesick missing the folks and local friends.  An equal reaction can be found in the parents who have been exposed to the anxieties of empty nest syndrome.  You might be surprised to know that marriages can break up when the kids are gone.  What’s left to talk about when you’re just husband and wife?  There’s no wife in “Hearts Beat Loud,” since the woman of the house had died eleven years before, and the bereaved husband, Frank (Nick Offerman), dreads what’s coming–living alone under his roof.  He has been quite a satisfactory father to his one daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), their bond remaining strong because they have an equal love for songs—he on the electric guitar and she with an angelic voice that can really hit the high registers.  But Frank is faced with losing his vinyl record store in Brooklyn’s colorful Red Hook section at the same time that Sam is about to depart for UCLA.  With his friendly landlady Leslie (Toni Collette) insisting that she has been forced to raise his rent, he has no choice but to close down and wonder how he will meet his 18-year-old’s tuition and other expenses when she is 3,000 miles away.

“Hearts Beat Loud” is a low-key coming of age drama, a musical, and at the same time a focus on Frank who goes so far as to ask his daughter to take a year off and work on playing together in a musical enterprise now that he has received a flurry of hits when he uploaded a new song to Spotify.  He thinks he can even carve out a living since, of all things, the song is on a playlist with Iron & Wine and Spoon.  Sam, a top student bound for a pre-med curriculum at UCLA,has a love interest, Rose (Sasha Lane), though not much more than kissing is shown on screen.  To relieve his worries, Frank stops often by Sunny’s bar where Dave (Ted Danson) relives his “Cheer” days mixing drinks and serving as Frank’s pal as well.

This is not the kind of musical you’d expect on Broadway.  It’s no “Chicago” or the new version of “My Fair Lady,” but it does have songs now and then, all with bouncy beats.  Still, aside from sweetness which is always in style when the tone is not down-and-out saccharine, there is not enough going from the plot, and we might have expected more to come from director Brett Haley, whose “I’ll See You in My Dreams” about a widow and a songstress show that life can begin anew at any age and whose “The Hero” starring Sam Elliot about an ailing movie star confronting his mortality has more depth.  Blythe Danner shows up almost in cameo as a dotty grandmother to the budding young vocalist.

Rated PG-13.  97 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

DOUBTFUL – movie review

DOUBTFUL

Rogovin Brothers
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eliran Elya
Screenwriter:  Eliran Elya
Cast:  Ran Danker. Yaakov Aderet, Osher Amara, Liron Ben-Shlush, Elroi Fass, Melodi Frank, Adar Hazazi Gersch, Shaley Girgin, Elad Hudara, Riki Hudara, Eli Menashe, Batel Moseri, Idan Naftali
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/28/18
Opens: June 3, 2018 at the Seattle International Film Festival
Doubtful
You might think that Israeli Jews have enough problems on their hands with Arabs inside Israel, in Gaza and in the West Bank; that they don’t have the time or the inclination to fight among themselves.  This is a doubtful premise.  There is probably not a nation in the world whose people live together in a Shangi La location, and that includes North Korea though we in the West have no idea how those folks get along with one another.  Now Eliran Elva, who wrote the script and directs “Doubtful,” uses the experience he has had with two shorts involving gunplay and the IDF, to give us his freshman full-length feature.  He gives us insight into the lives of people who are not the sort that you see in Israeli posters that show a solidarity of human beings unified by a common religion.  Instead his characters, eleven who are non-professional actors, play out a script about dysfunction in a small desert town in Beersheva.

The youths look like something out of “Blackboard Jungle” or “Precious,” with Ran Danker in the role of Sidney Poitier  and the ineffective Bill Sage respectively.  In this case Danker’s character, Assi, is himself an emotional wreck, sentenced to community service for drunk driving.  At one point he reminisces about his youth, about his failure to fit in, about being alone, playing alone, and now dealing with kids who are more scarred than he is.  His small class of students who in New York might fit into a special education class, are bored with everything except horsing around with each other, and who attend Assi’s new film-making class as a condition of their parole.

Assi will ultimately gain control and respect in the manner of many a movie about teachers perhaps in part because they recognize in him the similarities with themselves.  Though the theme is not a new one, “Doubtful” bears a look from an audience that might consider their own wild ideas and actions when they were younger, seeing at least some part of themselves in the teenagers here.  And the young people do quite a professional job acting out their anxieties and later filming an episode with a student director who yells “cut” with enthusiasm.  In fact Assi takes a special interest in Eden (Adar Hazazi Gersch) whose mother invites the teacher to her abode for some home cooked meals, leading Eden to hope that Assi is in love with her and could become his stepfather.

This is based on a true story, one with a sad ending that involves one character who executed an act far worse that whatever got him into trouble here.  Eliran Elya directs with an appropriately blunt style, encouraging the physicality and even the charm of these roughneck teens.  His script allows a three-dimensional look at the thirty-three year old Assi with some naturalistic scenes including the journey by bus and train from Tel Aviv to Beersheba.

Unrated.  88 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

SUMMER 1993 – movie review

SUMMER 1993 (Estiu 1993)

Oscilloscope Laboratories
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Carla Simón
Screenwriter:  Carla Simón
Cast:  Laia Artigas, Paula Robles, Bruna Cusí, David Verdaguer, Fermi Reixach, Isabel Rocatti
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/15/18
Opens: May 25, 2018

There was a time not so far back that little was known about AIDS, about how it’s transmitted, whether it could be treated, and what you have to do to avoid the deadly virus.  “Summer 1993,” known by its original Catalán title as “Estiu 1993, is removed from a time of ignorance.  But when a six-year-old child’s parents die, the little girl is kept in the dark.  As acted by Laia Artigas, newly orphaned Frida is removed from her digs in Barcelona to live with her uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer) and his wife Marga (Bruna Cusí). The pair have a three-year-old daughter, Anna, played by the pudgy Paula Robles.  The film has “autobiographical” hinted in every frame and is indeed a memoir of the writer-director Carla Simón in her freshman movie entry.  While Frida is a city girl introduced to a small-town mountain village (filmed by Santiago Racaj in Girona and Olot), you might expect her to enjoy the change as a summer vacation which will likely extend until she’s an adult.  But she is troubled by the loss of parents as any child might be and is involved in a micro-power struggle with her host’s own child.  In the back of her mind, she must wonder every day about the illness that took her parents’ lives but nobody is willing to be frank with her until the conclusion of the story, when Marga discreetly hints about the cause.  She does assure the little girl that her folks are looking at her from heaven and that “they loved you very much,” which makes me wonder: if they are watching Frida from up there, wouldn’t they “love” her very much?

Carla Simón is intent on focusing on every detail from the spot in the mountains that gives the air of a typical village pueblo, complete with a parade toward the conclusion, performers in masks dancing around to the music of a small band, flags flying.  The chickens have the run of the place and are doubtless happier than the chicks that are factory farmed in the U.S. or “cage free” but still without more than a few centimeters of space.  Ms. Simón, as a six-year-old, has been indoctrinated in religion by her grandmother, Maria (Isabel Rocatti), a regular visitor who tests the girl on the words of the Lord’s Prayer.  Indoctrinated, maybe, but can a six-year-old have a sense of ethics?  “She has no morals,” barks her foster mother to Esteve, when Frida beckons little Anna to a wooded area, a plan in her head to see the girl injured.  When Anna falls from a tree (not shown), her arm in a cast, Frida is now certain that she is on hostile ground and is determined to run away with her grandparents.

Frida is quiet almost throughout, a single tantrum hinting that she is sitting on repressed anger.  Who wouldn’t be given the unfairness of being orphaned at such a young age?  In that role, Laia Artigas comes across as a sweet young woman who does regret leaving her little “sister” to be injured and who, as school beckons, has made a peace with aunt and uncle—taking part in horseplay and caring especially for her foster mom who is preparing her for school with lessons in math.  It appears that she will be fine, lucky to be indulged by people who like her presence, especially serving as a playmate of their own daughter.  The film has few surprises, no raging conflicts, and instead serves to allow Simón to give pleasure to an audience that is content with entering the mind of a six-year-old in a sober manner without histrionics and with great attention to detail.

In fact that audience is likely to be reminded of their own childhoods, comparing their joys and sorrows with Frida’s, each of us discovering we’re not alone with our emotions after all.

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

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

 

A CIAMBRA – movie review

A CIAMBRA

Sundance Selects
Director: Jonas Carpignano
Screenwriter: Jonas Carpignano
Cast: Pio Amato, Koudous Seihon, Iolanda Amato, Damiano Amato
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/9/18
Opens: January 19, 2018

A Ciambra Movie Poster

As a sequel to Jonas Carpignano’s 2015 “Mediterranea,” depicting two people making the dangerous trip from North Africa to southern Italy, “A Ciambra” has a new center in Pio Amato, fourteen years old when the film was made. What’s most interesting about the project is that the Romani performers are not only relatively untrained but act out events in their actual lives. Most use their real names as they move ahead in fits and starts. This is a relatively unstructured piece, perhaps with some improvisations, with the story’s picking up after the midsection. The most interesting segment finds the Amato family springing to attention as Pio Amato is caught stealing from a prominent Italian family, the patriarch having sworn that he would have killed the teenager had he not known the family.

The Romanis, the African refugees from Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ghana, and the Italians live in proximity in a town in Calabria in southern Italy. The conditions are not exactly comparable to Trump Tower as the Africans appear to live in tents and the Romanis in a soulless white structure that looks like a project that could have come out of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union.

While low-level stealing is the only way that the Amatos make a living, the film is more about the coming of age rite of passage that could be similar in all countries. In some families, exceeding in studies might be the way; taking home all A’s on the report card wins the respect of fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers. Not so with Pio. He is uneducated, unlettered in fact, though he has survival skills that might be the envy of Harvard graduates. He has a loving mother, Iolanda (Iolanda Amato), grandfather who is on his last legs but has one moment of clarity, a girlfriend who states that she loves him, and most of all a big brother, Cosimo (Damiano Amato), a role model that Pio believes can be pleased only by the teenager’s prowess in stealing.

He learns how to steal cars by crossing wires, but his favorite trick is to steal luggage from trains just before departures. His friendship with Ayiva (Koudous Seihon), a refugee from Burkina Faso, provides some of the sentimental touches, particularly when Ayiva takes him in when Pio is thrown out of the house by his father after a prominent Italian from whom he stole chews out the family.

The story lacks tight structure, not surprising since writer-director Jonas Carpignano seems in thrall of Italian neo-realism. Tim Curtin’s lenses follow Pio throughout, providing a sense of the Romani culture; the togetherness, the raucous dinners, the teasing. Perhaps the most comical scene occurs when Pio’s brother Cosimo excludes young Pio from a robbery. Pio takes it upon himself to provide a diversion by stealing a police car whose motor is left running, driving it off, dumping it and throwing the keys far away.

Though many bigoted people consider all gypsies to be thieves, other films rhapsodize about this ethnic group, such as Tony Gatlif’s 1993 “Latcho Drom,” which follows Romani as they travel through the Middle East and Europe. By contrast Emir Kusturica’s 1988 “Time of the Gypsies” follows a young Romani with telekinetic powers who is seduced into the world of petty crime to the ruination of his family.

The two themes of “A Ciambra” are the loving family bonds that keep Romani families together, and the petty crime that provides the way for some to survive given their lack of education or a culture that would allow them to assimilate into the greater community. The film is invaluable as a snapshot of their lives, acted by Romani people who perform via incidents they actually experienced.

Unrated. 120 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

DAYVEON – movie review

DAYVEON

FilmRise
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B-
Director:   Amman Abbasi
Written by: Amman Abbasi, Steven Reneau
Cast: Davin Blackmon, Dontrell Bright, Kordell “KD” Johnson, Chasity Moore, Lachion Buckingham, Marquell Manning
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/26/17
Opens: September 13, 2017
Dayveon Movie Photo
A recent issue of the leftist online magazine Counterpunch advises that we are not living in a post-racial society.  Never mind that white people alleviate their guilt by seeing African-Americans in top positions; Obama, Oprah, Beyoncé, and all those newscasters, white and black getting along famously, and act as though we are well beyond the days of white-only water fountains, hotels, restaurants. Black earnings are well behind those of whites on average, and perhaps the most depressing cases are African-Americans still living in the rural South, having never given up the ghost to move north into the cities  The folks in Amman Abbasi’s freshman feature are young blacks without jobs, who spend their time in the summer just chilling out, hanging, and living under the protection of gangs like the Bloods.  In Abbasi’s particular focus is the title character, Dayveon Buckingham(Devin Blackmon), coming of age with some characteristics of rural people who despite their lack of urban, so-called elite membership would hardly vote for Trump—even they even knew the names of the president and vice-president in their inward society.

Dayveon appears destined to wind up in jail, of at least the probation system, through a series of actions that are partly his own doing, but mostly a fault of his environment.  Even at this young age, he understands that there is something wrong with the way he is living, as in the opening scenes in which the boy rides his bike furiously through the tree-lined, rough roads, now and then chasing way the bees, and entertaining himself with a monologue about how stupid he finds everything in the town.  What’s more he has not gotten over his grief over the shooting death of his brother, often standing before a large colorful poster of the unfortunate victim of what is undoubtedly a senseless crime.  When he passes by members of the local Bloods, he is initiated into the membership by being beaten, showing his begrudging acceptance of the violence as it allows him to become one of them.  There are people who care for him in his own family, which is bereft of a mother,who apparently had a breakdown after the death of her son.  His sister Kim (Chasity Moore) takes care of meal preparation, and her boyfriend Bryan (Dontrell Bright) with whom he plays computer games, wants the boy to confide in him, though the relationship is mixed with some hostility by Dayveon, who considers the large man an interloper.

While there are a few melodramatic moments, such as a robbery of a convenience store in which Dayveon remains in the getaway car, this is a meditative drama which occasionally crosses the line into documentary.  The audience is presumably the small group that would go for David Gordon Green’s “George Washington,” in which George is part of a group of working class youths in North Carolina who, through a mistake, seek redemption.  Like Green’s year 2000 movie, this is a slow-mover which captures the rural south dialogue (subtitles would have been most helpful) and whose major feature is that the performers are non-professionals who, like many groups of young people seem to be all talking at the same time.

Unrated.  75 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why

JESUS – movie review

JESÚS

Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B
Director:  Fernando Guzzoni
Written by: Fernando Guzzoni
Cast:  Nicolás Durán, Alejandro Goic, Gastón Salgado, Sebastían Ayala, Esteban González
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/14/17
Opens: September 1, 2017 with September 19, 2017 DVD/VOD

Jesus

In the superb episodic TV drama “Homeland,” a 16-year-old girl involved in a hit-run accident leading to the victim’s death, feels so guilty that she wants to turn herself in to the police.  She is protected by her parents, who assure her that nothing can now be done to help the victim, so why waste your life in prison?  Quite a similar occurrence takes place in Fernando Guzzoni’s “Jesús,” wherein the title figure, involved with his friends in beating to near-death a drunk, vulnerable young man in a cemetery, is overwhelmed with guilt.  As in “Homeland,” Jesús (Nicolás Durán) turns to his father for sympathy and help, but he and his dad, Hector (Alejandro Goic) have been estranged.  Hector, a widower, travels for his job, leaving the boy alone in the house, which the young man frequently leaves in a mess to the complaints of his dad.

“Jesús is a film by the Chilean writer-director Fernando Guzzoni, whose previous work “Dog Flesh” focuses on a solitary man who is crushed by his mysterious past. Guzzoni, then, is in his element in putting the 17-year-old Jesús in almost every frame, involving close-ups with hand-held cameras to project Jesús’s psychological pain.  We can see that Hector, despite carping about the boy’s aimlessness—the kid is not in school and does not work—genuinely cares for him but is clueless on how to connect.  This changes when the boy pleads with his dad for help.

Guzzoni paces the film in a way that might alienate those in a movie audience impatient with long takes such as the scene near the conclusion that finds Hector walking slowly and tearfully on the road and a similarly extended look at the Jesús’s competition in a K-pop band, dancing in ways that could remind us of a similar, solo exhibition by John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.”  You would think that the fellows doing their energetic steps would become too exhausted to commit the horrendous act that is the centerpiece of the film, showing how easy it is for gentle teasing of an unconscious lad to lead to the fierce beating.  Perhaps this is of a part with their interest in snuff movies, showing drug cartel torturous assassinations.

When the word gets out that Jesús is preparing to snitch to the police about the gang killing, he is threatened by his male lover, which raises the boy’s anxiety to such a level that he is forced to go to his dad for help.  The sexual play between the two young men is virtually hard core as is the scene involving Jesús’s sex with a girl.  The principal point made throughout is that Jesús has taken everything in his life with a cool indifference, projecting the aimlessness that has been his life until the group’s beating of a boy brings him to tears.

If this were a detective story, it would be called noirish.  Everything is done in shades of gray, probably to accentuate the grayness of Jesús’s life.  It is filmed by Uruguayan cinematographer Barbara Alvarez and takes place on location in Santiago Chile and the city’s outskirts.  Santiago has apparently changed culturally since I was last there in 1970 before the Pinochet authoritarian regime put a damper on the country, and just as Spain now swings after the demise of a similarly authoritarian leader, Franco—when couples could not go on dates without chaperones—Chile has striven to become a major tourist destination.  If you are caught up by the frenetic dancing in one of Santiago’s clubs, be sure to put the country on your to-visit lists.

Rated R.  83 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

ONE OF US – movie review

  • ONE OF US

    Netflix
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B
    Director:  Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
    Written by: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
    Cast:  Etty, Ari, Luzer
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/28/17
    Opens: October 20, 2017 streaming

    It’s good to fit in; in fact for teenagers it’s everything.  Look around at young people and you’ll see them tapping away at their iPhones as though to prove to passersby and to themselves that they’re A-OK.  You should have little trouble fitting in with a group that dresses like you, talks like you, sharing your culture including such all-important details is how many kids you’ll have.  That’s not all: one crowd you hang with allows you to avoid the anxiety of thinking about the purpose of life.  They already know, and so do you.  In fact 98% of this particular community remain together for life, only 2% quitting the fold.  We’re talking about Hasidim, the ultra-orthodox Jews who dress in long black coats, have payos, or round curlers around their ears, wear funny hats, and are never sunburned because of all the time they spend indoors, as kids studying Talmud.  Hasidim are an insular group.  The overwhelming majority, those who remain, can prompt the congregations to say “You’re one of us.”

    “One of Us,” a documentary written and directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, takes on Hasidic people, getting their exposure from from two women well known in the film community for “Jesus Camp” (about kids who attend summer evangelical camp each hoping to become the next Billy Graham); and “Detropria” (about the sad story of Detroit after the loss of its manufacturing base).  “One of Us” takes place principally in two areas of Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Borough Park, each of the two attracting a particular sect within the Hasidic community—though the divisions are not discussed by Ewing and Grady.  The film shines a light on three young Hasidic folks who bolted the community, each confessing to problems arising from the schism while at the same time praising their lives in the secular world.

    Ari, who left the community while still a teen, says that he is “tired of living a lie.”  The barber cuts the fellow’s payos amid Hasidic onlookers across the street, and though he is no longer in the insular community, he still practice Judaism and wears a kippa, or yarmulke.  Perhaps the easiest rebel to like is Luzer Twersky, who toyed with a potential separation by sneaky visits to Blockbuster (remember them?) and who had no idea what the larger world was like until he took in some movies.

    The most harrowing consequence of splitting finds Etty, who informs us about arranged marriage by noting that she and her prospective husband had a courtship of thirty minutes together, perhaps not even looking at each other.  This is sad: you figure that you’re going to have at least five babies with this one guy, so maybe you should spend a year dating before you realize that he’s tolerable and nice to be intimate with?  Since even the secular judge in the Family Court must abide by the law that the children of a divorcing couple should remain with their regular life-style, the father, who remains in the community, wins custody of the whole lot while the ex-wife is lucky to get one day of supervised visitation.    Never mind that the man was abusive.

    The film plugs an agency called Footsteps, which counsels Hasidim who have left, and who have serious problems getting jobs given that they had grown up without computers, internet, or TV.  Because of these limitations, a large percentage of Hasidim live on government grants.   After you see this film, take a guess:  how many secular or non-Hasidic viewers will decide to join this group, which in New York is 300,000 strong?  Probably less than the two percent who leave.

    Unrated.  95 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME – movie review

  • CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

    Sony Pictures Classics
    Director:  Luca Guadagnino
    Screenwriter:  James Ivory, novel  by André Aciman
    Cast:  Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/3/17
    Opens: November 24, 2017
    [ CALL ME BY YOUR NAME POSTER ]
    There’s a reason that Americans are crazy about Tuscany, just one of the most beautiful spots in Northern Italy made up of many towns whose names nobody knows. But everyone knows the term “Tuscany”  How can romance not flourish in a place like this?  And in the summer!  Falling in love is a piece of cake and you don’t even have to be as handsome as the two young fellows in this gorgeously photographed movie.  It certainly helps that the dialogue is whip-smart, the lovemaking is torrid, and it’s a place where one nice seventeen-year-old is blessed with a father who is more understanding than any other three dads you can name.  There’s little question that “Call Me By Your Name” is in the running for awards with even a potential nod to one skinny, sexually confused guy who plays and composes piano and guitar but needed a mentor to guide him to his official coming of sexual age.

    With a 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes amid scores of reviews throughout the land, “Call Me By Your Name” focuses on two young men, one Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old graduate student, and 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a protégé, if you will, a guy who at one point early in the story responds to the question, “What do you do in this town” with “You wait for summer to pass.”  Little did he know that this, his eighteenth summer, would be a godsend.  That’s a good word for it, because Oliver has a distinct resemblance to a Greek or Roman god, and is the subject of a graduate paper Oliver is researching while spending his summer in Tuscany at the invitation of Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg). Each year the professor invites one such student to spend weeks in his spacious house and indulge in sumptuous dinners from Italy, the country with the world’s best cuisine.

    Palermo-born Luca Guadagnino who directs, the son of an Italian father and Algerian mother who spent his childhood in Ethiopia, is best known perhaps for helming “A Bigger Splash,” also taking place during a vacation and putting Tilda Swinton in the principal role.  But “Call Me by Your Name” is far and away his best work, taking advantage of cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s lenses with an elegant piano score, some of it performed by Elio.  Since James Ivory’s screenplay adapts the novel by André Aciman, who is an Egyptian-born Sephardic Jew.  Since a Jewish theme is present in this film, one suspects at least some autobiographical input.

    Elio is sexually confused.  At seventeen, he has a fling with a girl about his age who wonders whether Elio considers herself “his girl.”  He may have wound up with her for a few months or years, but ultimately the two accept that they would be just friends.  All that’s because Elio meets Oliver, a six foot five inch blond with movie-star beauty, confident almost to the point of arrogance, who mixes in with the older people in the village and especially with the family that has taken him in.  It becomes clear to Oliver that Elio likes him and not only in a friend’s sort of way, but though the older man distances himself at first, perhaps because the boy is barely of age, nature kicks in, and as we know by now, “You can drive out nature with a pitchfork, but she keeps coming back.” –Horace.

    Oliver wears the Star of David on his muscular chest. Soon enough Elio, who has hidden his Jewish identity to avoid sticking out in the village, now proudly copies his would-be sexual mentor.  Their sexual activity is passionate and yet hardly pornographic, as director Guadagnino knows that the best way to show sensuality is to be discreet.

    The movie is a switch for Armie Hammer, great-grandson of Armand Hammer, who usually plays action parts as with “The Lone Ranger,” and his skills are more than met by newcomer Timothée Chalamet, who has been kept busy by the movies and who has the luck to appear in “Lady Bird” as well—a film that you will see competing with this one for awards.  An exhilarating job by all with an exceptional role by Michael Stuhlbarg, who delivers an emotionally affecting monologue to his son toward the conclusion.

    Rated R.  131 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

    Story – A-
    Acting – A
    Technical – A
    Overall – A-

LADY BIRD – movie review

  • LADY BIRD

    A24
    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