SLAY THE DRAGON – movie review

SLAY THE DRAGON
Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Barak Goodman, Chris Durrance
Screenwriter: Barak Goodman, Chris Durrance
Cast: Ari Berman, David Daley, Margaret Dickson, Anita Earls, Katie Fahey, Ruth Greenwood, Chris Jankowski, Justin Levitt, Vann Newkirk
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/12/20
Opens: April 3, 2020

Poster

 

The United States is not only a democratic country; it is a Democrat nation. This means that theoretically if every eligible adult voted, the Democrats would regularly take a majority of seats in Congress and in state legislatures. The Democratic Party has grown because of immigration and through the ability of formerly minority groups to increase their numbers. Minorities like Hispanics and African-Americans tend to vote Demoratic. Then how did it happen that Republicans captured majorities in so many state legislative houses and Congressional elections? Some say it’s because the poor are less likely to vote than the middle class and the rich. Others say it’s because some states are now requiring photo id’s at the voting booths, which the poor are somehow less likely to acquire. According to Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance who direct “Slay the Dragon”—a logo on the T-shirt of a successful young activist—the reason is the corrupt practice of gerrymandering.

Every ten years a census is carried out. Each state legislature is allowed to redistrict the territory since some districts lose so much population that their representatives are out of their jobs while others gain population and may be able to elect more legislative reps and members of Congress. However, wanting to hold on to their jobs and their power, states’ partisan commissions have gerrymandered, which means they have carved up districts not like boxes and rectangles but in such a way that their opponents are tossed away into a just a few districts where they can elect whom they wish, giving most other areas majorities that they would not have had if the opponents remained where they were. The new district had weird shapes: some look like salamanders, others like bats. Many other strange designs make clear that corrupt political considerations have gone through the map to keep more of their own party in power. (For more detail on the process of gerrymandering, check out the Wikipedia article.) For purposes of this left-leaning documentary, we are led to believe that the Republicans do this more than the Democrats, because, as stated above this is a Democratic (capital D) country which would have captured more seats if the districts were drawn fairly.

Why do Goodman and Durrance blame the Republicans? Because only recently they have embarked on a major plan to overturn the natural Democratic majorities in this country by their corrupt redistricting plans. Is gerrymandering just an abstract idea that should not worry us? No. Look at what happened to Flint, after the GOP had redrawn the map of the Michigan to allow Republican districts to predominate. The party hired finance managers allegedly to manage Michigan’s financial woes. These people turned the Flint River into the city’s water supply. Thus the brown water coming from the faucets such that, as one person states, “Even my dog would not drink that.”

Since state legislatures do the gerrymandering, Republicans hit on the super-rich like the Koch Brothers to finance campaigns in the individual states, outspending the Democrats and carrying districts that they ordinarily would not have had a chance to do. The principal character in the doc, a young woman, Katie Fahey who peppers her lively sentences with “like” and “awesome,” shows how she carried out a massive job in getting the required 350,000 signatures of Michigan citizens to get a proposition on the ballot. Her group, called Voters Not Politicians, is able to win the cause: that henceforth independent groups would do the redistricting rather than the politicians. Meanwhile in Wisconsin, similar grass roots movements got a case up to Supreme Court, also determined to end political gerrymandering. Ultimately, than to Kavanaugh’s rising to the Supreme Court when Anthony Kennedy resigned, the Wisconsin activists did not succeed

It’s now easy to see that just as the Electoral College, designed by rich white men, thwarted the elections of Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, most state legislatures are dominated by Republicans despite the fact that in a recent election, tabulating all the votes of all the states, Democrats took 60% of the vote. We’re not a banana republic quite yet, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the U.S. to become an ideal democracy.

The doc is forceful, correctly partisan, and the smell of corruption should enrage right-thinking people.

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

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

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN – movie review

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN
Warner Bros Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Edward Norton
Screenwriter: Edward Norton, based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem
Cast: Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Cherry Jones, Bobby Canavale, Dallas Roberts
Screened at: Warner, NYC, 10/12/19
Opens: November 1, 2019

I’ve lived in Brooklyn all my life, the only living fellow my age who has loved the borough enough never to move. During the 1950s when I came of age and didn’t particularly follow politics as I do now when it’s as entertaining as any Broadway tragedy, I had the name Robert Moses imbedded in my memory. All I heard was that he did this and he did that; that he headed a dozen government bureaus and, while never elected, had more power than even the New York mayor or governor. He was honored to have bridges and parks named after him not only in Gotham but throughout New York State. His is a major role in “Motherless Brooklyn,” considered by Warner Bros to be a contender for end-year awards. Thinly disguised as the character Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), he would probably be considered by the movie’s audience a stand-in for today’s Trump, although Robert Moses died in 1981. And you can consider the parallel that Moses Randolph is played by Baldwin, one of the most popular guests on Saturday Night Live given his caricatures of our president. But I never knew that his character was a racist and an elitist who did not care for minorities or for poor people, that he contributed his talent to keep African-Americans out of New York by building overpasses that were a foot too short for buses. In fact he considered cars to be a pleasure vehicle for the elite and did not care that they are used today for business.

In any case, his role stands out in a picture by Edward Norton in which the celebrated actor serves not only as a thesp but as the film’s writer and director. Too bad, though, that this overlong picture (close to two and one-half hours and easily edited down had Norton wished) is convoluted, and requiring at least an extra viewing for understanding, which makes it a good choice for the DVD or the streaming services when they inevitably come out.

Using Jonathan Lathem’s novel, which won the National Book Critics Circle Awards and is available at Amazon for under a sawbuck, Norton changed the 1990 setting to 1957, in a Brooklyn whose cars could make you think that you’re in Cuba. Norton stars as a gumshoe, a private eye, who could never have been assigned to the police force because he had Tourette’s Syndrome, which afflicts him with uncontrollable tics both bodily and through speech. He would make odd noises, and only occasionally a taboo word like “tits” escapes from his mouth. His name is Lionel Essrog but as an orphan in his outer borough he acquired the nickname Brooklyn. At one point he is ejected from a Harlem jazz club. The rest of the time he gets slammed around a lot, so you’d think he’s on to something big. And he is.

Working in a shabby office with Tony Vermonte (Bobby Cannavale), Gil (Ethan Suplee), Danny (Dallas Roberts) and Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) he is upset when Frank, his best friend, is shot by a group of goons. This becomes the first plot point that’s difficult to figure out. So Motherless is determined to get to the bottom of things, discovering that African-Americans are highly critical of Moses Randolph’s plan to eject them from their homes in order to build highways—which Randolph pretties up by calling them slum clearance. Befriending Laura Rose (Gugu Mabatha-Raw), he finds that she is a lawyer concerned with the fate of her community. She clues Lionel in to the Moses Randolph plans and takes him to a Harlem jazz club where he enjoys the sounds from the trumpet of Wynton Marsalis (Michael Kenneth Williams), dubbing in the actual music of Marsalis. And he gets slammed around.

Expect to get tired of the tics. You’ll think, OK, Lionel, you made your point so you don’t have to let us keep seeing how the outside world thinks that you’re either amusing or nuts. More important you may wind up unclear about why Lionel’s idol, Frank Minna, is shot by people with whom he is negotiating. Further you watch the theme of brotherly hate as Paul Randolph (Willem Dafoe), the builder’s brother who has with him more than simply sibling rivalry, but his passion is over the top. Cherry Jones turns in a brief look at Gabby Horowitz, a community leader opposing Moses Randolph and perhaps a stand-in for Bella Abzug. And the entire design including a look at a huge Penn Station set up as it looked in the fifties is grand. If this film does not try your patience, you’re the type of person whose hunger is for watching “Chinatown” again and again.

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

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

FAHRENHEIT 11/9 – movie review

FAHRENHEIT 11/9

Briarcliff Entertainment
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Michael Moore
Screenwriter:  Michael Moore
Cast:  Donald Trump, Michael Moore
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 9/20/18
Opens: September 21, 2018
Fahrenheit 11/9 Movie Poster
In promoting an intellectually deep, emotionally charged drama whether in a book, a movie or a stage play, there’s no better slogan that a publicist can adopt than “You’ll laugh!  You’ll cry!” Yet from easily the best documentary film released so far this year, the most that you can say is that you’ll cry.  There is considerable humor along with the melancholy on display from our country’s most entertaining documentarian, Michael Moore.  But from the first riveting scene to the final compelling words, you can’t be blamed for wanting to cry your eyes out.  And that’s the strong recommendation one can make for this film.

When Andrew Cuomo campaigned for re-election as New York’s governor, one who would “stand up to Trump,” he stated that the slogan “Make America Great” is a falsehood; that America was always great.  Not so, Moore would reply, America was never great.  And that’s where the tears can flow, because from the penning of the U.S. Constitution by rich white male slave owners, giving us the absurdly undemocratic electoral college, our country has had to struggle to make inroads resonant for all the people, not just the billionaires and not just for rural folks who make the big mistake of thinking that Trump will solve their money problems and not go rogue by blaming race and immigration.

“Fahrenheit 11/9,” a title that cleverly switches the date of Moore’s previously movie “Fahrenheit 9/11” to refer to the announcement of Trump’s 2016 election victory, is a screed against the corruption endemic in our national politics.  The reference is also to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451,” in which a dictatorship takes over the lives of the citizenry. Moore takes aim at Democrats and Republicans alike, criticizing so-called Democrat Bill Clinton for turning prisons over to private hands, cutting welfare from the checks of millions of needy Americans, and de-regulating banks to such an extent that we wound up with the greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression.  Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer could hardly be called reformers.  President Obama is chastised for deporting record numbers of undocumented immigrants and pretending that the water crisis in Flint Michigan has been simply blown up to the status of national scandal.  (In Flint, Michigan, he asks for a glass of water as though to show his disappointed audience that the water is pure.  He takes just a sip.)

Still, most of Moore’s animosity goes to the Republicans, especially people like Rick Snyder, a reactionary governor of Michigan, who made nice with corporate power by building a pipeline that would bypass the pure water of Lake Huron to a separate, corroding line,that poisoned the output to the most poor, mostly African-American community.

Trump is the obvious principal target of Moore’s scathing criticism, so demonic that the doc plays archival film of Hitler with Trump’s voice replacing that of the last century’s most evil monster.  You would not be entirely wrong if you thought that this was overkill, that the “It can’t happen here” now longer applies, but there is an eerie sense that the rallies that Trump conducts, his preferred means of communication to his base coupled with his avoidance of press conferences, are a prelude to total dissembling of even what has passed for democracy in our union.

Perhaps his most controversial view is that the reason so many registered voters stayed home on that fateful day in November of 2016 is not apathy or laziness, but a giving up, a surrender to the idea that standard politics is so demented, so unrepresentative, that there’s nothing anybody can do.  In that regard, Bernie Sanders comes across as Moore’s hero, a fellow who, unlike Trump and unlike Hillary Clinton, tells it like it really is but gets shafted by the Democratic National Committee intent on giving Hillary the nomination.

Yet there is hope. Look at what’s going down in some of the red states.  In West Virginia, teachers are so fed up with their miserable wages, with their need to take two and even three jobs to make ends meet, that they succeeded in striking for five days and winning the reasonable raise for which they asked.

As though to nail home points that might have seemed peripheral to the anti-Trump camp, he virtually calls the president a perv, showing a succession of pictures with Trump and his daughter Ivanka at various states in her growing up giving each other affection that might look as though a rich boss is cavorting with his young secretary.  It did not help the president to say that if Ivanka were not his daughter, he would be dating her.

In Stanley Kramer’s movie “On the Beach,” a nuclear bomb has exploded in the North, the radiation heading toward Australia which is still habitable.  The final scene shows a Salvation Army street poster with the hopeful message, “There is still time…Brother.”  Is there?  Are we headed—like climate change—to the point of no return, or can we avoid the mistakes made by Germany’s progressive Weimar Republic when 32% of the electorate voted for the Nazi Party?  If the American voters turn out in great numbers, the Democratic Party victories would be shoo-ins, since after all, we are a left-leaning nation with a majority favoring Medicare for All, proper regulations of guns, free public colleges, and reproductive rights.  Or so Moore says.

There is much to ponder in a film that makes its 126 minutes pass like an entertaining look at an America currently in a dystopian free-fall.  Michael Moore’s hard-hitting, hard left project has not a single dull or irrelevant moment and, like Bob Woodward’s latest book “Fear” is a clearly-reasoned, cleverly edited broadside punctuated by the year’s most awesome musical score.

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

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

WETLANDS – movie review

  • WETLANDS

    Abramorama
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: C
    Director:  Emanuele Della Valle
    Written by: Emanuele Della Valle
    Cast: Adewale Akinnuove-Agbaje, Heather Graham, Jennifer Ehle, Anthony Mackie, Christopher McDonald, Reyna de Courcy
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/6/17
    Opens: September 15, 2017
    Wetlands Movie Poster
    “Wetlands” is not the only police drama cast amid the waves and sands of Atlantic City.  “Boardwalk Empire,” featuring most scenes in Atlantic City, has  TV action that is so good, with so many plots and subplots that merge easily, that it gives credence to the idea that cable is quite often better than the movies.  Atlantic City today is known as a has-been, a place once visited for getting into wheels on the boardwalk, chewing salt water taffy, and gambling in hotels that are now dilapidated, that the whole area seems to have given way to our jet age, making cross-country and intercontinental visits so alluring that New Jersey can no longer attract a tourist-hungry crowd.  At least its murky, foggy, and shoddy façade makes for detective-noir films, especially outside the three or four months that still beckon waves of visitors.

    Now, Emanuele Della Valle in his freshman expedition as writer and director, attempts an arty version of a detective tale, or at least he may think that having characters talk in low tones with only a modicum of melodrama gives the picture class.  Instead it comes off as a soporific take on people who are down on their luck, having some hope of redemption and recovery from some bad habits.  Those bad habits on display here are not only about heroin and liquor, but are the more dangerous ones: estrangement and infidelity.

    In the story Babs Johnson (Adewale Akinnuove-Agbaje), a top Philadelphia cop who is caught up in corruption and drug addiction, goes to Atlantic City to try his luck with his family, namely his ex-wife Savannah (Heather Graham) and teen daughter Amy (Celeste O’Connor).  He has a lot of work to do if he wants to turn the clock back, as his daughter gives him the bird and his ex-wife, still hostile, prefers to company of a woman (Reyna de Courcy).  Wearing the badge of a detective, Babel Johnson is embraced by his new, ebullient partner, Detective Paddy Sheehan (Christopher McDonald), a lover of gambling and of life itself.  But Sheehan has a family problem as well as his wife Kate (Jennifer Ehle), a newscaster on local TV who pops pills to keep thin and youthful, is proven unfaithful.  When a local girl is found murdered, the plot turns into a whodunit, with even Babs considered a person of interest.

    The plot lurches forward in fits and starts, with Kate’s newscasts more excited about an upcoming storm that Babs’s interest in solving a murder has to take a raincheck.  Among the cast, Ms. Ehle stands out as a woman who, because of age, worries that she may be cast aside to make way for someone younger.

    Unrated.  98 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?