THE SWERVE – movie review

THE SWERVE
Epic Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dean Kapsalis
Writer: Dean Kapsalis
Cast: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell, Zach Rand, Taen Phillips, Liam Seib
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/3/20
Opens: September 22, 2020

The Swerve Movie Poster

Though the movie is called “The Swerve,” a word which means “to change direction abruptly,” we can see where the plot is headed early on. This is a slow-burn film, all the better to watch an impressive performance from Azura Skye in the principal role of Holly. There is something wrong with this middle-aged woman, aside from the anorectic look and face that appears to be reliving past memories that were not too favorable. Her medicine cabinet proves that she’s not well, the shelves loaded with medications, though we don’t know whether her depression is generic or, more likely, the result of living in the suburbs.

Dean Kapsalis’s freshman full-length entry, a meditation on mental illness, proves once again—as though we do not know from the suicides of rich and famous people like Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams—that a nice house, two apple-pie clean kids, and a husband, do not guarantee a grounded life. Correction: one of her kids, an overfed brat who, when asked by her mom to help with something, simply says “no” and walks away. The other lad interrupts her four times when she’s on the phone, asking for his shirt. The husband, Rob (Bryce Pinkham), is fooling around with Holly’s drunken, obnoxious sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) and grabs a little in the storage room of the supermarket where he has just made regional manager.

But wait! She has the loving attention of Paul (Zach Rand), a student in her high-school English class who works after school in that supermarket, and what can be better than for a woman in her late thirties than being followed by a hunky teen with a huge head of hair and the ability to grant her better performances than her husband? And what an opportunity to get revenge on her Rob!

She has nightmares, the coolest one showing her on a dark road followed by a truck with blinding lights and a Yahoo in the shotgun seat who leans out the window to shout insults. Because of her insomnia—which unfortunately does not last all night, resulting in torments of this sort—her doc ups her meds, bad advice, since that’s enough to destroy what little grip she still has on reality.

Non-credited actors in “The Swerve” are a mouse and an apple pie, both playing a role in the Shakespearean outcome of the story. Listen: I’ve got two bits of advice. Watch this movie principally for the stellar acting of Azura Skye, who last appeared in”Alien Code,” which involves otherworldly beings who probably seem like the otherworldly-looking Holly. And don’t even think of moving to the ‘burbs.

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

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

 

GUEST OF HONOR – movie review

GUEST OF HONOR
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Atom Egoyan
Screenwriter: Atom Egoyan
Cast: David Thewlis, Luke Wilson, Laysla De Oliveira, Tennille Read, Rossif Sutherland, Tamara Podemski
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/27/20
Opens: July 10, 2020

guest-of-honour-poster-600x867

A sleazy bus driver is obsessed with a beautiful young woman. A depressed and confused father cannot understand why her daughter, in jail for a crime she did not commit, resists all chances for release. While Atom Egoyan, whose “The Sweet Hereafter,” about complications following a tragic accident involving schoolchildren may be his best film, he now presides over a relationship that brings out the character of both Jim (David Thewlis), the dad, and his adult daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira). To the movie’s credit, the performance by David Thewlis, the emotional center of the film, is superb, and Egoyan is able to evoke an accomplished job from De Oliveira. However the zigs and zags of time are so frequent and distracting that we wonder why he could not have played the story straight.

The story is framed by a conference between Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) and Father Greg (Luke Wilson), a priest. After her father dies, Veronica wants to give the minister clues to her dad’s life for the eulogy, though the details she reveals may be simply too truthful for the testimonial. She describes Jim’s profession, that of a food inspector in Ontario with the power to close down small businesses. She seems cheered when remembering how much care and attention he paid to her pet rabbit Benjamin when she was away from home conducting concerts with the school orchestra. But she has no problem raising one issue that caused her trauma. When her mother was ill with cancer, she saw Jim holding hands with another woman, an observation Jim defensively tries to refute.

After driving the teacher and the kids to a concert, Mike (Rossif Sutherland), the driver, gets into Veronica’s cell phone and texts a message pretending it is from one of the youngsters. When Veronica realizes that the driver is the guilty party, she stages a prank in which she pretends to have sex with two of her underage boys in order to drive Mike crazy. She feels so guilty for her own actions that she goes willingly to jail for statutory rape and refuses a chance to be released. Melodramatic as this venture can be, Jim’s search for redemption is the real heart of the film. He is a failed restaurateur turned Ontario food health inspector, willing to close down restaurants with a single inspection almost as if he is getting revenge on those successfully plying the food trade. He finds a rat in one place, sniffs at the temperature of the meat, and in one dastardly deed he plants rabbit poop in the men’s room of one restaurant for reasons that become clear. The highlight occurs when he threatens to close down an Armenian place for processing meat on the premises, a violation of code. When days later when a large, boisterous party enjoys the rabbit meat, honoring him for keeping the place open,even making him the guest of honor. The sad, hesitant speech he delivers to the bemusement of the crowd sums up buried feelings.

In several scenes, Thewlis wears a green shirt with green slacks and jacket amid a background of sickly green, the colors becoming warner as the story continues. While granting that the convoluted plot, a characteristic of Egoyan’s general directing, may keep the audience on edge, withholding information to tease an audience into wondering about a payoff, in this case the technique goes so far that the plot is too muddied.

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

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

TAMMY’S ALWAYS DYING – movie review

TAMMY’S ALWAYS DYING
Quiver Distribution
Reviewed for Shockya.com &BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Amy Jo Johnson
Screenwriter: Joanne Sarazen
Cast: Felicity Huffman, Anastasia Phillips, Clark Johnson, Lauren Holly
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/15/20
Opens: May 1, 2020

Sometimes when a little kid cries apparently for no reason, her mother will say, “You ought to be an actress—you cry so easily.” In a story written by Joanne Sarazen in her freshman feature and directed by Amy Jo Johnson, also her first full length narrative film, “Tammy’s Always Dying” finds a the title character’s only daughter Catherine (Anastasia Phillips) able to cry in front of a TV audience so successfully that she receives a new Toyota Camry. For many of us, anything below a Mercedes of a Beamer would be considered chump change, but to Catherine it’s a bigger prize than she had ever seen. Not that her mother Tammy (Felicity Huffman) is better off. Both mother and daughter are sad sacks, losers, the kinds of people who, if American not Canadian, might vote for Trump not realizing that nobody, not even a slick-talking pseudo-populist, could help such deadbeats.

From beginning to end, Tammy and Catherine MacDonald (strangely, in real life mother and daughter are only ten years apart) we can predict that the two are going nowhere in life, having missed any opportunity at the right time to advance a career or even consider such an unusual thing to strive for.

So we’re left with wondering: is there anything about these two women to make us care about them? Do we know anything about why mom is depressed to the point of regularly considering jumping from a bridge, or daughter so easily manipulated by her mother that she has little pleasurable to think about save a quicky against the wall with married Reggie (Aaron Ashmore)? At least she has one person who shows he cares about her, her gay boss in a seedy bar, Doug (Clark Johnson) who treats her occasionally to dinner and doesn’t mind when she sleeps past her alarm and shows up late.

We know nothing about them. No backstory to give clues to why chain-smoking Tammy is always depressed, why she confesses to Catherine that she always loved her but could never show it, and how Catherine winds up like the rotten apple that does not fall far from the tree.

When Dr. Miller (Ayesha Mansur Gonzalves), a poised, confident woman who is the exact opposite of the two women, diagnoses Tammy with Stage 4 cancer, Catherine moves in with her. Yet the younger woman nonetheless on why day shouts “Why don’t you die, already?” With that in mind, she asks to be a guest on a TV show featuring women who cry about their tragic lives, wins a place and is coached by its producer Ilana (Lauren Holly). She invents a tale that her mother had committed suicide, a death wish that could apply to Catherine as well as to Tammy.

From the opening scene, this movie looks like little more than a vanity format for Felicity Huffman, perhaps able to scrounge up an audience based on her recent conviction of trying to buy her daughter a place as a freshman in USC. Otherwise the two people who must carry the film are so empty, so irritating, that the project is difficult to sit through.

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

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

TALE OF THE SEA – movie review

TALE OF THE SEA (Hekayat-e Darya)
Reviewed for Shockya.com and BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bahman Farmanara
Screenwriter: Bahman Farmanara
Cast: Bahman Farmanara, Fatemeh Motemad Arya, Leila Hatami, Saber Abar, Ali Nassirian
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/
Opens: January 10, 2019 at the First Iranian International Film Festival in NY: At IFC Center, 323 6th Avenue, NY NY.

Leila Hatami and Saber Abar in Hekayat-e darya (2018)

You would not be surprised at the similarity of “Tale of the Sea” to previous works from the Iranian filmmaker, Bahman Farmanara. Farmanara deals with momentous subjects in previous works. In “Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine,” for example, the writer-director envelops his principal character with thoughts of death, plot items evoking thoughts of the final exit. The principal character wonders why his niece’s husband fails to return home. He searches hospitals for an unclaimed body while his own heart is giving out. In “A Separation,” a married couple runs into conflict as one partner wants to leave Iran while the other needs to care for an ailing mother. A heart (one breaking, the other physically fragile), marital conflict, illnesses including a budding schizophrenia and depression, and once again thoughts of leaving Iran, crop up again. This new film may remind literate moviegoers of the works of Ingmar Bergman, particularly his 1957 film “Wild Strawberries”(an aging man confronts the emptiness of his existence)—while Peyman Yazdanian’s score at times recalls Hitchcockian tones.

“Tale of the Sea,” which takes place in a writer’s spacious home overlooking the ocean, is a theatrical piece, with most scenes involving one or two people with the occasional presence of a trio. Taher Mohebi (Bahman Farmanara), the principal character, is played by the filmmaker, who is 77 years old, a large man made up to look as though he is approaching his mid-80s. Conversations take place between drinks of tea that his wife Jaleh (Fatemeh Motamed-Arya) often prepares and a cup of Turkish coffee brewed by Paraveneh, a surprise guest in his home who will radically change the married couple’s life.

For his part Taher, a writer known by his former students as Maestro, has spent three years in an institution for the emotionally disturbed, longing to remain there though prodded by his doctor (Ali Mosaffa) to go out and face reality. Taher continues to look like Job, years of woe yielding a face whose perpetual sadness belies the pale blue eyes that we assume should connote joy. We don’t wonder why his wife wants a divorce, though she will wait until her husband gets better lest an announcement of separation now lead to the poor man’s death.

A few scenes on the beach take us temporarily away from the purely theatrical. Taher meets people from his past, including a hallucinatory friend (Ali Nassirian) who had been “assigned to eternity” years earlier, and an emotional political activist (Saber Abar) who would like to relive the best years of his life—which were back in college when Maestro was his favorite teacher. All this Proustian remembrance of past memories is not unlike the situation faced by Dr. Eberhard Isak Borg in “Wild Strawberries,” whose “visits” to past people in his life remind him of the emptiness of his existence.

If you are not familiar with Ingmar Bergman—though if you read commentary on this film you surely must be—then think of Katherine Hepburn who, when asked about the value of old age to provide wisdom to youth replies that old age has not a single redeeming feature. You would expect that in his better days, Taher, active as a teacher and a celebrity author as well, was a different person, and you would probably be right. By the time you exit the theater, you may be more fearful of growing old (yes, of course, it’s better than the alternative), than ever. The melancholia of age and the way the brilliant director, producer, screenwriter and principal actor work to make you feel the mournful emotions, are what make “Tale of a Sea” a downer, if you will, but one that will leave you absorbed for its full 97 minutes while respecting that this filmmaker is at the top of his game.

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

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